Bacchus had no children
Late Saturday night Erling had managed to find his way to Old Venhaug, but as he sat down on the edge of his bed to undress he felt very drowsy. He abandoned himself to the imperishable delusion that he might, just for the time being, remove his jacket, loosen his tie, kick off his shoes, and doze for a few minutes until he gained sufficient strength to undress properly. He went to sleep immediately.
If matters had taken their usual course he would have awakened when someone brought him his coffee in the morning, to keep him out of the kitchen. But in an hour or two he woke up hearing somebody crying.
He was unable to clarify what this might mean. It took some time before he realized he was at Old Venhaug and not in his own house or somewhere else. One time in Sweden he had awakened on a sunny day, alone in an elegant, unfamiliar house. Unable to figure out where he was, he was struck with a brilliant idea: he would open the front door [p. 243] and read the name plate. Then the door blew shut and locked behind him. Now he knew where he was, but he was there dressed in only a short undershirt, and he would rather have been inside and not knowing.
"Why does she cry?" he wondered confusedly. "What is there to cry about here?"
He felt for matches and after much trouble he managed to light a candle. A surge of relief swept over him at the sight of the familiar room, for he hadn't been quite sure. Who was it, crying there on the other side of the wall?
A light dawned in the thick darkness of his head: doves, dove hunting—
Now the picture unfolded quickly; it was Saturday night, there had been guests. He searched every corner of his brain for a scandal but couldn't remember one. Who was making that noise in there? No one was supposed to occupy this house except him. Another memory surfaced: someone was to stay over at Old Venhaug—at the same moment something most unusual occurred to him: the whole evening Felicia had urged him to drink—oh that bitch!
He was in that dizzy borderland between being drunk and having a hang-over, a condition you experience only when awakened just after having slept off the top of the drunkenness. Everything in the room turned upside down as if razed by a hurricane. Someone has filled the room with water that I can see through. Water of room temperature. This suddenly seemed to him so funny that he burst out laughing, but fear cut him short, for he realized he wasn't laughing at all, only seized with spasms in his face muscles. Now he must play the detective. Who was crying in there? He tried to get up but fell on the floor. On hands and knees he crawled toward the door, but it was not easy to keep his balance on all-fours either. It was a top-heavy arrangement.
He turned over on his back to gain strength. At least he had managed to stop the wailing in there. With the aid of his magic radiation. "Keep on being silent!" he shouted in triumph.
He heard someone move about and then the door opened There stood Øystein Myhre in his shirt sleeves. "Well, why are you on the floor?" he asked. "And what in hell do you mean waking the whole county!"
"County-shmounty," said Erling, irritated. "Who are you beating up in there? Come here and I'll push your face in."
Øystein remained standing in the door and did not reply.
"I didn't mean to insult you," said Erling. "Take it easy a minute while I think things over."
He fought to clear his head.[p. 244]
"Listen, Øystein—take the towel and soak it in water and let me hold it over my head."
Øystein did as directed. After a moment Erling lifted the towel from his eyes and said, "Don't help me, you fool! Then my exercise won't work."
"I have no intention of helping you!"
"Why are you so sulky?" asked Erling. He made an attempt to turn over on his stomach. "Let's see now—"
He managed to get up on his knees and elbows. "It'll be too high if you fall again," said Øystein, who felt he was sobering up just watching Erling.
But Erling did manage to get up. "The trick is to evaluate the situation," he said, didactically. "When I left the bed I didn't evaluate my situation. Now I do. Whom did you choke to death? Get me a glass of water! I can't walk that far. I have been drunk."
"Have been," mocked Øystein, and handed him the water.
Erling drank, trembling. He walked over and put the glass down on the bedside table. "There you see!" he said, and Øystein discovered that Erling was indeed looking awake.
"Good! Now go to bed, Erling!"
"No—I must find out—I must get to the bottom of this, so I can sleep. Who was it you were beating up?"
Someone suddenly laughed, and a smile fluttered over Øystein's face. "No, my friend, I wasn't beating anybody. I was proposing."
"Proposing? At your age? Has anyone proposed to anyone since 1912? Ah, I see—it's Saturday, it was a Saturday proposal. But why did she yell? How do you go about proposing? That's something I would like to know."
He thought a moment, then he said, "Felicia has made me drunk. Has she made you drunk too?"
Øystein said calmly, "I noticed Felicia was urging you on."
Erling raised his hand, as if lecturing, "She has done so because she has filled Old Venhaug with loose women. She stands discovered."
There came laughter from the hall.
"What's that?" asked Erling, shuffling toward the door. "Have you proposed to a whole flock? First they bawl and then they laugh—"
"Better go to bed," admonished Øystein.
"Never!" shouted Erling. "Have you got a drink in there? Now that you have ruined the night for me anyway with your beastly behavior—"
A woman appeared in the door. She was difficult to recognize in the [p. 245] pale, fluttering light, but soon Erling saw that she was the older one of the Etruscans: "Is she the one you proposed to and beat up?"
"Why not ask him in for a drink, Øystein—please, let's!"
"Dry me off first," said Erling. "He poured the night pot over me."
She took a sheet from the bed and dried him off.
Then they walked into the next room. Erling sat down on one chair and Øystein on another. The two men talked for a while before Erling discovered there were two women sitting on the bed instead of one. Mother and daughter. Erling frowned and asked, "Have you proposed to one and beaten the other?"
Øystein handed him a glass. "I have good grounds for not proposing to my own daughter," he said.
Erling took a gulp of cognac and coughed; he didn't quite follow. "Which one of them is your daughter?—Ah!" he exclaimed. "Now I get it! It was you who changed your name!"
"You're drunk—I've always been Myhre."
Erling sat looking at the three of them and slowly his brain began to grasp some of the story. He emptied the glass, for he was afraid of dropping it; then he inspected them minutely once more. "Well, well," he said, "so that's the way it is."
Then he added, quite sensibly, "What a waste on Felicia's part to get me drunk!"
His eyes were rather dim but he noticed the two women were smiling. Neither one of them had ever smiled in Sweden. He opened his mouth, but shut it immediately. "Øystein," he said a little later, "either I'm more drunk now or I'm beginning to understand something. Or I understand something because I'm getting drunker. Give me another drink, I want to raise a toast to you three, and then you must see that I get to bed and don't fall on the floor. Any floor, anywhere. Skol! What a pity one can't cry when drunk, for then people'll think it's from drunkenness."
He didn't remember a word of it the following day.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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