Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XVII

And two days went by.

“If she comes out again this evening,” Falkenberg would say up in the woods, “I’ll sing that one about the poppy. I’d forgotten that.”

“You’ve forgotten Emma, too, haven’t you?” I ask.

“Emma? Look here, I’ll tell you what it is: you’re just the same as ever, that’s what you are.”

“Ho, am I?”

“Yes; inside, I mean. You wouldn’t mind taking Emma right there, with Fruen looking on. But I couldn’t do that.”

“That’s a lie!” I answered angrily. “You won’t see me tangled up in any foolery with the girls as long as I am here.”

“Ah, and I shan’t be out at nights with any one after. Think she’ll come this evening? I’d forgotten that one about the poppy till now. Just listen.”

Falkenberg sang the Poppy Song.

“You’re lucky, being able to sing like that,” I said. “But there’s neither of us’ll get her, for all that.”

“Get her! Why, whoever thought. . . . What a fool you are!”

“Ah, if I were young and rich and handsome, I’d win her all the same,” I said.

“If — and if. . . . So could I, for the matter of that. But there’s the Captain.”

“Yes, and then there’s you. And then there’s me. And then there’s herself and everybody else in the world. And we’re a couple of brutes to be talking about her like this at all,” said I, furious now with myself for my own part. “A nice thing, indeed, for two old woodcutters to speak of their mistress so.”

We grew pale and thin the pair of us, and the wrinkles showed up in Falkenberg’s drawn face; neither of us could eat as we used. And by way of trying to hide our troubles from each other, I went about talking all sorts of cheerful nonsense, while Falkenberg bragged loudly at every meal of how he’d got to eating too much of late, and was getting slack and out of form.

“Why, you don’t seem to eat anything at all,” Fruen would say when we came home with too much left of the food we had taken with us. “Nice woodcutters, indeed.”

“It’s Falkenberg that won’t eat,” said I.

“Ho, indeed!” said Falkenberg; “I like that. He’s given up eating altogether.”

Now and again when she asked us to do her a favour, some little service or other, we would both hurry to do it; at last we got to bringing in water and firewood of our own accord. But one day Falkenberg played me a mean trick: he came home with a bunch of hazel twigs for a carpet-beater, that Fruen had asked me expressly to cut for her.

And he sang every evening now.

Then it was I resolved to make Fruen jealous — ey, ey, my good man, are you mad now, or merely foolish? As if Fruen would ever give it as much as a thought, whatever you did.

But so it was. I would try to make her jealous.

Of the three girls on the place, there was only one that could possibly be used for the experiment, and that was Emma. So I started talking nonsense to Emma.

“Emma, I know of some one that is sighing for you.”

“And where did you get to know of that, pray?”

“From the stars above.”

“I’d rather hear of it from some one here on earth.”

“I can tell you that, too. At first hand.”

“It’s himself he means,” put in Falkenberg, anxious to keep well out of it.

“Well, and I don’t mind saying it is. Paratum cor meum.”

But Emma was ungracious, and didn’t care to talk to me, for all I was better at languages than Falkenberg. What — could I not even master Emma? Well . . . I turned proud and silent after that, and went my own ways, making drawings for that machine of mine and little models. And when Falkenberg was singing of an evening, and Fruen listening, I went across to the men’s quarters and stayed there with them. Which, of course, was much more dignified. The only trouble about it was that Petter was ill in bed, and couldn’t stand the noise of ax and hammer, so I had to go outside every time I’d any heavy piece of work to do.

Still, now and again I fancied Fruen might perhaps be sorry, after all, at missing my company in the kitchen. It looked so, to me. One evening, when we were at supper, she turned to me and said:

“What’s that the men were saying about a new machine you’re making?”

“It’s a new kind of saw he’s messing about with,” said Falkenberg. “But it’s too heavy to be any good.”

I made no answer to that, but craftily preferred to be wronged. Was it not the fate of all inventors to be so misjudged? Only wait: my time was not yet come. There were moments when I could hardly keep from bursting out with a revelation to the girls, of how I was really a man of good family, led astray by desperation over an unhappy love affair, and now taking to drink. Alas, yes, man proposes, God disposes. . . . And then, perhaps, Fruen herself might come to hear of it. . . .

“I think I’ll take to going over with the men in the evenings,” said Falkenberg, “the same as you.”

And I knew well enough why Falkenberg had suddenly taken it into his head to spend his evenings there; he was not asked to sing now as often as before; some way or other, he was less in demand of late.

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