The Road Leads On, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter Six

District-Doctor Lund was acquainted with a number of the working men; he had cared for several of them and each and all now touched their caps in civil greeting. A subduing wind seemed to sweep over the entire gang when their eyes fell upon the doctor’s lady; they removed their hats to the last man and those furthest away leaned toward one another and whispered: “Say, just get a good look at her!” Fru Lund herself stood staring after Altmulig who was busy over at the tool-chest.

“Do you notice whom that man looks like?” she asked.

“Who — he? But that must be the foreman,” the doctor replied.

“He looks so like — he looks like —”

“Yes, my dear, but what earthly difference does it make!”

The doctor turned to converse with the workmen; he spoke with his patient, the man from Trondhjem. “Where was it you were pitched over the wall?” he asked. He was shown the spot and he shook his head: “It might have gone far more seriously with you than it did,” he remarked.

Fru Lund makes her way over to the tool-chest where Altmulig is busy with something. She looks at him for a time, then says softly:

“Good-day, August!”

Altmulig glances up, peers carefully about him and makes no reply.

“Isn’t your name August?”

“What my name is — they call me Altmulig here.”

“I recognized you,” says Fru Lund. Altmulig begins pawing about in the tool-chest.

Fru Lund: “Don’t you want me to recognize you?”

“Leave things alone! I’m not the kind of man you should know.”

“Hahaha,” she laughs. “My name is Esther — don’t you remember me from Polden?”

Altmulig, uneasily: “Don’t let the doctor — I mean don’t let everybody — but anyway don’t let the doctor hear what you say!”

“Karsten, come here! Here’s an old friend of ours!”

The doctor was no less interested than she. He too recognized August, shook his hand warmly and laughed because the fellow had wished to shield his identity. They spoke for a long time together and August remarked that it was not pleasant to be reminded of his days in Polden — he had not been all he ought to have been, whilst there.

“How so, how so?” asked the doctor. “You acted in all justice and decency toward everyone up there.”

“That’s one thing I certainly did not!”

“Oh yes, that is to say, Paulina — wasn’t her name Paulina?”

“It was,” said his wife.

“Yes, she cleared up everything for you. Moreover, with your own money. You don’t owe a soul any money. Didn’t you know that?”

“No. I don’t know anything about it. My own money, did you say?”

“So you never knew about that! And there was loads of it left over, too, I have heard.”

August, kindling: “So they got the factory going at last, perhaps?”

“Why, where have you been all this time?” asked the doctor. “The factory? That I really do not know. Was it a factory, Esther?”

“Yes. You had stock in it yourself, but you got your money back. Don’t you remember?”

“They sold it then, perhaps?” asked August. “But that was stupid. If I had been there, they would never have done that. It was a good factory as I remember. Steel beams inside and an iron roof.”

“Yes, and you won a goodly sum of money,” said the doctor. “In a lottery or whatever it was. Esther, you know more about it than I do, don’t you?”

“Yes, a large sum of money. Paulina took care of it for you.”

“Hm,” said August.

The doctor glanced at his watch. “We must be going. I have office hours beginning at four. Come over and see us, August, and we’ll tell you all we know. I remember how we used to have a chat or two back in the old days. It’s splendid to see you again. Why, great Scott, to think you never knew anything about it! Was it as frightfully long ago as all that? How long ago can it have been, Esther? Well well, no matter. Have you been down in South America again, August? Drop over and see us real soon; we have two boys, and they’ll certainly be interested to hear you.”

Both the doctor and his wife gave August their hands and departed.

The workmen had been burning with curiosity and they now undertook to ask their boss a question or two. And the boss himself — no, how could he deny it, they were old acquaintances of his, friends of his younger days when he had been something of a man! The old codger had been lifted back into the sun, he had got his name back, he was August, a human being again, he could look in the mirror and recognize his face once more. How long ago it all seemed! It really might have been only a dream. Oh yes, they had been very dear friends of his, his best friends, in fact. . . .

“The Fru as well?” they asked.

“The Fru? That Esther, you mean? She’s sat on my lap more than once. Why, I’m her godfather.”

“She’s as pretty as a picture!”

“It was me more than anyone else who was responsible for getting her married to the doctor.”

“How’s that, didn’t he want her?”

“Oh yes, I suppose he did. But just the same, I had to step in and fix things for them.”

Francis: “Then I suppose it was that he got next to her too soon, eh?”

Adolf: “God, Francis, but you are a swine! She wasn’t that kind!”

“No,” corroborated August. “In that direction, she was like the finest lady in silk and gold.”

“How funny it can go,” the men said. “Here you run into them again!”

“Such you may say and be right! Naturally I’ve known right along that they were here, but I didn’t want to give myself away to them.”

“Why not, Boss?”

“It just wasn’t right. I was not up to their level.”

“Oh, you’re all right!” they said to encourage him.

August waved the suggestion aside. “Now?” he flared. “No, now I’m nothing at all. But it was another matter in my younger days. An enormous factory — hundreds of men working for me.”

“No, is that right?”

“I say no more,” mumbled August and resumed his pawing about in the tool-chest.

The meeting with the doctor and his wife had brought August back to himself and given him something to occupy his mind. He had money left over, they had said; all his debts in Polden had been paid up and there was money left over. Wonder where it is, he mused. To be sure he had not exactly been on his knees before; Segelfoss had been a cosy haven after his many wanderings — board and lodging from the very beginning and now at last a goodly sum of money given him by the chief. But what did such things amount to for a man of August’s South American background! After sending the last postal money order abroad — oh, there had been so many of these and no country had been forgotten — he had had little enough money left. Some of it had also gone for a bit of red and green dress material for that Valborg from Øira for the reason that her husband, Jørn Mathildesen had lain abjectly on the ground at his feet and begged for it. A bit more had gone to buy a horse for Tobias who had had a fire. One thing after another, and the money had leaked through his fingers; some of it he had lost at cards. At cards? Ay, cards had taken their toll. And is that to be wondered at? Was there anyone who could reasonably expect that August would be unfamiliar with and deeply opposed to gaming and speculation? Wager and win, risk it and lose it, throw in another stake, keep the pot boiling, play. . . .

He had fallen so innocently into the game. The gardener Steffen and a few of the small dealers from town had formed the habit of dropping into his room of an evening, and what better form of amusement could they have hit upon? This old handy-man on the place had traveled far and wide and, good Heavens, what those eyes of his had not seen in the way of people and birds and business and champions and kinds of trees and mountain ranges! Wild, wild, no sense of order or proportion to his recollections! And the Gypsy, Otto Alexander had also been a frequent visitor — he would call on the evenings when he was able to get out of smoking salmon with Gammelmoderen.

One evening when they are all sitting there together the Gypsy lets those keen eyes of his range about the room. At length they fall upon a ponderous tome and beside it on the shelf a miniature volume.

Thus it all began.

“What kind of a book is that, Altmulig?” he asks, regarding the larger.

“A Russian Bible,” replies August.

“Let us see it!” they all said.

August adjusts his pince-nez and exhibits the Bible to his guests, directs their particular attention to the full leather binding and the brass corners. “I don’t want that you shall handle it with any old hands,” he says and begins turning the pages reverently. Occasionally he pauses to cross himself and occasionally he turns the book to impress the others with the remarkable characters in which it is printed.

“Can you read that thing?” they ask.

August smiles benignly and indicates that it would be the very least of his tricks to read the book from cover to cover.

“But why a Russian Bible?”

“There’s more power in it,” said August.

“How more power? How do you mean?”

“It’s to lay your hand on when you take an oath. Our Bibles are no good for that. And you can bind and absolve with this one.”

They talked a bit about that. August was full of secrets regarding the power of his Bible to “bind and absolve,” but he had with his own eyes seen how great this power was.

“Will you sell it?” asks one of the small dealers. Oh that picayune soul, he was thinking of reselling the holy book at a profit! Heavens, what an unscrupulous fellow!

August wound up the conversation with high ceremony: here now he had this Russian Bible, and never so long as he lived would he let it out of his possession.

The Gypsy again ransacks the room with that piercing gaze of his. “And that little book there, what kind of a thing is that? Well, I’ll be — I mean —”

“That’s a prayer book,” August answers.

“It’s a deck of cards!” corrects the Gypsy, reaching up on the shelf.

There lay the deck in full sight and handy for use, so there was nothing odd in the fact that the Gypsy had discovered it and picked it up in his hand.

“Quit handling everything you can lay your hands on in here!” said August.

“A deck of cards!” the Gypsy repeated.

August: “Impossible! I don’t own any stuff like that. Is it witchcraft? I had a prayer book up there on the shelf, and now it’s gone, and a deck of cards lies there in its place!”

“Hahaha!” they all laughed. “Let’s try out the cards,” they said. “Come on, Altmulig, deal them out!”

August crossed himself: “I won’t dirty my hands with them!”

So they began playing without him whilst he stood looking on. They took out their small change and played for this, they won and lost, August looking on; they waxed eager, they swore loudly and became excited, one of the party threw down a whole krone. . . .

“I can just as well take a hand or two,” said August.

His money seemed to have wings; one krone after another found its way into someone else’s pocket. At first he sat there as unwillingly as he could make it seem, the expression on his face one of the utmost piety. He was forever hesitant to handle such a filthy thing as money and often he would leave his winnings in the pot for the next deal — double! — it was as though these fellows had dragged him by the hair into this miserable game for kroner and øre in which he was not the least bit interested. But the others were full of excitement, slapped their cards down on the table and their profanity had by this time exceeded all reasonable bounds. August stuck in some money, hesitantly.

“You lose,” they said.

“Do you think that is losing?” he replied. “Ho, that’s giving away money. Let the gift go!”

In one respect he was most austere: they were not to sit there chattering and holding up the game. He did not look, as he sat there, like one who would blow out his brains as soon as his money ran out — no, no, it was the game, the game itself which fascinated him. He nodded his head with vehement pleasure whenever the game was fast and close and he had begun to reach out his hands after the cards even before they were passed out by the dealer.

“There you lose again,” they said.

“A gift! Let it go, let it go!”

“Hadn’t you better cross yourself?” they asked, teasingly. “And what good to you is that Russian Bible of yours now?” they asked.

Oh those fools, those ninnies, they thought he minded the few coins he was losing, that he was worried and that he would go and jump over the falls the moment he should be broke. They doubled themselves up with laughter and joy each time they won a krone from him and could slip it into their vest pockets. Then August laid his hands on the cards without looking at them, placed two old hands over the deck and prayed unobserved. Ay, unobserved.

His luck changed and he won a few hands. This made him reckless and his old eyes blazed feverishly in his head. Call or double! he prayed again unseen.

They looked at each other, shook their heads and threw down their cards.

“Call or double!” he challenged the Gypsy.

The Gypsy accepted the challenge and picked up his cards again, picked up one card too many and like lightning threw down another.

“That’s cheating!” the others cried. “Give that one back!”

August, alone whom the act concerned, said nothing. The Gypsy’s swarthy face was unusually pale and his mouth had begun to tremble.

When it was seen that August had lost, the others again cried out: “Ay, but Otto here cheated! You fellows should have thrown in your hands and let us in on a new deal. You picked up a jack and threw down a seven-spot,” they said to the Gypsy.

“I would have won without that jack,” said the Gypsy.

They disputed the point for a time, August paid up without opening his mouth, but that was the end of the game.

One of the merchants tried to sneak off with the deck when he left, but August halted him. “Come on with that deck of cards!” he said.

“But you said it wasn’t yours, didn’t you?”

“Come on with that deck of cards!” August repeated. . . .

Small happenings, trivial disagreements, but they continued to play of an evening. Others dropped in for a game; one evening Jørn Mathildesen dropped in. He never had a penny to his name but August gave him a krone to keep watch outside the door and to tap on the window were any of the road gang to be seen approaching. Instinct and experience had taught August never to play cards with those working for him.

He lost and won and lost again. Now and then it would go hard with him and he would be forced to lay out a whole banknote, but he would never allow it to be understood that such had fazed him. On the contrary, he preferred to create the impression that these evening games were for him but a pleasant diversion. Of late he had begun to give serious consideration to a couple of the postal money orders he had sent abroad. Heavens, but they had cost him a pretty penny, it seemed, now that he had but a slender remnant of that tidy sum he had received. But a remnant it was, for all that — and what could he do with a remnant? What better way of using it than simply to gamble it away!

One evening after supper, he took a stroll over to the doctor’s place where he was warmly received, and regally entertained. Doctor Lund had already spoken to the magistrate regarding the sum of money August had up in Polden. It had possibly been deposited to his account in a bank up in Bodø or Trondhjem. It had already been sent for —

“You’re a lucky man to have money drop into your hands from out of the sky in days like these.”

“How much do you suppose there is?”

The doctor didn’t know and all his wife had heard talk of back home in her native village was that it had been a large sum.

August fell to chatting with Fru Lund about Poldeners, living and dead. Now and then she had received a letter full of news from her mother.

He inquired after Edevart.


“Edevart Andreasen. You know him.”

Oh, but he had been dead these past twenty years — didn’t August know anything about anyone? Edevart had gone sailing north to overtake August when the latter had fled from Polden. Alone in an open boat in the teeth of a gale from the south-west. He was lost. He had even borrowed the mail-boat. Well, that had been fifteen years ago, at least.

August is silent and thoughtful for a long time, then he speaks as though talking to himself: “Ay, it was the devil and all that he had to die.”

The doctor’s two sons came into the room; perhaps they had been told things in advance, for they sat right down and began listening. But as nothing was said of South America and robber bands they stayed but a short time.

“And Paulina, she’s still alive and doing business in that little store of hers,” Fru Lund went on. “And Ane Maria is still alive, but old Karolus is dead. And Ezra is a wealthy farmer with land galore. And Seine-owner Gabrielsen —”

August: “I am mindful to ask if those little spruce trees of mine are still living and growing?”

“I really don’t know,” said Fru Lund. However, she appeared touched, so possibly she knew very well what had happened to those Christmas trees of August’s.

And the factory down by the fjord and the fine houses he had built there in Polden and the fish rocks he had ordered cleared of turf that they might be used as a drying grounds —

The two boys again entered the room and sat down to listen. No change, only more tedious talk about Polden.

The doctor asked: “About yourself, August, have you been down to South America lately?”


“Well, where were you last?”

“Last? Ay, it was Latvia, I believe. It isn’t so easy for me to remember all the countries I’ve visited. I’ve been in so many cities, hundreds of different climates —”

Ah, now he’s off! the boys must have thought to themselves.

“Yes, you’ve been through a lot in your day,” said the Doctor. “How were things in Latvia?”

“Latvia, Esthonia, Lithuania — all those Baltic states — in fact, the Baltic Sea itself —”


August repeated his ancient hatred for the Baltic Sea: “It’s more treacherous than a Bengal tiger and it’s not fit to sail on. Just a filthy cesspool! And it’s drying up, too, did you know?”

The two lads laughed aloud and were now certain that August was off on one of his yarns. But nothing more came of their hopes. No, neither the doctor nor his wife were able to pry a yarn or even a full-fledged lie out of August any more. He was no longer August of Polden; he was an old man now, and religious into the bargain.

Fru Lund: “What is it they call you here at Segelfoss? I heard the name some time ago, but I never realized that it could be you. Aren’t you going to call yourself August any more?”

“Ay, August is, of course, my Christian name. But Altmulig is my every-day title here. It was me myself who told the chief to set me down as an altmuligmand.”

“That chief of yours is quite a man, isn’t he?”

“The chief?” August cried. “Say, there isn’t a more remarkable fellow to be found in this world. I’ve been inside his private office and he can look through three thick ledgers at once and keep right on talking to me. I’ve seen it with my own eyes!”

The doctor: “That road up the mountain is going to cost him a pretty penny, isn’t it?”

“Ay, it’s a real road we are building.”

“When will it be completed?”

“That’s for the Lord to decide. We’re working on it as hard as we can. The chief has placed this trust in me and given me a big gang of workmen to put it through.”

Sound entertainment was now out of the question and the small boys left the room for good.

The doctor: “What was I going to say, August? I saw you on the street one day talking with the daughter of old Tobias. Do you know her?”

August did not answer immediately; he blushed and appeared somewhat bashful. “How’s that? — Do I know her? No. Hm, so you saw us, eh?”

“There’s a family that’s always in trouble.”

August: “I understood as much from her. She was complaining to me.”

“One misfortune after another in their lives. Now they’ve lost their horse. Their house burned down and that looked bad enough, but now it seems as though they will have to whistle for the insurance money.”

August shook his head.

“Nothing seems to succeed for them. They had a grown-up son. He never came home from Lofoten. They have a half-grown youngster left and the rest are all girls.”

August offered no comment. Yes, he had become a tiresome old man.

“Well well,” said the doctor. “When your money arrives, we’ll look you up under the name of Altmulig. Never fear, we’ll look you up.”

After the departure of the doctor, Fru Lund gave free play to her tongue. That gorgeous creature! Why, it almost seemed as though something were troubling her mind and that she was desirous of unburdening her soul to someone who would understand. The strain seemed to increase and her mouth began to tremble. August could not control his amazement. That Esther who had always seemed so clever and sensible, who had married herself a doctor, whom God had elevated to the status of “Fru”— see there, she had taken to tears!

It appeared that the cause of her outburst had been August, who in her mind was a symbol for Polden. “I am mindful to know,” he had said. That had sounded so sweet to her ears, for such was the speech of her native village. And did he remember the song about the girl who had jumped in the sea? Oh, but he should remember, for there were others, too, who might like to do the same. . . . “It’s so nice to hear you using the words of our village, August, for I’ve not heard them for many a year. But you’ve forgotten everything, haven’t you? Don’t you remember Polden, August? That father and mother of mine, they’re still alive. You remember them, don’t you? My mother, she was that Ragna, you know — that Ragna! And Johanna, that sister of mine who went south with the pastor and his family? She’s married now to a baker and they have a large bakery with many men. And that Roderik, my brother, the mail carrier? You had him to work for you when you were building that factory of yours, and you lent him the money to build him a house and all that. But you never mention any of them. But you can talk dialect, like I can, and I was so touched when those words came into your mouth. I had almost forgotten those spruce plants of yours, but then you said: ‘I’m mindful to ask if those little spruce trees of mine are still living and growing.’ That’s just the way you said it, and Herregud! I could hardly keep back the tears. They were planted along the south side of the house and the whole house is so tiny, and mother she sits there on the doorstep, and at home there is only one window with such wee tiny panes, but everything so neat and clean. She wanted to give me that cape which Roderik had bought for just herself alone —” The doctor’s wife sobbed aloud.

August sat there, scared out of his wits and gazing about uneasily.

“No, he has gone,” Fru Esther says. “He has left me to myself. He was kind and left me to myself. . . . ”

She continued to speak about Polden, mentioned the pretty little footpath leading down to the boathouses, mentioned the brook where the women used to wash their clothes — it was so pretty with its flat projecting stones on which one could go hopping along. . . . There sat the doctor’s lady, but now she was that Esther once more, a romping youngster, hungry, barefoot and in rags, but happier than she had ever been since those days. Oh, didn’t he remember the song they all had used to sing? Ay, the girl, she had jumped in the sea! Surely he could believe her, for she knew every word of the song by heart.

The good lady was anything but fortunate in the matter of her audience. Were it homesickness which was burdening her soul and were it a word of comfort she was yearning for, she could not possibly have found a less sympathetic creature than August, who had never had a home in this world and who did not even have common sense enough to realize this lack of his life. He, a mere vagabond, a sterile knockabout, who had dragged his roots behind him from land to land, and who had never known a different mode of living! Never a father and mother, never a table at which he could sit as one of the family, never a grave to care for, never a hymn for his homeland booming with God’s voice within his breast. Only a machine, constructed as an instrument of progress, of industry, of business, of mechanics, of money. A life, but not a soul. The happiest days of his youth had been squandered upon the sea to which he had long belonged. But Fru Lund was not a sailor and lacked all power to interest him.

She might have told herself that, in her present dilemma, this fellow had nothing to offer her, but she was easily contented and she continued to pour forth her soul to him. The mere fact that he had once been in Polden, had lived in a house in Polden, was enough for her; she leaned toward him because he was a friend from the dear days of her youth. “I am mindful to ask —” in those words lay the every-day speech of Polden, the very throb of Polden’s heart.

She was not unaware of the fact that he was unable to see through to her plight, that he merely pitied her objectively, but she kept right on, none the less. “I’ve not been home once since I came here,” she told him.

This amazed him far less than the other things she had mentioned but, even so, he managed to blurt out: “And only a couple of days’ journey north from here! That’s funny!”

“Ay, that’s the way it is with me here. Never been home! But what brought you here to Segelfoss?”

“Who, me?”

“As for me, I came here because my husband brought me here,” she went on. “But I hate it here, everything about the place. Here there are too many grand people for me. I can’t play the piano or do anything else. And if it weren’t for the boys, I should certainly find myself running away.”

“You don’t mean that, do you?”

“Home to Polden, and stay there.”

“For good?” he cried. “No, you want to get away! And to Polden?”

“I’m so sad here in Segelfoss. You can’t understand it, but I’m just like a crow cast in with a flock of grand peacocks.”

“No, no, no! So you’d like to get away! And you, the prettiest of them all. Well I never —”

“That isn’t it,” she said. “No, you’ll never understand. It isn’t a question of being a tiny bit pretty in the face — although I know now that that’s the only reason he took me. No, it isn’t that. And now I can’t sleep nights again, and I can’t get hold of any drops.”

“Can’t you get all the drops you like?”

“No. He refuses me.”

“I can get drops for you,” says August. “I’m well known down at the drugstore.”

The lady shakes her head: “I don’t dare take them any more. Once I did, but he found out about it. It isn’t that he is cross when I ask him; he just says no, they’re not good for me. You see, August, that’s the way it goes when a man marries beneath him and I should never have allowed him to do it. That’s the reason why he moved down here to Segelfoss — he didn’t want my mother and father to visit us in our home, and there isn’t much more I can say about that. But that’s what I mean when I tell you I’m a crow in with a flock of peacocks. That’s why he scolds me and nags at me and worries himself sick. We get books from a book-club we belong to. But I’m no person for books and such-like. Oh, but my mother was a great one to read — she knew everything in books both inside and outside of school. But he comes to me with this or that book I’m to read. Ay, and I read it and I understand most of what’s written in it, but when he asks me questions about it, I always find out that it was only the worst and the most unimportant parts I have carried away in my mind — not the real bone and marrow. And that’s the way it goes in everything. Once he sat up in bed and before I knew what he was saying he ordered me to turn away from him. I leaned over to look him in the face. —‘Turn over, do you hear!’ he stormed. —‘Why must I?’ I asked. —‘Well, if you must know, it’s your breath!’ he said and jumped right out of bed. But my teeth are good and I scrubbed my mouth, August, so it must have been simply his nasty temper which made him jump out of bed that way. And many times when he’s been out playing cards of an evening, it’s his own breath which smells something frightful, but I have never said anything to him about it, for he’s always so proud of himself. Another time he said to me: ‘Once a certain member of my family might have become a minister of state.’—‘Hm,’ I said, a tiny little bit angry. ‘It wasn’t perhaps you, was it?’—‘Not I, unfortunately,’ he said, ‘for you see that’s all over now that I’ve married you.’—‘So you see it’s best for me to go back where I came from,’ I said. ‘For thus maybe I can find some comfort and peace of mind for myself as well,’ I said. ‘And as for that, I was far better off in the days when I used to stand in the kitchen cooking your food for you, before I was married to you or anything else!’ I threw this answer right in his teeth and I was bad friends with him for a whole day. But you know how it is, we both wanted to have things pleasant between us and that night in bed he said to me as usual: ‘How about it, Esther? You and me, you know!’”

“Well,” said August, “if that isn’t always the way it goes! If anyone had asked me, I’d have said there goes a perfect couple.”

But the lady shook her head and said plaintively: “No, we’re not. If it wasn’t for the boys, I don’t know what —”

August: “Two mighty fine lads! I don’t know when I’ve seen two such stout little youngsters.”

“Yes, and they must never know that their mother and father are bad friends. My husband says as much, too. And he is afraid that gossip might get about in town. But such can’t always be avoided, you know. Our maid overhears an occasional word and her mind fills in the rest. Of course, she can’t keep her mouth closed and thus it is bound to get out. I’m sure it has already. I know from a number of things. . . . There, he is coming back! I hear him —” The lady pauses a moment to listen. Then she hastens to utter these last few words: “You mustn’t tell a soul what I have told you, August! And what I’ve told has not been in criticism of him, but simply to show you that I belong back in Polden, back home in the village where I was born. I’ll never be a human being here. That’s why you made me cry when you were talking — haha — curious, wasn’t it? And no one else has ever got me to cry! Sheer nonsense on my part, of course —”

Thoughtfully, August strolled home to his room. He discussed the evening with himself, checked over and audited the events of the evening in his own mind. Oh, he was more than the mere dust of old age! Dear Esther, dear lady, the high and the low, the humble and the proud, each has his problem to face. And you have yours. No one can escape, we are all defending ourselves against something. But to sit an entire evening talking about Polden, bawling over Polden — what the devil is Polden to us? Of course, of course! He had played on the accordion on more than one occasion and sung the words, as well. But the girl never jumped in the sea! That was all nonsense! No one jumped in the sea. She merely sat there and wrote a verse in which she thought she had jumped in the sea. God bless you, Esthermor, my little Esther, all she did was sit there on the beach and write a verse about jumping in the sea. After that she had marched straight home again. Ay, and as for you, my dear doctor, my splendid friend, who wanted me to sit there and tell those boys of yours stories about South America and Latvia, I simply couldn’t allow myself to get back into the habit of exaggerating. . . .

No, August was far from the dust of old age; had he been merely that, he could not have checked over and audited the events of the evening. And was he acquainted with one of Tobias’ daughters? Yes! Briefly, yes he was! But that was the affair of no one save himself. He had met her on the street, she had looked at him so humbly, she was very poor, and she had such pleading eyes. Why had she looked at him that way and why had he stopped to speak with her? She must have heard that Valborg of Øira had received a wonderful new dress from him, and it did not exactly go against August’s grain to be recognized as a wealthy man one had heard about. A horse, you say? Ay, we’ll find a way out of your difficulty!

Yes, as a matter of fact he had stood there on the street with a flood of sweet sympathy welling up within him, God forgive him his sin, if it was a sin! He had asked her where she lived and she had told him: the district folk called South Parish. “What name do they call you by?” he had asked. And she had told him: Cornelia. He had taken down her name, puffed out his chest and written it down with a pencil. August had known how it would be; back home, breathless, she would tell her people: “He took a book out of his pocket and wrote my name in it!”

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