Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXII

I had got the biggest parts of my machine done, and could fix them together and try it. There was an old stump by the barn-bridge from an aspen that had been blown down; I fixed my apparatus to that, and found at once that the saw would cut all right. Aha, now, what have you got to say? Here’s the problem solved! I had bought a huge saw-blade and cut teeth all down the back; these teeth fitted into a little cogwheel set to take the friction, and driven forward by the spring. The spring itself I had fashioned originally from a broad staybusk Emma had given me, but, when I came to test it; it proved too weak; so I made another from a saw-blade only six millimetres across, after I had first filed off the teeth. This new spring, however, was too strong; I had to manage as best I could by winding it only half-way up, and then, when it ran down, half-way up again.

I knew too little theory, worse luck; it was a case of feeling my way at every step, and this made it a slow proceeding. The conical gear, for instance, I found too heavy when I came to put it into practice, and had to devise a different system altogether.

It was on a Sunday that I fixed my apparatus to the stump; the new white woodwork and the shining saw-blade glittered in the sun. Soon faces appeared at the windows, and the Captain himself came. He did not answer my greeting, so intent was he on the machine.

“Well, how do you think it will work?”’

I set it going.

“Upon my soul, I believe it will. . . . ”

Fruen and Frøken Elisabeth came out, all the maids came out, Falkenberg came out, and I let them see it work. Aha, what did I say?

Said the Captain presently:

“Won’t it take up too much time, fixing the apparatus to one tree after another?”

“Part of the time will be made up by easier work. No need to keep stopping for breath.”

“Why not?”

“Because the lateral pressure’s effected by the spring. It’s just that pressure that makes the hardest work.”

“And what about the rest of the time?”

“I’m going to discard this screw-on arrangement and have a clamp instead, that can be pressed down by the foot. A clamp with teeth to give a better grip, and adjustable to any sized timber.”

I showed him a drawing of this clamp arrangement; I had not had time to make the thing itself.

The Captain took a turn at the saw himself, noticing carefully the amount of force required. He said:

“It’s a question whether it won’t be too heavy, pulling a saw twice the width of an ordinary woodcutting saw.”

“Ay,” agreed Falkenberg; “it looks that way.”

All looked at Falkenberg, and then at me. It was my turn now.

“A single man can push a goods truck with full load on rails,” I said. “And here there’ll be two men to work a saw with the blade running on two rollers over oiled steel guides. It’ll be easier to work than the old type of saw — a single man could work it, if it came to a pinch.”

“It sounds almost impossible.”

“Well, we shall see.”

Frøken Elisabeth asked half in jest:

“But tell me — I don’t understand these things a bit, you know — why wouldn’t it be better to saw a tree across in the old way?”

“He’s trying to get rid of the lateral pressure; that’s a strain on the men working,” explained the Captain. “With a saw like this you can, as he says, make a horizontal cut with the same sort of pressure you would use for an ordinary saw cutting down vertically. It’s simply this: you press downwards, but the pressure’s transmitted sideways. By the way,” he went on, turning to me, “has it struck you there might be a danger of pressing down the ends of the blade, and making a convex cut?”

“That’s obviated in the first place by these rollers under the blade.”

“True; that goes for something. And in the second place?”

“In the second place, it would be impossible to make a convex cut with this apparatus even if you wanted to. The blade, you see, has a T-shaped back; that makes it practically impossible to bend it.”

I fancy the Captain put forward some of his objections against his own conviction. Knowing all he did, he could have answered them himself better than I. On the other hand, there were points he did not notice, but which caused me some anxiety. A machine that was to be carried about in the woods must not be made with delicate mechanism. I was afraid, for instance, that the two steel guides might be easily injured, and either broken away, or so bent that the wheels would jam. No; the guides would have to be dispensed with, and the wheels set under the back of the saw. Altogether, my machine was far from complete. . . .

The Captain went over to Falkenberg and said:

“I want you to drive the ladies tomorrow; they’re going some way, and Petter’s not well enough, it seems. Do you think you could?”

“Surely,” said Falkenberg; “and welcome.”

“Frøkenen’s going back to the vicarage,” said the Captain, as he turned to go. “You’ll have to be out by six o’clock.”

Falkenberg was in high spirits at this mark of confidence, and jestingly hinted that I envied him the same. Truth to tell, I did not envy him there in the least. I was perhaps a little hurt to find my comrade so preferred before myself, but I would most certainly stay here by myself in the quiet of the woods than sit on a box and drive in the cold.

Falkenberg was thoroughly pleased with himself.

“You’re looking simply green with envy now,” he said. “You’d better take something for it. Try a little castor-oil, now, do.”

He was busy all the forenoon getting ready for the journey, washing down the carriage, greasing the wheels, and cleaning the harness after. I helped him with the work.

“I don’t believe you can drive a pair at all, really,” I said, just to annoy him. “But I’ll give you a bit of a lesson, if you like, before you start.”

“You’ve got it badly,” he answered. “It’s a pity to see a man looking like that, when a dose of castor-oil would put him right.”

It was like that all the time — jesting and merriment from one to the other.

That evening the Captain came out to me.

“I didn’t want to send you down with the ladies,” he said, “because of your work. But now Frøken Elisabeth says she wants you to drive, and not the other man.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Because she knows you.”

“Why, as for that, ‘twould have been safe enough as it was.”

“Do you mind going at all?”

“No.”

“Good! Then that’s settled.”

This thought came to my mind at once: “Aha, it’s me the ladies fancy, after all, because I’m an inventor and proprietor of a patent saw, and not bad looking when I’m properly got up — not bad looking by any means.”

But the Captain explained things to Falkenberg in an altogether different way, that upset my vanity completely: Frøken Elisabeth wanted me to go down to the vicarage once more, so that her father might have another try at getting me to take work there. She’d promised him to do so.

I thought and thought over this explanation.

“But if you get taken on at the vicarage, then it’s all off with our railway work,” said Falkenberg.

“I shan’t,” said I.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23u/chapter22.html

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