Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter IX

The well was finished, the trench was dug, and the man had come to lay the pipes. He chose Grindhusen to help him with the work, and I was set to cutting a way for the pipes up from the cellar through the two floors of the house.

Fruen came down one day when I was busy in the cellar. I called out to her to mind the hole in the floor; but she took it very calmly.

“There’s no hole there now, is there?” she asked, pointing one way. “Or there?” But at last she missed her footing after all, and slipped down into the hole where I was. And there we stood. It was not light there anyway; and for her, coming straight in from the daylight outside, it must have seemed quite dark. She felt about the edge, and said:

“Now, how am I to get up again?”

I lifted her up. It was no matter to speak of; she was slight of figure, for all she had a big girl of her own.

“Well, I must say. . . . ” She stood shaking the earth from her dress. “One, two, three, and up! — as neatly as could be. . . . Look here, I’d like you to help me with something upstairs one day, will you? I want to move some things. Only we must wait till a day when my husband’s over at the annexe; he doesn’t like my changing things about. How long will it be before you’ve finished all there is to do here?”

I mentioned a time, a week or thereabout.

“And where are you going then?”

“To the farm just by. Grindhusen’s fixed it up for us to go and dig potatoes there. . . . ”

Then came the work in the kitchen; I had to saw through the floor there. Frøken Elisabeth came in once or twice while I was there; it could hardly have been otherwise, seeing it was the kitchen. And for all her dislike of me, she managed to say a word or two, and stand looking at the work a little.

“Only fancy, Oline,” she said to the maid, “when it’s all done, and you’ll only have to turn on a tap.”

But Oline, who was old, did not look anyways delighted. It was like going against Providence, she said, to go sending water through a pipe right into the house. She’d carried all the water she’d a use for these twenty years; what was she to do now?

“Take a rest,” said I.

“Rest, indeed! We’re made to work, I take it, not to rest.”

“And sew things against the time you get married,” said Frøken Elisabeth, with a smile.

It was only girlish talk, but I was grateful to her for taking a little part in the talk with us, and staying there for a while. And heavens, how I did try to behave, and talk smartly and sensibly, showing off like a boy. I remember it still. Then suddenly Frøken Elisabeth seemed to remember it wasn’t proper for her to stay out here with us any longer, and so she went.

That evening I went up to the churchyard, as I had done so many times before, but seeing Frøkenen already there, I turned away, and took myself off into the woods. And afterwards I thought: now she will surely be touched by my humility, and think: poor fellow, he showed real delicacy in that. And the next thing, of course, was to imagine her coming after me. I would get up from the stone where I was sitting, and give a greeting. Then she would be a little embarrassed, and say: “I was just going for a walk — it’s such a lovely evening — what are you doing here?” “Just sitting here,” say I, with innocent eyes, as if my thoughts had been far away. And when she hears that I was just sitting there in the late of the evening, she must realize that I am a dreamer and a soul of unknown depth, and then she falls in love with me. . . .

She was in the churchyard again the following evening, and a thought of high conceit flew suddenly into my mind: it was myself she came to see! But, watching her more closely, I saw that she was busy, doing something about a grave, so it was not me she had come for. I stole away up to the big ant-heap in the wood and watched the insects as long as I could see; afterwards, I sat listening to the falling cones and clusters of rowan berries. I hummed a tune, and whispered to myself and thought; now and again I had to get up and walk a little to get warm. The hours passed, the night came on, and I was so in love I walked there bare-headed, letting myself be stared out of all countenance by the stars.

“How’s the time?” Grindhusen might ask when I came back to the barn.

“Just gone eleven,” I would say, though it might be two or three in the morning.

“Huh! And a nice time to be coming to bed. Fansmagt! Waking folk up when they’ve been sleeping decently!”

And Grindhusen turns over on the other side, to fall asleep again in a moment. There was no trouble with Grindhusen.

Eyah, it’s over-foolish of a man to fall in love when he’s getting on in years. And who was it set out to show there was a way to quiet and peace of mind?

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