I fancy I can read a little in the souls of those about me — but perhaps it is not so. Oh, when my good days come, I feel as if I could see far into others’ souls, though I am no great or clever head. We sit in a room, some men, some women, and I, and I seem to see what is passing within them, and what they think of me. I find something in every swift little change of light in their eyes; sometimes the blood rises to their cheeks and reddens them; at other times they pretend to be looking another way, and yet they watch me covertly from the side. There I sit, marking all this, and no one dreams that I see through every soul. For years past I have felt that I could read the souls of all I met. But perhaps it is not so . . .
I stayed at Herr Mack’s house all that evening. I might have gone off again at once — it did not interest me to stay sitting there — but had I not come because all my thoughts were drawing me that way? And how could I go again at once? We played whist and drank toddy after supper; I sat with my back turned to the rest of the room, and my head bent down; behind me Edwarda went in and out. The Doctor had gone home.
Herr Mack showed me the design of his new lamps — the first paraffin lamps to be seen so far north. They were splendid things, with a heavy leaden base, and he lit them himself every evening — to prevent any accident. He spoke once or twice of his grandfather, the Consul.
“This brooch was given to my grandfather, Consul Mack, by Carl Johan with his own hands,” he said, pointing one finger at the diamond in his shirt. His wife was dead; he showed me a painted portrait of her in one of the other rooms — a distinguished looking woman with a lace cap and a winsome smile. In the same room, also, there was a bookcase, and some old French books, no less, that might have been an heirloom. The bindings were rich and gilded, and many owners had marked their names in them. Among the books were several educational works; Herr Mack was a man of some intelligence.
His two assistants from the store were called in to make up the party at whist. They played slowly and doubtfully, counted carefully, and made mistakes all the same. Edwarda helped one of them with his hand.
I upset my glass, and felt ashamed, and stood up.
“There — I have upset my glass,” I said.
Edwarda burst out laughing, and answered:
“Well, we can see that.”
Everyone assured me laughingly that it did not matter. They gave me a towel to wipe myself with, and we went on with the game. Soon it was eleven o’clock.
I felt a vague displeasure at Edwarda’s laugh. I looked at her, and found that her face had become insignificant, hardly even pretty. At last Herr Mack broke off the game, saying that his assistants must go to bed; then he leaned back on the sofa and began talking about putting up a sign in front of his place. He asked my advice about it. What colour did I think would be best? I was not interested, and answered “black,” without thinking at all. And Herr Mack at once agreed:
“Black, yes — exactly what I had been thinking myself. ‘Salt and barrels’ in heavy black letters — that ought to look as nice as anything . . . Edwarda, isn’t it time you were going to bed?”
Edwarda rose, shook hands with us both, said good-night, and left the room. We sat on. We talked of the railway that had been finished last year, and of the first telegraph line. “Wonder when we shall have the telegraph up here.”
“It’s like this,” said Herr Mack. “Time goes on, and here am I, six-and-forty, and hair and beard gone grey. You might see me in the daytime and say I was a young man, but when the evening comes along, and I’m all alone, I feel it a good deal. I sit here mostly playing patience. It works out all right as a rule, if you fudge a little. Haha!”
“If you fudge a little?” I asked.
I felt as if I could read in his eyes . . .
He got up from his seat, walked over to the window, and looked out; he stooped a little, and the back of his neck was hairy. I rose in my turn. He looked round and walked towards me in his long, pointed shoes, stuck both thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, waved his arms a little, as if they were wings, and smiled. Then he offered me his boat again if ever I wanted one, and held out his hand.
“Wait a minute — I’ll go with you,” he said, and blew out the lamps. “Yes, yes, I feel like a little walk. It’s not so late.”
We went out.
He pointed up the road towards the blacksmith’s and said:
“This way — it’s the shortest.”
“No,” I said. “Round by the quay is the shortest way.”
We argued the point a little, and did not agree. I was convinced that I was right, and could not understand why he insisted. At last he suggested that we should each go his own way; the one who got there first could wait at the hut.
We set off, and he was soon lost to sight in the wood.
I walked at my usual pace, and reckoned to be there a good five minutes ahead. But when I got to the hut he was there already. He called out as I came up:
“What did I say? I always go this way — it is the shortest.”
I looked at him in surprise; he was not heated, and did not appear to have been running. He did not stay now, but said good-night in a friendly way, and went back the way he had come.
I stood there and thought to myself: This is strange! I ought to be some judge of distance, and I’ve walked both those ways several times. My good man, you’ve been fudging again. Was the whole thing a pretence?
I saw his back as he disappeared into the wood again.
Next moment I started off in track of him, going quickly and cautiously; I could see him wiping his face all the way, and I was not so sure now that he had not been running before. I walked very slowly now, and watched him carefully; he stopped at the blacksmith’s. I stepped into hiding, and saw the door open, and Herr Mack enter the house.
It was one o’clock; I could tell by the look of the sea and the grass.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51