Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXVI

And now I, too, must wander on again, for I am the last at the Tore Peak farm. The season is wearing on, and this morning it snowed for the first time — wet, sad snow.

It is very quiet at the farm now, and Josephine might have played the piano again and been friendly to the last guest; but now I am leaving, too. Besides, Josephine has little to play and be cheerful for; things have gone badly this year, and may grow worse as time goes on. The prospect is not a good one. “But something will turn up,” says Josephine. She need not worry, for she has money in the bank, and no doubt there is a young man in the offing, on the other side of the fjeld.

Oh, yes, Josephine will always manage; she thinks of everything. The other day, for instance — when Miss Torsen and her friend left. The friend could not pay his bill, and all he said was that he had expected money, but it hadn’t come, and he couldn’t stay any longer because of his private affairs. That was all very well, but when would the bill be paid? Why, he would send it from the town, of course; that was where he had his money!

“But how do we know we’ll get the money? — from him, anyway,” said Josephine. “We’ve had these actor-people here before. And I didn’t like the way he swanked about outside, thinking he was as good as anybody, and throwing his stick up in the air and catching it again. And then when Miss Torsen came in to say good-bye, I told her, and I wondered if she couldn’t let me have the money for him. Miss Torsen was shocked, and said, ‘Hasn’t he paid himself?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘he hasn’t, and this year being such a bad one, we need every penny.’ So then Miss Torsen said of course we should get the money; how much was it? And I told her, and she said she couldn’t pay for him now, but she would see the money was sent; we could trust her for that. And I think we can, too. We’ll get the money all right, if not from him. I daresay she’ll send it herself. . . . ”

And Josephine went off to serve me my dinner.

Paul is on his feet now, too. Not that his step is always very steady, but at least he puts his feet to the ground. But he takes no interest in things; he does little more than feeding the horses and chopping some wood. He ought to be clearing the manure out of the summer cow houses for autumn use, but he keeps putting it off, and probably it will not be done at all. So far it hasn’t mattered, but this morning’s first wet snow has covered the hay outdoors and the maltreated land. And so it will remain till next spring. Poor Paul! He is an easygoing man at heart, but he pushes doggedly on against a whirlwind; sometimes he smiles to himself, knowing how useless it is to struggle — a distorted smile.

His father, the old man alone in his room, stands sometimes on his threshold, as he used to do, and reflects. He is lost in memories, for he has ninety years behind him. The many houses on the farm confuse him a little; the roofs are all too big for him, and he is afraid they might come down and carry him off. Once he asked Josephine if it was right that his hands and fingers should run away from him every day across the fields. So they put mittens on his hands, but he took to chewing them; in fact he ate everything he was given, and enjoyed a good digestion. So they must be thankful he had his health, Josephine said, and could be up and about.

I did not follow the others across the field, but returned the way I had come last spring, down toward the woods and the sea. It is fitting that I should go back, always back, never forward again.

I passed the hut where Solem and I had lived together, and then the Lapps — the two old people and Olga, this strange cross between a human being and a dwarf birch. A stove stood against the peat wall, and a paraffin lamp hung from the roof of their stone-age dwelling. Olga was kind and helpful, but she looked tiny and pathetic, like a ruffled hen; it pained me to watch her flit about the room, tiny and crooked, as she looked for a pair of reindeer cheeses for me.

Then I reached my own hut of last winter where I had passed so many lonely months. I did not enter it.

Or rather, I did enter it, for I had to spend the night there. But I shall skip this, so for the sake of brevity, I call it not entering. This morning I wrote something playful about Madame, the mouse I left here last spring; but tonight I am taking it out again because I am no longer in the mood, and because there is no point in it. Perhaps it would have amused you to read it, my friend; but there is no point in amusing you now. I must deject you now and make you listen to me; there is not much more to hear.

Am I moralizing? I am explaining. No, I am not moralizing; I am explaining. If it is moralizing to see the truth and tell it to you, then I am moralizing. Can I help that? Intuitively I see into what is distant; you do not, for this is something you cannot learn from your little schoolbooks. Do not let this rouse your hatred for me. I shall be merry again with you later, when my strings are tuned to merriment. I have no power over them. Now they are tuned to a chorale. . . .

At dawn, in the bright moonlight, I leave the hut and push on quickly in order to reach the village as soon as possible. But I must have started too early or walked too fast, for at this rate I shall reach the village at high noon. What am I chasing after? Perhaps it is feeling the nearness of the sea that drives me forward. And as I stand on the last high ridge, with the glitter and roar of the sea far beneath, a sweetness darts through me like a greeting from another world. “Thalatta!“ I cry; and I wipe my eyeglasses tremblingly. The roar from below is sleepless and fierce, a tone of jungle passion, a savage litany. I descend the ridge as though in a trance and reach the first house.

There was no one about, and a few children’s faces at a window suddenly disappeared. Everything here was small and poor, though only the barn was of peat; the house was a timbered fisherman’s home. As I entered the house, I saw that though it was as poor within as without, the floor was clean and covered with pine twigs. There were many children here. The mother was busy cooking something over the fire.

I was offered a chair, and sitting down, began to chat with a couple of small boys. As I was in no hurry and asked for nothing, the woman said:

“I expect you want a boat?”

“A boat?” I said in my turn, for I had not come by boat on my last visit; I had walked instead over fjelds and valleys many miles from the sea. “Yes, why not?” I said. “But where does it go?”

“I thought you wanted a boat to go to the trading center,” she replied, “because that’s where the steamer stops. We’ve rowed over lots of people this year.”

Great changes here; the motor traffic in Stordalen must have completely altered all the other traffic since my last visit ten months ago.

“Where can I stop for a few days?” I asked.

“At the trading center, the other side of the islands. Or there’s Eilert and Olaus; they’re both on this side. You could go there; they’ve got big houses.”

She showed me the two places on this side of the water, close to the shore, and I proceeded thither.

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