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Title: Wanderers
Author: Hamsun, Knut
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wanderers" ***

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WANDERERS


By Knut Hamsun


Translated from the Norwegian of by W. W. Worster


With an Introduction by W. W. Worster



CONTENTS


Under the Autumn Star


A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings



WANDERERS



INTRODUCTION


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”?


EDWIN BJORKMAN



UNDER THE AUTUMN STAR



I.


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.



II


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_!” [Footnote:
“The Devil! Power of the Devil!”]--and then looks round suddenly and
starts humming a tune to cover his words.

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?”

“Which one?”

“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.



III


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

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

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

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

“So you’re a bricklayer, too?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I row across to him and ask:

“Can you dig that well all alone?”

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

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

Half-way up I heard Grindhusen calling again:

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

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

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



IV


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.



V


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.



VI


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?”

“Yes.”

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.



VII


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.”

I said:

“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?”

“Knut Pedersen.”

“Where are you from?”

“From Nordland.”

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.”

Happy man!

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.



VIII


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.

Good!

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.”

“No! really?”

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.



IX


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?



X


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.

I said:

“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.

I said:

“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.



XI


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. [Footnote: 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....”

Pause.

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.”

Pause.

“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.”

Pause.

“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!”



XII


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?

No.

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.



XIII


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.



XIV


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.

“Which 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.”

“Pipe?”

“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....”

Happy Falkenberg!

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.”

“_What_ 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. [Footnote: Again substituting an
aristocratic for a rustic name.] There was no limit to what we could do
in that way.

“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.”



XV


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?

No.

Or Fruen?

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.

Neurasthenia!

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?”

“Yes.”

“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....



XVI


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.



XVII


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.



XVIII


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?”

“No.”

Pause.

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“From Trøndelagen.”

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....



XIX


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.



XX


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.

“Who?”

“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.



XXI


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.

“Who?”

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.

Evening came.

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.



XXII


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.”

“Why not?”

“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.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Because she knows you.”

“Why, as for that, ‘twould have been safe enough as it was.”

“Do you mind going at all?”

“No.”

“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.



XXIII


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.”

“No.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.



XXIV


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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“From Nordland.”

Pause.

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!”



XXV


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.”

“What’s that?”

“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.

Emma asks:

“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.



XXVI


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?



XXVII


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?”

“Yes.”

“Nobody ill?”

“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.



XXVIII


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?

Olga.

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.” [Footnote: 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.



XXIX


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_. [Footnote: Manor.] Or possibly
some _herse_ [Footnote: Local chieftain in ancient times.] 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....

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?

“Yes.”

“H’m. Well, I don’t use wooden fences any more. I’ve put up wire. Do
bricklayer’s work?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Felling timber.”

“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.”



XXX


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_--” [Footnote: “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?”

“Yes.”

“I see he’s invented a machine.”

“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...”



XXXI


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.

“Really?”

“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.



XXXII


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?

Fruen.

Fruen?

Fruen, yes.

Pause.

Really? And where was Fruen gone to?

Gone to stay in town for a bit.

Pause.

“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.

“Let’s look.”

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.”



XXXIII


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?”

“Yes, do.”

“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.”

Pause.

“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....”



XXXIV


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?

No.

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.

“Where to?”

“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?”

“First floor.”

“Looking out on to Raadhusgaten?”

“Yes.”

“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.

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?”

“No.”

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.



A WANDERER PLAYS ON MUTED STRINGS



INTRODUCTION


It looks to be a fine year for berries, yes; whortleberries,
crowberries, and fintocks. A man can’t live on berries; true enough. But
it is good to have them growing all about, and a kindly thing to see.
And many a thirsty and hungry man’s been glad to find them.

I was thinking of this only yesterday evening.

There’s two or three months yet till the late autumn berries are ripe;
yes, I know. But there are other joys than berries in the wilds. Spring
and summer they are still only in bloom, but there are harebells
and ladyslippers, deep, windless woods, and the scent of trees, and
stillness. There is a sound as of distant waters from the heavens; never
so long-drawn a sound in all eternity. And a thrush may be singing as
high as ever its voice can go, and then, just at its highest pitch, the
note breaks suddenly at a right angle; clear and clean as if cut with
a diamond; then softly and sweetly down the scale once more. Along the
shore, too, there is life; guillemot, oyster-catcher, tern are busy
there; the wagtail is out in search of food, advancing in little spurts,
trim and pert with its pointed beak and swift little flick of a tail;
after a while it flies up to perch on a fence and sing with the
rest. But when the sun has set, may come the cry of a loon from some
hill-tarn; a melancholy hurrah. That is the last; now there is only the
grasshopper left. And there’s nothing to say of a grasshopper, you never
see it; it doesn’t count, only he’s there gritting his resiny teeth, as
you might say.

I sit and think of all these things; of how summer has its joys for a
wanderer, so there’s no sort of need to wait till autumn comes.

And here I am writing cool words of these quiet things--for all the
world as if there were no violent and perilous happenings ahead. ‘Tis
a trick, and I learned it of a man in the southern hemisphere--of a
Mexican called Rough. The brim of his huge hat was hung with tinkling
sequins: that in itself was a thing to remember. And most of all,
I remember how calmly he told the story of his first murder: “I’d a
sweetheart once named Maria,” said Rough, with that patient look of his;
“well, she was no more than sixteen, and I was nineteen then. She’d such
little hands when you touched them; fingers thin and slight, you know
the sort. One evening the master called her in from the fields to do
some sewing for him. No help for it then; and it wasn’t more than a day
again before he calls her in same as before. Well, it went on like that
a few weeks, and then stopped. Seven months after Maria died, and they
buried her, little hands and all. I went to her brother Inez and said:
‘At six tomorrow morning the master rides to town, and he’ll be alone.’
‘I know,’ said he. ‘You might lend me that little rifle of yours to
shoot him with.’ ‘I shall be using it myself,’ said he. Then we talked
for a bit about other things: the crops, and a big new well we’d dug.
And when I left, I reached down his rifle from the wall and took it with
me. In the timber I heard Inez at my heels, calling to me to stop. We
sat down and talked a bit more this way and that; then Inez snatched the
rifle away from me and went home. Next morning I was up early, and out
at the gate ready to open it for the master; Inez was there too, hiding
in the bushes. I told him he’d better go on ahead; we didn’t want to be
two to one. ‘He’s pistols in his belt.’ said Inez; ‘but what about
you?’ ‘I know,’ said I; ‘but I’ve a lump of lead here, and that makes no
noise.’ I showed him the lump of lead, and he thought for a bit; then he
went home. Then the master came riding up; grey and old he was, sixty at
least. ‘Open the gate!’ he called out. But I didn’t. He thought I must
be mad, no doubt, and lashed out at me with his whip, but I paid no
heed. At last he had to get down himself to open the gate. Then I gave
him the first blow: it got him just by one eye and cut a hole. He
said, ‘_Augh_!’ and dropped. I said a few words to him, but he didn’t
understand; after a few more blows he was dead. He’d a deal of money on
him; I took a little to help me on my way, then I mounted and rode off.
Inez was standing in the doorway as I rode past his place. ‘It’s only
three and a half days to the frontier,’ he said.”

So Rough told his story, and sat staring coolly in front of him when it
was ended.

I have no murders to tell of, but joys and sufferings and love. And love
is no less violent and perilous than murder.

Green in all the woods now, I thought to myself this morning as I
dressed. The snow is melting on the hills, and everywhere the cattle in
their sheds are eager and anxious to be out; in houses and cottages the
windows are opened wide. I open my shirt and let the wind blow in upon
me, and I mark how I grow starstruck and uncontrollable within; ah, for
a moment it is all as years ago, when I was young, and a wilder spirit
than now. And I think to myself: maybe there’s a tract of woodland
somewhere east or west of this, where an old man can find himself as
well bested as a young. I will go and look for it.

Rain and sun and wind by turns; I have been many days on the road
already. Too cold yet to lie out in the open at night, but there is
always shelter to be had at farmsteads by the way. One man thinks it
strange that I should go tramping about like this for nothing; he takes
me, no doubt, for somebody in disguise, just trying to be original like
Wergeland. [Footnote: A Norwegian poet.]The man knows nothing of my
plans, how I am on my way to a place I know, where live some people
I have a fancy to see again. But he is a sensible fellow enough, and
involuntarily I nod as if to agree there is something in what he says.
There’s a theatrical touch in most of us that makes us feel flattered
at being taken for more than we are. Then up come his wife and daughter,
good, ordinary souls, and carry all away with their kindly gossip; he’s
no beggar, they say; be paid for his supper and all. And at last I turn
crafty and cowardly and say never a word, and let the man lay more to
my charge and still never a word. And we three hearty souls outwin his
reasoning sense, and he has to explain he was only jesting all the time;
surely we could see that. I stayed a night and a day there, and greased
my shoes with extra care, and mended my clothes.

But then the man begins to suspect once more. “There’ll be a handsome
present for that girl of mine when you leave, I know,” says he. I made
as if his words had no effect, and answered with a laugh: “You think
so?” “Yes,” says he; “and then when you’re gone we’ll sit thinking you
must have been somebody grand, after all.”

A detestable fellow this! I did the only thing I could: ignored his
sarcasm and asked for work. I liked the place, I said, and he’d need of
help; I could turn my hand to anything now in the busy time.

“You’re a fool,” said he, “and the sooner you’re off the place the
better I’ll be pleased.”

Clearly he had taken a dislike to me, and there was none of the
womenfolk at hand to take my part. I looked at the man, at a loss to
understand what was in his mind.

His glance was steady; it struck me suddenly that I had never seen such
wisdom in the eyes of man or woman. But he carried his ill-will too far,
and made a false step. He asked: “What shall we say your name was?” “No
need to say anything at all,” I answered. “A wandering Eilert Sundt?” he
suggested. And I entered into the jest and answered: “Yes, why not?”
 But at that he fired up and snapped out sharply: “Then I’m sorry for Fru
Sundt, that’s all.” I shrugged my shoulders in return, and said: “You’re
wrong there, my good man; I am not married.” And I turned to go. But
with an unnatural readiness he called after me: “‘Tis you that’s wrong:
I meant for the mother that bore you.”

A little way down the road I turned, and saw how his wife and daughter
took him up. And I thought to myself: no, ‘tis not all roses when one
goes a-wandering.

At the next place I came to I learned that he had been with the army, as
quartermaster-sergeant; then he went mad over a lawsuit he lost, and was
shut up in an asylum for some time. Now in the spring his trouble broke
out again; perhaps it was my coming that had given the final touch. But
the lightning insight in his eyes at the moment when the madness came
upon him! I think of him now and again; he was a lesson to me. ‘Tis none
so easy to judge of men, who are wise or mad. And God preserve us all
from being known for what we are!

       *       *       *       *       *

That day I passed by a house where a lad sat on the doorstep playing a
mouth-organ. He was no musician to speak of, but a cheerful soul he
must surely be, to sit there playing to himself like that. I would not
disturb him, but simply raised one hand to my cap, and stood a little
distance off. He took no notice of me, only wiped his mouth-organ and
went on playing. This went on for some time; then at last, waiting till
he stopped to wipe his instrument again, I coughed.

“That you, Ingeborg?” he called out. I thought he must be speaking
to someone in the house behind him, and made no answer. “You there, I
mean,” he said again.

I was confused at this. “Can’t you see me?” I said.

He did not answer, but fumbled with his hands to either side, as if
trying to get up, and I realized that he was blind, “Sit still; don’t be
afraid of me,” I said, and set myself down beside him.

We fell into talk: been blind since he was fourteen, it seemed; he would
be eighteen now, and a big, strong fellow he was, with a thick growth of
down on his chin. And, thank Heaven, he said, his health was good. But
his eyesight, I asked; could he remember what the world looked like?
Yes, indeed; there were many pleasant things he could remember from the
time when he could see. He was happy and content enough. He was going in
to Christiania this spring, to have an operation; then perhaps he might
at least be able to see well enough to walk; ay, all would be well in
time, no doubt. He was dull-witted, looked as if he ate a lot; was
stout and strong as a beast. But there was something unhealthy-looking,
something of the idiot about him; his acceptance of his fate was too
unreasonable. To be hopeful in that way implies a certain foolishness,
I thought to myself; a man must be lacking in sense to some degree if he
can go ahead feeling always content with life, and even reckoning to get
something new, some good out of it into the bargain.

But I was in the mood to learn something from all I chanced on in my
wandering; even this poor creature on his doorstep made me the wiser by
one little thing. How was it he could mistake me for a woman; the woman
Ingeborg he had called by name? I must have walked up too quietly. I had
forgotten the plodding cart-horse gait; my shoes were too light. I had
lived too luxuriously these years past; I must work my way back to the
peasant again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three more days now to the goal my curious fancy had set before me: to
Øvrebø, to Captain Falkenberg’s. It was an opportune time to walk up
there just now and ask for work; there would be plenty to do on a big
place like that in the spring. Six years since I was there last; time
had passed, and for the last few weeks I had been letting my beard grow,
so that none should recognize me now.

It was in the middle of the week; I must arrange to get there on the
Saturday evening. Then the Captain would let me stay over the Sunday
while he thought about taking me on. On Monday he would come and say yes
or no.

Strangely enough, I felt no excitement at the thought of what was to
come; nothing of unrest, no; calmly and comfortably I took my way by
farmstead, wood, and meadow. I thought to myself how I had once, years
ago, spent some adventurous weeks at that same Øvrebø, even to being in
love with Fruen herself, with Fru Lovise. Ay, that I was. She had fair
hair and grey, dark eyes; like a young girl she was. Six years gone, ay,
so long it is ago; would she be greatly changed? Time has had its wear
on me; I am grown dull and faded and indifferent; I look upon a woman
now as literature, no more. It has come to the end. Well, and what then?
Everything comes to an end. When first I entered on this stage I had
a feeling as if I had lost something; as if I had been favoured by the
caresses of a pickpocket. Then I set to and felt myself about, to see if
I could bear myself after this; if I could endure myself as I was now.
Oh well, yes, why not? Not the same as before, of course, but it all
passed off so noiselessly, but peacefully, but surely. Everything comes
to an end.

In old age one takes no real part in life, but keeps oneself on
memories. We are like letters that have been delivered; we are no longer
on the way, we have arrived. It is only a question whether we have
whirled up joys and sorrows out of what was in us, or have made no
impression at all. Thanks be for life; it was good to live!

But Woman, she was, as the wise aforetime knew, infinitely poor in mind,
but rich in irresponsibility, in vanity, in wantonness. Like a child in
many ways, but with nothing of its innocence.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stand by the guide-post where the road turns off to Øvrebø. There is
no emotion in me. The day lies broad and bright over meadow and woods;
here and there is ploughing and harrowing in the fields, but all moves
slowly, hardly seems to move at all, for it is full noon and a blazing
sun. I walk a little way on beyond the post, dragging out the time
before going up to the house. After an hour, I go into the woods and
wander about there for a while; there are berries in flower and a scent
of little green leaves. A crowd of thrushes go chasing a crow across
the sky, making a great to-do, like a clattering confusion of faulty
castanets. I lie down on my back, with my sack under my head, and drop
off to sleep.

A little after I wake again, and walk over to the nearest ploughman.
I want to find out something about the Falkenbergs, if they are still
there and all well. The man answers cautiously; he stands blinking, with
his little, crafty eyes, and says: “All depends if Captain’s at home.”

“Is he often away, then?”

“Nay, he’ll be at home.”

“Has he got the field work done?”

The man smiled: “Nay, I doubt it’s not finished yet.”

“Are there hands enough to the place?”

“That’s more than I can say; yes, I doubt there’s hands enough. And the
field work’s done; leastways, the manure’s all carted out.”

The man clicks to his horses and goes on ploughing; I walked on beside
him. There was not much to be got out of him; next time the horses
stopped for a breathing space I worried out of him a few more
contradictions as to the family at Øvrebø. The Captain, it seemed was
away on manoeuvres all through the summer, and Fruen was at home alone.
Yes, they had always a heap of visitors, of course; but the Captain was
away. That is to say, not because he wanted to; he liked best to stay at
home, by all accounts, but, of course, he’d his duty as well. No, they’d
no children as yet; didn’t look as if Fruen was like to have any. What
was I talking about? They might have children yet, of course; any amount
of them for that. On again.

We plough on to the next stop. I am anxious not to arrive at an awkward
time, and ask the man, therefore, if he thinks there would be visitors
or anything of that sort up at the house today. No, he thought not.
They’d parties and visitors now and again, but.... Ay, and music and
playing and fine goings-on as often as could be, but.... And well
they might, for that matter, seeing they were fine folks, and rich and
well-to-do as they were.

He was a torment, was that ploughman. I tried to find out something
about another Falkenberg, who could tune pianos at a pinch. On this the
ploughman’s information was more definite. Lars? Ay, he was here. Know
him? Why, of course he knew Lars well enough. He’d finished with service
at Øvrebø, but the Captain had given him a clearing of land to live
on; he married Emma, that was maid at the house, and they’d a couple of
children. Decent, hardworking folk, with feed for two cows already out
of their clearing.

Here the furrow ended, and the man turned his team about. I thanked him,
and went on my way.

When I came to the house, I recognized all the buildings; they wanted
painting. The flagstaff I had helped to raise six years before, it stood
there still; but there was no cord to it, and the knob at the top was
gone.

Well, here I was, and that was four o’clock in the afternoon of the 26th
day of April.

Old folk have a memory for dates.



I


It turned out otherwise than I had thought. Captain Falkenberg came out,
heard what I had to say, and answered no on the spot. He had all the
hands he wanted, and the field work was all but done.

Good! Might I go over to the men’s room and sit down and rest a while?

Certainly.

No invitation to stay over Sunday. The Captain turned on his heel and
went indoors again. He looked as if he had only just got out of bed,
for he was wearing a night-shirt tucked into his trousers, and had no
waistcoat on; only a jacket flung on loosely and left unbuttoned. He was
going grey about the ears, and his beard as well.

I sat down in the men’s quarters and waited till the farmhands came in
for their afternoon meal. There were only two of them--the foreman and
another. I got into talk with them, and it appeared the Captain had made
a mistake in saying the field work was all but done. Well, ‘twas his
own affair. I made no secret of the fact that I was looking for a
place, and, as for being used to the work, I showed them the fine
recommendation I had got from the Lensmand at Hersæt years ago. When the
men went out again, I took my sack and walked out with them, ready to
go on my way. I peeped in at the stables and saw a surprising number
of horses, looked at the cowshed, at the fowls, and the pigs. I noticed
that there was dung in the pit from the year before that had not been
carted out yet.

I asked how that could be.

“Well, what are we to do?” answered the foreman. “I looked to it from
the end of the winter up till now, and nobody but myself on the place.
Now there’s two of us at least, in a sort of way, but now there’s all
the ploughing and harrowing to be done.”

‘Twas his affair.

I bade him farewell, and went on my way. I was going to my good friend,
Lars Falkenberg, but I did not tell them so. There are some new little
buildings far up in the wood I can see, and that I take to be the
clearing.

But the man I had just left must have been inwardly stirred by the
thought of getting an extra hand to help with the work. I saw him tramp
across the courtyard and up to the house as I went off.

I had gone but a couple of hundred yards when he comes hurrying after
me to say I am taken on after all. He had spoken to the Captain, and got
leave to take me on himself. “There’ll be nothing to do now till Monday,
but come in and have something to eat.”

He is a good fellow, this; goes with me up to the kitchen and tells
them there: “Here’s a new man come to work on the place; see he gets
something to eat.”

A strange cook and strange maids. I get my food and go out again. No
sign of master or mistress anywhere.

But I cannot sit idle in the men’s room all the evening; I walk up to
the field and talk to my two fellow-workers. Nils, the foreman, is from
a farm a little north of here, but, not being the eldest son, and having
no farm of his own to run, he has been sensible enough to take service
here at Øvrebø for the time being. And, indeed, he might have done
worse. The Captain himself was not paying more and more attention to his
land, rather, perhaps, less and less, and he was away so much that
the man had to use his own judgment many a time. This last autumn, for
instance, he has turned up a big stretch of waste land that he is going
to sow. He points out over the ground, showing where he’s ploughed and
what’s to lie over: “See that bit there how well it’s coming on.”

It is good to hear how well this young man knows his work; I find a
pleasure in his sensible talk. He has been to one of the State schools,
too, and learned how to keep accounts of stock, entering loads of hay in
one column and the birth dates of the calves in another. His affair. In
the old days a peasant kept such matters in his head, and the womenfolk
knew to a day when each of their twenty or fifty cow was due to calve.

But he is a smart young fellow, nevertheless, and not afraid of work,
only a little soured and spoiled of late by having more on his hands
than a man could do. It was plain to see how he brightened up now he had
got a man to help with the work. And he settles there and then that I am
to start on Monday with the harrow horse, carting out manure, the lad
to take one of the Captain’s carriage horses for the harrow; he himself
would stick to the ploughing. Ay, we would get our sowing done this
year.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sunday.

I must be careful not to show any former knowledge of things about the
place here; as, for instance, how far the Captain’s timber runs, or
where the various out-houses and buildings are, or the well, or the
roads. I took some time getting things ready for tomorrow--greased the
wheels of the cart, and did up the harness, and gave the horse an extra
turn. In the afternoon I went for a four or five hours’ ramble through
the woods, passed by Lars Falkenberg’s place without going in, and came
right out to where the Captain’s land joined that of the neighbouring
village before I turned back. I was surprised to see the mass of timber
that had been cut.

When I got back, Nils asked: “Did you hear them singing and carrying on
last night?”

“Yes; what was it?”

“Visitors,” said he, with a laugh.

Visitors! yes, there were always visitors at Øvrebø just now.

There was an extremely fat but sprightly man among them; he wore his
moustache turned up at the ends, and was a captain in the same arm of
the service as the master. I saw him and the other guests come lounging
out of the house in the course of the evening. There was a man they
called Ingeniør, [Footnote: Engineer. Men are frequently addressed and
referred to by the title of their occupation, with or without adding the
name.] he was young, a little over twenty, fairly tall, brown-skinned
and clean shaven. And there was Elisabet from the vicarage. I remember
Elisabet very well, and recognized her now at once, for all she was
six years older and more mature. Little Elisabet of the old days was
no longer a girl--her breast stood out so, and gave an impression of
exaggerated health. I learned she is married; she took Erik after all,
a farmer’s son she had been fond of as a child. She was still friendly
with Fru Falkenberg, and often came to stay. But her husband never came
with her.

Elisabet is standing by the flagstaff, and Captain Falkenberg comes out.
They talk a little, and are occupied with their own affairs. The Captain
glances round every time he speaks; possibly he is not talking of
trifles, but of something he must needs be careful with.

Then comes the other Captain, the fat and jovial one; we can hear his
laugh right over in the servants’ quarters. He calls out to Captain
Falkenberg to come along, but gets back only a curt answer. A few stone
steps lead down to the lilac shrubbery; the Captain goes down there
now, a maid following after with wine and glasses. Last of all comes the
engineer.

Nils bursts out laughing: “Oh, that Captain! look at him!”

“What’s his name?”

“They all call him Bror; [Footnote: Brother. Not so much a nickname as a
general term of jovial familiarity.] it was the same last year as well.
I don’t know his proper name.”

“And the Engineer?”

“His name’s Lassen, so I’ve heard. He’s only been here once before in my
time.”

Then came Fru Falkenberg out on the steps; she stopped for a moment
and glanced over at the two by the flagstaff. Her figure is slight and
pretty as ever; but her face seems looser, as if she had been stouter
once and since grown thin. She goes down to the shrubbery after the
others, and I recognize her walk again--light and firm as of old. But
little wonder if time has taken something of her looks in all those
years.

More people come out from the house--an elderly lady wearing a shawl,
and two gentlemen with her.

Nils tells me it is not always there are so many guests in the house at
once; but it was the Captain’s birthday two days ago, and two carriage
loads of people had come dashing up; the four strange horses were in the
stables now.

Now voices are calling again for the couple by the flagstaff; the
Captain throws out an impatient “Yes!” but does not move. Now he brushes
a speck of dust from Elisabet’s shoulder; now, looking round carefully,
he lays one hand on her arm and tells her something earnestly.

Says Nils:

“They’ve always such a lot to talk about, those two. She never comes
here but they go off for long walks together.”

“And what does Fru Falkenberg say to that?”

“I’ve never heard she troubled about it any way.”

“And Elisabet, hasn’t she any children either?”

“Ay, she’s many.”

“But how can she get away so often with that big place and the children
to look after?”

“It’s all right as long as Erik’s mother’s alive. She can get away all
she wants.”

He went out as he spoke, leaving me alone. In this room I had sat once
working out the construction of an improved timber saw. How earnest I
was about it all! Petter, the farm-hand, lay sick in the room next door,
and I would hurry out eagerly whenever I’d any hammering to do, and get
it done outside. Now that patent saw’s just literature to me, no more.
So the years deal with us all.

Nils comes in again.

“If the visitors aren’t gone tomorrow, I’ll take a couple of their
horses for the ploughing,” says he, thinking only of his own affairs.

I glanced out of the window; the couple by the flagstaff have moved away
at last.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the evening things grew more and more lively down in the shrubbery.
The maids went backwards and forwards with trays of food and drink; the
party were having supper among the lilacs. “Bror! Bror!” cried one and
another, but Bror himself was loudest of all. A chair had broken under
his enormous weight, and a message comes out to the servants’ quarters
to find a good, solid, wooden chair that would bear him. Oh, but they
were merry down in the shrubbery! Captain Falkenberg walked up now and
again in front of the house to show he was still steady on his legs, and
was keeping a watchful eye on things in general. “You mark my words,”
 said Nils, “he’ll not be the first to give over. I drove for him last
year, and he was drinking all the way, but never a sign was there to
see.”

The sun went down. It was growing chilly, perhaps, in the garden;
anyway, the party went indoors. But the big windows were thrown wide,
and waves of melody from Fru Falkenberg’s piano poured out. After a
while it changed to dance tunes; jovial Captain Bror, no doubt, was
playing now.

“Nice lot, aren’t they?” said Nils. “Sit up playing and dancing all
night, and stay in bed all day. I’m going to turn in.”

I stayed behind, looking out of the window, and saw my mate Lars
Falkenberg come walking across the courtyard and go up into the house.
He had been sent for to sing to the company. When he has sung for a
while, Captain Bror and some of the others begin to chime in and help,
making a fine merry noise between them. After about an hour in comes
Lars Falkenberg to the servants’ quarters with a half-bottle of spirit
in his pocket for his trouble. Seeing no one but me, a stranger, in the
room, he goes in to Nils in the bedroom next door, and they take a dram
together; after a little they call to me to come in. I am careful not to
say too much, hoping not to be recognized; but when Lars gets up to go
home, he asks me to go part of the way with him. And then it appears
that I am discovered already; Lars knows that I am his former mate of
the woodcutting days.

The Captain had told him.

Well and good, I think to myself. Then I’ve no need to bother about
being careful any more. To tell the truth, I was well pleased at the
way things had turned out; it meant that the Captain was completely
indifferent as to having me about the place; I could do as I pleased.

I walked all the way home with Lars, talking over old times, and of his
new place, and of the people at Øvrebø. It seemed that the Captain was
not looked up to with the same respect as before; he was no longer the
spokesman of the district, and neighbours had ceased to come and ask his
help and advice. The last thing of any account he did was to have the
carriage drive altered down to the high road, but that was five years
ago. The buildings needed painting, but he had put it off and never had
it done; the road across the estate was in disrepair, and he had felled
too much timber by far. Drink? Oh, so folk said, no doubt, but it
couldn’t be fairly said he drank--not that way. Devil take the gossiping
fools. He drank a little, and now and again he would drive off somewhere
and stay away for a bit; but when he did come home again things never
seemed to go well with him, and that was the pity of it! An evil spirit
seemed to have got hold of him, said Lars.

And Fruen?

Fruen! She went about the house as before, and played on her piano, and
was as pretty and neat as ever any one could wish. And they keep open
house, with folk for ever coming and going; but taxes and charges on
this and that mount up, and it costs a deal to keep up the place, with
all the big buildings to be seen to. But it is a sin and a shame for
the Captain, and Fruen as well, to be so dead-weary of each other, you’d
never think. If they do say a word to each other, it’s looking to the
other side all the time, and hardly opening their lips. They barely
speak at all, except to other people month after month the same. And all
summer the Captain’s out on manoeuvres, and never comes home to see how
his wife and the place are getting on. “No, they’ve no children; that’s
the trouble,” says Lars.

Emma comes out and joins us. She looks well and handsome still, and I
tell her so.

“Emma?” says Lars. “Ay, well, she’s none so bad. But she’s for ever
having children, the wretch!” and, pouring out a drink from his
half-bottle, he forces her to drink it off. Now Emma presses us to come
in; we might just as well be sitting down indoors as standing about out
here.

“Oh, it’s summer now!” says Lars, evidently none so anxious to have me
in. Then, when I set off for home, he walks down again with me a bit of
the way, showing me where he’s dug and drained and fenced about his bit
of land. Small as it is, he has made good and sensible use of it. I
find a strange sense of pleasure coming over me as I look at this cosy
homestead in the woods. There is a faint soughing of the wind in the
forest behind; close up to the house are foliage trees, and the aspens
rustle like silk.

I walk back home. Night is deepening; all the birds are silent; the air
calm and warm, in a soft bluish gloom.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Let us be young to-night!” It is a man’s voice, loud and bright, from
behind the lilacs. “Let’s go and dance, or do something wild.”

“Have you forgotten what you were like last year?” answers Fru
Falkenberg. “You were nice and young then, and never said such things.”

“No, I never said such things. To think you should remember that! But
you scolded me one evening last year too. I said how beautiful you were
that evening, and you said no, you weren’t beautiful any more; and you
called me a child, and told me not to drink so much.”

“Yes, so I did,” says Fru Falkenberg, with a laugh.

“So you did, yes. But as to your being beautiful or not, surely I ought
to know when I was sitting looking at you all the time?”

“Oh, you child!”

“And this evening you’re lovelier still.”

“There’s some one coming!”

Two figures rise up suddenly behind the lilacs. Fruen and the young
engineer. Seeing it is only me, they breathe more easily again, and go
on talking as if I did not exist. And mark how strange is human feeling;
I had been wishing all along to be ignored and left in peace, yet now
it hurt me to see these two making so little account of me. My hair and
beard are turning grey, I thought to myself; should they not respect me
at least for that?

“Yes, you’re lovelier still tonight,” says the man again. I come up
alongside them, touching my cap carelessly, and pass on.

“I’ll tell you this much: you’ll gain nothing by it,” says Fruen. And
then: “Here, you’ve dropped something,” she calls to me.

Dropped something? My handkerchief lay on the path; I had dropped it on
purpose. I turned round now and picked it up, said thank you, and walked
on.

“You’re very quick to notice things of no account,” says the
engineer. “A lout’s red-spotted rag.... Come, let’s go and sit in the
summer-house.”

“It’s shut up at night,” says Fruen. “I dare say there’s somebody in
there.”

After that I heard no more.

My bedroom is up in the loft in the servants’ quarters, and the one
open window looks out to the shrubbery. When I come up I can still hear
voices down there among the bushes, but cannot make out what is said. I
thought to myself: why should the summer-house be shut up at night, and
whose idea could it be? Possibly some very crafty soul, reckoning that,
if the door were always kept locked, it would be less risky to slip
inside one evening in good company, take out the key, and stay there.

Some way down along the way I had just come were two people walking
up--Captain Bror and the old lady with the shawl. They had been sitting
somewhere among the trees, no doubt, when I passed by, and I fell to
wondering now if, by any chance, I could have been talking to myself as
I walked, and been overheard.

Suddenly I see the engineer get up from behind the bushes and walk
swiftly over to the summer-house. Finding it locked, he sets his
shoulder against the door and breaks it open with a crash.

“Come along, there’s nobody here!” he cries.

Fru Falkenberg gets up and says: “Madman! Whatever are you doing?”

But she goes towards him all the same.

“Doing?” says he. “What else should I do? Love isn’t glycerine--it’s
nitro-glycerine.”

And he takes her by the arm and leads her in.

Well, ‘tis their affair....

But the stout Captain and his lady are coming up; the pair in the
summer-house will hardly be aware of their approach, and Fru Falkenberg
would perhaps find it far from agreeable to be discovered sitting there
with a man just now. I look about for some means of warning them; here
is an empty bottle; I go to the window and fling it as hard as I can
over towards the summer-house. There is a crash, bottle and tiles are
broken, and the pieces go clattering down over the roof; a cry of dismay
from within, and Fru Falkenberg rushes out, her companion behind her
still grasping her dress. They stop for a moment and look about them.
“Bror!” cries Fru Falkenberg, and sets off at a run down the shrubbery.
“No, don’t come,” she calls back over her shoulder. “You _mustn’t_, I
tell you.”

But the engineer ran after her, all the same. Wonderfully young he was,
and all inflexible.

Now the stout Captain and his lady come up, and their talk is a marvel
to hear. Love: there is nothing like it, so it seems. The stout cavalier
must be sixty at the least, and the lady with him, say forty; their
infatuation was a sight to see.

The Captain speaks:

“And up to this evening I’ve managed to hide it somehow, but now--well,
it’s more than any man can. You’ve bewitched me Frue, completely.”

“I didn’t think you cared so much, really,” she answers gently, trying
to help him along.

“Well, I do,” he says. “And I can’t stand it any longer, and that’s the
truth. When we were up in the woods just now, I still thought I could
get through one more night, and didn’t say anything much at the time.
But now; come back with me, say you will!”

She shook her head.

“No; oh, I’d love to give you ... do what you....”

“Ah!” he exclaims, and, throwing his arms about her, stands pressing
his round paunch against hers. There they stood, looking like two
recalcitrants that would not. Oh, that Captain!

“Let me go,” she implored him.

He loosened his hold a trifle and pressed her to him again. Once more it
looked as if both were resisting.

“Come back up into the wood,” he urged again and again.

“Oh, it’s impossible!” she answered. “And then it’s all wet with the
dew.”

But the Captain was full of passionate words--full and frothing over.

“Oh, I used to think I didn’t care much about eyes! Blue eyes--huh! Grey
eyes--huh! Eyes any sort of colour--huh! But then you came with those
brown eyes of yours....”

“They are brown, yes....”

“You burn me with them; you--you roast me up!”

“To tell the truth, you’re not the first that’s said nice things about
my eyes. My husband now....”

“Ah, but what about me!” cries the Captain. “I tell you, Frue, if I’d
only met you twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have answered for my reason.
Come; there’s no dew to speak of up in the wood.”

“We’d better go indoors, I think,” she suggests.

“Go in? There’s not a corner anywhere indoors where we can be alone.”

“Oh, we’ll find somewhere!” she says.

“Well, anyhow, we must have an end of it to-night,” says the Captain
decisively.

And they go.

I asked myself: was it to warn anybody I had thrown that empty bottle?

       *       *       *       *       *

At three in the morning I heard Nils go out to feed the horses. At four
he knocked to rouse me out of bed. I did not grudge him the honour of
being first up, though I could have called him earlier myself, any
hour of that night indeed, for I had not slept. ‘Tis easy enough to go
without sleep a night or two in this light, fine air; it does not make
for drowsiness.

Nils sets out for the fields, driving a new team. He has looked over the
visitors’ horses, and chosen Elisabet’s. Good country-breds, heavy in
the leg.



II


More visitors arrive, and the house-party goes on. We farm-hands are
busy measuring, ploughing, and sowing; some of the fields are sprouting
green already after our work--a joy to see.

But we’ve difficulties here and there, and that with Captain Falkenberg
himself. “He’s lost all thought and care for his own good,” says Nils.
And indeed an evil spirit must have got hold of him; he was half-drunk
most of the time, and seemed to think of little else beyond playing the
genial host. For nearly a week past, he and his guests had played upside
down with day and night. But what with the noise and rioting after dark
the beasts in stable and shed could get no rest; the maids, too, were
kept up at all hours, and, what was more, the young gentlemen would come
over to their quarters at night and sit on their beds talking, just to
see them undressed.

We working hands had no part in this, of course, but many a time we felt
shamed instead of proud to work on Captain Falkenberg’s estate. Nils got
hold of a temperance badge and wore it in the front of his blouse.

One day the Captain came out to me in the fields and ordered me to get
out the carriage and fetch two new visitors from the station. It was in
the middle of the afternoon; apparently he had just got up. But he put
me in an awkward position here--why had he not gone to Nils? It struck
me that he was perhaps, after all, a little shy of Nils with his
temperance badge.

The Captain must have guessed my difficulty, for he smiled and said:

“Thinking what Nils might say? Well, perhaps I’d better talk to him
first.”

But I wouldn’t for worlds have sent the Captain over to Nils just then,
for Nils was still ploughing with visitors’ horses, and had asked me to
give him warning if I saw danger ahead. I took out my handkerchief to
wipe my face, and waved a little; Nils saw it, and slipped his team
at once. What would he do now, I wondered? But Nils was not easily
dismayed; he came straight in with his horses, though it was in the
middle of a working spell.

If only I could hold the Captain here a bit while he got in! Nils
realizes there is no time to be lost--he is already unfastening the
harness on the way.

Suddenly the Captain looks at me, and asks:

“Well, have you lost your tongue?”

“‘Twas Nils,” I answer then. “Something gone wrong, it looks like; he’s
taken the horses out.”

“Well, and what then?”

“Nay, I was only thinking....”

But there I stopped. Devil take it, was I to stand there playing the
hypocrite? Here was my chance to put in a word for Nils; the next round
he would have to manage alone.

“It’s the spring season now,” I said, “and there’s green showing already
where we’re done. But there’s a deal more to do yet, and we....”

“Well, and what then--what then?”

“There’s two and a half acres here, and Nils with hard on three acres of
corn land; perhaps Captain might give it another thought.”

At that the Captain swung on his heel and left me without a word.

“That’s my dismissal,” I thought to myself. But I walked up after him
with my cart and team, ready to do as he had said.

I was in no fear now about Nils; he was close up to the stables by now.
The Captain beckoned to him, but without avail. Then “Halt!” he cried,
military fashion; but Nils was deaf.

When we reached the stables the horses were back in their places
already. The Captain was stiff and stern as ever, but I fancied he had
been thinking matters over a little on the way.

“What have you brought the horses in for now?” he asked.

“Plough was working loose,” answered Nils. “I brought them in just while
I’m setting it to rights again; it won’t take very long.”

The Captain raps out his order:

“I want a man to drive to the station.”

Nils glances at me, and says half to himself:

“H’m! So that’s it? A nice time for that sort of thing.”

“What’s that you’re muttering about?”

“There’s two of us and a lad,” says Nils, “for the season’s work this
spring. ‘Tis none so much as leaves any to spare.”

But the Captain must have had some inkling as to the two brown horses
Nils had been in such a hurry to get in; he goes round patting the
animals in turn, to see which of them are warm. Then he comes back to
us, wiping his fingers with his handkerchief.

“Do you go ploughing with other people’s horses, Nils?”

Pause.

“I’ll not have it here; you understand?”

“H’m! No,” says Nils submissively. Then suddenly he flares up: “We’ve
more need of horses this spring than any season ever at Øvrebø: we’re
taking up more ground than ever before. And here were these strange
cattle standing here day after day eating and eating, and doing never so
much as the worth of the water they drank. So I took them out for a bit
of a spell now and then, just enough to keep them in trim.”

“I’ll have no more of it. You hear what I say?” repeated the Captain
shortly.

Pause.

“Didn’t you say one of the Captain’s plough horses was ailing
yesterday?” I put in.

Nils was quick to seize his chance.

“Ay. So it was. Standing all a-tremble in its box. I couldn’t have taken
it out anyway.”

The Captain looked me coldly up and down.

“What are you standing here for?” he asked sharply.

“Captain said I was to drive to the station.”

“Well, then, be off and get ready.”

But Nils took him up on the instant.

“That can’t be done.”

“Bravo, Nils!” said I to myself. The lad was thoroughly in the right,
and he looked it, sturdily holding his own. And as for the horses,
our own had been sorely overdone with the long season’s work, and the
strange cattle stood there eating their heads off and spoiling for want
of exercise.

“Can’t be done?” said the Captain, astounded. “What do you mean?”

“If Captain takes away the help I’ve got, then I’ve finished here,
that’s all,” says Nils.

The Captain walked to the stable door and looked out, biting his
moustache and thinking hard. Then he asked over his shoulder:

“And you can’t spare the lad, either?”

“No,” said Nils; “he’s the harrowing to do.”

This was our first real encounter with the Captain, and we had our way.
There were some little troubles again later on, but he soon gave in.

“I want a case fetched from the station,” he said one day. “Can the boy
go in for it?”

“The boy’s as ill to spare as a man for us now,” said Nils. “If he’s to
drive in to the station now, he won’t be back till late tomorrow; that’s
a day and a half lost.”

“Bravo!” I said to myself again. Nils had spoken to me before about that
case at the station; it was a new consignment of liquor; the maids had
heard about it.

There was some more talk this way and that. The Captain frowned; he had
never known a busy season last so long before. Nils lost his temper, and
said at last: “If you take the boy off his field work, then I go.” And
then he did as he and I had agreed beforehand, and asked me straight
out:

“Will you go, too?”

“Yes,” said I.

At that the Captain gave way, and said with a smile: “Conspiracy, I see.
But I don’t mind saying you’re right in a way. And you’re good fellows
to work.”

But the Captain saw but little of our work, and little pleasure it gave
him. He looked out now and again, no doubt, over his fields, and saw how
much was ploughed and sown, but that was all. But we farm-hands worked
our hardest, and all for the good of our master; that was our way.

Ay, that was our way, no doubt.

But maybe now and again we might have just a thought of question as to
that zeal of ours, whether it was so noble after all. Nils was a man
from the village who was anxious to get his field work done at least
as quickly as any of his neighbours; his honour was at stake. And I
followed him. Ay, even when he put on that temperance badge, it was,
perhaps, as much as anything to get the Captain sober enough to see the
fine work we had done. And here again I was with him. Moreover, I
had perhaps a hope that Fruen, that Fru Falkenberg at least, might
understand what good souls we were. I doubt I was no better than to
reckon so.

The first time I saw Fru Falkenberg close to was one afternoon as I
was going out of the kitchen. She came walking across the courtyard, a
slender, bareheaded figure. I raised my cap and looked at her; her face
was strangely young and innocent to see. And with perfect indifference
she answered my “_Goddag_,” and passed on.

It could not be all over for good between the Captain and his wife. I
based this view upon the following grounds:

Ragnhild, the parlour-maid, was her mistress’s friend and trusted spy.
She noted things on Fruen’s behalf, went last to bed, listened on the
stairs, made a few swift, noiseless steps when she was outside and
somebody called. She was a handsome girl, with very bright eyes, and
fine and warm-blooded into the bargain. One evening I came on her just
by the summer-house, where she stood sniffing at the lilacs; she started
as I came up, pointed warningly towards the summer-house, and ran off
with her tongue between her teeth.

The Captain was aware of Ragnhild’s doings, and once said to his wife
so all might hear--he was drunk, no doubt, and annoyed at something or
other:

“That Ragnhild’s an underhanded creature; I’d be glad to be rid of her.”

Fruen answered:

“It’s not the first time you’ve wanted to get Ragnhild out of the way;
Heaven knows what for! She’s the best maid we’ve ever had.”

“For that particular purpose, I dare say,” he retorted.

This set me thinking. Fruen was perhaps crafty enough to keep this girl
spying, simply to make it seem as if she cared at all what her husband
did. Then people could imagine that Fruen, poor thing, went about
secretly longing for him, and being constantly disappointed and wronged.
And then, of course, who could blame her if she did the like in return,
and went her own way? Heaven knows if that was the way of it!

One day later on the Captain changed his tactics. He had not managed to
free himself from Ragnhild’s watchfulness; she was still there, to be
close at hand when he was talking to Elisabet in some corner, or making
towards the summer-house late in the evening to sit there with some one
undisturbed. So he tried another way, and began making himself agreeable
to that same Ragnhild. Oho! ‘twas a woman’s wit--no doubt, ‘twas
Elisabet--had put him up to that!

We were sitting at the long dining-table in the kitchen, Nils and I and
the lad; Fruen was there, and the maids were busy with their own work.
Then in comes the Captain from the house with a brush in his hand.

“Give my coat a bit of a brush, d’you mind?” says he to Ragnhild.

She obeyed. When she had finished, he thanked her, saying: “Thank you,
my child.”

Fruen looked a little surprised, and, a moment after, sent her maid
upstairs for something. The Captain looked after her as she went, and
said:

“Wonderfully bright eyes that girl has, to be sure.”

I glanced across at Fruen. Her eyes were blazing, her cheeks flushed, as
she moved to leave the room. But in the doorway she turned, and now
her face was pale. She seemed to have formed her resolution already.
Speaking over her shoulder, she said to her husband:

“I shouldn’t be surprised if Ragnhild’s eyes were a little too bright.”

“Eh?” says the Captain, in surprise.

“Yes,” says Fruen, with a slight laugh, nodding over towards the table
where we sat. “She’s getting a little too friendly with the men out
here.”

Silence.

“So perhaps she’d better go,” Fruen went on.

It was incomparable audacity on Fruen’s part, of course, to say such a
thing to our face, but we could not protest; we saw she was only using
us to serve her need.

When we got outside, Nils said angrily:

“I’m not sure but I’d better go back and say a word or two myself about
that.”

But I dissuaded him, saying it was not worth troubling about.

A few days passed. Again the Captain found an opportunity of paying
barefaced compliments to Ragnhild: “... with a figure like yours,” he
said.

And the tone of everything about the house now--badly changed from of
old. Gone down, grown poorer year by year, no doubt, drunken
guests doing their share to help, and idleness and indifference and
childlessness for the rest.

In the evening, Ragnhild came to me and told me she was given notice;
Fruen had made some reference to me, and that was all.

Once more a piece of underhand work. Fruen knew well I should not be
long on the place; why not make me the scapegoat? She was determined to
upset her husband’s calculations, that was the matter.

Ragnhild, by the way, took it to heart a good deal, and sobbed and
dabbed her eyes. But after a while she comforted herself with the
thought that, as soon as I was gone, Fruen would take back her dismissal
and let her stay. I, for my part, was inwardly sure that Fruen would do
nothing of the kind.

Yes, the Captain and Elisabet might be content: the troublesome
parlour-maid was to be sent packing, surely enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

But who was to know? I might be out in my reckoning after all. New
happenings set me questioning anew; ay, forced me to alter my judgment
once again. ‘Tis a sorely difficult thing to judge the truth of
humankind.

I learned now, beyond doubt, that Fru Falkenberg was truly and honestly
jealous of her husband; not merely pretending to be, as so by way of
covering her own devious ways. Far, indeed, from any pretence here.
True, she did not really believe for a moment that he was interested
in her maid. But it suited her purpose to pretend she did; in her
extremity, she would use any means that came to hand. She had blushed
during that scene in the kitchen; yes, indeed, but that was a sudden and
natural indignation at her husband’s ill-chosen words, nothing more.

But she had no objections to her husband’s imagining she was jealous of
the girl. This was just what she wanted. Her meaning was clear enough.
I’m jealous again, yes; you can see it’s all the same as before with me:
here I am! Fru Falkenberg was better than I had thought. For many years
now the pair had slipped farther and farther from each other through
indifference, partly perhaps towards the last, in defiance; now she
would take the first step and show that she cared for him still. That
was it, yes. But, in face of the one she feared most of all, she would
not show her jealousy for worlds--and that was Elisabet, this dangerous
friend of hers who was so many years younger than herself.

Yes, that was the way of it.

And the Captain? Was he moved at all to see his wife flush at his words
to her maid? Maybe a shadow of memory from the old days, a tingle of
wonder, a gladness. But he said no word. Maybe he was grown prouder and
more obstinate with the years that had passed. It might well seem so
from his looks.

Then it was there came the happenings I spoke of.



III


Fru Falkenberg had been playing with her husband now for some little
time. She affected indifference to his indifference, and consoled
herself with the casual attentions of men staying in the house. Now one
and now another of them left, but stout Captain Bror and the lady with
the shawl stayed on, and Lassen, the young engineer, stayed too. Captain
Falkenberg looked on as if to say: “Well and good, stay on by all means,
my dear fellow, as long as you please.” And it made no impression on him
when his wife said “Du” to Lassen and called him Hugo. “Hugo!” she
would call, standing on the steps, looking out. And the Captain would
volunteer carelessly: “Hugo’s just gone down the road.”

One day I heard him answer her with a bitter smile and a wave of his
hand towards the lilacs: “Little King Hugo is waiting for you in his
kingdom.” I saw her start; then she laughed awkwardly to cover her
confusion, and went down in search of Lassen.

At last she had managed to wring some expression of feeling out of him.
She would try it again.

This was on a Sunday.

Later in the day Fruen was strangely restless; she said a few kindly
words to me, and mentioned that both Nils and I had managed our work
very well.

“Lars has been to the post office today,” she said, “to fetch a letter
for me. It’s one I particularly want. Would you mind going up to his
place and bringing it down for me?”

I said I would with pleasure.

“Lars won’t be home again till about eleven. So you need not start for a
long time yet.”

Very good.

“And when you get back, just give the letter to Ragnhild.”

It was the first time Fru Falkenberg had spoken to me during my present
stay at Øvrebø; it was something so new, I went up afterwards to my
bedroom and sat there by myself, feeling as if something had really
happened. I thought over one or two things a little as well. It was
simply foolishness, I told myself to go on playing the stranger here
and pretending nobody knew. And a full beard was a nuisance in the hot
weather; moreover, it was grey, and made me look ever so old. So I set
to and shaved it off.

About ten o’clock I started out towards the clearing. Lars was not back.
I stayed there a while with Emma, and presently he came in. I took the
letter and went straight home. It was close on midnight.

Ragnhild was nowhere to be seen, and the other maids had gone to bed. I
glanced in at the shrubbery. There sat Captain Falkenberg and Elisabet,
talking together at the round stone table; they took no notice of me.
There was a light in Fruen’s bedroom upstairs. And suddenly it
occurred to me that to-night I looked as I had done six years before,
clean-shaven as then. I took the letter out of my pocket and went in the
main entrance to give it to Fruen myself.

At the top of the stairs Ragnhild comes slipping noiselessly towards me
and takes the letter. She is evidently excited. I can feel the heat of
her breath as she points along the passage. There is a sound of voices
from the far end.

It looked as if she had taken up her post here on guard, or had been
set there by some one to watch; however, it was no business of mine. And
when she whispered: “Don’t say a word; go down again quietly!” I obeyed,
and went to my room.

My window was open. I could hear the couple down among the bushes: they
were drinking wine. And there was still light upstairs in Fruen’s room.

Ten minutes passed; then the light went out.

A moment later I heard some one hurrying up the stairs in the house, and
looked down involuntarily to see if it was the Captain. But the Captain
was sitting as before.

Now came the same steps down the stairs again, and, a little after,
others. I kept watch on the main entrance. First comes Ragnhild, flying
as if for her life over towards the servants’ quarters; then comes Fru
Falkenberg with her hair down, and the letter in her hand showing white
in the gloom. After her comes the engineer. The pair of them move down
towards the high road.

Ragnhild comes rushing in to me and flings herself on a chair, all out
of breath and bursting with news. Such things had happened this evening,
she whispered. Shut the window! Fruen and that engineer fellow--never a
thought of being careful--‘twas as near as ever could be but they’d have
done it. He was holding on to her when Ragnhild went in with the letter.
Ugh! Up in Fruen’s room, with the lamp blown out.

“You’re mad,” said I to Ragnhild.

But the girl had both heard and seen well enough, it seemed. She was
grown so used to playing the spy that she could not help spying on her
mistress as well. An uncommon sort, was Ragnhild.

I put on a lofty air at first and would have none of her tale-bearing,
thank you, listening at keyholes. Fie!

But how could she help it, she replied. Her orders were to bring up the
letter as soon as her mistress put out the light, and not before. But
Fruen’s windows looked out to the shrubbery, where the Captain was
sitting with Elisabet from the vicarage. No place for Ragnhild there.
Better to wait upstairs in the passage, and just take a look at the
keyhole now and again, to see if the light was out.

This sounded a little more reasonable.

“But only think of it,” said Ragnhild suddenly, shaking her head in
admiration. “What a fellow he must be, that engineer, to get as near as
that with Fruen.”

As near as what! Jealousy seized me; I gave up my lofty pose, and
questioned Ragnhild searchingly about it all. What did she say they were
doing? How did it all come about?

Ragnhild could not say how it began. Fruen had given her orders about
a letter that was to be fetched from Lars Falkenberg’s, and when it
arrived, she was to wait till the light went out in Fruen’s room, and
then bring it up. “Very good,” said Ragnhild. “But not till I put out
the light, you understand,” said Fruen again. And Ragnhild had set
herself to wait for the letter. But the time seemed endless, and she
fell to thinking and wondering about it all; there was something strange
about it. She went up into the passage and listened. She could hear
Fruen and the engineer talking easily and without restraint; stooping
down to the keyhole, she saw her mistress loosening her hair, with the
engineer looking on and saying how lovely she was. And then--ah, that
engineer--he kissed her.

“On the lips, was it?...”

Ragnhild saw I was greatly excited, and tried to reassure me.

“Well, perhaps not quite. I won’t be sure; but still ... and he’s not
a pretty mouth, anyway, to my mind.... I say, though, you’ve shaved all
clean this evening. How nice! Let me see....”

“But what did Fruen say to that? Did she slip away?”

“Yes, I think so; yes, of course she did--and screamed.”

“Did she, though?”

“Yes; out loud. And he said ‘_Sh_!’ And every time she raised her voice
he said ‘_Sh_!’ again. But Fruen said let them hear, it didn’t matter;
they were sitting down there making love in the shrubbery themselves.
That’s what she said, and it was the Captain and Elisabet from the
vicarage she meant. ‘There, you can see them,’ she said, and went to the
window. ‘I know, I know,’ says the engineer; ‘but, for Heaven’s sake,
don’t stand there with your hair down!’ and he went over and got her
away from the window. Then they said a whole heap of things, and every
time he tried to whisper Fruen talked out loud again. ‘If only you
wouldn’t shout,’ he said. ‘We could be ever so quiet up here.’ Then she
was quiet for a bit, and just sat there smiling at him without a word.
She was ever so fond of him.”

“Was she?”

“Yes, indeed, I could see that much. Only fancy, a fellow like that! He
leaned over towards her, and put his hand so--there.”

“And Fruen sat still and let him?”

“Well, yes, a little. But then she went over to the window again, and
came back, and put out her tongue like that--and went straight up to him
and kissed him. I can’t think how she could. For his mouth’s not a bit
nice, really. Then he said, ‘Now we’re all alone, and we can hear if
anybody comes.’ ‘What about Bror and his partner?’ said she. ‘Oh; they
are out somewhere, at the other end of the earth,’ said he. ‘We’re all
alone; don’t let me have to keep on asking you now!’ And then he took
hold of her and picked her up--oh, he was so strong, so strong! ‘No, no;
leave go!’ she cried.”

“Go on!” I said breathlessly. “What next?”

“Why, it was just then you came up with the letter, and I didn’t see
what happened next. And when I went back, they’d turned the key in the
lock, so I could hardly see at all. But I heard Fruen saying: ‘Oh, what
are you doing? No, no, we mustn’t!’ She must have been in his arms then.
And then at last she said: ‘Wait, then; let me get down a minute.’ And
he let her go. ‘Blow out the lamp,’ she said. And then it was all dark
... oh!...”

“But now I was at my wits’ end what to do,” Ragnhild went on. “I stood
a minute all in a flurry, and was just going to knock at the door all at
once--”

“Yes, yes; why didn’t you? What on earth made you wait at all?”

“Why, if I had, then Fruen’d have known in a moment I’d been listening
outside,” answered the girl. “No, I slipped away from the door and down
the stairs, then turned back and went up again, treading hard so Fruen
could hear the way I came. The door was still fastened, but I knocked,
and Fruen came and opened it. But the engineer was just behind; he’d
got hold of her clothes, and was simply wild after her. ‘Don’t go! don’t
go!’ he kept on saying, and never taking the slightest notice of me. But
then, when I turned to go, Fruen came out with me. Oh, but only think.
It was as near as could be!...”

       *       *       *       *       *

A long, restless night.

At noon, when we men came home from the fields next day, the maids were
whispering something about a scene between the Captain and his wife.
Ragnhild knew all about it. The Captain had noticed his wife with her
hair down the night before, and the lamp out upstairs, and laughed
at her hair and said wasn’t it pretty! And Fruen said nothing much at
first, but waited her chance, and then she said: “Yes, I know. I like
to let my hair down now and again, and why not? It isn’t yours!” She was
none so clever, poor thing, at answering back in a quarrel.

Then Elisabet had come up and put in her word. And she was
smarter--_prrr_! Fruen did manage to say: “Well, anyhow we were in the
house, but you two were sitting out among the bushes!” And Elisabet
turned sharp at that, and snapped out: “We didn’t put out the light!”
 “And if we did,” said Fruen, “it made no difference; we came down
directly after.”

Heavens! I thought to myself, why ever didn’t she say they put the light
out _because_ they were going down?

That was the end of it for a while. But then, later on, the Captain
said something about Fruen being so much older than Elisabet. “You ought
always to wear your hair down,” he said. “On my word, it made you look
quite a girl!” “Oh yes, I dare say I need it now,” answered Fruen. But
seeing Elisabet turn away laughing, she flared up all of a sudden and
told her to take herself off. And Elisabet put her hands on her hips,
and asked the Captain to order her carriage. “Right!” says the Captain
at that; “and I’ll drive you myself!”

All this Ragnhild had heard for herself standing close by.

I thought to myself they were jealous, the pair of them--she, of this
sitting out in the shrubbery, and he, of her letting her hair down and
putting out the light.

As we came out of the kitchen, and were going across for a rest, there
was the Captain busy with Elisabet’s carriage. He called me up and said:

“I ought not to ask you now, when you’re having your rest, but I wish
you’d go down and mend the door of the summer-house for me.”

“Right!” I said.

Now that door had been wrong ever since the engineer burst it open
several nights before. What made the Captain so anxious to have it put
right just at this moment? He’d have no use for the summerhouse while he
was driving Elisabet home. Was it because he wanted to shut the place
up so no one else should use it while he was away? It was a significant
move, if so.

I took some tools and things and went down to the shrubbery.

And now I had my first look at the summer-house from inside. It was
comparatively new; it had not been there six years before. A roomy
place, with pictures on the walls, and even an alarm clock--now run
down--chairs with cushions, a table, and an upholstered settee covered
with red plush. The blinds were down.

I set a couple of pieces in the roof first, where I’d smashed it with
my empty bottle; then I took off the lock to see what was wrong there.
While I was busy with this the Captain came up. He had evidently been
drinking already that day, or was suffering from a heavy bout the night
before.

“That’s no burglary,” he said. “Either the door must have been left
open, and slammed itself to bits, or some one must have stumbled up
against it in the dark. One of the visitors, perhaps, that left the
other day.”

But the door had been roughly handled, one could see: the lock was burst
open, and the woodwork on the inside of the frame torn away.

“Let me see! Put a new bolt in here, and force the spring back in
place,” said the Captain, examining the lock. He sat down in a chair.

Fru Falkenberg came down the stone steps to the shrubbery, and called:

“Is the Captain there?”

“Yes,” said I.

Then she came up. Her face was twitching with emotion.

“I’d like a word with you,” she said. “I won’t keep you long.”

The Captain answered, without rising:

“Certainly. Will you sit down, or would you rather stand? No, don’t run
away, you! I’ve none too much time as it is,” he said sharply to me.

This I took to mean that he wanted the lock mended so he could take the
key with him when he went.

“I dare say it wasn’t--I oughtn’t to have said what I did,” Fruen began.

The Captain made no answer.

But his silence, after she had come down on purpose to try and make it
up, was more than she could bear. She ended by saying: “Oh, well, it’s
all the same; I don’t care.”

And she turned to go.

“Did you want to speak to me?” asked the Captain.

“Oh no, it doesn’t matter. Thanks, I shan’t trouble.”

“Very well,” said the Captain. He smiled as he spoke. He was drunk, no
doubt, and angry about something.

But Fruen turned as she passed by me in the doorway, and said:

“You ought not to drive down there today. There’s gossip enough
already.”

“You need not listen to it,” he answered.

“It can’t go on like this, you know,” she said again. “And you don’t
seem to think of the disgrace....”

“We’re both a little thoughtless in that respect,” he answered
carelessly, looking round at the walls.

I took the lock and stepped outside.

“Here, don’t go running away now!” cried the Captain. “I’m in a hurry!”

“Yes, you’re in a hurry, of course,” repeated Fruen. “Going away again.
But you’d do well to think it over just for once. I’ve been thinking
things over myself lately; only you wouldn’t see....”

“What do you mean?” he asked, haughty and stiff as ever. “Was it your
fooling about at night with your hair down and lights out you thought I
wouldn’t see? Oh yes, no doubt!”

“I’ll have to finish this on the anvil,” said I, and hurried off.

I stayed away longer than was needed, but when I came back Fruen was
still there. They were talking louder than before.

“And do you know what I have done?” said Fruen “I’ve lowered myself so
far as to show I was jealous. Yes, I’ve done that. Oh, only about the
maid ... I mean....”

“Well, and what then?” said the Captain.

“Oh, won’t you understand? Well, have it your own way, then. You’ll have
to take the consequences later; make no mistake about that!”

These were her last words, and they sounded like an arrow striking a
shield. She stepped out and strode away.

“Manage it all right?” said the Captain as I came up. But I could
see his thoughts were busy with other things; he was trying to appear
unconcerned. A little after, he managed to yawn, and said lazily: “Ugh,
it’s a long drive. But if Nils can’t spare a hand I must go myself.”

I had only to fix the lock in its place, and set a new strip down the
inside of the door-frame; it was soon done. The Captain tried the door,
put the key in his pocket, thanked me for the work, and went off.

A little later he drove away with Elisabet.

“See you again soon,” he called to Captain Bror and Engineer Lassen,
waving his hand to them both. “Mind that you have a good time while I’m
away!”



IV


Evening came. And what would happen now? A great deal, as it turned out.

It started early; we men were at supper while they were having dinner up
at the house, and we could hear them carrying on as gaily as could be.
Ragnhild was taking in trays of food and bottles, and waiting at table;
once when she came out, she laughed to herself and said to the other
girls: “I believe Fruen’s drunk herself tonight.”

I had not slept the night before, nor had my midday rest; I was troubled
and nervous after all that had happened the last two days. So, as soon
as I had finished my supper, I went out and up to the woods to be alone.
I stayed there a long while.

I looked down towards the house. The Captain away, the servants gone to
rest, the beasts in stable and shed fast asleep. Stout Captain Bror
and his lady, too, had doubtless found a quiet corner all to themselves
after dinner; he was simply wild about the woman, for all he was old and
fat and she herself no longer young. That left only Fru Falkenberg and
the young engineer. And where would they be now?

‘Twas their affair.

I sauntered home again, yawning and shivering a little in the cool
night, and went up to my room. After a while Ragnhild came up, and
begged me to keep awake and be ready to help in case of need. It was
horrible, she said; they were carrying on like mad things up at the
house, walking about from one room to another, half undressed and drunk
as well. Was Fruen drunk, too? Yes, she was. And was she walking about
half undressed? No, but Captain Bror was, and Fruen clapped her hands
and cried “Bravo!” And the engineer as well. It was one as bad as the
other. And Ragnhild had just taken in two more bottles of wine, though
they were drunk already.

“Come over with me and you can hear them yourself,” said Ragnhild.
“They’re up in Fruen’s room now.”

“No,” I said. “I’m going to bed. And you’d better go, too.”

“But they’ll ring in a minute and be wanting something if I do.”

“Let them ring!”

And then it was Ragnhild confessed that the Captain himself had asked
her to stay up that night in case Fruen should want her.

This altered the whole aspect of affairs in a moment. Evidently the
Captain had feared something might happen, and set Ragnhild on guard in
case. I put on my blouse again and went across with her to the house.

We went upstairs and stood in the passage; we could hear them laughing
and making a noise in Fruen’s room. But Fruen herself spoke as clearly
as ever, and was not drunk at all. “Yes, she is,” said Ragnhild,
“anyhow, she’s not like herself tonight.”

I wished I could have seen her for a moment.

We went back to the kitchen and sat down. But I was restless all
the time; after a little I took down the lamp from the wall and told
Ragnhild to follow me. We went upstairs again.

“No; go in and ask Fruen to come out here to me,” I said.

“Why, whatever for?”

“I’ve a message for her.”

And Ragnhild knocked at the door and went in.

It was only at the last moment I hit on any message to give. I could
simply look her straight in the face and say: “The Captain sent his
kind regards.” [Footnote: _Kapteinen bad mig hilse Dem_: literally,
“The Captain bade me greet you.” Such a message would not seem quite so
uncalled for in Norway, such greetings (_Hilsen_) being given and sent
more frequently, and on slighter occasions, than with us.] Would that
be enough? I might say more: “The Captain was obliged to drive himself,
because Nils couldn’t spare any one to go.”

But a moment can be long at times, and thought a lightning flash. I
found time to reject both these plans and hatch out another before Fruen
came. Though I doubt if my last plan was any better.

Fruen asked in surprise:

“Well, what do you want?”

Ragnhild came up, too, and looked at me wonderingly.

I turned the lamp towards Fruen’s face and said:

“I beg pardon for coming up so late. I’ll be going to the post first
thing tomorrow; I thought if perhaps Fruen had any letters to go?”

“Letters? No,” she answered, shaking her head.

There was an absent look in her eyes, but she did not look in the least
as if she had been drinking.

“No, I’ve no letters,” she said, and moved to go.

“Beg pardon, then,” I said.

“Was it the Captain told you to go to the post?” she asked.

“No, I was just going for myself.”

She turned and went back to her room. Before she was well through the
door I heard her say to the others:

“A nice pretext, indeed.”

Ragnhild and I went down again. I had seen her.

Oh, but I was humbled now indeed! And it did not ease my mind at all
when Ragnhild incautiously let out a further piece of news. It seemed
she had been romancing before; it was not true about the Captain’s
having asked her to keep a look out. I grew more and more convinced in
my own mind: Ragnhild was playing the spy on her own account, for sheer
love of the game.

I left her, and, went up to my room. What had my clumsy intrusion gained
for me, after all? A pretext, she had said; clearly she had seen through
it all. Disgusted with myself, I vowed that for the future I would leave
things and people to themselves.

I threw myself down fully dressed on the bed.

After a while I heard Fru Falkenberg’s voice outside in front of the
house; my window was open, and she spoke loudly enough. The engineer was
with her, putting in a word now and again. Fruen was in raptures over
the weather, so fine it was, and such a warm night. Oh, it was lovely
out now--ever so much nicer than indoors!

But her voice seemed a trifle less clear now than before.

I ran to the window, and saw the pair of them standing by the steps that
led down to the shrubbery. The engineer seemed to have something on
his mind that he had not been able to get said before. “Do listen to
me now,” he said. Then followed a brief and earnest pleading, which
was answered--ay, and rewarded. He spoke as if to one hard of hearing,
because she had been deaf to his words so long; they stood there by the
stone steps, neither of them caring for any one else in the world. Let
any listen or watch who pleased; the night was theirs, the world was
theirs, and the spring-time was about them, drawing them together.
He watched her like a cat; every movement of her body set his blood
tingling; he was ready to spring upon her in a moment. And when it came
near to action there was a power of will in his manner towards her. Ay,
the young spark!

“I’ve begged and prayed you long enough,” he said breathlessly.
“Yesterday you all but would; today you’re deaf again. You think you
and Bror and Tante [Footnote: “Auntie.” Evidently Captain Bror’s lady is
meant.] and the rest are to have a good time and no harm done, while
I look on and play the nice young man? But, by Heaven, you’re wrong!
Here’s you yourself, a garden of all good things right in front of me,
and a fence ... do you know what I’m going to do now with that silly
fence?”

“What are you going to do? No, Hugo, you’ve had too much to drink this
evening. You’re so young. We’ve both drunk more than we ought,” she
said.

“And then you play me false into the bargain, with your tricks. You send
a special messenger for a letter that simply can’t wait, and at the same
time you’re cruel enough to let me think ... to promise me....”

“I’ll never do it again, Hugo.”

“Never do it again? What do you mean by that? When you can go up to a
man--yes, to me, and kiss me like you did.... What’s the good of saying
you’ll never do it any more; it’s done, and a kiss like that’s not a
thing to forget. I can feel it still, and it’s a mad delight, and I
thank you for it You’ve got that letter in your dress; let me see it.”

“You’re so excited, Hugo. No, it’s getting late now. We’d better say
good-night.”

“Will you show me that letter?”

“Show you the letter? Certainly not!”

At that he made a half-spring, as if to take it by force, but checked
himself, and snapped out:

“What? You won’t? Well, on my word you are.... Mean’s not the word for
it. You’re something worse....”

“Hugo!”

“Yes, you are!”

“If you _will_ see the letter, here it is!” She thrust her hand into her
blouse, took out the letter, opened it, and waved it at him, flourishing
her innocence. “Here’s the letter--from my mother; there’s her
signature--look. From mother--and now what have you to say?”

He quailed as if at a blow, and only said:

“From your mother. Why, then, it didn’t matter at all?”

“No; there you are. Oh, but of course it did matter in a way, but
still....”

He leaned up against the fence, and began to work it out:

“From your mother.... I see. A letter from your mother came and
interrupted us. Do you know what I think? You’ve been cheating. You’ve
been fooling me all along. I can see it all now.”

She tried again.

“It was an important letter. Mama is coming--she’s coming here to stay
very soon. And I was waiting to hear.”

“You were cheating all the time, weren’t you?” he said again. “Let them
bring in the letter just at the right moment, when we’d put out the
light. Yes, that’s it. You were just leading me on, to see how far I’d
go, and kept your maid close at hand to protect you.”

“Oh, do be sensible! It’s ever so late; we must go in.”

“Ugh! I had too much to drink up there, I think. Can’t talk straight
now.”

He could think of nothing but the letter, and went on about it again:

“For there was no need to have all that mystery about a letter from
home. No; I see it all now. Want to go in, you say? Well then, go in,
Fru, by all means. _Godnat, Frue_. My dutiful respects, as from a son.”

He bowed, and stood watching her with a sneering smile.

“A son? Oh yes,” she replied, with sudden emotion. “I am old, yes. And
you are so young, Hugo, that’s true. And that’s why I kissed you. But
I couldn’t be your mother--no, it’s only that I’m older, ever so much
older than you. But I’m not quite an old woman yet, and that you should
see if only . . . But I’m older than Elisabet and every one else. Oh,
what am I talking about? Not a bit of it. I don’t know what else the
years may have done to me, but they haven’t made me an old woman yet.
Have they? What do you think yourself? Oh, but what do you know about
it? . . .”

“No, no,” he said softly. “But is there any sense in going on like this?
Here are you, young as you are, with nothing on earth to do all the time
but keep guard over yourself and get others to do the same. And the Lord
in heaven knows you promised me a thing, but it means so little to you;
you take a pleasure in putting me off and beating me down with your
great white wings.”

“Great white wings,” she murmured to herself.

“Yes, you might have great red wings. Look at yourself now, standing
there all lovely as you are, and all for nothing.”

“Oh, I think the wine has gone to my head! All for nothing, indeed!”

Then suddenly she takes his hand and leads him down the steps. I can
hear her voice: “Why should I care? Does he imagine Elisabet’s so much
better?”

They pass along the path to the summer-house. Here she hesitates, and
stops.

“Oh, where are we going?” she asks. “Haha, we must be mad! You wouldn’t
have thought I was mad, would you? I’m not, either--that is to say, yes,
I am, now and again. There, the door’s locked; very well, we’ll go away
again. But what a mean trick to lock the door, when we want to go in.”

Full of bitterness and suspicion, he answered:

“Now, you’re cheating again. You knew well enough the door was locked.”

“Oh, must you always think the worst of me? But why should he lock the
door so carefully and have the place all to himself? Yes, I _did_ know
it was locked, and that’s why I came with you. I dare not. No, Hugo, I
won’t, I mean it. Oh, are you mad? Come back!”

She took his hand again and tried to turn back; they stood struggling
a little, for he would not follow. Then in his passion and strength
he threw both arms round her and kissed her again and again. And she
weakened ever more and more, speaking brokenly between the kisses:

“I’ve never kissed any other man before--never! It’s true--I swear it.
I’ve never kissed....”

“No, no, no,” he answers impatiently, drawing her step by step the way
he will.

Outside the summer-house he looses his hold of her a moment, flings
himself, one shoulder forward, heavily against the door, and breaks it
open for the second time. Then in one stride he is beside her once more.
Neither speaks.

But even at the door, she checks again--stands clinging to the
door-post, and will not move.

“No, no, I’ve never been unfaithful to him yet. I won’t; I’ve
never--never....”

He draws her to him suddenly, kisses her a full minute, two minutes, a
deep, unbroken kiss; she leans back from the waist, her hand slips where
it holds, and she gives way....

A white mist gathers before my eyes. So ... they have come to it now.
Now he takes her, has his will and joy of her....

A melancholy weariness and rest comes over me. I feel miserable and
alone. It is late; my heart has had its day....

Through the white mist comes a leaping figure; it is Ragnhild coming up
from among the bushes, running with her tongue thrust out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The engineer came up to me, nodded _Godmorgen_, and asked me to mend the
summer-house door.

“Is it broken again?”

“Yes, it got broken last night.”

It was early for him to be about--no more than halfpast four; we
farm-hands had not yet started for the fields. His eyes showed small and
glittering, as if they burned; likely enough he had not slept all night.
But he said nothing as to how the door had got broken.

Not for any thought of him, but for Captain Falkenberg’s sake, I went
down at once to the summer-house and mended the door once again. No need
for such haste, maybe; the Captain had a long drive there and back, but
it was close on twenty-four hours now since he started.

The engineer came down with me. Without in the least perceiving how it
came about, I found myself thinking well of him; he had broken open that
door last night--quite so, but he was not the man to sneak out of it
after. He and no one other it was who had it mended. Eh, well, perhaps
after all ‘twas only my vanity was pleased. I felt flattered at his
trusting to my silence. That was it. That was how I came to think well
of him.

“I’m in charge of some timber-rafting on the rivers,” he said. “How long
are you staying here?”

“Not for long. Till the field-work’s over for the season.”

“I could give you work if you’d care about it.”

Now this was work I knew nothing of, and, what was more, I liked to be
among field and forest, not with lumbermen and proletariat. However, I
thanked him for the offer.

“Very good of you to come and put this right. As a matter of fact, I
broke it open looking for a gun. I wanted to shoot something, and I
thought there might be a gun in there.”

I made no answer; it would have pleased me better if he had said
nothing.

“So I thought I’d ask you before you started out to work,” he said, to
finish off.

I put the lock right and set it in its place again, and began nailing up
the woodwork, which was shattered as before. While I was busy with this,
we heard Captain Falkenberg’s voice; through the bushes we could see him
unharnessing the horses and leading them in.

The engineer gave a start; he fumbled for his watch, and got it out, but
his eyes had grown all big and empty--they could see nothing. Suddenly
he said:

“Oh, I forgot, I must . . .”

And he hurried off far down the garden.

“So he’s going to sneak out of it, after all,” I thought to myself.

A moment later the Captain himself came down. He was pale, and covered
with dust, and plainly had not slept, but perfectly sober. He called to
me from a distance:

“Hei! how did you get in there?”

I touched my cap, but said nothing.

“Somebody been breaking in again?”

“It was only . . . I just remembered I’d left out a couple of nails here
yesterday. It’s all right now. If Captain will lock up again . . .”

Fool that I was! If that was the best excuse I could find, he would see
through it all at once.

He stood for a few seconds looking at the door with half-closed eyes;
he had his suspicions, no doubt. Then he took out the key, locked up the
place, and walked off. What else could he do?



V


All the guests are gone--stout Captain Bror, the lady with the shawl,
Engineer Lassen as well. And Captain Falkenberg is getting ready to
start for manoeuvres at last. It struck me that he must have applied for
leave on very special grounds, or he would have been away on duty long
before this.

We farm-hands have been hard at work in the fields the last few days--a
heavy strain on man and beast. But Nils knew what he was doing; he
wanted to gain time for something else.

One day he set me to work cleaning up all round outside the house and
buildings. It took all the time gained and more, but it made the whole
place look different altogether. And that was what Nils wanted--to cheer
the Captain up a little before he left home. And I turned to of my own
accord and fixed up a loose pale or so in the garden fence, straightened
the door of a shed that was wry on its hinges, and such-like. And the
barn bridge, too, needed mending. I thought of putting in new beams.

“Where will you be going when you leave here?” asked the Captain.

“I don’t know. I’ll be on the road for a bit.”

“I could do with you here for a while; there’s a lot of things that want
doing.”

“Captain was thinking of paintwork, maybe?”

“Painting, too--yes. I’m not sure about that, though; it would be a
costly business, with the outbuildings and all. No, I was thinking of
something else. Do you know anything about timber, now? Could you mark
down for yourself?”

It pleased him, then, to pretend he did not recognize me from the time
I had worked in his timber before. But was there anything left now to
fell? I answered him:

“Ay, I’m used to timber. Where would it be this year?”

“Anywhere. Wherever you like. There must be something left, surely.”

“Ay, well.”

I laid the new beams in the barn bridge, and when that was done, I took
down the flagstaff and put on a new knob and line. Øvrebø was looking
quite nice already, and Nils said it made him feel better only to look
at it. I got him to talk to the Captain and put in a word about the
paintwork, but the Captain had looked at him with a troubled air and
said: “Yes, yes, I know. But paint’s not the only thing we’ve got to
think about. Wait till the autumn and see how the crops turn out. We’ve
sowed a lot this year.”

But when the flagstaff stood there with the old paint all scraped off,
and a new knob and halliards, the Captain could not help noticing it,
and ordered some paint by telegraph. Though, to be sure there was no
such hurry as all that; a letter by the post had been enough.

Two days passed. The paint arrived, but was put aside for the time
being; we had not done with the field-work yet by a long way, though we
were using both the carriage horses for sowing and harrowing, and when
it came to planting potatoes, Nils had to ask up at the house for the
maids to come and help. The Captain gave him leave, said yes to all that
was asked, and went off to manoeuvres. So we were left to ourselves.

But there was a big scene between husband and wife before he went.

Every one of us on the place knew there was trouble between them, and
Ragnhild and the dairymaid were always talking about it. The fields were
coming on nicely now, and you could see the change in the grassland from
day to day; it was fine spring weather, and all things doing well that
grew, but there was trouble and strife at Øvrebø. Fruen could be seen at
times with a face that showed she had been crying; or other times with
an air of exaggerated haughtiness, as if she cared nothing for any one.
Her mother came--a pale, quiet lady with spectacles and a face like a
mouse. She did not stay long--only a few days; then she went back to
Kristianssand--that was where she lived. The air here did not agree with
her, she said.

Ah, that great scene! A bitter final reckoning that lasted over an
hour--Ragnhild told us all about it afterwards. Neither the Captain nor
Fruen raised their voices, but the words came slow and strong. And in
their bitterness the pair of them agreed to go each their own way from
now on.

“Oh, you don’t say so!” cried all in the kitchen, clasping their hands.

Ragnhild drew herself up and began mimicking:

“‘You’ve been breaking into the summer-house again with some one?’ said
the Captain. ‘Yes,’ said Fruen. ‘And what more?’ he asked. ‘Everything,’
said she. The Captain smiled at that and said: ‘There’s something frank
and open about an answer like that; you can see what is meant almost
at once.’ Fruen said nothing to that. ‘What you can see in that young
puppy, I don’t know--though he did help me once out of a fix.’ Fruen
looked at him then, and said: ‘Helped you?’ ‘Yes,’ said the Captain;
‘backed a bill for me once.’ And Fruen asked: ‘I didn’t know that.’ Then
the Captain: ‘Didn’t he tell you that?’ Fruen shook her head. ‘Well,
what then?’ he said again. ‘Would it have made any difference if he
had?’ ‘Yes,’ said Fruen at first, and then, ‘No.’ ‘Are you fond of him?’
he asked. And she turned on him at once. ‘Are you fond of Elisabet?’
‘Yes,’ answered the Captain; but he sat smiling after that. ‘Well and
good,’ said Fruen sharply. Then there was a long silence. The Captain
was the first to speak, ‘You were right when you said that about
thinking over things. I’ve been doing so. I’m not a vicious man, really;
queerly enough, I’ve never really cared about drinking and playing the
fool. And yet I suppose I did, in a way. But there’s an end of it now.’
‘So much the better for you,’ she answered sullenly. ‘Quite so,’ says
he again. ‘Though it would have been better if you’d been a bit glad to
hear it.’ ‘You can get Elisabet to do that,’ says she. ‘Elisabet,’ says
he--just that one word--and shakes his head. Then they said nothing for
quite a while. ‘What are you going to do now?’ asks the Captain. ‘Oh,
don’t trouble yourself about me,’ said Fruen very slowly. ‘I can be a
nurse, if you like, or cut my hair short and be a school teacher, if you
like.’ ‘If I like,’ says he; ‘no, decide for yourself.’ ‘I want to know
what you are going to do first,’ she says, ‘I’m going to stay here where
I am,’ he answered, ‘but you’ve turned yourself out of doors.’ And Fruen
nodded and said: ‘Very well.’”

“Oh,” from all in the kitchen. “Oh but, _Herregud_! it will come right
again surely,” said Nils, looking round at the rest of us to see what we
thought.

For a couple of days after the Captain had gone, Fruen sat playing the
piano all the time. On the third day Nils drove her to the station; she
was going to stay with her mother at Kristianssand. That left us more
alone than ever. Fruen had not taken any of her things with her; perhaps
she felt they were not really hers; perhaps they had all come from him
originally, and she did not care to have them now. Oh, but it was all a
misery.

Ragnhild was not to go away, her mistress had said. But it was cook that
was left in charge of everything, and kept the keys, which was best for
all concerned.

On Saturday the Captain came back home on leave. Nils said he never used
to do that before. Fine and upright in his bearing he was, for all that
his wife was gone away, and he was sober as could be. He gave me orders,
very short and clear, about the timber; came out with me and showed me
here and there. “Battens, down to smallest battens, a thousand dozen. I
shall be away three weeks this time,” he said. On the Sunday afternoon
he went off again. He was more determined in his manner now--more like
himself.

We were through with the field-work at last, and the potato-planting
was done; after that, Nils and the lad could manage the daily work by
themselves, and I went up to my new work among the timber.

Good days these were for me, all through. Warm and rainy at first,
making the woods all wet, but I went out all the same, and never stayed
in on that account. Then a spell of hot weather set in, and in the light
evenings, after I got home from work, it was a pleasure to go round
mending and seeing to little things here and there--a gutter-pipe, a
window, and the like. At last I got the escape ladder up and set to
scraping the old paint from the north wall of the barn--it was flaking
away there of itself. It would be a neat piece of work if I could get
the barn done this summer after all, and the paint was there all ready.

But there was another thing that made me weary at times of the work
and the whole place. It was not the same working there now as when the
Captain and Fruen were home; I found here confirmation of the well-known
truth that it is well for a man to have some one over him at his work,
that is, if he is not himself in charge as leading man. Here were the
maids now, going about the place with none to look after them. Ragnhild
and the dairymaid were always laughing and joking noisily at meal-times
and quarreling now and again between themselves; the cook’s authority
was not always enough to keep the peace, and this often made things
uncomfortable. Also, it seemed that some one must have been talking
to Lars Falkenberg, my good old comrade that had been, and made him
suspicious of me now.

Lars came in one evening and took me aside; he had come to say he
forbade me to show myself on his place again. His manner was comically
threatening.

Now, I had not been there more than a few times with washing--maybe half
a dozen times in all; he had been out, but Emma and I had talked a bit
of old things and new. The last time I was there Lars came home suddenly
and made a scene the moment he got inside the door, because Emma was
sitting on a stool in her petticoat. “It’s too hot for a skirt,” she
said. “Ho, yes, and your hair all down your back--too hot to put it up,
I suppose?” he retorted. Altogether he was in a rage with her. I said
good-night to him as I left, but he did not answer.

I had not been there since. Then what made him come over like this all
of a sudden? I set it down as more of Ragnhild’s mischievous work.

When he had told me in so many words he forbade me to enter his house,
Lars nodded and looked at me; to his mind, I ought now to be as one
dead.

“And I’ve heard Emma’s been down here,” he went on. “But she’ll come no
more, I fancy, after this.”

“She may have been here once or twice for the washing.”

“Ho, yes, the washing, of course. And you coming up yourself Heaven
knows how many times a week--more washing! Bring up a shirt one day and
a pair of drawers the next, that’s what you do. But you can get Ragnhild
to do your washing now.”

“Well and good.”

“Aha, my friend, I know you and your little ways. Going and visiting and
making yourself sweet to folk when you find them all alone. But not for
me, thank you!”

Nils comes up to us now, guessing, no doubt, what’s the trouble, and
ready to put in a word for me, like the good comrade he is. He catches
the last words, and gives me a testimonial on the spot, to the effect
that he’s never seen anything wrong about me all the time I’ve been on
the place.

But Lars Falkenberg bridles up at once and puts on airs, looking Nils up
and down with contempt. He has a grudge against Nils already. For though
Lars had managed well enough since he got his own little place up in the
wood, he had never equalled Nils’ work here on the Captain’s land. And
Lars Falkenberg feels himself aggrieved.

“What have you got to come cackling about?” he asks.

“I’m saying what is the truth, that’s all,” answers Nils.

“Ho, are you, you goat? If you want me to wipe the floor with you, I’ll
do it on the spot!”

Nils and I walked away, but Lars still shouted after us. And there was
Ragnhild, of course, sniffing at the lilacs as we passed.

That evening I began to think about moving on again as soon as I had
finished my work in the timber. When the three weeks were up, the
Captain came back as he had said. He noticed I had scraped the northern
wall of the barn, and was pleased with me for that. “End of it’ll be
you’ll have to paint that again, too,” he said. I told him how far I had
got with the timber; there was not much left now. “Well, keep at it and
do some more,” was all he said. Then he went back to his duty again for
another three weeks.

But I did not care to stay another three weeks at Øvrebø as things were
now. I marked down a few score dozen battens, and reckoned it all out on
my paper--that would have to do. But it was still too early for a man to
live in the forests and hills; the flowers were come, but there were no
berries yet. Song and twitter of birds at their mating, flies and midges
and moths, but no cloudberries, no angelica.

       *       *       *       *       *

In town.

I came in to Engineer Lassen, Inspector of rafting sections, and he took
me on as he had promised, though it was late in the season now. To
begin with, I am to make a tour of the water and see where the logs have
gathered thickest, noting down the places on a chart. He is quite a good
fellow, the engineer, only still very young. He gives me over-careful
instructions about things he fancies I don’t know already. It makes him
seem a trifle precocious.

And so this man has helped Captain Falkenberg out of a mess? The
Captain was sorry for it now, no doubt, anxious to free himself from
the debt--that was why he was cutting down his timber to the last lot of
battens, I thought. And I wished him free of it myself. I was sorry now
I had not stayed on marking down a few more days, that he might have
enough and to spare. What if it should prove too little, after all?

Engineer Lassen was a wealthy man, apparently. He lived at an hotel,
and had two rooms there. I never got farther than the office myself,
but even there he had a lot of costly things, books and papers, silver
things for the writing-table, gilt instruments and things; a light
overcoat, silk-lined, hung on the wall. Evidently a rich man, and
a person of importance in the place. The local photographer had a
large-sized photograph of him in the show-case outside. I saw him, too,
out walking in the afternoons with the young ladies of the town. Being
in charge of all the timber traffic, he generally walked down to the
long bridge--it was four hundred and sixty feet--across the foss, halted
there, and stood looking up and down the river. Just by the bridge
piers, and on the flat rocks below them, was where the logs were most
inclined to jam, and he kept a gang of lumbermen regularly at hand for
this work alone. Standing on the bridge there, watching the men at work
among the logs, he looked like an admiral on board a ship, young and
strong, with power to command. The ladies with him stopped willingly,
and stood there on the bridge, though the rush of water was often enough
to make one giddy. And the roar of it was such that they had to put
their heads together when they spoke.

But just in this position, at his post on the bridge, standing there and
turning this way and that, there was something smallish and unhandsome
about his figure; his sports jacket, fitting tightly at the waist,
seemed to pinch, and showed up over-heavy contours behind.

The very first evening, after he’d given me my orders to start off up
the river next day, I met him out walking with two ladies. At sight of
me he stopped, and kept his companions waiting there, too, while he gave
me the same instructions all over again. “Just as well I happened to
meet you,” he said. “You’ll start off early, then, tomorrow morning,
take a hooking pole with you, and clear all the logs you can manage. If
you come across a big jam, mark it down on the chart--you’ve got a copy
of the chart, haven’t you? And keep on up river till you meet another
man coming down. But remember to mark in red, not blue. And let me see
how well you can manage.--A man I’ve got to work under me,” he explained
to the ladies. “I really can’t be bothered running up and down all the
time.”

So serious he was about it all; he even took out a notebook and wrote
something down. He was very young, and could not help showing off a
little with two fair ladies to look on.

Next morning I got away early. It was light at four, and by that time
I was a good way up the river. I carried food with me, and my hooking
pole--which is like a boat-hook really.

No young, growing timber here, as on Captain Falkenberg’s land; the
ground was stony and barren, covered with heather and pine needles for
miles round. They had felled too freely here; the sawmills had taken
over much, leaving next to no young wood. It was a melancholy country to
be in.

By noon I had cleared a few small jams, and marked down a big one. Then
I had my meal, with a drink of water from the river. A bit of a rest,
and I went on again, on till the evening. Then I came upon a big jam,
where a man was already at work among the logs. This was the man I had
been told to look out for. I did not go straight up to him at first, but
stopped to look at him. He worked very cautiously, as if in terror of
his life; he was even afraid of getting his feet wet. It amused me to
watch him for a little. The least chance of being carried out into the
stream on a loosened log was enough to make him shift at once. At last
I went up close and looked at him--why ... yes, it was my old friend,
Grindhusen.

Grindhusen, that I had worked with as a young man at Skreia--my partner
in the digging of a certain well six years before.

And now to meet him here.

We gave each other greeting, and sat down on the logs to talk, asking
and answering questions for an hour or more. Then it was too late to
get any more done that day. We got up and went back a little way up the
river, where Grindhusen had a bit of a log hut. We crept in, lit a fire,
made some coffee, and had a meal. Then, going outside again, we lit our
pipes and lay down in the heather.

Grindhusen had aged, and was in no better case than I myself; he did
not care to think of the gay times in our youth, when we had danced the
whole night through. He it was that had once been as a red-haired wolf
among the girls, but now he was thoroughly cowed by age and toil, and
had not even a smile. If I had only had a drop of spirits with me it
might have livened him up a little, but I had none.

In the old days he had been a stiff-necked fellow, obstinate as could
be; now he was easy-going and stupid. “Ay, maybe so,” was his answer to
everything. “Ay, you’re right,” he would say. Not that he meant it; only
that life had taught him to seek the easiest way. So life does with all
of us, as the years go by--but it was an ill thing to see, meeting him
so.

Ay, he got along somehow, he said, but he was not the man he used to be.
He’d been troubled with gout of late, and pains in the chest as well.
His pains in the chest were cardialgic. But it was none so bad as long
as he’d the work here for Engineer Lassen. He knew the river right
up, and worked here all spring and early summer in his hut. And as for
clothes, he’d nothing to wear out save breeches and blouse all the year
round. Had a bit of luck, though, last year, he said suddenly. Found a
sheep with nobody to own it. Sheep in the forest? Up that way, he said,
pointing. He’d had meat on Sundays half through the winter off that
sheep. Then he’d his folks in America as good as any one else: children
married there and well-to-do. They sent him a little to help the first
year or so, but now they’d stopped; it was close on two years now since
he’d heard from them at all. Eyah! well, that’s how things were now with
him and his wife. And getting old....

Grindhusen lapsed into thought.

A dull, rushing sound from the forest and the river, like millions of
nothings flowing and flowing on. No birds here, no creatures hopping
about, but if I turn up a stone, I may find some insect under it.

“Wonder what these tiny things live on?” I say.

“What tiny things?” says Grindhusen. “Those? That’s only ants and
things.”


“It’s a sort of beetle,” I tell him. “Put one on the grass and roll a
stone on top of it, and it’ll live.”

Grindhusen answers: “Ay, maybe so,” but thinking never a word of what
I’ve said, and I think the rest to myself; but put an ant there under
the stone as well, and very soon there’ll be no beetle left.

And the rush of the forest and river goes on: ‘tis one eternity that
speaks with another, and agrees. But in the storms and in thunder they
are at war.

“Ay, so it is,” says Grindhusen at last. “Two years come next fourteenth
of August since the last letter came. There was a smart photograph in,
from Olea, it was, that lives in Dakota, as they call it. A mighty
fine photograph it was, but I never got it sold. Eyah, but we’ll manage
somehow, please the Lord,” says Grindhusen, with a yawn. “What was I
going to say now?... What is he paying for the work?”

“I don’t know.”

But Grindhusen looks at me suspiciously, thinking it is only that I will
not say.

“Ay, well, ‘tis all the same to me,” he says. “I was only asking.”

To please him, I try to guess a wage. “I dare say he’ll give me a couple
of Kroner a day, or perhaps three, d’you think?”

“Ay, dare say you may,” he answers enviously. “Two Kroner’s all I get,
and I’m an old hand at the work.”

Then fancying, perhaps, I may go telling of his grumbling, he starts
off in praise of Engineer Lassen, saying what a splendid fellow he is in
every way. “He’ll do what’s fair by me, that I know. Trust him for that!
Why, he’s been as good as a father to me, and that’s the truth!”

It sounds quaint, indeed, to hear Grindhusen, half his teeth gone with
age, talking of the young engineer as a father. I felt pretty sure I
could find out a good deal about my new employer from this quarter, but
I did not ask.

“He didn’t say anything about me coming down into town?” asked
Grindhusen.

“No.”

“He sends up for me now and again, and when I get there, it’s not for
anything particular--only wants to have a bit of a chat with me, that’s
all. Ay, a fine fellow is the engineer!”

It is getting late. Grindhusen yawns again, creeps into the hut and lies
down.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning we cleared the jam. “Come up with me my way a bit,” says
Grindhusen. And I went. After an hour’s walking, we sighted the
fields and buildings of a hill farm up among the trees. And suddenly I
recollect the sheep Grindhusen had found.

“Was it up this way you found that sheep?” I ask.

Grindhusen looks at me.

“Here? No, that was ever so far away--right over toward Trovatn.”

“But Trovatn’s only in the next parish, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s what I say. It’s ever so far away from here.”

But now Grindhusen does not care to have my company farther; he stops,
and thanks me for coming up so far. I might just as well go up to the
farm with him, and I say so; but Grindhusen, it seems, is not going up
to the farm at all--he never did. And I’d just have an easy day back
into town, starting now.

So I turned and went back the way I had come.



VI


It was no sort of work this for a man; I was not satisfied. Nothing but
walk, walk up and down the river, clearing a few logs here and there,
and then on again. And after each trip, back to my lodging-house in the
town. All this time I had but one man to talk to--the boots or porter
at the hotel where the engineer was staying. He was a burly fellow, with
huge fists, and eyes like a child’s. He had fallen down and hurt his
head as a youngster, he said, and never got on in life beyond hauling
things and carrying heavy loads. I had a talk with him now and again,
but found no one else to talk to in the town.

That little town!

When the river is high, a mighty roar of sound goes rushing through the
place, dividing it in two. Folk live in their little wooden houses north
or south of the roar, and manage, no doubt, to make ends meet from day
to day. Of all the many children crossing the bridge and running errands
to the shops, there are none that go naked, probably few that suffer
want, and all are decent looking enough. And here are big, tall,
half-grown girls, the quaintest of all, with their awkward movements,
and their laughter, and their earnest occupation with their own little
affairs. Now and again they stop on the bridge to watch the lumbermen
at work among the logs below, and join in the song of the men as they
haul--“_Hoi-aho!_”--and then they giggle and nudge one another and go
on.

But there are no birds here.

Strange, that there should be no birds! On quiet evenings, at
sunset-time, the great enclosed pool lies there with its deep waters
unmoved; moths and midges hover above it, the trees on the banks are
reflected there, but there are no birds in the trees. Perhaps it is
because of the roar of the water, that drowns all other sound; birds
cannot thrive there, where none can hear another’s song. And so it comes
about that the only winged creatures here are flies and moths. But God
alone knows why even the crows and common birds shun us and our town.

Every small town has its daily event that every one turns out for--and,
as for that, the big towns too, with their promenades. Out Vestland way
it is the postpacket. Living in Vestland, it’s hard to keep away from
the quay when the little vessel comes in. Here, in this inland town,
with a dozen miles or more to the sea, and nothing but rocks and hills
all about, here we have the river. Has the water risen or fallen in the
night? Will they be clearing logs from the booms today? Oh, we are all
so interested! True, we have a little railway as well, but that doesn’t
count for much. The line ends here; it runs as far as it can go, and
then stops, like a cork in a bottle. And there’s something cosy and
pleasant about the tiny carriages on the trains; but folk seem ashamed
of them, they are so ridiculously old and worse for wear, and there’s
not even room to sit upright with a hat on!

Not but what we’ve other things besides--a market, and a church, and
schools, and post office, and all. And then there’s the sawmills and
works by the riverside. But as for grocery shops and stores, there’s
more than you’d believe.

We’ve so many things altogether. I am a stranger here myself--as indeed
I am everywhere--yet I could reckon up a host of things we have besides
the river. Was the town a big place once upon a time? No, it has been a
little town for two hundred and fifty years. But there was once a
great man over all the smaller folk--one who rode lordly fashion with
a servant behind him--a great landowner. Now we are all equal; saving,
perhaps, with Engineer Lassen, this something-and-twenty-year-old
Inspector of rafting sections, who can afford two rooms at his hotel.

I have nothing to do, and find myself pondering over the following
matter:

Here is a big house, somewhere about a couple of hundred years old, the
house of the wealthy Ole Olsen Ture. It is of enormous size, a house of
two stories, the length of a whole block; it is used as a depot now.
In the days when that house was built there was no lack of giant timber
hereabouts; three beams together make the height of a man, and the wood
is hard as iron; nothing can bite on it. And inside the building are
halls and cells as in a castle. Here Ture the Great ruled like a prince
in his day.

But times changed. Houses were made not only big, not only to live in
for shelter from cold and rain, but also to look on with pleasure to the
eye. On the opposite side of the river stands an old archaic building
with carefully balanced verandah in the Empire style, pillars, fronton,
and all. It is not faultless, but handsome all the same; it stands out
like a white temple on the green hillside. One other house I have seen
and stopped to look at; one near the market-place. Its double street
door has old handles and carved rococo mirrors, but the frames
cannelated in the style of Louis XVI. The cartouche above the doorway
bears the date 1795 in Arabic numerals--that was our transition period
here! So there were folk here at that time who kept in touch with the
times, without the aid of steam and telegraph.

But later on, again, houses were built to keep off rain and snow and
nothing else. They were neither big nor beautiful to look at. The idea
was to put up some sort of a dwelling, Swiss fashion--a place to keep a
wife and children in, and that was all. And we learned from a miserable
little people up in the Alps, a people that throughout its history has
never been or done anything worth speaking of--we learned to pay no
heed to what a homestead really looked like, as long as it met with the
approval of loafing tourist. Is there something of the calm and beauty
of a temple about that white building on the hillside? And pray, what’s
the use of it if there is? And the great big house that dates from the
time of Ole Olsen Ture, why hasn’t it been pulled down long ago? There
would be room for a score of cheap dwellings on the site.

Things have gone downhill, gone to the depths. And now the little
cobbler-soul can rejoice--not because we’re all grown equally great, but
because we’re all equally small. ‘Tis our affair!

The long bridge is pleasant to walk on because it is paved with planks,
and even as a floor; all the young ladies can walk gracefully here. And
the bridge is light and open at the sides, making an excellent lookout
place for us inquisitive folk.

Down on the raft of tangled logs the men are shouting, as they strain
to free the timber that has caught and stuck fast among the rocks and
boulders in the river-bed. Stick after stick comes floating down and
joins the mass already gathered; the jam grows and grows; at times there
may be a couple of hundred dozen balks hung up at one spot. But if all
goes well, the gang can clear the jam in time. And if fate will have it
ill, some unlucky lumberman may be carried down as well, down the rapids
to his death.

There are ten men with boat-hooks on the jam, all more or less wet from
falling in. The foreman points out the log next to be freed, but we,
watching from the bridge, can see now and again that all the gang are
not agreed. There is no hearing what is said, but we can see some of
them are inclined to get another log out first; one of the old hands
protests. Knowing his speech as I do, I fancy I can hear him say
stubbornly and calmly: “I doubt we’d better see and get _that_ one clear
first.” Ten pairs of eyes are turned towards the stick he has chosen,
tracing the lie of it in among its tangled fellows; if the men agree,
ten boat-hooks are thrust into it. Then for a moment the poles stand out
from the log like the strings of a harp; a mighty “_Ho!_” from the
gang, a short, tense haul, and it moves a trifle forward. A fresh grip,
another shout, and forward again. It is like watching half a score of
ants about a twig. And at last the freed log slides out and away down
the foss.

But there are logs that are almost immovable, and often it is just one
of the worst that has to be cleared before anything else can be done.
Then the men spread out and surround it, fixing their hooks wherever
they can get a sight of it in the tangle, some hauling, others thrusting
outward; if it is dry, they splash water over it to make it slippery.
And here the poles are nowise regularly set like harp-strings, but lie
crosswise at all angles like a cobweb.

Sometimes the shouting of the gang can be heard all day long from the
river, silenced only for meals; ay, it may happen that it goes on for
days together. Then suddenly a new sound falls on the ear: the stroke
of the ax; some devil of a log has fixed itself so cunningly there is
no hauling it free, and it has to be cut through. It does not take many
strokes to do it, for the pressure on it already is enormous; soon it
breaks, the great confused mass yields, and begins to move. All the men
are on their guard now, holding back to see what is coming next; if the
part they are standing on shows signs of breaking loose, they must leap
with catlike swiftness to a safer spot. Their calling is one of daily
and hourly peril; they carry their lives in their hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the little town is a living death.

It is pitiful to see such a dead place, trying to pretend it is alive.
It is the same with Bruges, the great city of the past, and with many
cities in Holland, in South Germany, the north of France, the Orient.
Standing in the marketplace of such a town one cannot but think: “Once,
once upon a time this was a living place; there are still human beings
walking in the streets!”

Strange, this town of ours is hidden away, shut in by the hills--and
yet for all that it has no doubt its local feminine beauty and its local
masculine ambition just as all other towns. Only it is such a queer,
outlandish life that is lived here, with little crooked fingers, with
eyes as of a mouse, and ears filled day and night with the eternal
rushing of the waters. A beetle on its way in the heather, a stub of
yellow grass sticks up here and there--huge trees they seem to the
beetle’s eye! Two local merchants walk across the bridge. Going to the
post, no doubt. They have this very day decided to go halves in a whole
sheet of stamps, buying them all at once for the sake of the rebate on a
quantity!

Oh, those local tradesmen!

Each day they hang out their stocks of ready-made clothes, and dress
their windows with their stuffs and goods, but rarely do I see a
customer go in. I thought to myself at first: But there must surely be
some one now and then--a peasant from somewhere up the valley, coming
into town. And I was right; I saw that peasant today, and it was strange
and pleasant to see him.

He was dressed like the pictures in our folk-tales--a little short
jacket with silver buttons, and grey breeches with a black leather seat.
He was driving a tiny little haycart with a tiny little horse, and up
in the cart was a little red-flanked cow--on its way to the butcher’s,
I suppose. All three--man, horse, and cow--were undersized; palaeolithic
figures; dwarf creatures from the underworld on a visit to the haunts of
men. I almost looked to see them vanish before my eyes. All of a sudden
the cow in its Lilliputian cart utters a throaty roar--and even that
unromantic sound was like a voice from another world.

A couple of hours later I come upon the man again, minus horse and cow:
he is wandering round among the shops on his errands. I follow him to
the saddler’s--saddler and harness-maker Vogt is also a glazier, and
deals in leather as well. This merchant of many parts offers to serve me
first, but I explain that I must look at a saddle, and some glass, and
a trifle of leather first, I am in no hurry. So he turns to the elfin
countryman.

The two are old acquaintances.

“So here’s you come to town?”

“Ay, that’s the way of it.”

And so on through the whole rigmarole; wind and weather, and the state
of the roads; wife and children getting on as usual; season and crops;
river’s fallen so much the last week; butchers’ prices; hard times
nowadays, etc. Then they begin trying the leather, pinching and feeling
and bending it about and talking it over. And when at last a strip is
cut off and weighed, the mannikin finds it a marvel, sure, that ever it
could weigh so much! Reckon it at a round figure, those little bits of
weights aren’t worth counting! And the two of them argue and split over
this for a good solid while, as is right and proper. When at last it
comes to paying for the goods, a fantastic leather purse is brought to
light, a thing out of a fairy tale. Slowly and cautiously the heavy fist
draws forth the coins, one _skilling_ after another; both parties count
the money over again and again, then the mannikin closes his purse with
an anxious movement; that is all he has!

“Why, you’ve coin and paper too; I saw a note in there.”

“Nay, I’ll not break the note.”

More reckoning and arguing--a long business this; each gives way a
little, they split the difference--and the deal is over.

“And a terrible heap to pay for a bit of leather,” says the purchaser.
And the dealer answers:

“Nay, you’ve got it at a bargain. But don’t forget me next time you’re
in town.”

Towards evening I meet the mannikin once more, driving home again
after his venture into the world. The cow has been left behind at the
butcher’s. There are parcels and sacks in the cart, but the little man
himself jogs along behind, the leather seat of his breeches stretching
to a triangle at every step. And whether for thoughtlessness, or an
overweight of thought after all these doings and dealings, he wears a
rolled-up strip of sole leather like a ring about one arm.

So money has flowed into the town once more; a peasant has come in and
sold his cow, and spent the price of it again in goods. The event is
noticed everywhere at once: the town’s three lawyers notice it, the
three little local papers notice it; money is circulating more freely of
late. Unproductive--but it helps the town to live.

Every week the little local papers advertise town properties for sale;
every week a list is issued by the authorities of houses to be sold
in liquidation of the unpaid tax. What then? Ah, but mark how many
properties come on the market that way! The barren, rocky valley with
its great river cannot feed this moribund town; a cow now and again
is not enough. And so it is that the properties are given up, the
Swiss-pattern houses, the dwellings and shelters. Out Vestland way, if
ever a house in one of the little towns should chance to come up for
sale, it is a great event; the inhabitants flock together on the quay to
talk it over. Here, in our little town beyond all hope, it occasions
no remark when another wearied hand leaves hold of what it had. My turn
now--‘twill be another’s before long. And none finds it worth while
sorrowing much for that.

       *       *       *       *       *

Engineer Lassen came to my lodging and said:

“Put on your cap and come with me to the station to fetch a trunk.”

“No,” said I. “I’m not going to do that.”

“Not going to....”

“No. There’s a porter at the hotel for that sort of thing. Let him earn
the money.”

It was quite enough. The engineer was very young; he looked at me and
said nothing. But, being obstinate by nature, he would not give up at
once; he changed his tone.

“I’d rather have you,” he said. “I’ve a reason for it, and I wish you
would.”

“That’s a different matter. Then I will.”

I put on my cap, and I am ready; he walks on ahead, and I follow behind.
Ten minutes waiting at the station, and the train comes in. It consists
of three toy carriages, and a few passengers tumble out. In the rear
carriage is a lady trying to alight; the engineer hurries to assist her.

I paid no great heed to what was happening. The lady was veiled and wore
gloves; a light coat she handed to her escort. She seemed embarrassed
at first, and said only a few words in a low voice, but he was quite the
reverse, talking loudly and freely all the time. And, when he begged her
to take off her veil, she grew bolder, and did as he said.

“Do you know me now?” she said. And suddenly I pricked up my ears; it
was Fru Falkenberg’s voice. I turned round and looked her in the face.

It is no easy matter to be old and done with and behave as such. The
moment I realized who it was standing there I could think of nothing but
my age-worn self, and how to stand and bow with ease and respect. Now,
I had among my possessions a blouse, and breeches of brown corduroy such
as labourers wear in the south; an excellent, well-looking suit, and
new. But, alas! I had not put it on today. And the lack of it at that
moment irked me. I was down-hearted at the thought. And, while the two
stood there talking, I fell to wondering why the engineer had wanted
me so particularly to come with him to the station. Could it be for the
matter of a few _skilling_ to the porter? Or was it to show off with a
servant at his heels? Or had he thought that Fruen would be pleased to
have some one she knew in attendance? If the last, then he was greatly
mistaken; Fruen started in evident displeasure at finding me here, where
she had thought, perhaps, to be safely concealed. I heard the engineer
say: “I’ve got a man here, he’ll take your luggage down. Have you the
ticket?” But I made no sign of greeting. I turned away.

And afterwards I triumphed over him in my miserable soul, thinking how
annoyed she would be with him for his want of tact. He brought up with
him a man who had been in her employ when she had a home; but that man
had some delicacy of feeling, he turned away, pretending not to know
her! Lord knows what the woman found to run after in this tight-waisted
youth with the heavy contours behind.

There are fewer people on the platform now; the little toy waggons are
rolled away and shunted about to build another train; at last we are
left with the whole place to ourselves. Fruen and the engineer stand
talking. What has she come for? Heaven knows! Young Lovelace, perhaps,
has had a spasm of longing and wants her again. Or is she come of her
own accord to tell him what has happened, and ask his advice? Like as
not the end of it will be they fix things up and get married some day.
Mr. Hugo Lassen is, of course, a chivalrous gentleman, and she his one
and only love. And then comes the time when she should walk on roses and
live happily ever after!

“No, really, it would never do!” he exclaims, with a laugh. “If you
won’t be my aunt, then you’ll have to be my cousin.”

“S-sh!” whispers Fruen. “Can’t you get rid of that man there?”

Whereupon the engineer comes up to me with the luggage receipt in
his hand, and in his lordliest manner, as an Inspector of Waterways
addressing a gang of lumbermen, he says:

“Bring this along to the hotel.”

“Very good,” I answered, touching my cap.

I carried down the trunk, thinking as I went. He had actually invited
her to pass as his aunt! Visibly older she might be than he; still, here
again he had shown himself wanting in tact. I would not have said such a
thing myself. I would have declared to all and sundry: “Behold, here is
come a bright angel to visit King Hugo; see how young and beautiful she
is; mark the slow, heavy turn of her grey eyes; ay, a weighty glance!
But there is a shimmer of sea-fire in her hair--I love her! Mark her,
too, when she speaks, a mouth good and fine, and with ever and again a
little helpless look and smile. I am King Hugo this day, and she is my
love!”

The trunk was no heavier than many another burden, but there were
bronzed iron bands round, and one of them tore a hole in my blouse at
the back. So I thanked my stars I had not worn my better one.



VII


Some days passed. I was growing tired of my empty occupation, which
consisted in doing nothing but loaf about the place. I went to the
foreman of the gang and asked him to take me on as a lumberman, but he
refused.

These gentlemen of the proletariat think a good deal of themselves; they
look down on farm-workers, and will have nothing to do with them. They
are ever on the move, going from one waterway to another, drawing their
wages in cash, and spending a fair part of the same in drink. Then, too,
they are more popular among the girls. It is the same with men working
on the roads or railways, with all factory-hands; even the mechanic is
looked down upon, and as for the farm-hand, he is a very slave!

Now, I knew I could be pretty sure of a place in the gang any day if I
cared to ask the engineer. But, in the first place, I had no wish to be
further indebted to him, and in the second, I might be sure that if I
did, my friends the lumbermen would make my life a misery until I had
gone through all the trouble of making myself respected for my deserts.
And that might take longer than I cared about.

And then one day the engineer came to me with instructions that I was to
observe with care. He spoke politely and sensibly this time:

“We’ve had no rain for a long time now; the river’s getting steadily
lower, and the logs are piling up on the way down. I want you to tell
the man above and the one below to be extra careful about their work
just now, and you yourself, of course, will do the same.”

“We’re sure to get rain before long,” I said, for the sake of saying
something.

“That may be,” he answered, with the intense earnestness of youth, “but
I must act all the same as if there were never to be rain again. Now
remember every word I’ve said. I can’t be everywhere at once myself,
more especially now that I’ve a visitor.”

I answered him with a face as serious as his own that I would do my very
best.

So I was still bound to my idling occupation after all, and wandered up
and down the river as before with my boat-hook and my rations. For my
own satisfaction I cleared away bigger and bigger jams unaided, sang to
myself as if I were a whole gang, and worked hard enough for many men;
also I carried the new instructions to Grindhusen, and frightened him
properly.

But then came the rain.

And now the sticks went dancing down through channel and rapids, like
huge, pale serpents hurrying, hurrying on, now head, now tail in air.

Easy days these for my engineer!

For myself, I was ill at ease in the town and in my lodging there. I had
a little room to myself, but one could hear every sound in the place,
and there was little rest or comfort. Moreover, I found myself outdone
in everything by the young lumbermen who lodged there.

I patroled the river-bank regularly those days, though there was little
or nothing for me to do there. I would steal away and sit in hiding
under an over-hanging rock, hugging the thought of how I was old, and
forsaken by all; in the evenings I wrote many letters to people I knew,
just to have some one to talk to; but I did not send the letters.

Joyless days were these. My chief pleasure was to go about noticing
every little trifle in the town, wherever it might be, and thinking a
little upon each.

But was my engineer so free from care? I began to doubt it.

Why was he no longer to be seen out early and late with this new cousin
of his? He would even stop another young lady on the bridge and pass the
time of day--a thing he had not done this fortnight gone. I had seen
him with Fru Falkenberg once or twice; she looked so young and prettily
dressed, and happy--a little reckless, laughing out loud. That’s what
it’s like when a woman first steps aside, I thought to myself; but
to-morrow or the day after it may be different! And when I saw her again
later on I was annoyed with her; there was something overbold about her
dress and manner, the old charm and sweetness were gone. Where was the
tenderness now in her eyes? Nothing but bravado! And furiously I told
myself that her eyes shone like a pair of lamps at the door of a music
hall.

By the look of things the couple had begun to weary of each other, since
he had taken to going out alone, and she spend much of her time sitting
looking out of the window in the hotel. And this, no doubt, was why
stout Captain Bror made his appearance once again; his mission was
perhaps to bring jollity and mirth to others besides himself. And this
jovial lump of deformity certainly did his best; his guffaws of laughter
rang through the little town one whole night long. Then his leave
expired, and he had to go back to drill and duty--Fru Falkenberg and her
Hugo were left to themselves once more.

One day, while I was in a shop, I heard that there had been some
slight difference of opinion between Engineer Lassen and his cousin.
A commercial traveller was telling the shopkeeper all about it. But so
great was the general respect for the wealthy engineer throughout the
town that the shopman would hardly believe the story, and questioned the
scandal-monger doubtingly.

“It must have been in fun, I’m sure. Did you hear it yourself? When was
it?”

The traveller himself did not dare to make more of it.

“My room’s next to his,” he said, “so I couldn’t help hearing it last
night. They were arguing; I don’t say it was a quarrel--lord, no! as
delicate as could be. She only said he was different now from what he
had been; that he’d changed somehow. And he said it wasn’t his fault, he
couldn’t do as he liked here in town. Then she asked him to get rid of
somebody she didn’t like--one of his men, a lumberman, I suppose. And he
promised he would.”

“Well, there you are--just nothing at all,” said the shopkeeper.

But the traveller had heard more, I fancy, than he cared to say. I could
tell as much by his looks.

And had I not noticed myself how the engineer had changed? He had talked
out loud so cheerfully at the station that first day; now he could be
obstinately silent when he did go so far as to take Fruen for a walk
down to the bridge. I could see well enough how they stood looking each
their separate ways. Lord God in heaven, but love is a fleeting thing!

All went well enough at first. She said, no doubt, that it was quite a
nice little place, with a great big river and the rapids, and so strange
to hear the roar of the waters all the time; and here was a real little
town with streets and people in--“And then you here, too!” And he of
course, would answer: “Yes, and you!” Oh, they were everything to each
other at first! But then they grew weary of good things; they took too
much--took love in handfuls, such was their foolishness. And more and
more clearly he realized that things were getting awry; the town was
such a little place, and this cousin of his a stranger--he could not
keep on being her attendant squire for ever. No, they must ease off
a little gradually; now and then, perhaps--only occasionally, of
course--it would be as well to have their meals at different times. If
not, some of those commercial travellers would be getting ideas into
their heads about the loving cousins. Remember, in a little place like
this--and she ... how _could_ she understand it? A little place--yes,
but surely it was no smaller now than it had been at first? No, no, my
friend, it is you that have changed!

       *       *       *       *       *

There had been plenty of rain, and the timber was coming down
beautifully. Nevertheless, the engineer took to going off on little
trips up or down the river. It seemed as if he were glad to get away; he
looked worried and miserable altogether now.

One day he asked me to go up and tell Grindhusen to come in to town. Was
it Grindhusen, I wondered, that was to be dismissed? But Fruen had never
so much as set eyes on Grindhusen since she came; what could he have
done to offend her?

I fetched Grindhusen in accordingly. He went up to the hotel at once to
report, and the engineer put on his things and went out with him. They
set out up the river and disappeared.

Later in the day Grindhusen came to my lodging, and was ready enough
to tell, but I asked him nothing. In the evening the lumberman gave him
_Brændevin_, and the spirit loosened his tongue. What about this cousin,
or something, engineer has got with him? How much longer was she going
to stay? As to this, nobody could say; and, anyhow, why shouldn’t
she stay? “‘Tis naught but fooling and trouble with such-like cousin
business,” Grindhusen declared. “Why couldn’t he bring along the girl
he’s going to marry?--and I told him so to his face.”

“You told him?” asked one of the men.

“Ay, I did that. You may not know it, but engineer and I we sit there
talking as it might be me and you,” said Grindhusen, looking mighty big
and proud. “What do you suppose he sent to fetch me for? You’d never
guess if you sat there all night. Why, he sent for me just to have a
talk over things. Not that there’s anything new or strange about that;
he’s done the same before now; but, anyhow, that’s what it was.”

“What’d he want to talk to you about?” asked one.

Grindhusen swelled, and was not to be drawn at once. “Eh, I’m not such
a fool, but I know how to talk with a man. And it’s not my way to
be contrary neither. ‘You know a thing or two, Grindhusen,’ says the
Inspector, ‘and there’s two Kroner for you,’ says he. Ay, that’s what
he said. And if you don’t believe me, why, here’s the money, and you can
see. There!”

“But what was it all about?” asked several voices at once.

“He’d better not say, if you ask me,” I said.

It struck me that the engineer must have been miserable and desperate
when he sent me to fetch Grindhusen. He was so little used to trouble
that the moment anything went wrong he felt the need of some one to
confide in. And now when he was going about day after day, thoroughly
disheartened and full of pity for himself, as if he wanted to know how
miserable he was at being checked in his play. This sportsman, with his
figure moulded in the wrong place, was a travesty of youth, a Spartan in
tears. What sort of upbringing could his have been?

Ah, well, if he had been an old man I had found reason and excuse for
him enough; if the truth were known, it was perhaps but hatred of his
youth that moved me now. Who can say? But I know I looked upon him as a
travesty, a caricature.

Grindhusen stared at me when I had spoken my few words; the others, too,
looked wonderingly.

“I’ll not say, but it might be better not,” said Grindhusen
submissively.

But the men were not to be put off.

“And why shouldn’t he tell? We’re not going to let it go farther.”

“No, that we shan’t,” said another. “But you might be one of that sort
yourself and go telling tales to the Inspector.”

Grindhusen took courage at this, and said:

“I’ll say what I like, so don’t you trouble yourself! Tell just as much
as I please. For I’m saying no more than’s true. And in case you’d care
to know, I can tell you the Inspector’s got a word to say to you very
soon. Ay, that he has, or hearing goes for nothing. So you’ve no call
to be anyway stuck up yourself. And as for me telling or not telling
things, I’m saying never a thing but what’s the truth. Just remember
that. And if you knew as much as I do, she’s nothing but a plague and
a burden to him all the time, and won’t let him out of her sight. D’you
call that cousins, going on like that?”

“Nay, surely; nay, surely!” said the men encouragingly.

“What d’you think he sent for me about? Ay, there’s the pretty fellow he
sent up with the message! But there’ll be a message for him one of these
days: I gathered as much from the Inspector himself. I’ll say no more
than that. And as for me telling things, here’s Inspector’s been like a
father to me, and I’d be a stock and a stone to say otherwise. ‘I’m all
upset and worried these days, Grindhusen,’ says he to me. ‘And what’s a
man to do; can you tell me that now?’ ‘No,’ says I, ‘but Inspector knows
himself,’ says I. Those very words I said. ‘I wish to Heaven I did,’
says he again. ‘But it’s all these wretched women,’ says he. ‘If it’s
women,’ says I, ‘why, there’s no doing anything with them,’ says I. ‘No,
indeed, you’re right there!’ says he. ‘The only way’s to give them
what they were made for, and a good round slap on the backside into the
bargain,’ says I. ‘By Heaven, I believe you’re right there, Grindhusen,’
says the Inspector, and he brightened up no end. I’ve never seen a man
so brightened up and cheerful just for a word or so. It was a sight to
see. And you can take and drown me if it isn’t gospel truth every single
bit I’ve said. I sat there just as I’m sitting now, and Inspector as it
might be there....”

And Grindhusen rambled on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning early, before it was fairly light, Engineer Lassen stopped
me on the street. It was only half-past three. I was all fitted out for
a tramp up the river, with my boat-hook and a store of food. Grindhusen
was having a drinking-bout in town, and I was going to do his beat as
well as my own. That would take me right up to the top of the hills, and
I had packed a double stock of food accordingly.

The engineer was evidently coming down from a party somewhere; he was
laughing and talking loudly with a couple of other men, all of them more
or less drunk.

“Go on ahead a bit,” he said to the others. And then, turning to me, he
asked: “Where are you off to?”

I told him what I had in mind.

“H’m! I don’t know about that,” said he. “No, I think you’d better not.
Grindhusen can manage all right by himself. And, besides, I’m going
to inspect myself. You’ve no business to go off doing things like that
without asking me first.”

Well, he was right of course, so far as that went, and I begged his
pardon. And, indeed, knowing as I did how he was set on playing the
master and lording it over his men, I might have had more sense.

But begging his pardon only seemed to egg him on; he felt deeply
injured, and grew quite excited over it.

“I’ll have no more of this!” he said. “My men are here to carry out
my orders; that’s all they’ve got to do. I took you on to give you a
chance, not because I’d any use for you myself. And I’ve no use for you
now, anyhow.”

I stood there staring at him, and said never a word.

“You can come round to the office today and get your wages,” he went on.
And then he turned to go.

So I was the one to be dismissed! Now I understood what Grindhusen had
meant with his hints about me. Fru Falkenberg, no doubt, had come to
hate the sight of me by now, reminding her, as it must, of her home,
and so she had got him to turn me off. But hadn’t I been the very one
to show delicacy of feeling towards her at the station, turning away
instead of recognizing her? Had I ever so much as lifted my cap to her
when I passed her in the street? Surely I had been considerate enough to
deserve consideration in return?

And now--here was this young engineer turning me off at a moment’s
notice, and that with unnecessary vehemence. I saw it all in my mind: he
had been worrying himself for days over this dismissal, shirking it all
the time, until at last he managed to screw his courage up by drinking
hard all night. Was I doing him an injustice? It might be so; and I
tried to combat the thought myself. Once more I called to mind that he
was young and I was old, and my heart no doubt, full of envy on that
account. So I gave him no sarcastic answer now, but simply said:

“Ay, well, then, I can unpack the things I was taking along.”

But the engineer was anxious to make the most of his chance now he was
fairly started; he dragged in the old story about the time he’d wanted
me to go and fetch a trunk.

“When I give an order, I don’t expect the man to turn round and say no,
he won’t. I’m not used to that sort of thing. And as there’s no knowing
it may not occur again, you’d better go.”

“Well and good,” said I.

I saw a figure in a white dress at a window in the hotel, and fancied it
must be Fru Falkenberg watching us, so I said no more.

But then the engineer seemed suddenly to remember that he couldn’t get
rid of me once and for all on the spot; he would have to see me again
to settle up. So he changed his tone and said: “Well, anyhow, come up
sometime to-day and get your money. Have you thought over how much it
ought to be?”

“No. That’ll be for engineer himself to decide.”

“Well, well,” he said in a kindlier voice, “after all, you’ve been a
good man to have, I will say that for you. But, for various reasons--and
it’s not only for myself: you know what women--that is, I mean the
ladies--”

Oh, but he was young indeed. He stopped at nothing.

“Well--good morning!” He nodded abruptly, and turned away.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the day proved all too short for me; I went up into the woods, and
stayed roaming about there all by myself so long that I didn’t get to
the office to draw my money. Well, there was no hurry; I had plenty of
time.

What was I to do now?

I had not cared much for the little town before, but now it began
to interest me; I would gladly have stayed on a while. There were
complications arising between two people whom I had been following
attentively for some weeks past; something fresh might happen any
moment now, there was no saying. I thought of going as apprentice to a
blacksmith, just for the sake of staying in the place, but then, if I
did, I should be tied to the smithy all day and hampered in my movements
altogether; apart from which, the apprenticeship would take too many
years of my life. And years were the thing I least of all could spare.

So I let the days pass, one after another; the weather changed round
again to dry, sunny days. I stayed on at the lodging-house, mended my
clothes, and got some new ones made at a shop. One of the maids in the
house came up one evening and offered to do some mending for me, but I
was more in the mood for fooling, and showed her how well I managed the
work myself.

“Look at that patch, there, now--and that!” After a while a man came up
the stairs and tried the door. “Open, you within!” he said.

“It’s Henrik, one of the lumbermen,” said the girl.

“Is he your sweetheart?” I asked.

“No, indeed, I should think not,” she answered. “I’d rather go without
than have a fellow like him.”

“Open the door, d’you hear!” cried the man outside. But the girl was not
frightened in the least. “Let him stay outside,” she said. And we let
him stay outside. But that door of mine bent inwards in a great curve
every now and then, when he pushed his hardest.

At last, when we’d finished making fun about my needlework and her
sweethearts, I had to go out and see the passage was clear before she
would venture downstairs. But there was no man there.

It was late now; I went down to the parlour for a bit, and there was
Grindhusen drinking with some of the gang. “There he is!” said one of
them, as I came in. It was Henrik who spoke; he was trying to get his
mates against me. Grindhusen, too, sided with the rest of them, and
tried all he could to annoy me.

Poor Grindhusen! He was stale-drunk all the time now, and couldn’t get
clear of it. He had had another meeting with Engineer Lassen; they had
walked up the river as before and sat talking for an hour, and when
Grindhusen came back he showed a new two-Kroner piece he’d got. Then
he went on the drink again, and gabbled about being in the engineer’s
confidence. This evening, too, he was all high-and-mightiness, not to be
outdone by anybody.

“Come in and sit down,” he said to me.

But one or two of the other men demurred; they would have nothing to do
with me. And at this Grindhusen changed front; for sheer devilment he
fell to again about the engineer and his cousin, knowing it would annoy
me.

“Well, has he turned you off?” he asked, with a side glance at the
others, as if to bid them watch what was coming.

“Yes,” said I.

“Aha! I knew all about it days ago, but I never said a word. I don’t
mind saying I knew about it before any other single soul in the world of
us here, but did I ever breathe a word of it? Inspector he says to me:
‘I want to ask you something, Grindhusen,’ says he, ‘and that is, if
you’ll come down and work in the town instead of the man I’ve got there
now. I want to get rid of him,’ says he. ‘Why, as to that,’ says I,
‘it’s just as Inspector’s pleased to command.’ That was my very words,
and neither more nor less. But did I ever breathe a syllable?”

“Has he turned you off?” asked one of the other men then.

“Yes,” I answered.

“But as for that cousin of his,” Grindhusen went on, “he asked me about
her, too. Ay, Inspector, he asks my advice about all sorts of things.
And now, this last time we were up the river together, he slapped his
knee when he talked of her. So there. And you can guess for yourselves
till tomorrow morning if you like. Everything of the best to eat and
drink and every way, and costing a heap of money each week; but she
stays on and on. Fie and for shame, say I, and I mean it too.”

But now it seemed as if the scale had turned in my favour at the news
of my dismissal; some of the men perhaps felt sorry for me, others were
glad to learn that I was going. One of them offered me a drink from his
own bottle, and called to the maid for “another glass--a clean one, you
understand!” Even Henrik no longer bore me any grudge, but drank with
me and was friendly enough. And we sat there gossiping over our glasses
quite a while.

“But you’d better go up and see about that money of yours,” said
Grindhusen. “For from what I’ve heard, I don’t fancy you’ll get the
Inspector to come down here with it after you. He said as much. ‘There’s
money owing to him,’ that was what he said, ‘but if he thinks I’m going
to run after him with it, you can tell him it’s here,’ he said.”



VIII


But the engineer did come down after me, as it turned out, though it was
queer it should be so. Anyhow, it was a triumph I had not sought, and I
cared nothing for it.

He came to the lodging-house to see me, and said: “I want you to come
back with me, if you please, and get your money. And there’s a letter
come for you by the post.”

When we stepped into the office, Fru Falkenberg was there. I was taken
aback at finding her there. I made a bow and stood over by the door.

“Sit down, won’t you?” said the engineer, going to the table for my
letter. “Here you are. No, sit down and read your letter while I’m
reckoning up your pay.”

And Fru Falkenberg herself motioned me to a chair.

Now, what were they looking so anxious about? And what was the meaning
of this sudden politeness and “Won’t you sit down?” and all the rest?
I had not to wait long to find out: the letter was from Captain
Falkenberg.

“Here, you can use this,” said Fruen very obligingly, handing me a
letter-opener.

A simple, ordinary letter, nothing more; indeed, it began almost
jestingly: I had run away from Øvrebø before he knew I was going, and
hadn’t even waited for my money. If I imagined he was in difficulties
and would not be able to pay me before the harvest was in--if that was
why I had left in such a hurry, why, he hoped I had found out I was
mistaken. And now he would be very glad if I would come back and work
for him if I wasn’t fixed up elsewhere. The house and outbuildings
wanted painting, then there would be the harvesting, and, after that, he
would like to have me for work among the timber. Everything looking well
here, fields nice and tall, meadows nice and thick. Glad to hear as soon
as you can in answer to this,--Yours, FALKENBERG.

The engineer had finished his reckoning. He turned on his chair and
looked over at the wall. Then, as if suddenly remembering something,
he turned sharply to the table again. Nervousness, that was all. Fruen
stood looking at her rings, but I had a feeling she was stealthily
watching me all the time--thoroughly nervous, the pair of them!

Then said the engineer:

“Oh, by the way, I noticed your letter was from Captain Falkenberg. How
are things going there? I knew the writing at once.”

“Would you like to read the letter?” I said promptly, offering it as I
spoke.

“No--oh no. Thanks, all the same. Not in the least. I was only....”

But he took the letter, all the same. And Fruen came across to him and
stood looking over his shoulder as he read.

“H’m!” said the engineer, with a nod. “Everything going on nicely, it
seems. Thanks.” And he held out the letter to give it back.

Fruen’s manner was different. She took the letter from him and began
studying it herself. Her hand shook a little.

“Well, now about the money,” said the engineer. “Here you are; that’s
what I make it. I hope you’re satisfied all right?”

“Yes, thank you,” said I.

He seemed relieved to find that Captain Falkenberg’s letter was only
about myself and made no mention of anyone else. And again he tried to
soften down my dismissal.

“Well, well,” he said. “But if you should happen to be in these parts
any time, you know where to find me. We’ve all but finished now for this
year--there’s been too much drought just lately.”

Fruen was still holding the letter. Then I saw she had finished reading,
for her eyes never moved; but she stood there, staring at the letter,
thinking. What was in her mind, I wondered?

The engineer glanced at her impatiently.

“Are you learning it by heart?” he said, with a half-smile. “Come, dear,
he’s waiting.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Fruen quickly. “I forgot.” And she handed
me the letter.

“So it seems,” observed the engineer.

I bowed, and went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

On a summer evening the bridge is crowded with people out
walking--school teachers and tradespeople, young girls and children. I
watch my time when it is getting late, and the bridge is deserted; then
I can lounge over that way myself, and stay for an hour or so in the
midst of the roar. No need to do anything really but listen; only my
brain is so over-rested with idleness and good sound sleep, it finds
no end of things to busy itself about. Last evening I determined in all
seriousness to go to Fru Falkenberg and say:

“Go away from here, Frue; leave by the first train that goes.” Today
I have been calling myself a fool for entertaining such a ridiculous
thought, and set in its place another: “Get out of this yourself, my
good man, by the first train that goes. Are you her equal, her adviser?
Very well, then; see that what you do is not too utterly at variance
with what you are!”

And this evening I am still treating myself as I deserve. I fall to
humming a little tune, but can scarcely hear it myself! the sound is
crushed to death in the roar of the water. “That’s right,” I say to
myself scornfully. “You ought always to stand by a deafening foss
when you feel like humming a tune.” And I laugh at myself again. With
suchlike childish fancies do I pass the time.

The noise of the rapids anywhere inland is as useful to the ear as the
noise of breakers on the shore. But the voice of the breakers is louder
and fainter by turns. The roar of waters in a river-bed is like an
audible fog, a monotony of sound beyond reason, contrary to all sense,
a miracle of idiocy. “What is the time, do you know?” “Yes, isn’t it?”
 “Day or night?” “Yes!” As if some one had laid a stone on six keys of an
organ, and walked off and left it there.

With such childish fancies do I while away the time.

“_Godaften_!” says Fru Falkenberg, and there she is beside me.

I hardly felt surprised; it was almost as if I had expected her. After
her behaviour with her husband’s letter, she might well go a little
farther.

Now I could think two ways about her coming: either she had turned
thoroughly sentimental at being reminded so directly of her home once
more, or she wanted to make her engineer jealous; he might perhaps be
watching us from his window that very moment, and I had been sent for to
go back to Øvrebø. Possibly she was thoroughly calculating, and had
been trying to work on his jealousy even yesterday, when she studied the
letter so attentively.

It seemed, however, that none of my clever theories was to be confirmed.
It was me she wanted to see, and that only to make a sort of apology for
getting me dismissed. That she should ever care about such a trifle!
Was she so incapable of thinking seriously that she could not see what a
miserable position she herself was in? What in the devil’s name had she
to do with my affairs?

I had thought to say a brief word or so and point to the train, but
something made me gentle, as if I were dealing with an irresponsible, a
child.

“You’ll be going back to Øvrebø now, I suppose?” she said. “And I
thought I’d like.... H’m!... You’re sorry to be leaving here, perhaps?
No? No, no, of course not. But I must tell you something: It was I that
got you dismissed.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“No, no. Only, I wanted to tell you. Now that you’re going back to
Øvrebø. You can understand it was a little unpleasant for me at times
to....”

She checked herself.

“To have me about the place. Yes, it would be unpleasant.”

“To see you here. A _little_ unpleasant; I mean, because you knew about
me before. So I asked the engineer if he couldn’t send you away. Not
that he wanted to himself, you understand. Quite the reverse, in fact,
but he did at last. I’m glad you’re going back to Øvrebø.”

“So?” said I. “But when Fruen comes home again surely it will be just as
unpleasant to see me then?”

“Home?” she repeated. “I’m not going home.”

Pause. She had frowned as she spoke. But now she nodded, and even smiled
a little, and turned to go.

“Well, well, you’ll pardon me, then, I know,” she said.

“Have you any objection to my going back to Captain Falkenberg?” I
asked.

She stopped, and looked me full in the face. Now, what was the right
thing here? Three times she had spoken of Øvrebø. Was it with the idea
that I might put in a word for her if opportunity offered, when I got
back there? Or was she unwilling to ask of me as a favour not to go?

“No, no, indeed I’ve not!” she answered. “Go there, by all means.”

And she turned and left me.

Neither sentimental nor calculating, as far as I could see. But she
might well have been both. And what had I gained by my attempt at a
confidential tone? I should have known better than to try, whether she
stayed here or went elsewhere. What business was it of mine? ‘Twas her
affair.

You’re playing and pretending, I said to myself. All very well to say
she’s literature and no more, but that withered soul of yours showed
good signs of life when she was kind to you and began looking at you
with those two eyes of hers. I’m disappointed; I’m ashamed of you, and
to-morrow you go!

But I did not go.

And true it is that I went about spying and listening everywhere for
anything I could learn of Fru Falkenberg; and then at times, ay, many a
night, I would call myself to account for that same thing, and torture
myself with self-contempt. From early morning I thought of her: is she
awake yet? Has she slept well? Will she be going back home to-day? And
at the same time all sorts of ideas came into my head. I might perhaps
get work at the hotel where she was staying. Or I might write home for
some clothes, turn gentleman myself, and go and stay at that same hotel.
This last, of course, would at once have cut the ground from under my
feet and left me farther removed from her than ever, but it was the one
that appealed to me most of all, fool that I was. I had begun to make
friends with the hotel porter, already, merely because he lived nearer
to her than I. He was a big, strong fellow, who went up to the station
every day to meet the trains and pick up a commercial traveller once a
fortnight. He could give me no news; I did not ply him with questions,
nor even lead him on to tell me things of his own accord; and, besides,
he was far from intelligent. But he lived under the same roof with
Fruen--ah yes, that he did. And one day it came about that this
acquaintance of mine with the hotel porter brought me a piece of
valuable information about Fru Falkenberg, and that from her own lips.

So they were not all equally fruitless, those days in the little town.

One morning I came back with the porter from the station; he had picked
up a traveller with a heap of luggage, and had to take horse and cart to
fetch the heavy grey trunks.

I had helped him to get them loaded up at the station, and now, as we
pulled up at the hotel, he said: “You might lend a hand getting these
things in; I’ll stand you a bottle of beer this evening.”

So we carried in the trunks together. They were to be taken up at once
to the big luggage-room upstairs; the owner was waiting for them. It was
an easy job for the two of us big, strong fellows both.

We had got them up all but one--that was still in the cart--when
the porter was called back upstairs; the traveller was giving him
instructions about something or other. Meantime, I went out, and waited
in the passage; I did not belong to the place, and did not want to be
seen hanging about on the stairs by myself.

Just then the door of Engineer Lassen’s office opened, and he and Fru
Falkenberg came out. They looked as if they had just got up; they had no
hats on; just going down to breakfast, no doubt. Now, whether they did
not notice me, or took me for the porter standing there, they went on
with what they had been saying.

“Quite so,” says the engineer. “And it won’t be any different. I can’t
see what you’ve got to feel lonely about.”

“Oh, you know well enough!” she answered.

“No, I don’t, and I do think you might be a little more cheerful.”

“You wouldn’t like it if I were. You’d rather have me stay as I am,
miserable and wretched, because you don’t care for me any more.”

He stopped on the stairs abruptly. “Really, I think you must be mad,” he
said.

“I dare say I am,” she answered.

How poorly she held her own in a quarrel! It was always so with her. Why
could she not be careful of her words, and answer so as to wound him,
crush him altogether?

He stood with one hand on the stair-rail and said:

“So you think it pleases me to have things going on like this? I tell
you it hurts me desperately--has done for a long time past.”

“And me,” she answered. “But now I’ll have no more of it.”

“Oh, indeed! You’ve said that before. You said it only a week ago.”

“Well, I am going now.”

He looked up at her.

“Going away?”

“Yes. Very soon.”

But he saw that he had betrayed himself in grasping so eagerly,
delightedly, at the suggestion, and tried now to smooth it over.

“There, there!” he said. “Be a nice sensible cousin now, and don’t talk
about going away.”

“I am going,” she said, and, slipping past him, went down the stairs by
herself. He followed after.

Then the porter came out and we went down together. The last box was
smaller than the others. I asked him to carry it up himself, pretending
I had hurt my hand. I helped him to get it on his back, and went off
home. Now I could go away the following day.

That afternoon Grindhusen, too, was dismissed. The engineer had sent for
him, given him a severe talking to for doing no work and staying in town
and getting drunk; in a word, his services were no longer needed.

I thought to myself: It was strangely sudden, this new burst of courage
on the part of the engineer. He was so young, he had needed some one to
back him up and agree to everything he said; now, however, seeing that
a certain troublesome cousin was going away, he had no further need of
comfort there. Or was my withered soul doing him an injustice?

Grindhusen was greatly distressed. He had reckoned on staying in town
all the summer, as general handyman to the Inspector himself; but all
hope of that was gone now. The Inspector was no longer as good as a
father to him. And Grindhusen bore the disappointment badly. When they
came to settle up, the Inspector had been going to deduct the two-Kroner
pieces he had given him, saying they had only been meant as payment in
advance. Grindhusen sat in the general room at the lodging-house and
told us all about it, adding that the Inspector was pretty mean in the
matter of wages after all. At this, one of the men burst out laughing,
and said:

“No; did he, though? He didn’t take them back, really?”

“Nay,” said Grindhusen. “He didn’t dare take off more than the one.”

There was more laughter at this, and some one else asked:

“No, really? Which one was it? Did he knock off the first two-Kroner or
the second? Ha, ha, ha! That’s the best I’ve heard for a long time.”

But Grindhusen did not laugh; he grew more and more sullen and
despairing. What was he to do now? Farm labourers for the season’s work
would have been taken on everywhere by now, and here he was. He asked
me where I was going, and when I told him, he begged me to put in a word
for him with the Captain, and see if I couldn’t get him taken on there
for the summer. Meantime, he would stay on in the town, and wait till he
heard from me.

But I knew there would soon be an end of Grindhusen’s money if he stayed
on in the town. The end of it was, I took him along with me, as the
best thing to be done. He had been a smart hand at paint-work once, had
Grindhusen; I remembered how he had done up old Gunhild’s cottage on the
island. He could come and help me now, for the time being; later on, we
would surely find something else for him to do; there would be plenty of
field-work in the course of the summer where he might be useful.

       *       *       *       *       *

The 16th July found me back at Øvrebø. I remember dates more and more
distinctly now, partly by reason of my getting old and acquiring the
intensified interest of senility in such things, partly because of being
a labourer, and obliged to keep account of my working days. But an old
man may keep his dates in mind and forget all about far more important
things. Up to now, for instance, I have forgotten to mention that
the letter I had from Captain Falkenberg was addressed to me care of
Engineer Lassen. Well and good. But the point appeared significant: the
Captain, then, had ascertained whom I was working for. And it came into
my mind that possibly the Captain was also aware of who else had been in
the care of Engineer Lassen that summer!

The Captain was still away on duty when I arrived; he would be back in
a week. As it was, Grindhusen was very well received; Nils was quite
pleased to find I had brought my mate along, and refused to let me
keep him to help with the painting, but sent him off on his own
responsibility to work in the turnip and potato fields. There was no end
of work--weeding and thinning out--and Nils was already in the thick of
the hay-making.

He was the same splendid, earnest farmer as ever. At the first rest,
while the horses were feeding, he took me out over the ground to look at
the crops. Everything was doing well; but it had been a late spring that
year, and the cat’s-tail was barely forming as yet, while the clover
had just begun to show bloom. The last rain had beaten down a lot of the
first-year grass, and it could not pick up again, so Nils had put on the
mowing-machine.

We walked back home through waving grass and corn; there was a
whispering in the winter rye and the stout six-rowed barley. Nils, who
had not forgotten his schooling, called to mind that beautiful line of
Bjørnson’s:

    “_Beginning like a whisper in the corn one summer day_.”

“Time to get the horses out again,” said Nils, stepping out a little.
And waving his hand once more out over the fields, he said: “What a
harvest we’ll have this year if we can only get it safely in!”

So Grindhusen went off to work in the fields, and I fell to on the
painting. I started with the barn, and all that was to be red; then I
did over the flagstaff and the summer-house down among the lilacs with
the first coat of oil. The house itself I meant to leave till the last.
It was built in good old-fashioned country style, with rich, heavy
woodwork and a carved border, _à la grecque_, above the doorway. It was
yellow as it was, and a new lot of yellow paint had come in to do with
this time. I took upon myself, however, to send the yellow back, and
get another colour in exchange. In my judgment the house ought to be
stone-grey, with doors and window-frames and verge-boards white. But
that would be for the Captain to decide.

But though every one on the place was as nice as could be, and the cook
in authority lenient, and Ragnhild as bright-eyed as ever, we all felt
it dull with the master and mistress away. All save Grindhusen, honest
fellow, who was quite content. Decent work and good food soon set him
up again, and in a few days he was happy and waxing fat. His one anxiety
was lest the Captain should turn him off when he came home. But no such
thing--Grindhusen was allowed to stay.



IX


The Captain arrived.

I was giving the barn its second coat; at the sound of his voice I came
down from the ladder. He bade me welcome.

“Running away from your money like that!” he said. And I fancied he
looked at me with some suspicion as he asked: “What did you do that
for?”

I answered simply that I had no idea of presuming to make him a present
of my work; the money could stand over, that was all.

He brightened up at that.

“Yes, yes, of course. Well, I’m very glad you came. We must have the
flagstaff white, I suppose?”

I did not dare tell him at once all I wanted done in white, but simply
said:

“Yes. I’ve got hold of some white paint.”

“Have you, though? That’s good. You’ve brought another man up with you,
I hear?”

“Yes. I don’t know what Captain thinks....”

“He can stay. Nils has got him to work out in the fields already. And
anyhow, you all seem to do as you like with me,” he added jestingly.
“And you’ve been working with the lumbermen, have you?”

“Yes.”

“Hardly the sort of thing for you, was it?” Then, as if anxious not to
seem curious about my work with Engineer Lassen, he broke off abruptly
and said: “When are you going to start painting the house?”

“I thought of beginning this afternoon. It’ll need scraping a bit here
and there.”

“Good. And if you find the woodwork loose anywhere, you can put in a
nail or so at the same time. Have you had a look at the fields?”

“Yes.”

“Everything’s looking very nice. You men did good work last spring. Do
no harm now if we had a little rain for the upper lands.”

“Grindhusen and I passed lots of places on the way up that needed rain
more than here. It’s clay bottom here, and far up in the hills.”

“That’s true. How did you know that, by the way?”

“I looked about when I was here in the spring,” I answered, “and I did
a little digging here and there. I’d an idea you’d be wanting to have
water laid on to the house some time or other, so I went prospecting a
bit.”

“Water laid on? Well, yes, I did think of it at one time, but.... Yes, I
was going to have it done some years back; but I couldn’t get everything
done at once, and then it was held up. And just now I shall want the
money for other things.”

A wrinkle showed between his eyes for a moment; he stood looking
down--in thought.

“Well, well, that thousand dozen battens ought to do it, and leave
something over,” he said suddenly. “Water? It would have to be laid on
to the outbuildings as well. A whole system of pipes.”

“There’d be no rock-work though, no blasting.”

“Eh? Oh, well, we’ll see. What was I going to say? Did you have a good
time down there in the town? Not a big place, but you do see more people
there. And the railway brings visitors now and again, no doubt.”

“Aha,” I thought to myself, “he knows well enough what visitor came to
stay with Engineer Lassen this summer!” I answered that I did not care
much for the place--which was perfectly true.

“No, really?”

He seemed to find something to ponder over in that; he stared straight
in front of him, whistling softly to himself. Then he walked away.

The Captain was in good spirits; he had been more communicative than
ever before; he nodded to me as he went off. Just as of old he was
now--quick and determined, taking an interest in his affairs once more,
and sober as water. I felt cheered myself to see him so. He was no
wastrel; he had had a spell of foolishness and dissipation, but it
needed only his own resolution to put an end to that. An oar in the
water looks broken to the eye, but it is whole.

       *       *       *       *       *

It set in to rain, and I had to stop work on the painting. Nils had been
lucky enough to get in all the hay that was cut; we got to work now on
the potatoes, all hands out in the fields at once, with the women folk
from the house as well.

Meanwhile the Captain stayed indoors all alone; it was dull enough; now
and again he would touch the keys of Fruen’s piano. He came out once
or twice to where we were at work, and he carried no umbrella, but let
himself get drenched to the skin.

“Grand weather for the crops!” he would say; or again, “Looks like being
an extra special harvest this year!” But when he went back to the house
there was only himself and loneliness to meet him. “We’re better off
ourselves than he is now,” said Nils.

So we worked away at the potatoes, and when they were done there were
the turnips. And by the time we were through with them the weather began
to clear. Ideal weather, all that one could wish for. Nils and I were as
proud of it all as if we owned the place.

And now the haymaking began in earnest: the maids were out, spreading in
the wake of the machine, and Grindhusen was set to work with a scythe in
the corners and awkward parts where the machine could not go. And I got
out my stone-grey paint and set about the house.

The Captain came up. “What colour’s that you’ve got here?” he asked.

What could I say to that? I was nervous, I know, but my greatest fear
was lest I should not be allowed to paint it grey after all. As it was,
I said:

“Oh, it’s only some ... I don’t know ... it doesn’t matter what we put
on for the first coat....”

That saved me for the time being, at any rate. The Captain said no more
about it then.

When I had done the house all grey, and doors and windows white, I
went down to the summer-house and did that the same. But it turned out
horrible to look at; the yellow underneath showed through and made it
a ghastly colour. The flagstaff I took down and painted a clean white.
Then I put in a spell of field-work with Nils and was haymaking for some
days. Early in August it was.

Now, when I went back to my painting again I had settled in my mind to
start on the house as early as possible, so as to be well on the way
with it before the Captain was up--too far, if I could manage it, to go
back! I started at three in the morning; there was a heavy dew, and I
had to rub the woodwork over with a bit of sack. I worked away for an
hour, and then had coffee, then on again till eight. I knew the Captain
would be getting up then, so I went off to help Nils for an hour and be
out of the way. I had done as much as I wanted, and my idea now was
to give the Captain time to get over the shock of my grey, in case he
should have got up in an irritable mood.

After breakfast I went back to work, and stood there on my ladder
painting away, as innocently as could be, when the Captain came up.

“Are you doing it over with grey again?” he called up.

“_Godmorgen_! Yes. I don’t know if....”

“Now what’s the meaning of all this? Come down off that ladder at once!”

I clambered down. But I was not anxious now. I had thought out something
to say that I fancied would prove effective at the right moment--unless
my judgment was altogether at fault.

I tried first of all to make out it didn’t matter really what colour we
used for the second time either, but the Captain cut me short here and
said:

“Nonsense! Yellow on top of that grey will look like mud; you can see
that for yourself, surely.”

“Well, then, we might give it two coats of yellow,” I suggested.

“Four coats of paint? No, thank you! And all that white you’ve been
wasting! It’s ever so much dearer than the yellow.”

This was perfectly true, and the very argument I had been fearing all
along. I answered now straight-forwardly:

“Let me paint it grey.”

“What?”

“It would look better. There’s something about the house ... and with
the green of the woods behind ... the style of the place is....”

“Is grey, you mean?” He swung off impatiently a few steps and came back
again.

And then I faced him, more innocently than ever, with an inspiration
surely sent from above:

“Now I remember! Yes.... I’ve always seen it grey in my mind, ever since
one day--it was Fruen that said so....”

I was watching him closely; he gave a great start and stared at me
wide-eyed for a moment; then he took out his handkerchief and began
fidgeting with it at one eye as if to get out a speck or something.

“Indeed!” he said. “Did she say so?”

“Yes, I’m almost sure it was that. It’s a long time back now, but....”

“Oh, nonsense!” he broke out abruptly, and strode away. I heard him
clearing his throat--hard--as he crossed the courtyard behind.

I stood there limply for a while, feeling anything but comfortable
myself. I dared not go on with the painting now, and risk making
him angry again. I went round to the back and put in an hour cutting
firewood. When I came round again, the Captain looked out from an open
window upstairs and called down:

“You may as well go on with it now you’ve got so far. I don’t know what
possessed you, I’m sure. But get on with it now.”

The window had been open before, but he slammed it to and I went on with
the work.

A week passed. I spent my time between painting and haymaking.
Grindhusen was good enough at hoeing potatoes and using a rake here and
there, but not of much account when it came to loading hay. Nils himself
was a first-rate hand, and a glutton for work.

I gave the house a third coat, and the delicate grey, picked out with
white, made the place look nobler altogether. One afternoon I was at
work, the Captain came walking up from the road. He watched me for a
bit, then took out his handkerchief as if the heat troubled him, and
said:

“Yes, better go on with it now you’ve got so far. I must say she wasn’t
far wrong about the colour. All nonsense though, really! H’m!”

I made no answer. The Captain used his handkerchief again and said:

“Hot again today--puh! What was I going to say? ... yes, it doesn’t look
so bad after all. No, she was right--that is, I mean, you were right
about the colour. I was looking at it from down there just now, and
it makes quite a handsome place. And anyhow, it’s too late to alter it
now.”

“I thought so too,” I said. “It suits the house.”

“Yes, yes, it suits the house, as it were. And what was it she said
about the woods behind--my wife, I mean? The background, or something?”

“It’s a long time ago now, but I’m almost sure....”

“Yes, yes, never mind. I must say I never thought it would turn out like
that--turn out so well. Will you have enough white, though, to finish?”

“Well ... yes, I sent back the yellow and got some white instead.”

The Captain smiled, shook his head, and walked away. So I had been right
after all!

Haymaking took up all my time now till it was done, but Nils lent me
a hand in return, painting at the summer-house in the evening. Even
Grindhusen joined in and took a brush. He wasn’t much of a painter,
he said, but he reckoned he could be trusted to paint a bit of a wall.
Grindhusen was picking up fast.

At last the buildings were finished; hardly recognizable, they were, in
their new finery. And when we’d cleaned up a bit in the shrubbery and
the little park--this was our own idea--the whole place looked different
altogether. And the Captain thanked us specially for what we’d done.

We started on the rye then, and at the same time the autumn rain set in;
but we worked away all we knew, and there came a spell of sunshine
in between whiles. There were big fields of thick, heavy rye, and big
fields again of oats and barley, not yet ripe. It was a rich landscape
to work in. The clover was seeding, but the turnips were somewhat
behindhand. A good soaking would put them right, said Nils.

The Captain sent me up to the post from time to time; once he gave me a
letter for his wife. A whole bundle of letters there were, to different
people, and hers in the middle. It was addressed care of her mother in
Kristianssand. When I came back in the evening and took in the incoming
post, the Captain’s first words were: “You posted the letters all
right?”

“Yes,” I said.

Time went on. On wet days, when there was little we could do out of
doors, the Captain wanted me to paint a bit here and there about the
house inside. He showed me some fine enamels he had got in, and said:

“Now here’s the staircase to begin with. I want that white, and I’ve
ordered a dark red stair-carpet to put down. Then there’ll be doors and
windows. But I want all this done as soon as possible really; it’s been
left too long as it is.”

I quite agreed that this was a good idea of the Captain’s. He had lived
carelessly enough for years past now, never troubling about the look of
his house; now he had begun to take an interest in it again; it was a
sort of reawakening. He took me over the place, upstairs and down, and
showed me what was to be done. I noticed the pictures and sculpture in
the rooms; there was a big marble lion, and paintings by Askevold and
the famous Dahl. Heirlooms, I supposed they would be. Fruen’s room
upstairs looked just as if she were at home, with all sorts of little
trifles neatly in their places, and clothes hanging still on the pegs.
It was a fine old house, with moulded ceilings, and some of the walls
done in costly style, but the paint-work everywhere was faded or flaking
off. The staircase was broad and easy, with seats, and a mahogany
handrail.

I was painting indoors one day when the Captain came in.

“It’s harvest-time, I know, but this indoor work’s important too. My
wife will be back soon. I don’t know what we’re to do, really! I’d like
to have the place thoroughly cleaned up.”

So that letter was asking her to come back! I thought to myself. But
then, again, it was some days since he had written, and I had been to
the post several times myself, after, but no answer had come. I knew
Fruen’s writing. I had seen it six years before. But the Captain thought
perhaps that he had only to say “Come,” and she would obey. Well, well,
he might be right; she was taking a little time to get ready, that was
all.... How was I to know?

The painting had grown so important now, that the Captain went up
himself to the clearing and got Lars to come down and help with the
field-work in my place. Nils was by no means pleased with the exchange,
for Lars was not over willing under orders on the place where he had
been in charge himself in days gone by.

But there was no such need of hurry about the painting, as it turned
out. The Captain sent the lad up twice to the post, but I watched for
him on the way back both times, and found he had no letter from Fruen.
Perhaps she was not coming after all! Ay, it might be as bad as that.
Or she felt herself in a false position, and was too proud to say yes
because her husband called. It might be that.

But the paint was on and had time to dry; the red stair-carpet came and
was laid down with brass rods; the staircase looked wonderfully fine;
wonderfully fine, too, were the doors and windows in the rooms upstairs.
But Fruen did not come--no.

We got through with the rye, and set to work in good time on the barley;
but Fruen did not come. The Captain went out and gazed down the road,
whistling to himself; he was looking thinner now. Often and often he
would come out to where we were at work, and keep with us, looking on
all the time without a word. But if Nils happened to ask him anything,
he did not start as if his thoughts had been elsewhere, but was quick
and ready as could be. He did not seem dejected, and as for looking
thin, that was perhaps because he had got Nils to cut his hair.

Then I was sent up to the post again, and this time there was a letter.
Fruen’s hand, and postmarked Kristianssand. I hurried back, laid the
letter in among the rest of the post, and handed the whole bundle to the
Captain outside the house. He took it with a careless word of thanks,
showing no eagerness to see what there was; he was used to being
disappointed.

“Corn coming in everywhere, I suppose?” he asked casually, glancing
at the letters one after another. “What was the road like? All right?”
 While I was telling him, he came upon Fruen’s letter, and at once
packing up the whole bundle together, he turned to me with a sudden
intensified interest in other people’s crops and the state of the roads.
Keeping himself well in hand; he was not going to show feeling openly.
He nodded as he walked off, and said “Thank you” once more.

Next day the Captain came out and washed and greased the carriage
himself. But it was two days more before he used it. We were sitting at
supper one evening when the Captain came into the kitchen and said he
wanted some one to drive him to the station tomorrow. He could have
driven himself, but he was going to fetch his wife, who was coming home
from abroad, and he would have to take the landau in case it rained.
Nils decided, then, that Grindhusen had better drive, he being the one
who could best be spared.

The rest of us went on with our field-work while they were away. There
was plenty to do; besides the rye and barley not yet in, there were
still potatoes to hoe and turnips to see to. But Ragnhild and the
dairymaid both lent a hand; all youth and energy they were.

It might have been pleasant enough to work side by side with my old mate
Lars Falkenberg once more, but he and Nils could not get on together,
and instead of cheerful comradeship, a gloomy silence hung over the
fields. Lars seemed to have got over his late ill-will towards me in
some degree, but he was short and sullen with us all on account of Nils.

At last Nils decided that Lars should take the pair of chestnuts and get
to work on the autumn ploughing. Lars was offended, and said crossly:
No. He’d never heard of doing things that way before, he said, starting
to plough your land before you’d got the harvest off it. “That may be,”
 said Nils, “but I’ll find you land that has been reaped enough to keep
you going.”

There were more words over that. Lars found everything all wrong somehow
at Øvrebø. In the old days he used to do his work and sing songs after
for the company at the house; now, it was all a mess and a muddle, and
no sense in any way of doing things. Ploughing, indeed! Not if he knew
it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Nils. “Nowadays you’ll
see folk ploughing between the corn-poles and the hay-frames.”

“I’ve not seen it yet,” said Lars. “But it seems you’ve seen a lot. Of
all the silly goats....”

But the end of it was that Lars gave way, Nils being head man there, and
went on ploughing till the Captain came home.

It crossed my mind that I had left some washing behind with Emma when
I went away, before. But I judged it best not to go up to the clearing
after it now, while Lars was in his present mood.



X


The Captain and his wife came next day. Nils and I had talked over
whether to hoist the flag; I dared not myself, but Nils was less
cautious, and said we must. So there it was, flapping broad and free
from its white staff.

I was close at hand when the carriage drove up and they got out. Fruen
walked out far across the courtyard, looked at the house, and clapped
her hands. I heard her, too, loud in wonder as she entered the hall--at
sight of the stairs, no doubt, and the new red carpet.

Grindhusen had no sooner got the horses in than he came up to me, all
agape with astonishment over something, and drew me aside to talk.

“There must be something wrong,” he said. “That’s not Fru Falkenberg,
surely? Is she married to him--the Captain, I mean?”

“Why, yes, Grindhusen, the Captain’s wife is married to the Captain.
What makes you ask?”

“But it’s that cousin girl! I’ll stake my life on it if it’s not the
very same one. The Inspector’s cousin that was there.”

“Not a bit of it, Grindhusen. But it might be her sister.”

“But I’ll stake my life on it. I saw her with him myself I don’t know
how many times.”

“Well, well, she may be his cousin as far as that goes, but what’s it to
do with us?”

“I saw it the moment she got out of the train. And she looked at me,
too, and gave a start. I could see her breathing quickly after. Don’t
come telling me.... But I can’t make out.... Is she from here?”

“Was Fruen pleased, or did she look unhappy?” I asked.

“Nay, I don’t know. Yes, I think she was.” Grindhusen shook his head,
still marvelling how this could be the Captain’s wife. “You must have
seen her with the Inspector yourself,” he said. “Didn’t you recognize
her again?”

“Was she pleased, did you say?”

“Pleased? Why, yes, I suppose so. I don’t know. They talked such a lot
of queer stuff the pair of them, driving home--began at the station, the
minute she got out. There was a whole lot I couldn’t make out at all.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ said she, ‘but I beg you so earnestly to
forgive me for it all.’ ‘And so do I,’ says he. Now did you ever hear
such a thing? And they were both of them crying, I believe, in the
carriage after. ‘I’ve had the place painted and done up a bit,’ said the
Captain. ‘Have you?’ says she. And then he went on talking about all her
things, and how they were still there and never been touched. I don’t
know what things he meant, but he thought she’d find everything still
in its place, he said. Did you ever hear the like? ‘All your things,’
he said. And then he went on about somebody Elisabet, and said he never
gave her a thought, and never had, I think he said. And she cried like
anything at that, and was all upset. But she didn’t say a word about
being abroad, as the Captain said. No, I’ll stake my life she’d come
from the Inspector.”

I began to fear I had made a grave mistake in bringing Grindhusen to
Øvrebø. It was done now, but I wished it undone. And I told Grindhusen
himself as much, and that pretty plainly.

“Fruen here’s the mistress of the place, and good and kind as could be
to every one, and the Captain as well, remember that. But you’ll find
yourself whipped out of here, and at once, if you go gossiping and
telling tales. Take my advice and be careful. You’ve got a good job
here, with good pay and decent food. Think of that, and keep quiet while
you’re here.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right,” said Grindhusen meekly enough. “I don’t say a
word; only, that she’s the very image of that cousin down there. And did
I ever say more than that? I don’t know what you’ve got to make such a
fuss about, and as for that, maybe she’s a bit fairer than the cousin. I
won’t swear it’s the same sort of hair. And I never said it was. But
if you want to know what I thought, I’ll tell you straight out. I was
thinking she was too good to be that cousin girl. That was my very
thought. ‘Twould be a shame for her to be cousin to a fellow like that,
and I can’t think how anybody ever could. I’m not thinking about the
money now; you know as well as I do I’m not the man to make a fuss over
losing a two-Kroner piece, no more than you yourself, but it was a mean
thing to do, all the same, giving me the money one day and taking it
back the next. Ay, that it was. I say no more than that. But I don’t
know what’s the matter with you lately, flying out the least word a man
says. And what have I said, anyway? A mean lot, that he was; paid me two
Kroner a day and find my own food, and always niggling and haggling over
every little thing. I’ve had enough of your talk anyhow, but I’ll tell
you what was my very thought, if you want to know....”

But all his flow of talk did not avail to hide the fact that he had
recognized Fruen at once, and was still convinced that he was right.

       *       *       *       *       *

All things in order now, the Captain and Fruen at home, bright days and
a rich harvest. What more could any wish for?

Fruen greets me with a kindly glance, and says:

“The place looks different altogether after the way you’ve painted it so
nicely. The Captain’s ever so pleased.”

She seemed calmer now than when I had seen her last, on the stairs of
the hotel in the town. She did not start and breathe quickly at sight
of me as she had with Grindhusen, and that could only mean she was not
displeased at seeing me again! So I thought to myself, and was glad
to think so. But why had she not left off that unsteady glance, that
flutter of the eyes, she had fallen into of late? If I were the Captain,
now, I would speak to her about it. And her complexion, too, was
not what it had been. There were some curious little spots about the
temples. But what matter? She was no less pretty for that.

“I’m afraid, though,” she went on, “it wasn’t my idea at all with the
lovely grey for the house. You must have made a mistake in thinking I
said so.”

“Well, then, I can’t make it out. But, anyhow, it’s no matter; the
Captain himself decided to have it.”

“The staircase is simply splendid, and so are the rooms upstairs. It’s
twice as bright as before....”

‘Twas Fruen herself was trying to be twice as bright and

“Why, yes, Grindhusen, the Captain’s wife is married twice as good as
before.” I knew that well enough. And she fancied she owed me these
little marks of kindliness, for something or other. Well and good, but
now it was enough. Best let it be.

Autumn drawing on, the scent of the jasmine all importunate down in the
shrubbery, and red and yellow showing up long since on the wooded hills.
Not a soul in the place but is glad to have Fruen at home again; the
flag, too, does its part. ‘Tis like a Sunday; the maids have put clean
aprons on, fresh from the ironing.

In the evening I went down by the little stone steps to the shrubbery
and sat there a while. The jasmines were pouring out waves of perfume
after the heat of the day. After awhile Nils came down, looking for me.

“No visitors here now,” says Nils. “And no high goings-on at nights.
Have you heard anything of that sort at night now, since the Captain
first came back?”

“No.”

“And that’s full ten weeks ago now. What d’you say if I tore off this
thing now?” And he pointed to his temperance badge. “Captain’s given up
drinking, here’s Fruen home again, and no call to be unfriendly anyway
to either of them.”

He handed me a knife, and I cut the badge away.

We talked for a bit about the farm-work--Nils thought of nothing else.
“We’ll have most of the corn under shelter by tomorrow night,” he says.
“And thank goodness for that! Then we’ll sow the winter rye. Queer
thing, isn’t it? Here’s Lars went on year after year sowing by machine,
and thought it good enough. Not if I know it! We’ll sow ours by hand.”

“But why?”

“On land like ours! Now just take the man over there, for instance; he
sowed by machine three weeks ago and some’s come up and some not. No.
The machine goes too deep in the soil.”

“H’m! Don’t the jasmines smell fine tonight?”

“Yes. There’s been a big difference with the barley and oats these last
few days. Getting on time for bed, though, now!”

He got up, but I did not move. “Looks like being fine again tomorrow,”
 says Nils, glancing at the sky. And then he went on about the grass in
the garden; worth cutting, he said it was.

“You going to stay down here long?” he asked suddenly.

“Yes, for a bit; why not? Oh, well, perhaps I’d better go up too.”

Nils walked off a few paces, then came back again.

“Better not stay here any longer,” he said. “Come along up here with
me.”

“Think so?” I said, and rose at once. Evidently Nils had something in
his mind, and had come down here on purpose to fetch me.

Had he found me out? But what was there to find out?

Did I know myself what I had gone down to the shrubbery for? I remember
now that I lay face downwards, chewing a stalk of grass. There was light
in a certain upstairs window of the house. I was looking at that. And
that was all.

“Not being inquisitive now, but what’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nothing,” said Nils. “The girls said you were down here, so I just came
along. Why, what else?”

So the maids had found me out, I thought to myself, and was ill pleased
at the thought. Ragnhild it must be, a devil of a girl, sharp as a
needle; she must have said a lot more than Nils was willing to confess.
And what if Fruen herself had seen me from the window!

I resolved now to be cold and indifferent as ice henceforward all the
days of my life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ragnhild is properly in clover. The thick stair carpet muffles every
step; she can run upstairs whenever she pleases and slip down again in a
moment without a sound.

“I can’t make it out about Fruen,” says Ragnhild.

“Here she’s come back, and ought to be happy and good tempered as
could be, and instead she’s all tears and frowning. I heard the Captain
telling her today: ‘Now do be a little reasonable, Lovise,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it any more,’ says Fruen; and then she cried
because she’d been unreasonable. But that about never doing it any
more--she’s said that now every day since she came back, but she’s done
it again, all the same. Poor dear, she’d a toothache today; she was
simply crying out with the pain....”

“Go and get on with the potatoes, Ragnhild,” said Nils quickly. “We’ve
no time for gossiping now.”

We’d all of us our field-work now; there was much to be done. Nils was
afraid the corn would spoil if he left it too long at the poles; better
to get it in as it was. Well and good; but that meant threshing the
worst of it at once, and spreading the grain over the floor of every
shed and outhouse. Even in our own big living-room there was a large
layer of corn drying on the floor. Any more irons in the fire? Ay,
indeed, and all the while hot and waiting. Bad weather has set in, and
all the work ought to be done at once. When we’ve finished threshing,
there’s the fresh straw to be cut up and salted down in bins to keep it
from rotting. That all? Not by a long way: irons enough still glowing
hot. Grindhusen and the maids are pulling potatoes. Nils snatches the
precious time after a couple of dry days to sow a patch of rye and send
the lad over it with the harrow. Lars Falkenberg is still ploughing;
he has given way altogether and turned out a fine ploughman since the
Captain and Fruen came back. When the corn-land’s too soft he ploughs
the meadows; then, when sun and wind have dried things a bit, he goes on
to the corn-land again.

The work goes on steadily and well; in the afternoon the Captain himself
comes out to lend a hand. The last load of corn in being brought in.

Captain Falkenberg is no child at the work, big and strong he is,
and with the right knack of it. See him loading up oats from the
drying-frames: his second load now.

Just then Fruen comes along down the road, and crosses over to where we
are at work. Her eyes are bright. She seems pleased to watch her husband
loading up corn.

“_Signe Arbejdet!_” [Footnote: “A blessing on the work.”] she says.

“Thanks,” says the Captain.

“That’s what we used to say in Nordland.”

“What?”

“That’s what we used to say in Nordland.”

“Oh yes.”

The Captain is busy with his work, and in the rustle of the straw he
does not always hear what she says, but has to look up and ask again,
and this annoys them both.

“Are the oats ripe?” she asks.

“Yes, thank goodness!”

“But not dry, I suppose?”

“Eh? I can’t hear what you say.”

“Oh, I didn’t say anything.”

A long, uncomfortable silence after that. The Captain tries once or
twice with a good-humoured word, but gets no answer.

“So you’re out on a round of inspection,” he says jestingly. “Have you
seen how the potatoes are getting on?”

“No,” she answers. “But I’ll go over there, by all means, if you can’t
bear the sight of me here.”

It was too dreadful to hear them going on like this. I must have frowned
unconsciously--shown some such feeling. Then, suddenly remembering that
for certain reasons I was to be cold as ice, I frowned the more.

Freun looked straight at me and said:

“What are you scowling at?”

“Scowling, eh?” says the Captain, joining in, with a forced laugh.

Fruen takes him up on the instant.

“Ah! you managed to hear that time!”

“Really, Lovise....”

Fruen’s eyes dimmed suddenly; she stood a moment then ran, stooping
forward, round behind the frames, and sobbed.

The Captain went over to her. “What is it, Lovise, tell me?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing! Go away.”

She was sick; we could hear it. And moaning and saying: “Heaven help
me!”

“My wife’s not very well just now,” says the Captain to me. “We can’t
make out what it is.”

“There’s sickness in the neighbourhood,” I suggested, for something to
say. “Sort of autumn fever. I heard about it up at the post office.”

“Is there, though? Why, there you are, Lovise,” he calls out. “There’s
some sort of fever about, it seems. That’s all it is.”

Fruen made no answer.

We went on loading up, and Fruen moved farther and farther away as we
came up. At last the frames were cleared, and she stood there guiltily,
very pale after her trouble.

“Shall I see you back to the house?” asked the Captain.

“No, thank you, I’d rather not,” she answered, walking away.

The Captain stayed out and worked with us till evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

So here was everything gone wrong again. Oh, but it was hard for them
both!

And it was not just a little matter that could be got over by a
little give and take on either side, as folk say; no, it was a thing
insuperable, a trouble rooted deep. And now it had come to mutiny, no
less: Fruen had taken to locking her door at night. Ragnhild had heard
the Captain, highly offended, talking to her through the wall.

But that evening the Captain had demanded to speak with her in her room
before she went to bed. Fruen agreed, and there was a further scene.
Each was willing and anxious, no doubt, to set matters right, but it
was hopeless now; it was too late. We sat in the kitchen, Nils and I,
listening to Ragnhild’s story. I had never seen Nils look so miserable
before.

“If things go wrong again now, it’s all over,” he said. “I thought to
myself last summer that perhaps a good, sound thrashing would do her
good. But that was just foolishness, I can see now. Did she talk about
running away again?”

“She said something about it,” answered Ragnhild. And then she went on
something like this: “It began with the Captain asking if she didn’t
think it was this local sickness she had got. Fruen answered it could
hardly be any local sickness that had turned her against him so. ‘Turned
you against me?’ ‘Yes. Oh, I could scream sometimes. At table, for
instance, the way you eat and eat....’ ‘Do I?’ says the Captain. ‘Well,
I can’t see there’s anything very wrong in that; it’s just natural.
There’s no rule for how much one ought to eat at a meal.’ ‘But to have
to sit and look at you--it makes me sick. It’s that that makes me ill.’
‘Well, anyhow, you can’t say I drink too much now,’ said he. ‘So it’s
better than it was.’ ‘No, indeed, it’s worse!’ Then says the Captain:
‘Well, really, I do think you might make allowances for me a little,
after I’ve--I mean, considering what you did yourself this summer.’
‘Yes, you’re right,’ says Fruen, beginning to cry. ‘If you knew how it
hurts and plagues me night and day, thinking of that.... But I’ve never
said a word.’ ‘No, I know,’ says she, crying all the more. ‘And I asked
you myself to come back,’ he said. But at that she seemed to think he
was taking too much credit to himself; she stopped crying, and answered,
with a toss of her head: ‘Yes, and it would have been better if you’d
never asked me back, if it was only to go on like this.’ ‘Like what?’
says he. ‘You’ve your own way in everything now. The same as before,
only you don’t care for anything at all. You never touch the piano,
even; only go about cross and irritable all the time; there’s no
pleasing you with anything. And you shut your door at night and lock me
out. Well and good; lock me out if you like!’ ‘It’s you that are hard
to please, if you ask me,’ she said. ‘There’s never a night and never
a morning but I’m worried out of my life lest you shall be thinking
of--this summer. You’ve never said a word about it, you say. Oh, don’t
you, though! I’m never left long in peace without you throwing it in my
teeth. I happened to say “Hugo” one day, by a slip of the tongue, and
what did you do? You might have been nice and comforted me to help me
over it, but you only scowled and said you were not Hugo. No. I knew
well enough, and I was ever so sorry to have said it.’ ‘That’s just the
point,’ said the Captain. ‘Were you really sorry?’ ‘Yes, indeed,’ said
Fruen; ‘it hurt me ever so.’ ‘Well, I shouldn’t have thought it; you
don’t seem very upset about it.’ ‘Ah, but what about you? Haven’t you
anything to be sorry for?’ ‘You’ve got photos of Hugo on your piano
still; I haven’t seen you move them away yet, though I’ve shown you not
once but fifty times I wished you to--yes, and begged you to do it.’
‘Oh, what a fuss you make about those photos!’ said she. ‘Oh, don’t make
any mistake! I’m not asking you now. If you went and shifted them now,
it would make no difference. I’ve begged and prayed of you fifty times
before. Only, I think it would have been a little more decent if you’d
burned them the day you came home. But, instead of that, you’ve
books here lying about in your room with his name in. And there’s a
handkerchief with his initials on, I see.’ ‘Oh, it’s all your jealousy,’
answered Fruen. ‘I can’t see what difference it makes. I can’t kill him,
as you’d like me to, and Papa and Mama say the same. After all, I’ve
lived with him and been married to him.’ ‘Married to him?’ ‘Yes, that’s
what I say. It isn’t every one that looks at Hugo and me the way you
do.’ The Captain sat a while, shaking his head. ‘And it’s all your own
fault, really,’ Fruen went on, ‘the way you drove off with Elisabet that
time, though I came and asked you not to go. It was then it happened.
And we’d been drinking that evening. I didn’t quite know what I was
doing.’ Still, the Captain said nothing for a while; then at last he
said: ‘Yes, I ought not to have gone off like that.’ ‘No, but you did,’
said Fruen, and started crying again. ‘You wouldn’t hear a word. And
you’re always throwing it in my teeth about Hugo, but you never think
of what you’ve done yourself.’ ‘There’s just this difference,’ says the
Captain, ‘that I’ve never lived with the lady you mention, never been
married to her, as you call it.’ Fruen gave a little scornful laugh.
‘Never!’ said the Captain, striking the table with his hand. Fruen gave
a start, and sat staring at him. ‘Then--I don’t understand why you were
always running after her and sitting out in the summer-house and lurking
in corners,’ said she. ‘It was you that sat out in the summer-house,’ he
answered. ‘Oh yes, it’s always me,’ said she. ‘Never you by any chance!’
‘As for my running after Elisabet,’ said the Captain, ‘it was solely and
simply in the hopes of getting you back. You’d drifted away from me,
and I wanted you.’ Fruen sat thinking over that for a minute, then she
sprang up and threw her arms around him and said: ‘Oh, then you cared
for me all the time! And I thought it was all over. You’d drifted away
from me, too; it was years since. And it all seemed so hopeless. I never
thought--I never knew.... And then it was me you cared for all the time!
Oh, my dear, then it’s all come right again.’ ‘Sit down,’ said he.
‘You seem to forget that something else has happened since.’ ‘Something
else?’ ‘There you are, you’ve forgotten all about it. May I ask you, are
you sorry enough for what’s happened since?’ At that Fruen turned hard
again and said: ‘Oh, you mean about Hugo? That’s done and can’t be
altered.’ ‘That doesn’t answer the question.’ ‘If I’m sorry enough? What
about you; are you so innocent yourself?’ At this the Captain got up and
began walking up and down. ‘The trouble is that we’ve no children,’
said Fruen. ‘I haven’t a daughter that I could teach and bring up to be
better than I am,’ ‘I’ve thought of that,’ said the Captain, ‘perhaps
you’re right.’ Then he turned straight towards her and said: ‘It’s a
nasty crash that’s come over us, Lovise--like a landslide. But don’t you
think now we might set to work and shift away all the wreckage that’s
been burying us for years, and get clear and breathe again? You might
have a daughter yet!’ At that Fruen got up and made as if to say
something, but couldn’t. ‘Yes,’ was all she said, and ‘Yes,’ she said
again. ‘You’re tired and nervous, I know,’ he said. ‘But think a little
over what I’ve said. Another time.’ ‘Good-night,’ said she.”



XI


The Captain spoke to Nils about the timber; he thought of disposing of
the whole lot, or selling it standing. Nils took this to mean that he
didn’t like the idea of having more new folk about the place. “It looks
like things are as bad as ever with him and Fruen,” said Nils.

We are getting in the potatoes now, and since we are thus far there is
less hurry and anxiety about the work. But there is still much to be
done. The ploughing is behindhand, and Lars Falkenberg and I are both at
it, field and meadow land.

Nils, queer creature that he was, began to find things intolerable
at Øvrebø again, and talked of throwing up his place and going off
altogether. But he couldn’t bear the disgrace of leaving his service
like that. Nils had his own clear notions of honour, handed down through
many generations. A young man from a big farm could not behave like a
lad from a cottar’s holding. And then he hadn’t been here long enough
yet; Øvrebø had been sadly ill-managed before he came: it would take
some years to bring it round again. It was only this year, when he’d had
more help with the work, that he’d been able to do anything properly.
But from now onward he might begin to look for some result of his work;
look at this year’s harvest, the fine heavy grain! The Captain, too,
had looked at the crops with wonder and thankfulness--the first time for
many years. There would be plenty to sell.

All things considered, then, it was senseless for Nils to think
of leaving Øvrebø. But he must go home for a couple of days to his
people--they lived a little way north of us. So he gave himself two
days’ leave as soon as the potatoes were all out of the ground. No
doubt he’d good reason for going--perhaps to see his sweetheart, we
thought--and when he came back he was bright and full of energy as ever,
and took up work again at once.

We were sitting at dinner in the kitchen one day when out comes Fruen
from the front door of the house, and goes tearing down the road, all
wild and excited. Then the Captain came out, calling after her: “Lovise,
what is it, Lovise? Where are you going?” But Fruen only called back:
“Leave me alone!”

We looked at one another. Ragnhild rose from the table; she must go
after her mistress, she said.

“That’s right,” said Nils, calm as ever. “But go indoors first and see
if she’s moved those photographs.”

“They’re still there,” said Ragnhild as she went out.

Outside, we heard the Captain telling her to go and look after her
mistress.

There was no one but took thought for Fruen in her distress.

We went out to the fields again. Said Nils to me:

“She ought to take away those photos; it’s not right of her to leave
them there. I don’t know what she can be thinking of to do it.”

What do you know about it? I thought to myself. Oh, I was so clever
with my knowledge of the world, and all I’d learned on my wanderings, I
thought I would try him now; perhaps he was only showing off.

“I can’t understand why the Captain hasn’t taken and burnt them long
ago,” said I.

“No, that’s all wrong,” said Nils. “I wouldn’t have done that either.”

“Oh, indeed!”

“It wouldn’t be for me to do it, but for her.”

We walked on a little. And then Nils said a thing that showed his sound
and right instinct.

“Poor lady!” he said. “She’s not got over that slip of hers this summer;
it’s troubling her still. From all I can see, there’s some people pick
up again all right after a fall, and go on through life with no more
than the mark of a bruise. But there’s some that never get over it.”

“Fruen seems to be taking it easy enough,” said I, still trying him.

“How can we tell? She’s been unlike herself, to my mind, ever since
she’s been back,” he answered. “She’s got to live, of course, but she’s
lost all harmony, perhaps. I don’t know much about it, but harmony,
that’s what I mean. Oh yes, she can eat and laugh and sleep, no doubt,
but ... I followed one such to the grave, but now....”

And at that I was no longer cold and wise, but foolish and ashamed, and
only said:

“So it was that? She died, then?”

“Yes. She wished it so,” said Nils. And then suddenly: “Well, you and
Lars get on with the ploughing. We ought soon to be through with things
now.”

And we went each our separate way.

I thought to myself: a sister of his, perhaps, that had gone wrong, and
he’d been home and followed her to the grave. _Herregud!_ there are
some that never get over it; it shakes them to their foundations; a
revolution. All depends on whether they’re coarse enough. Only the mark
of a bruise, said Nils. A sudden thought came to me, and I stopped:
perhaps it was not his sister, but his sweetheart.

Some association of ideas led me to think of my washing. I decided to
send the lad up for it.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was evening.

Ragnhild came to me and begged me to keep awake again; there was
dreadful trouble up at the house. Ragnhild herself was greatly upset,
and dared not sit anywhere now in the half-dark but upon my knees.
It was always so with her; emotion made her frightened and
tender--frightened and tender, yes.

“But can you be away like this? Is there any one in your place in the
kitchen?” I asked.

“Yes. Cook’s going to listen for the bell. You know, I side with the
Captain,” she declared. “I’ve sided with him all along.”

“Oh, that’s only because he’s a man.”

“No, it’s not.”

“You’d much better side with Fruen.”

“You only say that because she’s a woman,” answered Ragnhild in her
turn. “But you don’t know all I do. Fruen’s so unreasonable. We didn’t
care a bit about her, she said, and left her all to herself, whatever
might happen. Did you ever hear such a thing, when I’d just gone after
her. And then there’s another dreadful thing....”

“I don’t want to hear any more,” I said.

“But I haven’t been listening outside--what are you thinking of? I was
there in the same room, and heard them.”

“Did you? Well, well, stay here till you’ve calmed down a little; then
we’ll go and find Nils.”

And so frightened and tender was Ragnhild that she threw her arms round
me because I was kind to her. A strange girl!

Then we went down to Nils.

“Ragnhild thinks that somebody ought to keep awake for a bit,” I said.

“Yes,” said Ragnhild. “Oh, it’s so dreadful--worse than ever it’s been!
Heaven knows what the Captain’ll do! Perhaps he won’t go to bed at all.
Oh, she’s fond of him and he’s fond of her, too; only, everything’s
all wrong! When she went running off like that today, the Captain was
standing outside the house, and said to me: ‘Go and look after your
mistress, Ragnhild,’ and I went after her, and there she was, standing
behind a tree down the road, and she just stood there, crying, and
smiled at me. I tried to get her to come in again, but she said we
didn’t care about her; it didn’t matter where she went. ‘The Captain
sent me after you,’ said I. ‘Did he, though?’ she asked. ‘Now? Was it
just now?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. ‘Wait, then,’ she said, and stood quite a
while. ‘Take those hateful books that are lying in my room and burn
them,’ she said; and then: ‘Oh no, I’ll do it myself, but I’ll ring for
you after supper, and then you must come up at once.’ ‘I will,’ said I,
and then I got her to come in.”

“And you know,” said Ragnhild suddenly, “she’s going to have a child.”

We looked at one another. Nils’ face grew, as it were, veiled beneath a
film of something indistinct. All expression faded, the eyes asleep. But
why should it affect him so? For the sake of saying something, I turned
to Ragnhild and asked:

“Fruen was going to ring for you, you said?”

“Yes, and so she did. There was something she wanted to tell the
Captain, but she was afraid, and wanted to have me there. ‘Light a
candle and pick up all this host of buttons I’ve upset,’ she said. And
then she called out to the Captain in his room. I lit the candle and
began picking up buttons; dozens of them there were, all sorts. The
Captain came in. ‘I only wanted to tell you,’ says Fruen at once, ‘that
it was kind of you to send Ragnhild after me to-day. Heaven bless you
for that!’ ‘Never mind about that, my dear,’ says he. ‘You were nervous,
you know.’ ‘Yes, I’m all nerves just now,’ she answered, ‘but I hope
it’ll get better in time. No, the trouble is that I haven’t a daughter I
could bring up to be really good. There’s nothing I can do!’ The Captain
sat down on a chair. ‘Oh yes, there is,’ he said. ‘Yes, you say? Oh, I
know it says in that book there.... Oh, those hateful books!--Ragnhild
take them away and burn them,’ she says. ‘No, wait, I’ll tear them to
bits now myself and put them in the stove here.’ And then she started
pulling them to pieces, taking ever so many pages at a time and throwing
them in the stove. ‘Don’t be so excited, Lovise,’ said the Captain.
_‘The Nunnery,’_ she said--that was one of the books. ‘But I can’t go
into a nunnery. There’s nothing I can do. When I laugh, you think I’m
laughing,’ she said to the Captain, ‘but I’m miserable all the time and
not laughing a bit.’ ‘Is your toothache any better?’ he asked. ‘Oh, that
toothache won’t be better for a long time to come!’ she said; ‘you know
that well enough.’ ‘No, indeed, I don’t.’ ‘You don’t know?’ ‘No.’ ‘But,
heavens! can’t you see what’s the matter with me?’ said Fruen. The
Captain only looked at her and did not answer. ‘I’m--oh, you said today
I might have a daughter after all, don’t you remember?’ I happened to
look up at the Captain just then....”

Ragnhild smiled and shook her head; then she went on:

“Heaven forgive me for smiling, but the Captain’s face was so queer;
he stood there like a sheep. ‘Didn’t you guess as much before?’ asked
Fruen. The Captain looked over at me and said: ‘What’s that you’re doing
there all this time?’ ‘I asked her to pick up those buttons for me,’
said Fruen. ‘I’ve finished now,’ said I. ‘Have you?’ said Fruen, getting
up. ‘Let me see.’ And she took the box and dropped them again all over
the floor. Oh, they went rolling all over the place, under the table,
under the bed and the stove! ‘There, now, did you ever see such a mess?’
said Fruen. But then she went off again at once talking about herself,
and said again: ‘But I can’t understand you didn’t you see I was--didn’t
see what was the matter with me.’ Can’t those buttons wait till
tomorrow?’ said the Captain. ‘Why, yes, perhaps they can,’ said Fruen.
‘But then I’ll be treading on them everywhere. I can’t ... I’m rather
afraid of stooping just now.... But, never mind, we’ll leave them for
now,’ she said, and stroked his hand. ‘Oh, my dear, my dear!’ she says.
But he drew his hand away. ‘Oh, so you’re angry with me!’ she said. ‘But
then, why did you write and ask me to come back?’ ‘My dear Lovise,
we’re not alone here,’ he says. ‘But surely you must know what made
you write?’ ‘I suppose it was because I hoped things would come right
again.’ ‘And they didn’t?’ ‘Well, no!’ ‘But what was in your mind when
you wrote? Were you thinking of me? Did you want me again? I can’t
make out what was in your mind.’ ‘Ragnhild’s finished, I see,’ said the
Captain. ‘Good-night, Ragnhild!’”

“And then you came away?”

“Yes, but I dare not go far because of Fruen. You may be sure it wasn’t
nice for her when I was out of the room, so I had to be somewhere at
hand. And if the Captain had come and found me and said anything, I’d
have told him straight out I wasn’t going farther away with Fruen in
the state she was. As it happened, he didn’t come at all, but they began
again in there. ‘I know what you’re thinking of,’ said Fruen--‘that
perhaps it’s not ... it wouldn’t be your child. Oh yes, indeed it
might be so! But, God knows, I can’t find words this moment to make you
forgive me!’ she said, all crying. ‘Oh, my dear, forgive me, forgive
me!’ said Fruen, and went down on her knees on the floor. ‘You’ve seen
what I did with the books, and that handkerchief with the initials
on--I burnt that before, and the books, you know....’ ‘Yes, and--here’s
another handkerchief with the same initials on--’ says the Captain. ‘Oh,
heavens! yes, you’re ever so considerate, Lovise.’ Fruen was all upset
at that. ‘I’m sorry you should have seen it,’ she said. ‘It must be one
I brought back with me when I came home. I haven’t looked through my
things properly since. But does it really matter so very much? Surely--’
‘Oh no,’ said he. ‘And if you’d only listen to me,’ she went on, I’m
almost certain it’s you that ... I mean, that the child is yours. Why
should it not be? Oh, I don’t know how to say it!’ ‘Sit down again,’
said the Captain. But Fruen must have misunderstood; she got up and
said: ‘There you are! You won’t listen to me. Really, I can’t make out
why you ever wrote to me at all. You might just as well have left me
alone.’ Then the Captain said something about being in prison; if a man
grew up in a prison yard, he said, and you take him out, he’ll long to
be back in his prison yard again, he said. It was something like that,
anyway. ‘Yes, but I was with Papa and Mama, and they weren’t hard like
you; they said I had been married to him, and weren’t unkind to me at
all. It isn’t every one that looks at things like you do,’ ‘You don’t
want that candle alight now Ragnhild’s gone, do you?’ said the Captain.
‘It looks so out of place to have it burning there beside the lamp--as
if it were ashamed.’ ‘Ashamed of me,’ she says quickly. ‘Oh yes,
that was what you meant. But you’ve been to blame as well.’ ‘Don’t
misunderstand me,’ he says. ‘I know I’ve been to blame. But that doesn’t
make your part any better.’ ‘Oh, you think not? Well, of all the.... So
yours doesn’t count, then?’ ‘Yes, I say I’ve been to blame, not in the
way you mean, but in other ways--in old things and new.’ ‘Oh, indeed!’
‘Yes, but I don’t come home bringing the fruits of it under my heart to
you.’ ‘No,’ says Fruen, ‘but you know it was you all along that wouldn’t
... that didn’t want us to have children. And I didn’t want it, either,
but you ought to have known better. And they said the same thing at
home. If only I’d had a daughter....’ ‘Oh, don’t let’s go over all that
again,’ says the Captain--he called it something or other--a romance,
I think it was. ‘But it’s true,’ says Fruen, ‘and I can’t think how you
can deny it.’ ‘I’m not denying anything. Do sit down, now, Lovise, and
listen to me. All this about having children, and a daughter to bring up
and so on, it’s something you’ve picked up lately. And, you snatched
at the idea at once, to save yourself. But you never said a word about
wanting children before--not that I ever heard.’ ‘Yes, but you ought
to have known better.’ ‘There again, that’s something you’ve heard,
something new. But it doesn’t matter: quite possibly things might have
been different if we’d had children. I can see that myself now, but now
it’s too late, more’s the pity. And here you are now--like that....’
‘Oh, heavens, yes! But I tell you it may be yours after all--I don’t
know.... Oh!...’ ‘Mine? said the Captain, shaking his head. ‘Well,
the mother should be the one to know. But in this case, it seems, she
doesn’t. The woman I’m married to doesn’t know--or do you?’ But Fruen
did not answer. _‘Do_ you know? I ask you!’ Oh, but again she could not
answer, only slipped down to the floor again and cried. Really, I don’t
know--but perhaps I’m on her side after all; it was dreadful for her,
poor thing. And then I was just going to knock at the door and go in,
but then the Captain went on again. ‘You can’t say it,’ he said. ‘But
that’s an answer in itself, and plain enough.’ ‘I can’t say more,’
said Fruen. She was still crying. ‘I’m fond of you for lots of things,
Lovise,’ says the Captain, ‘and one of them’s because you’re truthful.’
‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘They haven’t taught you to lie as yet. Get up,
now.’ And he helped her up himself, and set her in the chair. But it was
pitiful to see her crying so. ‘Don’t cry, now,’ he says. ‘I want to ask
you something. Shall we wait and see what it’s like when it comes--what
sort of eyes it has, and so on?’ ‘Oh, heaven bless you, yes, if you
would! Oh, my dear, God bless you, God bless you.’ ‘And I’ll try to bear
with things as they are. It’s an aching misery all the time, but I’ll
try. And I’ve been to blame as well.’ ‘God bless you, God bless you!’
she said again. ‘And you,’ he said. ‘And now good-night until tomorrow.’
Then Fruen leaned down over the table and cried and cried so dreadfully.
‘What are you crying for now?’ he asked. ‘You’re going,’ she said. ‘Oh,
I was afraid of you before, but now I can’t bear to be without you.
Couldn’t you stay a little?’ ‘Stay here, with you, now?’ he asked. ‘Oh
no, I didn’t mean ... it wasn’t that ... only, it’s so lonely. I didn’t
mean....’ ‘No,’ said the Captain. ‘You can understand I don’t feel like
staying any longer now. Ring for the maid!’”

“And then I had to run,” Ragnhild concluded.

Said Nils, after a while: “Have they gone to bed now?”

Ragnhild could not say. Yes. Perhaps. Anyhow, Cook was there in case.
“But, only think of it, how dreadful! I don’t suppose Fruen can sleep.”

“You’d better go and see if there’s anything you can do.”

“Yes,” said Ragnhild, getting up. “But I side with the Captain after
all, and no mistake, whatever you say. Yes, that I do.”

“It’s none so easy to know what’s right.”

“Only think of letting that engineer creature.... How she ever could, I
don’t know! And then to go down and stay with him there, after, as she
did; what a thing to do! And she’s all those handkerchiefs of his, ever
so many, and a lot of her own are gone; I suppose they used each other’s
anyhow. Lived with him, she said! And she with a husband of her own!”



XII


The Captain has done as he said about the timber; there’s a cracking and
crashing in the woods already. And a mild autumn, too, with no frost in
the ground as yet to stop the ploughing; Nils grasps at the time like a
miser, to save as much as possible next spring.

Now comes the question whether Grindhusen and I are to work on the
timber. It crosses my mind that I had intended really to go off for a
tramp up in the hills and over the moors while the berries were there;
what about that journey now? And another thing, Grindhusen was no longer
worth his keep as a wood-cutter; he could hold one end of a saw, but
that was about all he was good for now.

No, for Grindhusen was changed somehow; devil knows how it had come
about. He had not grown bald at all; his hair was there, and thick
and red as ever. But he had picked up a deal at Øvrebø, and went about
bursting with health and good feeding; well off here? He had sent good
sums of money home to his family all that summer and autumn, and was
full of praise for Captain and Freun, who paid such good wages and
treated their folk so well. Not like the Inspector, that weighed and
counted every miserable Skilling, and then, as true as God’s in heaven,
go and take off two Kroner that he’d given as clear as could be ...
ugh! He, Grindhusen, was not the man to make a fuss about a wretched two
Kroner, as long as it was a matter of any sense or reason, but to go and
take it off like that--_fy Fan!_ Would you ever find the Captain doing
such a thing?

But Grindhusen was grown so cautious now, and wouldn’t even get properly
angry with any one. Even yet, perhaps, he might go back and work for the
Inspector on the river at two Kroner a day, and humbly agree with all
his master said. Age, time, had overtaken him.

It overtakes us all.

Said the Captain:

“That water-supply you spoke about--is it too late to do anything with
it this year?”

“Yes,” I answered.

The Captain nodded and walked away.

I ploughed one day more, then the Captain came to me again. He was
out and about everywhere these days, working hard, keeping an eye on
everything. He gave himself barely time for a proper meal, but was out
again at once, in the fields, the barn, the cattle-sheds, or up in the
woods where the men were at work.

“You’d better get to work on that water-supply,” he said. “The ground’s
workable still, and may stay so for a long time yet. What help will you
want?”

“Grindhusen can help,” I said. “But....”

“Yes, and Lars. What were you going to say?”

“The frost may set in any day now.”

“Well, and then it may snow and soften the ground again. We’re not
frost-bound here every year,” said the Captain. “You’d better take a few
extra hands, and set some of them to digging, the rest to the masonry
work. You’ve done all this before, I think you said?”

“Yes.”

“And I’ve spoken to Nils myself,” he said, with a smile. “So you’ll have
no trouble in that way. You can put the horses in now.”

So bravely cheerful he was, I could not help feeling the same, and
wanted to begin at once; I hurried back with the horses, almost at a
run. The Captain seemed quite eager about this water-supply, now that
the place looked so nice with its new paint, and after the fine harvest
we’d had. And now he was cutting a thousand dozen battens in the woods,
to pay off his debts and leave something over!

So I went off up the rising ground, and found the old place I had marked
down long before for the reservoir, took the depth down to the house,
pacing and measuring this way and that. There was a streamlet came down
from the hillside far above, with such a depth and fall that it never
froze in winter; the thing would be to build a small stone reservoir
here, with openings at the sides for the overflow in autumn and spring.
Oh, but they should have their water-supply at Øvrebø! As for the
masonry work, we could break out our stone on the site itself; there was
layer on layer of granite there.

By noon next day we were hard at work, Lars Falkenberg digging the
trench for the pipe-line, Grindhusen and I getting stone. We were
both well used to this work from the days when we had been road-making
together at Skreia.

Well and good.

We worked four days; then it was Sunday. I remember that Sunday, the
sky clear and far, the leaves all fallen in the woods, and the hillside
showing only its calm winter green; smoke rose from the chimney up in
the clearing. Lars had borrowed a horse and cart that afternoon to drive
in to the station; he had killed a pig and was sending it in to town. He
was to fetch letters for the Captain on the way back.

It occurred to me that this evening would be a good time to send the lad
up to the clearing for my washing: Lars was away, and no one could take
offence at that washing business now.

Oh yes, I said to myself, you’re very careful to do what’s right and
proper, sending the lad up to fetch that washing. But you’ll find it
isn’t that at all. Right and proper, indeed; you’re getting old, that’s
what it is.

I bore with this reproach for an hour. Then--well, it was all nonsense,
like as not, and here was a lovely evening, and Sunday into the bargain,
nothing to do, no one to talk to down here.... Getting old, was I?
Afraid of the walk uphill?

And I went up myself.

Early next morning Lars Falkenberg came over again. He drew me aside, as
he had done once before, and with the same intent: I had been up to the
clearing yesterday, it seemed; it was to be the last time, and would I
please to make no mistake about that!

“It was the last of my washing, anyhow,” I said.

“Oh, you and your washing! As if I couldn’t have brought along your
miserable shirt a hundred times since you’ve been here!”

Now, by what sort of magic had he got to know of my little walk up there
already? Ragnhild, of course, at her old tricks again--it could be no
one else. There was no doing anything with that girl.

But now, as it happened, Nils was at hand this time, as he had been the
time before. He came strolling over innocently from the kitchen, and in
a moment Lars’s anger was turned upon him instead.

“Here’s the other scarecrow coming up, too,” says Lars, “and he’s a long
sight worse than you.”

“What’s that you say?” said Nils.

“What’s that you say!” retorted Lars. “You go home and rinse your mouth
with a mixture or something, and see if you can talk plain,” said he.

Nils stopped short at this, and came up to see what it was all about.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said he.

“No, of course not. You don’t know anything that’s any sense. But you
know all about ploughing in standing crops, don’t you? There’s not many
can beat you at that.”

But here Nils grew angry for once, and his cheeks paled.

“What an utter fool you are, Lars! Can’t you keep your mouth shut with
that nonsense?”

“Fool, eh? Hark at the silly goat!” said Lars, turning to me. “Thinks
himself mighty fine, doesn’t he? ‘Utter’” he says--and goes white about
it. “I’ve been more years than you at Øvrebø, and asked in to sing up at
the house of an evening more than once, let me tell you. But things
have changed since then, and what have we got instead? You remember,” he
said, turning to me, “what it was like in the old days. It was Lars here
and Lars there, and I never heard but the work got done all right. And
after me it was Albert, that was here for eighteen months. But then you,
Nils, came along, and now it’s toil and moil and ploughing and carting
manure day and night, till a man’s worn to a thread with it all.”

Nils and I could not help laughing at this. And Lars was in no way
offended; he seemed quite pleased at having said something funny, and,
forgetting his ill-will, joined in the laugh himself.

“Yes, I say it straight out,” said he. “And if it wasn’t for you being
a friendly sort between whiles--no, friendly I won’t say, but someways
decent and to get on with after a fashion ... if it wasn’t for that....”

“Well, what then?”

Lars was getting more and more good humoured. “Oh,” he said, with a
laugh, “I could just pick you up and stuff you down in your own long
boots.”

“Like to feel my arm?” said Nils.

“What’s going on here?” asked the Captain, coming up. It was only six
o’clock, but he was out and about already.

“Nothing,” said Lars and Nils as well.

“How’s the reservoir getting on?” asked the Captain. This was to me, but
before I could answer he turned to Nils. “I shall want the boy to drive
me to the station,” he said. “I’m going to Christiania.”

Grindhusen and I went off to our work on the reservoir, and Lars to his
digging. But a shadow seemed to have fallen over us all.

Grindhusen himself said openly: “Pity the Captain’s going away.”

I thought so, too. But he was obliged to go in on business, no doubt.
There were the crops as well as the timber to be sold. But why should he
start at that hour of the day? He couldn’t catch the early train in any
case. Had there been trouble again? Was he anxious to be out of the way
before Fruen got up?

       *       *       *       *       *

Trouble there was, often enough.

It had gone so far by this time that the Captain and Fruen hardly
spoke to one another, and whenever they did exchange a word it was in a
careless tone, and looking all the other way. Now and again the Captain
would look his wife properly in the face, and say she ought to be out
more in the lovely air; and once when she was outside he asked if she
wouldn’t come in and play a little. But this, perhaps, was only to keep
up appearances, no more.

It was pitiful to see.

Fruen was quiet and nice. Now and again she would stand outside on the
steps looking out towards the hills; so soft her features were, and her
reddish yellow hair. But it was dull for her now--no visitors, no music
and entertaining, nothing but sorrow and shame.

The Captain had promised to bear with things as they were, and surely he
was bearing all he could. But he could do no more. Disaster had come to
the home, and the best will in the world could not shoulder it off. If
Fruen happened to be hasty, as she might now and then, and forgot to be
grateful, the Captain would look down at the floor, and it would not be
long before he put on his hat and went out. All the maids knew about
it, and I had seen it myself once or twice. He never forgot what she had
done--how could he?--though he could keep from speaking of it. But could
he keep from speaking of it when she forgot herself and said:

“You know I’m not well just now; you know I can’t walk far like I used
to!”

“S--sh, Lovise!” he would say, with a frown. And then the mischief was
there as bad as ever.

“Oh, of course you must bring that up again!”

“No, indeed! It’s you that brought it up yourself. You’ve lost all sense
of modesty, I think; you seem to have no shame left.”

“Oh, I wish I’d never come back at all! I was better off at home!”

“Yes, or living with that puppy, I dare say.”

“You said he’d helped you once yourself. And I often wish I were back
there with him again. Hugo’s a great deal better than you are.”

She was all irresponsible in her words, going, perhaps, further than she
meant. But she was changed out of knowledge to us all, and spoiled and
shameless now. Fru Falkenberg shameless! Nay, perhaps not; who could
say? Yet she was not ashamed to come out in the kitchen of an evening
and say nice things to Nils about how young and strong he was. I was
jealous again, no doubt, and envied Nils for his youth, for I thought
to myself: Is every one gone mad? Surely we older ones are far to be
preferred! Was it his innocence that attracted her? Or was she merely
trying to keep up her spirits a little--trying to be younger than she
was? But then one day she came up to the reservoir where Grindhusen and
I were at work, and sat watching us for a while. It was easy work then
for half an hour; the granite turned pliable, and yielded to our will;
we built away like giants. Oh, but Fruen sat there irresponsible as
ever, letting her eyes play this way and that. Why could she not rid
herself of this new habit of hers? Her eyes were too earnest for such
playing; it did not suit her. I thought to myself, either she was trying
to make up for her foolishness towards Nils by favouring us in turn, or
starting a new game altogether--which would it be? I could not make it
out, and as for Grindhusen, he saw nothing in it at all, but only said,
when Fruen had gone: “Eh, she’s a strange, kind-hearted soul, is Fruen.
Almost like a mother. Only fancy going and feeling if the water wasn’t
too cold for us!”

One day, when I was standing by the kitchen entrance, she said:

“Do you remember the old days here--when you first came?”

She had never once spoken of this till now, and I did not know what to
say. I stammered out: Yes, I remembered.

“You drove me down to the Vicarage once,” she said.

Then I half fancied that perhaps she was not disinclined to talk to me
and occupy her mind a little; I felt I must help her, make it easier for
her. And perhaps I was a little touched myself at the thought.

“Yes,” I said, “I remember. It was a glorious drive. But Fruen must have
found it cold towards the last.”

“It was you that must have felt cold,” she answered. “You lent me your
own rug from the box. Oh, you poor thing!”

I was even more moved at this, and foolish ideas came into my head. Ah,
then she had not forgotten me! The few years that had passed since then
had not made so much difference in me after all!

“Fruen must be mistaken about the rug, I think,” said I. “But I remember
we stopped at a cottage to eat, and the woman made coffee, and you gave
me things yourself.”

As I spoke, I leaned up against the fence, with my arms round a post.
Perhaps this somehow offended her, looking as if I expected her to stand
gossiping there with me. And then I had said, “We stopped at a cottage,”
 as if we had been equals. It was a bad mistake on my part, of course,
but I had got a little out of hand after all these vagabond months.

I stood up straight again the moment I saw she was displeased, but it
was too late. She was just as kind as ever, but she had grown suspicious
and easily hurt with all her trouble, and found rudeness in what was
merely awkwardness of mine.

“Well, well,” she said, “I hope you find yourself as comfortable now at
Øvrebø as before.”

And she nodded and walked away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some days passed. The Captain had not come back, but he had sent a post
card, with a kind message, to Fruen: he hoped to be home again next
week. He was also sending pipes, taps, and cement for the water supply.

Fruen showed me that card. “Here,” she said, “the Captain has sent these
things for your work. You had better get them down from the station.”

We stood there together, looking at the card; mid-day it was, and we
were just outside the house. I can’t say how it was, but I was standing
there quite close to her, with my head bent in towards hers, and it made
me feel happy all through. When she had finished reading she looked up
at me. No play of her eyes now; but she must have caught some expression
in my face, for she looked at me still. Did she feel my presence as I
felt hers? Those two heavy eyes raised towards mine and held there
were loaded to the brim with love. She could not be responsible for her
actions now. There was a pathological depth in her glance, an influence
from far within, from the life she bore under her heart. Her breath came
heavily, her face flushed dark all over, then she swung round and walked
slowly away.

There I stood, with the card in my hand. Had she given it to me? Had I
taken it?

“Your card,” I said. “Shall I....”

She held out her hand without looking round, and walked on.

This little episode occupied my mind a great deal for some days. Ought
I to have gone after her when she walked away? Oh, I might have tried,
might have made the attempt--her door was not far off. Pathological? But
what had she brought me the card for at all? She could have told me
by word of mouth what there was to say. I called to mind how six years
before we had stood in just that same way reading a telegram the Captain
had sent her. Did she find pleasure in situations of that sort, and go
out of her way to seek them?

Next time I saw her there was no trace of any embarassment in her
manner--she was kind and cold. So I had to let it drop altogether. And,
anyhow, what did I want with her at all? No, indeed!

Some visitors came to see her one day--a neighbour’s wife, with her
daughter. They had heard, no doubt, that the Captain was away, and
thought she might be glad of a little society; or perhaps they had come
out of curiosity. They were well received; Fru Falkenberg was amiable as
ever, and even played the piano for them. When they left, she went with
them down to the road, talking sensibly of practical affairs, though
she might well have had other things in her head than coops and killing
pigs. Oh, she was full of kindly interest in it all! “Come again
soon--or you, at any rate, Sofie....” “Thanks, thanks. But aren’t you
ever coming over to us at Nedrebø?” “Oh, I? Of course--yes. I’d walk
down with you now if it weren’t so late.” “Well, tomorrow, then?” “Yes,
perhaps I might come over tomorrow.--Oh, is that you?” This was to
Ragnhild, who had come down with a shawl. “Oh, what an idea!--did you
think I should catch cold?”

Altogether things were looking brighter now at Øvrebø; we no longer felt
that shadow of uneasiness over us all. Grindhusen and I worked away at
our famous reservoir, and Lars was getting on farther every day with his
trench. Seeing the Captain was away, I wanted to make the most of the
time, and perhaps have the work nearly done by the time he came back; it
would be a grand thing if we could get it finished altogether! He would
be all the better for a pleasant little surprise, for--yes, there had
been something of a scene the night before he left. Some new reminder,
no doubt, of the trouble that had come upon his house; a book, perhaps,
still unburnt, lying about in Fruen’s room. He had ended up by saying:
“Anyhow, I’m cutting timber now to pay it off. And the harvest we’ve
got in means a lot of money. So I hope the Lord will forgive me--as I do
Him. Good-night, Lovise.”

When we had laid the last stone of the reservoir, and cement over all,
I went down with Grindhusen to help Lars with the trench--we took a
section each. The work went on easily and with a will--here and there a
stone had to be blasted out, or a tree felled up in the woods; but the
trench moved steadily upwards, until we had a long black line from the
house to the reservoir itself. Then we went back again and dug it out
to the proper depth. This was no ornamental work, but a trench--an
underground resting place for some pipes that were to be buried on the
spot. All we were concerned with was to get down below the reach of
frost, and that before the frost itself came to hinder us. Already it
was coating the fields at night. Nils himself left all else now, and
came to lend a hand.

But masonry and digging trenches are but work for the hands; my brain
in its idleness was busy all the while with every conceivable idea. As
often as I thought of that episode with the post card, it sent, as it
were, a glow all through me. Why should I think any more about it? No,
of course not. And I had not followed her to the door after all.

But there she stood, and you there. Her breath came towards you--a
taste of flesh. Out of a darkness she was, nay, not of earth. And her
eyes--did you mark her eyes?

And each time something in me turned at the thought--a nausea. A
meaningless succession of names poured in upon me, places of wild and
tender sound, whence she might be: Uganda, Antananarivo, Honolulu,
Venezuela, Atacama. Verse? Colours? I knew not what to do with the
words.



XIII


Fruen has ordered the carriage to drive her to the station.

No sign of haste in her manner; she gives orders to the cook about
packing up some food for the journey, and when Nils asks which carriage
he is to take, she thinks for a moment, and decides to take the landau
and pair.

So she went away. Nils himself drove for her.

They came back the same evening; they had turned back when half-way out.

Had Fruen forgotten something? She ordered fresh horses, and another
hamper of food; she was going off again at once. Nils was uneasy, and
said so; it was almost night, they would be driving in the dark; but
Fruen repeated her order. Meantime, she sat indoors and waited; she had
not forgotten anything; she did nothing now but sit staring before her.
Ragnhild went in and asked if there was anything she could do. No, thank
you. Fruen sat bowed forward as if weighted down by some deadly grief.

The carriage was ready, and Fruen came out.

Seeing Nils himself ready to drive again, she took pity on him, and said
she would have Grindhusen to drive this time. And she sat on the steps
till he came.

Then they drove off. It was a fine evening, and nice and cool for the
horses.

“She’s past making out now,” said Nils. “I can’t think what’s come to
her. I’d no idea of anything, when suddenly she taps at the window
and says turn back. We were about half-way there. But never a word of
starting out again at once.”

“But she must have forgotten something, surely?”

“Ragnhild says no. She was indoors, and I thought for a moment of those
photograph things, if she was going to burn them; but they’re still
there. No, she didn’t do a single thing while she was back.”

We walked across the courtyard together.

“No,” Nils went on, “Fruen’s in a bad way; she’s lost all harmony for
everything. Where’s she going off to now, do you think? Heaven knows;
she doesn’t seem to be altogether sure of it herself. When we stopped to
breathe the horses, she said something about being in such a hurry, and
having to be in different places at once--and then she ought not
really to be away from home at all. ‘Best for Fruen not to hurry about
anything,’ I said, ‘but just keep quiet.’ But you know how she is
nowadays; there’s no saying a word to her. She just looked at her watch
and said go on again.”

“Was this on the way to the station?”

“No, on the way back. She was quite excited, I thought.”

“Perhaps the Captain sent for her?”

Nils shook his head. “No. But perhaps--Lord knows. What was I going to
say--it’s--tomorrow’s Sunday, isn’t it?”

“Yes; what then?”

“Oh, nothing. I was only thinking I’d use the day off to mark out
firewood for the winter. I’ve been thinking of that a long while. And
it’s easier now than when the snow’s about.”

Always thinking of his work, was Nils. He took a pride in it, and was
anxious now, moreover, to show his gratitude for the Captain’s having
raised his wages since the harvest.

It is Sunday.

I walked up to have a look at the trench and the reservoir; a few more
good days now, and we should have the pipes laid down. I was quite
excited about it myself, and could hardly wait for tomorrow’s
working-day to begin again. The Captain had not interfered in the
arrangements, not with a single word, but left all to me, so that it was
no light matter to me if the frost came now and upset it all.

When I got back, there was the landau outside the house--the horses
had been taken out. Grindhusen would about have had time to get back, I
thought; but why had he pulled up in front of the steps to the house?

I went into the kitchen. The maids came towards me; Fruen was in the
carriage, they said; ‘she had come back once again. She had just been
to the station, but now she was going there again. Could I make out what
was the matter with her, now?

“Nervous, I expect,” said I. “Where’s Nils?”

“Up in the woods. Said he’d be away some time. There’s only us here now,
and we can’t say more to her than we have.”

“And where’s Grindhusen?”

“Changing the horses again. And Fruen’s sitting there in the carriage
and won’t get out. You go and speak to her.”

“Oh, well, there’s no great harm in her driving about a bit. Don’t worry
about that.”

I went out to the carriage, my heart beating fast. How miserable
and desperate she must be! I opened the carriage door, and asked
respectfully if Fruen would let me drive this time.

She looked me calmly in the face. “No. What for?” she said.

“Grindhusen might be a little done up, perhaps--I don’t know....”

“He promised to drive,” she said. “And he’s not done up. Isn’t he nearly
ready?”

“I can’t see him,” I answered.

“Shut the door again, and tell him to come,” she commanded, wrapping
herself more closely as she spoke.

I went over to the stables. Grindhusen was harnessing a fresh pair of
horses.

“What’s all this?” I asked. “Going off again, are you?”

“Yes--that is, I thought so,” said Grindhusen, stopping for a moment as
if in doubt.

“It looks queer. Where’s Fruen going to, do you know?”

“No. She wanted to drive back again last night as soon as we got to the
station, but I told her that it was too much for either of us to drive
back then. So she slept at the hotel. But this morning it was home
again, if you please. And now she wants to go to the station again, she
says. I don’t know, I’m sure....”

Grindhusen goes on harnessing up.

“Fruen said you were to make haste,” I said.

“All right, I’m coming. But these girths are the very devil.”

“Aren’t you too tired to drive all that way again now?”

“No. You know well enough I can manage it all right. And she’s given me
good money, too. Extra.”

“Did she, though?”

“Ay, that she did. But she’s a queer sort, is Fruen.”

Then said I: “I don’t think you ought to go off again now.”

Grindhusen stopped short. “You think so? Well, now, I dare say you’re
right.”

Just then came Fruen’s voice from outside--she had come right over to
the stable door.

“Aren’t you ready yet? How much longer am I to sit waiting?”

“Ready this minute,” answered Grindhusen, and turned to again, busier
than ever. “It was only these girths.”

Fruen went back to the carriage. She ran, and the thick fur coat she
had on was too heavy for her, she had to balance with her arms. It was
pitiful to see; like a hen trying to escape across the barnyard, and
flapping its wings to help.

I went over to the carriage again, politely, even humbly. I took off my
cap, and begged Fruen to give up this new journey.

“You are not driving me!” she answered.

“No. But if Fruen would only give it up and stay at home....”

At this she was offended; she stared at me, looked me up and down, and
said:

“Excuse me, but this is no business of yours. Because I got you
dismissed once....”

“No, no, it’s not that!” I cried desperately, and could say no more.
When she took it that way I was helpless.

Just for one moment a wave of fury came over me; I had only to put out
my arms and I could lift her out of the carriage altogether, this child,
this pitiful hen! My arms must have twitched at the thought, for she
gave a sudden frightened start, and shifted in her seat. Then all at
once the reaction took me; I turned foolish and soft, and tried once
more:

“It’ll be so dismal for us all here if you go. Do let us try if we
can’t hit on something between us to pass the time for you! I can read
a little, reading aloud, and there’s Lars can sing. Perhaps I might tell
stories--tell of something or other. Here’s Grindhusen coming; won’t you
let me tell him you’re not going after all?”

She softened at this, and sat thinking for a little. Then she said:

“You must be making a mistake altogether, I think. I am going to the
station to meet the Captain. He didn’t come the first day, or yesterday
either, but he’s sure to come some time. I’m driving over to meet him.”

“Oh!”

“There you are. Now go. Is Grindhusen there?”

It was like a slap in the face for me. She was right; it sounded so
natural--oh, I had made a fool of myself again!

“Yes, here he is,” I answered. There was no more to be said.

And I put on my cap again, and helped Grindhusen myself with the
harness. So confused and shamed was I that I did not even ask pardon,
but only fretted this way and that way seeing to buckles and straps.

“You are driving then, Grindhusen?” called Fruen from the carriage.

“Me? Yes, surely,” he answered.

Fruen pulled the door to with a bang, and the carriage drove off.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Has she gone?” asked the maids, clasping their hands.

“Gone--yes, of course. She’s going to meet her husband.”

I strolled up to the reservoir again. Grindhusen away meant one man
less; why, then, the rest of us must work so much the harder.

But I had already come to realize that Fru Falkenberg had only silenced
me with a false excuse when she declared she was going to meet her
husband. What matter? The horses were rested; they had done no work the
days Nils had been helping us with the trench. But I had been a fool. I
could have got up on the box myself without asking leave. Well, and what
then? Why, then at least any later follies would have had to pass by way
of me, more or less, and I might have stopped them. He, he! infatuated
old fool! Fruen knew what she was doing, no doubt; she wanted to pay
off old scores, and be away when her husband came home. She was all
indecision, would and would not, would and would not, all the time; but
the idea was there. And I, simple soul--I had not set out a-wandering on
purpose to attend to the particular interests of married folk in love or
out of it. ‘Twas their affair! Fru Falkenberg had changed for the worse.
There was no denying it; she had suffered damage, and was thoroughly
spoiled now; it hardly mattered any longer what she did. Ay, and she had
taken to lying as well. First, music-hall tricks with her eyes, then on
till it got to lying. A white lie today, tomorrow a blacker one, each
leading to another. And what of it? Life could afford to waste her, to
throw her away.

We put in three days’ work at the trench; only a few feet left now.
There might be three degrees of frost now at nights, but it did not
stop us; we went steadily on. Grindhusen had come back, and was set to
tunnelling under the kitchen where the pipes were to go; but the stable
and cowshed was more important, and I did the underground work for these
myself. Nils and Lars ran the last bit of trech up meanwhile, the last
bit of way to the reservoir.

Today, at last, I questioned Grindhusen about Fruen.

“So you didn’t bring Fruen back with you again this last time?”

“No. She went off by train.”

“Off to her husband, I suppose?”

But Grindhusen has turned cautious with me; these two days past he has
said never a word, and now he only answers vaguely:

“Ay, that would be it, no doubt. Ay, surely, yes. Why, you might reckon
that out yourself, she would. Her own husband and all....”

“I thought perhaps she might have been going up to her own people at
Kristianssand.”

“Why, that might be,” says Grindhusen, thinking this a better way.
“Lord, yes, that would be it, of course Just for a visit, like. Well,
well, she’ll be home again soon, for sure.”

“Did she tell you so?”

“Why, ‘twas so I made out. And the Captain’s not home himself yet,
anyway. Eh, but she’s a rare openhanded one, she is. ‘Here’s something
for food and drink for yourself and the horses,’ she says. ‘And here’s a
little extra,’ she says again. Eh, but there’s never her like!”

But to the maids, with whom he felt less fear, Grindhusen had said it
didn’t look as if they’d be seeing Fruen back again at all. She had been
asking him all the way, he said, about Engineer Lassen; she must have
gone off to him after all. And, surely, she’d be well enough with him, a
man with any amount of money and grand style and all.

Then came another card for Fruen from the Captain, this time only to say
would she please send Nils to meet him at the station on Friday, and
be sure to bring his fur coat. The post card had been delayed--it was
Thursday already. And this time it was fortunate, really, that Ragnhild
happened to look at the post card and see what it said.

We stayed sitting in Nils’s room, talking about the Captain--what he
would say when he got back, and what we should say, or if we ought
to say anything at all. All three of the maids were present at this
council. Fruen would have had plenty of time to get to Kristiania
herself by the day the Captain had written his card; she had not,
it seemed--she had gone somewhere else. It was more than pitiful
altogether.

Said Nils:

“Didn’t she leave a note or anything when she went?”

But no, there was nothing. Ragnhild, however, had done a thing on her
own responsibility which perhaps she ought not to have done--she had
taken the photos from the piano and thrown them in the stove. “Was it
wrong, now?”

“No, no, Ragnhild! No!”

She told us, also, that she had been through Fruen’s wardrobe and sorted
out all handkerchiefs that were not hers. Oh, she had found lots of
things up in her room--a bag with Engineer Lassen’s initials worked
on, a book with his full name in, some sweets in an envelope with his
writing--and she had burnt it all.

A strange girl, Ragnhild--yes! Was there ever such an instinct as hers?
It was like the devil turned monk. Ragnhild, who made such use herself
of the thick red stair-carpet and the keyholes everywhere!

It suited me and my work well enough that the Captain had not ordered
the carriage before; we had got the trench finished now all the way up,
and I could manage without Nils for laying the pipes. I should want all
hands, though, when it came to filling in again. It was rain again now,
by the way; mild weather, many degrees of warmth.

It was well for me, no doubt, these days that I had this work of mine to
occupy my thoughts as keenly as it did; it kept away many a fancy that
would surely otherwise have plagued me. Now and again I would clench my
fists as a spasm of pain came over me; and when I was all alone up at
the reservoir I could sometimes cry aloud up at the woods. But there was
no possibility of my getting away. And where should I go if I did?

       *       *       *       *       *

The Captain arrived.

He went all through the house at once--into the parlour, out into the
kitchen, then to the rooms upstairs--in his fur coat and overboots.

“Where’s Fruen?” he asked.

“Fruen went to meet Captain,” answered Ragnhild. “We thought she’d be
coming back now as well.”

The Captain’s head bowed forward a little. Then cautiously he began
questioning.

“You mean she drove with Nils to the station? Stupid of me not to have
looked about while I was there!”

“No,” said Ragnhild; “it was Sunday Fruen went.”

At this the Captain pulled himself together. “Sunday?” he said. “Then
she must have been going to meet me in Kristiania. H’m! We’ve managed to
miss each other somehow. I had to make another little journey yesterday,
out to Drammen--no, Frederikstad, I mean. Get me something to eat, will
you?”

_“Værsaagod,_ it’s already laid.”

“It was the day before yesterday, by the way, I went out there. Well,
well, she’ll have had a little outing, anyhow. And how’s everything
going on? Are the men at work on the trench?”

“They’ve finished it, I think.”

The Captain went in, and Ragnhild came running at once to tell us what
he had said, that we might know what to go by now, and not make things
worse.

Later in the day he came out to where we were at work, greeted us
cheerily, in military fashion, and was surprised to find the pipes
already laid; we had begun filling in now.

“Splendid!” he said. “You fellows are quicker at your work than I am.”

He went off by himself up to the reservoir. When he came back his eyes
were not so keen; he looked a little weary. Maybe he had been sitting
there alone and thinking of many things. He stood watching us now with
one hand to his chin. After a little he said to Nils:

“I’ve sold the timber now.”

“Captain’s got a good price for it, maybe?”

“Yes, a good price. But I’ve been all this time about it. You’ve been
quicker here.”

“There are more of us here,” I said. “Four of us some times.”

And at that he tried to jest. “Yes,” he said; “I know you’re an
expensive man to have about the place!”

But there was no jest in his face; his smile was hardly a smile at all.
The weakness had gripped him now in earnest. After a little, he sat
down on a stone we had just got out, all over fresh clay as it was, and
watched us.

I took up my spade and went up, thinking of his clothes.

“Hadn’t I better scrape the stone a bit clean?”

“No, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

But he got up all the same, and let me clean it a little.

It was then that Ragnhild came running up to us, following the line of
the trench. She had something in her hand--a paper. And she was running,
running. The Captain sat watching her.

“It’s only a telegram!” she said breathlessly. “It came on by
messenger.”

The Captain got up and strode quickly a few paces forward toward this
telegram that had come. Then he tore it open and read.

We could see at once it must be something important. The Captain gave a
great gasp. Then he began walking down, running down, towards the house.
A little way off he turned round and called to Nils:

“The carriage at once! I must go to the station!”

Then he ran on again.

       *       *       *       *       *

So the Captain went away again. He had only been home a few hours.

Ragnhild told us of his terrible haste and worry, poor man; he was
getting into the carriage without his fur coat, and would have left the
food behind him that was packed all ready. And the telegram that had
come was lying all open on the stairs.

“Accident,” it said. “Your wife.--Chief of Police.” What was all this?

“I thought as much,” said Ragnhild, “when they sent it on by messenger.”
 Her voice was strange, and she turned away. “Something serious, I dare
say,” she said.

“No, no!” said I, reading and reading again. “Look, it’s not so very
bad! Hear what it says. ‘Request you come at once--accident to your
wife.’”

It was an express telegram from the little town, the little dead town.
Yes, that was it--a town with a roar of sound through it, and a
long bridge, and foaming waters; all cries there died as they were
uttered--none could hear. And there were no birds.

But all the maids spoke now in changed voices; ‘twas nothing but misery
amongst us now; I had to appear steady and confident myself, to reassure
them. Fruen might have had a fall, perhaps, she was not as active of
late. But she could, perhaps, have got up again and walked on almost
as well as ever--just a little bleeding.... Oh, they were so quick with
their telegrams, these police folk!

“No, no!” said Ragnhild. “You know well enough that when the Chief of
Police sends a telegram it’s pretty sure to mean Fruen’s been found dead
somewhere! Oh, I can’t--I can’t--can’t bear it!”

Miserable days! I worked away, harder than ever, but as a man in his
sleep, without interest or pleasure. Would the Captain never come?

Three days later he came--quietly and alone. The body had been sent to
Kristianssand; he had only come back to fetch some clothes, then he was
going on there himself, to the funeral.

He was home this time for an hour at most, then off again to catch the
early train. I did not even see him myself, being out at work.

Ragnhild asked if he had seen Fruen alive.

He looked at her and frowned.

But the girl would not give up; she begged him, for Heaven’s sake, to
say. And the two other maids stood just behind, as desperate as she.

Then the Captain answered, but in a low voice as if to himself:

“She had been dead some days when I got there. It was an accident; she
had tried to cross the river and the ice would not bear. No, no,
there was no ice, but the stones were slippery. There was ice as well,
though.”

Then the maids began moaning and crying; but this was more than he could
stand. He got up from the chair where he was sitting, cleared his throat
hard, and said:

“There, there, it’s all right, girls, go along now. Ragnhild, a minute.”
 And then to Ragnhild, when the others had gone: “What was I going to
say, now? You haven’t moved some photos, have you, that were on the
piano here? I can’t make out what’s happened to them.”

Then Ragnhild spoke up well and with spirit--and may Heaven bless her
for the lie!

“I? No, indeed, ‘twas Fruen herself one day.”

“Oh? Well, well. I only wondered how it was they had gone.”

Relieved--relieved the Captain was to hear it.

As he was leaving he told Ragnhild to say I was not to go away from
Øvrebø till he returned.



XIV


No, I didn’t go away.

I worked on, tramped through the weariest days of my life to their end,
and finished laying the pipes. It was a bit of a change for us all on
the place the first time we could draw water from a tap, and we were
none the worse for something new to talk about for a while.

Lars Falkenberg had left us. He and I had got rid of all disagreement
between us at the last, and were as we had been in the old days when we
were mates and tramped the roads together.

He was better off than many another, was Lars; light of heart and empty
of head; and thereto unconscionably sound and strong. True, there would
be no more singing up at the house for him now or ever after, but he
seemed to have grown a trifle doubtful of his voice himself the last few
years, and contented himself now for the most part with the things he
had sung--once upon a time--at dances and gentlefolk’s parties. No, Lars
Falkenberg was none so badly off. He’d his own little holding, with keep
for two cows and a pig; and a wife and children he had as well.

But what were Grindhusen and I to turn our hands to now? I could go off
wandering anywhere, but Grindhusen, good soul, was no wanderer. All he
could do was to stay on at one place and work till he was dismissed. And
when the stern decision came, he was so upset that he could not take it
easily, but felt he was being specially hardly used. Then after a while
he grew confident again, and full of a childlike trust--not in himself,
but in Fate, in Providence--sat down resignedly, and said: “Ay, well,
‘twill be all right, let’s hope, with God’s help.”

But he was happy enough. He settled down with marvellous ease at
whatever place he came to, and could stay there till he died if it
rested with himself. Home he need not go; the children were grown up
now, and his wife never troubled him. No, this red-haired old sinner of
former days--all he needed now was a place, and work.

“Where are you going after this?” he asked me.

“A long way, up in the hills, to Trovatn, to a forest.”

He did not believe me in the least, but he answered quickly and
evasively:

“Ay, I dare say, yes.”

After we had finished the pipes, Nils sent Grindhusen and myself up
cutting wood till the Captain returned. We cut up and stacked the
top-ends the woodmen had left; neat and steady work it was.

“We’ll be turned off, both of us,” said Grindhusen. “When Captain comes,
eh?”

“You might get work here for the winter,” I said. “A thousand dozen
battens means a lot of small stuff left over that you could saw up for a
reasonable wage.”

“Well, talk to the Captain about it,” he said.

And the hope of regular work for the winter made this man a contented
soul. He could manage well enough. No, Grindhusen had nothing much to
trouble about.

But then there was myself. And I felt but little worth or use to myself
now, Heaven help me!

       *       *       *       *       *

That Sunday I wandered restlessly about. I was waiting for the Captain;
he was to be back today. To make sure of things as far as I could,
I went for a long walk up along the stream that fed our reservoir.
I wanted to have another look at the two little waters up the
hillside--“the sources of the Nile.”

Coming down on the way back, I met Lars Falkenberg; he was going home.
The full moon was just coming up, red and huge, and turned things
light all round. A touch of snow and frost there was, too; it was easy
breathing. Lars was in a friendly mood: he had been drinking _Brændevin_
somewhere, and talked a great deal. But I was not altogether pleased at
meeting him.

I had stood there long up on the wooded hillside, listening to the
soughing of earth and sky, and there was nothing else to hear. Then
there might come a faint little rustling, a curled and shrunken leaf
rolling and rustling down over the frozen branches. It was like the
sound of a little spring. Then the soughing of earth and sky again. A
gentleness came over me; a mute was set on all my strings.

Lars Falkenberg wanted to know where I had been and where I was going.
Reservoir? A senseless business that reservoir thing. As if people
couldn’t carry water for themselves. The Captain went in too much for
these new-fangled inventions and ploughing over standing crops and
such-like; he’d find himself landed one day. A rich harvest, they
said. Ho, yes, but they never troubled to think what it must cost, with
machines for this and that, and a pack of men to every machine again.
What mustn’t it have cost, now, for Grindhusen and me that summer! And
then himself this autumn. In the old days it had been music and plenty
at Øvrebø, and some of us had been asked into the parlour to sing. “I’ll
say no more,” said Lars. “And now there’s hardly a sizeable stick of
timber left in the woods.”

“A few years’ time and it’ll be as thick as ever.”

“A few years! A many years, you mean. No, it’s not enough to go about
being Captain and commanding--brrrr! and there it is! And he’s not even
spokesman for the neighbours now, and you never see folk coming up now
to ask him what he’d say was best to do in this or that....”

“Did you see the Captain down below? Had he come back yet?” I broke in.

“He’s just come back. Looked like a skeleton, he did. What was I going
to say?... When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow,” I said.

“So soon?” Lars was all friendliness, and wishing me good luck now; he
had not thought I should be going off at once.

“It’s all a chance if I see you again this time,” he said. “But I’ll
tell you this much, now: you’d do well to stop frittering your life away
any more, and never staying on a place for good. And I say as much
here and now, so mark my words. I dare say I haven’t got on so grandly
myself, but I don’t know many of our likes have done better, and anyway
not you. I’ve a roof over my head at the least, and a wife and children,
and two cows--one bears autumn and one spring--and then a pig, and
that’s all I can say I own. So better not boast about that. But if you
reckon it up, it amounts to a bit of a holding after all.”

“It’s all very well for you, the way you’ve got on,” said I.

Lars is friendlier than ever after this appreciation; he wishes me no
end of good, and goes on:

“There’s none could get on better than yourself, for that matter. With
the knack you’ve got for all kinds of work, and writing and figuring
into the bargain. But it’s your own fault. You might have done as I told
you these six, seven years ago, and taken one of the other girls on the
place, like I did with Emma, and settled down here for good. Then you
wouldn’t be going about now from place to place. But I say the same
again now.”

“It’s too late,” I answered.

“Ay, you’re terribly grey. I don’t know who you could reckon to get now
about here. How old are you now?”

“Don’t ask me!”

“Not exactly a young one, perhaps, but still--What was I going to say?
Come up with me a little, and maybe I’ll remember.”

I walked up, and Lars went on talking all the way. He offered to put in
a word for me with the Captain, so I could get a clearing like he had.

“Funny to go and forget a thing like that,” he said. “It’s gone clean
out of my head. But come up home now. I’ll be sure to hit on it again.”

All friendliness he was now. But I had one or two things to do myself,
and would not go farther.

“You won’t see the Captain tonight, anyway.”

No, but it was late. Emma would be in bed, and would only be a trouble.

“Not a bit of it,” said Lars. “And if she has gone to bed, what of it?
I shouldn’t wonder, now, if there was a shirt of yours up there, too.
Better come up and take it with you, and save Emma going all the way
down herself.”

But I would not go up. I ventured, however, to send a greeting to Emma
this time.

“Ay, surely,” said Lars. “And if so be as you haven’t time to come up to
my bit of a place now, why, there it is. You’ll be going off first thing
tomorrow, I suppose?”

It slipped my mind for the moment that I should not be able to see the
Captain that evening, and I answered now that I should be leaving as
early as could be.

“Well, then, I’ll send Emma down with that shirt of yours at once,” said
Lars. “And good luck to you. And don’t forget what I said.”

And that was farewell to Lars.

A little farther down I slackened my pace. After all, there was no real
hurry about the few things I had to pack and finish off. I turned back
and walked up again a little, whistling in the moonlight. It was a fine
evening, not cold at all, only a soft, obedient calm all over the woods.
Half an hour passed, and then to my surprise came Emma, bringing my
shirt.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning neither Grindhusen nor I went to the woods. Grindhusen was
uneasy.

“Did you speak to the Captain about me?” he asked.

“I haven’t spoken to him.”

“Oh, I know he’ll turn me off now, you see! If he had any sense, he’d
let me stay on to cut up all that cord-wood. But what’s he know about
things? It’s as much as he can manage to keep a man at all.”

“Why, what’s this, Grindhusen? You seemed to like the Captain well
enough before.”

“Oh yes, you know! Yes, of course. He’s good enough, I dare say. H’m!
I wonder, now, if the Inspector down on the river mightn’t have some
little scrap of a job in my line. He’s a man with plenty of money, is
the Inspector.”

I saw the Captain at eight o’clock, and talked with him a while; then a
couple of neighbours came to call--offering sympathy in his bereavement,
no doubt. The Captain looked fatigued, but he was not a broken man
by any means; his manner was firm and steady enough. He spoke to me a
little about a plan he had in mind for a big drying-house for hay and
corn.

No more of things awry now, Øvrebø, no more emotion, no soul gone off
the rails. I thought of it almost with sadness. No one to stick up
impertinent photographs on the piano, but no one to play on that piano,
either; dumb now, it stands, since the last note sounded. No, for Fru
Falkenberg is not here now; she can do no more hurt to herself or any
other. Nothing of all that used to be here now. Remains, then, to be
seen if all will be flowers and joy at Øvrebø hereafter.

“If only he doesn’t take to drinking again,” I said to Nils.

“No, surely,” he said. “And I don’t believe he ever did. It was just a
bit of foolery, if you ask me, his going on like that just for the
time. But talking of something else--will you be coming back here in the
spring?”

“No,” I answered. “I shall not come again now.”

Then Nils and I took leave of each other. Well I remember that man’s
calm and fairness of mind; I stood looking after him as he walked away
across the yard. Then he turned round and said:

“Were you up in the woods yesterday? Is there snow enough for me to take
a sledge up for wood?”

“Yes,” I answered.

And he went off, relieved, to the stables, to harness up.

Grindhusen, too, comes along, on the way to the stable. He stops for a
moment to tell me that the Captain has himself offered him work cutting
wood. “‘Saw up all the small stuff you can,’ he said; ‘keep at it for
a while. I dare say we can agree all right about wages.’ ‘Honoured and
thank you, Captain,’ says I. ‘Right! Go and tell Nils,’ he says. Oh, but
he’s a grand open-handed sort, is the Captain! There’s not many of his
like about.”

A little while after, I was sent for up to the Captain’s room. He
thanked me for the work I had done both indoors, and out, and went on
to settle up. And that was all, really. But he kept me there a little,
asking one or two things about the drying-shed, and we talked over that
for a bit. Anyhow it would have to wait till after Christmas, he said.
But when the time came, he’d be glad to see me back. He looked me in the
face then, and went on:

“But you won’t come back here again now, I suppose?”

I was taken by surprise. But I faced him squarely in return, and
answered:

“No.”

As I went down, I thought over what he had said. Had he seen through
me, then? If so, he had shown a degree of trust in me that I was glad to
think of. At least, he was a man of good feeling.

Trust me? And why should he not? Played out and done with as I was.
Suffered to go about and do and be as I pleased, by virtue of my eminent
incapacity for harm. Yes, that was it. And, anyhow, there was nothing to
see through after all.

I went round, upstairs and down, saying good-bye to them all, to
Ragnhild and the maids. Then, as I was coming in front of the house with
my pack on my shoulder, the Captain called to me from the steps:

“Wait! I just thought--if you’re going to the station, the lad could
drive you in.”

Thoughtful and considerate again! But I thanked him and declined. I was
not so played out but that I could surely walk that way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back in my little town again. And if I have come here now, it is because
the place lies on my way to Trovatn, up in the hills.

All is as it was before here now, save for thin ice on the river above
and below the rapids, and snow on the ice again.

I take care to buy clothes and equipment here in the town, and, having
got a good new pair of shoes, I take my old ones to the cobbler to be
half-soled. The cobbler is inclined to talk, and begs me to sit down.
“And where’s this man from, now?” he asks. In a moment I am enveloped by
the spirit of the town.

I walk up to the churchyard. Here, too, care has been taken to provide
equipment for the winter. Bundles of straw have been fastened round
plants and bushes; many a delicate monument is protected by a tall
wooden hood. And the hoods again armoured with a coat of paint. As if
some provident soul had thought: Well, now, I have this funeral monument
here; with proper care it may be made to last for generations!

There is a Christmas Fair on, too, and I stroll along to see. Here are
skis and toboggans, butter scoops and log chairs from the underworld,
rose-coloured mittens, clothes’ rollers, foxes’ skins. And here are
horse-dealers and drovers mingling with drunken folk from up the valley.
Jews there are, too, anxious to palm off a gaudy watch or so, for all
there is no money in the town. And the watches come from that country up
in the Alps, where Bocklin--did not come from; where nothing and nobody
ever came from.

But in the evening there is brave entertainment for all. Two
dancing-halls there are, and the music is supplied by masters on the
_hardingfele,_ and wonderful music it is, to be sure. There are iron
strings to it, and it utters no empty phrases, but music with a sting in
its tail. It acts differently upon different people: some find it rich
in national sweetness; some of us are rather constrained to grit our
teeth and howl in melancholy wise. Never was stinging music delivered
with more effect.

The dance goes on.

In one of the intervals the schoolmaster sings touching verses about an

      “aged mother, worn with toil
    And sweating as ‘twere blood....”

But some of the wild youths insist on dancing and nothing else. What’s
this! Start singing, when they’re standing here with the girls all ready
to dance--it’s not proper! The singer stops, and meets the protest in
broadest dialect: What? Not proper? Why, it’s by Vinje himself! Heated
discussion, _pro_ and _contra,_ arguing and shouting. Never were verses
sung with more effect.

The dance goes on.

The girls from the valley are armoured five layers thick, but who cares
for that! All are used to hard work. And the dance goes on--ay, the
thunder goes on. _Brændevin_ helps things bravely along. The witches’
cauldron is fairly steaming now. At three in the morning the local
police force appears, and knocks on the floor with his stick. _Finis._
The dancers go off in the moonlight, and spread out near and far. And
nine months later, the girls from the valley show proof that after all
they were one layer of armour short. Never was such an effect of being
one layer short.

The river is quieter now--not much of a river to look at: the winter is
come upon it now. It drives the mills and works that stand on its banks,
for, in spite of all, it is and will be a great river still, but it
shows no life. It has shut down the lid on itself.

And the rapids have suffered, too. And I who stood watching them once
and listening, and thought to myself if one lived down there in the
roar of it for ever, what would one’s brain be like at last? But now the
rapids are dwindled, and murmur faintly. It would be shame to call it
a roar. _Herregud!_ ‘tis no more than a ruin of what it was. Sunk into
poverty, great rocks thrust up all down the channel, with here and there
a stick of timber hung up thwart and slantwise; one could cross dry-shod
by way of stick and stone.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have done all I have to do in the town, and my pack is on my
shoulders. It is Sunday, and a fine clear day.

I look in at the hotel, to see the porter; he is going with me a bit of
the way up the river. The great good-hearted fellow offers to carry my
things--as if I could not carry them myself.

We go up along the right bank; but the road itself lies on the left; the
way we are taking is only a summer path, trodden only by the lumbermen,
and with some few fresh tracks in the snow. My companion cannot make
out why we do not follow the road: he was always dull of wit; but I have
been up this path twice before these last few days, and I am going up it
once again. It is my own tracks we can see all the time.

I question him:

“That lady you told me about once--the one that was drowned--was it
somewhere about here?”

“Eh? Oh, the one that fell in! Yes. Ay, it was close by here. Dreadful
it was. There must have been twenty of us here, with the police,
searching about.”

“Dragging the channel?”

“Yes. We got out planks and ladders, but they broke through under us; we
cut up all the ice in the end. Here”--he stopped suddenly--“you can see
the way we went.”

I can see in the dark space where the boats had moved out and broken
through the ice to drag the depth; it was frozen over again now.

The porter goes on:

“We found her at last. And a mercy it was, I dare say. The river was low
as it was. Gone right down at once, she had, and got stuck fast between
two stones. There was no current to speak of; if it had been spring,
now, she’d have travelled a long way down.”

“Trying to cross to the other side, I suppose?”

“Ay. They’re always getting out on the ice as soon as it comes; a nasty
way it is. Somebody had been over already, but that was two days before.
She just came walking down on this side where we are, and the engineer,
he was coming down the road on the other side--he’d been out on his
bicycle somewhere. Then they caught sight of each other and waved or
made a sign or something, for they were cousins or something, both of
them. Then the lady must have mistaken him somehow, the engineer says,
and thought he was beckoning, for she started to come across. He
shouted at her not to, but she didn’t hear, and he’d got his bicycle and
couldn’t move, but, anyhow, some one had got across before. The engineer
told the police all about how it happened, and it was written down,
every word. Well, and then when she’s half-way across, she goes down. A
rotten piece of ice it must have been where she trod. And the engineer,
he comes down like lightning on his bicycle through the town and up to
the hotel and starts ringing. I never heard the like, the way he rang.
‘There’s someone in the river!’ he cries out. ‘My cousin’s fallen in!’
Out we went, and he came along with us. We’d ropes and boat-hooks, but
that was no use. The police came soon after, and the fire brigade; they
got hold of a boat up there and carried it between them till they got to
us; then they got it out and started searching about with the drag. We
didn’t find her the first day, but the day after. Ay, a nasty business,
that it was.”

“And her husband came, you said. The Captain?”

“Yes, the Captain, he came. And you can reckon for yourself the state he
was in. And we were all the same for that matter, all the town was. The
engineer, he was out of his senses for a long while, so they told us
at the hotel, and when the Captain arrived, the engineer went off
inspecting up the river, just because he couldn’t bear to talk any more
about it.”

“So the Captain didn’t see him, then?”

“No. H’m! Nay, I don’t know,” said the porter, looking around. “No, I
don’t know anything about that--no.”

His answer was so confused, it was evident that he did know. But it was
of no importance, and I did not question him again.

“Well, thanks for coming up with me,” I said, and shared a little money
with him for a winter wrap or something of the sort. And I took leave of
him, and wanted him to turn back.

He seemed anxious, however, to go on with me a little farther. And, to
get me to agree, he suddenly confesses that the Captain had seen the
engineer while he was here--yes. The porter, good foolish creature, had
understood enough of the maids’ gossip in the kitchen to make out that
there was something wrong about the engineer and this cousin of his
who had come to stay; more than this, however, he had not seen. But, as
regards the meeting between the two men, it was he himself who had acted
as guide to the Captain on his way up to find the engineer.

“He said he must find him, and so we went up together. And the Captain,
he asked me on the way, what could there be to inspect up the river now
it was frozen over? And I couldn’t see myself, I told him. And so we
walked up all day to about three or four in the afternoon. ‘We might see
if he’s not in the hut here,’ I said, for I’d heard the lumbermen used
the place. Then the Captain wouldn’t let me go on with him any farther,
but told me to wait. And he walked up to the hut by himself, and went
in. He’d not been in the place more than a bare couple of minutes, when
out he comes, and the engineer with him. There was a word or so between
them--I didn’t hear; then all of a sudden the Captain flings up one arm
like that, and lands out at the engineer, and down he goes. Lord! but he
must have felt it pretty badly. And not content with that, he picks him
up and lands out at him again as hard as before. Then he came back to me
and said we’d be going home.”

I grew thoughtful at this. It seemed strange that this porter, a
creature who bore no grudge or ill-will to any one, should leave
the engineer up there at the hut without aid. And he had shown no
disapproval in his telling of the thrashing. The engineer must have been
miserly with him, too, I thought, and never paid him for his services,
but only ordered him about and laughed at him, puppy that he was. That
would be it, no doubt. And this time, perhaps, I was not misled by
jealous feelings of my own.

“But the Captain--he was free with his money, if you like,” said the
porter at last. “I paid off all my owings with what he gave me--ay,
indeed I did.”

When at last I had got rid of the man, I crossed the river; the ice was
firm enough. I was on the main road now. And I walked on, thinking over
the porter’s story. That scene at the hut--what did it amount to, after
all? It merely showed that one of the two men was big and strong, the
other a little, would-be sportsman heavily built behind. But the Captain
was an officer--it was something of that sort, perhaps, he had been
thinking. Perhaps he ought to have thought a little more in other ways
while there was yet time--who can say? It was his wife! who had been
drowned. The Captain might do what he pleased now; she would never come
again.

But if she did, what then? She was born to her fate, no doubt. Husband
and wife had tried to patch up the damage, but had failed. I remember
her as she was six or seven years back. She found life dull, and fell
in love a trifle here and there perhaps, even then, but she was faithful
and delicate-minded. And time went on. She had no occupation, but had
three maid-servants to her house; she had no children, but she had a
piano. But she had no children.

And Life can afford to waste.

Mother and child it was that went down.



EPILOGUE


A wanderer plays with muted strings when he comes to fifty years. Then
he plays with muted strings.

Or I might put it in this way.

If he comes too late for the harvest of berries in autumn, why, he
is come too late, that is all; and if one fine day he finds he can
no longer be gay and laugh all over his face in delight of life, ‘tis
because he is old, no doubt; blame him not for that! And there can be
no doubt that it requires a certain vacuity of mind to go about feeling
permanently contented with oneself and all else. But we have all our
softer moments. A prisoner is being driven to the scaffold in a cart. A
nail in the seat irks him; he shifts aside a little, and feels more at
ease.

A Captain should not pray that God may forgive him--as he forgives his
God. It is simply theatrical. A wanderer who cannot reckon every day on
food and drink, clothes and boots, and house and home, feels just the
right degree of privation when all these luxuries are lacking. If you
cannot manage one way, why, there will be another. But if the other way
should also fail, then one does not forgive one’s God, but takes up the
responsibility oneself. Shoulder against what comes--that is, bow to it.
A trifle hard for flesh and blood, and it greys a man’s hair sadly. But
a wanderer thanks God for life; it was good to live!

I might put it that way.

For why these high demands on life? What have we earned? All the boxes
of sweetmeats a sweet-tooth could wish for? Well and good. But have we
not had the world to look upon each day, and the soughing of the woods
to hear? There is nothing so grand in all the world as that voice of the
woods.

There was a scent of jasmine in a shrubbery, and one I know thrilled
with joy, not for the jasmine’s scent but for all there was--for the
light in a window, a memory, the whole of life. He was called away from
the jasmines after, but he had been paid beforehand for that little
mishap.

And so it is; the mere grace that we are given life at all is generous
payment in advance for all the miseries of life--for every one of them.

No, do not think we have the right to more sweetmeats than we get. A
wanderer’s advice: no superstition. What is life’s? All. But what is
yours? Is fame? Oh, tell us why! A man should not so insist on what
is “his.” It is comical; a wanderer laughs at any one who can be so
comical. I remember one who could not give up that “his.” He started
to lay a fire in his stove at noon, and by evening he got it to burn
at last. He couldn’t leave the comfortable warmth to go to bed, but sat
there till other people got up, lest it should be wasted. A Norwegian
writer of stage plays, it was.

I have wandered about a good deal in my time, and am grown foolish
now, and out of bloom. But I do not hold the perverse belief of old men
generally, that I am wiser than I was. And I hope I may never grow wise;
‘tis a sign of decrepitude. If I thank God for life, it is not by virtue
of any riper wisdom that has come to me with age, but because I have
always taken a pleasure in life. Age gives no riper wisdom; age gives
nothing but age.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was too late for the berries this year, but I am going up that way all
the same. I am allowing myself this little treat, by way of reward
for having worked well this summer. And I reach my goal on the 12th of
December.

It is true, no doubt, that I might have stayed down among the villages.
I could have managed somehow, no doubt, as did all the others who had
found it time to settle down. And Lars Falkenberg, my colleague and
mate, he had urged me to take up a holding with keep for a wife and two
cows and a pig. A friend’s advice; _vox populi._ And then, why, one of
the cows might be an ox to ride, a means of transport for my shivering
age! But it came to naught--it came to naught! My wisdom has not come
with age; here am I going up to Trovatn and the waste lands to live in a
wooden hut!

What pleasure can there be in that? _Ai_, Lars Falkenberg, and _ai,_
every one else, have no fear; I have a man to come up with things I
need.

       *       *       *       *       *

So I drift about and about by myself, looking after myself, living
alone. I miss that seal of Bishop Pavel’s. One of his descendants gave
it to me, and I had it in my waistcoat pocket this summer, but, looking
for it now, I find I have lost it. Well, well; but, anyhow, I have been
paid in advance for that mishap, in having owned it once.

But I do not feel the want of books to read.

The 12th of December--I can keep a date in mind and carelessly forget
things more important. It is only just now I remember about the
books--that Captain Falkenberg and his wife had many books in their
house--novels and plays--a whole bookcase full. I saw it one day when
I was painting windows and doors at Øvrebø. Entire sets of authors they
had, and authors’ complete works--thirty books. Why the complete works?
I do not know. Books--one, two, three, ten, thirty. They had come out
each Christmas--novels, thirty volumes--the same novel. They read them,
no doubt, the Captain and his wife; knew every time what they should
find in the poets of the home; there was always such a lot about all
coming right in the end. So they read them, no doubt. How should I know?
Heavens, what a host of books! Two men could not shift the bookcase when
I wanted to paint behind; it took three men and a cook to move it. One
of the men was Grindhusen; he flushed under the weight of those poets of
the home, and said: “I can’t see what folk want with such a mighty crowd
of books!”

Grindhusen! As if he knew anything about it! The Captain and his wife
had all those books, no doubt, that none should be lacking; there they
were all complete. It would make a gap to take away a single one;
they were paired each with the rest, uniform poetry, the same story
throughout.

       *       *       *       *       *

An elk-hunter has been up here with me in the hut. Nothing much; and his
dog was an ill-tempered brute. I was glad when he went on again. He took
down my copper saucepan from the wall, and used it for his cooking, and
left it black with soot.

It is not my copper saucepan, but was here in the hut, left by some one
who was here before. I only rubbed it with ashes and hung it up on the
wall as a weather-guide for myself. I am rubbing it up again now, for it
is a good thing to have; it turns dim unfailingly when there is rain or
snow coming on.

If Ragnhild had been here, now, she would have polished up that saucepan
herself. But then, again, I tell myself, I would rather see to my own
weather-guides; Ragnhild can find something else to do. And if this
place up in the woods were our clearing, then she would have the
children, and the cows, and the pig. But _my_ copper things I prefer to
do myself, Ragnhild.

I remember a lady, the mistress of a house: she did no work at all, and
saw to nothing, least of all to herself. And ill she fared in the end.
But six or seven years back I had never believed any one could be so
delicate and lovely to another as she. I drove her once, upon a journey,
and she was shy with me, although she was a lady, and above me. She
blushed and looked down. And the strange thing was that she made me
feel a kind of shyness myself, although I was only her servant. Only
by looking at me with her two eyes when she spoke to me, she showed me
treasures and beauty beyond what I knew before; I remember it still. Ay,
here I sit, remembering it yet, and I shake my head and say to myself
how strange it was--how strange! And then she died. And what more?
Nothing more. I am still here, but she is gone. But I should not grieve
at her death. I had been paid beforehand, surely, for that loss, in that
she looked at me with her two eyes--a thing beyond my deserts. Ay, so it
must be.

Woman--what do the sages know of woman?

I know a sage, and he wrote of woman. Wrote of woman in thirty volumes
of uniform theatre-poetry: I counted the volumes once in a big bookcase.
And at last he wrote of the woman who left her own children to go in
search of--the wonderful! But what, then, were the children? Oh, it was
comical: a wanderer laughs at anything so comical.

What does the sage know of woman?

To begin with, he was not a sage at all till he grew old, and all he
knew of woman then was from memory. But then, again, he can have no
memory of her, seeing he never knew her. The man who has an aptitude
for wisdom busies himself jealously with his little aptitude and nothing
else; cultivates and cherishes it; holds it forth and lives for it.

We do not turn to woman for wisdom. The four wisest heads in the world,
who have delivered their findings on the subject of woman, simply sat
and invented her out of their own heads--octogenarians young or old they
were, that rode on oxen. They knew nothing of woman in holiness, woman
in sweetness, woman as an indispensable, but they wrote and wrote about
her. Think of it! Without finding her.

Heaven save me from growing wise! And I will mumble the same to my last
turn: Heaven save me from growing wise!

       *       *       *       *       *

Just cold enough now for a little outing I have had in mind: the
snow-peaks lie rosy in the sun, and my copper saucepan points to fair.
It is eight in the morning.

Knapsack and a good stock of food, an extra lashing in my pocket in case
anything should break, and a note on the table for the man with supplies
in case he should come up while I am away.

Oh, but I have been showing off nicely all to myself: pretending I was
going far, and needed to equip myself with care, had occasion for all my
presence of mind and endurance. A man can show off like that when he is
going far; but I am not. I have no errand anywhere, and nothing calls
me; I am only a wanderer setting forth from a hut, and coming back to it
again; it does not matter where I am.

It is quiet and empty in the woods; all things deep in snow, holding
their breath as I come. At noon, looking back from a hill, I can see
Trovatn far behind; white and flat it lies, a stretch of chalk, a desert
of snow. After a meal I go on again, higher and higher, nearing the
fjeld now, but slowly and thoughtfully, with hands in my pockets. There
is no hurry; I have only to find a shelter for the night.

Later on in the afternoon I sit down again to eat, as if I needed a
meal and had earned it. But it is only for something to do; my hands are
idle, and my brain inclined to fancies. It gets dark early: well to find
a sheltered cleft in the hillside here; there are fallen firs enough
lying about for a fire.

Such are the things I tell of now, playing with muted strings.

I was out early next morning, as soon as it began to get light. A quiet,
warm snowfall came on, and there was a soughing in the air. Bad weather
coming, I thought to myself; but who could have foreseen it? Neither I
nor my weather-guide looked for it twenty-four hours ago.

I left my shelter and went on again over moor and heath; full day again
now, and snowing. It was not the best of shelters I had found for the
night: passably soft and dry, with branches of fir to lie on, and I had
not felt the cold, but the smoke from my fire drifted in over me and
troubled my breathing.

But now, this afternoon, I found a better place--a spacious and elegant
cave with walls and roof complete. Room here for me and my fire, and the
smoke went up. I nodded at this, and decided to settle down here, though
it was early yet, and still quite light; I could distinctly make out
the hills and valleys and rocks on a naked fjeld straight ahead some few
hours’ march away. But I nodded, as if I had reached my goal, and set to
work gathering firewood and bedding for the night.

I felt so thoroughly at home here. It was not for nothing I nodded and
took off my knapsack. “Was this the place you were making for?” I say,
talking to myself in jest. “Yes,” I answer.

The soughing in the air grew stronger; it was not snow that was falling
now, but rain. Strange--a great wet rainfall down over the cave,
over all the trees outside, and yet it was the cold Christmas
month--December. A heat-wave had taken it into its head to visit us.

It rained and rained that night, and there was a soughing all through
the trees outside. It was like spring; it filled my sleep at last with
so rich an ease, that I slept on sound and deep till it was broad day.

Ten o’clock.

The rain had ceased, but it is still warm. I sit looking out of the
cave, and listening to the bend and whisper of the trees. Then a stone
breaks loose on the fjeld opposite; it butts against a rock and brings
that down as well; a few faint thuds are heard. Then a rumble: I see
what is happening, and the sound echoes within me; the rock loosened
other rocks, an avalanche goes thundering down the mountain-side, snow
and earth and boulders, leaving a smoky cloud in its wake. The stream of
rubble seems in a living rage; it thrusts its way on, tearing down other
masses with it--crowding, pouring, pouring, fills up a chasm in the
valley--and stops. The last few boulders settle slowly into place, and
then no more. The thunder over, there is silence, and within myself is
only a breathing as of a slowly descending bass.

And so I sit once more, listening to the soughing of the woods. Is it
the heaving of the AEgean sea, or is it the ocean current Glimma? I grow
weak from just listening. Recollections of my past life rise within me,
joys by the thousand, music and eyes, flowers. There is nothing more
glorious than the soughing of the woods. It is like swinging, rocking--a
madness: Uganda, Antananarivo, Honolulu, Atacama, Venezuela.

But it is all the years, no doubt, that make me so weak, and my nerves
that join in the sounds I hear. I get up and stand by the fire to get
over it; now I think of it, I feel I could talk to the fire a little,
make a speech to the dying fire. I am in a fire-proof house here, and
the acoustic conditions are good. H’m!

Then the cave is darkened; it is the elk-hunter again with his dog.

It begins to freeze as I trudge along homeward to my hut. The frost soon
hardens the ground, moor and heath, making it easy walking. I trudge
along slowly and carelessly, hands in my pockets. There is no hurry now;
it matters little where I am.





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