Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VI

The priest listened patiently, and did not reject the idea at once.

“Really, now!” he said, with a smile. “Why, perhaps you’re right. But it will cost a lot of money. And why should we trouble about it at all?”

“It’s seventy paces from the house to the well we started to dig. Seventy steps for the maids to go through mud and snow and all sorts, summer and winter.”

“That’s true, yes. But this other way would cost a terrible lot of money.”

“Not counting the well — that you’ll have to have in any case; the whole installation, with work and material, ought not to come to more than a couple of hundred Kroner,” said I.

The priest looked surprised.

“Is that all?”

“Yes.”

I waited a little each time before answering, as if I were slow by nature, and born so. But, really, I had thought out the whole thing beforehand.

“It would be a great convenience, that’s true,” said the priest thoughtfully. “And that water tub in the kitchen does make a lot of mess.”

“And it will save carrying water to the bedrooms as well.”

“The bedrooms are all upstairs. It won’t help us there, I’m afraid.”

“We can run the pipes up to the first floor.”

“Can we, though? Up to the bedrooms? Will there be pressure enough for that, do you think?”

Here I waited longer than usual before answering, as a stolid fellow, who did not undertake things lightly.

“I think I can answer for a jet the height of the roof,” I said.

“Really, now!” exclaimed the priest. And then again: “Come and let us see where you think of digging the well.”

We went up the hill, the priest, Harald, and I, and I let the priest look through my instrument, and showed him that there would be more than pressure enough.

“I must talk to the other man about it,” he said.

But I cut out Grindhusen at once, and said: “Grindhusen? He’s no idea of this work at all.”

The priest looked at me.

“Really?” he said.

Then we went down again, the priest talking as if to himself.

“Quite right; yes. It’s an endless business fetching water in the winter. And summer, too, for that matter. I must see what the women think about it.”

And he went indoors.

After ten minutes or so, I was sent for round to the front steps; the whole family were there now.

“So you’re the man who’s going to give us water laid on to the house?” said Fruen kindly.

I took off my cap and bowed in a heavy, stolid fashion, and the priest answered for me: yes, this was the man.

Frøkenen gave me one curious glance, and then started talking in an undertone to her brother. Fruen went on with more questions — would it really be a proper water-supply like they had in town, just turn on a tap and there was the water all ready? And for upstairs as well? A couple of hundred Kroner? “Really, I think you ought to say yes,” she said to her husband.

“You think so? Well, let’s all go up to the top of the hill and look through the thing and see.”

We went up the hill, and I set the instrument for them and let them look.

“Wonderful!” said Fruen.

But Frøkenen said never a word.

The priest asked:

“But are you sure there’s water here?”

I answered carefully, as a man of sober judgment, that it was not a thing to swear to beforehand, but there was every sign of it.

“What sort of signs?” asked Fruen.

“The nature of the ground. And you’ll notice there’s willow and osiers growing about. And they like a wet soil.”

The priest nodded, and said:

“He knows his business, Marie, you can see.”

On the way back, Fruen had got so far as to argue quite unwarrantably that she could manage with one maid less once they’d water laid on. And not to fail her, I put in:

“In summer at least you might. You could water all the garden with a hose fixed to the tap and carried out through the cellar window.”

“Splendid!” she exclaimed.

But I did not venture to speak of laying a pipe to the cow-shed. I had realized all the time that with a well twice the size, and a branch pipe across the yard, the dairymaid would be saved as much as the kitchen-maids in the house. But it would cost nearly twice as much. No, it was not wise to put forward so great a scheme.

Even as it was, I had to agree to wait till Grindhusen came back. The priest said he wanted to sleep on it.

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