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This introduction is from "The Wanderers", which published this work and "A wanderer plays on muted strings" as a single volume. — Editors note.
An autobiographical element is evident in practically everything that Hamsun has written. But it is particularly marked in the two volumes now published under the common title of “Wanderers,” as well as in the sequel named “The Last Joy.” These three works must be considered together. They have more in common than the central figure of “Knut Pedersen from the Northlands” through whose vision the fates of Captain Falkenberg and his wife are gradually unfolded to us. Not only do they refer undisguisedly to events known to be taken out of Hamsun’s own life, but they mirror his moods and thoughts and feelings during a certain period so closely that they may well be regarded as diaries of an unusually intimate character. It is as psychological documents of the utmost importance to the understanding of Hamsun himself that they have their chief significance. As a by-product, one might almost say, the reader gets the art which reveals the story of the Falkenbergs by a process of indirect approach equalled in its ingenuity and verisimilitude only by Conrad’s best efforts.
The line of Hamsun’s artistic evolution is easily traceable through certain stages which, however, are not separated by sharp breaks. It is impossible to say that one stage ended and the next one began in a certain year. Instead they overlap like tiles on a roof. Their respective characters are strikingly symbolized by the titles of the dramatic trilogy which Hamsun produced between 1895 and 1898 —“At the Gate of the Kingdom,” “The Game of Life,” and “Sunset Glow.”
“Hunger” opened the first period and “Pan” marked its climax, but it came to an end only with the eight-act drama of “Vendt the Monk” in 1902, and traces of it are to be found in everything that Hamsun ever wrote. Lieutenant Glahn might survive the passions and defiances of his youth and lapse into the more or less wistful resignation of Knut Pedersen from the Northlands, but the cautious, puzzled Knut has moments when he shows not only the Glahn limp but the Glahn fire.
Just when the second stage found clear expression is a little hard to tell, but its most characteristic products are undoubtedly the two volumes now offered to the American public, and it persists more or less until 1912, when “The Last Joy” appeared, although the first signs of Hamsun’s final and greatest development showed themselves as early as 1904, when “Dreamers” was published. The difference between the second and the third stages lies chiefly in a maturity and tolerance of vision that restores the narrator’s sense of humour and eliminates his own personality from the story he has to tell.
Hamsun was twenty-nine when he finished “Hunger,” and that was the age given to one after another of his central figures. Glahn is twenty-nine, of course, and so is the Monk Vendt. With Hamsun that age seemed to stand principally for the high water mark of passion. Because of the fire burning within themselves, his heroes had the supreme courage of being themselves in utter defiance of codes and customs. Because of that fire they were capable of rising above everything that life might bring — above everything but the passing of the life-giving passion itself. A Glahn dies, but does not grow old.
Life insists on its due course, however, and in reality passion may sink into neurasthenia without producing suicides. Ivar Kareno discovers it in “Sunset Glow,” when, at the age of fifty, he turns renegade in more senses than one. But even then his realization could not be fully accepted by the author himself, still only thirty-eight, and so Kareno steps down into the respectable and honoured sloth of age only to be succeeded, by another hero who has not yet passed the climacteric twenty-ninth year. Even Telegraph-Rolandsen in “Dreamers” retains the youthful glow and charm and irresponsibility that used to be thought inseparable from the true Hamsun character.
It is therefore with something of a shock one encounters the enigmatic Knut Pedersen from the Northlands, who has turned from literature to tramping, who speaks of old age as if he had reached the proverbial three-score and ten, and who time and again slips into something like actual whining, as when he says of himself: “Time has worn me out so that I have grown stupid and sterile and indifferent; now I look upon a woman merely as literature.” The two volumes named “Under the Autumn Star” and “A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings” form an unbroken cry of regret, and the object of that regret is the hey-day of youth — that golden age of twenty-nine — when every woman regardless of age and colour and caste was a challenging fragment of life.
Something more than the passing of years must have characterized the period immediately proceeding the production of the two volumes just mentioned. They mark some sort of crisis reaching to the innermost depths of the soul it wracked with anguish and pain. Perhaps a clue to this crisis may be found in the all too brief paragraph devoted to Hamsun in the Norwegian “Who’s who.” There is a line that reads as follows: “Married, 1898, Bergljot Bassöe Bech (marriage dissolved); 1908, Marie Andersen.” The man that wrote “Under the Autumn Star” was unhappy. But he was also an artist. In that book the artist within him is struggling for his existence. In “A Wanderer Plays with Muted Strings” the artist is beginning to assert himself more and more, and that he had conquered in the meantime we know by “Benoni” and “Rosa” which appeared in 1908. The crisis was past, but echoes of it were heard as late as 1912, the year of “Last Joy,” which well may be called Hamsun’s most melancholy book. Yet that is the book which seems to have paved the way and laid the foundation for “The Growth of the Soil”— just as “Dreamers” was a sketch out of which in due time grew “Children of the Time” and “Segelfoss Town.”
Hamsun’s form is always fluid. In the two works now published it approaches formlessness. “Under the Autumn Star” is a mere sketch, seemingly lacking both plan and plot. Much of the time Knut Pedersen is merely thinking aloud. But out of his devious musings a purpose finally shapes itself, and gradually we find ourselves the spectator of a marital drama that becomes the dominant note in the sequel. The development of this main theme is, as I have already suggested, distinctly Conradian in its method, and looking back from the ironical epilogue that closes “A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings,” one marvels at the art that could work such a compelling totality out of such a miscellany of unrelated fragments.
There is a weakness common to both these works which cannot be passed up in silence. More than once the narrator falls out of his part as a tramp worker to rail journalistically at various things that have aroused his particular wrath, such as the tourist traffic, the city worker and everything relating to Switzerland. It is done very naively, too, but it is well to remember how frequently in the past this very kind of naiveté has associated with great genius. And whatever there be of such shortcomings is more than balanced by the wonderful feeling for and understanding of nature that most frequently tempt Hamsun into straying from the straight and narrow path of conventional story telling. What cannot be forgiven to the man who writes of “faint whisperings that come from forest and river as if millions of nothingnesses kept streaming and streaming,” and who finds in those whisperings “one eternity coming to an understanding with another eternity about something”?
Smooth as glass the water was yesterday, and smooth as glass it is again today. Indian summer on the island, mild and warm — ah! But there is no sun.
It is many years now since I knew such peace. Twenty or thirty years, maybe; or maybe it was in another life. But I have felt it some time, surely, since I go about now humming a little tune; go about rejoicing, loving every straw and every stone, and feeling as if they cared for me in return.
When I go by the overgrown path, in through the woods, my heart quivers with an unearthly joy. I call to mind a spot on the eastern shores of the Caspian, where I once stood. All just as it is here, with the water still and heavy and iron-grey as now. I walked through the woods, touched to the heart, and verging on tears for sheer happiness’ sake, and saying to myself all the time: God in heaven. To be here again. . . .
As if I had been there before.
Ah well, I may have been there once before, perhaps, coming from another time and another land, where the woods and the woodland paths were the same. Perhaps I was a flower then, in the woods, or perhaps a beetle, with its home in some acacia tree.
And now I have come to this place. Perhaps I was a bird and flew all that long way. Or the kernel in some fruit sent by a Persian trader.
See, now I am well away from the rush and crowd of the city, from people and newspapers; I have fled away from it all, because of the calling that came to me once more from the quiet, lonely tracts where I belong. “It will all come right this time,” I tell myself, and am full of hope. Alas, I have fled from the city like this before, and afterwards returned. And fled away again.
But this time I am resolved. Peace I will have, at any cost. And for the present I have taken a room in a cottage here, with Old Gunhild to look after me.
Here and there among the pines are rowans, with ripe coral berries; now the berries are falling, heavy clusters striking the earth. So they reap themselves and sow themselves again, an inconceivable abundance to be squandered every single year. Over three hundred clusters I can count on a single tree. And here and there about are flowers still in bloom, obstinate things that will not die, though their time is really past.
But Old Gunhild’s time is past as well — and think you she will die? She goes about as if death were a thing did not concern her. When the fishermen are down on the beach, painting their boats or darning nets, comes Gunhild with her vacant eyes, but with a mind as keen as any to a bargain.
“And what is the price of mackerel today?” she asks.
“The same as yesterday.”
“Then you can keep it, for all I care.”
And Gunhild goes back home.
But the fishermen know that Gunhild is not one of those that only pretend to go away; she has gone off like that before now, up to her cottage, without once looking back. So, “Hey” they call to her, and say they’ll make it seven to the half-dozen today, seeing she is an old customer.
And Gunhild buys her fish.
Washing hangs on the lines to dry; red petticoats and blue shirts, and under-things of preposterous thickness, all spun and woven on the island by the old women still left alive. But there is washing, too, of another sort: those fine chemises without sleeves, the very thing to make a body blue with cold, and mauve woollen undervests that pull out to no more than the thickness of a string. And how did these abominations get there? Why, ’tis the daughters, to be sure, the young girls of the present day, who’ve been in service in the towns, and earned such finery that way. Wash them carefully, and not too often, and the things will last for just a month. And then there is a lovely naked feeling when the holes begin to spread.
But there is none of that sort of nonsense, now, about Gunhild’s shoes, for instance. At suitable intervals, she goes round to one of the fishermen, her like in age and mind, and gets the uppers and the soles done in thoroughly with a powerful mess of stuff that leaves the water simply helpless. I’ve seen that dubbin boiling on the beach; there’s tallow in it, and tar and resin as well.
Wandering idly along the beach yesterday, looking at driftwood and scales and stones, I came upon a tiny bit of plate glass. How it ever got there, is more than I can make out; but the thing seems a mistake, a very lie, to look at. Would any fisherman, now, have rowed out here with it and laid it down and rowed away again? I left it where it lay; it was thick and common and vulgar; perhaps a bit of a tramcar window. Once on a time glass was rare, and bottle-green. God’s blessing on the old days, when something could be rare!
Smoke rising now from the fisher-huts on the southern point of the island. Evening time, and porridge cooking for supper. And when supper’s done, decent folk go to their beds, to be up again with the dawn. Only young and foolish creatures still go trapesing round from house to house, putting off their bedtime, not knowing what is best for themselves.
A man landed here this morning — come to paint the house. But Old Gunhild, being very old indeed, and perishing with gout most times, gets him to cut up a few days’ firewood for her cooking before he starts. I’ve offered many a time to cut that wood myself, but she thinks my clothes too fine, and would not let me have the ax on any account.
This painter, now, is a short, thick-set fellow with red hair and no beard. I watch him from behind a window as he works, to see how he handles the ax. Then, noticing that he is talking to himself, I steal out of the house to listen. If he makes a false stroke, he takes it patiently, and does not trouble himself; but whenever he knocks his knuckles, he turns irritable and says: “Fan! Fansmagt!”1 — and then looks round suddenly and starts humming a tune to cover his words.
1 “The Devil! Power of the Devil!”
Yes; I recognize that painter man. Only, he’s not a painter at all, the rascal, but Grindhusen, one of the men I worked with when I was roadmaking at Skreia.
I go up to him, and ask if he remembers me, and we talk a bit.
Many, many years it is now since we were roadmenders together, Grindhusen and I; we were youngsters then, and danced along the roads in the sorriest of shoes, and ate what we could get as long as we had money enough for that. But when we’d money to spare, then there would be dancing with the girls all Saturday night, and a crowd of our fellow-workers would come along, and the old woman in the house sold us coffee till she must have made a little fortune. Then we worked on heart and soul another week through, looking forward to the Saturday again. But Grindhusen, he was as a red-headed wolf after the girls.
Did he remember the old days at Skreia?
He looks at me, taking stock of me, with something of reserve; it is quite a while before I can draw him out to remember it at all.
Yes, he remembers Skreia well enough.
“And Anders Fila and ‘Spiralen’ and Petra?”
“Petra — the one that was your girl.”
“Ay, I remember her. I got tied up with her at last.” Grindhusen falls to chopping wood again.
“Got tied up with her, did you?”
“Ay, that was the end of it. Had to be, I suppose. What was I going to say, now? You’ve turned out something fine, by the look of things.”
“Why? Is it these clothes you’re thinking of? You’ve Sunday clothes yourself, now, haven’t you?”
“What d’you give for those you’ve got on?”
“I can’t remember, but it was nothing very much. Couldn’t say exactly what it was.”
Grindhusen looks at me in astonishment and bursts out laughing.
“What? Can’t remember what you paid for them?”
Then he turns serious, shakes his head, and says: “No, I dare say you wouldn’t. No. That’s the way when you’ve money enough and beyond.”
Old Gunhild comes out from the house, and seeing us standing there by the chopping-block wasting time in idle talk, she tells Grindhusen he’d better start on the painting.
“So you’ve turned painter now?” said I.
Grindhusen made no answer, and I saw I had said a thing that should not have been said in others’ hearing.
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.
We came to the vicarage on a Saturday. After much doubting, Grindhusen had at last agreed to take me as his mate. I had bought provisions and some working clothes, and stood there now, in blouse and high boots, ready to start work. I was free and unknown; I learned to walk with a long, slouching stride, and for the look of a laboring man, I had that already both in face and hands. We were to put up at the vicarage itself, and cook our food in the brew-house across the yard.
And so we started on our digging.
I did my share of the work, and Grindhusen had no fault to find with me as a work-mate. “You’ll turn out a first-rate hand at this, after all,” he said.
Then after we’d been working a bit, the priest came out to look, and we took off our hats. He was an oldish man, quiet and gentle in his ways and speech; tiny wrinkles spread out fanwise from the corners of his eyes, like the traces of a thousand kindly smiles. He was sorry to interrupt, and hoped we wouldn’t mind — but they’d so much trouble every year with the fowls slipping through into the garden. Could we leave the well just for a little, and come round and look at the garden wall? There was one place in particular. . . .
Grindhusen answered: surely; we’d manage that for him all right.
So we went up and set the crumbling wall to rights. While we were busy there a young lady came out and stood looking on. We greeted her politely, and I thought her a beautiful creature to see. Then a half-grown lad came out to look, and asked all sorts of questions. The two were brother and sister, no doubt. And the work went on easily enough with the young folk there looking on.
Then evening came. Grindhusen went off home, leaving me behind. I slept in the hayloft for the night.
Next day was Sunday. I dared not put on my town clothes lest they should seem above my station, but cleaned up my working things as neatly as I could, and idled about the place in the quiet of Sunday morning. I chatted to the farm-hands and joined them in talking nonsense to the maids; when the bell began ringing for church, I sent in to ask if I might borrow a Prayer Book, and the priest’s son brought me one himself. One of the men lent me a coat; it wasn’t big enough, really, but, taking off my blouse and vest, I made it do. And so I went to church.
That inward calm I had been at such pains to build up on the island proved all too little yet; at the first thrill of the organ I was torn from my setting and came near to sobbing aloud. “Keep quiet, you fool,” I said to myself, “it’s only neurasthenia.” I had chosen a seat well apart from the rest, and hid my emotion as best I could. I was glad when that service was over.
When I had boiled my meat and had some dinner, I was invited into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. And while I sat there, in came Frøkenen, the young lady I had seen the day before; I stood up and bowed a greeting, and she nodded in return. She was charming, with her youth and her pretty hands. When I got up to go, I forgot myself and said:
“Most kind of you, I’m sure, my dear young lady!”
She glanced at me in astonishment, frowned, and the colour spread in her cheeks till they burned. Then with a toss of her head she turned and left the room. She was very young.
Well, I had done a nice thing now!
Miserable at heart, I sneaked up into the woods to hide. Impertinent fool, why hadn’t I held my tongue! Of all the ridiculous things to say. . . .
The vicarage buildings lay on the slope of a small hill; from the top, the land stretched away flat and level, with alternating timber and clearing. It struck me that here would be the proper place to dig the well, and then run a pipe-line down the slope to the house. Judging the height as nearly as I can, it seems more than enough to give the pressure needed; on the way back I pace out the approximate length: two hundred and fifty feet.
But what business was it of mine, after all? For Heaven’s sake let me not go making the same mistake again, and insulting folk by talking above my station.
Grindhusen came out again on Monday morning, and we fell to digging as before. The old priest came out to look, and asked if we couldn’t fix a post for him on the road up to the church. He needed it badly, that post; it had stood there before, but had got blown down; he used it for nailing up notices and announcements.
We set up a new post, and took pains to get it straight and upstanding as a candle in a stick. And by the way of thanks we hooded the top with zinc.
While I was at work on the hood, I got Grindhusen to suggest that the post should be painted red; he had still a trifle of red paint left over from the work at Gunhild’s cottage. But the priest wanted it white, and Grindhusen was afraid to contradict, and carefully agreed to all he said, until at last I put in a word, and said that notices on white paper would show up better against red. At that the priest smiled, with the endless wrinkles round his eyes, and said: “Yes, yes, of course, you’re quite right.”
And that was enough; just that bit of a smile and saying I was right made me all glad and proud again within.
Then Frøkenen came up, and said a few words to Grindhusen; even jested with him, asking what that red cardinal was to be stuck up there for on the road. But to me she said nothing at all, and did not even look at me when I took off my hat.
Dinner was a sore trial to me that day, not that the food was bad, no, but Grindhusen, he ate his soup in a disgusting fashion, and his mouth was all greasy with fat.
“What’ll he be like when it comes to eating porridge?” I thought to myself hysterically.
Then when he leaned back on the bench to rest after his meal in the same greasy state, I called to him straight out:
“For Heaven’s sake, man, aren’t you going to wipe your mouth?”
He stared at me, wiping his mouth with one hand. “Mouth?” he said.
I tried to turn it off then as a joke, and said: “Haha, I had you there!” But I was displeased with myself, for all that, and went out of the brewhouse directly after.
Then I fell to thinking of Frøkenen. “I’ll make her answer when I give a greeting,” I said to myself. “I’ll let her see before very long that I’m not altogether a fool.” There was that business of the well and the pipe-line, now; what if I were to work out a plan for the whole installation all complete! I had no instruments to take the height and fall of the hill . . . well, I could make one that would serve. And I set to work. A wooden tube, with two ordinary lamp-glasses fixed in with putty, and the whole filled with water.
Soon it was found there were many little things needed seeing to about the vicarage — odd matters here and there. A stone step to be set straight again, a wall to be repaired; the bridgeway to the barn had to be strengthened before the corn could be brought in. The priest liked to have everything sound and in order about the place — and it was all one to us, seeing we were paid by the day. But as time went on I grew more and more impatient of my work-mate’s company. It was torture to me, for instance, to see him pick up a loaf from the table, hold it close in to his chest, and cut off a slice with a greasy pocket-knife that he was always putting in his mouth. And then, again, he would go all through the week, from Sunday to Sunday, without a wash. And in the morning, before the sun was up, and the evening, after it had gone, there was always a shiny drop hanging from the tip of his nose. And then his nails! And as for his ears, they were simply deformed.
Alas! I was an upstart creature, that had learned fine manners in the cafés in town. And since I could not keep myself from telling my companion now and then what I thought of his uncleanly ways, there grew up a certain ill-feeling between us, and I feared we should have to separate before long. As it was, we hardly spoke now beyond what was needed.
And there was the well, as undug as ever. Sunday came, and Grindhusen had gone home.
I had got my apparatus finished now, and in the afternoon I climbed up to the roof of the main building and set it up there. I saw at once that the sight cut the hillside several metres below the top. Good. Even reckoning a whole metre down to the water-level, there would still be pressure enough and to spare.
While I was busy up there the priest’s son caught sight of me. Harald Meltzer was his name. And what was I doing up there? Measuring the hill; what for? What did I want to know the height for? Would I let him try?
Later on I got hold of a line ten metres long, and measured the hill from foot to summit, with Harald to help. When we came down to the house, I asked to see the priest himself, and told him of my plan.
The priest listened patiently, and did not reject the idea at once.
“Really, now!” he said, with a smile. “Why, perhaps you’re right. But it will cost a lot of money. And why should we trouble about it at all?”
“It’s seventy paces from the house to the well we started to dig. Seventy steps for the maids to go through mud and snow and all sorts, summer and winter.”
“That’s true, yes. But this other way would cost a terrible lot of money.”
“Not counting the well — that you’ll have to have in any case; the whole installation, with work and material, ought not to come to more than a couple of hundred Kroner,” said I.
The priest looked surprised.
“Is that all?”
I waited a little each time before answering, as if I were slow by nature, and born so. But, really, I had thought out the whole thing beforehand.
“It would be a great convenience, that’s true,” said the priest thoughtfully. “And that water tub in the kitchen does make a lot of mess.”
“And it will save carrying water to the bedrooms as well.”
“The bedrooms are all upstairs. It won’t help us there, I’m afraid.”
“We can run the pipes up to the first floor.”
“Can we, though? Up to the bedrooms? Will there be pressure enough for that, do you think?”
Here I waited longer than usual before answering, as a stolid fellow, who did not undertake things lightly.
“I think I can answer for a jet the height of the roof,” I said.
“Really, now!” exclaimed the priest. And then again: “Come and let us see where you think of digging the well.”
We went up the hill, the priest, Harald, and I, and I let the priest look through my instrument, and showed him that there would be more than pressure enough.
“I must talk to the other man about it,” he said.
But I cut out Grindhusen at once, and said: “Grindhusen? He’s no idea of this work at all.”
The priest looked at me.
“Really?” he said.
Then we went down again, the priest talking as if to himself.
“Quite right; yes. It’s an endless business fetching water in the winter. And summer, too, for that matter. I must see what the women think about it.”
And he went indoors.
After ten minutes or so, I was sent for round to the front steps; the whole family were there now.
“So you’re the man who’s going to give us water laid on to the house?” said Fruen kindly.
I took off my cap and bowed in a heavy, stolid fashion, and the priest answered for me: yes, this was the man.
Frøkenen gave me one curious glance, and then started talking in an undertone to her brother. Fruen went on with more questions — would it really be a proper water-supply like they had in town, just turn on a tap and there was the water all ready? And for upstairs as well? A couple of hundred Kroner? “Really, I think you ought to say yes,” she said to her husband.
“You think so? Well, let’s all go up to the top of the hill and look through the thing and see.”
We went up the hill, and I set the instrument for them and let them look.
“Wonderful!” said Fruen.
But Frøkenen said never a word.
The priest asked:
“But are you sure there’s water here?”
I answered carefully, as a man of sober judgment, that it was not a thing to swear to beforehand, but there was every sign of it.
“What sort of signs?” asked Fruen.
“The nature of the ground. And you’ll notice there’s willow and osiers growing about. And they like a wet soil.”
The priest nodded, and said:
“He knows his business, Marie, you can see.”
On the way back, Fruen had got so far as to argue quite unwarrantably that she could manage with one maid less once they’d water laid on. And not to fail her, I put in:
“In summer at least you might. You could water all the garden with a hose fixed to the tap and carried out through the cellar window.”
“Splendid!” she exclaimed.
But I did not venture to speak of laying a pipe to the cow-shed. I had realized all the time that with a well twice the size, and a branch pipe across the yard, the dairymaid would be saved as much as the kitchen-maids in the house. But it would cost nearly twice as much. No, it was not wise to put forward so great a scheme.
Even as it was, I had to agree to wait till Grindhusen came back. The priest said he wanted to sleep on it.
So now I had to tell Grindhusen myself, and prepare him for the new arrangement. And lest he should turn suspicious, I threw all the blame on the priest, saying it was his idea, but that I had backed him up. Grindhusen had no objection; he saw at once it meant more work for us since we should have the well to dig in any case, and the bed for the pipes besides.
As luck would have it, the priest came out on Monday morning, and said to Grindhusen half jestingly:
“Your mate here and I have decided to have the well up on the hill, and lay down a pipe-line to the house. What do you think of it? A mad idea?”
Grindhusen thought it was a first-rate idea.
But when we came to talk it over, and went up all three to look at the site of the well, Grindhusen began to suspect I’d had more to do with it than I had said. We should have to lay the pipes deep down, he said, on account of the frost. . . .
“One metre thirty’s plenty,” I said.
. . . and that it would cost a great deal of money.
“Your mate here said about a couple of hundred Kroner in all,” answered the priest.
Grindhusen had no idea of estimates at all, and could only say:
“Well, well, two hundred Kroner’s a deal of money, anyway.”
“It will mean so much less in Aabot when you move.”
The priest looked at me in surprise.
“Aabot? But I’m not thinking of leaving the place,” he said.
“Why, then, you’ll have the full use of it. And may your reverence live to enjoy it for many a year,” said I.
At this the priest stared at me, and asked:
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
But I understood why he had asked, and resolved not to talk in that bookish way any more.
Anyhow, the well and the pipe-line were decided on, and we set to work. . . .
The days that followed were pleasant enough. I was not a little anxious at first as to whether we should find water on the site, and I slept badly for some nights. But once that fear was past, all that remained was simple and straightforward work. There was water enough; after a couple of days we had to bale it out with buckets every morning. It was clay lower down, and our clothes were soon in a sorry state from the work.
We dug for a week, and started the next getting out stones to line the well. This was work we were both used to from the old days at Skreia. Then we put in another week digging, and by that time we had carried it deep enough. The bottom was soon so soft that we had to begin on the stonework at once, lest the clay walls should cave in on top of us.
So week after week passed, with digging and mining and mason’s work. It was a big well, and made a nice job; the priest was pleased with it. Grindhusen and I began to get on better together; and when he found that I asked no more than a fair labourer’s wage, though much of the work was done under my directions, he was inclined to do something for me in return, and took more care about his table manners. Altogether, I could not have wished for a happier time; and nothing on earth should ever persuade me to go back to town life again!
In the evenings I wandered about the woods, or in the churchyard reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, and thinking of this and that. Also, I was looking about for a nail from some corpse. I wanted a nail; it was a fancy of mine, a little whim. I had found a nice piece of birch-root that I wanted to carve to a pipe-bowl in the shape of a clenched fist; the thumb was to act as a lid, and I wanted a nail to set in, to make it specially lifelike. The ring finger was to have a little gold ring bent round.
Thinking of such trifles kept my mind calm and at ease. There was no hurry now for me about anything in life. I could dream as I pleased, having nothing else to do; the evenings were my own. If possible, too, I would see and arrive at some feeling of respect for the sacredness of the church and terror of the dead; I had still a memory of that rich mysticism from days now far, far behind, and wished I could have some share in it again. Now, perhaps, when I found that nail, there would come a voice from the tombs: “That is mine!” and I would drop the thing in horror, and take to my heels and run.
“I wish that vane up there wouldn’t creak so,” Grindhusen would say at times.
“Are you afraid?”
“Well, not properly afraid; no. But it gives you a creeping feeling now and then to think of all the corpses lying there so near.”
One day Harald showed me how to plant pine cones and little bushes. I’d no idea of that sort of work before; we didn’t learn it in the days when I was at school. But now I’d seen the way of it, I went about planting busily on Sundays; and, in return, I taught Harald one or two little things that were new to him at his age, and got to be friends with him.
And all might have been well if it had not been for Frøkenen, the daughter of the house. I grew fonder of her every day. Her name was Elischeba, Elisabeth. No remarkable beauty, perhaps; but she had red lips, and a blue, girlish glance that made her pretty to see. Elischeba, Elisabeth — a child at the first dawn of life, with eyes looking out upon the world. She spoke one evening with young Erik from the neighbouring gaard, and her eyes were full of sweetness and of something ripening.
It was all very well for Grindhusen. He had gone ravening after the girls when he was young, and he still spanked about with his hat on one side, out of habit. But he was quiet and tame enough now, as well he might be —’tis nature’s way. But some there are who would not follow nature’s way, and be tamed; and how shall it fare with them at last? And then there was little Elisabeth; and she was none so little after all, but as tall as her mother. And she’d her mother’s high breast.
Since that first Sunday they had not asked me in to coffee in the kitchen, and I took care myself they should not, but kept out of the way. I was still ashamed of the recollection. But then, at last, in the middle of the week, one of the maids came with a message that I was not to go running off into the woods every Sunday afternoon, but come to coffee with the rest. Fruen herself had said so.
Now, should I put on my best clothes or not? No harm, perhaps, in letting that young lady get into her head that I was one who had chosen to turn my back upon the life of cities, and taken upon myself the guise of a servant, for all I was a man of parts, that could lay on water to a house. But when I had dressed, I felt myself that my working clothes were better suited to me now; I took off my best things again, and hid them carefully in my bag.
But, as it happened, it was not Frøkenen at all who received me on that Sunday afternoon, but Fruen. She talked to me for quite a while, and she had spread a little white cloth under my cup.
“That trick of yours with the egg is likely to cost us something before we’ve done with it,” said Fruen, with a kindly laugh. “The boy’s used up half a dozen eggs already.”
I had taught Harald the trick of passing a hard boiled egg with the shell off through the neck of a decanter, by thinning the air inside. It was about the only experiment in physics that I knew.
“But that one with breaking the stick in the two paper loops was really interesting,” Fruen went on. “I don’t understand that sort of thing myself, but. . . . When will the well be done?”
“The well is done. We’re going to start on the trench tomorrow.”
“And how long will that take to do?”
“About a week. Then the man can come and lay the pipes.”
I said my thanks and went out. Fruen had a way she had kept, no doubt, from earlier years; now and again she would glance at one sideways, though there was nothing the least bit artful in what she said. . . .
Now the woods showed a yellowing leaf here and there, and earth and air began to smell of autumn. Only the fungus growths were now at their best, shooting up everywhere, and flourishing fine and thick on woolly stems — milk mushrooms, and the common sort, and the brown. Here and there a toadstool thrust up its speckled top, flaming its red all unashamed. A wonderful thing! Here it is growing on the same spot as the edible sorts, fed by the same soil, given sun and rain from heaven the same as they; rich and strong it is, and good to eat, save, only, that it is full of impertinent muscarin. I once thought of making up a fine old story about the toadstool, and saying I had read it in a book.
It has always been a pleasure to me to watch the flowers and insects in their struggle to keep alive. When the sun was hot they would come to life again, and give themselves up for an hour or so to the old delight; the big, strong flies were just as much alive as in midsummer. There was a peculiar sort of earth-bug here that I had not seen before — little yellow things, no bigger than a small-type comma, yet they could jump several thousand times their own length. Think of the strength of such a body in proportion to its size! There is a tiny spider here with its hinder part like a pale yellow pearl. And the pearl is so heavy that the creature has to clamber up a stalk of grass back downwards. When it comes upon an obstacle the pearl cannot pass, it simply drops straight down and starts to climb another. Now, a little pearl-spider like that is not just a spider and no more. If I hold out a leaf towards it to help it to its footing on a floor, it fumbles about for a while on the leaf, and thinks to itself: “H’m, something wrong about this!” and backs away again, refusing to be in any way entrapped on to a floor. . . .
Some one calls me by name from down in the wood. It is Harald; he has started a Sunday school with me. He gave me a lesson out of Pontoppidan to learn, and now I’m to be heard. It is touching to be taught religion now as I should have taught it myself when I was a child.
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?
A man came out for his bricklayer’s tools; he wanted them back. What? Then Grindhusen had not stolen them at all! But it was always the same with Grindhusen: commonplace, dull, and ordinary, never great in anything, never a lofty mind.
“You, Grindhusen, there’s nothing in you but eat and sleep and work. Here’s a man come for those tools now. So you only borrowed them; that’s all you’re good for. I wouldn’t be you for anything.”
“Don’t be a fool,” said Grindhusen.
He was offended now, but I got him round again, as I had done so many times before, by pretending I had only spoken in jest.
“What are we to do now?” he asked.
“You’ll manage it all right,” said I.
“Manage it — will I?”
“Yes, or I am much mistaken.”
And Grindhusen was pacified once more.
But at the midday rest, when I was cutting his hair, I put him out of temper once again by suggesting he should wash his head.
“A man of your age ought to know better than to talk such stuff,” he said.
And Heaven knows but he may have been right. His red thatch of hair was thick as ever, for all he’d grandchildren of his own. . . .
Now what was coming to that barn of ours? Were spirits about? Who had been in there one day suddenly and cleaned the place and made all comfortable and neat? Grindhusen and I had each our own bedplace; I had bought a couple of rugs, but he turned in every night fully dressed, with all he stood up in, and curled himself up in the hay all anyhow. And now here were my two rugs laid neatly, looking for all the world like a bed. I’d nothing against it; ’twas one of the maids, no doubt, setting to teach me neat and orderly ways. ’Twas all one to me.
I was ready now to start cutting through the floor upstairs, but Fruen begged me to leave it to next day; her husband would be going over to the annexe, and that way I shouldn’t disturb him. But next morning we had to put it off again; Frøken Elisabeth was going in to the store to buy no end of things, and I was to go with her and carry them.
“Good,” said I, “I’ll come on after.”
Strange girl! had she thought to put up with my company on the way? She said:
“But do you think you can find the way alone?”
“Surely; I’ve been there before. It’s where we buy our things.”
Now, I couldn’t well walk through all the village in my working things all messed up with clay: I put on my best trousers, but kept my blouse on over. So I walked on behind. It was a couple of miles or more; the last part of the way I caught sight of Frøken Elisabeth on ahead now and again, but I took care not to come up close. Once she looked round, and at that I made myself utterly small, and kept to the fringe of the wood.
Frøken Elisabeth stayed behind with some girl friend after she had done her shopping; I carried the things back to the vicarage, getting in about noon, and was asked in to dinner in the kitchen. The house seemed deserted. Harald was away, the maids were wringing clothes, only Oline was busy in the kitchen.
After dinner, I went upstairs, and started sawing in the passage.
“Come and lend me a hand here, will you?” said Fruen, walking on in front of me.
We passed by her husband’s study and into the bedroom.
“I want my bed moved,” said Fruen. “It’s too near the stove in winter, and I can’t stand the heat.”
We moved the bed over to the window.
“It’ll be nicer here, don’t you think? Cooler,” said she.
And, happening to glance at her, I saw she was watching me with that queer, sideways look. . . . Ey. . . . And in a moment I was all flesh and blood and foolishness. I heard her say:
“Are you mad? — Oh no, dear, please . . . the door. . . . ”
Then I heard my name whispered again and again. . . .
I sawed through the floor in the passage, and got everything done. Fruen was there all the time. She was so eager to talk, to explain, and laughing and crying all the time.
“That picture that was hanging over your bed — wouldn’t it be as well to move that too?”
“Ye — es, perhaps it would,” said Fruen.
Now all the pipes were laid, and the taps fixed; the water spurted out in the sink in a fine, powerful jet. Grindhusen had borrowed the tools we needed from somewhere else, so we could plaster up a few holes left here and there; a couple of days more, and we had filled in the trench down the hillside, and our work at the vicarage was done. The priest was pleased with us; he offered to stick up a notice on the red post saying we were experts in the business of wells and pipes and water-supply, but, seeing it was so late in the year, and the frost might set in any time, it wouldn’t have helped us much. We begged him instead to bear us in mind next spring.
Then we went over to the neighbouring farm to dig potatoes, promising to look in at the vicarage again some time.
There were many hands at work on the new place; we divided up into gangs and were merry enough. But the work would barely last over a week; after that we should have to shift again.
One evening the priest came over and offered to take me on as an outdoor hand at the vicarage. It was a nice offer, and I thought about it for a while, but ended by saying no. I would rather wander about and be my own master, doing such work as I could find here and there, sleeping in the open, and finding a trifle to wonder at in myself. I had come across a man here in the potato fields that I might join company with when Grindhusen was gone. This new man was a fellow after my own mind, and from what I had heard and seen of him a good worker; Lars Falkberget was his name, wherefore he called himself Falkenberg.2
2 The latter name has a more distinguished sound than the native and rustic “Falkberget.”
Young Erik was foreman and overseer in charge of the potato diggers, and carted in the crop. He was a handsome lad of twenty, steady and sound for his age, and a proper son of the house. There was something no doubt between him and Frøken Elisabeth from the vicarage, seeing she came over one day and stood talking with him out in the fields for quite a while. When she was leaving, she found a few words for me as well, saying Oline was beginning to get used to the new contrivances of water-pipes and tap.
“And yourself?” I asked.
Out of politeness, she made some little answer to this also, but I could see she had no wish to stay talking to me.
So prettily dressed she was, with a new light cloak that went so well with her blue eyes. . . .
Next day Erik met with an accident; his horse bolted, dragging him across the fields and throwing him up against a fence at last. He was badly mauled, and spitting blood; a few hours later, when he had come to himself a little, he was still spitting blood. Falkenberg was now set to drive.
I feigned to be distressed at what had happened, and went about silent and gloomy as the rest, but I did not feel so. I had no hope of Frøken Elisabeth for myself, indeed; still, I was rid of one that stood above me in her favour.
That evening I went over to the churchyard and sat there a while. If only she would come, I thought to myself. And after a quarter of an hour she came. I got up suddenly, entirely as I had planned, made as if to slip away and hide, then I stopped, stood helplessly and surrendered. But here all my schemes and plans forsook me, and I was all weakness at having her so near; I began to speak of something.
“Erik — to think it should have happened — and that, yesterday. . . . ”
“I know about it,” she answered.
“He was badly hurt.”
“Yes, yes, of course, he was badly hurt — why do you talk to me about him?”
“I thought. . . . No, I don’t know. But, anyhow, he’ll get better. And then it will be all right again, surely.”
“Yes, yes. . . . ”
It sounded as if she had been making fun of me. Then suddenly she said with a smile:
“What a strange fellow you are! What makes you walk all that way to come and sit here of an evening?”
“It’s just a little habit I’ve got lately. For something to do till bedtime.”
“Then you’re not afraid?”
Her jesting tone gave me courage; I felt myself on surer ground, and answered:
“No, that’s just the trouble. I wanted to learn to shiver and shake.”
“Learn to shiver and shake? Like the boy in the fairy tale. Now where did you read about that, I wonder?”
“I don’t know. In some book or other, I suppose.”
“Why wouldn’t you come and work for us when Father asked you?”
“I’d be no good at that sort of work. I’m going out on the roads now with another man.”
“Which way are you going?”
“That I cannot say. East or west. We are just wanderers.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think it’s wise of you. . . . Oh, but what was it you said about Erik? I only came to ask about him. . . . ”
“He’s in a baddish way now, but still.”
“Does the doctor think he will get better?”
“Yes, as far as I know. I’ve not heard otherwise.”
“Well — good-night.”
Oh to be young and rich and handsome, and famous and learned in sciences! . . . There she goes. . . .
Before leaving the churchyard I found a serviceable thumbnail and put it in my pocket. I waited a little, peering this way and that, and listening, but all was still. No voice came saying, “That’s mine!”
Falkenberg and I set out. It is evening; cool air and a lofty sky with stars lighting up. I persuaded him to go round by way of the churchyard; in my foolishness I wished to go that way, to see if there should be light in one little window down at the vicarage. Oh to be young and rich and. . . .
We walked some hours, having but little weight to carry, and, moreover, we were two wanderers still a bit strange each to the other, so we could talk a little. We passed by the first trading station, and came to another; we could see the tower of the annexe church in the evening light.
From sheer habit I would have gone into the churchyard here as well. I said:
“What do you think? We might find a place here for the night?”
“No sense on earth in that,” said Falkenberg, “when there’s hay in every barn along the road. And if we’re turned out, there’ll be shelter in the woods.”
And we went on again, Falkenberg leading.
He was a man of something over thirty. Tall and well-built, but with a slight stoop; his long moustaches rounded downwards. He was short of speech for the most, quick-witted and kindly; also he had a splendid voice for songs; a different sort from Grindhusen in every way. And when he spoke he used odd words from different local dialects, with a touch of Swedish here and there; no one could tell what part he came from.
We came to a farmstead where the dogs barked, and folk were still about. Falkenberg asked to see the man. A lad came out.
Had he any work for us?
But the fence there along by the road was all to pieces, if we couldn’t mend that, now?
No. Man himself had nothing else to do this time of the year.
Could they give us shelter for the night?
Very sorry, but. . . .
Not in the barn?
No, the girls were still sleeping there.
“Swine,” muttered Falkenberg, as we moved away. We turned in through a little wood, keeping a look out now for a likely place to sleep.
“Suppose we went back to the farm now to the girls in the barn? Like as not they wouldn’t turn us out.”
Falkenberg thought for a moment.
“The dogs will make a row,” he said.
We came out into a field where two horses were loose. One had a bell at its neck.
“Nice fellow this,” said Falkenberg, “with his horses still out and his womenfolk still sleeping in the barn. It’d be doing these poor beasts a good turn to ride them a bit.”
He caught the belled horse, stuffed its bell with grass and moss, and got on its back. My beast was shy, and I had a deal of trouble to get hold of it.
We rode across the field, found a gate, and came out on to the road. We each had one of my rugs to sit on, but neither had a bridle.
Still, we managed well enough, managed excellently well; we rode close on five miles, and came to another village. Suddenly we heard some one ahead along the road.
“Better take it at a gallop,” said Falkenberg over his shoulder. “Come along.”
But Falkenberg was no marvel of a horseman, for all his leg; he clutched the bell-strap first, then slithered forward and hung on with both arms round the horse’s neck. I caught a glimpse of one of his legs against the sky as he fell off.
Fortunately, there was no great danger waiting us after all; only a young couple out sweethearting.
Another half-hour’s riding, and we were both of us stiff and sore. We got down, turned the horses’ faces to home, and drove them off. And now we were foot-passengers once more.
Gakgak, gakgak — the sound came from somewhere far off. I knew it well; it was the grey goose. When we were children, we were taught to clasp our hands and stand quite still, lest we should frighten the grey goose as it passed. No harm in that; no harm in doing so now. And so I do. A quiet sense of mystery steals through me; I hold my breath and gaze. There it comes, the sky trailing behind it like the wake of a ship. Gakgak, high overhead. And the splendid ploughshare glides along beneath the stars. . . .
We found a barn at last, at a farmstead where all was still, and there we slept some hours. They found us next morning sound asleep.
Falkenberg went up to the farmer at once and offered to pay for our lodging. We had come in late the night before, he explained, and didn’t like to wake folk out of their beds, but we were no runaways for all that. The man would not take our money; instead he gave us coffee in the kitchen. But he had no work for us; the harvest was in, and he and his lad had nothing to do themselves now but mend their fences here and there.
We tramped three days and found no work, but had to pay for our food and drink, getting poorer every day.
“How much have you got left, and how much have I got left? We’ll never get any great way at this rate,” said Falkenberg. And he threw out a hint that we’d soon have to try a little stealing.
We talked it over a bit, and agreed to wait and see how things turned out. Food was no difficulty, we could always get hold of a fowl or so at a pinch. But ready money was the thing we really needed, and that we’d have to get. If we couldn’t manage it one way, we’d have to manage another. We didn’t set up to be angels.
“I’m no angel out of heaven alive,” said Falkenberg. “Here am I now, sitting around in my best clothes, and they no better than another man’s workaday things. I can give them a wash in a stream, and sit and wait till they’re dry; if there’s a hole I mend it, and if I chance to earn a bit extra some day, I can get some more. And that’s the end of it.”
“But young Erik said you were a beggar to drink.”
“That young cock. Drink — well, of course I do. No sense in only eating. . . . Let’s look about for a place where there’s a piano,” said Falkenberg.
I thought to myself: a piano on a place means well-to-do folk; that’s where he is going to start stealing.
In the afternoon we came to just such a place. Falkenberg had put on my town clothes beforehand, and given me his sack to carry so he could walk in easily, with an air. He went straight up to the front steps, and I lost sight of him for a bit, then he came out again and said yes, he was going to tune their piano.
“Going to what?”
“You be quiet,” said Falkenberg. “I’ve done it before, though I don’t go bragging about it everywhere.”
He fished out a piano-tuner’s key from his sack, and I saw he was in earnest.
I was ordered to keep near the place while he was tuning.
Well, I wandered about to pass the time; every now and then coming round to the south side of the house, I could hear Falkenberg at work on the piano in the parlour, and forcibly he dealt with it. He could not strike a decent chord, but he had a good ear; whenever he screwed up a string, he was careful to screw it back again exactly where it was before, so the instrument at any rate was none the worse.
I got into talk with one of the farm-hands, a young fellow. He got two hundred Kroner a year, he said, besides his board. Up at half-past six in the morning to feed the horses, or half-past five in the busy season. Work all day, till eight in the evening. But he was healthily content with his life in that little world. I remember his fine, strong set of teeth, and his pleasant smile as he spoke of his girl. He had given her a silver ring with a gold heart on the front.
“And what did she say to that?”
“Well, she was all of a wonder, you may be sure.”
“And what did you say?”
“What I said? Why, I don’t know. Said I hoped she’d like it and welcome. I’d like to have given her stuff for a dress as well, but. . . . ”
“Is she young?”
“Why, yes. Talk away like a little jews’ harp. Young — I should think so.”
“And where does she live?”
“Ah, that I won’t say. They’d know it all over the village if I did.”
And there I stood like another Alexander, so sure of the world, and half contemptuous of this boy and his poor little life. When we went away, I gave him one of my rugs; it was too much of a weight to go carrying two. He said at once he would give it to his girl; she would be glad of a nice warm rug.
And Alexander said: If I were not myself I would be you. . . .
When Falkenberg had finished and came out, he was grown so elegant in his manners all at once, and talked in such a delicate fashion, I could hardly understand him. The daughter of the house came out with him. We were to pass on without delay, he said, to the farm adjacent; there was a piano there which needed some slight attention. And so “Farvel, Frøken, Farvel.”
“Six Kroner, my boy,” he whispered in my ear. “And another six at the next place, that’s twelve.”
So off we went, and I carried our things.
Falkenberg was right; the people at the next farm would not be outdone by their neighbours; their piano must be seen to as well. The daughter of the house was away for the moment, but the work could be done in her absence as a little surprise for her when she came home. She had often complained that the piano was so dreadfully out of tune it was impossible to play on it at all. So now I was left to myself again as before, while Falkenberg was busy in the parlour. When it got dark he had lights brought in and went on tuning. He had his supper in there too, and when he had finished, he came out and asked me for his pipe.
“You fool! the one with the clenched fist, of course.”
Somewhat unwillingly I handed him my neatly carved pipe; I had just got it finished; with the nail set in and a gold ring, and a long stem.
“Don’t let the nail get too hot,” I whispered, “or it might curl up.”
Falkenberg lit the pipe and went swaggering up with it indoors. But he put in a word for me too, and got them to give me supper and coffee in the kitchen.
I found a place to sleep in the barn.
I woke up in the night, and there was Falkenberg standing close by, and calling me by name. The full moon shone right in, and I could see his face.
“What’s the matter now?”
“Here’s your pipe. Here you are, man, take it.”
“Yes, your pipe. I won’t have the thing about me another minute. Look at it — the nail’s all coming loose.”
I took the pipe, and saw the nail had begun to curl away from the wood. Said Falkenberg:
“The beastly thing was looking at me with a sort of nasty grin in the moonlight. And then when I remembered where you’d got that nail. . . . ”
Next morning when we were ready to start off again, the daughter of the house had come home. We heard her thumping out a waltz on the piano, and a little after she came out and said:
“It’s made no end of difference with the piano. Thank you very much.”
“I hope you may find it satisfactory,” said the piano-tuner grandly.
“Yes, indeed. There’s quite a different tone in it now.”
“And is there anywhere else Frøkenen could recommend . . .?”
“Ask the people at Øvrebø; Falkenberg’s the name.”
“Falkenberg. Go straight on from here, and you’ll come to a post on the right-hand side about a mile and a half along. Turn off there and that’ll take you to it.”
At that Falkenberg sat down plump at the steps and began asking all sorts of questions about the Falkenbergs at Øvrebø. Only to think he should come across his kinsmen here, and find himself, as it were, at home again. He was profusely grateful for the information. “Thanks most sincerely, Frøken.”
Then we went on our way again, and I carried the things.
Once in the wood we sat down to talk over what was to be done. Was it advisable, after all, for a Falkenberg of the rank of piano-tuner to go walking up to the Captain at Øvrebø and claim relationship? I was the more timid, and ended by making Falkenberg himself a little shy of it. On the other hand, it might be a merry jest.
Hadn’t he any papers with his name on? Certificates of some sort?
“Yes, but for Fan, there’s nothing in them except saying I’m a reliable workman.”
We cast about for some way of altering the papers a little, but finally agreed it could be better to make a new one altogether. We might do one for unsurpassed proficiency in piano-tuning and put in the Christian name as Leopold instead of Lars.3 There was no limit to what we could do in that way.
3 Again substituting an aristocratic for a rustic name.
“Think that you can write out that certificate?” he asked.
“Yes, that I can.”
But now that wretched brain of mine began playing tricks, and making the whole thing ridiculous. A piano-tuner wasn’t enough, I thought; no, make him a mechanical genius, a man who had solved most intricate problems, an inventor with a factory of his own. . . .
“Then I wouldn’t need to go about waving certificates,” said Falkenberg, and refused to listen any more. No, the whole thing looked like coming to nothing after all.
Downcast and discouraged both, we tramped on till we came to the post.
“You’re not going up, are you?” I asked.
“You can go yourself,” said Falkenberg sourly. “Here, take your rags of things.”
But a little way farther on he slackened his pace, and muttered:
“It’s a wicked shame to throw away a chance like that. Why, it’s just cut out for us as it is.”
“Well, then, why don’t you go up and pay them a call? Who knows, you might be some relation after all.”
“I wish I’d thought to ask if he’d a nephew in America.”
“What then? Could you talk English to them if he had?”
“You mind your own business, and don’t talk so much,” said Falkenberg. “I don’t see what you’ve got to brag about, anyway.”
He was nervous and out of temper, and began stepping out. Then suddenly he stopped and said:
“I’ll do it. Lend me that pipe of yours again. I won’t light it.”
We walked up the hill, Falkenberg putting on mighty airs, pointing this way and that with the pipe and criticizing the place. It annoyed me somewhat to see him stalking along in that vainglorious fashion while I carried the load. I said:
“Going to be a piano-tuner this time?”
“I think I’ve shown I can tune a piano,” he said shortly. “I am good for that at any rate.”
“But suppose there’s some one in the house knows all about it — Fruen, for instance — and tries the piano after you’ve done?”
Falkenberg was silent. I could see he was growing doubtful again. Little by little his lordly gait sank to a slouching walk.
“Perhaps we’d better not,” he said. “Here, take your pipe. We’ll just go up and simply ask for work.”
As it happened, there was a chance for us to make ourselves useful the moment we came on the place. They were getting up a new flagstaff, and were short of hands. We set to work and got it up in fine style. There was a crowd of women looking on from the window.
Was Captain Falkenberg at home?
Fruen came out. She was tall and fair, and friendly as a young foal; and she answered our greeting in the kindliest way.
Had she any work for us now?
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think so really, not while my husband’s away.”
I had an idea she found it hard to say no, and touched my cap and was turning away, not to trouble her any more. But she must have found something strange about Falkenberg, coming up like that wearing decent clothes, and with a man to carry his things; she looked at him inquisitively and asked:
“What sort of work?”
“Any kind of outdoor work,” said Falkenberg. “We can take on hedging and ditching, bricklayer’s work. . . . ”
“Getting late in the year for that sort,” put in one of the men by the flagstaff.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Fruen agreed. “I don’t know. . . . Anyhow, it’s just dinner-time; if you’d like to go in and get something to eat meanwhile. Such as it is.”
“Thank you kindly,” answered Falkenberg.
Now, that seemed to my mind a poor and vulgar way to speak; I felt he shamed us both in answering so, and it distressed me. So I must put in a word myself.
“Mille grâces, Madame; vous êtes trop aimable,” I said gallantly, and took off my cap.
Fruen turned round and stared at me in astonishment; the look on her face was comical to see.
We were shown into the kitchen and given an excellent meal. Fruen went indoors. When we had finished, and were starting off, she came out again; Falkenberg had got back his courage now, and, taking advantage of her kindness offered to tune the piano.
“Can you tune pianos too?” she asked, in surprise.
“Yes, indeed; I tuned the one on the farm down below.”
“Mine’s a grand piano, and a good one. I shouldn’t like it. . . . ”
“Fruen can be easy about that.”
“Have you any sort of. . . . ”
“I’ve no certificate, no. It’s not my way to ask for such. But Fruen can come and hear me.”
“Well, perhaps — yes, come this way.”
She went into the house, and he followed. I looked through the doorway as they went in, and saw a room with many pictures on the walls.
The maids fussed about in and out of the kitchen, casting curious glances at me, stranger as I was; one of the girls was quite nice-looking. I was thankful I had shaved that morning.
Some ten minutes passed; Falkenberg had begun. Fruen came out into the kitchen again and said:
“And to think you speak French! It’s more than I do.”
Now, Heaven be thanked for that. I had no wish to go farther with it myself. If I had, it would have been mostly hackneyed stuff, about returning to our muttons and looking for the lady in the case, and the State, that’s me, and so on.
“Your friend showed me his papers,” said Fruen. “You seem to be decent folk. I don’t know. . . . I might telegraph to my husband and ask if he’s any work for you.”
I would have thanked her, but could not get a word out for swallowing at something in my throat.
Afterwards I went out across the yard and walked about the fields a bit; all was in good order everywhere, and the crops in under cover. Even the potato stalks had been carted away though there’s many places where they’re left out till the snow comes. I could see nothing for us to do at all. Evidently these people were well-to-do.
When it was getting towards evening, and Falkenberg was still tuning, I took a bit of something to eat in my pocket and went off for a walk, to be out of the way so they should not ask me in to supper. There was a moon, and the stars were out, but I liked best to grope my way into the dense part of the wood and sit down in the dark. It was more sheltered there, too. How quiet the earth and air seemed now! The cold is beginning, there is rime on the ground; now and again a stalk of grass creaks faintly, a little mouse squeaks, a rook comes soaring over the treetops, then all is quiet again. Was there ever such fair hair as hers? Surely never. Born a wonder, from top to toe, her lips a ripened loveliness, and the play of dragonflies in her hair. If only one could draw out a diadem from a sack of clothes and give it her. I’ll find a pink shell somewhere and carve it to a thumbnail, and offer her the pipe to give her husband for a present . . . yes. . . .
Falkenberg comes across the yard to meet me, and whispers hurriedly:
“She’s got an answer from the Captain; he says we can set to work felling timber in the woods. Are you any good at that?”
“Well, then, go inside, into the kitchen. She’s been asking for you.”
I went in and Fruen said:
“I wondered where you’d got to. Sit down and have something to eat. Had your supper? Where?”
“We’ve food with us in the sack.”
“Well, there was no need to do that. Won’t you have a cup of tea, then? Nothing? . . . I’ve had an answer from my husband. Can you fell trees? Well, that’s all right. Look, here it is: ‘Want couple of men felling timber, Petter will show trees marked.’. . . . ”
Heaven — she stood there beside me, pointing to the message. And the scent of a young girl in her breath. . . .
In the woods. Petter is one of the farm-hands; he showed us the way here.
When we talked together, Falkenberg was not by any means so grateful to Fruen for giving us work. “Nothing to bow and scrape for in that,” he said. “It’s none so easy to get workmen these days.” Falkenberg, by the way, was nothing out of the ordinary in the woodcutting line, while I’d had some experience of the work in another part of the world, and so could take a lead in this at a finish. And he agreed I was to be leader.
Just now I began working in my mind on an invention.
With the ordinary sort of saw now in use, the men have to lie down crookedwise on the ground and pull sideways. And that’s why there’s not so much gets done in a day, and a deal of ugly stumps left after in the woods. Now, with a conical transmission apparatus that could be screwed on to the root, it should be possible to work the saw with a straight back-and-forward movement, but the blade cutting horizontally all the time. I set to work designing parts of a machine of this sort. The thing that puzzled me most was how to get the little touch of pressure on the blade that’s needed. It might be done by means of a spring that could be wound up by clockwork, or perhaps a weight would do it. The weight would be easier, but uniform, and, as the saw went deeper, it would be getting harder all the time, and the same pressure would not do. A steel spring, on the other hand, would slacken down as the cut grew deeper, and always give the right amount of pressure. I decided on the spring system. “You can manage it,” I told myself. And the credit for it would be the greatest thing in my life.
The days passed, one like another; we felled our nine-inch timber, and cut off twigs and tops. We lived in plenty, taking food and coffee with us when we started for the woods, and getting a hot meal in the evening when we came home. Then we washed and tidied ourselves — to be nicer-mannered than the farm-hands — and sat in the kitchen, with a big lamp alight, and three girls. Falkenberg had become Emma’s sweetheart.
And every now and then there would come a wave of music from the piano in the parlour; sometimes Fruen herself would come out to us with her girlish youth and her blessed kindly ways. “And how did you get on today?” she would ask. “Did you meet a bear in the woods?” But one evening she thanked Falkenberg for doing her piano so nicely. What? did she mean it? Falkenberg’s weather-beaten face grew quite handsome with pleasure; I felt proud of him when he answered modestly that he thought himself it was a little better now.
Either he had gained by his experience in tuning already, or Fruen was grateful to him for not having spoiled the grand piano.
Falkenberg dressed up in my town clothes every evening. It wouldn’t do for me to take them back now and wear them myself; every one would believe I’d borrowed them from him.
“Let me have Emma, and you can keep the clothes,” I said in jest.
“All right, you can take her,” he answered.
I began to see then that Falkenberg was growing cooler towards his girl. Oh, but Falkenberg had fallen in love too, the same as I. What simple boys we were!
“Wonder if she will give us a look in this evening again?” Falkenberg would say while we were out at work.
And I would answer that I didn’t care how long the Captain stayed away.
“No, you’re right,” said Falkenberg. “And I say, if I find he isn’t decent to her, there’ll be trouble.”
Then one evening Falkenberg gave us a song. And I was proud of him as ever. Fruen came out, and he had to sing it over again, and another one after; his fine voice filled the room, and Fruen was delighted, and said she had never heard anything like it.
And then it was I began to be envious.
“Have you learnt singing?” asked Fruen. “Can you read music at all?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Falkenberg. “I used to sing in a club.”
Now that was where he should have said: no, worse luck, he’d never learned, so I thought to myself.
“Have you ever sung to any one? Has any one ever heard you?”
“I’ve sung at dances and parties now and again. And once at a wedding.”
“But I mean for any one that knew: has any one tried your voice?”
“No, not that I know of — or yes, I think so, yes.”
“Well, won’t you sing some more now? Do.”
And Falkenberg sang.
The end of it’ll be he’ll be asked right into the parlour one evening, I thought to myself, with Fruen — to play for him. I said:
“Beg pardon, but won’t the Captain be coming home soon?”
“Yes, soon,” answered Fruen. “Why do you ask?’
“I was only thinking about the work.”
“Have you felled all the trees that were marked?”
“No, not yet — no, not by a long way. But. . . . ”
“Oh. . . . ” said Fruen suddenly, as if she had just thought of something. “You must have some money. Yes, of course. . . . ”
I grasped at that to save myself, and answered:
“Thank you very much.”
Falkenberg said nothing.
“Well, you’ve only to ask, you know. Varsaagod“ and she handed me the money I had asked for. “And what about you?”
“Nothing, thank you all the same,” answered Falkenberg.
Heavens, how I had lost again — fallen to earth again! And Falkenberg, that shameless imposter, who sat there playing the man of property who didn’t need anything in advance. I would tear my clothes off him that very night, and leave him naked.
Only, of course, I did nothing of the sort.
And two days went by.
“If she comes out again this evening,” Falkenberg would say up in the woods, “I’ll sing that one about the poppy. I’d forgotten that.”
“You’ve forgotten Emma, too, haven’t you?” I ask.
“Emma? Look here, I’ll tell you what it is: you’re just the same as ever, that’s what you are.”
“Ho, am I?”
“Yes; inside, I mean. You wouldn’t mind taking Emma right there, with Fruen looking on. But I couldn’t do that.”
“That’s a lie!” I answered angrily. “You won’t see me tangled up in any foolery with the girls as long as I am here.”
“Ah, and I shan’t be out at nights with any one after. Think she’ll come this evening? I’d forgotten that one about the poppy till now. Just listen.”
Falkenberg sang the Poppy Song.
“You’re lucky, being able to sing like that,” I said. “But there’s neither of us’ll get her, for all that.”
“Get her! Why, whoever thought. . . . What a fool you are!”
“Ah, if I were young and rich and handsome, I’d win her all the same,” I said.
“If — and if. . . . So could I, for the matter of that. But there’s the Captain.”
“Yes, and then there’s you. And then there’s me. And then there’s herself and everybody else in the world. And we’re a couple of brutes to be talking about her like this at all,” said I, furious now with myself for my own part. “A nice thing, indeed, for two old woodcutters to speak of their mistress so.”
We grew pale and thin the pair of us, and the wrinkles showed up in Falkenberg’s drawn face; neither of us could eat as we used. And by way of trying to hide our troubles from each other, I went about talking all sorts of cheerful nonsense, while Falkenberg bragged loudly at every meal of how he’d got to eating too much of late, and was getting slack and out of form.
“Why, you don’t seem to eat anything at all,” Fruen would say when we came home with too much left of the food we had taken with us. “Nice woodcutters, indeed.”
“It’s Falkenberg that won’t eat,” said I.
“Ho, indeed!” said Falkenberg; “I like that. He’s given up eating altogether.”
Now and again when she asked us to do her a favour, some little service or other, we would both hurry to do it; at last we got to bringing in water and firewood of our own accord. But one day Falkenberg played me a mean trick: he came home with a bunch of hazel twigs for a carpet-beater, that Fruen had asked me expressly to cut for her.
And he sang every evening now.
Then it was I resolved to make Fruen jealous — ey, ey, my good man, are you mad now, or merely foolish? As if Fruen would ever give it as much as a thought, whatever you did.
But so it was. I would try to make her jealous.
Of the three girls on the place, there was only one that could possibly be used for the experiment, and that was Emma. So I started talking nonsense to Emma.
“Emma, I know of some one that is sighing for you.”
“And where did you get to know of that, pray?”
“From the stars above.”
“I’d rather hear of it from some one here on earth.”
“I can tell you that, too. At first hand.”
“It’s himself he means,” put in Falkenberg, anxious to keep well out of it.
“Well, and I don’t mind saying it is. Paratum cor meum.”
But Emma was ungracious, and didn’t care to talk to me, for all I was better at languages than Falkenberg. What — could I not even master Emma? Well . . . I turned proud and silent after that, and went my own ways, making drawings for that machine of mine and little models. And when Falkenberg was singing of an evening, and Fruen listening, I went across to the men’s quarters and stayed there with them. Which, of course, was much more dignified. The only trouble about it was that Petter was ill in bed, and couldn’t stand the noise of ax and hammer, so I had to go outside every time I’d any heavy piece of work to do.
Still, now and again I fancied Fruen might perhaps be sorry, after all, at missing my company in the kitchen. It looked so, to me. One evening, when we were at supper, she turned to me and said:
“What’s that the men were saying about a new machine you’re making?”
“It’s a new kind of saw he’s messing about with,” said Falkenberg. “But it’s too heavy to be any good.”
I made no answer to that, but craftily preferred to be wronged. Was it not the fate of all inventors to be so misjudged? Only wait: my time was not yet come. There were moments when I could hardly keep from bursting out with a revelation to the girls, of how I was really a man of good family, led astray by desperation over an unhappy love affair, and now taking to drink. Alas, yes, man proposes, God disposes. . . . And then, perhaps, Fruen herself might come to hear of it. . . .
“I think I’ll take to going over with the men in the evenings,” said Falkenberg, “the same as you.”
And I knew well enough why Falkenberg had suddenly taken it into his head to spend his evenings there; he was not asked to sing now as often as before; some way or other, he was less in demand of late.
The Captain had returned.
A big man, with a full beard, came out to us one day while we were at work, and said:
“I’m Captain Falkenberg. Well, lads, how goes it?”
We greeted him respectfully, and answered: “Well enough.”
Then there was some talk of what we had done and what remained to do. The Captain was pleased with our work — all clean cut and close to the root. Then he reckoned out how much we had got through per day, and said it came to a good average.
“Captain’s forgetting Sundays.” said I.
“That’s true,” said he. “Well, that makes it over the average. Had any trouble at all with the tools? Is the saw all right?”
“Quite all right.”
“And nobody hurt?”
“You ought by rights to provide your own food,” he said, “but if you would rather have it the other way, we can square it when we come to settle up.”
“We’ll be glad to have it as Captain thinks best.”
“Yes,” agreed Falkenberg as well.
The Captain took a turn up through the wood and came back again.
“Couldn’t have better weather,” he said. “No snow to shovel away.”
“No, there’s no snow — that’s true; but a little more frost’d do no harm.”
“Why? Cooler to work in d’you mean?”
“That, too, perhaps; yes. But the saw cuts easier when timber’s frozen.”
“You’re an old hand at this work, then?”
“And are you the one that sings?”
“No, more’s the pity. He is the one that sings.”
“Oh, so you are the singer, are you? We’re namesakes, I believe?”
“Why, yes, in a way,” said Falkenberg, a little awkwardly, “My name is Lars Falkenberg, and I’ve my certificate to show for that.”
“What part d’you come from?”
The Captain went home. He was friendly enough, but spoke in a short, decisive way, with never a smile or a jesting word. A good face, something ordinary.
From that day onwards Falkenberg never sang but in the men’s quarters, or out in the open; no more singing in the kitchen now the Captain had come home. Falkenberg was irritable and gloomy; he would swear at times and say life wasn’t worth living these days; a man might as well go and hang himself and have done with it. But his fit of despair soon came to an end. One Sunday he went back to the two farms where he had tuned the pianos, and asked for a recommendation from each. When he came back he showed me the papers, and said:
“They’ll do to keep going with for a bit.”
“Then you’re not going to hang yourself, after all?”
“You’ve better cause to go that way, if you ask me,” said Falkenberg.
But I, too, was less despairing now. When the Captain heard about my machine idea, he wanted to know more about it at once. He saw at the first glance that my drawings were far from perfect, being made on small pieces of paper, and without so much as a pair of dividers to work with. He lent me a set of drawing instruments, and gave me some useful hints about how such things were done. He, too, was afraid my saw would prove too cumbersome. “But keep on with it, anyway,” he said. “Get the whole thing drawn to a definite scale, then we can see.”
I realized, however, that a decently constructed model of the thing would give a better idea of it, and as soon as I was through with the drawings I set to work carving a model in wood. I had no lathe, and had to whittle out the two rollers and several wheels and screws by hand. I was working at this on the Sunday, and so taken up with it I never heard the dinner-bell. The Captain came out and called, “Dinner!” Then, when he saw what I was doing, he offered to drive over himself to the smithy the very next day, and get the parts I needed cut on the lathe. “All you need do is to give me the measurements,” he said. “And you must want some tools, surely? Saw and drills; right! Screws, yes, and a fine chisel . . . is that all?”
He made a note of the things on the spot. A first-rate man to work under.
But in the evening, when I had finished supper and was crossing the courtyard to the men’s room, Fruen called me. She was standing between the kitchen windows, in the shadow, but slipped forward now.
“My husband said . . . he . . . said . . . you can’t be warm enough in these thin clothes,” she said. “And would you . . . here, take these.”
She bundled a whole suit into my arms.
I thanked her, stammering foolishly. I was going to get myself some new things soon. There was no hurry; I didn’t need. . . .
“Of course, I know you can get things yourself. But when your friend is so . . . so . . . oh, take these.”
And she ran away indoors again, the very fashion of a young girl fearing to be caught doing something over-kind. I had to call my last thanks after her.
When the Captain came out next evening with my wheels and rollers, I took the opportunity of thanking him for the clothes.
“Oh — er — yes,” he answered. “It was my wife that. . . . Do they fit you all right?”
“Yes; many thanks.”
“That’s all right, then. Yes; it was my wife that . . . well, here are the things for your machine, and the tools. Good-night.”
It seemed, then, as if the two of them were equally ready to do an act of kindness. And when it was done, each would lay the blame on the other. Surely this must be the perfect wedded life, that dreamers dreamed of here on earth. . . .
The woods are stripped of leaf now, and the bird sounds are gone; only the crows rasp out their screeching note at five in the morning, when they spread out over the fields. We see them, Falkenberg and I, as we go to our work; the yearling birds, that have not yet learned fear of the world, hop along the path before our feet.
Then we meet the finch, the sparrow of the timbered lands. He has been out in the woods already, and is coming back now to humankind, that he likes to live with and study from all sides. Queer little finch. A bird of passage, really, but his parents have taught him that one can spend a winter in the north; and now he will teach his children that the north’s the only place to spend the winter in at all. But there is still a touch of emigrant blood in him, and he remains a wanderer. One day he and his will gather together and set off for somewhere else, many parishes away, to study a new collection of humans there — and in the aspen grove never a finch to be seen. And it may be a whole week before a new flock of this winged life appears and settles in the same place. . . . Herregud! how many a time have I watched the finches in their doings, and found pleasure in all.
One day Falkenberg declares he is all right again now. Going to save up and put aside a hundred Kroner this winter, out of tuning pianos and felling trees, and then make up again with Emma. I, too, he suggests, would be better advised to give over sighing for ladies of high degree, and go back to my own rank and station.
Falkenberg was right.
On Saturday evening we stopped work a trifle earlier than usual to go up and get some things from the store. We wanted shirts, tobacco and wine.
While we were in the store I caught sight of a little work-box, ornamented with shells, of the kind seafaring men used to buy in the old days at Amsterdam, and bring home to their girls; now the Germans make them by the thousand. I bought the workbox, with the idea of taking out one of the shells to serve as a thumbnail for my pipe.
“What d’you want with a workbox?” asked Falkenberg. “Is it for Emma, what?” He grew jealous at the thought, and not to be outdone, he bought a silk handkerchief to give her himself.
On the way back we sampled the wine, and got talking. Falkenberg was still jealous, so I took out the workbox, chose the shell I wanted, and picked it off and gave him the box. After that we were friends again.
It was getting dark now, and there was no moon. Suddenly we heard the sound of a concertina from a house up on a hillside; we could see there was dancing within, from the way the light came and went like a lighthouse beam.
“Let’s go up and look,” said Falkenberg.
Coming up to the house, we found a little group of lads and girls outside taking the air. Emma was there as well.
“Why, there’s Emma!” cried Falkenberg cheerily, not in the least put out to find she had gone without him. “Emma, here, I’ve got something for you!”
He reckoned to make all good with a word, but Emma turned away from him and went indoors. Then, when he moved to go after her, others barred his way, hinting pretty plainly that he wasn’t wanted there.
“But Emma is there. Ask her to come out.”
“Emma’s not coming out. She’s here with Markus Shoemaker.”
Falkenberg stood there helpless. He had been cold to Emma now for so long that she had given him up. And, seeing him stand there stupidly agape, some of the girls began to make game of him: had she left him all alone, then, and what would he ever do now, poor fellow?
Falkenberg set his bottle to his lips and drank before the eyes of all, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and passed to the nearest man. There was a better feeling now towards us; we were good fellows, with bottles in our pockets, and willing to pass them round; moreover, we were strangers in the place, and that was always something new. Also, Falkenberg said many humorous things of Markus Shoemaker, whom he persisted in calling Lukas.
The dance was still going on inside, but none of the girls left us to go in and join.
“I’ll bet you now,” said Falkenberg, with a swagger, “that Emma’d be only too glad to be out here with us.”
Helene and Rønnaug and Sara were there; every time they drank, they gave their hands prettily by way of thanks, as the custom is, but some of the others that had learned a trifle of town manners said only, “Tak for Skjænken,” and no more. Helene was to be Falkenberg’s girl, it seemed; he put his arm round her waist and said she was his for tonight. And when they moved off farther and farther away from the rest of us, none called to them to come back; we paired off, all of us, after a while, and went our separate ways into the woods. I went with Sara.
When we came out from the wood again, there stood Rønnaug still taking the air. Strange girl, had she been standing there alone all the time? I took her hand and talked to her a little, but she only smiled to all I said and made no answer. We went off towards the wood, and Sara called after us in the darkness: “Rønnaug, come now and let’s go home.” But Rønnaug made no answer; it was little she said at all. Soft, white as milk, and tall, and still.
The first snow is come; it thaws again at once, but winter is not far off, and we are nearing the end of our woodcutting now at Øvrebø— another week or so, perhaps, no more. What then? There was work on the railway line up on the, hills, or perhaps more woodcutting at some other place we might come to. Falkenberg was for trying the railway.
But I couldn’t get done with my machine in so short a time. We’d each our own affairs to take our time; apart from the machine, there was that thumbnail for the pipe I wanted to finish, and the evenings came out all too short. As for Falkenberg, he had made it up with Emma again. And that was a difficult matter and took time. She had been going about with Markus Shoemaker, ’twas true, but Falkenberg for his part could not deny having given Helene presents — a silk handkerchief and a work box set with shells.
Falkenberg was troubled, and said:
“Everything is wrong, somehow. Nothing but bother and worry and foolery.”
“Why, as to that . . . ”
“That’s what I call it, anyway, if you want to know. She won’t come up in the hills as we said.”
“It’ll be Markus Shoemaker, then, that’s keeping her back?”
Falkenberg was gloomily silent. Then, after a pause:
“They wouldn’t even have me go on singing.”
We got to talking of the Captain and his wife. Falkenberg had an ill-forboding all was not as it might be between them.
Gossiping fool! I put in a word:
“You’ll excuse me, but you don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Ho!” said he angrily. And, growing more and more excited, he went on: “Have you ever seen them, now, hanging about after each other? I’ve never heard them say so much as a word.”
The fool! — the churl!
“Don’t know what is the matter with you to-day the way you’re sawing. Look — what do you think of that for a cut?”
“Me? We’re two of us in it, anyway, so there.”
“Good! Then we’ll say it’s the thaw. Let’s get back to the ax again.”
We went on working each by himself for a while, angered and out of humour both. What was the lie he had dared to say of them, that they never so much as spoke to each other? But, Heaven, he was right! Falkenberg had a keen scent for such things. He knew something of men and women.
“At any rate, they speak nicely of each other to us,” I said.
Falkenberg went on with his work.
I thought over the whole thing again.
“Well, perhaps you may be right as far as that goes, that it’s not the wedded life dreamers have dreamed of, still. . . . ”
But it was no good talking to Falkenberg in that style; he understood never a word.
When we stopped work at noon, I took up the talk again.
“Didn’t you say once if he wasn’t decent to her there’d be trouble?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, there hasn’t been trouble.”
“Did I ever say he wasn’t decent to her?” said Falkenberg irritably. “No, but they’re sick and wearied of each other — that’s what it is. When one comes in, the other goes out. Whenever he starts talking of anything out in the kitchen, her eyes go all dead and dull, and she doesn’t listen.”
We got to work again with the ax, each thinking his own ways.
“I doubt but I’ll need to give him a thrashing,” said Falkenberg.
“Lukas. . . . ”
I got my pipe done, and sent Emma in with it to the Captain. The nail had turned out fine and natural this time, and with the fine tools I had now, I was able to cut well down into the thumb and fasten it on the underside, so that the two little copper pins would not show. I was pleased enough with the work.
The Captain came out while we were at supper that evening, to thank me for the pipe. At the same time, I noticed that Falkenberg was right; no sooner had the Captain come out than Fruen went in.
The Captain praised my pipe, and asked how I had managed to fix the nail; he said I was an artist and a master. All the others were standing by and heard his words — and it counted for something to be called an artist by the Captain himself. I believe I could have won Emma at that moment.
That night I learned to shiver and shake.
The corpse of a woman came up to me where I lay in the loft, and stretched out its left hand to show me: the thumbnail was missing. I shook my head, to say I had had a thumbnail once, but I had thrown it away, and used a shell instead. But the corpse stood there all the same, and there I lay, shivering, cold with fear. Then I managed to say I couldn’t help it now; in God’s name, go away! And, Our Father which art in heaven. . . . The corpse came straight towards me; I thrust out two clenched fists and gave an icy shriek — and there I was, crushing Falkenberg flat against the wall.
“What is it?” cried Falkenberg. “In Heaven’s name. . . . ”
I woke, dripping with sweat, and lay there with open eyes, watching the corpse as it vanished quite slowly in the dark of the room.
“It’s the corpse,” I groaned. “Come to ask for her thumbnail.” Falkenberg sat straight up in bed, wide awake all at once.
“I saw her,” he said.
“Did you see her, too? Did you see her thumb? Ugh!”
“I wouldn’t be in your shoes now for anything.”
“Let me lie inside, against the wall,” I begged.
“And what about me?”
“It won’t hurt you; you can lie outside all right.”
“And let her come and take me first? Not if I know it.”
And at that Falkenberg lay down again and pulled the rug over his eyes.
I thought for a moment of going down to sleep with Petter; he was getting better now, and there was no fear of infection. But I was afraid to go down the stairs.
It was a terrible night.
Next morning I searched high and low for the nail, and found it on the floor at last, among the shavings and sawdust. I took it out and buried it on the way to the wood.
“It’s a question if you oughtn’t to carry it back where you took it from,” said Falkenberg.
“Why, that’s miles away — a whole long journey. . . . ”
“They won’t ask about that if you’re called to do it. Maybe she won’t care about having a thumb one place and a thumbnail in another.”
But I was brave enough now; a very desperado in the daylight. I laughed at Falkenberg for his superstition, and told him science had disposed of all such nonsense long ago.
One evening there came visitors to the place, and as Petter was still poorly, and the other lad was only a youngster, I had to go and take out the horses. A lady got out of the carriage.
“Is any one at home?” she asked.
The sound of wheels had brought faces to the windows; lamps were lit in the rooms and passages. Fruen came out, calling:
“Is that you, Elisabeth? I’m so glad you’ve come.”
It was Frøken Elisabeth from the vicarage.
“Is he here?” she asked in surprise.
It was myself she meant. So she had recognized me. . . .
Next day the two young ladies came out to us in the wood. At first I was afraid lest some rumour of a certain nightly ride on borrowed horses should have reached the vicarage, but calmed myself when nothing was said of it.
“The water-pipes are doing nicely,” said Frøken Elisabeth.
I was pleased to hear it.
“Water-pipes?” said Fruen inquiringly.
“He laid on a water-supply to the house for us. Pipes in the kitchen and upstairs as well. Just turn a tap and there it is. You ought to have it done here.”
“Really, though? Could it be done here, do you think?”
I answered: yes; it ought to be easy enough.
“Why didn’t you speak to my husband about it?”
“I did speak of it. He said he would see what Fruen thought about it.”
Awkward pause. So he would not speak to her even of a thing that so nearly concerned herself. I hastened to break the silence, and said at random.
“Anyhow, it’s too late to start this year; the winter would be on us before we could get it done. But next spring. . . . ”
Fruen seemed to come back to attention from somewhere far away.
“Oh yes, I remember now, he did say something about it,” she said. “We talked it over. But it was too late this year. . . . Elisabeth, don’t you like watching them felling trees?”
We used a rope now and then to guide the tree in its fall. Falkenberg had just fixed this rope high up, and the tree stood swaying.
“What’s that for?”
“To make it fall the right way,” I began. But Fruen did not care to listen to me any more; she turned to Falkenberg and put the question to him directly:
“Does it matter which way it falls?”
Falkenberg had to answer her.
“Why, no, we’ll need to guide it a bit, so it doesn’t break down too much of the young growth when it falls.”
“Did you notice,” said Fruen to her friend, “what a voice he has? He’s the one that sings.”
How I hated myself now for having talked so much, instead of reading her wish! But at least I would show her that I understood the hint. And, moreover, it was Frøken Elisabeth and no other I was in love with; she was not full of changing humours, and was just as pretty as the other — ay, a thousand times prettier. I would go and take work at her father’s place. . . . I took care now, whenever Fruen spoke, to look first at Falkenberg and then at her, keeping back my answer as if fearing to speak out of my turn. I think, too, she began to feel a little sorry when she noticed this, for once she said, with a little troubled smile: “Yes, yes, it was you I asked.”
That smile with her words. . . . Then came a whirl of joy at my heart; I began swinging the ax with all the strength I had gained from long use, and made fine deep cuts, I heard only a word now and then of what they said.
“They want me to sing to them this evening,” said Falkenberg, when they had gone.
I stood out in the courtyard, talking to the Captain. Three or four days more, and our work on the timber would be at an end.
“And where will you be going then?” asked the Captain.
“We were going to get work on the railway.”
“I might find you something — to do here,” said the Captain. “I want the drive down to the high road carried a different way; it’s too steep as it is. Come and see what I mean.”
He took me round to the south side of the house, and pointed this way and that, though it was already dark.
“And by the time that’s done, and one or two other little things, we shall be well on to the spring,” he said. “And then there’ll be the water, as you said. And, besides, there’s Petter laid up still; we can’t get along like this. I must have another hand to help.”
Suddenly we heard Falkenberg singing. There was a light in the parlour; Falkenberg was in there, singing to an accompaniment on the piano. The music welled out toward us — the man had a remarkable voice — and made me quiver against my will.
The Captain started, and glanced up at the windows.
“No,” he said suddenly; “I think, after all, we’d better leave the drive till next spring as well. How soon did you say you’d be through with the timber?”
“Three or four days.”
“Good! We’ll say three or four days more for that, and then finish for this year.”
A strangely sudden decision. I thought to myself. And aloud I said:
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do the road work in winter. It’s better in some ways. There’s the blasting, and getting up the loads. . . . ”
“Yes, I know . . . but . . . well, I think I must go in now and listen to this. . . . ”
The Captain went indoors.
It crossed my mind that he did so out of courtesy, wishing to make himself, as it were, responsible for having Falkenberg in the parlour. But I fancied he would rather have stayed talking with me.
Which was a coxcomb’s thought, and altogether wrong.
I had got the biggest parts of my machine done, and could fix them together and try it. There was an old stump by the barn-bridge from an aspen that had been blown down; I fixed my apparatus to that, and found at once that the saw would cut all right. Aha, now, what have you got to say? Here’s the problem solved! I had bought a huge saw-blade and cut teeth all down the back; these teeth fitted into a little cogwheel set to take the friction, and driven forward by the spring. The spring itself I had fashioned originally from a broad staybusk Emma had given me, but, when I came to test it; it proved too weak; so I made another from a saw-blade only six millimetres across, after I had first filed off the teeth. This new spring, however, was too strong; I had to manage as best I could by winding it only half-way up, and then, when it ran down, half-way up again.
I knew too little theory, worse luck; it was a case of feeling my way at every step, and this made it a slow proceeding. The conical gear, for instance, I found too heavy when I came to put it into practice, and had to devise a different system altogether.
It was on a Sunday that I fixed my apparatus to the stump; the new white woodwork and the shining saw-blade glittered in the sun. Soon faces appeared at the windows, and the Captain himself came. He did not answer my greeting, so intent was he on the machine.
“Well, how do you think it will work?”’
I set it going.
“Upon my soul, I believe it will. . . . ”
Fruen and Frøken Elisabeth came out, all the maids came out, Falkenberg came out, and I let them see it work. Aha, what did I say?
Said the Captain presently:
“Won’t it take up too much time, fixing the apparatus to one tree after another?”
“Part of the time will be made up by easier work. No need to keep stopping for breath.”
“Because the lateral pressure’s effected by the spring. It’s just that pressure that makes the hardest work.”
“And what about the rest of the time?”
“I’m going to discard this screw-on arrangement and have a clamp instead, that can be pressed down by the foot. A clamp with teeth to give a better grip, and adjustable to any sized timber.”
I showed him a drawing of this clamp arrangement; I had not had time to make the thing itself.
The Captain took a turn at the saw himself, noticing carefully the amount of force required. He said:
“It’s a question whether it won’t be too heavy, pulling a saw twice the width of an ordinary woodcutting saw.”
“Ay,” agreed Falkenberg; “it looks that way.”
All looked at Falkenberg, and then at me. It was my turn now.
“A single man can push a goods truck with full load on rails,” I said. “And here there’ll be two men to work a saw with the blade running on two rollers over oiled steel guides. It’ll be easier to work than the old type of saw — a single man could work it, if it came to a pinch.”
“It sounds almost impossible.”
“Well, we shall see.”
Frøken Elisabeth asked half in jest:
“But tell me — I don’t understand these things a bit, you know — why wouldn’t it be better to saw a tree across in the old way?”
“He’s trying to get rid of the lateral pressure; that’s a strain on the men working,” explained the Captain. “With a saw like this you can, as he says, make a horizontal cut with the same sort of pressure you would use for an ordinary saw cutting down vertically. It’s simply this: you press downwards, but the pressure’s transmitted sideways. By the way,” he went on, turning to me, “has it struck you there might be a danger of pressing down the ends of the blade, and making a convex cut?”
“That’s obviated in the first place by these rollers under the blade.”
“True; that goes for something. And in the second place?”
“In the second place, it would be impossible to make a convex cut with this apparatus even if you wanted to. The blade, you see, has a T-shaped back; that makes it practically impossible to bend it.”
I fancy the Captain put forward some of his objections against his own conviction. Knowing all he did, he could have answered them himself better than I. On the other hand, there were points he did not notice, but which caused me some anxiety. A machine that was to be carried about in the woods must not be made with delicate mechanism. I was afraid, for instance, that the two steel guides might be easily injured, and either broken away, or so bent that the wheels would jam. No; the guides would have to be dispensed with, and the wheels set under the back of the saw. Altogether, my machine was far from complete. . . .
The Captain went over to Falkenberg and said:
“I want you to drive the ladies tomorrow; they’re going some way, and Petter’s not well enough, it seems. Do you think you could?”
“Surely,” said Falkenberg; “and welcome.”
“Frøkenen’s going back to the vicarage,” said the Captain, as he turned to go. “You’ll have to be out by six o’clock.”
Falkenberg was in high spirits at this mark of confidence, and jestingly hinted that I envied him the same. Truth to tell, I did not envy him there in the least. I was perhaps a little hurt to find my comrade so preferred before myself, but I would most certainly stay here by myself in the quiet of the woods than sit on a box and drive in the cold.
Falkenberg was thoroughly pleased with himself.
“You’re looking simply green with envy now,” he said. “You’d better take something for it. Try a little castor-oil, now, do.”
He was busy all the forenoon getting ready for the journey, washing down the carriage, greasing the wheels, and cleaning the harness after. I helped him with the work.
“I don’t believe you can drive a pair at all, really,” I said, just to annoy him. “But I’ll give you a bit of a lesson, if you like, before you start.”
“You’ve got it badly,” he answered. “It’s a pity to see a man looking like that, when a dose of castor-oil would put him right.”
It was like that all the time — jesting and merriment from one to the other.
That evening the Captain came out to me.
“I didn’t want to send you down with the ladies,” he said, “because of your work. But now Frøken Elisabeth says she wants you to drive, and not the other man.”
“Yes. Because she knows you.”
“Why, as for that, ‘twould have been safe enough as it was.”
“Do you mind going at all?”
“Good! Then that’s settled.”
This thought came to my mind at once: “Aha, it’s me the ladies fancy, after all, because I’m an inventor and proprietor of a patent saw, and not bad looking when I’m properly got up — not bad looking by any means.”
But the Captain explained things to Falkenberg in an altogether different way, that upset my vanity completely: Frøken Elisabeth wanted me to go down to the vicarage once more, so that her father might have another try at getting me to take work there. She’d promised him to do so.
I thought and thought over this explanation.
“But if you get taken on at the vicarage, then it’s all off with our railway work,” said Falkenberg.
“I shan’t,” said I.
I started early in the morning with the two ladies in a closed carriage. It was more than a trifle cold at first, and my woollen rug came in very handy; I used it alternately to put over my knees and wrap round my shoulders.
We drove the way I had walked up with Falkenberg, and I recognized place after place as we passed. There and there he had tuned the pianos; there we had heard the grey goose passing. . . . The sun came up, and it grew warmer; the hours went by; then, coming to cross-roads, the ladies knocked at the window and said it was dinner-time.
I could see by the sun it was too early for the ladies’ dinner-time, though well enough for me, seeing I took my dinner with Falkenberg at noon. So I drove on.
“Can’t you stop?” they cried.
“I thought . . . you don’t generally have dinner till three. . . . ”
“But we’re hungry.”
I turned off aside from the road, took out the horses, and fed and watered them. Had these strange beings set their dinner-time by mine? “Værsaagod!”
But I felt I could not well sit down to eat with them, so I remained standing by the horses.
“Well?” said Fruen.
“Thank you kindly,” said I, and waited to be served. They helped me, both of them, as if they could never give me enough. I drew the corks of the beer bottles, and was given a liberal share here as well; it was a picnic by the roadside — a little wayfaring adventure in my life. And Fruen I dared look at least, for fear she should be hurt.
And they talked and jested with each other, and now and again with me, out of their kindliness, that I might feel at ease. Said Frøken Elisabeth:
“Oh, I think it’s just lovely to have meals out of doors. Don’t you?”
And here she said De, instead of Du, as she had said before.
“It’s not so new to him, you know,” said Fruen; “he has his dinner out in the woods every day.”
Eh, but that voice of hers, and her eyes, and the womanly, tender look of the hand that held the glass towards me. . . . I might have said something in turn — have told them this or that of strange things from out in the wide world, for their amusement; I could have set those ladies right when they chattered on, all ignorant of the way of riding camels or of harvest in the vineyards. . . .
I made haste to finish my meal, and moved away. I took the buckets and went down for more water for the horses, though there was no need. I sat down by the stream and stayed there.
After a little while Fruen called:
“You must come and stand by the horses; we are going off to see if we can find some wild hops or something nice.”
But when I came up they decided that the wild hops were over, and there were no rowan berries left now, nor any richly coloured leaves.
“There’s nothing in the woods now,” said Frøkenen. And she spoke to me directly once again: “Well, there’s no churchyard here for you to roam about in.”
“You must miss it, I should think.” And then she went on to explain to Fruen that I was a curious person who wandered about in graveyards by night and held meetings with the dead. And it was there I invented my machines and things.
By way of saying something, I asked about young Erik. He had been thrown by a runaway horse and badly hurt. . . .
“He’s better now,” said Frøkenen shortly. — Are you ready to go on again, Lovise?”
“Yes, indeed. Can we start?”
“Whenever you please,” I answered.
And we drove on again.
The hours pass, the sun draws lower down the sky, and it is cooler — a chill in the air; then later wind and wet, half rain, half snow. We passed the annexe church, a couple of wayside stores, and farm after farm.
Then came a knocking on the window of the carriage.
“Wasn’t it here you went riding one night on borrowed horses?” said Frøkenen laughingly. “Oh, we know all about it, never fear!”
And both the ladies were highly amused.
I answered on a sudden thought:
“And yet your father would have me to take service with him — or wasn’t it so?”
“While I think of it, Frøken, how did your father know I was working for Captain Falkenberg? You were surprised yourself to find me there.”
She thought quickly, and glanced at Fruen and said:
“I wrote home and told them.”
Fruen cast down her eyes.
Now it seemed to me that the young lady was inventing. But she put in excellent answers, and tied my tongue. It sounded all so natural; she writes an ordinary letter to her people at home, and puts in something like this: “And who do you think is here? The man who did those water-pipes for us; he’s felling timber now for Captain Falkenberg. . . . ”
But when we reached the vicarage, the new hand was engaged already, and there at work — had been there three weeks past. He came out to take the horses.
After that, I thought and thought again — why had they chosen me to drive them down? Perhaps it was meant as a little treat for me, as against Falkenberg’s being asked into the parlour to sing. But surely — didn’t they understand, these people, that I was a man who had nearly finished a new machine, and would soon have no need of any such trifles!
I went about sharp and sullen and ill-pleased with myself, had my meal in the kitchen, where Oline gave me her blessing for the water-pipes, and went out to tend my horses. I took my rug and went over to the barn in the dark. . . .
I woke to find some one touching me.
“You mustn’t lie here, you know; it’s simply freezing,” said Præstefruen. “Come with me, and I’ll show you. . . . ”
We talked of that a little; I was not inclined to move, and at last she sat down herself instead. A flame she was — nay, a daughter of Nature. Within her the music of a rapturous dance was playing yet.
Next morning I was more content with things. I had cooled down and turned sensible — I was resigned. If only I had seen before what was best for me, I might have taken service here at the vicarage, and been the first of all equals. Ay, and settle down and taken root in a quiet countryish life.
Fru Falkenberg stood out in the courtyard. Her bright figure stood like a pillar, stood there free and erect in the open courtyard, and her head was bare.
I greeted her Godmorgen.
“Godmorgen!” she answered again, and came striding towards me. Then very quietly she asked: “I wanted to see how they put you up last night, only I couldn’t get away. That is, of course, I got away, but . . . you weren’t in the barn, were you?”
The last words came to me as if in a dream, and I did not answer.
“Well, why don’t you answer?”
“Yes . . . in the barn? Yes.”
“Were you? And was it quite all right?”
“Oh, well, then . . . yes — yes. We shall be going back sometime to-day.”
She turned and walked away, her face all in one great flush. . . .
Harald came and asked me to make a kite.
“A kite?” I answered all confusedly. “Ay, I’ll make you a kite, a huge one, that’ll go right up to the clouds. That I will.”
We worked at it for a couple of hours, Harald and I. He was good and quick, and so innocent in his eagerness; I, for my part, was thinking of anything but kites. We made a tail several metres long, and busied ourselves with paste and lashing and binding; twice Frøken Elisabeth came out to look on. She may have been every bit as sweet and bright as before, but I cared nothing for what she was, and gave no thought, to her.
Then came the order to harness ready to start. I should have obeyed the order at once, for we had a long drive before us, but, instead, I sent Harald in to ask if we might wait just half an hour more. And we worked on till the kite was finished. Next day, when the paste was dry, Harald could send up his kite and watch it rise, and feel unknown emotion within him, as I did now.
Ready to start.
Fruen comes out; all the family are there to see her off. The priest and his wife both know me again, return my greeting, and say a few words — but I heard nothing said of my taking service with them now. The priest knew me again — yes; and his blue-eyed wife looked at me with that sidelong glance of hers as she knew me again, for all she had known me the night before as well.
Frøken Elisabeth brings out some food for the journey, and wraps her friend up well.
“Sure you’ll be warm enough, now?” she asks for the last time.
“Quite sure, thanks; it’s more than warm enough with all these. Farvel, Farvel.”
“See you drive as nicely as you did yesterday,” says Frøken, with a nod to me as well.
And we drove off.
The day was raw and chilly, and I saw at once that Fruen was not warm enough with her rug.
We drive on for hour after hour; the horses know they are on the way home, and trot without asking. My bare hands stiffen about the reins. As we neared a cottage a little way from the road, Fruen knocked on the carriage window to say it was dinner-time. She gets out, and her face was pale with the cold.
“We’ll go up there and have dinner,” she says. “Come up as soon as you’re ready, and bring the basket.”
And she walked up the hill.
It must be because of the cold she chose to eat in a stranger’s house, I thought to myself; she could hardly be afraid of me. . . . I tied up the horses and gave them their fodder. It looked like rain, so I put the oilskins over them, patted them, and went up to the cottage with the basket.
There is only an old woman at home. “Værsaagod!” she says, and “Come in.” And she goes on tending her coffee-pot. Fruen unpacks the basket, and says, without looking at me:
“I suppose I am to help you again to-day?”
“Thank you, if you will.”
We ate in silence, I sitting on a little bench by the door, with my plate on the seat beside me, Fruen at the table, looking out of the window all the time, and hardly eating anything at all. Now and again she exchanges a word with the old woman, or glances at my plate to see if it is empty. The little place is cramped enough, with but two steps from the window to where I sit; so we are all sitting together, after all.
When the coffee is ready, I have no room for my cup on the end of the bench, but sit holding it in my hand. Then Fruen turns full-face towards me calmly, and says with down-cast eyes:
“There is room here.”
I can hear my own heart beating and I murmur something:
“Thanks; it’s quite all right. I’d rather. . . . ”
No doubt but that she is uneasy; she is afraid lest I should say something. She sits once more looking away, but I can see she is breathing heavily. Ah, she need have no fear; I would not trouble her with so much as a word.
Now I had to take the empty plate and cup and set them back on the table, but I feared to startle her in my approach, for she was still sitting with averted head. I made a little noise with the things to draw her attention, set them down, and thanked her.
She tried to put on a housewifely tone:
“Won’t you have some more? I’m sure you can’t have. . . . ”
“No, thank you very much. . . . Shall I pack up the things now? But I doubt if I can.”
I happened to glance at my hands; they had swelled up terribly in the warm room, and were all shapeless and heavy now. I could hardly pack up things with hands like that. She guessed my thought, looked first at my hands, then out across the room, and said, with a little smile:
“Have you no gloves?”
“No; I never wear them.”
I went back to my place, waited till she should have packed up the things so I could carry the basket down. Suddenly she turned her head towards me, still without looking up, and asked again:
“Where do you come from?”
I ventured to ask in my turn if Fruen had ever been there.
“Yes; when I was a child.”
Then she looked at her watch, as if to check me from any more questions, and at the same time to hint it was getting late.
I rose at once and went out to the horses.
It was already growing dusk; the sky was darker, and a loose, wet sleet was beginning to fall. I took my rug down covertly from the box, and hid it under the front seat inside the carriage; when that was done, I watered the horses and harnessed up. A little after, Fruen came down the hill. I went up for the basket, and met her on the way.
“Where are you going?”
“To fetch the basket.”
“You needn’t trouble, thanks; there’s nothing to take back.”
We went down to the carriage; she got in, and I made to help her to rights with the rug she had. Then I pulled out my own from under the front seat, taking care to keep the border out of sight lest she should recognize it.
“Oh, what a blessing!” cried Fruen. “Why, where was it?”
“Under the seat here.”
“Well. . . . Of course, I might have borrowed some more rugs from the vicarage, but the poor souls would never have got them back again. . . . Thanks; I can manage . . . no, thank you; I can manage by myself. You can drive on now.”
I closed the carriage door and climbed to my seat.
“Now, if she knocks at the window again, it’s that rug,” I thought to myself. “Well, I won’t stop. . . . ”
Hour after hour passed; it was pitch dark now, raining and snowing harder than ever, and the road growing worse all the time. Now and again I would jump down from the box and run along beside the horses to keep warm; the water was pouring from my clothes.
We were nearing home now.
I was hoping there would not be too much light when we drove up, so that she recognized the rug. Unfortunately, there were lights in all the windows, waiting her arrival.
In desperation I checked the horses a little before we got to the steps, and got down to open the carriage door.
“But why . . . what on earth have you pulled up here for?”
“I only thought if perhaps Fruen wouldn’t mind getting out here. It’s all mud on ahead . . . the wheels. . . . ”
She must have thought I was trying to entice her into something, Heaven knows! . . .
“Drive on, man, do!” she said.
The horses moved on, and the carriage stopped just where the light was at its full.
Emma came out to receive her mistress. Fruen handed her the rugs all in a bundle, as she had rolled them up before getting out of the carriage.
“Thanks,” she said to me, glancing round as she went in. “Heavens, how dreadfully wet you are!”
A curious piece of news awaited me: Falkenberg had taken service with the Captain as a farm-hand.
This upset the plan we had agreed on, and left me alone once more. I could not understand a word of it all. Anyhow, I could think it over tomorrow. . . . By two in the morning I was still lying awake, shivering and thinking. All those hours I could not get warm; then at last it turned hot, and I lay there in full fever. . . . How frightened she had been yesterday — dared not sit down to eat with me by the roadside, and never opened her eyes to me once through all the journey. . . .
Coming to my senses for a moment, it occurs to me I might wake Falkenberg with my tossing about, and perhaps say things in my delirium. That would never do. I clench my teeth and jump up, get into my clothes again, scramble down the stairs, and set out over the fields at a run. After a little my clothes begin to warm me; I make towards the woods, towards the spot where we had been working; sweat and rain pour down my face. If only I can find the saw and work the fever out of my body —’tis an old and tried cure of mine, that. The saw is nowhere to be seen, but I come upon the ax I had left there Saturday evening, and set to work with that. It is almost too dark to see at all, but I feel at the cut now and then with my hands, and bring down several trees. The sweat pours off me now.
Then, feeling exhausted enough, I hide the ax in its old place; it is getting light now, and I set off at a run for home.
“Where have you been?” asks Falkenberg.
Now, I do not want him to know about my having taken cold the day before, and perhaps go making talk of it in the kitchen; I simply mutter something about not knowing quite where I have been.
“You’ve been up to see Rønnaug, I bet,” he said.
I answered: yes, I had been with Rønnaug, since he’d guessed it.
“’Twas none so hard to guess,” he said. “Anyhow, you won’t see me running after any of them now.”
“Going to have Emma, then?”
“Why, it looks that way. It’s a pity you can’t get taken on here, too. Then you might get one of the others, perhaps.”
And he went on talking of how I might perhaps have got my pick of the other girls, but the Captain had no use for me. I wasn’t even to go out tomorrow to the wood. . . . The words sound far away, reaching me across a sea of sleep that is rolling towards me.
Next morning the fever is gone; I am still a little weak, but make ready to go out to the wood all the same.
“You won’t need to put on your woodcutting things again,” says Falkenberg. “I told you that before.”
True! Nevertheless, I put on those things, seeing the others are wet. Falkenberg is a little awkward with me now, because of breaking our plan; by way of excuse, he says he thought I was taking work at the vicarage.
“So you’re not coming up to the hills, then?” I asked.
“H’m! No, I don’t think so — no. And you know yourself, I’m sick of tramping around. I’ll not get a better chance than this.”
I make as if it was no great matter to me, and take up a sudden interest in Petter; worst of all for him, poor fellow, to be turned out and nowhere to go.
“Nowhere to go?” echoes Falkenberg. “When he’s lain here the three weeks he’s allowed to stay sick by law, he’ll go back home again. His father’s a farmer.”
Then Falkenberg declares it’s like losing part of himself to have me go. If it wasn’t for Emma, he’d break his word to the Captain after all.
“Here,” he says, “I’ll give you these.”
“It’s the certificates. I shan’t want them now, but they may be the saving of you at a pinch. If you ever wanted to tune a piano, say.”
And he hands me the papers and the key.
But, seeing I haven’t his ear for music, the things are no use to me; and I tell him so. I could better handle a grindstone than a piano.
Whereat Falkenberg burst out laughing, relieved to find me ready with a jest to the last. . . .
Falkenberg goes out. I have time to laze a little, and lie down all dressed on the bed, resting and thinking. Well, our work was at an end; we should have had to go anyhow. I could not reckon on staying here for all eternity. The only thing outside all calculation was that Falkenberg should stay. If only it had been me they’d offered his work, I’d have worked enough for two! Now, was there any chance of buying him off, I wondered? To tell the truth, I fancied I had noticed something before; as if the Captain were not altogether pleased to have this labourer about the place bearing his own name. Well, perhaps I had been wrong.
I thought and thought. After all, I had been a good workman, as far as I knew, and I had never stolen a moment of the Captain’s time for work on my own invention. . . .
I fell asleep again, and wakened at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Before I had time to get properly to my feet, there was the Captain himself in the doorway.
“Don’t get up,” he said kindly, and turned as if to go again. “Still, seeing you’re awake, we might settle up. What do you say?”
I said it was as he pleased, and many thanks.
“I ought to tell you, though, both your friend and I thought you were going to take service at the vicarage, and so. . . . And now the weather’s broken up, there’s no doing more among the timber — and, besides, we’ve got down all there was to come. Well, now; I’ve settled with the other man. I don’t know if you’d. . . . ”
I said I would be quite content with the same.
“H’m! Your friend and I agreed you ought to have more per day.”
Falkenberg had said no word of this to me; it sounded like the Captain’s own idea.
“I agreed with him we should share alike,” said I.
“But you were sort of foreman; of course, you ought to have fifty øre per day extra.”
I saw my hesitation displeased him, and let him reckon it out as he pleased. When he gave me the money, I said it was more than I had reckoned with. The Captain answered:
“Very pleased to hear it. And I’ve written a few lines here that might be useful, saying you’ve worked well the time you were here.”
He handed me the paper.
A just and kindly man, the Captain. He said nothing now about the idea of laying on water to the house next spring; I took it he’d his reasons for that, and did not like to trouble him.
Then he asked:
“So you’re going off now to work on the railway?”
I said I was not quite sure as to that.
“Well, well . . . anyhow, thanks for the time you’ve been with us.”
He moved towards the door. And I, miserable weakling that I was, could not hold myself in check, but asked:
“You won’t be having any work for me later on, perhaps, in the spring?”
“I don’t know; we shall see. I . . . well, it all depends. If you should happen to be anywhere near, why. . . . What about that machine of yours?”
I ventured to ask if I might leave it on the place.
“Certainly,” said the Captain.
When he had gone I sat down on the bed. Well, it was all over now. Ay, so it was — and Lord have mercy on us all! Nine o’clock; she is up — she is there in the house I can see from this very window. Well, let me get away and have done with it.
I get out my sack and stow away my things, put on my wet jacket over my blouse, and am ready to start. But I sit down again.
Emma comes in: “Værsaagod; there’s something ready for you in the kitchen.”
To my horror she had my rug over one arm.
“And Fruen told me to ask if this wasn’t your rug.”
“Mine? No; I’ve got mine here with my things.”
Emma goes off again with the rug.
Well, how could I say it was mine? Devil take the rug! . . . Should I go down to the kitchen or not? I might be able to say good-bye and thanks at the same time — nothing strange in that.
Emma came in again with the rug and laid it down neatly folded on a stool.
“If you don’t hurry up, the coffee’ll be cold,” she says.
“What did you put that rug there for?”
“Fruen told me to.”
“Oh, well, perhaps it’s Falkenberg’s,” I muttered.
“Are you going away now for good?”
“Yes, seeing you won’t have anything to do with me.”
“You!” says Emma, with a toss of her head.
I went down with Emma to the kitchen; sitting at table, I saw the Captain going out to the woods. Good he was gone — now, perhaps, Fruen might come out.
I finished my meal and got up. Should I go off now, and leave it at that? Of course; what else? I took leave of the maids, with a jesting word to each in turn.
“I’d have liked to say good-bye to Fruen, too, but. . . . ”
“Fruen’s indoors. I’ll. . . . ”
Emma goes in, and comes back a moment later.
“Fruen’s lying down with a headache. She sent her very good wishes.”
“Come again!” said all the girls as I set off.
I walked away out of the place, with my sack under my arm. Then suddenly I remembered the ax; Falkenberg might not find it where I’d put it. I went back, knocked at the kitchen door, and left a message for him where it was.
Going down the road, I turned once or twice and looked back towards the windows of the house. Then all was out of sight.
I circled round all that day, keeping near to Øvrebø; looked in at one or two farms to ask for work, and wandered on again like an outcast, aimlessly. It was a chill, unkindly day, and I had need of all my walking to keep warm.
Towards evening I made over to my old working place among the Captain’s timber. I heard no sound of the ax; Falkenberg had gone home. I found the trees I had felled the night before, and laughed outright at the ghastly looking stumps I had left. Falkenberg would surely have seen the havoc, and wondered who could have done it. Possibly he might have set it down to witchcraft, and fled home accordingly before it got dark. Falkenberg! . . . Hahaha!
But it was no healthy merriment, I doubt — a thing born of the fever and the weakness that followed it. And I soon turned sorrowful once more. Here, on this spot, she had stood one day with that girl friend of hers; they had come out and talked to us in the woods. . . .
When it was dark enough I started down towards the house. Perhaps I might sleep in the loft again to-night; then to-morrow, when her headache was gone, she might come out. I went down near enough to see the lights of the house, then I turned back. No, perhaps it was too early yet.
Then for a time — I should reckon about two hours — I wandered round and sat down a bit, wandered again and sat down a bit; then I moved up towards the house again. Now I could perfectly well go up in the loft and lie down there. As for Falkenberg — miserable worm! — let him dare to say a word! Now I know what I will do. I will hide my sack in the woods before I go up, so as to look as if I had only come back for some little thing I had forgotten.
And I go back to the woods.
No sooner have I hidden the sack than I realize I am not concerned at all with Falkenberg and sleeping in the loft. I am a fool and a madman, for the thing I want is not shelter for the night, but a sight of just one creature there before I leave the place. And I say to myself: “My good sir, was it not you that set out to live a quiet life among healthy folk, to win back your peace of mind?”
I pull out my sack from its hiding-place, fling it over my shoulder, and move towards the house for the third time, keeping well away from the servants’ quarters, and coming round on the south side of the main building. There is a light in the parlour.
And now, although it is dark, I let down the sack from over my shoulder, not to look like a beggar, and thrust it under my arm as if it were a parcel. So I steal up cautiously towards the house. When I have got near enough, I stop, stand there upright and strong before the windows, take off my cap and stand there still. There is no one to be seen within, not a shadow. The dining-room is all dark; they have finished their evening meal. It must be late, I tell myself.
Suddenly the lamp in the parlour goes out, and the whole house seems dead and deserted. I wait a little, then a solitary light shines out upstairs. That must be her room. The light burns for half an hour, perhaps, and then goes out again. She had gone to rest. Good-night!
Good-night for ever!
And, of course, I shall not come back to this place in the spring. A ridiculous idea!
When I got down on to the high road, I shouldered my sack once more and set out on my travels. . . .
In the morning I go on again, having slept in a barn where it was terribly cold, having nothing to wrap round me; moreover, I had to start out again just at the coldest hour, about daybreak, lest I should be found there.
I walk on and on. The woods change from pine to birch and back again. Coming upon a patch of fine, straight-stemmed juniper, I cut myself a staff, and sit down at the edge of the wood to trim it. Here and there among the trees a yellow leaf or so still hangs, but the birches are full of catkins set with pearly drops. Now and again half, a dozen small birds swoop down on one of these birches, to peck at the catkins, and then look about for a stone or a rough tree trunk to rub the gum from their beaks. Each is jealous of the rest; they watch and chase and drive one another away, though there are millions of catkins for them to take all they will. And the one that is chased never does anything but take to flight. If a little bird comes bearing down towards a bigger one, the bigger one will move away; even a full-grown thrush offers no resistance to a sparrow, but simply takes itself off. I fancy it must be the speed of the attack that does it.
The cold and discomfort of the morning gradually disappear; it amuses me to watch the various things I meet with on my way, and think a little, idly enough, of every one. The birds were most diverting; also, it was cheering to reflect that I had my pocket full of money.
Falkenberg had chanced to mention that morning where Petter’s home was, and I now made for that. There would hardly be work for me on so small a place; but now that I was rich, it was not work I sought for first of all. Petter would be coming home soon, no doubt, and perhaps have some news to tell.
I managed so as to reach the farm in the evening. I said I brought news of their son, that he was much better now, and would soon be home again. And could they put me up for the night?
I have been staying here a couple of days; Petter has come home, but had nothing to tell.
“Is all well at Øvrebø?”
“Ay, there’s nothing wrong that I know of.”
“Did you see them all before you left? The Captain, Fruen?”
“No. Why, who should there be?”
“Well, Falkenberg said something about he’d hurt his hand. But I suppose it’s all right now, then.”
There was little comfort in this home, though they seemed to be quite well off. Petter’s father was deputy to the Storting, and had taken to sitting reading the papers of an evening. Eh, reading and reading — the whole house suffered under it, and the daughters were bored to death. When Petter came home the entire family set to work reckoning out whether he had gotten his full pay, and if he had lain sick at Øvrebø for the full time allowed him by law, or “provided by statute,” as his father, the deputy, put it. Yesterday, when I happened to break a window — a little pane that cost next to nothing — there was no end of whispering about it, and unfriendly glances at me from all sides; so today I went up to the store and bought a new pane, and fixed it in properly with putty. Then said the deputy: “You needn’t have taken all that trouble over a pane of glass.”
To tell the truth, it was not only for that I had been up to the store; I also bought a couple of bottles of wine, to show I did not care so much for the price of a pane of glass or so. Also, I bought a sewing-machine, to give the girls when I went away. We could drink the wine this evening; tomorrow would be Sunday, and we should all have time to lie abed. But on Monday morning I would start off again.
Things turned out otherwise, however. The two girls had been up in the loft, sniffing at my sack; both the wine and the sewing-machine had put fancies into their heads; they imagined all sorts of things, and began throwing out hints. Wait a bit, thought I to myself; my time will come!
In the evening I sit with the family in the parlour, talking. We have just finished supper, and the master of the house had put on his spectacles to read the papers. Then some one coughs outside. “There’s some one coming in,” I say. The girls exchange glances and go out. A little after they open the door and show in two young men. “Come in and sit down,” says the wife.
It struck me just then that these two peasant lads had been invited on the strength of my wine, and that they were sweethearts with the girls. Smart young creatures — eighteen, nineteen years old, and already up to anything. Well, if they reckoned on that wine now, they’d be mistaken! Not a drop. . . .
There was some talking of the weather; how it was no better than could be looked for that time of year, but a pity the wet had stopped the ploughing. There was no sort of life in this talk, and one of the girls turned to me and said I was very quiet this evening. How could it be?
“Maybe because I’m going away,” I answered. “I’ve a good long way to go between now and Monday morning.”
“Then perhaps we ought to have a parting glass tonight?”
There was some giggling at this, as a well-deserved thrust at me for keeping back the wine that miserly fashion. But I did not know these girls, and cared nothing for them, otherwise I had acted differently.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I’ve bought three bottles of wine that I’ve to take with me to a certain place.”
“And you’re going to carry it all that way?” asked the girl, amid much laughter. “As if there were never a store on the road.”
“Frøkenen forgets that it’s Sunday tomorrow, and the stores on the road will be shut,” said I.
The laugh died away, but I could see the company was no more kindly disposed towards me now for speaking straight out. I turned to the wife, and asked coldly how much I owed her for the time I had stayed.
But surely there was no hurry — wouldn’t it do tomorrow?
I was in a hurry — thank you. I had been there two days — what did that come to?
She thought over it quite a while; at last she went out, and got her husband to go with her and work it out together.
Seeing they stayed so long away, I went up to the loft, packed my sack all ready, and carried it down into the passage. I proposed to be even more offended, and start off now — that very night. It would be a good way of taking leave, as things were.
When I came into the room again, Petter said:
“You don’t mean to say you’re starting out tonight?”
“Yes, I do.”
“You’ve no call to heed the girls’ nonsense, anyway.”
“Herregud, let the old fellow go if he wants to,” said his sister.
At last the deputy and his wife came in again, stiffly and stubbornly silent.
Well! And how much did I owe them?
H’m! They would leave it to me.
They were all alike — a mean and crafty lot; I felt myself stifling, and picking out the first note that came to hand I flung it at the woman.
Was that enough?
H’m! A tidy bit, for sure, but still. . . . And some might say ’twas enough, but. . . .
How much was it I had given her?
A five-Kroner note.
Well, perhaps it was barely enough; I felt in my pocket for some more.
“No, mother, it was a ten-Kroner,” said Petter. “And that’s too much; you’ll have to give him something back.”
The old woman opens her hand, looks at the note, and turns so very surprised all at once.
“Why, so it is, ten Kroner, yes. . . . I didn’t properly look. Why, then, ’tis right enough, and many thanks. . . . ”
Her husband, in embarrassment, starts talking to the two lads of what he’d been reading in the paper; nasty accident; hand crushed in a threshing-machine. The girls pretended not to notice me, but sat like two cats all the time, with necks drawn in and eyes as thin as knife blades. Nothing to stay for here — good-bye to them all.
The old woman comes out in the passage and tries making up to me.
“If only you’d lend us just one of those bottles now,” she says, “‘twould be a real kindness, that it would. With the two lads sitting there and all.”
“Farvel,” said I shortly, and would hear no more.
I had my sack over my shoulder, and the sewing-machine in one hand; it was a heavy load, and the muddy road made things no easier. But for all that I walked with a light heart. It was a miserable business altogether, and I might as well admit I had acted a trifle meanly. Meanly? Not a bit! I formed myself into a little committee, and pointed out that those infernal girls had planned to entertain their sweethearts with my wine. Well and good; but was not my ill-will towards that idea male selfishness on my part? If two strange girls had been invited, instead of two young men, should I not have uncorked the wine without a murmur? Certainly! And then as to their calling me an old fellow; after all, it was perfectly right. Old indeed I must be, since I took offence at being set aside in favour of stray plough-boys. . . .
But my sense of injury cooled down in the course of that hard walking. The committee meeting was adjourned, and I toiled along hour after hour with my ridiculous burden — three bottles of wine and a sewing-machine. It was mild and slightly foggy; I could not see the lights of a farm till quite close up, and then mostly the dogs would come dashing out on me and hinder me from stealing into a barn. Later and later it grew; I was tired and discouraged, and plagued myself too with anxiety about the future. Had I not already wasted a heap of money on the most useless trash? I must sell that sewing-machine again now, and get some of it back.
At long last I came to a place where there was no dog. There was still a light in the window, and, without more ado, I walked up and asked shelter for the night.
A young girl sat at a table sewing; there was no one else in the room. When I asked for shelter, she answered brightly and trustingly that she would see, and went into a little room at the side. I called after her as she went that I would be glad only to sit here by the stove till daylight.
A little after the girl came in again with her mother, who was still buttoning her clothes about her. Godkvæld! Shelter for the night? Well, well, there wasn’t that room in the place they could make me properly comfortable, but I’d be welcome to the bedroom, such as it was.
And where would they sleep themselves?
Why, it was near day now, and the girl’d be sitting up anyhow for a bit with her sewing.
What was she sewing to sit up for all night? A new dress?
No, only the skirt. She was to wear it to church in the morning, but wouldn’t hear of her mother helping.
I brought up my sewing-machine, and said jestingly that a skirt more or less was a mere trifle for a thing like this. Wait, and I’d show them.
Was I a tailor, then?
No. But I sold sewing-machines.
I took out the printed directions and studied them to see how it worked. The girl listened attentively; she was a mere child; her thin fingers were all blue with the dye from the stuff. There was something so poor-looking about those blue fingers; I brought out some wine and poured out for all of us. Then we go on sewing again — I with the printed paper, and the girl working the machine. She is delighted to see how easily it goes, and her eyes are all aglow.
How old was she?
Sixteen. Confirmed last year.
And what was her name?
Her mother stands watching us, and would dearly like to try the machine herself, but every time she comes near, Olga says: “Be careful, mother, you’ll despise it.” And when the spool needs filling, and her mother takes the shuttle in her hand a moment, the child is once more afraid it may be “despised.”4
4 Foragte, literally “despise.” The word is evidently to be understood as used in error by the girl herself, in place of some equivalent of “spoil (destroy),” the author’s purpose being to convey an impression of something touchingly “poor,” as with the dye-stained fingers earlier and her awkward gait and figure later mentioned. Precisely similar characteristics are used to the same end in Pan, and elsewhere.
The old woman puts on the coffee-pot, and tends the fire; the room is soon warm and cosy. The lonely folk are as trusting and kindly as could be. Olga laughs when I make a little jest about the machine. I noted that neither of them asked how much the thing cost, though I had told them it was for sale. They looked on it as hopelessly beyond their reach. But they could still take a delight in seeing it work.
I hinted that Olga really ought to have a machine like that, seeing she’d got the way of it so neatly all at once.
Her mother answered it would have to wait till she’d been out in service for a bit.
Was she going out in service?
Why, yes, she hoped so, anyway. Both her other daughters were in service, and doing well — thank God. Olga would be meeting them at church in the morning.
There was a little cracked mirror hanging on one of the walls, on the other a few cheap prints had been tacked up — pictures of soldiers on horseback and royalties with a great deal of finery. One of these pictures is old and frayed. It is a portrait of the Empress Eugenie, and evidently not a recent purchase. I asked where it had come from.
The good woman did not know. Must be something her husband had bought in his time.
“Did he buy it here?”
More likely ‘twould have been at Hersæt, where he had been in service as a young man. Might be thirty years gone now.
I have a little plan in my head already, and say:
“That picture is worth a deal of money.”
The woman thinks I am making game of her, so I make a close inspection of the picture, and declare emphatically that it is no cheap print — no.
But the woman is quite stupid, and simply says: well, did I think so, now? The thing had hung there ever since the house was built. It was Olga’s, by the way, she had called it hers from the time she was a little one.
I put on a knowing, mysterious air, and ask for further details of the case — where Hersæt might be.
Hersæt was in the neighbouring parish, some eight miles away. The Lensmand lived there. . . .
The coffee is ready, and Olga and I call a halt. There are only the fastenings to be done now. I ask to see the blouse she is to wear with the skirt, and it appears that this is not a real blouse at all, but a knitted kerchief. But she has a left-off jacket that one of her sisters gave her, and that will go outside and hide all the rest.
Olga is growing so fast, I am told, that there’s no sense in buying a blouse for her this twelvemonth to come.
Olga sits sewing on hooks and eyes, and that is soon done. Then she turns so sleepy, it’s a sight to see; wherefore I put on an air of authority and order her to bed. Her mother feels constrained to sit up and keep me company, though I tell her myself to go back to bed again.
“You ought to be properly thankful, I’m sure,” says the mother, “to the strange man for all the way he’s helped you.”
And Olga comes up to me and gives her hand to thank me, and I turn her round and shuffle her across to the bedroom door.
“You’d better go too,” I say to her mother. “I won’t sit talking any more, for I’m tired myself.”
And, seeing I settle down by the stove with my sack under my head, she shakes her head with a smile and goes off too.
I am happy and comfortable here; it is morning; the sun coming in through the window, and both Olga and her mother with their hair so smooth and plastered down, a wonder to see.
After breakfast, which I share with the two of them, getting quantities of coffee with it, Olga gets herself up in her new skirt and her knitted kerchief and the jacket. Eh, that wonderful jacket; lasting at the edge all round, and two rows of buttons of the same, and the neck and sleeves trimmed with braid. But little Olga could not fill it out. Nothing near it! The child is all odd corners and angles, like a young calf.
“Couldn’t we just take it in a bit at the sides?” I ask. “There’s plenty of time.”
But mother and daughter exchange glances, plainly saying, ’tis Sunday, and no using needle or knife that day. I understand them well enough, for I would have thought exactly the same myself in my childhood. So I try to find a way out by a little free-thinking: ’tis another matter when it’s a machine that does the work; no more than when an innocent cart comes rumbling down the road, as it may any Sunday.
But no; this is beyond them. And anyhow, the jacket must give her room to grow; in a couple of years it would fit her nicely.
I thought about for something I could slip into Olga’s hand as she went; but I’ve nothing, so I gave her a silver Krone. And straightway she gives her hand in thanks, and shows the coin to her mother, and whispers she will give it to her sister at church. Her eyes are simply glowing with joy at the thought. And her mother, hardly less moved herself, answers yes, perhaps she ought. . . .
Olga goes off to church in her long jacket; goes shambling down the hill with her feet turning in and out any odd way. A sweet and heartening thing to see. . . .
Hersæt now; was that a big place?
Yes, a fine big place.
I sit for a while blinking sleepy eyes and making excursions in etymology. Hersæt might mean Herresæte.5 Or possibly some herse6 might have held sway there. And the herse’s daughter was the proudest maiden for far around, and the Jarl himself comes to ask her hand. And the year after she bears him a son, who becomes king. . . .
6 Local chieftain in ancient times.
In a word, I would go to Hersæt. Seeing it was all the same where I went, I would go there. Possibly I might get work at the Lensmand’s, or there was always the chance of something turning up; at any rate, I should see new people. And having thus decided upon Hersæt, I felt I had a purpose before me.
The good woman gives me leave to lie down on her bed, for I am drowsy and stupid for lack of sleep. A fine blue spider clambers slowly up the wall, and I lie watching it till I fall asleep.
After a couple of hours I wake suddenly, feeling rested and fresh. The woman was cooking the dinner. I pack up my sack, pay her for my stay, and end up by saying I’d like to make an exchange; my sewing-machine for Olga’s picture there.
The woman incredulous as ever.
Never mind, say I; if she was content, why, so was I. The picture was of value; I knew what I was doing.
I took down the picture from the wall, blew the dust from it, and rolled it up carefully; the wall showed lighter in a square patch where it had been. Then I took my leave.
The woman followed me out: wouldn’t I wait now, till Olga came back, so she could thank me? Oh, now if I only would!
I couldn’t. Hadn’t time. Tell her from me, if there was anything she couldn’t make out, to look in the directions. . . .
The woman stood looking after me as I went. I swaggered down the road, whistling with satisfaction at what I had done. Only the sack to carry now; I was rested, the sun was shining, and the road had dried up a little. I fell to singing with satisfaction at what I had done.
Neurasthenia. . . .
I reached Hersæt the following day. At first I felt like passing by, it looked so big and fine a place; but after I had talked a bit with one of the farm-hands, I decided to try the Lensmand after all. I had worked for rich people before — let me see, there was Captain Falkenberg of Øvrebø. . . .
The Lensmand was a little, broad-shouldered man, with a long white beard and dark eyebrows. He talked gruffly, but had kindly eyes; afterwards, I found he was a merry soul, who could laugh and jest heartily enough at times. Now and again, too, he would show a touch of pride in his position, and his wealth, and like to have it recognized.
“No, I’ve no work for you. Where do you come from?”
I named some places I had lately passed.
“No money, I suppose, and go about begging?”
No, I did not beg; I had money enough.
“Well, you’ll have to go on farther. I’ve nothing for you to do here; the ploughing’s done. Can you cut staves for a fence?
“H’m. Well, I don’t use wooden fences any more. I’ve put up wire. Do bricklayer’s work?”
“That’s a pity. I’ve had bricklayers at work here for weeks; you might have got a job. But it’s all done now.”
He stood poking his stick in the ground.
“What made you come to me?”
“Every one said go to the Lensmand if I wanted work.”
“Oh, did they? Well, I’ve always got a crowd here working at something or other — those bricklayers, now. Can you put up a fence that’s proof against fowls? — For that’s more than any soul on earth ever could, haha! —
“Worked for Captain Falkenberg, you said, at Øvrebø?”
“What were you doing there?”
“I don’t know him — he lives a long way off. But I’ve heard of him. Any papers from him?”
I showed him what the Captain had written.
“Come along with me,” said the Lensmand abruptly. He led me round the house and into the kitchen.
“Give this man a thorough good meal — he’s come a long way, and. . . . ”
I sat down in the big, well-lighted kitchen to the best meal I had had for a long time. I had just finished when the Lensmand came out again.
“Look here, you. . . . ” he began.
I got up at once and stood straight as an arrow — a piece of politeness which I fancy was not lost on him.
“No, no, finish your meal, go on. Finished? Sure? Well, I’ve been thinking. . . . Come along with me.”
He took me out to the woodshed.
“You might do a bit of work getting in firewood; what do you say to that? I’ve two men on the place, but one of them I shall want for summoners’ work, so you’ll have to go woodcutting with the other. You can see there’s plenty of wood here as it is, but it’ll take no harm lying here, can’t have too much of that sort of thing. You said you had money; let me see.”
I showed him the notes I had.
“Good. I’m an official, you see, and have to know my folk. Though I don’t suppose you’ve anything on your conscience, seeing you come to the Lensmand, haha! Well, as I said, you can give yourself a rest today, and start cutting wood tomorrow.”
I set to work getting ready for the next day, looked to my clothes, filed the saw, and ground my ax. I had no gloves, but it was hardly weather for gloves as yet, and there was nothing else I was short of.
The Lensmand came out to me several times, and talked in a casual way; it amused him, perhaps, to talk to a strange wanderer. “Here, Margrethe!” he called to his wife, as she went across the courtyard; “here’s the new man; I’m going to send him out cutting wood.”
We had no special orders, but set to work as we thought best, felling dry-topped trees, and in the evening the Lensmand said it was right enough. But he would show us himself the next day.
I soon realized that the work here would not last till Christmas. With the weather we were having, and the ground as it was, frost at night and no snow, we felled a deal each day, and nothing to hinder the work; the Lensmand himself though we were devilish smart at felling trees, haha! The old man was easy to work with; he often came out to us in the woods and chatted and made jokes, and as I never joked in return, he took me, no doubt, for a dull dog, but a steady fellow. He began sending me on errands now, with letters to and from the post.
There were no children on the place, no young folk at all save the maids and one of the farm-hands, so the evenings fell rather long. By way of passing the time, I got hold of some tin and acids and re-tinned some old pots and kettles in the kitchen. But that was soon done. And then one evening I came to write the following letter:
“If only I were where you are, I would work for two.”
Next day I had to go to the post for the Lensmand; I took my letter with me and posted it. I was very uneasy. Moreover, the letter looked clumsy as I sent it, for I had got the paper from the Lensmand, and had to paste a whole strip of stamps along the envelope to cover where his name was printed on. I wondered what she would say when she got it. There was no name, nor any place given in the letter.
And so we work in the woods, the other man and I, talk of our little affairs, working with heart and soul, and getting on well together. The days passed; already, worse luck, I could see the end of our work ahead, but I had a little hope the Lensmand might find something else for me to do when the woodcutting was finished. Something would surely turn up. I had no wish to set out wandering anew before Christmas.
Then one day I go to the post again, and there is a letter for me. I cannot understand that it is for me, and I stand turning and twisting it confusedly; but the man knows me now; he reads from the envelope again and says yes, it is my name right enough, and care of the Lensmand.
Suddenly a thought strikes me, and I grasp the letter. Yes, it is for me; I forgot . . . yes, of course. . . .
And I hurry out into the road, with something ringing in my ears all the time, and open the letter, and read:
“Skriv ikke til mig —”7
7 “Do not write (skrive) to me.”
No name, no place, but so clear and lovely. The first word was underlined.
I do not know how I got home. I remember I sat on a stone by the roadside and read the letter and put it in my pocket, and walked on till I came to another stone and did the same again. Skriv ikke. But — did that mean I might come and perhaps speak with her? That little, dainty piece of paper, and the swift, delicate characters. Her hands had held it, her eyes had looked on it, her breath had touched it. And then at the end a dash. Which might have a world of meaning.
I came home, handed in the Lensmand’s post, and went out into the wood. I was dreaming all the time. My comrade, no doubt, must have found me an incomprehensible man, seeing me read a letter again and again, and put it back with my money.
How splendid of her to have found me! She must have held the envelope up to the light, no doubt, and read the Lensmand’s name under the stamps; then laid her beautiful head on one side and half closed her eyes and thought for a moment: he is working for the Lensmand at Hersæt now. . . .
That evening, when we were back home, the Lensmand came out and talked to us of this and that, and asked:
“Didn’t you say you’d been working for Captain Falkenberg at Øvrebø?”
“I see he’s invented a machine.”
“A patent saw for timber work. It’s in the papers.”
I started at this. Surely he hadn’t invented my patent saw?
“There must be some mistake,” I said. “It wasn’t the Captain who invented it.”
“Oh, wasn’t it?”
“No it wasn’t. But the saw was left with him.”
And I told the Lensmand all about it. He went in to fetch the paper, and we both read what it said: “New Invention. . . . Our Correspondent on the spot. . . . Of great importance to owners of timber lands. . . . Principle of the mechanism is as follows: . . . ”
“You don’t mean to say it’s your invention?”
“Yes, it is.”
“And the Captain is trying to steal it? Why, this’ll be a pretty case, a mighty pretty case. Leave it to me. Did any one see you working on the thing?”
“Yes, all his people on the place did.”
“Lord save me if it’s not the stiffest bit of business I’ve heard for a long time. Walk off with another man’s invention! And the money, too . . . why, it might bring you in a million!”
I was obliged to confess I could not understand the Captain.
“Don’t you? Haha, but I do! I’ve not been Lensmand all this time far nothing. No; I’ve had my suspicions that he wasn’t so rich as he pretended. Well, I’ll send him a bit of a letter from me, just a line or so — what do you say to that? Hahaha! You leave it to me.”
But at this I began to feel uneasy. The Lensmand was too violent all at once; it might well be that the Captain was not to blame in the matter at all, and that the newspaper man had made the mistake himself. I begged the Lensmand to let me write myself.
“And agree to divide the proceeds with that rascal? Never! You leave the whole thing in my hands. And, anyhow, if you were to write yourself, you couldn’t set it out properly the way I can.”
But I worked on him until at last he agreed that I should write the first letter, and then he should take it up after. I got some of the Lensmand’s paper again.
I got no writing done that evening; it had been an exciting day, and my mind was all in a turmoil still. I thought and reckoned it out; for Fruen’s sake I would not write directly to the Captain, and risk causing her unpleasantness as well; no, I would send a line to my comrade, Lars Falkenberg, to keep an eye on the machine.
That night I had another visit from the corpse — that miserable old woman in her night-shift, that would not leave me in peace on account of her thumbnail. I had had a long spell of emotion the day before, so this night she took care to come. Frozen with horror, I saw her come gliding in, stop in the middle of the room, and stretch out her hand. Over against the other wall lay my fellow-woodcutter in his bed, and it was a strange relief to me to hear that he too lay groaning and moving restlessly; at any rate there were two of us to share the danger. I shook my head, to say I had buried the nail in a peaceful spot, and could do no more. But the corpse stood there still. I begged her pardon; but then, suddenly, I was seized with a feeling of annoyance; I grew angry, and told her straight out I’d have no more of her nonsense. I’d borrowed that nail of hers at a pinch, but I’d done all I could do months ago, and buried it again. . . . At that she came gliding sideways over to my pillow, trying to get behind me. I flung myself up in bed and gave a shriek.
“What is it?” asked the lad from the other bed.
I rub my eyes and answer I’d been dreaming, that was all.
“Who was it came in just now?” asks the boy.
“I don’t know. Was there any one in here?”
“I saw some one going . . . ”
After a couple of days, I set myself down calmly and loftily to write to Falkenberg. I had a bit of a saw thing I’d left there at Øvrebø, I wrote; it might be a useful thing for owners of timber lands some day, and I proposed to come along and fetch it away shortly. Please keep an eye on it and see it doesn’t get damaged.
Yes, I wrote in that gentle style. That was the most dignified way. And since Falkenberg, of course, would mention it in the kitchen, and perhaps show the letter round, it had to be delicacy itself. But it was not all delicacy and nothing else; I fixed a definite date, to make it serious: I will come for the machine on Monday, 11th December.
I thought to myself: there, that’s clear and sound; if the machine’s not there that Monday, why, then, something will happen.
I took the letter to the post myself, and stuck a strip of stamps across the envelope as before. . . .
My beautiful ecstasy was still on me. I had received the loveliest letter in the world; here it was in my breast pocket; it was to me. Skriv ikke. No, indeed, but I could come. And then a dash at the end.
There wasn’t anything wrong, by any chance, about that underlining the word: as, for instance, meaning to emphasize the whole thing as an order? Ladies were always so fond of underlining all sorts of words, and putting in dashes here, there, and everywhere. But not she; no, not she!
A few days more, and the work at the Lensmand’s would be at an end; it fitted in very well, everything worked out nicely; on the 11th I was to be at Øvrebø. And that perhaps not a minute too soon. If the Captain really had any idea of his own about my machine, it would be necessary to act at once. Was a stranger to come stealing my hard-earned million? Hadn’t I toiled for it? I almost began to regret the gentleness of my letter to Falkenberg; I might have made it a good deal sharper; now, perhaps, he would imagine I was too soft to stand up for myself. Why, he might even take it into his head to bear witness against me, and say I hadn’t invented the machine at all! Hoho, Master Falkenberg, just try it on! In the first place, ’twill cost you your eternal salvation; and if that’s not enough, I’ll have you up for perjury before my friend and patron, the Lensmand. And you know what that’ll mean.
“Of course you must go,” said the Lensmand when I spoke to him about it. “And just come back here to me with your machine. You must look after your interests, of course; it may be a question of something considerable.”
The following day’s post brought a piece of news that changed the situation in a moment; there was a letter from Captain Falkenberg himself in the paper, saying it was due to a misunderstanding that the new timber saw had been stated as being of his invention. The apparatus had been designed by a man who had worked on his estate some time back. As to its value, he would not express any opinion. — Captain Falkenberg.
The Lensmand and I looked at each other.
“Well, what do you say now?” he asked.
“That the Captain, at any rate, is innocent.”
“Ho! D’you know what I think?”
Pause. The Lensmand playing Lensmand from top to toe, unravelling schemes and plots.
“He is not innocent,” said he.
“Ah, I’ve seen that sort of thing before. Drawing in his horns, that’s all. Your letter put him on his guard. Haha!”
At this I had to confess to the Lensmand that I had not written to the Captain at all but had merely sent a bit of a note to one of the hands at Øvrebø; and even that letter could not have reached there yet, seeing it was only posted the night before.
This left the Lensmand dumb, and he gave up unravelling things. On the other hand, he seemed from now onward to be greatly in doubt as to whether the whole thing had any value at all.
“Quite likely the machine’s no good at all,” he said. But then he added kindly: “I mean, it may need touching up a bit, and improving. You’ve seen yourself how they’re always altering things like warships and flying-machines. Are you still determined to go?”
No more was said about my coming back here and bringing the machine with me. But the Lensmand wrote me a very nice recommendation. He would gladly have kept me on longer, it said, but the work was interrupted by private affairs of my own elsewhere. . . .
In the morning, when I was ready to start, a little girl stood in the courtyard waiting for me to come out. It was Olga. Was there ever such a child? She must have been afoot since midnight to get here so early. And there she stood in her blue skirt and her jacket.
“That you, Olga? Where are you going?”
She had come to see me.
How did she know I was here?
She had asked about me and found out where I was. And please was it true she was to keep the sewing-machine? But of course it couldn’t. . . .
Yes, the machine was hers all right; hadn’t I taken her picture in exchange? Did it work all right?
Yes, it worked all right.
We did not talk much together; I wanted to get her away before the Lensmand came out and began asking questions.
“Well, run along home now, child; you’ve a long way to go.”
Olga gives me her hand — it is swallowed up completely in mine, and she lets it lie there as long as I will. Then she thanks me, and shambles gaily off again. And her toes turning in and out all odd ways.
I am nearly at my goal.
Sunday evening I lay in a watchman’s hut not far from Øvrebø, so as to be on the place early Monday morning. By nine o’clock every one would be up, then surely I must be lucky enough to meet the one I sought.
I had grown dreadfully nervous, and kept imagining ugly things. I had written a nice letter to Falkenberg, using no sharp words, but the Captain might after all have been offended at my fixing the date like that; giving him so and so much time. . . . If only I had never written at all!
Coming up towards the house I stoop more and more, and make myself small, though indeed I had done no wrong. I turn off from the road up, and go round so as to reach the outbuildings first — and there I come upon Falkenberg. He is washing down the carriage. We gave each other greeting, and were the same good comrades as before.
Was he going out with the carriage?
No, just come back the night before. Been to the railway station.
Who had gone away, then?
Really? And where was Fruen gone to?
Gone to stay in town for a bit.
“Stranger man’s been here writing in the papers about that machine of yours,” says Falkenberg.
“Is the Captain gone away too?”
“No, Captain’s at home. You should have seen his face when your letter came.”
I got Falkenberg to come up to the old loft. I had still two bottles of wine in my sack, and I took them out and we started on them together; eh, those bottles that I had carried backward and forward, mile after mile, and had to be so careful with, they served me well just now. Save for them Falkenberg would never have said so much.
“What was that about the Captain and my letter? Did he see it?”
“Well, it began like this,” said Falkenberg. “Fruen was in the kitchen when I came in with the post. ‘What letter’s that with all those stamps on?’ she says. I opened it, and said it was from you, to say you were coming on the 11th.”
“And what did she say?”
“She didn’t say any more. Yes, she asked once again, ‘Coming on the 11th, is he?’ And I said yes, he was.”
“And then, a couple of days after, you got orders to drive her to the station?”
“Why, yes, it must have been about a couple of days. Well, then, I thought, if Fruen knows about the letter, then Captain surely knows too. D’you know what he said when I brought it in?”
I made no answer to this, but thought and thought. There must be something behind all this. Was she running away from me? Madman! the Captain’s Lady at Øvrebø would not run away from one of her labourers. But the whole thing seemed so strange. I had hoped all along she would give me leave to speak with her, since I was forbidden to write.
Falkenberg went on, a little awkwardly:
“Well, I showed the Captain your letter, though you didn’t say I was to. Was there any harm in that?”
“It doesn’t matter. What did he say?”
“‘Yes, look after the machine, do,’ he said, and made a face. ‘In case any one comes to steal it,’ he said.”
“Then the Captain’s angry with me now?”
“Nay, I shouldn’t think so. I’ve heard no more about it since that day.”
It mattered little after all about the Captain. When Falkenberg had taken a deal of wine, I asked him if he knew where Fruen was staying in town. No, but Emma might, perhaps. We get hold of Emma, treat her to wine, talk a lot of nonsense, and work gradually round to the point; at last asking in a delicate way. No, Emma didn’t know the address. But Fruen had gone to buy things for Christmas, and she was going with Frøken Elisabeth from the vicarage, so they’d know the address there. What did I want it for, by the way?
Well, it was only about a filigree brooch I had got hold of, and wanted to ask if she’d care to buy it.
Luckily I was able to show her the brooch; it was a beautiful piece of old work; I had bought it of one of the maids at Hersæt.
“Fruen wouldn’t have it,” said Emma. “I wouldn’t have it myself.”
“Not if you got me into the bargain, Emma, what?” And I forced myself to jest again.
Emma goes off. I try drawing out Falkenberg again. Falkenberg was sharp enough at times to understand people.
Did he still sing for Fruen?
Lord, no; that was all over. Falkenberg wished he hadn’t taken service here at all; ’twas nothing but trouble and misery about the place.
Trouble and misery? Weren’t they friends, then, the Captain and his Lady?
Oh yes, they were friends. In the same old way. Last Saturday she had been crying all day.
“Funny thing it should be like that,” say I, “when they’re so upright and considerate towards each other.” And I watch to see what Falkenberg says to that.
“Eh, but they’re ever weary,” says Falkenberg in his Valdres dialect. “And she’s losing her looks too. Only in the time you’ve been gone, she’s got all pale and thin.”
I sat up in the loft for a couple of hours, keeping an eye on the main building from my window, but the Captain did not appear. Why didn’t he go out? It was hopeless to wait any longer; I should have to go without making my excuses to the Captain. I could have found good grounds enough; I might have put the blame on to the first article in the paper, and said it had rather turned my head for the moment — and there was some truth in that. Well, all I had to do now was to tie up the machine in a bundle, cover it up as far as possible with my sack, and start off on my wanderings again.
Emma stole some food for me before I went.
It was another long journey this time; first to the vicarage — though that was but a little out of the way — and then on to the railway station. A little snow was falling, which made it rather heavy walking; and what was more, I could not take it easy now, but must get on as fast as I could. The ladies were only staying in town for their Christmas shopping, and they had a good start already.
On the following afternoon I came to the vicarage. I had reckoned out it would be best to speak with Fruen.
“I’m on my way into town,” I told her. “And I’ve this machine thing with me; if I might leave the heaviest of the woodwork here meanwhile?”
“Are you going into town?” says Fruen. “But you’ll stay here till tomorrow, surely?”
“No, thanks all the same. I’ve got to be in town tomorrow.”
Fruen thinks for a bit and then says:
“Elisabeth’s in town. You might take a parcel in for her — something she’s forgotten.”
That gives me the address! I thought to myself.
“But I’ve got to get it ready first.”
“Then Frøken Elisabeth might be gone again before I got there?”
“Oh no, she’s with Fru Falkenberg, and they’re staying in town for the week.”
This was grand news, joyous news. Now I had both the address and the time.
Fruen stands watching me sideways, and says:
“Well, then, you’ll stay the night, won’t you? You see, it’s something I’ve got to get ready first. . . . ”
I was given a room in the main building, because it was too cold to sleep in the barn. And when all the household had gone to rest that night, and everything was quiet, came Fruen to my room with the parcel, and said:
“Excuse my coming so late. But I thought you might be going early to-morrow morning before I was up.”
So here I am once more in the crush and noise of a city, with its newspapers and people. I have been away from all this for many months now, and find it not unpleasant. I spend a morning taking it all in; get hold of some other clothes, and set off to find Frøken Elisabeth at her address. She was staying with some relatives.
And now — should I be lucky enough to meet the other one? I am restless as a boy. My hands are vulgarly unused to gloves, and I pull them off; then going up the step I notice that my hands do not go at all well with the clothes I am wearing, and I put on my gloves again. Then I ring the bell.
“Frøken Elisabeth? Yes, would you wait a moment?”
Frøken Elisabeth comes out. “Goddag. You wished to speak to. . . . Oh, is it you?”
I had brought a parcel from her mother. Værsaagod.
She tears open the parcel and looks inside. “Oh, fancy Mama thinking of that. The opera-glasses! We’ve been to the theatre already. . . . I didn’t recognize you at first.”
“Really! It’s not so very long since. . . . ”
“No, but. . . . Tell me, isn’t there any one else you’d like to inquire about? Haha!”
“Yes,” said I.
“Well, she’s not here. I’m only staying here with my relations. No, she’s at the Victoria.”
“Well, the parcel was for you,” said I, trying to master my disappointment.
“Wait a minute. I was just going out again; we can go together.”
Frøken Elisabeth puts on some over-things, calls out through a door to say she won’t be very long, and goes out with me. We take a cab and drive to a quiet café. Frøken Elisabeth says yes, she loves going to cafés. But there’s nothing very amusing about this one.
Would she rather go somewhere else?
“Yes. To the Grand.”
I hesitated; it might be hardly safe. I had been away for a long time now, and if we met any one I knew I might have to talk to them. But Frøkenen insisted on Grand. She had had but a few days’ practice in the capital, and had already gained a deal of self-assurance. But I liked her so much before.
We drove off again to Grand. It was getting towards evening. Frøkenen picks out a seat right in the brightest spot, beaming all over herself at the fun of it. I ordered some wine.
“What fine clothes you’re wearing now,” she says, with a laugh.
“I couldn’t very well come in here in a workman’s blouse.”
“No, of course not. But, honestly, that blouse . . . shall I tell you what I think?”
“The blouse suited you better.”
There! Devil take these town clothes! I sat there with my head full of other things, and did not care for this sort of talk.
“Are you staying long in town?” I asked.
“As long as Lovise does. We’ve finished our shopping. No, I’m sorry; it’s all too short.” Then she turns gay once more, and asks laughingly: “Did you like being with us out in the country?”
“Yes. That was a pleasant time.”
“And will you come again soon? Haha!”
She seemed to be making fun of me. Trying, of course, to show she saw through me: that I hadn’t played — my part well enough as a country labourer. Child that she was! I could teach many a labourer his business, and had more than one trade at my finger-ends. Though in my true calling I manage to achieve just the next best of all I dream. . . .
“Shall I ask Papa to put up a notice on the post next spring, to say you’re willing to lay down water-pipes and so on?”
She closed her eyes and laughed — so heartily she laughed.
I am torn with excitement, and her merriment pains me, though it is all good-humoured enough. I glance round the place, trying to pull myself together; here and there an acquaintance nods to me, and I return it; it all seems so far away to me. I was sitting with a charming girl, and that made people notice us.
“You know these people, it seems?”
“Yes, one or two of them. Have you enjoyed yourself in town?”
“Oh yes, immensely. I’ve two boy cousins here, and then there were their friends as well.”
“Poor young Erik, out in the country,” said I jestingly.
“Oh, you with your young Erik. No, there’s one here in town; his name’s Bewer. But I’m not friends with him just now.”
“Oh, that won’t last long.”
“Do you think so? Really, though, I’m rather serious about it. I’ve an idea he might be coming in here this evening.”
“You must point him out to me if he does.”
“I thought, as we drove out here, that you and I could sit here together, you know, and make him jealous.”
“Right, then, we will.”
“Yes, but. . . . No, you’d have to be a bit younger. I mean. . . . ”
I forced myself to laugh. Oh, we would manage all right. Don’t despise us old ones, us ancient ones, we can be quite surprisingly useful at times. “Only you’d better let me sit on the sofa beside you there, so he can’t see I’m bald at the back.”
Eh, but it is hard to take that perilous transition to old age in any quiet and beautiful way. There comes a forcedness, a play of jerky effort and grimaces, the fight against those younger than ourselves, and envy.
“Frøken. . . . ” I ask this of her now with all my heart. “Frøken, couldn’t you ring up Fru Falkenberg and get her to come round here now?”
She thinks for a moment.
“Yes, we will,” she says generously.
We go out to the telephone, ring up the Victoria: Fruen is there.
“Is that you, Lovise? You’d never guess who I’m with now? Won’t you come along? Oh, good! We’re at the Grand. No, I can’t tell you now. Yes, of course it’s a man — only he’s a gentleman now — I won’t say who it is. Are you coming? Why, you said just now you would! Some people? Oh, well, do as you like, of course, but I do think. . . . Yes, he’s standing here. You are in a hurry. . . . ”
Frøken Elisabeth rang off, and said shortly:
“She had to go and see some friends.”
We went back to our seat, and had some more wine; I tried to be cheerful, and suggested champagne. Yes, thanks. And then, as we’re sitting there, Frøkenen says suddenly:
“Oh, there’s Bewer! I’m so glad we’re drinking champagne.”
But I have only one idea in my mind, and being now called upon to show what I can do, and charm this young lady to the ultimate advantage of some one else, I find myself saying one thing and thinking another. Which, of course, leads to disaster. I cannot get that telephone conversation out of my head; she must have had an idea — have realized that it was I who was waiting for her here. But what on earth had I done? Why had I been dismissed so suddenly from Øvrebø, and Falkenberg taken on in my place. Quite possibly the Captain and his wife were not always the best of friends, but the Captain had scented danger in my being there, and wished to save his wife at least from such an ignominious fall. And now, here she was, feeling ashamed that I had worked on her place, that she had used me to drive her carriage, and twice shared food with me by the way. And she was ashamed, too, of my being no longer young. . . .
“This will never do,” says Frøken Elisabeth.
So I pull myself together again, and start saying all manner of foolish things, to make her laugh. I drink a good deal and that helps; at last, she really seems to fancy I am making myself agreeable to her on her own account. She looks at me curiously.
“No, really, though, do you think I’m nice?”
“Oh, please — don’t you understand? — I was speaking of Fru Falkenberg.”
“Sh!” says Frøken Elisabeth. “Of course it is Fru Falkenberg; I know that perfectly well, but you need not say so. . . . I really think we’re beginning to make an impression on him over there. Let’s go on like we are doing, and look interested.”
So she hadn’t imagined I was trying on my own account, after all. I was too old for that sort of thing, anyway. Devil take it, yes, of course.
“But you can’t get Fru Falkenberg,” she says, beginning again. “It’s simply hopeless.”
“No, I can’t get her. Nor you either.”
“Are you speaking to Fru Falkenberg now again?”
“No, it was to you this time.”
“Do you know I was in love with you? Yes, when I was at home.”
“This is getting quite amusing,” said I, shifting up on the sofa. “Oh, we’ll manage Bewer, never fear.”
“Yes, only fancy, I used to go up to the churchyard to meet you in the evenings. But you, foolish person, you didn’t see it a bit.”
“Now you’re talking to Bewer, of course,” said I.
“No, it’s perfectly true. And I came over one day when you were working in the potato fields. It wasn’t your young Erik I came to see, not a bit.”
“Only think, that it should have been me,” I say, putting on a melancholy air.
“Yes, of course you think it was strange. But really, you know, people who live in the country must have some one to be fond of too.”
“Does Fru Falkenberg say the same?”
“Fru Falkenberg? No, she says she doesn’t want to be fond of anybody, only play her piano and that sort of thing. But I was speaking of myself. Do you know what I did once? No, really, I can’t tell you that. Do you want to know?
“Yes, tell me.”
“Well, then . . . for, after all, I’m only a child compared to you, so it doesn’t matter. It was when you were sleeping in the barn; I went over there one day and laid your rugs together properly, and made a proper bed.”
“Was it you did that?” I burst out quite sincerely, forgetting to play my part.
“You ought to have seen me stealing in. Hahaha!”
But this young girl was — not artful enough, she changed colour at her little confession, and laughed forcedly to cover her confusion.
I try to help her out, and say:
“You’re really good-hearted, you know. Fru Falkenberg would never have done a thing like that.”
“No; but then she’s older. Did you think we were the same age?”
“Does Fru Falkenberg say she doesn’t want to be fond of anybody?”
“Yes. Oh no . . . bother, I don’t know. Fru Falkenberg’s married, of course; she doesn’t say anything. Now talk to me again a little. . . . Yes, and do you remember the time we went up to the store to buy things, you know? And I kept walking slower and slower for you to catch up. . . . ”
“Yes . . . that was nice of you. And now I’ll do something for you in return.”
I rose from my seat, and walked across to where young Bewer sat, and asked if he would not care to join us at our table. I brought him along; Frøken Elisabeth flushed hotly as he came up. Then I talked those two young people well together, which done, I suddenly remembered I had some business to do, and must go off at once. “I’m ever so sorry to leave just now. Frøken Elisabeth, I’m afraid you’ve turned my head, bewitched me completely; but I realize it’s hopeless to think of it. It’s a marvel to me, by the way. . . . ”
I shambled over to Raadhusgaten, and stood awhile by the cab stand, watching the entrance to the Victoria. But, of course, she had gone to see some friends. I drifted into the hotel, and got talking to the porter.
Yes, Fruen was in. Room No. 12, first floor.
Then she was not out visiting friends?
Was she leaving shortly?
Fruen had not said so.
I went out into the street again, and the cabmen flung up their aprons, inviting my patronage. I picked out a cab and got in.
“Just stay where you are. I’m hiring you by the hour.”
The cabmen walk about whispering, one suggesting this, another that: he’s watching the place; out to catch his wife meeting some commercial traveller.
Yes, I am watching the place. There is a light in one or two of the rooms, and suddenly it strikes me that she might stand at a window and see me. “Wait,” I say to the cabman, and go into the hotel again.
“Whereabouts is No. 12?”
“Looking out on to Raadhusgaten?”
“Then it must have been my sister,” I say, inventing something in order to slip past the porter.
I go up the stairs, and, to give myself no chance of turning back, I knock at the door the moment I have seen the number. No answer. I knock again.
“Is it the maid?” comes a voice from within.
I could not answer yes; my voice would have betrayed me. I tried the handle — the door was locked. Perhaps she had been afraid I might come; possibly she had seen me outside.
“No, it’s not the maid,” I say, and I can hear how the words quiver strangely.
I stand listening a long while after that; I can hear someone moving inside, but the door remains closed. Then come two short rings from one of the rooms down to the hall. It must be she, I say to myself; she is feeling uneasy, and has rung for the maid. I move away from her door, to avoid any awkwardness for her, and, when the maid comes, I walk past as if going downstairs. Then the maid says, “Yes, the maid,” and the door is opened.
“No, no.” says the maid; “only a gentleman going downstairs.”
I thought of taking a room at the hotel, but the idea was distasteful to me; she was not a runaway wife meeting commercial travellers. When I came down, I remarked to the porter as I passed that Fruen seemed to be lying down.
Then I went out and got into my cab again. The time passes, a whole hour; the cabman wants to know if I do not feel cold? Well, yes, a little. Was I waiting for some one? Yes. . . . He hands me down his rug from the box, and I tip him the price of a drink for his thoughtfulness.
Time goes on; hour after hour. The cabmen talk unrestrainedly now, saying openly one to another that I’m letting the horse freeze to death.
No, it was no good. I paid for the cab, went home, and wrote the following letter:
“You would not let me write to you; will you not let me see you once again? I will ask for you at the hotel at five to-morrow afternoon.”
Should I have fixed an earlier hour? But the light in the forenoon was so white; if I felt moved and my mouth twitched, I should look a dreadful sight.
I took the letter round myself to the hotel, and went home again.
A long night — oh, how long were those hours! Now, when I ought to sleep and stretch myself and feel refreshed, I could not. Day dawned, and I got up. After a long ramble through the streets I came back home again, and slept.
Hours pass. When I awake and come to my senses, I hurry anxiously to the telephone to ask if Fruen had left.
No, Fruen had not left.
Thank Heaven then, it seemed she did not wish to run away from me; she must have had my letter long since. No; I had called at an awkward hour the evening before, that was all.
I had something to eat, lay down, and slept again. When I woke it was past noon. I stumble in to the telephone again and ring up as before.
No, Fruen had not left yet. But her things were packed. She was out just now.
I got ready at once, and hurried round to Raadhusgaten to stand on watch. In the course of half an hour I saw a number of people pass in and out, not the one I sought. It was five o’clock now, and I went in and spoke to the porter.
Fruen was gone.
“Was it you that rang up? She came just at that moment and took her things. But I’ve a letter here.”
I took the letter, and, without opening it, asked about the train.
“Train left at 4.45,” says the porter, looking at his watch. “It’s five now.”
I had thrown away half an hour keeping watch outside.
I sit down on one of the steps, staring at the floor.
The porter keeps on talking. He must be well aware it was not my sister.
“I said to Fruen there was a gentleman had just rung up. But she only said she hadn’t time, and would I give him this letter.”
“Was there another lady with her when she left?”
I got up and went out. In the street I opened the letter and read:
“You must not follow me about any more —”
Impassively I put the thing away. It had not surprised me, had made no new impression. Thoroughly womanly, hasty words, written on impulse, with underlining and a dash. . . .
Then it occurred to me to go round to Frøken Elisabeth’s address; there was still a glimmer of hope. I heard the door bell ring inside the house as I pressed, and stood listening as in a whirling desert.
Frøken Elisabeth had left an hour before.
Then wine, and then whisky. And then endless whisky. And altogether a twenty-one days’ debauch, in the course of which a curtain falls and hides my earthly consciousness. In this state, it enters my head one day to send something to a little cottage in the country. It is a mirror, in a gay gilt frame. And it was for a little maid, by name Olga, a creature touching and sweet to watch as a young calf.
Ay, for I’ve not got over my neurasthenia yet.
The timber saw is in my room. But I cannot put it together, for the bulk of the wooden parts I left behind at a vicarage in the country. It matters little now, my love for the thing is dulled. My neurasthenic friends, believe me, folk of our sort are useless as human beings, and we should not even do for any kind of beast.
One day I suppose I shall grow tired of this unconsciousness, and go out and live on an island once again.
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