Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XX

The lawyer is constantly in Miss Torsen’s company; he even swings her in the children’s swing, and puts his arm around her to steady her when the swing stops. Solem watches all this from the field where he is working, and begins to sing a ribald song. Certainly these two have so ill-used him that if he is going to sing improper songs in self-defense, this is the time to do it; no one will gainsay that. So he sang his song very loud, and then began to yodel.

But Miss Torsen went on swinging, and the lawyer went on putting his arm round her and stopping her. . . .

It was a Saturday evening. I stood talking to the lawyer in the garden; he didn’t like the place, and wanted to leave, but Miss Torsen would not go with him, and going alone was such a bore. He did not conceal that the young woman meant something to him.

Solem approached, and lifted his cap in greeting. Then he looked round quickly and began to talk to the lawyer — politely, as became his position of a servant:

“The Danish gentleman is going to climb the peak tomorrow. I’m to take a rope and go with him.”

The lawyer was startled.

“Is he —?”

The blankness of the lawyer’s face was a remarkable sight. His small, athletic brain failed him. A moment passed in silence.

“Yes, early tomorrow morning,” said Solem. “I thought I’d tell you. Because after all it was your idea first.”

“Yes, so it was,” said the lawyer. “You’re quite right. But now he’ll be ahead of me.”

Solem knew how to get round that.

“No, I didn’t promise to go,” he said. “I told him I had to go to the village tomorrow.”

“But we can’t deceive him. I don’t want to do that.”

“Pity,” said Solem. “Everybody says the first one to climb the Blue Peak will be in all the papers.”

“He’ll take offense,” the lawyer murmured, considering the matter.

But Solem urged him on:

“I don’t think so. Anyhow, you were the first one to talk about it.”

“Everybody here will know, and I’ll be prevented,” said the lawyer.

“We can go at dawn,” said Solem.

In the end they came to an agreement.

“You won’t tell anyone?” the lawyer said to me.

The lawyer was missed in the course of the morning; he was not in his room, and not in the garden.

“Perhaps the Danish mountaineer can tell us where he is,” I said. But it transpired that the Dane had not even thought of climbing the Blue Peak that day, and knew nothing whatever about the expedition.

This surprised me greatly.

I looked at the clock; it was eleven. I had been watching the peak through my field glasses from the moment I got up, but there was nothing to be seen. It was five hours since the two men had left.

At half-past eleven Solem came running back; he was drenched in sweat and exhausted.

“Come and help us!” he called excitedly to the group of guests.

“What’s happened?” somebody asked.

“He fell off.”

How tired Solem was and drenched to the skin! But what could we do? Rush up the mountainside and look at the accident too?

“Can’t he walk?” somebody asked.

“No, he’s dead,” said Solem, looking from one to another of us as though to read in our faces whether his message seemed credible. “He fell off; he didn’t want me to help him.”

A few more questions and answers. Josephine was already halfway across the field; she was going to the village to telephone for the doctor.

“We shall have to get him down,” said the Danish mountaineer.

So he and I improvised a stretcher; Solem was instructed to take brandy and bandages to the site of the accident, and the Bergensians, the Associate Master, Miss Torsen, and Mrs. Molie went with him.

“Did you really say nothing to Solem about climbing the peak today?” I asked the Dane.

“No,” he replied. “I never said a word about it. If I had meant to go, I should certainly not have wanted company. . . . ”

Later that afternoon we returned with the lawyer on the stretcher. Solem kept explaining all the way home how the accident had happened, what he had said and what the lawyer had said, pointing to objects on the way as though this stone represented the lawyer and that the abyss into which he had plunged. . . . Solem still carried the rope he had not had a chance to use. Miss Torsen asked no more than anyone else, and made purely conventional comments: “I advised him against it, I begged him not to go. . . . ”

But however much we talked, we could not bring the lawyer back to life. Strange — his watch was still going, but he himself was dead. The doctor could do nothing here, and returned to his village.

There followed a depressing evening. Solem went to the village to send a telegram to the lawyer’s family, and the rest of us did what we thought decent under the circumstances: we all sat in the living room with books in our hands. Now and again, some reference would be made to the accident: it was a reminder, we said, how small we mortals were! And the Associate Master, who had not the soul of a tourist, greatly feared that this disaster would injure the resort and make things still more difficult for Paul; people would shun a place where they were likely to fall off and be killed.

No, the Associate Master was no tourist, and did not understand the Anglo-Saxon mind.

Paul himself seemed to sense that the accident might benefit him rather than do him harm. He brought out a bottle of brandy to console us on this mournful evening.

And since it was a death to which we owed this attention, one of the men from Bergen made a speech.

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