Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XI

An occasional tourist came or went, Solem accompanied him across the fjeld, and he was gone. But where were all the foreigners this year? Bennett’s and Cook’s conducted tours, the hordes that would “do” the mountain peaks of Norway — where were they?

At last two solitary Englishmen turned up. They were middle-aged, unshaven and ill-groomed altogether, two engineers or something of that sort, but quite as speechless and uncivil as the grandest of the traveling British clowns. “Guide! Guide!” they called. “You the guide?” Nothing about them was any different from what we had grown to expect; these two traveled brainlessly and solemnly to the mountain tops, were in a hurry, had a purpose, behaved as though they were running to catch a doctor. Solem went with them to the top and down the other side, and they offered him a fifty-öre bit. Solem held out the palm of his hand, he told me afterwards, for he thought they would put more in it, but nothing came of that. So he created a disturbance — Solem has grown spoiled and insolent from all his idling with tourists.

“Mehr, more,” said he.

No, they would not. Solem flung the coin on the ground and struck his hands together repeatedly. This had the required effect, and one krone made its appearance. But on Solem’s taking the noble lord by the shoulder and exerting a little pressure, two kroner were at last forthcoming.

At length a conducted party arrived. Many tongues, both sexes, huntsmen, fishermen, dogs, mountaineers, porters. There was a tremendous commotion at the farm; the flag was run up, Paul bent double under all the orders he received, and Josephine ran, flew at every call. Mrs. Brede had to give up her sitting room to three English ladies, and the rest of us were crowded together as close as possible. I, for my part, was to be allowed to keep my bed because of my settled age; but I said, “By no means, let this English solicitor or whatever he is have my bed; what does it matter for a night!”

Then I went out.

If one keeps one’s eyes open, one may see a great deal at such a resort in the daytime. And one may see much at night, too. What is the meaning of all this bleating of goats in the shed? Why are the animals not at rest? The door is closed; none of the visiting dogs has got in. Or — have some of the visiting dogs got in? Vice, like virtue, walks in rings and circles; nothing is new, all returns to its beginnings and repeats itself. The Romans ruled the world, yes. They were so mighty, the Romans, so invincible, that they could permit themselves a vice or two, they could afford to live at the arena, they had their fun with young boys and animals. Then one day retribution overtook them, their children’s children lost battles everywhere, and their children’s children again only sat — sat and looked backward. The ring was closed; none were less rulers of the world than the Romans.

They paid no attention to me, the two Englishmen in the goats’ shed; I was merely one of the natives, a Norwegian, who had but to accept the ways of the mighty tourists. But they themselves belonged to that nation of gamblers, coachmen, and vice which one day the wholesome Gothic soul will castigate to death. . . .

The disturbance continued all night, and very early, the dogs began to bark. The caravan awoke; it was six in the morning, and doors began to bang in all the houses. They were in a great hurry, these travelers; they were running to catch the doctor. They had breakfast in two sessions, but though the household was bent double before them and gave of its best, they were not satisfied. “If we had only known a little earlier,” said Paul. But they muttered that we should just wait; there were motor cars in other places. Then Paul spoke — Paul, the master of the farm, the man who lived under the Tore peaks:

“But I’m going to enlarge; don’t you see all the timber outside? And I’m planning to get a telephone. . . . ”

The caravan paid the exact amount of their small bill and departed, accompanied by the master and Solem, both carrying trunks.

Peace descended on us again.

Schoolmaster Staur left now, too. He had been busy collecting plants round the Tore peaks, and talked about his plants at table in a very learned fashion, giving the Latin names, and pointing out their peculiarities. Yes, indeed, he had learned a great deal at school.

“Here you see an Artemis cotula,” he said.

Miss Torsen, who had also imbibed much learning, recognized the name and said:

“Yes, take plenty of it with you.”

“What for?”

“It’s insect powder.”

Schoolmaster Staur knew nothing of that, and there was a good deal of discussion in which Associate Master Höy had to take a hand.

No, Schoolmaster Staur knew nothing of that. But he could classify plants and learn their names by heart. He enjoyed that. The peasant children in his neighborhood were ignorant of these classes and names, and he could teach them. He enjoyed that so much.

But was the spirit of the soil his friend? The plant that is cut down one year, yet grows again the next — did this miracle make him religious and silent? The stones, and the heather, and the branches of trees, and the grass, and the woods, and the wind, and the great heaven of all the universe — were these his friends?

Artemis cotula. . . .

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