Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter II

A man landed here this morning — come to paint the house. But Old Gunhild, being very old indeed, and perishing with gout most times, gets him to cut up a few days’ firewood for her cooking before he starts. I’ve offered many a time to cut that wood myself, but she thinks my clothes too fine, and would not let me have the ax on any account.

This painter, now, is a short, thick-set fellow with red hair and no beard. I watch him from behind a window as he works, to see how he handles the ax. Then, noticing that he is talking to himself, I steal out of the house to listen. If he makes a false stroke, he takes it patiently, and does not trouble himself; but whenever he knocks his knuckles, he turns irritable and says: “Fan! Fansmagt!”1 — and then looks round suddenly and starts humming a tune to cover his words.

1 “The Devil! Power of the Devil!”

Yes; I recognize that painter man. Only, he’s not a painter at all, the rascal, but Grindhusen, one of the men I worked with when I was roadmaking at Skreia.

I go up to him, and ask if he remembers me, and we talk a bit.

Many, many years it is now since we were roadmenders together, Grindhusen and I; we were youngsters then, and danced along the roads in the sorriest of shoes, and ate what we could get as long as we had money enough for that. But when we’d money to spare, then there would be dancing with the girls all Saturday night, and a crowd of our fellow-workers would come along, and the old woman in the house sold us coffee till she must have made a little fortune. Then we worked on heart and soul another week through, looking forward to the Saturday again. But Grindhusen, he was as a red-headed wolf after the girls.

Did he remember the old days at Skreia?

He looks at me, taking stock of me, with something of reserve; it is quite a while before I can draw him out to remember it at all.

Yes, he remembers Skreia well enough.

“And Anders Fila and ‘Spiralen’ and Petra?”

“Which one?”

“Petra — the one that was your girl.”

“Ay, I remember her. I got tied up with her at last.” Grindhusen falls to chopping wood again.

“Got tied up with her, did you?”

“Ay, that was the end of it. Had to be, I suppose. What was I going to say, now? You’ve turned out something fine, by the look of things.”

“Why? Is it these clothes you’re thinking of? You’ve Sunday clothes yourself, now, haven’t you?”

“What d’you give for those you’ve got on?”

“I can’t remember, but it was nothing very much. Couldn’t say exactly what it was.”

Grindhusen looks at me in astonishment and bursts out laughing.

“What? Can’t remember what you paid for them?”

Then he turns serious, shakes his head, and says: “No, I dare say you wouldn’t. No. That’s the way when you’ve money enough and beyond.”

Old Gunhild comes out from the house, and seeing us standing there by the chopping-block wasting time in idle talk, she tells Grindhusen he’d better start on the painting.

“So you’ve turned painter now?” said I.

Grindhusen made no answer, and I saw I had said a thing that should not have been said in others’ hearing.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23u/chapter2.html

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