The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XI

And time goes on; winter is passed; spring comes again.

Isak has to go down to the village one day — and why not? What for?” Nay, I don’t know,” says he. But he gets the cart cleaned up all fine, puts in the seat, and drives off, and a deal of victuals and such put in, too-and why not? ’Twas for Eleseus at Storborg. Never a horse went out from Sellanraa but there was something taken down to Eleseus.

When Isak came driving down over the moors, ’twas no little event, for he came but rarely, Sivert going most ways in his stead. At the two farms nearest down, folk stand at the door of the huts and tell one another: “’Tis Isak himself; and what’ll he be going down after today?” And, coming down as far as to Maaneland, there’s Barbro at the glass window with a child in her arms, and sees him, and says: “’Tis Isak himself!”

He comes to Storborg and pulls up. “Ptro! Is Eleseus at home?”

Eleseus comes out. Ay, he’s at home; not gone yet, but just going — off on his spring tour of the towns down south.

“Here’s some things your mother sent down,” says his father. “Don’t know what it is, but nothing much, I doubt.”

Eleseus takes the things, and thanks him, and asks:

“There wasn’t a letter, I suppose, or anything that sort?”

“Ay,” says his father, feeling in pockets, “there was. ’Tis from little Rebecca I think they said.”

Eleseus takes the letter, ’tis that he has been waiting for. Feels it all nice and thick, and says to his father:

“Well, ’twas lucky you came in time — though ’tis two days before I’m off yet. If you’d like to stay a bit, you might take my trunk down.”

Isak gets down and ties up his horse, and goes for a stroll over the ground. Little Andresen is no bad worker on the land in Eleseus’ service; true, he has had Sivert from Sellanraa with horses, but he has done a deal of work on his own account, draining bogs, and hiring a man himself to set the ditches with stone. No need of buying fodder at Storborg that year, and next, like as not, Eleseus would be keeping a horse of his own. Thanks to Andresen and the way he worked on the land.

After a bit of a while, Eleseus calls down that he’s ready with his trunk. Ready to go himself, too, by the look of it; in a fine blue suit, white collar, galoshes, and a walking-stick. True, he will have — two days to wait for the boat, but no matter; he may just as well stay down in the village; ’tis all the same if he’s here or there.

And father and son drive off. Andresen watches them from the door of the shop and wishes a pleasant journey.

Isak is all thought for his boy, and would give him the seat to himself; but Eleseus will have none of that, and sits up by his side. They come to Breidablik, and suddenly Eleseus has forgotten something. “Ptro! — What is it?” asks his father.

Oh, his umbrella! Eleseus has forgotten his umbrella; but he can’t explain all-about it, and only says: “Never mind, drive on.”

“Don’t you want to turn back?”

“No; drive on.”

But a nuisance it was; how on earth had he come to leave it? ’Twas all in a hurry, through his father being there waiting. Well, now he had better buy a new umbrella at Trondhjem when he got there. ’Twas no importance either way if he had one umbrella or two. But for all that, Eleseus is out of humour with himself; so much so that he jumps down and walks behind.

They could hardly talk much on the way down after that, seeing Isak had to turn round every time and speak over his shoulder. Says Isak: “How long you’re going to be away?”

And Eleseus answers: “Oh, say three weeks, perhaps, or a month at the outside.”

His father marvels how folk don’t get lost in the big towns, and never find their way back. But Eleseus answers, as to that, he’s used to living in towns, and never got lost, never had done in his life.

Isak thinks it a shame to be sitting up there all alone, and calls out: “Here, you come and drive a bit; I’m getting tired.”

Eleseus won’t hear of his father getting down, and gets up beside him again. But first they must have something to eat-out of Isak’s well-filled pack. Then they drive on again.

They come to the two holdings farthest down; easy to see they are nearing the village now; both the houses have white curtains in the little window facing toward the road, and a flag-pole stuck up on top of the hayloft for Constitution Day. “’Tis Isak himself,” said folk on the two new farms as the cart went by.

At last Eleseus gives over thinking of his own affairs and his own precious self enough to ask: “What you driving down for today?”

“H’m,” says his father. “’Twas nothing much today.” But then, after all, Eleseus was going away; no harm, perhaps, in telling him. “’Tis blacksmith’s girl, Jensine, I’m going down for,” says his father; ay, he admits so much.

“And you’re going down yourself for that? Couldn’t Sivert have gone?” says Eleseus. Ay, Eleseus knew no better, nothing better than to think Sivert would go down to the smith’s to fetch Jensine, after she had thought so much of herself as to leave Sellanraa!

No, ’twas all awry with the haymaking the year before. Inger had put in all she could, as she had promised. Leopoldine did her share too, not to speak of having a machine for a horse to rake. But the hay was much of it heavy stuff, and the fields were big. Sellanraa was a sizeable place now, and the women had other things to look to besides making hay; all the cattle to look to, and meals to be got, and all in proper time; butter and cheese to make, and clothes to wash, and baking of bread; mother and daughter working all they could. Isak was not going to have another summer like that, he decided without any fuss that Jensine should come back again if she could be got. Inger, too, had no longer a word against it; she had come to her senses again, and said: “Ay, do as you think best.” Ay, Inger was grown reasonable now; ’tis no little thing to come to one’s senses after a spell. Inger was no longer full of heat that must out, no longer full of wild blood to be kept in check, the winter had cooled her; nothing beyond the needful warmth in her now. She was getting stouter, growing fine and stately. A wonderful woman to keep from fading, keep from dying off by degrees; like enough because she had bloomed so late in life. Who can say how things come about? Nothing comes from a single cause, but from many. Was Inger not in the best repute with the smith’s wife? What could any smith’s wife say against her? With her disfigurement, she had been cheated of her spring, and later, had been set in artificial air to lose six years of her summer; with life still in her, what wonder her autumn gave an errant growth? Inger was better than blacksmiths’ wives — a little damaged, a little warped, but good by nature, clever by nature . . . .ay.

Father and son drive down, they come to Brede Olsen’s lodging-house and set the horse in a shed. It is evening now. They go in themselves.

Brede Olsen has rented the house; an outbuilding it had been, belonging to the storekeeper, but done up now with two sitting-rooms and two bedrooms; none so bad, and in a good situation. The place is well frequented by coffee-drinkers and folk from round about the village going by the boat.

Brede seems to have been in luck for once, found something suited to him, and he may thank his wife for that. ’Twas Brede’s wife had hit on the idea of a coffee-shop and lodging-house, the day she sat selling coffee at the auction at Breidablik; ’twas a pleas ant enough thing to be selling something, to feel money in her lingers, ready cash. Since they had come down here they had managed nicely, selling coffee in earnest now, and housing a deal of folk with nowhere else to lay their heads. A blessing to travellers, is Brede’s wife. She has a good helper, of course, in Katrine, her daughter, a big girl now and clever at waiting — though that is only for the time, of course; not long before little Katrine must have something better than waiting on folk in her parents’ house. But for the present, they are making money fairly well, and that is the main thing. The start had been decidedly favourable, and might have been better if the storekeeper had not run short of cakes and sweet biscuits to serve with the coffee; here were all the feast-day folk calling for cakes with their coffee, biscuits and cakes! ’Twas a lesson to the storekeeper to lay in a good supply another time.

The family, and Brede himself, live as best they can on their takings. A good many meals are nothing but coffee and stale cakes left over, but it keeps them alive, and gives the children a delicate, sort of refined appearance. ’Tis not every one has cakes with their coffee, say the village folk. Ay, Bredes are doing well, it seems; they even manage to keep a dog, that goes round begging among the customers and gets bits here and there and grows fat on it. A good fat dog about the plate is a mighty fine advertisement for a lodging-house; it speaks for good feeding anywhere.

Brede, then, is husband and father in the house, and apart from that position, has got on variously beside. He had been once more installed as Lensmand’s assistant and deputy, and had a good deal to do that way for a time. Unfortunately, his daughter Barbro had fallen out with the Lensmand’s wife last autumn, about a trifling matter, a mere nothing — indeed, to tell the truth, a flea; and Brede himself is somewhat in disfavour there since. But Brede counts it no great loss, after all; there are other families that find work for him now on purpose to annoy the Lensmand’s; he is frequently called upon, for instance, to drive for the doctor, and as for the parsonage, they’d gladly send for Brede every time there’s a pig to be killed, and more — Brede says so himself.

But for all that there are hard times now and again in Brede’s house; ’tis not all the family are as fat and flourishing as the dog. Still, Heaven be praised, Brede is not a man to take things much to heart. “Here’s the children growing up day by day,” says he, though, for that matter, there’s always new little ones coming to take their place. The ones that are grown up and out in the world can keep themselves, and send home a bit now and again. There’s Barbro married at Maaneland, and Helge out at the herring fishery; they send home something in money or money’s worth as often as they can; ay, even Katrine, doing waiting at home, managed, strangely enough, to slip a five-Krone note into her father’s hand last winter, when things were looking extra bad. “There’s a girl for you,” said Brede, and never asked her where she’d got the money, or what for. Ay, that was the way! Children with a heart to think of their parents and help them in time of need!

Brede is not altogether pleased with his boy Helge in that respect; he can be heard at times standing in the store with a little group about him, developing his theories as to children and their duty toward their parents. “Look you, now, my boy, Helge; if he smokes tobacco a bit, or takes a dram now and then, I’ve nothing against that, we’ve all been young in our time. But ’tis not right of him to go sending one letter home after another and nothing but words and wishes in. ’Tis not right to set his mother crying. ’Tis the wrong road for a lad. In days gone by, things were different. Children were no sooner grown than they went into service and started sending home a little to help. And quite right, too. Isn’t it their father and mother had borne them under their breast first of all, and sweating blood to keep the life in them all their tender years? And then to forget it all”

It almost seemed as if Helge had heard that speech of his father’s, for there came a letter from him after with money in — fifty Kroner, no-less. And then Bredes had a great time; ay, in their endless extravagance they bought both meat and fish for dinner, and a lamp all hung about with lustres to hang from ceiling in the best room.

They managed somehow, and what more could they ask? Bredes, they kept alive, lived from hand to mouth, but without great fear. What more could they wish for?

“Here’s visitors indeed!” says Brede, showing Isak and Eleseus into the room with the new lamp. “And I’d never thought to see. Isak, you’re never going away yourself, and all?”

“Nay, only to the smith’s for something, ’tis no more.”

“Ho! ’Tis Eleseus, then, going off south again?

Eleseus is used to hotels; he makes himself at home, hangs up his coat and stick on the wall, and calls for coffee; as for something to eat, his father has things in a basket. Katrine brings the coffee.

“Pay? I’ll not hear of it,” says Brede. “I’ve had many a bite and sup at Sellanraa; and as for Eleseus, I’m in his books already. Don’t take it, Katrine.” But Eleseus pays all the same, takes out his purse and pays out the money, and twenty Ore over; no nonsense about him.

Isak goes across to the smith’s, and Eleseus stays where he is.

He says a few words, as in duty bound, to Katrine, but no more than is needed; he would rather talk to her father. No, Eleseus cares nothing for women; has been frightened off by them once, as it were, and takes no interest in them now. Like as not he’d never much inclination that way to speak of, seeing he’s so completely out of it all now. A strange man to live in the wilds; a gentleman with thin writer’s hands, and the sense of a woman for finery; for sticks and umbrellas and galoshes. Frightened off, and changed, incomprehensibly not a marrying man. Even his upper lip declines to put forth any brutal degree of growth. Yet it might be the lad had started well enough, come of good stock, but been turned thereafter into an artificial atmosphere, and warped, transformed? Had he worked so hard in an office, in a shop, that his whole originality was lost thereby? Ay, maybe ’twas so. Anyway, here he is now, easy and passionless, a little weak, a little heedless, wandering farther and farther off the road. He might envy every soul among his fellows in the wilds, but has not even strength for that.

Katrine is used to jesting with her customers, and asks him teasingly if he is off to see his sweetheart in the south again.

“I’ve other things to think of,” says Eleseus. “I’m out on business — opening up connections.”

“No call to be so free with your betters, Katrine,” says her father reprovingly. Oh, Brede Olsen is all respect towards Eleseus, mighty respectful for him to be. And well he may, ’tis but wise of him, seeing he owes money up at Storborg, and here’s his creditor before him. And Eleseus? Ho, all this deference pleases him, and he is kind and gracious in return; calls Brede “My dear sir,” in jest, and goes on that way. He mentions that he has forgotten his umbrella: “Just as we we — passing Breidablik, I thought of it; left-my umbrella behind.”

Brede asks: “You’ll be going over to our little store this evening, belike, for a drink?”

Says Eleseus: “Ay, maybe, if ’twas only myself. But I’ve my father here.”

Brede makes himself pleasant, and goes on gossiping: “There’s a fellow coming in day after tomorrow that’s on his way to America.”

“Been home, d’you mean?”

“Ay. He’s from up in the village a bit. Been away for ever so many years, and home for the winter. His trunk’s come down already by cart — and a mighty fine trunk.”

“I’ve thought of going to America myself once or twice,” says Eleseus frankly.

“You?” cries Brede. “Why, there’s little need for the likes of you going that way surely!”

“Well, ’twas not going over to stay for ever I was thinking. But I’ve been travelling about so many places now, I might just as well make the trip over there.”

“Ay, of course, and why not? And a heap of money and means and all, so they say, in America. Here’s this fellow I spoke of before; he’s paid for more feasting and parties than’s easy to count this winter past, and comes in here and says to me, ‘Let’s have some coffee, a potful, and all the cakes you’ve got.’ Like to see his trunk?”

They went out in the passage to look at the trunk. A wonder to look at on earth, flaming all sides and corners with metal and clasps and binding, and three flaps to hold it down, not to speak of a lock. “Burglar-proof,” says Brede, as if he had tried it himself.

They went back into the room, but Eleseus was grown thoughtful. This American from up in the village had outdone him; he was nothing beside such a man. Going out on journeys like any high official; ay, natural enough that Brede should make a fuss of him. Eleseus ordered more coffee, and tried to play the rich man too; ordered cakes with his coffee and gave them to the dog — and all the time feeling worthless and dejected. What was his trunk beside that wonder out there? There it stood, black canvas with the corners all rubbed and worn; a handbag, nothing more — ho, but wait! He would buy a trunk when he got to the towns, a splendid one it should be, only wait!

“’Tis a pity to feed the dog so,” says Brede.

And Eleseus feels better at that, and ready to show off again. “’Tis a marvel how a beast can get so fat,” says he.

One thought leading to another: Eleseus breaks off his talk with Brede and goes out into the shed to look at the horse. And there he takes out a letter from his pocket and opens it. He had put it away at once, never troubling to look what money was in it; he had had letters of that sort from home before, and always a deal of notes inside — something to help him on the way. What was this? A big sheet of grey paper scrawled all over; little Rebecca to her brother Eleseus. and a few words from his mother. What else? Nothing else. No money at all.

His mother wrote that she could not ask his father for more money again now, for there was none too much left of all they — had got for the copper mine that time; the money had gone to buy Storborg, and pay for all the goods after, and Eleseus’ travelling about. He must try and manage by himself this time, for the money that was left would have to be kept for his brother and sisters, not to leave them all without. And a pleasant journey and your loving mother.

No money.

Eleseus himself had not enough for his fare; he had cleaned out the cash box at Storborg, and that was not much. Oh, but he had been a fool to send that money to the dealers in Bergen on account; no hurry for that; he might have let it stand over. He ought, of course, to have opened the letter before starting out at all; he might have saved himself that journey down to the village with his miserable trunk and all. And here he was . . . .

His father comes back from the smith’s after settling his business there; Jensine was to go back with him next morning. And Jensine, look you, had been nowise contrary and hard to persuade, but saw at once they wanted help at Sellanraa for the summer, and was ready to come. A proper way to do, again.

While his father is talking, Eleseus sits thinking of his own affairs. He shows him the American’s trunk, and says: “Only wish I was where that’s come from.”

And his father answers: “Ay, ’twas none so bad, maybe.”

Next morning Isak gets ready to start for home again; has his food, puts in the horse and drives round by the smith’s to fetch Jensine and her box. Eleseus stands looking after them as they go; then when they are lost to sight in the woods, he pays his score at the lodging-house again, and something over. “You can leave my trunk here till I come back,” he tells Katrine, and off he goes.

Eleseus — going where? Only one place to go; he turns back, going back home again. So he too takes the road up over the hills again, taking care to keep as near his father and Jensine as he can without being seen. Walks on and on. Beginning now to envy every soul of them in the wilds.

’Tis a pity about Eleseus, so changed he is and all.

Is he doing no business at Storborg? Such as it is; nothing to make a fortune out of there, and after Eleseus is overmuch out and abroad, making pleasant journeys on business to open up connections, and it had costs too much; he does not travel cheaply. “Doesn’t do to be mean,” says Eleseus, and gives twenty Ore over where he might save ten. The business cannot support a man of his tastes, he must get subsidies from home. There’s the farm at Storborg, with potatoes and corn and hay enough for the place itself, but all provisions else must come from Sellanraa. Is that all? Sivert must cart up his brother’s goods from the steamer all for nothing. And is that all? His mother must get money out of his father to pay for his journeys. But is that all?

The worst is to come.

Eleseus manages his business like a fool. It flatters him to have folk coming up from the village to buy at Storborg, so that he gives them credit as soon as asked; and when this is noised abroad, there come still more of them to buy the same way. The whole thing is going to rack and ruin. Eleseus is an easy man, and lets it go; the store is emptied and the store is filled again. All costs money. And who pays it? His father.

At first, his mother had been a faithful spokesman for him every way. Eleseus was the clever head of the family; they must help him on and give him a start; then think how cheaply he had got Storborg, and saying straight out what he would give for it! When his father thought it was going wrong somehow with the business, and naught but foolery, she took him up. “How can you stand there and say such things!” Ay, she reproved him for using such words about his son; Isak was forgetting his place, it seemed, to speak so of Eleseus.

For look you, his mother had been out in the world herself; she understood how hard it was for Eleseus to live in the wilds, being used to better things, and accustomed to move in society, and with none of his equals near. He risked too much in his dealings with folk that were none of the soundest; but even so, ’twas not done with any evil intent on his part of ruining his parents, but sheer goodness of heart and noble nature; ’twas his way to help those that were not so fine and grand as himself. Why, wasn’t he the only man in those parts to use white handkerchiefs that were always having to be washed? When folk came trustingly to him and asked for credit, if he were to say “ No,” they might take it amiss, it might seem as if he were not the noble fellow they had thought, after all. Also, he had a certain duty towards his fellows, as the town-bred man, the genius among them all.

Ay, his mother bore all these things in mind.

But his father, never understanding it all in the least, opened her eyes and ears one day and said: “Look you here. Here’s all that is left of the money from that mine.”

“That’s all?” said she. “And what’s come of the rest?

“Eleseus, he’s bad the rest.”

And she clasped her hands at that and declared it was time Eleseus began to use his wits.

Poor Eleseus, all set on end and frittered away. Better, maybe, if he’d worked on the land all the time, but now he’s a man that has learned to write and use letters; no grip in him, no depth. For all that, no pitch-black devil of a man, not in Jove, not ambitious, hardly nothing at all is Eleseus, not even a bad thing of any great dimensions.

Something unfortunate, ill-fated about this young man, as if something were rotting him from within. That engineer from the town, good man better perhaps, if he had not discovered the lad in his youth and taken him up to make something out of him; the child had lost his roothold, and suffered thereby. All that he turns to now leads back to something wanting in him, something dark against the light.

Eleseus goes on and on. The two in the cart ahead pass by Storborg. Eleseus goes a long way round, and he too passes by; what was he to do there, at home, at his trading station and store? The two in the cart get to Sellanraa at nightfall; Eleseus is close at their heels. Sees Sivert come out in the yard, all surprised to see Jensine, and the two shake hands and laugh a little; then Sivert takes the horse out and leads it to stable.

Eleseus ventures forward; the pride of the family, he ventures up a little. Not walking up, but stealing up; he comes on Sivert in the stable. “’Tis only me,” he says.

“What — you too?” says Sivert, all astonished again.

The two brothers begin talking quietly; about Sivert getting his mother to find some money; a last resource, the money for a journey. Things can’t go on this way; Eleseus is weary of it; has been thinking of it a long time now, and he must go tonight; a long journey, to America, and start tonight.

“America?” says Sivert out loud.

“Sh! I’ve been thinking of it a long time, and you must get her to do as I say; it can’t go on like this, and I’ve been thinking of going for ever so long.”

“But America!” says Sivert. “No, don’t you do it.”

“I’m going. I’ve settled that. Going back non to catch the boat.”

“But you must have something to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“But rest a bit, then?”

“No.”

Sivert is trying to act for the best, and hold his brother back, but Eleseus is determined, ay, for once he is determined. Sivert himself is all taken aback; first of all it was a surprise to see Jensine again, and now here’s Eleseus going to leave the place altogether, not to say the world. “What about Storborg?” says he. “What’ll you do with it?”

“Andresen can have it,” says Sivert.

“Andresen have it? How d’you mean?”

“Isn’t he going to have Leopoldine?”

“Don’t know about that. Ay, perhaps he is.”

They talk quietly, keep on talking. Sivert thinks it would be best if his father came out and Eleseus could talk to him himself; but “No, no!” whispers Eleseus again; he was never much of a man to face a thing like that, but always must have a go-between.

Says Sivert: “Well, mother, you know how ’tis with her. There’ll be no getting any way with her for crying and talking on. She mustn’t know.”

“No,” Eleseus agrees, “she mustn’t know.”

Sivert goes off, stays away for ages, and comes back with money, a heap of money. “Here, that’s all he has; think it’ll be enough? Count — he didn’t count how much there was.”

“What did he say — father?”

“Nay, he didn’t say much. Now you must wait a little, and I’ll get some more clothes on and go down with you.”

“’Tis not worth while; you go and lie down.”

“Ho, are you frightened of the dark that I mustn’t go away?” says Sivert, trying a moment to be cheerful.

He is away a moment, and comes back dressed, and with his father’s food basket over his shoulder. As they go out, there is their father standing outside. “So you’re going all that way, seems?’, says Isak.

“Ay,” answered Eleseus; “but I’ll be coming back again.”

“I’ll not be keeping you now — there’s little time,” mumbles the old man, and turns away. “Good luck,” he croaks out in a strange voice, and goes off all hurriedly.

The two brothers walk down the road; a little way gone, they sit down to eat; Eleseus is hungry, can hardly eat enough. ’Tis a fine spring night, and the black grouse at play on the hilltops; the homely sound makes the emigrant lose courage for a moment. “’Tis a fine night,” says he. “You better turn back now, Sivert,” says he.

“H’m,” says Sivert, and goes on with him.

They pass by Storborg, by Breidablik, and the sound follows them all the way from the hills here and there; ’tis no military music like in the towns, nay, but voices — a proclamation: Spring has come. Then suddenly the first chirp of a bird is heard from a treetop, waking others, and a calling and answering on every side; more than a song, it is a hymn of praise. The emigrant feels home-sick already, maybe, something weak and helpless in him; he is going off to America, and none could be more fitted to go than he.

“You turn back now, Sivert,” says he.

“Ay, well,” says his brother. “If you’d rather.”

They sit down at the edge of the wood, and see the village just below them, the store and the quay, Brede’s old lodging-house; some men are moving about by the steamer, getting ready.

“Well, no time to stay sitting here,” says Eleseus, getting up again.

“Fancy you going all that way,” says Sivert.

And Eleseus answers: “But I’ll be coming back again. And I’ll have a better sort of trunk that journey.”

As. they say good-bye, Sivert thrusts something into his brother’s hand, a bit of something wrapped in paper. “What is it?” asks Eleseus.

“Don’t forget to write often,” says Sivert. And so he goes.

Eleseus opens the paper and looks; ’tis the gold piece, twenty-five Kroner in gold. “Here, don’t!” he calls out. “You mustn’t do that!”

Sivert walks on.

Walks on a little, then turns round and sits down again at the edge of the wood. More folk astir now down by the steamer; passengers going on board, Eleseus going on board; the boat pushes off from the side and rows away. And Eleseus is gone to America.

He never came back.

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