Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXXIII

So here I am once more in the crush and noise of a city, with its newspapers and people. I have been away from all this for many months now, and find it not unpleasant. I spend a morning taking it all in; get hold of some other clothes, and set off to find Frøken Elisabeth at her address. She was staying with some relatives.

And now — should I be lucky enough to meet the other one? I am restless as a boy. My hands are vulgarly unused to gloves, and I pull them off; then going up the step I notice that my hands do not go at all well with the clothes I am wearing, and I put on my gloves again. Then I ring the bell.

“Frøken Elisabeth? Yes, would you wait a moment?”

Frøken Elisabeth comes out. “Goddag. You wished to speak to. . . . Oh, is it you?”

I had brought a parcel from her mother. Værsaagod.

She tears open the parcel and looks inside. “Oh, fancy Mama thinking of that. The opera-glasses! We’ve been to the theatre already. . . . I didn’t recognize you at first.”

“Really! It’s not so very long since. . . . ”

“No, but. . . . Tell me, isn’t there any one else you’d like to inquire about? Haha!”

“Yes,” said I.

“Well, she’s not here. I’m only staying here with my relations. No, she’s at the Victoria.”

“Well, the parcel was for you,” said I, trying to master my disappointment.

“Wait a minute. I was just going out again; we can go together.”

Frøken Elisabeth puts on some over-things, calls out through a door to say she won’t be very long, and goes out with me. We take a cab and drive to a quiet café. Frøken Elisabeth says yes, she loves going to cafés. But there’s nothing very amusing about this one.

Would she rather go somewhere else?

“Yes. To the Grand.”

I hesitated; it might be hardly safe. I had been away for a long time now, and if we met any one I knew I might have to talk to them. But Frøkenen insisted on Grand. She had had but a few days’ practice in the capital, and had already gained a deal of self-assurance. But I liked her so much before.

We drove off again to Grand. It was getting towards evening. Frøkenen picks out a seat right in the brightest spot, beaming all over herself at the fun of it. I ordered some wine.

“What fine clothes you’re wearing now,” she says, with a laugh.

“I couldn’t very well come in here in a workman’s blouse.”

“No, of course not. But, honestly, that blouse . . . shall I tell you what I think?”

“Yes, do.”

“The blouse suited you better.”

There! Devil take these town clothes! I sat there with my head full of other things, and did not care for this sort of talk.

“Are you staying long in town?” I asked.

“As long as Lovise does. We’ve finished our shopping. No, I’m sorry; it’s all too short.” Then she turns gay once more, and asks laughingly: “Did you like being with us out in the country?”

“Yes. That was a pleasant time.”

“And will you come again soon? Haha!”

She seemed to be making fun of me. Trying, of course, to show she saw through me: that I hadn’t played — my part well enough as a country labourer. Child that she was! I could teach many a labourer his business, and had more than one trade at my finger-ends. Though in my true calling I manage to achieve just the next best of all I dream. . . .

“Shall I ask Papa to put up a notice on the post next spring, to say you’re willing to lay down water-pipes and so on?”

She closed her eyes and laughed — so heartily she laughed.

I am torn with excitement, and her merriment pains me, though it is all good-humoured enough. I glance round the place, trying to pull myself together; here and there an acquaintance nods to me, and I return it; it all seems so far away to me. I was sitting with a charming girl, and that made people notice us.

“You know these people, it seems?”

“Yes, one or two of them. Have you enjoyed yourself in town?”

“Oh yes, immensely. I’ve two boy cousins here, and then there were their friends as well.”

“Poor young Erik, out in the country,” said I jestingly.

“Oh, you with your young Erik. No, there’s one here in town; his name’s Bewer. But I’m not friends with him just now.”

“Oh, that won’t last long.”

“Do you think so? Really, though, I’m rather serious about it. I’ve an idea he might be coming in here this evening.”

“You must point him out to me if he does.”

“I thought, as we drove out here, that you and I could sit here together, you know, and make him jealous.”

“Right, then, we will.”

“Yes, but. . . . No, you’d have to be a bit younger. I mean. . . . ”

I forced myself to laugh. Oh, we would manage all right. Don’t despise us old ones, us ancient ones, we can be quite surprisingly useful at times. “Only you’d better let me sit on the sofa beside you there, so he can’t see I’m bald at the back.”

Eh, but it is hard to take that perilous transition to old age in any quiet and beautiful way. There comes a forcedness, a play of jerky effort and grimaces, the fight against those younger than ourselves, and envy.

“Frøken. . . . ” I ask this of her now with all my heart. “Frøken, couldn’t you ring up Fru Falkenberg and get her to come round here now?”

She thinks for a moment.

“Yes, we will,” she says generously.

We go out to the telephone, ring up the Victoria: Fruen is there.

“Is that you, Lovise? You’d never guess who I’m with now? Won’t you come along? Oh, good! We’re at the Grand. No, I can’t tell you now. Yes, of course it’s a man — only he’s a gentleman now — I won’t say who it is. Are you coming? Why, you said just now you would! Some people? Oh, well, do as you like, of course, but I do think. . . . Yes, he’s standing here. You are in a hurry. . . . ”

Frøken Elisabeth rang off, and said shortly:

“She had to go and see some friends.”

We went back to our seat, and had some more wine; I tried to be cheerful, and suggested champagne. Yes, thanks. And then, as we’re sitting there, Frøkenen says suddenly:

“Oh, there’s Bewer! I’m so glad we’re drinking champagne.”

But I have only one idea in my mind, and being now called upon to show what I can do, and charm this young lady to the ultimate advantage of some one else, I find myself saying one thing and thinking another. Which, of course, leads to disaster. I cannot get that telephone conversation out of my head; she must have had an idea — have realized that it was I who was waiting for her here. But what on earth had I done? Why had I been dismissed so suddenly from Øvrebø, and Falkenberg taken on in my place. Quite possibly the Captain and his wife were not always the best of friends, but the Captain had scented danger in my being there, and wished to save his wife at least from such an ignominious fall. And now, here she was, feeling ashamed that I had worked on her place, that she had used me to drive her carriage, and twice shared food with me by the way. And she was ashamed, too, of my being no longer young. . . .

“This will never do,” says Frøken Elisabeth.

So I pull myself together again, and start saying all manner of foolish things, to make her laugh. I drink a good deal and that helps; at last, she really seems to fancy I am making myself agreeable to her on her own account. She looks at me curiously.

“No, really, though, do you think I’m nice?”

“Oh, please — don’t you understand? — I was speaking of Fru Falkenberg.”

“Sh!” says Frøken Elisabeth. “Of course it is Fru Falkenberg; I know that perfectly well, but you need not say so. . . . I really think we’re beginning to make an impression on him over there. Let’s go on like we are doing, and look interested.”

So she hadn’t imagined I was trying on my own account, after all. I was too old for that sort of thing, anyway. Devil take it, yes, of course.

“But you can’t get Fru Falkenberg,” she says, beginning again. “It’s simply hopeless.”

“No, I can’t get her. Nor you either.”

“Are you speaking to Fru Falkenberg now again?”

“No, it was to you this time.”

Pause.

“Do you know I was in love with you? Yes, when I was at home.”

“This is getting quite amusing,” said I, shifting up on the sofa. “Oh, we’ll manage Bewer, never fear.”

“Yes, only fancy, I used to go up to the churchyard to meet you in the evenings. But you, foolish person, you didn’t see it a bit.”

“Now you’re talking to Bewer, of course,” said I.

“No, it’s perfectly true. And I came over one day when you were working in the potato fields. It wasn’t your young Erik I came to see, not a bit.”

“Only think, that it should have been me,” I say, putting on a melancholy air.

“Yes, of course you think it was strange. But really, you know, people who live in the country must have some one to be fond of too.”

“Does Fru Falkenberg say the same?”

“Fru Falkenberg? No, she says she doesn’t want to be fond of anybody, only play her piano and that sort of thing. But I was speaking of myself. Do you know what I did once? No, really, I can’t tell you that. Do you want to know?

“Yes, tell me.”

“Well, then . . . for, after all, I’m only a child compared to you, so it doesn’t matter. It was when you were sleeping in the barn; I went over there one day and laid your rugs together properly, and made a proper bed.”

“Was it you did that?” I burst out quite sincerely, forgetting to play my part.

“You ought to have seen me stealing in. Hahaha!”

But this young girl was — not artful enough, she changed colour at her little confession, and laughed forcedly to cover her confusion.

I try to help her out, and say:

“You’re really good-hearted, you know. Fru Falkenberg would never have done a thing like that.”

“No; but then she’s older. Did you think we were the same age?”

“Does Fru Falkenberg say she doesn’t want to be fond of anybody?”

“Yes. Oh no . . . bother, I don’t know. Fru Falkenberg’s married, of course; she doesn’t say anything. Now talk to me again a little. . . . Yes, and do you remember the time we went up to the store to buy things, you know? And I kept walking slower and slower for you to catch up. . . . ”

“Yes . . . that was nice of you. And now I’ll do something for you in return.”

I rose from my seat, and walked across to where young Bewer sat, and asked if he would not care to join us at our table. I brought him along; Frøken Elisabeth flushed hotly as he came up. Then I talked those two young people well together, which done, I suddenly remembered I had some business to do, and must go off at once. “I’m ever so sorry to leave just now. Frøken Elisabeth, I’m afraid you’ve turned my head, bewitched me completely; but I realize it’s hopeless to think of it. It’s a marvel to me, by the way. . . . ”

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