A few days passed as best they could; my only friend was the forest and the great loneliness. Dear God! I had never before known what it was to be so alone as on the first of those days. It was full spring now; I had found wintergreen and milfoil already, and the chaffinches had come (I knew all the birds). Now and again I took a couple of coins from my pocket and rattled them, to break the loneliness. I thought to myself: “What if Diderik and Iselin were to appear!”
Night was coming on again; the sun just dipped into the sea and rose again, red, refreshed, as if it had been down to drink. I could feel more strangely on those nights than anyone would believe. Was Pan himself there, sitting in a tree, watching me to see what I might do? Was his belly open, and he sitting there bent over as if drinking from his own belly? But all that he did only that he might look up under his brows and watch me; and the whole tree shook with his silent laughter when he saw how all my thoughts were running away with me. There was a rustling everywhere in the woods, beasts sniffing, birds calling one to another; their signals filled the air. And it was flying year for the Maybug; its humming mingled with the buzz of the night moths, sounded like a whispering here and a whispering there, all about in the woods. So much there was to hear! For three nights I did not sleep; I thought of Diderik and Iselin.
“See now,” I thought, “they might come.” And Iselin would lead Diderik away to a tree and say:
“Stand here, Diderik, and keep guard; keep watch; I will let this huntsman tie my shoestring.”
And the huntsman is myself, and she will give me a glance of her eyes that I may understand. And when she comes, my heart knows all, and no longer beats like a heart, but rings as a bell. I lay my hand on her.
“Tie my shoe-string,” she says, with flushed cheeks. . . .
The sun dips down into the sea and rises again, red and refreshed, as if it had been to drink. And the air is full of whisperings.
An hour after, she speaks, close to my mouth:
“Now I must leave you.”
And she turns and waves her hand to me as she goes, and her face is flushed still; her face is tender and full of delight. And again she turns and waves to me.
But Diderik steps out from under the tree and says:
“Iselin, what have you done? I saw you.”
“Diderik, what did you see? I have done nothing.”
“Iselin, I saw what you did,” he says again; “I saw you.”
And then her rich, glad laughter rings through the wood, and she goes off with him, full of rejoicing from top to toe. And whither does she go? To the next mortal man; to a huntsman in the woods.
* * * * *
It was midnight. Æsop had broken loose and been out hunting by himself; I heard him baying up in the hills, and when at last I got him back it was one o’clock. A girl came from herding goats; she fastened her stocking and hummed a tune and looked around. But where was her flock? And what was she doing in the woods at midnight? Ah, nothing, nothing. Walking there for restlessness, perhaps, for joy; ’twas her affair. I thought to myself, she had heard Æsop in the woods, and knew that I was out.
As she came up I rose and stood and looked at her, and I saw how slight and young she was. Æsop, too, stood looking at her.
“Where do you come from?” I asked.
“From the mill,” she answered.
But what could she have been doing at the mill so late at night?
“How can you venture into the woods so late?” I said —“you so slight and young?”
She laughed, and said:
“I am not so young — I am nineteen.”
But she could not be nineteen; I am certain she was lying by at least two years, and was only seventeen. But why should she lie to seem older?
“Sit down,” I said, “and tell me your name.”
And she sat down, blushing, by my side, and told me her name was Henriette.
Then I asked her:
“Have you a lover, Henriette, and has he ever taken you in his arms?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling shyly.
“How many times?”
She was silent.
“How many times?” I asked her again.
“Twice,” she answered softly.
I drew her to me and said:
“How did he do it? Was it like this?”
“Yes,” she whispered, trembling.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55