Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXVI

I circled round all that day, keeping near to Øvrebø; looked in at one or two farms to ask for work, and wandered on again like an outcast, aimlessly. It was a chill, unkindly day, and I had need of all my walking to keep warm.

Towards evening I made over to my old working place among the Captain’s timber. I heard no sound of the ax; Falkenberg had gone home. I found the trees I had felled the night before, and laughed outright at the ghastly looking stumps I had left. Falkenberg would surely have seen the havoc, and wondered who could have done it. Possibly he might have set it down to witchcraft, and fled home accordingly before it got dark. Falkenberg! . . . Hahaha!

But it was no healthy merriment, I doubt — a thing born of the fever and the weakness that followed it. And I soon turned sorrowful once more. Here, on this spot, she had stood one day with that girl friend of hers; they had come out and talked to us in the woods. . . .

When it was dark enough I started down towards the house. Perhaps I might sleep in the loft again to-night; then to-morrow, when her headache was gone, she might come out. I went down near enough to see the lights of the house, then I turned back. No, perhaps it was too early yet.

Then for a time — I should reckon about two hours — I wandered round and sat down a bit, wandered again and sat down a bit; then I moved up towards the house again. Now I could perfectly well go up in the loft and lie down there. As for Falkenberg — miserable worm! — let him dare to say a word! Now I know what I will do. I will hide my sack in the woods before I go up, so as to look as if I had only come back for some little thing I had forgotten.

And I go back to the woods.

No sooner have I hidden the sack than I realize I am not concerned at all with Falkenberg and sleeping in the loft. I am a fool and a madman, for the thing I want is not shelter for the night, but a sight of just one creature there before I leave the place. And I say to myself: “My good sir, was it not you that set out to live a quiet life among healthy folk, to win back your peace of mind?”

I pull out my sack from its hiding-place, fling it over my shoulder, and move towards the house for the third time, keeping well away from the servants’ quarters, and coming round on the south side of the main building. There is a light in the parlour.

And now, although it is dark, I let down the sack from over my shoulder, not to look like a beggar, and thrust it under my arm as if it were a parcel. So I steal up cautiously towards the house. When I have got near enough, I stop, stand there upright and strong before the windows, take off my cap and stand there still. There is no one to be seen within, not a shadow. The dining-room is all dark; they have finished their evening meal. It must be late, I tell myself.

Suddenly the lamp in the parlour goes out, and the whole house seems dead and deserted. I wait a little, then a solitary light shines out upstairs. That must be her room. The light burns for half an hour, perhaps, and then goes out again. She had gone to rest. Good-night!

Good-night for ever!

And, of course, I shall not come back to this place in the spring. A ridiculous idea!

When I got down on to the high road, I shouldered my sack once more and set out on my travels. . . .

In the morning I go on again, having slept in a barn where it was terribly cold, having nothing to wrap round me; moreover, I had to start out again just at the coldest hour, about daybreak, lest I should be found there.

I walk on and on. The woods change from pine to birch and back again. Coming upon a patch of fine, straight-stemmed juniper, I cut myself a staff, and sit down at the edge of the wood to trim it. Here and there among the trees a yellow leaf or so still hangs, but the birches are full of catkins set with pearly drops. Now and again half, a dozen small birds swoop down on one of these birches, to peck at the catkins, and then look about for a stone or a rough tree trunk to rub the gum from their beaks. Each is jealous of the rest; they watch and chase and drive one another away, though there are millions of catkins for them to take all they will. And the one that is chased never does anything but take to flight. If a little bird comes bearing down towards a bigger one, the bigger one will move away; even a full-grown thrush offers no resistance to a sparrow, but simply takes itself off. I fancy it must be the speed of the attack that does it.

The cold and discomfort of the morning gradually disappear; it amuses me to watch the various things I meet with on my way, and think a little, idly enough, of every one. The birds were most diverting; also, it was cheering to reflect that I had my pocket full of money.

Falkenberg had chanced to mention that morning where Petter’s home was, and I now made for that. There would hardly be work for me on so small a place; but now that I was rich, it was not work I sought for first of all. Petter would be coming home soon, no doubt, and perhaps have some news to tell.

I managed so as to reach the farm in the evening. I said I brought news of their son, that he was much better now, and would soon be home again. And could they put me up for the night?

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