Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXVII

I have been staying here a couple of days; Petter has come home, but had nothing to tell.

“Is all well at Øvrebø?”

“Ay, there’s nothing wrong that I know of.”

“Did you see them all before you left? The Captain, Fruen?”

“Yes.”

“Nobody ill?”

“No. Why, who should there be?”

“Well, Falkenberg said something about he’d hurt his hand. But I suppose it’s all right now, then.”

There was little comfort in this home, though they seemed to be quite well off. Petter’s father was deputy to the Storting, and had taken to sitting reading the papers of an evening. Eh, reading and reading — the whole house suffered under it, and the daughters were bored to death. When Petter came home the entire family set to work reckoning out whether he had gotten his full pay, and if he had lain sick at Øvrebø for the full time allowed him by law, or “provided by statute,” as his father, the deputy, put it. Yesterday, when I happened to break a window — a little pane that cost next to nothing — there was no end of whispering about it, and unfriendly glances at me from all sides; so today I went up to the store and bought a new pane, and fixed it in properly with putty. Then said the deputy: “You needn’t have taken all that trouble over a pane of glass.”

To tell the truth, it was not only for that I had been up to the store; I also bought a couple of bottles of wine, to show I did not care so much for the price of a pane of glass or so. Also, I bought a sewing-machine, to give the girls when I went away. We could drink the wine this evening; tomorrow would be Sunday, and we should all have time to lie abed. But on Monday morning I would start off again.

Things turned out otherwise, however. The two girls had been up in the loft, sniffing at my sack; both the wine and the sewing-machine had put fancies into their heads; they imagined all sorts of things, and began throwing out hints. Wait a bit, thought I to myself; my time will come!

In the evening I sit with the family in the parlour, talking. We have just finished supper, and the master of the house had put on his spectacles to read the papers. Then some one coughs outside. “There’s some one coming in,” I say. The girls exchange glances and go out. A little after they open the door and show in two young men. “Come in and sit down,” says the wife.

It struck me just then that these two peasant lads had been invited on the strength of my wine, and that they were sweethearts with the girls. Smart young creatures — eighteen, nineteen years old, and already up to anything. Well, if they reckoned on that wine now, they’d be mistaken! Not a drop. . . .

There was some talking of the weather; how it was no better than could be looked for that time of year, but a pity the wet had stopped the ploughing. There was no sort of life in this talk, and one of the girls turned to me and said I was very quiet this evening. How could it be?

“Maybe because I’m going away,” I answered. “I’ve a good long way to go between now and Monday morning.”

“Then perhaps we ought to have a parting glass tonight?”

There was some giggling at this, as a well-deserved thrust at me for keeping back the wine that miserly fashion. But I did not know these girls, and cared nothing for them, otherwise I had acted differently.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I’ve bought three bottles of wine that I’ve to take with me to a certain place.”

“And you’re going to carry it all that way?” asked the girl, amid much laughter. “As if there were never a store on the road.”

“Frøkenen forgets that it’s Sunday tomorrow, and the stores on the road will be shut,” said I.

The laugh died away, but I could see the company was no more kindly disposed towards me now for speaking straight out. I turned to the wife, and asked coldly how much I owed her for the time I had stayed.

But surely there was no hurry — wouldn’t it do tomorrow?

I was in a hurry — thank you. I had been there two days — what did that come to?

She thought over it quite a while; at last she went out, and got her husband to go with her and work it out together.

Seeing they stayed so long away, I went up to the loft, packed my sack all ready, and carried it down into the passage. I proposed to be even more offended, and start off now — that very night. It would be a good way of taking leave, as things were.

When I came into the room again, Petter said:

“You don’t mean to say you’re starting out tonight?”

“Yes, I do.”

“You’ve no call to heed the girls’ nonsense, anyway.”

Herregud, let the old fellow go if he wants to,” said his sister.

At last the deputy and his wife came in again, stiffly and stubbornly silent.

Well! And how much did I owe them?

H’m! They would leave it to me.

They were all alike — a mean and crafty lot; I felt myself stifling, and picking out the first note that came to hand I flung it at the woman.

Was that enough?

H’m! A tidy bit, for sure, but still. . . . And some might say ’twas enough, but. . . .

How much was it I had given her?

A five-Kroner note.

Well, perhaps it was barely enough; I felt in my pocket for some more.

“No, mother, it was a ten-Kroner,” said Petter. “And that’s too much; you’ll have to give him something back.”

The old woman opens her hand, looks at the note, and turns so very surprised all at once.

“Why, so it is, ten Kroner, yes. . . . I didn’t properly look. Why, then, ’tis right enough, and many thanks. . . . ”

Her husband, in embarrassment, starts talking to the two lads of what he’d been reading in the paper; nasty accident; hand crushed in a threshing-machine. The girls pretended not to notice me, but sat like two cats all the time, with necks drawn in and eyes as thin as knife blades. Nothing to stay for here — good-bye to them all.

The old woman comes out in the passage and tries making up to me.

“If only you’d lend us just one of those bottles now,” she says, “‘twould be a real kindness, that it would. With the two lads sitting there and all.”

Farvel,” said I shortly, and would hear no more.

I had my sack over my shoulder, and the sewing-machine in one hand; it was a heavy load, and the muddy road made things no easier. But for all that I walked with a light heart. It was a miserable business altogether, and I might as well admit I had acted a trifle meanly. Meanly? Not a bit! I formed myself into a little committee, and pointed out that those infernal girls had planned to entertain their sweethearts with my wine. Well and good; but was not my ill-will towards that idea male selfishness on my part? If two strange girls had been invited, instead of two young men, should I not have uncorked the wine without a murmur? Certainly! And then as to their calling me an old fellow; after all, it was perfectly right. Old indeed I must be, since I took offence at being set aside in favour of stray plough-boys. . . .

But my sense of injury cooled down in the course of that hard walking. The committee meeting was adjourned, and I toiled along hour after hour with my ridiculous burden — three bottles of wine and a sewing-machine. It was mild and slightly foggy; I could not see the lights of a farm till quite close up, and then mostly the dogs would come dashing out on me and hinder me from stealing into a barn. Later and later it grew; I was tired and discouraged, and plagued myself too with anxiety about the future. Had I not already wasted a heap of money on the most useless trash? I must sell that sewing-machine again now, and get some of it back.

At long last I came to a place where there was no dog. There was still a light in the window, and, without more ado, I walked up and asked shelter for the night.

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