Look Back on Happiness, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter XVII

Dear me, these human beings grow duller every day, and I see nothing in them that I have not known before. So I sink to the level of watching Solem’s increasing passion for Miss Torsen. But that too is familiar and dull.

Solem, after all the attention the ladies have paid him, has a delusion of greatness; he buys clothes and gilt watch chains for the money he earns, and on Sundays wears a white woolen pullover, though it is very warm; round his neck and over his chest lies a costly silk tie tied in a sailor’s knot. No one else is so smart as he, as he well knows; he sings as he crosses the farmyard, and considers no one too good for him now. Josephine objects to his loud singing, but Solem lad has grown so indispensable at the resort that he no longer obeys all orders. He has his own will in many things, and sometimes Paul himself takes a glass in his company.

Miss Torsen appears to have settled down. She is very busy with the lawyer, and makes him explain each and every angle he draws in his plans. Quite right of her, too, for undeniably the lawyer is the right man for her, a wit and a sportsman, well-to-do, rather simple-minded, strong-necked. At first Mrs. Molie seemed unable to reconcile herself to the constant companionship of these two in the living room, and she frequently had some errand that took her there; what was she after, Mrs. Molie, of the ice-blue teeth?

At last the lawyer finished his plans and was able to deliver them. He began to speak again about a certain peak of the Tore range which no one had yet climbed, and was therefore waiting to be conquered by him. Miss Torsen objected to this plan, and as she grew to know him better, begged him most earnestly not to undertake such a mad climb. So he promised with a smile to obey her wishes. They were in such tender agreement, these two!

But the blue peak still haunted the lawyer’s mind; he pointed it out to his lady, and smacked his lips, his eyes watering again.

“Gracious, it makes me dizzy just to look at it!” she said.

So the lawyer put his arm round her to steady her.

The sight was painful to Solem, whose eyes were continually on the pair. One day as we left the luncheon table, he approached Miss Torsen and said:

“I know another path; would you like to see it tonight?”

The lady was confused and a little embarrassed, and said at length:

“A path? No, thank you.”

She turned to the lawyer, and as they walked away together, she said:

“I never heard of such brazenness!”

“What got into him?” said the lawyer.

Solem went away, his teeth gleaming in a sneer.

That evening, Solem repeated the performance. He went up to Miss Torsen again and said:

“What about that path? Shall we go now?”

As soon as she saw him coming, she turned quickly and tried to elude him. But Solem did not hesitate to follow her.

“Now I’ve just got one thing to say,” she said, stopping. “If you’re insolent to me again, I’ll see that you’re driven off the farm. . . . ”

But it was not easy to drive Solem off the farm. After all, he was guide and porter to the tourists, and the only permanent laborer on the farm as well. And soon the hay would have to be brought in, and casual laborers would be engaged to work under him. No, Solem could not be driven off. Besides, the other ladies were on his side; the mighty Mrs. Brede alone could save him by a word. She held the Tore Peak resort in the palm of her hand.

Solem was not discharged; but he held himself in check and became a little more civil. He seemed to suffer as much as ever. Once at midday, as he was standing in the woodshed, I saw him make a scratch with the ax across the nail of his thumb.

“What on earth are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m just marking myself,” he replied, laughing gloomily. “When this scratch grows out —”

He stopped.

“What then?”

“Oh, I’ll be away from here then,” he said.

But I had the impression that he meant to say something different, so I probed further.

“Let me look. Well, it’s not a deep scratch; you won’t be here long then, will you?”

“Nails grow slowly,” he muttered.

Then he strolled away whistling, and I set about chopping wood.

A little later Solem returned across the farmyard with a cackling hen under his arm. He went to the kitchen window and called:

“This the kind of hen you want me to kill?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

Solem came back to the woodshed and asked me for the ax, as he wanted to behead a few hens. It was easy to see that he did everything on the farm; he was, hand and brain, indispensable.

He laid the hen on a block and took aim, but it was not easy, for she twisted her head like a snake and would not lie still. She had stopped cackling now.

“I can feel her heart jumping inside her,” said Solem.

Suddenly he saw his chance and struck. There lay the head; Solem still held the body, which jerked under his hand. The thing was done so quickly that the two sections of the bird were still one in my eyes; I could not grasp a separation so sudden and unbelievable, and it took my sight a second or two to overtake the event. Bewilderment was in the expression of this detached head, which looked as though it could not believe what had happened, and raised itself a little as if to show there was nothing the least bit wrong. Solem let the body go. It lay still for a moment, then kicked its legs, leaped to the ground and began to hop, the headless body reeling on one wing till it struck the wall and spattered blood in wide arcs before it fell at last.

“I let her go too soon after all,” said Solem.

Then he went off to fetch another hen.


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