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The Baroque
such stuff as dreams are made on

Sophie heard nothing more from Alberto for several days, but she glanced frequently into the garden hoping to catch sight of Hermes. She told her mother that the dog had found its own way home and that she had been invited in by its owner, a former physics teacher. He had told Sophie about the solar system and the new science that developed in the sixteenth century.

She told Joanna more. She told her all about her visit to Alberto, the postcard in the mailbox, and the ten-crown piece she had found on the way home. She kept the dream about Hilde and the gold crucifix to herself.

On Tuesday, May 29, Sophie was standing in the kitchen doing the dishes. Her mother had gone into the living room to watch the TV news. When the opening theme faded out she heard from the kitchen that a major in the Norwegian UN Battalion had been killed by a shell.

Sophie threw the dish towel on the table and rushed into the living room. She was just in time to catch a glimpse of the UN officer's face for a few seconds before they switched to the next item.

"Oh no!" she cried.

Her mother turned to her.

"Yes, war is a terrible thing!"

Sophie burst into tears.

"But Sophie, it's not that bad!"

 "Did they say his name?"

"Yes, but I don't remember it. He was from Grimstad, I think."

"Isn't that the same as Lillesand?"

"No, you're being silly."

"But if you come from Grimstad, you might go to school in Lillesand."

She had stopped crying, but now it was her mother's turn to react. She got out of her chair and switched off the TV.

"What's going on, Sophie?"


"Yes, there is. You have a boyfriend, and I'm beginning to think he's much older than you. Answer me now: Do you know a man in Lebanon?"

"No, not exactly..."

"Have you met the son of someone in Lebanon?"

"No, I haven't. I haven't even met his daughter."

"Whose daughter?"

"It's none of your business."

"I think it is."

"Maybe I should start asking some questions instead. Why is Dad never home? Is it because you haven't got the guts to get a divorce? Maybe you've got a boyfriend you don't want Dad and me to know about and so on and so on. I've got plenty of questions of my own."

"I think we need to talk."

"That may be. But right now I'm so worn out I'm going to bed. And I'm getting my period."

Sophie ran up to her room; she felt like crying.

As soon as she was through in the bathroom and had curled up under the covers, her mother came into the bedroom.

Sophie pretended to be asleep even though she knew her mother wouldn't believe it. She knew her mother knew that Sophie knew her mother wouldn't believe it either. Nevertheless her mother pretended to believe that Sophie was asleep. She sat on the edge of Sophie's bed and stroked her hair.

Sophie was thinking how complicated it was to live two lives at the same time. She began to look forward to the end of the philosophy course. Maybe it would be over by her birthday--or at least by Midsummer Eve, when Hilde's father would be home from Lebanon ...

"I want to have a birthday party," she said suddenly.

"That sounds great. Who will you invite?"

"Lots of people ... Can I?"

"Of course. We have a big garden. Hopefully the good weather will continue."

"Most of all I'd like to have it on Midsummer Eve."

"All right, that's what we'll do."

"It's a very important day," Sophie said, thinking not only of her birthday.

"It is, indeed."

"I feel I've grown up a lot lately."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"I don't know."

Sophie had been talking with her head almost buried in her pillow. Now her mother said, "Sophie--you must tell me why you seem so out of balance at the moment."

"Weren't you like this when you were fifteen?"

"Probably. But you know what I am talking about."

Sophie suddenly turned to face her mother. "The dog's name is Hermes," she said.

"It is?"

"It belongs to a man called Alberto."

"I see."

"He lives down in the Old Town."

"You went all that way with the dog?"

"There's nothing dangerous about that."

"You said that the dog had often been here."

"Did I say that?"

She had to think now. She wanted to tell as much as possible, but she couldn't tell everything.

"You're hardly ever at home," she ventured.

"No, I'm much too busy."

"Alberto and Hermes have been here lots of times."

"What for? Were they in the house as well?"

"Can't you at least ask one question at a time? They haven't been in the house. But they often go for walks in the woods. Is that so mysterious?"

"No, not in the least."

"They walk past our gate like everyone else when they go for a walk. One day when I got home from school I talked to the dog. That's how I got to know Alberto."

"What about the white rabbit and all that stuff?"

"That was something Alberto said. He is a real philosopher, you see. He has told me about all the philosophers."

"Just like that, over the hedge?"

"He has also written letters to me, lots of times, actually. Sometimes he has sent them by mail and other times he has just dropped them in the mailbox on his way out for a walk."

"So that was the 'love letter' we talked about."

"Except that it wasn't a love letter."

"And he only wrote about philosophy?"

"Yes, can you imagine! And I've learned more from him than I have learned in eight years of school. For instance, have you ever heard of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600? Or of Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation?"

"No, there's a lot I don't know."

"I bet you don't even know why the earth orbits the sun--and it's your own planet!"

"About how old is this man?"

"I have no idea--about fifty, probably."

"But what is his connection with Lebanon?"

This was a tough one. Sophie thought hard. She chose the most likely story.

"Alberto has a brother who's a major in the UN Battalion. And he's from Lillesand. Maybe he's the major who once lived in the major's cabin."

"Alberto's a funny kind of name, isn't it?"


"It sounds Italian."

"Well, nearly everything that's important comes either from Greece or from Italy."

"But he speaks Norwegian?"

"Oh yes, fluently."

"You know what, Sophie--I think you should inviteAlberto home one day. I have never met a real philosopher."

"We'll see."

"Maybe we could invite him to your birthday party? It could be such fun to mix the generations. Then maybe I could come too. At least, I could help with the serving. Wouldn't that be a good idea?"

"If he will. At any rate, he's more interesting to talk to than the boys in my class. It's just that..."


"They'd probably flip and think Alberto was my new boyfriend."

"Then you just tell them he isn't."

"Well, we'll have to see."

"Yes, we shall. And Sophie--it is true that things haven't always been easy between Dad and me. But there was never anyone else ..."

"I have to sleep now. I've got such awful cramps."

"Do you want an aspirin?" /'Yes, please."

When her mother returned with the pill and a glass of water Sophie had fallen asleep.

May 31 was a Thursday. Sophie agonized through the afternoon classes at school. She was doing better in some subjects since she started on the philosophy course. Usually her grades were good in most subjects, but lately they were even better, except in math.

In the last class they got an essay handed back. Sophie had written on "Man and Technology." She had written reams on the Renaissance and the scientific breakthrough, the new view of nature and Francis Bacon, who had said that knowledge was power. She had been very careful to point out that the empirical method came before the technological discoveries. Then she had written about some of the things she could think of about technology that were not so good for society. She ended with a paragraph on the fact that everything people do can be used for good or evil. Good and evil are like a white and a black thread that make up a single strand.

Sometimes they are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to untangle them.

As the teacher gave out the exercise books he looked down at Sophie and winked.

She got an A and the comment: "Where do you get all this from?" As he stood there, she took out a pen and wrote with block letters in the margin of her exercise book: I'M STUDYING PHILOSOPHY.

As she was closing the exercise book again, something fell out of it. It was a postcard from Lebanon:

Dear Hilde, When you read this we shall already have spoken together by phone about the tragic death down here. Sometimes I ask myself if war could have been avoided if people had been a bit better at thinking. Perhaps the best remedy against violence would be a short course in philosophy. What about "the UN's little philosophy book"-- which all new citizens of the world could be given a copy of in their own language. I'll propose the idea to the UN General Secretary.

You said on the phone that you were getting better at looking after your things. I'm glad, because you're the untidiest creature I've ever met. Then you said the only thing you'd lost since we last spoke was ten crowns. I'll do what I can to help you find it. Although I am far away, I have a helping hand back home. (If I find the money I'll put it in with your birthday present.) Love, Dad, who feels as if he's already started the long trip home.

Sophie had just managed to finish reading the card when the last bell rang. Once again her thoughts were in turmoil.

Joanna was waiting in the playground. On the way home Sophie opened her schoolbag and showed Joanna the latest card.

"When is it postmarked?" asked Joanna.

"Probably June 15 ..."

"No, look ... 5/30/90, it says."

 "That was yesterday ... the day after the death of the major in Lebanon."

"I doubt if a postcard from Lebanon can get to Norway in one day," said Joanna.

"Especially not considering the rather unusual address: Hilde Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, Fu-rulia Junior High School..."

"Do you think it could have come by mail? And the teacher just popped it in your exercise book?"

"No idea. I don't know whether I dare ask either."

No more was said about the postcard.

"I'm going to have a garden party on Midsummer Eve," said Sophie.

"With boys?"

Sophie shrugged her shoulders. "We don't have to invite the worst idiots."

"But you are going to invite Jeremy?"

"If you want. By the way, I might invite Alberto Knox."

"You must be crazy!"

"I know."

That was as far as the conversation got before their ways parted at the supermarket.

The first thing Sophie did when she got home was to see if Hermes was in the garden. Sure enough, there he was, sniffing around the apple trees.


The dog stood motionless for a second. Sophie knew exactly what was going on in that second: the dog heard her call, recognized her voice, and decided to see if she was there. Then, discovering her, he began to run toward her. Finally all four legs came pattering like drumsticks.

That was actually quite a lot in the space of one second.

He dashed up to her, wagged his tail wildly, and jumped up to lick her face.

"Hermes, clever boy! Down, down. No, stop slobbering all over me. Heel, boy! That's it!"

Sophie let herself into the house. Sherekan came jumping out from the bushes. He was rather wary of the stranger. Sophie put his cat food out, poured birdseed in the budgerigars' cup, got out a salad leaf for the tortoise, and wrote a note to her mother.

She wrote that she was going to take Hermes home and would be back by seven.

They set off through the town. Sophie had remembered to take some money with her this time. She wondered whether she ought to take the bus with Hermes, but decided she had better wait and ask Alberto about it.

While she walked on and on behind Hermes she thought about what an animal really is.

What was the difference between a dog and a person? She recalled Aristotle's words. He said that people and animals are both natural living creatures with a lot of characteristics in common. But there was one distinct difference between people and animals, and that was hu-man reasoning.

How could he have been so sure?

Democritus, on the other hand, thought people and animals were really rather alike because both were made up of atoms. And he didn't think that either people or animals had immortal souls. According to him, souls were built up of atoms that are spread to the winds when people die. He was the one who thought a person's soul was inseparably bound to the brain.

But how could the soul be made of atoms? The soul wasn't anything you could touch like the rest of the body. It was something "spiritual."

They were already beyond Main Square and were approaching the Old Town. When they got to the sidewalk where Sophie had found the ten crowns, she looked automatically down at the asphalt. And there, on exactly the same spot where she had bent down and picked up the money, lay a postcard with the picture side up. The picture showed a garden with palms and orange trees.

Sophie bent down and picked up the card. Hermes started growling as if he didn't like Sophie touching it.

The card read:

Dear Hilde, Life consists of a long chain of coincidences. It is not altogether unlikely that the ten crowns you lost turned up right here. Maybe it was found on the square in Lillesand by an old lady who was waiting for the bus to Kristiansand. From Kris-tiansand she took the train to visit her grandchildren, and many, many hours later she lost the coin here on New Square. It is then perfectly possible that the very same coin was picked up later on that day by a girl who really needed it to get home by bus. You never can tell, Hilde, but if it is truly so, then one must certainly ask whether or not God's providence is behind everything. Love, Dad, w............
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