Canute's wife was waiting for him at home. She knew there would be a battle; she had never in her life believed in Lars, and lately had felt a dread of him. It had been no comfort to her that they had ridden away together, nor would it have comforted her if they had returned in the same way. But darkness had fallen, and they had not yet come. She stood in the doorway, went down the road and home again; but no wagon appeared. At last she hears a rattling on the road, her heart beats as violently as the wheels revolve; she clings to the doorpost, looking out; the wagon is coming; only one sits there; she recognizes Lars, who sees and recognizes her, but is driving past without stopping. Now she is thoroughly alarmed! Her limbs fail her; she staggers in, sinking on the bench by the window. The children, alarmed, gather around, the youngest asking for papa, for the mother never spoke with them but of him. She loved him because he had such a good heart, and now this good heart was not with them; but, on the contrary, away on all kinds of business, which brought him only unhappiness; consequently, they were unhappy too.
"Oh, that no harm had come to him to-day! Canute was so excitable! Why did Lars come home alone? why didn't he stop?"
Should she run after him, or, in the opposite direction, toward her husband? She felt faint, and the children pressed around her, asking what was the matter; but this could not be told to them, so she said they must take supper alone, and, rising, arranged it and helped them. She was constantly glancing out upon the road. He did not come. She undressed and put them to bed, and the youngest repeated the evening prayer, while she bowed over him, praying so fervently in the words which the tiny mouth first uttered, that she did not perceive the steps outside.
Canute stood in the doorway, gazing upon his little congregation at prayer. She rose; all the children shouted "Papa!" but he seated himself, and said gently:
"Oh! let him repeat it."
The mother turned again to the bedside, that meantime he might not see her face; otherwise, it would have been like intermeddling with his grief before he felt a necessity of revealing it. The child folded its hands,—the rest followed the example,—and it said:
"I am now a little lad, But soon shall grow up tall, And make papa and mamma glad, I'll be so good to all! When in Thy true and holy ways, Thou dear, dear God wilt help me keep;—Remember now Thy name to praise And so we'll try to go to sleep!"
What a peace now fell! Not a minute more had passed ere the children all slept in it as in the lap of God; but the mother went quietly to work arranging supper for the father, who as yet could not eat. But after he had gone to bed, he said:
"Now, after this, I shall be at home."
The mother lay there, trembling with joy, not daring to speak, lest she should reveal it; and she thanked God for all that had happened, for, whatever it was, it had resulted in good.
In the course of a year, Lars was chosen head Justice of the Peace, chairman of the board of commissioners, president of the savings-bank, and, in short, was placed in every office of parish trust to which his election was possible. In the county legislature, during the first year, he remained silent, but afterward made himself as conspicuous as in the parish council; for here, too, stepping up to the contest with him who had always borne sway, he was victorious over the whole line, and afterward himself manager. From this he was elected to the Congress, where his fame had preceded him, and he found no lack of challenge. But here, although steady and independent, he was always retiring, never venturing beyond his depth, lest his post as leader at home should be endangered by a possible defeat abroad.
It was pleasant to him now in his own town. When he stood by the church-wall on Sundays, and the community glided past, saluting and glancing sideways at him,—now and then one stepping up for the honor of exchanging a couple of words with him,—it could almost be said that, standing there, he controlled the whole parish with a straw, which, of course, hung in the corner of his mouth.
He deserved his popularity; for he had opened a new road which led to the church; all this and much more resulted from the savings- bank, which he had instituted and now managed; and the parish, in its self-management and good order, was held up as an example to all others.
Canute, of his own accord, quite withdrew,—not entirely at first, for he had promised himself not thus to yield to pride. In the first proposal he made before the parish board, he became entangled by Lars, who would have it represented in all its details; and, somewhat hurt, he replied: "When Columbus discovered America he did not have it divided into counties and towns,—this came by degrees afterward;" upon which, Lars compared Canute's proposition (relating to stable improvements) to the discovery of America, and afterward by the commissioners he was called by no other name than "Discovery of America." Canute thought since his influence had ceased there, so, also, had his duty to work; and afterwards declined re-election.
But he was industrious, and, in order still to do something for the public good, he enlarged his Sunday-school, and put it, by means of small contributions from the pupils, in connection with the mission cause, of which he soon became the centre and leader in his own and surrounding counties. At this, Lars remarked that, if Canute ever wished to collect money for any purpose, he must first know that its benefit was only to be realized some thousands of miles away.
There was no strife between them now. True, they associated with each other no longer, but saluted and exchanged a few words whenever they met. Canute always felt a little pain in remembering Lars, but struggled to overcome it, by saying to himself that it must have been so. Many years afterward at a large wedding-party, where both were present and a little gay, Canute stepped upon a chair and proposed a toast to the chairman of the parish council, and the county's first congressman. He spoke until he manifested emotion, and, as usual, in an exceedingly handsome way. It was honorably done, and Lars came to him, saying, with an unsteady eye, that for much of what he knew and was, he had to thank him.
At the next election, Canute was again elected chairman.
But if Lars Hogstad had foreseen what was to follow, he would not have influenced this. It is a saying that "all events happen in their time," and just as Canute appeared again in the council, the ablest men in the parish were threatened with bankruptcy, the result of a speculative fever which had been raging long, but now first began to react. They said that Lars Hogstad had caused this great epidemic, for it was he who had brought the spirit of speculation into the parish. This penny malady had originated in the parish board; for this body itself had acted as leading speculator. Down to the youth of twenty years, all were endeavoring by sharp bargains to make the one dollar, ten; extreme parsimony, in order to lay up in the beginning, was followed by an exceeding lavishness in the end: and as the thoughts of all were directed to money only, a disposition to selfishness, suspicion, and disunion had developed itself, which at last turned to prosecutions and hatred. It was said that the parish board had set the example in this also; for one of the first acts, performed by Lars as chairman, was a prosecution against the minister, concerning doubtful prerogatives. The venerable pastor had lost, but had also immediately resigned. At the time some had praised, others denounced, this act of Lars; but it had proved a bad example. Now came the effects of his management in the form of loss to all the leading men of the parish; and consequently, the public opinion quickly changed. The opposite party immediately found a champion; for Canute Aakre had come into the parish board,—introduced there by Lars himself.
The struggle at once began. All those youths, who, in their time, had been under Canute Aakre's instruction, were now grown-up men, the best educated, conversant with all the business and public transactions in the parish; Lars had now to contend against these and others like them, who had disliked him from their childhood. One evening after a stormy debate, as he stood on the platform outside his door, looking over the parish, a sound of distant threatening thunder came toward him from the large farms, lying in the storm. He knew that that day their owners had become insolvent, that he himself and the savings-bank were going the same way: and his whole long work would culminate in condemnation against him.
In these days of struggle and despair, a company of surveyors came one evening to Hogstad, which was the first farm at the entrance of the parish to mark out the line of a new railroad. In the course of conversation, Lars perceived it was still a question with them whether the road should run through this valley, or another parallel one.
Like a flash of lightning it darted through his mind, that, if he could manage to get it through here, all real estate would rise in value, and not only he himself be saved, but his popularity handed down to future generations. He could not sleep that night, for his eyes were dazzled with visions; sometimes he seemed to hear the noise of an engine. The next day he accompanied the surveyors in their examination of the locality; his horses carried them, and to his farm they returned. The following day they drove through the other valley, he still with them, and again carrying them back home. The whole house was illuminated, the first men of the parish having been invited to a party made for the surveyors, which terminated in a carouse that lasted until morning. But to no avail; for the nearer they came to the decision, the clearer it was to be seen that the road could not be built through here without great extra expense. The entrance to the valley was narrow, through a rocky chasm, and the moment it swung into the parish the river made a curve in its way, so that the road would either have to make the same—crossing the river twice—or go straight forward through the old, now unused, churchyard. But it was not long since the last burials there, for the church had been but recently moved.
Did it only depend upon a strip of an old churchyard, thought Lars, whether the parish should have this great blessing or not?— then he would use his name and energy for the removal of the obstacle. So immediately he made a visit to minister and bishop, from them to county legislature and Department of the Interior; he reasoned and negotiated; for he had possessed himself of all possible information concerning the vast profits that would accrue on the one side, and the feelings of the parish on the other, and had really succeeded in gaining over all parties. It was promised him that by the reinterment of some bodies in the new churchyard, the only objection to this line might be considered as removed, and the king's approbation guaranteed. It was told him that he need only make the motion in the county meeting.
The parish had become as excited on the question as himself. The spirit of speculation, which had been prevalent so many years, now became jubilant. No one spoke or thought of anything but Lars' journey and its probable result. Consequently, when he returned with the most splendid promises, they made much ado about him; songs were sung to his praise,—yes, if at that time one after another of the largest farms had toppled over, not a soul would have given it any attention; the former speculation fever had been succeeded by the new one of the railroad.
The county board met; an humble petition that the old churchyard might be used for the railroad was drawn up to be presented to the king. This was unanimously voted; yes, there was even talk of voting thanks to Lars, and a gift of a coffee-pot, in the model of a locomotive. But finally, it was thought best to wait until everything was accomplished. The petition from the parish to the county board was sent back, with a requirement of a list of the names of all bodies which must necessarily be removed. The minister made out this, but instead of sending it directly to the county board, had his reasons for communicating it first to the parish. One of the members brought it to the next meeting. Here, Lars opened the envelope, and as chairman read the names.
Now it happened that the first body to be removed was that of Lars' own grandfather. A Hide shudder passed through the assembly; Lars himself was taken by surprise; but continued. Secondly, came the name of Canute Aakre's grandfather; for the two had died at nearly the same time. Canute Aakre sprang from his seat; Lars stopped; all looked up with dread; for the name of the elder Canute Aakre had been the one most beloved in the parish for generations. There was a pause of some minutes. At last Lars hemmed, and continued. But the matter became worse, for the further he proceeded, the nearer it approached their own day, and the dearer the dead became. When he ceased, Canute Aakre asked quietly if others did not think as he, that spirits were around them. It had begun to grow dusk in the room, and although they were mature men sitting in company, they almost felt themselves frightened. Lars took a bundle of matches from his pocket and lit a candle, somewhat dryly remarking that this was no more than they had known beforehand.
"No," replied Canute, pacing the floor, "this is more than I knew beforehand. Now I begin to think that even railroads can be bought too dearly."
This electrified the audience, and Canute continued that the whole affair must be reconsidered, and made a motion to that effect. In the excitement which had prevailed, he said it was also true that the benefit to be derived from the road had been considerably overrated; for if it did not pass through the parish, there would have to be a depot at each extremity; true, it would be a little more trouble to drive there, than to a station within; yet not so great as that for this reason they should dishonor the rest of the dead. Canute was one of those who, when his thoughts were excited, could extemporize and present most sound reasons; he had not a moment previously thought of what he now said; but the truth of it struck all. Lars, seeing the danger of his position, thought best to be careful, and so apparently acquiesced in Canute's proposition to reconsider; for such emotions, thought he, are always strongest in the beginning; one must temporize with them.
But here he had miscalculated. In constantly increasing the dread of touching their dead overswept the parish; what no one had thought of as long as the matter existed only in talk became a serious question when it came to touch themselves. The women particularly were excited, and at the parish house, on the day of the next meeting, the road was black with the gathered multitude. It was a warm summer day, the windows were taken out, and as many stood without as within. All felt that that day would witness a great battle.
Lars came, driving his handsome horse, saluted by all; he looked quietly and confidently around, not seeming surprised at the throng. He seated himself, straw in mouth, near the window, and not without a smile saw Canute rise to speak, as he thought, for all the dead lying over there in the old churchyard.
But Canute Aakre did not begin with the churchyard. He made a stricter investigation into the profits likely to accrue from carrying the road through the parish, showing that in all this excitement they had been over-estimated. He had calculated the distance of each farm from the nearest station, should the road be taken through the neighboring valley, and finally asked:
"Why has such a hurrah been made about this railroad, when it would not be for the good of the parish after all?"
This he could explain; there were those who had brought about such a previous disturbance, that a greater was necessary in order that the first might be forgotten. Then, too, there were those who, while the thing was new, could sell their farms and lands to strangers, foolish enough to buy; it was a shameful speculation, which not the living only but the dead also must be made to promote!
The effect produced by his address was very considerable. But Lars had firmly resolved, come what would, to keep cool, and smilingly replied that he supposed Canute Aakre himself had been anxious for the railroad, and surely no one would accuse him of understanding speculation. (A little laugh ensued.) Canute had had no objection to the removal of bodies of common people for the sake of the railroad, but when it came to that of his own grandfather, the question became suddenly of vital importance to the whole parish. He said no more, but looked smilingly at Canute, as did also several others. Meanwhile, Canute Aakre surprised both him and them by replying:
"I confess it; I did not realize what was at stake until it touched my own dead; possibly this is a shame, but really it would have been a greater one not even then to have realized it, as is the case with Lars! Never, I think, could Lars' raillery have been more out of place; for folks with common feelings the thing is really revolting."
"This feeling has come up quite recently," answered Lars, "and so we will hope for its speedy disappearance also. It may be well to think upon what minister, bishop, county officers, engineers, and Department will say, if we first unanimously set the ball in motion and then come asking to have it stopped; if we first are jubilant and sing songs, then weep and chant requiems. If they do not say that we have run mad here in the parish, at least they may say that we have grown a little queer lately."
"Yes, God knows, they can say so," answered Canute; "we have been acting strangely enough during the last few days,—it is time for us to retract. It has really gone far when we can dig up, each his own grandfather, to make way for a railroad; when in order that our loads may be carried more easily forward, we can violate the resting-place of the dead. For is not overhauling our churchyard the same as making it yield us food? What has been buried there in Jesus' name, shall we take up in the name of Mammon? It is but little better than eating our progenitors' bones."
"That is according to the order of nature," said Lars dryly.
"Yes, the nature of plants and animals," replied Canute.
"Are we not then animals?" asked Lars.
"Yes, but also the children of the living God, who have buried our dead in faith upon Him; it is He who shall raise them, and not we."
"Oh, you prate! Are not the graves dug over at certain fixed periods anyway? What evil is there in that it happens some years earlier?" asked Lars.
"I will tell you! What was born of them yet lives; what they built yet remains; what they loved, taught, and suffered for is all around us and within us; and shall we not, then, let their bodies rest in peace?"
"I see by your warmth that you are thinking of your grandfather again," replied Lars; "and will say it is high time you ceased to bother the parish about him, for he monopolized space enough in his lifetime; it isn't worth while to have him lie in the way now he is dead. Should his corpse prevent a blessing to the parish that would reach to a hundred generations, we surely would have reason to say, that of all born here he has done us most harm."
Canute Aakre tossed back his disorderly hair, his eyes darted fire, his whole frame appeared like a drawn bow.
"What sort of a blessing this is that you speak of, I have already proved. It is of the same character as all the others which you have brought to the parish, namely, a doubtful one. True enough you have provided us with a new church; but, too, you have filled it with a new spirit,—and not that of love. True, you have made us new roads,—but also new roads to destruction, as is now plainly evident in the misfortunes of many. True, you have lessened our taxes to the public; but, too, you have increased those to ourselves;—prosecutions, protests, and failures are no blessing to a community. And you dare scoff at the man in his grave whom the whole parish blesses! You dare say he lies in our way,—yes, very likely he lies in your way. This is plainly to be seen; but over this grave you shall fall! The spirit which has reigned over you, and at the same time until now over us, was not born to rule, only to serve. The churchyard shall surely remain undisturbed; but to-day it numbers one more grave, namely, that of your popularity, which shall now be interred in it."
Lars Hogstad rose, white as a sheet; he opened his mouth, but was unable to speak a word, and the straw fell. After three or four vain attempts to recover it and to find utterance, he belched forth like a volcano:
"Are these the thanks I get for all my toils and struggles? Shall such a woman-preacher be able to direct? Ah, then, the devil be your chairman if ever more I set my foot here! I have kept your petty business in order until to-day; and after me it will fall into a thousand pieces; but let it go now. Here are the 'Records!' (and he flung them across the table). Out on such a company of wenches and brats! (striking the table with his fist). Out on the whole parish, that it can see a man recompensed as I now am!"
He brought down his fist once more with such force, that the leaf of the great table sprang upward, and the inkstand with all its contents downward upon the floor, marking for coming generations the spot where Lars Hogstad, in spite of all his prudence, lost his patience and his rule.
He sprang for the door, and soon after was away from the house. The whole audience stood fixed,—for the power of his voice and his wrath had frightened them,—until Canute Aakre, remembering the taunt he had received at the time of his fall, with beaming countenance, and assuming Lars' voice, exclaimed:
"Is this the decisive blow in the matter?"
The assembly burst into uproarious merriment. The grave meeting closed amid laughter, talk, and high glee; only few left the place, those remaining called for drink, and made a night of thunder succeed a day of lightning. They felt happy and independent as in old days, before the time in which the commanding spirit of Lars had cowed their souls into silent obedience. They drank toasts to their liberty, they sang, yes, finally they danced, Canute Aakre with the vice-chairman taking lead, and all the members of the council following, and boys and girls too, while the young ones outside shouted, "hurrah!" for such a spectacle they had never before witnessed.
Lars moved around in the large rooms at Hogstad without uttering a word. His wife who loved him, but always with fear and trembling, dared not so much as show herself in his presence. The management of the farm and house had to go on as it would, while a multitude of letters were passing to and fro between Hogstad and the parish, Hogstad and the capital; for he had charges against the county board which were not acknowledged, and a prosecution ensued; against the savings-bank, which were also unacknowledged, and so came another prosecution. He took offence at articles in the Christiania Correspondence, and prosecuted again, first the chairman of the county board, and then the directors of the savings-bank. At the same time there were bitter articles in the papers, which according to report were by him, and were the cause of great strife in the parish, setting neighbor against neighbor. Sometimes he was absent whole weeks at once, nobody knowing where, and after returning lived secluded as before. At church he was not seen after the grand scene in the representatives' meeting.
Then, one Saturday night, the mail brought news that the railroad was to go through the parish after all, and through the old churchyard. It struck like lightning into every home. The unanimous veto of the county board had been in vain; Lars Hogstad's influence had proved stronger. This was what his absence meant, this was his work! It was involuntary on the part of the people that admiration of the man and his dogged persistency should lessen dissatisfaction at their own defeat; and the more they talked of the matter the more reconciled they seemed to become: for whatever has once been settled beyond all change develops in itself, little by little, reasons why it is so, which we are accordingly brought to acknowledge.
In going to church next day, as they encountered each other they could not help laughing; and before the service, just as nearly all were convened outside,—young and old, men and women, yes, even children,—talking about Lars Hogstad, his talents, his strong will, and his great influence, he himself with his household came driving up in four carriages. Two years had passed since he was last there. He alighted and walked through the crowd, when involuntarily all lifted their hats to him like one man; but he looked neither to the right nor the left, nor returned a single salutation. His little wife, pale as death, walked behind him. In the house, the surprise became so great that, one after another, noticing him, stopped singing and stared. Canute Aakre, who sat in his pew in front of Lars', perceiving the unusual appearance and no cause for it in front, turned around and saw Lars sitting bowed over his hymn-book, looking for the place.
He had not seen him until now since the day of the representatives' meeting, and such a change in a man he never could have imagined. This was no victor. His head was becoming bald, his face was lean and contracted, his eyes hollow and bloodshot, and the giant neck presented wrinkles and cords. At a glance he perceived what this man had endured, and was as suddenly seized with a feeling of strong pity, yes, even with a touch of the old love. In his heart he prayed for him, and promised himself surely to seek him after service; but, ere he had opportunity, Lars had gone. Canute resolved he would call upon him at his home that night, but his wife kept him back.
"Lars is one of the kind," said she, "who cannot endure a debt of gratitude: keep away from him until possibly he can in some way do you a favor, and then perhaps he will come to you."
However, he did not come. He appeared now and then at church, but nowhere else, and associated with no one. On the contrary, he devoted himself to his farm and other business with an earnestness which showed a determination to make up in one year for the neglect of many; and, too, there were those who said it was necessary.
Railroad operations in the valley began very soon. As the line was to go directly past his house, Lars remodelled the side facing the road, connecting with it an elegant verandah, for of course his residence must attract attention. They were just engaged in this work when the rails were laid for the conveyance of gravel and timber, and a small locomotive was brought up. It was a fine autumn evening when the first gravel train was to come down. Lars stood on the platform of his house to hear the first signal, and see the first column of smoke; all the hands on the farm were gathered around him. He looked out over the parish, lying in the setting sun, and felt that he was to be remembered so long as a train should roar through the fruitful valley. A feeling of forgiveness crept into his soul. He looked toward the churchyard, of which a part remained, with crosses bowing toward the earth, but a part had become railroad. He was just trying to define his feelings, when, whistle went the first signal, and a while after the train came slowly along, puffing out smoke mingled with sparks, for wood was used instead of coal; the wind blew toward the house, and standing there they soon found themselves enveloped in a dense smoke; but by and by, as it cleared away, Lars saw the train working through the valley like a strong will.
He was satisfied, and entered the house as after a long day's work. The image of his grandfather stood before him at this moment. This grandfather had raised the family from poverty to forehanded circumstances; true, a part of his citizen-honor had been lost, but forward he had pushed, nevertheless. His faults were those of his time; they were to be found on the uncertain borders of the moral conceptions of that period, and are of no consideration now. Honor to him in his grave, for he suffered and worked; peace to his ashes. It is good to rest at last. But he could get no rest because of his grandson's great ambition. He was thrown up with stone and gravel. Pshaw! very likely he would only smile that his grandson's work passed above his head.
With such thoughts he had undressed and gone to bed. Again his grandfather's image glided forth. What did he wish. Surely he ought to be satisfied now, with the family's honor sounding forth above his grave; who else had such a monument? But yet, what mean these two great eyes of fire? This hissing, roaring, is no longer the locomotive, for see! it comes from the churchyard directly toward the house: an immense procession! The eyes of fire are his grandfather's, and the train behind are all the dead. It advances continually toward the house, roaring, crackling, flashing. The windows burn in the reflection of dead men's eyes ... he made a mighty effort to collect himself, "For it was a dream, of course, only a dream; but let me waken! ... See: now I am awake; come, ghosts!"
And behold: they really come from the churchyard, overthrowing road, rails, locomotive and train with such violence that they sink in the ground; and then all is still there, covered with sod and crosses as before. But like giants the spirits advanced, and the hymn, "Let the dead have rest!" goes before them. He knows it: for daily in all these years it has sounded through his soul, and now it becomes his own requiem; for this was death and its visions. The perspiration started out over his whole body, for nearer and nearer,—and see there, on the window-pane there, there they are now; and he heard his name. Overpowered with dread he struggled to shout, for he was strangling; a dead, cold hand already clenched his throat, when he regained his voice in a shrieking "Help me!" and awoke. At that moment the window was burst in with such force that the pieces flew on to his bed. He sprang up; a man stood in the opening, around him smoke and tongues of fire.
"The house is burning, Lars, we'll help you out!"
It was Canute Aakre.
When again he recovered consciousness, he was lying out in a piercing wind that chilled his limbs. No one was by him; on the left he saw his burning house; around him grazed, bellowed, bleated, and neighed his stock; the sheep huddled together in a terrified flock; the furniture recklessly scattered: but, on looking around more carefully, he discovered somebody sitting on a knoll near him, weeping. It was his wife. He called her name. She started.
"The Lord Jesus be thanked that you live," she exclaimed, coming forward and seating herself, or rather falling down before him: "O God! O God! now we have enough of that railroad!"
"The railroad?" he asked: but ere he spoke, it had flashed through his mind how it was; for, of course, the cause of the fire was the falling of sparks from the locomotive among the shavings by the new side-wall. He remained sitting, silent and thoughtful; his wife dared say no more, but was trying to find clothes for him: the things with which she had covered him, as he lay unconscious, having fallen off. He received her attentions in silence, but as she crouched down to cover his feet, he laid a hand upon her head. She hid her face in his lap, and wept aloud. At last he had noticed her. Lars understood, and said:
"You are the only friend I have."
Although to hear these words had cost the house, no matter, they made her happy; she gathered courage and said, rising and looking submissively at him:
"That is because no one else understands you."
Now again they talked of all that had transpired, or rather he remained silent, while she told about it. Canute Aakre had been first to perceive the fire, had awakened his people, sent the girls out through the parish, while he himself hastened with men and horses to the spot where all were sleeping. He had taken charge of extinguishing the fire and saving the property; Lars himself he had dragged from the burning room and brought him here on the left, to the windward,—here, out on the churchyard.
While they were talking of all this, some one came driving rapidly up the road and turned off toward them; soon he alighted. It was Canute, who had been home after his church-wagon; the one in which so many times they had ridden together to and from the parish meetings. Now Lars must get in and ride home with him. They took each other by the hand, one sitting, the other standing.
"You must come with me now," said Canute, Without reply Lars rose: they walked side by side to the wagon. Lars was helped in: Canute seated himself by his side. What they talked about as they rode, or afterward in the little chamber at Aakre, in which they remained until morning, has never been known; but from that day they were again inseparable.
As soon as disaster befalls a man, all seem to understand his worth. So the parish took upon themselves to rebuild Lars Hogstad's houses, larger and handsomer than any others in the valley. Again he became chairman, but with Canute Aakre at his side, and from that day all went well.
From "Tales of Two Countries." Translated by H. H. Boyesen.
No one could understand where he got his money from. But the person who marvelled most at the dashing and luxurious life led by Alphonse was his quondam friend and partner.
After they dissolved partnership, most of the custom and the best connection passed by degrees into Charles's hands. This was not because he in any way sought to run counter to his former partner; on the contrary, it arose simply from the fact that Charles was the more capable man of the two. And as Alphonse had now to work on his own account, it was soon clear to any one who observed him closely, that in spite of his promptitude, his amiability, and his prepossessing appearance, he was not fitted to be at the head of an independent business.
And there was one person who DID observe him closely. Charles followed him step by step with his sharp eyes; every blunder, every extravagance, every loss—he knew all to a nicety, and he wondered that Alphonse could keep going so long.
They had as good as grown up together. Their mothers were cousins; the families had lived near each other in the same street; and in a city like Paris proximity is as important as relationship in promoting close intercourse. Moreover, the boys went to the same school.
Thenceforth, as they grew up to manhood, they were inseparable. Mutual adaptation overcame the great differences which originally marked their characters, until at last their idiosyncrasies fitted into each other like the artfully-carved pieces of wood which compose the picture-puzzles of our childhood.
The relation between them was really a beautiful one, such as does not often arise between two young men; for they did not understand friendship as binding the one to bear everything at the hands of the other, but seemed rather to vie with each other in mutual considerateness.
If, however, Alphonse in his relation to Charles showed any high degree of considerateness, he himself was ignorant of it; and if any one had told him of it he would doubtless have laughed loudly at such a mistaken compliment.
For as life on the whole appeared to him very simple and straightforward, the idea that his friendship should in any way fetter him was the last thing that could enter his head. That Charles was his best friend seemed to him as entirely natural as that he himself danced best, rode best, was the best shot, and that the whole world was ordered entirely to his mind.
Alphonse was in the highest degree a spoilt child of fortune; he acquired everything without effort; existence fitted him like an elegant dress, and he wore it with such unconstrained amiability that people forgot to envy him.
And then he was so handsome. He was tall and slim, with brown hair and big open eyes; his complexion was clear and smooth, and his teeth shone when he laughed. He was quite conscious of his beauty, but, as everybody had petted him from his earliest days, his vanity was of a cheerful, good-natured sort, which, after all, was not so offensive. He was exceedingly fond of his friend. He amused himself and sometimes others by teasing him and making fun of him; but he knew Charles's face so thoroughly that he saw at once when the jest was going too far. Then he would resume his natural, kindly tone, until he made the serious and somewhat melancholy Charles laugh till he was ill.
From his boyhood Charles had admired Alphonse beyond measure. He himself was small and insignificant, quiet and shy. His friend's brilliant qualities cast a lustre over him as well, and gave a certain impetus to his life.
His mother often said: "This friendship between the boys is a real blessing for my poor Charles, for without it he would certainly have been a melancholy creature."
When Alphonse was on all occasions preferred to him, Charles rejoiced; he was proud of his friend. He wrote his exercises, prompted him at examination, pleaded his cause with the masters, and fought for him with the boys.
At the commercial academy it was the same story. Charles worked for Alphonse, and Alphonse rewarded him with his inexhaustible amiability and unfailing good-humor.
When subsequently, as quite young men, they were placed in the same banker's office, it happened one day that the principal said to Charles: "From the first of May I will raise your salary."
"I thank you," answered Charles, "both on my own and on my friend's behalf."
"Monsieur Alphonse's salary remains unaltered," replied the chief, and went on writing.
Charles never forgot that morning. It was the first time he had been preferred or distinguished before his friend. And it was his commercial capacity, the quality which, as a young man of business, he valued most, that had procured him this preference; and it was the head of the firm, the great financier, who had himself accorded him such recognition.
The experience was so strange to him that it seemed like an injustice to his friend. He told Alphonse nothing of the occurrence; on the contrary, he proposed that they should apply for two vacant places in the Credit Lyonnais.
Alphonse was quite willing, for he loved change, and the splendid new banking establishment on the Boulevard seemed to him far more attractive than the dark offices in the Rue Bergere. So they removed to the Credit Lyonnais on the first of May. But as they were in the chief's office taking their leave, the old banker said to Charles, when Alphonse had gone out (Alphonse always took precedence of Charles), "Sentiment won't do for a business man."
From that day forward a change went on in Charles. He not only worked as industriously and conscientiously as before, but developed such energy and such an amazing faculty for labor as soon attracted to him the attention of his superiors. That he was far ahead of his friend in business capacity was soon manifest; but every time he received a new mark of recognition he had a struggle with himself. For a long time, every advancement brought with it a certain qualm of conscience; and yet he worked on with restless ardor.
One day Alphonse said, in his light, frank way: "You are really a smart fellow, Charlie! You're getting ahead of everybody, young and old—not to mention me. I'm quite proud of you."
Charles felt ashamed. He had been thinking that Alphonse must feel wounded at being left on one side, and now he learned that his friend not only did not grudge him his advancement, but was even proud of him. By degrees his conscience was lulled to rest, and his solid worth was more and more appreciated.
But if he was in reality the more capable, how came it that he was so entirely ignored in society, while Alphonse remained everybody's darling? The very promotions and marks of appreciation which he had won for himself by hard work were accorded him in a dry, business manner; while every one, from the directors to the messengers, had a friendly word or a merry greeting for Alphonse.
In the different offices and departments of the bank they intrigued to obtain possession of Monsieur Alphonse; for a breath of life and freshness followed ever in the wake of his handsome person and joyous nature. Charles, on the other hand, had often remarked that his colleagues regarded him as a dry person, who thought only of business and of himself.
The truth was that he had a heart of rare sensitiveness, with no faculty for giving it expression.
Charles was one of those small, black Frenchmen whose beard begins right under the eyes; his complexion was yellowish and his hair stiff and splintery. His eyes did not dilate when he was pleased and animated, but they flashed around and glittered. When he laughed the corners of his mouth turned upward, and many a time, when his heart was full of joy and good-will, he had seen people draw back, half-frightened by his forbidding exterior. Alphonse alone knew him so well that he never seemed to see his ugliness; every one else misunderstood him. He became suspicious, and retired more and more within himself.
In an insensible crescendo the thought grew in him: Why should he never attain anything of that which he most longed for—intimate and cordial intercourse and friendliness which should answer to the warmth pent up within him? Why should every one smile to Alphonse with out-stretched hands, while he must content himself with stiff bows and cold glances?
Alphonse knew nothing of all this. He was joyous and healthy, charmed with life and content with his daily work. He had been placed in the easiest and most interesting branch of the business, and, with his quick brain and his knack of making himself agreeable, he filled his place satisfactorily.
His social circle was very large—every one set store by his acquaintance, and he was at least as popular among women as among men.
For a time Charles accompanied Alphonse into society, until he was seized by a misgiving that he was invited for his friend's sake alone, when he at once drew back.
When Charles proposed that they should set up in business together, Alphonse had answered: "It is too good of you to choose me. You could easily find a much better partner."
Charles had imagined that their altered relations and closer association in work would draw Alphonse out of the circles which Charles could not now endure, and unite them more closely. For he had conceived a vague dread of losing his friend.
He did not himself know, nor would it have been easy to decide, whether he was jealous of all the people who flocked around Alphonse and drew him to them, or whether he envied his friend's popularity.
They began their business prudently and energetically, and got on well.
It was generally held that each formed an admirable complement to the other. Charles represented the solid, confidence-inspiring element, while the handsome and elegant Alphonse imparted to the firm a certain lustre which was far from being without value.
Every one who came into the counting-house at once remarked his handsome figure, and thus it seemed quite natural that all should address themselves to him.
Charles meanwhile bent over his work and let Alphonse be spokesman. When Alphonse asked him about anything, he answered shortly and quietly without looking up.
Thus most people thought that Charles was a confidential clerk, while Alphonse was the real head of the house.
As Frenchmen, they thought little about marrying, but as young Parisians they led a life into which erotics entered largely.
Alphonse was never really in his element except when in female society. Then all his exhilarating amiability came into play, and when he leaned back at supper and held out his shallow champagne- glass to be refilled, he was as beautiful as a happy god.
He had a neck of the kind which women long to caress, and his soft, half-curling hair looked as if it were negligently arranged, or carefully disarranged, by a woman's coquettish hand.
Indeed, many slim white fingers had passed through those locks; for Alphonse had not only the gift of being loved by women, but also the yet rarer gift of being forgiven by them.
When the friends were together at gay supper-parties, Alphonse paid no particular heed to Charles. He kept no account of his own love-affairs, far less of those of his friend. So it might easily happen that a beauty on whom Charles had cast a longing eye fell into the hands of Alphonse.
Charles was used to seeing his friend preferred in life; but there are certain things to which men can scarcely accustom themselves. He seldom went with Alphonse to his suppers, and it was always long before the wine and the general exhilaration could bring him into a convivial humor.
But then, when the champagne and the bright eyes had gone to his head, he would often be the wildest of all; he would sing loudly with his harsh voice, laugh and gesticulate so that his stiff black hair fell over his forehead; and then the merry ladies shrank from him, and called him the "chimney-sweep."
—As the sentry paces up and down in the beleaguered fortress, he sometimes hears a strange sound in the silent night, as if something were rustling under his feet. It is the enemy, who has undermined the outworks, and to-night or to-morrow night there will be a hollow explosion, and armed men will storm in through the breach.
If Charles had kept close watch over himself he would have heard strange thoughts rustling within him. But he would not hear—he had only a dim foreboding that sometime there must come an explosion.
—And one day it came.
It was already after business hours; the clerks had all left the outer office, and only the principals remained behind.
Charles was busily writing a letter which he wished to finish before he left.
Alphonse had drawn on both his gloves and buttoned them. Then he had brushed his hat until it shone, and now he was walking up and down and peeping into Charles's letter every time he passed the desk.
They used to spend an hour every day before dinner in a cafe on the great Boulevard, and Alphonse was getting impatient for his newspapers.
"Will you never have finished that letter?" he said, rather irritably.
Charles was silent a second or two, then he sprang up so that his chair fell over: "Perhaps Alphonse imagined that he could do it better? Did he not know which of them was really the man of business?" And now the words streamed out with that incredible rapidity of which the French language is capable when it is used in fiery passion.
But it was a turbid stream, carrying with it many ugly expressions, upbraidings, and recriminations; and through the whole there sounded something like a suppressed sob.
As he strode up and down the room, with clenched hands and dishevelled hair, Charles looked like a little wiry-haired terrier barking at an elegant Italian grayhound. At last he seized his hat and rushed out.
Alphonse had stood looking at him with great wondering eyes. When he was gone, and there was once more silence in the room, it seemed as though the air was still quivering with the hot words. Alphonse recalled them one by one, as he stood motionless beside the desk.
"Did he not know which was the abler of the two?" Yes, assuredly! he had never denied that Charles was by far his superior.
"He must not think that he would succeed in winning everything to himself with his smooth face." Alphonse was not conscious of ever having deprived his friend of anything.
"I don't care for your cocottes" Charles had said.
Could he really have been interested in the little Spanish dancer? If Alphonse had only had the faintest suspicion of such a thing he would never have looked at her. But that was nothing to get so wild about; there were plenty of women in Paris.
And at last: "As sure as to-morrow comes, I will dissolve partnership!"
Alphonse did not understand it at all. He left the counting-house and walked moodily through the streets until he met an acquaintance. That put other thoughts into his head; but all day he had a feeling as if something gloomy and uncomfortable lay in wait, ready to seize him so soon as he was alone.
When he reached home, late at night, he found a letter from Charles. He opened it hastily; but it contained, instead of the apology he had expected, only a coldly-worded request to M. Alphonse to attend at the counting-house early the next morning "in order that the contemplated dissolution of partnership might be effected as quickly as possible."
Now, for the first time, did Alphonse begin to understand that the scene in the counting-house had been more than a passing outburst of passion; but this only made the affair more inexplicable.
And the longer he thought it over, the more clearly did he feel that Charles had been unjust to him. He had never been angry with his friend, nor was he precisely angry even now. But as he repeated to himself all the insults Charles had heaped upon him, his good-natured heart hardened; and the next morning he took his place in silence, after a cold "Good morning."
Although he arrived a whole hour earlier than usual, he could see that Charles had been working long and industriously. There they sat, each on his side of the desk; they spoke only the most indispensable words; now and then a paper passed from hand to hand, but they never looked each other in the face.
In this way they both worked—each more busily than the other— until twelve o'clock, their usual luncheon-time.
This hour of dejeuner was the favorite time of both. Their custom was to have it served in their office, and when the old housekeeper announced that lunch was ready, they would both rise at once, even if they were in the midst of a sentence or of an account.
They used to eat standing by the fireplace, or walking up and down in the warm, comfortable office. Alphonse had always some piquant stories to tell, and Charles laughed at them. These were his pleasantest hours.
But that day, when madame said her friendly "Messieurs, on a servi" they both remained sitting. She opened her eyes wide, and repeated the words as she went out, but neither moved.
At last Alphonse felt hungry, went to the table, poured out a glass of wine and began to eat his cutlet. But as he stood there eating, with his glass in his hand, and looked round the dear old office where they had spent so many pleasant hours, and then thought that they were to lose all this and imbitter their lives for a whim, a sudden burst of passion, the whole situation appeared to him so preposterous that he almost burst out laughing.
"Look here, Charles," he said, in the half-earnest, half-joking tone which always used to make Charles laugh, "it will really be too absurd to advertise: 'According to an amicable agreement, from such and such a date the firm of—'"
"I have been thinking," interrupted Charles, quietly, "that we will put: 'According to MUTUAL agreement.'"
Alphonse laughed no more; he put down his glass, and the cutlet tasted bitter in his mouth.
He understood that friendship was dead between them, why or wherefore he could not tell; but he thought that Charles was hard and unjust to him. He was now stiffer and colder than the other.
They worked together until the business of dissolution was finished; then they parted.
A considerable time passed, and the two quondam friends worked each in his own quarter in the great Paris. They met at the Bourse, but never did business with each other. Charles never worked against Alphonse; he did not wish to ruin him; he wished Alphonse to ruin himself.
And Alphonse seemed likely enough to meet his friend's wishes in this respect. It is true that now and then he did a good stroke of business, but the steady industry he had learned from Charles he soon forgot. He began to neglect his office, and lost many good connections.
He had always had a taste for dainty and luxurious living, but his association with the frugal Charles had hitherto held his extravagances in check. Now, on the contrary, his life became more and more dissipated. He made fresh acquaintances on every hand, and was more than ever the brilliant and popular Monsieur Alphonse; but Charles kept an eye on his growing debts.
He had Alphonse watched as closely as possible, and, as their business was of the same kind, could form a pretty good estimate of the other's earnings. His expenses were even easier to ascertain, and he soon assured himself of the fact that Alphonse was beginning to run into debt in several quarters.
He cultivated some acquaintances about whom he otherwise cared nothing, merely because through them he got an insight into Alphonse's expensive mode of life and rash prodigality. He sought the same cafes and restaurants as Alphonse, but at different times; he even had his clothes made by the same tailor, because the talkative little man entertained him with complaints that Monsieur Alphonse never paid his bills.
Charles often thought how easy it would be to buy up a part of Alphonse's liabilities and let them fall into the hands of a grasping usurer. But it would be a great injustice to suppose that Charles for a moment contemplated doing such a thing himself. It was only an idea he was fond of dwelling upon; he was, as it were, in love with Alphonse's debts.
But things went slowly, and Charles became pale and sallow while he watched and waited.
He was longing for the time when the people who had always looked down upon him should have their eyes opened, and see how little the brilliant and idolized Alphonse was really fit for. He wanted to see him humbled, abandoned by his friends, lonely and poor; and then—!
Beyond that he really did not like to speculate; for at this point feelings stirred within him which he would not acknowledge.
He WOULD hate his former friend; he WOULD have revenge for all the coldness and neglect which had been his own lot in life; and every time the least thought in defence of Alphonse arose in his mind he pushed it aside, and said, like the old banker, "Sentiment won't do for a business man."
One day he went to his tailor's; he bought more clothes in these days than he absolutely needed.
The nimble little man at once ran to meet turn with a roll of cloth: "See, here is the very stuff for you. Monsieur Alphonse has had a whole suit made of it, and Monsieur Alphonse is a gentleman who knows how to dress."
"I did not think that Monsieur Alphonse was one of your favorite customers," said Charles, rather taken by surprise.
"Oh, mon Dieu!" exclaimed the little tailor, "you mean because I have once or twice mentioned that Monsieur Alphonse owed me a few thousand francs. It was very stupid of me to speak so. Monsieur Alphonse has not only paid me the trifle he was owing, but I know that he has also satisfied a number of other creditors. I have done ce cher beau monsieur great injustice, and I beg you never to give him a hint of my stupidity."
Charles was no longer listening to the chatter of the garrulous tailor. He soon left the shop, and went up the street, quite absorbed in the one thought that Alphonse had paid.
He thought how foolish it really was of him to wait and wait for the other's ruin. How easily might not the adroit and lucky Alphonse come across many a brilliant business opening, and make plenty of money without a word of it reaching Charles's ears. Perhaps, after all, he was getting on well. Perhaps it would end in people saying, "See, at last Monsieur Alphonse shows what he is fit for, now that he is quit of his dull and crabbed partner!"
Charles went slowly up the street with his head bent. Many people jostled him, but he heeded not. His life seemed to him so meaningless, as if he had lost all that he had ever possessed—or had he himself cast it from him? Just then some one ran against him with more than usual violence. He looked up. It was an acquaintance from the time when he and Alphonse had been in the Credit Lyonnais.
"Ah, good-day, Monsieur Charles!" cried he, "It is long since we met. Odd, too, that I should meet you to-day. I was just thinking of you this morning."
"Why, may I ask?" said Charles, half absently.
"Well, you see, only to-day I saw up at the bank a paper—a bill for thirty or forty thousand francs—bearing both your name and that of Monsieur Alphonse. It astonished me, for I thought that you two—hm!—had done with each other."
"No, we have not quite done with each other yet," said Charles slowly.
He struggled with all his might to keep his face calm, and asked, in as natural a tone as he could command, "When does the bill fall due? I don't quite recollect."
"To-morrow or the day after, I think," answered the other, who was a hard-worked business man, and was already in a hurry to be off. "It was accepted by Monsieur Alphonse."
"I know that," said Charles; "but could you not manage to let ME redeem the bill to-morrow? It is a courtesy—a favor I am anxious to do."
"With pleasure. Tell your messenger to ask for me personally at the bank to-morrow afternoon. I will arrange it; nothing easier. Excuse me; I'm in a hurry. Good-bye!" and with that he ran on.
Next day Charles sat in his counting-house waiting for the messenger who had gone up to the bank to redeem Alphonse's bill.
At last a clerk entered, laid a folded blue paper by his principal's side, and went out again.
Not until the door was closed did Charles seize the draft, look swiftly round the room, and open it. He stared for a second or two at his name, then lay back in his chair and drew a deep breath. It was as he had expected—the signature was a forgery.
He bent over it again. For long he sat, gazing at his own name, and observing how badly it was counterfeited.
While his sharp eyes followed every line in the letters of his name, he scarcely thought. His mind was so disturbed, and his feelings so strangely conflicting, that it was some time before he became conscious how much they betrayed—these bungling strokes on the blue paper.
He felt a strange lump in his throat, his nose began to tickle a little, and, before he was aware of it, a big tear fell on the paper.
He looked hastily around, took out his pocket-handkerchief, and carefully wiped the wet place on the bill. He thought again of the old banker in the Rue Bergere.
What did it matter to him that Alphonse's weak character had at last led him to crime, and what had he lost? Nothing, for did he not hate his former friend? No one could say it was his fault that Alphonse was ruined—he had shared with him honestly, and never harmed him.
Then his thoughts tamed to Alphonse. He knew him well enough to be sure that when the refined, delicate Alphonse had sunk so low, he must have come to a jutting headland in life, and he prepared to leap out of it rather than let disgrace reach him.
At this thought Charles sprang up. That must not be. Alphonse should not have time to send a bullet through his bead and hide his shame in the mixture of compassion and mysterious horror which follows the suicide. Thus Charles would lose his revenge, and it would be all to no purpose that he had gone and nursed his hatred until he himself had become evil through it. Since he had forever lost his friend, he would at least expose his enemy, so that all should see what a miserable, despicable being was this charming Alphonse.
He looked at his watch; it was half-past four. Charles knew the cafe in which he would find Alphonse at this hour; he pocketed the bill and buttoned his coat.
But on the way he would call at a police-station, and hand over the bill to a detective, who at a sign from Charles should suddenly advance into the middle of the cafe where Alphonse was always surrounded by his friends and admirers, and say loudly and distinctly so that all should hear it:
"Monsieur Alphonse, you are charged with forgery."
It was raining in Paris. The day had been foggy, raw, and cold; and well on in the afternoon it had begun to rain. It was not a downpour—the water did not fall from the clouds in regular drops—but the clouds themselves had, as it were, laid themselves down in the streets of Paris and there slowly condensed into water.
No matter how people might seek to shelter themselves, they got wet on all sides. The moisture slid down the back of your neck, laid itself like a wet towel about your knees, penetrated into your boots and far up your trousers.
A few sanguine ladies were standing in the portes cocheres, with their skirts tucked up, expecting it to clear; others waited by the hour in the omnibus stations. But most of the stronger sex hurried along under their umbrellas; only a few had been sensible enough to give up the battle, and had turned up their collars, stuck their umbrellas under their arms, and their hands in their pockets.
Although it was early in the autumn it was already dusk at five o'clock. A few gas-jets lighted in the narrowest streets, and in a shop here and there strove to shine out in the thick wet air.
People swarmed as usual in the streets, jostled one another off the pavement, and ruined one another's umbrellas. All the cabs were taken up; they splashed along and bespattered the foot passengers to the best of their ability, while the asphalt glistened in the dim light with a dense coating of mud.
The cafes were crowded to excess; regular customers went round and scolded, and the waiters ran against each other in their hurry. Ever and anon, amid the confusion, could be heard the sharp little ting of the bell on the buffet; it was la dame du comptoir summoning a waiter, while her calm eyes kept a watch upon the whole cafe.
A lady sat at the buffet of a large restaurant on the Boulevard Sebastopol. She was widely known for her cleverness and her amiable manners.
She had glossy black hair, which, in spite of the fashion, she wore parted in the middle of her forehead in natural curls. Her eyes were almost black and her mouth full, with a little shadow of a moustache.
Her figure was still very pretty, although, if the truth were known, she had probably passed her thirtieth year; and she had a soft little hand, with which she wrote elegant figures in her cashbook, and now and then a little note. Madame Virginie could converse with the young dandies who were always hanging about the buffet, and parry their witticisms, while she kept account with the waiters and had her eye upon every corner of the great room.
She was really pretty only from five till seven in the afternoon— that being the time at which Alphonse invariably visited the cafe. Then her eyes never left him; she got a fresher color, her mouth was always trembling into a smile, and her movements became somewhat nervous. That was the only time of the day when she was ever known to give a random answer or to make a mistake in the accounts; and the waiters tittered and nudged each other.
For it was generally thought that she had formerly had relations with Alphonse, and some would even have it that she was still his mistress.
She herself best knew how matters stood; but it was impossible to be angry with Monsieur Alphonse. She was well aware that he cared no more for her than for twenty others; that she had lost him— nay, that he had never really been hers. And yet her eyes besought a friendly look, and when he left the cafe without sending her a confidential greeting, it seemed as though she suddenly faded, and the waiters said to each other: "Look at madame; she is gray tonight."
Over at the windows it was still light enough to read the papers; a couple of young men were amusing themselves with watching the crowds which streamed past. Seen through the great plate-glass windows, the busy forms gliding past one another in the dense, wet, rainy air looked like fish in an aquarium. Further back in the cafe, and over the billiard-tables, the gas was lighted. Alphonse was playing with a couple of friends.
He had been to the buffet and greeted Madame Virginie, and she, who had long noticed how Alphonse was growing paler day by day, had—half in jest, half in anxiety—reproached him with his thoughtless life.
Alphonse answered with a poor joke and asked for absinthe.
How she hated those light ladies of the ballet and the opera who enticed Monsieur Alphonse to revel night after night at the gaming-table, or at interminable suppers! How ill he had been looking these last few weeks! He had grown quite thin, and the great gentle eyes had acquired a piercing, restless look. What would she not give to be able to rescue him out of that life that was dragging him down! She glanced in the opposite mirror and thought she had beauty enough left.
Now and then the door opened and a new guest came in, stamped his feet, and shut his wet umbrella. All bowed to Madame Virginie, and almost all said, "What horrible weather!"
When Charles entered, he saluted shortly and took a seat in the corner beside the fireplace.
Alphonse's eyes had indeed become restless. He looked towards the door every time any one came in; and when Charles appeared, a spasm passed over his face and he missed his stroke.
"Monsieur Alphonse is not in the vein to-day," said an onlooker.
Soon after a strange gentleman came in. Charles looked up from his paper and nodded slightly; the stranger raised his eyebrows a little and looked at Alphonse.
He dropped his cue on the floor.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, I'm not in the mood for billiards to-day," said he, "permit me to leave off. Waiter, bring me a bottle of seltzer-water and a spoon—I must take my dose of Vichy salts."
"You should not take so much Vichy salts, Monsieur Alphonse, but rather keep to a sensible diet," said the doctor, who sat a little way off playing chess.
Alphonse laughed, and seated himself at the newspaper-table. He seized the JOURNAL AMUSANT, and began to make merry remarks upon the illustrations. A little circle quickly gathered round him, and he was inexhaustible in racy stories and whimsicalities.
While he rattled on under cover of the others' laughter, he poured out a glass of seltzer-water and took from his pocket a little box on which was written, in large letters, "Vichy Salts."
He shook the powder out into the glass and stirred it round with a spoon. There was a little cigar-ash on the floor in front of his chair; he whipped it off with his pocket-handkerchief, and then stretched out his hand for the glass.
At that moment he felt a hand on his arm. Charles had risen and hurried across the room he now bent down over Alphonse.
Alphonse turned his head towards him so that none but Charles could see his face. At first he let his eyes travel furtively over his old friend's figure; then he looked up, and, gazing straight at Charles, he said, half aloud, "Charlie!"
It was long since Charles had heard that old pet name. He gazed into the well-known face and now for the first time saw how it had altered of late. It seemed to him as though he were reading a tragic story about himself.
They remained thus far a second or two and there glided over Alphonse's features that expression of imploring helplessness which Charles knew so well from the old school-days, when Alphonse came bounding in at the last moment and wanted his composition written.
"Have you done with the JOURNAL AMUSANT?" asked Charles, with a thick utterance.
"Yes; pray take it," answered Alphonse, hurriedly. He reached him the paper, and at the same time got hold of Charles's thumb. He pressed it and whispered, "Thanks," then—drained the glass.
Charles went over to the stranger who sat by the door: "Give me the bill."
"You don't need our assistance, then?"
"So much the better," said the stranger, handing Charles a folded blue paper. Then he paid for his coffee and went.
Madame Virginie rose with a little shriek: "Alphonse! Oh, my God! Monsieur Alphonse is ill."
He slipped off his chair; his shoulders went up and his head fell on one side. He remained sitting on the floor, with his back against the chair.
There was a movement among those nearest; the doctor sprang over and knelt beside him. When he looked in Alphonse's face he started a little. He took his hand as if to feel his pulse, and at the same time bent down over the glass which stood on the edge of the table.
With a movement of the arm he gave it a slight push, so that it fell on the floor and was smashed. Then he laid down the dead man's hand and bound a handkerchief round his chin.
Not till then did the others understand what had happened. "Dead? Is he dead, doctor? Monsieur Alphonse dead?"
"Heart disease," answered the doctor.
One came running with water, another with vinegar. Amid laughter and noise, the balls could be heard cannoning on the inner billiard-table.
"Hush!" some one whispered. "Hush!" was repeated; and the silence spread in wider and wider circles round the corpse, until all was quite still.
"Come and lend a hand," said the doctor.
The dead man was lifted up; they laid him on a sofa in a corner of the room, and the nearest gas-jets were put out.
Madame Virginie was still standing up; her face was chalk-white, and she held her little soft hand pressed against her breast. They carried him right past the buffet. The doctor had seized him under the back, so that his waistcoat slipped up and a piece of his fine white shirt appeared.
She followed with her eyes the slender, supple limbs she knew so well, and continued to stare towards the dark corner.
Most of the guests went away in silence. A couple of young men entered noisily from the street; a waiter ran towards them and said a few words. They glanced towards the corner, buttoned their coats, and plunged out again into the fog.
The half-darkened cafe was soon empty; only some of Alphonse's nearest friends stood in a group and whispered. The doctor was talking with the proprietor, who had now appeared on the scene.
The waiters stole to and fro, making great circuits to avoid the dark corner. One of them knelt and gathered up the fragments of the glass on a tray. He did his work as quietly as he could; but for all that it made too much noise.
"Let that alone until by and by," said the host, softly.
Leaning against the chimney-piece, Charles looked at the dead man. He slowly tore the folded paper to pieces, while he thought of his friend.
The Translation by Mary Howitt.
I had a peculiar method of wandering without very much pain along the stormy path of life. Although, in a physical as well as in a moral sense, I wandered almost barefoot,-I HOPED, hoped from day to day; in the morning my hopes rested on evening, in the evening on the morning; in the autumn; upon the spring, in spring upon the autumn; from this year to the next, and this amid mere hopes, I had passed through nearly thirty years of my life, without, of all my privations, painfully perceiving the want of anything but whole boots. Nevertheless, I consoled myself easily for this out of doors in the open air but in a drawing-room it always gave me an uneasy manner to have to turn the heels, as being the part least torn, to the front. Much more oppressive was it to me, truly, that I could in the abodes of misery only console with kind words.
I comforted myself, like a thousand others, by a hopeful glance upon the rolling wheel of fortune, and with the philosophical remark, "When the time comes, comes the counsel."
As a poor assistant to a country clergyman with a narrow income and meagre table, morally becoming mouldy in the company of the scolding housekeeper, of the willingly fuddled clergyman, of a foolish young gentleman and the daughters of the house, who, with high shoulders and turned-in toes, went from morning to night paying visits, I felt a peculiarly strange emotion of tenderness and joy as one of my acquaintance informed me by writing, that my uncle, the Merchant P—-in Stockholm, to me personally unknown, now lay dying, and in a paroxysm of kindred affection had inquired after his good-for-nothing nephew.
With a flat, meagre little bundle, and a million of rich hopes, the grateful nephew now allowed himself to be shaken up hill and down hill, upon an uncommonly uncomfortable and stiff-necked peasant cart, and arrived, head-over-heels, in the capital.
In the inn where I alighted, I ordered for myself a little—only a very little breakfast,—a trifle—a bit of bread-and-butter—a few eggs.
The landlord and a fat gentleman walked up and down the saloon and chatted. "Nay, that I must say," said the fat gentleman, "this Merchant P—, who died the day before yesterday, he was a fine fellow."
"Yes, yes," thought I; "aha, aha, a fellow, who had heaps of money! Hear you, my friend" (to the waiter), "could not you get me a bit of venison, or some other solid dish? Hear you, a cup of bouillon would not be amiss. Look after it, but quick!"
"Yes," said mine host now, "it is strong! Thirty thousand dollars, and they banko! Nobody in the whole world could have dreamed of it—thirty thousand!"
"Thirty thousand!" repeated I, in my exultant soul, "thirty thousand! Hear you, waiter! Make haste, give me here thirty then—; and give me here banko—no give me here a glass of wine, I mean;" and from head to heart there sang in me, amid the trumpet-beat of every pulse in alternating echoes, "Thirty thousand! Thirty thousand!"
"Yes," continued the fat gentlemen, "and would you believe that in the mass of debts there are nine hundred dollars for credit and five thousand dollars for champagne. And now all his creditors stand there prettily and open their mouths; all the thing in the house are hardly worth two farthings; and out of the house they find, as the only indemnification—a calash!"
"Aha, that is something quite different! Hear you, youth, waiter! Eh, come you here! take that meat, and the bouillon, and the wine away again; and hear you, observe well, that I have not eaten a morsel of all this. How could I, indeed; I, that ever since I opened my eyes this morning have done nothing else but eat (a horrible untruth!), and it just now occurs to me that it would therefore be unnecessary to pay money for such a superfluous feast."
"But you have actually ordered it," replied the waiter, in a state of excitement.
"My friend," I replied, and seized myself behind the ear, a place whence people, who are in embarrassment, are accustomed in some sort of way to obtain the necessary help—"my friend, it was a mistake for which I must not be punished; for it was not my fault that a rich heir, for whom I ordered the breakfast, is all at once become poor,—yes, poorer than many a poor devil, because he has lost more than the half of his present means upon the future. If he, under these circumstances, as you may well imagine, cannot pay for a dear breakfast, yet it does not prevent my paying for the eggs which I have devoured, and giving you over and above something handsome for your trouble, as business compels me to move off from here immediately."
By my excellent logic, and the "something handsome," I removed from my throat, with a bleeding heart and a watering mouth, that dear breakfast, and wandered forth into the city, with my little bundle under my arm, to seek for a cheap room, while I considered where I w as to get the money for it.
In consequence of the violent coming in contact of hope and reality I had a little headache. But when I saw upon my ramble a gentleman, ornamented with ribbons and stars, alight from a magnificent carriage, who had a pale yellow complexion, a deeply- wrinkled brow, and above his eyebrows an intelligible trace of ill- humour; when I saw a young count, with whom I had become acquainted in the University of Upsala, walking along as if he were about to fall on his nose from age and weariness of life, I held up my head, inhaled the air, which accidentally (unfortunately) at this place was filled with the smell of smoked sausage, and extolled poverty, and a pure heart.
I found at length, in a remote street, a little room, which was more suited to my gloomy prospects than to the bright hopes which I cherished two hours before.
I had obtained permission to spend the winter in Stockholm, and had thought of spending it in quite a different way to what now was to be expected. But what was to be done? To let the courage sink was the worst of all; to lay the hands in the lap and look up to heaven, not much better. "The sun breaks forth when one least expects it," thought I, as heavy autumn clouds descended upon the city. I determined to use all the means I could to obtain for myself a decent substance with a somewhat pleasanter prospect for the future, than was opened to me under the miserable protection of Pastor G., and, in the meantime, to earn my daily bread by copying,—a sorrowful expedient in a sorrowful condition.
Thus I passed my days amid fruitless endeavors to find ears which might not be deaf, amid the heart-wearing occupation of writing out fairly the empty productions of empty heads, with my dinners becoming more and more scanty, and with ascending hopes, until that evening against whose date I afterwards made a cross in my calendar.
My host had just left me with the friendly admonition to pay the first quarter's rent on the following day, if I did not prefer (the politeness is French) to march forth again with bag and baggage on a voyage of discovery through the streets of the city.
It was just eight o'clock, on an indescribably cold November evening, when I was revived with this affectionate salutation on my return from a visit to a sick person, for whom I, perhaps— really somewhat inconsiderately, had emptied my purse.
I snuffed my sleepy, thin candle with my fingers, and glanced around the little dark chamber, for the further use of which I must soon see myself compelled to gold-making.
"Diogenes dwelt worse," sighed I, with a submissive mind, as I drew a lame table from the window where the wind and rain were not contented to stop outside. At that moment my eye fell upon a brilliantly blazing fire in a kitchen, which lay, Tantalus-like, directly opposite to my modest room, where the fireplace was as dark as possible.
"Cooks, men and women, have the happiest lot of all serving mortals!" thought I, as, with a secret desire to play that fire- tending game, I contemplated the well-fed dame, amid iron pots and stewpans, standing there like an empress in the glory of the firelight, and with the fire-tongs sceptre rummaging about majestically in the glowing realm.
A story higher, I had, through a window, which was concealed by no envious curtain, the view into a brightly lighted room, where a numerous family were assembled round a tea-table covered with cups and bread baskets.
I was stiff in my whole body, from cold and damp. How empty it was in that part which may be called the magazine, I do not say; but, ah, good Heavens! thought I, if, however, that pretty girl, who over there takes a cop of tea-nectar and rich splendid rusks to that fat gentleman who, from satiety, can hardly raise himself from the sofa, would but reach out her lovely hand a little further, and could—she would with a thousand kisses—in vain!— ah, the satiated gentleman takes his cup; he steeps and steeps his rusk with such eternal slowness—it might be wine. Now the charming girl caresses him. I am curious whether it is the dear papa himself or the uncle, or, perhaps—Ah, the enviable mortal! But no, it is quite impossible; he is at least forty years older than she. See, that indeed must be his wife—an elderly lady, who sits near him on the sofa, and who offers rusks to the young lady. The old lady seems very dignified; but to whom does she go now? I cannot see the person. An ear and a piece of a shoulder are all that peep forth near the window. I cannot exactly take it amiss that the respectable person turns his back to me; but that he keeps the young lady a quarter of an hour standing before him, lets her courtesy and offer her good things, does thoroughly provoke me. It must be a lady—a man could not be so unpolite towards this angelic being. But—or—now she takes the cup; and now, oh, woe! a great man's hand grasps into the rusk-basket—the savage! and how he helps himself—the churl! I should like to know whether it is her brother,—he was perhaps hungry, poor fellow! Now come in, one after the other, two lovely children, who are like the sister. I wonder now, whether the good man with one ear has left anything remaining. That most charming of girls, how she caresses the little ones, and kisses them, and gives to them all the rusks and the cakes that have escaped the fingers of Monsieur Gobble. Now she has had herself, the sweet child! of the whole entertainment, no more than me—the smell.
What a movement suddenly takes place in the room! The old gentleman heaves himself up from the sofa—the person with one ear starts forward, and in so doing, gives the young lady a blow (the dromedary!) which makes her knock against the tea-table, whereby the poor lady, who was just about springing up from the sofa, is pushed down again—the children hop about and clap their hands— the door flies open—a young officer enters—the young girl throws herself into his arms. So, indeed! Aha, now we have it! I put to my shutters so violently that they cracked, and seated myself on a chair, quite wet through with rain, and with my knees trembling.
What had I to do at the window? That is what one gets when one is inquisitive.
Eight days ago, this family had removed from the country into the handsome house opposite to me; and it had never yet occurred to me to ask who they were, or whence they came. What need was there for me to-night to make myself acquainted with their domestic concerns in an illicit manner? How could it interest me? I was in an ill-humor; perhaps, too, I felt some little heartache. But for all that, true to my resolution, not to give myself up to anxious thoughts when they could do no good, I seized the pen with stiff fingers, and, in order to dissipate my vexation, wished to attempt a description of domestic happiness, of a happiness which I had never enjoyed. For the rest, I philosophized whilst I blew upon my stiffened hands. "Am I the first who, in the hot hour of fancy, has sought for a warmth which the stern world of reality has denied him? Six dollars for a measure of fir-wood. Yes, prosit, thou art not likely to get it before December! I write!
"Happy, threefold happy, the family, in whose narrow, contracted circle no heart bleeds solitarily, or solitarily rejoices! No look, no smile, remains unanswered; and where the friends say daily, not with words but with deeds, to each other, 'Thy cares, thy joys, thy happiness, are mine also!'"
"Lovely is the peaceful, the quiet home, which closes itself protectingly around the weary pilgrim through life—which, around its friendly blazing hearth, assembles for repose the old man leaning on his staff, the strong man, the affectionate wife, and happy children, who, shouting and exulting, hop about in their earthly heaven, and closing a day spent in the pastimes of innocence, repeat a thanksgiving prayer with smiling lips, and drop asleep on the bosom of their parents, whilst the gentle voice of the mother tells them, in whispered cradle-tones, how around their couch—
"The little angels in a ring, Stand round about to keep A watchful guard upon the bed Where little children sleep."
Here I was obliged to leave off, because I felt something resembling a drop of rain come forth from my eye, and therefore could not any longer see clearly.
"How many," thought I, as my reflections, against my will, took a melancholy turn—"how many are there who must, to their sorrow, do without this highest happiness of earthly life—domestic happiness!"
For one moment I contemplated myself in the only whole glass which I had in my room—that OF TRUTH,—and then wrote again with gloomy feeling:—"Unhappy, indeed, may the forlorn one be called, who, in the anxious and cool moments of life (which, indeed, come so often), is pressed to no faithful heart, whose sigh nobody returns, whose quiet grief nobody alleviates with a 'I understand thee, I suffer with thee!'
"He is cast down, nobody raises him up; he weeps, nobody sees it, nobody will see it; he goes, nobody follows him; he comes, nobody goes to meet him; he rests, nobody watches over him. He is lonely. Oh, how unfortunate he is! Why dies he not? Ah, who would weep for him? How cold is a grave which no warm tears of love moisten!
"He is lonesome in the winter night; for him the earth has no flowers, and dark burn the lights of heaven. Why wanders he, the lonesome one; why waits he; why flies he not, the shadow, to the land of shades? Ah, he still hopes, he is a mendicant who begs for joy, who yet waits in the eleventh hour, that a merciful hand may give him an alms.
"One only little blossom of earth will he gather, bear it upon his heart, in order henceforth not so lonesomely, not so entirely lonesome, to wander down to rest."
It was my own condition which I described. I deplored myself.
Early deprived of my parents, without brothers and sisters, friends, and relations, I stood in the world yet so solitary and forlorn, that but for an inward confidence in heaven, and a naturally happy temper, I should often enough have wished to leave this contemptuous world; till now, however, I had almost constantly hoped from the future, and this more from an instinctive feeling that this might be the best, than to subdue by philosophy every too vivid wish for an agreeable present time, because it was altogether so opposed to possibility. For some time, however, alas! it had been otherwise with me; I felt, and especially this evening, more than ever an inexpressible desire to have somebody to love,—to have some one about me who would cleave to me—who would be a friend to me;—in short, to have (for me the highest felicity on earth) a wife—a beloved, devoted wife! Oh, she would comfort me, she would cheer me! her affection, even in the poorest hut, would make of me a king. That the love-fire of my heart would not insure the faithful being at my side from being frozen was soon made clearly sensible to me by an involuntary shudder. More dejected than ever, I rose up and walked a few times about my room (that is to say, two steps right forward, and then turn back again). The sense of my condition followed me like the shadow on the wall, and for the first time in my life I felt myself cast down, and threw a gloomy look on my dark future. I had no patron, therefore could not reckon upon promotion for a long time; consequently, also, not upon my own bread—on a friend—a wife, I mean.