Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXI

The accident became widely known. Newspapermen came from the city, and Solem had to pilot them up the mountain and show them the spot where it had taken place. If the body had not been removed at once, they would have written about that, too.

Children and ignoramuses might be inclined to think it foolish that Solem should be taken from the work in the fields at harvest time, but must not the business of the tourist resort go before all else?

“Solem, tourists!” someone called to him. And Solem left his work. A flock of reporters surrounded him, asked him questions, made him take them to the mountains, to the river. A phrase was coined at the farm for Solem’s absences:

“Solem’s with death.”

But Solem was by no means with death; on the contrary, he was in the very midst of life, enjoying himself, thriving. Once again he was an important personage, listened to by strangers, doling out information. Nor did his audience now consist of ladies only — indeed, no; this was something new, a change; these were keen, alert gentlemen from the city.

To me, Solem said:

“Funny the accident should have happened just when the scratch on my nail has grown out, isn’t it?”

He showed me his thumbnail; there was no mark on it.

The newspaper reporters wrote articles and sent telegrams, not only about the Blue Peak and the dreadful death, but about the locality, and about the Tore Peak resort, that haven for the weary, with its wonderful buildings set like jewels in the mountains. What a surprise to come here: gargoyles, living room, piano, all the latest books, timber outside ready for new jewels in their setting, altogether a magnificent picture of Norway’s modern farming.

Yes, indeed, the newspapermen appreciated it. And they did their advertising.

The English arrived.

“Where is Solem?” they asked, and “Where is the Blue Peak?” they asked.

“We ought to get the hay in,” said Josephine and the wife at the farm. “There’ll be rain, and fifty cartloads are still out!”

That was all very well, but “Where is Solem?” asked the English. So Solem had to go with them. The two casual laborers began to cart away the hay, but then the women had no one to help them rake. Confusion was rife. Everyone rushed wildly hither and thither because there was no one to lead them.

The weather stayed fine overnight; it was patient, slow-moving weather. As soon as the dew dried up, more hay would be brought in, perhaps all the hay. Oh, we should manage all right.

More English appeared; and “Solem — the Blue Peak?” they said. Their perverse, sportsmen’s brains tingled and thrilled; they had successfully eluded all the resorts on the way, and arrived here without being caught. There was the Blue Peak, like a mast against the sky! They hurried up so fast that Solem was hardly able to keep pace with them. They would have felt for ever disgraced if they had neglected to stand on this admirable site of a disaster, this most excellent abyss. Some said it would be a lifelong source of regret to them if they did not climb the Blue Peak forthwith; others had no desire but to gloat over the lawyer’s death fall, and to shout down the abyss, gaping at the echo, and advancing so far out on the ledge that they stood with their toes on death.

But it’s an ill wind that blows good to none, and the resort earned a great deal of money. Paul began to revive again, and the furrows in his face were smoothed out. A man of worth grows strong and active with good fortune; in adversity he is defiant. One who is not defiant in adversity is worth nothing; let him be destroyed! Paul stopped drinking; he even began to take an interest in the harvesting, and worked in the field in Solem’s place. If only he had begun when the weather was still slow and patient!

But at least Paul began to tackle things in the right spirit again; he only regretted that he had set aside for the cotters those outlying fields from which they were used to getting half the hay; this year he would have liked to keep it himself. But he had given his word, and there was nothing to be done about it.

Besides, it was raining now. Haymaking had to stop; they could not even stack what had already been gathered. Outside, three cartloads of fodder were going to waste.

Before long the novelty of the Tore Peak resort wore off again. The newspapermen wrote and sent telegrams about other gratifying misfortunes, the death on the Blue Peak having lost its news value. It had been an intoxication; now came the morning after.

The Danish mountaineer quite simply deserted. He strapped on his knapsack and walked across the field like one of the villagers, caring no more for the Blue Peak. The commotion he had witnessed in the last week had taught him a lesson.

And the tourists swarmed on to other places.

“What harm have I done them,” Paul probably thought, “that they should be going again? Have I been too much in the fields and too little with them? But I greeted them humbly and took my man out of the harvesting work to help them. . . . ”

Then two young men arrived, sprouts off the Norwegian tree, sportsmen to their finger tips, who talked of nothing but sailing, cycling, and football; they were going to be civil engineers — the young Norway. They, too, wanted to see the Blue Peak to the best of their ability; after all, one must keep pace with modern life. But they were so young that when they looked up at the peak, they were afraid. Solem had learned more than one trick in tourist company; craftily he led them on, and then extorted money from them in return for a promise not to expose their foolishness. So all was well; the young sprouts came down the mountain again, bragging and showing off their sportsmanship. One of them brought down a bloodstained rag which he flung on the ground, saying,

“There’s what’s left of your lawyer that fell off.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughed the other sprout.

Yes, truly, they had acquired dashing ways among their sporting acquaintances.

It rained for three weeks; then came two fine days, and then rain again for a fortnight. The sun was not to be seen, the sky was invisible, the mountain tops had disappeared; we saw nothing but rain. The roofs at the Tore Peak resort began to leak more and more.

The hay that still lay spread on the ground was black and rotting, and the stacks had gone moldy.

The cotters had got their hay indoors during the patient spell. They had carried it, man, woman, and child, on their backs.

The men from Bergen and Mrs. Brede with her children have left for home. The little girls curtsied and thanked me for taking them walking in the hills and telling them stories. The house is empty now. Associate Master Höy and Mrs. Molie were the last to go; they left last week, traveling separately, though both were going to the same small town.

He went by way of the village — a very roundabout route — while she crossed the field. It is very quiet now, but Miss Torsen is still here.

Why do I not leave? Don’t know. Why ask? I’m here. Have you ever heard anyone ask: “How much is a northern light?” Hold your tongue.

Where should I go if I did leave? Do you imagine I want to go to the town again? Or do you think I’m longing for my old hut and the winter, and Madame? I’m not longing for any specific place; I am simply longing.

Of course I ought to be old enough to understand what all sensible Norwegians know, that our country is once more on the right road. The papers are all writing about the splendid progress the tourist traffic has made in Stordalen since the motor road was opened — ought I not to go there and feel gratified?

From old habit, I still take an interest in the few of us who are left; Miss Torsen is still here.

Miss Torsen — what more is there to be said about her? Well, she does not leave; she stays here to complete the picture of the woman Torsen, child of the middle class who has read schoolbooks all through her formative years, who has learned all about Artemis cotula, but undernourished her soul. That is what she is doing here.

I remember a few weeks ago, when we were infested with Englishmen, a young sprout coming down from the mountain top with a bloodstained rag which he threw on the ground, saying, “Here’s what’s left of your lawyer that fell off!” Miss Torsen heard it, and never moved a muscle. No, she never mourned the death of the lawyer very keenly; on the contrary, she wrote off at once to ask another friend to come. When he came, he turned out to be a swaggering scatterbrain — a “free lance,” he called himself in the visitors’ book. I have not mentioned him before because he was less important than she; less important, in fact, than any of us. He was beardless and wore his collar open; heaven knows if he wasn’t employed at a theater or in the films. Miss Torsen went to meet him when he came, and said, “Welcome to our mountains,” and “Thanks for coming.” So evidently she had sent for him. But why did she not leave? Why did she seem to strike root in the place, and even ask others to come here? Yet she had been the first to want to leave last summer! There was something behind this.

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