Thursday, May 21, 2009

A few stupid words...

By now they had entered the forest. They were walking so close to each other that their sleeves often touched, and the air was so calm that they could speak quite softly and still be heard. Now and then a bird twittered.
"How I've longed for you these last few days!" he said. "No, no, don't get frightened. What I'm going to say is next to nothing, and it won't gain me anything; I'm under no illusion, none at all, as far as that goes. Besides, maybe you won't even understand me, with that awkward beginning and my slips of the tongue, saying what I didn't mean to say...."
When he fell silent she said, "How strange you are today!"
With that she wanted to move on.
But again he stopped her. "Dear Miss Kielland, wait a moment! You must bear with me today! I'm afraid to talk, I fear you may interrupt me and say, 'Go away!' And yet I have thought this over during many wakeful hours."
Looking at him with growing surprise, she asked, "Where is this taking us?”
"Where is this taking us? Will you let me tell you in plain words? It takes us to where - to where I love you, Miss Kielland. Well, I really don't see why you should be so astonished; I'm made of flesh and blood, I met you and fell in love with you. That's not so very strange, is it? It's quite another matter that perhaps I shouldn't have confessed it to you."
"No, you shouldn't."
"It goes to show how far one can be driven. I have even slandered you, out of love for you. I've called you a flirt and tried to drag you down, just to console myself and make up for my loss, because I knew you were unattainable. This is the fifth time we've met; I did, after all, wait until the fifth time before giving myself away, though I could've done so the first time. Besides, it's my birthday today, I'm twenty-nine years old, and I've been singing and feeling happy ever since I opened my eyes this morning. I thought - well, it's ridiculous, of course, to dream up such tomfooleries, but I thought to myself, If you meet her today and make a clean breast of it, it may not hurt that, on top of everything, it is your birthday. If you let her know that, perhaps she will be more willing to forgive you, on account of the day it is. You're smiling? Sure, it's ridiculous, I know; but there's no help for it. I offer you my tribute just like everyone else."
"What a pity, then, that this should have happened to you today," she said. "You've been unlucky with your birthday this year. That's all I can say about that."
"Yes, of course.... God, what power you have! I can well understand how a man might be driven to any extremity for your sake. Even now, as you uttered those last words, which weren't so pleasant after all, even now your voice was like a song. I felt as though my heart were bursting into flower. How strange! Do you know, I've wandered about in front of your home at night, trying to catch a glimpse of you at a window; I've been on my knees here in the woods praying to God for you, although I don't believe in God very much. Do you see that aspen over there? I'm going to stop right here, because I've knelt under that aspen night after night, beside myself with despair, foolish and lost, simply because I couldn't get you out of my mind. From here I've said good night to you every evening, I've lain here asking the wind and the stars to bring you my greeting, and I believe you must’ve felt it in your sleep.”
“Why have you been telling me all this? Don't you know that I… "
"Oh sure, sure!" he cut in, exceedingly agitated. "I know what you were going to say: that you have belonged to someone else for a long time and that it's dishonorable of me to try to force myself on you now, afterward, when it's too late - how could I not know that? Why, then, have I told you all this? Well, to influence you, make an impression on you, get you to think it over. As God is my witness, I'm speaking the truth, I can do nothing else. I know you are engaged to be married, that you are in love with your young man, and that I cannot get anywhere with you. Still, I decided to try to influence you a little. I refused to give up hope. If you can imagine what it means to give all hope, then perhaps you'll understand me better. When I Just said now that I didn't expect to get anywhere, I was lying, of course. I only said it to set your mind at rest for the moment and to gain time, so you wouldn't become all too alarmed at once. Oh dear, did I say something wrong? I didn't mean to say that you gave me any hope, nor have I ever imagined I could cut anyone out. That never even occurred to me, alas. But in certain moments, when everything seemed hopeless, I have thought to myself: All right, she's engaged and she'll soon be leaving, goodbye; but she's not utterly lost to me yet, she has not already left, she's not married, or dead, so who knows? And if I gave it my all, perhaps there would still be time! You've become my constant thought, my obsession, I see you in everything and call every blue stream Dagny. I don't believe a single day has gone by during these past few weeks without my thinking about you. No matter at what hour I leave the hotel, as soon as I open the door and find myself on the steps, the hope shoots through my heart: maybe you'll meet her this time! And I look for you everywhere. It's quite beyond me, I just can't help it. I have now surrendered, I certainly didn't surrender without a fight, believe me. It's not a happy thought to know in your heart that your efforts have been sadly wasted and yet to be unable to refrain from making an effort; that's why one resists to the very end. But what if it doesn't do any good? When you spend a sleepless night sitting by the window in your room, you dream up all sorts of things! You have a book in your hand, but you don't read; you clench your teeth again and again and read three lines, then you can't anymore and close the book, shaking your head. Your heart is beating wildly, you softly whisper some sweet, secret words to yourself, calling a name and kissing it in your thoughts. The clock strikes two, four, six; then you decide to make an end of it and to seize the first chance you have to take the plunge and confess all.... If I might ask anything of you now, it would be not to talk. I love you, but don't talk, don't talk. Wait three minutes."
She had listened to him in utter dismay, without uttering a single word in reply. They still weren't moving.
"You must be crazy!" she said, shaking her head. And distressed and pale, with an icy glint in her blue eyes, she added, "You know I'm engaged, you remember and assume that, and yet…"
"Of course, I know! Could I forget that face and that uniform? After all, he's a handsome man, and it isn't that I find any fault with him; and yet I could wish him dead and gone. What's the use of saying to myself, as I've done a hundred times: there you won't get anywhere! Instead I try to avoid thinking about this impossibility, telling myself, Oh yes, I'll get somewhere all right, lots of things can happen, there's still hope.... And there is hope, isn't there?”
“No, no! Don't bring me to utter despair!" she cried. "What do you want me to do? What are you thinking of? Do you mean that I should... Good God, don't let's talk about it anymore. And now go! You've ruined everything with a few stupid words, you've even spoiled our talks, and now we won't be able to meet anymore, please. Why did you do it? Oh, if I'd only had an inkling of it! Well, you must forget about it, I beg you, for your own sake as well as mine. You know very well I can never be anything to you; I don't see how you could ever get that idea. So don't let us drag this out. You must go back to your rooms and try to resign yourself. Oh dear, truly sorry for you, but there's nothing else I can do."
"But does it have to be goodbye today? Am I seeing you for the last time? No, no, I say! I promise to keep cool, to talk about anything else you like, and never again about this; so shall we meet? When, that is, I've cooled off? Some day, perhaps, when you're fed up with all the others - as long as today isn't the very last time. You're shaking your head again - your lovely head, you're shaking it. How absurd everything is! ... What if you turned me down but said yes anyway, telling a lie to make me happy? It has turned into a sad day, you know, very sad, though this morning I was singing. Just one more time!"
"You shouldn't ask that of me, since I can't promise it. Besides, what would be the use? Just go now, please! Maybe we'll meet again, I don't know, but it's quite possible. No, go now, will you!" she exclaimed impatiently. "You'll be doing me real kindness," she added.
Pause. He stood staring at her, his breast heaving. Then he pulled himself together and bowed to her. Dropping his cap on the ground, he suddenly grabbed her hand, which she hadn't offered him, and squeezed it hard between both of his. When she gave a little cry, he let her go at once, distressed, showing real despair at having caused her pain. And when she left, he stood there following her with his eyes. A few more steps and she would be gone. His cheeks flushing, he bites his lips till the blood comes and wants to go, to turn his back on her in heartfelt anger. When all was said and done, he was still a man; it was all right, everything was all right, goodbye....
Suddenly she turned around and said, "And you mustn't go prowling around the parsonage at night. You really mustn't, I beg you! So it was you who made my doggie bark so furiously the past several nights. One night Papa was on the point of getting out of bed. You can't do that, do you hear! Anyway, I hope you won't get us both into trouble."
These words, no more. Still, at the sound of her voice his resentment was gone; he shook his head.
"And today is my birthday!" he said. With that he shielded his face with his arm and left. Watching him go, she hesitated a moment and then ran back to him. She seized his arm.
"I’m sorry, but that's the way it is, I cannot be anything for you. But maybe we'll meet again sometime, don't you think? Well, I have to go."
She turned on her heel and quickly marched off.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Classics,
translated by Sverre Lyngstad
(from Chapter XI)

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