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The Red Room
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook, or read online
Pages (PDF): 317
Publication Date: This translation by Ellie Schleussner, 1913
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The Red Room tells the story of Arvid Falk, a young, idealistic civil servant, who, in a pursuit for the meaning of life, leaves his job to become a journalist and author. The Red Room refers to the dining room of a restaurant, in which he and a group of bohemians meet to discuss the hypocrisy and corruption which he discovers as he explores activities such as politics, publishing, theatre, philanthropy, and business.
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It was an evening in the beginning of May. The little garden on "Moses Height," on the south side of the town had not yet been thrown open to the public, and the flower-beds were still unturned. The snowdrops had worked through the accumulations of last year's dead leaves, and were on the point of closing their short career and making room for the crocuses which had found shelter under a barren pear tree; the elder was waiting for a southerly wind before bursting into bloom, but the tightly closed buds of the limes still offered cover for love-making to the chaffinches, busily employed in building their lichen-covered nests between trunk and branch. No human foot had trod the gravel paths since last winter's snow had melted, and the free and easy life of beasts and flowers was left undisturbed. The sparrows industriously collected all manner of rubbish, and stowed it away under the tiles of the Navigation School. They burdened themselves with scraps of the rocket-cases of last autumn's fireworks, and picked the straw covers off the young trees, transplanted from the nursery in the Deer Park only a year ago— nothing escaped them. They discovered shreds of muslin in the summer arbours; the splintered leg of a seat supplied them with tufts of hair left on the battlefield by dogs which had not been fighting there since Josephine's day. What a life it was!
The sun was standing over the Liljeholm, throwing sheaves of rays towards the east; they pierced the columns of smoke of Bergsund, flashed across the Riddarfjörd, climbed to the cross of the Riddarholms church, flung themselves on to the steep roof of the German church opposite, toyed with the bunting displayed by the boats on the pontoon bridge, sparkled in the windows of the chief custom-house, illuminated the woods of the Liding Island, and died away in a rosy cloud far, far away in the distance where the sea was. And from thence the wind came and travelled back by the same way, over Vaxholm, past the fortress, past the custom-house and along the Sikla Island, forcing its way in behind the Hästarholm, glancing at the summer resorts; then out again and on, on to the hospital Daniken; there it took fright and dashed away in a headlong career along the southern shore, noticed the smell of coal, tar and fish-oil, came dead against the city quay, rushed up to Moses Height, swept into the garden and buffeted against a wall.
The wall was opened by a maid-servant, who, at the very moment, was engaged in peeling off the paper pasted over the chinks of the double windows; a terrible smell of dripping, beer dregs, pine needles, and sawdust poured out and was carried away by the wind, while the maid stood breathing the fresh air through her nostrils. It plucked the cotton-wool, strewn with barberry berries, tinsel and rose leaves, from the space between the windows and danced it along the paths, joined by sparrows and chaffinches who saw here the solution of the greater part of their housing problem.
Meanwhile, the maid continued her work at the double windows; in a few minutes the door leading from the restaurant stood open, and a man, well but plainly dressed, stepped out into the garden. There was nothing striking about his face beyond a slight expression of care and worry which disappeared as soon as he had emerged from the stuffy room and caught sight of the wide horizon. He turned to the side from whence the wind came, opened his overcoat, and repeatedly drew a deep breath which seemed to relieve his heart and lungs. Then he began to stroll up and down the barrier which separated the garden from the cliffs in the direction of the sea.
Far below him lay the noisy, reawakening town; the steam cranes whirred in the harbour, the iron bars rattled in the iron weighing machine, the whistles of the lock-keepers shrilled, the steamers at the pontoon bridge smoked, the omnibuses rumbled over the uneven paving-stones; noise and uproar in the fish market, sails and flags on the water outside; the screams of the sea-gulls, bugle-calls from the dockyard, the turning out of the guard, the clattering of the wooden shoes of the working-men—all this produced an impression of life and bustle, which seemed to rouse the young man's energy; his face assumed an expression of defiance, cheerfulness and resolution, and as he leaned over the barrier and looked at the town below, he seemed to be watching an enemy; his nostrils expanded, his eyes flashed, and he raised his clenched fist as if he were challenging or threatening the poor town. The bells of St. Catherine's chimed seven; the splenetic treble of St. Mary's seconded; the basses of the great church, and the German church joined in, and soon the air was vibrating with the sound made by the seven bells of the town; then one after the other relapsed into silence, until far away in the distance only the last one of them could be heard singing its peaceful evensong; it had a higher note, a purer tone and a quicker tempo than the others—yes, it had! He listened and wondered whence the sound came, for it seemed to stir up vague memories in him. All of a sudden his face relaxed and his features expressed the misery of a forsaken child. And he was forsaken; his father and mother were lying in the churchyard of St. Clara's, from whence the bell could still be heard; and he was a child; he still believed in everything, truth and fairy tales alike.
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