My foot continued to trouble me a good deal. It often itched at nights, and kept me awake; a sudden spasm would shoot through it, and in changeable weather it was full of gout. It was like that for many days. But it did not make me lame, after all.
The days went on.
Herr Mack had returned, and I knew it soon enough. He took my boat away from me, and left me in difficulties, for it was still the closed season, and there was nothing I could shoot. But why did he take the boat away from me like that? Two of Herr Mack’s folk from the quay had rowed out with a stranger in the morning.
I met the Doctor.
“They have taken my boat away,” I said.
“There’s a new man come,” he said. “They have to row him out every day and back in the evening. He’s investigating the sea-floor.”
The newcomer was a Finn. Herr Mack had met him accidentally on board the steamer; he had come from Spitzbergen with some collections of scales and small sea-creatures; they called him Baron. He had been given a big room and another smaller one in Herr Mack’s house. He caused quite a stir in the place.
“I am in difficulties about meat; I might ask Edwarda for something for this evening,” I thought. I walked down to Sirilund. I noticed at once that Edwarda was wearing a new dress. She seemed to have grown; her dress was much longer now.
“Excuse my not getting up,” she said, quite shortly, and offered her hand.
“My daughter is not very well, I’m sorry to say,” said Herr Mack. “A chill — she has not been taking care of herself . . . You came to ask about your boat, I suppose? I shall have to lend you another one instead. It’s not a new one, but as long as you bail it out every now and then . . . We’ve a scientist come to stay with us, you see, and with a man like that, of course, you understand . . . He has no time to spare; works all day and comes home in the evening. Don’t go now till he comes; you will be interested in meeting him. Here’s his card, with coronet and all; he’s a Baron. A very nice man. I met him quite by accident.”
Aha, I thought, so they don’t ask you to supper. Well, thank Heaven, I only came down by way of a trial; I can go home again — I’ve still some fish left in the hut. Enough for a meal, I daresay. Basta!
The Baron came in. A little man, about forty, with a long, narrow face, prominent cheek bones, and a thinnish black beard. His glance was sharp and penetrating, but he wore strong glasses. His shirt studs, too, were ornamented with a little five-pointed coronet, like the one on his card. He stooped a little, and his thin hands were blue-veined, but the nails were like yellow metal.
“Delighted, Herr Lieutenant. Have you been here long, may I ask?”
“A few months.”
A pleasant man. Herr Mack asked him to tell us about his scales and sea-things, and he did so willingly — told us what kind of clay there was round Korholmerne — went into his room and fetched a sample of weed from the White Sea. He was constantly lifting up his right forefinger and shifting his thick gold spectacles back and forward on his nose. Herr Mack was most interested. An hour passed.
The Baron spoke of my accident — that unfortunate shot. Was I well again now? Pleased to hear it.
Now who had told him of that? I asked:
“And how did you hear of that, Baron?”
“Oh, who was it, now? Fröken Mack, I think. Was it not you, Fröken Mack?”
Edwarda flushed hotly.
I had come so poor! for days past, a dark misery had weighed me down. But at the stranger’s last words a joy fluttered through me on the instant. I did not look at Edwarda, but in my mind I thanked her: Thanks, for having spoken of me, named my name with your tongue, though it be all valueless to you. Godnat.
I took my leave. Edwarda still kept her seat, excusing herself, for politeness’ sake, by saying she was unwell. Indifferently she gave me her hand.
And Herr Mack stood chatting eagerly with the Baron. He was talking of his grandfather, Consul Mack:
“I don’t know if I told you before, Baron; this diamond here was a gift from King Carl Johan, who pinned it to my grandfather’s breast with his own hands.”
I went out to the front steps; no one saw me to the door. I glanced in passing through the windows of the sitting-room; and there stood Edwarda, tall, upright, holding the curtains apart with both hands, looking out. I did not bow to her: I forgot everything; a swirl of confusion overwhelmed me and drew me hurriedly away.
“Halt! Stop a moment!” I said to myself, when I reached the woods. God in Heaven, but there must be an end of this! I felt all hot within on a sudden, and I groaned. Alas, I had no longer any pride in my heart; I had enjoyed Edwarda’s favour for a week, at the outside, but that was over long since, and I had not ordered my ways accordingly. From now on, my heart should cry to her: Dust, air, earth on my way; God in Heaven, yes . . .
I reached the hut, found my fish, and had a meal.
Here are you burning out your life for the sake of a worthless schoolgirl, and your nights are full of desolate dreams. And a hot wind stands still about your head, a close, foul wind of last year’s breath. Yet the sky is quivering with the most wonderful blue, and the hills are calling. Come, Æsop, Hei . . .
A week passed. I hired the blacksmith’s boat and fished for my meals. Edwarda and the Baron were always together in the evening when he came home from his sea trips. I saw them once at the mill. One evening they both came by my hut; I drew away from the window and barred the door. It made no impression on me whatever to see them together; I shrugged my shoulders. Another evening I met them on the road, and exchanged greetings; I left it to the Baron to notice me first, and merely put up two fingers to my cap, to be discourteous. I walked slowly past them, and looked carelessly at them as I did so.
Another day passed.
How many long days had not passed already? I was downcast, dispirited; my heart pondered idly over things; even the kindly grey stone by the hut seemed to wear an expression of sorrow and despair when I went by. There was rain in the air; the heat seemed gasping before me wherever I went, and I felt the gout in my left foot; I had seen one of Herr Mack’s horses shivering in its harness in the morning; all these things were significant to me as signs of the weather. Best to furnish the house well with food while the weather holds, I thought.
I tied up Æsop, took my fishing tackle and my gun, and went down to the quay. I was quite unusually troubled in mind.
“When will the mail-packet be in?” I asked a fisherman there.
“The mail-packet? In three weeks’ time,” he answered.
“I am expecting my uniform,” I said.
Then I met one of Herr Mack’s assistants from the store. I shook hands with him, and said:
“Tell me, do you never play whist now at Sirilund?”
“Yes, often,” he answered.
“I have not been there lately,” I said.
I rowed out to my fishing grounds. The weather was mild, but oppressive. The gnats gathered in swarms, and I had to smoke all the time to keep them off. The haddock were biting; I fished with two hooks and made a good haul. On the way back I shot a brace of guillemots.
When I came in to the quay the blacksmith was there at work. A thought occurred to me; I asked him:
“Going up my way?”
“No,” said he, “Herr Mack’s given me a bit of work to do here that’ll keep me till midnight.”
I nodded, and thought to myself that it was well.
I took my fish and went off, going round by way of the blacksmith’s house. Eva was there alone.
“I have been longing for you with all my heart,” I told her. And I was moved at the sight of her. She could hardly look me in the face for wonder. “I love your youth and your good eyes,” I said. “Punish me to-day because I have thought more of another than of you. I tell you, I have come here only to see you; you make me happy, I am fond of you. Did you hear me calling for you last night?”
“No,” she answered, frightened.
“I called Edwarda, but it was you I meant. I woke up and heard myself. Yes, it was you I meant; it was only a mistake; I said ‘Edwarda,’ but it was only by accident. By Heaven, you are my dearest, Eva! Your lips are so red to-day. Your feet are prettier than Edwarda’s — just look yourself and see.”
Joy such as I had never seen in her lit up her face; she made as if to turn away, but hesitated, and put one arm round my neck.
We talked together, sitting all the time on a long bench, talking to each other of many things. I said:
“Would you believe it? Edwarda has not learnt to speak properly yet; she talks like a child, and says ‘more happier.’ I heard her myself. Would you say she had a lovely forehead? I do not think so. She has a devilish forehead. And she does not wash her hands.”
“But we weren’t going to talk of her any more.”
“Quite right. I forgot.”
A little pause. I was thinking of something, and fell silent.
“Why are your eyes wet?” asked Eva.
“She has a lovely forehead, though,” I said, “and her hands are always clean. It was only an accident that they were dirty once. I did not mean to say what I did.” But then I went on angrily, with clenched teeth: “I sit thinking of you all the time, Eva; but it occurs to me that perhaps you have not heard what I am going to tell you now. The first time Edwarda saw Æsop, she said: ‘Æsop — that was the name of a wise man — a Phrygian, he was.’ Now wasn’t that simply silly? She had read it in a book the same day, I’m sure of it.”
“Yes,” says Eva; “but what of it?”
“And as far as I remember, she said, too, that Æsop had Xanthus for his teacher. Hahaha!”
“Well, what the devil is the sense of telling a crowd of people that Æsop had Xanthus for his teacher? I ask you. Oh, you are not in the mood to-day, Eva, or you would laugh till your sides ached at that.”
“Yes, I think it is funny,” said Eva, and began laughing forcedly and in wonder. “But I don’t understand it as well as you do.”
I sit silent and thoughtful, silent and thoughtful.
“Do you like best to sit still and not talk?” asked Eva softly. Goodness shone in her eyes; she passed her hand over my hair,
“You good, good soul,” I broke out, and pressed her close to me. “I know for certain I am perishing for love of you; I love you more and more; the end of it will be that you must go with me when I go away. You shall see. Could you go with me?”
“Yes,” she answered.
I hardly heard that yes, but I felt it in her breath and all through her. We held each other fiercely.
An hour later I kissed Eva good-bye and went away. At the door I meet Herr Mack.
Herr Mack himself.
He started — stared into the house — stopped there on the doorstep, staring in. “Ho!” said he, and could say no more; he seemed thrown altogether off his balance.
“You did not expect to find me here,” I said, raising my cap.
Eva did not move.
Herr Mack regained his composure; a curious confidence appeared in his manner, and he answered:
“You are mistaken: I came on purpose to find you. I wish to point out to you that from the 1st of April it is forbidden to fire a shot within half a mile of the bird-cliffs. You shot two birds out at the island to-day; you were seen doing so.”
“I shot two guillemots,” I said helplessly. I saw at once that the man was in the right.
“Two guillemots or two eiderducks — it is all the same. You were within the prohibited limit.”
“I admit it,” I said. “It had not occurred to me before.”
“But it ought to have occurred to you.”
“I also fired off both barrels once in May, at very nearly the same spot. It was on a picnic one day. And it was done at your own request.”
“That is another matter,” answered Herr Mack shortly.
“Well, then, devil take it, you know what you have to do, I suppose?”
“Perfectly well,” he answered.
Eva held herself in readiness; when I went out, she followed me; she had put on a kerchief, and walked away from the house; I saw her going down towards the quay. Herr Mack walked back home.
I thought it over. What a mind, to hit on that all at once, and save himself! And those piercing eyes of his. A shot, two shots, a brace of guillemots — a fine, a payment. And then everything, everything, would be settled with Herr Mack and his house. After all, it was going off so beautifully quickly and neatly . . .
The rain was coming down already, in great soft drops. The magpies flew low along the ground, and when I came home and turned Æsop loose he began eating the grass. The wind was beginning to rustle.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55