The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VII

A MAN walks up the way through the hills. Wind and rain; the autumn downpour has begun, but the man cares little for that, he looks glad at heart, and glad he is. ’Tis Axel Ström, coming back from the town and the court and all — they have let him go free. Ay, a happy man — first of all, there’s a mowing-machine and a harrow for him down at the quay, and more than that, he’s free, and not guilty. Had taken no part in He killing of a child. Ay, so things can turn out!

But the times he had been through! Standing there as a witness, this toiler in the fields had known the hardest days of his life. ’Twas no gain to him to make Barbro’s guilt seem greater, and for that reason he was careful not to say too much, he did not even say all he knew; every word had to be dragged out of him, and he answered mostly with but “Yes” and “No.” Was it not enough? Was he to make more of it than there was already? Oh, but there were times when it looked serious indeed; there were the men of Law, black-robed and dangerous, easy enough for them, it seemed, just with a word or so, to turn the whole thing as they pleased, and have him sentenced. But they were kindly folk after all, and did not try to bring him to destruction. Also, as it happened, there were powerful influences at work trying to save Barbro, and it was all to his advantage as well.

Then what on earth was there for him to trouble about?

Barbro herself would hardly try to make things look worse than need be for her former master and lover; he knew terrible things about this and an earlier affair of the same sort; she could not be such a fool. No, Barbro was clever enough; she said a good word for Axel, and declared that he had known nothing of her having borne a child till after it was all over. He was different in — some ways, perhaps, from other men, and they did not always get on well together, but a quiet man, and a good man in every way. No, it was true he had dug a new grave and buried the body away there, but that was long after, and by reason he had thought the first place was not dry enough, though indeed it was, and ’twas only Axel’s odd way of thinking.

What need, then, for Axel to fear at all when Barbro took all the blame on herself that way? And as for Barbro herself, there were mighty influences at work.

Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl had taken up the case. She went about to high and low, never sparing herself, demanded to be called as a witness, and made a speech in court. When her turn came, she stood there before them all and was a great lady indeed; she took up the question of infanticide in all its aspects, and gave the court a long harangue on the subject — it almost seemed as if she had obtained permission beforehand to say what she pleased. Ay, folk might say what they would of Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl, but make a speech, that she could, and was learned in politics and social questions, no doubt about that. ’Twas a marvel where she found all her words. Now and again the presiding justice seemed wishful to keep her to the point, but maybe he had not the heart to interrupt, and let her run on. And at the end of it all, she volunteered one or two useful items of information, and made a startling offer to the court.

Leaving out all legal technicalities, what took place was this:

“We women,” said Fru Heyerdahl, “we are an unfortunate and oppressed moiety of humanity. It is the men who make the laws, and we women have not a word to say in the matter. But can any man put himself in the position of a woman in childbirth? Has he ever felt the dread of it, ever known the terrible pangs, ever cried aloud in the anguish of that hour?

“In the present instance, it is a servant-girl who has borne the child. A girl, unmarried, and consequently trying all through the critical time to hide her condition. And why must she seek to hide it? Because of society. Society despises the unmarried woman who bears a child. Not only does society offer her no protection, but it persecutes her, pursues her with contempt and disgrace. Atrocious! No human creature with any heart at all could help feeling indignant at such a state of things. Not only is the girl to bring a child into the world, a thing in itself surely hard enough, but she is to be treated as a criminal for that very fact. I will venture to say that it was well for the unfortunate girl now accused before the court that her child was born by accident when she fell into the water, and drowned. Well for herself and for the child. As long as society maintains its present attitude, an unmarried mother should be counted guiltless even if she does kill her child.”

Here a slight murmur was heard from the presiding justice.

“Or at any rate, her punishment should be merely nominal,” said Fru Heyerdahl. “We are all agreed, of course,” she went on, “that infant life should be preserved, but is that to mean that no law of simple humanity is to apply to the unfortunate mother? Think, consider what she has been through during all the period of pregnancy, what suffering she has endured in striving to hide her condition, and all the time never knowing where to turn for herself and the child when it comes. No man can imagine it,” said she. “The child is at least killed in kindness. The mother tries to save herself and the child she loves from the misery of its life. The shame is more than she can bear, and so the plan gradually forms itself in her mind, to put the child out of the way. The birth takes place in secret, and the mother is for four-and-twenty hours in such a delirious state that at the moment of killing the child she is simply not responsible for her actions. Practically speaking, she has not herself committed the act at all, being out of her senses at the time. With every bone in her body aching still after her delivery, she has to take the little creature’s life and hide away the body — think what an effort of will is demanded here! Naturally, we all wish all children to live; we are distressed at the thought that any should be exterminated in such a way. But it is the fault of society that it is so; the fault of a hopeless, merciless, scandalmongering, mischievous, and evil-minded society, ever on the watch to crush an unmarried mother by every means in its power!

“But — even after such treatment at the hands of society, the persecuted mother can rise up a It often happens that these girls, after one false step of the sort, are led by that very fact to develop their best and noblest qualities. Let the court inquire of the superintendents at refuge homes, where unmarried mothers and their children are received, if this is not the case. And experience has shown that it is just such girls who have — whom society has forced to kill their own children that make the best nurses. Surely that was a matter for any and all to think seriously about?

“Then there is another side of the question. Why is the man to go free? The mother found guilty of infanticide is thrust into prison and tortured, but the father, the seducer, he is never touched. Yet being as he is the cause of the child’s existence, he is a party to the crime; his share in it, indeed, is greater than the mother’s; had it not been for him, there would have been no crime. Then why should he be acquitted? Because the laws are made by men. There is the answer. The enormity of such man-made laws cries of itself to Heaven for intervention. And there can be no help for us women till we are allowed a say in the elections, and in the making of laws, ourselves.

“But,” said Fru Heyerdahl, “if this is the terrible fate that is meted out to the guilty — or, let us say, the more clearly guilty — unmarried mother who has killed her child, what of the innocent one who is merely suspected of the crime, and has not committed it? What reparation does society offer to her? None at all! I can testify that I know the girl here accused; have known her since she was a child; she has been in my service, and her father is my husband’s assistant. We women venture to think and feel directly in opposition to men’s accusations and persecution; we dare to have our own opinion. The girl there has been arrested, deprived of her liberty, on suspicion of having in the first place concealed the birth of a child, and further of having killed the child so born. I have no doubt in my own mind that she is not guilty of either — the court will itself arrive at this self-evident conclusion. Concealment of birth — the child was born in the middle of the day. True, the mother is alone at the time — but who could have been with her in any case? The place is far away in the wilds, the only living soul within reach is a man — how could she send for a man at such a moment? Any woman will tell you it is impossible — not to be thought of. And then — it is alleged that she must have killed the child after. But the child was born in the water — the mother falls down in an icy stream, and the child is born. What was she doing by the water? She is a servant-girl, a slave, that is to say, and has her daily work to do; she is going to fetch juniper twigs for cleaning. And crossing the stream, she slips and falls in. And there she lies; the child is born, and is drowned in the water.”

Fru Heyerdahl stopped. She could see from the look of the court and the spectators that she had spoken wonderfully well; there was a great silence in the place, only Barbro sat dabbing her eyes now and again for sheer emotion. And Fru Heyerdahl closed with these words: “We women have some heart, some feeling. I have left my own children in the care of strangers to travel all this way and appear as a witness on behalf of the unfortunate girl sitting there. Men’s laws cannot prevent women from thinking; and I think this, that the girl there has been punished sufficiently for no crime. Acquit her, let her go free, and I will take charge of her myself. She will make the best nurse I have ever had.”

And Fru Heyerdahl stepped down.

Says the justice then: “But I think you said a moment ago that the best nurses were those who had killed their children?”

Oh, but the justice was not of a mind to go against Fru Heyerdahl, not in the least — he was as humane as could be himself, a man as gentle as a priest. When the advocate for the Crown put a few questions to the witness afterwards, the justice sat for the most part making notes on some papers.

The proceedings lasted only till a little over noon; there were few witnesses, and the case was clear enough. Axel Ström sat hoping for the best, then suddenly it seemed as if the advocate for the Crown and Fru Heyerdahl were joining forces to make things awkward for him, because he had buried the body instead of notifying the death. He was cross examined somewhat sharply on this point, and would likely enough have come out badly if he had not all at once caught sight of Geissler sitting in the court. Ay, ’twas right enough, Geissler was there. This gave Axel courage, he no longer felt himself alone against the Law that was determined to beat him down. And Geissler nodded to him.

Ay, Geissler was come to town. He had not asked to be called as a witness, but he was there. He had also spent a couple of days before the case came on in going into the matter himself, and noting down what he remembered of Axel’s own account given him at Maaneland. Most of the documents seemed to Geissler somewhat unsatisfactory; this Lensmand Heyerdahl was evidently a narrow minded person, who had throughout endeavoured to prove complicity on Axel’s part. Fool, idiot of a man — what did he know of life in the wilds, when he could see that the child was just what Axel had counted on to keep the woman, his helpmeet, on the place!

Geissler spoke to the advocate for the Crown, but it seemed there was little need of intervention there; he wanted to help Axel back to his farm and his land, but Axel was in no need of help, from the looks of things. For the case was going well as far as Barbro herself was concerned, and if she were acquitted, then there could be no question of any complicity at all. It would depend on the testimony of the witnesses.

When the few witnesses had been heard — Oline had not been summoned, but only the Lensmand, Axel himself, the experts, a couple of girls from the village — when they had been heard, it was time to adjourn for the midday break, and Geissler went up to the advocate for the Crown once more. The advocate was of opinion that all was going well for the girl Barbro, and so much the better. Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl’s words had carried great weight. All depended now upon the finding of the court.

“Are you at all interested in the girl?” asked the advocate.

“Why, to a certain extent,” answered Geissler “or rather, perhaps, in the man.”

“Has she been in your service too?”

“No, he’s never been in my service.”

“I was speaking of the girl. It’s she that has the sympathy of the court.”

“No, she’s never been in my service at all.”

“The man — h’m, he doesn’t seem to come out of it so well,” said the advocate. “Goes off and buries the body all by himself in the wood — looks bad, very bad.”

“He wanted to have it buried properly, I suppose,” said Geissler. “It hadn’t been really buried at all at first.”

“Well, of course a woman hadn’t the strength of a man to go digging. And in her state — she must have been done up already. Altogether,” said the advocate, “I think we’ve come to take a more humane view of these infanticide cases generally, of late. If I were to judge, I should never venture to condemn the girl at all; and from what has appeared In this case, I shall not venture to demand a conviction.”

“Very pleased to hear it,” said Geissler, with a bow.

The advocate went on: “As a man, as a private person, I will even go further, and say: I would never condemn a single unmarried mother for killing her child.”

“Most interesting,” said Geissler, “to find the advocate for the Crown so entirely in agreement with what Fru Heyerdahl said before the court.”

“Oh, Fru Heyerdahl! . . . Still, to my mind, there was a great deal in what she said. After all, what is the good of all these convictions? Unmarried mothers have suffered enough beforehand, and been brought so low in every human regard by the brutal and callous attitude of the world — the punishment ought to suffice.”

Geissler rose, and said at last: “No doubt. But what about the children?”

“True,” said the advocate, “it’s a sad business about the children. Still, all things considered, perhaps it’s just as well. Illegitimate children have a hard time, and turn out badly as often as not.”

Geissler felt perhaps some touch of malice at the portly complacency of the man of law; he said:

“Erasmus was born out of wedlock.”

“Erasmus . . .?”

“Erasmus of Rotterdam.”

“H’m.”

“And Leonardo the same.”

“Leonardo da Vinci? Really? Well, of course, there are exceptions, otherwise there would be no rule. But on the whole . . .”

“We pass protective measures for beast and bird,” said Geissler; “seems rather strange, doesn’t it, not to trouble about our own young?”

The advocate for the Crown reached out slowly and with dignity after some papers on the table, as a hint that he had not time to continue the discussion. “Yes . . .” said he absently. “Yes, yes, no doubt . . . .”

Geissler expressed his thanks for a most instructive conversation, and took his leave.

He sat down in the court-house again, to be there in good time. He was not ill-pleased, maybe, to feel his power; he had knowledge of a certain piece of wrapping, a man’s shirt cut across, to carry — let us say twigs for a broom; of the body of a child floating in the harbour at Bergen — ay, he could make matters awkward for the court if he chose; a word from him would be as effective as a thousand swords. But Geissler had doubtless no intention of uttering that word now unless it were needed. Things were going splendidly without; even the advocate for the Crown had declared himself on the side of the accused.

The room fills, and the court is sitting again.

An interesting comedy to watch in a little town. The warning gravity of the advocate for the Crown, the emotional eloquence of the advocate for the defence. The court sat listening to what appeared to be its duty in regard to the case of a girl named Barbro, and the death of leer child.

For all that, it was no light matter after all to decide. The advocate for the Crown was a presentable man to look at, and doubtless also a man of heart, but something appeared to have annoyed him recently or possibly he had suddenly remembered that he held a certain office in the State and was bound to act from that point of view. An incomprehensible thing, but he was plainly less disposed to be lenient now than he had been during the morning; if the crime had been committed, he said, it was a serious matter, and things would look black indeed if they could with certainty be declared so black as would appear from the testimony of the witnesses already heard. That was a matter for the court to decide. He wished to draw attention to three points: firstly whether they had before them a concealment of birth; whether this was clear to the court. He made some personal remarks on this head. The second point was the wrapping, the piece of a shirt — why had the accused taken this with her? Was it in order to make use of it for a certain purpose preconceived? He developed this suggestion further. His third point was the hurried and suspicious burial, without any notification of the death to either priest or Lensmand. Here, the man was the person chiefly responsible, and it was of the utmost importance that the court should come to the right conclusion in that respect. For it was obvious that if the man were an accomplice, and had therefore undertaken the burial himself, then his servant-girl must have committed a crime before he could be an accomplice in it.

“H’m,” from some one in court.

Axel Ström felt himself again in danger. He looked up without meeting a single glance; all eyes were fixed on the advocate speaking. But far down in the court sat Geissler again, looking highly supercilious, as if bursting with his own superiority, his under-lip thrust forward, his face turned towards the ceiling. This enormous indifference to the solemnity of the court, and that “H’m,” uttered loudly and without concealment, cheered Axel mightily; he felt himself no longer alone against the world.

And now things took a turn again for the better. This advocate for the Crown seemed at last to think he had done enough, had achieved all that was possible in the way of directing suspicion and ill-feeling towards the man; and now he stopped. He did more; he almost, as it were, faced round, and made no demand for a conviction. He ended by saying, in so many words, that after the testimony of the witnesses in the case, he on his part did not call upon the court to convict the accused.

This was well enough, thought Axel — the business was practically over.

Then came the turn of the advocate for the defence, a young man who had studied the law, and had now been entrusted with this most satisfactory case. His tone itself showed the view he took of it; never had a man been more certain of defending an innocent person than he. Truth to tell, this Fru Heyerdahl had taken the wind out of his sails beforehand and used several of his own intended arguments that morning; he was annoyed at her having already exploited the “society” theme — oh, but he could have said some first-rate things about society him self. He was incensed at the mistaken leniency of the presiding justice in not stopping her speech; it was a defence in itself, a brief prepared beforehand — and what was there left for him?

He began at the beginning of the life-story of the girl Barbro. Her people were not well off, albeit industrious and respectable; she had gone out to service at an early age, first of all to the Lensmand’s. The court had heard that morning what her mistress, Fru Heyerdahl, thought of her — no one could wish for a finer recommendation. Barbro had then gone to Bergen. Here the advocate laid great stress on a most feelingly written testimonial from two young business men in whose employ Barbro had been while at Bergen — evidently in a position of trust. Barbro had come back to act as housekeeper for this unmarried man in an outlying district. And here her trouble began.

She found herself with child by this man. The learned counsel for the prosecution had already referred — in the most delicate and considerate manner, be it said — to the question of concealment of birth. Had Barbro attempted to conceal her condition; had she denied being with child? The two witnesses, girls from her own village, had been of opinion that she was in that condition; but when they had asked her, she had not denied it at all, she had merely passed the matter off. What would a young girl naturally do in such a case but pass it off? No one else had asked her about It at all. Go to her mistress and confess? She had no mistress; she was mistress on the place herself. She I had a master, certainly, but a girl could not be expected to confide in a man upon such a matter; she bears her cross herself; does not sing, does not whisper, but is silent as a Trappist. Concealment? No, but she kept herself to herself.

The child is born — a sound and healthy boy; had lived and breathed after birth, but had been suffocated. The court had been made aware of the circumstances attending this birth: it had taken place in the water; the mother falls into the stream, and the child is born, but she is incapable of saving the child. She lies there, unable even to rise herself till some time after. No marks of violence were to be seen upon the body; there was nothing to indicate that it had been intentionally killed; it had been drowned by misadventure at birth, that was all. The most natural explanation in the world.

His learned colleague had made some mention of a cloth or wrapping, considering it something of a mystery why she should have taken half a shirt with her that day. The mystery was clear enough; she had taken the shirt to carry stripped juniper in. She might have taken — let us say, a pillow-case; as it was, she had taken this piece of a shirt. Something she must have, in any case; she could not carry the stuff back in her hands. No, there was surely no ground for making a mystery of this.

One point, however, was not quite so clear: had the accused been treated with the care and consideration which her condition at the time demanded? Had her master dealt kindly with her? It would be as well for him if it were found so. The girl herself had, under cross-examination, referred to the man in satisfactory terms; and this again was evidence in itself of her own nobility of character. The man, on his part, Axel Ström, had likewise in his depositions refrained from any attempt to add to the burden of the girl, or to blame her in any way In this he had acted rightly — not to say wisely, seeing that his own case depended very largely upon how matters went with her. By laying the blame on her he would, if she were convicted, bring about his own downfall.

It was impossible to consider the documents and depositions in the present case without feeling the deepest sympathy for this young girl in her forsaken situation. And yet there was no need to appeal to mercy on her behalf, only to justice and human understanding. She and her master were in a way betrothed, but a certain dissimilarity of temperament and interests prevented them from marrying. The girl could not entrust her future to such a man. It was not a pleasant subject, but it might be well to return for a moment to the question of the wrapping that had been spoken of before; it should here be noted that the girl had taken, not one of her own undergarments, but one of her master’s shirts. The question at once arose: had the man himself offered the material for the purpose? Here, one was at first inclined to see a possibility, at any rate, that the man, Axel, had had some part in the affair.

“H’m,” from some one in court. Loud and hard — so much so, indeed, that the speaker paused, and all looked round to see who might be responsible for the interruption. The presiding justice frowned.

But, went on the advocate for the defence, collecting himself again, in this respect, also, we can set our minds at rest, thanks to the accused herself. It might seem well to her advantage to divide the blame here, but she had not attempted to do so. She had entirely and without reserve absolved Axel Ström from any complicity whatever in the fact of her having taken his shirt instead of something of her own on her way to the water — that is, on her way to the woods to gather juniper. There was not the slightest reason for doubting the asseveration of the accused on this point; her depositions had throughout been found in accordance with the facts, and the same was evidently the case in this. Had the shirt been given her by the man, this would have been to presuppose a killing of the child already planned the accused, truthful as she was, had not attempted to charge even this man with a crime that had never been committed. Her demeanour throughout had been commendably frank and open; she had made no endeavour to throw the blame on others. There were frequent instances before the court of this delicacy of feeling on the part of the accused, as, for instance, the fact that she had wrapped up the body of the child as well as she could, and put it away decently, as the Lensmand had found it.

Here the presiding justice interposed, merely as a matter of form, observing that it was grave No. 2 which the Lensmand had found — the grave in which Axel had buried the body after its removal from the first.

“True, that is true. I stand corrected,” said the advocate, with all proper respect for the president of the court. Perfectly true. But — Axel had himself stated that he had only carried the body from one grave and laid it in the other. And there could be no doubt but that a woman was better able to wrap up a child than was a man — and who best of all? Surely a mother’s tender hand?

The presiding justice nods.

In any case — could not this girl — if she had been of another sort — have buried the child naked? One might even go so far as to say that she might have thrown it into a dustbin. She might have left it out under a tree in the open, to freeze to death — that is to say, of course, if it had not been dead already. She might have put it in the oven when left alone, and burnt it up. She might have taken it up to the river at Sellanraa and thrown it in there. But this mother did none of these things; she wrapped the dead child neatly in a cloth and buried it. And if the body had been found wrapped neatly when the grave was opened, it must be a woman and not a man who had so wrapped it.

And now, the advocate for the defence went on, it lay with the court to determine what measure of guilt could properly be attributed to the girl Barbro in the matter. There was but little remaining for which she could be blamed at all — indeed, in his, counsel’s, opinion, there was nothing. Unless the court found reason to convict on the charge of having failed to notify the death. But here, again — the child was dead, and nothing could alter that; the place was far out in the wilds, many miles from either priest or Lensmand; natural enough, surely, to let it sleep the eternal sleep in a neat grave in the woods. And if it were a crime to have buried it thus, then the accused was not more guilty than the father of the child — as it was, the misdemeanour was surely slight enough to be overlooked. Modern practice was growing more and more disposed to lay more stress on reforming the criminal than on punishing the crime. It was an antiquated system which sought to inflict punishment for every mortal thing — it was the lex talionis of the Old Testament, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There was no longer the spirit of the law in modern times. The law of the present day was more humane, seeking to adjust itself according to the degree of criminal intent and purpose displayed in each case.

No! The court could never convict this girl. It was not the object of a trial to secure an addition to the number of criminals, but rather to restore to society a good and useful member. It should be noted that the accused had now the prospect of a new position where she would be under the best possible supervision. Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl had, from her intimate knowledge of the girl, and from her own valuable experience as a mother, thrown wide the doors of her own home to the girl; the court would bear in mind the weight of responsibility attaching to its decision here, and would then convict or acquit the accused. Finally, he wished to express his thanks to the learned counsel for the prosecution, who had generously refrained from demanding a conviction — a pleasing evidence of deep and humane understanding.

The advocate for the defence sat down.

The remainder of the proceedings did not take long. The summing up was but a repetition of the same points, as viewed from opposite sides, a brief synopsis of the action of the play, dry, dull, and dignified. It had all been managed very satisfactorily all round; both the advocates had pointed out what the court should consider, and the presiding justice found his task easy enough.

Lights were lit, a couple of lamps hanging from the ceiling — a miserable light it was, the justice could hardly see to read his notes. He mentioned with some severity the point that the child’s death had not been duly notified to the proper authorities — but that, under the circumstances, should be considered rather the duty of the father than of the mother, owing to her weakness at the time. The court had then to determine whether any case had been proved with regard to concealment of birth and infanticide. Here the evidence was again recapitulated from beginning to end. Then came the usual injunction as to being duly conscious of responsibility, which the court had heard before, and finally, the not uncommon reminder that in cases of doubt, the scale should be allowed to turn in favour of the accused.

And now all was clear and ready.

The judges left the room and went into another apartment. They were to consider a paper with certain questions, which one of them had with him.

They were away five minutes, and returned with a “No” to all the questions.

No, the girl Barbro had not killed her child.

Then the presiding judge said a few more words, and declared that the girl Barbro was now free.

The court-house emptied, the comedy was over. . . .

Someone takes Axel Ström by the arm: it is Geissler. “H’m,” said he, “so you’re done with that now!”

“Ay,” said Axel.

“But they’ve wasted a lot of your time to no purpose.”

“Ay,” said Axel again. But he was coming to himself again gradually, and after a moment he added: “None the less, I’m glad it was no worse.”

“No worse?” said Geissler. “I’d have liked to see them try!” He spoke with emphasis, and Axel fancied Geissler must have had something to do with the case himself; that he had intervened. Heaven knows if, after all, it had not been Geissler himself that had led the whole proceedings and gained the result he wished. It was a mystery, anyway.

So much at least Axel understood, that Geissler had been on his side all through.

“I’ve a deal to thank you for,” said he, offering his hand.

“What for?” asked Geissler.

“Why, for — for all this.”

Geissler turned it off shortly. “I’ve done nothing at all. Didn’t trouble to do anything — ‘twasn’t worth while.” But for all that, Geissler was not displeased, maybe, at being thanked; it was as if he had been waiting for it, and now it had come. “I’ve no time to stand talking now,” he said. “Going back tomorrow, are you? Good. Good-bye, then, and good luck to you.” And Geissler strolled off across the street.

On the boat going home, Axel encountered the Lensmand and his wife, Barbro and the two girls called as witnesses.

“Well,” said Fru Heyerdahl, “aren’t you glad it turned out so well?”

Axel said, “Yes”; he was glad it had come out all right in the end.

The Lensmand himself put in a word, and said: “This is the second of these cases I’ve had while I’ve been here — first with Inger from Sellanraa, and now this. No, it’s no good trying to countenance that sort of thing — justice must take its course.”

But Fru Heyerdahl guessed, no doubt, that Axel was not over pleased with her speech of the day before, and tried to smooth it over, to make up for it somehow now. “You understood, of course, why I had to say all that about you yesterday?”

“H’m — ye — es,” said Axel.

“You understood, of course, I know. You didn’t think I wanted to make things harder for you in any way. I’ve always thought well of you, and I don’t mind saying so.”

“Ay,” said Axel, no more. But he was pleased and touched at her words.

“Yes, I mean it,” said Fru Heyerdahl. “But I was obliged to try and shift the blame a little your way, otherwise Barbro would have been convicted, and you too. It was all for the best, indeed it was.”

“I thank you kindly,” said Axel.

“And it was I and no other that went about from one to another through the place, trying to do what I could for you both. And you saw, of course, that we all had to do the same thing:— make out that you were partly to blame, so as to get you both off in the end.”

“Ay,” said Axel.

“Surely you didn’t imagine for a moment that I meant any harm to you? When I’ve always thought so well of you!”

Ay, this was good to hear after all the disgrace of it. Axel, at any rate, was so touched that he felt he must do something, give Fru Heyerdahl some thing or other, whatever he could find — a piece of meat perhaps, now autumn was come. He had a young bull . . .

Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl kept her word; she took Barbro to live with her. On board the steamer, too, she looked after the girl, and saw that she was not cold, nor hungry; took care, also, that she did not get up to any nonsense with the mate from Bergen. The first time it occurred, she said nothing, but simply called Barbro to her. But a little while after there was Barbro with him again, her head on one side, talking Bergen dialect and smiling. Then her mistress called her up and said:

“Really, Barbro, you ought not to be going on like that among the men now. Remember what you’ve just been through, and what you’ve come from.”

“I was only talking to him a minute,” said Barbro. “I could hear he was from Bergen.”

Axel did not speak to her. He noticed that she was pale and clear-skinned now, and her teeth were better. She did not wear either of his rings. . . .

And now here is Axel tramping up to his own place once more. Wind and rain, but he is glad at heart; a mowing-machine and a harrow down at the quay; he had seen them. Oh, that Geissler! Never a word had he said in town about what he had sent. Ay, an unfathomable man was Geissler.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23g/chapter26.html

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