Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXIII

The sun has returned. Not darkly glowing and regal — more than that: imperial, because it is flaming. This you do not understand, my friend, whatever the language in which it is dished up for you. But I say there is an imperial sun in the sky.

It’s a good day for going to the woods; it is sweeping time, for the woods are full of yellow things that have come suddenly into being. A short time ago they were not there, or I did not see them, or they had the earth’s own complexion. There is something unborn about them, like embryos in an early stage. But if I whirl them about, they are miracles of fulfillment.

Here are fungi of every sort, mushrooms and puffballs. How close is the poisonous mushroom to the happy family of the edible mushroom, and how innocently it stands there! Yet it is deadly. What magnificent cunning! A spurious fruit, a criminal, habitual vice itself, but preening in splendor and brilliance, a very cardinal of fungi. I break off a morsel to chew; it is good and soft on the tongue, but I am a coward and spit it out again. Was it not the poisonous mushroom that drove men berserker? But in the dawn of our own day, we die of a hair in the throat.

The sun is already setting. Far up the mountainside are the cattle, but they are moving homeward now; I can hear by their bells that they are moving. Tinkling bells and deep-mouthed bells, sometimes sounding together as though there were a meaning in it, a pattern of tones, a rapture.

And rapture, too, to see all the blades of grass and the tiny flowers and plants. Beside me where I lie is a small pod plant, wonderfully meek, with tiny seeds pushing out of the pod — God bless it, it’s becoming a mother! It has got caught in a dry twig and I liberate it. Life quivers within it; the sun has warmed it today and called it to its destiny. A tiny, gigantic miracle.

Now it is sunset, and the woods bend under a rustling that passes through them sweet and heavy; it is the evening.

I lie for another hour or two; the birds have long since gone to rest, and darkness falls thick and soft. . . . As I walk homeward, my feet feel their way and I hold my hands before me till I reach the field, where it is a little lighter. I walk on the hay that has been left outdoors; it is tough and black, and I slip on it because it is already rotting. As I approach the houses, bats fly noiselessly past me, as though on wings of foam. A slight shudder convulses me whenever they pass.

Suddenly I stop.

A man is walking here. I can see him against the wall of the new house. He has on a coat that looks like the actor’s raincoat, but it is not the little comedian himself. There he goes, into the house, right into the house. It is Solem.

“Why, that’s where she sleeps!” I think. “Ah, well. Alone in the building, in the south wing, Miss Torsen alone — yes, quite alone. And Solem has just gone in.”

I stand there waiting to be at hand, to rush in to the rescue, for after all I am a human being, not a brute. Several minutes pass. He has not even bothered to be very quiet, for I hear him clicking the key in the lock. Surely I ought to hear a cry now? I hear nothing, nothing; a chair scraping across the floor, that is all.

“But good heavens, he may do her some harm! He may injure her; he may overpower her with rape! Ought I not to tap on the window? I— what for? But at the very first cry, I shall be on the spot, take my word for it.”

Not a single cry.

The hours pass; I have settled down to wait. Of course I cannot go my way and desert a helpless woman. But the hours wear on. A very thorough business in there, nothing niggardly about this; it is almost dawn. It occurs to me that he may be killing her, perhaps has killed her already; I am alarmed and about to get up — when the key clicks in the lock again and Solem emerges. He does not run, but walks back the way he came, down to the veranda of my own house. There he hangs the actor’s raincoat where it hung before, and emerges again. But this time he is naked. He has been naked under the coat all this time. Is it possible? Why not? No inhibitions, no restraint, no covering; Solem has thought it all out. Now, stark naked, he stalks to his room.

What a man!

I sit thinking and collecting myself and regaining my wits. What has happened? The south wing is still wrapped in silence, but the lady is not dead; I can see that from Solem’s fearless manner as he goes to his room, lights the lamp, and goes to bed.

It relieves me to know she is alive, revives me, and makes me superlatively brave: if he has dared to kill her, I will report it at once. I shall not spare him. I shall accuse him of both her death and the lawyer’s. I shall go further: I shall accuse others — the thief of last winter, the man that stole the sides of bacon from a tradesman and sold me rolls of tobacco out of his bag. No, I shall not keep silence about anything then. . . .

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