What worse things might still happen? I resolved to keep calm, whatever might come; Heaven is my witness. Was it I who had forced myself on her from the first? No, no; never! I was but standing in her way one week-day as she passed. What a summer it was here in the north! Already the cockchafers had ceased to fly, and people were grown more and more difficult to understand, for all that the sun shone on them day and night. What were their blue eyes looking for, and what were they thinking behind their mysterious lashes? Well, after all, they were all equally indifferent to me. I took out my lines and went fishing for two days, four days; but at night I lay with open eyes in the hut . . .
“Edwarda, I have not seen you for four days.”
“Four days, yes — so it is. Oh, but I have been so busy. Come and look.”
She led me into the big room. The tables had been moved out, the chairs set round the walls, everything shifted; the chandelier, the stove, and the walls were fantastically decorated with heather and black stuff from the store. The piano stood in one corner.
These were her preparations for “the ball.”
“What do you think of it?” she asked.
“Wonderful,” I said.
We went out of the room.
I said: “Listen, Edwarda — have you quite forgotten me?”
“I can’t understand you,” she answered in surprise. “You saw all I had been doing — how could I come and see you at the same time?”
“No,” I agreed; “perhaps you couldn’t.” I was sick and exhausted with want of sleep, my speech grew meaningless and uncontrolled; I had been miserable the whole day. “No, of course you could not come. But I was going to say . . . in a word, something has changed; there is something wrong. Yes. But I cannot read in your face what it is. There is something very strange about your brow, Edwarda. Yes, I can see it now.”
“But I have not forgotten you,” she cried, blushing, and slipped her arm suddenly into mine.
“No? Well, perhaps you have not forgotten me. But if so, then I do not know what I am saying. One or the other.”
“You shall have an invitation to-morrow. You must dance with me. Oh, how we will dance!”
“Will you go a little way with me?” I asked.
“Now? No, I can’t,” she answered. “The Doctor will be here presently. He’s going to help me with something; there is a good deal still to be done. And you think the room will look all right as it is? But don’t you think . . .?”
A carriage stops outside.
“Is the Doctor driving to-day?” I ask.
“Yes, I sent a horse for him. I wanted to . . . ”
“Spare his bad foot, yes. Well, I must be off. Goddag, Goddag, Doctor. Pleased to see you again. Well and fit, I hope? Excuse my running off . . . ”
Once down the steps outside, I turned round. Edwarda was standing at the window watching me; she stood holding the curtains aside with both hands, to see; and her look was thoughtful. A foolish joy thrilled me; I hurried away from the house light-footed, with a darkness shading my eyes; my gun was light as a walking-stick in my hand. If I could win her, I should become a good man, I thought. I reached the woods and thought again: If I might win her, I would serve her more untiringly than any other; and even if she proved unworthy, if she took a fancy to demand impossibilities, I would yet do all that I could, and be glad that she was mine . . . I stopped, fell on my knees, and in humility and hope licked a few blades of grass by the roadside, and then got up again.
At last I began to feel almost sure. Her altered behavior of late — it was only her manner. She had stood looking after me when I went; stood at the window following with her eyes till I disappeared. What more could she do? My delight upset me altogether; I was hungry, and no longer felt it.
Æsop ran on ahead; a moment afterward he began to bark. I looked up; a woman with a white kerchief on her head was standing by the corner of the hut. It was Eva, the blacksmith’s daughter.
“Goddag, Eva!” I called to her.
She stood by the big grey stone, her face all red, sucking one finger.
“Is it you, Eva? What is the matter?” I asked.
“Æsop has bitten me,” she answered, with some awkwardness, and cast down her eyes.
I looked at her finger. She had bitten it herself. A thought flashed into my mind, and I asked her:
“Have you been waiting here long?”
“No, not very long,” she answered.
And without a word more from either of us, I took her by the hand and let her into the hut.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55