The Road Leads On, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter Twenty-Two

Unmitigated joy was not to be the druggist’s lot as a result of his evening entertainment. He went the following day to Gina i Roten and gave her fifty kroner, a well-earned reward for her contribution to the programme. However, he made the grave mistake of letting the widow Solmund know of his act, for her envy was thus bestirred and much quarreling came as a result. “I thought as ’twas all to be mine,” said the widow Solmund. “I’ve so many as need it!”

“You’d better be satisfied with what you’re getting,” said the druggist. “Here you are — three hundred fifty!”

But the widow Solmund was not satisfied. It irked her to be forced to divide with another, she did no end of talking in her neighbourhood, and one day she went to Gina i Roten and demanded the money.

No, Gina was hardly of a mind to hand back any of this money. The fact of the matter was, she had given the fifty kroner to Karel who, in turn, had handed the money over to the bank to apply on the mortgage against his farm.

The widow let out a scream: “Ho! Well now I must say —! To pay off your debts with my money!”

“Your money? No, this was money as we got from the druggist.”

“Then he gave away money as didn’t belong to him and for that he can go to prison! You can tell that to that druggist of yours from me!”

“No no, he’s no man to be giving away money as doesn’t belong to him.”

“You must have got it for being good to him,” suggested the widow.

“You swine!” replied Gina. “And now you’re to get out of my house, do you hear!”

They stepped out into the yard, but there they pursued their quarrel.

“Ay, then what did you get the money for?” challenged the widow.

“What did I get it for? Didn’t I sing the whole evening long to amuse them as had come to the theatre?”

“Sang!” snorted the widow. “Was that anything to pay money for!”

“Ay, and that Karel, he played the whole evening long together with me.”

“Played!” the widow snorted again. “No, for such big money as that you must have been good to him both early and late and a good many times. Of that I’m as sure as can be!”

“Karel!” screamed Gina at the top of her lungs.

Karel was busy draining water from a certain pond on his property. He thrust his spade into a pile of soft earth and hastened back to the house.

The widow Solmund made no move to avoid the interview; her jealousy had been unexpectedly aroused and she rattled on excitedly: “And what he sees in you is more than I’ve a mind to make out. You’re little enough to look at and less than that to touch.”

Gina was helpless and sought refuge in tears.

“And for the matter of that, there are those of us who are younger than you,” the widow continued desperately.

Gina sniffled and found difficulty in expressing herself. “There I’d just been baptised and all that, but then he asked me to sing and help you to some money for the coming winter. But now you’re just like a beast to me. . . . Karel, she’s here after that money.”

“What money?” asked Karel.

“The money we got.”

The widow waded in at once: “All I say is I’ve never heard of anyone as got good money for just singing — and my money, too! Isn’t it so as I’ve little ones? And aren’t they needing both food and clothes?”

“You’re here for the druggist?” asked Karel.

“No, I’m here for myself,” answered the widow. “I’m not the kind as goes visiting about with the druggist and him with me. I leave that to some others to do!”

“You must go home,” said Karel.

The widow: “And if as he had given her the money for a paper of coffee, it wouldn’t be me that would say anything. But a sum to be thought of with house and farm —”

“Home with you!” said Karel. “Home with you!”

“Ay, how will it be, then? Do I get my money?”

“I’ll talk to the druggist about you and tell him how you are.”

“Do it! And tell him from me that there’s prison for the likes of those as give away other folks’ money!”

The widow even undertook to make a personal call upon the druggist; she was surely no meek one. She desired to know whether it was really for singing a couple of hymns that Gina i Roten had got all that money, or whether there had been something else. . . .

What else could there be?

Ay, that was the very matter she had come to investigate.

There was nothing else.

Folk were mumbling about one thing or another, she said. In her neighbourhood there was some talk about Gina and the druggist.

“You’re crazy!” said the druggist. “Go on, get out! I don’t want you here any longer!”

“They say as she’s here after you both early and late.”

“No, it is you who keep running here all the time. But now it is my desire to be rid of you. Get out!”

“So long as we’re talking about that,” she keeps on, “a riddle it is what you see in that Gina to please you! And her husband all alive and all that! Another thing it is entirely with both me and my little ones, idle and uncared for as we are —”

Druggist Hohn was in truth profoundly annoyed, but wasn’t he likewise obliged to sit there laughing and wounding the widow Solmund to her very soul? How could he help it? “See here,” he said. “Must I ask my apprentice to step in and carry you outdoors?”

“You don’t have to,” she answered stiffly. “All I say is that ’twas my money as you gave away and now I’ll find out if that’s lawful. For I’ve little ones needing both food and clothes.”

No, the widow Solmund was surely no meek one. Even after the druggist’s apprentice had been called in to lend a hand, she dodged him for a time and continued her tirade. And when, at length, she was on the way out, she got a good grip on the door jamb and was not to be pried loose for some moments. “The devil and all must be in you,” said the lad. “And that’s why you’re here!”

In spite of her coarse, forbidding nature, the widow Solmund was possessed of certain good qualities: she clad her children in new clothes from top to toe before she even began to make a single new undergarment for herself. All that her wretched life afforded, everything to the last shred, was first of all for her children. “Here, children,” she would say. “Take all you want, it’s yours!” Maternal solicitude is part of any mother’s love for her children, but with her it was a steady flame, her entire life’s occupation, frequently taking the form of crude avariciousness. Ay, all was for the sake of her children. Her assault upon Gina i Roten, her jealousy, these had been no product of feminine wantonness; all had been merely the result of bitterness over the loss of fifty kroner she might have spent on her children. What might not they have had for this money!

But the druggist, poor chap, had no end of trouble with the widow — she simply refused to give in. At length she offered him a compromise along with an ultimatum; he could either give her half the disputed amount or she would go to the magistrate. The druggist tore his hair and possibly would have met her terms, had he not realized that all fair-minded people would be on his side in the matter. Vendt of the hotel was his loyal friend during these decidedly painful days, and Gammelmoderen, in her fine new dress, was at all times ready to tease him about that crazy widow of his.

“I’ll never be rid of her!” he complained.

Gammelmoderen could not refrain from laughing to hear his remark. “You sound so sad!” she said.

“Sad! I could scream!”

“Hahaha!”

They stopped in to see Vendt, and afterward, as usual, they went for a stroll up the new road. The road was now finished the whole way up to the lodge. Workmen were still raking gravel in a few places, but quite without supervision, without a soul to guide their efforts.

The work crew had been cut down to four men; the remainder had already left for the south and Benjamin and his young friend had likewise been laid off. But there was no longer enough work to keep even these four men busy, and day after day they waited for their boss to return, but day after day went by and he failed to appear. No, he was ill in bed and the doctor had left orders that he was to stay there for another week at least. When he decided to take matters into his own hands and get up anyway, Blonda and Stina carried off his clothes and hid them. Ay, Baptist sisters were nought save a plague and a nuisance!

He directed the work from his bed. Each evening the men would come to him for orders covering the following day, and thus matters progressed tolerably well. But now the men had absolutely nothing left to do — aside from the cementing down of the iron fencing along the edge of two steeps at the roadside, a task demanding such specialized knowledge that they refused to undertake it without the presence of their boss.

The workmen now found it possible to loaf and have an easy time of it. However, this was not to their liking, either; they were accustomed to strenuous physical exertion and they throve best when, at quitting time, they could look back upon a good day’s work accomplished. So when Druggist Holm appeared on the road with his lady, they began complaining to him and at length they begged him to see what he could do about getting that boss of theirs back on his feet. They were fairly well acquainted with the druggist and could thus open up their hearts to him. He was a good sport and, on occasion, had more or less lawfully passed them out a drop of strong drink. Furthermore, they had, to a man, attended that marvelous entertainment of his and had screeched with laughter over his informal finale with Vendt. Dashed if they hadn’t got their money’s worth!

“No, how can I get that boss of yours back on his feet?” asked the druggist. “Why don’t you speak to the doctor about it?”

“We’re stuck to know what to do,” they complained. “This is far from the kind of work we ought to be doing, and here’s this fencing we’re supposed to set up, but still he doesn’t come. The worst of it is, he’s holding us up, for we’re supposed to put in a concrete cellar for that fellow they call the Buttonhead when we’re through here. But we can’t seem to get through here, and it’s hard telling what day winter will be upon us, and when winter comes we won’t be able to do the work —”

“A concrete cellar for the lawyer?”

“Cellar and foundation for a house. He’s to build next spring. So if the Herr Druggist will only speak to the doctor to let that boss of ours up so he can come up here and help us, it will certainly be a big favour to us.”

“I’ll be glad to speak to the doctor. . . . ”

Druggist Holm strolls with his lady all the way up to the lodge and together they sit down outside. Such a cabin as it is, too! — freshly painted and attractive, and now if the Consul hadn’t hit upon the idea of painting a brown semicircle over each of the windows! They looked exactly like eyebrows — modernity’s contribution to the art of exterior decoration!

Holm: “Hm, so Pettersen’s going to build!”

“Yes, what an odd fancy on his part!”

“Well, I’ve likewise thought something of building, but it doesn’t seem as though I could afford it.”

“Is the drugstore becoming too small quarters for you?”

“Yes, regarded in a certain light.”

Gammelmoderen gave this remark some thought. “I can’t see what people want with such large houses,” she said. “Why must Pettersen build? There are only the two of them.”

“Thus may one speak who dwelleth in a castle.”

“Yes, we are utterly lost in all those rooms of ours. We haven’t even got names for them all. We’re simply running wild. We use one of the guest rooms simply as a closet for old vests!”

“Wonder how many rooms there are here?” mutters Holm, gazing up at the lodge.

“Three, I believe. And that’s altogether too many,” she says. “Three would be enough anywhere. That is, not counting the drugstore,” she added indiscreetly.

“Would three rooms be enough — not counting the drugstore?”

“Quite. Regarded in any light.”

The devil of a plain-spoken woman there! And such a mouth and breast! Especially in that tastefully selected dress she wore. Grey, trimmed with maroon. He had never seen anything more beautiful.

“I love you,” he said.

She gazed at him calmly, then blushed charmingly and immediately lowered her gaze. Other than this, she showed no signs of emotion; she had the peasant’s tendency to conceal her deepest feelings. “You may do so,” she said gently and simply.

He had, on previous occasion, mentioned to her something to this effect, had come right out with it, but more in a spirit of capricious flirtation. This time his declaration was not to be misunderstood. He picked up her hand and held it, she glancing alternately at him and at the ground. She was unable to mask her delight and to this she at length gave an expression he was later never able to forget: she carried his hand to her breast and held it there. A gesture far sweeter than words. . . .

They sat there for a long time talking back and forth. They were agreed. Yes, they could build them a little house — that is, they would do nothing of the sort — the two rooms and kitchen over the drugstore would be sufficient. They would continue to receive a subsidy from his family in Bergen — out of the question! They would refuse to accept a single penny from this source in the future. They could journey to Bodø to be married there — but no, they were agreed that such would prove too expensive, then they were agreed that such would be necessary, after all, in order not to turn Segelfoss topsy-turvy.

They kissed each other like two mad youngsters in love.

“I am so much older than you,” she said.

He lied, made himself out to be a few years older than he really was, and there they were of an age!

“I’m a widow and all that,” she said.

“And for that matter I might easily be a widower myself,” he said significantly.

She was exceedingly happy; she was fond of him and clung to him, bent his head to her lips and kissed him without being asked. Naturally, she was versed in this delicate art; naturally, she knew all the tricks.

“Just think,” he said, “I don’t even know your first name.”

“It is Lydia,” she answered.

“And mine is Konrad.”

They both laughed over this tardy presentation; it was so amusing to have learned each other’s given names after they had become betrothed! After all, how little names mattered!

The sun had set, the air was growing chilly and they made ready to set out for home.

“If only you had a key, we might perhaps have gone inside,” he said.

“I don’t even know if we’d find anything to sit on.”

“Let’s investigate!”

They walked over to the house, placed their hands against the glass and peered through the windows. They went from window to window, and at length she turned the corner to look through the bay-window — when she returned, she was as pale as a corpse.

“No, there’s nothing to sit on,” she said and clutched him by the arm. “Come, let us go!”

She had seen something. For the second time in her life, she had seen something around a certain corner.

They had been walking a short way when the silence was rent by a howl.

“What in the name of Heaven —?” he asked and halted in his tracks.

“No, just come along!” she urged. “It’s nothing.”

“Are you sure it was nothing —?”

“Probably someone who is drunk. We’ll meet the workmen down the road a way — we’ll ask them.”

But the workmen had gone home. The road was deserted.

Holm: “You don’t suppose that was the cry of some Siren, do you? The sound was surely fiendish enough!”

“Yes!” she made haste to reply. “That must have been what it was!”

“Or a wild Indian?”

“Hahaha!”

They parted company on the grounds which surrounded the Manor, but as they could be seen from the house, they did not pause to kiss. They dared not even take each other by the hand. Holm merely raised his hat and said: “Good-bye until tomorrow!”

He was in a partially confused state of mind as he thought over the day’s happenings and he was in no mood to return home immediately. As the south-bound mail steamer was just circling in from the fjord he decided to stroll down to the pier.

The ship was in when he arrived. He saw packing cases going aboard and packing cases coming ashore, Gordon Tidemand’s name on all of them. Yes, here was business and turnover! The usual spectators were in evidence: children and grown-ups and dogs. The usual rattle of chains, the usual rumble of freight. But Alexander was not on the pier, as usual. In his place he had sent the gardener Steffen with certain cases of smoked salmon.

A chef in white linen uniform and tall cap stepped to the rail with a bucket of swill. Emptying it overboard, a flock of screaming seagulls immediately swooped down to snap up these appetizing morsels. Later a stoker emptied ashes through an opening in the hold of the ship. Sailors and passengers moved about on deck. The bosun stood at the gangplank to take tickets.

The Consul arrived in his car; he drove straight out on the pier and was seen by one and all. He stepped out, dashingly attired in a handsome suit of clothes, brightly polished shoes and yellow gloves. He spoke a few words to the captain aloft on the bridge, turned to the gardener Steffen and asked why Alexander was not present, made a hasty inspection of the entire pier, gave the warehouse superintendent an order about some new goods, glanced at his watch, climbed back into his car and drove away.

That mighty master of Segelfoss!

Holm stared after him. My step-son, he thought to himself, hanged if he isn’t my own personal step-son! Her name is Lydia, mine Konrad, and we are agreed that —

A passenger steps ashore. She is old of face, but her expression is keen and alert. She is wearing a home-made skirt and a cloak of black cloth, and in her hands she is carrying a basket and an umbrella. On the pier she stops short, glances about her for a few moments, and for one reason or another picks out the druggist to accost. She steps up to him and asks: “Excuse me, but can you tell me a hotel?”

“Yes, certainly,” replies the druggist, raising his hat. “Come with me, for I too am bound for the hotel. Permit me to carry that basket of yours.”

“No, thanks,” the lady replies with a smile. “I’m old enough to be able to carry it all by myself. You live in the hotel?”

“No, I live over the drugstore. I’m the druggist here in town.”

“Ho, so you’re the druggist! I could see at once that there was something extra about you. And you even wanted to carry this basket of mine!”

Arriving in the hotel, the druggist spoke to Vendt. “I have here a guest,” he said.

Vendt bowed.

“A guest?” said the lady. “Hardly to be called a guest. All I’ll be wanting is a tiny wee room, if you can put me up with that. I’ve food in this basket of mine.”

Vendt bowed again. “You must feel yourself at home!” he said.

“Now that’s real nice of you,” said the lady. “Ay ay, and here I’ve the food I’m to eat, so I suppose you can give me a cup of coffee or two to drink with it? I’ll pay you for that, of course! It’s only right and proper that everything should be talked over and arranged for beforehand.”

She clipped on a pair of nose-glasses and in brisk style signed the hotel register: Paulina Andreasen from Polden. Unmarried. “I don’t dare write down my age,” she said gaily. “If I did you’d think me so old and broken-down you’d be sure to have trouble with me. And I don’t want you to believe such a thing as that!”

“The question of age is unnecessary,” said Vendt.

“The druggist here was kind enough to bring me up to this hotel of yours,” she said. “And now you shall have my many thanks, Herr Druggist! Do you know what?” she said, turning again to the proprietor. “He wanted to carry this basket for me! I can’t get over it!”

“Oh yes, the druggist certainly knows his way about with the fair sex!” exclaimed Vendt. Glancing at the register, he asked: “Would you mind adding your occupation?”

“Oh, I must have forgotten that!” she said. And all the while she was adjusting her glasses and writing in the register she continued to talk away. “My occupation is to keep busy with one thing or another,” she said. “I have a little store back home in Polden, and I have the mail to take care of, and a little lodging house to put folk up, and besides that we have a farm, and that brother of mine, he’s the head-man of the village — he’s been at it for nearly a human generation now! So praise be to God, we have all we need according to our humble wants in life and more than that we’re content to let alone. But now you mustn’t mind if I ask you about something: Do you know a man here in Segelfoss by name of August? Naturally, there may be a good many here called August, but the one I mean came here traveling —”

“Oh yes, I know whom you mean,” said the druggist. “I know him well.”

“Ho, so he’s here and alive and all that?”

“And all that! He’s been a bit ill of late and he’s been in bed for a time, but he’ll be up almost any day now. You’ll find him up at the Manor.”

“What’s his work here?”

“A little of this and that. He’s the Consul’s right-hand man. He does everything under the sun. They call him Altmulig here.”

“Ay, it’s that August or nobody else who can do alt mulig! Well if it isn’t just splendid that I’ve found him and didn’t come here on a fool’s errand! But now you must tell me, since I’m asking all these questions: Doctor Lund and that wife of his, they’re getting along all right?”

“Oh yes, they’re getting along fine.”

“For Fru Lund, she’s from up home where I come from, and I watched her grow up from a size no bigger than my fist. And those parents of hers, they live right there in our village and they’ll be asking me all about her. Doctor Lund, he used to be our doctor, he was with us for some time and he married one of our girls and all that. Ay, that’s the way it is. And now I’ve come here to see that August — a business trip I may as well call it — and that’s why I’m asking after him. No other reason in the world.”

She talked and she talked. Her final remarks were: “Ay ay, and so if I may have a tiny little room — I’d just go there and have a wee cup of coffee — for the coffee on the ship was simply not fit to drink. I forgot to ask what my room is to cost —”

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