Part 8 out of 9
means so depraved that it showed in her face, impossible to accuse
her of immorality. Immorality? She made all the resistance one could
expect. When young men asked her to go to a Christmas dance, she said
"No" once, said "No" twice, but the third time she would say: "I'll
try and come from two to six." Just as a decent woman should, not
trying to make herself out worse than she is, and making a display
of daring. She was a servant-girl, serving all her time, and knew no
other recreation than fooling with men. It was all she asked for. Fru
Heyerdahl came and lectured her, lent her books--and a fool for her
pains. Barbro had lived in Bergen and read the papers and been to the
theatre! She was no innocent lamb from the countryside ...
But Fru Heyerdahl must have grown suspicious at last. One day she
comes up at three in the morning to the maids' room and calls:
"Yes," answers Cook.
"It's Barbro I want. Isn't she there? Open the door."
Cook opens the door and explains as agreed upon, that Barbro had had
to run home for a minute about something. Home for a minute at this
time of night? Fru Heyerdahl has a good deal to say about that. And
in the morning there is a scene. Brede is sent for, and Fru Heyerdahl
asks: "Was Barbro at home with you last night--at three o'clock?"
Brede is unprepared, but answers: "Three o'clock? Yes, yes, quite
right. We sat up late, there was something we had to talk about," says
The Lensmand's lady then solemnly declares that Barbro shall go out no
more at nights.
"No, no," says Brede.
"Not as long as she's in this house."
"No, no; there, you can see, Barbro, I told you so," says her father.
"You can go and see your parents now and then during the day," says
But Fru Heyerdahl was wide awake enough, and her suspicion was not
gone; she waited a week, and tried at four in the morning. "Barbro!"
she called. Oh, but this time 'twas Cook's turn out, and Barbro was at
home; the maids' room was a nest of innocence. Her mistress had to hit
on something in a hurry.
"Did you take in the washing last night?"
"That's a good thing, it's blowing so hard.... Good-night."
But it was not so pleasant for Fru Heyerdahl to get her husband to
wake her in the middle of the night and go padding across herself to
the servants' room to see if they were at home. They could do as they
pleased, she would trouble herself no more.
And if it had not been for sheer ill-luck, Barbro might have stayed
the year out in her place that way. But a few days ago the trouble had
It was in the kitchen, early one morning. Barbro had been having some
words with Cook, and no light words either; they raised their voices,
forgetting all about their mistress. Cook was a mean thing and a
cheat, she had sneaked off last night out of her turn because it was
Sunday. And what excuse had she to give? Going to say good-bye to her
favourite sister that was off to America? Not a bit of it; Cook had
made no excuse at all, but simply said that Sunday night was one had
been owing to her for a long time.
"Oh, you've not an atom of truth nor decency in your body!" said
And there was the mistress in the doorway.
She had come out, perhaps, with no more thought than that the girls
were making too much noise, but now she stood looking, very closely
at Barbro, at Barbro's apron over her breast; ay, leaning forward and
looking very closely indeed. It was a painful moment. And suddenly Fru
Heyerdahl screams and draws back to the door. What on earth can it be?
thinks Barbro, and looks down at herself. _Herregud_! a flea, nothing
more. Barbro cannot help smiling, and being not unused to acting under
critical circumstances, she flicks off the flea at once.
"On the floor!" cried Fru Heyerdahl. "Are you mad, girl? Pick it up
at once!" Barbro begins looking about for it, and once more acts with
presence of mind: she makes as if she had caught the creature, and
drops it realistically into the fire.
"Where did you get it?" asks her mistress angrily.
"Where I got it?"
"Yes, that's what I want to know."
But here Barbro makes a bad mistake. "At the store," she ought to have
said, of course--that would have been quite enough. As it was--she did
not know where she had got the creature, but had an idea it must have
been from Cook.
Cook at the height of passion at once: "From me! You'll please to keep
your fleas to yourself, so there!"
"Anyway, 'twas you was out last night."
Another mistake--she should have said nothing about it. Cook has no
longer any reason for keeping silence, and now she let out the
whole thing, and told all about the nights Barbro had been out. Fru
Heyerdahl mightily indignant; she cares nothing about Cook, 'tis
Barbro she is after, the girl whose character she has answered for.
And even then all might have been well if Barbro had bowed her head
like a reed, and been cast down with shame, and promised all manner of
things for the future--but no. Her mistress is forced to remind her of
all she has done for her, and at that, if you please, Barbro falls to
answering back, ay, so foolish was she, saying impertinent things. Or
perhaps she was cleverer than might seem; trying on purpose, maybe, to
bring the matter to a head, and get out of the place altogether? Says
"After I've saved you from the clutches of the Law."
"As for that," answers Barbro, "I'd have just as pleased if you
"And that's all the thanks I get," says her mistress.
"Least said the better, perhaps," says Barbro. "I wouldn't have got
more than a month or two, anyway, and done with it."
Fru Heyerdahl is speechless for a moment; ay, for a little while she
stands saying nothing, only opening and closing her mouth. The first
thing she says is to tell the girl to go; she will have no more of
"Just as you please," says Barbro.
For some days after that Barbro had been at home with her parents. But
she could not go on staying there. True, her mother sold coffee, and
there came a deal of folk to the house, but Barbro could not live on
that--and maybe she had other reasons of her own for wanting to get
into a settled position again. And so today she had taken a sack of
clothes on her back, and started up along the road over the moors.
Question now, whether Axel Stroem would take her? But she had had the
banns put up, anyway, the Sunday before.
Raining, and dirty underfoot, but Barbro tramps on. Evening is drawing
on, but not dark yet at that season of the year. Poor Barbro--she does
not spare herself, but goes on her errand like another; she is bound
for a place, to commence another struggle there. She has never spared
herself, to tell the truth, never been of a lazy sort, and that is why
she has her neat figure now and pretty shape. Barbro is quick to learn
things, and often to her own undoing; what else could one expect? She
had learned to save herself at a pinch, to slip from one scrape to
another, but keeping all along some better qualities; a child's death
is nothing to her, but she can still give sweets to a child alive.
Then she has a fine musical ear, can strum softly and correctly on a
guitar, singing hoarsely the while; pleasant and slightly mournful
to hear. Spared herself? no; so little, indeed, that she has thrown
herself away altogether, and felt no loss. Now and again she cries,
and breaks her heart over this or that in her life--but that is
only natural, it goes with the songs she sings, 'tis the poetry and
friendly sweetness in her; she had fooled herself and many another
with the same. Had she been able to bring the guitar with her this
evening she could have strummed a little for Axel when she came.
She manages so as to arrive late in the, evening; all is quiet
at Maaneland when she reaches there. See, Axel has already begun
haymaking, the grass is cut near the house, and some of the hay
already in. And then she reckons out that Oline, being old, will be
sleeping in the little room, and Axel lying out in the hayshed, just
as she herself had done. She goes to the door she knows so well,
breathless as a thief, and calls softly: "Axel!"
"What's that?" asks Axel all at once.
"Nay, 'tis only me," says Barbro, and steps in. "You couldn't house me
for the night?" she says.
Axel looks at her and is slow to think, and sits there in his
underclothes, looking at her. "So 'tis you," says he. "And where'll
you be going?"
"Why, depends first of all if you've need of help to the summer work,"
Axel thinks over that, and says: "Aren't you going to stay where you
"Nay; I've finished at the Lensmand's."
"I might be needing help, true enough, for the summer," said Axel.
"But what's it mean, anyway, you wanting to come back?"
"Nay, never mind me," says Barbro, putting it off. "I'll go on again
tomorrow. Go to Sellanraa and cross the hills. I've a place there."
"You've fixed up with some one there?"
"I might be needing summer help myself," says Axel again.
Barbro is wet through; she has other clothes in her sack, and must
change. "Don't mind about me," says Axel, and moves a bit toward the
door, no more.
Barbro takes off her wet clothes, they talking the while, and Axel
turning his head pretty often towards her. "Now you'd better go out
just a bit," says she.
"Out?" says he. And indeed 'twas no weather to go out in. He stands
there, seeing her more and more stripped; 'tis hard to keep his eyes
away; and Barbro is so thoughtless, she might well have put on dry
things bit by bit as she took oft the wet, but no. Her shift is thin
and clings to her; she unfastens a button at one shoulder, and turns
aside, 'tis nothing new for her. Axel dead silent then, and he sees
how she makes but a touch or two with her hands and washes the last of
her clothes from her. 'Twas splendidly done, to his mind. And there
she stands, so utterly thoughtless of her....
A while after, they lay talking together. Ay, he had need of help for
the summer, no doubt about that.
"They said something that way," says Barbro.
He had begun his mowing and haymaking all alone again; Barbro could
judge for herself how awkward it was for him now.--Ay, Barbro
understood.--On the other hand, it was Barbro herself that had run
away and left him before, without a soul to help him, he can't forget
that. And taken her rings with her into the bargain. And on top of all
that, shameful as it was, the paper that kept on coming, that Bergen
newspaper it seemed he would never get rid of; he had had to go on
paying for it a whole year after.
"'Twas shameful mean of them," says Barbro, taking his part all the
But seeing her all submissive and gentle, Axel himself could not be
altogether heartless towards her; he agreed that Barbro might have
some reason to be angry with him in return for the way he had taken
the telegraph business from her father. "But as for that," said he,
"your father can have the telegraph business again for me; I'll have
no more of it, 'tis but a waste of time."
"Ay," says Barbro.
Axel thought for a while, then asked straight out: "Well, what about
it now, would you want to come for the summer and no more?"
"Nay," says Barbro, "let it be as you please."
"You mean that, and truly?"
"Ay, just as you please, and I'll be pleased with the same. You've no
call to doubt about me any more."
"No, 'tis true. And I've ordered about the banns."
H'm. This was not so bad. Axel lay thinking it over a long time. If
she meant it in earnest this time, and not shameful deceit again, then
he'd a woman of his own and help for as long as might be.
"I could get a woman to come from our parts," said he, "and she's
written saying she'd come. But then I'd have to pay her fare from
Says Barbro: "Ho, she's in America, then?"
"Ay. Went over last year she did, but doesn't care to stay."
"Never mind about her," says Barbro. "And what'd become of me then?"
says she, and begins to be soft and mournful.
"No. That's why I've not fixed up all certain with her."
And after that, Barbro must have something to show in return; she
confessed about how she could have taken a lad in Bergen, and he was
a carter in a big brewery, a mighty big concern, and a good position.
"And he'll be sorrowing for me now, I doubt," says Barbro, and makes
a little sob. "But you know how 'tis, Axel; when there's two been so
much together as you and I, 'tis more than I could ever forget. And
you can forget me as much as you please."
"What! me?" says Axel. "Nay, no need to lie there crying for that, my
girl, for I've never forgot you."
Barbro feels a deal better after that confession, and says: "Anyway,
paying her fare all the way from America when there's no need...." She
advises him to have nothing to do with that business; 'twould be over
costly, and there was no need. Barbro seemed resolved to build up his
They came to agreement all round in the course of the night. 'Twas not
as if they were strangers; they had talked over everything before.
Even the necessary marriage ceremony was to take place before St.
Olaf's Day and harvest; they had no need to hide things, and Barbro
was now herself most eager to get it done at once. Axel was not any
put out at her eagerness, and it did not make him any way suspicious;
far from it, he was flattered and encouraged to find her so. Ay, he
was a worker in the fields, no doubt, a thick-skinned fellow, not used
to looking over fine at things, nothing delicate beyond measure; there
were things he was obliged to do, and he looked to what was useful
first of all. Moreover, here was Barbro all new and pretty again, and
nice to him, almost sweeter than before. Like an apple she was, and he
bit at it. The banns were already put up.
As to the dead child and the trial, neither said a word of that.
But they did speak of Oline, of how they were to get rid of her. "Ay,
she must go," said Barbro. "We've nothing to thank her for, anyway.
She's naught but tale-bearing and malice."
But it proved no easy matter to get Oline to go.
The very first morning, when Barbro appeared, Oline was clear, no
doubt, as to her fate. She was troubled at once, but tried not to show
it, and brought out a chair. They had managed up to then at Maaneland.
Axel had carried water and wood and done the heaviest work, and Oline
doing the rest. And gradually she had come to reckon on staying the
rest of her life on the place. Now came Barbro and upset it all.
"If we'd only a grain of coffee in the house you should have it," said
she to Barbro. "Going farther up, maybe?"
"No," said Barbro.
"Ho! Not going farther?"
"Why, 'tis no business of mine, no," says Oline. "Going down again,
"No. Nor going down again. I'm staying here for now."
"Staying here, are you?"
"Ay, staying here, I doubt."
Oline waits for a moment, using her old head, full of policy. "Ay,
well," says she. "'Twill save me, then, no doubt. And glad I'll be for
"Oho," says Barbro in jest, "has Axel here been so hard on you this
"Hard on me? Axel! Oh, there's no call to turn an old body's words,
there's naught but living on and waiting for the blessed end. Axel
that's been as a father and a messenger from the Highest to me day and
hour together, and gospel truth the same. But seeing I've none of my
own folks here, and living alone and rejected under a stranger's roof,
with all my kin over across the hills...."
But for all that, Oline stayed on. They could not get rid of her till
after they were wed, and Oline made a deal of reluctance, but said
"Yes" at last, and would stay so long to please them, and look to
house and cattle while they went down to the church. It took two days.
But when they came back wedded and all, Oline stayed on as before. She
put off going; one day she was feeling poorly, she said; the next it
looked like rain. She made up to Barbro with smooth words about the
food. Oh, there was a mighty difference in the food now at Maaneland;
'twas different living now, and a mighty difference in the coffee
now. Oh, she stopped at nothing, that Oline; asked Barbro's advice on
things she knew better herself. "What you think now, should I milk
cows as they stand in their place and order, or should I take cow
"You can do as you please."
"Ay, 'tis as I always said," exclaims Oline. "You've been out in the
world and lived among great folks and fine folks, and learned all and
everything. 'Tis different with the likes of me."
Ay, Oline stopped at nothing, she was intriguing all day long. Sitting
there telling Barbro how she herself was friends and on the best of
terms with Barbro's father, with Brede Olsen! Ho, many a pleasant hour
they'd had together, and a kindly man and rich and grand to boot was
Brede, and never a hard word in his mouth.
But this could not go on for ever; neither Axel nor Barbro cared to
have Oline there any longer, and Barbro had taken over all her work.
Oline made no complaint, but she flashed dangerous glances at her
young mistress and changed her tone ever so little.
"Ay, great folk, 'tis true. Axel, he was in town a while last
harvest-time--you didn't meet him there, maybe? Nay, that's true, you
were in Bergen that time. But he went into town, he did; 'twas all
to buy a mowing-machine and a harrow-machine. And what's folk at
Sellanraa now beside you here? Nothing to compare!"
She was beginning to shoot out little pinpricks, but even that did not
help her now; neither of them feared her. Axel told her straight out
one day that she must go.
"Go?" says Oline. "And how? Crawling, belike?" No, she would not go,
saying by way of excuse that she was poorly, and could not move her
legs. And to make things bad as could be, when once they had taken the
work off her hands, and she had nothing to do at all, she collapsed,
and was thoroughly ill. She kept about for a week in spite of it, Axel
looking furiously at her; but she stayed on from sheer malice, and at
last she had to take to her bed.
And now she lay there, not in the least awaiting her blessed end, but
counting the hours till she should be up and about again. She asked
for a doctor, a piece of extravagance unheard of in the wilds.
"Doctor?" said Axel. "Are you out of your senses?"
"How d'you mean, then?" said Oline quite gently, as to something she
could not understand. Ay, so gentle and smooth-tongued was she, so
glad to think she need not be a burden to others; she could pay for
the doctor herself.
"Ho, can you?" said Axel.
"Why, and couldn't I, then?" says Oline. "And, anyway, you'd not have
me lie here and die like a dumb beast in the face of the Lord?"
Here Barbro put in a word, and was unwise enough to say:
"Well, what you've got to complain of, I'd like to know, when I bring
you in your meals and all myself? As for coffee, I've said you're
better without it, and meaning well."
"Is that Barbro?" says Oline, turning just her eyes and no more to
look for her; ay, she is poorly is Oline, and a pitiful sight with her
eyes screwed round cornerways. "Ay, maybe 'tis as you say, Barbro, if
a tiny drop of coffee'd do me any harm, a spoonful and no more."
"If 'twas me in your stead, I'd be thinking of other things than
coffee at this hour," says Barbro.
"Ay, 'tis as I say," answers Oline. "'Twas never your way to wish and
desire a fellow-creature's end, but rather they should be converted
and live. What ... ay, I'm lying here and seeing things.... Is it with
child you are now, Barbro?"
"What's that you say?" cries Barbro furiously; and goes on again: "Oh,
'twould serve you right if I took and heaved you out on the muck-heap
for your wicked tongue."
And at that the invalid was silent for one thoughtful moment, her
mouth trembling as if trying so hard to smile, but dare not.
"I heard a some one calling last night," says she.
"She's out of her senses," says Axel, whispering.
"Nay, out of my senses that I'm not. Like some one calling it was.
From the woods, or maybe from the stream up yonder. Strange to
hear--as it might be a bit of a child crying out. Was that Barbro went
"Ay," says Axel. "Sick of your nonsense, and no wonder."
"Nonsense, you call it, and out of my senses, and all? Ah, but not so
far as you'd like to think," says Oline. "Nay, 'tis not the Almighty's
will and decree I should come before the Throne and before the Lamb as
yet, with all I know of goings-on here at Maaneland. I'll be up and
about again, never fear; but you'd better be fetching a doctor, Axel,
'tis quicker that way. What about that cow you were going to give me?"
"Cow? What cow?"
"That cow you promised me. Was it Bordelin, maybe?"
"You're talking wild," says Axel.
"You know how you promised me a cow the day I saved your life."
"Nay, that I never knew."
At that Oline lifts up her head and looks at him. Grey and bald she
is, a head standing up on a long, scraggy neck--ugly as a witch, as an
ogress out of a story. And Axel starts at the sight, and fumbles with
a hand behind his back for the latch of the door.
"Ho," says Oline, "so you're that sort! Ay, well--say no more of it
now. I can live without the cow from this day forth, and never a word
I'll say nor breathe of it again. But well that you've shown what sort
and manner of man you are this day; I know it now. Ay, and I'll know
it another time."
But Oline, she died that night--some time in the night; anyway, she
was cold next morning when they came in.
Oline--an aged creature. Born and died....
'Twas no sorrow to Axel nor Barbro to bury her, and be quit of her for
ever; there was less to be on their guard against now, they could be
at rest. Barbro is having trouble with her teeth again; save for that,
all is well. But that everlasting woollen muffler over her face, and
shifting it aside every time there's a word to say--'twas plaguy and
troublesome enough, and all this toothache is something of a mystery
to Axel. He has noticed, certainly, that she chews her food in a
careful sort of way, but there's not a tooth missing in her head.
"Didn't you get new teeth?" he asks.
"Ay, so I did."
"And are they aching, too?"
"Ah, you with your nonsense!" says Barbro irritably, for all that Axel
has asked innocently enough. And in her bitterness she lets out what
is the matter. "You can see how 'tis with me, surely?"
How 'twas with her? Axel looks closer, and fancies she is stouter than
"Why, you can't be--'tis surely not another child again?" says he.
"Why, you know it is," says she.
Axel stares foolishly at her. Slow of thought as he is, he sits there
counting for a bit: one week, two weeks, getting on the third week....
"Nay, how I should know...." says he.
But Barbro is losing all patience with this debate, and bursts out,
crying aloud, crying like a deeply injured creature: "Nay, you can
take and bury me, too, in the ground, and then you'll be rid of me."
Strange, what odd things a woman can find to cry for!
Axel had never a thought of, burying her in the ground; he is a
thick-skinned fellow, looking mainly to what is useful; a pathway
carpeted with flowers is beyond his needs.
"Then you'll not be fit to work in the fields this summer?" says he.
"Not work?" says Barbro, all terrified again. And then--strange what
odd things a woman can find to smile for! Axel, taking it that way,
sent a flow of hysterical joy through Barbro, and she burst out: "I'll
work for two! Oh, you wait and see, Axel; I'll do all you set me to,
and more beyond. Wear myself to the bone, I will, and be thankful, if
only you'll put up with me so!"
More tears and smiles and tenderness after that. Only the two of them
in the wilds, none to disturb them; open doors and a humming of flies
in the summer heat. All so tender and willing was Barbro; ay, he might
do as he pleased with her, and she was willing.
After sunset he stands harnessing up to the mowing-machine; there's a
bit he can still get done ready for tomorrow. Barbro comes hurrying
out, as if she's something important, and says:
"Axel, how ever could you think of getting one home from America? She
couldn't get here before winter, and what use of her then?" And that
was something had just come into her head, and she must come running
out with it as if 'twas something needful.
But 'twas no way needful; Axel had seen from the first that taking
Barbro would mean getting help for all the year. No swaying and
swinging with Axel, no thinking with his head among the stars. Now
he's a woman of his own to look after the place, he can keep on the
telegraph business for a bit. 'Tis a deal of money in the year, and
good to reckon with as long as he's barely enough for his needs from
the land, and little to sell. All sound and working well; all good
reality. And little to fear from Brede about the telegraph line,
seeing he's son-in-law to Brede now.
Ay, things are looking well, looking grand with Axel now.
And time goes on; winter is passed; spring comes again.
Isak has to go down to the village one day--and why not? What for?
"Nay, I don't know," says he. But he gets the cart cleaned up all
fine, puts in the seat, and drives off, and a deal of victuals and
such put in, too--and why not? 'Twas for Eleseus at Storborg. Never a
horse went out from Sellanraa but there was something taken down to
When Isak came driving down over the moors, 'twas no little event, for
he came but rarely, Sivert going most ways in his stead. At the two
farms nearest down, folk stand at the door of the huts and tell one
another: "'Tis Isak himself; and what'll he be going down after
today?" And, coming down as far as to Maaneland, there's Barbro at the
glass window with a child in her arms, and sees him, and says: "'Tis
He comes to Storborg and pulls up. "_Ptro_! Is Eleseus at home?"
Eleseus comes out. Ay, he's at home; not gone yet, but just going--off
on his spring tour of the towns down south.
"Here's some things your mother sent down," says his father. "Don't
know what it is, but nothing much, I doubt."
Eleseus takes the things, and thanks him, and asks:
"There wasn't a letter, I suppose, or anything that sort?"
"Ay," says his father, feeling in pockets, "there was. 'Tis from
little Rebecca I think they said."
Eleseus takes the letter, 'tis that he has been waiting for. Feels it
all nice and thick, and says to his father:
"Well, 'twas lucky you came in time--though 'tis two days before I'm
off yet. If you'd like to stay a bit, you might take my trunk down."
Isak gets down and ties up his horse, and goes for a stroll over the
ground. Little Andresen is no bad worker on the land in Eleseus'
service; true, he has had Sivert from Sellanraa with horses, but he
has done a deal of work on his own account, draining bogs, and hiring
a man himself to set the ditches with stone. No need of buying fodder
at Storborg that year, and next, like as not, Eleseus would be keeping
a horse of his own. Thanks to Andresen and the way he worked on the
After a bit of a while, Eleseus calls down that he's ready with his
trunk. Ready to go himself, too, by the look of it; in a fine blue
suit, white collar, galoshes, and a walking-stick. True, he will have
two days to wait for the boat, but no matter; he may just as well stay
down in the village; 'tis all the same if he's here or there.
And father and son drive off. Andresen watches them from the door of
the shop and wishes a pleasant journey.
Isak is all thought for his boy, and would give him the seat to
himself; but Eleseus will have none of that, and 'sits up by his side.
They come to Breidablik, and suddenly Eleseus has forgotten something.
"_Ptro_!--What is it?" asks his father.
Oh, his umbrella! Eleseus has forgotten his umbrella; but he can't
explain all about it, and only says: "Never mind, drive on."
"Don't you want to turn back?"
"No; drive on."
But a nuisance it was; how on earth had he come to leave it? 'Twas all
in a hurry, through his father being there waiting. Well, now he had
better buy a new umbrella at Trondhjem when he got there. 'Twas no
importance either way if he had one umbrella or two. But for all that,
Eleseus is out of humour with himself; so much so that he jumps down
and walks behind.
They could hardly talk much on the way down after that, seeing Isak
had to turn round every time and speak over his shoulder. Says Isak:
"How long you're going to be away?"
And Eleseus answers: "Oh, say three weeks, perhaps, or a month at the
His father marvels how folk don't get lost in the big towns, and never
find their way back. But Eleseus answers, as to that, he's used to
living in towns, and never got lost, never had done in his life.
Isak thinks it a shame to be sitting up there all alone, and calls
out: "Here, you come and drive a bit; I'm getting tired."
Eleseus won't hear of his father getting down, and gets up beside
him again. But first they must have something to eat--out of Isak's
well-filled pack. Then they drive on again.
They come to the two holdings farthest down; easy to see they are
nearing the village now; both the houses have white curtains in the
little window facing toward the road, and a flag-pole stuck up on top
of the hayloft for Constitution Day. "'Tis Isak himself," said folk on
the two new farms as the cart went by.
At last Eleseus gives over thinking of his own affairs and his own
precious self enough to ask: "What you driving down for today?"
"H'm," says his father. "'Twas nothing much today." But then, after
all, Eleseus was going away; no harm, perhaps, in telling him. "'Tis
blacksmith's girl, Jensine, I'm going down for," says his father; ay,
he admits so much.
"And you're going down yourself for that? Couldn't Sivert have gone?"
says Eleseus. Ay, Eleseus knew no better, nothing better than to think
Sivert would go down to the smith's to fetch Jensine, after she had
thought so much of herself as to leave Sellanraa!
No, 'twas all awry with the haymaking the year before. Inger had put
in all she could, as she had promised. Leopoldine did her share too,
not to speak of having a machine for a horse to rake. But the hay
was much of it heavy stuff, and the fields were big. Sellanraa was a
sizeable place now, and the women had other things to look to besides
making hay; all the cattle to look to, and meals to be got, and all
in proper time; butter and cheese to make, and clothes to wash, and
baking of bread; mother and daughter working all they could. Isak was
not going to have another summer like that; he decided without any
fuss that Jensine should come back again if she could be got. Inger,
too, had no longer a word against it; she had come to her senses
again, and said: "Ay, do as you think best." Ay, Inger was grown
reasonable now; 'tis no little thing to come to one's senses again
after a spell. Inger was no longer full of heat that must out, no
longer full of wild blood to be kept in check, the winter had cooled
her; nothing beyond the needful warmth in her now. She was getting
stouter, growing fine and stately. A wonderful woman to keep from
fading, keep from dying off by degrees; like enough because she had
bloomed so late in life. Who can say how things come about? Nothing
comes from a single cause, but from many. Was Inger not in the best
repute with the smith's wife? What could any smith's wife say against
her? With her disfigurement, she had been cheated of her spring, and
later, had been set in artificial air to lose six years of her summer;
with life still in her, what wonder her autumn gave an errant growth?
Inger was better than blacksmiths' wives--a little damaged, a little
warped, but good by nature, clever by nature ... ay....
Father and son drive down, they come to Brede Olsen's lodging-house
and set the horse in a shed. It is evening now. They go in themselves.
Brede Olsen has rented the house; an outbuilding it had been,
belonging to the storekeeper, but done up now with two sitting-rooms
and two bedrooms; none so bad, and in a good situation. The place
is well frequented by coffee-drinkers and folk from round about the
village going by the boat.
Brede seems to have been in luck for once, found something suited to
him, and he may thank his wife for that. 'Twas Brede's wife had hit on
the idea of a coffee-shop and lodging-house, the day she sat selling
coffee at the auction at Breidablik; 'twas a pleasant enough thing to
be selling something, to feel money in her fingers, ready cash. Since
they had come down here they had managed nicely, selling coffee in
earnest now, and housing a deal of folk with nowhere else to lay their
heads. A blessing to travellers, is Brede's wife. She has a good
helper, of course, in Katrine, her daughter, a big girl now and clever
at waiting--though that is only for the time, of course; not long
before little Katrine must have something better than waiting on folk
in her parents' house. But for the present, they are making money
fairly well, and that is the main thing. The start had been decidedly
favourable, and might have been better if the storekeeper had not run
short of cakes and sweet biscuits to serve with the coffee; here were
all the feast-day folk calling for cakes with their coffee, biscuits
and cakes! 'Twas a lesson to the storekeeper to lay in a good supply
The family, and Brede himself, live as best they can on their takings.
A good many meals are nothing but coffee and stale cakes left over,
but it keeps them alive, and gives the children a delicate, sort of
refined appearance. 'Tis not every one has cakes with their coffee,
say the village folk. Ay, Bredes are doing well, it seems; they even
manage to keep a dog, that goes round begging among the customers and
gets bits here and there and grows fat on it. A good fat dog about the
place is a mighty fine advertisement for a lodging-house; it speaks
for good feeding anywhere.
Brede, then, is husband and father in the house, and apart from that
position, has got on variously beside. He had been once more installed
as Lensmand's assistant and deputy, and had a good deal to do that way
for a time. Unfortunately, his daughter Barbro had fallen out with
the Lensmand's wife last autumn, about a trifling matter, a mere
nothing--indeed, to tell the truth, a flea; and Brede himself is
somewhat in disfavour there since. But Brede counts it no great loss,
after all; there are other families that find work for him now on
purpose to annoy the Lensmand's; he is frequently called upon, for
instance, to drive for the doctor, and as for the parsonage, they'd
gladly send for Brede every time there's a pig to be killed, and
more--Brede says so himself.
But for all that there are hard times now and again in Brede's house;
'tis not all the family are as fat and flourishing as the dog. Still,
Heaven be praised, Brede is not a man to take things much to heart.
"Here's the children growing up day by day," says he, though, for that
matter, there's always new little ones coming to take their place. The
ones that are grown up and out in the world can keep themselves, and
send home a bit now and again. There's Barbro married at Maaneland,
and Helge out at the herring fishery; they send home something in
money or money's worth as often as they can; ay, even Katrine, doing
waiting at home, managed, strangely enough, to slip a five-_Krone_
note into her father's hand last winter, when things were looking
extra bad. "There's a girl for you," said Brede, and never asked her
where she'd got the money, or what for. Ay, that was the way! Children
with a heart to think of their parents and help them in time of need!
Brede is not altogether pleased with his boy Helge in that respect; he
can be heard at times standing in the store with a little group about
him, developing his theories as to children and their duty toward
their parents. "Look you, now, my boy, Helge; if he smokes tobacco a
bit, or takes a dram now and then, I've nothing against that, we've
all been young in our time. But 'tis not right of him to go sending
one letter home after another and nothing but words and wishes in.
'Tis not right to set his mother crying. 'Tis the wrong road for a
lad. In days gone by, things were different. Children were no sooner
grown than they went into service and started sending home a little to
help. And quite right, too. Isn't it their father and mother had borne
them under their breast first of all, and sweating blood to keep the
life in them all their tender years? And then to forget it all!"
It almost seemed as if Helge had heard that speech of his father's,
for there came a letter from him after with money in--fifty _Kroner_,
no less. And then Bredes had a great time; ay, in their endless
extravagance they bought both meat and fish for dinner, and a lamp all
hung about with lustres to hang from the ceiling in the best room.
They managed somehow, and what more could they ask? Bredes, they kept
alive, lived from hand to mouth, but without great fear. What more
could they wish for?
"Here's visitors indeed!" says Brede, showing Isak and Eleseus into
the room with the new lamp. "And I'd never thought to see. Isak,
you're never going away yourself, and all?"
"Nay, only to the smith's for something, 'tis no more."
"Ho! 'Tis Eleseus, then, going off south again?"
Eleseus is used to hotels; he makes himself at hojne, hangs up his
coat and stick on the wall, and calls for coffee; as for something to
eat, his father has things in a basket. Katrine brings the coffee.
"Pay? I'll not hear of it," says Brede. "I've had many a bite and sup
at Sellanraa; and as for Eleseus, I'm in his books already. Don't take
it, Katrine." But Eleseus pays all the same, takes out his purse and
pays out the money, and twenty _Ore_ over; no nonsense about him.
Isak goes across to the smith's, and Eleseus stays where he is.
He says a few words, as in duty bound, to Katrine, but no more than is
needed; he would rather talk to her father. No, Eleseus cares nothing
for women; has been frightened off by them once, as it were, and takes
no interest in them now. Like as not he'd never much inclination
that way to speak of, seeing he's so completely out of it all now.
A strange man to live in the wilds; a gentleman with thin writer's
hands, and the sense of a woman for finery; for sticks and umbrellas
and galoshes. Frightened off, and changed, incomprehensibly not a
marrying man. Even his upper lip declines to put forth any brutal
degree of growth. Yet it might be the lad had started well enough,
come of good stock, but been turned thereafter into an artificial
atmosphere, and warped, transformed? Had he worked so hard in an
office, in a shop, that his whole originality was lost thereby? Ay,
maybe 'twas so. Anyway, here he is now, easy and passionless, a little
weak, a little heedless, wandering farther and farther off the road.
He might envy every soul among his fellows in the wilds, but has not
even strength for that.
Katrine is used to jesting with her customers, and asks him teasingly
if he is off to see his sweetheart in the south again.
"I've other things to think of," says Eleseus. "I'm out on
business--opening up connections."
"No call to be so free with your betters, Katrine," says her father
reprovingly. Oh, Brede Olsen is all respect towards Eleseus, mighty
respectful for him to be. And well he may, 'tis but wise of him,
seeing he owes money up at Storborg, and here's his creditor before
him. And Eleseus? Ho, all this deference pleases him, and he is kind
and gracious in return; calls Brede "My dear sir," in jest, and goes
on that way. He mentions that he has forgotten his umbrella: "Just as
we were passing Breidablik, I thought of it; left my umbrella behind."
Brede asks: "You'll be going over to our little store this evening,
belike, for a drink?"
Says Eleseus: "Ay, maybe, if 'twas only myself. But I've my father
Brede makes himself pleasant, and goes on gossiping: "There's a fellow
coming in day after tomorrow that's on his way to America."
"Been home, d'you mean?"
"Ay. He's from up in the village a bit. Been away for ever so many
years, and home for the winter. His trunk's come down already by
cart--and a mighty fine trunk."
"I've thought of going to America myself once or twice," says Eleseus
"You?" cries Brede. "Why, there's little need for the likes of you
going that way surely!"
"Well, 'twas not going over to stay for ever I was thinking. But I've
been travelling about so many places now, I might just as well make
the trip over there."
"Ay, of course, and why not? And a heap of money and means and all, so
they say, in America. Here's this fellow I spoke of before; he's paid
for more feasting and parties than's easy to count this winter past,
and comes in here and says to me, 'Let's have some coffee, a potful,
and all the cakes you've got.' Like to see his trunk?"
They went out in the passage to look at the trunk. A wonder to look
at on earth, flaming all sides and corners with metal and clasps and
binding, and three flaps to hold it down, not to speak of a lock.
"Burglar-proof," says Brede, as if he had tried it himself.
They went back into the room, but Eleseus was grown thoughtful. This
American from up in the village had outdone him; he was nothing beside
such a man. Going out on journeys like any high official; ay, natural
enough that Brede should make a fuss of him. Eleseus ordered more
coffee, and tried to play the rich man too; ordered cakes with his
coffee and gave them to the dog--and all the time feeling worthless
and dejected. What was his trunk beside that wonder out there? There
it stood, black canvas with the corners all rubbed and worn; a
handbag, nothing more--ho, but wait! He would buy a trunk when he got
to the towns, a splendid one it should be, only wait!
"'Tis a pity to feed the dog so," says Brede.
And Eleseus feels better at that, and ready to show off again. "'Tis a
marvel how a beast can get so fat," says he.
One thought leading to another: Eleseus breaks off his talk with Brede
and goes out into the shed to look at the horse. And there he takes
out a letter from his pocket and opens it. He had put it away at once,
never troubling to look what money was in it; he had had letters
of that sort from home before, and always a deal of notes
inside--something to help him on the way. What was this? A big sheet
of grey paper scrawled all over; little Rebecca to her brother
Eleseus, and a few words from his mother. What else? Nothing else. No
money at all.
His mother wrote that she could not ask his father for more money
again now, for there was none too much left of all they had got for
the copper mine that time; the money had gone to buy Storborg, and pay
for all the goods after, and Eleseus' travelling about. He must try
and manage by himself this time, for the money that was left would
have to be kept for his brother and sisters, not to leave them all
without. And a pleasant journey and your loving mother.
Eleseus himself had not enough for his fare; he had cleaned out the
cash box at Storborg, and that was not much. Oh, but he had been a
fool to send that money to the dealers in Bergen on account; no hurry
for that; he might have let it stand over. He ought, of course, to
have opened the letter before starting out at all; he might have saved
himself that journey down to the village with his miserable trunk and
all. And here he was....
His father comes back from the smith's after settling his business
there; Jensine was to go back with him next morning. And Jensine, look
you, had been nowise contrary and hard to persuade, but saw at once
they wanted help at Sellanraa for the summer, and was ready to come. A
proper way to do, again.
While his father is talking, Eleseus sits thinking of his own affairs.
He shows him the American's trunk, and says: "Only wish I was where
that's come from."
And his father answers: "Ay, 'twas none so bad, maybe."
Next morning Isak gets ready to start for home again; has his food,
puts in the horse and drives round by the smith's to fetch Jensine and
her box. Eleseus stands looking after them as they go; then when they
are lost to sight in the woods, he pays his score at the lodging-house
again, and something over. "You can leave my trunk here till I come
back," he tells Katrine, and off he goes.
Eleseus--going where? Only one place to go; he turns back, going back
home again. So he too takes the road up over the hills again, taking
care to keep as near his father and Jensine as he can without being
seen. Walks on and on. Beginning now to envy every soul of them in the
'Tis a pity about Eleseus, so changed he is and all.
Is he doing no business at Storborg? Such as it is; nothing to make a
fortune out of there, and Eleseus is overmuch out and abroad, making
pleasant journeys on business to open up connections, and it costs
too much; he does not travel cheaply. "Doesn't do to be mean," says
Eleseus, and gives twenty _Ore_ over where he might save ten. The
business cannot support a man of his tastes, he must get subsidies
from home. There's the farm at Storborg, with potatoes and corn and
hay enough for the place itself, but all provisions else must come
from Sellanraa. Is that all? Sivert must cart up his brother's goods
from the steamer all for nothing. And is that all? His mother must get
money out of his father to pay for his journeys. But is that all?
The worst is to come.
Eleseus manages his business like a fool. It flatters him to have folk
coming up from the village to buy at Storborg, so that he gives them
credit as soon as asked; and when this is noised abroad, there come
still more of them to buy the same way. The whole thing is going to
rack and ruin. Eleseus is an easy man, and lets it go; the store is
emptied and the store is filled again. All costs money. And who pays
it? His father.
At first, his mother had been a faithful spokesman for him every way.
Eleseus was the clever head of the family; they must help him on and
give him a start; then think how cheaply he had got Storborg, and
saying straight out what he would give for it! When his father thought
it was going wrong somehow with the business, and naught but foolery,
she took him up. "How can you stand there and say such things!"
Ay, she reproved him for using such words about his son; Isak was
forgetting his place, it seemed, to speak so of Eleseus.
For look you, his mother had been out in the world herself; she
understood how hard it was for Eleseus to live in the wilds, being
used to better things, and accustomed to move in society, and with
none of his equals near. He risked too much in his dealings with folk
that were none of the soundest; but even so, 'twas not done with any
evil intent on his part of ruining his parents, but sheer goodness of
heart and noble nature; 'twas his way to help those that were not so
fine and grand as himself. Why, wasn't he the only man in those parts
to use white handkerchiefs that were always having to be washed? When
folk came trustingly to him and asked for credit, if he were to say
"No," they might take it amiss, it might seem as if he were not the
noble fellow they had thought, after all. Also, he had a certain duty
towards his fellows, as the town-bred man, the genius among them all.
Ay, his mother bore all these things in mind.
But his father, never understanding it all in the least, opened her
eyes and ears one day and said:
"Look you here. Here's all that is left of the money from that mine."
"That's all?" said she. "And what's come of the rest?"
"Eleseus, he's had the rest."
And she clasped her hands at that and declared it was time Eleseus
began to use his wits.
Poor Eleseus, all set on end and frittered away. Better, maybe, if
he'd worked on the land all the time, but now he's a man that has
learned to write and use letters; no grip in him, no depth. For all
that, no pitch-black devil of a man, not in love, not ambitious,
hardly nothing at all is Eleseus, not even a bad thing of any great
Something unfortunate, ill-fated about this young man, as if something
were rotting him from within. That engineer from the town, good
man--better perhaps, if he had not discovered the lad in his youth
and taken him up to make something out of him; the child had lost his
roothold, and suffered thereby. All that he turns to now leads back to
something wanting in him, something dark against the light....
Eleseus goes on and on. The two in the cart ahead pass by Storborg.
Eleseus goes a long way round, and he too passes by; what was he to do
there, at home, at his trading station and store? The two in the cart
get to Sellanraa at nightfall; Eleseus is close at their heels. Sees
Sivert come out in the yard, all surprised to see Jensine, and the two
shake hands and laugh a little; then Sivert takes the horse out and
leads it to stable.
Eleseus ventures forward; the pride of the family, he ventures up a
little. Not walking up, but stealing up; he comes on Sivert in the
stable. "'Tis only me," he says.
"What--you too?" says Sivert, all astonished again.
The two brothers begin talking quietly; about Sivert getting his
mother to find some money; a last resource, the money for a journey.
Things can't go on this way; Eleseus is weary of it; has been thinking
of it a long time now, and he must go tonight; a long journey, to
America, and start tonight.
"America?" says Sivert out loud.
"Sh! I've been thinking of it a long time, and you must get her to do
as I say; it can't go on like this, and I've been thinking of going
for ever so long."
"But America!" says Sivert. "No, don't you do it."
"I'm going. I've settled that. Going back now to catch the boat."
"But you must have something to eat."
"I'm not hungry."
"But rest a bit, then?"
Sivert is trying to act for the best, and hold his brother back, but
Eleseus is determined, ay, for once he is determined. Sivert himself
is all taken aback; first of all it was a surprise to see Jensine
again, and now here's Eleseus going to leave the place altogether, not
to say the world. "What about Storborg?" says he. "What'll you do with
"Andresen can have it," says Sivert.
"Andresen have it? How d'you mean?"
"Isn't he going to have Leopoldine?"
"Don't know about that. Ay; perhaps he is."
They talk quietly, keep on talking. Sivert thinks it would be best if
his father came out and Eleseus could talk to him himself; but "No,
no!" whispers Eleseus again; he was never much of a man to face a
thing like that, but always must have a go-between.
Says Sivert: "Well, mother, you know how 'tis with her. There'll be no
getting any way with her for crying and talking on. She mustn't know."
"No," Eleseus agrees, "she mustn't know."
Sivert goes off, stays away for ages, and comes back with money,
a heap of money. "Here, that's all he has; think it'll be enough?
Count--he didn't count how much there was."
"What did he say--father?"
"Nay, he didn't say much. Now you must wait a little, and I'll get
some more clothes on and go down with you."
"'Tis not worth while; you go and lie down."
"Ho, are you frightened of the dark that I mustn't go away?" says
Sivert, trying a moment to be cheerful.
He is away a moment, and comes back dressed, and with his father's
food basket over his shoulder. As they go out, there is their father
standing outside. "So you're going all that way, seems?" says Isak.
"Ay," answered Eleseus; "but I'll be coming back again."
"I'll not be keeping you now--there's little time," mumbles the old
man, and turns away. "Good luck," he croaks out in a strange voice,
and goes off all hurriedly.
The two brothers walk down the road; a little way gone, they sit down
to eat; Eleseus is hungry, can hardly eat enough. 'Tis a fine spring
night, and the black grouse at play on the hilltops; the homely sound
makes the emigrant lose courage for a moment. "'Tis a fine night,"
says he. "You better turn back now, Sivert," says he.
"H'm," says Sivert, and goes on with him.
They pass by Storborg, by Breidablik, and the sound follows them all
the way from the hills here and there; 'tis no military music like
in the towns, nay, but voices--a proclamation: Spring has come. Then
suddenly the first chirp of a bird is heard from a treetop, waking
others, and a calling and answering on every side; more than a song,
it is a hymn of praise. The emigrant feels home-sick already, maybe,
something weak and helpless in him; he is going off to America, and
none could be more fitted to go than he.
"You turn back now, Sivert," says he.
"Ay, well," says his brother. "If you'd rather."
They sit down at the edge of the wood, and see the village just below
them, the store and the quay, Brede's old lodging-house; some men are
moving about by the steamer, getting ready.
"Well, no time to stay sitting here," says Eleseus, getting up again.
"Fancy you going all that way," says Sivert.
And Eleseus answers: "But I'll be coming back again. And I'll have a
better sort of trunk that journey."
As they say good-bye, Sivert thrusts something into his brother's
hand, a bit of something wrapped in paper. "What is it?" asks Eleseus.
"Don't forget to write often," says Sivert. And so he goes.
Eleseus opens the paper and looks; 'tis the gold piece, twenty-five
_Kroner_ in gold. "Here, don't!" he calls out. "You mustn't do that!"
Sivert walks on.
Walks on a little, then turns round and sits down again at the edge of
the wood. More folk astir now down by the steamer; passengers going on
board, Eleseus going on board; the boat pushes off from the side and
rows away. And Eleseus is gone to America.
He never came back.
A notable procession coming up to Sellanraa; Something laughable to
look at, maybe, but more than that. Three men with enormous burdens,
with sacks hanging down from their shoulders, front and back. Walking
one behind the other, and calling to one another with jesting words,
but heavily laden. Little Andresen, chief clerk, is head of that
procession; indeed, 'tis his procession; he has fitted out himself,
and Sivert from Sellanraa, and one other, Fredrik Stroem from
Breidablik, for the expedition. A notable little man is Andresen; his
shoulder is weighed down slantwise on one side, and his jacket pulled
all awry at the neck, the way he goes, but he carries his burden on
Storborg and the business Eleseus had left--well, not bought it
straight out on the spot, perhaps, 'tis more than Andresen could
afford; better afford to wait a bit and get the whole maybe for
nothing. Andresen is no fool; he has taken over the place on lease for
the meanwhile, and manages the business himself.
Gone through the stock in hand, and found a deal of unsalable truck in
Eleseus' store, even to such things as toothbrushes and embroidered
table centres; ay, and stuffed birds on springs that squeaked when you
pressed in the right place.
These are the things he has started out with now, going to sell them
to the miners on the other side of the hills. He knows from Aronsen's
time that miners with money in their pockets will buy anything on
earth. Only a pity he had to leave behind six rocking-horses that
Eleseus had ordered on his last trip to Bergen.
The caravan turns into the yard at Sellanraa and sets down its load.
No long wait here; they drink a mug of milk, and make pretence of
trying to sell their wares on the spot, then shoulder their burdens
and off again. They are not out for pretence. Off they go, trundling
southward through the forest.
They march till noon, rest for a meal and on again till evening. Then
they camp and make a fire, lie down, and sleep a while. Sivert sleeps
resting on a boulder that he calls an arm-chair. Oh, Sivert knows what
he is about; here's the sun been warming that boulder all day, till
it's a good place to sit and sleep. His companions are not so wise,
and will not take advice; they lie down in the heather, and wake up
feeling cold, and sneezing. Then they have breakfast and start off
Listening now, for any sound of blasting about; they are hoping to
come on the mine, and meet with folk some time that day. The work
should have got so far by now; a good way up from the water towards
Sellanraa. But never a sound of blasting anywhere. They march till
noon, meeting never a soul; but here and there they come upon holes in
the ground, where men have been digging for trial. What can this mean?
Means, no doubt, that the ore must be more than commonly rich at the
farther end of the tract; they are getting out pure heavy copper, and
keeping to that end all the time.
In the afternoon they come upon several more mines, but no miners;
they march on till evening, and already they can make out the sea
below; marching through a wilderness of deserted mines, and never a
sound. 'Tis all beyond understanding, but nothing for it; they must
camp and sleep out again that night. They talk the matter over: Can
the work have stopped? Should they turn and go back again? "Not a bit
of it," says Andresen.
Next morning a man walks into their camp--a pale, haggard man who
looks at them frowningly, piercingly. "That you, Andresen?" says the
man. It is Aronsen, Aronsen the trader. He does not say "No" to a cup
of hot coffee and something to eat with the caravan, and settles down
at once. "I saw the smoke of your fire, and came up to see what it
was," says he. "I said to myself, 'Sure enough, they're coming to
their senses, and starting work again.' And 'twas only you, after all!
Where you making for, then?"
"What's that you've got with you?"
"Goods?" cries Aronsen. "Coming up here with goods for sale? Who's to
buy them? There's never a soul. They left last Saturday gone."
"Left? Who left?"
"All the lot. Not a soul on the place now. And I've goods enough
myself, anyway. A whole store packed full. I'll sell you anything you
Oh, Trader Aronsen in difficulties again! The mine has shut down.
They ply him with coffee till he grows calmer, and asks what it all
Aronsen shakes his head despairingly. "'Tis beyond understanding,
there's no words for it," says he. All had been going so well, and he
had been selling goods, and money pouring in; the village round all
flourishing, and using the finest meal, and a new schoolhouse, and
hanging lamps and town-made boots, and all! Then suddenly their
lordships up at the mine take it into their heads that the thing isn't
paying, and close down. Not paying? But it paid them before? Wasn't
there clean copper there and plain to see at every blasting? 'Twas
rank cheating, no less. "And never a thought of what it means to a man
like me. Ay, I doubt it's as they say; 'tis that Geissler's at the
bottom of it all, same as before. No sooner he'd come up than the work
stopped; 'twas as if he'd smelt it out somehow."
"Geissler, is he here, then?"
"Is he not? Ought to be shot, he ought! Comes up one day by the
steamer and says to the engineer: 'Well, how's things going?'--'All
right, as far as I can see,' says the engineer. But Geissler he just
stands there, and asks again: 'Ho, all right, is it?'--'Ay, as far as
I know,' says the engineer. But as true as I'm here, no sooner the
post comes up from that same boat Geissler had come by, than there's
letter and telegram both to the engineer that the work wasn't paying,
and he's to shut down at once."
The members of the expedition look at one another, but the leader,
Andresen himself, has not lost courage yet.
"You may just as well turn back and go home again," is Aronsen's
"We're not doing that," says Andresen, and packs up the coffee-pot.
Aronsen stares at the three of them in turn. "You're mad, then," says
Look you, Andresen he cares little now for what his master that was
can say; he's master himself now, leader of an expedition equipped at
his own expense for a journey to distant parts; 'twould lose him his
prestige to turn back now where he is.
"Well, where will you go?" asks Aronsen irritably.
"Can't say," answers Andresen. But he's a notion of his own all the
same, no doubt; thinking, maybe, of the natives, and coming down into
the district three men strong, with glass beads and finger rings.
"We'll be getting on," says he to the rest.
Now, Aronsen had thought like enough to go farther up that morning,
seeing he'd come so far, wanting, maybe, to see if all the place was
quite deserted, if it could be true every man on the place was gone.
But seeing these pedlar-folk so set on going on, it hinders him, and
he tells them again and again they're mad to try. Aronsen is furious
himself, marches down in front of the caravan, turning round and
shouting at them, barking at them, trying to keep them out of his
district. And so they come down to the huts in the mining centre.
A little town of huts, but empty and desolate. Most of the tools and
implements are housed under cover, but poles and planks, broken carts
and cases and barrels, lie all about in disorder; here and there a
notice on a door declares "No admittance."
"There you are," cries Aronsen. "What did I say? Not a soul in the
place." And he threatens the caravan with disaster--he will send for
the Lensmand; anyway, he's going to follow them every step now, and
if he can catch them at any unlawful trading 'tis penal servitude and
slavery, no mistake!
All at once somebody calls out for Sivert. The place is not altogether
dead, after all, not utterly deserted; here is a man standing
beckoning at the corner of a house. Sivert trundles over with his
load, and sees at once who it is--Geissler.
"Funny meeting you here," says Geissler. His face is red and
flourishing, but his eyes apparently cannot stand the glare of spring,
he is wearing smoked glasses. He talks as brilliantly as ever.
"Luckiest thing in the world," says he. "Save me going all the way up
to Sellanraa; and I've a deal to look after. How many settlers are
there in the _Almenning_ now?"
"Ten new holdings. I'll agree. I'm satisfied. But 'tis
two-and-thirty-thousand men of your father's stamp the country wants.
Ay, that's what I say, and I mean it; I've reckoned it out."
"Sivert, are you coming on?" The caravan is waiting.
Geissler hears, and calls back sharply: "No."
"I'll come on after," calls Sivert, and sets down his load.
The two men sit down and talk. Geissler is in the right mood today;
the spirit moves him, and he talks all the time, only pausing when
Sivert puts in a word or so in answer, and then going on again. "A
mighty lucky thing--can't help saying it. Everything turned out just
as I wanted all the way up, and now meeting you here and saving all
the journey to Sellanraa. All well at home, what?"
"All well, and thank you kindly."
"Got up that hayloft yet, over the cowshed?"
"Ay, 'tis done."
"Well, well--I've a heap of things to look to, almost more than I can
manage. Look at where we're sitting now, for instance. What d'you say
to that, Sivert man? Ruined city, eh? Men gone about to build it all
against their nature and well-being. Properly speaking, it's all
my fault from the start--that is to say, I'm a humble agent in the
workings of fate. It all began when your father picked up some bits
of stone up in the hills, and gave you to play with when you were a
child. That was how it started. I knew well enough those bits of stone
were worth exactly as much as men would give for them, no more; well
and good, I set a price on them myself, and bought them. Then the
stones passed from hand to hand, and did no end of damage. Time went
on. And now, a few days ago, I came up here again, and what for, d'you
think? To buy those stones back again!"
Geissler stops for a moment, and looks at Sivert. Then suddenly he
glances at the sack, and asks: "What's that you're carrying?"
"Goods," says Sivert. "We're taking them down to the village."
Geissler does not seem interested in the answer; has not even heard
it, like as not. He goes on:
"Buy them back again--yes. Last time, I let my son manage the deal; he
sold them then. Young fellow about your own age, that's all about him.
He's the lightning in the family, I'm more a sort of fog. Know what's
the right thing to do, but don't do it. But he's the lightning--and
he's entered the service of industry for the time being. 'Twas he sold
for me last time. I'm something and he's not, he's only the lightning;
quick to act, modern type. But the lightning by itself's a barren
thing. Look at you folk at Sellanraa, now; looking up at blue peaks
every day of your lives; no new-fangled inventions about that, but
fjeld and rocky peaks, rooted deep in the past--but you've them for
companionship. There you are, living in touch with heaven and earth,
one with them, one with all these wide, deep-rooted things. No need of
a sword in your hands, you go through life bareheaded, barehanded, in
the midst of a great kindliness. Look, Nature's there, for you and
yours to have and enjoy. Man and Nature don't bombard each other,
but agree; they don't compete, race one against the other, but go
together. There's you Sellanraa folk, in all this, living there. Fjeld
and forest, moors and meadow, and sky and stars--oh, 'tis not poor and
sparingly counted out, but without measure. Listen to me, Sivert: you
be content! You've everything to live on, everything to live for,
everything to believe in; being born and bringing forth, you are the
needful on earth. 'Tis not all that are so, but you are so; needful on
earth. 'Tis you that maintain life. Generation to generation, breeding
ever anew; and when you die, the new stock goes on. That's the meaning
of eternal life. What do you get out of it? An existence innocently
and properly set towards all. What you get out of it? Nothing can put
you under orders and lord it over you Sellanraa folk, you've peace and
authority and this great kindliness all round. That's what you get for
it. You lie at a mother's breast and suck, and play with a mother's
warm hand. There's your father now, he's one of the two-and-thirty
thousand. What's to be said of many another? I'm something, I'm the
fog, as it were, here and there, floating around, sometimes coming
like rain on dry ground. But the others? There's my son, the lightning
that's nothing in itself, a flash of barrenness; he can act.
"My son, ay, he's the modern type, a man of our time; he believes
honestly enough all the age has taught him, all the Jew and the Yankee
have taught him; I shake my head at it all. But there's nothing
mythical about me; 'tis only in the family, so to speak, that I'm like
a fog. Sit there shaking my head. Tell the truth--I've not the power
of doing things and not regretting it. If I had, I could be lightning
myself. Now I'm a fog."
Suddenly Geissler seems to recollect himself, and asks: "Got up that
hayloft yet, above the cowshed?"
"Ay, that's done. And father's put up a new house."
"'Tis in case any one should come, he says--in case Geissler he should
happen to come along."
Geissler thinks over this, and takes his decision: "Well, then, I'd
better come. Yes, I'll come; you can tell your father that. But I've a
heap of things to look to. Came up here and told the engineer to
let his people in Sweden know I was ready to buy. And we'd see what
happened. All the same to me, no hurry. You ought to have seen that
engineer--here he's been going about and keeping it all up with men
and horses and money and machines and any amount of fuss; thought it
was all right, knew no better. The more bits of stone he can turn
into money, the better; he thinks he's doing something clever and
deserving, bringing money to the place, to the country, and everything
nearing disaster more and more, and he's none the wiser. 'Tis not
money the country wants, there's more than enough of it already; 'tis
men like your father there's not enough of. Ay, turning the means to
an end in itself and being proud of it! They're mad, diseased; they
don't work, they know nothing of the plough, only the dice. Mighty
deserving of them, isn't it, working and wasting themselves to nothing
in their own mad way. Look at them--staking everything, aren't they?
There's but this much wrong with it all; they forget that gambling
isn't courage, 'tis not even foolhardy courage, 'tis a horror. D'you
know what gambling is? 'Tis fear, with the sweat on your brow, that's
what it is. What's wrong with them is, they won't keep pace with life,
but want to go faster--race on, tear on ahead, driving themselves into
life itself like wedges. And then the flanks of them say: here, stop,
there's something breaking, find a remedy; stop, say the flanks! And
then life crushes them, politely but firmly crushes them. And then
they set to complaining about life, raging against life! Each to his
own taste; some may have ground to complain, others not, but there's
none should rage against life. Not be stern and strict and just with
life, but be merciful to it, and take its part; only think of the
gamblers life has to bear with!"
Geissler recollects himself again, and says: "Well, all that's as it
may be; leave it!" He is evidently tired, beginning to breathe in
little gasps. "Going down?" says he.
"There's no hurry. You owe me a long walk over the hills, Sivert man,
remember that? I remember it all. I remember from the time I was a
year and a half; stood leaning down from the barn bridge at Garmo, and
noticed a smell. I can smell it again now. But all that's as it may
be, that too; but we might have done that trip over the hills now if
you hadn't got that sack. What's in it?"
"Goods. 'Tis Andresen is going to sell them."
"Well, then, I'm a man that knows what's the right thing to do, but
doesn't do it," says Geissler. "I'm the fog. Now perhaps I'll buy that
mine back again one of these days, it's not impossible; but if I do,
it wouldn't be to go about staring up at the sky and saying, 'Aerial
railway! South America!' No, leave that to the gamblers. Folk
hereabout say I must be the devil himself because I knew beforehand
this was going to break up. But there's nothing mystical about me,
'tis simple enough. The new copper mines in Montana, that's all. The
Yankees are smarter than we are at that game; they are cutting us
to death in South America--our ore here's too poor. My son's the
lightning; he got the news, and I came floating up here. Simple, isn't
it? I beat those fellows in Sweden by a few hours, that's all."
Geissler is short of breath again; he gets on his feet, and says: "If
you're going down, let's get along."
They go on down together, Geissler dragging behind, all tired out. The
caravan has stopped at the quay, and Fredrik Stroem, cheerful as ever,
is poking fun at Aronsen: "I'm clean out of tobacco; got any tobacco,
"I'll give you tobacco," said Aronsen threateningly.
Fredrik laughs, and says comfortingly: "Nay, you've no call to take it
all heavy-like and sad, Aronsen. We're just going to sell these things
here before your eyes, and then we'll be off home again."
"Get away and wash your dirty mouth," says Aronsen furiously.
"Ha ha ha! Nay, you've no call to dance about that way; keep still and
look like a picture!"
Geissler is tired, tired out, even his smoked glasses do not help him
now, his eyes keep closing in the glare.
"Good-bye, Sivert man," says he all at once. "No, I can't get up to
Sellanraa this time, after all; tell your father. I've a heap of
things to see to. But I'll come later on--say that...."
Aronsen spits after him, and says: "Ought to be shot!"
* * * * *
For three days the caravan peddles its wares, selling out the contents
of the sacks, and getting good prices. It was a brilliant piece of
business. The village folk were still well supplied with money after
the downfall of the mine, and were excellently in form in the way of
spending; those stuffed birds on springs were the very thing they
wanted; they set them up on chests of drawers in their parlours, and
also bought nice paper-knives, the very thing for cutting the leaves
of an almanac. Aronsen was furious. "Just as if I hadn't things every
bit as good in my store," said he.
Trader Aronsen was in a sorry way; he had made up his mind to keep
with these pedlars and their sacks, watching them all the time; but
they went separate ways about the village, each for himself, and
Aronsen almost tore himself to pieces trying to follow all at once.
First he gave up Fredrik Stroem, who was quickest at saying unpleasant
things; then Sivert, because he never said a word, but went on
selling; at last he stuck to following his former clerk, and trying to
set folk against him wherever he went in. Oh, but Andresen knew his
master that was--knew him of old, and how little he knew of business
and unlawful trading.
"Ho, you mean to say English thread's not prohibited?" said Aronsen,
"I know it is," answered Andresen. "But I'm not carrying any this
way; I can sell that elsewhere. I haven't a reel in my pack; look for
yourself, if you like."
"That's as it may be," says Aronsen. "Anyway, I know what's forbidden,
and I've shown you, so don't try to teach me."
Aronsen stood it for a whole day, then he gave up Andresen, too, and
went home. The pedlars had no one to watch them after that.
And then things began to go swimmingly. It was in the day when
womenfolk used to wear loose plaits in their hair; and Andresen, he
was the man to sell loose plaits. Ay, at a pinch he could sell fair
plaits to dark girls, and be sorry he'd nothing lighter; no grey
plaits, for instance, for that was the finest of all. And every
evening the three young salesmen met at an appointed place and went
over the day's trade, each borrowing from another anything he'd sold
out of; and Andresen would sit down, often as not, and take out a file
and file away the German trade-mark from a sportsman's whistle, or rub
out "Faber" on the pens and pencils. Andresen was a trump, and always
Sivert, on the other hand, was rather a disappointment. Not that he
was any way slack, and failed to sell his goods--'twas he, indeed,
sold most--but he did not get enough for them. "You don't put in
enough patter with it," said Andresen.
No, Sivert was no hand at reeling off a lot of talk; he was a
fieldworker, sure of what he said, and speaking calmly when he spoke
at all. What was there to talk about here? Also, Sivert was anxious to
be done with it and get back home, there was work to do in the fields.
"Tis that Jensine's calling him," Fredrik Stroem explained. Fredrik,
himself, by the way, had work on his own fields to be done that
spring, and little time to waste; but for all that, he must look in on
Aronsen the last day and get up an argument with him. "I'll sell him
the empty sacks," said he.
Andresen and Sivert stayed outside while he went in. They heard grand
goings-on inside the store, both talking at once, and Fredrik setting
up a laugh now and again; then Aronsen threw open the door and showed
his visitor out. Oh, but Fredrik didn't come out--no, he took his
time, and talked a lot more. The last thing they heard from outside
was Fredrik trying to sell Aronsen a lot of rocking-horses.
Then the caravan went home again--three young men full of life and
health. They marched and sang, slept a few hours in the open, and went
on again. When they got back to Sellanraa on the Monday, Isak had
begun sowing. The weather was right for it; the air moist, with the
sun peeping out now and again, and a mighty rainbow strung right
across the heavens.
The caravan broke up--_Farvel, Farvel_....
* * * * *
Isak at his sowing; a stump of a man, a barge of a man to look at,
nothing more. Clad in homespun--wool from his own sheep, boots from
the hide of his own cows and calves. Sowing--and he walks religiously
bareheaded to that work; his head is bald just at the very top, but
all the rest of him shamefully hairy; a fan, a wheel of hair and
beard, stands out from his face. 'Tis Isak, the Margrave.
'Twas rarely he knew the day of the month--what need had he of that?
He had no bills to be met on a certain date; the marks on his almanac
were to show the time when each of the cows should bear. But he knew
St. Olaf's Day in the autumn, that by then his hay must be in, and he
knew Candlemas in spring, and that three weeks after then the bears
came out of their winter quarters; all seed must be in the earth by
then. He knew what was needful.
A tiller of the ground, body and soul; a worker on the land without
respite. A ghost risen out of the past to point the future, a man from
the earliest days of cultivation, a settler in the wilds, nine hundred
years old, and, withal, a man of the day.
Nay, there was nothing left to him now of the copper mine and its
riches--the money had vanished into air. And who had anything left of
all that wealth when the working stopped, and the hills lay dead and
deserted? But the _Almenning_ was there still, and ten new holdings on
that land, beckoning a hundred more.
Nothing growing there? All things growing there; men and beasts and
fruit of the soil. Isak sowing his corn. The evening sunlight falls on
the corn that flashes out in an arc from his hand, and falls like a
dropping of gold to the ground. Here comes Sivert to the harrowing;
after that the roller, and then the harrow again. Forest and field
look on. All is majesty and power--a sequence and purpose of things.
_Kling_ ... _eling_ ... say the cow bells far up on the hillside,
coming nearer and nearer; the cattle are coming home for the night.
Fifteen head of them, and five-and-forty sheep and goats besides;
threescore in all. There go the women out with their milk-pails,
carried on yokes from the shoulder: Leopoldine, Jensine, and little
Rebecca. All three barefooted. The Margravine, Inger herself, is not
with them; she is indoors preparing the meal. Tall and stately, as she
moves about her house, a Vestal tending the fire of a kitchen stove.
Inger has made her stormy voyage, 'tis true, has lived in a city a
while, but now she is home; the world is wide, swarming with tiny
specks--Inger has been one of them. All but nothing in all humanity,
only one speck.
Then comes the evening.
Knut Hamsun [Footnote: December, 1920.]
By W.W. Worster
Knut Hamsun is now sixty. For years past he has been regarded as the
greatest of living Norwegian writers, but he is still little known in
England. One or two attempts have been made previously to introduce
Hamsun's work into this country, but it was not until this year, with
the publication of _Growth of the Soil_, that he achieved any real
success, or became at all generally known, among English readers.
_Growth of the Soil_ (Markens Groede) is Hamsun's latest work. Its
reception here was one of immediate and unstinted appreciation,
such as is rarely accorded to a translated work by an alien author
practically unknown even to the critics. A noticeable feature was the
frankness with which experienced bookmen laid aside stock phrases, and
dealt with this book as in response to a strong personal appeal. To
the reviewer, aged with much knowledge, hardened by much handling of
mediocrity, it is a relief to meet with a book that can and must be
dealt with so.
Those readers are, perhaps, most fortunate who come upon such a book
as this without foretaste or preparation. To the mind under spell of
an aesthetic or emotional appeal, the steps that went to make it, the
stages whereby the author passed, are as irrelevant as the logarithms
that went to build an aeroplane. Yet it is only by knowledge of such
steps that the achievement can be fully understood.
_Growth of the Soil_ is very far indeed from Hamsun's earliest
beginnings: far even from the books of his early middle period, which
made his name. It is the life story of a man in the wilds, the genesis
and gradual development of a homestead, the unit of humanity, in
the unfilled, uncleared tracts that still remain in the Norwegian
Highlands. It is an epic of earth; the history of a microcosm. Its
dominant note is one of patient strength and simplicity; the mainstay
of its working is the tacit, stern, yet loving alliance between Nature
and the Man who faces her himself, trusting to himself and her for the
physical means of life, and the spiritual contentment with life which
she must grant if he be worthy. Modern man faces Nature only by proxy,
or as proxy, through others or for others, and the intimacy is lost.
In the wilds the contact is direct and immediate; it is the foothold
upon earth, the touch of the soil itself, that gives strength.
The story is epic in its magnitude, in its calm, steady progress and
unhurrying rhythm, in its vast and intimate humanity. The author looks
upon his characters with a great, all-tolerant sympathy, aloof yet
kindly, as a god. A more objective work of fiction it would be hard to
find--certainly in what used to be called "the neurasthenic North."
And this from the pen of the man who wrote _Sult_, _Mysterier_, and
Hamsun's early work was subjective in the extreme; so much so, indeed,
as almost to lie outside the limits of aesthetic composition. As a boy
he wrote verse under difficulties--he was born in Gudbrandsdalen, but
came as a child to Bodoe in Lofoten, and worked with a shoemaker there
for some years, saving up money for the publication of his juvenile
efforts. He had little education to speak of, and after a period of
varying casual occupations, mostly of the humblest sort, he came to
Christiania with the object of studying there, but failed to make his
way. Twice he essayed his fortune in America, but without success. For
three years he worked as a fisherman on the Newfoundland Banks.
His Nordland origin is in itself significant; it means an environment
of month-long nights and concentrated summers, in which all feelings
are intensified, and love and dread and gratitude and longing are
nearer and deeper than in milder and more temperate regions, where
elemental opposites are, as it were, reciprocally diluted.
In 1890, at the age of thirty, Hamsun attracted attention by the
publication of _Sult_ (Hunger). _Sult_ is a record of weeks of
starvation in a city; the semi-delirious confession of a man whose
physical and mental faculties have slipped beyond control. He speaks
and acts irrationally, and knows it, watches himself at his mental
antics and takes himself to task for the same. And he asks himself: Is
it a sign of madness?
It might seem so. The extraordinary associations, the weird fancies
and bizarre impulses that are here laid bare give an air of convincing
verisimilitude to the supposed confessions of a starving journalist.
But, as a matter of fact, Hamsun has no need of extraneous influences
to invest his characters with originality. Starving or fed, they can
be equally erratic. This is seen in his next book, _Mysterier_.
Here we have actions and reactions as fantastic as in _Sult_,
though the hero has here no such excuse as in the former case. The
"mysteries," or mystifications, of Nagel, a stranger who comes, for no
particular reason apparent, to stay in a little Norwegian town, arise
entirely out of Nagel's own personality.
_Mysterier_ is one of the most exasperating books that a publisher's
reader, or a conscientious reviewer, could be given to deal with. An
analysis of the principal character is a most baffling task. One is
tempted to call him mad, and have done with it. But, as a matter of
fact, he is uncompromisingly, unrestrainedly human; he goes about
constantly saying and doing things that we, ordinary and respectable
people, are trained and accustomed to refrain from saying or doing at
all. He has the self-consciousness of a sensitive child; he is for
ever thinking of what people think of him, and trying to create an
impression. Then, with a paradoxical sincerity, he confesses that the
motive of this or that action _was_ simply to create an impression,
and thereby destroys the impression. Sometimes he caps this by
wilfully letting it appear that the double move was carefully designed
to produce the reverse impression of the first--until the person
concerned is utterly bewildered, and the reader likewise.
_Mysterier_ appeared in 1893. In the following year Hamsun astonished
his critics with two books, _Ny Jord_ (New Ground) and _Redaktoer
Lynge_, both equally unlike his previous work. With these he passes at
a bound from one-man stories, portrait studies of eccentric characters
in a remote or restricted environment, to group subjects, chosen
from centres of life and culture in Christiania. _Redaktoer
Lynge_--_redaktoer_, of course, means "editor"--deals largely with
political manoeuvres and intrigues, the bitter controversial politics
of Norway prior to the dissolution of the Union with Sweden. _Ny Jord_
gives an unflattering picture of the academic, literary, and
artistic youth of the capital, idlers for the most part, arrogant,
unscrupulous, self-important, and full of disdain for the mere
citizens and merchants whose simple honesty and kindliness are laughed
at or exploited by the newly dominant representatives of culture.
Both these books are technically superior to the first two, inasmuch
as they show mastery of a more difficult form. But their appeal is
not so great; there is lacking a something that might be inspiration,
personal sympathy--some indefinable essential that the author himself
has taught us to expect. They are less _hamsunsk_ than most of
Hamsun's work. Hamsun is at his best among the scenes and characters
he loves; tenderness and sympathy make up so great a part of his charm
that he is hardly recognizable in surroundings or society uncongenial
It would almost seem as if he realized something of this. For in his
next work he turns from the capital to the Nordland coast, reverting
also, in some degree, to the subjective, keenly sensitive manner of
_Sult_, though now with more restraint and concentration.
_Pan_ (1894) is probably Hamsun's best-known work. It is a love-story,
but of an extraordinary type, and is, moreover, important from the
fact that we are here introduced to some of the characters and types
that are destined to reappear again and again in his later works.
Nagel, the exasperating irresponsible of _Mysterier_, is at his
maddest in his behaviour towards the woman he loves. It is natural
that this should be so. When a man is intoxicated his essential
qualities are emphasized. If he have wit, he will be witty; if a
brutal nature, he will be a brute; if he be of a melancholy temper, he
will be disposed to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the
death of kings.
We see this in _Pan_. The love-making of the hero is characterized
by the same irrational impulses, the same extravagant actions, as
in _Sult_ and _Mysterier_. But they are now less frequent and less
involved. The book as a whole is toned down, so to speak, from the
bewildering tangle of unrestraint in the first two. There is quite
sufficient of the erratic and unusual in the character of Glahn, the
hero, but the tone is more subdued. The madcap youth of genius has
realized that the world looks frigidly at its vagaries, and the
secretly proud "_au moins_ je suis autre"--more a boast than a
confession--gives place to a wistful, apologetic admission of the
difference as a fault. Here already we have something of that
resignation which comes later to its fulness in the story of the
Wanderer with the Mute.
The love-story in _Pan_ takes the form of a conflict; it is one of
those battles between the sexes, duels of wit and _esprit_, such as
one finds in the plays of Marivaux. But Hamsun sets his battle in the
sign of the heart, not of the head; it is a _marivaudage_ of feeling,
none the less deep for its erratic utterance. Moreover, the scene is
laid, not in salons and ante-chambers, but in a landscape such as
Hamsun loves, the forest-clad hills above a little fishing village,
between the _hoeifjeld_ and the sea. And interwoven with the story,
like an eerie breathing from the dark of woods at dusk and dawn, is
the haunting presence of Iselin, _la belle dame sans merci_.
Otto Weininger, the author of _Sex and Character_, said of _Pan_ that
it was "perhaps the most beautiful novel ever written." Weininger, of
course, was an extremist, and few would accept his judgment without
reserve. It is doubtful whether any writer nowadays would venture to
make such a claim for any book at all.
_Pan_ is a book that offends against all sorts of rules; as a literary
product it is eminently calculated to elicit, especially in England,
the Olympian "this will never do." To begin with, it is not so much a
novel as a _novelle_--a form of art little cultivated in this country,
but which lends itself excellently to delicate artistic handling, and
the creation of that subtle influence which Hamsun's countrymen call
_stemning_, poorly rendered by the English "atmosphere." The epilogue
is disproportionately long; the portion written as by another hand
is all too recognizably in the style of the rest. And with all his
chivalrous sacrifice and violent end, Glahn is at best a quixotic
hero. Men, as men, would think him rather a fool, and women, as
women, might flush at the thought of a cavalier so embarrassingly
unrestrained. He is not to be idolized as a cinema star, or the
literary gymnastic hero of a perennial Earl's Court Exhibition set
to music on the stage. He could not be truthfully portrayed on a
flamboyant wrapper as at all seductively masculine. In a word, he is
neither a man's man nor a woman's man. But he is a human being, keenly
susceptible to influence which most of us have felt, in some degree.
Closely allied to _Pan_ is _Victoria_, likewise a story of conflict
between two lovers. The actual plot can only be described as
hackneyed. Girl and boy, the rich man's daughter and the poor man's
son, playmates in youth, then separated by the barriers of social
standing--few but the most hardened of "best-sellers" catering for
semi-detached suburbia would venture nowadays to handle such a theme.
Yet Hamsun dares, and so insistently unlike all else is the impress
of his personality that the mechanical structure of the story is
forgotten. It is interspersed with irrelevant fancies, visions and
imaginings, a chain of tied notes heard as an undertone through the
action on the surface. The effect is that of something straining
towards an impossible realization; a beating of wings in the void; a
striving for utterance of things beyond speech.
_Victoria_ is the swan-song of Hamsun's subjective period. Already, in
the three plays which appeared during the years immediately following
_Pan_, he faces the merciless law of change; the unrelenting "forward"
which means leaving loved things behind. Kareno, student of life,
begins his career in resolute opposition to the old men, the
established authorities who stand for compromise and resignation. For
twenty years he remains obstinately faithful to his creed, that the
old men must step aside or be thrust aside, to make way for the youth
that will be served. "What has age that youth has not? Experience.
Experience, in, all its poor and withered nakedness. And what use
is their experience to us, who must make our own in every single
happening of life?" In _Aftenroede_, the "Sunset" of the trilogy,
Kareno himself deserts the cause of youth, and allies himself to the
party in power. And the final scene shows him telling a story to a
child: "There was once a man who never would give way...."
The madness of _Sult_ is excused as being delirium, due to physical
suffering. Nagel, in _Mysterier_, is shown as a fool, an eccentric
intolerable in ordinary society, though he is disconcertingly human,
paradoxically sane. Glahn, in _Pan_, apologizes for his uncouth
straightforwardness by confessing that he is more at home in the
woods, where he can say and do what he pleases without offence.
Johannes, in _Victoria_, is of humble birth, which counts in
extenuation of his unmannerly frankness in early years. Later he
becomes a poet, and as such is exempt in some degree from the
conventional restraint imposed on those who aspire to polite society.
All these well-chosen characters are made to serve the author's
purpose as channels for poetic utterance that might otherwise seem
irrelevant. The extent to which this is done may be seen from the way
in which Hamsun lets a character in one book enter upon a theme
which later becomes the subject of an independent work by the author
himself. Thus Glahn is haunted by visions of Diderik and Iselin;
Johannes writes fragments supposed to be spoken by one Vendt the Monk.
Five years after _Victoria_, Hamsun gives us the romantic drama of
_Munken Vendt_, in which Diderik and Iselin appear.
Throughout these early works, Hamsun is striving to find expression
for his own sensitive personality; a form and degree of expression
sufficient to relieve his own tension of feeling, without fusing the
medium; adequate to his own needs, yet understandable and tolerable
to ordinary human beings; to the readers of books. The process, in
effect, is simply this: Hamsun is a poet, with a poet's deep and
unusual feeling, and a poet's need of utterance. To gain a hearing, he
chooses figures whom he can conveniently represent as fools. Secretly,
he loves them, for they are himself. But to the world he can present
them with a polite apology, a plea for kindly indulgence.
It is not infrequent in literature to find the wisest and most
poignant utterances thus laid in the mouths of poor men clad in
motley. Some of the most daring things in Shakespeare, the newest
heresies of the Renaissance, are voiced by irresponsibles. Of all
dramatic figures, that of the fool is most suited to the expression
of concentrated feeling. There is an arresting question in a play of
recent years, which runs something like this: "Do you think that the
things people make fools of themselves about are any less real and
true than the things they behave sensibly about?"
Most of us have at some time or another felt that uncomfortable,
almost indecently denuding question which comes to us at rare moments
from the stage where some great drama is being played: What is higher,
what is more real: this, or the life we live? In that sudden flash,
the matters of today's and tomorrow's reality in our minds appear as
vulgar trifles, things of which we are ashamed. The feeling lasts but
a moment; for a moment we have been something higher than ourselves,
in the mere desire so to be. Then we fall back to ourselves once more,
to the lower levels upon which alone we can exist. And yet it is by
such potentials that we judge the highest art; by its power to give
us, if only for a moment, something of that which the divinity of our
aspiring minds finds wanting in the confines of reality.
The richness of this quality is one of the most endearing things in
Hamsun's characters. Their sensitiveness is a thing we have been
trained, for self-defence, to repress. It is well for us, no doubt,
that this is so. But we are grateful for their showing that such
things _are_, as we are grateful for Kensington Gardens who cannot
live where trees are everywhere. The figures Hamsun sets before us
as confessedly unsuited to the realities of life, his vagabonds, his
failures, his fools, have power at times to make us question whether
our world of comfort, luxury, success, is what we thought; if it were
not well lost in exchange for the power to _feel_ as they.
It has been said that life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy
to those who feel. Humanly speaking, it is one of the greatest merits
of Hamsun's work that he shows otherwise. His attitude towards life
is throughout one of feeling, yet he makes of life no tragedy, but a
"I will be young until I die," says Kareno in _Aftenroede_. The words
are not so much a challenge to fate as a denial of fact; he is not
fighting, only refusing to acknowledge the power that is already hard
Kareno is an _intellectual_ character. He is a philosopher, a man
whose perceptions and activity lie predominantly in the sphere of
thought, not of feeling. His attempt to carry the fire of youth beyond
the grave of youth ends in disaster; an unnecessary _debacle_ due to
his gratuitously attempting the impossible.
Hamsun's poet-personality, the spirit we have seen striving for
expression through the figures of Nagel, Glahn, Johannes, and the
rest, is a creature of _feeling_. And here the development proceeds on
altogether different lines. The emotion which fails to find adequate
outlet, even in such works as _Sult_, _Mysterier_, _Victoria_, and
_Pan_, might well seem more of a peril than the quixotic stubbornness
of Kareno's philosophy. Such a flood, in its tempestuous unrest, might
seem to threaten destruction, or at best the vain dispersal of its own
power into chaos. But by some rare guidance it is led, after the storm
of _Munken Vendt_, into channels of beneficent fertility.