Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXI

One evening there came visitors to the place, and as Petter was still poorly, and the other lad was only a youngster, I had to go and take out the horses. A lady got out of the carriage.

“Is any one at home?” she asked.

The sound of wheels had brought faces to the windows; lamps were lit in the rooms and passages. Fruen came out, calling:

“Is that you, Elisabeth? I’m so glad you’ve come.”

It was Frøken Elisabeth from the vicarage.

“Is he here?” she asked in surprise.

“Who?”

It was myself she meant. So she had recognized me. . . .

Next day the two young ladies came out to us in the wood. At first I was afraid lest some rumour of a certain nightly ride on borrowed horses should have reached the vicarage, but calmed myself when nothing was said of it.

“The water-pipes are doing nicely,” said Frøken Elisabeth.

I was pleased to hear it.

“Water-pipes?” said Fruen inquiringly.

“He laid on a water-supply to the house for us. Pipes in the kitchen and upstairs as well. Just turn a tap and there it is. You ought to have it done here.”

“Really, though? Could it be done here, do you think?”

I answered: yes; it ought to be easy enough.

“Why didn’t you speak to my husband about it?”

“I did speak of it. He said he would see what Fruen thought about it.”

Awkward pause. So he would not speak to her even of a thing that so nearly concerned herself. I hastened to break the silence, and said at random.

“Anyhow, it’s too late to start this year; the winter would be on us before we could get it done. But next spring. . . . ”

Fruen seemed to come back to attention from somewhere far away.

“Oh yes, I remember now, he did say something about it,” she said. “We talked it over. But it was too late this year. . . . Elisabeth, don’t you like watching them felling trees?”

We used a rope now and then to guide the tree in its fall. Falkenberg had just fixed this rope high up, and the tree stood swaying.

“What’s that for?”

“To make it fall the right way,” I began. But Fruen did not care to listen to me any more; she turned to Falkenberg and put the question to him directly:

“Does it matter which way it falls?”

Falkenberg had to answer her.

“Why, no, we’ll need to guide it a bit, so it doesn’t break down too much of the young growth when it falls.”

“Did you notice,” said Fruen to her friend, “what a voice he has? He’s the one that sings.”

How I hated myself now for having talked so much, instead of reading her wish! But at least I would show her that I understood the hint. And, moreover, it was Frøken Elisabeth and no other I was in love with; she was not full of changing humours, and was just as pretty as the other — ay, a thousand times prettier. I would go and take work at her father’s place. . . . I took care now, whenever Fruen spoke, to look first at Falkenberg and then at her, keeping back my answer as if fearing to speak out of my turn. I think, too, she began to feel a little sorry when she noticed this, for once she said, with a little troubled smile: “Yes, yes, it was you I asked.”

That smile with her words. . . . Then came a whirl of joy at my heart; I began swinging the ax with all the strength I had gained from long use, and made fine deep cuts, I heard only a word now and then of what they said.

“They want me to sing to them this evening,” said Falkenberg, when they had gone.

Evening came.

I stood out in the courtyard, talking to the Captain. Three or four days more, and our work on the timber would be at an end.

“And where will you be going then?” asked the Captain.

“We were going to get work on the railway.”

“I might find you something — to do here,” said the Captain. “I want the drive down to the high road carried a different way; it’s too steep as it is. Come and see what I mean.”

He took me round to the south side of the house, and pointed this way and that, though it was already dark.

“And by the time that’s done, and one or two other little things, we shall be well on to the spring,” he said. “And then there’ll be the water, as you said. And, besides, there’s Petter laid up still; we can’t get along like this. I must have another hand to help.”

Suddenly we heard Falkenberg singing. There was a light in the parlour; Falkenberg was in there, singing to an accompaniment on the piano. The music welled out toward us — the man had a remarkable voice — and made me quiver against my will.

The Captain started, and glanced up at the windows.

“No,” he said suddenly; “I think, after all, we’d better leave the drive till next spring as well. How soon did you say you’d be through with the timber?”

“Three or four days.”

“Good! We’ll say three or four days more for that, and then finish for this year.”

A strangely sudden decision. I thought to myself. And aloud I said:

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the road work in winter. It’s better in some ways. There’s the blasting, and getting up the loads. . . . ”

“Yes, I know . . . but . . . well, I think I must go in now and listen to this. . . . ”

The Captain went indoors.

It crossed my mind that he did so out of courtesy, wishing to make himself, as it were, responsible for having Falkenberg in the parlour. But I fancied he would rather have stayed talking with me.

Which was a coxcomb’s thought, and altogether wrong.

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