Erling had a strange feeling; he had got rid of his brother this Sunday, and now he felt compassion for him, but he was careful not to show it. His eyes fell on the beautiful wall-clock Gustav had picked up at an auction long ago. He felt he ought to take that clock with him; then there would be nothing to interfere with the taste of this warehouse-room.
"You're looking at the clock," said Elfride. "You must think it isn't much to have hanging on the wall, and we have in mind getting a new one."
Erling asked casually what they would do with the old one.
"It cost twenty-five kroner more than thirty years ago," said Gustav. "I don't think we ever will get that back."
"I need such a clock for my place in Lier," said Erling. "How much do you want for it? But I must take it with me, or it'll be too much trouble."
The hell of it is, he thought, they'll discuss for ten years whether I cheated them.
The clock itself seemed to protest; at least it could be heard unreasonably loud in the deep silence. Erling knew they must talk over such an [p. 316] important decision, and he went to the bathroom. When he came back he made no further reference to the clock. He talked of one thing and another but found no response until some ten minutes later Elfride approached the subject again: "Don't you have any clock in the place you live?"
"Well, I've managed with an alarm clock."
"Doesn't the time drag—living alone like that?"
Apparently she wanted to talk about that for a moment. Pick up one piece after another while selling the clock.
"Oh no! I like living alone!"
"Have you any help?"
"No, I prefer being alone."
He knew she was fishing for information about wife and children. Perhaps something else too, but that would be difficult.
Her voice trembled a little. "Don't you ever have callers?"
Elfride was stuck in her ruts, it seemed, and Gustav said, "So you want to buy yourself a clock. How much do you offer?"
"I never make an offer. You tell me what you want, then we'll see. After all, you are the one to know something about the clock."
Gustav coughed and said a few nice words about the clock; there was nothing wrong with it.
"It's getting late; I have to meet someone in town in half an hour."
It became remarkably silent, thought Erling, and at the same moment he knew he had led Elfride and Gustav on the wrong track. They sat silent, like cautious animals, and wondered whom he was to meet; they waited for the name and the place.
They looked irresolutely about, and their eyes met conspiringly.
"Are you to meet someone?" asked Gustav, his eyes on the kitchen door.
Erling pretended not to hear. He had been outside this circle the better part of a human life, and they knew literally nothing about him any more, yet now they had taken up the thread as if left off from yesterday. How much of it was the old control, fear of not being taken into confidence, being left outside? To what degree would some old insult flare up into anger after he had left?
He went to the hall and put on his overcoat. "Well," he said, "I must be on my way."
"You must at least make an offer," said Gustav, and nodded toward the clock.
Erling shook his head.
"Let's say twenty-five, then—that's a good buy!"[p. 317]
"Too much!" said Erling, and walked over to telephone for a taxi; he put a coin on the table.
His first thought had been to pay Gustav the twenty-five kroner without a word, but he knew his brother. Gustav wouldn't feel the sneer in the act; he would put the money in his pocket and hold Erling as stupid as ever. That wouldn't have mattered. Something else decided him: it wouldn't be long, perhaps not even a minute, before Gustav would think he had been cheated, if Erling paid without objection; the clock must be worth much more, his brother had cheated him, something that would weigh heavily against him. Erling had haggled for Gustav's own sake.
"There is a tramcar," said Elfride, uncomfortable about the coin at the telephone she didn't want to return, uncomfortable about the expensive taxi, uncomfortable about the clock, and the cheap tramcar.
"Twenty kroner then," said Gustav, for it bothered him to see an expensive taxi ticking away down at the curb. Why couldn't Erling just as well have paid twenty-five and taken the tram?
Erling put the twenty kroner on the table and asked for a paper to wrap the clock. He fetched a stool from the kitchen and stepped up on it to lift down the clock. As soon as he touched it, Elfride began to sob. He let go and turned to look at her. "My clock, my clock, and it's hung there all these years!"
He looked at Gustav who had clamped his teeth together on the pipe and was holding on to the chair with both hands, staring first at the clock, now hanging askew on the wall, then at Elfride, and turning ash pale. What was the matter with him? Was it the clock or Elfride?
Erling stepped down from the stool and picked up his money. "I won't take your clock, Elfride, but I would like to tell you something: I don't think this clock is worth much, but you will never get another one like it, and it is the most beautiful piece of furniture you have in your home."
"Do you mean that, Erling?"
"It would be a shame and a crime to sell it. I have seldom seen such a beautiful clock. I had meant to give it back to you if you regretted selling it."
As he stood in the door and said good-by he noticed Gustav in his chair. It must have been both the clock and Elfride. He had never dreamt to see Gustav like that, and better not let on he had seen anything. He ran down the steps to the taxi. A heavy snow was falling. "To the Continental!" he said to the driver.
He turned about and looked at the old tenement house until it vanished in the blizzard.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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