The Road Leads On, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter Eight

August was up at six o’clock the next morning. He realized what it meant to Gammelmoderen to have the skylight repaired before Gordon Tidemand should be up and around.

He would be unable to obtain glass and putty before the opening of the store with the arrival of the clerks at eight o’clock, but he could row aboard the sloop and look round, scrape out the old putty and otherwise get things ready.

On the wharf he stumbles across Adolf, the road-worker. August is surprised by the meeting, but Adolf greets him with a “Good morning,” and looks his boss straight in the eyes. He conceals nothing.

“What — is that you there, Adolf?”

“Yes, but I was just going back home.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Nothing. I just took a walk down here.”

“Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I slept all day yesterday. The whole gang of us slept through.”

“I understand you’ve had a falling-out with that bunky of yours,” August said.

“No — Yes, he’s got such a filthy mouth.”

“You shouldn’t let that bother you. You know what kind of a fellow that Francis is.”

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I ran into you. Your gang is to begin on that new cut. And some of the curbing is set in crooked. See that it is set in straight. I won’t be up for a time, I’ve work to do down here.”

Adolf nods to this and remarks: “No, I shouldn’t let it bother me. But he keeps it up night and day. It’s terrible to listen to.”

“Nonsense! What is it he says?”

Adolf does not answer this question; he goes straight on to explain: “Ever since she bound up my finger the time it got hurt.”

August had heard of the occurrence: Marna, the chief’s sister, had been on the spot when Adolf had bruised his finger. She had torn a strip from her handkerchief and tied it about the finger. That had been all. Well, no doubt Frøken Marna would have done as much for anyone else, but Adolf was young and good-looking and she had probably taken a bit of a fancy to him. What of it? There was nothing wrong in that. But much had been made of the affair and Adolf, a sensitive lad, had been driven out of the bunk-house, out of his bed where he slept, by the vulgar taunts of his comrades.

“I was wondering if you’d say something to him,” said Adolf.

“Rubbish! What does he say that’s so bad?”

“He makes indecent remarks.”

“Go on home and get an hour’s sleep,” said August.

He rowed aboard the sloop, scraped the dry putty from the damaged skylight, swept up after himself, set a few things to rights, coiled up a rope and hung it up where it belonged — this old sailor man, he felt at home aboard ship. All morning his mind was busy with petty reminiscences; he had a deck beneath his feet again, he was happy, he gazed up at the rigging, and from old habit cast an eye at the weather. The tramp of his feet on the deck echoed hollowly through the empty hold of the vessel. That good skipper Olsen, he ought to have swabbed down his craft, he ought — she appeared none too spic and span after her recent cargo of herring. But no, Skipper Olsen was never about; he lived ashore, he owned a little farm which occupied his entire attention.

August stepped down into the cuddy and picked up a few glass beads from the floor. Those little devils of the doctor’s had scattered glass beads all over the cabin, on the table, over in the bunk — why, he even had to shake out the blankets. Along with the beads, a hairpin or two fell to the floor, a lady’s belt and another strange-looking object — a snow-white bit of elastic, such as a lady might wear to hold up her stockings. Someone must have quit the place in haste, August mused — had skipped out and forgotten to take this stuff along! He makes a small bundle of intimate articles, steps up on deck and heaves it into the sea.

Finished with his chores, he hastened up the road in the direction of the store. But he had spent too much time on board; there came Gordon Tidemand driving down the road! A most unfortunate meeting, for the chief made a point to halt him.

Oh but there was no danger, the chief was as cordial as ever.

“There was something I wanted to ask you, Altmulig. You’re sure you’re making the road wide enough?”

“Wide enough? Ay, you’ve no cause for worry there.”

“But you see, I’m buying an automobile. Will the road be wide enough for that?”

“How big of a car will it be?”

“A regular touring-car. A five-seater.”

August reached instinctively for his measuring tape, but without unwinding it, he began to reckon things out in his head: 180, extra for fenders 50. “Plenty of room!” he decided.

“Thanks, that’s just what I wanted to know,” said the chief, and drove on.

A devil of a fellow, that Altmulig! A good kind to have around, Gordon Tidemand thought to himself; a person who knows what’s what both at sea and ashore!

Gordon Tidemand was abroad somewhat earlier than usual — not that he was downright worried over anything, though he was, to be sure, concerned about a certain matter, a grand plan he had been working out in his mind — a consulate at Segelfoss, the first to be set up in town, perhaps the only one — a British consulate! He had been secretly arranging the details and had secured the backing of a number of persons of influence; among these several he had known in England had been actively interested. He was not in doubt as to the outcome, but he had been unable to control his impatience of late and he could hardly wait to get down to his office to see what the mail might bring. There were no obstacles to hold up his plan, he had no competitors in the field, the need was apparent, but there was an endless amount of red tape to be gone through in all the various offices. And that meant waiting on pins and needles.

He enters by his own private door he had had put in for him in order that he might avoid walking through the public part of the store. The shades are already rolled up, his mail is laid out on the desk. Without taking time to remove more than his right glove, he pounces upon his mail.

Ah — the letter!

He slits it open with a paper-knife. He is still methodical enough to do this at least, but his hands are trembling and his brown eyes are like gleaming gimlets.

Ah — the official document!

Phew! He reads it over, finds no mistake with it, glances at the date and studies the scrawling signatures. He throws off his top coat, claws off his other glove, climbs onto his high swivel-stool and goes over the papers once more from beginning to end. He is absorbed in this for some time and wastes no glance on the regular mail before him.

He begins pacing the floor. The people out in the store realize that some important matter is at hand. There can be no mistake about that. He considers the effect of his appointment; he had been not a day too early in ordering that automobile and he would speak to Altmulig at once about making the stall and carriage shed over into a garage. He would have to see about getting a British flag, he would have to arrange for a uniform. Wouldn’t this likewise mean an increase of trade for his business? Perhaps he ought to put on another salesman to represent him from Helgeland to Trondhjem. The name of his house would carry a special appeal — “Representing Consul Gordon Tidemand, Segelfoss —”

He rings for his head-clerk, nods to the latter’s greeting and says: “I’ve noticed a number of hideous signs and posters in the neighbourhood of my office door — see that they are removed!”

“Yes, sir.”

“All those margarine advertisements.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And all those tobacco posters. And those placards advertising canned goods. Away with the whole business!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, there was nothing more.”

Yes, it would have been a pretty sight indeed to have had the British consular escutcheon hanging there in the midst of all those screaming portraits of sardine tins!

He cast a hurried glance over the regular mail, cut open a few envelopes — bills and customs clearance papers. A local letter is naturally a begging letter; he receives many of these, for the most part from the surrounding parish — a magnate such as himself could not very well avoid such correspondence.

He slits open one of these begging letters. A sheet of water-ruled paper, awkward hand-writing, possibly somewhat cramped by design, but the contents comprehensible for all that: he should not neglect to keep an eye on certain persons and on the sloop Soria. As, for example, last night, when there were feastings and other abominations going on in the cabin until well past the hour of midnight — an event which was but one in a long series of similar events. There was an old saying: “From the devil race, and Gypsies chase.” There was one Gypsy she was chasing all right, but not in the way that was meant. “Am writing this as one who has long been your friend, but if it is true that you have his Gypsy eyes, then it is my advice that you chase him off the place at once according to the old saying as it was meant and let all the old talk be buried in the past. Sincerely yours, an Admirer.”

He neither screamed nor ground his teeth, he simply crumpled up the letter and thrust it in the stove. This was best. Gordon Tidemand was not wholly unfamiliar with the scandal about his mother; whilst growing up he had many times heard dark hints as to his paternity, though no one had ever had the effrontery to come out with it once the young master had attained his full manhood. The present letter was of no importance, it wasn’t signed by anyone, it was nothing for a consul to bother his head about one way or the other.

Suddenly remembering that it was summer and that there was no fire in the stove, he walked over and threw in a lighted match. The letter along with much other accumulated rubbish immediately burst into flame. Yes, this was best.

He worked for a time on his books, arranged his correspondence, copied down a few figures, but was too deeply concerned with the great news the morning had brought him to be truly diligent. Tomorrow would also be a day; today he would make an exception and leave his office early. It would be a pleasure for Juliet and his mother and sister to learn the news. He rang and gave orders for the horse to be put back in the harness.

Leaving his office, he observed the head-clerk aloft on a step-ladder; the latter was removing the advertising posters from the vicinity of the chief’s private door. Seldom did it happen that the chief would utter a superfluous word to his people, but on this occasion he nodded to his head-clerk and said: “Ah, that’s better!”

Speechless were those at home, dumbfounded when he laid the documents on the table before them. Who had ever seen such a boy! If he hadn’t gone and snatched himself a consular appointment without so much as breathing a word to a soul! And British consul, to boot! We’ve suddenly become wife and mother and sister to an eminent man! Come here, children and creeping infants, come here and look at that father of yours!

“Yes,” he said. “But just wait until I get my uniform on!”

“Why, Lord bless my soul!”

They suddenly decided that there should be salmon for lunch, that there should also be a glass or two of wine, perhaps even a drop of liqueur to sip with the coffee. “That’s the very least we can do to honour you!” they told him.

Over and over again at table they discussed the details of his triumph. What would be his duties? To represent the British Empire at Segelfoss, to look out for shipwrecked English sailors cast ashore by the waves of the Atlantic. “You may have a first mate to dance with yet, Marna!”

“Hahaha!” laughed Marna.

“But will you get anything for it?” asked his mother, that shrewd, that practical widow of Theodore paa Bua.

“Nothing save the honour,” he replied somewhat curtly. But, glancing over at his mother, he bit his tongue. She was so beautiful, so intelligent, that mother of his; she wished him nought but well and she was the youngest one of them all. “But it may prove indirectly of material benefit to me,” he added. “I am planning to increase my clientele. I might take on another traveler to represent me south of here. That might not prove entirely out of the way, what do you think? Skoal, little mother!”

“I’m going to sit right down and write to Lillian,” said Marna, “and tease her a little because her husband is not a consul!”

“She may come back at you,” said her brother, “and ask you what kind of a husband you have, for example!”

Marna struck at him with her napkin and told him to keep still.

“What’s that? You have the nerve to tell a consul to keep still?”

“Hahaha!”

“Skoal, Juliet!” he said raising his glass. “I wish, though, that I might rather have made you a countess!”

“I haven’t a thing to offer you in return,” said Fru Juliet, her eyes brimming with tears. Oh that charming Juliet, she was so far along she was touched by the slightest thing. He was often obliged to comfort her.

He replied: “Yes, Juliet, you have given me far more in this world than ever I have deserved. And you keep on giving and giving. You have no equal in giving. Smile, Juliet, you have good reason to, you know!”

And all at the table drank to her.

While they were at their coffee, the phone rang and Gammelmoderen rose to answer it. She returned immediately and said: “It was the Segelfoss News wanting to know whether it was true that Gordon Tidemand has been made consul.”

They clapped their hands and cried: “What’s that? Well, I declare!”

“Yes, the morning papers in Oslo had it, and Davidsen has just received a telegram.”

“Well, I never! And what did you say in reply?”

“I said that it was true!” beamed Gammelmoderen.

Silence.

“Yes, what else could you say!”

During the course of the afternoon many called up to offer their congratulations. The chief telegraphist who had certainly been the first in Segelfoss to learn of the appointment was careful to say: “I was passing the News office and saw a bulletin announcing the event!” The district judge called up, the doctor called up, and there were many more besides. It was a grand day. The telephone wasn’t silent for a moment.

Druggist Holm called up and asked for Frøken Marna; through her he congratulated the household. Just another of his sudden impulses. Later he remarked: “I did not wish to disturb the Master personally. But you, Frøken Marna, you are young and beautiful enough to forgive me.”

She started. Frøken Marna, he had called her, though she had hardly more than met the man! “I shall give them your greetings,” she said.

“Thanks! That is all I dare implore you to do — for the present.”

He was a madcap.

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