Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXVIII

Next morning they had gone.

Yes, indeed, they left at four in the morning, at dawn; I heard them perfectly well, for my room was near the stairs. The knight of the plump thighs came first, clumping heavily down the stairs. She hushed him, and her voice sounded angry.

Eilert had just risen too, and they stood outside for some minutes, negotiating with him for the boat — yes, at once; they had changed their minds and wanted to leave, immediately. Then they went down to the boat, Eilert with them. I could see them through the window, chilled by the cold of early morning and short-tempered with each other. There had been a frost during the night; ice lay on the water in the buckets, and the ground was harsh to walk on. Poor things — no food, no coffee; a windy morning, with the sea still running rather high. There they go with their knapsacks on their backs; she is still wearing her red hat.

Well, it was no concern of mine, and I lay down again, intending to sleep till about noon. Nothing was any concern of mine, except myself. I could not see the boat from my bed, so I got up again — just to while the time away — to see how far they had gone. Not very far, though both men were rowing. A little later I got up and looked again — oh, yes, they were getting on. I took up my post by the window. It was really quite interesting to watch the boat getting smaller and smaller; finally I opened the window, even looked through my field-glasses. As it was not yet quite light, I could not see them very clearly, but the red hat was still discernible. Then the boat disappeared behind an island. I dressed and went down. The children were all still in bed, but the wife, Regine, was up. How calmly and naturally she took everything!

“Do you know where your husband is?” I asked her.

“Yes — funny, aren’t they?” she replied. “I never saw them till after they’d left — gone down to the fjord. Where do you suppose they’re going? Haddock fishing?”

“Maybe,” was all I said. But I thought to myself: “They’re leaving, all right. They had their knapsacks on their backs.”

“Funny couple,” Regine resumed. “Nothing to eat, no coffee, not a thing! And the missis not wanting anything to eat last night, neither!”

I merely shook my head and went out. Regine called to me that coffee was nearly ready, so if I’d like a cup —

Of course the only thing I could do in the face of such foolishness was to shake my head and go away. One must take the sensible view. How was it possible to understand such behavior? Nevertheless I, the undersigned, should have gone on to Olaus yesterday, instead of going fishing. That would have been still more sensible. What business had I at this house? Very likely she found it embarrassing to be called the “missis,” and this was why she could neither eat last night nor stay here today. So she had beaten a retreat, with her friend and her knapsack.

Well, it was not much to go away with, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. As long as one has a reason to go away.

Later in the forenoon Eilert returned home. He was alone, but he came up the path carrying one of the knapsacks — the larger one. He was in a furious temper, and kept saying they’d better not try it on him — no, they’d just better not.

Of course it was the bill again.

“She’ll probably have a good deal of this sort of trouble,” I thought to myself, “but no doubt she’ll get used to it, and take it as nonchalantly as it should be taken. There are worse things.”

But the fact remains that it was I that upset them, I that had driven them away without their clothes; perhaps they had really expected some money to be sent here — who knows?

I got hold of Eilert. How big was the bill? What, was that all? “Good heavens! Here you are, here’s your money; now row across to them at once with their clothes!”

But it all proved in vain, for the strangers had gone; they had arrived just in time for the boat, and were aboard it at that very moment.

Well, there was no help for it.

“Here’s their address,” says Eilert. “We can send the clothes next Thursday; that’s the next trip the boat goes south again.”

I took down the address, but I was most ungracious to Eilert. Why couldn’t he have kept the other knapsack — why this particular one?

Eilert replied that it was true the gentleman had offered him the other one, but he could see from the outside that it was not so good as this one. And I should remember that the money the missis had paid him hadn’t covered more than the bill for one of them. So it was only reasonable that he should take the fullest knapsack. As a matter of fact, he had behaved very well, and that was the truth. Because when she gave him the larger knapsack, and wrote the address, she had scolded, but he had kept quiet, and said not another word. And anyway, nobody had better try it on him — they’d better not, or he’d know the reason why!

Eilert shook a long-armed fist at the sky.

When he had eaten, drunk his coffee, and rested for a while, he was not so lively and talkative as on the previous day. He had been brooding and speculating ever since last summer, when the motor traffic started, and did I think it would be a good idea for him to hire three grown men, too, and build a much bigger house than Olaus’s?

So he had caught it, too — the great, modern Norwegian disease!

The knapsack was back in her room again; yes, these were her clothes; I recognized her blouses, her skirts and her shoes. I hardly looked at them, of course; just unpacked them, folded them neatly, and put them back in the bag again; because no doubt Eilert had had them all out in a heap. This was really my only reason for unpacking them.

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