Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter X

A man came out for his bricklayer’s tools; he wanted them back. What? Then Grindhusen had not stolen them at all! But it was always the same with Grindhusen: commonplace, dull, and ordinary, never great in anything, never a lofty mind.

I said:

“You, Grindhusen, there’s nothing in you but eat and sleep and work. Here’s a man come for those tools now. So you only borrowed them; that’s all you’re good for. I wouldn’t be you for anything.”

“Don’t be a fool,” said Grindhusen.

He was offended now, but I got him round again, as I had done so many times before, by pretending I had only spoken in jest.

“What are we to do now?” he asked.

“You’ll manage it all right,” said I.

“Manage it — will I?”

“Yes, or I am much mistaken.”

And Grindhusen was pacified once more.

But at the midday rest, when I was cutting his hair, I put him out of temper once again by suggesting he should wash his head.

“A man of your age ought to know better than to talk such stuff,” he said.

And Heaven knows but he may have been right. His red thatch of hair was thick as ever, for all he’d grandchildren of his own. . . .

Now what was coming to that barn of ours? Were spirits about? Who had been in there one day suddenly and cleaned the place and made all comfortable and neat? Grindhusen and I had each our own bedplace; I had bought a couple of rugs, but he turned in every night fully dressed, with all he stood up in, and curled himself up in the hay all anyhow. And now here were my two rugs laid neatly, looking for all the world like a bed. I’d nothing against it; ’twas one of the maids, no doubt, setting to teach me neat and orderly ways. ’Twas all one to me.

I was ready now to start cutting through the floor upstairs, but Fruen begged me to leave it to next day; her husband would be going over to the annexe, and that way I shouldn’t disturb him. But next morning we had to put it off again; Frøken Elisabeth was going in to the store to buy no end of things, and I was to go with her and carry them.

“Good,” said I, “I’ll come on after.”

Strange girl! had she thought to put up with my company on the way? She said:

“But do you think you can find the way alone?”

“Surely; I’ve been there before. It’s where we buy our things.”

Now, I couldn’t well walk through all the village in my working things all messed up with clay: I put on my best trousers, but kept my blouse on over. So I walked on behind. It was a couple of miles or more; the last part of the way I caught sight of Frøken Elisabeth on ahead now and again, but I took care not to come up close. Once she looked round, and at that I made myself utterly small, and kept to the fringe of the wood.

Frøken Elisabeth stayed behind with some girl friend after she had done her shopping; I carried the things back to the vicarage, getting in about noon, and was asked in to dinner in the kitchen. The house seemed deserted. Harald was away, the maids were wringing clothes, only Oline was busy in the kitchen.

After dinner, I went upstairs, and started sawing in the passage.

“Come and lend me a hand here, will you?” said Fruen, walking on in front of me.

We passed by her husband’s study and into the bedroom.

“I want my bed moved,” said Fruen. “It’s too near the stove in winter, and I can’t stand the heat.”

We moved the bed over to the window.

“It’ll be nicer here, don’t you think? Cooler,” said she.

And, happening to glance at her, I saw she was watching me with that queer, sideways look. . . . Ey. . . . And in a moment I was all flesh and blood and foolishness. I heard her say:

“Are you mad? — Oh no, dear, please . . . the door. . . . ”

Then I heard my name whispered again and again. . . .

I sawed through the floor in the passage, and got everything done. Fruen was there all the time. She was so eager to talk, to explain, and laughing and crying all the time.

I said:

“That picture that was hanging over your bed — wouldn’t it be as well to move that too?”

“Ye — es, perhaps it would,” said Fruen.

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