Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XI

Now all the pipes were laid, and the taps fixed; the water spurted out in the sink in a fine, powerful jet. Grindhusen had borrowed the tools we needed from somewhere else, so we could plaster up a few holes left here and there; a couple of days more, and we had filled in the trench down the hillside, and our work at the vicarage was done. The priest was pleased with us; he offered to stick up a notice on the red post saying we were experts in the business of wells and pipes and water-supply, but, seeing it was so late in the year, and the frost might set in any time, it wouldn’t have helped us much. We begged him instead to bear us in mind next spring.

Then we went over to the neighbouring farm to dig potatoes, promising to look in at the vicarage again some time.

There were many hands at work on the new place; we divided up into gangs and were merry enough. But the work would barely last over a week; after that we should have to shift again.

One evening the priest came over and offered to take me on as an outdoor hand at the vicarage. It was a nice offer, and I thought about it for a while, but ended by saying no. I would rather wander about and be my own master, doing such work as I could find here and there, sleeping in the open, and finding a trifle to wonder at in myself. I had come across a man here in the potato fields that I might join company with when Grindhusen was gone. This new man was a fellow after my own mind, and from what I had heard and seen of him a good worker; Lars Falkberget was his name, wherefore he called himself Falkenberg.2

2 The latter name has a more distinguished sound than the native and rustic “Falkberget.”

Young Erik was foreman and overseer in charge of the potato diggers, and carted in the crop. He was a handsome lad of twenty, steady and sound for his age, and a proper son of the house. There was something no doubt between him and Frøken Elisabeth from the vicarage, seeing she came over one day and stood talking with him out in the fields for quite a while. When she was leaving, she found a few words for me as well, saying Oline was beginning to get used to the new contrivances of water-pipes and tap.

“And yourself?” I asked.

Out of politeness, she made some little answer to this also, but I could see she had no wish to stay talking to me.

So prettily dressed she was, with a new light cloak that went so well with her blue eyes. . . .

Next day Erik met with an accident; his horse bolted, dragging him across the fields and throwing him up against a fence at last. He was badly mauled, and spitting blood; a few hours later, when he had come to himself a little, he was still spitting blood. Falkenberg was now set to drive.

I feigned to be distressed at what had happened, and went about silent and gloomy as the rest, but I did not feel so. I had no hope of Frøken Elisabeth for myself, indeed; still, I was rid of one that stood above me in her favour.

That evening I went over to the churchyard and sat there a while. If only she would come, I thought to myself. And after a quarter of an hour she came. I got up suddenly, entirely as I had planned, made as if to slip away and hide, then I stopped, stood helplessly and surrendered. But here all my schemes and plans forsook me, and I was all weakness at having her so near; I began to speak of something.

“Erik — to think it should have happened — and that, yesterday. . . . ”

“I know about it,” she answered.

“He was badly hurt.”

“Yes, yes, of course, he was badly hurt — why do you talk to me about him?”

“I thought. . . . No, I don’t know. But, anyhow, he’ll get better. And then it will be all right again, surely.”

“Yes, yes. . . . ”

Pause.

It sounded as if she had been making fun of me. Then suddenly she said with a smile:

“What a strange fellow you are! What makes you walk all that way to come and sit here of an evening?”

“It’s just a little habit I’ve got lately. For something to do till bedtime.”

“Then you’re not afraid?”

Her jesting tone gave me courage; I felt myself on surer ground, and answered:

“No, that’s just the trouble. I wanted to learn to shiver and shake.”

“Learn to shiver and shake? Like the boy in the fairy tale. Now where did you read about that, I wonder?”

“I don’t know. In some book or other, I suppose.”

Pause.

“Why wouldn’t you come and work for us when Father asked you?”

“I’d be no good at that sort of work. I’m going out on the roads now with another man.”

“Which way are you going?”

“That I cannot say. East or west. We are just wanderers.”

Pause.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think it’s wise of you. . . . Oh, but what was it you said about Erik? I only came to ask about him. . . . ”

“He’s in a baddish way now, but still.”

“Does the doctor think he will get better?”

“Yes, as far as I know. I’ve not heard otherwise.”

“Well — good-night.”

Oh to be young and rich and handsome, and famous and learned in sciences! . . . There she goes. . . .

Before leaving the churchyard I found a serviceable thumbnail and put it in my pocket. I waited a little, peering this way and that, and listening, but all was still. No voice came saying, “That’s mine!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23u/chapter11.html

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