Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XVI

In the woods. Petter is one of the farm-hands; he showed us the way here.

When we talked together, Falkenberg was not by any means so grateful to Fruen for giving us work. “Nothing to bow and scrape for in that,” he said. “It’s none so easy to get workmen these days.” Falkenberg, by the way, was nothing out of the ordinary in the woodcutting line, while I’d had some experience of the work in another part of the world, and so could take a lead in this at a finish. And he agreed I was to be leader.

Just now I began working in my mind on an invention.

With the ordinary sort of saw now in use, the men have to lie down crookedwise on the ground and pull sideways. And that’s why there’s not so much gets done in a day, and a deal of ugly stumps left after in the woods. Now, with a conical transmission apparatus that could be screwed on to the root, it should be possible to work the saw with a straight back-and-forward movement, but the blade cutting horizontally all the time. I set to work designing parts of a machine of this sort. The thing that puzzled me most was how to get the little touch of pressure on the blade that’s needed. It might be done by means of a spring that could be wound up by clockwork, or perhaps a weight would do it. The weight would be easier, but uniform, and, as the saw went deeper, it would be getting harder all the time, and the same pressure would not do. A steel spring, on the other hand, would slacken down as the cut grew deeper, and always give the right amount of pressure. I decided on the spring system. “You can manage it,” I told myself. And the credit for it would be the greatest thing in my life.

The days passed, one like another; we felled our nine-inch timber, and cut off twigs and tops. We lived in plenty, taking food and coffee with us when we started for the woods, and getting a hot meal in the evening when we came home. Then we washed and tidied ourselves — to be nicer-mannered than the farm-hands — and sat in the kitchen, with a big lamp alight, and three girls. Falkenberg had become Emma’s sweetheart.

And every now and then there would come a wave of music from the piano in the parlour; sometimes Fruen herself would come out to us with her girlish youth and her blessed kindly ways. “And how did you get on today?” she would ask. “Did you meet a bear in the woods?” But one evening she thanked Falkenberg for doing her piano so nicely. What? did she mean it? Falkenberg’s weather-beaten face grew quite handsome with pleasure; I felt proud of him when he answered modestly that he thought himself it was a little better now.

Either he had gained by his experience in tuning already, or Fruen was grateful to him for not having spoiled the grand piano.

Falkenberg dressed up in my town clothes every evening. It wouldn’t do for me to take them back now and wear them myself; every one would believe I’d borrowed them from him.

“Let me have Emma, and you can keep the clothes,” I said in jest.

“All right, you can take her,” he answered.

I began to see then that Falkenberg was growing cooler towards his girl. Oh, but Falkenberg had fallen in love too, the same as I. What simple boys we were!

“Wonder if she will give us a look in this evening again?” Falkenberg would say while we were out at work.

And I would answer that I didn’t care how long the Captain stayed away.

“No, you’re right,” said Falkenberg. “And I say, if I find he isn’t decent to her, there’ll be trouble.”

Then one evening Falkenberg gave us a song. And I was proud of him as ever. Fruen came out, and he had to sing it over again, and another one after; his fine voice filled the room, and Fruen was delighted, and said she had never heard anything like it.

And then it was I began to be envious.

“Have you learnt singing?” asked Fruen. “Can you read music at all?”

“Yes, indeed,” said Falkenberg. “I used to sing in a club.”

Now that was where he should have said: no, worse luck, he’d never learned, so I thought to myself.

“Have you ever sung to any one? Has any one ever heard you?”

“I’ve sung at dances and parties now and again. And once at a wedding.”

“But I mean for any one that knew: has any one tried your voice?”

“No, not that I know of — or yes, I think so, yes.”

“Well, won’t you sing some more now? Do.”

And Falkenberg sang.

The end of it’ll be he’ll be asked right into the parlour one evening, I thought to myself, with Fruen — to play for him. I said:

“Beg pardon, but won’t the Captain be coming home soon?”

“Yes, soon,” answered Fruen. “Why do you ask?’

“I was only thinking about the work.”

“Have you felled all the trees that were marked?”

“No, not yet — no, not by a long way. But. . . . ”

“Oh. . . . ” said Fruen suddenly, as if she had just thought of something. “You must have some money. Yes, of course. . . . ”

I grasped at that to save myself, and answered:

“Thank you very much.”

Falkenberg said nothing.

“Well, you’ve only to ask, you know. Varsaagod“ and she handed me the money I had asked for. “And what about you?”

“Nothing, thank you all the same,” answered Falkenberg.

Heavens, how I had lost again — fallen to earth again! And Falkenberg, that shameless imposter, who sat there playing the man of property who didn’t need anything in advance. I would tear my clothes off him that very night, and leave him naked.

Only, of course, I did nothing of the sort.

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