Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XVIII

The Captain had returned.

A big man, with a full beard, came out to us one day while we were at work, and said:

“I’m Captain Falkenberg. Well, lads, how goes it?”

We greeted him respectfully, and answered: “Well enough.”

Then there was some talk of what we had done and what remained to do. The Captain was pleased with our work — all clean cut and close to the root. Then he reckoned out how much we had got through per day, and said it came to a good average.

“Captain’s forgetting Sundays.” said I.

“That’s true,” said he. “Well, that makes it over the average. Had any trouble at all with the tools? Is the saw all right?”

“Quite all right.”

“And nobody hurt?”

“No.”

Pause.

“You ought by rights to provide your own food,” he said, “but if you would rather have it the other way, we can square it when we come to settle up.”

“We’ll be glad to have it as Captain thinks best.”

“Yes,” agreed Falkenberg as well.

The Captain took a turn up through the wood and came back again.

“Couldn’t have better weather,” he said. “No snow to shovel away.”

“No, there’s no snow — that’s true; but a little more frost’d do no harm.”

“Why? Cooler to work in d’you mean?”

“That, too, perhaps; yes. But the saw cuts easier when timber’s frozen.”

“You’re an old hand at this work, then?”

“Yes.”

“And are you the one that sings?”

“No, more’s the pity. He is the one that sings.”

“Oh, so you are the singer, are you? We’re namesakes, I believe?”

“Why, yes, in a way,” said Falkenberg, a little awkwardly, “My name is Lars Falkenberg, and I’ve my certificate to show for that.”

“What part d’you come from?”

“From Trøndelagen.”

The Captain went home. He was friendly enough, but spoke in a short, decisive way, with never a smile or a jesting word. A good face, something ordinary.

From that day onwards Falkenberg never sang but in the men’s quarters, or out in the open; no more singing in the kitchen now the Captain had come home. Falkenberg was irritable and gloomy; he would swear at times and say life wasn’t worth living these days; a man might as well go and hang himself and have done with it. But his fit of despair soon came to an end. One Sunday he went back to the two farms where he had tuned the pianos, and asked for a recommendation from each. When he came back he showed me the papers, and said:

“They’ll do to keep going with for a bit.”

“Then you’re not going to hang yourself, after all?”

“You’ve better cause to go that way, if you ask me,” said Falkenberg.

But I, too, was less despairing now. When the Captain heard about my machine idea, he wanted to know more about it at once. He saw at the first glance that my drawings were far from perfect, being made on small pieces of paper, and without so much as a pair of dividers to work with. He lent me a set of drawing instruments, and gave me some useful hints about how such things were done. He, too, was afraid my saw would prove too cumbersome. “But keep on with it, anyway,” he said. “Get the whole thing drawn to a definite scale, then we can see.”

I realized, however, that a decently constructed model of the thing would give a better idea of it, and as soon as I was through with the drawings I set to work carving a model in wood. I had no lathe, and had to whittle out the two rollers and several wheels and screws by hand. I was working at this on the Sunday, and so taken up with it I never heard the dinner-bell. The Captain came out and called, “Dinner!” Then, when he saw what I was doing, he offered to drive over himself to the smithy the very next day, and get the parts I needed cut on the lathe. “All you need do is to give me the measurements,” he said. “And you must want some tools, surely? Saw and drills; right! Screws, yes, and a fine chisel . . . is that all?”

He made a note of the things on the spot. A first-rate man to work under.

But in the evening, when I had finished supper and was crossing the courtyard to the men’s room, Fruen called me. She was standing between the kitchen windows, in the shadow, but slipped forward now.

“My husband said . . . he . . . said . . . you can’t be warm enough in these thin clothes,” she said. “And would you . . . here, take these.”

She bundled a whole suit into my arms.

I thanked her, stammering foolishly. I was going to get myself some new things soon. There was no hurry; I didn’t need. . . .

“Of course, I know you can get things yourself. But when your friend is so . . . so . . . oh, take these.”

And she ran away indoors again, the very fashion of a young girl fearing to be caught doing something over-kind. I had to call my last thanks after her.

When the Captain came out next evening with my wheels and rollers, I took the opportunity of thanking him for the clothes.

“Oh — er — yes,” he answered. “It was my wife that. . . . Do they fit you all right?”

“Yes; many thanks.”

“That’s all right, then. Yes; it was my wife that . . . well, here are the things for your machine, and the tools. Good-night.”

It seemed, then, as if the two of them were equally ready to do an act of kindness. And when it was done, each would lay the blame on the other. Surely this must be the perfect wedded life, that dreamers dreamed of here on earth. . . .

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