Monday, May 04, 2009

Not quite like other people

On the way back Nagel found himself walking beside Dagny Kielland. He had made no effort to bring this about, it happened quite by chance; nor did Miss Kielland do anything to forestall it. She had just said how much she was looking forward to tomorrow evening, because it was always so pleasant and relaxed at the doctor's; they were such excellent people, and they knew how to make their guests enjoy themselves. At that point Nagel blurted out in a low voice, "May I hope, Miss Kielland, that you've forgiven me that awful piece of folly in the woods a while ago?"
He spoke eagerly, almost in a whisper, and she was forced to answer him.
"Oh yes," she said. "I now have a better understanding of your conduct that evening. You don't seem to be quite like other people."
"Thank you!" he whispered, "Oh, I thank you as I've never thanked anyone in my whole life! And why am I not like other people? I want you to know, Miss Kielland, that I've made an effort all evening to soften that first impression you must have received of me. I didn't say a word that wasn't meant for you. What do you say to that? Remember, I had offended you terribly and I had to do something. I confess I've been in a rather unusual state of mind all day, but I've made myself appear a good deal worse than I really am, and most of the time I've been playing a rather underhanded game. You see, it 'was important to me to make you think that I really was a bit unpredictable, that I committed bizarre transgressions in general; I hoped to make you pardon me more easily that way. This was also why I intruded with my dreams at the wrong time and place - well, I even crudely exposed myself concerning a violin case, voluntarily exposing my foolishness, which I wasn't obliged to do."
"Pardon me! “ she broke in abruptly, "but why are you telling me all this, spoiling everything?"
"No, I'm not spoiling anything. If I tell you I really gave in to a momentary malicious impulse when I ran after you in the woods that time, you will understand. It was only a sudden desire to scare you, because you ran away. Well, I didn't know you then, of course. And if I now tell you that I'm just like other people, you will understand that too. This evening I made myself a laughingstock and astonished everyone by a most eccentric behavior, simply in order to soothe you sufficiently to make you at least listen to me when I came and explained myself. This I have achieved. You have listened to me and understood everything."
"No, frankly, I have to confess I don't quite understand you. But let be, I certainly won't start brooding over that."
"No, of course not; why should you trouble your head about that! But don't you agree, this party tomorrow night was decided on because you all regarded me as an odd fellow who could be expected to dream up quite a few antics, wasn't it? Maybe I'll disappoint you, maybe I'll just hem an haw, maybe I won't even come, God knows."
"Oh, but of course you must come!"
"Must I?" he said, looking at her.
She let that pass. They were still walking side by side.
They had reached the Parsonage Road. Miss Kielland stopped, burst out laughing and said, "Who would ever believe it!" And she shook her head.
She began to wait for the rest of the party, which had fallen behind. He wanted to ask her if he could walk her home; he was about to risk it, when she suddenly turned away from him and called to the teacher, "Come on, will you!" And she eagerly waved her hand to hurry him on.

Knut Hamsun, Mysteries, Penguin Classics, translated
by Sverre Lyngstad (from chapter VI)

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