How I repented of it afterward — that business with the gun. It was a mad thing to do. It was not worth while any way, and it served no purpose, only kept me tied down to the hut for weeks. I remember distinctly even now all the discomfort and annoyance it caused; my washerwoman had to come every day and stay there nearly all the time, making purchases of food, looking after my housekeeping, for several weeks. Well, and then . . .
One day the Doctor began talking about Edwarda. I heard her name, heard what she had said and done, and it was no longer of any great importance to me; it was as if he spoke of some distant, irrelevant thing. So quickly one can forget, I thought to myself, and wondered at it.
“Well, and what do you think of Edwarda yourself, since you ask? I have not thought of her for weeks, to tell the truth. Wait a bit — it seems to me there must have been something between you and her, you were so often together. You acted host one day at a picnic on the island, and she was hostess. Don’t deny it, Doctor, there was something — a sort of understanding. No, for Heaven’s sake don’t answer me. You owe me no explanation, I am not asking to be told anything at all — let us talk of something else if you like. How long before I can get about again?”
I sat there thinking of what I had said. Why was I inwardly afraid lest the Doctor should speak out? What was Edwarda to me? I had forgotten her.
And later the talk turned on her again, and I interrupted him once more — God knows what it was I dreaded to hear.
“What do you break off like that for?” he asked. “Is it that you can’t bear to hear me speak her name?”
“Tell me,” I said, “what is your honest opinion of Edwarda? I should be interested to know.”
He looked at me suspiciously.
“My honest opinion?”
“Perhaps you may have something new to tell me to-day. Perhaps you have proposed, and been accepted. May I congratulate you? No? Ah, the devil trust you — haha!”
“So that was what you were afraid of?”
“Afraid of? My dear Doctor!”
“No,” he said, “I have not proposed and been accepted. But you have, perhaps. There’s no proposing to Edwarda — she will take whomever she has a fancy for. Did you take her for a peasant girl? You have met her, and seen for yourself. She is a child that’s had too little whipping in her time, and a woman of many moods. Cold? No fear of that! Warm? Ice, I say. What is she, then? A slip of a girl, sixteen or seventeen — exactly. But try to make an impression on that slip of a girl, and she will laugh you to scorn for your trouble. Even her father can do nothing with her; she obeys him outwardly, but, in point of fact, ’tis she herself that rules. She says you have eyes like an animal . . . ”
“You’re wrong there — it was someone else said I had eyes like an animal.”
“Someone else? Who?”
“I don’t know. One of her girl friends. No, it was not Edwarda said that. Wait a bit though; perhaps, after all, it was Edwarda . . . ”
“When you look at her, it makes her feel so and so, she says. But do you think that brings you a hairbreadth nearer? Hardly. Look at her, use your eyes as much as you please — but as soon as she marks what you are doing, she will say to herself —‘Ho, here’s this man looking at me with his eyes, and thinks to win me that way.’ And with a single glance, or a word, she’ll have you ten leagues away. Do you think I don’t know her? How old do you reckon her to be?” “She was born in ‘38, she said.”
“A lie. I looked it up, out of curiosity. She’s twenty, though she might well pass for fifteen. She is not happy; there’s a deal of conflict in that little head of hers. When she stands looking out at the hills and the sea, and her mouth gives that little twitch, that little spasm of pain, then she is suffering; but she is too proud, too obstinate for tears. She is more than a bit romantic; a powerful imagination; she is waiting for a prince. What was that about a certain five-daler note you were supposed to have given someone?”
“A jest. It was nothing . . . ”
“It was something all the same. She did something of the same sort with me once. It’s a year ago now. We were on board the mail-packet while it was lying here in the harbour. It was raining, and very cold. A woman with a child in her arms was sitting on deck, shivering. Edwarda asked her: ‘Don’t you feel cold?’ Yes, she did. ‘And the little one too?’ Yes, the little one was cold as well. ‘Why don’t you go into the cabin?’ asks Edwarda. ‘I’ve only a steerage ticket,’ says the woman. Edwarda looks at me. ‘The woman here has only a steerage ticket,’ she says. ‘Well, and what then?’ I say to myself. But I understand her look. I’m not a rich man; what I have I’ve worked to earn, and I think twice before I spend it; so I move away. If Edwarda wants someone to pay for the woman, let her do it herself; she and her father can better afford it than I. And sure enough, Edwarda paid. She’s splendid in that way — no one can say she hasn’t a heart. But as true as I’m sitting here she expected me to pay for a saloon passage for the woman and child; I could see it in her eyes. And what then, do you think? The woman gets up and thanks her for her kindness. ‘Don’t thank me — it was that gentleman there,’ says Edwarda, pointing to me as calmly as could be. What do you think of that? The woman thanks me too; and what can I say? Simply had to leave it as it was. That’s just one thing about her. But I could tell you many more. And as for the five daler to the boatman — she gave him the money herself. If you had done it, she would have flung her arms round you and kissed you on the spot. You should have been the lordly cavalier that paid an extravagant sum for a worn-out shoe — that would have suited her ideas; she expected it. And as you didn’t — she did it herself in your name. That’s her way — reckless and calculating at the same time.”
“Is there no one, then, that can win her?” I asked.
“Severity’s what she wants,” said the Doctor, evading the question. “There’s something wrong about it all; she has too free a hand; she can do as she pleases, and have her own way all the time. People take notice of her; no one ever disregards her; there is always something at hand for her to work on with effect. Have you noticed the way I treat her myself? Like a schoolgirl, a child; I order her about, criticise her way of speaking, watch her carefully, and show her up now and again. Do you think she doesn’t understand it? Oh, she’s stiff and proud, it hurts her every time; but then again she is too proud to show it. But that’s the way she should be handled. When you came up here I had been at her for a year like that, and it was beginning to tell; she cried with pain and vexation; she was growing more reasonable. Then you came along and upset it all. That’s the way it goes — one lets go of her and another takes her up again. After you, there’ll be a third, I suppose — you never know.”
“Oho,” thought I to myself, “the Doctor has something to revenge.” And I said:
“Doctor, what made you trouble to tell me all that long story? What was it for? Am I to help you with her upbringing?”
“And then she’s fiery as a volcano,” he went on, never heeding my question. “You asked if no one could ever win her? I don’t see why not. She is waiting for her prince, and he hasn’t come yet. Again and again she thinks she’s found him, and finds out she’s wrong; she thought you were the one, especially because you had eyes like an animal. Haha! I say, though, Herr Lieutenant, you ought at least to have brought your uniform with you. It would have been useful now. Why shouldn’t she be won? I have seen her wringing her hands with longing for someone to come and take her, carry her away, rule over her, body and soul. Yes . . . but he must come from somewhere — turn up suddenly one day, and be something out of the ordinary. I have an idea that Herr Mack is out on an expedition; there’s something behind this journey of his. He went off like that once before, and brought a man back with him.”
“Brought a man back with him?”
“Oh, but he was no good,” said the Doctor, with a wry laugh. “He was a man about my own age, and lame, too, like myself. He wouldn’t do for the prince.”
“And he went away again? Where did he go?” I asked, looking fixedly at him.
“Where? Went away? Oh, I don’t know,” he answered confusedly. “Well, well, we’ve been talking too long about this already. That foot of yours — oh, you can begin to walk in a week’s time. Au revoir.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55