Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXV

A curious piece of news awaited me: Falkenberg had taken service with the Captain as a farm-hand.

This upset the plan we had agreed on, and left me alone once more. I could not understand a word of it all. Anyhow, I could think it over tomorrow. . . . By two in the morning I was still lying awake, shivering and thinking. All those hours I could not get warm; then at last it turned hot, and I lay there in full fever. . . . How frightened she had been yesterday — dared not sit down to eat with me by the roadside, and never opened her eyes to me once through all the journey. . . .

Coming to my senses for a moment, it occurs to me I might wake Falkenberg with my tossing about, and perhaps say things in my delirium. That would never do. I clench my teeth and jump up, get into my clothes again, scramble down the stairs, and set out over the fields at a run. After a little my clothes begin to warm me; I make towards the woods, towards the spot where we had been working; sweat and rain pour down my face. If only I can find the saw and work the fever out of my body —’tis an old and tried cure of mine, that. The saw is nowhere to be seen, but I come upon the ax I had left there Saturday evening, and set to work with that. It is almost too dark to see at all, but I feel at the cut now and then with my hands, and bring down several trees. The sweat pours off me now.

Then, feeling exhausted enough, I hide the ax in its old place; it is getting light now, and I set off at a run for home.

“Where have you been?” asks Falkenberg.

Now, I do not want him to know about my having taken cold the day before, and perhaps go making talk of it in the kitchen; I simply mutter something about not knowing quite where I have been.

“You’ve been up to see Rønnaug, I bet,” he said.

I answered: yes, I had been with Rønnaug, since he’d guessed it.

“’Twas none so hard to guess,” he said. “Anyhow, you won’t see me running after any of them now.”

“Going to have Emma, then?”

“Why, it looks that way. It’s a pity you can’t get taken on here, too. Then you might get one of the others, perhaps.”

And he went on talking of how I might perhaps have got my pick of the other girls, but the Captain had no use for me. I wasn’t even to go out tomorrow to the wood. . . . The words sound far away, reaching me across a sea of sleep that is rolling towards me.

Next morning the fever is gone; I am still a little weak, but make ready to go out to the wood all the same.

“You won’t need to put on your woodcutting things again,” says Falkenberg. “I told you that before.”

True! Nevertheless, I put on those things, seeing the others are wet. Falkenberg is a little awkward with me now, because of breaking our plan; by way of excuse, he says he thought I was taking work at the vicarage.

“So you’re not coming up to the hills, then?” I asked.

“H’m! No, I don’t think so — no. And you know yourself, I’m sick of tramping around. I’ll not get a better chance than this.”

I make as if it was no great matter to me, and take up a sudden interest in Petter; worst of all for him, poor fellow, to be turned out and nowhere to go.

“Nowhere to go?” echoes Falkenberg. “When he’s lain here the three weeks he’s allowed to stay sick by law, he’ll go back home again. His father’s a farmer.”

Then Falkenberg declares it’s like losing part of himself to have me go. If it wasn’t for Emma, he’d break his word to the Captain after all.

“Here,” he says, “I’ll give you these.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the certificates. I shan’t want them now, but they may be the saving of you at a pinch. If you ever wanted to tune a piano, say.”

And he hands me the papers and the key.

But, seeing I haven’t his ear for music, the things are no use to me; and I tell him so. I could better handle a grindstone than a piano.

Whereat Falkenberg burst out laughing, relieved to find me ready with a jest to the last. . . .

Falkenberg goes out. I have time to laze a little, and lie down all dressed on the bed, resting and thinking. Well, our work was at an end; we should have had to go anyhow. I could not reckon on staying here for all eternity. The only thing outside all calculation was that Falkenberg should stay. If only it had been me they’d offered his work, I’d have worked enough for two! Now, was there any chance of buying him off, I wondered? To tell the truth, I fancied I had noticed something before; as if the Captain were not altogether pleased to have this labourer about the place bearing his own name. Well, perhaps I had been wrong.

I thought and thought. After all, I had been a good workman, as far as I knew, and I had never stolen a moment of the Captain’s time for work on my own invention. . . .

I fell asleep again, and wakened at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Before I had time to get properly to my feet, there was the Captain himself in the doorway.

“Don’t get up,” he said kindly, and turned as if to go again. “Still, seeing you’re awake, we might settle up. What do you say?”

I said it was as he pleased, and many thanks.

“I ought to tell you, though, both your friend and I thought you were going to take service at the vicarage, and so. . . . And now the weather’s broken up, there’s no doing more among the timber — and, besides, we’ve got down all there was to come. Well, now; I’ve settled with the other man. I don’t know if you’d. . . . ”

I said I would be quite content with the same.

“H’m! Your friend and I agreed you ought to have more per day.”

Falkenberg had said no word of this to me; it sounded like the Captain’s own idea.

“I agreed with him we should share alike,” said I.

“But you were sort of foreman; of course, you ought to have fifty øre per day extra.”

I saw my hesitation displeased him, and let him reckon it out as he pleased. When he gave me the money, I said it was more than I had reckoned with. The Captain answered:

“Very pleased to hear it. And I’ve written a few lines here that might be useful, saying you’ve worked well the time you were here.”

He handed me the paper.

A just and kindly man, the Captain. He said nothing now about the idea of laying on water to the house next spring; I took it he’d his reasons for that, and did not like to trouble him.

Then he asked:

“So you’re going off now to work on the railway?”

I said I was not quite sure as to that.

“Well, well . . . anyhow, thanks for the time you’ve been with us.”

He moved towards the door. And I, miserable weakling that I was, could not hold myself in check, but asked:

“You won’t be having any work for me later on, perhaps, in the spring?”

“I don’t know; we shall see. I . . . well, it all depends. If you should happen to be anywhere near, why. . . . What about that machine of yours?”

I ventured to ask if I might leave it on the place.

“Certainly,” said the Captain.

When he had gone I sat down on the bed. Well, it was all over now. Ay, so it was — and Lord have mercy on us all! Nine o’clock; she is up — she is there in the house I can see from this very window. Well, let me get away and have done with it.

I get out my sack and stow away my things, put on my wet jacket over my blouse, and am ready to start. But I sit down again.

Emma comes in: “Værsaagod; there’s something ready for you in the kitchen.”

To my horror she had my rug over one arm.

“And Fruen told me to ask if this wasn’t your rug.”

“Mine? No; I’ve got mine here with my things.”

Emma goes off again with the rug.

Well, how could I say it was mine? Devil take the rug! . . . Should I go down to the kitchen or not? I might be able to say good-bye and thanks at the same time — nothing strange in that.

Emma came in again with the rug and laid it down neatly folded on a stool.

“If you don’t hurry up, the coffee’ll be cold,” she says.

“What did you put that rug there for?”

“Fruen told me to.”

“Oh, well, perhaps it’s Falkenberg’s,” I muttered.

Emma asks:

“Are you going away now for good?”

“Yes, seeing you won’t have anything to do with me.”

“You!” says Emma, with a toss of her head.

I went down with Emma to the kitchen; sitting at table, I saw the Captain going out to the woods. Good he was gone — now, perhaps, Fruen might come out.

I finished my meal and got up. Should I go off now, and leave it at that? Of course; what else? I took leave of the maids, with a jesting word to each in turn.

“I’d have liked to say good-bye to Fruen, too, but. . . . ”

“Fruen’s indoors. I’ll. . . . ”

Emma goes in, and comes back a moment later.

“Fruen’s lying down with a headache. She sent her very good wishes.”

“Come again!” said all the girls as I set off.

I walked away out of the place, with my sack under my arm. Then suddenly I remembered the ax; Falkenberg might not find it where I’d put it. I went back, knocked at the kitchen door, and left a message for him where it was.

Going down the road, I turned once or twice and looked back towards the windows of the house. Then all was out of sight.

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