Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXIII

I started early in the morning with the two ladies in a closed carriage. It was more than a trifle cold at first, and my woollen rug came in very handy; I used it alternately to put over my knees and wrap round my shoulders.

We drove the way I had walked up with Falkenberg, and I recognized place after place as we passed. There and there he had tuned the pianos; there we had heard the grey goose passing. . . . The sun came up, and it grew warmer; the hours went by; then, coming to cross-roads, the ladies knocked at the window and said it was dinner-time.

I could see by the sun it was too early for the ladies’ dinner-time, though well enough for me, seeing I took my dinner with Falkenberg at noon. So I drove on.

“Can’t you stop?” they cried.

“I thought . . . you don’t generally have dinner till three. . . . ”

“But we’re hungry.”

I turned off aside from the road, took out the horses, and fed and watered them. Had these strange beings set their dinner-time by mine? “Værsaagod!”

But I felt I could not well sit down to eat with them, so I remained standing by the horses.

“Well?” said Fruen.

“Thank you kindly,” said I, and waited to be served. They helped me, both of them, as if they could never give me enough. I drew the corks of the beer bottles, and was given a liberal share here as well; it was a picnic by the roadside — a little wayfaring adventure in my life. And Fruen I dared look at least, for fear she should be hurt.

And they talked and jested with each other, and now and again with me, out of their kindliness, that I might feel at ease. Said Frøken Elisabeth:

“Oh, I think it’s just lovely to have meals out of doors. Don’t you?”

And here she said De, instead of Du, as she had said before.

“It’s not so new to him, you know,” said Fruen; “he has his dinner out in the woods every day.”

Eh, but that voice of hers, and her eyes, and the womanly, tender look of the hand that held the glass towards me. . . . I might have said something in turn — have told them this or that of strange things from out in the wide world, for their amusement; I could have set those ladies right when they chattered on, all ignorant of the way of riding camels or of harvest in the vineyards. . . .

I made haste to finish my meal, and moved away. I took the buckets and went down for more water for the horses, though there was no need. I sat down by the stream and stayed there.

After a little while Fruen called:

“You must come and stand by the horses; we are going off to see if we can find some wild hops or something nice.”

But when I came up they decided that the wild hops were over, and there were no rowan berries left now, nor any richly coloured leaves.

“There’s nothing in the woods now,” said Frøkenen. And she spoke to me directly once again: “Well, there’s no churchyard here for you to roam about in.”

“No.”

“You must miss it, I should think.” And then she went on to explain to Fruen that I was a curious person who wandered about in graveyards by night and held meetings with the dead. And it was there I invented my machines and things.

By way of saying something, I asked about young Erik. He had been thrown by a runaway horse and badly hurt. . . .

“He’s better now,” said Frøkenen shortly. — Are you ready to go on again, Lovise?”

“Yes, indeed. Can we start?”

“Whenever you please,” I answered.

And we drove on again.

The hours pass, the sun draws lower down the sky, and it is cooler — a chill in the air; then later wind and wet, half rain, half snow. We passed the annexe church, a couple of wayside stores, and farm after farm.

Then came a knocking on the window of the carriage.

“Wasn’t it here you went riding one night on borrowed horses?” said Frøkenen laughingly. “Oh, we know all about it, never fear!”

And both the ladies were highly amused.

I answered on a sudden thought:

“And yet your father would have me to take service with him — or wasn’t it so?”

“Yes.”

“While I think of it, Frøken, how did your father know I was working for Captain Falkenberg? You were surprised yourself to find me there.”

She thought quickly, and glanced at Fruen and said:

“I wrote home and told them.”

Fruen cast down her eyes.

Now it seemed to me that the young lady was inventing. But she put in excellent answers, and tied my tongue. It sounded all so natural; she writes an ordinary letter to her people at home, and puts in something like this: “And who do you think is here? The man who did those water-pipes for us; he’s felling timber now for Captain Falkenberg. . . . ”

But when we reached the vicarage, the new hand was engaged already, and there at work — had been there three weeks past. He came out to take the horses.

After that, I thought and thought again — why had they chosen me to drive them down? Perhaps it was meant as a little treat for me, as against Falkenberg’s being asked into the parlour to sing. But surely — didn’t they understand, these people, that I was a man who had nearly finished a new machine, and would soon have no need of any such trifles!

I went about sharp and sullen and ill-pleased with myself, had my meal in the kitchen, where Oline gave me her blessing for the water-pipes, and went out to tend my horses. I took my rug and went over to the barn in the dark. . . .

I woke to find some one touching me.

“You mustn’t lie here, you know; it’s simply freezing,” said Præstefruen. “Come with me, and I’ll show you. . . . ”

We talked of that a little; I was not inclined to move, and at last she sat down herself instead. A flame she was — nay, a daughter of Nature. Within her the music of a rapturous dance was playing yet.

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