Likely enough Consul Gordon Tidemand would have liked to join in the hunt, but surely he felt no deep craving for the sport. He had probably never fired a shot in his life save for fun, but he realized that hunting was a gentleman’s activity and a sport of a serious and noble order. To begin with, the lord was prowling about in the manorial forests, and true it was, Hendrik would return home each evening with ptarmigan slung over his shoulder — several or less — a bird or two, and once there had been four. And during the evening the Consul would be regaled with tales of how these various ptarmigan had been shot, where they had sat, how many there had been in the covey, and how the dogs had disposed themselves. But there was one tale in particular which the lord undertook to tell at table so that everyone should hear and the end of that was, he completely forgot to eat his food. This story was about the old cock ptarmigan at which he had fired both barrels for the reason that it had started up in a direct line with the sun which had blinded him. Oh, how his hunter’s honour had stood at stake! But God be praised, he had managed to follow it with his eyes and likely enough he would find it in the morning!
Fru Juliet was kind and listened patiently; she even permitted herself to be perfectly stunned by the thought that the lord could recognize this particular bird out of all the others there were. But Frøken Marna was quite indifferent to his words. When the lord glanced in her direction to see if she too were following him tensely, he found her staring emptily at him as though she had failed to hear a single word. The Consul went to great pains to perceive each curious fact; he assumed a professional air, he pretended he couldn’t keep his fingers still, and, had he been possessed of the ability to turn red and white at will, he would most certainly have made full use of it. Now and then the lord might turn to him and ask: “What would you have done in my place here?” Whereupon the Consul would sigh and say: “That all depends, I hardly dare say! — I say, what would you have done, Marna?” he would ask, turning to his sister. — But the lord had no time to wait for such an answer, he sat there all aglow, exuding sport from every pore. “I had no other choice!” he said. “And I shot. Ay, ’twas swinish for a long range, but I shot!” he shouted. —“Naturally!” the Consul agreed. “That was the only thing you could do! One must never spare a shell!”
When the lord decided to begin hunting above the tree-line and announced his intention of trotting about all day long over vast stretches of waste land, he was willing that someone should drive him up to the lodge and August it was who drove him.
It was Wednesday. On the way down the mountain August stopped the car at the place where his men were working, noted how far they had gone with their work and how far they still had to go, encouraged them by telling them that they had more than a foundation for an out-building down at the druggist’s to look forward to — they would soon begin work on a large concrete bank for the Consul.
“Well now, that’s fine, boss!” they cried and went at their work with a will so long as he sat there watching.
“Ay, but you’ve first got to finish up with this fence!” he reminded them.
A trace of wet snow had fallen during the night, hardly enough to mention, but a sure indication that autumn was at hand. It had vanished with the first rays of the sun, but it had been there, none the less.
“Will you be through here in a week?” asked August.
“Ay,” they said.
He drove on down to the Manor. The Consul was standing outside waiting for his car to take him down to the office. The Consul was, as usual, fearfully busy, but exquisitely polite. “My ladies have expressed a desire to go out to the downery to pluck eider down. If you could find the time, Altmulig, I wish you might help them to plan the excursion. It’s certain that they will wish to invite a few guests. My mother is in charge of arrangements.”
August accompanied the Consul as far as the drugstore.
It was still early morning; Fru Holm was in the kitchen, but the druggist and the pharmacist were sitting at breakfast.
“Good morning, August,” said the druggist. “Sit down and have a bite to eat with us. Eaten already, eh? My wife will be here at once.”
The two gentlemen at table pardoned themselves long enough to finish a conversation.
The druggist: “Yes, I know it’s against the law for us to do it, but —”
The pharmacist: “She never sends any money along, either.”
“No, but that’s all right.”
“But what can she possibly do with all that sherry?”
“They serve clam chowder rather frequently there, I believe.”
“Yes, but a bottle a day —!”
Fru Holm entered the room. “No — Altmulig!” she cried, quickening at once. “And nothing to eat or drink! Yes, but you’ll have a cup of coffee, won’t you? That excursion? Twenty-three have been invited. It’s all Gordon’s fault, he always likes large parties.”
August stroked his chin thoughtfully. “We’ll have to have a big boat for that many!” he said.
“I can take five in my boat,” said the druggist.
August began counting. “And five in the Consul’s motor boat. That makes ten. But that leaves thirteen to look out for. We might take the sloop, but we couldn’t be sure of a breeze.”
They discussed the matter and agreed that one of the seine-boats would easily be large enough to transport all of the guests. August was to round up a crew to row them out on the following day — Thursday at four o’clock.
August rose to his feet.
“Count me as one of your crew!” said the druggist. “And I’ll wager you’ll find no one who can out-row me!”
“I’m thankful for that,” said August. “So that makes two of us.”
Fru Holm shook her head. “You mustn’t think of rowing, Altmulig!” she said.
The druggist laughed. “You see you have my wife’s fondest solicitude, August — which most certainly you deserve!”
“But I believe I’d rather row than walk all the way out to North Parish after two men there.”
“To North Parish you shall drive!” Fru Holm rose and went to the telephone, just as though the old man were her ward. She was gone but a few moments and when she returned she reported: “I’m to give you Gordon’s greetings and to tell you the car is in the garage!”
“Ay, but — No, but —”
“Those were his orders,” she said.
August to North Parish, driving. . . .
He would show them a thing or two out there! To be sure, this was not his machine, but he might easily convey the impression that the Consul and he owned it together.
Moreover, he would have to see about purchasing a car of his own, it was time he, too, owned a machine.
Proudly he drove past the house where the family of the late Solmund resided. Outside Benjamin’s house, he blew three blasts on his horn, stepped out of the car, lighted up a cigar and began sauntering about. Benjamin rushed out of the house still innocently chewing on something, so it was possible that he had been sitting there eating. He started to put out his hand to shake hands with August, but promptly abandoned the notion.
Benjamin was the same as ever, sturdy and good-natured. “It’s a long time now since we were together building that road, and much has happened since then!”
August had nothing against this lad; he could endure him better than most and had even put himself out for him. “Ho, so this is the cave you live in, is it!” he remarked, staring the house up and down.
“What?” asked Benjamin.
“Is that only one window you’ve got in that house of yours there?” asked August.
“Ay, one’s as many as there is!” replied Benjamin, following August’s gaze with his own.
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen houses made of glass all the way through?”
“No. Are there such houses?”
“I have lived and had my dwelling in just such a house,” said August. “And it was as light inside as it is in God’s Heaven, and that you ought to understand for yourself.”
“Ay, but we’re getting along all right with that one window of ours,” said Benjamin satisfied with what he had. “What was I going to say —”
Realizing that it would surely have to do with all the things that had happened since the last time they had met, August interrupted him —“Is that chum of yours at home?” he asked.
“Ay, so far as I know, he is.”
“Good! Then I suppose that you and he can come tomorrow and row our guests over to the downery?”
A long series of questions: whether he really had guests, how many there were, who they were, what downery, although there was only one downery: the Consul’s.
August enlightened him: about thirty or forty guests, including a lord from England. “Are you coming?” he asked.
“You’ll be needing a pretty big boat,” said Benjamin.
“The largest of the seine-boats. Ay. Can I count on you?”
“I imagine so if we make you a promise.”
“The largest of the seine-boats, then. You’re to come tomorrow morning and scrub up the boat and get her all clean inside. We’re thinking of rowing over for dinner. Four o’clock. Understand?”
Benjamin was unimpressed and smiled —“Ay, that’s easy to understand,” he said.
“You’re to bring your lunch with you, but out at the downery you’ll be eating with us.”
“Ay ay ay! But much has happened!” said Benjamin. “That Cornelia dead and buried and all that!”
“Ay,” August answered absently.
“You didn’t follow her to the grave.”
“Who, me? No.”
“I let her wear that gift of mine around her neck when she went down into the grave. I didn’t want to be selfish and deprive her of it.”
August, whose interests were confined to matters terrestrial, at length managed to say: “You won’t forget to come for those sheep of yours on Michaelmas Day?”
. . . That evening Jørn Mathildesen came rushing down to him to complain that someone was shooting up in the mountains and throwing terror into the sheep.
August calmed his fears. They had only until Saturday now; then it would be Michaelmas Day and everyone would come for their sheep.
Ay, but they were getting out of control, for there was no longer anything for them to eat, either, and even tomorrow there might be snow. And when folk went about shooting up there in the mountains and frightening all the sheep — they had started off running and made off across the moor toward Sweden.
Well, there was no help for that. But August promised to come up in the morning and look over the situation.
“Who is it that goes about shooting?” asked Jørn, annoyed.
“A grand lord from England.”
“Ay, but can’t he leave us in peace these few days more?”
“That’s what you and I may say,” said August. “But you don’t know what grand gentlemen these lords from England are. They come next after the King of England, you must understand. And the King of England, he comes next after the Pope. And ahead of the Pope there is only God Himself.”
“But if you’d only talk to him and tell him —”
Oh fiddlesticks! August couldn’t go on listening to such chatter. . . .
Thursday morning he drove the lord up to the lodge again. But it was a wretched morning, a lowering sky, frequent showers of rain. “A ragged morning,” was how the lord described it. Hendrik and the dog were sitting in the back seat, both depressed, not because of the rain, but because their lord and master seemed depressed. His mood was quite contagious. No, the lord would not hunt today, he would merely go looking for those two ptarmigan which had flown west the day before, and after that he would return home. It so happened that he had some “accursed writings to answer,” and after that he was to go to a place they called a downery. . . .
August turned and drove back down to the Manor. The Consul was waiting for him and promptly inquired whether he had arranged everything for the coming excursion.
“Ay, everything in order!”
“But possibly we’ll have no weather for it?”
“Ay, the finest autumn weather!”
“Good, Altmulig!” said the Consul, smiling. “Jump in, if you’re going into town!”
August rode down to the Store with the Consul, made a few purchases consisting of tobacco, coffee and cakes for his shepherds, went down to see how the two lads were getting along with their cleaning up of the seine-boat, and at length made his way up to his mountain pasturage, choosing a short cut by way of the church.
Jørn and Valborg were as happy children over the gifts they received, and gave him their hands in thanks. They were likewise rejoicing over the fact that they had heard no more than a couple of shots today and those far off in the distance. But the sheep had become more and more restless these last few days, for they had now completely run out of forage.
But August had thought of a solution to this problem: they were to abandon the mountain pasturage and lead the flocks round the mountain lake. There were vast stretches of wilderness rich with grass about the shores of the lake; he had seen them on a walk he had taken in the course of the summer. But the question was how to get this enormous flock of sheep from one pasturage into another.
Oh, but that was nothing at all, cried Valborg and called to the sheep. The creatures immediately began streaming up to her, came crowding about her and all but bowled her over; then when she moved forward, they all followed along behind her, and those farthest away began loping to catch up with the procession. Valborg was able to utter no more than a hasty order to her husband to fetch the food and with that she was off with a thousand sheep trailing along in her wake.
So now that question was settled. . . .
Singular weather, almost like the weather preceding an earthquake. August sat down. It felt good to rest a while.
Actually, he was out of his element up there. Looking about, he found himself in the midst of an utterly foreign world, a world of riotous peaks and rocky crags, a static confusion of monstrous grey mountains. What use did he have for such a world? He was a man of action, a trader. Up here, as there was nothing which moved — neither bush nor straw — there were no sounds to be heard, only dead silence which crushed him with its weight. Here he sits between his ears and all he hears is emptiness. An amusing conception, indeed!
On the sea there were both motion and sound, something for the ear to feed upon, a chorus of waters. Here nothingness meets nothingness and the result is zero, not even a hole. Enough to make one shake one’s head, utterly at a loss.
He did not give the matter much thought; the notion had merely occurred to him, but, as he was somewhat fanciful by nature, it was probable that for a moment his imagination had got the better of him. Such might well have been the case. And if this silence had any meaning at all, it was probably this: I am emptiness! Of all things in the world I am emptiness! Known only as that which is contained in something, a power, an impossibility which no one possesses and no one has sent, but a delirium. I am emptiness!
He has toiled no end, expended his energy. Nor has this climb up the mountain been such an easy task for him. He is an old man and he may be tired, perhaps he is dozing. . . .
A puff of wind sweeps over the mountain, something nearby moves; he glances up but immediately lowers his gaze again. He smacks his lips as though tasting of something, and perhaps his thoughts are off at sea again, his proper home. It is the dog watch and he is standing at the wheel. A clear passage and a calm sea, moon and stars . . . ay, and God, it seems, is at home, for all his heavenly lights are blazing. The dog watch? Oh, the angel watch, no less! Simply that the moon is waxing and each night growing more full is joy unbounded for the man there at the wheel. He hums, he is on good terms with himself, he is bound for a distant port where he will go ashore in a red vest. No wonder that the human being is so reluctant to die, for the glories of this earth can not be imagined to exist in any other corner of the universe, not even in Heaven itself. . . .
Two sharp shoulders of wind strike against the mountain and the sky swiftly darkens. He looks up and realizes at once that there will shortly be a downpour. All right, let it come! What does he care! He will merely stroll over to that cave of Jørn’s and Valborg’s and crawl inside till it’s over. Probably no more than a shower. A highly amusing adventure, for once in his life, to go through a storm in the mountains — how many he had experienced during his years at sea!
No longer that gentle soundlessness now; a rush fills the air, like the flowing of the Ganges or the Amazon. The rush increases to a roar — heavy, massive — and the darkness thickens. Some of these thrusts of wind are, in truth, right lusty, they mean business — thanks, wind, come ahead! Far off in the distance, perhaps as far north as Senjen, there is a faint sound as though of a drum, hardly audible, and yet — it is as though a drummer were tuning his drum, carefully tightening his drum-head.
After a little, he is aware of a flash of lightning, and the drum seems nearer than ever, fully taut now, tuned fully up to pitch. And well, that it is in tune, for the music is about to begin.
A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder, a bare five or six miles away. Things are becoming serious now. Nature is not to be trifled with any longer. R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r —! Ugh, how forbidding! But soon it is even worse, when a pelting rain cuts loose amidst a series of lightning flashes and thunder claps and all the terrors of the storm tear the sky to shreds and spread ruin throughout the heavens, when Nature in all her fury swoops down upon the earth and scourges every mountain. “Hey, hey — the devil!” he mumbles, in order to keep up his courage. However, he has grown a bit pale and there is something of a religious look on his face, as he crawls back into the cave. A thorough storm, and no mistake! It reminds him of the time down around the Cape, when the Lord had lost his patience and had simply run amok. Remember that time? Seven days and seven nights of it! Fifty-seven lives! . . . Lightning? No, fire! A voyage through sheer flame — thunder so powerful that we fell to our knees beneath the weight of it — no sense in it whatever, downright unlawful! And if, for a moment, we dreamed that the captain had no word of command for us, we naturally were most eternally mistaken. For truth to tell, that was no weather to try talking in — we couldn’t even hear the words from our own mouths. And besides, what was there to talk about? What commands were there to be given? We certainly couldn’t do anything about anything. But the captain, he fussed and fumed, and hopped about, and had his revolver in his hand the whole time, and kept working his lips like a deaf mute, and a pitiful sight he was — that much I’ll say to this day. A captain doesn’t hop about when he wishes to give a command, he simply points his finger. And that’s why he was such a pitiful sight. But when there isn’t sense left in the world and it’s impossible to hear a single word that’s spoken, a man is likely to be something of a puzzle, even to himself. Mark my words every time! . . . Well, we got hold of him and bound him three times round before we let him go, and he didn’t do anything to help us, either, although it was for his own good that we tied him up. His wife took good care of him this time but he was so tightly bound that he couldn’t do a thing to her, though he had managed to shoot a man. . . .
The sky brightens off to the north and the rain lets up. Really not such a bad cave after all, this — both dry and weather-tight. . . .
Yes sir, that’s just what he did — he shot a man. But it wasn’t the mate. Oh, she had not been like she ought to have been, and all of us knew about that. And there was the Old Man, so completely out of his head, that he was wanting to sail us all to the bottom! Stupid of an old man to get himself all worked up over a mere youngster such as she — it should have been me! On all great ocean liners there must be a good many secret corners, outside of staterooms and bunks and other likely places, so he telephoned down from the bridge for us to go and see who was there and there and there —“I’ve got to know!” he said. Very well, he never found out from me the things that were going on — but he found out about them from Chas and Axel and the nigger and Pit and all the rest. Whoever happened to be on watch. He had no peace of mind —“Go there and see — there and there and there!” he would say. Day after day, just like that. His revolver in his hand all the time. But after all, he only killed one man. That was Pit. He was nothing at all, though, and there were still fifty-six of us left, but even so he got himself into a mess and was accused of making a mistake. At the hearings he was there in uniform, buttons, braid and belt and all — everything of gold — ay, even his whistle was gold. He shed no tears, simply stood there, erect and well-shaven — sixty-two years old. The Chief testified that there was plenty of reason and good sense at the bottom of his desperation, and the whole engine-room was on his side, in fact every one aboard was for him, so the killing could certainly not have amounted to anything. But the Old Man got up and stood there. “No,” he said. “I offer no reasonable defence! It just came over me, insanity! I’ll take my medicine!” Ah, there was a captain who was something. . . .
The shower is over and he goes out. Drenched mountains and countless gushing rivulets, the air chilly, some sign of wind. He begins climbing to a certain point of vantage he has selected, slips and slides over the wet ground, but refuses to give up, to spare himself, at length reaches his goal and peers off into the distance. The sheep are far away now; like pin-pricks which do not move, and that is a sign that they are quietly at graze.
Four o’clock. The finest of weather again, no warmth to the sun, but there is sun, and the assembled party have clad themselves for the cold.
They step into the seine-boat. The druggist’s wife, forever practical, stands there counting heads: the postmaster and his wife are missing, the pastor and his wife are missing — now what could be the matter! Gordon Tidemand is displeased that his friend, the lord, must wait, but the lord himself is perfectly content to be where he is for the moment and amazes everyone by expressing a desire to row.
“You want to row?” asks Benjamin, at a loss to understand.
“Ay, ay! Row!” says the lord.
The pastor and his wife appear. Poor souls, they have had the longest way to come and the lady is unhappy over the fact that they have thus delayed the party.
“You have not delayed us in the least,” says Fru Holm. “The postmaster and his wife have not as yet arrived.”
After continuing to wait for a time, the druggist offers a suggestion — “Why not go ahead with the seine-boat? I can just as well wait here for Hagen and his wife, for I’m planning to row my own boat, anyway.”
Decided! The seine-boat pushes off and the lord sits there gripping a pair of those colossal oars and using them like any able hand. The devil and all! Frøken Marna, for the first time, gazes upon him with genuine interest.
Arriving at the island, the party alights from the boat, helpful gentlemen carry the food and the beer ashore, Fru Holm points and gives orders, and it is obvious at once that she is the only one who knows anything about the nests and the down — even her son has not been here since the days of his childhood.
The birds are absent now, but behind them they have left an odd little world of their own — a summer resort of wildly scattered dwellings. The houses consist of four stones, one for each of the three walls and one for the roof. “Heavens!” cry the ladies. “Heavens, how odd it all is. We’ve never before seen anything like it!” They reach their hands into these bird houses, take out the down and place it in the large paper sacks from the Segelfoss Store. They do not always bring out pure eider down, however; sometimes they get but a handful of litter. Fru Holm says: “If any of you gentlemen come across a roof or a wall which has fallen, you will be good enough to replace it so that our little eider duck city here may be in good repair for next summer!” The lord from England has traveled far and wide and has seen all manner of bird houses, but —“These beat all Satan, they do!” he says.
The postmaster and Fru Hagen arrive in the druggist’s boat. They offer no elaborate apologies, merely mention the fact they are late. Fru Hagen is charming and petite in a snug little winter coat. They each receive a paper sack and Fru Holm requests her husband to look carefully to see whether one or another nest has not been overlooked by those who have gone on before.
Thus the original three remain together the entire time. But Postmaster Hagen is not a man to eavesdrop on every word the other two utter and, as a matter of fact, he wanders far off by himself, gathers up down in his sack and makes himself generally useful. Now and then he turns back, calls attention to this or that which has struck him as interesting, and continues on his way, alone. Thus, since there is no one to overhear their conversation, Fru Hagen and the druggist are left free to talk all the nonsense they choose.
“No, I think you’re very much mistaken,” says Fru Hagen, “when you say it is pleasant here. And I simply can not understand how anyone is able to endure such a life. But I suppose you understand it perfectly?”
“Yes, my own case, for example. I can not get away.”
“But you could, of course.”
“No. I am married and I’m building a house and have made definite arrangements for my future.”
“But you could certainly leave if you chose,” she repeated obstinately. “Things equally mad have been heard of.”
“What’s that?” he asks, astounded.
“Yes, leave, I mean. By the first ship. And I with you!”
“Well — now you’ve said something! Yes, of course, in such a way — odd that it didn’t occur to me —”
“Hahaha!” she laughed. “I had you frightened that time!”
“At the prospect of achieving so gloriously attractive a traveling companion? No — offer me something really hard!”
“My dear Druggist Holm,” she said. “You have lost the art of banter, I fear. It is only I, the forsaken one, who may be said to retain the gift. ‘Will you leave with me?’ you ought to have asked. Whereupon, I should have replied: ‘No — he wouldn’t stand for it, you see! And besides, I should have to be in love with you!’”
Holm, curtly: “But you see I know you are not.”
“And are you thus so annoyed because of it? Before, you used to be amazed over it and would shout: ‘The devil you say!’”
“Hahaha! Did I?”
“No, you’ve forgotten how to flirt, Druggist, and you have forgotten what I have told you. How can a person as washed out as I am be in love!”
Holm was silent. There was nothing more to be said. Moreover, it appeared that she was becoming emotional. He observed with relief that the postmaster was approaching again and he resolved this time to hold onto him. “By the way, Postmaster,” he said. “That was certainly a lovely carpet you chose for us! We are both enormously pleased with it.”
Ow! Too late the druggist realized his blunder, for it was true, was it not, that the postmaster did not wish to have it known that he had made the plans for the house or chosen the carpet? He had winced a bit, too, at the druggist’s remark, but he was quick to clear himself: “I?” he said. “No, I simply thought — since I was standing there nearby — surely you mustn’t think a thing about it! See here, Alfhild, there’s a cold wind blowing. I believe you should fasten the belt about your coat.”
“All right, but you must help me, then!” she said.
After he had fastened the belt about her, she suddenly hugged him, took his arm and drew herself close to him as though she had some urgent need of him. And with that she guided their steps back to the boat.
The druggist walked on and joined the main party. Some of them had done splendidly and showed him a full sack, others — as, for example, the pharmacist and the magistrate’s secretary — had confined themselves, for the most part, to repairing nests. Fru Juliet expressed herself as hardly having the heart to rob these nests of all their down, pausing as she did to consider that next year the birds would only have to pluck themselves again —“Isn’t it just as I say, Altmulig?” she asked.
“Pardon,” says August, “but the birds always pluck themselves every year anyway, after throwing out what old down they find left in the nest.”
The pastor’s wife had been ambitious and was second to lead the party. First honours, naturally had been taken by that bright little lass of Davidsen’s who helped him with the paper; she had, it seems, two sacks full of down and had already started a third.
“You shall have the first prize!” the Consul remarked to her with a nod, and immediately turned to Juliet for advice as to what they should give out as prizes.
And in this wise was the downery plucked clean.
But two persons there were who were behaving in a most singular manner — Frøken Marna and the lord from England. They had gone off by themselves and had actually sat down together. It was perhaps not so astonishing that Marna herself should be shirking all physical exertion, for thus sluggish and indolent she had always been, but when it happened that that tameless Englishman had come and flung himself down at her feet, what could it have meant but that he had had something important to say to her!
And, as a matter of fact, he had.
Yes, the lord had, in a way, capitulated. There he had gone now for two or three long weeks, trusting right along to bring her to heel English fashion, by showing not the least bloody sign of interest in her and by simply leaving her to herself. He would arouse her interest by chattering on about sport and by being at all times thoroughly British, by gradual steps seeking to discover her and to discover if she had discovered him. A faulty technique, for in her he had run afoul of a form of resistance which was not resistance at all, but simply pure unadulterated indifference. Whether he spoke or was silent, whether he was present or absent, mattered little or nothing to her. A remarkable example of incuriosity which, in its English form, is priggishness and factitious phlegm, but which in her was as natural as her skin. It was an indifference for his person and his speech which could in no way be associated with purposeful frigidity. It really had no purpose, it was too far removed from artifice. Gad, then, if he hadn’t come up against an unusual type! She had begun to plague his thoughts. Actually, though accidentally, she had aroused the Briton in him to prove himself; moreover she was beautiful, the wench, and now and then she appeared to be possessed of at least some latent warmth.
When he observed that she had unceremoniously walked a little way and sat down he was led to follow her. They were not strangers to each other; they lived in the same house together, had fished for trout together, had eaten at the same table. And furthermore his mental attitude was a bit changed today; he was a mite less supercilious.
He begged permission to sit down beside her.
“Wonderful bird city, not so?” he asked with a sweeping gesture which included the entire island.
“Yes, swinish grand,” she replied and looked down with a smile on her face.
After a time the conversation improved and actually amounted to something. Not that he came right out and proposed to her — by no means that! — but he had become somewhat more human than usual, began acting natural, in spite of his incomplete grasp of the language. He complained for the first time over the fact that he was unable to express every thought he desired. “Do you know English?” he suddenly asked.
Ay, but she’d learn it like lightning when she came to England.
“I’m not coming to England,” said Marna.
Not? Why not? Ay, that she must! he urged her. He explained that they had a place, no, not he, but his father — he had a factory and made different things — a place with a garden. “Gordon has been there, Marna! And you must also be there! No, not horses and sheep runs and that, only autos and that, and not yacht, no, no, only ordinary things. I say, don’t you know any English at all?”
“No,” said Marna. “Only ‘love you’ and ‘sweetheart’ and ‘eks mi nash.’”
It was now his turn to smile and drop his gaze. Ay, she was natural and she had said it so prettily. He didn’t know Norwegian either. “Hell, isn’t it!” he asked.
No, he did very well with it, she thought.
A refreshing and amusing chap, that Englishman; he did not translate directly from his own language. Instead he used what he had learned of a northern peasant dialect of Norwegian, actually thought in it, stumbled along in it and seldom allowed himself to get stuck. He had also learned Spanish in South America and had learned a smattering of Arabic. But French, it was noget godt Skit! No, he knew nothing, but that Gordon, he was so clever and all, knew everything, learned and learned.
“But you’re a lord,” said Marna.
Lord — he? No, kiss me tomorrow! Lord? No, but a manufacturer. They made steel goods. That is, his father did. Himself, he was an ordinary middling man.
“You rowed well,” she said.
Rowed? With such oars? No. But when she came to England she would see! He was a great rower!
The Consul calls them to beer and sandwiches. They rise and join the party. The lord continues to talk.
When it was time to leave for home, there was a roll-call — yes, for Fru Holm remembered that once they had rowed off and left an engaged couple behind on the island. The couple had not been missed until the party was well on their way back to town and it had been necessary to turn round and row back after them. . . .
This time it was Fru Hagen who was missing.
They waited for a time and then began to call. Odd manners on her part to have wandered off at such a time!
Certain ones walked out across the island and called, returned to the boat and asked: “Has she turned up yet?” . . . The postmaster races up to the island’s topmost point and calls.
What in the world is the meaning of this? Who saw her go and which way had she gone? It really wasn’t right of her to have done such a thing! Some excuse her and explain that Fru Hagen is so wretchedly near-sighted, she might have run afoul of a fissure of rock. Yes, but there are no fissures here, not a single fissure anywhere on the island. And were she held fast, she would certainly be calling for help.
The postmaster comes racing down from his lookout, asks if she has come, doesn’t wait for an answer but immediately makes off along the beach with terror gnawing at his heels.
“Altmulig, what are we going to do?” asks the Consul.
“Ay, we’ll just have to row out and look for her,” August answers consolingly, exactly as though she were sitting on some rock in the sea.
He takes Benjamin with him in the druggist’s boat and begins rowing along the shore. Now and then they call out and raise their oars from the water and listen for an answer. The water is deep all about the island; in some places the cliff drops sheer from above, in others lie the remains of some rock slide, huge stones covered with seaweed and jellyfish. . . . The island was anything but small. It took them a full hour to row around it. Darkness was at hand.
The seine-boat rowed home.
Four men were left behind on the island; two by two, they took turns cruising about in the druggist’s boat, kept it up as long as there was light, and at length were compelled to give up and wait for dawn. The doctor had been left there in the event that there should be need for resuscitation, August because he was a sailor and a general handy man, the lord because he was the man he was — a clever fellow who could row like a bear — and furthermore because he had demanded to be left. The fourth member of the watching party was the postmaster himself, poor soul. He climbed again to the island’s summit and remained there for some time although it was too dark for him to see anything.
It might prove necessary to drag for her. The anchor there in the druggist’s boat might serve very well — the boat hook too. If more complete apparatus were needed, they could row back to town after it.
But they found her with the anchor — August and the postmaster. They were rowing along the north shore of the island. Suddenly August felt that the anchor had clung fast to something in the water, something which yielded and moved with the boat. Yes, for one prong of the anchor had hooked itself to the belt about her coat.
“She was so near-sighted!” the postmaster said. “She must have fallen over the edge.”
Twelve hours in the water — there was no question of resuscitation.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55