Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XXXIV

I shambled over to Raadhusgaten, and stood awhile by the cab stand, watching the entrance to the Victoria. But, of course, she had gone to see some friends. I drifted into the hotel, and got talking to the porter.

Yes, Fruen was in. Room No. 12, first floor.

Then she was not out visiting friends?

No.

Was she leaving shortly?

Fruen had not said so.

I went out into the street again, and the cabmen flung up their aprons, inviting my patronage. I picked out a cab and got in.

“Where to?”

“Just stay where you are. I’m hiring you by the hour.”

The cabmen walk about whispering, one suggesting this, another that: he’s watching the place; out to catch his wife meeting some commercial traveller.

Yes, I am watching the place. There is a light in one or two of the rooms, and suddenly it strikes me that she might stand at a window and see me. “Wait,” I say to the cabman, and go into the hotel again.

“Whereabouts is No. 12?”

“First floor.”

“Looking out on to Raadhusgaten?”

“Yes.”

“Then it must have been my sister,” I say, inventing something in order to slip past the porter.

I go up the stairs, and, to give myself no chance of turning back, I knock at the door the moment I have seen the number. No answer. I knock again.

“Is it the maid?” comes a voice from within.

I could not answer yes; my voice would have betrayed me. I tried the handle — the door was locked. Perhaps she had been afraid I might come; possibly she had seen me outside.

“No, it’s not the maid,” I say, and I can hear how the words quiver strangely.

I stand listening a long while after that; I can hear someone moving inside, but the door remains closed. Then come two short rings from one of the rooms down to the hall. It must be she, I say to myself; she is feeling uneasy, and has rung for the maid. I move away from her door, to avoid any awkwardness for her, and, when the maid comes, I walk past as if going downstairs. Then the maid says, “Yes, the maid,” and the door is opened.

“No, no.” says the maid; “only a gentleman going downstairs.”

I thought of taking a room at the hotel, but the idea was distasteful to me; she was not a runaway wife meeting commercial travellers. When I came down, I remarked to the porter as I passed that Fruen seemed to be lying down.

Then I went out and got into my cab again. The time passes, a whole hour; the cabman wants to know if I do not feel cold? Well, yes, a little. Was I waiting for some one? Yes. . . . He hands me down his rug from the box, and I tip him the price of a drink for his thoughtfulness.

Time goes on; hour after hour. The cabmen talk unrestrainedly now, saying openly one to another that I’m letting the horse freeze to death.

No, it was no good. I paid for the cab, went home, and wrote the following letter:

“You would not let me write to you; will you not let me see you once again? I will ask for you at the hotel at five to-morrow afternoon.”

Should I have fixed an earlier hour? But the light in the forenoon was so white; if I felt moved and my mouth twitched, I should look a dreadful sight.

I took the letter round myself to the hotel, and went home again.

A long night — oh, how long were those hours! Now, when I ought to sleep and stretch myself and feel refreshed, I could not. Day dawned, and I got up. After a long ramble through the streets I came back home again, and slept.

Hours pass. When I awake and come to my senses, I hurry anxiously to the telephone to ask if Fruen had left.

No, Fruen had not left.

Thank Heaven then, it seemed she did not wish to run away from me; she must have had my letter long since. No; I had called at an awkward hour the evening before, that was all.

I had something to eat, lay down, and slept again. When I woke it was past noon. I stumble in to the telephone again and ring up as before.

No, Fruen had not left yet. But her things were packed. She was out just now.

I got ready at once, and hurried round to Raadhusgaten to stand on watch. In the course of half an hour I saw a number of people pass in and out, not the one I sought. It was five o’clock now, and I went in and spoke to the porter.

Fruen was gone.

Gone?

“Was it you that rang up? She came just at that moment and took her things. But I’ve a letter here.”

I took the letter, and, without opening it, asked about the train.

“Train left at 4.45,” says the porter, looking at his watch. “It’s five now.”

I had thrown away half an hour keeping watch outside.

I sit down on one of the steps, staring at the floor.

The porter keeps on talking. He must be well aware it was not my sister.

“I said to Fruen there was a gentleman had just rung up. But she only said she hadn’t time, and would I give him this letter.”

“Was there another lady with her when she left?”

“No.”

I got up and went out. In the street I opened the letter and read:

“You must not follow me about any more —”

Impassively I put the thing away. It had not surprised me, had made no new impression. Thoroughly womanly, hasty words, written on impulse, with underlining and a dash. . . .

Then it occurred to me to go round to Frøken Elisabeth’s address; there was still a glimmer of hope. I heard the door bell ring inside the house as I pressed, and stood listening as in a whirling desert.

Frøken Elisabeth had left an hour before.

Then wine, and then whisky. And then endless whisky. And altogether a twenty-one days’ debauch, in the course of which a curtain falls and hides my earthly consciousness. In this state, it enters my head one day to send something to a little cottage in the country. It is a mirror, in a gay gilt frame. And it was for a little maid, by name Olga, a creature touching and sweet to watch as a young calf.

Ay, for I’ve not got over my neurasthenia yet.

The timber saw is in my room. But I cannot put it together, for the bulk of the wooden parts I left behind at a vicarage in the country. It matters little now, my love for the thing is dulled. My neurasthenic friends, believe me, folk of our sort are useless as human beings, and we should not even do for any kind of beast.

One day I suppose I shall grow tired of this unconsciousness, and go out and live on an island once again.

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