Under the Autumn Star, by Knut Hamsun

Chapter III

Grindhusen works away a couple of hours with his putty and paint, and soon one side of the little house, the north side, facing the sea, is done all gaily in red. At the mid-day rest, I go out and join him, with something to drink, and we lie on the ground awhile, chatting and smoking.

“Painter? Not much of a one, and that’s the truth,” says he. “But if any one comes along and asks if I can paint a bit of a wall, why, of course I can. First-rate Brændevin this you’ve got.”

His wife and two children lived some four miles off, and he went home to them every Saturday. There were two daughters besides, both grown up, and one of them married. Grindhusen was a grandfather already. As soon as he’d done painting Gunhild’s cottage — two coats it was to have — he was going off to the vicarage to dig a well. There was always work of some sort to be had about the villages. And when winter set in, and the frost began to bind, he would either take a turn of woodcutting in the forests or lie idle for a spell, till something else turned up. He’d no big family to look after now, and the morrow, no doubt, would look after itself just as today.

“If I could only manage it,” said Grindhusen, “I know what I’d do. I’d get myself some bricklayer’s tools.”

“So you’re a bricklayer, too?”

“Well, not much of a one, and that’s the truth. But when that well’s dug, why, it’ll need to be lined, that’s clear. . . . ”

I sauntered about the island as usual, thinking of this and that. Peace, peace, a heavenly peace comes to me in a voice of silence from every tree in the wood. And now, look you, there are but few of the small birds left; only some crows flying mutely from place to place and settling. And the clusters from the rowans drop with a sullen thud and bury themselves in the moss.

Grindhusen is right, perhaps: tomorrow will surely look after itself, just as today. I have not seen a paper now these last two weeks, and, for all that, here I am, alive and well, making great progress in respect of inward calm; I sing, and square my shoulders, and stand bareheaded watching the stars at night.

For eighteen years past I have sat in cafés, calling for the waiter if a fork was not clean: I never call for Gunhild in the matter of forks clean or not! There’s Grindhusen, now, I say to myself; did you mark when he lit his pipe, how he used the match to the very last of it, and never burned his horny fingers? I saw a fly crawling over his hand, but he simply let it crawl; perhaps he never noticed it was there. That is the way a man should feel towards flies. . . .

In the evening, Grindhusen takes the boat and rows off. I wander along the beach, singing to myself a little, throwing stones at the water, and hauling bits of driftwood ashore. The stars are out, and there is a moon. In a couple of hours Grindhusen comes back, with a good set of bricklayer’s tools in the boat. Stolen them somewhere, I think to myself. We shoulder each our load, and hide away the tools among the trees.

Then it is night, and we go each our separate way.

Grindhusen finishes his painting the following afternoon, but agrees to go on cutting wood till six o’clock to make up a full day’s work. I get out Gunhild’s boat and go off fishing, so as not to be there when he leaves. I catch no fish, and it is cold sitting in the boat; I look at my watch again and again. At last, about seven o’clock: he must be gone by now, I say to myself, and I row home. Grindhusen has got over to the mainland, and calls across to me from there: “Farvel!”

Something thrilled me warmly at the word; it was like a calling from my youth, from Skreia, from days a generation gone.

I row across to him and ask:

“Can you dig that well all alone?”

“No. I’ll have to take another man along.”

“Take me,” I said. “Wait for me here, while I go up and settle at the house.”

Half-way up I heard Grindhusen calling again:

“I can’t wait here all night. And I don’t believe you meant it, anyway.”

“Wait just a minute. I’ll be down again directly.”

And Grindhusen sets himself down on the beach to wait. He knows I’ve some of that first-rate Brændevin still left.


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