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August Strindberg.

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gay colors rise and fall. The prattle of little,

177



EASTEE AND STOEIES



thin voices and the clatter of plates and glasses
told him that a table was being laid.

He came up to the gate and saw — lilacs in
bloom ! and nnder them a table was being pre-
pared, children were romping, and there was
singing and playing.

''This is Paradise!" said a voice to him.

He stood long — and saw! — so long that he,
the old man, drooped from fatigue; from hun-
ger; from thirst; from all of life's miseries.

Then the gate opened, and out came a little
white-clad girl. She bore in her hand a tray,
and on it stood a glass of wine, the reddest he
had ever seen. The child went up to the old
man, straight up, and said :

"Come, dear old man, and you shall have
some wine."

The old man accepted, and drank. It was rich
man's wine, which had come a long way — from
sunny lands, and it tasted like the sweetness of
a good life, when at its best.

"This is mercy!" said his own old, broken
voice. "But you, child, should not in your ig-
norance have given me the drink had you
known who I was ! Do you know who I am?"

178



THE STONE MAN



"Yes, you are a convict, of course," the girl
replied.

"You knew it — and yet — This is mercy!"

TTlien the old stone man turned back he was
no longer of stone, for something had begun to
grow in him too.

And as he turned past a steep hill, he saw a
tree with many trunks, like a bush. It was the
prettiest of trees, a crab-apple tree; but this
the old man did not know. In the tree fluttered
a little restless bird, which people caU a "tree-
swallow," although her name is something else.
She nestled finally in amongst the leaves and
sang so mournfully, but sweetly:



"In dirt, in dirt, in dirt died you.
From the dirt, the dirt, the dirt rose you."

It was exactly as in the dream. — And now the
old man understood what the tree-swallow
meant.



179



HALF A SHEET OF PAPER



HALF A SHEET OF PAPER

The last moving van had gone. The tenant,
a young man with a band of mourning around
his hat, wandered once again through the apart-
ment to see if he had not left something. No,
he had forgotten nothing — nothing whatever.
Then he went out into the corridor, although
determined never to think more of what he had
lived through in this apartment.

But see ! In the corridor, near the telephone,
there was half a sheet of paper tacked up. It
was closely written, and in several handwrit-
ings; some legible, in black ink; some, pencil
scrawls in black or red. There it stood — the
whole beautiful romance that had been played
in the short time of two years. All that he tried
to forget was written there — a bit of human his-
tory on half a sheet of paper !

He took the sheet down. It was a sort of
sun-yellowish scratch paper, that casts a sheen.
He laid it on the coping of the porcelain stove

183



EASTER AND STORIES



in the sitting room and, bending over it, he be-
gan to read.

First stood her name: Alice. It was the
prettiest name he knew, because it was his
sweetheart's — and the number 15, 11. It
looked like a chant number in church.

Under it stood: The Bank. That was his
work ; the sacred work that meant for him and
her bread and a home. But the number was
crossed, for the bank had failed and he had
been taken on at another, after a short period
of much anxiety.

Then followed — The florist's and cab station.
That was when they were engaged, and when he
had a pocketful of money.

Then: The furniture dealer; the decorator —
He sets up house. Express Bureau — They
move in. Opera Box-office — 50, 50 — They are
newly wed and go to the opera on Sundays.
Their best moments are when they both sit in
silence and meet in beauty and harmony in the
fairyland on the other side of the curtain.

Here followed a man's name, which was
crossed out. It was that of a friend who had
reached a certain height in the community but

184



HALF A SHEET OF PAPER

who could not stand success, hence fell, ir-
remediably, and had to travel far away. So
ephemeral is that will-o'-the-wisp, success!

Here something new seems to have entered
the lives of the couple. Written with a lead
pencil in a woman's hand stands: The Sister.
Which sister? — Ah! the one with the big gray
cloak and the sweet, sympathetic face, who
comes so softly and never goes through the
drawing room, but takes the corridor way to
the bedroom. Under her name is written:
Doctor L.

Here first appears the name of a relative. —
It says: Mamma. That is the mother-in-law,
who has discreetly kept out of the way so as not
to disturb the newly married. But now she is
called, in the hour of need, and comes gladly,
since she is wanted.

Here begins a big scrawl in blue and red:
The Intelligence Office — The servant has left,
or a new one is to be engaged.

The apothecary — H-m! — It darkens. The
dairy. Here milk is ordered — sterilized milk.
The grocer — the butcher, and others.

The household needs begin to be conducted

185



EASTEE AND STOEIES



by telephone. Then the mistress of the home is
not in her usual place? No, for she lies sick
abed.

That which followed he could not read, for it
began to grow dim before his eyes, as it must do
for the drowning man at sea when he would
look through salt water; but it stood there! —
The undertaker. That tells enough! — a larger
and a smaller casket. And in jDarenthesis was
written: "Of dust."

Then there was nothing more. It ended with
dust, as it always does.

But he took the sun-yellow paper, kissed it,
and put it in his breast pocket.

In two minutes he had lived through two
years of his life.

He was not bent when he walked out. On the
contrary, he carried his head high, like a proud
and happy man, for he felt that once he had
possessed the sweetest thing in life. How many
unfortunates there are, alas! who have never
had this.



186



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



THE SLEEPY-HEAD

Capellmeister Kreutzbeeg was a man who
loved to sleep in the morning, not only because
he played in the orchestra evenings, but also
because he drank more than one glass of
beer before retiring. It is quite likely that he
had thought of rising earlier, but he saw no
sense in it. If he called to see a friend in the
morning, the man was sure to be asleep; if he
wished to deposit money in the bank, that was
closed; if he wanted to borrow music at the
music dealer's, the shop wasn't open, and if he
had occasion to ride in a tram car, it hadn't
started running. No cab could he get so early
in the morning, and not even his snuff ! Noth-
ing could he accomplish thus early; therefore,
he continued to sleep far into the forenoon —
and this was what he wished to do of course.

He loved both sun and flowers, and little
children too, but he could not live on the sunny

189



EASTEE AND STORIES



side on account of his fine instruments, for they
did not keep in tune in sunny rooms. So the first
of April he leased an apartment — one facing
north. This he made sure of, for he wore a
compass on his watch chain and knew where
''The Dipper" hung at night.

Now spring had come, and it grew so warm
that it was a veritable blessing to live in north
rooms.

The sleeping room was back of the sitting
room, and where he slept, with the Venetian
blinds drawn, it was always pitch dark. But
there were no Venetian blinds in the sitting
room, for there they were not needed.

Then along came summer — and green. The
capellmeister had dined at Hasselbacken the
night before, therefore he slept long and well,
especially as the theatre had been closed that
day.

He certainly did sleep ! But it grew so warm
in the room that he waked — or thought himself
awake a couple of times. Once, he fancied that
the wall paper was burning, but that may have
been the burgundy he had drunk; and once he
felt something hot in his face. That was surely

190



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



the burgundy ! So he turned over and went to
sleep again.

About half after ten he arose, dressed him-
self and went into the sitting room to cool off
with a glass of milk, which always stood in
readiness of a morning.

But it was not cool in the sitting room to-day.
It was warm — too warm! Nor was the milk
cold; it was lukewarm — distastefully so!

The capellmeister was not an irritable man,
but he liked regularity in all things, so he
rang for old Louisa. As he had already stated
his objections fifty times and more, he addressed
Louisa in a pleasant but somewhat positive tone
when she poked her head in at the door.

"Louisa," he said, "you have given me luke-
warm milk!"

"No, master," Louisa retorted. "It was
cold, but it has stood long and become luke-



warm. ' '



"You have gone and made a fire; it's suffo-
catingly hot in the room ! ' '

No, she had not made a fire. And the of-
fended Louisa retreated into her comer.

As for the milk, that could be passed over,

191



EASTEE AND STORIES



but when the capellmeister glanced around the
room, he was distressed. He had built him a
shrine in a corner, near the piano, which con-
sisted of a small table with two silver candle-
sticks and a large photograph of a young
woman ; and before it stood a tall, gold-rimmed
champagne glass.

In this glass — his wedding glass — (he was a
widower now) it was his custom to place each
day a red rose as a reminder, and as a tribute
to her who had been his life 's sun. Winter and
summer a rose stood there. In winter it kept
a week, if he trimmed the stem and put a little
salt in the water. Yesterday he had placed a
perfectly fresh rose in the glass, and to-day it
was withered, shrunken, dead ! — its head droop-
ing upon its breast. That was an evil omen.
He knew, to be sure, what sensitive things
these flowers were, and had observed with what
persons they did and did not thrive. He re-
called how sometimes, when his wife was living,
her rose — which she always had to have on her
sewing table — would not thrive, but faded un-
expectedly. And he had also observed that it
happened just when his *'sun" chose to go be-

192



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



hind a cloud, which, after an oppressive rum-
bling, resolved itself into drops. The roses
wanted peace and loving words and could not
endure harsh tones. They loved music, and
sometimes he played to the roses so that they
expanded and smiled.

Now, Louisa had a harsh temper, and used
to go about the house grumbling to herself when
she put the rooms in order. And she had tem-
pestuous days out in the kitchen, when the
sauce curdled and all the food, for that matter,
took on an unpleasant flavor which the capell-
meister instantly detected, for he himself was a
sensitive instrument who felt in his soul what
others do not feel.

He guessed at once that Louisa had killed
the rose. Perhaps she had scolded the poor
thing or pushed the glass, or had breathed evil
upon it — a flower couldn't bear such treat-
ment — so he rang again. When Louisa poked
her head in, he said — not unpleasantly, but
somewhat more firmly than before :

"What have you done to my rose, Louisa?"

"Nothing, good master."

"Nothing? Do you think the rose stands and

193



EASTEE AND STORIES



dies of its own accord? You see, of course,
that there is no water in the glass. You have
poured it out."

As Louisa was innocent, she went back into
the kitchen and wept; for it is exasperating to
be unjustly accused.

Capellmeister Kreutzberg, who couldn't cope
with feminine tears, overlooked trifles. That
evening he bought a new rose, a fresh one, with-
out wire props of course; for these his wife
never could abide.

Then he went to bed and slept on his ear.
He probably fancied that the wall paper was
on fire and that the pillow was hot, but never-
theless went off to sleep. The next morning,
when he stepped into the sitting room to wor-
ship at the shrine, then — Oh, woe ! the rose was
stripped to the stem!

He wanted to clutch the bell rope, but re-
strained himself when he saw that the portrait
of her whom his soul loved lay half rolled up
and prostrate, at the foot of the flower glass.

This Louisa had not done! In his childlike
mind he thought: "She, who was my all — my
conscience and my inspiration — disapproves

194



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



of me; she is angry at me! What have I
done?

And when he questioned his conscience, he
naturally found, as one always finds, little
flaws, and he decided to scrape them out — grad-
ually, of course.

Then he had the photograph framed ; the rose
he placed under a glass globe — as if that could
be of any use !

Thereupon he went off on an eight-day jour-
ney, came home again in the night, went to bed,
woke up for a second, as usual, opened one eye
and thought that the hanging lamp was burn-
ing.

Later, when he stepped into the sitting room,
it was downright hot in there, and it looked so
shabby. The curtains were faded; the piano
cover, too, had lost its color; the bindings on
his music books were warped; the paraffin in
his lamp had evaporated and hung in a single
threatening drop under the ornament, where the
flies used to dance; the water in the decanter
was warm.

But saddest of all ! her likeness too had faded
— yellowed like autumn grass! Then he be-

195



EASTEE AND STOEIES



came downhearted, and when he was very down-
hearted, he took to the piano or the violin.

This time he sat down at the piano, with the
vague intention of playing the Sonata in E-
minor — Grieg's, of course, and her sonata — the
greatest and best that has come to the world
since Beethoven's D-minor — not because E
comes after D, but because it is.

But the piano wouldn't obey to-day; it was
inharmonious and troublesome, so he thought
that his fingers or his ears were out of sorts.
However, they were not at fault. The piano
was simply out of tune, dreadfully out of time,
although it had but lately come from the skilled
fingers of the tuner. It was as if bewitched —
under a spell!

Then he seized the violin; that had to be
tuned, of course. But when the first treble
string was to be keyed, the peg wouldn't work.
It was dried fast. "WTien the capellmeister took
hold with an iron grip, the string snapped and
rolled up, like a dry eel skin. It was be-
witched !

But that the picture should fade, ah, that was

196



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



the saddest of all! Therefore, he drew a veil
over the altar.

With that, a veil dropped over the best part
of his life, and the capellmeister became low-
spirited, brooded, and ceased going out even-
ings.

It drew on toward midsummer; the days
were longer than the nig'hts; but as the Vene-
tian blinds kept the room darkened, the capell-
meister could not mark any change.

Finally, one night — Midsummer's Night — he
was awakened by the clock striking thirteen.
It was uncanny, both because it was an unlucky
number and because a sensible clock can't strike
thirteen. Now he did not drop to sleep again,
but lay and listened. It creaked in the sitting
room, then something snapped, as when a piece
of furniture breaks. A moment later, it pat-
tered on the floor, and the clock began striking ;
and it struck, struck, fifty strokes, then a hun-
dred — it was weird !

Then a ray of light penetrated the sleeping
room and a figure appeared on the wall paper,
a curious figure, like a scarecrow. It came

197



EASTEE AND STORIES



from the sitting room door, hence the lamp was
lit in there. But who had lighted it? And
glasses clinked, just as if guests were seated
there, but there was no talking. Yet strange
sounds were heard, as when one takes in sail,
mangles clothes, or the like.

The capellmeister had to go out and investi-
gate. Commending his soul into the hands of
the Almighty, he walked in.

First, he saw Louisa's wrapper vanish
through the kitchen door. Then he saw new
shades at the windows — drawn up at that, and
the dining table covered with flowers in glasses
as on his wedding eve, when he came home with
his bride.

And look! The sun caught him right in the
face! Over distant fjords and woods the sun
had come and played all the little roguish
pranks and had made the illumination in the
sitting room. It was his birthday, and he
blessed the sun that had been up so early play-
ing tricks on the sleepy-head. And he blessed
her memory, whom he called his life's sun. It
was no new name, but he couldn't think of a
better one — and it was good enough.

198



THE SLEEPY-HEAD



And the rose stood upon the home altar; it
was perfectly fresh — as fresh as she had been
before she grew weary of the grind. Weary!
Ah, she was not one of your strong sort; life
for her was too brutal, with all its knocks and
blows. In his memory he recalled how, when
she had had washing or scouring to do, she
would sink down on the sofa and moan: *'I'm
so tired!'*

Poor little girl! She did not belong here;
she only paid us a visit — then she went away !

''She missed the sun," the doctor said; but
at that time they couldn't afford the sun, for
sunny rooms cost more.

But now he had the sun without his knowing
it, and he stood right in it — but it was too late !

Midsummer was over, and the sun was going
away again, to be gone a year and then return.
It was so strange altogether !



199



SECRETS OF THE TOBACCO SHED



SECEETS OF THE TOBACCO SHED

Once there was a young girl who belonged to
the Opera. She was so beautiful that people
turned around in the street to stare at her, and
she sang as only a few can sing !

The capellmeister and the composer came
along and offered her their kingdoms, with their
hearts. The kingdoms she accepted, but the
hearts? — well, they could be dispensed with.

She was great now — as great as anything.
She drove through the streets in a victoria and
nodded to her picture, which hung in all the
shop windows.

She became still greater, and appeared on
postal cards, soaps, and cigar boxes. Finally
her picture was hung in the foyer, among the
mortal Immortals; and then, to speak frankly,
she became very much puffed up.

One day she stood on a bridge by the sea,
where the waves rose high and the current was.
strong. The capellmeister stood beside her, of

203



EASTER AND STORIES



course, and many other young gentlemen were
there. The beauty toyed with a rose, and this
all the gentlemen wanted, but only he who could
take it was to have it.

So she tossed the rose far out on the waves.
The young gentlemen looked far out after the
rose, but the capellmeister jumped at once into
the surf, skimmed the waves like an eel, and
soon had the flower between his lips.

Then applause thundered from the bridge,
and he who lay in the sea saw that she loved
him. But now, when he should return to land,,
he could not move. There was a tide, with an
undertow; this she, on the bridge, did not com-
prehend, but thought that he was playing, there-
fore she laughed. But he, who felt the death
grip, misinterpreted her laughter, which was
not kindly, and he felt a sting in his heart ; with
that his love was over.

Presently he reached the shore with bleeding
hands, which he had torn on the bridge.

''You shall have my hand," said the beauty.

"I do not want it," answered the capellmeis-
ter ; then he turned his back and went away.

204



SECRETS OF THE TOBACCO SHED

That was high treason against beauty, and
for that he must die !

How it happened that the capellmeister left
the Opera, is something which only theatre folk
understand. He was firmly seated, and it took
two years to throw him down.

But down he came! And when she had de-
posed her benefactor, she triumphed and be-
came even more puffed up — until it was ap-
parent. The jDublic saw under the paint that
the heart was bad, therefore it could no longer
be moved by her song, and it did not believe in
her tears or her smiles.

She observed this, and grew bitter. She still
ruled the theatre, choked all who wished to rise,
and got the papers to cut them up.

She had lost favor, but power meant more to
her. And now, that she was rich, powerful and
satisfied, she was content with life; and folk
who are content, as a rule do not gTow thin —
rather are they inclined to grow fat, and she
was actually becoming a little corpulent. She
commenced very slowly and imperceptibly, so
that she did not observe it herself until it was

205



EASTER AND STORIES



too late. Bang! Descent is rapid, and this
particular drive went at break-neck speed.
The torture to which she subjected herself did
not help. She had the most sumptuous table
in the city, but was forced to starve herself;
and the more she starved, the fatter she grew.

In a year she was out of the game and her
salary was reduced. In two years she was half-
forgotten and supplanted by younger stars.
The third year she was dismissed — then she
hired an attic chamber.

"It was an unnatural fat," said the stage
director to the prompter.

''That isn't fat, it's bloat!" returned the
prompter.

She sat now in the attic room arid looked
down upon a big plantation. There stood also
a tobacco shed, and this she liked because there
were no windows in it, at which folks could sit
and stare at her. Sparrows lived under the
rafters, but no tobacco hung there, inasmuch as
nothing of the kind grew on the land.

Thus she sat the whole summer, gazed at her
shed and wondered what it was for, as the doors
were fastened with big padlocks, and no one

206



SECRETS OF THE TOBACCO SHED

was seen to go in and out. That it hid some
secrets she surmised; but of what sort, she
would soon see.

There were still one or two lingering straws
of the past glory, to which she clung, and upon
which she lived. These were her crowning
roles: ''Carmen" and "Aida," which had not
been filled for want of a successor; and in the
public memory her performances, which had
been excellent, still lived.

Well, August came, the arc lamps were lit
once more, and the theatres were to be opened.

The singer sat at her window and looked
down upon the shed, which had lately been
painted red and had a new tile roof.

Scrambling through the potato patches came
a man carrying a big, rusty key. Presently he
opened the shed door and walked in.

Then came two more men, whom she thought
she recognized, and they also disai^peared in the
shed.

Now it began to be interesting.

In a little while the three men came out car-
rying something big and curious, which looked
like bed-bottoms or partitions.

207



EASTER AND STOEIES



Once outside, they turned tlie frames and
put them down against the door; and then a
fireplace appeared, but it was painted — badly
painted.

Thereupon, a door to some country house was
seen — a hunter's hut, perhaps? Then came a
forest, a window, and a library.

It was theatre scenerv. After a bit, she
recognized the rose bush in ' ' Faust. ' '

This was the storehouse for the opera scen-
ery, and by this very rose bush she had once
sung: "Little flowers, lie there, lie there!"

Her poor little heart ached when she realized
that "Faust" was to be set up, yet there was
one comfort — she had not sung the star role,
which was Margaret's.

" 'Faust' may pass, but don't touch 'Car-
men' or 'Aida,' for then I shall die!"

She sat there and saw how the repertoire
changed, and she knew a fortnight ahead of the
newspapers which operas were to be given. It
was always something pleasant. She saw "Die
Freischutz" dragged out — wolf-cave and all;
she saw ' ' The Flying Dutchman, ' ' with the ship

208



SECRETS OF THE TOBACCO SHED

and sea; ''Tannhanser" and ''Lohengrin,"
and many more.

And then there came a day — for the inevita-
ble must come. The men dragged (one was
named Lindquist, she remembered, and he was a
scene shifter) and then out came a square in
Spain! The wing stood obliquely so she could
not see plainly what it was. One of the men
slowly balanced the frame, and as he turned it
the back was seen, which is always ugly; but
there, in bold, black letters, which loomed up,
one after another, deliberately, as if to torture
her, was written plainly, irrevocably: C, A, R,-
M, E, N. It was Carmen!

* ' Now I 'm dying ! ' ' said the singer. But she
didn't die, poor thing, not even when ''Aida"
was put on. Thus was her name swept from
the mind of the public; from shop windows;
from postal cards; and, finallj", in some un-
known manner, her portrait disappeared from
the foyer.

She could not comprehend how people forget
so soon; it was absolutely inexplicable! But


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Online LibraryAugust StrindbergEaster (a play in three acts) and stories from the Swedish of August Strindberg .. → online text (page 6 of 9)