The Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter X

Next day was fated to bring a great event. There came a visitor to the farm — Geissler came. It was not yet summer on the moors, but Geissler paid no heed to the state of the ground; he came on foot, in rich high boots with broad, shiny tops; yellow gloves, too, he wore, and was elegant to see; a man from the village carried his things.

He had come, as a matter of fact, to buy a piece of Isak’s land, up in the hills — a copper mine. And what about the price? Also, by the way, he had a message from Inger — good girl, every one liked her; he had been in Trondhjem, and seen her. Isak, you’ve put in some work here.”

“Ay, I dare say And you’ve seen Inger?”

“What’s that you’ve got over there? Built a mill of your own, have you? grind your own corn? Excellent. And you’ve turned up a good bit of ground since I was here last.”

“Is she well?”

“Eh? Oh, your wife! — yes, she’s well and fit. Let’s go in the next room. I’ll tell you all about it.”

“’Tis not in order,” put in Oline. Oline had her own reasons for not wishing them to go in.

They went into the little room nevertheless and closed the door. Oline stood in the kitchen and could hear nothing.

Geissler sat down, slapped his knee with a powerful hand, and there he was — master of Isak’s fate.

“You haven’t sold that copper tract yet?” he asked.


“Good. I’ll buy it myself. Yes, I’ve seen Inger and some other people too. She’ll be out before long, if I’m not greatly mistaken — the case has been submitted to the King.”

“The King?”

“The King, yes. I went in to have a talk with your wife — they managed it for me, of course, no difficulty about that — and we had a long talk. ‘Well, Inger, how are you getting on? Nicely, what?’ ‘Why, I’ve no cause to complain.’ ‘Like to be home again?’ ‘Ay, I’ll not say no.’ ‘And so you shall before very long,’ said I. And I’ll tell you this much, Isak, she’s a good girl, is Inger. No blubbering, not so much as a tear, but smiling and laughing . . . they’ve fixed up that trouble with her mouth, by the way — operation — sewed it up again. ‘Good-bye, then,’ said I. ‘You won’t be here very long, I’ll promise you that.’

“Then I went to the Governor — he saw me, of course, no difficulty about that. ‘You’ve a woman here,’ said I, ‘that ought to be out of the place, and back in her home — Inger Sellanraa.’ ‘Inger?’ said he; ‘why, yes. She’s a good sort — I wish we could keep her for twenty years,’ said he. ‘Well, you won’t,’ said I. ‘She’s been here too long already.’ ‘Too long?’ says he. ‘Do you know what she’s in for?’ ‘I know all about it,’ says I, ‘being Lensmand in the district.’ ‘Oh,’ says he, ‘won’t you sit down?’ Quite the proper thing to say, of course. ‘Why,’ says the Governor then, ‘we do what we can for her here, and her little girl too. So she’s from your part of the country, is she? We’ve helped her to get a sewing-machine of her own; she s gone through the workshops right to the top, and we’ve taught her a deal — weaving, household work, dyeing, cutting out. Been here too long, you say?’ Well, I’d got my answer ready for that all right, but it could wait, so I only said her case had been badly muddled, and had to be taken up again; now, after the revision of the criminal code, she’d probably have been acquitted altogether. And I told him about the hare. ‘A hare?’ says the Governor. ‘A hare,’ says I. ‘And the child was born with a hare-lip.’ ‘Oh,’ says he, smiling, ‘I see. And you think they ought to have made more allowance for that?’ ‘They didn’t make any at all,’ said I, ‘for it wasn’t mentioned.’ ‘Well, I dare say it’s not so bad, after all.’ ‘Bad enough for her, anyway.’ ‘Do you believe a hare can work miracles, then?’ says he. ‘As to that,’ said I, ‘whether a hare can work miracles or not’s a matter I won’t discuss just now. The question is, what effect the sight of a hare might have on a woman with her disfigurement, in her condition.’ Well, he thought over that for a bit.

‘H’m,’ says he at last. ‘Maybe, maybe. Anyhow, we’re not concerned with that here. All we have to do is to take over the people they send us; not to revise their sentences. And according to her sentence, Inger’s not yet finished her time.’

“Well, then, I started on what I wanted to say all along. ‘There was a serious oversight made in bringing her here to begin with,’ said I. ‘An over sight?’ ‘Yes. In the first place, she ought never to have been sent across the country at all in the state she was in.’ He looks at me stiffly. ‘No, that’s perfectly true,’ says he. ‘But it’s nothing to do with us here, you know.’ ‘And in the second place,’ said I, ‘she ought certainly not to have been in the prison for full two months without any notice taken of her condition by the authorities here.’ That put him out, I could see; he said nothing for quite a while. ‘Are you instructed to act on her behalf?” says he at last. ‘Yes, I am,’ said I. Well, then, he started on about how pleased they had been with her, and telling me over again all they’d taught her and done for her there — taught her to write too, he said. And the little girl had been put out to nurse with decent people, and so on. Then I told him how things were at home, with Inger away. Two youngsters left behind, and only a hired woman to look after them, and all the rest. ‘I’ve a statement from her husband,’ said I, ‘that I can submit whether the case be taken up for thorough revision, or an application be made for a pardon.’ ‘I’d like to see that statement,’ says the Governor. ‘Right,’ said I. ‘I’ll bring it along tomorrow in visiting hours.’”

Isak sat listening — it was thrilling to hear, a wonderful tale from foreign parts. He followed Geissler’s mouth with slavish eyes.

Geissler went on: “I went straight back to the hotel and wrote out a statement; did the whole thing myself, you understand, and signed it ‘Isak Sellanraa.’ Don’t imagine, though, I said a word against the way they’d managed things in the prison. Not a word. Next day I went along with the paper. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ says the Governor, the moment I got inside the door. He read through what I’d written, nodded here and there, and at last he says: ‘Very good, very good indeed. It’d hardly do, perhaps, to have the case brought up again for revision, but . . .’ ‘Wait a bit,’ said I. ‘I’ve an other document that I think will make it right.’ Had him there again, you see. ‘Well,’ he says, all of a hurry, ‘I’ve been thinking over the matter since yesterday, and I consider there’s good and sufficient grounds to apply for a pardon.’ ‘And the application would have the Governor’s support?’ I asked. ‘Certainly; yes, I’ll give it my best recommendation.’ Then I bowed and said: ‘In that case, there will be no difficulty about the pardon, of course. I thank you, sir, on behalf of a suffering woman and a stricken home.’ Then says he: ‘I don’t think there should be any need of further declarations — from the district, I mean — about her case. You know the woman yourself — that should be quite enough.’ I knew well enough, of course, why he wanted the thing settled quietly as possible, so I just agreed: said it would only delay the proceedings to collect further material. . . .

“And there you are, Isak, that’s the whole story.” Geissler looked at his watch. “And now let’s get to business. Can you go with me up to the ground again?”

Isak was a stony creature, a stump of a man; he did not find it easy to change the subject all at once; he was all preoccupied with thoughts and wondering, and began asking questions of this and that. He learned that the application had been sent up to the King, and might be decided in one of the first State Councils. “T’is all a miracle,” said he.

Then they went up into the hills; Geissler, his man, and Isak, and were out for some hours. In a very short time Geissler had followed the lie of the copper vein over a wide stretch of land and, marked out the limits of the tract he wanted. Here, there, and everywhere he was. But no fool, for all his hasty movements; quick to judge, but sound enough for all that.

When they came back to the farm once more with a sack full of samples of ore — he got out writing materials and sat down to write. He did not bury himself completely in his writing, though, but talked now and again. “Well, Isak, it won’t be such a big sum this time, for the land, but I can give you a couple of hundred Daler anyway, on the spot.”

Then he wrote again. “Remind me before I go, I want to see that mill of yours,” said he. Then he caught sight of some blue and red marks on the frame of the loom, and asked, “Who drew that?” Now that was Eleseus, had drawn a horse and a goat; he used his coloured pencil on the loom and woodwork anywhere, having no paper. “Not at all bad,” said Geissler, and gave Eleseus a coin.

Geissler went on writing for a bit, and then looked up. “You’ll be having other people taking up land hereabouts before long.”

At this the man with him spoke: “There’s some started already.”

“Ho! And who might that be?”

“Well, first, there’s the folk at Breidablik, as they call it — man Brede, at Breidablik.”

“Him — puh!” sniffed Geissler contemptuously.

“Then there’s one or two others besides, have bought.”

“Doubt if they’re any good, any of them,” said Geissler. And noticing at the same moment that there were two boys in the room, he caught hold of little Sivert and gave him a coin. A remarkable man was Geissler. His eyes, by the way, had begun to look soreish; there was a kind of redness at the edges. Might have been sleeplessness; the same thing comes at times from drinking of strong waters. But he did not look dejected at all; and for all his talking of this and that between times, he was thinking no doubt of his document all the while, for suddenly he picked up the pen and wrote a piece more.

At last he seemed to have finished.

He turned to Isak: “Well, as I said, it won’t make you a rich man all at once, this deal. But there may be more to come. We’ll fix it up so that you get more later on. Anyhow, I can give you two hundred now.”

Isak understood but little of the whole thing, but two hundred Daler was at any rate another miracle, and an unreasonable sum. He would get it on paper, of course, not paid in cash, but let that be. Isak had other things in his head just now.

“And you think she’ll be pardoned?” he asked.

“Eh? Ah, your wife! Well, if there’d been a telegraph office in the village, I’d have wired to Trondhjem and asked if she hadn’t been set free already.”

Isak had heard men speak of the telegraph; a wonderful thing, a string hung up on big poles, some thing altogether above the common earth. The mention of it now seemed to shake his faith in Geissler’s big words, and he put in anxiously: “But suppose the King says no?”

Said Geissler: “In that case, I send in my supplementary material, a full account of the whole affair. And then they must set her free. There’s not a shadow of doubt.”

Then he read over what he had written; the contract for purchase of the land. Two hundred Daler cash down, and later, a nice high percentage of receipts from working, or ultimate disposal by further sale, of the copper tract. “Sign your name here,” said Geissler.

Isak would have signed readily enough, but he was no scholar; in all his life he had got no farther than cutting initials in wood. But there was that hateful creature Oline looking on; he took up the pen — a beastly thing, too light to handle anyway — turned it right end down, and wrote — wrote his name. Whereupon Geissler added something, presumably an explanation, and the man he had brought with him signed as a witness.


But Oline was still there, standing immovable — it was indeed but now she had turned so stiff. What was to happen?

“Dinner on the table, Oline,” said Isak, possibly with a tough of dignity, after having signed his name in writing on a paper. “Such as we can offer,” he added to Geissler.

“Smells good enough,” said Geissler. “Sound meat and drink. Here, Isak, here’s your money!” Geissler took out his pocket-book — thick and fat it was, too — drew from it two bundles of notes and laid them down. “Count it over yourself.”

Not a movement, not a sound.

“Isak,” said Geissler again.

“Ay. Yes,” answered Isak, and murmured, overwhelmed, “’Tis not that I’ve asked for it, nor would — after all you’ve done.”

“Ten tens in that — should be, and twenty fives here,” said Geissler shortly. “And I hope there’ll be more than that by a long way for your share soon.”

And then it was that Oline recovered from her trance. The wonder had happened after all. She set the food on the table.

Next morning Geissler went out to the river to look at the mill. It was small enough, and roughly built; ay, a mill for dwarfs, for trollfolk, but strong and useful for a man’s work. Isak led his guest a little farther up the river, and showed him another fall he had been working on a bit; it was to turn a saw, if so be God gave him health. “The only thing,” he said, “it’s a heavy long way from school: I’ll have go get the lads to stay down in the village.” But Geissler, always so quick to find a way, saw nothing to worry about here. “There are more people buying and settling here now,” said he. “It won’t be long before there’s enough to start a school.”

“Ay, maybe, but not before my boys are grown.”

“Well, why not let them live on a farm down in the village? You could drive in with the boys and some food, and bring them up again three weeks — six weeks after; it would be easy enough for you, surely?”

“Ay, maybe,” said Isak.

Ay, all things would be easy enough, if Inger came home. House and land and food and grand things enough, and a big sum of money too he had, and his strength; he was hard as nails. Health and strength — ay, full and unspoiled, unworn, in every way, the health and strength of a man.

When Geissler had gone, Isak began thinking of many presumptuous things. Ay, for had not Geissler, that blessing to them all, said at parting that he would send a message very soon — would send a telegram as soon as ever he could. “You can call in at the post office in a fortnight’s time,” he had said. And that in itself was a wonderful thing enough. Isak set to work making a seat for the cart. A seat, of course, that could be taken off when using the cart for manure, but to be put in again when any one wanted to drive. And when he had got the seat made, it looked so white and new that it had to be painted darker. As for that, there were things enough that had to be done! The whole place wanted painting, to begin with. And he had been thinking for years past of building a proper barn with a bridge, to house in the crop. He had thought, too, of getting that saw set up and finished; of fencing in all his cultivated ground; of building a boat on the lake up in the hills. Many things he had thought of doing. But hard as he worked, unreasonably hard — what did it help against time? Time — it was the time that was too short. It was Sunday before he knew, and then directly after, lo it was Sunday again!

Paint he would, in any case; that was decided and emphatic. The buildings stood there grey and hare — stood there like houses in their shirt sleeves.

There was time yet before the busy season; the spring was hardly begun yet; the young things were out, but there was frost in the ground still.

Isak goes down to the village, taking with him a few score of eggs for sale, and brings back paint. There was enough for one building, for the barn, and it was painted red. He fetches up more paint, yellow ochre this time, for the house itself. “Ay, ’tis as I said, here’s going to be fine and grand,” grumbles Oline every day. Ay, Oline could guess, no doubt, that her time at Sellanraa would soon be up; she was tough and strong enough to bear it, though not without bitterness. Isak, on his part, no longer sought to settle up old scores with her now, though she pilfered and put away things lavishly enough toward’ the end. He made her a present of a young wether; after all, she had been with him a long time, and worked for little pay. And Oline had not been so bad with the children; she was not stern and strictly righteous and that sort of thing, but had a knack of dealing with children: listened to what they said, and let them do more or less as they pleased. If they came round while she was making cheese, she would give them a bit to taste; if they begged to be let off washing their faces one Sunday, she would let them off.

When Isak had given his walls a first coat, he went down to the village again and brought up all the paint he could carry. Three coats he put on in all, and white on the window-frames and corners. To come back now and look at his home there on the hillside, it was like looking at a fairy palace. The wilderness was inhabited and unrecognizable, a blessing had come upon it, life had arisen there from a long dream, human creatures lived there, children played about the houses. And the forest stretched away, big and kindly, right up to the blue heights.

But the last time Isak went down for paint, the storekeeper gave him a blue envelope with a crest on, and 5 skilling to pay. It was a telegram which had been forwarded by post, and was from Lensmand Geissler. A blessing on that man Geissler, wonderful man that he was! He telegraphed these few words, that Inger was free, “Home soonest possible: Geissler.” And at this the store took to whirling curiously round and round; the counter and the people in the shop were suddenly far away. Isak felt rather than heard himself saying, “Herregud!“ and “Praise and thanks to God.”

“She might be here no later than tomorrow the day,” said the storekeeper, “if so be she’s left Trondhjem in time.”

“Ho!” said Isak.

He waited till the next day. The carrier came up with letters, from the landing-stage where the steamer put in, but no Inger. “Then she won’t be here now till next week,” the storekeeper said.

Almost as well, after all, that there was time to wait — Isak has many things to do. Should he forget himself altogether, and neglect his land? He sets off home again and begins carting out manure. It is soon done. He sticks a crowbar into the earth, noting how the frost disappears from day to day. The sun is big and strong now, the snow is to graze. Isak ploughs one day, and a few days later he is sowing corn, planting potatoes. Ho, the youngsters too, planting potatoes like angels; blessed little hands they have, and what can their father do but watch?

Then Isak washes out the cart down by the river, and puts the seat in. Talks to the lads about a little journey; he must have a little journey down to the village.

“But aren’t you going to walk?”

“Not today. I’ve took into my head to go down with horse and cart today.”:

“Can’t income too?”

“You’ve got to be good boys, and stay at home this time. Your own mother’ll be coming very soon, and she’ll learn you a many things.”

Eleseus is all for learning things; he asks: “Father, when you did that writing on the paper — what does it feel like?”

“Why, ’tis hardly to feel at all; just like a bit of nothing in the hand.”

“But doesn’t it slip, like on the ice?”

“What slip?”

“The pen thing, that you write with?”

“Ay, there’s the pen. But you have to learn to steer it, you’ll see.”

But little Sivert he was of another mind, and said nothing about pens; he wanted to ride in the cart; just to sit up on the seat before the horse was put in, and drive like that, driving ever so fast in a cart without a horse. And it was all his doing that father let them both sit up and ride with him a long way down the road.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55