The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter II

Inger packed up some food one day in her calf-skin bag. “I’d thought of going across to see my people, just how they’re faring.”

“Ay,” said Isak.

“I must have a bit of talk with them about things.”

Isak did not go out at once to see her off, but waited quite a while. And when at last he shambled out, looking never the least bit anxious, never the least bit miserable and full of fear, Inger was all but vanished already through the fringe of the forest.

“Hem!” He cleared his throat, and called, “Will you be coming back maybe?” He had not meant to ask her that, but . . .

“Coming back? Why, what’s in your mind? Of course I’ll be coming back.”

“H’m.”

So he was left alone again — eyah, well . . .! With his strength, and the love of work that was in him, he could not idle in and out about the hut doing nothing; he set to, clearing timber, felling straight good sticks, and cutting them flat on two sides. He worked at this all through the day, then he milked the goats and went to bed.

Sadly bare and empty now in the hut; a heavy silence clung about the peat walls and the earthen floor; a deep and solemn loneliness. Spinning-wheel and carding-combs were in their place; the beads, too, were safe as they had been, stowed away in a bag under the roof. Inger had taken nothing of her belongings. But Isak, unthinkably simple as he was, grew afraid of the dark in the light summer nights, and saw Shapes and Things stealing past the window. He got up before dawn, about two o’clock by the light, and ate his breakfast, a mighty dish of porridge to last the day, and save the waste of time in cooking more. In the evening he turned up new ground, to make a bigger field for the potatoes.

Three days he worked with spade and ax by turns; Inger should be coming on the next. ‘Twould be but reasonable to have a platter of fish for her when she came — but the straight road to the water lay by the way she would come, and it might seem . . . So he went a longer way; a new way, over the hills where he had never been before. Grey rock and brown, and strewed about with bits of heavy stone, heavy as copper or lead. There might be many things in those heavy stones; gold or silver, like as not — he had no knowledge of such things, and did not care. He came to the water; the fly was up, and the fish were biting well that night. He brought home a basket of fish that Inger would open her eyes to see! Going back in the morning by the way he had come, he picked up a couple of the heavy little stones among the hills; they were brown, with specks of dark blue here and there, and wondrous heavy in the hand.

Inger had not come, and did not come. This was the fourth day. He milked the goats as he had used to do when he lived alone with them and had no other to help; then he went up to a quarry near by and carried down stones; great piles of carefully chosen blocks and flakes, to build a wall. He was busy with no end of things.

On the fifth evening, he turned in to rest with a little fear at his heart — but there were the carding-combs and spinning-wheel, and the string of beads. Sadly empty and bare in the hut, and never a sound; the hours were long, and when at last he did hear something like a sound of footsteps outside, he told himself that it was fancy, nothing more. “Eyah, Herregud!2 he murmured, desolate in spirit. And Isak was not one to uses lightly. There was the tramping of few outside, and a moment after something gliding past the window; something with horns, something alive. He sprang up, over to the door, and lo, a vision! “God or the devil,” muttered Isak, who did not use words lightly. He saw a cow; Inger and a cow, vanishing into the shed.

2 Literally, “Lord God.” The word is frequently used, as here, in a sense of resignation, as it were a sigh.

If he had not stood there himself and heard it — Inger talking softly to the cow in the shed — he would not have believed. But there he stood. And all at once a black misgiving came into his mind: clever wife, ay, a manager of wonders — but, after all . . . No, it was too much, and that was the only word for it. A spinning-wheel and carding-combs at a pinch; even the beads perhaps, though they were over fine to be come by in any way proper and natural. But a cow, picked up straying on the road, maybe, or in a field — it would be missed in no time, and have to be found.

Inger stepped out of the shed, and said with a proud little laugh:

“It’s only me. I’ve brought my cow along.”

“H’m,” said Isak.

“It was that made me so long — I couldn’t go but softly with her over the hills.”

“And so you’ve brought a cow?” said he.

“Yes,” said she, all ready to burst with greatness and riches on earth. “Don’t you believe me, perhaps?”

Isak feared the worst, but made no sign, and only said:

“Come inside and get something to eat.”

“Did you see her? Isn’t she a pretty cow?”

“Ay, a fine cow,” said Isak. And speaking as carelessly as he could, he asked, “Where d’you get her?”

“Her name’s Goldenhorns. What’s that wall to be for you’ve been building up here? You’ll work yourself to death, you will. Oh, come and look at the cow, now, won’t you?”

They went out to look, and Isak was in his under clothes, but that was no matter. They looked and looked the cow all over carefully, in every part, and noted all the markings, head and shoulders, buttocks and thighs, where it was red and white, and how it stood.

“How old d’you think she might be?” asked Isak cautiously.

“Think? Why, she’s just exactly a tiny way on in her fourth year. I brought her up myself, and they all said it was the sweetest calf they’d ever seen. But will there be feed enough here, d’you think?”

Isak began to believe, as he was only too willing to do, that all was well.” As for the feed, why, there’ll be feed enough, never fear.”

Then they went indoors to eat and drink and make an evening together. They lay awake talking of Cow; of the great event. “And isn’t she a dear cow, too Her second’s on the way. And her name’s Goldenhorns. Are you asleep, Isak?”

“No.”

“And what do you talk, she knew me again; knew me at once, and foxed me like a lamb. We lay up in the hills a bit last night.”

“Ho?”

“But she’ll have to be tied up through the summer, all the same, or she’ll be running off. A cow’s a cow.”

“Where’s she been before?” asked Isak at last.

“Why, with my people, where she belonged And they were quite sorry to lose her, I can tell you and the little ones cried when I took her away.”

Could she be making it all up, and coming out with it so pat? No, it wasn’t thinkable. It must be true, the cow was hers. Ho, they were getting well-to-do, with this hut of theirs, this farm of theirs; why, ’twas good enough for any one. Ay, they’d as good as all they could wish for already. Oh, that Inger; he loved her and she loved him again; they were frugal folk; they lived in primitive wise, and lacked for nothing. “Let’s go to sleep!” And they went to sleep. And wakened in the morning to another day, with things to look at, matters to see to, once again; ay, toil and pleasure, ups and downs, the way of life.

As, for instance, with those timber baulks — should he try to fit them up together? Isak had kept his eyes about him down in the village, with that very thing in mind, and seen how it was done; he could build with timber himself, why not? Moreover, it was a call upon him; it must be done. Hadn’t they a farm with sheep, a farm with a cow already, goats that were many already and would be more? — their live stock alone was crowding them out of the turf hut; something must be done. And best get on with it at once, while the potatoes were still in flower, and before the haytime began. Inger would have to lend a hand here and there.

Isak wakes in the night and gets up, Inger sleeping fine and sound after her long tramp, and out he goes to the cowshed. Now it must not be thought that he talked to Cow in any obsequious and disgustful flattery; no, he patted her decently, and looked her over once more in every part, to see if there should, by chance, be any sign, any mark of her belonging to strange owners. No mark, no sign, and Isak steals away relieved.

There lies the timber. He falls to, rolling the baulks, then lifting them, setting them up against the wall in a framework; one big frame for a parlour, and a smaller one — there must be a room to sleep in. It was heavy work, hard-breathing work, and his mind being set on it, he forgot the time. There comes a smoke from the roof-hole of the hut, and Inger steps out and calls to breakfast.

“And what are you busy with now?” asked Inger.

“You’re early about,” says Isak, and that was all.

Ho, that Isak with his secrets and his lordly ways! But it pleased him, maybe, to have her asking and wondering, and curious about his doings. He ate a bit, and sat for a while in the hut before going out again. What could he be waiting for?

“H’m,” says he at last, getting up. “This won’t do. Can’t sit here idling today. Work to be done.”

“Seems like you’re building,” says Inger.

“What?”

And he answered condescendingly, this great man who went about building with timber all by himself, he answered: “Why, you can see as much, I take it.”

“Yes. . . . Yes, of course.”

“Building — why, there’s no help for it as I can see. Here’s you come bringing a whole cow to the farm — that means a cowshed, I suppose?”

Poor Inger, not so eternally wise as he, as Isak, that lord of creation. And this was before she learned to know him, and reckon with his way of putting things. Says Inger:

“Why, it’s never a cowshed you’re building, surely?”

“Ho,” says he.

“But you don’t mean it? I— I thought you’d be building a house first.”

“Think so?” says Isak, putting up a face as if he’d never in life have thought of that himself.

“Why, yes. And put the beasts in the hut.”

Isak thought for a bit. “Ay, maybe ‘twould be best so.”

“There,” says Inger, all glad and triumphant.

“You see I’m some good after all.”

“Ay, that’s true. And what’d you say to a house with two rooms in?”

Two rooms? Oh . . .! Why, ‘twould be just like other folks. Do you think we could?”

They did. Isak he went about building, notching his baulks and fitting up his framework; also he managed a hearth and fireplace of picked stones, though this last was troublesome, and Isak himself was not always pleased with his work. Haytime came, and he was forced to climb down from his building and go about the hillsides far and near, cutting grass and bearing home the hay in mighty loads. Then one rainy day he must go down to the village.

“What you want in the village?”

“Well, I can’t say exactly as yet. . . . ”

He set off, and stayed away two days, and came back with a cooking-stove — a barge of a man surgeing up through the forest with a whole iron stove on his back. “’Tis more than a man can do,” said Inger. “You’ll kill yourself that gait.” But Isak pulled down the stone hearth, that didn’t look so well in the new house, and set up the cooking-stove in its place. “‘Tisn’t every one has a cooking stove,” said Inger. “Of all the wonders, how we’re getting on! . . .”

Haymaking still; Isak bringing in loads and masses of hay, for woodland grass is not the same as meadow grass, more’s the pity, but poorer by far. It was only on rainy days now that he could spare time for his building; ’twas a lengthy business, and even by August, when all the hay was in, safely stored under the shelter of the rock, the new house was still but half-way done. Then by September: “This won’t do,” said Isak. “You’d better run down to the village and get a man to help.” Inger had been something poorly of late, and didn’t run much now, but all the same she got herself ready to go. But Isak had changed his mind again; had put on his lordly manner again, and said he would manage by himself. “No call to bother with other folk,” says he; “I can manage it alone.”

“’Tis more than one man’s work,” says Inger. “You’ll wear yourself out.”

“Just help me to hoist these up,” says Isak, and that was all.

October came, and Inger had to give up. This was a hard blow, for the roof-beams must be got up at any cost, and the place covered in before the autumn rains; there was not a day to be lost. What could be wrong with Inger? Not going to be ill? She would make cheese now and then from the goats’ milk, but beyond that she did little save shifting Goldenhorns a dozen times a day where she grazed.

“Bring up a good-sized basket, or a box,” she had said, “next time you’re down to the village.”

“What d’you want that for?” asked Isak.

“I’ll just be wanting it,” said Inger.

Isak hauled up the roof-beams on a rope, Inger guiding them with one hand; it seemed a help just to have her about. Bit by bit the work went on; there was no great height to the roof, but the timber was huge and heavy for a little house.

The weather kept fine, more or less. Inger got the potatoes in by herself, and Isak had the roofing done before the rain came on in earnest. The goats were brought in of a night into the hut and all slept there together; they managed somehow, they managed everyway, and did not grumble.

Isak was getting ready for another journey down to the village. Said Inger very humbly:

“Do you think perhaps you could bring up a good-sized basket, or a box?”

“I’ve ordered some glass windows,” said Isak. “And a couple of painted doors. I’ll have to fetch them up,” said he in his lordly way.

“Ay well, then. It’s no great matter about the basket.”

“What did you want with a basket? What’s it for?”

“What’s it for? . . . Oh, haven’t you eyes in your head!”

Isak went off deep in thought. Two days later he came back, with a window and a door for the parlour, and a door for the bedroom; also he had hung round his neck in front a good-sized packing-case, and full of provisions to boot.

You’ll carry yourself to death one day,” said Inger.

“Ho, indeed!” Isak was very far indeed from being dead; he took out a bottle of medicine from his pocket — naphtha it was — and gave it to Ingest with orders to take it regularly and get well again. And there were the windows and the painted doors that he could fairly boast of; he set to work at once fitting them in. Oh, such little doors, and second hand at that, but painted up all neat and fine again in red and white; ’twas almost as good as having pictures on the walls.

And now they moved into the new building, and the animals had the turf hut to themselves, only a lambing ewe was left with Cow, lest she should feel lonely.

They had done well, these builders in the waste; ay, ’twas a wonder and a marvel to themselves.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23g/chapter2.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38