The Great Hunger
Part 2 out of 5
He had been dozing through the afternoon, and when he woke the lamp
was lit, and a dull yellow half-light lay over the ward. The
others seemed to be sleeping; all was very quiet, only the man with
the sores was whimpering softly. Then the door opened, and Peer
saw Louise glide in, softly and cautiously, with her violin-case
under her arm. She did not come over to where her brother lay, but
stood in the middle of the ward, and, taking out her violin, began
to play the Easter hymn: "The mighty host in white array."*
* "Den store hvide Flok vi se."
The man with the sores ceased whimpering; the patients in the beds
round about opened their eyes. The docker with the broken nose sat
up in bed, and the cobbler, roused from his feverish dream, lifted
himself on his elbow and whispered: "It is the Redeemer. I knew
Thou wouldst come." Then there was silence. Louise stood there
with eyes fixed on her violin, playing her simple best. The
consumptive raised his head and forgot to cough; the corporal
slowly stiffened his body to attention; the commercial traveller
folded his hands and stared before him. The simple tones of the
hymn seemed to be giving new life to all these unfortunates; the
light of it was in their faces. But to Peer, watching his sister
as she stood there in the half-light, it seemed as if she grew to
be one with the hymn itself, and that wings to soar were given her.
When she had finished, she came softly over to his bed, stroked his
forehead with her swollen hand, then glided out and disappeared as
silently as she had come.
For a long time all was silent in the dismal ward, until at last
the dying cobbler murmured: "I thank Thee. I knew--I knew Thou
wert not far away."
When Peer left the hospital, the doctor said he had better not
begin work again at once; he should take a holiday in the country
and pick up his strength. "Easy enough for you to talk," thought
Peer, and a couple of days later he was at the workshop again.
But his ways with his sister were more considerate than before, and
he searched about until he had found her a place as seamstress, and
saved her from her heavy floor-scrubbing.
And soon Louise began to notice with delight that her hands were
much less red and swollen than they had been; they were actually
getting soft and pretty by degrees.
Next winter she sat at home in the evenings while he read, and made
herself a dress and cloak and trimmed a new hat, so that Peer soon
had quite an elegant young lady to walk out with. But when men
turned round to look at her as she passed, he would scowl and
clench his fists. At last one day this was too much for Louise,
and she rebelled. "Now, Peer, I tell you plainly I won't go out
with you if you go on like that."
"All right, my girl," he growled. "I'll look after you, though,
never fear. We're not going to have mother's story over again with
"Well, but, after all, I'm a grown-up-girl, and you can't prevent
people looking at me, idiot!"
Klaus Brock had been entered at the Technical College that autumn,
and went about now with the College badge in his cap, and sported a
walking-stick and a cigarette. He had grown into a big, broad-
shouldered fellow, and walked with a little swing in his step; a
thick shock of black hair fell over his forehead, and he had a way
of looking about him as if to say: "Anything the matter? All
right, I'm ready!"
One evening he came in and asked Louise to go with him to the
theatre. The young girl blushed red with joy, and Peer could not
refuse; but he was waiting for them outside the yard gate when they
came back. On a Sunday soon after Klaus was there again, asking
her to come out for a drive. This time she did not even look to
Peer for leave, but said "yes" at once. "Just you wait," said Peer
to himself. And when she came back that evening he read her a
Soon he could not help seeing that the girl was going about with
half-shut eyes, dreaming dreams of which she would never speak to
him. And as the days went on her hands grew whiter, and she moved
more lightly, as if to the rhythm of unheard music. Always as she
went about the room on her household tasks she was crooning some
song; it seemed that there was some joy in her soul that must find
One Saturday in the late spring she had just come home, and was
getting the supper, when Peer came tramping in, dressed in his best
and carrying a parcel.
"Hi, girl! Here you are! We're going to have a rare old feast to-
"Why--what is it all about?"
"I've passed my entrance exam for the Technical--hurrah! Next
autumn--next autumn--I'll be a student!"
"Oh, splendid! I AM so glad!" And she dried her hand and grasped
"Here you are--sausages, anchovies--and here's a bottle of brandy--
the first I ever bought in my life. Klaus is coming up later on to
have a glass of toddy. And here's cheese. We'll make things hum
Klaus came, and the two youths drank toddy and smoked and made
speeches, and Louise played patriotic songs on her violin, and
Klaus gazed at her and asked for "more--more."
When he left, Peer went with him, and as the two walked down the
street, Klaus took his friend's arm, and pointed to the pale moon
riding high above the fjord, and vowed never to give him up, till
he stood at the very top of the tree--never, never! Besides, he
was a Socialist now, he said, and meant to raise a revolt against
all class distinctions. And Louise--Louise was the most glorious
girl in all the world--and now--and now--Peer might just as well
know it sooner as later--they were as good as engaged to be
married, he and Louise.
Peer pushed him away, and stood staring at him. "Go home now, and
go to bed," he said.
"Ha! You think I'm not man enough to defy my people--to defy the
"Good-night," said Peer.
Next morning, as Louise lay in bed--she had asked to have her
breakfast there for once in a way--she suddenly began to laugh.
"What ARE you about now?" she asked teasingly.
"Shaving," said Peer, beginning operations.
"Shaving! Are you so desperate to be grand to-day that you must
scrape all your skin off? You know there's nothing else to shave."
"You hold your tongue. Little do you know what I've got in front
of me to-day."
"What can it be? You're not going courting an old widow with
twelve children, are you?"
"If you want to know, I'm going to that schoolmaster fellow, and
going to wring my savings-bank book out of him."
Louise sat up at this. "My great goodness!" she said.
Yes; he had been working himself up to this for a year or more, and
now he was going to do it. To-day he would show what he was made
of--whether he was a snivelling child, or a man that could stand up
to any dressing-gown in the world. He was shaving for the first
time--quite true. And the reason was that it was no ordinary day,
but a great occasion.
His toilet over, he put on his best hat with a flourish, and set
Louise stayed at home all the morning, waiting for his return. And
at last she heard him on the stairs.
"Puh!" he said, and stood still in the middle of the room.
"Well? Did you get it?"
He laughed, wiped his forehead, and drew a green-covered book from
his coat-pocket. "Here we are, my girl--there's fifty crowns a
month for three years. It's going to be a bit of a pinch, with
fees and books, and living and clothes into the bargain. But we'll
do it. Father was one of the right sort, I don't care what they
"But how did you manage it? What did the schoolmaster say?"
"'Do you suppose that you--you with your antecedents--could ever
pass into the Technical College?' he said. And I told him I HAD
passed. 'Good heavens! How could you possibly qualify?' and he
shifted his glasses down his nose. And then: 'Oh, no! it's no
good coming here with tales of that sort, my lad.' Well, then I
showed him the certificate, and he got much meeker. 'Really!' he
said, and 'Dear me!' and all that. But I say, Louise--there's
another Holm entered for the autumn term."
"Peer, you don't mean--your half-brother?"
"And old Dressing-gown said it would never do--never! But I said
it seemed to me there must be room in the world for me as well, and
I'd like that bank book now, I said. 'You seem to fancy you have
some legal right to it,' he said, and got perfectly furious. Then
I hinted that I'd rather ask a lawyer about it and make sure, and
at that he regularly boiled with rage and waved his arms all about.
But he gave in pretty soon all the same--said he washed his hands
of the whole thing. 'And besides,' he said, 'your name's Troen,
you know--Peer Troen.' Ho-ho-ho--Peer Troen! Wouldn't he like it!
Tra-la-la-la!--I say, let's go out and get a little fresh air."
Peer said nothing then or after about Klaus Brock, and Klaus
himself was going off home for the summer holidays. As the summer
wore on the town lay baking in the heat, reeking of drains, and the
air from the stable came up to the couple in the garret so heavy
and foul that they were sometimes nearly stifled.
"I'll tell you what," said Peer one day, "we really must spend a
few shillings more on house rent and get a decent place to live
And Louise agreed. For till the time came for him to join the
College in the autumn, Peer was obliged to stick to the workshops;
he could not afford a holiday just now.
One morning he was just starting with a working gang down to
Stenkjaer to repair some damage in the engine-room of a big Russian
grain boat, when Louise came and asked him to look at her throat.
"It hurts so here," she said.
Peer took a spoon and pressed down her tongue, but could not see
anything wrong. "Better go and see the doctor, and make sure," he
But the girl made light of it. "Oh, nonsense!" she said; "it's not
worth troubling about."
Peer was away for over a week, sleeping on board with the rest.
When he came back, he hurried home, suddenly thinking of Louise and
her sore throat. He found the job-master greasing the wheels of a
carriage, while his wife leaned out of a window scolding at him.
"Your sister," repeated the carter, turning round his face with its
great red lump of nose--"she's gone to hospital--diphtheria
hospital--she has. Doctor was here over a week ago and took her
off. They've been here since poking round and asking who she was
and where she belonged--well, we didn't know. And asking where you
were, too--and we didn't know either. She was real bad, if you ask
Peer hastened off. It was a hot day, and the air was close and
heavy. On he went--all down the whole length of Sea Street,
through the fishermen's quarter, and a good way further out round
the bay. And then he saw a cart coming towards him, an ordinary
work-cart, with a coffin on it. The driver sat on the cart, and
another man walked behind, hat in hand. Peer ran on, and at last
came in sight of the long yellow building at the far end of the
bay. He remembered all the horrible stories he had heard about the
treatment of diphtheria patients--how their throats had to be cut
open to give them air, or something burned out of them with red-hot
irons--oh! When at last he had reached the high fence and rung the
bell, he stood breathless and dripping with sweat, leaning against
There was a sound of steps within, a key was turned, and a porter
with a red moustache and freckles about his hard blue eyes thrust
out his head.
"What d'you want to go ringing like that for?"
"Froken Hagen--Louise Hagen--is she better? How--how is she?"
"Lou--Louise Hagen? A girl called Louise Hagen? Is it her you've
come to ask about?"
"Yes. She's my sister. Tell me--or--let me in to see her."
"Wait a bit. You don't mean a girl that was brought in here about
a week ago?"
"Yes, yes--but let me in."
"We've had no end of bother and trouble about that girl, trying to
find out where she came from, and if she had people here. But, of
course, this weather, we couldn't possibly keep her any longer.
Didn't you meet a coffin on a cart as you came along?"
"What--what--you don't mean--?"
"Well, you should have come before, you know. She did ask a lot
for some one called Peer. And she got the matron to write
somewhere--wasn't it to Levanger? Were you the fellow she was
asking for? So you came at last! Oh, well--she died four or five
days ago. And they're just gone now to bury her, in St. Mary's
Peer turned round and looked out over the bay at the town, that lay
sunlit and smoke-wreathed beyond. Towards the town he began to
walk, but his step grew quicker and quicker, and at last he took
off his cap and ran, panting and sobbing as he went. Have I been
drinking? was the thought that whirled through his brain, or why
can't I wake? What is it? What is it? And still he ran. There
was no cart in sight as yet; the little streets of the fisher-
quarter were all twists and turns. At last he reached Sea Street
once more, and there--there far ahead was the slow-moving cart.
Almost at once it turned off to the right and disappeared, and when
Peer reached the turning, it was not to be seen. Still he ran on
at haphazard. There seemed to be other people in the streets--
children flying red balloons, women with baskets, men with straw
hats and walking-sticks. But Peer marked his line, and ran
forward, thrusting people aside, upsetting those in his way, and
dashing on again. In King Street he came in sight of the cart once
more, nearer this time. The man walking behind it with his hat in
his hand had red curling hair, and walked with a curtsying gait,
giving at the knees and turning out his toes. No doubt he made his
living as mourner at funerals to which no other mourners came. As
the cart turned into the churchyard Peer came up with it, and tried
to follow at a walk, but stumbled and could hardly keep his feet.
The man behind the cart looked at him. "What's the matter with
you?" he asked. The driver looked round, but drove on again at
The cart stopped, and Peer stood by, leaning against a tree for
support. A third man came up--he seemed to be the gravedigger--and
he heard the three discussing how long they might have to wait for
the parson. "The time's just about up, isn't it?" said the driver,
taking out his watch. "Ay, the clerk said he'd be here by now,"
agreed the gravedigger, and blew his nose.
Soon the priest came in sight, wearing his black robe and white
ruff; there were doubtless to be other funerals that day. Peer
sank down on a bench and looked stupidly on while the coffin was
lifted from the cart, carried to the grave, and lowered down. A
man with spectacles and a red nose came up with a hymn-book, and
sang something over the grave. The priest lifted the spade--and at
the sound of the first spadeful of earth falling on Louise's
coffin, Peer started as if struck, and all but fell from his seat.
When he looked up again, the place was deserted. The bell was
ringing, and a crowd was collecting in another part of the
churchyard. Peer sat where he was, quite still.
In the evening, when the gravedigger came to lock the gates, he had
to take the young man by the shoulder and shake him to his senses.
"Locking-up time," he said. "You must go now."
Peer rose and tried to walk, and by and by he was stumbling blindly
out through the gate and down the street. And after a time he
found himself climbing a flight of stairs above a stable-yard.
Once in his room, he flung himself down on the bed as he was, and
lay there still.
The close heat of the day had broken in a downpour of rain, which
drummed upon the roof above his head, and poured in torrents
through the gutters. Instinctively Peer started up: Louise was out
in the rain--she would need her cloak. He was on his feet in a
moment, as if to find it--then he stopped short, and sank slowly
back upon the bed.
He drew up his feet under him, and buried his head in his arms.
His brain was full of changing, hurrying visions, of storm and
death, of human beings helpless in a universe coldly and
indifferently ruled by a will that knows no pity.
Then for the first time it was as if he lifted up his head against
Heaven itself and cried: "There is no sense in all this. I will
not bear it."
Later in the night, when he found himself mechanically folding his
hands for the evening prayer he had learnt to say as a child, he
suddenly burst out laughing, and clenched his fists, and cried
aloud: "No, no, no--never--never again."
Once more it came to him that there was something in God like the
schoolmaster--He took the side of those who were well off already.
"Yes, they who have parents and home and brothers and sisters and
worldly goods--them I protect and care for. But here's a boy alone
in the world, struggling and fighting his way on as best he can--
from him I will take the only thing he has. That boy is nothing to
any one. Let him be punished because he is poor, and cast down to
the earth, for there is none to care for him. That boy is nothing
to any one--nothing." Oh, oh, oh!--he clenched his fists and beat
them against the wall.
His whole little world was broken to pieces. Either God did not
exist at all, or He was cold and pitiless--one way of it was as bad
as the other. The heavenly country dissolved into cloud and melted
away, and above was nothing but empty space. No more folding of
your hands, like a fool! Walk on the earth, and lift up your head,
and defy Heaven and fate, as you defied the schoolmaster. Your
mother has no need of you to save her--she is not anywhere any
more. She is dead--dead and turned to clay; and more than that
there is not, for her or for you or any other being in this world.
Still he lay there. He would fain have slept, but seemed instead
to sink into a vague far-away twilight that rocked him--rocked him
on its dark and golden waves. And now he heard a sound--what was
it? A violin. "The mighty host in white array." Louise--is it
you--and playing? He could see her now, out there in the twilight.
How pale she was! But still she played. And now he understood
what that twilight was.
It was a world beyond the consciousness of daily life--and that
world belonged to him. "Peer, let me stay here." And something in
him answered: "Yes, you shall stay, Louise. Even though there is
no God and no immortality, you shall stay here." And then she
smiled. And still she played. And it was as though he were
building a little vaulted chapel for her in defiance of Heaven and
of God--as though he were ringing out with his own hands a great
eternal chime for her sake. What was happening to him? There was
none to comfort him, yet it ended, as he lay there, with his
pouring out something of his innermost being, as an offering to all
that lives, to the earth and the stars, until all seemed rocking,
rocking with him on the stately waves of the psalm. He lay there
with fast-closed eyes, stretching out his hands as though afraid to
wake, and find it all nothing but a beautiful dream.
The two-o'clock bell at the Technical College had just begun to
ring, and a stream of students appeared out of the long straggling
buildings and poured through the gate, breaking up then into little
knots and groups that went their several ways into the town.
It was a motley crowd of young men of all ages from seventeen to
thirty or more. Students of the everlasting type, sent here by
their parents as a last resource, for--"he can always be an
engineer"; young sparks who paid more attention to their toilet
than their books, and hoped to "get through somehow" without
troubling to work; and stiff youths of soldierly bearing, who had
been ploughed for the Army, but who likewise could "always be
engineers." There were peasant-lads who had crammed themselves
through their Intermediate at a spurt, and now wore the College cap
above their rough grey homespun, and dreamed of getting through in
no time, and turning into great men with starched cuffs and pince-
nez. There were pale young enthusiasts, too, who would probably
end as actors; and there were also quondam actors, killed by the
critics, but still sufficiently alive, it seemed, "to be
engineers." And as the young fellows hurried on their gay and
careless way through the town, an older man here and there might
look round after them with a smile of some sadness. It was easy to
say what fate awaited most of them. College ended, they would be
scattered like birds of passage throughout the wide world, some to
fall by sunstroke in Africa, or be murdered by natives in China,
others to become mining kings in the mountains of Peru, or heads of
great factories in Siberia, thousands of miles from home and
friends. The whole planet was their home. Only a few of them--not
always the shining lights--would stay at home, with a post on the
State railways, to sit in an office and watch their salaries mount
by increments of L12 every fifth year.
"That's a devil of a fellow, that brother of yours that's here,"
said Klaus Brock to Peer one day, as they were walking into town
together with their books under their arms.
"Now, look here, Klaus, once for all, be good enough to stop
calling him my brother. And another thing--you're never to say a
word to any one about my father having been anything but a farmer.
My name's Holm, and I'm called so after my father's farm. Just
remember that, will you?"
"Oh, all right. Don't excite yourself."
"Do you suppose I'd give that coxcomb the triumph of thinking I
want to make up to him?"
"No, no, of course not." Klaus shrugged his shoulders and walked
"Or that I want to make trouble for that fine family of his? No, I
may find a way to take it out of him some day, but it won't be that
"Well, but, damn it, man! you can surely stand hearing what people
say about him." And Klaus went on to tell his story. Ferdinand
Holm, it seemed, was the despair of his family. He had thrown up
his studies at the Military Academy, because he thought soldiers
and soldiering ridiculous. Then he had made a short experiment
with theology, but found that worse still; and finally, having
discovered that engineering was at any rate an honest trade, he had
come to anchor at the Technical College. "What do you say to
that?" asked Klaus.
"I don't see anything so remarkable about it."
"Wait a bit, the cream of the story's to come. A few weeks ago he
thrashed a policeman in the street--said he'd insulted a child, or
something. There was a fearful scandal--arrest, the police-court,
fine, and so forth. And last winter what must he do but get
engaged, formally and publicly engaged, to one of his mother's
maids. And when his mother sent the girl off behind his back, he
raised the standard of revolt and left home altogether. And now he
does nothing but breathe fire and slaughter against the upper
classes and all their works. What do you say to that?"
"My good man, what the deuce has all this got to do with me?"
"Well, I think it's confoundedly plucky of him, anyhow," said
Klaus. "And for my part I shall get to know him if I can. He's
read an awful lot, they say, and has a damned clever head on his
On his very first day at the College, Peer had learned who
Ferdinand Holm was, and had studied him with interest. He was a
tall, straight-built fellow with reddish-blond hair and freckled
face, and wore a dark tortoiseshell pince-nez. He did not wear the
usual College cap, but a stiff grey felt hat, and he looked about
four or five and twenty.
"Wait!" thought Peer to himself--"wait, my fine fellow! Yes, you
were there, no doubt, when they turned me out of the churchyard
that day. But all that won't help you here. You may have got the
start of me at first, and learned this, that, and the other, but--
you just wait."
But one morning, out in the quadrangle, he noticed that Ferdinand
Holm in his turn was looking at him, in fact was putting his
glasses straight to get a better view of him--and Peer turned round
at once and walked away.
Ferdinand, however, had been put into a higher class almost at
once, on the strength of his matriculation. Also he was going in
for a different branch of the work--roads and railway construction--
so that it was only in the quadrangle and the passages that the
two ever met.
But one afternoon, soon after Christmas, Peer was standing at work
in the big designing-room, when he heard steps behind him, and,
turning round, saw Klaus Brock and--Ferdinand Holm.
"I wanted to make your acquaintance," said Holm, and when Klaus had
introduced them, he held out a large white hand with a red seal-
ring on the first finger. "We're namesakes, I understand, and
Brock here tells me you take your name from a country place called
"Yes. My father was a plain country farmer," said Peer, and at
once felt annoyed with himself for the ring of humility the words
seemed to have.
"Well, the best is good enough," said the other with a smile. "I
say, though, has the first-term class gone as far as this in
projection drawing? Excuse my asking. You see, we had a good deal
of this sort of thing at the Military Academy, so that I know a
little about it."
Thought Peer: "Oh, you'd like to give me a little good advice,
would you, if you dared?" Aloud he said: "No, the drawing was on
the blackboard--the senior class left it there--and I thought I'd
like to see what I could make out of it."
The other sent him a sidelong glance. Then he nodded, said, "Good-
bye--hope we shall meet again," and walked off, his boots creaking
slightly as he went. His easy manners, his gait, the tone of his
voice, all seemed to irritate and humiliate Peer. Never mind--just
let him wait!
Days passed, and weeks. Peer soon found another object to work for
than getting the better of Ferdinand Holm. Louise's dresses hung
still untouched in his room, her shoes stood under the bed; it
still seemed to him that some day she must open the door and walk
in. And when he lay there alone at night, the riddle was always
with him: Where is she now?--why should she have died?--would he
never meet her again? He saw her always as she had stood that day
playing to the sick folks in the hospital ward. But now she was
dressed in white. And it seemed quite natural now that she had
wings. He heard her music too--it cradled and rocked him. And all
this came to be a little world apart, where he could take refuge
for Sunday peace and devotion. It had nothing to do with faith or
religion, but it was there. And sometimes in the midst of his work
in the daytime he would divine, as in a quite separate consciousness,
the tones of a fiddle-bow drawn across the strings, like reddish
waves coming to him from far off, filling him with harmony, till he
smiled without knowing it.
Often, though, a sort of hunger would come upon him to let his
being unfold in a great wide wave of organ music in the church.
But to church he never went any more. He would stride by a church
door with a kind of defiance. It might indeed be an Almighty Will
that had taken Louise from him, but if so he did not mean to give
thanks to such a Will or bow down before it. It was as though he
had in view a coming reckoning--his reckoning with something far
out in eternity--and he must see to it that when that time came he
could feel free--free.
On Sunday mornings, when the church bells began to ring, he would
turn hastily to his books, as if to find peace in them. Knowledge--
knowledge--could it stay his hunger for the music of the hymn?
When he had first started work at the shops, he had often and often
stood wide-eyed before some miracle--now he was gathering the power
to work miracles himself. And so he read and read, and drank in
all that he could draw from teacher or book, and thought and
thought things out for himself. Fixed lessons and set tasks were
all well enough, but Peer was for ever looking farther; for him
there were questions and more questions, riddles and new riddles--
always new, always farther and farther on, towards the unknown. He
had made as yet but one step forward in physics, mathematics,
chemistry; he divined that there were worlds still before him, and
he must hasten on, on, on. Would the day ever come when he should
reach the end? What is knowledge? What use do men make of all
that they have learned? Look at the teachers, who knew so much--
were they greater, richer, brighter beings than the rest? Could
much study bring a man so far that some night he could lift up a
finger and make the stars themselves break into song? Best drive
ahead, at any rate. But, again, could knowledge lead on to that
ecstasy of the Sunday psalm, that makes all riddles clear, that
bears a man upwards in nameless happiness, in which his soul
expands till it can enfold the infinite spaces? Well, at any rate
the best thing was to drive ahead, drive ahead both early and late.
One day that spring, when the trees in the city avenues were
beginning to bud, Klaus Brock and Ferdinand Holm were sitting in a
cafe in North Street. "There goes your friend," said Ferdinand;
and looking from the window they saw Peer Holm passing the post-
office on the other side of the road. His clothes were shabby, his
shoes had not been cleaned, he walked slowly, his fair head with
its College cap bent forward, but seemed nevertheless to notice all
that was going on in the street.
"Wonder what he's going pondering over now," said Klaus.
"Look there--I suppose that's a type of carriage he's never seen
before. Why, he has got the driver to stop--"
"I wouldn't mind betting he'll crawl in between the wheels to find
out whatever he's after," laughed Klaus, drawing back from the
window so as not to be seen.
"He looks pale and fagged out," said Ferdinand, shifting his
glasses. "I suppose his people aren't very well off?"
Klaus opened his eyes and looked at the other. "He's not
overburdened with cash, I fancy."
They drank off their beer, and sat smoking and talking of other
things, until Ferdinand remarked casually: "By the way--about your
friend--are his parents still alive?"
Klaus was by no means anxious to go into Peer's family affairs, and
answered briefly--No, he thought not.
"I'm afraid I'm boring you with questions, but the fact is the
fellow interests me rather. There is something in his face,
something--arresting. Even the way he walks--where is it I've seen
some one walk like that before? And he works like a steam-engine,
"Works!" repeated Klaus. "He'll ruin his health before long, the
way he goes on grinding. I believe he's got an idea that by much
learning he can learn at last to-- Ha-ha-ha!"
"To do what?"
"Why--to understand God!"
Ferdinand was staring out of the window. "Funny enough," he said.
"I ran across him last Sunday, up among the hills. He was out
studying geology, if you please. And if there's a lecture anywhere
about anything--whether it's astronomy or a French poet--you can
safely swear he'll be sitting there, taking notes. You can't
compete with a fellow like that! He'll run across a new name
somewhere--Aristotle, for instance. It's something new, and off he
must go to the library to look it up. And then he'll lie awake for
nights after, stuffing his head with translations from the Greek.
How the deuce can any one keep up with a man who goes at things
that way? There's one thing, though, that he knows nothing about."
"And that is?"
"Well, wine and women, we'll say--and fun in general. One thing he
isn't, by Jove!--and that's YOUNG."
"Perhaps he's not been able to afford that sort of thing," said
Ferdinand, with something like a sigh.
The two sat on for some time, and every now and then, when Klaus
was off his guard, Ferdinand would slip in another little question
about Peer. And by the time they had finished their second glass,
Klaus had admitted that people said Peer's mother had been a--well--
no better than she should be.
"And what about his father?" Ferdinand let fall casually.
Klaus flushed uncomfortably at this. "Nobody--no--nobody knows
much about him," he stammered. "I'd tell you if I knew, hanged if
I wouldn't. No one has an idea who it was. He--he's very likely
"You're always mighty mysterious when you get on the subject of his
family, I've noticed," said Ferdinand with a laugh. But Klaus
thought his companion looked a little pale.
A few days later Peer was sitting alone in his room above the
stables, when he heard a step on the stairs, the door opened, and
Ferdinand Holm walked in.
Peer rose involuntarily and grasped at the back of his chair as if
to steady himself. If this young coxcomb had come--from the
schoolmaster, for instance--or to take away his name--why, he'd
just throw him downstairs, that was all.
"I thought I'd like to look you up, and see where you lived," began
the visitor, laying down his hat and taking a seat. "I've taken
you unawares, I see. Sorry to disturb you. But the fact is
there's something I wanted to speak to you about."
"Oh, is there?" and Peer sat down as far as conveniently possible
from the other.
"I've noticed, even in the few times we've happened to meet, that
you don't like me. Well, you know, that's a thing I'm not going to
put up with."
"What do you mean?" asked Peer, hardly knowing whether to laugh or
"I want to be friends with you, that's all. You probably know a
good deal more about me than I do about you, but that need not
matter. Hullo--do you always drum with your fingers on the table
like that? Ha-ha-ha! Why, that was a habit of my father's, too."
Peer stared at the other in silence. But his fingers stopped
"I rather envy you, you know, living as you do. When you come to
be a millionaire, you'll have an effective background for your
millions. And then, you must know a great deal more about life
than we do; and the knowledge that comes out of books must have
quite another spiritual value for you than for the rest of us,
who've been stuffed mechanically with 'lessons' and 'education' and
so forth since we were kids. And now you're going in for
"Yes," said Peer. His face added pretty clearly, "And what concern
is it of yours?"
"Well, it does seem to me that the modern technician is a priest in
his way--or no, perhaps I should rather call him a descendant of
old Prometheus. Quite a respectable ancestry, too, don't you
think? But has it ever struck you that with every victory over
nature won by the human spirit, a fragment of their omnipotence is
wrested from the hands of the gods? I always feel as if we were
using fire and steel, mechanical energy and human thought, as
weapons of revolt against the Heavenly tyranny. The day will come
when we shall no longer need to pray. The hour will strike when
the Heavenly potentates will be forced to capitulate, and in their
turn bend the knee to us. What do you think yourself? Jehovah
doesn't like engineers--that's MY opinion."
"Sounds very well," said Peer briefly. But he had to admit to
himself that the other had put into words something that had been
struggling for expression in his own mind.
"Of course for the present we two must be content with smaller
things," Ferdinand went on. "And I don't mind admitting that
laying out a bit of road, or a bit of railway, or bridging a ditch
or so, isn't work that appeals to me tremendously. But if a man
can get out into the wide world, there are things enough to be done
that give him plenty of chance to develop what's in him--if there
happens to be anything. I used to envy the great soldiers, who
went about to the ends of the earth, conquering wild tribes and
founding empires, organising and civilising where they went. But
in our day an engineer can find big jobs too, once he gets out in
the world--draining thousands of square miles of swamp, or
regulating the Nile, or linking two oceans together. That's the
sort of thing I'm going to take a hand in some day. As soon as
I've finished here, I'm off. And we'll leave it to the engineers
to come, say in a couple of hundred years or so, to start in
arranging tourist routes between the stars. Do you mind my
"No, please do," said Peer. "But I'm sorry I haven't--"
"I have--thanks all the same." Ferdinand took out his cigar-case,
and when Peer had declined the offered cigar, lit one himself.
"Look here," he said, "won't you come out and have dinner with me
Peer started at his visitor. What did all this mean?
"I'm a regular Spartan, as a rule, but they've just finished
dividing up my father's estate, so I'm in funds for the moment, and
why shouldn't we have a little dinner to celebrate? If you want to
change, I can wait outside--but come just as you are, of course, if
Peer was more and more perplexed. Was there something behind all
this? Or was the fellow simply an astonishingly good sort? Giving
it up at last, he changed his collar and put on his best suit and
For the first time in his life he found himself in a first-class
restaurant, with small tables covered with snow-white tablecloths,
flowers in vases, napkins folded sugar-loaf shape, cut-glass bowls,
and coloured wine-glasses. Ferdinand seemed thoroughly at home,
and treated his companion with a friendly politeness. And during
the meal he managed to make the talk turn most of the time on
Peer's childhood and early days.
When they had come to the coffee and cigars, Ferdinand leaned
across the table towards him, and said: "Look here, don't you
think we two ought to say thee and thou* to each other?"
* "Tutoyer," the mode of address of intimate friendship or
"Oh, yes!" said Peer, really touched now.
"We're both Holms, you know."
"Yes. So we are."
"And, after all, who knows that there mayn't be some sort of
connection? Come, now, don't look like that! I only want you to
look on me as your good friend, and to come to me if ever there's
anything I can do. We needn't live in each other's pockets, of
course, when other people are by--but we must take in Klaus Brock
along with us, don't you think?"
Peer felt a strong impulse to run away. Did the other know
everything? If so, why didn't he speak straight out?
As the two walked home in the clear light of the spring evening,
Ferdinand took his companion's arm, and said: "I don't know if
you've heard that I'm not on good terms with my people at home.
But the very first time I saw you, I had a sort of feeling that we
two belonged together. Somehow you seemed to remind me so of--
well, to tell the truth, of my father. And he, let me tell you,
was a gallant gentleman--"
Peer did not answer, and the matter went no farther then.
But the next few days were an exciting time for Peer. He could not
quite make out how much Ferdinand knew, and nothing on earth would
have induced him to say anything more himself. And the other asked
no questions, but was just a first-rate comrade, behaving as if
they had been friends for years. He did not even ask Peer any more
about his childhood, and never again referred to his own family.
Peer was always reminding himself to be on his guard, but could not
help feeling glad all the same whenever they were to meet.
He was invited one evening, with Klaus, to a wine-party at
Ferdinand's lodging, and found himself in a handsomely furnished
room, with pictures on the walls, and photographs of his host's
parents. There was one of his father as a young man, in uniform;
another of his grandfather, who had been a Judge of the Supreme
Court. "It's very good of you to be so interested in my people,"
said Ferdinand with a smile. Klaus Brock looked from one to the
other, wondering to himself how things really stood between the
The summer vacation came round, and the students prepared to break
up and go their various ways. Klaus was to go home. And one day
Ferdinand came to Peer and said: "Look here, old man. I want you
to do me a great favour. I'd arranged to go to the seaside this
summer, but I've a chance of going up to the hills, too. Well, I
can't be in two places at once--couldn't you take on one of them
for me? Of course I'd pay all expenses." "No, thank you!" said
Peer, with a laugh. But when Klaus Brock came just before leaving
and said: "See here, Peer. Don't you think you and I might club
together and put a marble slab over--Louise's grave?", Peer was
touched, and clapped him on the shoulder. "What a good old fellow
you are, Klaus," he said.
Later in the summer Peer set out alone on a tramp through the
country, and whenever he saw a chance, he would go up to one of the
farms and say: "Would you like to have a good map of the farm?
It'll cost ten crowns and my lodging while I'm at it." It made a
very pleasant holiday for him, and he came home with a little money
in his pocket to boot.
His second year at the school was much like the first. He plodded
along at his work. And now and then his two friends would come and
drag him off for an evening's jollification. But after he had been
racketing about with the others, singing and shouting through the
sleeping town--and at last was alone and in his bed in the
darkness, another and a very different life began for him, face to
face with his innermost self. Where are you heading for, Peer?
What are you aiming at in all your labours? And he would try to
answer devoutly, as at evening prayers: Where? Why, of course, I
am going to be a great engineer. And then? I will be one of the
Sons of Prometheus, that head the revolt against the tyranny of
Heaven. And then? I will help to raise the great ladder on which
men can climb aloft--higher and higher, up towards the light, and
the spirit, and mastery over nature. And then? Live happily,
marry and have children, and a rich and beautiful home. And then?
Oh, well, one fine day, of course, one must grow old and die. And
then? And then? Aye, what then?
At these times he found a shadowy comfort in taking refuge in the
world where Louise stood--playing, as he always saw her--and
cradling himself on the smooth red billows of her music. But why
was it that here most of all he felt that hunger for--for something
Ferdinand finished his College course, and went out, as he had
said, into the great world, and Klaus went with him. And so
throughout his third year Peer was mostly to be seen alone, always
with books under his arm, and head bent forward.
Just as he was getting ready to go up for his final examination, a
letter from Ferdinand arrived, written from Egypt. "Come over
here, young fellow," he wrote. "We have got good billets at last
with a big British firm--Brown Bros., of London--a firm that's
building railways in Canada, bridges in India, harbour works in
Argentina, and canals and barrages here in Egypt. We can get you a
nice little post as draughtsman to begin with, and I enclose funds
for the passage out. So come along."
But Peer did not go at once. He stayed on another year at the
College, as assistant to the lecturer on mechanics, while himself
going through the road and railway construction course, as his
half-brother had done. Some secret instinct urged him not to be
left behind even in this.
As the year went on the letters from his two comrades became more
and more pressing and tempting. "Out here," wrote Klaus, "the
engineer is a missionary, proclaimer, not Jehovah, but the power
and culture of Europe. You're bound to take a hand in that, my
boy. There's work worthy of a great general waiting for you here."
At last, one autumn day, when the woods stood yellow all around the
town, Peer drove away from his home with a big new travelling-trunk
strapped to the driver's seat. He had been up to the churchyard
before starting, with a little bunch of flowers for Louise's grave.
Who could say if he would ever see it again?
At the station he stood for a moment looking back over the old city
with its cathedral, and the ancient fortress, where the sentry was
pacing back and forth against the skyline. Was this the end of his
youth? Louise--the room above the stables--the hospital, the
lazarette, the College. . . . And there lay the fjord, and far out
somewhere on the coast there stood no doubt a little grey fisher-
hut, where a pock-marked goodwife and her bow-legged goodman had
perhaps even now received the parcel of coffee and tobacco sent
them as a parting gift.
And so Peer journeyed to the capital, and from there out into the
Some years had passed--a good many years--and once more summer
had come, and June. A passenger steamer, bound from Antwerp to
Christiania, was ploughing her way one evening over a sea so
motionlessly calm that it seemed a single vast mirror filled with a
sky of grey and pink-tinged clouds. There were plenty of passengers
on board, and no one felt inclined for bed; it was so warm, so
beautiful on deck. Some artists, on their way home from Paris or
Munich, cast about for amusements to pass the time; some ordered
wine, others had unearthed a concertina, and very soon, no one knew
how, a dance was in full swing. "No, my dear," said one or two
cautious mothers to their girls, "certainly not." But before long
the mothers were dancing themselves. Then there was a doctor in
spectacles, who stood up on a barrel and made a speech; and
presently two of the artists caught hold of the grey-bearded captain
and chaired him round the deck. The night was so clear, the skies
so ruddily beautiful, the air so soft, and out here on the open sea
all hearts were light and happy.
"Who's that wooden-faced beggar over there that's too high and
mighty for a little fun?" asked Storaker the painter, of his friend
the sculptor Praas.
"That fellow? Oh, he's the one that was so infernally instructive
at dinner, when we were talking about Egyptian vases."
"So it is, by Jove! Schoolmaster abroad, I should think. When we
got on to Athens and Greek sculpture he condescended to set us
right about that, too."
"I heard him this morning holding forth to the doctor on
Assyriology. No wonder he doesn't dance!"
The passenger they were speaking of was a man of middle height,
between thirty and forty apparently, who lay stretched in a deck-
chair a little way off. He was dressed in grey throughout, from
his travelling-cap to the spats above his brown shoes. His face
was sallow, and the short brown beard was flecked with grey. But
his eyes had gay little gleams in them as they followed the
dancers. It was Peer Holm.
As he sat there watching, it annoyed him to feel that he could not
let himself go like the others. But it was so long since he had
mixed with his own countrymen, that he felt insecure of his footing
and almost like a foreigner among them. Besides, in a few hours
now they should sight the skerries on the Norwegian coast; and the
thought awoke in him a strange excitement--it was a moment he had
dreamed of many and many a time out there in the wide world.
After a while stillness fell on the decks around him, and he too
went below, but lay down in his cabin without undressing. He
thought of the time when he had passed that way on the outward
voyage, poor and unknown, and had watched the last island of his
native land sink below the sea-rim. Much had happened since then--
and now that he had at last come home, what life awaited him there?
A little after two in the morning he came on deck again, but stood
still in astonishment at finding that the vessel was now boring her
way through a thick woolly fog. The devil! thought he, beginning
to tramp up and down the deck impatiently. It seemed that his
great moment was to be lost--spoiled for him! But suddenly he
stopped by the railing, and stood gazing out into the east.
What was that? Far out in the depths of the woolly fog a glowing
spot appeared; the grey mass around grew alive, began to move, to
redden, to thin out as if it were streaming up in flames. Ah! now
he knew! It was the globe of the sun, rising out of the sea. On
board, every point where the night's moisture had lodged began to
shine in gold. Each moment it grew clearer and lighter, and the
eye reached farther. And before he could take in what was
happening, the grey darkness had rolled itself up into mounds, into
mountains, that grew buoyant and floated aloft and melted away.
And there, all revealed, lay the fresh bright morning, with a clear
sun-filled sky over the blue sea.
It was time now to get out his field-glasses. For a long time he
stood motionless, gazing intently through them.
There! Was it his fancy? No, there far ahead he can see clearly
now a darker strip between sky and sea. It's the first skerry. It
is Norway, at last!
Peer felt a sudden catch in his breath; he could hardly stand
still, but he stopped again and again in his walk to look once more
at the far-off strip of grey. And now there were seabirds too,
with long necks and swiftly-beating wings. Welcome home!
And now the steamer is ploughing in among the skerries, and a world
of rocks and islets unfolds on every side. There is the first red
fisher-hut. And then the entrance to Christiansand, between wooded
hills and islands, where white cottages shine out, each with its
patch of green grassland and its flagstaff before it.
Peer watched it all, drinking it in like nourishment. How good it
all tasted--he felt it would be long before he had drunk his fill.
Then came the voyage up along the coast, all through a day of
brilliant sunshine and a luminous night. He saw the blue sounds
with swarms of white gulls hovering above them, the little coast-
towns with their long white-painted wooden houses, and flowers in
the windows. He had never passed this way before, and yet
something in him seemed to nod and say: "I know myself again
here." All the way up the Christiania Fjord there was the scent of
leaves and meadows; big farms stood by the shore shining in the
sun. This was what a great farm looked like. He nodded again. So
warm and fruitful it all seemed, and dear to him as home--though he
knew that, after all, he would be little better than a tourist in
his own country. There was no one waiting for him, no one to take
him in. Still, some day things might be very different.
As the ship drew alongside the quay at Christiania, the other
passengers lined the rail, friends and relations came aboard, there
were tears and laughter and kisses and embraces. Peer lifted his
hat as he passed down the gangway, but no one had time to notice
him just now. And when he had found a hotel porter to look after
his luggage, he walked up alone through the town, as if he were a
The light nights made it difficult to sleep--he had actually
forgotten that it was light all night long. And this was a capital
city--yet so touchingly small, it seemed but a few steps wherever
he went. These were his countrymen, but he knew no one among them;
there was no one to greet him. Still, he thought again, some day
all this might be very different.
At last, one day as he stood looking at the window of a
bookseller's shop, he heard a voice behind him: "Why, bless me!
surely it's Peer Holm!" It was one of his fellow-students at the
Technical College, Reidar Langberg, pale and thin now as ever. He
had been a shining light at the College, but now--now he looked
shabby, worn and aged.
"I hardly knew you again," said Peer, grasping the other's hand.
"And you're a millionaire, so they say--and famous, out in the big
"Not quite so bad as that, old fellow. But what about you?"
"I? Oh, don't talk about me." And as they walked down the street
together, Langberg poured out his tale, of how times were
desperately bad, and conditions at home here simply strangled a
man. He had started ten or twelve years ago as a draughtsman in
the offices of the State Railways, and was still there, with a
growing family--and "such pay--such pay, my dear fellow!" He threw
up his eyes and clasped his hands despairingly.
"Look here," said Peer, interrupting him. "Where is the best place
in Christiania to go and have a good time in the evening?"
"Well, St. Hans Hill, for instance. There's music there."
"Right--will you come and dine with me there, to-night--shall we
say eight o'clock?"
"Thanks. I should think I would!"
Peer arrived in good time, and engaged a table on a verandah.
Langberg made his appearance shortly after, dressed in his well-
saved Sunday best--faded frock-coat, light trousers bagged at the
knees, and a straw hat yellow with age.
"It's a pleasure to have someone to talk to again," said Peer.
"For the last year or so I've been knocking about pretty much by
"Is it as long as that since you left Egypt?"
"Yes; longer. I've been in Abyssinia since then."
"Oh, of course, I remember now. It was in the papers. Building a
railway for King Menelik, weren't you?"
"Oh, yes. But the last eighteen months or so I've been idling--
running about to theatres and museums and so forth. I began at
Athens and finished up with London. I remember one day sitting on
the steps of the Parthenon declaiming the Antigone--and a moment
with some meaning in it seemed to have come at last."
"But, dash it, man, you're surely not comparing such trifles with a
thing like the great Nile Barrage? You were on that for some
years, weren't you? Do let's hear something about that. Up by the
first cataract, wasn't it? And hadn't you enormous quarries there
on the spot? You see, even sitting at home here, I haven't quite
lost touch. But you--good Lord! what things you must have seen!
Fancy living at--what was the name of the town again?"
"Assuan," answered Peer indifferently, looking out over the
gardens, where more and more visitors kept arriving.
"They say the barrage is as great a miracle as the Pyramids. How
many sluice-gates are there again--a hundred and . . . ?"
"Two hundred and sixteen," said Peer. "Look!" he broke off. "Do
you know those girls over there?" He nodded towards a party of
girls in light dresses who were sitting down at a table close by.
Langberg shook his head. He was greedy for news from the great
world without, which he had never had the luck to see.
"I've often wondered," he went on, "how you managed to come to the
front so in that sort of work--railways and barrages, and so forth--
when, your original line was mechanical engineering. Of course
you did do an extra year on the roads and railway side; but . . ."
Oh, this shining light of the schools!
"What do you say to a glass of champagne?" said Peer. "How do you
like it? Sweet or dry?"
"Why, is there any difference? I really didn't know. But when
one's a millionaire, of course . . ."
"I'm not a millionaire," said Peer with a smile, and beckoned to a
"Oh! I heard you were. Didn't you invent a new motor-pump that
drove all the other types out of the field? And besides--that
Abyssinian railway. Oh well, well!" he sighed, "it's a good thing
somebody's lucky. The rest of us shouldn't complain. But how
about the other two--Klaus Brock and Ferdinand Holm? What are they
"Klaus is looking after the Khedive's estates at Edfina.
Agriculture by steam power; his own railway lines to bring in the
produce, and so on. Yes, Klaus has ended up in a nice little place
of his own. His district's bigger than the kingdom of Denmark."
"Good heavens!" Langberg nearly fell off his chair. "And
Ferdinand Holm; what about him?"
"Oh, he's got bigger things on hand. Went nosing about the Libyan
desert, and found that considerable tracts of it have water-veins
only a few yards beneath the surface. If so, of course, it's only
a question of proper plant to turn an enormous area into a paradise
"Good gracious! What a discovery!" gasped the other, almost
Peer looked out over the fjord, and went on: "Last year he managed
at last to get the Khedive interested, and they've started a joint-
stock company now, with a capital of some millions. Ferdinand is
"And what's his salary? As much as fifty thousand crowns?"
"His pay is two hundred thousand francs a year," said Peer, not
without some fear that his companion might faint. "Yes, he's an
able fellow, is Ferdinand."
It took Langberg some time to get his breath again. At last he
asked, with a sidelong glance:
"And you and Klaus Brock--I suppose you've put your millions in his
Peer smiled as he sat looking out over the garden. Lifting his
glass, "Your good health," he said, for all answer.
"Have you been in America, too?" went on the other. "No, I suppose
"America? Yes, a few years back, when I was with Brown Bros., they
sent me over one time to buy plant. Nothing so surprising in that,
"No, no, of course not. I was only thinking--you went about there,
I daresay, and saw all the wonderful things--the miracles of
science they're always producing."
"My dear fellow, if you only knew how deadly sick I am of miracles
of science! What I'm longing for is a country watermill that takes
twenty-four hours to grind a sack of corn."
"What? What do you say?" Langberg bounced in his chair. "Ha-ha-
ha! You're the same old man, I can see."
"I'm perfectly serious," said Peer, lifting his glass towards the
other. "Come. Here's to our old days together!"
"Aye--thanks, a thousand thanks--to our old days together!--Ah,
delicious! Well, then, I suppose you've fallen in love away down
there in the land of the barbarians? Haven't you? Ha-ha-ha!"
"Do you call Egypt a land of barbarians?"
"Well, don't the fellahs still yoke their wives to their ploughs?"
"A fellah will sit all night long outside his hut and gaze up at
the stars and give himself time to dream. And a merchant prince in
Vienna will dictate business letters in his automobile as he's
driving to the theatre, and write telegrams as he sits in the
stalls. One fine day he'll be sitting in his private box with a
telephone at one ear and listening to the opera with the other.
That's what the miracles of science are doing for us. Awe-
inspiring, isn't it?"
"And you talk like that--a man that's helped to harness the Nile,
and has built railways through the desert?"
Peer shrugged his shoulders, and offered the other a cigar from his
case. A waiter appeared with coffee.
"To help mankind to make quicker progress--is that nothing?"
"Lord! What I'd like to know is, where mankind are making for,
that they're in such a hurry."
"That the Nile Barrage has doubled the production of corn in Egypt--
created the possibilities of life for millions of human beings--is
"My good fellow, do you really think there aren't enough fools on
this earth already? Have we too little wailing and misery and
discontent and class-hatred as it is? Why must we go about to
"But hang it all, man--what about European culture? Surely you
felt yourself a sort of missionary of civilisation, where you have
"The spread of European civilisation in the East simply means that
half a dozen big financiers in London or Paris take a fancy to a
certain strip of Africa or Asia. They press a button, and out come
all the ministers and generals and missionaries and engineers with
a bow: At your service, gentlemen!
"Culture! One wheel begets ten new ones. Brr-rrr! And the ten
again another hundred. Brr-rr-rrr--more speed, more competition--
and all for what? For culture? No, my friend, for money.
Missionary! I tell you, as long as Western Europe with all its
wonders of modern science and its Christianity and its political
reforms hasn't turned out a better type of humanity than the mean
ruck of men we have now--we'd do best to stay at home and hold our
counfounded jaw. Here's ourselves!" and Peer emptied his glass.
This was a sad hearing for poor Langberg. For he had been used to
comfort himself in his daily round with the thought that even he,
in his modest sphere, was doing his share in the great work of
civilising the world.
At last he leaned back, watching the smoke from his cigar, and
smiling a little.
"I remember a young fellow at the College," he said, "who used to
talk a good deal about Prometheus, and the grand work of liberating
humanity, by stealing new and ever new fire from Olympus."
"That was me--yes," said Peer with a laugh. "As a matter of fact,
I was only quoting Ferdinand Holm."
"You don't believe in all that now?"
"It strikes me that fire and steel are rapidly turning men into
beasts. Machinery is killing more and more of what we call the
godlike in us."
"But, good heavens, man! Surely a man can be a Christian even
if . . ."
"Christian as much as you like. But don't you think it might soon
be time we found something better to worship than an ascetic on a
cross? Are we to keep on for ever singing Hallelujah because we've
saved our own skins and yet can haggle ourselves into heaven? Is
"No, no, perhaps not. But I don't know . . ."
"Neither do I. But it's all the same; for anyhow no such thing as
religious feeling exists any longer. Machinery is killing our
longings for eternity, too. Ask the good people in the great
cities. They spend Christmas Eve playing tunes from The Dollar
Princess on the gramophone."
Langberg sat for a while watching the other attentively. Peer sat
smoking slowly; his face was flushed with the wine, but from time
to time his eyes half-closed, and his thoughts seemed to be
wandering in other fields than these.
"And what do you think of doing now you are home again?" asked his
companion at last.
Peer opened his eyes. "Doing? Oh, I don't know. Look about me
first of all. Then perhaps I may find a cottar's croft somewhere
and settle down and marry a dairymaid. Here's luck!"
The gardens were full now of people in light summer dress, and in
the luminous evening a constant ripple of laughter and gay voices
came up to them. Peer looked curiously at the crowd, all strangers
to him, and asked his companion the names of some of the people.
Langberg pointed out one or two celebrities--a Cabinet Minister
sitting near by, a famous explorer a little farther off. "But I
don't know them personally," he added. "Can't afford society on
that scale, of course."
"How beautiful it is here!" said Peer, looking out once more at the
yellow shimmer of light above the fjord. "And how good it is to be
He sat in the train on his way up-country, and from the carriage
window watched farms and meadows and tree-lined roads slide past.
Where was he going? He did not know himself. Why should not a man
start off at haphazard, and get out when the mood takes him? At
last he was able to travel through his own country without having
to think of half-pennies. He could let the days pass over his head
without care or trouble, and give himself good leisure to enjoy any
beauty that came in his way.
There is Mjosen, the broad lake with the rich farmlands and long
wooded ridges on either side. He had never been here before, yet
it seemed as if something in him nodded a recognition to it all.
Once more he sat drinking in the rich, fruitful landscape--the
wooded hills, the fields and meadows seemed to spread themselves
out over empty places in his mind.
But later in the day the landscape narrowed and they were in
Gudbrandsdalen, where the sunburned farms are set on green slopes
between the river and the mountains. Peer's head was full of
pictures from abroad, from the desert sands with their scorched
palm-trees to the canals of Venice. But here--he nodded again.
Here he was at home, though he had never seen the place before;
just this it was which had been calling to him all through his long
years of exile.
At last on a sudden he gathered up his traps and got out, without
the least idea even of the name of the station. A meal at the
hotel, a knapsack on his back, and hey!--there before him lies the
road, up into the hills.
Alone? What matter, when there are endless things that greet him
from every side with "Welcome home!" The road is steep, the air
grows lighter, the homesteads smaller. At last the huts look like
little matchboxes--from the valley, no doubt, it must seem as if
the people up here were living among the clouds. But many and many
a youth must have followed this road in the evenings, going up to
court his Mari or his Kari at the saeter-hut, the same road and the
same errand one generation after another. To Peer it seemed as if
all those lads now bore him company--aye, as if he discovered in
himself something of wanton youth that had managed to get free at
Puh! His coat must come off and his cap go into the knapsack.
Now, as the valley sinks and sinks farther beneath him, the view
across it widens farther and farther out over the uplands beyond.
Brown hills and blue, ridges livid or mossy-grey in the setting
sun, rising and falling wave behind wave, and beyond all a great
snowfield, like a sea of white breakers foaming against the sky.
But surely he had seen all this before?
Ah! now he knew; it was the Lofoten Sea over again--with its white
foam-crested combers and long-drawn, heavy-breathing swell--a
rolling ocean turned to rock. Peer halted a moment leaning on his
stick, and his eyes half-closed. Could he not feel that same
ocean-swell rising and sinking in his own being? Did not the same
waves surge through the centuries, carrying the generations away
with them upon great wanderings? And in daily life the wave rolls
us along in the old familiar rhythm, and not one in ten thousand
lifts his head above it to ask: whither and why! Even now just
such a little wave has hold of him, taking him--whither and why?
Well, the coming days might show; meanwhile, there beyond was the
sea of stone rolling its eternal cadence under the endless sky.
He wiped his forehead and turned and went his way.
But what is that far off in the north-east? three sisters in white
shawls, lifting their heads to heaven--that must be Rondane. And
see how the evening sun is kindling the white peaks to purple and
Puh!--only one more hill now, and here is the top at last. And
there ahead lie the great uplands, with marsh and mound and
gleaming tarns. Ah, what a relief! What wonder that his step
grows lighter and quicker? Before he knows it he is singing aloud
in mere gaiety of heart. Ah, dear God, what if after all it were
not too late to be young!
A saeter. A little hut, standing on a patch of green, with split-
stick fence and a long cow-house of rough planks--it must be a
saeter! And listen--isn't that a girl singing? Peer slipped
softly through the gate and stood listening against the wall of the
byre. "Shap, shap, shap," went the streams of milk against the
pail. It must be a fairy sitting milking in there. Then came the
Oh, Sunday eve, oh, Sunday eve,
Ever wast thou my dearest eve!
"Shap, shap, shap!" went the milk once more in the pail--and
suddenly Peer joined in:
Oh bright, oh gentle Sunday eve--
Wilt ever be my dearest eve!
The milking stopped, a cowbell tinkled as the cow turned her
inquiring face, and a girl's light-brown head of hair was thrust
out of the doorway--soon followed by the girl herself, slender,
eighteen, red-cheeked, fresh and smiling.
"Good evening," said Peer, stretching out his hand.
The girl looked at him for a moment, then cast a glance at her own
clothes--as women will when they see a man who takes their fancy.
"An' who may you be?" she asked.
"Can you cook me some cream-porridge?"
"A' must finish milking first, then."
Here was a job that Peer could help with. He took off his
knapsack, washed his hands, and was soon seated on a stool in the
close sweet air of the shed, milking busily. Then he fetched
water, and chopped some wood for the fire, the girl gazing at him
all the time, no doubt wondering who this crazy person could be.
When the porridge stood ready on the table, he insisted on her
sitting down close to him and sharing the meal. They ate a little,
and then laughed a little, and then chatted, and then ate and then
laughed again. When he asked what he had to pay, the girl said:
"Whatever you like"--and he gave her two crowns and then bent her
head back and kissed her lips. "What's the man up to?" he heard
her gasp behind him as he passed out; when he had gone a good way
and turned to look back, there she was in the doorway, shading her
eyes and watching him.
Whither away now? Well, he was pretty sure to reach some other
inhabited place before night. This, he felt, was not his abiding-
place. No, it was not here.
It was nearly midnight when he stood by the shore of a broad
mountain lake, beneath a snow-flecked hill-side. Here were a
couple of saeters, and across the lake, on a wooded island, stood a
small frame house that looked like some city people's summer
cottage. And see--over the lake, that still mirrored the evening
red, a boat appeared moving towards the island, and two white-
sleeved girls sat at the oars, singing as they rowed. A strange
feeling came over him. Here--here he would stay.
In the saeter-hut stood an enormously fat woman, with a rope round
her middle, evidently ready to go to bed. Could she put him up for
the night? Why, yes, she supposed so--and she rolled off into
another room. And soon he was lying in a tiny chamber, in a bed
with a mountainous mattress and a quilt. There was a fresh smell
from the juniper twigs strewed about the newly-washed floor, and
the cheeses, which stood in rows all round the shelf-lined walls.
Ah! he had slept in many places and fashions--at sea in a Lofoten
boat; on the swaying back of a camel; in tents out in the moonlit
desert; and in palaces of the Arabian Nights, where dwarfs fanned
him with palm-leaves to drive away the heat, and called him pasha.
But here, at last, he had found a place where it was good to be.
And he closed his eyes, and lay listening to the murmur of a little
stream outside in the light summer night, till he fell asleep.
Late in the forenoon of the next day he was awakened by the entry
of the old woman with coffee. Then a plunge into the blue-green
water of the mountain lake, a short swim, and back to find grilled
trout and new-baked waffles and thick cream for lunch.
Yes, said the old woman, if he could get along with the sort of
victuals she could cook, he might stay here a few days and welcome.
The bed was standing there empty, anyway.
So Peer stays on and goes fishing. He catches little; but time
goes leisurely here, and the summer lies soft and warm over the
brown and blue hillsides. He has soon learned that a merchant
named Uthoug, from Ringeby, is living in the house on the island,
with his wife and daughter. And what of it?
Often he would lie in his boat, smoking his pipe, and giving
himself up to quiet dreams that came and passed. A young girl in a
white boat, moving over red waters in the evening--a secret meeting
on an island--no one must know just yet. . . . Would it ever
happen to him? Ah, no.
The sun goes down, there come sounds of cow-bells nearing the
saeters, the musical cries and calls of the saeter-girls, the
lowing of the cattle. The mountains stand silent in the distance,
their snow-clad tops grown golden; the stream slides rippling by,
murmuring on through the luminous nights.
Then at last came the day of all days.
He had gone out for a long tramp at random over the hills, making
his way by compass, and noting landmarks to guide him back. Here
was a marsh covered with cloud-berries--the taste brought back his
own childhood. He wandered on up a pale-brown ridge flecked with
red heather--and what was that ahead? Smoke? He made towards it.
Yes, it was smoke. A ptarmigan fluttered out in front of him, with
a brood of tiny youngsters at her heels--Lord, what a shave!--he
stopped short to avoid treading on them. The smoke meant someone
near--possibly a camp of Lapps. Let's go and see.
He topped the last mound, and there was the fire just below. Two
girls jumped to their feet; there was a bright coffee-kettle on the
fire, and on the moss-covered ground close by bread and butter and
sandwiches laid out on a paper tablecloth.
Peer stopped short in surprise. The girls gazed at him for a
moment, and he at them, all three with a hesitating smile.
At last Peer lifted his hat and asked the way to Rustad saeter. It
took them some time to explain this, and then they asked him the
time. He told them exactly to the minute, and then showed them his
watch so that they might see for themselves. All this took more
time. Meanwhile, they had inspected each other, and found no
reason to part company just yet. One of the girls was tall,
slender of figure, with a warm-coloured oval face and dark brown
hair. Her eyebrows were thick and met above the nose, delightful
to look at. She wore a blue serge dress, with the skirt kilted up
a little, leaving her ankles visible. The other was a blonde,
smaller of stature, and with a melancholy face, though she smiled
constantly. "Oh," she said suddenly, "have you a pocket-knife by
"Oh yes!" Peer was just moving off, but gladly seized the
opportunity to stay a while.
"We've a tin of sardines here, and nothing to open it with," said
the dark one.
"Let me try," said Peer. As luck would have it, he managed to cut
himself a little, and the two girls tumbled over each other to tie
up the wound. It ended, of course, with their asking him to join
"My name is Merle Uthoug," said the dark one, with a curtsy.
"Oh, then, it's your father who has the place on the island in the
"My name's only Mork--Thea Mork. My father is a lawyer, and we
have a little cottage farther up the lake," said the blonde.
Peer was about to introduce himself, when the dark girl interrupted:
"Oh, we know you already," she said. "We've seen you out rowing
on the lake so often. And we had to find out who you were.
We have a good pair of glasses . . ."
"Merle!" broke in her companion warningly.
". . . and then, yesterday, we sent one of the maids over
reconnoitring, to make inquiries and bring us a full report."
"Merle! How can you say such things?"
It was a cheery little feast. Ah! how young they were, these two
girls, and how they laughed at a joke, and what quantities of bread
and butter and coffee they all three disposed of! Merle now and
again would give their companion a sidelong glance, while Thea
laughed at all the wild things her friend said, and scolded her,
and looked anxiously at Peer.
And now the sun was nearing the shoulder of a hill far in the west,
and evening was falling. They packed up their things, and Peer was
loaded up with a big bag of cloud-berries on his back, and a tin
pail to carry in his hand. "Give him some more," said Merle.
"It'll do him good to work for a change."
"Merle, you really are too bad!"
"Here you are," said the girl, and slid the handle of a basket into
his other hand.
Then they set out down the hill. Merle sang and yodelled as they
went; then Peer sang, and then they all three sang together. And
when they came to a heather-tussock or a puddle, they did not
trouble to go round, but just jumped over it, and then gave another
jump for the fun of the thing.
They passed the saeter and went on down to the water's edge, and
Peer proposed to row them home. And so they rowed across. And the
whole time they sat talking and laughing together as if they had
known each other for years.
The boat touched land just below the cottage, and a broad-
shouldered man with a grey beard and a straw hat came down to meet
them. "Oh, father, are you back again?" cried Merle, and,
springing ashore, she flung her arms round his neck. The two
exchanged some whispered words, and the father glanced at Peer.
Then, taking off his hat, he came towards him and said politely,
"It was very kind of you to help the girls down."
"This is Herr Holm, engineer and Egyptian," said Merle, "and this
"I hear we are neighbours," said Uthoug. "We're just going to have
tea, so if you have nothing better to do, perhaps you will join
Outside the cottage stood a grey-haired lady with a pale face,
wearing spectacles. She had a thick white woollen shawl over her
shoulders, but even so she seemed to feel cold. "Welcome," she
said, and Peer thought there was a tremor in her voice.
There were two small low rooms with an open fireplace in the one,
and in it there stood a table ready laid. But from the moment
Merle entered the house, she took command of everything, and
whisked in and out. Soon there was the sound of fish cooking in
the kitchen, and a moment later she came in with a plate full of
lettuce, and said: "Mr. Egyptian--you can make us an Arabian
salad, can't you?"
Peer was delighted. "I should think so," he said.
"You'll find salt and pepper and vinegar and oil on the table
there, and that's all we possess in the way of condiments. But it
must be a real Arabian salad all the same, if you please!" And out
she went again, while Peer busied himself with the salad.
"I hope you will excuse my daughter," said Fru Uthoug, turning her
pale face towards him and looking through her spectacles. "She is
not really so wild as she seems."
Uthoug himself walked up and down the room, chatting to Peer and
asking a great many questions about conditions in Egypt. He knew
something about the Mahdi, and General Gordon, and Khartoum, and
the strained relations between the Khedive and the Sultan. He was
evidently a diligent reader of the newspapers, and Peer gathered
that he was a Radical, and a man of some weight in his party. And
he looked as if there was plenty of fire smouldering under his
reddish eyelids: "A bad man to fall out with," thought Peer.
They sat down to supper, and Peer noticed that Fru Uthoug grew less
pale and anxious as her daughter laughed and joked and chattered.
There even came a slight glow at last into the faded cheeks; the
eyes behind the spectacles seemed to shine with a light borrowed
from her daughter's. But her husband seemed not to notice
anything, and tried all the time to go on talking about the Mahdi
and the Khedive and the Sultan.
So for the first time for many years Peer sat down to table in a
Norwegian home--and how good it was! Would he ever have a home of
his own, he wondered.
After the meal, a mandolin was brought out, and they sat round the
fire in the great fireplace and had some music. Until at last
Merle rose and said: "Now, mother, it's time you went to bed."
"Yes, dear," came the answer submissively, and Fru Uthoug said
good-night, and Merle led her off.
Peer had risen to take leave, when Merle came in again. "Why," she
said, "you're surely not going off before you've rowed Thea home?"
"Oh, Merle, please . . ." put in the other.
But when the two had taken their places in the boat and were just
about to start up the lake, Merle came running down and said she
might just as well come too.
Half an hour later, having seen the young girl safely ashore at her
father's place, Merle and Peer were alone, rowing back through the
still night over the waters of the lake, golden in the light and
dark blue in the shadows. Merle leaned back in the stern, silent,
trailing a small branch along the surface of the water behind.
After a while Peer laid in his oars and let the boat drift.
"How beautiful it is!" he said.
The girl lifted her head and looked round. "Yes," she answered,
and Peer fancied her voice had taken a new tone.
It was past midnight. Heights and woods and saeters lay lifeless
in the soft suffused reddish light. The lake-trout were not rising
any more, but now and again the screech of a cock-ptarmigan could
be heard among the withies.
"What made you come just here for your holiday, I wonder," she
"I leave everything to chance, Froken Uthoug. It just happened so.
It's all so homelike here, wherever one goes. And it is so
wonderful to be home in Norway again."
"But haven't you been to see your people--your father and mother--
since you came home?"
"I--! Do you suppose I have a father and mother?"
"But near relations--surely you must have a brother or sister
somewhere in the world?"
"Ah, if one only had! Though, after all, one can get on without."
She looked at him searchingly, as if trying to see whether he spoke
in earnest. Then she said:
"Do you know that mother dreamed of you before you came?"
"Of me?" Peer's eyes opened wide. "What did she dream about me?"
A sudden flush came to the girl's face, and she shook her head.
"It's foolish of me to sit here and tell you all this. But you see
that was why we wanted so much to find out about you when you came.
And it gives me a sort of feeling of our having known each other a
"You appear to have a very constant flow of high spirits, Froken
"I? Why do you think--? Oh, well, yes. One can come by most
things, you know, if one has to have them."
"Even high spirits?"
She turned her head and looked towards the shore. "Some day
perhaps--if we should come to be friends--I'll tell you more about
Peer bent to his oars and rowed on. The stillness of the night
drew them nearer and nearer together, and made them silent; only
now and then they would look at each other and smile.
"What mysterious creature is this I have come upon?" thought Peer.
She might be about one-or two-and-twenty. She sat there with bowed
head, and in this soft glow the oval face had a strange light of
dreams upon it. But suddenly her glance came back and rested on
him again, and then she smiled, and he saw that her mouth was large
and her lips full and red.
"I wish I had been all over the world, like you," she said.
"Have you never been abroad, Froken Uthoug?" he asked.
"I spent a winter in Berlin, once, and a few months in South
Germany. I played the violin a little, you see; and I hoped to
take it up seriously abroad and make something of it--but--"
"Well, why shouldn't you?"
She was silent for a little, then at last she said: "I suppose you
are sure to know about it some day, so I may just as well tell you
now. Mother has been out of her mind."
"My dear Froken--"
"And when she's at home my--high spirits are needed to help her to
be more or less herself."
He felt an impulse to rise and go to the girl, and take her head
between his hands. But she looked up, with a melancholy smile;
their eyes met in a long look, and she forgot to withdraw her
"I must go ashore now," she said at last.
"Oh, so soon! Why, we have hardly begun our talk!"
"I must go ashore now," she repeated; and her voice, though still
gentle, was not to be gainsaid.
At last Peer was alone, rowing back to his saeter. As he rowed he
watched the girl going slowly up towards the cottage. When she
reached the door she turned for the first time and waved to him.
Then she stood for a moment looking after him, and then opened the
door and disappeared. He gazed at the door some time longer, as if
expecting to see it open again, but no sign of life was to be seen.
The sun's rim was showing now above the distant ranges in the east,
and the white peaks in the north and west kindled in the morning
glow. Peer laid in his oars again, and rested, with his elbows on
his knees and his head in his hands. What could this thing be that
had befallen him today?
How could those peaks stand round so aloof and indifferent, and
leave him here disconsolate and alone?
What was it, this new rushing in his ears; this new rhythm of his
pulse? He lay back at last in the bottom of the boat, with hands
clasped behind his head, and let boat and all things drift.
And when the glare of the rising sun came slanting into the boat
and beat dazzlingly in his face, he only turned his head a little
and let it shine full upon him.
Now she is lying asleep over there, the morning streaming red
through her window--of whom is she dreaming as she sleeps?
Have you ever seen such eyebrows before? To press one's lips to
them--to take her head between one's hand . . . and so it is to
save your mother that you give up your own dreams, and to warm her
soul that you keep that flame of gladness burning in you? Is that
the sort you are?
Merle--was ever such a name? Are you called Merle?
Day spreads over the heavens, kindling all the night-clouds, great
and small, to gold and scarlet. And here he lies, rocking,
rocking, on no lake, but on a red stately-heaving ocean swell.
Ah! till now your mind has been so filled with cold mechanics, with
calculations, with steel and fire. More and more knowledge, ever
more striving to understand all things, to know all, to master all.
But meanwhile, the tones of the hymn died within you, and the
hunger for that which lies beyond all things grew ever fiercer and
fiercer. You thought it was Norway that you needed--and now you
are here. But is it enough?
Merle--is your name Merle?
There is nothing that can be likened to the first day of love. All
your learning, your travel, and deeds and dreams--all has been
nothing but dry firewood that you have dragged and heaped together.
And now has come a spark, and the whole heap blazes up, casting its
red glow over earth and heaven, and you stretch out your cold
hands, and warm them, and shiver with joy that a new bliss has come
upon the earth.
And all that you could not understand--the relation between the
spark of eternity in your soul and the Power above, and the whole
of endless space--has all of a sudden become so clear that you lie
here trembling with joy at seeing to the very bottom of the
You have but to take her by the hand, and "Here are we two," you
say to the powers of life and death. "Here is she and here am I--
we two"--and you send the anthem rolling aloft--a strain from
little Louise's fiddle-bow mingling with it--not to the vaultings
of any church, but into endless space itself. And Thou, Power
above, now I understand Thee. How could I ever take seriously a
Power that sat on high playing with Sin and Grace--but now I see
Thee, not the bloodthirsty Jehovah, but a golden-haired youth, the
Light itself. We two worship Thee; not with a wail of prayer, but
with a great anthem, that has the World-All in it. All our powers,
our knowledge, our dreams--all are there. And each has its own
instrument, its own voice in the mighty chorus. The dawn reddening
over the hills is with us. The goat grazing on that northern
hillside, dazzled with sun-gold when it turns its head to the east--
it is with us, too. The waking birds are with us. A frog,
crawling up out of a puddle and stopping to wonder at the morning--
it is there. Even the little insect with diamonds on its wings--
and the grass-blade with its pearl of dew, trying to mirror as much
of the sky as it can--it is there, it is there, it is there. We
are standing amid Love's first day, and there is no more talk of
grace or doubt or faith or need of aid; only a rushing sound of
music rising to heaven from all the golden rivers in our hearts.
The saeters were beginning to wake. Musical cries came echoing as
the saeter-girls chid on the cattle, that moved slowly up to the
northern heights, with lowings and tinkling of bells. But Peer lay
still where he was--and presently the dairy-maid at the saeter
caught sight of what seemed an empty boat drifting on the lake, and
was afraid some accident had happened.
"Merle," thought Peer, still lying motionless. "Is your name
The dairy-maid was down by the waterside now, calling across toward
the boat. And at last she saw a man sit up, rubbing his eyes.
"Mercy on us!" she cried. "Lord be thanked that you're there. And
you haven't been in the whole blessed night!"
A goat with a broken leg, set in splints, had been left to stray at
will about the cattle-pens and in and out of the house, while its
leg-bones were setting. Peer must needs pick up the creature and
carry it round for a while in his arms, though it at once began
chewing at his beard. When he sat down to the breakfast-table, he
found something so touching in the look of the cream and butter,
the bread and the coffee, that it seemed a man would need a heart
of stone to be willing to eat such things. And when the old woman
said he really ought to get some food into him, he sprang up and
embraced her, as far as his arms would go round. "Nice carryings
on!" she cried, struggling to free herself. But when he went so
far as to imprint a sounding kiss on her forehead, she fetched him
a mighty push. "Lord!" she said, "if the gomeril hasn't gone clean
out of his wits this last night!"
Ringeby lay on the shore of a great lake; and was one of those busy
commercial towns which have sprung up in the last fifty years from
a nucleus consisting of a saw-mill and a flour-mill by the side of
a waterfall. Now quite a number of modern factories had spread
upwards along the river, and the place was a town with some four
thousand inhabitants, with a church of its own, a monster of a
school building, and numbers of yellow workmen's dwellings
scattered about at random in every direction. Otherwise Ringeby
was much like any other little town. There were two lawyers, who
fought for scraps of legal business, and the editors of two local
papers, who were constantly at loggerheads before the Conciliation
Board. There was a temperance lodge and Workers' Union and a
chapel and a picture palace. And every Sunday afternoon the good
citizens of Ringeby walked out along the fjord, with their wives on
their arms. On these occasions most of the men wore frock coats
and grey felt hats; but Enebak, the tanner, being hunchbacked,
preferred a tall silk hat, as better suited to eke out his height.
On Saturday evenings, when twilight began to fall, the younger men
would meet at the corner outside Hammer's store, to discuss the
events of the week.
"Have you heard the latest news?" asked Lovli, the bank cashier, of
his friend the telegraphist, who came up.
"News? Do you tell me that there's ever any news in this accursed
"Merle Uthoug has come back from the mountains--engaged to be
"The devil she is! What does the old man say to that?"
"Oh, well, the old man will want an engineer if he's to get the new
timber-mills into his clutches."
"Is the man an engineer?"
"From Egypt. A Muhammadan, I daresay. Brown as a coffee-berry,
and rolling in money."
"Do you hear that, Froken Bull? Stop a minute, here's some news
The girl addressed turned aside and joined them. "Oh, the same
piece of news that's all over the town, I suppose. Well, I can
tell you, he's most tremendously nice."
"Sh!" whispered the telegraphist. Peer Holm was just coming out of
the Grand Hotel, dressed in a grey suit, and with a dark coat over
his arm. He was trying to get a newly-lit cigar to draw, as he
walked with a light elastic step past the group at the corner. A
little farther up the street he encountered Merle, and took her
arm, and the two walked off together, the young people at the
corner watching them as they went.
"And when is it to be?" asked the telegraphist.
"He wanted to be married immediately, I believe," said Froken Bull,
"but I suppose they'll have to wait till the banns are called, like
Lorentz D. Uthoug's long, yellow-painted wooden house stood facing
the market square; the office and the big ironmonger's shop were on
the ground floor, and the family lived in the upper storeys.
"That's where he lives," people would say. Or "There he goes," as
the broad, grey-bearded man passed down the street. Was he such a
big man, then? He could hardly be called really rich, though he
had a saw-mill and a machine-shop and a flour-mill, and owned a
country place some way out of the town. But there was something of
the chieftain, something of the prophet, about him. He hated
priests. He read deep philosophical works, forbade his family to
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