Absalom's Hair

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

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Chapter 5

The next day they were married. That night, long after his wife had fallen into her usual healthy sleep, Rafael thought sorrowfully of his lost Paradise. HE could not sleep. As he lay there he seemed to look out over a meadow, which had no springtime, and therefore no flowers. He retraced the events of the past day. His would be a marred life which had never known the sweet joys of courtship.

Angelika did not share his beliefs. She was a stern realist, a sneering sceptic, in the most literal sense a cynic.

Her even breathing, her regular features, seemed to answer him. "Hey-dey, my boy, we shall be merry for a thousand years! Better sleep now, you will need sleep if you mean to try which of us is the stronger."

The next day their marriage was the marvel of the town and neighbourhood.

"Just like his mother!" people exclaimed; "what promise there was in her! She might have chosen so as to have been now in one of the best positions in the country—when, lo and behold! she went and made the most idiotic marriage. The most idiotic? No, the son's is more idiotic still." And so on and so forth.

Most people seem naturally impelled to exalt the hero of the hour higher than they themselves intend, and when a reaction comes, to decry him in an equal degree. Few people see with their own eyes, and on special occasions even magnifying or diminishing glasses are called into play with most amusing results.

"Rafael Kaas a handsome fellow?—well, yes, but too big, too fair, no repose, altogether too restless. Rich? He? He has not a stiver! The savings eaten up long ago, nothing coming in, they have been encroaching on their capital for some time; and the beds of cement stone—who the deuce would join with him in any large undertaking? They talk about his gifts, his genius even; but IS he very highly gifted? Is it anything more than what he has acquired? The saving of motive power at the factory? Was that anything more than a mere repetition of what he had done before?—and that, of course, only what he had seen elsewhere."

Just the same with the hints which he had given. "Merely close personal observation; for it must be admitted that he had more of that than most people; but as for ingenuity! Well, he could make out a good case for himself, but that was about the extent of his ingenuity."

"His earlier articles, as well as those which had recently appeared on the use of electricity in baking and tanning—could you call those discoveries? Let us see what he will invent now that he has come home, and cannot get ideas from reading and from seeing people."

Rafael noticed this change—first among the ladies, who all seemed to have been suddenly blown away, with a few exceptions, who did not respect a marriage like his, and who would not give in.

His relations, also, held somewhat aloof. "It was not thus that he showed himself a true Ravn. He was so in temperament and disposition, perhaps, but it was just his defect that he was only a half-breed."

The change of front was complete: he noticed it on all hands. But he was man enough, and had sufficient obstinacy as well, to let himself be urged on by this to hard work, and in his wife there was still more of the same feeling.

He had a sense of elevation in having done his duty, and as long as this tension lasted it kept him up to the mark. On the day of his marriage (from early in the morning until the time when the ceremony took place) he employed himself in writing to his mother; a wonderful, a solemn letter in the sight of the All-Knowing,—the cry of a tortured soul in utmost peril.

It depended on his mother whether she would receive them and let their life become all that was now possible. Angelika—their business, manager, housekeeper, chief. He—devoted to his experiments. She—the tender mother, the guide of both.

It seemed to him that their future depended on this letter and the answer to it, and he wrote in that spirit. Never had he so fully depicted himself, so fully searched his own heart.

It was the outcome of what he had lived through during these last few days, the mellowing influence of his struggles during the night watches. Nothing could have been more candid.

He was pained that he did not receive an answer at once, although he realised what a blow it would be to her. He understood that, to begin with, it would destroy all her dreams, as it had already destroyed. But he relied on her optimistic nature, which he had never known surpassed, and on the depth of her purpose in all that she undertook. He knew that she drew strength and resolution from all that was deepest in their common life.

Therefore he gave her time, notwithstanding Angelika's restlessness, which could hardly be controlled. She even began to sneer; but there was something holy in his anticipation: her words fell unheeded.

When on the third day he had received no letter, he telegraphed, merely these words: "Mother, send me an answer." The wires had never carried anything more fraught with unspoken grief.

He could not return home. He remained alone outside the town until the evening, by which time the answer might well have arrived. It was there.

"My beloved son, YOU are always welcome; most of all when you are unhappy!" The word YOU was underlined. He grew deadly pale, and went slowly into his own room. There Angelika let him remain for a while in peace, then came in and lit the lamp. He could see that she was much agitated, and that every now and then she cast hasty glances at him.

"Do you know what, Rafael? you ought simply to go straight to your mother. It is too bad, both on account of our future and hers. We shall be ruined by gossip and trash."

He was too unhappy to be contemptuous. She had no respect for anybody or anything, he thought; why, then, should he be angry because she felt none, either for his mother or for his position in regard to her? But how vulgar Angelika seemed to him, as she bent over a troublesome lamp and let her impatience break out! Her mouth but too easily acquired a coarse expression. Her small head would rear itself above her broad shoulders with a snake-like expression, and her thick wrist—

"Well," she said, "when all is said and done, that disgusting Hellebergene is not worth making a fuss over." Now she is annoyed with herself, he thought, and must have her say. She will not rest until she has picked a quarrel; but she shall not have that satisfaction.

"After all that has been said and all that has happened there—"

But this, too, missed fire. "How could I have supposed that she could manage my mother?" He got up and paced the room. "Is that what mother felt? Yet they were such good friends. I suspected nothing then. How is it that mother's instinct is always more delicate? have I blunted mine?"

When, a little later, Angelika came in again, he looked so unhappy that she was struck by it, and she then showed herself so kind and fertile in resource on his behalf, and there was such sunshine in her cheerfulness and flow of spirits during the evening, that he actually brightened up under it, and thought—If mother could have brought herself to try the experiment, perhaps after all it might have answered. There is so much that is good and capable in this curious creature.

He went to the children. From the first day he and they had taken to each other. They had been unhappy in the great pension, with a mother who seldom came near them or took any notice of them, except as clothes to be patched, mouths to feed, or faults to be punished.

Rafael had in his nature the unconventionality which delights in children's confidence, and he felt a desire to love and to be loved. Children are quick to feel this.

They only wasted Angelika's time. They were in her way now more than ever; for it may be said at once that, Rafael had become EVERYTHING to her. This was the fascination in her, and whatever happened, it never lost its power. Her tenderness, her devotion, were boundless. By the aid of her personal charm, her resourceful ingenuity, she obtained every advantage for him within her range, and even beyond it. It was felt in her devotion by night and day, when anything was to be done, in an untiring zeal such as only so strong and healthy a woman could have had in her power to render. But in words it did not show itself, hardly even in looks: except, perhaps, while she fought to win him, but never since then.

Had she been able to adhere to one line of conduct, if only for a few weeks at a time, and let herself be guided by her never-failing love, he would, in this stimulating atmosphere, have made of his married life what his mother, in spite of all, had made of hers.

Why did not this happen? Because the jealousy which she had aroused in him and which had drawn him to her again was now reversed.

They were hardly married before it was she who was jealous! Was it strange? A middle-aged woman, even though she be endowed with the strongest personality and the widest sympathy, when she wins a young husband who is the fashion—wins him as Angelika won hers—begins to live in perpetual disquietude lest any one should take him from her. Had she not taken him herself?

If we were to say that she was jealous of every human being who came there, man or woman, old or young, beside those whom he met elsewhere, it would be an exaggeration, but this exaggeration throws a strong light upon the state of things, which actually existed.

If he became at all interested in conversation with any one, she always interrupted. Her face grew hard, her right foot began to move; and if this did not suffice, she struck in with sulky or provoking remarks, no matter who was there.

If something were said in praise of any one, and it seemed to excite his interest, she would pooh-pooh it, literally with a "pooh!" a shrug of the shoulders, a toss of the head, or an impatient tap of the foot.

At first he imagined that she really knew something disadvantageous about all those whom she thus disparaged, and he was filled with admiration at her acquaintance with half Norway. He believed in her veracity as he believed in few things. He believed, too, that it was unbounded like so many of her qualities. She said the most cynical things in the plainest manner without apparent design.

But little by little it dawned upon him that she said precisely what it pleased her to say, according to the humour that she was in.

One day, as they were going to table—he had come in late and was hungry—he was delighted to see that there were oysters.

"Oysters! at this time of the year," he cried. "They must be very expensive."

"Pooh! that was the old woman, you know. She persuaded me to take them for you. I got them for next to nothing."

"That was odd; you have been out, then, too?"

"Yes, and I saw YOU; you were walking with Emma Ravn."

He understood at once, by the tone of her voice, that this was not permitted, but all the same he said, "Yes; how sweet she is! so fresh and candid."

"She! Why, she had a child before she was married."

"Emma? Emma Ravn?"

"Yes! But I do not know who by."

"Do you know, Angelika, I do not believe that," he said solemnly.

"You can do as you please about that, but she was at the pension at the time, so you can judge for yourself if I am right."

He could not believe that any human being could so belie themselves. Emma's eyes, clear as water in a fountain where one can count the pebbles at the bottom, rose to his mind, in all their innocence. He could not believe that such eyes could lie. He grew livid, he could not eat, he left the table. The world was nothing but a delusion, the purest was impure.

For a long time after this, whenever he met Emma or her white-haired mother, he turned aside, so as not to come face to face with them.

He had clung to his relations: their weak points were apparent to every one, but their ability and honesty no less so. This one story destroyed his confidence, impaired his self-reliance, shattered his belief, and thus made him the poorer. How could he be fit for anything, when he so constantly allowed himself to be befooled?

There was not one word of truth in the whole story.

His simple confidence was held in her grasp, like a child in the talons of an eagle; but this did not last much longer.

Fortunately, she was without calculation or perseverance. She did not remember one day what she had said the day before; for each day she coolly asserted whatever was demanded by the necessity of the moment. He, on the contrary, had an excellent memory; and his mathematical mind ranged the evidence powerfully against her. Her gifts were more aptness and quickness than anything else, they were without training, without cohesion, and permeated with passion at all points. Therefore he could, at any moment, crush her defence; but whenever this happened, it was so evident that she had been actuated by jealousy that it flattered his vanity; which was the reason why he did not regard it seriously enough—did not pursue his advantage. Perhaps if he had done so, he would have discovered more, for this jealousy was merely the form which her uneasiness took. This uneasiness arose from several causes.

The fact was that she had a past and she had debts which she had denied, and now she lived in perpetual dread lest any one should enlighten him. If any one got on the scent, she felt sure that this would be used against her. It merely depended on what he learned—in other words, with whom he associated.

She could disregard anonymous letters because he did so, but there were plenty of disagreeable people who might make innuendoes.

She saw that Rafael too, to some extent, avoided his countless friends of old days. She did not understand the reason, but it was this: that he, as well, felt that they knew more of her than it was expedient for HIM to know. She saw that he made ingenious excuses for not being seen out with her. This, too, she misconstrued. She did not at all understand that he, in his way, was quite as frightened as she was of what people might say. She believed that he sought the society of others rather than hers. If nothing more came of such intercourse, stories might be told. This was the reason for her slanders about almost every one he spoke to. If they had vilified her, they must be vilified in return.

She had debts, and this could not be concealed unless she increased them; this she did with a boldness worthy of a better cause. The house was kept on an extravagant scale, with an excellent table and great hospitality. Otherwise he would not be comfortable at home, she said and believed.

She herself vied with the most fashionably dressed ladies in the town. Her daily struggle to maintain her hold on him demanded this. It followed, of course, that she got everything for "nothing" or "the greatest bargain in the world." There was always some one "who almost gave it" to her. He did not know himself how much money he spent, perhaps, because she hunted and drove him from one thing to another.

Originally he had thought of going abroad; but with a wife who knew no foreign languages, with a large family—

Here at home, as he soon discovered, every one had lost confidence in him. He dared not take up anything important, or else he wished to wait a little before he came to any definite determination. In the meantime, he did whatever came to hand, and that was often work of a subordinate description. Both from weariness, and from the necessity to earn a living, he ended by doing only mediocre work, and let things drift.

He always gave out that this was only "provisional." His scientific gifts, his inventive genius, with so many pounds on his back, did not rise high, but they should yet! He had youth's lavish estimate of time and strength, and therefore did not see, for a long time, that the large family, the large house were weighing him farther and farther down. If only he could have a little peace, he thought, he would carry out his present ideas and new ones also. He felt such power within him.

But peace was just what he never had. Now we come to the worst, or more properly, to the sum of what has gone before. The ceaseless uneasiness in which Angelika lived broke out into perpetual quarrelling. For one thing, she had no self-command. A caprice, a mistake, an anxiety over-ruled everything. She seized the smallest opportunities. Again—and this was a most important factor—there was her overpowering anxiety to keep possession of him; this drew her away from what she should have paid most heed to, in order to let him have peace. She continued her lavish housekeeping, she let the children drift, she concentrated all her powers on him. Her jealousy, her fears, her debts, sapped his fertile mind, destroyed his good humour, laid desolate his love of the beautiful and his creative power.

He had in particular one great project, which he had often, but ineffectually, attempted to mature. The effort to do so had begun seriously one day on the heights above Hellebergene, and had continued the whole summer. Curiously enough, one morning, as he sat at some most wearisome work, Hellebergene and Helene, in the spring sunshine, rose before him, and with them his project, lofty and smiling, came to him again. Then he begged for a little peace in the house.

"Let me be quiet, if only for a month," he said. "Here is some money. I have got an idea; I must and will have quiet. In a month's time I shall have got on so far that perhaps I shall be able to judge if it is worth continuing. It may be that this one idea may entirely support us."

This was something which she could understand, and now he was able to be quiet.

He had an office in the town, but sometimes took his papers home with him in the evenings, for it often happened that something would occur to him at one moment or another. She bestowed every care on him; she even sat on the stairs while he was asleep at midday, to prevent him from being disturbed.

This went on for a fortnight. Then it so chanced that, when he had gone out for a walk, she rummaged among his papers, and there, among drawings, calculations, and letters, she actually, for once in a way, found something. It was in his handwriting and as follows:

"More of the mother than the lover in her; more of the solicitude of love than of its enjoyment. Rich in her affection, she would not squander it in one day with you, but, mother-like, would distribute it throughout your life. Instead of the whirl of the rapids, a placid stream. Her love was devotion, never absorption. YOU were one and SHE was one. Together we should have been more powerful than two lovers are wont to be."

There was more of this, but Angelika could not read further, she became so furious. Were these his own thoughts, or had he merely copied them? There were no corrections, so most likely it was a copy. In any case it showed where his thoughts were.

Rafael came quietly home, went straight to his room and lighted a candle, even before he took off his overcoat. As he stood he wrote down a few formulae, then seized a book, sat down astride of a chair, and made a rapid calculation. Just then Angelika came in, leaned forward towards him, and said in a low voice:

"You are a nice fellow! Now I know what you have in hand. Look there: your secret thoughts are with that beast."

"Beast!" he repeated. His anger at being disturbed, at her having found this particular paper, and now the abuse from her coarse lips of the most delicate creature he had ever known, and, above all, the absolute unexpectedness of the attack, made him lose his head.

"How dare you? What do you mean?"

"Don't be a fool. Do you suppose that I don't guess that that is meant for the girl who looked after your estate in order to catch you?"

She saw that this hit the mark, so she went still further.

"She, the model of virtue! why, when she was a mere girl, she disgraced herself with an old man."

As she spoke she was seized by the throat and flung backwards on to the sofa, without the grasp being relaxed. She was breathless, she saw his face over her; deadly rage was in it. A strength, a wildness of which she had no conception, gazed upon her in sensual delight at being able to strangle her.

After a wild struggle her arms sank down powerless, her will with them; only her eyes remained wide open, in terror and wonderment.

Dare he? "Yes, he dare!" Her eyes grew dim, her limbs began to tremble.

"You have taken MY apple, I tell you," was heard in a childish voice from the next room, a soft lisping voice.

It came from the most peaceful innocence in the world! It saved her!

He rushed out again; but even when the rage had left him which had seized upon him and dominated him as a rider does a horse, he was still not horrified at himself. His satisfaction at having at length made his power felt was too great for that.

But by degrees there came a revulsion. Suppose he had killed her, and had to go into penal servitude for the rest of his life for it! Had such a possibility come into his life? Might it happen in the future? No! no! no! How strange that Angelika should have wounded him! How frightful her state of mind must be when she could think so odiously of absolutely innocent people; and how angry she must have been to behave in such a way towards him, whom she loved above all others, indeed, as the only one for whom she had to live!

A long, long sum followed: his faults, her faults, and the faults of others. He cooled down and began to feel more like himself.

In an hour or two he was fit to go home, to find her on her bed, dissolved in tears, prepared at once to throw her arms round his neck.

He asked pardon a hundred times, with words, kisses, and caresses.

But with this scene his invention had fled. The spell was broken. It never did more than flutter before him, tempting him to pursue it once more; but he turned away from the whole subject and began to work for money again. Something offered itself just at that moment which Angelika had hunted up.

Back to the unending toil again. Now at last it became an irritation to him: he chafed as the war horse chafes at being made a beast of burden.

This made the scenes at home still worse. Since that episode their quarrels knew no bounds. Words were no longer necessary to bring them about: a gesture, a look, a remark of his unanswered, was enough to arouse the most violent scenes. Hitherto they had been restrained by the presence of others, but now it was the same whether they were alone or not. Very soon, as far as brutality of expression or the triviality of the question was concerned, he was as bad or worse than she.

His idle fancy and creative genius found no other vent, but overthrew and trampled underfoot many of life's most beautiful gifts. Thus he squandered much of the happiness which such talents can duly give. Sometimes his daily regrets and sufferings, sometimes his passionate nature, were in the ascendant, but the cause of his despair was always the same—that this could have happened to him. Should he leave her? He would not thus escape. The state of the case had touched his conscience at first, later he had become fond of the children, and his mother's example said to him, "Hold out, hold out!"

The unanimous prediction that this marriage would be dissolved as quickly as it had been made he would prove to be untrue. Besides, he knew Angelika too well now not to know that he would never obtain a separation from her until, with the law at her back, she had flayed him alive. He could not get free.

From the first it had been a question of honour and duty; honour and duty on account of the child which was to come—and which did not come. Here he had a serious grievance against her; but yet, in the midst of the tragedy, he could not but be amused at the skill with which she turned his own gallantries against him. At last he dared not mention the subject, for he only heard in return about his gay bachelor life.

The longer this state of things lasted and the more it became known, the more incomprehensible it became to most people that they did not separate—to himself, too, at times, during sleepless nights. But it is sometimes the case that he, who makes a thousand small revolts, cannot brace himself to one great one. The endless strife itself strengthens the bonds, in that it saps the strength.

He deteriorated. This married life, wearing in every way, together with the hard work, resulted in his not being equal to more than just the necessities of the day. His initiative and will became proportionately deadened.

A strange stagnation developed itself: he had hallucinations, visions; he saw himself in them—his father! his mother! all the pictures were of a menacing description.

At night he dreamed the most frightful things: his unbridled fancy, his unoccupied creative power, took revenge, and all this weakened him. He looked with admiration at his wife's robust health: she had the physique of a wild beast. But at times their quarrels, their reconciliations, brought revelations with them: he could perceive her sorrows as well. She did not complain, she did not say a word, she could not do so; but at times she wept and gave way as only the most despairing can. Her nature was powerful, and the struggle of her love beyond belief. The beauty of the fulness of life was there, even when she was most repulsive. The wild creature, wrestling with her destiny, often gave forth tragic gleams of light.

One day his relation, the Government Secretary, met him. They usually avoided each other, but to-day he stopped.

"Ah, Rafael," said the dapper little man nervously, "I was coming to see you."

"My dear fellow, what is it?"

"Ah, I see that you guess; it is a letter from your mother."

"From my mother?"

During all the time since her telegram they had not exchanged a word.

"A very long letter, but she makes a condition."

"Hum, hum! a condition?"

"Yes, but do not be angry; it is not a hard one: it is only that you are to go away from the town, wherever you like, so long as you can be quiet, and then you are to read it."

"You know the contents?"

"I know the contents, I will go bail for it."

What he meant, or why he was so perturbed by it, Rafael did not understand, but it infected him; if he had had the money, and if on that day he had been disengaged, he would have gone at once. But he had not the money, not more than he wanted for the fete that evening. He had the tickets for it in his pocket at that moment. He had promised Angelika that he would go there with her, and he would keep his promise, for it had been given after a great reconciliation scene. A white silk dress had been the olive branch of these last peaceful days. She therefore looked very handsome that evening as she walked into the great hall of the Lodge, with Rafael beside her tall and stately. She was in excellent spirits. Her quiet eyes had a haughty expression as she turned her steps with confident superiority towards those whom she wished to please, or those whom she hoped to annoy.

HE did not feel confident. He did not like showing himself in public with her, and lately it had precisely been in public places that she had chosen to make scenes; besides which, he felt nervous as to what his mother could wish to say to him.

A short time before he came to the fete, he had tried, in two quarters, to borrow money, and each time had received only excuses. This had greatly mortified him. His disturbed state of mind, as is so often the case with nervous people, made him excited and boisterous, nay, even made him more than usually jovial. And as though a little of the old happiness were actually to come to him that evening, he met his friend and relative Hans Ravn, him and his young Bavarian wife, who had just come to the town. All three were delighted to meet.

"Do you remember," said Hans Ravn, "how often you have lent me money, Rafael?" and he drew him on one side. "Now I am at the top of the tree, now I am married to an heiress, and the most charming girl too; ah, you must know her better."

"She is pretty as well," said Rafael.

"And pretty as well—and good tempered; in fact, you see before you the happiest man in Norway."

Rafael's eyes filled. Ravn put his hands on to his friend's shoulders.

"Are you not happy, Rafael?"

"Not quite so happy as you, Hans—"

He left him to speak to some one else, then returned again.

"You say, Hans, that I have often lent you money."

"Are you pressed? Do you want some, Rafael? My dear fellow, how much?"

"Can you spare me two thousand kroner?"

"Here they are."

"No, no; not in here, come outside."

"Yes, let us go and have some champagne to celebrate our meeting. No, not our wives," he added, as Rafael looked towards where they stood talking.

"Not our wives," laughed Rafael. He understood the intention, and now he wished to enjoy his freedom thoroughly. They came in again merrier and more boisterous than before.

Rafael asked Hans Ravn's young wife to dance. Her personal attractions, natural gaiety, and especially her admiration of her husband's relations, took him by storm. They danced twice, and laughed and talked together afterwards.

Later in the evening the two friends rejoined their wives, so that they might all sit together at supper. Even from a distance Rafael could see by Angelika's face that a storm was brewing. He grew angry at once. He had never been blamed more groundlessly. He was never to have any unalloyed pleasure, then! But he confined himself to whispering, "Try to behave like other people." But that was exactly what she did not mean to do. He had left her alone, every one had seen it. She would have her revenge. She could not endure Hans Ravn's merriment, still less that of his wife, so she contradicted rudely once, twice, three times, while Hans Ravn's face grew more and more puzzled. The storm might have blown over, for Rafael parried each thrust, even turning them into jokes, so that the party grew merrier, and no feelings were hurt; but on this she tried fresh tactics. As has been already said, she could make a number of annoying gestures, signs and movements which only he understood. In this way she showed him her contempt for everything which every one, and especially he himself, said. He could not help looking towards her, and saw this every time he did so, until under the cover of the laughter of the others, with as much fervour and affection as can be put into such a word, "You jade!" he said.

"Jade; was ist das?" asked the bright-eyed foreigner.

This made the whole affair supremely ridiculous. Angelika herself laughed, and all hoped that the cloud had been finally dispersed. No!—as though Satan himself had been at table with them, she would not give in.

The conversation again grew lively, and when it was at its height, she pooh-poohed all their jokes so unmistakably that they were completely puzzled. Rafael gave her a furious look, and then she jeered at him, "You boy!" she said. After this Rafael answered her angrily, and let nothing pass without retaliation, rough, savage retaliation; he was worse than she was.

"But God bless me!" said good-natured Hans Ravn at length, "how you are altered, Rafael!" His genial kindly eyes gazed at him with a look which Rafael never forget.

"Ja, ich kan es nicht mehr aushalten" said the young Fru Ravn, with tears in her eyes. She rose, her husband hurried to her, and they left together. Rafael sat down again, with Angelika. Those near them looked towards them and whispered together. Angry and ashamed, he looked across at Angelika, who laughed. Everything seemed to turn red before his eyes—he rose; he had a wild desire to kill her there, before every one. Yes! the temptation overpowered him to such an extent that he thought that people must notice it.

"Are you not well, Kaas?" he heard some one beside him say.

He could not remember afterwards what he answered, or how he got away; but still, in the street, he dwelt with ecstasy on the thought of killing her, of again seeing her face turn black, her arms fall powerless, her eyes open wide with terror; for that was what would happen some day. He should end his life in a felon's cell. That was as certainly a part of his destiny as had been the possession of talents which he had allowed to become useless.

A quarter of an hour later he was at the observatory: he scanned the heavens, but no stars were visible. He felt that he was perspiring, that his clothes clung to him, yet he was ice-cold. That is the future that awaits you, he thought; it runs ice-cold through your limbs.

Then it was that a new and, until then, unused power, which underlay all else, broke forth and took the command.

"You shall never return home to her, that is all past now, boy; I will not permit it any longer."

What was it? What voice was that? It really sounded as though outside himself. Was it his father's? It was a man's voice. It made him clear and calm. He turned round, he went straight to the nearest hotel, without further thought, without anxiety. Something new was about to begin.

He slept for three hours undisturbed by dreams; it was the first night for a long time that he had done so.

The following morning he sat in the little pavilion at the station at Eidsvold with his mother's packet of letters laid open before him. It consisted of a quantity of papers which he had read through.

The expanse of Lake Mjosen lay cold and grey beneath the autumn mist, which still shrouded the hillsides. The sound of hammers from the workshops to the right mingled with the rumble of wheels on the bridge; the whistle of an engine, the rattle of crockery from the restaurant; sights and sounds seethed round him like water boiling round an egg.

As soon as his mother had felt sure that Angelika was not really enceinte she had busied herself in collecting all the information about her which it was possible to obtain.

By the untiring efforts of her ubiquitous relations she had succeeded to such an extent and in such detail as no examining magistrate could have accomplished. And there now lay before him letters, explanations, evidence, which the deponent was ready to swear to, besides letters from Angelika herself: imprudent letters which this impulsive creature could perpetrate in the midst of her schemes; or deeply calculated letters, which directly contradicted others which had been written at a different period, based on different calculations. These documents were only the accompaniment of a clear summing-up by his mother. It was therefore she who had guided the investigations of the others and made a digest of their discoveries. With mathematical precision was here laid down both what was certain and what, though not certain, was probable. No comment was added, not a word addressed to himself.

That portion of the disclosures which related to Angelika's past does not concern us. That which had reference to her relations with Rafael began by proving that the anonymous letters, which had been the means of preventing his engagement with Helene, had been written by Angelika. This revelation and that which preceded it, give an idea of the overwhelming humiliation under which Rafael now suffered. What was he that he could be duped and mastered like a captured animal; that what was best and what was worst in him could lead him so far astray? Like a weak fool he was swept along; he had neither seen nor heard nor thought before he was dragged away from everything that was his or that was dear to him.

As he sat there, the perspiration poured from him as it had done the night before, and again he felt a deadly chill. He therefore went up to his room with the papers, which he locked up in his trunk, and then set off at a run along the road. The passers-by turned to stare after the tall fellow.

As he ran he repeated to himself, "Who are you, my lad? who are you?" Then he asked the hills the same question, and then the trees as well. He even asked the fog, which was now rolling off, "Who am I? can you answer me that?" The close-cropped half-withered turf mocked him—the cleared potato patches, the bare fields, the fallen leaves.

"That which you are you will never be; that which you can you will never do; that which you ought to become you will never attain to! As you, so your mother before you. She turned aside—and your father too—into absolute folly; perhaps their fathers before them! This is a branch of a great family who never attained to what they were intended for."

"Something different has misled each one of us, but we have all been misled. Why is that so? We have greater aims than many others, but the others drove along the beaten highway right through the gates of Fortune's house. We stray away from the highway and into the wood. See! am I not there myself now? Away from the highway and into the wood, as though I were led by an inward law. Into the wood." He looked round among the mountain-ashes, the birches, and other leafy trees in autumn tints. They stood all round, dripping, as though they wept for his sorrow. "Yes, yes; they will see me hang here, like Absalom by his long hair." He had not recalled this old picture a moment before he stopped, as though seized by a strong hand.

He must not fly from this, but try to fathom it. The more he thought of it, the clearer it became: ABSALOM'S HISTORY WAS HIS OWN. He began with rebellion. Naturally rebellion is the first step in a course which leads one from the highway—leads to passion and its consequences. That was clear enough.

Thus passion overpowered strength of purpose; thus chance circumstances sapped the foundations—But David rebelled as well. Why, then, was not David hung up by his hair? It was quite as long as Absalom's. Yes, David was within an ace of it, right up to his old age. But the innate strength in David was too great, his energy was always too powerful: it conquered the powers of rebellion. They could not drag him far away into passionate wanderings; they remained only holiday flights in his life and added poetry to it. They did not move his strength of purpose. Ah, ha! It was so strong in David that he absorbed them and fed on them; and yet he was within an ace—very often. See! That is what I, miserable contemptible wretch, cannot do. So I must hang! Very soon the man with the spear will be after me.

Rafael now set off running; probably he wished to escape the man with the spear. He now entered the thickest part of the wood, a narrow valley between two high hills which overshadowed it. Oh, how thirsty he was, so fearfully thirsty! He stood still and wondered whether he could get anything to drink. Yes, he could hear the murmur of a brook. He ran farther down towards it. Close by was an opening in the wood, and as he went towards the stream he was arrested by something there: the sun had burst forth and lighted up the tree-tops, throwing deep shadows below. Did he see anything? Yes; it seemed to him that he saw himself, not absolutely in the opening, but to one side, in the shadow, under a tree; he hung there by his hair. He hung there and swung, a man, but in the velvet jacket of his childhood and the tight-fitting trousers: he swung suspended by his tangled red hair. And farther away he distinctly saw another figure: it was his mother, stiff and stately, who was turning round as if to the sound of music. And, God preserve him! still farther away, broad and heavy, hung his father, by the few thin hairs on his neck, with wretched distorted face as on his death-bed. In other respects those two were not great sinners. They were old; but his sins were great, for he was young, and therefore nothing had ever prospered with him, not even in his childhood. There had always been something which had caused him to be misunderstood or which had frightened him or made him constantly constrained and uncertain of himself. Never had he been able to keep to the main point, and thus to be in quiet natural peace. With only one exception—his meeting with Helene.

It seemed to him that he was sitting in the boat with her out in the bay. The sky was bright, there was melody in the woods. Now he was up on the hill with her, among the saplings, and she was explaining to him that it depended on her care whether they throve or not.

He went to the brook to drink; he lay down over the water. He was thus able to see his own face. How could that happen? Why, there was sunshine overhead. He was able to see his own face. Great heavens! how like his father he had become. In the last year he had grown very like his father—people had said so. He well remembered his mother's manner when she noticed it. But, good God! were those grey hairs? Yes, in quantities, so that his hair was no longer red but grey. No one had told him of it. Had he advanced so far, been so little prepared for it, that Hans Ravn's remark, "How you are altered, Rafael!" had frightened him?

He had certainly given up observing himself, in this coarse life of quarrels. In it, certainly, neither words nor deeds were weighed, and hence this hunted feeling. It was only natural that he had ceased to observe. If the brook had been a little deeper, he would have let himself be engulfed in it. He got up, and went on again, quicker and quicker: sometimes he saw one person, sometimes another, hanging in the woods.

He dare not turn round. Was it so very wonderful that others besides himself and his family had turned from the beaten track, and peopled the byways and the boughs in the wood? He had been unjust towards himself and his parents; they were not alone, they were in only too large a company. What will unjust people say, but that the very thing which requires strength does not receive it, but half of it comes to nothing, more than half of the powers are wasted. Here, in these strips of woodland which run up the hills side by side, like organ-pipes, Henrik Vergeland had also roamed: within an ace, with him too, within an ace! Wonderful how the ravens gather together here, where so many people are hanging. Ha! ha! He must write this to his mother! It was something to write about to her, who had left him, who deserted him when he was the most unhappy, because all that she cared for was to keep her sacred person inviolate, to maintain her obstinate opinion, to gratify her pique—Oh! what long hair!—How fast his mother was held! She had not cut her hair enough then. But now she should have her deserts. Everything from as far back as he could remember should be recalled, for once in a way he would show her herself; now he had both the power and the right. His powers of discovery had been long hidden under the suffocating sawdust of the daily and nightly sawing; but now it was awake, and his mother should feel it.

People noticed the tall man break out of the wood, jump over hedges and ditches, and make his way straight up the hill. At the very top he would write to his mother!—

He did not return to the hotel till dark. He was wet, dirty, and frightfully exhausted. He was as hungry as a wolf, he said, but he hardly ate anything; on the other hand, he was consumed with thirst. On leaving the table he said that he wished to stay there a few days to sleep. They thought that he was joking, but he slept uninterruptedly until the afternoon of the next day. He was then awakened, ate a little and drank a great deal, for he had perspired profusely; after which he fell asleep again. He passed the next twenty-four hours in much the same way.

When he awoke the following morning he found himself alone.

Had not a doctor been there, and had he not said that it was a good thing for him to sleep? It seemed to him that he had heard a buzz of voices; but he was sure that he was well now, only furiously hungry and thirsty, and when he raised himself he felt giddy. But that passed off by degrees, when he had eaten some of the food which had been left there. He drank out of the water-jug—the carafe was empty—and walked once or twice up and down before the open window. It was decidedly cold, so he shut it. Just then he remembered that he had written a frightful letter to his mother!

How long ago was it? Had he not slept a long time? Had he not turned grey? He went to the looking-glass, but forgot the grey hair at the sight of himself. He was thin, lank, and dirty.—The letter! the letter! It will kill my mother! There had already been misfortunes enough, more must not follow.

He dressed himself quickly, as if by hurrying he could overtake the letter. He looked at the clock—it had stopped. Suppose the train were in! He must go by it, and from the train straight to the steamer, and home, home to Hellebergene! But he must send a telegram to his mother at once. He wrote it—"Never mind the letter, mother. I am coming this evening and will never leave you again."

So now he had only to put on a clean collar, now his watch—it certainly was morning—now to pack, go down and pay the bill, have something to eat, take his ticket, send the telegram; but first—no, it must all be done together, for the train WAS there; it had only a few minutes more to wait; he could only just catch it. The telegram was given to some one else to send off.

But he had hardly got into the carriage, where he was alone, than the thought of the letter tortured him, till he could not sit still. This dreadful analysis of his mother, strophe after strophe, it rose before him, it again drove him into the state of mind in which he had been among the hills and woods of Eidsvold. Beyond the tunnel the character of the scenery was the same.—Good God! that dreadful letter was never absent from his thoughts, otherwise he would not suffer so terribly. What right had he to reproach his mother, or any one, because a mere chance should have become of importance in their lives?

Would the telegram arrive in time to save her from despair, and yet not frighten her from home because he was coming? To think that he could write in such a way to her, who had but lived to collect the information which would free him! His ingratitude must appear too monstrous to her. The extreme reserve which she was unable to break through might well lead to catastrophes. What might not she have determined on when she received this violent attack by way of thanks? Perhaps she would think that life was no longer worth living, she who thought it so easy to die. He shuddered.

But she will do nothing hastily, she will weigh everything first. Her roots go deep. When she appears to have acted on impulse, it is because she has had previous knowledge. But she has no previous knowledge here; surely here she will deliberate.

He pictured her as, wrapped in her shawl, she wandered about in dire distress—or with intent gaze reviewing her life and his own, until both appeared to her to have been hopelessly wasted—or pondering where she could best hide herself so that she should suffer no more.

How he loved her! All that had happened had drawn a veil over his eyes, which was now removed.

Now he was on board the steamer which was bearing him home. The weather had become mild and summerlike; it had been raining, but towards evening it began to clear. He would get to Hellebergene in fine weather, and by moonlight. It grew colder; he spoke to no one, nor had he eyes for anything about him.

The image of his mother, wrapped in her long shawl—that was all the company he had. Only his mother! No one but his mother! Suppose the telegram had but frightened her the more—that to see HIM now appeared the worst that could happen. To read such a crushing doom for her whole life, and that from him! She was not so constituted that it could be cancelled by his asking forgiveness and returning to her. On the contrary, it would precipitate the worst, it must do so.

The violent perspiration began again; he had to put on more wraps. His terror took possession of him: he was forced to contemplate the most awful possibilities—to picture to himself what death his mother would choose!

He sprang to his feet and paced up and down. He longed to throw himself into somebody's arms, to cry aloud. But he knew well that he must not let such words escape him.—He HAD to picture her as she handled the guns, until she relinquished the idea of using any of them. Then he imagined her recalling the deepest hiding-places in the woods—where were they all?

HE recalled them, one after another. No, not in any of THOSE, for she wished to hide herself where she would never be found! There was the cement-bed; it went sheer down there, and the water was deep!—He clung to the rigging to prevent himself from falling. He prayed to be released from these terrors. But he saw her floating there, rocked by the rippling water. Was it the face which was uppermost, or was it the body, which for a while floated higher than the face?

His thoughts were partially diverted from this by people coming up to ask him if he were ill. He got something warm and strong to drink, and now the steamer approached the part of the coast with which he was familiar. They passed the opening into Hellebergene, for one has to go first to the town, and thence in a boat. It now became the question, whether a boat had been sent for him. In that case his mother was alive, and would welcome him. But if there was no boat, then a message from the gulf had been sent instead!

And there was no boat!—

For a moment his senses failed him; only confused sounds fell on his ear. But then he seemed to emerge from a dark passage. He must get to Hellebergene! He must see what had happened; he would go and search!

By this time it was growing dark. He went on shore and looked round for a boat as though half asleep. He could hardly speak, but he did not give in till he got the men together and hired the boat. He took the helm himself, and bade them row with all their might. He knew every peak in the grey twilight. They might depend on him, and row on without looking round. Soon they had passed the high land and were in among the islands. This time they did not come out to meet him; they all seemed gathered there to repel him. No boat had been sent; there was, therefore, nothing more for him to do here. No boat had been sent, because he had forfeited his place here. Like savage beasts, with bristles erect, the peaks and islands arrayed themselves against him. "Row on, my lads," he cried, for now arose again in him that dormant power which only manifested itself in his utmost need.

"How is it with you, my boy? I am growing weary. Courage, now, and forward!"

Again that voice outside himself—a man's voice. Was it his father's?

Whether or not it were his father's voice, here before his father's home he would struggle against Fate.

In man's direst necessity, what he has failed in and what he can do seem to encounter each other. And thus, just as the boat had cleared the point and the islands and was turning into the bay, he raised himself to his full height, and the boatmen looked at him in astonishment. He still grasped the rudder-lines, and looked as though he were about to meet an enemy. Or did he hear anything? was it the sound of oars?

Yes, they heard them now as well. From the strait near the inlet a boat was approaching them. She loomed large on the smooth surface of the water and shot swiftly along.

"Is that a boat from Hellebergene?" shouted Rafael. His voice shook.

"Yes," came a voice out of the darkness, and he recognised the bailiff's voice. "Is it Rafael?"

"Yes. Why did you not come before?"

"The telegram has only just arrived."

He sat down. He did not speak. He became suddenly incapable of uttering a word.

The other boat turned and followed them. Rafael nearly ran his boat on shore; he forgot that he was steering. Very soon they cleared the narrow passage which led into the inner bay, and rounded the last headland, and there!—there lay Hellebergene before them in a blaze of light! From cellar to attic, in every single window, it glowed, it streamed with light, and at that moment another light blazed out from the cairn on the hill-top.

It was thus that his mother greeted him. He sobbed; and the boatmen heard him, and at the same time noticed that it had grown suddenly light. They turned round, and were so engrossed in the spectacle that they forgot to row.

"Come! you must let me get on," was all that he could manage to say.

His sufferings were forgotten as he leapt from the boat. Nor did it disturb him that he did not meet his mother at the landing-place, or near the house, nor see her on the terrace. He simply rushed up the stairs and opened the door.

The candles in the windows gave but little light within. Indeed, something had been put in the windows for them to stand on, so that the interior was half in shadow. But he had come in from the semi-darkness. He looked round for her, but he heard some one crying at the other end of the room. There she sat, crouched in the farthest corner of the sofa, with her feet drawn up under her, as in old days when she was frightened. She did not stretch out her arms; she remained huddled together. But he bent over her, knelt down, laid his face on hers, wept with her. She had grown fragile, thin, haggard, ah! as though she could be blown away. She let him take her in his arms like a child and clasp her to his breast; let him caress and kiss her. Ah, how ethereal she had become! And those eyes, which at last he saw, now looked tearfully out from their large orbits, but more innocently than a bird from its nest. Over her broad forehead she had wound a large silk handkerchief in turban fashion. It hung down behind. She wished to conceal the thinness of her hair. He smiled to recognise her again in this. More spiritualised, more ethereal in her beauty, her innermost aspirations shone forth without effort. Her thin hands caressed his hair, and now she gazed into his eyes.

"Rafael, my Rafael!" She twined her arms round him and murmured welcome. But soon she raised her head and resumed a sitting posture. She wished to speak. He was beforehand with her.

"Forgive the letter," he whispered with beseeching eyes and voice, and hands upraised.

"I saw the distress of your soul," was the whispered answer, for it could not be spoken aloud. "And there was nothing to forgive," she added. She had laid her face against his again. "And it was quite true, Rafael," she murmured.

She must have passed through terrible days and nights here, he thought, before she could say that.

"Mother, mother! what a fearful time!"

Her little hand sought his: it was cold; it lay in his like an egg in a deserted nest. He warmed it and took the other as well.

"Was not the illumination splendid?" she said. And now her voice was like a child's.

He moved the screen which obstructed the light: he must see her better. He thought, when he saw the look of happiness in her face, if life looks so beautiful to her still, we shall have a long time together.

"If you had told me all that about Absalom, the picture which you made when you were told the story of David, Rafael; if you had only told me that before!" She paused, and her lips quivered.

"How could I tell it to you, mother, when I did not understand it myself?"

"The illumination—that must signify that I, too, understand. It ought to light you forward; do you not think so?"

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Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson