Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XVIII

I return to the mad idea of Solem’s being discharged. This would, to be sure, have averted a certain disaster here at the farm: but who would fetch and carry then? Paul? But I’ve told you he just lounges all day in his room, and has been doing so lately more than ever; the guests never see him except through an unsuccessful maneuver on his part.

One evening he came walking across the lawn. He must, in his disregard of time, have thought the guests had already retired, but we all sat outside in the mild darkness. When Paul saw us, he drew himself up and saluted as he passed; then, calling Solem to him, he said:

“You mustn’t cross the field again without letting me know. I was right there in my room, writing. The idea of Josephine carrying luggage!”

Paul strode on. But even yet he felt he had not appeared important enough, so he turned round and asked:

“Why didn’t you take one of my cotters with you to act as porter?”

“They wouldn’t go,” Solem replied. “They were busy lifting potatoes.”

“Wouldn’t go?”

“That’s what Einar said.”

Paul thought this over.

“What insolence! They’d better not go too far or I’ll drive them off the place.”

Then the law awoke in the lawyer’s bosom, and he asked:

“Haven’t they bought their land?”

“Yes,” said Paul. “But I’m the master of this farm. I have a say in things too. I’m not without power up here in Reisa, believe me. . . . ”

Then he said sternly to Solem:

“You come to me next time.”

Whereupon he stalked off to the woods again.

“He’s a bit tight again, our good Paul,” said the lawyer.

Nobody replied.

“Can you imagine an innkeeper in Switzerland behaving like that?” the lawyer remarked.

Mrs. Brede said gently:

“What a pity! He never drank before.”

And at once the lawyer was charitable again:

“I’ll have a good talk with him,” he said.

There followed a period in which Paul was sober from morning till night, when Manufacturer Brede paid us a visit. The flag was hoisted, and there was great commotion at the farm; Josephine’s feet said whrr under her skirt. The manufacturer arrived with a porter; his wife and children went far down the road to meet him, and the visitors at the resort sallied forth too.

“Good morning!” he greeted us with a great flourish of his hat. He won us all over. He was big and friendly, fat and cheerful, with the broad good cheer that plenty of money gives. He became good friends with us at once.

“How long are you staying, Daddy?” his little girls asked, as they clung to him.

“Three days.”

“Is that all!” said his wife.

“Is that all?” he replied, laughing. “That’s not such a short time, my dear; three days is a lot for me.”

“But not for me and the children,” she said.

“Three whole days,” he repeated. “I can tell you I’ve had to do some moving to be able to stay as quiet as this, ha, ha!”

They all went in. The manufacturer had been here before and knew the way to his wife’s cottage. He ordered soda water at once.

In the evening, when the children had gone to bed, the manufacturer and his wife joined us in the living room; he had brought whisky with him for the gentlemen, and ordered soda water; for the ladies he had wine. It was quite a little party, the manufacturer playing the host with skill, and we were all well satisfied. When Miss Palm played folk melodies on the piano, this heavy-built man grew quiet and sentimental; but he didn’t think only of himself, for suddenly he went out and lowered the flag. Flags should be lowered at sunset, he said. Once or twice he went across to the cottage, too, to see if the children were sleeping well. Generally speaking, he seemed fond of the children. Though he owned factories and hotels and many other things, yet he seemed to take the greatest pride of all in possessing a couple of children.

One of the men from Bergen struck his glass for silence, and began to make a speech.

The Bergensians had all long been very quiet and retiring, but here was a perfect occasion for making speeches. Was not here a man from the great world outside, from the heart of life, who had brought them wine and good cheer and festivity? Strange wares up here in this world of blue mountains . . . and so on.

He talked for about five minutes, and became very animated.

The manufacturer told us a little about Iceland — a neutral country that neither the Associate Master nor the lawyer had visited, and therefore could not disagree about. One of the Danes had been there and was able to confirm the justness of the manufacturer’s impressions.

But most of the time he told cheerful anecdotes:

“I have a servant, a young lad, who said to me one day, when I was in a bad temper: ‘You’ve become a great hand at swearing in Icelandic!’ Ha, ha, ha — he appreciated me: ‘a great hand at swearing in Icelandic,’ he said!”

Everybody laughed, and his wife asked:

“And what did you say?”

“What did I say? Why, I couldn’t say anything, could I, ha, ha, ha!”

Then another man from Bergen took the floor: we must not forget we had the family of a real man of the world with us here — his wife, “this peerless lady, scattering charm and delight about her,” and the children, dancing butterflies! And a few minutes later, “Hip, hip, hurrah!” followed by a flourish on the piano.

The manufacturer drank a toast with his wife.

“Well, that’s that!” was all he said.

Mrs. Molie sat off in a corner talking in a loud voice with the Dane who had come over the top of the Tore from the wrong end; she seemed purposely to be talking so audibly. The manufacturer’s attention was attracted, and he asked for further information about the motor cars in the neighboring valley: how many there were, and how fast they could go. The Dane told him.

“But just imagine coming across the fjeld from the other side!” said Mrs. Molie. “It hasn’t been done before.”

In response to the manufacturer’s questions, the Dane told him about this adventurous journey also.

“Isn’t there a blue peak somewhere in the mountains about here?” said Mrs. Molie. “I suppose you’ll be going up that next. Where ever will you stop?”

Yes, the Dane felt quite tempted by this peak, but said he believed it was unconquerable.

“I should have climbed that peak long ago if you, Miss Torsen, hadn’t forbidden me,” said the lawyer.

“You’d never have made it,” said Mrs. Molie in an indifferent tone. This was probably her revenge. She turned to the Dane again as though ready to believe him capable of anything.

“I shouldn’t want anyone to think of climbing that peak,” said Miss Torsen. “It’s as bare as a ship’s mast.”

“What if I tried it, Gerda?” the manufacturer asked his wife with a smile. “After all, I’m an old sailor.”

“Nonsense,” she said, smiling a little.

“Well, I climbed the mast of a schooner last spring.”

“Where?”

“In Iceland.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know, though — all this mountain climbing — I haven’t much use for it,” said the manufacturer.

“What did you do it for? What did you climb the mast for?” his wife repeated nervously.

The manufacturer laughed.

“The curiosity of the female sex —!”

“How can you do a thing like that! And what about me and the children if you —”

She broke off. Her husband grew serious and took her hand.

“It was stormy, my dear; the sails were flapping, and it was a question of life and death. But I shouldn’t have told you. Well — we’d better say good night now, Gerda.”

The manufacturer and his wife got up.

Then the first man from Bergen made another speech.

The manufacturer stayed with us for the promised three days, and then made ready to travel again. His mood never changed; he was contented and entertaining the whole time. Every evening one whisky and soda was brought him — no more. Before their bedtime, his little girls had a wildly hilarious half-hour with him. At night a tremendous snoring could be heard from his cottage. Before his arrival, the little girls had spent a good deal of time with me, but now they no longer knew I existed, so taken up with their father were they. He hung a swing for them between the two rowan trees in the field, taking care to pack plenty of rag under the rope so as not to injure the tree.

He also had a talk with Paul; there were rumors that he was intending to take his money out of the Tore Peak resort. Paul’s head was bent now, but he seemed even more hurt that the manufacturer should have paid a visit to the cotters to see how they were getting on.

“So that’s where he’s gone?” he said. “Well, let him stay there, for all I care!”

The manufacturer cracked jokes to the very end. Of course he was a little depressed by the farewells, too, but he had to keep his family’s courage up. His wife stood holding one of his arms with both hands, and the children clung to his other arm.

“I can’t salute you,” the manufacturer said to us, smiling. “I’m not allowed to say good-bye.”

The children rejoiced at this and cried, “No, he can’t have his arm back; Mummy, you hold him tight, too!”

“Come, come!” the father said. “I’ve got to go to Scotland, just a short trip. And when you come home from the mountains, I’ll be there, too.”

“Scotland? What are you going to Scotland for?” the children asked.

He twisted round and nodded to us.

“These women! All curiosity!” he said.

But none of his family laughed.

He continued to us:

“I was telling my wife a story about a rich man who was curious, too. He shot himself just to find out what comes after death. Ha, ha, ha! That’s the height of curiosity, isn’t it? Shooting yourself to find out what comes after death!”

But he could not make his family laugh at this tale, either. His wife stood still; her face was beautiful.

“So you’re leaving now,” was all she said.

Mr. Brede’s porter came out with his luggage; he had stayed at the farm for these three days in order to be at hand.

Then the manufacturer walked down through the field, accompanied by his wife and children.

I don’t know — this man with his good humor and kindliness and money and everything, fond of his children, all in all to his wife —

Was he really everything to his wife?

The first evening he wasted time on a party, and every night he wasted time in snoring. And so the three days and nights went by. . . .

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