PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
On the Aeolian harp builder Kornelius and his sons
Far out in a radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain of sand is nevertheless a whole world with mountains and valleys, sounds and fjords and houses with small people. Indeed in one place there is even a complete little old town with quays and storehouses, streets and lanes and steep alleyways, gardens and squares and churchyards. There is also a little church situated high up, from whose tower there is a view over the roofs of the town and further out across the almighty ocean.
One windy afternoon many years ago, a man and three boys sat up in this tower listening to the capriciously varying sounds of an Aeolian harp. It was the sexton Kornelius Isaksen and his three sons, Moritz, Sirius and Young Kornelius, and the Aeolian harp they were listening to was the first of a considerable number deriving from the sexton’s hand, for this remarkable man gradually developed into a builder of Aeolian harps such as is seldom encountered. So for a time there were no fewer that seventeen Aeolian harps hanging up there in the tower, and the concert of sound they produced went right through you.
But let us return to the day when the magical music from an Aeolian harp came to the ears of the three boys for the first time and stirred a curiously insatiable longing in their young souls. Before this, they had not heard any music apart from what came from the asthmatic old organ that Lamm the organist sat and murdered on Sundays.
“Daddy, who is it playing the Aeolian harp?” asked Young Kornelius, who was about six years old at the time.
“It’s the wind, of course,” replied his elder brother.
“No, it’s the cherubs, isn’t it, Dad?” asked Sirius seeking to catch his father’s gaze with his wildly open eyes.
The sexton nodded in absent-minded confirmation, and the three boys’ listening became still more breathless and rapt. They sat staring from the belfry lights out into a wind-swept space where huge solitary clouds scudded past with an observant mien, as though they, too, were listening to the distant music. The three brothers never forgot this wonderful afternoon in later days, and as a grown man Sirius gave it a lasting memorial in his poem “And cherubim passed by”.
As already said, the sexton’s Aeolian harp making later got out of hand. Kornelius Isakson was in general a man given to excess; he was for ever subject to some crazy idea, and he often set himself impossible tasks. When he failed to achieve them, he was deeply upset and abandoned himself to melancholy, and while in such a state he not infrequently turned to the bottle.
He was nevertheless a kind and considerate father to his sons. And so it was at his instance that their musical gifts were placed in the meticulous care of Kaspar Boman.
Kornelius became a widower at an early age and he himself only lived to be thirty-four. So the three sons were left to themselves at an early age and had to manage as best they could. But the Aeolian harp builder’s restless spirit lived on in their souls, among other things resulting in an inordinate love of music.
About a wedding, a wake and an angry man, and about the name Orpheus
At the age of only twenty-two, Moritz, the sexton’s eldest son, married the eighteen-year-old highly musical bottle-washer Eliana, whom he had met in Boman’s choral society, and who had already long been much courted. It was about this Eliana that Sirius later wrote his justly so much loved poem “Sunshine in a Cellar”, in which he pictures a fair-haired girl standing washing out bottles in a greenish twilit room, wet and a little dishevelled, but young and happy like an Aphrodite who had just come ashore. Eliana really was like that, as though made of lighter stuff than other mortals; indeed, she had that goddess-like gaze that is a remarkable quality in certain female creatures who are specially favoured: a gaze that as it were looks right through everything in a blithesome and practical way without for a moment seeming pensive, and in addition there was something light and airy about her entire person, an innate sense of agile movement, which had certainly not been lost on Lindenskov the dancing teacher, for in his classes he usually pointed Eliana out as a model of natural grace and plasticity.
It goes without saying that Eliana was a beautiful bride. Moritz, too, looked smart: a tanned and handsome young sailor, upright and full of confidence and with the medal for life-saving shining on his jacket lapel. In general, the young couple were surrounded by the atmosphere of freedom from care and of innocent happiness that can make certain solid citizens so strangely bitter and distrustful. And soon there was plenty to gossip about; even the wedding provided the occasion for worries and much shaking of the head, and neither can it be denied that the end to the wedding was as ugly as its start had been beautiful.
It began with a male voice choir, in which the bridegroom himself took part as first tenor, singing “In the Wondrous Hour of Dawn”, written for the occasion by Sirius and set to music by Young Kornelius, who here made his first appearance as a composer. Then a string quartet in which the bridegroom himself played first violin performed Haydn’s well-known Andante cantabile for solo violin and pizzicato. That, too, was a great success and resulted in much praise for the soloist. After this, the assembled company ate and drank and then danced, and in many respects in a very animated fashion, though not more animatedly than is customary in this society. But unfortunately the celebration cost one man his life, as an old shoemaker by the name of Esau – a fine old man of seventy-seven years, whose only fault was that he was incorrigibly devoted to the bottle – was found drowned towards morning in the little cove known as the Kelp Trench, only a few steps away from the house where the festivities were taking place.
The wedding was to have lasted at least two days, but now it naturally came to a standstill. The guests wended their way home. It was a sad affair and extremely unfortunate.
The old shoemaker was buried a few days later, and the male voice choir sang beautifully and movingly at the graveside. That evening, Moritz gathered his friends together for a wake. Here, the remains of the interrupted wedding feast were eaten and drunk, but all naturally took place in suitably subdued and decorous atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the manager of the savings bank, Mr Ankersen, found reason to interfere. He turned up in the midst of the wake, red and frothing at the mouth as was his custom, and spoke of blasphemy, retribution and damnation. The little gathering listened obediently to this impassioned castigator. Ankersen looked dreadful; he had no control whatsoever of his bearded rubicund face and its wrathful spectacles; his voice broke several times in sectarian fury, and as it danced on the wall, his double shadow was the very image of the Devil himself. Two candles were burning on the table; and they fluttered in the blast from his mouth, and he blew one of them right out.
Finally, he grasped an almost full bottle of Dutch gin that was standing on the table, went outside and emptied it in the gutter. Not even this prompted a word from Moritz and his friends in the dimly lit room.
But when the bank manager finally left, Moritz took out a new earthenware bottle of gin and opened it. Averting his eyes, he sighed: “Of course it was a terrible thing that Esau, poor blighter, should go and drown, of course it was. But I surely can’t be given all the blame? I hadn’t even invited Esau; he came as an uninvited guest, but of course I didn’t throw him out. But on the other hand I couldn’t be his nursemaid. But what’s done is done, and after all he was a lonely old man. Let’s drink to him!”
Despite the fact that Moritz only plied the simple trade of a ferryman, he was, as already said, a man who had a rare and all-absorbing love of music. He had an excellent singing voice and never played difficult to get when he was asked to sing at weddings or funerals, and in addition he played at dances when the opportunity arose. He played the violin, the viola, the French horn, flute and clarinet. Not in the sense that he mastered any of these instruments in the manner of a real musician. But he was magnificent when taking part in music making, especially when playing the violin.
Aye, Moritz was more musical than most people, and when about a year after the wedding he had become the father of a little boy, he also wanted to give this child a truly musical name. On this question he asked the advice of various people who were more versed in the history of music than he was. Kaspar Boman, the gardener and music teacher, who at that time was tied to his bed, drew up a whole list of musical names. Moritz preserved this list; it still exists and in all its touching meticulousness, this is how it looks:
Christoff Willibald (Gluck)
Amadeus or Amadé
Paganini (not good)
Papageno (not good either)
Johan Sebastian Bach
Giovanni Battista Viotti? No
Orpheus (crossed out)
Ludvig (dreary name)
Carl Maria v. Weber
Why from all these names Moritz selected Orpheus, which into the bargain had been crossed out, has remained a mystery, but in any case Orpheus became the boy’s name.
Many years later, along with the list here reproduced, which Moritz kept at the bottom of his seaman’s chest, Orpheus found a faded letter from old Boman. It ran thus:
I am really sorry I cannot come to the christening party, but I am still not well enough, but I had otherwise put a little speech together for my godson. Now it had better wait for his confirmation if God allows me to live so long, which He probably will not, but please do not refuse this little present, and please do not make too much of the bottle, Moritz; promise me that, and remember Ibsen’s beautiful words:
With music ravishing and chaste in tone,
Orfeus gave soul to beast and fire to stone.
Make music so the stone strikes sparks.
Make music so our carnal shape departs.
Of a trip one night to the Orken Isles
Poor Sirius. He finally became a recognised poet, but not until many years after he had suffered an untimely death, as so often happens. While alive he was seen as an idler and as impossibly stupid.
Of course, Sirius did also have many peculiar ideas and crazy habits, among which was that of wandering around at night, especially in the light summer nights. And then he could be completely unmerciful in disturbing his slumbering fellow creatures.
Thus, one mild night in August he had taken it into his head that it would be a splendid idea to go out to the Orken Isles and watch the sun rise, and for this purpose he first woke Young Kornelius and then the young couple from the house by the Kelp Trench. Of course they all wanted to go with him, for such were these people from the young and innocent dawn of time. Even little slumbering Orpheus, who then was only three years old, was taken along, carefully wrapped between blankets in a wash basket. The Orken Isles referred to here were naturally not the well-known Scottish group by roughly the same name, but merely a small cluster of rocks by the entrance to the cove. It was Sirius who had invented the bizarre name.
While Eliana made coffee and buttered bread and biscuits, Sirius and Young Kornelius sat in the living room working eagerly together to produce a hymn to the morning. Such was their nature, these sons of the Aeolian harp builder; there was always something to celebrate. Sirius sat there, tall and thin and with his hat pushed to the back of his head, writing in his crumpled poetry book with a well-chewed stump of a pencil, and Kornelius hummed as he peered over his shoulder through his pince-nez. There was something infinitely helpless about this pince-nez of Kornelius’. This was possibly because it was too small and too loose, or because he had no idea how to wear it with the correct, dignified nonchalance. Moreover, the pince-nez, which was in fashion at that time, hardly goes well with an honest and straightforward face with an underhung jaw and protruding ears. There was no saying that Young Kornelius was handsome; he had a tendency to exotropia, in addition to which he had a stammer.
When the poet and the composer had finished their work, they discovered that the Crab King was present in the room. He was sitting in a rocking chair and staring morosely, as was his wont. It is this dwarf Sirius has immortalised in his moving poem “The Man from the Moon”.
Moritz came back, bringing Ole Brandy the first mate with him. Ole Brandy was fairly inebriated; Moritz had found him sitting half asleep in a beached boat. Ole had half a bottle of brandy with him and was keen to hurry home and fetch some more.
Finally, the little group embarked in the boat. The night was inexpressibly quiet. Ole Brandy’s bottle went round from mouth to mouth. The Crab King was the only one to drink nothing; as usual, it was impossible to get a word out of this strange shadow of a human being. Kornelius tapped his shoulder to cheer him up, and the dwarf gave him a devoted look. Kornelius was the only living soul for whom the Crab King is known to have felt any affection.
The ocean breathed in and out in long, resplendent billows populated by silent eiderducks. A full moon on its way down had the happy idea of revealing itself in the west between motionless clouds. It imparted to the darkened landscape a reddish glow that might seem to have been produced by some kind of spiritual trumpet blast.
When the little party had seated itself on the Orken Isles and while Eliana laid out food and coffee on the spotlessly clean rock, Moritz took out his violin and with verve and difficult double stopping played the extraordinary, blissful andante from Pergolesi’s Concertino in f minor.
The bottle continued to circulate, but the men remained silent. Only the Crab King glumly cleared his throat, as was his wont, and stared out across the sea with a great careworn face which seemed once and for all to have drunk its fill of sombre superior knowledge. In the meantime, the moon had gone down, and the dawn sky in the east had started to derive colour from the sun, which was still below the horizon like some sunken Soria Moria castle. When the coffee was drunk and the bread and biscuits eaten, the first blush started to trickle forth from among the long linear cloud formations and to strike fire in a mantle of merry fleecy clouds.
Then Sirius stepped forward and in an emotional voice declaimed his morning hymn, a kind of song of praise to the sun and to life. The Crab King took off his bonnet and folded his hands. Moritz sat with the bottle on his left knee, and with his right arm he held his young wife close to him. Ole Brandy had stretched out on the rocks and lay emitting clouds of smoke in the air from his crusty chalk pipe. The morning sun shining on his broken red nose made it doubly red and played in his golden earrings. But all at once, Sirius stopped declaiming and pointed out across the water: Look!
They all rose to look. Out there on the furrowed water, which had now adopted a dazzling bronze glow, a pod of dolphins could be seen. They were flapping their tails and performing somersaults on the surface of the water as though in excessive joy as they hastened away in the current and disappeared in the distance.
Little Orpheus had awakened in his basket just in time to see this sight. He stretched his arms up and cried out, beyond himself with delight mixed with fear, and the image of the massively happy fish in the sunrise imprinted itself on his memory for all time.
Sirius read his poem to the end. Ole Brandy lit his pipe, which had gone out, and grabbed for the bottle, and now Kornelius had his melody ready. He handed the paper with the scribbled notes to Moritz, who took his violin and played the melody through a couple of times. He nodded approvingly and launched into singing the new song. Kornelius and Sirius sang in harmony and Ole Brandy hooted in the empty bottle, and thus was born the beautiful hymn to the morning of which the literary historian Magnus Skæling says in his beautiful essay on Sirius Isaksen that with its powerful, naïve portrayal of nature it is reminiscent of Thomas Kingo himself.
When the song came to an end, merriment and the dawn broke forth in earnest. Ole Brandy smashed the bottle against the rock and embarked on a strangely merciless sea shanty. Ole’s eyes had become clouded. Moritz, too, was somewhat tipsy. He went over and shook Ole’s hand and listened patiently to a raucous and incoherent story of life at sea in his young years, of unforgettable voyages to distant parts on the bark the “Albatross” and of the Red Indian girl Ubokosiara, who bit the ear of the respectable Norwegian sailor Mostermanden and tore it to pieces.
Sirius had discovered a sea anemone by the water’s edge and clambered cautiously down to take a closer look. The fleshy flower reached out with vaguely amorous movements up towards the darkish sunshine, as though in some melancholy yearning.
A breeze now started to blow from the south. Eliana packed the blankets more tightly round the child; feeling rather cold, she started gathering cups and jugs together. But suddenly there was a cry and a splash. Sirius had disappeared! Eliana uttered a scream that produced a loud and ominous double echo from land, and the Crab King’s face twisted in a new and hopeless expression of grief. But Moritz had immediately thrown off his jersey and leapt into the water, and before long he appeared with Sirius, who was flapping about blindly with his arms and legs and uttering gurgling noises. Ole Brandy managed to haul him ashore; he remained on his stomach, groaning and with the water pouring off his worn clothes. Eliana bent down and with a sigh of relief kissed him on the cheek. She set about wringing the water from his long hair and soothed him as though he were a little child. Ole Brandy took off his dirty, alcohol-perfumed jersey and dressed Sirius in it. Moritz prepared the boat for departure, and the little party quickly embarked.
Sirius was trembling, and his teeth were chattering. Little Orpheus was howling and inconsolable, but it helped when his mother took him on her lap and reminded him of the lovely big fish that had been playing and leaping so amusingly for him out there in the sea. He met his mother’s reassuring gaze and fell silent, lost in the memory.
Aspects of life in the basement of the Bastille and in Skindholm in general
During his childhood and early youth, Moritz had sailed the great seas, but now he lived by ferrying travellers and sailors out to ships. This was in the days before the harbour and the quay installations came, so that a ferryman was much in demand. Occasionally, Moritz also ran a kind of freight and passenger service out to Seal Island and other small landing places near the capital. These routes were mostly in sheltered waters, but Moritz’s vocation was by no means without its dangers. Ferrying, especially during the winter months, often demanded a considerable amount of bravery and resourcefulness, and when misfortune was abroad it could turn into a game of life and death.
Moritz enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a sailor. He was both experienced and bold, and the rescue he had carried out at the age of twenty when single-handedly he had brought seven men and a woman safely ashore from the wrecked Finnish schooner the “Karelia”, added undying lustre to his name.
But one pitch-black night close to Christmas 1904, Moritz was unfortunate enough to wreck his boat. He was on his way back from one of the large ocean-going steamers, which had dropped anchor far out on account of the strong on-shore wind. Together with a far too hospitable agent on board out there, he had drunk a couple of glasses of some unusually strong green liquid that the agent had jestingly called “Certain Death”.
As though by a miracle, however, Moritz escaped death, but the boat, which had drifted ashore at Punt Point, was smashed to smithereens, and it was not insured.
Moritz wandered around for a time feeling ashamed but secretly happy, for of course his life had been saved, and that means quite a lot to a young man with the future before him. After some discussions with his young wife, he decided to sell the small, but well-kept house near the Kelp Trench and to buy a new and bigger boat for the money. The family, which incidentally had seen the arrival of two lovely, frizzy-haired twin girls, Franziska and Amadea, then had to rent accommodation in the Bastille, the big, dilapidated building on the east side of Skindholm.
In its day this house had been the home of the wealthy consul Sebastian Hansen, “Old Bastian”, as he was called. The basement flat there was vacant just at this time due to the death of the former tenant, Sundholm the photographer. Sundholm had been a morose and lonely man of indeterminate origin. But although he was now dead and gone, it was as though impossible to be quite rid of him. In spite of having been thoroughly cleaned, the flat still smelled of Sundholm’s tobacco and photographic fluids, and in the first nights after the new tenants had moved in, little Orpheus kept on dreaming of the late photographer. He dreamt that Sundholm was sitting on the edge of his bed, morose and brooding, in his shiny, worn jacket from the greasy lapels of which the pince-nez hung glittering in its chain. Occasionally, the boy would wake up in the middle of the night with the strangely mournful smell of the dead man’s medicines in his nostrils. One night he dreamt that Sundholm’s spirit opened a trapdoor in the floor and took him round a hidden apartment below, an endless series of rooms that were all bathed in a vague, sinister light from a hanging lamp, and in one of these terrible rooms sat the figurehead Tarira, staring at him with pale eyes. This figurehead otherwise belonged below the bowsprit of the old bark, the “Albatross”. It represented a pale angel imperturbably staring ahead. But it frequently came to him in dreams, and it was the most ominous thing he knew. Not because it wasn’t beautiful and kindly enough in itself, for that it certainly was – indeed it even reminded him a little of his own mother. But it was a baleful ghost nevertheless, and then you had to make the best of a bad job and call it by its name and pretend you were fond of it.
Otherwise, the Bastille was not a dismal place by any means. It was a big, overbuilt house with space for several families. In addition to the people from the Kelp Trench, the cellar was inhabited by a sprightly man called Fribert and his toothless old dog, Pan. Fribert delivered coal for Sebastian Hansen & Son; he always had black rings around his eyes, which produced a penetrating quality to his gaze, and he had the good-humoured habit each evening of singing himself to sleep with old ballads, especially “Ole Morske stretched dead in the loft”.
There were two flats on the middle floor in the Bastille. In one of them lived the Adventist family, the Samsonsens - husband, wife and daughter and little son. They ran a kind of laundry and mangle shop and kept Saturdays holy by playing the harmonium and singing defiant songs. In the other flat, which faced east and was very small, lived the carpenter known as the Josef the Lament because he was a willing and much used singer at funerals. Josef was also an active member of the male voice choir, where he made a good contribution among the tenors. His hair and skin were curiously colourless, and his eyes were reddish, rather like two round portholes behind which a weak light can be seen glowing. His wife Sarina had been a maid out in The Dolphin, and it was generally known that she had married Josef the Lament because she had been seduced by a commercial traveller who had since disappeared abroad without trace. Meanwhile, Josef was ecstatic about his wife and daughter and slaved away to make them both content.
At the very top, in what were known as the “towers”, two small flats had also been set up. Young Kornelius, a man who made much of his independence, lived in one of them. The other tower flat was the home of Mr Mortensen, a man who had known better days, and for whom all felt sympathy, but who nevertheless was known as a sourpuss and something of a bighead. He was a widower and had a daughter who was not quite all there.
Orpheus loved to stand at his Uncle Kornelius’ tower window and look out. It was almost like flying, for not only was the Bastille a tall building, but it also stood on a promontory. From here there was a view out across the sea and of Skindholm with its winding alleyways, cramped gardens and confusion of roofs, some of which were covered with turf and populated by poultry.
Skindholm, which incidentally was no holm but a long rocky tongue of land, was the oldest district in the town. Here lived old Boman, Ole Brandy and the Crab King and many other odd characters, for instance Pontus the Rose, whose windows were painted with a profusion of roses and lilies and on whose door hung a showcase adorned with cheerful pictures of girls and ladies. Or Ura the Brink, the fortune teller, of whom all the town was secretly afraid and who couldn’t be persuaded to leave her tiny ramshackle house on Cliff Rise, even though it seemed almost to be hovering freely in the air and indeed one day did disappear into the depths. Or the three maiden ladies by the name of Schibbye, who ran the smallest fashion shop in the world and looked like three skeletons. Here, too, was the old tavern, Olsen’s Hotel, or “The Darling Duck”, where King Frederik the Seventh had stayed as a young prince, and further out on the point was the bigger hotel “The Dolphin”, which didn’t have a good reputation either.
Out on the very southernmost tip of Skindholm stood the High Warehouse and the other ancient houses and shops from the days of the monopoly. They were now owned by Sebastian Hansen & Son and served as stores for timber, salt and coal.
In Old Bastian’s day the Bastille had been a distinguished edifice, but gradually as the town grew, Skindholm became a curiously out-dated and neglected place that respectable people moved out of. This tightly packed area was unhealthy and a fire hazard, and all the cellars were full of damp and rats. Skindholm had been left behind, and the new districts with their airy houses and gardens now constituted the real town.
The big room that had served Sundholm as a photographic studio and had a pent roof with skylights overlooking the yard, was turned into a living room by Moritz and Eliana, but the sparse furniture from the Kelp Trench scarcely filled the large room. It was resoundingly empty here, cheerless and raw, and outside there was the wintry pale inlet where the black ships lay at anchor, dismantled and agape, surrendering themselves to their hopeless rolling backwards and forwards.
But there was one good thing about the former studio: it was splendidly suited to music. Moritz was not long in discovering that, and during the winter many pieces were practised, some for the string quartet, some for strings and wind instruments, occasionally also for Boman’s choir.
The string quartet, which could also be expanded to a quintet and on a single occasion had counted no fewer than eight men (the Minuet from Schubert’s Octet), was, like the choir, Kaspar Boman’s work. At that time it consisted of Moritz, who played first violin, Sirius: second violin, Mr Mortensen: viola and Young Kornelius: cello. More often than not, the old music teacher was also there to conduct. Apart from the family, the audience usually consisted of the music-makers’ friends and acquaintances, who came and went as it suited them: Ole Brandy, the one-legged sail maker Olivarius, Pontus the Rose, Lindenskov the dancing master, occasionally Janniksen the blacksmith and Mac Bett the decorator, and on special occasions Count Oldendorp and Judge Pommerencke, both of whom were great music lovers.
Orfeus liked these evenings. He would sit in a corner and enjoy himself. The stove was red hot; there was a reddish glow from the big tin lamps under the ceiling; the musicians were red-faced, and the music itself acquired a roseate tone, as it were. On occasions such as these, Sundholm the photographer was as though blown completely away. Old Boman bustled about, pointing and eagerly gesticulating or else sitting in rapt attention, stroking his grey goatee beard with his small veined hands. There was sometimes a curiously happy smile on his face, and on such occasions, despite beard and wrinkles, he looked like a boy, a rather shy boy at a birthday party. There was in general something childlike about these men as they played, especially when they were well on the way in a piece and it began to move forward of its own accord. They sat there with relaxed features and eyes dreaming as they humbly listened. The stern and suspicious Mr Mortensen looked like kindness itself. Kornelius was pale and sweating with emotion, sitting there with his projecting lower lip and his wispy hair hanging down over his glasses. Sirius sat with his head on one side, fondly stroking his violin. He was actually only a moderately good violinist and often the object of irritated remarks on the part of the other musicians.
But Moritz, the leader, sat bolt upright, and the notes emerged from his instrument like happy glimpses of sunshine.
Outside could be heard the seething of the dark waters, and when you looked out you could just see the outlines of the ships rocking in the darkness. But they, too, lay in a hint of red and with expressions of longing and listening, as though yearning to be freed from the prison imposed on them by their anchor chains and to set sail for the unmatched freedom of the windswept ocean.
On the kind-hearted and contented composer Young Kornelius and his secret plans
Now if these music-makers whose story is to be told below had seen to their work down here on earth instead of striving to reach the heavens in that curious way of theirs, then things might perhaps have gone far better for them in this, the pettiest of all known worlds. But that was simply not to be. Each in his own way, they were possessed, just as real musicians are by their very nature.
This applied not least to Young Kornelius. He was said to be a person not to be taken too seriously, for he was always happy and in good spirits and rarely produced what in the eyes of the world was an entirely sensible remark.
The latter quality was to some extent connected with the fact that he stammered. This unfortunate stammer came over him when he became excited, and it could take over to such an extent that he had to stand completely silent and make himself understood by means of hand movements and mimicry.
In everyday life, Kornelius was a compositor on the newspaper The Messenger. It provided a small regular monthly income that was just enough to keep the wolf from the door but which offered no future prospects whatever, in addition to which it was dreary and unhealthy work. That Kornelius was nevertheless a young man with few real worries, was due partly to the music to which he dedicated himself heart and soul. But it was also thanks to his innate ability to detach himself from that oh so important but immaterial web of petty everyday activities and to lose himself in curious visions, peering into things that were veiled from him and expecting the unexpected.
“You’re a simple compositor and fiddler today, but who says you’re not going to be the very person to find the treasure? It must be buried somewhere or other out here on Skindholm if we’re to believe a persistent old legend, and he who seeks shall find. Why couldn’t this treasure be lying hidden in the old churchyard just as well as anywhere else?”
In days long gone, a certain man by the name of Sansirana or Sansarasena lived out here on Skindholm; he was a freebooter and lived the depraved and dangerous life of a great nobleman, and one day retribution came to him, too: pirates arrived, took his robber’s castle, forced their way into his houses, murdered him and his people and sailed away again with what they could lay their hands on. “But they didn’t get hold of much, for Sansarasena was a man with foresight, and he had put his money and valuables out of sight before the pirates managed to come ashore. Since then, there has been no sign of this treasure, but it is still there, wherever it may be. And one thing is certain – no one apart from you gives a thought to this treasure and no one is doing anything to find it, and if you are lucky enough to come across it, at least you won’t need to wear yourself out as a compositor on the smallest and in many people’s opinion most ridiculous newspaper in the world. And just think how you would be able to spread goodness and blessings around if you suddenly went and became a rich man.” Kornelius didn’t only think of his own good, he thought of his brothers as well and of lovely, hospitable Eliana and her children, and then of old Boman and the unhappy, penniless Mr Mortensen, and finally of course, Ole Brandy and other friends, not forgetting the Crab King.
In brief: it can take a man all his life to find this treasure, but if fortune favours him he can just as easily find it tomorrow as any other day, and in any case he has a chance that other mortals don’t have.
And Kornelius had made a start. From Sebastian Hansen & Son he had rented the long disused churchyard on the west side of Skindholm on the pretence that he wanted to establish a kitchen garden there. He had cleared the dense undergrowth of angelica and dock that had flourished there for centuries and collected all the mouldy old bones from the skeletons into a common grave, for which Josef the Lament had made a beautiful wooden cross with the words “Rest in Peace”. And at the same time he had secretly searched for the treasure.
It was not there. But then that was one thing he knew.
The attempt had not been completely fruitless, however. On the one hand, during his gardening he had had the idea for a string quartet in three movements and had sketched two of them in his head, an allegro ma non troppo and an andante con moto. And on the other hand the kitchen garden provided the eager treasure seeker with an extra bit of income. He put the money aside. He was saving up for diving equipment, for his next plan was to search for the treasure on the bottom of the little Commander’s Deep just off the old churchyard.
He had come to the conclusion that this was probably the very place where the treasure lay. But probability had now almost grown into certainty, thanks to Ura the Brink. For this woman was psychic. If people had lost something valuable they would secretly make their way up the Cliff Rise to see Ura, and if it suited her and the spirit was otherwise upon her, they were told where to look, and in an amazing number of cases her predictions turned out to be correct.
Meanwhile, Ura was not one of those who obliged anyone and everyone. Lots of people had gone to her in vain, and others had been given a vague hint, as though it were up to themselves to decide how to interpret it. Those bringing gifts for her were well received and she promised to do something for them. But she was otherwise an unpredictable creature, feared and hated by many, partly on account of her witchcraft and partly also because of the scandalous, sinful life she had lived in her youth.
On the day before Christmas Eve one year, Kornelius decided to visit this strange woman and present her with a well-fed, plucked duck and two red cabbages. Ura seemed to be quite overwhelmed at the sight of these things, but when she heard what it was Kornelius wanted her to do, she shook her head energetically, sniffed and looked up at the ceiling.
“No, no, a thing like that is far beyond my power,” she said. “Remember, I’m an old woman. If I’d been in my prime, it would have been another matter. But since Dr. Manicus took my spleen, it’s as if I’m finished. No, you’d better just take your wonderful gift back, Kornelius; I don’t think I can do anything for you, much as I’d like to.”
Ura started to laugh, as she often did. She produced these bursts of laughter at the most remarkable junctures, so they often had a confusing and somewhat disconcerting effect on whomever she was talking to.
“No, the duck’s yours in any case,” said Kornelius.
Ura laughed again and gave in: “Yes, well at least come inside and have a cup of coffee, Kornelius.”
Ura was quite touched, as was quite plainly to be seen in that big reddish, shiny face of hers with its high cheekbones. There wasn’t the slightest sign of grey in her black hair.
“Aye, I’d do anything for your, Kornelius,” she said sorrowfully. “You’re a wonderful person; goodness radiates from you, and I only wish I’d been able to help you to find this treasure, for you truly deserve it. But, you know, it’s a terribly difficult thing you’re asking of me.”
“Erhh, I suppose we’re alone here?” Kornelius asked cautiously. I mean … I think … it would be best to keep that … that about … a strict secret.”
“Of course,” Ura confirmed him. “And as for Kornelia over there, you’ve no need to be afraid, ‘cos she never meets anyone but me, and she’s as reliable as gold.”
Kornelius looked around in the faded little kitchen; his pince-nez had steamed up, and it was some time before he discovered Kornelia, Ura’s young great-niece, who was sitting over by the fire nursing a big black cat. He remembered immediately that the poor girl was blind, of course. Perhaps he ought to go across and say good hello to her.
He went over and took her hand. Kornelia got up shyly and put the cat down. A very young girl, not bad looking, not bad looking at all. What a pity that she was so hopelessly blind. But – there was nothing strange about her eyes; they were big and open, in fact it even seemed to him that she actually met his eye, something that gave him quite a strange feeling.
“Yes, it’s one of the young men who play such lovely music,” Ura explained. And she added as though confiding in him: “Yes, because Kornelia is so terribly fond of music. You know, she nearly always stands outside listening when you are playing out there in the Bastille. The poor lamb doesn’t have much pleasure.”
Kornelia blushed and sank back on her bench. Kornelius felt dreadfully sorry for her. It gave him quite a jolt to think she was so fond of music, this blind creature with a name almost the same as his own. Stammering and fumbling for the words, he said, “Well … why don’t you come inside to us instead? Tell her she’ll be heartily welcome … and then she’d hear so much better and she could sit down in the warm instead of standing shivering outside.”
“No, you’ll never ever get her to do that,” smiled Ura, “’Cos Kornelia’s terribly shy.”
She set about filtering the coffee, and Kornelius sat down at the table. While they were drinking the coffee, Ura was silent and preoccupied, though her smile never completely left her face. But suddenly she stared excitedly at him and said with an eager little smile: “One thing I can tell you, Kornelius, is that your treasure does exist, and it …it’s … it’s lying somewhere damp where lots of something or other grow.”
“Yes, seaweed,” Kornelius confirmed in delight.
A shadow crossed Ura’s face. She got up and said quickly, “It’s here, Kornelius, aye, I could almost point to it, but errhh, I can’t after all.”
“No, that’s almost enough in any case,” said Kornelius animatedly, “For I can see now that it’s in the water, isn’t it; at the bottom of the Commandant Deep. I’ve had a feeling of that all the time, and I even dreamt it one night.”
Kornelius felt a burning desire to press the old woman’s hand, but suddenly Ura got up and her eyes assumed such a sharp and evil look that he felt a cold shiver run down his spine.
The old woman stood looking out of the window. “We’re about to have an unwelcome visit,” she said.
Kornelius had also got up to look out of the window. Three elderly figures were clambering up the steep Cliff Edge. They were Ankersen the savings bank manager and Mrs Nillegaard the midwife and her husband. They all three looked very serious.
“It’s the welfare committee from the Christian Abstinence Association Ydun,” said Kornelius in surprise and without any sign of a stammer. What do they want here? Oh well, it doesn’t concern me, so I’ll be off, Ura, and many thanks for your help.”
The welfare committee had come to a standstill outside on the slope. The savings bank manager, out of breath and close sighted, was pointing with his walking stick to one of the four rusty iron ties that were holding Ura’s little house fixed on the cliff, and Mrs Nillegaard was shaking her head in an energetic protest. Ankersen raised his stick and administered a fierce blow to the tie, and lo, it broke! It had been completely eaten away by rust.
“I call you to witness,” exclaimed Ankersen and in righteous indignation he grasped Kornelius by the arm, but let go again when he discovered who it was: “Oh, you’re not one of us at all, young man, go with God.”
In his confusion, Kornelius bowed slightly and stammered as he backed away, “Thank you, Mr Ankersen, thank you very much.”
More about the Ankersen phenomenon and his remarkable
charitable and revivalist activities
The welfare committee of the Christian Temperance Association had a busy day that 23rd of December. The three representatives were coming straight from Pontus the Rose, to whom they had been talking on account of some obscene publications on display in his outdoor showcase, and they were on their way to none less than Captain Østrøm, the owner of the notorious tavern The Dolphin. But on their way they were going to have a serious word with that pig-headed woman on the Brink. As Ankersen said, this was a matter of vital importance.
“Up in the loft you go,” Ura nudged her great-niece. “I want to be alone with them.”
Kornelia disappeared without a sound up through the trapdoor to the loft, and Ura received her three visitors with a smile but no warmth. She invited them to sit down and herself adopted a reserved, non-committal posture.
Ankersen sat down heavily on the kitchen bench, puffing vigorously after the ascent. Mrs Nillegaard, too, who was dressed in an old, black-green plush cape, sat down. Her husband remained standing in the doorway. Nillegaard, the assistant teacher, was a prudent man who kept out of things.
Ankersen’s capacious chest rose and fell, and he drew his breath with an audible rush of air through his hairy nostrils. “Ugh,” he said staring at Ura through his thick glasses. “Getting up here’s like climbing a mountain! And then your house is almost free-floating in the air, Ura. Aye, it’s worse than it was the last time I was here, for the iron clamps are almost completely eaten away with rust. The next gale will see you down in the depths, Ura. Oh, yes. Even when I used to come here as a young man, Ura, this house was on the point of falling apart.”
He now turned towards the Nillegaards and in a voice resonant with dark self-accusation, he said: “Yes, I deliberately mention the fact that I used to come here as a young man, for I have decided to use this opportunity once more to ask Ura Anthoniussen to answer a question that it is a matter of increasing urgency for me to have answered, and I wish that you, my dear friends, should be here as witnesses.”
He polished his glasses with his handkerchief and put them back on his fleshy nose.
“Let it be in an atmosphere of tolerance,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Indeed in an atmosphere of love. I have no desire to destroy, but to reconcile and build up. I come not to reproach you, Ura, for being so mired in the path of sin and prostitution during your youth. And I have the right to approach you on this, Ura, for at the same time I am giving myself away. Is that not true? I am not sparing myself.”
Ankersen bent his bull-like neck and said in a voice that was filled with brooding self-reproach: “I was one of those who trod yon dreadful path of sin. Even though it only happened twice!”
He slowly took his glasses off. The expression on his face alternated between tears and laughter: “It happened while I was intoxicated. Intoxicated! And how that has tormented me day and night, year in and year out.”
Ankersen turned a distorted face to Mrs Nillegaard, blindly pointing a finger in the direction of Ura: “That is why I have visited her so often, in secret, alone! But she has refused to answer my question and so give my conscience the comfort it so desperately needs and for which it sighs.”
Ankersen now turned with a groan towards Ura herself: “For whether it is I or not I who is the father of your unfortunate, vanished son Matte-Gok, Ura, the full truth will lift a heavy burden from my breast.”
Ankersen breathed out a little. He replaced his glasses on his nose and adopted a detached expression: “And that is why I today fully and unreservedly confide in my friends the Nillegaards and bring them up here with me to have them as witnesses when once more and for the last time I ask you, Ura Anthoniussen: In the name of God: Is it I who am the father of that unfortunate child of yours that was begotten in blackest sin and has perhaps since been destroyed?”
There was a curiously knowing look in the corner of the savings bank manager’s eye, and an almost imperceptible smile could be seen in his beard: “No, you don’t need to answer at all, Ura. I will relieve you of that entirely. For if you continue to remain silent, Ura, I will take it as an affirmative answer this time. And I will not only call upon these two Christian souls as witnesses, but on God himself, who is and shall be to all eternity. Do you understand now, Ura?”
Mrs Nillegaard hurriedly took out a handkerchief and wiped her nose and her eyes. Her husband had half turned away in the doorway.
Ura was silent. She stood there with her face turned upwards and with raised eyebrows, but her eyes were closed, and a tiny, dogged smile played around her nose.
A few minutes elapsed. Ankersen looked at his watch. He was breathing heavily, almost snorting. Finally he spoke, saying in a low voice: “Let us pray.”
He directed an impatient, embracing movement to the Nillegaards, and they all knelt at the settle. Ura remained in her place, standing. Ankersen’s prayer took the form of a profound self-accusation, a plea for mercy, during which in a trembling voice he made a solemn promise to do what was humanly possible to find his lost son, poor Mathias Georg Anthoniussen, and to bring to him the blessings of faith and salvation.
Mrs Nillegaard was very touched, and it could be seen on her back that she was sobbing.
The prayer was finally at an end. Ankersen rose with difficulty; his full lips were open, and the thick, wolf-grey hair fell around his forehead. Confused, he sought to catch Ura’s eye, and sitting down again on the settle he said, “And then, Ura. Then there was something else! You see, we are coming to you with a purely practical proposal as well, for the Christian Temperance Association has the offer of the late Mangle Mary’s little house down by the stream, and we will let you have it if you will move down there.” In an increasingly stern and firm voice, he added: “Yes, for our welfare committee is very keen to help where it can. The town council doesn’t mind people living in dangerous houses; they don’t care about that any more than about anything else. And as for the Church! Well, you have presumably never ever had a single visit from the Reverend Lindemann? Have you, Ura? And your old father Anthonius, when he fell down off the ridge here and almost drowned at the age of seventy-nine … the vicar wasn’t interested, was he? No, he couldn’t even be bothered coming out here and administering the Sacrament to the old man when he died in his ninety-second year! But we, on the other hand, Ura, we will help. We will do our best. Not out of arrogance, Ura, but in repentance, in faith, in justice. Do you understand?”
Ura restrained herself and remained polite, but she said in a firm voice, “That is nice of you, Ankersen, but I am going to stay here where I’ve lived all my life and had my joys and my sorrows. And that’s that.”
Ankersen shook his head as he exchanged glances with Mrs Nillegaard. He rocked uneasily and continued in a lower voice: “And then there was something else. Erhh .. well, you see, we would also like to help you in another way, Ura Anthoniussen, so that you don’t … so that you don’t need to live by these strange prophecies, you know what I mean. Our association would very much like to help you to get away from all that. For you remember that it is written: Thou shalt not practise witchcraft. And of course, you can easily say that that is not what you are doing, Ura. But would it not in any case be better for you to have a nice, decent living, for instance a little mangle business, and then come over to us and be converted and repent and surrender yourself entirely to our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ?
“There’s no reason for all that fuss,” replied Ura. She turned to Mrs Nillegaard, as though to avoid Ankersen: “I see to my own affairs, so you look after yours, for God’s sake. I have never been a burden on anyone, and neither will I ever be.”
“Ah, but listen, my dear….” Mrs Nillegaard tried to speak, but Ankersen gently pushed her aside.
“Fuss, you say, Ura? Fuss?”
His voice rose into a falsetto, breaking as though in infinite tenderness and amenability: “Aye, but there is bound to be a certain fuss when God summons human souls! For we blind sinners, we kick against the pricks, for we know not what is best for us and we know not the time of our visitation! We know not Ura! We struggle. Until one fine day it is no longer any use. And then we yield. Then we become small and weak, sinners imploring mercy.”
Ankersen’s voice now slipped back to its customary level. He raised his head and wrinkled his brow imperiously: “The time of your visitation also approaches, Ura. Just think about what I have said and what has happened here today. I believe and sincerely hope in God’s name that great events will soon come to pass that will also affect you, Ura. But whatever happens, we will not abandon you. We will be back, Ura. We will be back.”
The poet Sirius makes a fresh attempt to establish himself on firmer ground
Sirius earned enough to live on by joining his brothers to play dance music in The Dolphin and by writing occasional poetry, but as neither of these two activities produced very much, he also worked as a painter and decorator and lived at the home of his teacher Mac Bett. He had once had an office job, which, despite his good middle school examination and uniquely beautiful handwriting, he had not been able to hold down, and for a time he had been an assistant teacher in Miss Lamm’s school for infants.
Although the job of painter and decorator did not exactly fill Sirius with enthusiasm, he had nevertheless achieved a certain level of skill at papering. He rather liked wallpapers, he was almost fond of them, at least the flowery ones which with their constant repetitions could have an almost conjuring effect rather like the sight of spreading meadows, endless gardens in bud, mysterious underwater forests, snowfall, indeed sometimes like the distant and lonely majesty of the firmament. But despite this and in spite of the fact that his master Mac Bett, who was otherwise extremely demanding, had to admit that Sirius had an obvious flair for wallpapering, the poet daily felt a constantly growing aversion to this profession. For his part, Mac Bett could also often wish his assistant were far away, especially when he had overslept, as was often the case with Sirius because he often lay reading for half the night.
As emerges from Magnus Skæling’s elegant essay, Sirius was well read, and he did not only turn to popular literature, but he also possessed Dante’s Divine Comedy in a Swedish translation. Otherwise, Sirius’ reading consisted mainly of biographies and books on cultural history, as can be seen from the record of books he borrowed from the library.
One sunny morning in May, when all the gardens in town were celebrating the coming of their new leaves, Sirius went up to Mac Bett and said that his paper-hanging had to come to an end now. The master painter, who was of Scottish extraction and could be fearfully quick-tempered, set about belabouring his apprentice with a ruler, and when the poet climbed up on a table and tried to defend himself with a roll of wallpaper, the angry master hurled a pair of scissors at him. They caught his cheek, and he started to bleed a little.
“Oh merciful God, lad,” shouted Mac Bett in horror. “I could have hit you in the eye, and then we’d both have been unhappy for the rest of our lives!”
He helped Sirius down from the table and examined his cheek, still trembling with rage.
“It’s only a surface scratch,” he decided with relief, sitting down exhausted on the floor, stroking his silvery whiskers and going on with a sigh: “Oh dear me. Yes, of course it’s best you give up, Sirius, for otherwise I’d have done you an injury sooner or later, and you never hit back, I must admit that. But what are you going to do now, you poor wretch? You’ve nothing to fall back on, penniless and bone idle as you are!”
Sirius smiled and said plaintively, “I write, Mac Bett, I write poetry!”
The old master had no answer to this. He sent Sirius a perplexed look hiding both scorn and compassion.
Meanwhile, Sirius had a plan. He would set up an infants’ school of the same kind as Miss Lamm’s. For three days, he trudged around the town with the aim partly of finding some pupils and partly of discovering suitable accommodation. Both turned out to be more difficult than he had imagined. While wandering around the spring-bedecked town, but without achieving his objectives, he again came across Mac Bett, who grasped the lapel of his collar with a sigh and offered to give him back his old job. Sirius thanked the master painter for his offer, but rejected it and initiated him in his plan.
“Come back home with me and have a bite to eat,” said Mac Bett. “I think I’ve got a good suggestion for you.”
This suggestion was that Sirius should run his school in the room behind Mac Bett’s little picture frame shop. It was not to cost him anything, but in return, Sirius was to serve the shop’s customers in the mornings.
“Then we’ll save the wages I pay that dullard of a girl who serves down there otherwise,” said Mac Bett. Encouragingly, he added: “And it won’t be difficult, of course, because on the one hand I’m afraid there aren’t many customers, and then you already know the trade so well.”
Sirius gratefully accepted this offer. And within a week he also managed to recruit four pupils, his nephew Orfeus, the gravedigger’s son Peter, the Adventist boy Emanuel Samsonsen and Julia Janniksen. Julia was fifteen years old and the daughter of Janniksen the blacksmith. She was enormous for her age, but rather lacking in intellectual capacity.
The window in Mac Bett’s back room overlooked Janniksen’s garden. There was a lovely view, especially now in spring, but it was soon to emerge that the proximity of the smithy had an unfortunate influence on the teaching. The first two school days went well enough; the three boys were keen and easy to teach; the girl was rather heavy going, but thanks to her advanced age she was able to keep up, and the customers in the picture frame shop were also easy enough to cope with. The sight of the smith’s flowering red currant bushes provided spiritual refreshment.
The third day, too, which was a Saturday, started with sunshine, bird song and a feeling of contentment. There was not a sound from the smithy; the blacksmith was having a visit from Lindenskov, the dancing teacher; the two were friends and regularly played skittles behind the house. But at about twelve o’clock, the blacksmith suddenly appeared in the garden with a bottle in his hand, followed by Lindenskov. They were both already very drunk. With a heartbreaking lack of consideration, they both settled in the midst of a bed of purple crocuses and started pledging each other. It was not long before the blacksmith started to sing. Sirius ordered his pupils not to look out of the window and by speaking in a loud voice and banging his ruler, he sought to drown the smith’s singing, which adopted an increasingly unrestrained character.
Neither the children nor the teacher, however, could be persuaded not to look out now and again. Janniksen the blacksmith was a big, strong-limbed man with a great, hairy chest. He had a Franz Joseph beard and a black hollow in the middle of his forehead. The dancing master was small and wizened, with staring fish-like eyes, protruding front teeth and a dangling moustache.
Julia sighed. She had an expression in her eyes as though she were about to weep. “Look,” she said suddenly. “Dad’s starting to dance.”
Sirius went across to the window. Yes, the blacksmith had indeed started to dance. The huge man was leaping about, wildly and clumsily, turning round on himself, gesticulating with his enormous arms, stamping and roaring. This was what was known as the “one-man dance”. Sirius knew it well from rumbustious evenings out in The Dolphin; it was a kind of show of strength on which the smith always embarked at a certain stage in his inebriation. The dancing master sat knocking two empty bottles together in place of music. But what is this now? The blacksmith bends down over Lindenskov and lifts him up, rocks him in his arms like a baby and … suddenly hurls him into one of the big red currant bushes!
“Oh no,” exclaimed Sirius. “Now he’s ruining the whole garden.”
“That’s what the blacksmith’s like,” commented Gravedigger Peter soberly. “He wrecks everything when he’s drunk.”
“Look, mother’s coming now,” shouted Julia, biting her finger.
Sirius sighed. Yes, Mrs Janniksen was in the offing right enough. She was big and swarthy like her husband; her protruding eyes had an expression of composure and dark determination.
“Listen, Julia,” said Sirius sternly. “You must stop looking now and come and see to your work.”
Sirius himself went away from the window and sat at the wallpaper-covered packing case lid that served as his desk. Julia sat down and uttered a subdued but confused laugh. Some customers came to the shop, so Sirius had to go and attend to them. When he returned, the children were naturally over by the window. Julia was weeping profusely.
“Back to your seats,” commanded Sirius. But the children showed no sign of moving.
“She’s killed the blacksmith,” announced Gravedigger Peter quietly.
“What’s she done?” said Sirius excitedly.
Oh, fortunately that was not so. The smith was admittedly lying on his back in the flower bed, but he was certainly not dead; he lay there ululating gently, either from pain or delight or simply because he was so drunk. His wife was busy extracting the dancing master from the red currant bushes’ confusion of red blossoms and tiny, round, innocent leaves. Lindenskov had some scratches on his face and blood was coming from a gash near the corner of his mouth.
“Oh no, this is going too far,” said Sirius and clacked his tongue piteously. He stood tightly clasping the fat girl Julia and stroking her hair with his thin hand. “Don’t cry like that, girl; it won’t do any good in any case.”
Shortly after this, he was down in the garden. The blacksmith still lay there moaning. Lindenskov was groaning, too. There were red currant flowers in his clothes and hair; his moustache was dripping with blood, and he was humming in a broken, almost contrite, voice:
Of all the flowers of spring,
So fine they were and fair,
There’s one apart,
Close to my heart…
Mrs Janniksen came out with a rag and wiped his face clean. Then Sirius grasped him by the arm, led him out of the garden and took him home.
As usual, Lindenskov’s house was full of womenfolk. He had seven daughters, but the Misses Schibbye were there as well along with some other ladies, and there were gold-edged cups on the table – it looked like a major chocolate party. Lindenskov clung on to Sirius and wanted him to come in with him, but the ladies made a dreadful fuss and were outraged and quite beside themselves with fury; they accused Sirius of being a drunkard and seducer, and his attempts to convince them of his innocence were mercilessly brushed aside. The little dancing master reluctantly disappeared into a confusion of skirts and puff sleeves, and the door was closed with a demonstrative bang.
Sirius sent the children home. The boys immediately ran off, but Julia stayed behind. She had stopped crying but was spasmodically gasping for breath.
“Do you really not want to go home?” asked Sirius sympathetically. “Oh well, then just you sit here and wait until Mac Bett comes back.”
Sirius himself sat down at the desk. He had taken out a pencil and was writing at a poem. He got up now and then and walked across the floor and into the shop. It was a poem that had long been haunting him. Now it came as though of its own accord. The poem about spring and the new leaves, the multitude of flowers and the sunshine that as though by a miracle liberates the soul from its shabby apparel of worry and longing and prepares a refreshing bath for it. Curious that it should come now, in this midst of all this mess.
Julia sat in her place and stared at him, quite lost in thought. Mac Bett came back and pottered about in the shop, grumbling quietly to himself. Sirius had his poem finished. He took Julia by the hand. They went out to the Bastille. Sirius found Eliana and said earnestly: “We must look after this girl a bit; she’s not particularly bright, but she has a good heart, and it’s not much fun for her at home, as you know.”
Eliana made some coffee for Sirius and Julia. The girl followed her everywhere with her eyes and looked so touching that Eliana had to give her a kiss on the forehead. But in the midst of it all, the blacksmith’s wife arrived. The big woman’s face was all puffed up and grimy. She didn’t say a word, but took a firm hold of Julia’s arm and went off with her.
That afternoon, Sirius made a fair copy of his poem. He read it through several times until he knew it all by heart. It was a good poem, perhaps the best he had ever written. In his state of elation he went to see the editor of “The News”. Here, at last, was a poem that deserved to be seen in print.
Olsen, the editor, glanced through the poem and handed it back with a shake of his head.
“You don’t like it?” said the poet.
Olsen took off one of his canvas shoes and started examining the inside. Then he fetched a hammer from the composing room. Downcast, Sirius watched how the big man struggled to get a nail pulled out of his shoe with the help of the cleft hammer head. Finally, the editor abandoned the experiment and knocked the nail down into the sole. Then he absent-mindedly went back to the composing room and was not seen again.
Sirius folded the paper up and put it in his pocket, but he had not yet abandoned all hope of seeing this poem in print. He went up to Jacobsen, the editor of “The Messenger”, the radical newspaper. Jacobsen gave the impression of being very busy, but he nevertheless took the time to run through the poem. He laughed, looked at Sirius over his glasses and sat down for a short while in an American rocking chair.
“It’s no damned good,” he said. “There’s no point in all this romanticism. We live in an age of realism, not a golden age of writing, my dear sir. We have no need of idylls, Sirius Isaksen. Note that for your own sake. Write a satirical poem about conditions here, the parish pump, the reaction spreading everywhere, Nillegaard and Ankersen with their hysterical Christian temperance nonsense. Teach them a lesson, all of them, then you’ll be doing something useful. Sunshine and birdsong are things you can amuse yourself with at home on your own if you can be bothered and if you’ve got time.”
He handed back the paper to Sirius and lit a dead cigar stump. Jacobsen was much in need of a shave, and there were splashes of yellowish froth in the corners of his mouth. Drawing eagerly on his cigar, he added: “But you’re gifted Sirius, by God you are. You’re daft like your brothers and your father with his Aeolian harps. But you