Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter IV

We came to the vicarage on a Saturday. After much doubting, Grindhusen had at last agreed to take me as his mate. I had bought provisions and some working clothes, and stood there now, in blouse and high boots, ready to start work. I was free and unknown; I learned to walk with a long, slouching stride, and for the look of a laboring man, I had that already both in face and hands. We were to put up at the vicarage itself, and cook our food in the brew-house across the yard.

And so we started on our digging.

I did my share of the work, and Grindhusen had no fault to find with me as a work-mate. “You’ll turn out a first-rate hand at this, after all,” he said.

Then after we’d been working a bit, the priest came out to look, and we took off our hats. He was an oldish man, quiet and gentle in his ways and speech; tiny wrinkles spread out fanwise from the corners of his eyes, like the traces of a thousand kindly smiles. He was sorry to interrupt, and hoped we wouldn’t mind — but they’d so much trouble every year with the fowls slipping through into the garden. Could we leave the well just for a little, and come round and look at the garden wall? There was one place in particular. . . .

Grindhusen answered: surely; we’d manage that for him all right.

So we went up and set the crumbling wall to rights. While we were busy there a young lady came out and stood looking on. We greeted her politely, and I thought her a beautiful creature to see. Then a half-grown lad came out to look, and asked all sorts of questions. The two were brother and sister, no doubt. And the work went on easily enough with the young folk there looking on.

Then evening came. Grindhusen went off home, leaving me behind. I slept in the hayloft for the night.

Next day was Sunday. I dared not put on my town clothes lest they should seem above my station, but cleaned up my working things as neatly as I could, and idled about the place in the quiet of Sunday morning. I chatted to the farm-hands and joined them in talking nonsense to the maids; when the bell began ringing for church, I sent in to ask if I might borrow a Prayer Book, and the priest’s son brought me one himself. One of the men lent me a coat; it wasn’t big enough, really, but, taking off my blouse and vest, I made it do. And so I went to church.

That inward calm I had been at such pains to build up on the island proved all too little yet; at the first thrill of the organ I was torn from my setting and came near to sobbing aloud. “Keep quiet, you fool,” I said to myself, “it’s only neurasthenia.” I had chosen a seat well apart from the rest, and hid my emotion as best I could. I was glad when that service was over.

When I had boiled my meat and had some dinner, I was invited into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. And while I sat there, in came Frøkenen, the young lady I had seen the day before; I stood up and bowed a greeting, and she nodded in return. She was charming, with her youth and her pretty hands. When I got up to go, I forgot myself and said:

“Most kind of you, I’m sure, my dear young lady!”

She glanced at me in astonishment, frowned, and the colour spread in her cheeks till they burned. Then with a toss of her head she turned and left the room. She was very young.

Well, I had done a nice thing now!

Miserable at heart, I sneaked up into the woods to hide. Impertinent fool, why hadn’t I held my tongue! Of all the ridiculous things to say. . . .

The vicarage buildings lay on the slope of a small hill; from the top, the land stretched away flat and level, with alternating timber and clearing. It struck me that here would be the proper place to dig the well, and then run a pipe-line down the slope to the house. Judging the height as nearly as I can, it seems more than enough to give the pressure needed; on the way back I pace out the approximate length: two hundred and fifty feet.

But what business was it of mine, after all? For Heaven’s sake let me not go making the same mistake again, and insulting folk by talking above my station.

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