Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VII

So now I had to tell Grindhusen myself, and prepare him for the new arrangement. And lest he should turn suspicious, I threw all the blame on the priest, saying it was his idea, but that I had backed him up. Grindhusen had no objection; he saw at once it meant more work for us since we should have the well to dig in any case, and the bed for the pipes besides.

As luck would have it, the priest came out on Monday morning, and said to Grindhusen half jestingly:

“Your mate here and I have decided to have the well up on the hill, and lay down a pipe-line to the house. What do you think of it? A mad idea?”

Grindhusen thought it was a first-rate idea.

But when we came to talk it over, and went up all three to look at the site of the well, Grindhusen began to suspect I’d had more to do with it than I had said. We should have to lay the pipes deep down, he said, on account of the frost. . . .

“One metre thirty’s plenty,” I said.

. . . and that it would cost a great deal of money.

“Your mate here said about a couple of hundred Kroner in all,” answered the priest.

Grindhusen had no idea of estimates at all, and could only say:

“Well, well, two hundred Kroner’s a deal of money, anyway.”

I said:

“It will mean so much less in Aabot when you move.”

The priest looked at me in surprise.

Aabot? But I’m not thinking of leaving the place,” he said.

“Why, then, you’ll have the full use of it. And may your reverence live to enjoy it for many a year,” said I.

At this the priest stared at me, and asked:

“What is your name?”

“Knut Pedersen.”

“Where are you from?”

“From Nordland.”

But I understood why he had asked, and resolved not to talk in that bookish way any more.

Anyhow, the well and the pipe-line were decided on, and we set to work. . . .

The days that followed were pleasant enough. I was not a little anxious at first as to whether we should find water on the site, and I slept badly for some nights. But once that fear was past, all that remained was simple and straightforward work. There was water enough; after a couple of days we had to bale it out with buckets every morning. It was clay lower down, and our clothes were soon in a sorry state from the work.

We dug for a week, and started the next getting out stones to line the well. This was work we were both used to from the old days at Skreia. Then we put in another week digging, and by that time we had carried it deep enough. The bottom was soon so soft that we had to begin on the stonework at once, lest the clay walls should cave in on top of us.

So week after week passed, with digging and mining and mason’s work. It was a big well, and made a nice job; the priest was pleased with it. Grindhusen and I began to get on better together; and when he found that I asked no more than a fair labourer’s wage, though much of the work was done under my directions, he was inclined to do something for me in return, and took more care about his table manners. Altogether, I could not have wished for a happier time; and nothing on earth should ever persuade me to go back to town life again!

In the evenings I wandered about the woods, or in the churchyard reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, and thinking of this and that. Also, I was looking about for a nail from some corpse. I wanted a nail; it was a fancy of mine, a little whim. I had found a nice piece of birch-root that I wanted to carve to a pipe-bowl in the shape of a clenched fist; the thumb was to act as a lid, and I wanted a nail to set in, to make it specially lifelike. The ring finger was to have a little gold ring bent round.

Thinking of such trifles kept my mind calm and at ease. There was no hurry now for me about anything in life. I could dream as I pleased, having nothing else to do; the evenings were my own. If possible, too, I would see and arrive at some feeling of respect for the sacredness of the church and terror of the dead; I had still a memory of that rich mysticism from days now far, far behind, and wished I could have some share in it again. Now, perhaps, when I found that nail, there would come a voice from the tombs: “That is mine!” and I would drop the thing in horror, and take to my heels and run.

“I wish that vane up there wouldn’t creak so,” Grindhusen would say at times.

“Are you afraid?”

“Well, not properly afraid; no. But it gives you a creeping feeling now and then to think of all the corpses lying there so near.”

Happy man!

One day Harald showed me how to plant pine cones and little bushes. I’d no idea of that sort of work before; we didn’t learn it in the days when I was at school. But now I’d seen the way of it, I went about planting busily on Sundays; and, in return, I taught Harald one or two little things that were new to him at his age, and got to be friends with him.

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