A Fortunate Man, 1905

Chapter One

In the years around the time of our last war, there was a Christian minister by the name of Johannes Sidenius who lived in a small provincial town in east Jutland. The town lay at the bottom of an overgrown fjord and was hidden from view by the surrounding green hills. This priest was a pious and austere man. His outward appearance and, indeed, his whole way of life, placed him sharply at odds with the rest of the town’s inhabitants who, therefore, regarded him for many years as an intruder whose peculiar ways prompted various reactions, ranging from a simple shrug of the shoulders to downright indignation. Whenever he walked – tall and severe in demeanour – through the town’s winding streets, dressed in his long, grey and rough-spun coat, big dark blue spectacles perched on his forehead and his hand firmly gripping a large umbrella with which he struck the pavement in tack and tandem with each step he took, people on the street would instinctively turn and stare; whilst those who looked on from behind window panes and lace curtains would smile at the scene, or scowl, as their mood took them. The town’s elders, the old estate and cattle merchants, never deigned to offer him a greeting, even when he was clad in his vestments. Despite the fact that they themselves were wont to appear in public wearing clogs and canvas smock coats, sucking continually at their pipes, they held it at as a shame and disgrace upon the town, that they had got such a wretched cleric who appeared amongst them dressed as some lowly bell ringer, and who, to boot, obviously could barely provide for himself and his brood of whelps. One had been accustomed to a quite different sort of clergy here – to men attired in fine black cloth and a collar of the best white cambric with its attendant brilliant chest piece; men who also by their very name had spread a lustre over the town and its church; men who would go on to be archdeacons and bishops within the diocese, but who were never arrogant in their piety, or felt themselves to be above the town’s worldly affairs and took a full part in the citizenry’s functions and festivities.

Indeed, the large red vicarage had previously been a byword for hospitality, where, once any religious business had been concluded with the minister, there was a standing invitation to the drawing room to meet his wife and young daughters and over coffee, or (when a better class of folk was present) a small glas of wine and homemade cake, one could gossip about the latest news and events in the town. Now, people avoided the rectory, unless some pressing reason drove them there, and these days one got no further than Pastor Sidenius’s funereal study, where the curtains were usually half drawn because his eyes could not tolerate the reflected glare from the walls on the other side of the narrow street.

Moreover, this pastor then usually left visitors standing in this place, never offering them a seat, dealing with them in a curt manner and showing no apparent interest in them. He was, in fact, least hospitable to those who believed themselves to be most deserving of special attention. Even the families of the town’s civic officials no longer paid a call to the rectory, given that Pastor Sidenius – instead of offering them refreshments – had taken it upon himself to question them on their spiritual inclinations and generally addressed them more like candidates for the rite of confirmation standing before a bishop.

He had aroused particular animosity when officiating at burial ceremonies for the town’s more illustrious citizens – where the populace would form a procession in pomp and ceremony, holding garlanded guild banners aloft to the accompaniment of a brass band and with civic officials in gold braided uniforms and plumed hats also in attendance, – all this, it was averred, being a fitting way to offer thanksgiving and spiritual inspiration following a light wine reception in the home of the deceased. Instead of a glorious send off, with the obligatory eulogy in memory of the deceased, Pastor Sidenius restricted himself unbendingly to the recital of a prayer more befitting of unchristened children and the lower classes. Not a word on the decency of the dearly departed and the fruitful furrow he had diligently ploughed throughout his life; no mention of the fact that the town’s rising prosperity had made his name, or of his selfless devotion to its pavements department, or communal water provision. In fact, the deceased party was barely mentioned at the graveside, and then only with additional comments such as "this poor heap of dust" or "this worm fodder", and the greater and more refined the gathering which he addressed, the more flags and banners that snapped in the wind swirling around the graveside, the shorter the prayers became and the more miserable was his description of the remains which people had come to honour; so that mourners left the scene with an anger which was more than once audibly expressed, even in the hallowed grounds of the cemetery.

The only townspeople who were regular attendants at the rectory were a pair of small, shrivelled old ladies from the spinster fraternity and a pale, long bearded Christ like figure who was an itinerant tailor. There were also a number of "saved" people of no means, who in Pastor Sidenius’s home had found a long sought for refuge in a place whose thoughts rarely strayed from temporal considerations. However, the fact alone that Fru Sidenius was of a very weak disposition and had been confined to bed in recent years, meant that there was no suggestion of any kind of social circle having been established. Indeed, it should be said that Pastor Sidenius himself was in no way disposed to social engagements and his acolytes sought his counsel on matters of faith alone. On the other hand, they would meet up every single Sunday in the church, where they would occupy their chosen place immediately below the pulpit and then arouse the ire of rest of the congregation by, in a most ostentatious manner, singing even the most interminable of psalms without once consulting their church hymnals.

Pastor Sidenius belonged to an ancient dynasty of clerics, which traced its lineage right back to the Reformation. For more than three centuries, the call to spiritual works had gone from father to son – yes even to daughters as well, in as much that these had in many cases married their fathers' curates, or their brothers' student friends. It was from this deep well that the conscious authority in the pronouncement of the Lord’s word, for which the Sideniuses were renowned, had sprung from olden times. There was hardly a parish in any part of the country where at least one family member had not been present, at some point in the passage of the centuries, to remind people of the need for obedience to church law.

Of course, among such a large number of servants in the church, not all would prove to be equally zealous in the commission of their vocation. There had even been the odd family member whose passions lay more in the direction of more worldly affairs – people in whom a lust for life, which ran as a suppressed but powerful undercurrent within the dynasty, had suddenly expressed itself in rather uncontrolled ways. Thus, in the previous century, there had been a priest in Vendsyssel, 'Mad Sidenius' by name, who was said to have led the life of a wandering hunter in the great forests around the Jutland Ridge. Here, he would often be seen carousing in the taverns and imbibing schnapps in the company of the local peasantry, until finally one day, in a drunken rage during the Easter celebrations, he struck down his sacristan so violently that a spurt of blood desecrated the very altar cloth.

Despite events such as this, the vast majority of the family had been upstanding champions of the church and several of them were also very well read. Indeed, they were theological scholars, who in their rural isolation had sought respite from the grey blandness of each passing year in the interior workings of the mind, a deep investigation of their own inner world, in which they would eventually discover the greatest happiness in life, its greatest rewards, and the ultimate goal underpinning everything.

It was this inherited disdain for the value of all things secular which had been Johannes Sidenius’s buckler and shield in the cut and thrust of daily life, and the thing that had kept both his back straight and his mental resolve undaunted, despite the strain of dire poverty and the many reverses he had suffered. But in this regard, he had also received great support from his wife, with whom he enjoyed a deep and contented union; for all that they were so unlike each other. She too was of a deeply religious disposition but – in contrast to her husband – she possessed a doleful, fervent nature, for which life engendered constant agitation and dark anxieties. Due to her family background, she had once lacked conviction in her faith. However, because of her husband’s influence, she became first a true believer and then a zealot, for whom the daily struggle to make ends meet, combined with so many childbirths in quick succession, served to confirm her by now passionately jaundiced view of life’s travails and the need for Christians to observe their daily duties. And then there were those many years, since her last child had arrived, where she had remained bedridden in her dark room hoping to regain her strength and, to cap it all, the recently concluded and disastrous war with its hostile confiscations of property and money, the bloody humiliations – all this had hardly helped to make her view of life any more hopeful.

Though her husband would reproach her severely for it, she could never really banish these anxieties from her mind. For, even as she admitted that this displayed a sinful lack of trust in God’s providence, she just could not refrain from ceaselessly reminding her children that strict moderation in all things was their duty both before God and man. She would react as if having witnessed a shocking crime whenever she learned of the lifestyle of her fellow townsmen; of their parties which boasted extravagant menu selections and several kinds of wine; of the silk dresses the ladies wore and the golden jewellery displayed by young girls – yes, she even found it difficult to forgive her own husband when, every so often, he would return home from a walk with some modest gift, which he, not without a certain quiet gallantry would present at the foot of her bed, – a pair of roses arranged in a posy, some nice fruit, or a jar of ginger preserves to help her night cough. Of course, she was both happy and touched by his small gestures. Yet, she could not refrain from saying, as she kissed his hands tenderly:

"Heavens dear, you really should not have done that."

A brood of pretty but rather sickly children grew up in this house; eleven in all; five boys with clear blue eyes and six equally bright eyed girls, all of whom were easily recognisable amongst the town’s other youths, partly because of an unusual neck collar they wore, which made the boys look rather girlish and made the half grown girls rather manly in appearance. The boys, moreover, wore their brown hair long and had curls flowing almost to their shoulders, whilst the girls wore their hair plastered to their skulls and had just a plait at each temple that ran in a hard little curve in front of their ears.

The relationship between parents and children, as with the overall tone presiding in the home, was thoroughly patriarchal in nature. During the frugal, indeed meagre, mealtimes, which always began with a prayer, the head of the household would sit at the end of the long, narrow table with his five sons arranged according to age on one side and the five daughters in a corresponding sequence along the other; whilst, in the absence of her mother, the eldest daughter, the scrupulous Signe, took pride of place at the other end of the table. It would never have occurred to any of the children to speak without first being invited to do so. On the other hand, their father spoke to them frequently; about their educational progress, about their friends and their classes at school, and thereby came to tell his own story. In his own didactic way, he would explain conditions and events from his own youth, describe how school life was at the time and recall life in his father’s and grandfather’s mud and wattle built rectory, and much more besides. And sometimes, when he was in just the right mood, he would even tell amusing anecdotes from his student days in Copenhagen, from his time in the renowned residential hall, and the madcap capers the student’s would get up to with the town’s watchmen and the constabulary. But, having in this way raised the humour of his children, he never failed at the end to give a cautionary twist to his tales and a warning to them to turn their thoughts away from frivolity and attend instead to the Lord’s bidding.

This large flock of children, and especially the fact that it had thrived so well – firstly at school, then in the wider adult world – had gradually become a source of great pride to Pastor Sidenius, and at the same time, caused him to give thanks in humble gratitude that the Lord had clearly blessed his home. For there was no doubt that these youths, genuine Sideniuses all, were eager, and inquisitive, and, more than anything, had developed a strict sense of duty as they had grown up one after the other, to become a mirror image of their father. They had even inherited all the little quirks in his appearance – right down to his proud bearing and the measured almost military gait. There was only one of the children who caused his parents sorrow and distress. This was one of the boys in the middle ranks whose name was Peter Andreas. It was not just the fact that he was disruptive at school, and thus provoked a stream of complaints from that side, but also the fact that he had already, at a very young age, begun to defy the customs and practice which prevailed in the home. He had not even reached the age of ten when he first disobeyed his parents outright, and the older the boy became, the more he showed a reckless defiance, which neither chastisement, coercion, nor even the strictures of the Lord himself, was able to quell.

Pastor Sidenius would often sit at his wife’s bedside discussing what they should do with this wayward son in whom both of them saw the spectre of the degenerate Vendsyssel priest, whose ill repute was forever etched into the family’s bloodline. And, instinctively affected as they were by their parents jaundiced view, his brothers and sisters began to look upon the boy as a stranger in their midst and exclude him from their games.

Now it is true that the boy had come into this world at an unfortunate moment; namely at a time when his father had been moved from an isolated and sparsely populated parish up on the heath to the region’s market town; a move which involved a substantial commitment and expansion of his ministry. In this way, and purely by chance, Peter Andreas had become the first of all the children whose earliest rearing had been left to his mother. However, in the years when Peter Andreas was small, she had always had her hands full looking after those even smaller than he was. This meant that when she was finally forced to retire to bed through sickness and sought to gather all her children around her, he had grown too big for her to keep a proper eye on his behaviour and whereabouts.

Thus it was, that Peter Andreas became almost from birth, so to speak, a stranger in his own home. The first years of his life were mostly spent in his sisters' playroom, or, as he grew bigger, he was often to be found in the outhouse where an old woodcutter plied his trade, and whose rough and ready observations on life and events around them had an early influence on the boy’s view of the world. He then graduated to what became, in effect, a second home within the environs of the large merchant houses in the neighbourhood with their accompanying timber yards. Here too, amongst the yard boys and shop apprentices, he absorbed a profoundly temporal view of the world and its many bounties. At the same time, all this fresh air and physical tumult encouraged his physical development and imposed a ruddy glow upon his broad features. In fact, local youths and the timber yard boys soon came to fear him because of his physical prowess and he finally set himself up as the leader of a small gang of rogues, which roamed and harried about the town. Before anyone in the house realised what had taken place, he had grown into a half wild street urchin. It was only when he got older, and especially when at nine years of age he entered the town’s Latin School, that the boy’s volatile tendencies became obvious to all; and both parents and teachers alike then frantically sought to remedy the initial neglect.

But by then it was too late.

*           *

One day, in late autumn, a scion of the town’s petit bourgeoisie was to be found in Pastor Sidenius’s study with the intention of booking a christening for the coming Sunday. He had completed his business with the least ceremony possible and now stood on the brink of departure with his hand on the door handle when, after a moment’s deliberation, he turned again into the room and – in quite a provocative manner – said:

"Whilst I am here, I may as well use the opportunity to request that the good Pastor restrains his son and keeps him away from my garden. He and some other boys are very fond of my Calvilles and, to speak bluntly Pastor, that is something I will not stand for."

Pastor Sidenius, who was sat bent over his writing table with his large, dark blue spectacles pushed up onto his forehead whilst he wrote the name of the prospective godparents into the church register, lifted his head up slowly at these words, shoved his glasses back into place and said sharply:

"What are you saying …? Are you suggesting that my son …"

"Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting," the man replied assertively, his hand on his hip in a stance which suggested no little satisfaction in his triumph over this self righteous man of the cloth. "The son of the Pastor himself – Peter Andreas is it not? – who is now some sort of captain, d'ye mind, for this little band of pirates which goes crawling over peoples garden walls and fences. And the law must be observed, even by a child belonging to a church minister. Otherwise, I'll be forced to bring in the constabulary, and that might have him over the birching chair at the court house before you know it. And heaven knows what kind of effect that would have on the good Pastor’s standing in this town."

With a slight quiver in his hand, Pastor Sidenius put the pen to one side and rose from his desk.

"My son …" he repeated, as his whole body shook.

Whilst this drama was being played out in the rectory, the little devil himself sat in a classroom and concealed his guilty conscience, from teacher and classmate alike, behind a large pile of books. For, on his way to school, he had already encountered this raging denizen of the town who had shouted angrily at him from across the street: "Just you wait my boy! Because I'm going up right this minute to have a little word with your father!" Peter Andreas rarely worried about facing the wrath of his father but, on this occasion, he felt that he had done something that was rather beneath him and his unease grew with each moment that brought the time to go home nearer.

With his ears on red alert, he slunk through the gateway to the rectory and passed the hall window; where his father would normally await his arrival and then call him in for a dressing down after he had committed some misdemeanour. However, the window was firmly closed. Nor was there any sign of his father around the yard leading to the kitchen, and he began to breath sighs of relief. "That man was probably just trying to scare me," he thought to himself, as he bowled into the kitchen in his normal manner to find out what was for dinner. Then, gripped by a sudden recklessness, he even ventured into his mother’s bedroom to say hello. But here he was stopped dead in his tracks by a bleak stare emanating from the dark confines of the bed. In a hard, almost alien voice, his mother said: "Go into your room! I couldn't so much as look at you."

The boy stood hesitantly at the door for a moment. He could see from her face that his mother had been crying. "Do you hear me young man? Stay in your room until you are called." Upon which, he stole softly away, crestfallen.

Sometime after that, the house’s one eyed maid appeared to tell him that dinner was being served. His brothers and sisters were already sat in their places around the long table, waiting for him. As soon as he appeared, all conversation stopped and from this and their muted demeanour, he understood that they knew what had happened. In an attempt, therefore, at indicating a superior air he threw himself noisily into his chair and stuck his hands into his pockets, but nobody paid him any attention. Only one pair of eyes followed his movements. His sister Signe, with her large, bright thoughtful eyes, watched him from under a darkly knitted brow.

But then came the sound of footsteps from the adjoining room. Per gave a slight jump when his father pushed open the dining room door. Contrary to his normal practice, he gave no greeting as he entered. In silence, he sat down at the table, bowed his head and clasped his hands together.

But instead of offering a prayer, he began to speak. Something, he said (as his eyes closed behind his dark glasses), was troubling his mind; a serious matter, which he wished to discuss with his dear children before they began to eat. After this, he confirmed what most of them already knew concerning their brother’s fall from grace.

"What has happened can neither be ignored, nor excused in any way," he continued. "Just as it is God’s will that all that is born in darkness will one day be revealed to the light, so has this deed come to light to receive its judgement. Peter Andreas has chosen not to heed God’s will and commandments. Just as he has ignored the warning’s of his mother and father, so has he turned away from the word of the Lord, which says: Thou shalt not steal. Yes, my son, I am afraid that your sin must be called by its rightful name. But you must also know and understand, that it is out of love for you that your father, your mother, and all your brothers and sisters, be they large or small, appeal to your conscience through the words coming from my mouth. This is because we can never lose hope entirely that, at some point, we may succeed in finding a path to your heart; so that you not will not end your days like that wretched brother upon whom the Lord pronounced his judgement of doom: Thou shalt be banished and without peace wherever in the world thou art – –"

All around the table, the children’s' small, red and blue chequered handkerchiefs had begun to quiver. All the sisters were crying. Even the older brothers were greatly agitated and found it difficult to hide their emotions as their father concluded his lecture with the words:

"Now, I have spoken. And if Peter Andreas will commit these words to his heart and truthfully seek out the forgiveness of God and man for the sin he has perpetrated, then this issue will nevermore come between us, but will be forgotten; it will be dead and erased from our memories. Therefore, my dear children, let us join together in prayer to the good Lord in heaven that he will take thy straying brother into his hands … pray that God will his soften his obstinate spirit and guide him away from the servitude of sin, away from the path to perdition. Grant this Oh Lord, thou who art in heaven, that not one of us will be lost to you, when on the final day of resurrection your children are gathered around your glorious throne! Amen!"

There was just one person upon whom the whole scene had a completely opposite effect to that which was intended and this was Peter Andreas himself. His father was rarely able to make much of an impression upon him any longer. For, he had been a much too willing understudy to the yard boys and shop apprentices who were far from respectful when speaking of his reverend father. At the same time, up until this point, he had not been able to inure himself entirely to the flow of pious utterances and ominous biblical rhetoric with which his parents had perpetually sought to sway his conscience. Indeed, it was true to say, that when on Sundays he saw his father kneeling at the front altar in his white vestments, or standing under the resonating carved vault above the pulpit, he would even sometimes feel himself gripped by a momentary feeling of awe.

But on this occasion, even words from the good book itself could not exert any influence over him. It was true, that in the very first moments of this unusual form of reprimand he became subdued and uneasy but the fright was short lived. As far as his simplified schoolboy sensibilities were concerned, there was a ridiculous disparity between the solemn invocation of Our Lord and the pathetic question of a pair of apples he had snatched from across a garden fence; and the more his father went on pronouncing, and the more the yammering of his brothers and sisters increased all around him, the more becalmed and unaffected he became by the whole scene.

At this moment, a kind of seismic shift took place in the mind of the eleven year old boy. For he now found that he could look upon the others with a feeling of innate superiority. Even when the two small twins, who thus far had just stared blankly at the distress of their older brothers and sisters, began a pitiful whimper, he found it difficult to suppress a smirk.

But these high spirits were not without an element of compulsion. This was inevitable given that the attempt to shame him into submission had struck at his most sensitive place: his sense of honour. The colour in his cheeks had also gradually disappeared. As his father had brought his speech at the table to a close, a terrible agitation stirred in the very depths of his consciousness, a dark, skulking thirst for revenge, which rose up to blind his eyes in a shimmering mist.

The memory of this mealtime gathering would, henceforth, assume a momentous importance in the boy’s life. In those moments, his hitherto carefree mind became possessed of an implacable hatred of his entire family line, a defiant sense of isolation from it, which became the heart and soul, the motivating instinct in his future life. He had, from a very early age, felt a sense of abandonment; as if he was homeless whilst being under the same roof as his parents. Now he had begun to wonder whether he really did belong there; or whether he might actually be a latchkey child whom the parents had somehow adopted. The more he brooded over this, the more likely he felt that this was the case. Everything, right down to the increased wariness his brothers and sisters showed towards him from this day on, simply served to confirm his suspicions. Had he not also been told a thousand times that he was not like the others? And had his father ever caressed him, or given him a kind word? And his appearance? Whenever he looked at himself in the mirror, he noticed that he was darker than his brothers and sisters, had ruddier cheeks and strong white teeth. He also now recalled that the neighbour’s yard boy had once, apparently in jest, called him a street rogue and a gypsy boy.

This thought, that he was not born of his parents, had haunted him throughout his childhood years and in the end became his reality. For, not only did it give him an explanation regarding his awkward status in the home; it also satisfied his boyish pride immensely. He had always felt it somewhat humiliating to be the son of an old, half blind man without a tooth in his head, who was the laughing stock of the whole town. He was also deeply ashamed of the poverty in which the family was enmired. He had not reached much of an age before he was happy to starve the whole day at school rather than bring himself to eat the homemade bread and dripping in front of his friends. Once, when his mother had requested that one of his father’s old cassock’s be made up into a winter coat for him, he could barely bring himself to put it on; as the shiny material revealed all too clearly from whence it came, and when his mother tried to assert her will, he came close to tears, tore it into shreds and flung it to the floor in a defiant rage.

Now, he could escape into proud dreams of having been abandoned as a child by some troupe of wandering gipsies; one of those nomadic families of the night, of whom the old one eyed nanny had so often spoken, and who, of course, were to be found out there on the barren heath where his own parents had once lived. He imagined that his real father was, in truth, a great chief with a blue black mane flowing down his back and a rich cloak slung over his shoulders, a staff of oak in his strong brown hands, … an all powerful sovereign, a king ruling over the dark heath’s great expanses, the place where freedom and wild storms reigned.

He was at that age where dreams take real shapes and the wings of fantasy can finally take flight. And now, when all avenues of possibility seemed to have opened for him, his powers of imagination ran riot. With regards to his own life, nothing seemed impossible anymore. His reveries would often transport him to the highest reaches of adventure land. He convinced himself at last that he was the son of king, who, like the hero in a story they were reading at school, had been abducted by tinkers and then sold into the slavery that his father’s rectory represented for him. So convinced was he by his dreams, that he sometimes felt that he could recall certain things and events from the time spent in the happy world of his childhood home, … a great room for example, with marble columns and hundreds of black and white chequered floor tiles upon which his small feet could glide…a blue lake between high mountains … a monkey in a golden cage … a tall man wearing a red cape who lifted him onto a horse and sat him up front as they galloped though large, dark forests …

Gradually, both his parents and the teachers at his school became aware of the gloomy reticence which had enveloped the child and which, on occasions, bore the character of a monomania. At home, he would wander noiselessly from room to room – apparently indifferent to all and sundry. Outside the home, meanwhile, he would frequent places known only to himself. His father could not, so to speak, get a word out of him and even with his mother, who previously was able to claim some form of intimacy with him, and in whom, when it came to the bit, he had always found most understanding and indulgence; even with her, there was now a wall between them, which grew higher with each passing year. It was true, that in the gathering gloom of evening when he knew her to be alone, he would sometimes go in to her and sit by her bed and freely ask if he should rub the knotted veins in her afflicted legs. But never did she receive any reply, other than yes and no, whenever she sought to delve into his world and draw from the well of his brooding mind.

Despite this, both mother and father contented themselves with the notion that his taciturn manner was a sign that he had begun to repent of his former ways. But then something happened which snuffed out those hopes for good.

*           *

One winter evening, at around nine o'clock, the family was gathered in the sitting room, waiting for the town’s night watchman to pass by in the street and proclaim, in his sing song voice, that it was time to retire. In her usual motherly fashion, Signe sat knitting on the horsehair sofa by the mahogany table. Her hands worked with practised speed, whilst at the same time she read aloud from a copy of Fædrelandet, which lay spread out in front of her under the drowsy light of an old oil lamp. Her father sat in his time honoured evening seat; a stiff old fashioned high-backed armchair, which had been covered with the cheapest kind of material and bore a flowery pattern. He sat there tired and crumpled, his head bowed and his arms across his chest. His large green eyeshade served to hide more than half of his pallid, wrinkled and beardless face. As he dozed, he heard – yet did not really hear – the monotone recitation of the four columns of news from abroad. Pastor Sidenius was a morning man. Even in the depths of winter, he would rise in the morning when the church clock struck six. It should also be said, that he did not have much time for newspapers and that kind of worldly literature, which he regarded , at best, as a useful sedative with which he could lull himself to sleep after his midday and evening meals.

Two of Signe’s younger sisters were also sat at the table, dressed in their large chequered cotton smocks and – despite their eyes being red with fatigue – bent conscientiously over their crochet work. In appearance, they were exact copies of their older sister, had the same slightly old maid facial expressions, the same small, hard plaits by the side of their ears, the same bright, almost cavernous eyes under a determined brow. The door into the bedroom was open, and within the half-light surrounding their mother’s bed, another one of the smaller children could be seen rubbing mother’s tortured legs.

Peter Andreas was also in the room. He stood apart from the rest of the group by one of the windows and every other moment stole quick glances up at the clock on the secretary. By this stage he was fourteen years of age with a big boned and solid frame, which had outgrown the clothes he wore. His two older brothers were now adults and had left the home to take up studies at the university in Copenhagen. As the home’s eldest son, Peter Andreas had inherited their room – a small gable end attic, where he spent most of his time when he was in the house.

As soon as Signe had finished her reading session, he grabbed the opportunity to say goodnight and slip away but his father stopped him as he got to the door by asking why he was leaving their company with such haste and he offered the pretext of a school essay that was still to be written.

As he left the room, his father turned to the others – "is there anything else in the newspaper?," he asked, still groggy from having dozed.

Straight afterwards, their mother’s weak voice could be heard from the bedroom – "what time is it children?"

"It’s ten minutes past nine," the two youngest girls piped up simultaneously, as they turned from looking at the clock.

Then, all was quiet for a while. They all knew that the night watchman would soon pass their door. Some people passed by in the street. The only audible thing was their voices. A new fallen layer of snow served to muffle their steps.

"Shall I read more father?," Signe asked.

"Ah, I think that’s enough," he said as he rose, removed his eye shade and proceeded to promenade backwards and forwards across the floor in order to shake off his lethargy prior to evening prayers.

Nor was there long to wait before a deep drone was to be heard outside in the street. It was the old watchman’s 'song'. It was like the sound of a drunken man having an animated conversation with himself. The two small girls immediately began to pack their sewing kits together; and Signe also began to clear up for the night. Then the two maids were called from the kitchen and Signe sat herself down at the piano.

Once more, their mother’s voice could be heard from the bedroom.

"I think this evening, we should sing 'Praise the Lord, for he is near'."

"That would be nice Signe," her father said. He had positioned himself behind the large armchair and placed his folded hands on its backrest.

Signe had an expansive and quite appealing soprano voice, which she used with an unrestrained gusto that was quite out of character with her otherwise subdued utterances. As she sat there with her hefty fingers reddened by too much work, stroking the piano’s yellowed keys, her gaze soaring towards the heavens, she revealed the nature of the faith, hope and love which had encouraged a girl, who was still not twenty years of age, to sacrifice her youth for the sake of the home and her small brothers and sisters. This, however, was no romantic euphoria, radiating from her small round face whilst she sang; no heavenly ecstasy, where paradise was revealed and her soul was transported by celestial visions. As the full blooded Sidenius she was, she had absolutely no inclinations towards Catholic mysticism. No, the inner conviction which shone in her countenance and lent an uncommon fervour and power to her voice, sprang from a quite sober, and unfailing conviction that she was one of the chosen few who followed the narrow path of righteousness and whose true inheritance awaited her in heaven; where eternal joy would be the just reward for life’s troubles and privations.

In the middle of the psalm’s second verse, her father suddenly stopped singing and lifted his head as if listening for something.

"Quiet!," he cried, and all singing stopped.

At the same time, their mother called out from the bedroom: "Someone is ringing at the gate," she said.

Now, the others heard the weighty tones of the night bell being rung down at the other end of the house and this sound, which disturbed the peace of the evening, was at once frightening and alien to them.

Their father hurried, via an adjoining room, into his own room, which was located by the side of the gate, and threw up the window.

"Who is it ringing at this hour of the evening?," he called out.

In the sitting room, they could hear a man’s voice coming from the street. Whilst the two youngest girls, who were in some distress, looked at each other and then at their sister Signe who had remained at the piano, their father maintained his harsh tone:

"Your child is sick you say…What is your name, and where do you live? … Krankstuegyden … I see… How old is the child ? … A year old! … Isn't it strange how the people of this town suddenly turn to their minister for help as soon as trouble arises. Otherwise, they see no need for God’s presence in their daily lives. Why have you waited so long to have the child baptised ? … Yes, of course I will come. You must go home and get things ready, so that there are no delays when I arrive. And be sure there is a light on the stairs," he called after the man, who had already disappeared.

When the priest returned to the sitting room, he enquired as to the whereabouts of Peter Andreas.

"I'll call him now," said Signe, who was aware that her father, because of his weak eyesight, was reluctant to venture out unaccompanied on such a night, where all was slippery underfoot.

"Boel can fetch him," the priest said turning to the old maid as he did so. He then went into the bedroom to dress. "You, Signe, will have to stay here and help me into my vestments."

The priest’s wife had lit the night lamp in the bedroom.

"Be sure and wrap up Johannes," she said in her usual rather dispirited tone. "I would say that is a cold night. I could hear it earlier, the way the church clock rang out. Signe, fetch your father’s lined vest. It is hanging in the press."

But at that moment, old Boel came back in with the news that Peter Andreas was not in his room and nor could she find him anywhere else in the house.

The priest rose instinctively from his chair, in which he had only just sat in order to facilitate the insertion of a pin into the rear of his collar. He then went very pale. And from the maid’s worried expression, he could see that she knew more than she had revealed. He closed in on her and spoke with a commanding urgency:

"What is it? … Speak out! … You are hiding something from me."

Shaking in fear before the pastor’s anger, she confessed all and explained that, as Peter Andreas’s room was up in the loft, she had heard him creeping about in the night on several occasions recently; and as she had just then found his window wide open she proceeded to investigate further and discovered that the window in the hall was ajar and that there were fresh footsteps in the snow outside.

In the bedroom, the priest’s wife was making efforts to rise from the bed. But then she slumped back into the bed again with a plaintive cry and put her hands to her eyes in the manner of a person attacked by dizziness.

The pastor hurried in to her and grabbed her free hand.

"Now mother…don't fret!" he said, in spite of the tremble in his own voice.

"May God give us strength this night!" she cried.

"Amen!" the pastor said with great emotion and still holding her hand.

Peter Andreas, meanwhile, was to be found on the steep slopes just north of the town, where an animated group of callow youths had taken to sledding in the moonlit nights which prevailed at that time. It was the King’s own provincial highway they had chosen as their sledding lane – a broad, even roadway which swooped in one unbroken curve from the top of the hill right into the town itself. Indeed, if one had built up sufficient speed and had no fear of the night watchmen, it was possible to career down Nørregade’s steep incline and almost reach the town hall without stopping.

The descent into the town offered the most open and panoramic view of the whole area: firstly, across the snow clad town itself with its glowing red street lamps and roofs bathed in moonlight, then across to the frozen fjord and meadows that were just sheets of ice; then finally in the distant countryside lay the outlying villages, forests and fields that were blanketed in drifts of snow. And above all this, the heavens flowed in an immense vault, where the moon and stars seemed to play hide and seek behind the clouds – as if these ancient globes had been smitten by the high spirits of the youths below.

Hallo! Amidst screams, whistles and hearty shouts, the railed sledges hurtled downwards along the frozen surface, steered with the help of a long spiked stick which trailed behind and served as a rudder … hopping and bouncing over small stones, sailing over every possible hindrance as easily as a boat riding the waves. Here and there along the way down, stood small clumps of servant girls, their heads wrapped against the cold and their hands wound into their aprons, which they sought to use as a muff. When, every so often, one of the contestants became unseated and fell backwards like some toppled knight of old, and the empty sledge sped on with increasing speed down the hill, – the shrill peal of female scorn would ring out from this female chorus and was augmented by the gleeful cries of other boys who just happened to be racing by at that point.

The boys from the Latin School, 'The Tadpoles', who were in a definite minority, fared worst of all in the event that just such a disaster should befall them. Peter Andreas’s greatest vitriol, therefore, was aimed at those who had shamed the standard by allowing such a defeat to happen.

He himself steered his new and handsome long sledge with supreme authority. He had procured it on hasty credit from one of the town’s wheelwrights, had painted it deep red and dubbed it 'Blood Eagle'. During the day, he kept the sledge out of sight in one of the timber yards in the town. He flew effortlessly, and almost silently, through the air, his sledge riding on English bar-iron, as he let out sudden shouts: "Make way there!" He was eager for battle and his round cheeks glowed in triumphant excitement. Occasionally, he would raise himself up athwart the sledge rails as he sped along, swing his spike above his head as a warrior would his spear, and cry: Whoo-hoo! The raging torrent that was his joi de vivre; all that reckless, honour seeking, youthful vitality he had been forced to suppress at home and at school would burst forth in such moments as this and manifest itself in a haughtiness, which made him appear slightly ridiculous even to the best of his friends within the group.

Then, suddenly, a loud warning shout could be heard from the foot of the hill. In an instant, all the sledge racers had peeled off to the edges of the slope, careering down into deep gullies as they did so. At the same time, those who were on the return journey upwards, hurried to places of concealment provided by snowdrifts and bushes. Only the girls remained standing, tittering and leaning into each other conspiratorially.

Down below, at the entrance to the town, the night watchman came into view. There he stood at the edge of the dark streets in his greatcoat with its upturned collar, the tin badge on his chest reflecting like a star in the moonlight. All sledding sports on the country roads were strictly forbidden in deference to market bound farmers and their horse drawn transport. For this very reason, the boys had posted lookouts along the hill to avoid being caught by surprise. Now, the dreaded 'Wolle' was down there looking up at them along the suddenly deserted roadway, whilst from the ditches came half strangled cries of "cluck cluck" or "miaow" followed by muffled laughs and giggling. At which, he raised his truncheon in a threatening manner before turning around and disappearing into the streets of the town again.

Shortly afterwards, the lookouts called the all clear. And within minutes, the whole slope was once more alive with playful activity.

Then one of the bigger boys, an apprentice, managed to coax one of the girls on to his sledge, a sight that stoked the jealous fires in Peter Andreas’s breast. About halfway down the hill, therefore, he pulled up by the side of a knot of high spirited lasses and offered the tallest of them a tour on his sledge. After some hesitation, she yielded to the temptation, straddled the sledge and sat herself in front of him. Peter Andreas then brazenly slung his arms about his captured treasure and 'Blood Eagle' soared once again into the night.

"Make way there!," he roared with all the might his lungs possessed; for the world had to know of his triumph.

"Was that not Peter Andreas? Yes, that was Per all right!," he heard from a couple of friends as he shot past. They were making the upward journey, dragging their sledges behind them. He felt that his heart was ready to burst. For there was no mistaking the unbidden admiration in their voices.

Even his female escort – a dark eyed, raven haired tinker child – turned approvingly to him as they sped on, and her laugh revealed a large, red, half open mouth that brought a fire to his cheeks. Familiar dreams were stirred once again in his emotions, … dreams of living by night on the great heath, dreams of being the wild rover, where a tent or sunken redoubt was his home. He would be at one with the stars and the racing clouds.

The sledge only came to a complete stop when it reached the edge of the town, at which point the girl made to rise in order to return to her friends. But Peter Andreas prevailed upon her to remain seated. He had no intention of letting his prize go and thus proceeded to drag her and the sled back up the hill. Foot by foot, inch by inch, he toiled up the hill with his heavy burden. He imagined himself to be a warrior, a Viking, returning in triumph from exotic lands with war booty and a beautiful woman in tow, a captured princess who must now satisfy his every whim up there in his timbered longhouse, which lay deep in the woods…and he stamped the depth of his fantasies into the ice covered slope with such fervour that beads of perspiration broke forth from his brow

When they had reached the crest of the hill, and as he once again positioned himself at the back of the sledge in preparation for the next descent, the girl turned around to him and said:

"I heard them saying that you are the pastor’s son. Is that true?"

Her question was such a jolt back to reality for him that he literally blanched in response.

"No. It isn't!" he replied through gritted teeth and with a vehemence which exploded from the depths of his soul. And 'Blood Eagle' flew down the slope once again and with such speed that its iron rails sang across the ice and snow.

And in truth he had never felt so strongly that he did not belong down there in that gloomy and oppressive dwelling, where his father, brothers and sisters doubtless now sat and sang psalms together and uttered their pathetic prayers amidst all the fairy tale wonders of this winter night. Like underworld trolls, they were blind to life’s bright splendour and too paralysed by fear to embrace its beauty. He felt that he was a million leagues apart from them, in another part of the heavens entirely, where he was at one with the sun, the stars and the ceaselessly changing firmament.

Hush – what was that! All at once, he heard a sound that had followed him throughout his early youth … the tolling of the church bell. Like a herald from the underworld, it rose to meet him through the frosty, gossamer air … eleven sombre, brooding strikes. How he hated that sound! From all of the wind’s four corners and at all hours of the day it sought him out and mocked his hopes and dreams … always warning, always calling. There was no place on earth, to which he might flee, where it would not find him. Like an invisible spirit, it pursued him, regardless of which forbidden road he chose to make his escape. In springtime, when he would steal away into the meadows with his huge kite 'Hero', or in the summer when he took a small boat out on to the fjord to catch perch, … the sound of this phantom would come to his ear with its stifled incantations.

"Hallo!" he cried in an attempt to drown out that sound whilst, with even greater passion and defiance, he threw his arms around the tall young woman in front of him. She turned to him smiling and gave him a look which sent sweet shivers of goose bumps down his spine.

"You're pretty," he whispered into her ear. "What’s your name?"


"And where do you live?"

"In Smedestrædet … Riisagers Yard … And where do you live?"


"Yes. If you are not the pastor’s son, who are you then?"

"Who am I? … Me? …I can't tell you that. But do you want to meet up tomorrow evening in Voldstrædet, when it gets dark?"

"Aye! We can do that surely."

Without realising the danger, Peter Andreas had left the outer limits of the town behind him and was now travelling at full pelt down Nørregade itself. However, he had not travelled much further down the street when a large figure leaped out from a street corner and roared a thunderous "Stop!" as he planted the curved end of a staff in front of the sledge. Emitting a frantic scream, the girl ran off, whilst Peter Andreas found himself being bodily lifted by night watchman Ole’s huge fists.

"Now I have ye, yer little bastard! I'll teach you bleedin kids to play sport with the night watch. Let’s have him in the courthouse! … And no backchat! … Which whore’s family do ye belong to?"

Peter Andreas understood straight away that he had to be as cute, as cute could be, to get out of this dilemma. In a trice, he adopted a breathless pose saying:

"Thank God you are here watchman! There’s a huge scrap going on up there between two gangs of boys. That big apprentice who works for Iversens has pulled a knife! You should hurry Sir … He’s off his head."

"What’s that yer saying?"

"Quick, hasn't he gone and stabbed Alfred … the Mayor’s son! May God spare him and keep him from all harm. He is up there, lying in a big pool of blood."

"Jesus! The mayor’s son!," the night watchman groaned and released his grip.

"I'll run on and tell the family and call for doctor Carlsen," said Peter Andreas, quickly grabbing the reins of his sledge. He was gone before the night watchman regained his composure.

The town’s clocks were just about to strike the midnight hour when, after crawling over the neighbour’s fence, Peter Andreas crept in through the hall window, which he had left ajar on leaving the house. He had removed his boots whilst still standing in the snow, and now made his way in all stealth towards the stairs leading to the attic. Before he knew it, the door to the study was swung open. Now his father stood in front of him, holding a lamp aloft.

For some time, father and son stood opposite each other without speaking. The only thing that could be heard was the clink from the hood of the lamp in Pastor Sidenius’s shaking hand.

"You come and go like a thief in the house of your own father," said the pastor finally. – "Where have you just come from?," he added, in a voice which was so low, it was as if he could hardly bear hearing the answer to his question.

Peter Andreas explained exactly where he had been, without evasion or any attempt at embellishment – at that moment, his contempt for his father was so complete that lying was just not worth the effort. And since he had gone the length of a full admission, he also admitted the purchase of 'Blood Eagle' and the debt he had incurred with the wheelwright.

"So these are the depths to which you have sunk?," his father said, without revealing to his son that, in truth, his worst fears had been assuaged. He was well aware that there were boltholes in the town which led to places of ill repute and a dread had come upon him that his son had been lured to just such a place. "Get to your bed!" he continued. "You are, and will ever be, a slave to sin! … We will discuss this further in the morning."

Early the next day, when Peter Andreas was called down to attend morning prayers in the sitting room, he steeled himself for a repeat of the hide branding ceremony to which he had been subjected as a result of his apple pinching exploits. Signe sat by the piano, where just one light burned brightly. The rest of the large room faded away into darkness and it was so cold that plumes of moist air rose from their mouths as they sang.

However, both the first and then the second psalm was sung from beginning to end and then the Creed was proclaimed without any reference being made to the previous night’s events. Nor was anything said to him about it throughout the course of that day. Pastor Sidenius had, in fact, spent the whole morning sitting by the side of his wife’s bed and his parents had finally agreed that it was a waste of effort to try and influence the boy’s attitude by way of persuasion. The only hope now was that time and the general hardships of life would, by the grace of God, bring about some change in the situation. The only preventative action they agreed to take was to add a row of spikes to the top of the neighbour’s garden fence and that from now on his father would personally ensure, every evening, that the boy was in his bed.

Peter Andreas could not have cared less. None of the domestic arrangements involving him, for good or ill, had any impact on him any longer. The time had passed where he would lay plans, via some childish fiction – an open revolt or secret escape – to bring his torture to an end and set off into the great world outside; so that in some hit and miss way he might reach that kingdom which his dreams had promised him. He was now both old enough and clever enough to realise that the quickest and surest way to reach that precious goal of his own independence was by patiently completing his studies, and it should also be said that it was not long before he discovered other ways to cock a snook at his father’s newfound vigilance. When all in the house had settled down for the night, he would use a rope end to slip down from his gable window onto the half roof of the hall and from there skin down the drainpipe to the street. Thus, he was to be found on many a moonlit night out in the fjord with his beloved fishing rod and, on his return, he would bequeath the whole of that evening’s catch to the night watchman in order to purchase his silence as to what had transpired.

He had also managed to renew his acquaintance with the dark eyed Oline from Riisagers yard. They had arranged night time assignations on a couple of occasions in one of the town’s large timber yards; but in truth they had just as quickly grown apart from one another. The downright brazenness of this little hussy ’s expressions and manners had embarrassed him, and when on one occasion she made a blatant assault on his virtue, he cast her aside in shame and never sought her company again.

He held an abiding love, however, for the harbour and the comings and goings on the quay, such as they were, between the coal boats and the small Swedish timber steamers. Here, he had made the acquaintance of a ship’s chandler who ran a small provisions shop and he would often spend his free time there so as to listen to the stories the sailors told about their adventures in foreign countries, about the huge ocean going steamers that could carry up to a thousand people, and about life in the big ports with their massive shipyards and docks.

However, the life of a sailor held no attractions for him. He had bigger fish to fry. He wanted to be an engineer. For he felt that this profession was precisely the one that offered him the best chance of realising his dream of leading a proud and free spirited life, full of adventure and exciting experiences. Besides which, by opting for such a purely practical career as this, he would, in the clearest way possible, be signalling a stark rejection of his family background and a break with its so cherished ancient traditions. His choice was a conscious challenge, especially to his father who would normally speak in extremely derogatory tones when referring to the popular euphoria over technological advances. Thus, on one occasion, when there had been a whole commotion amongst the citizenry following a proposal for the revival of the town’s declining shipping trade by a widening of the entrance to the fjord, he had spoke with the utmost disdain about the whole affair. "These people with their constant concern for all other things than the one that really should be occupying their minds," he had said. From that day forth, Peter Andreas knew that he wanted to be an engineer.

Furthermore, he received an added stimulus in this regard from a scholarly quarter. Whilst most of his teachers, influenced by his parents' own view of him, had already come to the conclusion that he was someone who would never manage to make anything decent of his life, he had gradually gained a friend and patron in the guise of his maths teacher. This person, an old military man, had even gone out of his way to praise his abilities to his father when, as happened a number of times, the priest had lost all patience and proposed that the boy should be taken out of the school and immediately placed in some trade apprenticeship. It was almost as if the old soldier had adopted his stance out of a basic empathy with the boy and took pleasure in reducing the dictatorial reverend to silence with his words of high praise.

This issue aside, feelings in the town towards Pastor Sidenius and his family were actually undergoing a sea change. Changing times and conventions played their part, by gradually introducing a more conciliatory atmosphere. Added to this, was the fact that several of the old merchants and cattle breeders, who had previously dominated public opinion in the town, had passed away in the intervening years and – more significantly – had been shown, for the most part, to have assumed an authority in the running of the town which was not commensurate with either their trading prowess, or their private wealth. They had been old school traders, who in their rustic arrogance were not willing to acknowledge that times had moved on without them and who poured scorn on the new fangled developments in the means of exchange and the new customs this had brought about in business life. Several of the town’s most illustrious families, who had lorded it on the basis of inherited wealth, were reduced in the years after the Schleswig Holstein war to the margins of poverty. And as the previous prosperity declined, so the need for the succour of religion gained ascendancy. Pastor Sidenius’s grave pronouncements on the vanity inherent in temporal concerns and the promised land that was to be found in poverty and loss began to find an audience amongst the people, and most of all, amongst those who had been his fiercest opponents. The flock of disciples who would gather to hear him preach on Sundays grew unceasingly, to the point where none of the town’s citizens found it prudent to avoid greeting him as he passed in the street. Or at least, not when he was clad in his vestments.

*           *

It was as these events unfolded that the hour of liberation finally arrived for Peter Andreas. Thanks to the old maths teacher’s insistent representations to his father, he had finally agreed to allow his son to travel to the capital so that he could continue his studies at the technical institute. He was now sixteen years of age.

One beautiful autumn evening, as the weekly passenger boat to Copenhagen slowly steamed out along the still overgrown and curving banks of the fjord, Peter Andreas was to be found standing on the afterdeck, a bag over his shoulder and looking back towards the town, which adopted an ever darker hue against the amber tones in the evening sky. He had shed no tears on taking leave of his family home. Even the last moments with his mother were free of any great shows of emotion. And yet, as he stood there in his new tailored jacket, which carried a hundred rix dollar note stitched into the lining of his jacket vest, and looked at the serried mass of roofs and the church’s heavy brick tower melding into the luminous heavens, he was gripped by angst, and his heart was moved by vague feelings of gratitude. He now felt that he had not taken leave of hearth, home and his parents in the proper manner, and almost wished that he could turn back in order to enact the ritual of departure once again. And even if it was the distant sound of the church bell at eventide, drifting out to him across the meadows as a final salutation and note of caution from home, the only feeling it now aroused in him was one of reconciliation.

This capricious frame of mind stayed with him during the first phase of his stay in Copenhagen. It even became gradually stronger as he fell victim to that particular sense of loneliness which always crowds in on a country person who moves to a large town with its utterly strange and indifferent array of faces. He did not know a soul in Copenhagen. As yet, none of his school friends had moved there because they had stayed on at school in the hope of going to university. He suffered frequent bouts of utter misery in the first few weeks and he would often go down to Børs bridge to see whether a ship laden with apples had come in from his home town; in which case he could get news from the town and have a yarn about mutual acquaintances. The only thing that remained unchanged was his attitude towards his father. If he wrote home at all, he wrote to his mother.

As for his older brothers; one of them, Thomas, had already completed his studies a year earlier and had been appointed as a curate somewhere down the country. It was true that the other brother, Eberhard, still lived in the city but he was out of town at that moment; and even on his return, there was hardly any contact between the two of them. Eberhard was of a cautious and apprehensive disposition and had turned his back on the world from sheer terror that he would otherwise encounter some body or thing that might be injurious to his social standing. Thus, he was irritated in the extreme by this demeaning little brother who had rushed over and wanted to make a show of himself about the place, without so much as getting in to university.

In the first few months, Peter Andreas lived in a wretched rearward facing attic in the centre of the town, which offered a view of hundreds of red tiled roofs. He subsequently moved in with an old couple in Nyboder.

As winter settled in and the Christmas period approached, he began to put money aside for a trip home by train and then ferry. Thus, he would avoid having to ask his parents to pay for the journey. The evening meal and fuel for the oven to heat his room were the only two areas where his belt could be tightened any further. In the end, his only form of sustenance was bread and coffee.

On the day before Christmas Eve, he set off for home after having first announced his imminent arrival in a very brief letter.

On the daylong, interminable journey through Sjælland and Fyn, and at the sight of the hordes of high spirited Christmas travellers thronging the carriages and enacting joyous reunions with friends and relatives at the various stations along the way, his own sense of anticipation began to grow, until finally his own mood had become positively festive . Memories of home came to him and the air of expectation that always accompanied the return of his elder brothers; how the lamps would be lit in all the rooms and the evening meal delayed until the arrival of the train so as to make their welcome home even more of a celebration. And he then began to think about his old friends who possibly already knew that he was on his way and would, perhaps, be there to greet him at the station.

The carriage gradually emptied on the way up through Jutland until, finally, he was the only one left. Darkness had descended and the lamps on the train had been lit. A storm was imminent and rain pelted the windows. And yet, he still had an hour and a half’s travelling ahead of him. So he stretched out along the bench and soon fell into a doze.

He awoke to the sound of the train going over a bridge. His heart missed a beat. He knew that sound. It was Skærbæk bridge. So there was just five minutes to go.

He jumped up to the window and wiped away the condensation … yes, there was the river … and the meadows and the Skærbæk hills! And now the track began to curve and the first lights of the town could be seen through the mist and rain.

His sister Signe stood on the platform waiting for him and he felt an immediate sense of unease when he saw her. There she stood, slightly round shouldered, in an awful, old fashioned coat that was too short for her, wearing black woollen gloves and the skirts of her dress inadvertently raised, so that her long, thin ankles could be seen above a pair of clumpy feet shod in galoshes. It annoyed him that she had presented herself in such away, leaving her unfortunate physical shape as a hostage to public ridicule. Apart from which, he had been certain that his two younger brothers – the twins – would also be there. The very fact that it was Signe alone who met him aroused his suspicions, given that she was, of all his brothers and sisters, the one he liked the least.

On the way home through the streets, he was soon given to understand from what she said that his parents were not exactly overjoyed at his return. In fact, they found it inconsiderate of him to have taken a holiday so soon. There was a lot of money involved in making such a journey, she said. In any event, he should first have asked permission from his father.

Even before they reached the rectory gates, Peter Andreas’s initial excitement had gone into decline. And as he walked into the sitting room and saw his father sitting there in his customary evening place in the old, faded armchair, with the green cardboard screen covering his eyes, he was already regretting having ever left Copenhagen. It was now also obvious that it was only with a certain conscious effort that his father bade him welcome and stroked his cheek. The door leading in to the dining room was closed and Peter Andreas could hear that the floor was being scrubbed; and when he saw a tray containing a small smørrebrød buffet on the table, he understood that the others had already eaten. His mother, as always, lay in her bed. Her welcome was not lacking in either sincerity or warmth and she had kissed him emotionally on both cheeks, but Peter Andreas’s heart had turned to stone.

He was too young to understand that he had not suffered any greater injustice than would normally be visited on one of the smaller offspring in a large brood of children, where the eldest had already harvested the first and best crop of their parents' affections. Though this affection may never diminish, it does change its character; does lose the lustre of revelation, which burns so brightly at every small step forward made by the older children. At bedtime, when Per was left to his own devices up in his old room in the loft, he began to laugh. He was, at heart, more annoyed than deeply offended. He had made a laughing stock of himself . He ridiculed his own crass sentimentality, which had led him to pine for this so called home and swore a binding oath that never again would he allow himself to be deceived by such sentiments.

And when the days of Christmas were upon him, with the eyes of the pious turned to heaven and the constant traipsing to church and wave after wave of psalms, he himself remained firmly aloof and just counted the hours until he could escape back to his freedom and independence in Copenhagen. Even the reunion with his old friends had brought nothing but disappointment. Some of them could hardly bring themselves to acknowledge him, influenced as they were by their parents. Of course, due to the fact that his father, and the rest of his family, would only speak of him with some reluctance, people in the town soon got the idea that he was someone who had fallen by the wayside. Besides which, several of his friends had begun to make much of their imminent elevation as academics amongst the citizenry. He had paid immediate visits to all of them; but not one of them had asked him to come again.

Thus, as soon as the new year came in, he returned to Copenhagen.

continue to chapter 2