Tales From Two Hemispheres
The Man Who Lost His Name
ON the second day of June, 186--, a young Norseman, Halfdan Bjerk by name,
landed on the pier at Castle Garden. He passed through the straight and narrow
gate where he was asked his name, birthplace, and how much money he had,--
at which he grew very much frightened.
"And your destination?"--demanded the gruff-looking functionary at the desk.
"America," said the youth, and touched his hat politely.
"Do you think I have time for joking?" roared the official, with an oath.
The Norseman ran his hand through his hair, smiled his timidly conciliatory smile,
and tried his best to look brave; but his hand trembled and his heart thumped
away at an alarmingly quickened tempo.
"Put him down for Nebraska!" cried a stout red-cheeked individual (inwrapped in
the mingled fumes of tobacco and whisky) whose function it was to open and
shut the gate.
"There aint many as go to Nebraska."
"All right, Nebraska."
The gate swung open and the pressure from behind urged the timid traveler on,
while an extra push from the gate-keeper sent him flying in the direction of a
board fence, where he sat down and tried to realize that he was now in the land
Halfdan Bjerk was a tall, slender-limbed youth of very delicate frame; he had a
pair of wonderfully candid, unreflecting blue eyes, a smooth, clear, beardless
face, and soft, wavy light hair, which was pushed back from his forehead without
parting. His mouth and chin were well cut, but their lines were, perhaps, rather
weak for a man. When in repose, the ensemble of his features was exceedingly
pleasing and somehow reminded one of Correggio's St. John. He had left his
native land because he was an ardent republican and was abstractly convinced
that man, generically and individually, lives more happily in a republic than in a
monarchy. He had anticipated with keen pleasure the large, freely breathing life
he was to lead in a land where every man was his neighbor's brother, where no
senseless traditions kept a jealous watch over obsolete systems and shrines,
and no chilling prejudice blighted the spontaneous blossoming of the soul.
Halfdan was an only child. His father, a poor government official, had died during
his infancy, and his mother had given music lessons, and kept boarders, in order
to gain the means to give her son what is called a learned education. In the Latin
school Halfdan had enjoyed the reputation of being a bright youth, and at the age
of eighteen, he had entered the university under the most promising auspices.
He could make very fair verses, and play all imaginable instruments with equal
ease, which made him a favorite in society. Moreover, he possessed that very
old-fashioned accomplishment of cutting silhouettes; and what was more, he
could draw the most charmingly fantastic arabesques for embroidery patterns,
and he even dabbled in portrait and landscape painting. Whatever he turned his
hand to, he did well, in fact, astonishingly well for a dilettante, and yet not well
enough to claim the title of an artist. Nor did it ever occur to him to make such a
claim. As one of his fellow-students remarked in a fit of jealousy, "Once when