The Road Leads On, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter Thirty-One

September was nearly gone, ice-films had already begun to form over the puddles of water during the night, and if that conduit was to be finished before the frost had got into the ground, the men would surely have to hurry along with their work. In particular, there was much to be done as regards the intake up in the brook behind the five aspens: a deep cement-lined cistern must be dug and covered over with planks — and meanwhile all work on the iron fences had ceased. Oh, those wretched holes which had to be drilled and couldn’t drill themselves — a spirit of mute resistance seemed to lurk in those un-drilled holes! With each new day August would resolve to march up the new road with a full crew at his disposal and once and for all have done with that matter of holes, but with each new day something would come up to prevent it. However, the Consul was no longer prodding him, for how could he do so gracefully, bearing in mind that the conduit was to be for the convenience of the druggist and his wife, the Consul’s own mother?

But one day, at any rate, August and his men went up to the lodge, in the course of a couple of days bored what holes were left to be bored, and at last set up the fence. And a splendid fence it was, too, of heavy iron construction, each picket standing there erect with sharply pointed tip. The manorial spirit was at once bestowed upon the place by this iron fence, a spirit against which the Consul never in any wise fought.

The men appeared to have taken a new fit of working fever; they immediately began drilling holes along the rim of the lower steep as well and for several days they were bursting with energy and went singing about their work. August was filled with renewed hope — ah, now things were moving along!

Tobias of South Parish came to August and begged him to come home with him. Cornelia was to be buried on the morrow and it was his wish to show August how beautifully she had been laid out with the ten yards of edging lace he had given her — oh, the lace had been draped in great folds all up and down the corpse and it was exactly as though she were lying in a bed of flowers. . . .

August replied that he had no time, that he would be unable to get away.

After all they had been to each other, the least he could do would be to look at her in her coffin and accompany her to the grave, on her last worldly journey, would it not?

No, August said, that would be out of the question.

But she would surely have asked this of him herself, Tobias continued, had she not passed away so suddenly. And her mother and all the innocent little ones, there they lay weeping, each in a different corner of the house. . . .

“That won’t help things any!” said August.

Tobias realized that he was standing against an immovable mountain, but, in any event, he would have to come out with the true business which had brought him to August: He and his household were such an impoverished household, a household on its knees. And even the mare had run away and no one knew where to find her, a terrifying loss. And might not August be splendid enough to lend him a hand and help him out with the funeral expenses?

August pulled a wry face and shook his head.

It wouldn’t matter how small the amount might be; it was only that Cornelia would look down from her heavenly home and see. And after all they had been to each other. . . .

August was growing weary. He snatched out his wallet, handed over a bill and shouted: “All right — get out now — do you hear!”

Finished with Tobias and his household! Finished with each and every one of them!

In the course of these two or three days the catastrophe had rapidly retreated into the past and August was already able to regard it with complete indifference. Such was his nature. He was no longer in the slightest degree concerned with Polden which had been the field of his intensest activity a generation ago. He but vaguely recalled his young friend and comrade, Edevart Andreasen, a loyal chap who had sacrificed his life for August. He no longer had a single thought for Paulina, the woman who had come with a large amount of money to place in his hands. Everyone else in Segelfoss had been kind to this splendid person and had given her such pleasant memories as would abide with her for the rest of her days, but August had not even taken the trouble to see her off on the ship the day she had sailed, had never even mentioned her name again, had completely forgotten her. Was he dry and sterile of soul, then? He was not without human sympathy; he had a warm heart and he was forever ready with a helping hand. But he was without depth. His soul was that of the age he lived in. He was a man of splendid virtues and brazen faults. This single individual had it in his power to corrupt both town and countryside.

After all, did he have time to follow a corpse? Wasn’t he beset by endless weighty problems requiring his immediate attention? The motorship bringing carpenters and building materials to town had already arrived and it was well that cellar and foundation had been prepared. They had begun to put up the house, and it was so snug and small, although long enough and neatly proportioned in accordance with its height. A genuine artist, that Postmaster Hagen!

And it was a good thing for the druggist and his wife, too, that work on the house had begun. To live in a small two-room apartment might have been worse; in fact, they might have been happy indeed in such an apartment; but autumn was at hand and the roof was leaking and there was no point in their putting a new roof on a house they were soon to abandon. But heaven help us, that wasn’t all! So many things had come for bride and groom, gifts, enormous wedding presents from Holm’s family down in Bergen, and really they had no room for them in their two small rooms and a cubby-hole for a maid. Here was a situation to give one grey hairs! Furniture and household equipment of every sort, and a silver service for twelve and divers articles of luxury such as glassware and rugs, huge packing cases still unpacked for the reason that there was no place to put things. But just wait, it would not be long before the roof would be on that new house of theirs!

Druggist Holm and his wife were in a particularly happy frame of mind. They had been about town calling on their various friends and acquaintances and, naturally, their first visit had been to the Manor where they had stayed for both lunch and dinner. Fru Juliet was up again — pale and charming and incomparable! And there could be no objection to the fact that she was forever exchanging smiles with Fru Druggist Holm, for this only went to show what firm friends they were.

Now that Frøken Marna had returned home from Helgeland to assist in entertaining the Englishman during his visit, it is possible that the druggist had felt a qualm or two at the prospect of meeting her again, for he had undeniably paid her a short but intense and utterly hopeless courtship and now was married to her mother! But the meeting had proved easy, after all; Frøken Marna behaved as though nothing at all had happened. She was somewhat sluggish of mind, it seemed, so it fell quite naturally to her to adopt an attitude of indifference. Moreover, it was not for Frøken Marna to be shocked over anything which might happen here on earth, for she had followed a certain injured day labourer to the hospital in Bodø, and the affair was hardly a secret. Let her simply bear that in mind! Pardon, Frøken Marna, a certain druggist has married your mother — what of it?

But, on the other hand, what of Fru Alfhild Hagen, the postmaster’s wife? With her the druggist had indulged in many a splendid flirtation, with her had played with fire, danced round and round the flames, and the remarkable thing about that situation was that they themselves had never been burnt. No, all had gone well in that direction — that is, had it? God knew! Well, she had been thoroughly well prepared, hadn’t she? He had long ago laid his cards on the table for her and now, day before yesterday, he had, together with his wife, paid the good lady a most charming call. But it might well have been that behind it all he was hoping to arrange for a little tête-à-tête with her and to hear a thing or two from her lips. He had by no means dreaded such an interview.

One day he met her whilst out for a walk; here was a good opportunity, so they fell in step and continued their walk together.

“You didn’t come to see me yesterday,” she said.

“Didn’t I? But wasn’t it day before yesterday that both my wife and I called on you?”

“But you didn’t come to see me yesterday!”

Silence.

“I wonder if I understand you correctly,” he said. “Ought I to have come to see you yesterday?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“But — why exactly?”

“No reason. But you might have come and exchanged a bit of banter with me as you used to in the past.”

“Naturally, I might, but the idea, I fear, is ridiculous, madam.”

“All right. But I’ve felt so forsaken ever since you went off with her.”

“Oh Lord,” he said, amused. “But you and I have never exactly belonged to each other! And we haven’t parted company. Surely you can not claim to have been jilted!”

“No, but forsaken. Everyone has passed me by and here I am now — alone! Let’s sit down here for a little, shall we? I have something to tell you. . . . I’ve never amounted to anything here in this life, but so long as I could keep myself going with some light give and take conversation, I could feel I was still part of life. It was this to which I became accustomed after failing to make good in my music abroad. There was a whole company of us failures. We used to get together and exchange our foolish banter. One might have it soft for a time and say: ‘Noli me tangere!’ To which another would have the courage to say: ‘Very well, Frøken, remember the pitcher goes to the well —’ Things like that made us laugh. What else was there for us in life? We had failed to make good and we developed a taste for that sort of thing and we kept it up. We knew no God and we were too young to feel religion. And, naturally, there was always the hope that, some day, some way, we might still manage to succeed. We sat there in our garrets and were arty. We sang and played a bit and sometimes held parties where we drank and smoked and were bold in our speech and loved no one and even detested ourselves — the whole thing but feather-bed soldiering. We had become so totally washed out. Some married and trouble soon arose. A child was born and the child would have to be taken by either his or her parents. Some became addicted to drink, with a devil-may-care gesture and their hats on one side, they simply gave themselves up to drink. A couple of them shot themselves, but none of us ever amounted to anything. We had set out with high hopes of returning home with full honour and acclaim and in the end we were worse off than those who had remained at home. Some of us never returned home. A certain man proposed to me and I accepted him. But I had become so thoroughly diluted at heart that I was unable to love then and I am still unable to love today. A remarkable man, my husband — I lean upon him, he showers upon me all the goodness that is in him, but this matters not in the least to me, for I am so outside all that. But he is really a splendid man. He had hoped to become an architect; he had the talent but he lacked the means. Then he met me and that was the end of his career. But he is artist enough to understand me and to put up with me. When I kick off my shoes and one of them goes astray, he finds it and picks it up for me — yes, I remember that’s what happened yesterday afternoon when I had been halfway expecting you and you didn’t come; I sat there and kicked off my shoes. And I was irritated with him because he found them and picked them up. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked. ‘So the maid wouldn’t think we had been fighting!’ he answered with a laugh. He is always so good to me. He understands me. And I’m fond of him, too. But those other things, love and passion — no! I lost all capacity for those after I knew I should never amount to anything. I am utterly depraved. ‘Yes, but love and affection and all that sort of thing are only forms of illness,’ he says to console me. And yes, I suppose what he says is true, but in just that way he himself has been ill all these years and he has never been able to conquer his illness. Do you know why he designed that house for you?”

“An architect is of a mind to design houses, I imagine,” said the druggist.

“Yes. But he did it in this case simply to show how free of jealousy he was. Yes. And even so, he bears this feeling in his heart like a sting the entire time. He assumes this air of superiority simply to show how splendid he is — no, it is really the finest and sincerest product of his goodness of soul; he simply does not wish to annoy me with his jealousy. I didn’t know a thing about his plans for your house until you yourself told me about them day before yesterday.”

“But he might have known that you would hear of them sooner or later,” said Holm.

“Sooner or later, yes. But the moment he knows I know, he will be wretched. I haven’t yet mentioned to him the fact that I know.”

“That’s a devil of a fine point!” exclaimed Holm.

“You don’t know my husband at all,” Fru Hagen went on. “You are so robust, so outspoken — just as we used to be when we would sit about in our garrets and indulge in daring conversation. And it was this I missed when you didn’t come to see me yesterday — so utterly depraved have I become, I missed your vital audacity — if you will pardon the expression! I had not heard anything like it for so many years before I met you here — I had become dependent upon it after my failure abroad, for it seemed to keep life going in me — with it, I could still be something to myself. And today I went out especially to meet you, for I knew you would be along.”

“I’m not sure I understand you, Fru Hagen. Would you mind were I to ask you an honest question?”

“Whether I am in love with you? No, I am not.”

“You are not?”

“No. No more with you than with anyone else, I believe. No, I’m unfit for anything. I’m quite ruined. And that is how we become when we fail ourselves. We have the longing, but not the love itself — no.”

“Why were you hoping to see me yesterday and today?”

“Well, you see, I felt deprived when you didn’t come yesterday. You could have spun words with me a bit, I thought, treated me as though you enjoyed my company. But no, I was simply left there sitting in a chair! You could not have behaved otherwise, for your interests have now taken another direction. Once you told me that you yourself felt you were nothing at all, do you remember? But no, you were not completely washed out, and that already meant that you were really something. You saved yourself through matrimony — by necessity. And about that I shall refrain from saying anything. But I— I saved myself through indifference and was never saved at all. You were so fortunate to discover the thing you needed — you found a haven — and you are so alive and so is she. As a matter of fact, I have nothing against her. And, in truth, I think she is beautiful, though I believe she is more handsome than beautiful. But dear me, what little difference that makes — her age, all those years she has lived —”

“I never give it a thought,” he said. “She is no older than I, and to put it bluntly, she is deliciously young — something which you yourself are not, if I understand you correctly.”

“I don’t know,” Fru Hagen replied. “It is possible that I, too, am deliciously young. But, in any event, it is perfectly awful of me to allow myself to be so taken up with myself. But how old is that person you are married to?” she asked suddenly. “Can’t you really tell me?”

Holm paled. “You would have the actual day and year,” he asked, “so that you can get that husband of yours to design her gravestone —? Well, first you may put down April —”

“But you surely must realize the effect of this thing you have done, Druggist Holm —”

“Is it worse than that which you yourself have done?”

“There’s a difference. No, possibly it is no worse. But you haven’t always been a bourgeois.”

“And you mean to indicate that that is what I have become? Would it have been better for me, then, to have gone about here to the end of my days boasting of the fact that I was no bourgeois? One can not live on an attitude, you know.”

“I suppose it has its own value, though — I don’t remember, is that what we used to call a fictitious value? Once I was called upon to play at a party given by a certain Countess, and her dresser set was of pure gold. I saw on her dresser a golden powder-box. She did not give it to me but I saw it. And it is none too poor a thing simply to have seen it.”

“Generally speaking, you are quite right,” he said. “But so far as she and I are concerned, we don’t even have such a thing as powder.”

“Nor do I, either,” she replied.

“No?”

“Oh just once I used it, and it was nasty of you to have noticed it.”

“Haha! I thought it was about time we were going at it in the old way!”

“Fictitious values, we used to call them there in our garrets. We got married with nothing but powder on our noses,” she said. “With no more than a silk ribbon about our waists and powder on our noses we took what there was to marriage. And you?”

“No, we sprouted no such luxuriant wings as that, but Heaven bless you, Fru Hagen, how we took what there was to marriage!”

Silence.

“Well, I must be getting along home to see about dinner,” she said. “We’re to have clam chowder this evening,” she added with a smile.

“You have a maid, haven’t you?”

“Yes, for we have all the post-office people to feed, you see.”

“We likewise have our help to feed, but we keep no maid,” he said, somewhat pointedly.

“Yes, but I am so clumsy in the kitchen.”

“No, that you most certainly are not. You are merely troubled with fictitious values.”

“No, he says that I should never play any more were we to be without a maid. He keeps the girl to spare me. For, you see, I have a couple of pupils who pay in five kroner per month.”

She rose and shook her skirts; she had had her little talk and no longer felt blue. Perhaps she had felt no urgent need, but when at length the topic turned again to the question of love, she took pains to repeat her assertion that she was in no way in love with him. Mm — no, she really preferred her husband to him! But a bit of idle banter now and then — after all, when one realizes oneself to be a nonentity — and left sitting alone in a chair —?

They parted company and went their separate ways. A change had somehow come over her; she was so candid, a bit emotional, as well, and so garrulous — had she perhaps tasted the soup sherry rather too thoroughly before leaving the house? Anything was possible.

He found his wife at the new place. Apparently neither of them could stay away. They would steal off there singly or together and there one might find them, morning and evening, both early and late. Carefully they would take note of how much work had been done and how much still remained. They had furniture from Bergen to be moved in, they had a number of cases to be unpacked. . . .

“You here?” she asked.

“And you? Aren’t you going home to get dinner?”

“We’re having a cold supper tonight. What time is it?”

“I refuse to tell you any more. You ought to depend upon your own watch!”

“I like yours better!” she said, pulling his watch from his vest pocket, glancing at it and nodding. “Plenty of time! Didn’t you go out for your row today?”

“No,” he replied. “I met Fru Hagen and stopped to have a chat with her.”

“Just imagine, Konrad, what if I could play like she!”

“I have no desire that you should. For, if you could, you would not be the person you are.”

Nought but love and tender words between them. They mentioned the fact that the postmaster’s plans called for carpets in both parlour and bedroom and agreed that in a day or two they would have to take him down to the store with them to pick out a proper carpet. Like newly-weds, they talked about their new little dining room, agreed that it would be positively bursting with silverware, what with their service for twelve and all their other pieces. Good Heavens! And Fru Holm even brought up a subject they had several times mentioned before — that little red room! She felt it would be nice if he could have a little private office convenient to his business. Well, what did that have to do with the red room? Oh, nothing perhaps, but it would make such a pretty little office for him! Who ever heard of such an idea from an otherwise intelligent person!

“There comes Altmulig!” she said.

August bowed and immediately expressed himself as pleased with the house as it stood. Splendid it was to see how rapidly they were getting along with the work. “I have to take a turn down here every once in a while when those men of mine are ugly and hard to get along with,” he remarked.

“Can’t you get them to obey orders?”

“Sometimes I can. But they know they can do about as they please and they’re dragging out the job on the road.”

“Wasn’t their work satisfactory down here?” asked the druggist.

“Ay, and especially in the beginning. And now they’ve decided they want to come back down here to work.”

“Here? What more is for them to do here?”

“The out-building,” said Fru Holm.

They all laughed over the druggist’s forgetfulness and his wife asked him where he supposed he would pile his wood, dry his clothes and store his food —?

“In that red room of yours!” he whispered into her ear.

“Fruen is right,” said August. “There must be a bit of masonry to hold up the outhouse. But the Consul is anxious to get up that other fence of his — he’s in a hurry for it. So I must keep my men on the job up there a few days more, Herr Druggist.”

“Naturally! No, they are simply not to come down here until you are through with them.”

“Good!” August said with a nod.

The south-bound steamer was whistling her arrival. The druggist glanced at his watch. “Now you must be going, Lydia,” he said.

“No, it’s you that must go,” she said. “I have a tiny wee matter to mention to Altmulig. I’ll be along immediately.”

Oh, of all the matters that had to be taken up with Altmulig! There now, the druggist’s wife had drawn him to one side and was telling him some manner of secret, was admitting something to him and there she stood with downcast eyes, which was most unusual for her. No, now honestly what did Altmulig think of her, and what ever would he say when he learned what she had to tell him! Such were her introductory remarks.

August stared at her and waited.

“Yes, you’re looking right at me,” she said. “But I don’t suppose you can tell it to look at me yet, can you?”

She had accompanied these words with a certain pointing of her finger and that keen August, he smiled a knowing smile and observed: “Ay, I suppose it’s nearing the time!”

That devil of a fellow, how polite he was about this matter — no amazement, no reference to her age, no indication that such was quite incredible! Ay, he supposed as ’twas nearing the time, he had said.

“Now honestly what do you think?” she said. “You must tell me what you think!”

“What I think! I think it’s the only right thing for you two to do!” he said. “And if it’s me you’re wanting to hear from, I’d say as it’s a grand blessing from the hand of the Creator that you’ve done it. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

“I’m certain that I got it on our bridal night,” she said, “for he’s such a one when it comes to that! And even when I was almost dead with seasickness on our way home, it still stayed by me. But now I’m almost ashamed of what people will say!”

“Ashamed? Say, you’d better not feel that way about it! Is that any way to talk about the fruits of our loins!”

Oh, how staunchly he stood by her side in all things! And how happy he made her feel! He was the finest confidant she might have selected in her present state of joyful unrest! He was a priceless, an indispensable friend, a man to whom one might go in trouble and with whom one could share one’s ecstasy!

“I had to tell you, Altmulig,” she said, “for you’ve always been so lovely to me.”

August was grateful for her words and paid her back in kind: “Ay ay, Fru Holm, I say no more. But now that you’ve begun this way, this won’t be the last time you’ll be coming to me with such a bit of news.”

She laughed tenderly at his remark and brushed the thought aside as something quite out of the question. No, but didn’t he think then that she ought to feel ashamed of what people might say and, as a consequence, stay indoors?

“Are you out of your head!” he exclaimed. “Don’t mind me if I say it! And if anybody ever dares to say anything about you — those words will be their last here in this life if it’s me who happens to hear them. You needn’t worry about that!”

She hesitated as though there were something she still wished to say, something difficult for her to put into words. Yes, but come out with it she must, for possibly this was the most important point she had to communicate. “Still, as things stand with me,” she said, “it seems I’m afraid of something! It’s a horrible thought, and I don’t know what to do. There wouldn’t be anything to it, if only I could feel myself safe. But now I’m to have a red room with two windows here in the new house and that will be far pleasanter for me than when I had my other children. All that. But I’m afraid that something might happen — that someone might come back — do you understand, Altmulig — come back again —?”

August, with that keen head of his, cut her short and said: “Not a chance!”

“What?”

“No, not a chance, I say!”

“Well, so you may think!”

August must at all costs set her mind at rest for the time being, she was in need of that. Then later he could think of saving her in other ways — it was nothing for him to think of saving himself and others — blueberries for him! No hint of anything here, either; no reference to a certain sum of seven hundred kroner — he had no need of such a device. When he spoke, his words were merely oracular, mystically prophetic: “You needn’t bother your head about that for a minute! The one who went away has gone away for life and death and he’s not coming back!”

A dark and mysterious utterance, one she could hardly doubt. “Bless you, Altmulig!” she said. . . .

After leaving the new house, August decided to return to his men up on the road, but one of the lads from the store came racing up to him with a message from the Consul — the Englishman had just arrived on the steamer! The two gentlemen were already hiking up to the Manor with the dogs, as the lord had wished to stretch his legs after his long sea voyage, but August was to come at once and see to his luggage in the freight shed. The car was in the garage.

So the lord from England had arrived! Well well, so that last road fence could not be erected in time after all! Such a simple piece of work, but something dark and fateful seemed to have enshrouded the entire project, and, after all, one of the steeps would be left to drop sheer from the roadside. What elusive something was it that sometimes got into folk and filled them with inexplicable obstinacy?

It irritated old Altmulig to feel himself thus baffled. It worried him not in the least to be considered unreliable in unofficial matters, but where his work was concerned he was forever earnest and conscientious — a quality he had no doubt acquired through much training and discipline from the mighty skippers he had served at sea. Oh, if a man had been caught shirking his duty in those days!

He drove up to the Manor with the Englishman’s luggage and helped the gardener Steffen carry it into the house. The Consul stepped to the door with the flags — both Norwegian and British — and requested him to hoist them.

August was deeply depressed. “We didn’t manage to get up that last fence for you,” he said.

“No. Oh well, there’s nothing to be done about that now,” the Consul replied. “I say, Altmulig, our English guest must have a man — a youngster — to accompany him when he goes shooting in the mountains.”

“I’ve already arranged for such a man,” replied August. “Only he doesn’t know English.”

“That’s nothing. The lord is a clever fellow. He knows a good bit of Norwegian.”

“All right, then, I’ll just take and skip out to South Parish and tell the lad he’s to come.”

“No, now I say, Altmulig,” said the Consul. “You mustn’t think of going that long distance afoot. Jump in the car and drive out. Bring the man back with you and have him sleep here tonight. The lord wants to get off to an early start in the morning —”

August knew the road; he had walked it hundreds of times with turmoil in his breast. How humbly he had gone forth each time and how humbly he had returned! But now all that was forgotten; this time he was speeding along in a motor car, he was a person of consequence now.

He was of no mind to avoid the gaze of Tobias and his family; no, he fairly shook the house as he went thundering by. Climbing the hill to the neighbouring farm, he sounded his horn three times to call Hendrik out to the car. The whole of South Parish could hear those trumpet blasts. August was obliged to wait whilst Hendrik changed his clothes from top to toe and, in the meantime, he stepped out of the car and sauntered about, as though he, too, were obliged to stretch his legs after a long sea voyage. Folk came rushing out of the cottages round about and stood there to watch him saunter. A pity it was, then, he lacked a cigar!

Starting back to town with many a blast of the horn, he observed that Hendrik was smiling timidly as he sat there by his side. But as the latter was something of a master cyclist and had often sped along over a country road, he soon pulled himself together and undertook to utter a few words. “Well, so the Englishman’s here, is he?” he asked.

August did not reply.

“If only Cornelia could have lived to know it!”

August did not reply, confined himself to driving. Outside Tobias’ house the family had gathered as though to watch a parade, but August had no eye for them — he merely thundered past as before. Of a truth, he had no cause to be angry with them, but as they had all stood witness to his tender passion, it was essential that they should now gain a new impression of him. Of little Mattis, however, he would surely make an exception; he was a splendid little chap, and August would make it a point to remember him with a krone every now and then, perhaps would even find a place for him when he opened his office in town.

“She’s a demon the way she runs!” Hendrik said of the machine.

No, August simply refused to reply, but he would nevertheless give Hendrik an idea of the way a man in a car should behave. Coming to the little cluster of huts which was the old, forgotten Segelfoss and where a party of children were again playing about in the street, he brought his car to a stop, stepped out and scrutinized each youngster’s face. These were possibly not the same children he had seen here the last time, but they knew him by report and immediately came flocking about him and gave him their little hands in thanks when he tossed them a ten-kroner bill to divide. He asked for the old grave-digger and the children ran off to fetch him.

He came out bareheaded as before, an old, old man with a worn-out wrinkled face, a truly nameless creature. And such a face as he had! August, buoyant and peerless, on the other hand — a man, as it were, in full bloom — was horrified by the sight of him. How utterly decrepit he had grown in no time, in but a few months, exactly as would a corpse, drifting ashore after three weeks in the water! Creation no longer had a place for him; he didn’t even know what a skyscraper or an elephant was in the inventory of the Lord. But in only a few months to have descended to such a state! It was the weakness they had in them, they lacked the buoyancy of life. August, in full bloom, was horrified.

The old man recognized him and stood there twitching.

“You were right,” August declared. “There are trout up in the lake!”

“Trout? Oh ay,” mumbled the old man and wagged his head over the grand memory it contained. “It was that Theodore. And before him it was that Holmengraa of the mill. Ay, but before him it was that Willatz Holmsen, and he was first and best —”

August handed him ten kroner, stepped into the car and drove away.

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