The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VI

The rest of the workmen came down from the mine. Work is stopped. The fjeld lies dead again.

The building at Sellanraa, too, is finished now. There is a makeshift roof of turf put on for the winter; the great space beneath is divided into rooms, bright apartments, a great salon in the middle and large rooms at either end, as if it were for human beings. Here Isak once lived in a turf hut together with a few goats — there is no turf hut to be seen now at Sellanraa.

Loose boxes, mangers, and bins are fitted up. The two stoneworkers are still busy, kept on to get the whole thing finished as soon as possible, but Gustaf is no hand at woodwork, so he says, and he is leaving. Gustaf has been a splendid lad at the stonework, heaving and lifting like a bear; and in the evenings, a joy and delight to all, playing his mouth-organ, not to speak of helping the women folk, carrying heavy pails to and from the river. But he is going now. No, Gustaf is no hand at woodwork, so he says. It looks almost as if he were in a hurry to get away.

“Can’t it wait till tomorrow?” says Inger.

No, it can’t wait, he’s no more work to do here, and besides, going now, he will have company across the hills, going over with the last gang from the mines.

“And who’s to help me with my buckets now?” says Inger, smiling sadly.

But Gustaf is never at a loss, he has his answer ready, and says “Hjalmar.” Now Hjalmar was the younger of the two stoneworkcrs, but neither of them was young as Gustaf himself, none like him in any way.

“Hjalmar — huh!” says Inger contemptuously. Then suddenly she changes her tone, and turns to Gustaf, thinking to make him jealous. “Though, after all, he’s nice to have on the place, is Hjalmar,” says she, “and so prettily he sings and all.”

“Don’t think much of him, anyway,” says Gustaf He does not seem jealous in the least.

“But you might stay one more night at least?,?

No, Gustaf couldn’t stay one more night — he was going across with the others.

Ay, maybe Gustaf was getting tired of the game by now. ’Twas a fine thing to snap her up in front of all the rest, and have her for his own the few weeks he was there — but he was going elsewhere now, like as not to a sweetheart at home — he had other things in view. Was he to stay on loafing about here for the sake of her? He had reason enough for bringing the thing to an end, as she herself must know; but she was grown so bold, so thoughtless of any consequence, she seemed to care for nothing. No, things had not held for so very long between them — but long enough to last out the spell of his work there.

Inger is sad and down-hearted enough; ay, so erringly faithful that she mourns for him. ’Tis hard for her; she is honestly in love, without any thought of vanity or conquest. And not ashamed, no; she is a strong woman full of weakness; she is but following the law of nature all about her; it is the glow of autumn in her as in all things else. Her breast heaves with feeling as she packs up food for Gustaf to take with him. No thought of whether she has the right, of whether she dare risk this or that; she gives herself up to it entirely, hungry to taste, to enjoy. Isak might lift her up to the roof and thrust her to the floor again — ay, what of that! It would not make her feel the less.

She goes out with the parcel to Gustaf.

Now she had set the bucket by the steps on purpose, in case he should care to go with her to the river just once more. Maybe she would like to say something, to give him some little thing — her gold ring; Heaven knows, she was in a state to do anything. But there must be an end of it some time; Gustaf thanks her, says good-bye, and goes.

And there she stands.

“Hjalmar!” she calls out aloud — oh, so much louder than she need. As if she were determined to be gay in spite of all — or crying out in distress.

Gustaf goes on his way . . . .

All through that autumn there was the usual work in the fields all round, right away down to the village: potatoes to be taken up, corn to be got in, the horned cattle let loose over the ground. Eight farms there are now and all are busy; but at the trading station, at Storborg, there are no cattle, and no green lands, only a garden. And there is no trade there now, and nothing for any to be busy about there.

They have a new root crop at Sellanraa called turnips, sending up a colossal growth of green waving leaves out of the earth, and nothing can keep the cows away from them — the beasts break down all hedgework, and storm in, bellowing. Nothing for it but to set Leopoldine and little Rebecca to keep guard over the turnip fields, and little Rebecca walks about with a big stick in her hand and is a wonder at driving cows away. Her father is at work close by; now and again he comes up to feel her hands and feet, and ask if she is cold. Leopoldine is big and grown up now; she can knit stockings and mittens for the winter while she is watching the herds. Born in Trondhjem, was Leopoldine, and came to Sellanraa five years old. But the memory of a great town with many people and of a long voyage on a steamer is slipping away from her now, growing more and more distant; she is a child of the wilds and knows nothing now of the great world beyond the village down below where she has been to church once or twice, and where she was con firmed the year before. . . .

And the little casual work of every day goes on, with this thing and that to be done beside; as, for in stance, the road down below, that is getting bad one or two places. The ground is still workable, and Isak goes down one day with Sivert, ditching and draining the road. There are two patches of bog to be drained.

Axel Ström has promised to take part in the work, seeing that he has a horse and uses the road himself — but Axel had pressing business in the town just then. Heaven knows what it could be, but very pressing, he said it was. But he had asked his brother from Breidablik to work with them in his stead.

Fredrik was this brother’s name. A young man, newly married, a light-hearted fellow who could make a jest, but none the worse for that; Sivert and he are something alike. Now Fredrik had looked in at Storborg on his way up that morning, Aronsen of Storborg being his nearest neighbour, and he is full of all the trader has been telling him. It began this way; Fredrik wanted a roll of tobacco. “I’ll give you a roll of tobacco when I have one,” said Aronsen.

“What, you’ve no tobacco in the place?”

“No, nor won’t order any. There’s nobody to buy it. What d’you think I make out of one roll of tobacco?”

Ay, Aronsen had been in a nasty humour that morning, sure enough; felt he had been cheated somehow by that Swedish mining concern. Here had he set up a store out in the wilds, and then they go and shut down the work altogether!

Fredrik smiles slyly at Aronsen, and makes fun of him now. “He’s not so much as touched that land of his,” says he, “and hasn’t even feed for his beasts, but must go and buy it. Asked me if I’d any hay to sell. No, I’d no hay to sell. ‘Ho, d’you mean you don’t want to make money?’ said Aronsen. Thinks money’s everything in the world, seems like. Puts down a hundred-Krone note on the counter, and says ‘Money!’ ‘Ay, money’s well enough,’ says I. ‘Cash down,’ says he. Ay, he’s just a little bit touched that way, so to speak, and his wife she goes about with a watch and chain and all on weekdays — Lord He knows what can be she’s so set on remembering to the minute.”

Says Sivert: “Did Aronsen say anything about a man named Geissler?”

“Ay. Said something about he’d be wanting to sell some land he’d got. And Aronsen was wild about it, he was — ‘fellow that used to be Lensmand and got turned out,’ he said, and ‘like as not with out so much as a five Krone in his books, and ought to be shot!’ ‘Ay, but wait a bit,’ says I, ‘and maybe he’ll sell after all.’ ‘Nay,’ says Aronsen, ‘don’t you believe it. I’m a business man,’ says he, ‘and I know — when one party puts up a price of two hundred and fifty thousand, and the other offers twenty-five thousand, there’s too big a difference; there’ll be no deal ever come out of that.

Well, let ’em go their own way, and see what comes of it,’ says he. ‘I only wish I’d never set my foot in this hole, and a poor thing it’s been for me and mine.’ Then I asked him if he didn’t think of selling out himself. ‘Ay,’ says he, ‘that’s just what I’m thinking of. This bit of bogland,’ says he, ‘a hole and a desert — I’m not making a single Krone the whole day now,’ says he.”

They laughed at Aronsen, and had no pity for him at all.

“Think he’ll sell out?” asks Isak.

“Well, he did speak of it. And he’s got rid of I the lad he had already. Ay, a curious man, a queer sort of man, that Aronsen, ’tis sure. Sends away his lad could be working on the place getting in winter fuel and carting hay with that horse of his, but keeps on his storeman — chief clerk, he calls him. ’Tis true enough, as he says, not selling so much as a Krone all day, for he’s no stock in the place at all. And what does he want with a chief clerk, then? I doubt it’ll be just by way of looking grand and making a show, must have a man there to stand at a desk and write up things in books. Ha ha ha! ay, looks like he’s just a little bit touched that way, is Aronsen.”

The three men worked till noon, ate food from their baskets, and talked a while. They had matters of their own to talk over, matters of good and ill to folk on the land; no trifles, to them, but things to be discussed warily; they are clear-minded folk, their nerves unworn, and not flying out where they should not. It is the autumn season now, a silence in the woods all round; the hills are there, the sun is there, and at evening the moon and the stars will come; all regular and certain, full of kindliness, an embrace. Men have time to rest here, to lie in the heather, with an arm for a pillow.

Fredrik talks of Breidablik, how ’tis but little he’s got done there yet awhile.

“Nay,” says Isak, “’tis none so little already, I saw when I was down that way.”

This was praise from the oldest among them, the giant himself, and Fredrik might well be pleased. He asks frankly enough: “Did you think so, now? Well, it’ll be better before long. I’ve had a deal of things to hinder this year; the house to do up, being leaky and like to fall to pieces; hayloft to take down and put up again, and no sort of room in the turf hut for beasts, seeing I’d cow and heifer more than Brede he’d ever had in his time,” says Fredrik proudly.

“And you’re thriving like, up here?” asks Isak.

“Ay, I’ll not say no. And wife, she’s thriving too, why shouldn’t we? There’s good room and outlook all about; we can see up and down the road both ways. And a neat little copse by the house all pretty to look at, birch and willow — I’ll plant a bit more other side of the house when I’ve time. And it’s fine to see how the bogland’s dried only since last year’s ditching — ’tis all a question now what’ll grow on her this year. Ay, thrive? When we’ve house and home and land and all — ’tis enough for the two of us surely.”

“Ho,” says Sivert slyly, “and the two of you — is that all there’s ever to be?”

“Why, as to that,” says Fredrik bravely, “’tis like enough there’ll be more to come. And as to thriving — well, the wife’s not falling off anyway, by the looks of her.”

They work on until evening, drawing up now and again to straighten their backs, and exchange a word or so.

“And so you didn’t get the tobacco?” says Sivert.

“No, that’s true. But ’twas no loss, for I’ve no use for it, anyway,” says Fredrik.

“No use for tobacco?”

“Nay. ’Twas but for to drop in at Aronsen’s like, and hear what he’d got to say.” And the two jesters laughed together at that.

On the way home, father and son talk little, as was their way; but Isak must have been thinking out something for himself; he says:

“Sivert?”

“Ay?” says Sivert again.

“Nay, ’twas nothing.” They walk on a good ways, and Isak begins again:

“How’s he get on, then, with his trading, Aronsen, when he’s nothing to trade with?”

“Nay,” says Sivert. “But there’s not folk enough here now for him to buy for.”

“Ho, you think so? Why, I suppose ’tis so, ay, well . . .”

Sivert wondered a little at this. After a while his father went on again:

“There’s but eight places now in all, but there might be more before long. More well, I don’t know

Sivert wondering more than ever — what can his father be getting at? The pair of them walk on a long way in silence; they are nearly home now.

“H’m,” says Isak. “What you think Aronsen he’d ask for that place of his now?

“Ho, that’s it!” says Sivert. “Want to buy it, do you?” he asks jestingly. But suddenly he understands what it all means: ’tis Eleseus the old man has in mind. Oh, he’s not forgotten him after all, but kept him faithfully in mind, just as his mother, only in his own way, nearer earth, and nearer to Sellanraa.

’Twill be going for a reasonable price, I doubt,” says Sivert. And when Sivert says so much, his father knows the lad has read his thought. And as if in fear of having spoken out too clearly, he falls to talking of their road-mending; a good thing they had got it done at last.

For a couple of days after that, Sivert and his mother were putting their heads together and holding councils and whispering — ay, they even wrote a letter. And when Saturday came round Sivert suddenly wanted to go down to the village.

“What you want to go down village again for now?” said his father in displeasure. “Wearing boots to rags. . .” Oh, Isak was more bitter than need be; he knew well enough that Sivert was going to the post.

Going to church,” says Sivert.

’Twas all he could find by way of excuse, and his father muttered: “Well, what you want to go for.

But if Sivert was going to church, why, he might harness up and take little Rebecca with him. Little Rebecca, ay, surely she might have that bit of a treat for once in her life, after being so clever guarding turnips and being all ways the pearl and blessing of them all, ay, that she was. And they harnessed up, and Rebecca had the maid Jensine to look after her on the way, and Sivert said never a word against that either.

While they are away, it so happens that Aronsen’ s man, his chief clerk, from Storborg, comes up the road. What does this mean? Why, nothing very much, ’tis only Andresen, the chief clerk from Stor borg, come up for a bit of a walk this way — his master having sent him. Nothing more. And no great excitement among the folk at Sellanraa over that — ’twas not as in the old days, when a stranger was a rare sight on their new land, and Inger made a great to-do. No, Inger’s grown quieter now, and keeps to herself these days.

A strange thing that book of devotion, a guide upon the way, an arm round one’s neck, no less. When Inger had lost hold of herself a little, lost her way a little Out plucking berries, she found her way home again by the thought of her little chamber and the holy book; ay, she was humble now and a God-fearing soul. She can remember long years ago when she would say an evil word if she pricked her finger sewing — so she had learned to do from her fellow-workers round the big table in the Institute. But now she pricks her finger, and it bleeds, and she sucks the blood away in silence. ’Tis no little victory gained to change one’s nature so. And Inger did more than that. When all the workmen were gone, and the stone building was finished, and Sellanraa was all forsaken and still, then came a critical time for Inger; she cried a deal, and suffered much. She blamed none but herself for it all, and she was deeply humbled. If only she could have spoken out to Isak, and relieved her mind, but that was not their way at Sellanraa; there was none of them would talk their feelings and confess things. AH she could do was to be extra careful in the way she asked her husband to come in to meals, going right up to him to say it nicely, instead of shouting from the door. And in the evenings, she looked over his clothes, and sewed buttons on. Ay, and even more she did. One night she lifted up on her elbow and said:

Isak?”

“What is it?” says Isak.

“Are you awake?”

“Ay.”

“Nay, ’twas nothing,” says Inger. “But I’ve not been all as I ought.”

“What?” says Isak. Ay, so much he said, and rose up on his elbow in turn.

They lay there, and went on talking. Inger is a matchless woman, after all; and with a full heart,

“I’ve not been as I ought towards you,” she says, “and I’m that sorry about it.”

The simple words move him; this barge of a man is touched, ay, he wants to comfort her, knowing nothing of what is the matter, but only that there is none like her. “Naught to cry about, my dear,” says Isak. “There’s none of us can be as we ought.”

“Nay, ’tis true,” she answers gratefully. Oh, Isak had a strong, sound way of taking things; straightened them out, did, when they turned crooked. “None of us can be as we ought.” Ay, he was right. The god of the heart — for all that he is a god, he goes a deal of crooked ways, goes out adventuring, the wild thing that he is, and we can see it in his looks. One day rolling in a bed of roses and licking his lips and remembering things; next day with a thorn in his foot, desperately trying to get it out. Die of it? Never a bit, he’s as well as ever. A nice look-out it would be if he were to die!

And Inger’s trouble passed off too; she got over it, but she keeps on with her hours of devotion, and finds a merciful refuge there. Hard-working and patient and good she is now every day, knowing Isak different from all other men, and wanting none but him. No gay young spark of a singer, true, in his looks and ways, but good enough, ay, good enough indeed! And once more it is seen that the fear of the Lord and contentment therewith are a precious gain.

And now it was that the little chief clerk from Storborg, Andresen, came up to Sellanraa one Sunday, and Inger was not in the least affected, far from it; she did not so much as go in herself to give him a mug of milk, but sent Leopoldine in with it, by reason that Jensine the maid was out. And Leopoldine could carry a mug of milk as well as need be, and she gave it him and said, “Here you are,” and blushed, for all she was wearing her Sunday clothes and had nothing to be ashamed of, anyway.

“Thanks, ’tis overkind of you,” says Andresen. “Is your father at home?” says he.

“Ay; he’ll be about the place somewhere.”

Andresen drank and wiped his mouth with a hand kerchief and looked at the time. “Is it far up to the mines?” he asked.

“No, ’tis an hour’s walk, or hardly that.”

“I’m going up to look over them, d’you see, for him, Aronsen — I’m his chief clerk.”

“Ho!”

“You’ll know me yourself, no doubt; I’m Aronsen’s chief clerk. You’ve been down buying things at our place before.”

“Ay.”

“And I remember you well enough,” says Andresen. “You’ve been down twice buying things.”

“’Tis more than could be thought, you’d remember that,” says Leopoldine, and had no more strength after that, but stood holding by a chair.

But Andresen had strength enough, he went on, and said: “Remember you? Well, of course I. should.” And he said more:

“You wouldn’t like to walk up to the mine with me?” said he.

And a little after something went wrong with Leopoldine’s eyes; everything turned red and strange about her, and the floor was slipping away from under, and Chief Clerk Andresen was talking from somewhere ever so far off. Saying: “Couldn’t you spare the time?”

“No,” says she.

And Heaven knows how she managed to get out of the kitchen again. Her mother looked at her and asked what was the matter. “Nothing,” said Leopoldine.

Nothing, no, of course. But now, look you, ’twas Leopoldine’s turn to be affected, to begin the same eternal round. She was well fitted for the same, overgrown and pretty and newly confirmed; an excellent sacrifice she would make. A bird is fluttering in her young breast, her long hands are like her mother’s, full of tenderness, full of sex. Could she dance? — ay, indeed she could. A marvel where she had managed to learn it, but learn it they did at Sellanraa as well as elsewhere. Sivert could dance, and Leopoldine too; a kind of dancing peculiar to the spot, growth of the new-cleared soil; a dance with energy and swing: schottische, mazurka, waltz and polka in one. And could not Leopoldine deck herself out and fall in love and dream by daylight all awake? Ay, as well as any other! The day she stood in church she was allowed to borrow her mother’s gold ring to wear; no sin in that, ’twas only neat and nice; and the day after, going to her communion, she did not get the ring on till it was over. Ay, she might well show herself in church with a gold ring on her finger, being the daughter of a great man on the place — the Margrave.

When Andresen came down from the mine, he found Isak at Sellanraa, and they asked him in, gave him dinner and a cup of coffee. All the folk on the place were in there together now, and took part an the conversation. Andresen explained that his master, Aronsen, had sent him up to see how things were at the mines, if there was any sign of beginning work there again soon. Heaven knows, maybe Andresen sat there lying all the time, about being sent by his master; he might just as well have hit on it for his own account — and anyway, he couldn’t have been at the mines at all in the little time he’d been away.

“’Tis none so easy to see from outside if they’re going to start work again,” said Isak.

No, Andresen admitted that was so; but Aronsen had sent him, and after all, two pair of eyes could see better than one.

But here Inger seemingly could contain herself no longer; she asked: “Is it true what they’re saying, Aronsen is going to sell his place again?”

Andresen answers: “He’s thinking of it. And a man like him can surely do as he likes, seeing all the means and riches he’s got.”

“Ho, is he so rich, then?”

“Ay,” says Andresen, nodding his head; “rich enough, and that’s a true word.”

Again Inger cannot keep silence, but asks right out:

“I wonder, now, what he’d be asking for the place?”

Isak puts in a word here; like as not he’s more curious to know than Inger herself, but it must not seem that the idea of buying Storborg is any thought of his; he makes himself a stranger to it, and says now:

“Why, what you want to know for, Inger?”

“I was but asking,” says she. And both of them look at Andresen, waiting. And he answers:

Answers cautiously enough that as to the price, he can say nothing of that, but he knows what Aronsen says the place has cost him.

“And how much is that?” asks Inger, having no strength to keep her peace and be silent.

’Tis sixteen hundred Kroner, “ says Andresen.

Ho, and Inger claps her hands at once to hear it, for if there is one thing womenfolk have no sense nor thought of, ’tis the price of land and properties. But, anyway, sixteen hundred Kroner is no small sum for folk in the wilds, and Inger has but one fear, that Isak may be frightened off the deal. But he sits there just exactly like a fjeld, and says only: “Ay, it’s the big houses he’s put up.”

“Ay,” says Andresen again, “’tis just that. ’Tis the fine big houses and all.”

Just when Andresen is making ready to go, Leopoldine slips out by the door. A strange thing, but somehow she cannot bring herself to think of shaking hands with him. So she has found a good place, standing in the new cowshed, looking out of a window. And with a blue silk ribbon round her neck, that she hadn’t been wearing before, and a wonder she ever found time to put it on now. There he goes, a trifle short and stout, spry on his feet, with a light, full beard, eight or ten years older than herself. Ay, none so bad-looking to her mind!

And then the party came back from church late on Sunday night. All had gone well, little Rebecca had slept the last few hours of the way up, and was lifted from the cart and carried indoors without waking. Sivert has heard a deal of news but when his mother asks, “Well, what you’ve got to tell?” he only says: “Nay, nothing much. Axel he’s got a machine and a harrow.”

“What’s that?” says his father, all interested. “Did you see them?”

“Ay, I saw them right enough. Down on quay.”

“Ho! So that was what he must go in to town for,” says his father. And Sivert sits there swelling with pride at knowing better, but says never says a word.

His father might just as well believe that Axel’s pressing business in the town had been to buy machines; his mother too might think so for all that. Ho, but there was neither of them thought so in their hearts; they had heard whispers enough of what was the matter; of a new child-murder case in the wilds.

“Time for bed,” says his father at last.

Sivert goes off to bed, swelling with knowledge. Axel had been summoned for examination; ’twas a big affair — the Lensmand had gone with him — so big indeed that the Lensmand’s lady, who had just had another child, had left the baby and was gone in to town with her husband. She had promised to put in a word to the jury herself.

Gossip and scandal all abroad in the village now, and Sivert saw well enough that a certain earlier crime of the same sort was being called to mind again. Outside the church, the groups would stop talking as he came up, and had he not been the man he was, perhaps some would have turned away from him. Good to be Sivert those days, a man from a big place to begin with, son of a wealthy landowner — and then beside, to be known as a clever fellow, a good worker; he ranked before others, and was the looked up to for himself. Sivert had always been well liked among folk. If only Jensine did not learn too much before they got home that day! And Sivert had his own affairs to think of — ay, folk in the wilds can blush and pale as well as other. He had seen Jensine as she left the church with little Rebecca; she had seen him too, but went by. He waited a bit, and then drove over to the smith’s to fetch them.

They were sitting at table, all the family at dinner. Sivert is asked to join them, but has had his dinner, thanks. They knew he would be coming, they might have waited that bit of a while for him — so they would have done at Sellanraa, but not here, it seemed.

“Nay, ’tis not what you’re used to, I dare say,” says the smith’s wife. And, “What news from church?” says the smith, for all he had been at church himself.

When Jensine and little Rebecca were seated up in the cart again, says the smith’s wife to her daughter: “Well, good-bye, Jensine; we’ll be wanting you home again soon.” And that could be taken two ways, thought Sivert, but he said nothing. If the speech had been more direct, more plain and out spoken, he might perhaps . . . He waits, with puckered brows, but no more is said.

They drive up homeward, and little Rebecca is the only one with a word to say; she is full of the wonder of going to church, the priest in his dress with a silver cross, and the lights and the organ music. After a long while Jensine says: “’Tis a shameful thing about Barbro and all.”

“What did your mother mean about you coming home soon?” asked Sivert.

“What she meant?”

“Ay. You thinking of leaving us, then?”

“Why, they’ll be wanting me home some time, I doubt,” says she.

Ptro!“ says Sivert, stopping his horse. “Like me to drive back with you now, perhaps?”

Jensine looks at him; he is pale as death.

“No,” says she. And a little after she begins to cry.

Rebecca looks in surprise from one to the other. Oh, but little Rebecca was a good one to have on a journey like that; she took Jensine’s part and patted her and made her smile again. And when little Rebecca looked threateningly at her brother and said she was going to jump down and find a big stick to beat him, Sivert had to smile too.

“But what did you mean, now, I’d like to know?” says Jensine.

Sivert answered straight out at once: “I meant, if you don’t care to stay with us, why, we must manage without.”

And a long while after, said Jensine: “Well, there’s Leopoldine, she’s big now, and fit and all to do my work, seems.”

Ay, ’twas a sorrowful journey.

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