Unforgettable People

If I were a real lady I should, being now over seventy, probably sit dreaming by the fire. But I gave up in despair trying to be a lady years ago. Or perhaps it gave me up. Also, I am a chatterbox; it is much too late to change that. And who would sit by the fire and talk to a woman whose eyes, having once been squint, then turned around and faced one east, one west, and now gazed only backward, into the past?

No, the days are too short and too full for dreaming. Only rarely, as at this moment, when the doctor has ordered complete rest, with no reading or writing, am I grateful for my scrapbook of a mind. Things—material possessions—mean nothing to me, places but little more: It is people, good and bad, wise and foolish, humble and proud, that walk out of my memory to keep me company.

Here comes Henrik Pontoppidan, the novelist and Nobel Prize winner. His father, a minister in Randers, had filled the sprawling parsonage with a big family. Henrik was much older than I and we did not meet for years after we had both left Randers. I told him then that as a child I had liked his father very much.

"No," he said, "you did not."

"But I did! He died when I was seven, but I remember him clearly."

Pontoppidan said, "You did not like my father. He was not a likable man."

This stubbornness was characteristic. At a dinner party in his house I admired the very old cream-colored Wedgwood china. "What a coincidence!" I exclaimed. "I have exactly the same Wedgwood at home!"

281 Pontoppidan smiled. "No, you haven't. You may have something like it, but not the same."

I protested that it was the same. He only answered, "My dear friend, I don't like to contradict you, especially as you are my guest. I will simply say that this set is the only genuine Wedgwood in Denmark. My aunt1, who was nearly a hundred, just died and left it to me. I can prove that it is unique."

There was nothing to say, so I remained silent.

We were very good friends. One year Pontoppidan's wife had to spend some months in a hospital, so he came to near-by Svendborg to write a new book. In his loneliness he sought me out for long walks through the lovely forests along the shore of the island.

One morning a telegram asked me to come to dinner at noon. He was standing in his doorway to welcome me. "Forgive me for disrupting your plans for the day." He took both my hands and said in an unsteady voice, "I need a friend. I miss my wife so much. Last night I almost hired a boat and rowed over to you. But what would you have thought if I had intruded myself on you at midnight?"

"Tell me, Henrik, what is it?"

"I was getting ready for bed last night about ten. A knock sounded at the door. It was a messenger. I thought, of course, that my wife was worse. Instead, it was a telegram notifying me I had been awarded the Nobel Prize! I was struck dumb! I wanted to ask the messenger to drink a glass of wine with me. But naturally that wouldn't have done at all. So I thought of you –! Come let us have dinner now, and a glass of wine."

I was glad for him, but also a little amused. How like the very proper Pontoppidan to think at such a moment of what would or would not do!

It was Saturday, my regular marketing day, and I had brought along a string bag for my purchases. After dinner I persuaded Pontoppidan to walk with me to the market of hundreds of booths piled with flowers, fish, fowl, and vegetables. He steered me to a stand full of flowers and said to the woman, "I want these."

"How many?"

282 "All of them, of course!"

I did not have the heart to remind him that I could not possibly carry so many flowers to the boat even if I had not had to buy other things. When I accepted them and started toward the food booths, Pontoppidan said, "Where are you going?"

"To buy meat, sausages, cheese and fish."

He stopped me on the spot. "My dear friend—! You know how I enjoy your company. But surely you do not expect me—a man—to go with you to buy such things!" He made a grimace of disgust. "I cannot do it. Forgive me, dear friend, and good-by." And he left me.

[1] aunt: Hvis alderen er en overdrivelse, men historien ellers er sand, er der tale om én af to mostre: Mathilde Bülow, f. 6.9.1826 i Randers, død 13.2.1908 på Frederiksberg eller Augusta Djørup, f. 7.2.1833 i Kolding, død 18.1.1913 på Frederiksberg. Den omtalte middag har i så fald fundet sted i 1908 eller i 1913. HP stod Augusta Djørup nærmere (kom i hendes hus som studerende) end Mathilde Bülow. I 1913 flyttede HP, efter års omflakken, i hus i Snekkersten. tilbage