Pan, by Knut Hamsun

XXVI

All the evening I had a bitter feeling that I should not have come to that party. My coming was hardly noticed at all, they were all so occupied with one another; Edwarda hardly bade me welcome. I began drinking hard because I knew I was unwelcome; and yet I did not go away.

Herr Mack smiled a great deal and put on his most amiable expression; he was in evening dress, and looked well. He was now here, now there, mingling with his half a hundred guests, dancing one dance now and then, joking and laughing. There were secrets lurking in his eyes.

A whirl of music and voices sounded through the house. Five of the rooms were occupied by the guests, besides the big room where they were dancing. Supper was over when I arrived. Busy maids were running to and fro with glasses and wines, brightly polished coffee-pots, cigars and pipes, cakes and fruit. There was no sparing of anything. The chandeliers in the rooms were filled with extra-thick candles that had been made for the occasion; the new oil lamps were lit as well. Eva was helping in the kitchen; I caught a glimpse of her. To think that Eva should be here too!

The Baron received a great deal of attention, though he was quiet and modest and did not put himself forward. He, too, was in evening dress; the tails of his coat were miserably crushed from the packing. He talked a good deal with Edwarda, followed her with his eyes, drank with her, and called her Fröken, as he did the daughters of the Dean and of the district surgeon. I felt the same dislike of him as before, and could hardly look at him without turning my eyes away with a wretched silly grimace. When he spoke to me, I answered shortly and pressed my lips together after.

I happen to remember one detail of that evening. I stood talking to a young lady, a fair-haired girl; and I said something or told some story that made her laugh. It can hardly have been anything remarkable, but perhaps, in my excited state, I told it more amusingly than I remember now — at any rate, I have forgotten it. But when I turned round, there was Edwarda standing behind me. She gave me a glance of recognition.

Afterwards I noticed that she drew the fair girl aside to find out what I had said. I cannot say how that look of Edwarda’s cheered me, after I had been going about from room to room like a sort of outcast all the evening; I felt better at once, and spoke to several people, and was entertaining. As far as I am aware, I did nothing awkward or wrong . . .

I was standing outside on the steps. Eva came carrying some things from one of the rooms. She saw me, came out, and touched my hands swiftly with one of hers; then she smiled and went in again. Neither of us had spoken. When I turned to go in after her, there was Edwarda in the passage, watching me. She also said nothing. I went into the room.

“Fancy — Lieutenant Glahn amuses himself having meetings with the servants on the steps!” said Edwarda suddenly, out loud. She was standing in the doorway. Several heard what she said. She laughed, as if speaking in jest, but her face was very pale.

I made no answer to this; I only murmured:

“It was accidental; she just came out, and we met in the passage . . . ”

Some time passed — an hour, perhaps. A glass was upset over a lady’s dress. As soon as Edwarda saw it, she cried:

“What has happened? That was Glahn, of course.”

I had not done it: I was standing at the other end of the room when it happened. After that I drank pretty hard again, and kept near the door, to be out of the way of the dancers.

The Baron still had the ladies constantly round him. He regretted that his collections were packed away, so that he could not show them — that bunch of weed from the White Sea, the clay from Korholmerne, highly interesting stone formations from the bottom of the sea. The ladies peeped curiously at his shirt studs, the five-pointed coronets — they meant that he was a Baron, of course. All this time the Doctor created no sensation; even his witty oath, Död og Pinsel, no longer had any effect. But when Edwarda was speaking, he was always on the spot, correcting her language, embarrassing her with little shades of meaning, keeping her down with calm superiority.

She said:

“ . . . until I go over the valley of death.”

And the Doctor asked:

“Over what?”

“The valley of death. Isn’t that what it’s called — the valley of death?”

“I have heard of the river of death. I presume that is what you mean.”

Later on, she talked of having something guarded like a . . .

“Dragon,” put in the Doctor.

“Yes, like a dragon,” she answered.

But the Doctor said:

“You can thank me for saving you there. I am sure you were going to say Argus.”

The Baron raised his eyebrows and looked at the Doctor in surprise through his thick glasses, as if he had never heard such ridiculous things. But the Doctor paid no heed. What did he care for the Baron?

I still lurked by the door. The dancers swept through the room. I managed to start a conversation with the governess from the vicarage. We talked about the war, the state of affairs in the Crimea, the happenings in France, Napoleon as Emperor, his protection of the Turks; the young lady had read the papers that summer, and could tell me the news. At last we sat down on a sofa and went on talking.

Edwarda, passing, stopped in front of us. Suddenly she said:

“You must forgive me, Lieutenant, for surprising you outside like that. I will never do it again.”

And she laughed again, and did not look at me.

“Edwarda,” I said, “do stop.”

She had spoken very formally, which meant no good, and her look was malicious. I thought of the Doctor, and shrugged my shoulders carelessly, as he would have done. She said:

“But why don’t you go out in the kitchen? Eva is there. I think you ought to stay there.”

And there was hate in her eyes.

I had not been to parties often; certainly I had never before heard such a tone at any of the few I had been to. I said:

“Aren’t you afraid of being misunderstood, Edwarda?”

“Oh, but how? Possibly, of course, but how?”

“You sometimes speak without thinking. Just now, for instance, it seemed to me as if you were actually telling me to go to the kitchen and stay there; and that, of course, must be a misunderstanding — I know quite well that you did not intend to be so rude.”

She walked a few paces away from us. I could see by her manner that she was thinking all the time of what I had said. She turned round, came back, and said breathlessly:

“It was no misunderstanding, Lieutenant; you heard correctly — I did tell you to go to the kitchen.”

“Oh, Edwarda!” broke out the terrified governess.

And I began talking again about the war and the state of affairs in the Crimea; but my thoughts were far distant. I was no longer intoxicated, only hopelessly confused. The earth seemed fading from under my feet, and I lost my composure, as at so many unfortunate times before. I got up from the sofa and made as if to go out. The Doctor stopped me.

“I have just been hearing your praises,” he said.

“Praises! From whom?”

“From Edwarda. She is still standing away off there in the corner, looking at you with glowing eyes. I shall never forget it; her eyes were absolutely in love, and she said out loud that she admired you.”

“Good,” I said with a laugh. Alas, there was not a clear thought in my head.

I went up to the Baron, bent over him as if to whisper something — and when I was close enough, I spat in his ear. He sprang up and stared idiotically at me. Afterwards I saw him telling Edwarda what had occurred; I saw how disgusted she was. She thought, perhaps, of her shoe that I had thrown into the water, of the cups and glasses I had so unfortunately managed to break, and of all the other breaches of good taste I had committed; doubtless all those things flashed into her mind again. I was ashamed. It was all over with me; whichever way I turned, I met frightened and astonished looks. And I stole away from Sirilund, without a word of leave-taking or of thanks.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38