Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXIX

I am happy and comfortable here; it is morning; the sun coming in through the window, and both Olga and her mother with their hair so smooth and plastered down, a wonder to see.

After breakfast, which I share with the two of them, getting quantities of coffee with it, Olga gets herself up in her new skirt and her knitted kerchief and the jacket. Eh, that wonderful jacket; lasting at the edge all round, and two rows of buttons of the same, and the neck and sleeves trimmed with braid. But little Olga could not fill it out. Nothing near it! The child is all odd corners and angles, like a young calf.

“Couldn’t we just take it in a bit at the sides?” I ask. “There’s plenty of time.”

But mother and daughter exchange glances, plainly saying, ’tis Sunday, and no using needle or knife that day. I understand them well enough, for I would have thought exactly the same myself in my childhood. So I try to find a way out by a little free-thinking: ’tis another matter when it’s a machine that does the work; no more than when an innocent cart comes rumbling down the road, as it may any Sunday.

But no; this is beyond them. And anyhow, the jacket must give her room to grow; in a couple of years it would fit her nicely.

I thought about for something I could slip into Olga’s hand as she went; but I’ve nothing, so I gave her a silver Krone. And straightway she gives her hand in thanks, and shows the coin to her mother, and whispers she will give it to her sister at church. Her eyes are simply glowing with joy at the thought. And her mother, hardly less moved herself, answers yes, perhaps she ought. . . .

Olga goes off to church in her long jacket; goes shambling down the hill with her feet turning in and out any odd way. A sweet and heartening thing to see. . . .

Hersæt now; was that a big place?

Yes, a fine big place.

I sit for a while blinking sleepy eyes and making excursions in etymology. Hersæt might mean Herresæte.5 Or possibly some herse6 might have held sway there. And the herse’s daughter was the proudest maiden for far around, and the Jarl himself comes to ask her hand. And the year after she bears him a son, who becomes king. . . .

5 Manor.

6 Local chieftain in ancient times.

In a word, I would go to Hersæt. Seeing it was all the same where I went, I would go there. Possibly I might get work at the Lensmand’s, or there was always the chance of something turning up; at any rate, I should see new people. And having thus decided upon Hersæt, I felt I had a purpose before me.

The good woman gives me leave to lie down on her bed, for I am drowsy and stupid for lack of sleep. A fine blue spider clambers slowly up the wall, and I lie watching it till I fall asleep.

After a couple of hours I wake suddenly, feeling rested and fresh. The woman was cooking the dinner. I pack up my sack, pay her for my stay, and end up by saying I’d like to make an exchange; my sewing-machine for Olga’s picture there.

The woman incredulous as ever.

Never mind, say I; if she was content, why, so was I. The picture was of value; I knew what I was doing.

I took down the picture from the wall, blew the dust from it, and rolled it up carefully; the wall showed lighter in a square patch where it had been. Then I took my leave.

The woman followed me out: wouldn’t I wait now, till Olga came back, so she could thank me? Oh, now if I only would!

I couldn’t. Hadn’t time. Tell her from me, if there was anything she couldn’t make out, to look in the directions. . . .

The woman stood looking after me as I went. I swaggered down the road, whistling with satisfaction at what I had done. Only the sack to carry now; I was rested, the sun was shining, and the road had dried up a little. I fell to singing with satisfaction at what I had done.

Neurasthenia. . . .

I reached Hersæt the following day. At first I felt like passing by, it looked so big and fine a place; but after I had talked a bit with one of the farm-hands, I decided to try the Lensmand after all. I had worked for rich people before — let me see, there was Captain Falkenberg of Øvrebø. . . .

The Lensmand was a little, broad-shouldered man, with a long white beard and dark eyebrows. He talked gruffly, but had kindly eyes; afterwards, I found he was a merry soul, who could laugh and jest heartily enough at times. Now and again, too, he would show a touch of pride in his position, and his wealth, and like to have it recognized.

“No, I’ve no work for you. Where do you come from?”

I named some places I had lately passed.

“No money, I suppose, and go about begging?”

No, I did not beg; I had money enough.

“Well, you’ll have to go on farther. I’ve nothing for you to do here; the ploughing’s done. Can you cut staves for a fence?

“Yes.”

“H’m. Well, I don’t use wooden fences any more. I’ve put up wire. Do bricklayer’s work?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a pity. I’ve had bricklayers at work here for weeks; you might have got a job. But it’s all done now.”

He stood poking his stick in the ground.

“What made you come to me?”

“Every one said go to the Lensmand if I wanted work.”

“Oh, did they? Well, I’ve always got a crowd here working at something or other — those bricklayers, now. Can you put up a fence that’s proof against fowls? — For that’s more than any soul on earth ever could, haha! —

“Worked for Captain Falkenberg, you said, at Øvrebø?”

“Yes.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Felling timber.”

“I don’t know him — he lives a long way off. But I’ve heard of him. Any papers from him?”

I showed him what the Captain had written.

“Come along with me,” said the Lensmand abruptly. He led me round the house and into the kitchen.

“Give this man a thorough good meal — he’s come a long way, and. . . . ”

I sat down in the big, well-lighted kitchen to the best meal I had had for a long time. I had just finished when the Lensmand came out again.

“Look here, you. . . . ” he began.

I got up at once and stood straight as an arrow — a piece of politeness which I fancy was not lost on him.

“No, no, finish your meal, go on. Finished? Sure? Well, I’ve been thinking. . . . Come along with me.”

He took me out to the woodshed.

“You might do a bit of work getting in firewood; what do you say to that? I’ve two men on the place, but one of them I shall want for summoners’ work, so you’ll have to go woodcutting with the other. You can see there’s plenty of wood here as it is, but it’ll take no harm lying here, can’t have too much of that sort of thing. You said you had money; let me see.”

I showed him the notes I had.

“Good. I’m an official, you see, and have to know my folk. Though I don’t suppose you’ve anything on your conscience, seeing you come to the Lensmand, haha! Well, as I said, you can give yourself a rest today, and start cutting wood tomorrow.”

I set to work getting ready for the next day, looked to my clothes, filed the saw, and ground my ax. I had no gloves, but it was hardly weather for gloves as yet, and there was nothing else I was short of.

The Lensmand came out to me several times, and talked in a casual way; it amused him, perhaps, to talk to a strange wanderer. “Here, Margrethe!” he called to his wife, as she went across the courtyard; “here’s the new man; I’m going to send him out cutting wood.”

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