Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter V

Grindhusen came out again on Monday morning, and we fell to digging as before. The old priest came out to look, and asked if we couldn’t fix a post for him on the road up to the church. He needed it badly, that post; it had stood there before, but had got blown down; he used it for nailing up notices and announcements.

We set up a new post, and took pains to get it straight and upstanding as a candle in a stick. And by the way of thanks we hooded the top with zinc.

While I was at work on the hood, I got Grindhusen to suggest that the post should be painted red; he had still a trifle of red paint left over from the work at Gunhild’s cottage. But the priest wanted it white, and Grindhusen was afraid to contradict, and carefully agreed to all he said, until at last I put in a word, and said that notices on white paper would show up better against red. At that the priest smiled, with the endless wrinkles round his eyes, and said: “Yes, yes, of course, you’re quite right.”

And that was enough; just that bit of a smile and saying I was right made me all glad and proud again within.

Then Frøkenen came up, and said a few words to Grindhusen; even jested with him, asking what that red cardinal was to be stuck up there for on the road. But to me she said nothing at all, and did not even look at me when I took off my hat.

Dinner was a sore trial to me that day, not that the food was bad, no, but Grindhusen, he ate his soup in a disgusting fashion, and his mouth was all greasy with fat.

“What’ll he be like when it comes to eating porridge?” I thought to myself hysterically.

Then when he leaned back on the bench to rest after his meal in the same greasy state, I called to him straight out:

“For Heaven’s sake, man, aren’t you going to wipe your mouth?”

He stared at me, wiping his mouth with one hand. “Mouth?” he said.

I tried to turn it off then as a joke, and said: “Haha, I had you there!” But I was displeased with myself, for all that, and went out of the brewhouse directly after.

Then I fell to thinking of Frøkenen. “I’ll make her answer when I give a greeting,” I said to myself. “I’ll let her see before very long that I’m not altogether a fool.” There was that business of the well and the pipe-line, now; what if I were to work out a plan for the whole installation all complete! I had no instruments to take the height and fall of the hill . . . well, I could make one that would serve. And I set to work. A wooden tube, with two ordinary lamp-glasses fixed in with putty, and the whole filled with water.

Soon it was found there were many little things needed seeing to about the vicarage — odd matters here and there. A stone step to be set straight again, a wall to be repaired; the bridgeway to the barn had to be strengthened before the corn could be brought in. The priest liked to have everything sound and in order about the place — and it was all one to us, seeing we were paid by the day. But as time went on I grew more and more impatient of my work-mate’s company. It was torture to me, for instance, to see him pick up a loaf from the table, hold it close in to his chest, and cut off a slice with a greasy pocket-knife that he was always putting in his mouth. And then, again, he would go all through the week, from Sunday to Sunday, without a wash. And in the morning, before the sun was up, and the evening, after it had gone, there was always a shiny drop hanging from the tip of his nose. And then his nails! And as for his ears, they were simply deformed.

Alas! I was an upstart creature, that had learned fine manners in the cafés in town. And since I could not keep myself from telling my companion now and then what I thought of his uncleanly ways, there grew up a certain ill-feeling between us, and I feared we should have to separate before long. As it was, we hardly spoke now beyond what was needed.

And there was the well, as undug as ever. Sunday came, and Grindhusen had gone home.

I had got my apparatus finished now, and in the afternoon I climbed up to the roof of the main building and set it up there. I saw at once that the sight cut the hillside several metres below the top. Good. Even reckoning a whole metre down to the water-level, there would still be pressure enough and to spare.

While I was busy up there the priest’s son caught sight of me. Harald Meltzer was his name. And what was I doing up there? Measuring the hill; what for? What did I want to know the height for? Would I let him try?

Later on I got hold of a line ten metres long, and measured the hill from foot to summit, with Harald to help. When we came down to the house, I asked to see the priest himself, and told him of my plan.

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