Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter VIII

And all might have been well if it had not been for Frøkenen, the daughter of the house. I grew fonder of her every day. Her name was Elischeba, Elisabeth. No remarkable beauty, perhaps; but she had red lips, and a blue, girlish glance that made her pretty to see. Elischeba, Elisabeth — a child at the first dawn of life, with eyes looking out upon the world. She spoke one evening with young Erik from the neighbouring gaard, and her eyes were full of sweetness and of something ripening.

It was all very well for Grindhusen. He had gone ravening after the girls when he was young, and he still spanked about with his hat on one side, out of habit. But he was quiet and tame enough now, as well he might be —’tis nature’s way. But some there are who would not follow nature’s way, and be tamed; and how shall it fare with them at last? And then there was little Elisabeth; and she was none so little after all, but as tall as her mother. And she’d her mother’s high breast.

Since that first Sunday they had not asked me in to coffee in the kitchen, and I took care myself they should not, but kept out of the way. I was still ashamed of the recollection. But then, at last, in the middle of the week, one of the maids came with a message that I was not to go running off into the woods every Sunday afternoon, but come to coffee with the rest. Fruen herself had said so.

Good!

Now, should I put on my best clothes or not? No harm, perhaps, in letting that young lady get into her head that I was one who had chosen to turn my back upon the life of cities, and taken upon myself the guise of a servant, for all I was a man of parts, that could lay on water to a house. But when I had dressed, I felt myself that my working clothes were better suited to me now; I took off my best things again, and hid them carefully in my bag.

But, as it happened, it was not Frøkenen at all who received me on that Sunday afternoon, but Fruen. She talked to me for quite a while, and she had spread a little white cloth under my cup.

“That trick of yours with the egg is likely to cost us something before we’ve done with it,” said Fruen, with a kindly laugh. “The boy’s used up half a dozen eggs already.”

I had taught Harald the trick of passing a hard boiled egg with the shell off through the neck of a decanter, by thinning the air inside. It was about the only experiment in physics that I knew.

“But that one with breaking the stick in the two paper loops was really interesting,” Fruen went on. “I don’t understand that sort of thing myself, but. . . . When will the well be done?”

“The well is done. We’re going to start on the trench tomorrow.”

“And how long will that take to do?”

“About a week. Then the man can come and lay the pipes.”

“No! really?”

I said my thanks and went out. Fruen had a way she had kept, no doubt, from earlier years; now and again she would glance at one sideways, though there was nothing the least bit artful in what she said. . . .

Now the woods showed a yellowing leaf here and there, and earth and air began to smell of autumn. Only the fungus growths were now at their best, shooting up everywhere, and flourishing fine and thick on woolly stems — milk mushrooms, and the common sort, and the brown. Here and there a toadstool thrust up its speckled top, flaming its red all unashamed. A wonderful thing! Here it is growing on the same spot as the edible sorts, fed by the same soil, given sun and rain from heaven the same as they; rich and strong it is, and good to eat, save, only, that it is full of impertinent muscarin. I once thought of making up a fine old story about the toadstool, and saying I had read it in a book.

It has always been a pleasure to me to watch the flowers and insects in their struggle to keep alive. When the sun was hot they would come to life again, and give themselves up for an hour or so to the old delight; the big, strong flies were just as much alive as in midsummer. There was a peculiar sort of earth-bug here that I had not seen before — little yellow things, no bigger than a small-type comma, yet they could jump several thousand times their own length. Think of the strength of such a body in proportion to its size! There is a tiny spider here with its hinder part like a pale yellow pearl. And the pearl is so heavy that the creature has to clamber up a stalk of grass back downwards. When it comes upon an obstacle the pearl cannot pass, it simply drops straight down and starts to climb another. Now, a little pearl-spider like that is not just a spider and no more. If I hold out a leaf towards it to help it to its footing on a floor, it fumbles about for a while on the leaf, and thinks to itself: “H’m, something wrong about this!” and backs away again, refusing to be in any way entrapped on to a floor. . . .

Some one calls me by name from down in the wood. It is Harald; he has started a Sunday school with me. He gave me a lesson out of Pontoppidan to learn, and now I’m to be heard. It is touching to be taught religion now as I should have taught it myself when I was a child.

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