Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXIV

Next morning I was more content with things. I had cooled down and turned sensible — I was resigned. If only I had seen before what was best for me, I might have taken service here at the vicarage, and been the first of all equals. Ay, and settle down and taken root in a quiet countryish life.

Fru Falkenberg stood out in the courtyard. Her bright figure stood like a pillar, stood there free and erect in the open courtyard, and her head was bare.

I greeted her Godmorgen.

Godmorgen!” she answered again, and came striding towards me. Then very quietly she asked: “I wanted to see how they put you up last night, only I couldn’t get away. That is, of course, I got away, but . . . you weren’t in the barn, were you?”

The last words came to me as if in a dream, and I did not answer.

“Well, why don’t you answer?”

“Yes . . . in the barn? Yes.”

“Were you? And was it quite all right?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, well, then . . . yes — yes. We shall be going back sometime to-day.”

She turned and walked away, her face all in one great flush. . . .

Harald came and asked me to make a kite.

“A kite?” I answered all confusedly. “Ay, I’ll make you a kite, a huge one, that’ll go right up to the clouds. That I will.”

We worked at it for a couple of hours, Harald and I. He was good and quick, and so innocent in his eagerness; I, for my part, was thinking of anything but kites. We made a tail several metres long, and busied ourselves with paste and lashing and binding; twice Frøken Elisabeth came out to look on. She may have been every bit as sweet and bright as before, but I cared nothing for what she was, and gave no thought, to her.

Then came the order to harness ready to start. I should have obeyed the order at once, for we had a long drive before us, but, instead, I sent Harald in to ask if we might wait just half an hour more. And we worked on till the kite was finished. Next day, when the paste was dry, Harald could send up his kite and watch it rise, and feel unknown emotion within him, as I did now.

Ready to start.

Fruen comes out; all the family are there to see her off. The priest and his wife both know me again, return my greeting, and say a few words — but I heard nothing said of my taking service with them now. The priest knew me again — yes; and his blue-eyed wife looked at me with that sidelong glance of hers as she knew me again, for all she had known me the night before as well.

Frøken Elisabeth brings out some food for the journey, and wraps her friend up well.

“Sure you’ll be warm enough, now?” she asks for the last time.

“Quite sure, thanks; it’s more than warm enough with all these. Farvel, Farvel.”

“See you drive as nicely as you did yesterday,” says Frøken, with a nod to me as well.

And we drove off.

The day was raw and chilly, and I saw at once that Fruen was not warm enough with her rug.

We drive on for hour after hour; the horses know they are on the way home, and trot without asking. My bare hands stiffen about the reins. As we neared a cottage a little way from the road, Fruen knocked on the carriage window to say it was dinner-time. She gets out, and her face was pale with the cold.

“We’ll go up there and have dinner,” she says. “Come up as soon as you’re ready, and bring the basket.”

And she walked up the hill.

It must be because of the cold she chose to eat in a stranger’s house, I thought to myself; she could hardly be afraid of me. . . . I tied up the horses and gave them their fodder. It looked like rain, so I put the oilskins over them, patted them, and went up to the cottage with the basket.

There is only an old woman at home. “Værsaagod!” she says, and “Come in.” And she goes on tending her coffee-pot. Fruen unpacks the basket, and says, without looking at me:

“I suppose I am to help you again to-day?”

“Thank you, if you will.”

We ate in silence, I sitting on a little bench by the door, with my plate on the seat beside me, Fruen at the table, looking out of the window all the time, and hardly eating anything at all. Now and again she exchanges a word with the old woman, or glances at my plate to see if it is empty. The little place is cramped enough, with but two steps from the window to where I sit; so we are all sitting together, after all.

When the coffee is ready, I have no room for my cup on the end of the bench, but sit holding it in my hand. Then Fruen turns full-face towards me calmly, and says with down-cast eyes:

“There is room here.”

I can hear my own heart beating and I murmur something:

“Thanks; it’s quite all right. I’d rather. . . . ”

No doubt but that she is uneasy; she is afraid lest I should say something. She sits once more looking away, but I can see she is breathing heavily. Ah, she need have no fear; I would not trouble her with so much as a word.

Now I had to take the empty plate and cup and set them back on the table, but I feared to startle her in my approach, for she was still sitting with averted head. I made a little noise with the things to draw her attention, set them down, and thanked her.

She tried to put on a housewifely tone:

“Won’t you have some more? I’m sure you can’t have. . . . ”

“No, thank you very much. . . . Shall I pack up the things now? But I doubt if I can.”

I happened to glance at my hands; they had swelled up terribly in the warm room, and were all shapeless and heavy now. I could hardly pack up things with hands like that. She guessed my thought, looked first at my hands, then out across the room, and said, with a little smile:

“Have you no gloves?”

“No; I never wear them.”

I went back to my place, waited till she should have packed up the things so I could carry the basket down. Suddenly she turned her head towards me, still without looking up, and asked again:

“Where do you come from?”

“From Nordland.”

Pause.

I ventured to ask in my turn if Fruen had ever been there.

“Yes; when I was a child.”

Then she looked at her watch, as if to check me from any more questions, and at the same time to hint it was getting late.

I rose at once and went out to the horses.

It was already growing dusk; the sky was darker, and a loose, wet sleet was beginning to fall. I took my rug down covertly from the box, and hid it under the front seat inside the carriage; when that was done, I watered the horses and harnessed up. A little after, Fruen came down the hill. I went up for the basket, and met her on the way.

“Where are you going?”

“To fetch the basket.”

“You needn’t trouble, thanks; there’s nothing to take back.”

We went down to the carriage; she got in, and I made to help her to rights with the rug she had. Then I pulled out my own from under the front seat, taking care to keep the border out of sight lest she should recognize it.

“Oh, what a blessing!” cried Fruen. “Why, where was it?”

“Under the seat here.”

“Well. . . . Of course, I might have borrowed some more rugs from the vicarage, but the poor souls would never have got them back again. . . . Thanks; I can manage . . . no, thank you; I can manage by myself. You can drive on now.”

I closed the carriage door and climbed to my seat.

“Now, if she knocks at the window again, it’s that rug,” I thought to myself. “Well, I won’t stop. . . . ”

Hour after hour passed; it was pitch dark now, raining and snowing harder than ever, and the road growing worse all the time. Now and again I would jump down from the box and run along beside the horses to keep warm; the water was pouring from my clothes.

We were nearing home now.

I was hoping there would not be too much light when we drove up, so that she recognized the rug. Unfortunately, there were lights in all the windows, waiting her arrival.

In desperation I checked the horses a little before we got to the steps, and got down to open the carriage door.

“But why . . . what on earth have you pulled up here for?”

“I only thought if perhaps Fruen wouldn’t mind getting out here. It’s all mud on ahead . . . the wheels. . . . ”

She must have thought I was trying to entice her into something, Heaven knows! . . .

“Drive on, man, do!” she said.

The horses moved on, and the carriage stopped just where the light was at its full.

Emma came out to receive her mistress. Fruen handed her the rugs all in a bundle, as she had rolled them up before getting out of the carriage.

“Thanks,” she said to me, glancing round as she went in. “Heavens, how dreadfully wet you are!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hamsun/knut/h23u/chapter24.html

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