The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter V

There were other things that might have given Isak matter for surprise, but he was no great hand at thinking of more than one thing at a time. “Where’s Inger?” was all he said as he passed by the kitchen door. He was only anxious to see that Geissler was well received.

Inger? Inger was out plucking berries; had been out plucking berries ever since Isak started — she and Gustaf the Swede. Ay, getting on in years, and all in love again and wild with it; autumn and winter near, but she felt the warmth in herself again, Mowers and blossoming again. “Come and show where there’s cloudberries,” said Gustaf; “cranberries,” said he. And how could a woman say no? Inger ran into her little room and was both earnest and religious for several minutes; but there was Gustaf standing waiting outside, the world was at her heels, and all she did was to tidy her hair, look at herself carefully in the glass, and out again. And what if she did? Who would not have done the same? Oh, a woman cannot tell one man from another; not always — not often.

And they two go out plucking berries, plucking cloudberries on the moorland, stepping from tuft to tuft, and she lifts her skirts high, and has her neat legs to show. All quiet everywhere; the white grouse have their young ones grown already and do not fly up hissing any more; they are sheltered spots where bushes grow on the moors. Less than an hour since they started, and already they are sitting down to rest. Says Inger: “Oh, I didn’t think you were like that?” Oh, she is all weakness towards him, and smiles piteously, being so deep in love — ay, a sweet and cruel thing to be in love, ’tis both! Right and proper to be on her guard — ay, but only to give in at last. Inger is so deep in love — desperately, mercilessly; her heart is full of kindliness towards him, she only cares to be close and precious to him.

Ay, a woman getting on in years.

“When the work’s finished, you’ll be going off again,” says she.

No, he wasn’t going. Well, of course, some time, but not yet, not for a week or so.

“Hadn’t we better be getting home?” says she.

“No.”

They pluck more berries, and in a little while they find a sheltered place among the bushes, and Inger says: “Gustaf, you’re mad to do it.” And hours pass — they’ll be sleeping now, belike, among the bushes. Sleeping? Wonderful — far out in the wilderness, in the Garden of Eden. Then suddenly Inger sits upright and listens: “Seems like I heard some one down on the road away off?”

The sun is setting, the tufts of heather darkening in shadow as they walk home. They pass by many sheltered spots, and Gustaf sees them, and Inger, she sees them too no doubt, but all the time she feels as if some one were driving ahead of them. Oh, but who could walk all the way home with a wild handsome lad, and be on her guard all the time? Inger is too weak, she can only smile and say: “I never knew such a one.”

She comes home alone. And well that she came just then, a fortunate thing. A minute later had not been well at all. Isak had just come into the courtyard with his forge, and Aronsen — and there is a horse and cart just pulled up.

“Goddag,” says Geissler, greeting Inger as well. And there they stand, all looking one at another — couldn’t be better.

Geissler back again. Years now since he was there, but he is back again, aged a little, greyer a little, but bright and cheerful as ever. And finely dressed this time, with a white waistcoat and gold chain across. A man beyond understanding!

Had he an inkling, maybe, that something was going on up at the mine, and wanted to see for himself? Well, here he was. Very wide awake to look at, glancing round at the place, at the land, turning his head and using his eyes every way. There are great changes to note; the Margrave had extended his domains. And Geissler nods.

“What’s that you’re carrying?” he asks Isak. “’Tis a load for one horse in itself,” says he

“’Tis for a forge,” explains Isak. “And a mighty useful thing to have on a bit of a farm,” says he — ay, calling Sellanraa a bit of a farm, no more!

“‘Where did you get hold of it? ”

“Up at the mine. Engineer, he gave me the thing for a present, he said.”

“The company’s engineer?” says Geissler, as if he had not understood.

And Geissler, was he to be outdone by an engineer on a copper mine? “I’ve heard you’d got a mowing-machine,” says he, “and I’ve brought along a patent raker thing that’s handy to have.” And he points to the load on the cart. There it stood, red and blue, a huge comb, a hayrake to be driven with horses. They lifted it out of the cart and looked at it; Isak harnessed himself to the thing and tried it over the ground. No wonder his mouth opened wide! Marvel on marvel coming to Sellanraa!

They spoke of the mine, of the work up in the hills. “They were asking about you, quite a lot,” said Isak.

“Who?”

“The engineer, and all the other gentlemen. ‘Have to get hold of you somehow,’ they said.”

Oh, but here Isak was saying overmuch, it seemed. Geissler was offended, no doubt; he turned sharp and curt, and said: “Well, I’m here, if they want me.”

Next day came the two messengers back from Sweden, and with them a couple of the mineowners; on horseback they were, fine gentlemen and portly; mighty rich folk, by the look of them. They hardly stopped at Sellanraa at all, simply asked a question or so about the road, without dismounting, and rode on up the hill. Geissler they pretended not to see, though he stood quite close. The messengers with their loaded packhorses rested for an hour, talked to the men at work on the building, learned that the old gentleman in the white waistcoat and gold chain was Geissler, and then they too went on again. But that same evening one of them came riding down to the place with a message by word of mouth for Geissler to come up to the gentlemen at the mines. “I’m here if they want me,” was the answer Geissler sent back.

Geissler was grown an important personage, it seemed; thought himself a man of power, of all the power in the world; considered it, perhaps, beneath his dignity to be sent for by word of mouth. But how was it he had come to Sellanraa at all just then — just when he was most wanted? A great one he must be for knowing things, all manner of things. Anyway, when the gentlemen up at the mine had Geissler’s answer, there was nothing for it but they must bestir themselves and come all the way down to Sellanraa again. The engineer and the two mining experts came with them.

So many crooked ways and turnings were there before that meeting was brought about. It looked ill to start with; ay, Geissler was over-lordly by far.

The gentlemen were polite enough this time; begged him to excuse their having sent a verbal message the day before, being tired out after their journey. Geissler was polite in return, and said he too was tired out after his journey, or he would have come. Well, and then, to get to business: Would Geissler sell the land south of the water?

“Do you wish to purchase on your own account, may I ask,” said Geissler, “or are you acting as agents?”

Now this could be nothing but sheer contrariness on Geissler’s part; he could surely see for himself that rich and portly gentlemen of their stamp would not be acting as agents. They went on to discuss terms. “What about the price?” said they.

“The price? — yes,” said Geissler, and sat thinking it over. “A couple of million,” said he.

“Indeed?” said the gentlemen, and smiled. But Geissler did not smile.

The engineer and the Leo experts had made a rough investigation of the ground, made a few borings and blastings, and here was their report: the occurrence of ore was due to eruption; it was irregular, and from their preliminary examination appeared to be deepest in the neighbourhood of the boundary between the company’s land and Geissler’s decreasing from there onwards. For the last mile or so there was no ore to be found worth working

Geissler listened to all this with the greatest nonchalance. He took some papers from his pocket, and looked at them carefully; but the papers were not charts nor maps — like as not they were things no way connected with the mine at all.

“You haven’t gone deep enough,” said he, as if it were something he had read in his papers. The gentlemen admitted that at once, but the engineer asked:

How did he know that — “You haven’t made borings yourself, I suppose?”

And Geissler smiled, as if he had bored hundreds of miles down through the globe, and covered up the holes again after.

They kept at it till noon, talking it over this way and that, and at last began to look at their watches. They had brought Geissler down to half a million now, but not a hair’s breadth farther. No; they must have put him out sorely some way or other. They seemed to think he was anxious to sell, obliged to sell, but he was not — ho, not a bit; there he sat as easy and careless as themselves, and no mistaking it.

“Fifteen, say twenty thousand would be a decent price anyway,” said they.

Geissler agreed that might be a decent price enough for any one sorely in need of the money, but five-and-twenty thousand would be better. And then one of the gentlemen put in — saying it perhaps by way of keeping Geissler from soaring too far: “By the way, I’ve seen your wife’s people in Sweden — they sent their kind regards.”

“Thank you,” said Geissler.

“Well,” said the other gentleman, seeing Geissler was not to be won over that way, “a quarter of a million . . . it’s not gold we’re buying, but copper ore.”

“Exactly,” said Geissler. “It’s copper ore.”

And at that they lost patience, all of them, and five watch-cases were opened and snapped to again; no more time to fool away now; it was time for dinner. They did not ask for food at Sellanraa, but rode back to the mine to get their own.

And that was the end of the meeting.

Geissler was left alone.

What would be in his mind all this time — what was he pondering and speculating about? Nothing at all, maybe, but only idle and careless? No, in deed, he was thinking of something, but calm enough for all that. After dinner, he turned to Isak, and said: “I’m going for a long walk over my land up there; and I’d have liked to have Sivert with me, same as last time.”

“Ay, so you shall,” said Isak at once.

“No; he’s other things to do, just now.”

“He shall go with you at once,” said Isak, and called to Sivert to leave his work. But Geissler held up his hand, and said shortly: “No.”

He walked round the yard several times, came back and talked to the men at their work, chatting easily with them and going off and coming back again. And all the time with this weighty matter on his mind, yet talking as if it were nothing at all. Geissler had long been so long accustomed to changes of fortune, maybe he was past feeling there was any thing at stake now, whatever might be in the air.

Here he was, the man he was, by the merest chance. He had sold the first little patch of land to his wife’s relations, and what then? Gone off and bought up the whole tract south of the water — what for? Was it to annoy them by making himself their neighbour? At first, no doubt, he had only thought of taking over a little strip of the land there, just where the new village would have to be built if the workings came to anything, but in the end he had come to be owner of the whole fjeld. The land was to be had for next to nothing, and he did not want a lot of trouble with boundaries. So, from sheer idleness he had become a mining king, a lord of the mountains; he had thought of a site for huts and machine sheds, and it had become a kingdom, stretching right down to the sea.

In Sweden, the first little patch of land had passed from hand to hand, and Geissler had taken care to keep himself informed as to its fate. The first purchasers, of course, had bought foolishly, bought without sense or forethought; the family council were not mining experts, they had not secured enough land at first, thinking only of buying out a certain Geissler, and getting rid of him. But the new owners were no less to be laughed at; mighty men, no doubt, who could afford to indulge in a jest, and take up land for amusement’s sake, for a drunken wager, or Heaven knows what. But when it came to trial workings, and exploiting the land in earnest, then suddenly they found themselves butting up against a wall — Geissler.

Children! thought Geissler, maybe, in his lofty mind; he felt his power now, felt strong enough to be short and abrupt with folk. The others had certainly done their best to take him down a peg; they imagined they were dealing with a man in need of money, and threw out hints of some fifteen or twenty thousand — ay, children. They did not know Geissler. And now here he stood.

They came down no more that day from the field, thinking best, no doubt, not to show themselves over-anxious. Next morning they came down, pack-horses and all, on their way home. And lo Geissler was not there.

Not there?

That put an end to any ideas they might have had of settling the manner in lordly wise, from the saddle; they had to dismount and wait. And where was Geissler, if you please? Nobody could tell them; he went about everywhere, did Geissler, took an interest in Sellanraa and all about it; the last they had seen of him was up at the sawmill. The messengers were sent out to look for him, but Geissler must have gone some distance, it seemed, for he gave no answer when they shouted. The gentlemen looked at their watches, and were plainly annoyed at first, and said: “We’re not going to fool about here waiting like this. If Geissler wants to sell, he must be on the spot.” Oh, but they changed their tone in a little while; showed no annoyance after a while, but even began to find something amusing in it all, to jest about it. Here were they in a desperate case; they would have to lie out there in the desolate hills all night. And get lost and starve to death in the wilds, and leave their bones to bleach undiscovered by their mourning kin — ay, they made a great jest of it all.

At last Geissler came. Had been looking round a bit — just come from the cattle enclosure. “Looks as if that’ll be too small for you soon,” said he to Isak. “How many head have you got up there now altogether?” Ay, he could talk like that, with those fine gentlemen standing there watch in hand. Curiously red in the face was Geissler, as if he had been drinking. “Puh!” said he. “I’m all hot, walking.”

“We half expected you would be here when we came,” said one of the gentlemen.

“I had no word of your wanting to see me at all,” answered Geissler, “otherwise I might have been here on the spot.”

Well, and what about the business now? Was Geissler prepared to accept a reasonable offer to day? It wasn’t every day he had a chance of fifteen or twenty thousand — what? Unless, of course . . . If the money were nothing to him, why, then . . .

This last suggestion was not to Geissler’s taste at all; he was offended. A nice way to talk! Well, they would not have said it, perhaps, if they had not been annoyed at first; and Geissler, no doubt, would hardly have turned suddenly pale at their words if he had not been out somewhere by himself and got red. As it was, he paled, and answered coldly:

“I don’t wish to make any suggestion as to what you, gentlemen, may be in a position to pay — but I know what I am willing to accept and what not. I’ve no use for more child’s prattle about the mine. My price is the same as yesterday.”

“A quarter of a million Kroner?”

“Yes.”

The gentlemen mounted their horses. “Look here,” said one, “we’ll go this far, and say twenty five thousand.”

“You’re still inclined to joke, I see,” said Geissler. “But I’ll make you an offer in sober earnest: would you care to sell your bit of a mine up there?”

“Why,” said they, somewhat taken aback “why, we might do that, perhaps.”

“I’m ready to buy it,” said Geissler.

Oh, that Geissler! With the courtyard full of people now, listening to every word; all the Sellanraa folk, and the stoneworkers and the messengers. Like as not, he could never have raised the money nor anything near it, for such a deal; but, again, who could say? A man beyond understanding was Geissler. Anyhow, his last words rather disconcerted those gentlemen on horseback. Was it a

The gentlemen thought it over; ay, they even began to talk softly together about it; they got down from their horses again. Then the engineer put in a word; he thought, no doubt, it was getting beyond all bearing. And he seemed to have some power, some kind of authority here. And the yard was full of folk all listening to what was going on. “We’ll not sell,” said he.

“Not?” asked his companions.

“No.”

They whispered together again, and they mounted their horses once more — in earnest this time. “Twenty-five thousand!” called out one of them. Geissler did not answer, but turned away, and went over to talk to the stoneworkers again.

And that was the end of their last meeting.

Geissler appeared to care nothing for what might come of it. He walked about talking of this, that, and the other; for the moment he seemed chiefly interested in the laying of some heavy beams across the shell of the new cowhouse. They were to get the work finished that week, with a temporary roof — a new fodder loft was to be built up over later on.

Isak kept Sivert away from the building work now, and left him idle — and this he did with a purpose, that Geissler might find the lad ready at any time if he wanted to go exploring with him in the hills. But Isak might have saved himself the trouble; Geissler had given up the idea, or perhaps forgotten all about it. What he did was to get Inger to pack him up some food, and set off down the road. He stayed away till evening.

He passed the two new clearings that had been started below Sellanraa, and talked to the men there; went right down to Maaneland to see what Axel Ström had got done that year. Nothing very great, it seemed; not as much as he might have wished, but he had put in some good work on the land. Geissler took an interest in this place, too, and asked him:

“Got a horse?”

“Ay.”

“Well, I’ve a mowing-machine and a harrow down south, both new; I’ll send them up, if you like.”

“How?” asked Axel, unable to conceive such magnificence, and thinking vaguely of payment by instalments.

“I mean I’ll make you a present of them,” said Geissler.

“’Tis hard to believe,” said Axel.

“But you’ll have to kelp those two neighbours of yours Up. above, breaking new land.”

“Ay, never fear for that,” said Axel; he could still hardly make out what Geissler meant by it all. “So you’ve machines and things down south?”

“I’ve a deal of things to look after,” said Geissler. Now, as a matter of fact, Geissler had no great deal of things to look after, but he liked to make it appear so. As for a mowing-machine and a harrow, he could buy them in any of the towns, and send up from there.

He stayed talking a long while with Axel Ström about the other settlers near; of Storborg, the trading station; of Axel’s brother, newly married, who had come to Breidablik, and had started draining the moors and getting the water out. Axel complained that it was impossible to get a woman anywhere to help; he had none but an old creature, by name Oline; not much good at the best of times, but he might be thankful to have her as long as she stayed. Axel had been working day and night part of that summer. He might, perhaps, have got a woman from his own parts, from Helgeland, but that would have meant paying for her journey, be sides wages. A costly business all round. Axel further told how he had taken over the inspection of the telegraph line, but rather wished he had left it alone.

“That sort of thing’s only fit for Brede and his like,” said Geissler.

“Ay, that’s a true word,” Axel admitted. “But there was the money to think of.”

“How many cows have you got?”

“Four. And a young bull. ’Twas too far to go up to Sellanraa to theirs.”

But there was a far weightier matter Axel badly wanted to talk over with Geissler; Barbro’s affair had come to light, somehow, and an investigation was in progress. Come to light? Of course it had. Barbro had been going about, evidently with child and plain to see, and she had left the place by herself all unencumbered and no child at all. How had it come about?

When Geissler understood what the matter was, he said quite shortly: “Come along with me.” And he led Axel with him away from the house. Geissler put on an important air, as one in authority.

They sat down at the edge of the wood, and Geissler said: “Now, then, tell me all about it.”

Come to light? Of course it had; how could it be helped? The place was no longer a desert, with never a soul for miles; and, moreover, Oline was there. What had Oline to do with it? Ho! and, to make things worse, Brede Olsen had made an enemy of her himself. No means of getting round Oline now; here she was on the spot, and could worm things out of Axel a bit at a time. ’Twas just such underhand work she lived for; ay, lived by, in some degree. And here was the very thing for her — trust Oline for scenting it out! Truth to tell, Oline was grown too old now to keep house and tend cattle at Maaneland; she ought to have given it up. But how could she? How could she leave a place where a fine, deep mystery lay simply waiting to be brought to light? She managed the winter’s work; ay, she got through the summer, too, and it was a marvel of strength she gained from the mere thought of being able one day to show up a daughter of Brede himself. The snow was not gone from the fields that spring before Oline began poking about. She found the little green mound by the stream, and saw at once that the turf had been laid down in squares. She had even had the luck to come upon Axel one day standing by the little grave, and treading it down. So Axel knew all about it! And Oline nodded her grey head — ay, it was her turn now!

Not but Axel was a kindly man enough to live with, but miserly; counted his cheeses, and kept good note of every tuft of wool; Oline could not do as she liked with things, not by a long way. And then that matter of the accident last year, when she had saved him — if Axel had been the right sort, he would have given her the credit for it all, and acknowledged his debt to her alone. But not a bit of it — Axel still held to the division he had made on the spot. Ay, he would say, if Oline hadn’t happened to come along, he would have had to lie out there in the cold all night; but Brede, he’d been a good help too, on the way home. And that was all the thanks she got I Oline was full of indignation — surely the Lord Almighty must turn away His face from His creatures! How easy it would have been for Axel to lead out a cow from its stall, and bring it to her and say: “Here’s a cow for you, Oline.” But no. Not a word of it.

Well, let him wait — wait and see if it might not come to cost him more than the worth of a cow in the end!

All through that summer, Oline kept a look-out for every passer-by, and whispered to them and nodded and confided things to them in secret. “But never a word I’ve said,” so she charged them every time. Oline went down to the village, too, more than once. And now there were rumours and talk of things about the place, ay, drifting like a fog, settling on faces and getting into ears; even the children going to school at Breidablik began nodding secrets among themselves. And at last the Lensmand had to take it up; had to bestir himself and report it, and ask for instructions. Then he came up with a book to write in and an assistant to help him; came up to Maaneland one day and investigated things and wrote things down, and went back again. But three weeks after, he came up once more, investigating and writing down again, and this time, he opened a little green mound by the stream, and took out the body of a child. Oline was an invaluable help to him; and in return he had to answer a host of questions she put. Among other things, he said yes, it might perhaps come to having Axel arrested too. At that, Oline clasped her hands in dismay at all the wickedness she had got mixed up with here, and only wished she were out of the place, far away from it all. “But the girl,” she whispered, “what about Barbro herself?”

“The girl Barbro,” said the Lensmand, “she’s under arrest now in Bergen. The law must take its course,” said he. And he took the little body and went back again to the village. . . .

Little wonder, then, that Axel Ström was anxious. He had spoken out to the Lensmand and denied nothing; he was in part responsible for the coming of the child at all, and in addition, he had dug a grave for it. And now he was asking Geissler what he had better do next. Would he have to go in to the town, to a new and worse examination, and be tortured there?

Geissler was not the man he had been — no; and the long story had wearied him, he seemed duller now, whatever might be the cause. He was not the bright and confident soul he had been that morning. He looked at his watch, got up, and said:

“This’ll want thinking over. I’ll go into it thoroughly and let you know before I leave.”

And Geissler went off.

He came back to Sellanraa that evening, had a little supper, and went to bed. Slept till late next morning, slept, rested thoroughly; he was tired, no doubt, after his meeting with the Swedish mine owners. Not till two days after did he make ready to leave. He was his lordly self again by then, paid liberally for his keep, and gave little Rebecca a shining Krone.

He made a speech to Isak, and said: “It doesn’t matter in the least if nothing came of the deal this time, it’ll come all right later on. For the present, I’m going to stop the working up there and leave it a bit. As for those fellows — children! Thought they would teach me, did they? Did you hear what they offered me? Twenty-five thousand!”

“Ay,” said Isak.

“Well,” said Geissler, and waved his hand as if dismissing all impertinent offers of insignificant sums from his mind, “well, it won’t do any harm to the district if I do stop the working there a bit — on the contrary, it’ll teach folk to stick to their land. But they’ll feel it in the village. They made a pile of money there last summer; fine clothes and fine living for all — but there’s an end of that now. Ay, it might have been worth their while, the good folks down there, to have kept in with me; things might have been different then. Now, it’ll be as I please.”

But for all that, he did not look much of a man to control the fate of villages, as he went away. He carried a parcel of food in his hand, and his white waistcoat was no longer altogether clean. His good wife might have equipped him for the journey up this time out of the rest of the forty thousand she had once got — who could say, perhaps she had. Anyhow, he was going back poor enough; He did not forget to look in at Axel Ström on the way down, and give the results of his thinking over. “I’ve been looking at it every way,” said he. “ The matter’s in abeyance for the present, so there’s nothing to be done just yet. You’ll be called up for a further examination, and you’ll have to say how things are . . . .”

Words, nothing more. Geissler had probably never given the matter a thought at all. And Axel agreed dejectedly to all he said. But at last Geissler flickered up into a mighty man again, puckered his brows, and said thoughtfully: “Unless, perhaps, I could manage to come to town myself and watch the proceedings.”

“Ay, if you’d be so good,” said Axel.

Geissler decided in a moment. “I’ll see if I can manage it, if I can get the time. But I’ve a heap of things to look after down south. I’ll come if I can. Good-bye for now. I’ll send you those machines all right.”

And Geissler went.

Would he ever come again?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23g/chapter24.html

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