Part 2 out of 4
automobile service and so on."
"Good luck!" said the lawyer.
So the lawyer sat drafting plans while the rest of us went about our own
affairs. Josephine went to Solem and said:
"Will you go and sow the field by the river?"
"Has Paul said so?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied.
Solem went very unwillingly. While he was drawing the harrow, Josephine
went down to him and said:
"Harrow it once more."
What a brisk little thing she was, with far more forethought than the men!
She looked bewitching, for all her hard work. I have seen her many times
with her hair tumbled, but it didn't matter. And when she pretended that
none but the maids milked the goats and did outside work, it was for the
good name of the house. She had learned to play the piano for the same
reason. The mistress of the house helped her nobly, for both women were
thoughtful and industrious, but Josephine was everywhere, for she was
light as a feather. And the chaste little hands she had!
"Josephine, Josefriendly!" I called her wittily.
Our dark beauty, Miss Torsen, was now seriously considering taking her
departure. She was healthy enough in any case, so she did not need a stay
in the mountains on that account, and if she was bored, why should she
But a minor event caused her to stay.
In their lack of occupation, the ladies at the resort began to cultivate
Solem. They ate so much and grew so fat and healthy that they felt a need
to busy themselves with something, and to find someone to make a fuss
over. And here was the lad Solem. They got into the habit of telling one
another what Solem had said and what Solem believed, and they all listened
with great interest. Solem himself had grown spoiled, and joked
disrespectfully with the ladies; he called himself a great chap, and once
he had even bragged in a most improper way, saying:
"Look, here's a sinful devil for you!"
"Do you know what Solem said to me?" asked Miss Palm. "He's chopping wood
and he's got a bandage on his finger, and it keeps getting caught in the
wood and bothers him, poor fellow. So he said: 'I wish I had time to stop
so I could chop this blasted finger right off my hand!'"
"Tough, isn't he?" said the other ladies. "He's quite capable of doing it,
A little later I passed the woodshed and saw Mrs. Brede there, tying a
fresh bandage on Solem's finger.... Poor lady! She was chaste, but young.
The days have been oppressively warm for some time now, with the heat
coming down in waves from the mountain and robbing us of all our strength.
But in the evenings we recovered somewhat, and busied ourselves in various
ways: some of us wrote letters or played forfeit games in the garden,
while others were so far restored that they went for a walk "to look at
Last Sunday evening I stood talking to Solem outside his room. He had on
his Sunday clothes, and seemed to have no intention of going to bed.
Miss Torsen came by, stopped, and said:
"I hear you're going for a walk with Mrs. Brede?"
Solem removed his cap, which left a red ring round his forehead.
"Who, me?" he said. "Well, maybe she said something about it. There was a
path through the woods she wanted me to show her, she said."
Miss Torsen was filled with madness now; handsome and desperate, she paced
back and forth; you could almost see the sparks flying. Her red felt hat
was held on the back of her head by a pin, the brim turned up high in
front. Her throat was bare, her frock thin, her shoes light.
It was extraordinary to watch her behavior; she had opened a window onto
her secret desires. What cared she for Tradesman Batt! Had she not toiled
through her youth and gained school knowledge? But no reality! Poor Miss
Torsen. Solem must not show a path to any other lady tonight.
As nothing more was said, and Solem was preparing to depart, Miss Torsen
cleared her throat.
"Come with me instead!" she said.
Solem looked round quickly and said, "All right."
So I left them; I whistled as I walked away with exaggerated indifference,
as though nothing on earth were any concern of mine.
"Come with me instead," she said. And he went. They were already behind
the outhouses, then behind the two great rowan trees; they hurried lest
Mrs. Brede should see them. Then they were gone.
A door wide open, but where did it lead? I saw no sweetness in her,
nothing but excitement. She had learned grammar, but no language; her soul
was undernourished. A true woman would have married; she would have been a
man's wife, she would have been a mother, she would have been a
benediction to herself. Why pounce on a pleasure merely to prevent others
from having it? And she so tall and handsome!
The dog stands growling over a bone. He waits till another dog approaches.
Then suddenly he is overcome with gluttony, pounces on the bone and
crushes it between his teeth. Because the other dog is approaching.
It seemed as though this small event had to happen before my mind was
ready for the night. I awoke in the dark and felt within me the nursery
rhyme I had dawdled over so long: four rollicking verses about the juniper
To the top of the steepest mountains,
where the little juniper stands,
no other tree can follow
from all the forest lands.
Halfway to the hilltop
the shivering pine catches hold;
the birch has actually passed him,
though sneezing with a cold.
But a little shrub outstrips them,
a sturdy fellow he,
and stands quite close to the summit,
though he measures barely a yard.
They look like a train from the valley below
with the shortest one for the guard.
Or else perhaps he's a coachman now---
why, it's only a juniper tree.
Down dale there's summer lightning,
green leaves and St. John's feast,
with songs and games of children,
and a dozen dances at least.
But high on the empty mountain
stands a shrub in lonely glory,
with only the trolls that prowl about,
just like in a story.
The wind with the juniper's forelock
is making very free;
it sweeps across the world beneath
that lies there helpless and bare,
but the air on the heights is fresher
than you'll ever find it elsewhere.
None can see so far around
as such a juniper tree.
There hovers over the mountain
for a moment summer's breath;
at once eternal winter
brings back his companion, death.
Yet sturdy stands the juniper
with needles ever green.
I wonder how the little chap
can bear a life so lean.
He's hard as bone and gristle,
as anyone can see;
when every other tree is stripped,
his berries are scarlet and sleek,
and every berry's plainly marked
with a cross upon its cheek.
So now we know what he looks like too,
this jolly juniper tree.
At times I think he sings to himself
a cheerful little song:
"I've got a bright blue heaven
to look at all day long!"
Sometimes to his juniper brothers
he calls that they need not fear
the trolls that are prowling and peering
about them far and near.
Gently the winter evening
falls over the copse on the height,
and a thousand stars and candles
are lit in the plains of the sky.
The juniper trees grow weary
and nod their heads on the sly;
before we know it they're fast asleep,
so we say: "Good night, good night!"
I got up and wrote out these rhymes on a sheet of paper, which I sent to a
little girl, a child with whom I had walked much in the country, and she
learned them at once. Then I read them to Mrs. Brede's little girls, who
stood still like two bluebells, listening. Then they tore the paper out of
my hand and ran to their mother with it. They loved their mother very
much. And she loved them too; they had the most delightful fun together at
Brave Mrs. Brede with her children! She might have committed a madness,
but could not find it in her heart to do so. Yet did anyone prize her for
that? Who? Her husband?
A man should take his wife to Iceland with him. Or risk the consequences
of her being left behind for endless days.
Miss Torsen no longer talks about leaving. Not that she looks very happy
about staying, either; but Miss Torsen is altogether too restless and
strange to be contented with anything.
Naturally she caught cold after that evening in the woods with Solem, and
stayed in bed with a headache next day; when she got up again, she was
quite all right.
Was she? Why was her throat so blue under the chin, as though someone had
seized her by it?
She never went near Solem any more, and behaved as though he were
nonexistent. Apparently there had been a struggle in the woods that had
made her blue under the chin, and they were friends no longer! It was like
her to want nothing real, nothing but the sensation, nothing but the
triumph. Solem had not understood that, and had flown into a passion. Had
it been thus?
Yes, there was no doubt that Solem had been cheated. He was more direct
and lacked subtlety; he made allusions, and said things like "Oh, yes,
that Miss Torsen, she's a fine one; I'll bet she's as strong as a man!"
And then he laughed, but with repressed fury. He followed her with gross
eyes wherever she went, and in order to assert himself and seem
indifferent, he would sing a song of the linesman's life whenever she was
about. But he might have saved himself the trouble. Miss Torsen was
stone-deaf to his songs.
And now it seemed she was going to stay at the resort out of sheer
defiance. We enjoyed her company no more than we had done before, but she
began to make herself agreeable to the lawyer, sitting by his work table
in the living room as he drew plans of houses. Such is the perverse
idleness of summer resorts.
* * * * *
So the days pass; they hold no further novelty for me, and I begin to
weary of them. Now and then comes a stranger who is going across the
fjeld, but things are no longer, I am told, as they were in other years,
when visitors came in droves. And things will not improve until we, too,
get roads and cars.
I have not troubled to mention it before this, but the neighboring valley
is called Stordalen (Great Valley), while ours is only called Reisa after
the river: the whole of the Reisa district is no more than an appendage.
Stordalen has all the advantages, even the name. But Paul, our host, calls
the neighboring valley Little Valley, because, says Paul, the people there
are so petty and avaricious.
Poor Paul! He has returned from his tour to the village as hopeless as he
went, and hopelessly drunk besides. For more than a day, he stayed in his
room without once emerging. When he reappeared at last, he was aloof and
reserved, pretending he had been very successful during his absence; he
should manage about the cars, never fear! In the evening, after he had had
a few more drinks, he became self-important in a different way: oh, those
fools in the village had no sense of any kind, and had refused to give
their consent to a road to his place. He was the only one with any sense.
Would not such a bit of a road be a blessing to the whole appendage?
Because then the caravans would come, scattering money over the valley.
They understood nothing, those fools!
"But sooner or later there will have to be a road here," said the lawyer.
"Of course," replied Paul with finality.
Then he went to his room and lay down again.
On another day, a small flock of strangers came again; they had toiled up
themselves, carrying their luggage in the hot sun, and now they wanted
some help. Solem was ready at once, but he could not possibly carry all
the bags and knapsacks; Paul was lying down in his room. I had seen Paul
again during the night go out to the woods, talking loudly and flinging
his arms about as though he had company.
And here were all the strangers.
Paul's wife and Josephine came out of the house and sent Solem across to
Einar, the first cotter, to ask if he would come and help them carry. In
the meantime the travelers grew impatient and kept looking at their
watches, for if they could not cross the Tore fjeld before nightfall, they
would have to spend the night outdoors. One of them suggested to the
others that perhaps this delay was intentional. The owner of the place
probably wanted them to spend the night there; they began to grumble among
themselves, and at last they asked:
"Where is the master, the host?"
"He's ill," said Josephine.
Solem returned and said:
"Einar hasn't time to come; he's lifting his potatoes."
Then Josephine said:
"I've got to go across the fjeld anyhow--wait a minute!"
She was gone for a moment, then returned, loaded the bags and knapsacks on
her little back, and trotted off. The others followed.
I caught up with Josephine and took her burden from her. But I would not
allow her to turn back, for this little tour away from the house would do
her good. We walked together and talked on the way: she had really no
complaints, she said, for she had a tidy sum of money saved up.
When we reached the top of the fjeld, Josephine wanted to turn back. She
thought it a waste of time to walk by my side, with nothing to do but
"I thought you had to cross the fjeld anyhow?" I said.
She was too shrewd to deny it outright, for in that case she, the daughter
of the old man at the Tore Peak farm, would have been going with the
tourists solely to carry their luggage.
"Yes, but there's no hurry. I was to have visited someone, but that can
wait till the winter."
We stood arguing about this, and I was so stubborn that I threatened to
throw all the luggage down the mountainside, and then she would see!
"Then I'll just take them and carry them myself," replied Josephine, "and
then _you'll_ see!"
By this time the others had caught up with us, and before I knew what had
happened, one of the strangers had come forward and lifted the burden from
my back, taken off his cap with a great deal of ceremony, and told me his
own and his companions' names. I must excuse them, I really must forgive
them; this was too bad, he had been so unobserving....
I told him I could easily have carried him as well as the bags. It is not
strength I lack; but day and night I carry about with me the ape of all
the diseases, who is heavy as lead. Ah, well, many another groans under a
burden of stupidity, which is little better. We all have our cross to
Then Josephine and I turned homeward again.
* * * * *
Yes, indeed, people treat me with uncontrollable politeness; this is
because of my age. People are indulgent toward me when I am troublesome to
others, when I am eccentric, when I have a screw loose; people forgive me
because my hair is gray. You who live by your compass will say that I am
respected for the writing I have been doing all these years. But if that
were so, I should have had respect in my young days when I deserved it,
not now when I no longer deserve it so well. No one--no one in the world--
can be expected to write after fifty nearly so well as before, and only
the fools or the self-interested pretend to improve after that age.
Now it is a fact that I have been practicing a most distinctive
authorship, better than most; I know that very well. But this is due, not
so much to my endeavors, as to the fact that I was born with this ability.
I have made a test of this, and I know it is true. I have thought to
myself: "Suppose someone else had said this!" Well, no doubt others have
said it sometimes, but that has not hurt me. I have gone even further than
this: I have intentionally exposed myself to direct contempt from other
literary men, and this has not hurt me either. So I am sure of my ground.
On the other hand, my way of life has lent me an inner distinction for
which I have a right to demand respect, because it is the fruit of my own
endeavors. You cannot make me out a small man without lying. Yet one can
endure even such a lie if one has character.
You may quote Carlyle against me--how authors are misjudged!--
"_Considering what book-writers do in the world, and what the world does
with book-writers, I should say it is the most anomalous thing the world
at present has to show_." You may quote many others as well; they will
assert that a great to-do is made over me for my authorship as well as my
native ability, and my struggle to hammer this ability into a useful
shape. And I say only what is the truth, that most of the fuss is made
because I have reached an age in which my years are revered.
And that is what seems to me so wrong; it is a custom which makes it easy
to hold down the gifted young in a most hostile and arrogant fashion. Old
age should not be honored for its own sake; it does nothing but halt and
delay the march of man. The primitive races, indeed, have no respect for
old age, and rid themselves unhesitatingly of it and of its defects. A
long time ago I deserved honor much more, and valued it; now, in more than
one sense, I am a richer man and can afford to do without.
Yet now I have it. If I enter a room, respectful silence falls. "How old
he's grown!" everyone present thinks. And they all remain silent so that I
may speak memorable words in that room. Amazing nonsense!
The noise should raise the roof when I enter: "Welcome, old fellow and old
companion; for pity's sake don't say anything memorable to us--you should
have done that when you were better able to. Sit down, old chap, and keep
us company. But don't let your old age cast a shadow on us, and don't
restrain us; you have had your day--now it's our turn..."
This is honest speech.
In peasant homes they still have the right instinct: the mothers preserve
their daughters, the fathers their sons, from the rough, unpleasant
labors. A proper mother lets her daughter sew while she herself works
among the cattle. And the daughter will do the same with her own daughter.
It is her instinct.
Dear me, these human beings grow duller every day, and I see nothing in
them that I have not known before. So I sink to the level of watching
Solem's increasing passion for Miss Torsen. But that too is familiar and
Solem, after all the attention the ladies have paid him, has a delusion of
greatness; he buys clothes and gilt watch chains for the money he earns,
and on Sundays wears a white woolen pullover, though it is very warm;
round his neck and over his chest lies a costly silk tie tied in a
sailor's knot. No one else is so smart as he, as he well knows; he sings
as he crosses the farmyard, and considers no one too good for him now.
Josephine objects to his loud singing, but Solem lad has grown so
indispensable at the resort that he no longer obeys all orders. He has his
own will in many things, and sometimes Paul himself takes a glass in his
Miss Torsen appears to have settled down. She is very busy with the
lawyer, and makes him explain each and every angle he draws in his plans.
Quite right of her, too, for undeniably the lawyer is the right man for
her, a wit and a sportsman, well-to-do, rather simple-minded,
strong-necked. At first Mrs. Molie seemed unable to reconcile herself to
the constant companionship of these two in the living room, and she
frequently had some errand that took her there; what was she after, Mrs.
Molie, of the ice-blue teeth?
At last the lawyer finished his plans and was able to deliver them. He
began to speak again about a certain peak of the Tore range which no one
had yet climbed, and was therefore waiting to be conquered by him. Miss
Torsen objected to this plan, and as she grew to know him better, begged
him most earnestly not to undertake such a mad climb. So he promised with
a smile to obey her wishes. They were in such tender agreement, these two!
But the blue peak still haunted the lawyer's mind; he pointed it out to
his lady, and smacked his lips, his eyes watering again.
"Gracious, it makes me dizzy just to look at it!" she said.
So the lawyer put his arm round her to steady her.
The sight was painful to Solem, whose eyes were continually on the pair.
One day as we left the luncheon table, he approached Miss Torsen and said:
"I know another path; would you like to see it tonight?"
The lady was confused and a little embarrassed, and said at length:
"A path? No, thank you."
She turned to the lawyer, and as they walked away together, she said:
"I never heard of such brazenness!"
"What got into him?" said the lawyer.
Solem went away, his teeth gleaming in a sneer.
That evening, Solem repeated the performance. He went up to Miss Torsen
again and said:
"What about that path? Shall we go now?"
As soon as she saw him coming, she turned quickly and tried to elude him.
But Solem did not hesitate to follow her.
"Now I've just got one thing to say," she said, stopping. "If you're
insolent to me again, I'll see that you're driven off the farm...."
But it was not easy to drive Solem off the farm. After all, he was guide
and porter to the tourists, and the only permanent laborer on the farm as
well. And soon the hay would have to be brought in, and casual laborers
would be engaged to work under him. No, Solem could not be driven off.
Besides, the other ladies were on his side; the mighty Mrs. Brede alone
could save him by a word. She held the Tore Peak resort in the palm of her
Solem was not discharged; but he held himself in check and became a little
more civil. He seemed to suffer as much as ever. Once at midday, as he was
standing in the woodshed, I saw him make a scratch with the ax across the
nail of his thumb.
"What on earth are you doing?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm just marking myself," he replied, laughing gloomily. "When this
scratch grows out--"
"Oh, I'll be away from here then," he said.
But I had the impression that he meant to say something different, so I
"Let me look. Well, it's not a deep scratch; you won't be here long then,
"Nails grow slowly," he muttered.
Then he strolled away whistling, and I set about chopping wood.
A little later Solem returned across the farmyard with a cackling hen
under his arm. He went to the kitchen window and called:
"This the kind of hen you want me to kill?"
"Yes," was the reply.
Solem came back to the woodshed and asked me for the ax, as he wanted to
behead a few hens. It was easy to see that he did everything on the farm;
he was, hand and brain, indispensable.
He laid the hen on a block and took aim, but it was not easy, for she
twisted her head like a snake and would not lie still. She had stopped
"I can feel her heart jumping inside her," said Solem.
Suddenly he saw his chance and struck. There lay the head; Solem still
held the body, which jerked under his hand. The thing was done so quickly
that the two sections of the bird were still one in my eyes; I could not
grasp a separation so sudden and unbelievable, and it took my sight a
second or two to overtake the event. Bewilderment was in the expression of
this detached head, which looked as though it could not believe what had
happened, and raised itself a little as if to show there was nothing the
least bit wrong. Solem let the body go. It lay still for a moment, then
kicked its legs, leaped to the ground and began to hop, the headless body
reeling on one wing till it struck the wall and spattered blood in wide
arcs before it fell at last.
"I let her go too soon after all," said Solem.
Then he went off to fetch another hen.
I return to the mad idea of Solem's being discharged. This would, to be
sure, have averted a certain disaster here at the farm: but who would
fetch and carry then? Paul? But I've told you he just lounges all day in
his room, and has been doing so lately more than ever; the guests never
see him except through an unsuccessful maneuver on his part.
One evening he came walking across the lawn. He must, in his disregard of
time, have thought the guests had already retired, but we all sat outside
in the mild darkness. When Paul saw us, he drew himself up and saluted as
he passed; then, calling Solem to him, he said:
"You mustn't cross the field again without letting me know. I was right
there in my room, writing. The idea of Josephine carrying luggage!"
Paul strode on. But even yet he felt he had not appeared important enough,
so he turned round and asked:
"Why didn't you take one of my cotters with you to act as porter?"
"They wouldn't go," Solem replied. "They were busy lifting potatoes."
"That's what Einar said."
Paul thought this over.
"What insolence! They'd better not go too far or I'll drive them off the
Then the law awoke in the lawyer's bosom, and he asked:
"Haven't they bought their land?"
"Yes," said Paul. "But I'm the master of this farm. I have a say in things
too. I'm not without power up here in Reisa, believe me...."
Then he said sternly to Solem:
"You come to me next time."
Whereupon he stalked off to the woods again.
"He's a bit tight again, our good Paul," said the lawyer.
"Can you imagine an innkeeper in Switzerland behaving like that?" the
Mrs. Brede said gently:
"What a pity! He never drank before."
And at once the lawyer was charitable again:
"I'll have a good talk with him," he said.
* * * * *
There followed a period in which Paul was sober from morning till night,
when Manufacturer Brede paid us a visit. The flag was hoisted, and there
was great commotion at the farm; Josephine's feet said _whrr_ under
her skirt. The manufacturer arrived with a porter; his wife and children
went far down the road to meet him, and the visitors at the resort sallied
"Good morning!" he greeted us with a great flourish of his hat. He won us
all over. He was big and friendly, fat and cheerful, with the broad good
cheer that plenty of money gives. He became good friends with us at once.
"How long are you staying, Daddy?" his little girls asked, as they clung
"Is that all!" said his wife.
"Is that all?" he replied, laughing. "That's not such a short time, my
dear; three days is a lot for me."
"But not for me and the children," she said.
"Three whole days," he repeated. "I can tell you I've had to do some
moving to be able to stay as quiet as this, ha, ha!"
They all went in. The manufacturer had been here before and knew the way
to his wife's cottage. He ordered soda water at once.
In the evening, when the children had gone to bed, the manufacturer and
his wife joined us in the living room; he had brought whisky with him for
the gentlemen, and ordered soda water; for the ladies he had wine. It was
quite a little party, the manufacturer playing the host with skill, and we
were all well satisfied. When Miss Palm played folk melodies on the piano,
this heavy-built man grew quiet and sentimental; but he didn't think only
of himself, for suddenly he went out and lowered the flag. Flags should be
lowered at sunset, he said. Once or twice he went across to the cottage,
too, to see if the children were sleeping well. Generally speaking, he
seemed fond of the children. Though he owned factories and hotels and many
other things, yet he seemed to take the greatest pride of all in
possessing a couple of children.
One of the men from Bergen struck his glass for silence, and began to make
The Bergensians had all long been very quiet and retiring, but here was a
perfect occasion for making speeches. Was not here a man from the great
world outside, from the heart of life, who had brought them wine and good
cheer and festivity? Strange wares up here in this world of blue
mountains ... and so on.
He talked for about five minutes, and became very animated.
The manufacturer told us a little about Iceland--a neutral country that
neither the Associate Master nor the lawyer had visited, and therefore
could not disagree about. One of the Danes had been there and was able to
confirm the justness of the manufacturer's impressions.
But most of the time he told cheerful anecdotes:
"I have a servant, a young lad, who said to me one day, when I was in a
bad temper: 'You've become a great hand at swearing in Icelandic!' Ha, ha,
ha--he appreciated me: 'a great hand at swearing in Icelandic,' he said!"
Everybody laughed, and his wife asked:
"And what did you say?"
"What did I say? Why, I couldn't say anything, could I, ha, ha, ha!"
Then another man from Bergen took the floor: we must not forget we had the
family of a real man of the world with us here--his wife, "this peerless
lady, scattering charm and delight about her," and the children, dancing
butterflies! And a few minutes later, "Hip, hip, hurrah!" followed by a
flourish on the piano.
The manufacturer drank a toast with his wife.
"Well, that's that!" was all he said.
Mrs. Molie sat off in a corner talking in a loud voice with the Dane who
had come over the top of the Tore from the wrong end; she seemed purposely
to be talking so audibly. The manufacturer's attention was attracted, and
he asked for further information about the motor cars in the neighboring
valley: how many there were, and how fast they could go. The Dane told
"But just imagine coming across the fjeld from the other side!" said Mrs.
Molie. "It hasn't been done before."
In response to the manufacturer's questions, the Dane told him about this
adventurous journey also.
"Isn't there a blue peak somewhere in the mountains about here?" said Mrs.
Molie. "I suppose you'll be going up that next. Where ever will you stop?"
Yes, the Dane felt quite tempted by this peak, but said he believed it was
"I should have climbed that peak long ago if you, Miss Torsen, hadn't
forbidden me," said the lawyer.
"You'd never have made it," said Mrs. Molie in an indifferent tone. This
was probably her revenge. She turned to the Dane again as though ready to
believe him capable of anything.
"I shouldn't want anyone to think of climbing that peak," said Miss
Torsen. "It's as bare as a ship's mast."
"What if I tried it, Gerda?" the manufacturer asked his wife with a smile.
"After all, I'm an old sailor."
"Nonsense," she said, smiling a little.
"Well, I climbed the mast of a schooner last spring."
"I don't know, though--all this mountain climbing--I haven't much use for
it," said the manufacturer.
"What did you do it for? What did you climb the mast for?" his wife
The manufacturer laughed.
"The curiosity of the female sex--!"
"How can you do a thing like that! And what about me and the children if
She broke off. Her husband grew serious and took her hand.
"It was stormy, my dear; the sails were flapping, and it was a question of
life and death. But I shouldn't have told you. Well--we'd better say good
night now, Gerda."
The manufacturer and his wife got up.
Then the first man from Bergen made another speech.
* * * * *
The manufacturer stayed with us for the promised three days, and then made
ready to travel again. His mood never changed; he was contented and
entertaining the whole time. Every evening one whisky and soda was brought
him--no more. Before their bedtime, his little girls had a wildly
hilarious half-hour with him. At night a tremendous snoring could be heard
from his cottage. Before his arrival, the little girls had spent a good
deal of time with me, but now they no longer knew I existed, so taken up
with their father were they. He hung a swing for them between the two
rowan trees in the field, taking care to pack plenty of rag under the rope
so as not to injure the tree.
He also had a talk with Paul; there were rumors that he was intending to
take his money out of the Tore Peak resort. Paul's head was bent now, but
he seemed even more hurt that the manufacturer should have paid a visit to
the cotters to see how they were getting on.
"So that's where he's gone?" he said. "Well, let him stay there, for all I
The manufacturer cracked jokes to the very end. Of course he was a little
depressed by the farewells, too, but he had to keep his family's courage
up. His wife stood holding one of his arms with both hands, and the
children clung to his other arm.
"I can't salute you," the manufacturer said to us, smiling. "I'm not
allowed to say good-bye."
The children rejoiced at this and cried, "No, he can't have his arm back;
Mummy, you hold him tight, too!"
"Come, come!" the father said. "I've got to go to Scotland, just a short
trip. And when you come home from the mountains, I'll be there, too."
"Scotland? What are you going to Scotland for?" the children asked.
He twisted round and nodded to us.
"These women! All curiosity!" he said.
But none of his family laughed.
He continued to us:
"I was telling my wife a story about a rich man who was curious, too. He
shot himself just to find out what comes after death. Ha, ha, ha! That's
the height of curiosity, isn't it? Shooting yourself to find out what
comes after death!"
But he could not make his family laugh at this tale, either. His wife
stood still; her face was beautiful.
"So you're leaving now," was all she said.
Mr. Brede's porter came out with his luggage; he had stayed at the farm
for these three days in order to be at hand.
Then the manufacturer walked down through the field, accompanied by his
wife and children.
I don't know--this man with his good humor and kindliness and money and
everything, fond of his children, all in all to his wife--
Was he really everything to his wife?
The first evening he wasted time on a party, and every night he wasted
time in snoring. And so the three days and nights went by....
It is very pleasant here at harvest time. Scythes are being sharpened in
the field, men and women are at work; they go thinly clad and bareheaded,
and call to one another and laugh; sometimes they drink from a bucket of
whey, then set to work again. There is the familiar fragrance of hay,
which penetrates my senses like a song of home, drawing me home, home,
though I am not abroad. But perhaps I am abroad after all, far away from
the soil where I have my roots.
Why, indeed, do I stay here any longer, at a resort full of
schoolmistresses, with a host who has once more said farewell to sobriety?
Nothing is happening to me; I do not grow here. The others go out and lie
on their backs; I steal off and find relish in myself, and feel poetry
within me for the night. The world wants no, poetry; it wants only verses
that have not been sung before.
And Norway wants no red-hot irons; only village smiths forge irons now,
for the needs of the mob and the honor of the country.
No one came; the stream of tourists went up and down Stordalen and left
our little Reisa valley deserted. If only the Northern Railway could have
come to Reisa with Cook's and Bennett's tours--then Stordalen in its turn
would have lain deserted. Meanwhile, the cotters who are cultivating the
soil will probably go on harvesting half the crop of the outlying fields
for the rest of time. There is every reason to think so--unless our
descendants are more intelligent than we, and refuse to be smitten with
the demoralizing effects of the tourist traffic.
Now, my friend, you mustn't believe me; this is the point where you must
shake your head. There is a professor scuttling about the country, a born
mediocrity with a little school knowledge about history; you had better
ask him. He'll give you just as much mediocre information, my friend, as
your vision can grasp and your brain endure.
* * * * *
Hardly had Manufacturer Brede left when Paul began to live a most
irregular life again. More and more all roads were closed to him; he saw
no way out and therefore preferred to make himself blind, which gave him
an excuse for not seeing. Seven of our permanent guests now left together:
the telephone operators, Tradesman Batt, Schoolmistresses Johnsen and
Palm, and two men who were in some sort of business, I don't quite know
what. This whole party went across the fjeld to Stordalen to be driven
about in cars.
Cases of various kinds of foodstuffs arrived for Paul; they were carried
up one evening by a man from the village. He had to make several journeys
with the side of his cart let down, and bring the cases over the roughest
spots one by one. That was the kind of road it was. Josephine received the
consignment, and noticed that one of the cases gave forth the sound of a
liquid splashing inside. That had come to the wrong place, she said, and
writing another address on it, she told the man to take it back. It was
sirup that had come too late, she said; she had got sirup elsewhere in the
Later in the evening we heard them discussing it in the kitchen; the sirup
had not come too late, Paul said angrily.
"And I've told you to clear these newspapers away!" he cried. We heard the
sound of paper and glass being swept to the floor.
Well, things were not too easy for Paul; the days went by dull and empty,
nor had he any children to give him pleasant thoughts at times. Though he
wanted to build still more houses, he could not use half those he had
already. There was Mrs. Brede living alone with her children in one of
them, and since seven of the guests had left, Miss Torsen was also alone
in the south wing. Paul wanted at all costs to build roads and share in
the development of the tourist traffic; he even wanted to run a fleet of
motor cars. But since he had not the power to do this alone and could get
no assistance, nothing was left him but to resign himself. And now to make
matters worse Manufacturer Brede had said he would withdraw his money....
Paul's careworn face looked out of the kitchen door. Before going out
himself he wanted to make sure there was no one about, but he was
disappointed in this, for the lawyer at once greeted him loudly: "Good
evening, Paul!" and drew him outside.
They strolled down the field in the dusk.
Assuredly there is little to be gained by "having a good talk" with a man
about his drinking; such matters are too vital to be settled by talking.
But Paul seems to have admitted that the lawyer was right in all he said,
and probably left him with good resolutions.
Paul went down to the village again. He was going to the post office; the
money he had from the seven departed guests would be scattered to all
quarters of the globe. And yet it was not enough to cover everything--in
fact not enough for anything, for interest, repayments, taxes, and
repairs. It paid only for a few cases of food from the city. And of course
he stopped the case of sirup from going back.
Paul returned blind-drunk because he no longer wished to see. It was the
same thing all over again. But his brain seemed in its own way to go on
searching for a solution, and one day he asked the lawyer:
"What do you call those square glass jars for keeping small fish in--
"Do you mean an aquarium?"
"That's it," said Paul. "Are they dear?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"I wonder if I could get one."
"What do you want it for?"
"Don't you think it might attract people to the place? Oh, well, perhaps
And Paul withdrew.
Madder than ever. Some people see flies. Paul saw goldfish.
The lawyer is constantly in Miss Torsen's company; he even swings her in
the children's swing, and puts his arm around her to steady her when the
swing stops. Solem watches all this from the field where he is working,
and begins to sing a ribald song. Certainly these two have so ill-used him
that if he is going to sing improper songs in self-defense, this is the
time to do it; no one will gainsay that. So he sang his song very loud,
and then began to yodel.
But Miss Torsen went on swinging, and the lawyer went on putting his arm
round her and stopping her....
It was a Saturday evening. I stood talking to the lawyer in the garden; he
didn't like the place, and wanted to leave, but Miss Torsen would not go
with him, and going alone was such a bore. He did not conceal that the
young woman meant something to him.
Solem approached, and lifted his cap in greeting. Then he looked round
quickly and began to talk to the lawyer--politely, as became his position
of a servant:
"The Danish gentleman is going to climb the peak tomorrow. I'm to take a
rope and go with him."
The lawyer was startled.
The blankness of the lawyer's face was a remarkable sight. His small,
athletic brain failed him. A moment passed in silence.
"Yes, early tomorrow morning," said Solem. "I thought I'd tell you.
Because after all it was your idea first."
"Yes, so it was," said the lawyer. "You're quite right. But now he'll be
ahead of me."
Solem knew how to get round that.
"No, I didn't promise to go," he said. "I told him I had to go to the
"But we can't deceive him. I don't want to do that."
"Pity," said Solem. "Everybody says the first one to climb the Blue Peak
will be in all the papers."
"He'll take offense," the lawyer murmured, considering the matter.
But Solem urged him on:
"I don't think so. Anyhow, you were the first one to talk about it."
"Everybody here will know, and I'll be prevented," said the lawyer.
"We can go at dawn," said Solem.
In the end they came to an agreement.
"You won't tell anyone?" the lawyer said to me.
* * * * *
The lawyer was missed in the course of the morning; he was not in his
room, and not in the garden.
"Perhaps the Danish mountaineer can tell us where he is," I said. But it
transpired that the Dane had not even thought of climbing the Blue Peak
that day, and knew nothing whatever about the expedition.
This surprised me greatly.
I looked at the clock; it was eleven. I had been watching the peak through
my field glasses from the moment I got up, but there was nothing to be
seen. It was five hours since the two men had left.
At half-past eleven Solem came running back; he was drenched in sweat and
"Come and help us!" he called excitedly to the group of guests.
"What's happened?" somebody asked.
"He fell off."
How tired Solem was and drenched to the skin! But what could we do? Rush
up the mountainside and look at the accident too?
"Can't he walk?" somebody asked.
"No, he's dead," said Solem, looking from one to another of us as though
to read in our faces whether his message seemed credible. "He fell off; he
didn't want me to help him."
A few more questions and answers. Josephine was already halfway across the
field; she was going to the village to telephone for the doctor.
"We shall have to get him down," said the Danish mountaineer.
So he and I improvised a stretcher; Solem was instructed to take brandy
and bandages to the site of the accident, and the Bergensians, the
Associate Master, Miss Torsen, and Mrs. Molie went with him.
"Did you really say nothing to Solem about climbing the peak today?" I
asked the Dane.
"No," he replied. "I never said a word about it. If I had meant to go, I
should certainly not have wanted company...."
Later that afternoon we returned with the lawyer on the stretcher. Solem
kept explaining all the way home how the accident had happened, what he
had said and what the lawyer had said, pointing to objects on the way as
though this stone represented the lawyer and that the abyss into which he
had plunged.... Solem still carried the rope he had not had a chance to
use. Miss Torsen asked no more than anyone else, and made purely
conventional comments: "I advised him against it, I begged him not to
But however much we talked, we could not bring the lawyer back to life.
Strange--his watch was still going, but he himself was dead. The doctor
could do nothing here, and returned to his village.
There followed a depressing evening. Solem went to the village to send a
telegram to the lawyer's family, and the rest of us did what we thought
decent under the circumstances: we all sat in the living room with books
in our hands. Now and again, some reference would be made to the accident:
it was a reminder, we said, how small we mortals were! And the Associate
Master, who had not the soul of a tourist, greatly feared that this
disaster would injure the resort and make things still more difficult for
Paul; people would shun a place where they were likely to fall off and be
No, the Associate Master was no tourist, and did not understand the
Paul himself seemed to sense that the accident might benefit him rather
than do him harm. He brought out a bottle of brandy to console us on this
And since it was a death to which we owed this attention, one of the men
from Bergen made a speech.
The accident became widely known. Newspapermen came from the city, and
Solem had to pilot them up the mountain and show them the spot where it
had taken place. If the body had not been removed at once, they would have
written about that, too.
Children and ignoramuses might be inclined to think it foolish that Solem
should be taken from the work in the fields at harvest time, but must not
the business of the tourist resort go before all else?
"Solem, tourists!" someone called to him. And Solem left his work. A flock
of reporters surrounded him, asked him questions, made him take them to
the mountains, to the river. A phrase was coined at the farm for Solem's
"Solem's with death."
But Solem was by no means with death; on the contrary, he was in the very
midst of life, enjoying himself, thriving. Once again he was an important
personage, listened to by strangers, doling out information. Nor did his
audience now consist of ladies only--indeed, no; this was something new, a
change; these were keen, alert gentlemen from the city.
To me, Solem said:
"Funny the accident should have happened just when the scratch on my nail
has grown out, isn't it?"
He showed me his thumbnail; there was no mark on it.
The newspaper reporters wrote articles and sent telegrams, not only about
the Blue Peak and the dreadful death, but about the locality, and about
the Tore Peak resort, that haven for the weary, with its wonderful
buildings set like jewels in the mountains. What a surprise to come here:
gargoyles, living room, piano, all the latest books, timber outside ready
for new jewels in their setting, altogether a magnificent picture of
Norway's modern farming.
Yes, indeed, the newspapermen appreciated it. And they did their
The English arrived.
"Where is Solem?" they asked, and "Where is the Blue Peak?" they asked.
"We ought to get the hay in," said Josephine and the wife at the farm.
"There'll be rain, and fifty cartloads are still out!"
That was all very well, but "Where is Solem?" asked the English. So Solem
had to go with them. The two casual laborers began to cart away the hay,
but then the women had no one to help them rake. Confusion was rife.
Everyone rushed wildly hither and thither because there was no one to lead
The weather stayed fine overnight; it was patient, slow-moving weather. As
soon as the dew dried up, more hay would be brought in, perhaps all the
hay. Oh, we should manage all right.
More English appeared; and "Solem--the Blue Peak?" they said. Their
perverse, sportsmen's brains tingled and thrilled; they had successfully
eluded all the resorts on the way, and arrived here without being caught.
There was the Blue Peak, like a mast against the sky! They hurried up so
fast that Solem was hardly able to keep pace with them. They would have
felt for ever disgraced if they had neglected to stand on this admirable
site of a disaster, this most excellent abyss. Some said it would be a
lifelong source of regret to them if they did not climb the Blue Peak
forthwith; others had no desire but to gloat over the lawyer's death fall,
and to shout down the abyss, gaping at the echo, and advancing so far out
on the ledge that they stood with their toes on death.
But it's an ill wind that blows good to none, and the resort earned a
great deal of money. Paul began to revive again, and the furrows in his
face were smoothed out. A man of worth grows strong and active with good
fortune; in adversity he is defiant. One who is not defiant in adversity
is worth nothing; let him be destroyed! Paul stopped drinking; he even
began to take an interest in the harvesting, and worked in the field in
Solem's place. If only he had begun when the weather was still slow and
But at least Paul began to tackle things in the right spirit again; he
only regretted that he had set aside for the cotters those outlying fields
from which they were used to getting half the hay; this year he would have
liked to keep it himself. But he had given his word, and there was nothing
to be done about it.
Besides, it was raining now. Haymaking had to stop; they could not even
stack what had already been gathered. Outside, three cartloads of fodder
were going to waste.
* * * * *
Before long the novelty of the Tore Peak resort wore off again. The
newspapermen wrote and sent telegrams about other gratifying misfortunes,
the death on the Blue Peak having lost its news value. It had been an
intoxication; now came the morning after.
The Danish mountaineer quite simply deserted. He strapped on his knapsack
and walked across the field like one of the villagers, caring no more for
the Blue Peak. The commotion he had witnessed in the last week had taught
him a lesson.
And the tourists swarmed on to other places.
"What harm have I done them," Paul probably
thought, "that they should be going again? Have I been
too much in the fields and too little with them? But I
greeted them humbly and took my man out of the
harvesting work to help them...."
Then two young men arrived, sprouts off the Norwegian tree, sportsmen to
their finger tips, who talked of nothing but sailing, cycling, and
football; they were going to be civil engineers--the young Norway. They,
too, wanted to see the Blue Peak to the best of their ability; after all,
one must keep pace with modern life. But they were so young that when they
looked up at the peak, they were afraid. Solem had learned more than one
trick in tourist company; craftily he led them on, and then extorted money
from them in return for a promise not to expose their foolishness. So all
was well; the young sprouts came down the mountain again, bragging and
showing off their sportsmanship. One of them brought down a bloodstained
rag which he flung on the ground, saying,
"There's what's left of your lawyer that fell off."
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" laughed the other sprout.
Yes, truly, they had acquired dashing ways among their sporting
It rained for three weeks; then came two fine days, and then rain again
for a fortnight. The sun was not to be seen, the sky was invisible, the
mountain tops had disappeared; we saw nothing but rain. The roofs at the
Tore Peak resort began to leak more and more.
The hay that still lay spread on the ground was black and rotting, and the
stacks had gone moldy.
The cotters had got their hay indoors during the patient spell. They had
carried it, man, woman, and child, on their backs.
The men from Bergen and Mrs. Brede with her children have left for home.
The little girls curtsied and thanked me for taking them walking in the
hills and telling them stories. The house is empty now. Associate Master
Hoey and Mrs. Molie were the last to go; they left last week, traveling
separately, though both were going to the same small town.
He went by way of the village--a very roundabout route--while she crossed
the field. It is very quiet now, but Miss Torsen is still here.
Why do I not leave? Don't know. Why ask? I'm here. Have you ever heard
anyone ask: "How much is a northern light?" Hold your tongue.
Where should I go if I did leave? Do you imagine I want to go to the town
again? Or do you think I'm longing for my old hut and the winter, and
Madame? I'm not longing for any specific place; I am simply longing.
Of course I ought to be old enough to understand what all sensible
Norwegians know, that our country is once more on the right road. The
papers are all writing about the splendid progress the tourist traffic has
made in Stordalen since the motor road was opened--ought I not to go there
and feel gratified?
From old habit, I still take an interest in the few of us who are left;
Miss Torsen is still here.
Miss Torsen--what more is there to be said about her? Well, she does not
leave; she stays here to complete the picture of the woman Torsen, child
of the middle class who has read schoolbooks all through her formative
years, who has learned all about _Artemis cotula_, but undernourished
her soul. That is what she is doing here.
I remember a few weeks ago, when we were infested with Englishmen, a young
sprout coming down from the mountain top with a bloodstained rag which he
threw on the ground, saying, "Here's what's left of your lawyer that fell
off!" Miss Torsen heard it, and never moved a muscle. No, she never
mourned the death of the lawyer very keenly; on the contrary, she wrote
off at once to ask another friend to come. When he came, he turned out to
be a swaggering scatterbrain--a "free lance," he called himself in the
visitors' book. I have not mentioned him before because he was less
important than she; less important, in fact, than any of us. He was
beardless and wore his collar open; heaven knows if he wasn't employed at
a theater or in the films. Miss Torsen went to meet him when he came, and
said, "Welcome to our mountains," and "Thanks for coming." So evidently
she had sent for him. But why did she not leave? Why did she seem to
strike root in the place, and even ask others to come here? Yet she had
been the first to want to leave last summer! There was something behind
I muse on all this, and understand that her staying here is somehow
connected with her carnal desires, with the fact that Solem is still here.
How muddled it all is, and how this handsome girl has been spoiled! I saw
her not long ago, tall and proud, upright, untouched, walking
intentionally close to Solem, yet not replying to his greeting. Did she
suspect him of complicity in the death of the lawyer and avoid him for
that reason? Not in the least; she avoided him less than before, even
letting him take her letters to the post office, which she had not done
previously. But she was unbalanced, a poor thing that had lost her
bearings. Whenever she could, she secretly defiled herself with pitch,
with dung; she sniffed at foulness and was not repelled.
One day, when Solem swore a needlessly strong oath at a horse that was
restless, she looked at him, shivered, and went a deep red. But she
mastered herself at once, and asked Josephine:
"Isn't that man leaving soon?"
"Yes," Josephine replied, "in a few days."
Though she had seized this opportunity to ask her question with a great
show of indifference, I am certain it was an important one to her. She
went away in silence.
Yes, Miss Torsen stayed, for she was sexually bound to Solem. Solem's
despair, Solem's rough passion that she herself had inflamed, his
brutality, his masculinity, his greedy hands, his looks--she sniffed at
all this and was excited by it. She had grown so unnatural that her sexual
needs were satisfied by keeping this man at a distance. The Torsen type no
doubt lies in her solitary bed at night, reveling in the sensation that in
another house a man lies writhing for her.
But her friend, the actor? He was in no sense the other's equal. There was
nothing of the bull in him, nothing of action, only the braggadocio of the
* * * * *
Here am I, growing small and petty with this life. I question Solem about
the accident. We are alone together in the woodshed.
Why had he lied and said the Dane wanted to climb the Blue Peak that
unfortunate Sunday morning?
Solem looked at me, pretending not to understand.
I repeated my question.
Solem denied he had said any such thing.
"I heard you," I said.
"No, you didn't," he said.
Suddenly he dropped to the floor of the shed, convulsed, without shape, an
outline merely; a few minutes passed before he got up again. When he was
on his feet once more, pulling his clothes to rights, we looked at each
other. I had no wish to speak to him further, and left him. Besides, he
was going away soon.
After this, everything was dull and empty again. I went out alone, aping
myself and shouting: "Bricks for the palace! The calf is much stronger
today!" And when this was done, I did other nothings, and when my money
began to run out, I wrote to my publisher, pretending I would soon send
him an unbelievably remarkable manuscript. In short, I behaved like a man
in love. These were the typical symptoms.
And to take the bull by the horns: no doubt you suspect me of dwelling on
the subject of Miss Torsen out of self-interest? In that case I must have
concealed well in these pages that I never think of her except as an
object, as a theme; turn back the pages and you will see! At my age, one
does not fall in love without becoming grotesque, without making even the
* * * * *
But there is one thing I cannot finish doing, and that is withdrawing to
my room, and sitting alone with the good darkness round me. This, after
all, is the last pleasure.
Miss Torsen and her actor are walking this way; I hear their footsteps and
their voices; but since I am sitting in the dark of the evening, I cannot
see them. They stop outside my open window, leaning against it, and the
actor says something, asks her to do something she does not want to do,
tries to draw her with him; but she resists.
Then he grows angry.
"What the devil did you send for me for?" he asks roughly.
And she begins to weep and says:
"So that's all you've come for! Oh, oh! But I'm not like that at all. Why
can't you leave me alone? I'm not hurting you."
Am I one who understands women? Self-deception. Vain boasting. I made my
presence known then because her weeping sounded so wretched; I moved a
chair and cleared my throat.
The sound caught his attention at once, and he hushed her, trying to
listen; but she said:
"No, it was nothing...."
But she knew very well this was not true; she knew what the sound was. It
was not the first time Miss Torsen used this trick with me; she had often
pretended that she thought I was not within hearing, and then created some
such delicate situation. Each time I had promised myself not to intervene;
but she had not wept before; now she wept.
Why did she use these wiles? To clear herself in my eyes--mine, the eyes
of a settled man--to make me believe how good she was, how well-behaved!
But, dear child, I knew that before; I could see it from your hands! You
are so unnatural that in your seven and twentieth year, you walk
unmarried, barren and unopen!
The pair drifted away.
And there is something else I cannot finish doing: withdrawing into
solitude in the woods, alone with the good darkness round me. This is the
One needs solitude and darkness, not because one flees the company of
others and can endure only one's own, but because of their quality of
loftiness and religion. Strange how all things pass distantly, yet all is
near; we sit in an omnipresence. It must be God. It must be ourselves as a
part of all things.
What would my heart, where would I stray?
Shall I leave the forest behind me?
It was my home but yesterday;
now toward the city I wend my way;
to the darkness of night I've resigned me.
The world round me sleeps as I tarry, alone,
soothing my ear with its quiet.
How large and gray is the city of stone
in which the many all hopes enthrone!
Shall I, too, accept their fiat?
Hark! Do the bells ring on the hillside?
Back to the peace of the forest I turn
in the nightly hour that's hoarest.
There's a sweet-smelling hedgerow to which I yearn;
I shall rest my head on heather and fern,
and sleep in the depths of the forest.
Hark, how the bells ring on the hillside!
Romantic? Yes. Mere sentimentality, mood, rhyme--nothing? Yes.
It is the last happiness.
The sun has returned. Not darkly glowing and regal--more than that:
imperial, because it is flaming. This you do not understand, my friend,
whatever the language in which it is dished up for you. But I say there is
an imperial sun in the sky.
It's a good day for going to the woods; it is sweeping time, for the woods
are full of yellow things that have come suddenly into being. A short time
ago they were not there, or I did not see them, or they had the earth's
own complexion. There is something unborn about them, like embryos in an
early stage. But if I whirl them about, they are miracles of fulfillment.
Here are fungi of every sort, mushrooms and puffballs. How close is the
poisonous mushroom to the happy family of the edible mushroom, and how
innocently it stands there! Yet it is deadly. What magnificent cunning! A
spurious fruit, a criminal, habitual vice itself, but preening in splendor
and brilliance, a very cardinal of fungi. I break off a morsel to chew; it
is good and soft on the tongue, but I am a coward and spit it out again.
Was it not the poisonous mushroom that drove men berserker? But in the
dawn of our own day, we die of a hair in the throat.
The sun is already setting. Far up the mountainside are the cattle, but
they are moving homeward now; I can hear by their bells that they are
moving. Tinkling bells and deep-mouthed bells, sometimes sounding together
as though there were a meaning in it, a pattern of tones, a rapture.
And rapture, too, to see all the blades of grass and the tiny flowers and
plants. Beside me where I lie is a small pod plant, wonderfully meek, with
tiny seeds pushing out of the pod--God bless it, it's becoming a mother!
It has got caught in a dry twig and I liberate it. Life quivers within it;
the sun has warmed it today and called it to its destiny. A tiny, gigantic
Now it is sunset, and the woods bend under a rustling that passes
through them sweet and heavy; it is the evening.
I lie for another hour or two; the birds have long since gone to rest, and
darkness falls thick and soft.... As I walk homeward, my feet feel their
way and I hold my hands before me till I reach the field, where it is a
little lighter. I walk on the hay that has been left outdoors; it is tough
and black, and I slip on it because it is already rotting. As I approach
the houses, bats fly noiselessly past me, as though on wings of foam. A
slight shudder convulses me whenever they pass.
Suddenly I stop.
A man is walking here. I can see him against the wall of the new house. He
has on a coat that looks like the actor's raincoat, but it is not the
little comedian himself. There he goes, into the house, right into the
house. It is Solem.
"Why, that's where she sleeps!" I think. "Ah, well. Alone in the building,
in the south wing, Miss Torsen alone--yes, quite alone. And Solem has just
I stand there waiting to be at hand, to rush in to the rescue, for after
all I am a human being, not a brute. Several minutes pass. He has not even
bothered to be very quiet, for I hear him clicking the key in the lock.
Surely I ought to hear a cry now? I hear nothing, nothing; a chair
scraping across the floor, that is all.
"But good heavens, he may do her some harm! He may injure her; he may
overpower her with rape! Ought I not to tap on the window? I--what for?
But at the very first cry, I shall be on the spot, take my word for it."
Not a single cry.
The hours pass; I have settled down to wait. Of course I cannot go my way
and desert a helpless woman. But the hours wear on. A very thorough
business in there, nothing niggardly about this; it is almost dawn. It
occurs to me that he may be killing her, perhaps has killed her already; I
am alarmed and about to get up--when the key clicks in the lock again and
Solem emerges. He does not run, but walks back the way he came, down to
the veranda of my own house. There he hangs the actor's raincoat where it
hung before, and emerges again. But this time he is naked. He has been
naked under the coat all this time. Is it possible? Why not? No
inhibitions, no restraint, no covering; Solem has thought it all out. Now,
stark naked, he stalks to his room.
What a man!
I sit thinking and collecting myself and regaining my wits. What has
happened? The south wing is still wrapped in silence, but the lady is not
dead; I can see that from Solem's fearless manner as he goes to his room,
lights the lamp, and goes to bed.
It relieves me to know she is alive, revives me, and makes me
superlatively brave: if he has dared to kill her, I will report it at
once. I shall not spare him. I shall accuse him of both her death and the
lawyer's. I shall go further: I shall accuse others--the thief of last
winter, the man that stole the sides of bacon from a tradesman and sold me
rolls of tobacco out of his bag. No, I shall not keep silence about
When it grew light, Solem went to the kitchen, had his breakfast, settled
his business with Paul and the women, and returned to his room. He was in
no hurry; though it was no longer early in the day, he took his time about
tying his bundles, preparatory to leaving. Lingeringly he looked into the
windows of the south wing as he passed.
Then Solem was gone.
A little later Miss Torsen came in to breakfast. She asked at once about
Solem. And why might she be so interested in Solem? She had certainly
stopped in her room intentionally so as to give him time to leave; if she
wanted to see him she could have been here long ago. But was it not safest
to seem a little angry? Supposing, night owl that I was, that I had seen
"Where is Solem?" she asked indignantly.
"Solem has gone now," Josephine replied.
"Lucky for him!"
"Why?" asked Josephine.
"Oh, he's a dreadful creature!"
How agitated she was! But in the course of the day she calmed down. Her
anger dissolved, and there was neither weeping nor a scene; only she did
not walk proudly, as was her habit, but preferred to sit in silence.
That passed too; she roused herself briskly soon after Solem's departure,
and in a few days she was the same as ever. She took walks, she talked and
laughed with us, she made the actor swing her in the children's swing, as
in the lawyer's day....
I went out one evening, for there was good weather and darkness for
walking; there was neither a moon nor stars. The gentle ripple of the
little Reisa river was all the sound I heard; there were God and Goethe
and _ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh'_ that night. On my return, I was in
the mood to walk softly and on tiptoe, so I undressed and went to bed in
Then they came again to my window, those two lunatics, the lady and the
actor. What next? But it was not he that chose this spot; of that I was
sure. She chose it because she was convinced I had returned. There was
something she _wanted_ me to hear.
Why should I listen to him still pleading with her?
"I've had enough of this," he said. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
"Oh, well...." she said. "No, let's not tonight," she added suddenly;
"some other time. Yes? In a few days? We'll talk about it tomorrow. Good
For the first time it struck me: she wants to rouse you, too, settled man
though you are; she wants to make you as mad as the others! That's what
And now I remember, before the lawyer arrived, when there was Tradesman
Batt--I remember how during his first few days here, she would give me a
kind word or a look that was quite out of the picture, and as unmistakable
as her pride would permit. No, she had no objections to seeing old age
wriggle. And listen to this: before this she had been intent to show a
well-behaved indifference to sex, but that was finished; was she not at
this moment resisting only faintly, and raising definite hopes? "Not
tonight, but some other time," she had said. Yes, a half-refusal, a mere
postponement, that I was meant to hear. She was corrupt, but she was also
cunning, with the cunning of a madman. So corrupt.
Dear child, Pharaoh laughs before his pyramids; standing before his
pyramids he laughs. He would laugh at me, too.
* * * * *
Next day we three remaining guests were sitting in the living room. The
lady and the actor read one book; I read another.
"Will you," she says to him, "do me a great favor?"
"Would you go out in the grounds where we sat yesterday and fetch my
So he went out to do her this great favor. He sang a well-known popular
song as he crossed the yard, cheerful in his own peculiar way.
She turned to me.
"You seem silent."
"Yes, you're very silent."
"Listen to this," I said, and began to read to her from the book I held in
my hands. I read a longish bit.
She tried to interrupt me several times, and at length said impatiently:
"What is this you want me to listen to?"
"The _Musketeers_. You must admit it's entertaining."
"I've read it," she said. And then she began to clasp her hands and drag
them apart again.
"Then you must hear something you haven't read before," I replied, and
went across to my room to fetch a few pages I had written. They were only
a few poems--nothing special, just a few small verses. Not that I am in
the habit of reading such things aloud, but I seized on this for the
moment because I wanted to prevent her from humbling herself, and telling
me anything more.
While I was reading the poems to her, the actor returned.
"I couldn't find any galoshes there," he said.
"No?" she replied absently.
"No, I really looked everywhere, but...."
She got up and left the room.
He looked after her in some surprise, and sat still for a moment. Then it
occurred to him.
"I believe her galoshes are in the passage outside her door," he said, and
hurried after her.
I sat back, thinking it over. There had been a sweetness in her face as
she said, "Yes, you're very silent." Had she seen through me and my
pretext for reading to her? Of course she had. She was no fool. I was the
fool, nobody else. I should have driven a sportsman to despair. Some
practice the sport of making conquests and the sport of making love,
because they find it so agreeable; I have never practiced sport of any
kind. I have loved and raged and suffered and stormed according to my
nature--that is all; I am an old-fashioned man. And here I sit in the
shadow of evening, the shadow of the half-century. Let me have done!
The actor returned to the living room confused and dejected. She had
turned him out; she had wept.
I was not surprised, for it was the mode of expression of her type.
"Have you ever heard the like of it? She told me to get out! I shall leave
"Have you found the galoshes?" I asked.
"Of course," he replied. "They were right in the passage. 'Here they are,'
I said to her. 'Yes, yes,' she said. 'Right under your nose,' I said.
'Yes, yes, go away,' she said, and began to cry. So I went away."
"She'll get over it."
"Do you think so? Yes, I expect she will. Oh, well, it's my opinion nobody
can understand women, anyhow. But they're a mighty sex, the women, a
mighty sex. They certainly are."
He sat on a while, but he had no peace of mind, and soon went out again.
* * * * *
That evening the lady was in the dining room before us; she was there when
we came in, and we all nodded slightly in greeting. To the actor she was
very kind, quite making up for her petulance of the afternoon.
When he sat down he found a letter in his table napkin: a written note
folded into the napkin. He was so surprised that he dropped everything he
was doing to unfold and read it. With an exclamation and a smile, his
blue, delighted eyes splashed over her; but she was looking down into her
lap with her forehead wrinkled, so he put the note away in his vest
Then it probably dawned on him that he had betrayed her, and he tried to
cover it up somehow.
"Well, here goes for food!" he said, as though he were going to require
all his energy for the task of eating.
Why had she written? There was nothing to prevent her speaking to him. He
had, after all, been sitting on the doorstep when she emerged from her
room and passed him. Had she foreseen that the good comedian could not
contain himself, but would surely let a third person into the secret?
Why probe or question further? The actor did not eat much, but he looked
very happy. So the note must have said yes, must have been a promise;
perhaps she would not tantalize him further.
A few days later, they were going to leave. They would travel together,
and that would be the end.
I might have pitied them both, for though life is good, life is stern. One
result at any rate was accomplished. She had not sent for him in vain, nor
had he come in vain.
That was the end of the act. But there were more acts to come--many more.
She had lost much: having been ravished, she gave herself away; why be
niggardly now? And this is the destiny of her type, that they lose
increasingly much, retaining ever less; what need to hold back now? The
ground has been completely shifted: from half-measures to the immolation
of all virtue. The type is well-known, and can be found at resorts and
boarding-houses, where it grows and flourishes.
In spite of her wasted adolescence, her examination and her
"independence," she has been coming home from her office stool or her
teacher's desk more or less exhausted; suddenly she finds herself in the
midst of a sweet and unlimited idleness, with quantities of tinned food
for her meals. The company round her is continually changing, tourists
come and go, and she passes from hand to hand for walks and talks; the
tone is "country informality." This is sheer loose living; this is a life
stripped of all purpose. She does not even sleep enough because she hears
through the thin wall every sound made by her neighbor in the next room,
while arriving or departing Englishmen bang doors all night. In a short
time she has become a neurotic, sated with company, surfeited with herself
and the place. She is ready to go off with the next halfway respectable
organ grinder that happens along. And so she pairs off with the most
casual visitors, flirts with the guide, hovering about him and making
bandages for his fingers, and at last throws herself into the arms of a
nameless nobody who has arrived at the house today.
This is the Torsen type.
And now, at this very moment, she retires to her room to collect the
fragments of herself, in preparation for her departure--at the end of the
summer. It takes time; there are so many fragments, one in every corner.
But perhaps it consoles her to think that she knows the genitive of
Things are not quite so bad for the actor. He has staked nothing, is
committed to nothing. No part of his life is destroyed, nor anything
within him. As he came, so he goes, cheerful, empty, nice. In fact he is
even something more of a man because he has really made a conquest. He has
no wish but to spend some pleasant hours with the Torsen type.
He strolled about the garden waiting for her to get ready. Once she was
visible through the doorway, and he called to her:
"Aren't you coming soon? Don't forget we've got to cross the mountain!"
"Well, I can't go bareheaded," she replied.
He was impatient.
"No, you've got to put your hat on, and what a lot of time that takes!
She measured him coldly and said:
If he had paid her back in the same coin there would have been weeping and
gnashing of teeth and cries of "Go away! Go alone!" and an hour's delay,
and reconciliation and embraces. But the actor's manner changed at once,
and he replied docilely, as his nature was,
"Familiar? Well--perhaps. Sorry!"
Then he strolled about the garden again, humming occasionally and swinging
his stick. I took note of the oddly feminine shape of his knees, and the
unusual plumpness of his thighs; there was something unnatural about this
plumpness, as though it did not belong to his sex.
His shoes were down at the heel, and his collar was open. His raincoat
hung regally from his shoulders and flapped in the wind, though it was not
raining. He was a proud and comical sight. But why speak harsh words about
a raincoat? It was not he, the owner, that had abused it, and it hung from
his shoulders as innocently as a bridal veil.
Why speak harsh words about anyone? Life is good, but life is stern.
Perhaps when she comes out, I think to myself, the following scene will
take place: I stand here waiting only for this departure. So she gives me
her hand and says good-bye.
"Why don't you say something?" she asks in order to seem bright and easy
in her mind.
"Because I don't want to hurt you in the great error of your ways."
"Ha, ha, ha," she laughs, too loudly and in a forced tone; "the great
error of my ways! Well, really!"
And her anger grows, while I am assured and fatherly, standing on the firm
ground of conscious virtue. Yet I say an unworthy thing like this:
"Don't throw yourself away, Miss Torsen!"
She raises her head then; yes, the Torsen type would raise her head and
reply, pale and offended:
"Throw myself away?--I don't understand you."
But it is possible, too, that Miss Torsen, at heart a fine, proud girl,
would have a lucid moment and see things in their true light:
"Why not, why shouldn't I throw myself away? What is there to keep? I am
thrown away, wasted ever since my school days, and now I am seven and
My own thoughts run away with me as I stand there wishing I were somewhere
else. Perhaps she, too, in her room wishes me far away.
"Good-bye," I say to the actor. "Will you remember me to Miss Torsen? I
must go now."
"Good-bye," says he, shaking hands in some surprise. "Can't you wait a few
minutes? Well, all right, I'll give her your greeting. Good-bye,
I take a short cut to get out of the way, and as I know every nook and
corner, I am soon outside the farm, and find a good shelter. From here I
shall see when these two leave. She has only to say good-bye now to the
people of the farm.
It struck me that yesterday was the last time I spoke to her. We spoke
only a few insignificant words that I have forgotten, and today I have not
spoken to her....
Here they come.
Curious--they seemed somehow to have become welded together; though they
walked separately up the mountain track, yet they belonged together. They
did not speak; the essential things had probably already been said. Life
had grown ordinary for them; it still remained to them to be of use to
each other. He walked first, while she followed many paces behind; it was
lonely to look at against the rugged background of the mountain. Where had
her tall figure gone to? She seemed to have grown shorter because she had
hitched up her skirt and was carrying her knapsack on her back. They each
carried one, but he carried hers and she his, probably because, owing to
the greater number of her clothes, hers was the heavier sack. Thus had
they shifted their burdens; what burdens would they carry in the future?
She was, after all, no longer a schoolmistress, and perhaps he was no
longer with the theater or the films.
I watched those two crossing rocky, mountainous ground, bare ground, with
not a tree anywhere except a few stunted junipers; far away near the ridge
murmured the little Reisa. Those two had put their possessions together,
were walking together; at the next halt they would be man and wife, and
take only one room because it was cheaper.
Suddenly I started up and, moved by some impulse of human sympathy--nay,
of duty--I wanted to run across to her, talk to her, say a word of
warning: "Don't go on!" I could have done it in a few minutes--a good
deed, a duty....
They disappeared behind the shoulder of the hill.
Her name was Ingeborg.
And now I, too, must wander on again, for I am the last at the Tore Peak
farm. The season is wearing on, and this morning it snowed for the first
time--wet, sad snow.
It is very quiet at the farm now, and Josephine might have played the
piano again and been friendly to the last guest; but now I am leaving,
too. Besides, Josephine has little to play and be cheerful for; things
have gone badly this year, and may grow worse as time goes on. The
prospect is not a good one. "But something will turn up," says Josephine.
She need not worry, for she has money in the bank, and no doubt there is a
young man in the offing, on the other side of the fjeld.
Oh, yes, Josephine will always manage; she thinks of everything. The other
day, for instance--when Miss Torsen and her friend left. The friend could
not pay his bill, and all he said was that he had expected money, but it
hadn't come, and he couldn't stay any longer because of his private
affairs. That was all very well, but when would the bill be paid? Why, he
would send it from the town, of course; that was where he had his money!
"But how do we know we'll get the money?--from him, anyway," said
Josephine. "We've had these actor-people here before. And I didn't like
the way he swanked about outside, thinking he was as good as anybody, and
throwing his stick up in the air and catching it again. And then when Miss
Torsen came in to say good-bye, I told her, and I wondered if she couldn't
let me have the money for him. Miss Torsen was shocked, and said, 'Hasn't
he paid himself?' 'No,' I said, 'he hasn't, and this year being such a bad
one, we need every penny.' So then Miss Torsen said of course we should
get the money; how much was it? And I told her, and she said she couldn't
pay for him now, but she would see the money was sent; we could trust her
for that. And I think we can, too. We'll get the money all right, if not
from him. I daresay she'll send it herself...."
And Josephine went off to serve me my dinner.
Paul is on his feet now, too. Not that his step is always very steady, but
at least he puts his feet to the ground. But he takes no interest in
things; he does little more than feeding the horses and chopping some
wood. He ought to be clearing the manure out of the summer cow houses for
autumn use, but he keeps putting it off, and probably it will not be done
at all. So far it hasn't mattered, but this morning's first wet snow has
covered the hay outdoors and the maltreated land. And so it will remain
till next spring. Poor Paul! He is an easygoing man at heart, but he
pushes doggedly on against a whirlwind; sometimes he smiles to himself,
knowing how useless it is to struggle--a distorted smile.
His father, the old man alone in his room, stands sometimes on his
threshold, as he used to do, and reflects. He is lost in memories, for he
has ninety years behind him. The many houses on the farm confuse him a
little; the roofs are all too big for him, and he is afraid they might
come down and carry him off. Once he asked Josephine if it was right that
his hands and fingers should run away from him every day across the
fields. So they put mittens on his hands, but he took to chewing them; in
fact he ate everything he was given, and enjoyed a good digestion. So they
must be thankful he had his health, Josephine said, and could be up and
* * * * *
I did not follow the others across the field, but returned the way I had
come last spring, down toward the woods and the sea. It is fitting that I
should go back, always back, never forward again.
I passed the hut where Solem and I had lived together, and then the
Lapps--the two old people and Olga, this strange cross between a human
being and a dwarf birch. A stove stood against the peat wall, and a
paraffin lamp hung from the roof of their stone-age dwelling. Olga was
kind and helpful, but she looked tiny and pathetic, like a ruffled hen; it
pained me to watch her flit about the room, tiny and crooked, as she
looked for a pair of reindeer cheeses for me.
Then I reached my own hut of last winter where I had passed so many lonely
months. I did not enter it.
Or rather, I did enter it, for I had to spend the night there. But I shall