In the course of the morning Aksel Aaroe was carried home by his companions, dead drunk. By some it was maintained that he had swallowed a tumbler of whisky in the belief that it was beer; others said that he was a “bout drinker.” He had long been so but had concealed it. Those are called “bout-drinkers” who at long intervals seem impelled to drink. His father had been so before him.
A few days later Aksel Aaroe went quietly off to America.
Another of those who had been at the ball, steamed about the same time across the Atlantic. This was Hjalmar Olsen.
His ship experienced a continuous northwesterly gale, and the harder it blew, the more grog he drank; but as he did so he was astonished to find that a memory of the ball constantly rose before him—the little rosy red one; the girl with the plait. Hjalmar Olsen was of opinion that he had conducted himself in a very gentleman-like manner towards her. At first this did not very much occupy his thoughts; he had been twice engaged already, and each time it had been broken off. If he engaged himself a third time he must marry at once. He had formed this determination often before, but he did not really think very seriously about it.
A steamer is not many days between ports, and at each there is plenty of amusement. He went to New York, from there to New Orleans, thence to Brazil and back, once again to Brazil, finally returning direct to England and Norway. But often during the voyage, and especially over a glass of punch, he recalled the girl with the plait. How she had looked at him. It did him good only to think of it. He was not very fond of letter-writing, or perhaps he would have written to her. But when he arrived at Christiania, and heard from a friend that her mother was dying, he thought at once: “I shall certainly go and see her; she will think it very good of me, if I do so just now.”
Two days later he was sitting before her in the parlour of the little house near the hotel and market-place. His large hands, black with hair and sunburn, stroked his knees as he stooped smilingly forward and asked if she would have him.
She sat lower than he did; her full figure and plump arms were set off by a brown dress, which he stared down on when he did not look into her pale face. She felt each movement of his eyes. She had come from the other room, and from thoughts of death; she heard a little cuckoo clock upstairs announce that it was seven o’clock, and the little thing reminded her of all that was now past. One thing with another made her turn from him with tears in her eyes as she said, “I cannot possibly think of such things how.” She rose and walked towards her flowers in the window.
He was obliged to rise also. “Perhaps she will answer me presently,” he thought; and this belief gave him words, awkward perhaps, but fairly plain.