Famous Stories from Foreign Countries/The Point of View

For works with similar titles, see Point of View.
Alexander Lange Kielland4025415Famous Stories From Foreign Countries — The Point of View1921Edna Worthley Underwood




Alexander L. Kielland is the Norwegian writer of whom it has been said that he has given to his northern tongue the flexibility and the grace of the French tongue. He is par excellence a writer of the short story and is renowned for the skill of his technique.

One volume of his stories has been published in America. The story we give—The Point of View, is new, however, to American readers.


In front of the garden gate of the villa of Lawyer Abel a small, elegant trap drew up, to which two handsome, well groomed horses were attached.

Upon the harness was neither silver nor any shining metal; it was dull black, and even the buckles were covered with leather. The shining wood of the trap showed just a trace of dark green in its color. The upholstery was a dark and modest grey, and only when one examined it closely, did one discover that it was made of heavy silk. The coachman was as correct as an English coachman; all in black, the coat tightly buttoned, showing a space of white at the neck.

Mrs. Warden, who sat alone in the trap, bent forward and placed her hand upon the ivory handle. Slowly she got out, her long gown trailing behind her, and carefully closed the door of the trap.

Mrs. Warden walked through the little garden, and entered. She looked through the open door into the adjoining room, and saw the lady of the house standing beside a table littered with bright colored cloth, and with several copies of “The Bazaar.”

“Ah—you have come just in time—dear Emilie!” declared Mrs. Abel. “I am in despair about my seamstress. She can not design anything new, so here I sit turning the leaves of “The Bazaar.” Take off your wraps and help me. I am trying to design a street dress.”

“I am not capable of helping you when it is a question of dress,” replied Mrs. Warden.

Mrs. Abel stared at her in astonishment. There was something unusual in the tone of voice, and she had great respect for the opinion of her wealthy friend.

“Don’t you remember that I told you that just a little while ago Mr. Warden insisted upon my buying a new silk gown?”

“Yes—yes—of Madame Labiche. Of course I remember,” interrupted Mrs. Abel. “And now I suppose you are on the way to purchase it. Take me with you! That will be pleasant.”

“I am not going to see Madame Labiche,” replied Mrs. Warden with solemn dignity.

“For goodness sake, why not?” questioned her friend, opening her pretty brown eyes with astonishment.

“Well—I will tell you,” replied Mrs. Warden. “I am convinced that we can not spend so much money and keep a good conscience—when we know how much poverty there is in this city in which we live. There are hundreds of families who are suffering—the direst need!”

“Yes—but—,” objected Mrs. Abel, casting a deprecating glance toward the table. “It is so everywhere. There can not help but be inequality—”

“We must be careful not to increase the inequality. We must do everything in our power to lessen it,” insisted Mrs. Warden. Mrs. Abel felt that her friend gave a glance of disapproval at the table covered with cloth, where the copies of “The Bazaar” lay.

“It is only alpaca,” she ventured timidly.

“Don’t think, dear Caroline, that I reproach you Things of this kind depend wholly upon the individual. Every one must act as he thinks he is answerable to his own conscience.”

The conversation continued in this manner, and Mrs. Warden explained that she was now on her way to visit one of the poorest quarters of the city, in order to see conditions with her own eyes, and to convince herself of the way in which the poor really live.

A few days before, she had read the yearly statement of a private institution for the poor, of whose board of managers her husband was a member. She had purposely avoided asking the police, or the Superintendent of the Poor, for statements, because it was her intention to see for herself, and to form her own opinion. The good-by of the friends was a little cooler than usual. Both were in serious mood. Mrs. Abel remained in the garden room. She did not feel inclined to proceed further with the design for the street dress, although the material was unusually attractive. She heard the sound of the wagon wheels upon the level roadway of the residence quarter as it rolled away.

“What a good heart Emilie has!” she sighed.

Nothing was further from this young woman’s disposition than envy and ill will, and yet it was with a feeling akin to this that to-day she watched the trap drive away. Whether it was the good heart or the elegant trap it would be hard to say.

The coachman had taken his orders without a change of expression He drove farther and farther along the strange streets of the poor quarter, just as if he were going to a court ball.

At last he received command to stop, and it was high time. The streets became narrower and narrower, it was almost as if the well fed horses and the elegant trap would be caught like a stopper in the neck of a bottle.

The correct coachman gave no sign of anxiety although the situation was really becoming acute. An impudent voice called from a garret window and advised him to kill the horses because they would never get out alive.

Mrs. Warden climbed down and turned into a still narrower street. She had made up her mind to see the worst. In a door stood a half grown girl. “Do poor people live in this house?”

The girl laughed and answered something then darted ahead of her through the door. Mrs. Warden did not catch the words, but she had the feeling that she said something insulting.

She entered the first room she came to. The air was so thick it made her dizzy, and she was glad to find a place to sit down by the stove. In the gesture with which the woman swept the clothing from the seat to the floor, and in the smile with which she greeted the elegant lady, there was something that offended her. She received likewise the impression that the woman had seen better days, although her manner was rather bold than gentle, and the smile certainly was not pleasant. The long train of the pale, grey street dress floated out over the dirty floor, and when she seated herself she could not help remembering a witticism of Heine’s: “You look like a bonbon that has been lying in the sun.”

The conversation began and progressed as is the custom with such conversations. If each of these women had kept to the usual tone of her conversation, neither would have understood a word of what the other said.

But since the poor know the rich so much better than the rich know the poor, they hit upon a form of speech, which experience had taught, and which is so far successful that the rich are at once put in mood to give. Better than this they can not know each other.

This speech the poor woman understood to perfection, and soon Mrs. Warden began to comprehend their miserable life. She had two children, one a boy of four or five who lay on the floor, and a baby.

Mrs. Warden looked attentively at the little colorless creatures and could not believe that the baby was thirteen months old. She had a baby at home of seven months who was twice as large.

“You ought to feed the baby something strengthening,” she said. Then she said something that floated through her head about prepared foods. At the words “something strengthening,” an unkempt head rose from the straw bed. It was the pale, hollow-eyed face of a man, with a cloth tied tightly about his forehead.

Mrs. Warden was afraid. “Your husband?” she inquired.

“Yes,” was the reply. He did not go back to work to-day because he had the toothache.

Mrs. Warden had had toothache. She knew how painful it was. She at once said something sympathetic. The man murmured something and fell back upon the straw. At this moment Mrs. Warden discovered another person whom she had not seen before—a young girl, who sat in the opposite comer by the stove. She stared at the elegant lady a moment, and then turned her back upon her. Mrs. Warden thought the young girl had some sort of work in her lap which she wished to conceal. Perhaps it was an old dress which she was trying to mend.

“Why does the boy lie there on the floor?” she inquired.

“He is lame,” answered the mother. Now followed a pitiful tale and a description of what had happened after the scarlet fever.

“You should buy him a wheeled chair,” Mrs. Warden was on the point of remarking, when it occurred to her it would be better for her to buy it. It is not wise to give poor people money, she remembered. But she would give the poor woman something, of course. She felt in her pocket for her purse. It was not there. She must have left it in the trap. Just as she was about to explain to the poor woman what had happened, a well dressed man opened the door and entered. His face was round and of a peculiar dry pallor.

“Mrs. Warden, I believe,” said the stranger. “I saw your trap up here in the street, and I suppose this is your pocket book which I am bringing you,”

It belonged to her. Upon the smooth ivory was E.W. engraved in black.

“Just as I turned the corner, I saw it in the hands of a girl—one of the worst in the quarter. I am Superintendent of the Poor for this district.”

Mrs. Warden thanked him. When she turned toward the occupants of the room again, she was terrified at the change that had taken place. The man was sitting up in bed and staring at the stranger. The woman’s face wore a hateful expression, and the lame child on the floor, propped up upon its arms, bristled like a wild animal. In all the eyes lay the same hate, the same warlike defiance.

“What a sight you are to-day, Martin!” declared the stranger. “I thought to myself that you were one of them last night. I was right you see. They’ll come after you this afternoon. You’ll get at least two months in prison.”

Then the deluge descended upon them. The man and woman shrieked at each other. The girl came from behind the stove and joined them. No one could distinguish words they were so busy with hands and eyes. It seemed as if the little stuffy room must explode with the pressure of unchained passions.

Mrs. Warden turned pale and arose. The stranger opened the door and they went out. In the corridor she heard the frightful laughter of the woman. And the woman who laughed like that was the same woman who had spoken so gently and pitifully of the sick children. Almost unwillingly she followed the man who had brought about this amazing change. At first she listened to him with a proud indifferent air. Gradually, however, her attitude changed, there was so much truth in his words. He was glad to meet a woman like Mrs. Warden who had heart for the poor who suffered. Although—usually—the best intentioned help fell in the wrong place. Good heartedness was something praiseworthy anyway.

“But does not this family need help? I received the impression that the woman had seen better days. Perhaps she could be helped out of this life.”

“I am sorry to tell you, Madam, that she has been a very bad—public character.”

Mrs. Warden trembled.

She had spoken with a woman like that!—about children.

“And the young girl?” she asked timidly.

“Did you not look at her Madam, and observe her condition?”

“No—you mean—?”

The Superintendent of the Poor murmured a few words. Mrs. Warden shuddered “—and that man? The man of the house!

“Yes, Madam. I am sorry to tell you this,” and he whispered again.

This was too much for the elegant lady. She became faint and dizzy. They were walking toward her trap, which was somewhat farther on than the place where she had left it.

The correct coachman had played a trick upon the street urchins. After he had sat for a time as straight and impassive as a taper of wax, he guided the fat horses, step by step, to a wider place in the street which could not have been noticed by any one except the trained eye of the correct coachman. A crowd of ragged gamins surrounded him and tried to frighten the fat horses, but the spirit of the correct coachman had become their spirit.

After he had sat there calmly for a while, he saw a little irregular space, made by two opposing stairways. Slowly he guided the horses here and made a turn, so sharp, so crisp, that it seemed as if the frail trap must be crushed between the masonry, but so accurately, that scarcely an inch intervened on either side. Now he was sitting again as straight as a taper of wax. But he was treasuring in his mind the number of the policeman, who had seen him make the turn, so he could have some one to refer to when he told the incident at home in the stable.

The Superintendent helped Mrs. Warden into the trap. She begged him to call the next day.

“Lawyer Abel,” she called to the coachman, and the carriage rolled on. The farther she went from the poor quarter, the smoother and swifter the carriage moved. When they entered the residence section, the fat horses lifted their heads gladly to breathe the good air, that came across the gardens. And the correct coachman, without any visible reason cracked his whip three times.

How could one expect that such degenerate people could ever rise to any height of intelligence! What condition must exist in their miserable conscience—how could they be expected to withstand the temptations of life! She herself knew what temptation was. Did she not have to fight against one all the time—against wealth! She shuddered to think what these beasts of men, and these wretched women would do, if wealth were suddenly given to them. Wealth was no slight test of character. Just day before yesterday her husband had led her into temptation. He insisted upon hiring an English groom. And she had resisted the temptation and replied:

“No—it is not right. I will have no groom upon the box. Perhaps we are rich enough, but we must guard against pride. I can get out and in without help, thank God.”

Mrs. Abel, who was clearing the table of the cloth and the copies of “The Bazaar,” was glad to see her.

“You are back so soon, Emilie? I have just told the seamstress to go. What you said to me took away all desire for the new dress,” declared kind, little Mrs. Abel.

“Every one must follow his own conscience,” answered Mrs. Warden gently.

Mrs. Abel looked up. She had not expected this answer.

“Let me tell you what I have experienced,” continued Mrs. Warden. She repeated what the Superintendent of the Poor had told her. When she had finished describing the condition of the young girl, Mrs. Abel became so ill, the maid had to bring her a glass of port wine. When the costly, cut crystal decanter and glasses were brought in, Mrs. Abel whispered to her.

“What—all in one bed? You can’t mean it!” exclaimed Mrs. Abel clasping her hands tragically.

“I would not have believed it an hour ago,” replied Mrs. Warden.

“How lucky you were to get safely out of the place, Emilie!”

“Yes—and when we consider,” continued Mrs. Warden, “that not even the heathen—who have nothing—not even an excuse to keep them from wrong—nor any conscience—”

“This surely speaks loudly for all who listen to the teachings of the church,” interrupted Mrs. Abel sympathetically.

“Yes—God knows that—who does it,” replied Mrs. Warden, looking straight ahead, a smile upon her lips. The two friends separated after embracing each other warmly.

Mrs. Warden took hold of the ivory handle and stepped into the trap, the long, grey, train floating behind her. She closed the trap door carefully, without making any noise.

“To Madame Labiche!” she directed. She looked toward Mrs. Abel and said: “Now, Heaven be praised, I can order that silk dress with a clear conscience.”

“Yes, indeed, you can!” was the answer.

Then she hastened into the house.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1961, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 62 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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