Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VII

Next day I arrived at the deserted hut, drenched to the skin, struck by lightning, but in a strangely gentle and yielding mood, as after a punishment. My good fortune in the midst of my ill-luck made me overfriendly to everything; I tramped on without hurting the ground, and I avoided sinful thoughts, though it was spring. I was not even out of temper when I had to retrace my steps across the fjeld to find my way again to the hut. I had time; there was no hurry. I was the first tourist of the spring season, and far too early.

So I remained at my ease in the hut for a few days. Sometimes at night verses and small poems blossomed in my mind as though I had become a real poet. At any rate there were signs that great changes had taken place within me since the winter, when I had desired nothing but to lie blinking my eyes and be left in peace.

One day when everything was thawing in the sun, I left the hut and walked about the mountains for some hours. I had lately been thinking of writing some children’s verses, addressed to a certain little girl, but nothing had come of it. Now as I walked on the mountainside, I felt again a desire for this pastime, and worked at it on several occasions, but could not get it into shape. The night, when one has slept an hour or two, is the time when such things come to one.

So I went straight on to the village and bought myself a good store of food. There were many people in this district, and it did me good to hear human speech and laughter again; but there was no place here where I could stay, and in any case I had come too early. I had much to carry on my way home to my hut again. About halfway I met a man, a casual laborer, a vagabond, whose name was Solem. Later I heard that he was the bastard son of a telegraph operator who had been in Rosenlund nearly a generation before.

That this man should have stepped off the path to let me pass with my burden was a good trait in him, and I thanked him and said, “I shouldn’t have run over you in any case, ha, ha!”

He asked me if there was much snow on the way to the village. I told him it was much the same as here. “I see,” he said, and turned away. I thought that perhaps he had come a long way, and since he carried nothing that looked like provisions, I offered him some of mine in order to make him talk a little. He thanked me and accepted.

He was above middle height, and quite young, not more than in his twenties, possibly just on thirty — a fine fellow. After the swaggering fashion of wanderers, he had a lock of hair escaping from under the peak of his cap; but he wore no beard. This full-grown man still shaved without growing tired of doing so, and this, together with his fringe of hair and his general manner, gave me the impression that he wished to seem younger than he was.

We talked while he ate; he laughed readily and was in a cheerful mood, and since his face was beardless and hard, it looked like a laughing iron mask. But he was sensible and pleasant. There was only one thing: I had been silent for so long that I talked now perhaps too readily; and if it happened that both this boy Solem and I spoke at once, he would stop immediately to let me have my say. When this had happened several times, I grew tired of winning, and stopped too. But that merely made him nod and say: “Go ahead.”

I explained to him that I idled in solitude, studying strange trees, and writing a thing or two about them, that I lived in a hut, but that today I had finished my stock of provisions and had had to go to the village. When he heard about the hut, he stopped chewing, and sat as though he were listening; then he said hastily: “Yes, in a way I know these telegraph poles across the mountains very well. Not these particular poles, but others. I was a linesman till not long ago.”

“Were you?” I said. “Haven’t you passed my hut today?” I added.

He hesitated a moment, but when he saw that I was not trying to put him in the wrong, he admitted that he had been in the hut and rested, and found my crisp-bread there.

“It wasn’t easy to sit there without taking some of it,” he said.

We spoke of many things. His language was hardly coarse at all, nor did he dawdle over his food. My own manners had run wild to such an extent that I valued his good behavior.

He offered to help me carry my pack as a mark of his gratitude for the food, and I accepted his offer. It was in this way that the stranger returned to the hut with me. As soon as I came in I saw a note on the table, a sort of thanks for the bread; it was an extremely ill-mannered epistle, full of obscene expressions. When Solem saw what I was reading, his iron face broke into a smile. I pretended not to understand the note and threw it back on the table; he picked it up and tore it to shreds.

“I’m sorry you’ve seen it,” he said. “We linesmen have a way of doing that sort of thing, and I’d forgotten I’d left it here.”

Soon after this he went out.

He stayed that night and next day, and found a means of repaying me by washing some of my clothes and making himself useful in other ways. There was a large tub outside the hut — had been since the Lapps lived there — which was cracked and leaked abundantly, but Solem stopped the cracks with bacon fat and boiled my clothes in it. It was very funny to watch him imperturbably skimming off the fat that floated up.

He seemed to want to stay till we had finished the provisions again, and then to go with me to the village; but when he heard I was going the other way, to the mountain farm somewhere under the great peaks of the Tore, where summer visitors stayed and many travelers passed, he wanted to go there, too. He was a bird of passage.

“Can’t I come with you and help you carry?” he asked me. “I’m used to farm work, too, and perhaps I can get a job there.”

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