Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XX

The first snow is come; it thaws again at once, but winter is not far off, and we are nearing the end of our woodcutting now at Øvrebø— another week or so, perhaps, no more. What then? There was work on the railway line up on the, hills, or perhaps more woodcutting at some other place we might come to. Falkenberg was for trying the railway.

But I couldn’t get done with my machine in so short a time. We’d each our own affairs to take our time; apart from the machine, there was that thumbnail for the pipe I wanted to finish, and the evenings came out all too short. As for Falkenberg, he had made it up with Emma again. And that was a difficult matter and took time. She had been going about with Markus Shoemaker, ’twas true, but Falkenberg for his part could not deny having given Helene presents — a silk handkerchief and a work box set with shells.

Falkenberg was troubled, and said:

“Everything is wrong, somehow. Nothing but bother and worry and foolery.”

“Why, as to that . . . ”

“That’s what I call it, anyway, if you want to know. She won’t come up in the hills as we said.”

“It’ll be Markus Shoemaker, then, that’s keeping her back?”

Falkenberg was gloomily silent. Then, after a pause:

“They wouldn’t even have me go on singing.”

We got to talking of the Captain and his wife. Falkenberg had an ill-forboding all was not as it might be between them.

Gossiping fool! I put in a word:

“You’ll excuse me, but you don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Ho!” said he angrily. And, growing more and more excited, he went on: “Have you ever seen them, now, hanging about after each other? I’ve never heard them say so much as a word.”

The fool! — the churl!

“Don’t know what is the matter with you to-day the way you’re sawing. Look — what do you think of that for a cut?”

“Me? We’re two of us in it, anyway, so there.”

“Good! Then we’ll say it’s the thaw. Let’s get back to the ax again.”

We went on working each by himself for a while, angered and out of humour both. What was the lie he had dared to say of them, that they never so much as spoke to each other? But, Heaven, he was right! Falkenberg had a keen scent for such things. He knew something of men and women.

“At any rate, they speak nicely of each other to us,” I said.

Falkenberg went on with his work.

I thought over the whole thing again.

“Well, perhaps you may be right as far as that goes, that it’s not the wedded life dreamers have dreamed of, still. . . . ”

But it was no good talking to Falkenberg in that style; he understood never a word.

When we stopped work at noon, I took up the talk again.

“Didn’t you say once if he wasn’t decent to her there’d be trouble?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Well, there hasn’t been trouble.”

“Did I ever say he wasn’t decent to her?” said Falkenberg irritably. “No, but they’re sick and wearied of each other — that’s what it is. When one comes in, the other goes out. Whenever he starts talking of anything out in the kitchen, her eyes go all dead and dull, and she doesn’t listen.”

We got to work again with the ax, each thinking his own ways.

“I doubt but I’ll need to give him a thrashing,” said Falkenberg.

“Who?”

“Lukas. . . . ”

I got my pipe done, and sent Emma in with it to the Captain. The nail had turned out fine and natural this time, and with the fine tools I had now, I was able to cut well down into the thumb and fasten it on the underside, so that the two little copper pins would not show. I was pleased enough with the work.

The Captain came out while we were at supper that evening, to thank me for the pipe. At the same time, I noticed that Falkenberg was right; no sooner had the Captain come out than Fruen went in.

The Captain praised my pipe, and asked how I had managed to fix the nail; he said I was an artist and a master. All the others were standing by and heard his words — and it counted for something to be called an artist by the Captain himself. I believe I could have won Emma at that moment.

That night I learned to shiver and shake.

The corpse of a woman came up to me where I lay in the loft, and stretched out its left hand to show me: the thumbnail was missing. I shook my head, to say I had had a thumbnail once, but I had thrown it away, and used a shell instead. But the corpse stood there all the same, and there I lay, shivering, cold with fear. Then I managed to say I couldn’t help it now; in God’s name, go away! And, Our Father which art in heaven. . . . The corpse came straight towards me; I thrust out two clenched fists and gave an icy shriek — and there I was, crushing Falkenberg flat against the wall.

“What is it?” cried Falkenberg. “In Heaven’s name. . . . ”

I woke, dripping with sweat, and lay there with open eyes, watching the corpse as it vanished quite slowly in the dark of the room.

“It’s the corpse,” I groaned. “Come to ask for her thumbnail.” Falkenberg sat straight up in bed, wide awake all at once.

“I saw her,” he said.

“Did you see her, too? Did you see her thumb? Ugh!”

“I wouldn’t be in your shoes now for anything.”

“Let me lie inside, against the wall,” I begged.

“And what about me?”

“It won’t hurt you; you can lie outside all right.”

“And let her come and take me first? Not if I know it.”

And at that Falkenberg lay down again and pulled the rug over his eyes.

I thought for a moment of going down to sleep with Petter; he was getting better now, and there was no fear of infection. But I was afraid to go down the stairs.

It was a terrible night.

Next morning I searched high and low for the nail, and found it on the floor at last, among the shavings and sawdust. I took it out and buried it on the way to the wood.

“It’s a question if you oughtn’t to carry it back where you took it from,” said Falkenberg.

“Why, that’s miles away — a whole long journey. . . . ”

“They won’t ask about that if you’re called to do it. Maybe she won’t care about having a thumb one place and a thumbnail in another.”

But I was brave enough now; a very desperado in the daylight. I laughed at Falkenberg for his superstition, and told him science had disposed of all such nonsense long ago.

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