Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XIX

The woods are stripped of leaf now, and the bird sounds are gone; only the crows rasp out their screeching note at five in the morning, when they spread out over the fields. We see them, Falkenberg and I, as we go to our work; the yearling birds, that have not yet learned fear of the world, hop along the path before our feet.

Then we meet the finch, the sparrow of the timbered lands. He has been out in the woods already, and is coming back now to humankind, that he likes to live with and study from all sides. Queer little finch. A bird of passage, really, but his parents have taught him that one can spend a winter in the north; and now he will teach his children that the north’s the only place to spend the winter in at all. But there is still a touch of emigrant blood in him, and he remains a wanderer. One day he and his will gather together and set off for somewhere else, many parishes away, to study a new collection of humans there — and in the aspen grove never a finch to be seen. And it may be a whole week before a new flock of this winged life appears and settles in the same place. . . . Herregud! how many a time have I watched the finches in their doings, and found pleasure in all.

One day Falkenberg declares he is all right again now. Going to save up and put aside a hundred Kroner this winter, out of tuning pianos and felling trees, and then make up again with Emma. I, too, he suggests, would be better advised to give over sighing for ladies of high degree, and go back to my own rank and station.

Falkenberg was right.

On Saturday evening we stopped work a trifle earlier than usual to go up and get some things from the store. We wanted shirts, tobacco and wine.

While we were in the store I caught sight of a little work-box, ornamented with shells, of the kind seafaring men used to buy in the old days at Amsterdam, and bring home to their girls; now the Germans make them by the thousand. I bought the workbox, with the idea of taking out one of the shells to serve as a thumbnail for my pipe.

“What d’you want with a workbox?” asked Falkenberg. “Is it for Emma, what?” He grew jealous at the thought, and not to be outdone, he bought a silk handkerchief to give her himself.

On the way back we sampled the wine, and got talking. Falkenberg was still jealous, so I took out the workbox, chose the shell I wanted, and picked it off and gave him the box. After that we were friends again.

It was getting dark now, and there was no moon. Suddenly we heard the sound of a concertina from a house up on a hillside; we could see there was dancing within, from the way the light came and went like a lighthouse beam.

“Let’s go up and look,” said Falkenberg.

Coming up to the house, we found a little group of lads and girls outside taking the air. Emma was there as well.

“Why, there’s Emma!” cried Falkenberg cheerily, not in the least put out to find she had gone without him. “Emma, here, I’ve got something for you!”

He reckoned to make all good with a word, but Emma turned away from him and went indoors. Then, when he moved to go after her, others barred his way, hinting pretty plainly that he wasn’t wanted there.

“But Emma is there. Ask her to come out.”

“Emma’s not coming out. She’s here with Markus Shoemaker.”

Falkenberg stood there helpless. He had been cold to Emma now for so long that she had given him up. And, seeing him stand there stupidly agape, some of the girls began to make game of him: had she left him all alone, then, and what would he ever do now, poor fellow?

Falkenberg set his bottle to his lips and drank before the eyes of all, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and passed to the nearest man. There was a better feeling now towards us; we were good fellows, with bottles in our pockets, and willing to pass them round; moreover, we were strangers in the place, and that was always something new. Also, Falkenberg said many humorous things of Markus Shoemaker, whom he persisted in calling Lukas.

The dance was still going on inside, but none of the girls left us to go in and join.

“I’ll bet you now,” said Falkenberg, with a swagger, “that Emma’d be only too glad to be out here with us.”

Helene and Rønnaug and Sara were there; every time they drank, they gave their hands prettily by way of thanks, as the custom is, but some of the others that had learned a trifle of town manners said only, “Tak for Skjænken,” and no more. Helene was to be Falkenberg’s girl, it seemed; he put his arm round her waist and said she was his for tonight. And when they moved off farther and farther away from the rest of us, none called to them to come back; we paired off, all of us, after a while, and went our separate ways into the woods. I went with Sara.

When we came out from the wood again, there stood Rønnaug still taking the air. Strange girl, had she been standing there alone all the time? I took her hand and talked to her a little, but she only smiled to all I said and made no answer. We went off towards the wood, and Sara called after us in the darkness: “Rønnaug, come now and let’s go home.” But Rønnaug made no answer; it was little she said at all. Soft, white as milk, and tall, and still.

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