Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XV

As it happened, there was a chance for us to make ourselves useful the moment we came on the place. They were getting up a new flagstaff, and were short of hands. We set to work and got it up in fine style. There was a crowd of women looking on from the window.

Was Captain Falkenberg at home?

No.

Or Fruen?

Fruen came out. She was tall and fair, and friendly as a young foal; and she answered our greeting in the kindliest way.

Had she any work for us now?

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so really, not while my husband’s away.”

I had an idea she found it hard to say no, and touched my cap and was turning away, not to trouble her any more. But she must have found something strange about Falkenberg, coming up like that wearing decent clothes, and with a man to carry his things; she looked at him inquisitively and asked:

“What sort of work?”

“Any kind of outdoor work,” said Falkenberg. “We can take on hedging and ditching, bricklayer’s work. . . . ”

“Getting late in the year for that sort,” put in one of the men by the flagstaff.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Fruen agreed. “I don’t know. . . . Anyhow, it’s just dinner-time; if you’d like to go in and get something to eat meanwhile. Such as it is.”

“Thank you kindly,” answered Falkenberg.

Now, that seemed to my mind a poor and vulgar way to speak; I felt he shamed us both in answering so, and it distressed me. So I must put in a word myself.

“Mille grâces, Madame; vous êtes trop aimable,” I said gallantly, and took off my cap.

Fruen turned round and stared at me in astonishment; the look on her face was comical to see.

We were shown into the kitchen and given an excellent meal. Fruen went indoors. When we had finished, and were starting off, she came out again; Falkenberg had got back his courage now, and, taking advantage of her kindness offered to tune the piano.

“Can you tune pianos too?” she asked, in surprise.

“Yes, indeed; I tuned the one on the farm down below.”

“Mine’s a grand piano, and a good one. I shouldn’t like it. . . . ”

“Fruen can be easy about that.”

“Have you any sort of. . . . ”

“I’ve no certificate, no. It’s not my way to ask for such. But Fruen can come and hear me.”

“Well, perhaps — yes, come this way.”

She went into the house, and he followed. I looked through the doorway as they went in, and saw a room with many pictures on the walls.

The maids fussed about in and out of the kitchen, casting curious glances at me, stranger as I was; one of the girls was quite nice-looking. I was thankful I had shaved that morning.

Some ten minutes passed; Falkenberg had begun. Fruen came out into the kitchen again and said:

“And to think you speak French! It’s more than I do.”

Now, Heaven be thanked for that. I had no wish to go farther with it myself. If I had, it would have been mostly hackneyed stuff, about returning to our muttons and looking for the lady in the case, and the State, that’s me, and so on.

“Your friend showed me his papers,” said Fruen. “You seem to be decent folk. I don’t know. . . . I might telegraph to my husband and ask if he’s any work for you.”

I would have thanked her, but could not get a word out for swallowing at something in my throat.

Neurasthenia!

Afterwards I went out across the yard and walked about the fields a bit; all was in good order everywhere, and the crops in under cover. Even the potato stalks had been carted away though there’s many places where they’re left out till the snow comes. I could see nothing for us to do at all. Evidently these people were well-to-do.

When it was getting towards evening, and Falkenberg was still tuning, I took a bit of something to eat in my pocket and went off for a walk, to be out of the way so they should not ask me in to supper. There was a moon, and the stars were out, but I liked best to grope my way into the dense part of the wood and sit down in the dark. It was more sheltered there, too. How quiet the earth and air seemed now! The cold is beginning, there is rime on the ground; now and again a stalk of grass creaks faintly, a little mouse squeaks, a rook comes soaring over the treetops, then all is quiet again. Was there ever such fair hair as hers? Surely never. Born a wonder, from top to toe, her lips a ripened loveliness, and the play of dragonflies in her hair. If only one could draw out a diadem from a sack of clothes and give it her. I’ll find a pink shell somewhere and carve it to a thumbnail, and offer her the pipe to give her husband for a present . . . yes. . . .

Falkenberg comes across the yard to meet me, and whispers hurriedly:

“She’s got an answer from the Captain; he says we can set to work felling timber in the woods. Are you any good at that?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, go inside, into the kitchen. She’s been asking for you.”

I went in and Fruen said:

“I wondered where you’d got to. Sit down and have something to eat. Had your supper? Where?”

“We’ve food with us in the sack.”

“Well, there was no need to do that. Won’t you have a cup of tea, then? Nothing? . . . I’ve had an answer from my husband. Can you fell trees? Well, that’s all right. Look, here it is: ‘Want couple of men felling timber, Petter will show trees marked.’. . . . ”

Heaven — she stood there beside me, pointing to the message. And the scent of a young girl in her breath. . . .

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