The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter IV

Teams of horses driving up over the moors, carting up houses for the new man come to settle in the wilds; load after load, for days on end. Dump the things down on a spot that is to be called Storborg; ’twill answer to its name, no doubt, in time. There are four men already at work up in the hills, getting out stone for a wall and two cellars.

Carting loads, carting new loads. The sides of the house are built and ready beforehand, ’tis only to fix them up when the spring comes; all reckoned out neatly and accurately in advance, each piece with its number marked, not a door, not a window lacking, even to the coloured glass for the verandah. And one day a cart comes up with a whole load of small stakes. What’s them for? One of the settlers from lower down can tell them; he’s from the south, and has seen the life before. ’Tis for a garden fence,” says he. So the new man is going to have a garden laid out in the wilds — a big garden.

All looked well; never before had there been such carting and traffic up over the moors, and there were many that earned good money letting out their horses for the work. This, again, was matter for discussion. There was the prospect of making money in the future; the trader would be getting his goods from different parts; inland or overseas, they would have to be carted up from the sea with teams of horses.

Ay, it looked as if things were going to be on a grander scale all round. Here was a young fore man or manager in charge of the carting work; a lordly young spark he was, and grumbled at not getting horses enough, for all that there were not so many loads to come.

“But there can’t be so much more to come now, with the houses all up,” they said.

“Ho, and what about the goods?” he answered. Sivert from Sellanraa came clattering up home ward, empty as usual, and the foreman called to him: “Hi, what are you coming up empty for? Why didn’t you bring up a load for us here?

“Why, I might have,” said Sivert. “But I’d no knowledge of it.”

“He’s from Sellanraa; they’ve two horses there,” some one whispered.

“What’s that? You’ve got two horses?” says the foreman. “Bring them down, then, the pair of them, to help with the cartage here. We’ll pay you well.”

“Why,” says Sivert, “that’s none so bad, dare say. But we’re pressed just now, and can’t spare the time.”

“What? Can’t spare the time to make money! says the foreman.

But they had not always time at Sellanraa, there was much to do on the place. They had hired men to help-the first time such a thing had ever been done at Sellanraa — two stoneworkers from the Swedish side, to get out stone for a new cowshed.

This had been Isak’s great idea for years past, to build a proper cowshed. The turf hut where the cattle were housed at present was too small, and out of repair; he would have a stone-built shed with double walls and a proper dung-pit under. It was to be done now. But there were many other things to be done as well, one thing always leading to an other; the building work, at any rate, seemed never to be finished. He had a sawmill and a cornmill and a summer shed for the cattle; it was but reason able he should have a smithy. Only a little place, for odd jobs as need arose; it was a long way to send down to the village when the sledge-hammer curled at the edges or a horseshoe or so wanted looking to. Just enough to manage with, that was all — and why shouldn’t he? Altogether, there were many outbuildings, little and big, at Sellanraa.

The place is growing, getting bigger and bigger, a mighty big place at last. Impossible now to manage without a girl to help, and Jensine has to stay on. Her father, the blacksmith, asks after her now and again, if she isn’t coming home soon; but he does not make a point of it, being an easy-going man, and maybe with his own reasons for letting her stay. And there is Sellanraa, farthest out of all the settlements, growing bigger and bigger all the time; the place, that is, the houses and the ground, only the folk are the same. The day is gone when wandering Lapps could come to the house and get all they wanted for the asking; they come but rarely now, seem rather to go a long way round and keep out of sight; none are even seen inside the house, but wait without if they come at all. Lapps always keep to the outlying spots, in dark places; light and air distress them, they cannot thrive; ’tis with them as with maggots and vermin. Now and again a calf or a lamb disappears without a trace from the outskirts of Sellanraa, from the farthest edge of the land — there is no helping that. And Sellanraa can bear the loss. And even if Sivert could shoot, he has no gun, bat anyway, lie cannot shoot; a good tempered fellow, nothing warlike; a born jester: “And, anyway, I doubt but there’s a law against shooting Lapps,” says he.

Ay, Sellanraa can bear the loss of a head or so of cattle here and there; it stands there, great and strong. But not without its troubles for all that. Inger is not altogether pleased with herself and with life all the year round, no; once she made a journey to a place a long way off, and it seems to have left ar, ugly discontent behind. It may disappear for a time, but always it returns. She is clever and hard working as in her best days, and a handsome, healthy wife for a man, for a barge of a man — but has she no memories of Trondhjem; does she never dream? Ay, and in winter most of all. Full of life and spirits at times, and wanting no end of things — but a woman cannot dance by herself, and so there was no dancing at Sellanraa. Heavy thoughts and books of devotion? Ay, well. . . . But there’s some thing, Heaven knows, in the other sort of life, some thing splendid and unequalled. She has learned to make do with little; the Swedish stoneworkers are something, at any rate; strange faces and new voices about the place, but they are quiet, elderly men, given to work rather than play. Still, better than nothing — and one of them sings beautifully at his work; Inger stops now and again to listen. Hjalmar is his name.

And that is not all the trouble at Sellanraa. There is Eleseus, for instance-a disappointment there. He had written to say that his place in the engineer’s office was no longer open, but he was going to get another all right — only wait. Then came another letter; he was expecting something to turn up very shortly, a first-rate post; but meantime, he could not live on nothing at all, and when they sent him a hundred-Krone note from home, he wrote back to say it was just enough to pay off some small debts he had. . . . “Him,” said Isak. “But we’ve these stoneworker folk to pay, and a deal of things . . . write and ask if he wouldn’t rather come back here and lend a hand.”

And Inger wrote, but Eleseus did not care about coming home again; no, no sense in making another journey all to no purpose; he would rather starve.

Well, perhaps there was no first-rate post vacant just then in the city, and Eleseus, perhaps, was not as sharp as a razor in pushing his way. Heaves knows — perhaps he wasn’t over clever at his work either. Write? ay, he could write well enough and quick and hard-working maybe, but there might be something lacking for all that. And if so, what was to become of him?

When he arrived from home with his two hundred Kroner, the city was waiting for him with old accounts outstanding, and when those were paid, well, he had to get a proper walking-stick, and not the remains of an umbrella. There were other little things as well that were but reasonable — a fur cap for the winter, like all his companions wore, a pair of skates to go on the ice with as others did, a silver toothpick, which was a thing to clean one’s teeth, and play with daintily when chatting with friends over a glass of this or that. And as long as he had money, he stood treat as far as he was able; at a festive evening held to celebrate his return to town, he ordered half a dozen bottles of beer, and had them opened sparingly, one after another. “What — twenty Ore for the waitress?” said his friends; “ten’s quite enough.”

“Doesn’t do to be stingy,” said Eleseus.

Nothing stingy nor mean about Eleseus, no; he come from a good home, from a big place, where his father the Margrave owned endless tracts of timber and four horses and thirty cows and three mowing-machines. Eleseus was no liar, and it was not he who had spread abroad all the fantastic stories about the Sellanraa estate; ’twas the district surveyor who had amused himself talking grandly about it a long while back. But Eleseus was not displeased to find the stories taken more or less for truth. Being nothing in himself, it was just as well to be the son of somebody that counted for something; it gave him credit, and was useful that way. But it could not last for ever; the day came when he could no longer put off paying, and what was he to do then? One of his friends came to his help, got him into his father’s business, a general store where the peasants bought their wares — better than nothing. It was a poor thing for a grown lad to start at a beginner’s wage in a little shop; no short cut to the position of a Lensmand; still, it gave him enough to live on, helped him over the worst for the present — oh, ’twas not so bad, after all. Eleseus was willing and good-tempered here too, and people liked him; he wrote home to say he had gone into trade.

This was his mother’s greatest disappointment. Eleseus serving in a shop — ’twas not a whit better than being assistant at the store down in the village. Before, he had been something apart, something different from the rest; none of their neighbours had gone off to live in a town and work in an office. Had he lost sight of his great aim and end? Inger was no fool; she knew well enough that there was a difference between the ordinary and the uncommon, though perhaps she did not always think to reckon with it. Isak was simpler and slower of thought; he reckoned less and less with Eleseus now, when he reckoned at all; his eldest son was gradually slipping out of range. Isak no longer thought of Sellanraa divided between his two sons when he himself should be gone.

Some way on in spring came engineers and work. men from Sweden; going to build roads, put up hutments, work in various ways, blasting, levelling, getting up supplies of food, hiring teams of horses, making arrangements with owners of land by the waterside; what — what was it all about? This is in the wilds, where folk never came but those who lived there? Well, they were going to start that copper mine, that was all.

So it had come to something after all; Geissler had not been merely boasting.

It was not the same big men that had come with him that time — no, the two of them had stayed behind, having business elsewhere, no doubt. But the same engineer was there, and the mining expert that had come at first. They bought up all the sawn planks Isak could spare, bought food and drink and paid for it well, chatted in kindly fashion and were pleased with Sellanraa. “Aerial railway,” they said. “Cable haulage from the top of the fjeld down to the waterside,” they said.

“What, down over all this moorland here?” said Isak, being slow to think. But they laughed at that.

“No, on the other side, man; not this way, ‘twould be miles to go. No, on the other side of the fjeld, straight down to the sea; a good fall, and no distance to speak of. Run the ore down through the air in iron tanks; oh, it’ll work all right, you wait and see. But we’ll have to cart it down at first; make a road, and have it hauled down in carts. We shall want fifty horses — you see, we’ll get on finely. And we’ve more men on the works than these few here — that’s nothing. There’s more coming up from the other side, gangs of men, with huts all ready to put up, and stores of provisions and material and tools and things — then we meet and make connection with them half-way, on the top, you see? We’ll make the thing go, never fear — and ship the ore to South America. There’s millions to be made out of it.”

“What about the other gentlemen,” asked Isak, “that came up here before?”

“What? Oh, they’ve sold out. So you remember them? No, they’ve sold. And the people that bought them out have sold again. It’s a big company now that owns the mine — any amount of money behind it.”

“And Geissler, where’ll he be now?” asks Isak.

“Geissler? Never heard of him. Who’s he?”

“Lensmand Geissler, that sold you the place first of all.”

“Oh, him! Geissler was his name? Heaven knows where he is now. So you remember him too?”

Blasting and working up in the hills, gangs of men at world all through the summer — there was plenty doing about the place. Inger did a busy trade in milk and farm produce, and it amused her — going into business, as it were, and seeing all the many folk coming and going. Isak tramped about with his lumbering tread, and worked on his land; nothing disturbed him. Sivert and the two stone workers got the new cowshed up. It was a fine building, but took a deal of time before it was finished, with only three men to the work, and Sivert, moreover, often called away to help in the fields. The mowing-machine was useful now; and a good thing, too, to have three active women that could take a turn at the haymaking.

All going well; there was life in the wilds now, and money growing, blossoming everywhere.

And look at Storborg, the new trader’s place — there was a business on a proper scale! This Aron must be a wizard, a devil of a fellow; he had learned somehow beforehand of the mining operations to come, and was on the spot all ready, with his shop and store, to make the most of it. Business? He did business enough for a whole State — ay, enough for a king! To begin with, he sold all kinds of household utensils and workmen’s clothes; but miners earning good money are not afraid to spend it; not content with buying necessaries only; they would buy anything and everything. And most of all on Saturday evenings, the trading station at Storborg was crowded with folk, and Aron raking money in; his clerk and his wife were both called in to help behind the counter, and Aron himself serving and selling as hard as he could go at it — and even then the place would not be empty till late at night. And the owners of horse-flesh in the village, they were right; ’twas a mighty carting and hauling of wares up to Storborg; more than once they had to cut off corners of the old road and make new short cuts — a fine new road it was at last, very different from Isak’s first narrow path up through the wilds. Aron was a blessing and a benefactor, nothing less, with his store and his new road. His name was not Aron really, that being only his Christian name; properly, he was Aronsen, and so he called himself, and his wife called him the same. They were a family not to be looked down upon, and kept two servant-girls and a lad.

As for the land at Storborg, it remained untouched for the present. Aronsen had no time for working on the soil — where was the sense of digging up a barren moor? But Aronsen had a garden, with a fence all round, and currant bushes and asters and rowans and planted trees — ay, a real garden. There was a broad path down it, where Aronsen could walk o’ Sundays and smoke his pipe, and in the background was the verandah of the house, with panes of coloured glass, orange and red and blue. Storborg . . . And there were children — three pretty little things about the place. The girl was to learn to play her part as daughter of a wealthy trader, and the boys were to learn the business themselves — ay, three children with a future before them!

Aronsen was a man to take thought for the future, or he would not have come there at all. He might have stuck to his fishery, and like enough been lucky at that and made good money, but ’twas not like going into business; nothing so fine, a thing for common folk at best. People didn’t take off their hats to a fisherman. Aronsen had rowed his boat before, pulling at the oars; now he was going to sail instead. There was a word he was always using: “Cash down.” He used it all sorts of ways. When things went well, they were going “cash down.” His children were to get on in the world, and live more “cash down” even than himself. That was how he put it, meaning that they should have an easier life of it than he had had.

And look you, things did go well; neighbours took notice of him, and of his wife — ay, even of the children. It was not the least remarkable thing, that folk took notice of the children. The miners came down from their work in the hills, and had not seen a child’s face for many days; when they caught sight of Aronsen’s little ones playing in the yard, they would talk kindly to them at once, as if they had met three puppies at play. They would have given them money, but seeing they were the trader’s children, it would hardly do. So they played music for them on their mouth-organs instead. Young Gustaf came down, the wildest of them all, with his hat over one ear, and his lips ever ready with a merry word; ay, Gustaf it was that came and played with them for long at a time. The children knew him every time, and ran to meet them; he would pick them up and carry them on his back, all three of them, and dance with them. “Ho!” said Gustaf, and danced with them. And then he would take out his mouth-organ and play tunes and music for them, till the two servant-girls would come out and look at him, and listen, with tears in their eyes. Ay, a madcap was Gustaf, but he knew what he was doing!

Then after a bit he would go into the shop and throw his money about, buying up a whole knap sack full of things. And when he went back up the road again, it was with a whole little stock-in-trade of his own — and he would stop at Sellanraa on the way and open his pack and show them. Notepaper with a flower in the corner, and a new pipe and a new shirt, and a fringed neckerchief — sweets for the womenfolk, and shiny things, a watch-chain with a compass, a pocket-knife — oh, a host of things. Ay, there were rockets he had bought to let off on Sunday, for every one to see. Inger gave him milk, and he joked with Leopoldine, and picked up little Rebecca and swung her up in the air — “Hoy huit!”

“And how’s the building getting on?” he asked the Swedes — Gustaf was a Swede himself, and made friends with them too. The building was getting on as best it could, with but themselves to the work. Why, then, he’d come and give them a hand himself, would Gustaf, though that was only said in jest.

“Ay, if you only would,” said Inger. For the cowshed ought to be ready by the autumn, when the cattle were brought in.

Gustaf let off a rocket, and having let off one, there was no sense in keeping the rest. As well let them off too — and so he did, half a dozen of them, and the women and children stood round breathless at the magic of the magician; and Inger had never seen a rocket before, but the wild fire of them some how reminded her of the great world she had once seen. What was a sewing-machine to this? And when Gustaf finished up by playing his mouth-organ, Inger would have gone off along the road with him for sheer emotion. . . .

The mine is working now, and the ore is carted down by teams of horses to the sea; a steamer had loaded up one cargo and sailed away with it to South America, and another steamer waits already for the next load. Ay, ’tis a big concern. All the settlers have been up to look at the wonderful place, as many as can walk. Brede Olsen has been up, with his samples of stone, and got nothing for his pains, seeing that the mining expert was gone back to Sweden again. On Sundays, there was a crowd of people coming up all the way from the village; ay, even Axel Ström, who had no time to throw away, turned off from his proper road along the telegraph line to look at the place. Hardly a soul now but has seen the mine and its wonders. And at last Inger herself, Inger from Sellanraa, puts on her best, gold ring and all, and goes up to the hills.

What does she want there?

Nothing, does not even care to see how the work is done. Inger has come to show herself, that is all. When she saw the other women going up, she felt she must go too. A disfiguring scar on her upper lip, and grown children of her own, has Inger, but she must go as the others did. It irks her to think of the others, young women, ay . . . but she will try if she can’t compete with them all the same. She has not begun to grow stout as yet, but has still a good figure enough, tall and natty enough; she can still look well. True, her colouring is not what it used to be, and her skin is not comparable to a golden peach — but they should see for all that; ay, they should say, after all, she was good enough!

They greet her kindly as she could wish; the work men know her, she has given them many a drink of milk, and they show her over the mine, the huts, the stables and kitchens, the cellars and storesheds; the bolder men edge in close to her and take her lightly by the arm, but Inger does not feel hurt at all, it does her good. And where there are steps to go up or down, she lifts her skirts high, showing her legs a trifle; but she manages it quietly, as if without a thought. Ay, she’s good enough, think the men to themselves.

Oh, but there is something touching about her, this woman getting on in years; plain to see that a glance from one of these warm-blooded menfolk came all unexpectedly to her; she was grateful for it, and returned it; she was a woman like other women, and it thrilled her to feel so. An honest woman she had been, but like enough ’twas for lack of opportunity.

Getting on in years. . . .

Gustaf came up. Left two girls from the village, and a comrade, just to come. Gustaf knew what he was at, no doubt; he took Inger’s hand with more warmth, more pressure than was needed, and thanked her for the last pleasant evening at Sellanraa, but he was careful not to plague her with attention.

“Well, Gustaf, and when are you coming to help us with the building?” says Inger, going red. And Gustaf says he will come sure enough before long. His compiles hear it, and got in a word that they’ll all be coming down before long.

“Ho!” says Inger. “Aren’t you going to stay on the mine, then, come winter?”

The men answer cautiously, that it doesn’t look like it, but can’t be sure. But Gustaf is bolder, and laughs and says, looks like they’ve scraped out the bit of copper there was.

“You’ll not say that in earnest surely?” says Inger. And the other men put in that Gustaf had better be careful not to say any such thing.

But Gustaf was not going to be careful; he said a great deal more, and as for Inger, ’twas strange how he managed to win her for himself, for all that he never seemed to put himself forward that way. One of the other lads played a concertina, but ’twas not like Gustaf’s mouth-organ; another lad again, and a smart fellow he was too, tried to draw attention to himself by singing a song off by heart to the music, but that was nothing either, for all that he had a fine rolling voice. And a little while after, there was Gustaf, and if he hadn’t got Inger’s gold ring on his little finger! And how had it come about, when he never plagued nor pushed himself forward? Oh, he was forward enough in his way, but quiet with it all, as Inger herself; they did not talk of things, and she let him play with her hand as if without noticing. Later on, when she sat in one of the huts drinking coffee, there was a noise outside, high words between the men, and she knew it was about herself, and it warmed her. A pleasant thing to hear, for one no longer young, for a woman getting on in years.

And how did she come home from the hills that Sunday evening? Ho, well enough, virtuous as she had come, no more and no less. There was a crowd of men to see her home, the crowd of them that would not turn back as long as Gustaf was there; would not leave her alone with him, not if they knew it! Inger had never had such a gay time, not even in the days when she had been out in the world.

“Hadn’t Inger lost something?” they asked at last.

“Lost something? No.”

A gold ring, for instance?

And at that Gustaf had to bring it out; he was one against all, a whole army.

“Oh, ’twas a good thing you found it,” said Inger, and made haste to say good-bye to her escort.

She drew nearer Sellanraa, saw the many roofs of the buildings; it was her home that lay there. And she awoke once more, came back to herself, like the clever wife she was, and took a short cut through to the summer shed to look to the cattle. On the way she passes by a place she knows; a little child had once lain buried there; she had patted down the earth with her hands, set up a tiny cross — oh, but it was long ago. Now, she was wondering if those girls had finished their milking in good time. . . .

The work at the mine goes on, but there are whisperings of something wrong, the yield is not as good as it had promised. The mining expert, who had gone back home, came out again with another expert to help him; they went about blasting and boring and examining all the ground. What was wrong? The copper is fine enough, nothing wrong with that, but thin, and no real depth in it; getting thicker to the southward, lying deep and fine just where the company’s holding reached its limit — and beyond that was Almenning, the property of the State. Well, the first purchasers had perhaps not thought so much of the thing, anyway. It was a family affair, some relatives who had bought the place as a speculation; they had not troubled to secure the whole range, all the miles to the next valley, no; they had but taken over a patch of ground from Isak Sellanraa and Geissler, and then sold it again.

And what was to be done now? The leading men, with the experts and the foremen, know well enough; they must start negotiations with the State at once. So they send a messenger off at full speed to Sweden, with letters and plans and charts, and ride away themselves down to the Lensmand below, to get the rights of the field south of the water. And here their difficulties begin; the law stands in their way; they are foreigners, and cannot be purchasers in their own right. They knew all about that, and had made arrangements. But the south em side of the field was sold already — and that they did not know. “Sold?”

“Ay, long ago, years back.”

“Who bought it then?”

“Geissler.”

“What Geissler? — oh, that fellow — h’m.”

“And the title-deeds approved and registered,” says the Lensmand. “’Twas bare rock, no more, and he got it for next to nothing.”

“Who is this fellow Geissler that keeps cropping up? Where is he?”

“Heaven knows where he is now!”

And a new messenger is sent off to Sweden. They must find out all about this Geissler. Meanwhile, they could not keep on all the men; they must wait and see.

So Gustaf came down to Sellanraa, with all his worldly goods on his back, and here he was, he said. Ay, Gustaf had given up his work at the mine — that is to say, he had been a trifle too outspoken the Sunday before, about the mine and the copper in the mine; the foreman had heard of it, and the engineer, and Gustaf was given his discharge. Well, good bye then, and maybe ’twas the very thing he wanted; there could be nothing suspicious now about his coming to Sellanraa. They set him to work at once on the cowshed.

They worked and worked at the stone walls, and when a few days later another man came down from the mine, he was taken on too; now there were two spells, and the work went apace. Ay, they would have it ready by the autumn, never fear.

But now one after another of the miners came down, dismissed, and took the road to Sweden; the trial working was stopped for the present. There was something like a sigh from the folk in the village at the news; foolish folk, they did not understand what a trial working was, that it was only working on trial, but so it was. There were dark forebodings and discouragement among the village folk; money was scarcer, wages were reduced, things were very quiet at the trading station at Storborg. What did it all mean? Just when everything was going on finely, and Aronsen had got a flagstaff and a flag, and had bought a fine white bearskin for a rug to have in the sledge for the winter, and fine clothes for all the family. . . . Little matters these, but there were greater things happening as well. Here were two new men had bought up land for clearing in the wilds; high up between Maaneland and Sellanraa, and that was no small event for the whole of that little outlying community. The two new settlers had built their turf huts and started clearing ground and digging. They were hard-working folk, and had done much in a little time. All that summer they had bought their provisions at Storborg, but when they came down now, last time, there was hardly anything to be had. Nothing in stock — and what did Aron want with heavy stocks of this and that now the work at the mine had stopped? He had hardly anything of any sort on the place now — only money. Of all the folk in the neighbour hood, Aronsen was perhaps the most dejected; his reckoning was all upset. When some one urged him to cultivate his land and live on that till better times, he answered: “Cultivate the land? ’Twas not that I came and set up house here for.”

At last Aronsen could stand it no longer; he must go up to the mine and see for himself how things were. It was a Sunday. When he got to Sellanraa, he wanted Isak to go with him, but Isak had never yet set foot on the mine since they had started; he was more at home on the hillside below. Inger had to put in a word. “You might as well go with Aronsen, when he asks you,” she said. And maybe Inger was not sorry to have him go; ’twas Sunday, and like as not she wanted to be rid of him for an hour or so. And so Isak went along.

There were strange things to be seen up there in the hills; Isak did not recognize the place at all now, with its huts and sheds, a whole town of them, and carts and waggons and great gaping holes in the ground. The engineer himself showed them round. Maybe he was not in the best of humour just now, that same engineer, but he had tried all along to keep away the feeling of gloom that had fallen upon the village folk and the settlers round — and here was his chance, with no less persons than the Margrave of Sellanraa and the great trader from Storborg on the spot.

He explained the nature of the ore and the rocks in which it was found. Copper, iron, and sulphur, all were there together. Ay, they knew exactly what there was in the rocks up there — even gold and silver was there, though not so much of it. A mining engineer, he knows a deal of things.

“And it’s all going to shut down now?” asked Aronsen.

“Shut down?” repeated the engineer in astonishment. “A nice thing that’d be for South America if we did!” No, they were discontinuing their preliminary operations for a while, only for a short time; they had seen what the place was like, what it could produce; then they could build their aerial railway and get to work on the southern side of the field. He turned to Isak: “You don’t happen to know where this Geissler’s got to?”

“No.”

Well, no matter — they’d get hold of him all right. And then they’d start to work again. Shut down? The idea!

Isak is suddenly lost in wonder and delight over a little machine that works with a treadle — simply move your foot and it works. He understands it at once-’tis a little smithy to carry about on a cart and take down and set up anywhere you please.

“What’s a thing like that cost, now?” he asks.

“That? Portable forge? Oh, nothing much.” They had several of the same sort, it appeared, but nothing to what they had down at the sea; all sorts of machines and apparatus, huge big things. Isak was given to understand that mining, the making of valleys and enormous chasms in the rock, was not a business that could be done with your finger-nails ha ha!

They stroll about the place, and the engineer mentions that he himself will be going across to Sweden in a few days’ time.

“But you’ll be coming back again?” says Aronsen.

Why, of course. Knew of no reason why the Government or the police should try to keep him. Isak managed to lead round to the portable forge once more and stopped, looking at it again. “And what might a bit of a machine like that cost?” he asked.

Cost? Couldn’t say off-hand — a deal of money, no doubt, but nothing to speak of in mining operations. Oh, a grand fellow was the engineer; not in the best of humour himself just then, perhaps, but he kept up appearances and played up rich and fine to the last. Did Isak want a forge? Well, he might take that one — the company would never trouble about a little thing like that — the company would make him a present of a portable forge!

An hour after, Aronsen and Isak were on their way down again. Aronsen something calmer in mind — there was hope after all. Isak trundles down the hillside with his precious forge on his back. Ay, a barge of a man, he could bear a load! The engineer had offered to send a couple of men down with it to Sellanraa next morning, but Isak thanked him — ’twas more than worth his while. He was thinking of his own folk; ‘twould be a fine surprise for them to see him come walking down with a smithy on his back.

But ’twas Isak was surprised after all.

A horse and cart turned into the courtyard just as he reached home. And a highly remarkable load it brought. The driver was a man from the village’ but beside him walked a gentleman at whom Isak stared in astonishment — it was Geissler.

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