Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXX

We had no special orders, but set to work as we thought best, felling dry-topped trees, and in the evening the Lensmand said it was right enough. But he would show us himself the next day.

I soon realized that the work here would not last till Christmas. With the weather we were having, and the ground as it was, frost at night and no snow, we felled a deal each day, and nothing to hinder the work; the Lensmand himself though we were devilish smart at felling trees, haha! The old man was easy to work with; he often came out to us in the woods and chatted and made jokes, and as I never joked in return, he took me, no doubt, for a dull dog, but a steady fellow. He began sending me on errands now, with letters to and from the post.

There were no children on the place, no young folk at all save the maids and one of the farm-hands, so the evenings fell rather long. By way of passing the time, I got hold of some tin and acids and re-tinned some old pots and kettles in the kitchen. But that was soon done. And then one evening I came to write the following letter:

If only I were where you are, I would work for two.”

Next day I had to go to the post for the Lensmand; I took my letter with me and posted it. I was very uneasy. Moreover, the letter looked clumsy as I sent it, for I had got the paper from the Lensmand, and had to paste a whole strip of stamps along the envelope to cover where his name was printed on. I wondered what she would say when she got it. There was no name, nor any place given in the letter.

And so we work in the woods, the other man and I, talk of our little affairs, working with heart and soul, and getting on well together. The days passed; already, worse luck, I could see the end of our work ahead, but I had a little hope the Lensmand might find something else for me to do when the woodcutting was finished. Something would surely turn up. I had no wish to set out wandering anew before Christmas.

Then one day I go to the post again, and there is a letter for me. I cannot understand that it is for me, and I stand turning and twisting it confusedly; but the man knows me now; he reads from the envelope again and says yes, it is my name right enough, and care of the Lensmand.

Suddenly a thought strikes me, and I grasp the letter. Yes, it is for me; I forgot . . . yes, of course. . . .

And I hurry out into the road, with something ringing in my ears all the time, and open the letter, and read:

Skriv ikke til mig —”7

7 “Do not write (skrive) to me.”

No name, no place, but so clear and lovely. The first word was underlined.

I do not know how I got home. I remember I sat on a stone by the roadside and read the letter and put it in my pocket, and walked on till I came to another stone and did the same again. Skriv ikke. But — did that mean I might come and perhaps speak with her? That little, dainty piece of paper, and the swift, delicate characters. Her hands had held it, her eyes had looked on it, her breath had touched it. And then at the end a dash. Which might have a world of meaning.

I came home, handed in the Lensmand’s post, and went out into the wood. I was dreaming all the time. My comrade, no doubt, must have found me an incomprehensible man, seeing me read a letter again and again, and put it back with my money.

How splendid of her to have found me! She must have held the envelope up to the light, no doubt, and read the Lensmand’s name under the stamps; then laid her beautiful head on one side and half closed her eyes and thought for a moment: he is working for the Lensmand at Hersæt now. . . .

That evening, when we were back home, the Lensmand came out and talked to us of this and that, and asked:

“Didn’t you say you’d been working for Captain Falkenberg at Øvrebø?”

“Yes.”

“I see he’s invented a machine.”

“A machine?”

“A patent saw for timber work. It’s in the papers.”

I started at this. Surely he hadn’t invented my patent saw?

“There must be some mistake,” I said. “It wasn’t the Captain who invented it.”

“Oh, wasn’t it?”

“No it wasn’t. But the saw was left with him.”

And I told the Lensmand all about it. He went in to fetch the paper, and we both read what it said: “New Invention. . . . Our Correspondent on the spot. . . . Of great importance to owners of timber lands. . . . Principle of the mechanism is as follows: . . . ”

“You don’t mean to say it’s your invention?”

“Yes, it is.”

“And the Captain is trying to steal it? Why, this’ll be a pretty case, a mighty pretty case. Leave it to me. Did any one see you working on the thing?”

“Yes, all his people on the place did.”

“Lord save me if it’s not the stiffest bit of business I’ve heard for a long time. Walk off with another man’s invention! And the money, too . . . why, it might bring you in a million!”

I was obliged to confess I could not understand the Captain.

“Don’t you? Haha, but I do! I’ve not been Lensmand all this time far nothing. No; I’ve had my suspicions that he wasn’t so rich as he pretended. Well, I’ll send him a bit of a letter from me, just a line or so — what do you say to that? Hahaha! You leave it to me.”

But at this I began to feel uneasy. The Lensmand was too violent all at once; it might well be that the Captain was not to blame in the matter at all, and that the newspaper man had made the mistake himself. I begged the Lensmand to let me write myself.

“And agree to divide the proceeds with that rascal? Never! You leave the whole thing in my hands. And, anyhow, if you were to write yourself, you couldn’t set it out properly the way I can.”

But I worked on him until at last he agreed that I should write the first letter, and then he should take it up after. I got some of the Lensmand’s paper again.

I got no writing done that evening; it had been an exciting day, and my mind was all in a turmoil still. I thought and reckoned it out; for Fruen’s sake I would not write directly to the Captain, and risk causing her unpleasantness as well; no, I would send a line to my comrade, Lars Falkenberg, to keep an eye on the machine.

That night I had another visit from the corpse — that miserable old woman in her night-shift, that would not leave me in peace on account of her thumbnail. I had had a long spell of emotion the day before, so this night she took care to come. Frozen with horror, I saw her come gliding in, stop in the middle of the room, and stretch out her hand. Over against the other wall lay my fellow-woodcutter in his bed, and it was a strange relief to me to hear that he too lay groaning and moving restlessly; at any rate there were two of us to share the danger. I shook my head, to say I had buried the nail in a peaceful spot, and could do no more. But the corpse stood there still. I begged her pardon; but then, suddenly, I was seized with a feeling of annoyance; I grew angry, and told her straight out I’d have no more of her nonsense. I’d borrowed that nail of hers at a pinch, but I’d done all I could do months ago, and buried it again. . . . At that she came gliding sideways over to my pillow, trying to get behind me. I flung myself up in bed and gave a shriek.

“What is it?” asked the lad from the other bed.

I rub my eyes and answer I’d been dreaming, that was all.

“Who was it came in just now?” asks the boy.

“I don’t know. Was there any one in here?”

“I saw some one going . . . ”

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