Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, Josephine Paolucci and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
Translated from the Norwegian of
by W.W. WORSTER
[ORIGINAL TITLE “MARKENS GRODE”]
The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through the great Almenning–the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s-land.
The man comes, walking toward the north. He bears a sack, the first sack, carrying food and some few implements. A strong, coarse fellow, with a red iron beard, and little scars on face and hands; sites of old wounds–were they gained in toil or fight? Maybe the man has been in prison, and is looking for a place to hide; or a philosopher, maybe, in search of peace. This or that, he comes; the figure of a man in this great solitude. He trudges on; bird and beast are silent all about him; now and again he utters a word or two; speaking to himself. “Eyah–well, well….”–so he speaks to himself. Here and there, where the moors give place to a kindlier spot, an open space in the midst of the forest, he lays down the sack and goes exploring; after a while he returns, heaves the sack to his shoulder again, and trudges on. So through the day, noting time by the sun; night falls, and he throws himself down on the heather, resting on one arm.
A few hours’ rest, and he is on the move again: “Eyah, well….”–moving northward again, noting time by the sun; a meal of barley cakes and goats’ milk cheese, a drink of water from the stream, and on again. This day too he journeys, for there are many kindly spots in the woods to be explored. What is he seeking? A place, a patch of ground? An emigrant, maybe, from the homestead tracts; he keeps his eyes alert, looking out; now and again he climbs to the top of a hill, looking out. The sun goes down once more.
He moves along the western side of a valley; wooded ground, with leafy trees among the spruce and pine, and grass beneath. Hours of this, and twilight is falling, but his ear catches the faint purl of running water, and it heartens him like the voice of a living thing. He climbs the slope, and sees the valley half in darkness below; beyond, the sky to the south. He lies down to rest.
The morning shows him a range of pasture and woodland. He moves down, and there is a green hillside; far below, a glimpse of the stream, and a hare bounding across. The man nods his head, as it were approvingly–the stream is not so broad but that a hare may cross it at a bound. A white grouse sitting close upon its nest starts up at his feet with an angry hiss, and he nods again: feathered game and fur–a good spot this. Heather, bilberry, and cloudberry cover the ground; there are tiny ferns, and the seven-pointed star flowers of the winter-green. Here and there he stops to dig with an iron tool, and finds good mould, or peaty soil, manured with the rotted wood and fallen leaves of a thousand years. He nods, to say that he has found himself a place to stay and live: ay, he will stay here and live. Two days he goes exploring the country round, returning each evening to the hillside. He sleeps at night on a bed of stacked pine; already he feels at home here, with a bed of pine beneath an overhanging rock.
The worst of his task had been to find the place; this no-man’s place, but his. Now, there was work to fill his days. He started at once, stripping birch bark in the woods farther off, while the sap was still in the trees. The bark he pressed and dried, and when he had gathered a heavy load, carried it all the miles back to the village, to be sold for building. Then back to the hillside, with new sacks of food and implements; flour and pork, a cooking-pot, a spade–out and back along the way he had come, carrying loads all the time. A born carrier of loads, a lumbering barge of a man in the forest–oh, as if he loved his calling, tramping long roads and carrying heavy burdens; as if life without a load upon one’s shoulders were a miserable thing, no life for him.
One day he came up with more than the load he bore; came leading three goats in a leash. He was proud of his goats as if they had been horned cattle, and tended them kindly. Then came the first stranger passing, a nomad Lapp; at sight of the goats, he knew that this was a man who had come to stay, and spoke to him.
“You going to live here for good?”
“Ay,” said the man.
“What’s your name?”
“Isak. You don’t know of a woman body anywhere’d come and help?”
“No. But I’ll say a word of it to all I meet.”
“Ay, do that. Say I’ve creatures here, and none to look to them.”
The Lapp went on his way. Isak–ay, he would say a word of that. The man on the hillside was no runaway; he had told his name. A runaway? He would have been found. Only a worker, and a hardy one. He set about cutting winter fodder for his goats, clearing the ground, digging a field, shifting stones, making a wall of stones. By the autumn he had built a house for himself, a hut of turf, sound and strong and warm; storms could not shake it, and nothing could burn it down. Here was a home; he could go inside and shut the door, and stay there; could stand outside on the door-slab, the owner of that house, if any should pass by. There were two rooms in the hut; for himself at the one end, and for his beasts at the other. Farthest in, against the wall of rock, was the hayloft. Everything was there.
Two more Lapps come by, father and son. They stand resting with both hands on their long staves, taking stock of the hut and the clearing, noting the sound of the goat-bells up on the hillside.
“_Goddag_” say the Lapps. “And here’s fine folk come to live.” Lapps talk that way, with flattering words.
“You don’t know of any woman hereabouts to help?” says Isak, thinking always of but one thing.
“Woman to help? No. But we’ll say a word of it.”
“Ay, if you’d be so good. That I’ve a house and a bit of ground here, and goats, but no woman to help. Say that.”
Oh, he had sought about for a woman to help each time he had been down to the village with his loads of bark, but there was none to be found. They would look at him, a widow or an old unmarried one or so, but all afraid to offer, whatever might be in their minds. Isak couldn’t tell why. Couldn’t tell why? Who would go as help to live with a man in the wilds, ever so many miles away–a whole day’s journey to the nearest neighbour? And the man himself was no way charming or pleasant by his looks, far from it; and when he spoke it was no tenor with eyes to heaven, but a coarse voice, something like a beast’s.
Well, he would have to manage alone.
In winter, he made great wooden troughs, and sold them in the village, carrying sacks of food and tools back through the snow; hard days when he was tied to a load. There were the goats, and none to look to them; he could not be away for long. And what did he do? Need made him wise; his brain was strong and little used; he trained it up to ever more and more. His first way was to let the goats loose before starting off himself, so that they could get a full feed among the undergrowth in the woods. But he found another plan. He took a bucket, a great vessel, and hung it up by the river so that a single drop fell in at a time, taking fourteen hours to fill it. When it was full to the brim, the weight was right; the bucket sank, and in doing so, pulled a line connected with the hayloft; a trap-door opened, and three bundles of fodder came through–the goats were fed.
That was his way.
A bright idea; an inspiration, maybe, sent from God. The man had none to help him but himself. It served his need until late in the autumn; then came the first snow, then rain, then snow again, snowing all the time. And his machine went wrong; the bucket was filled from above, opening the trap too soon. He fixed a cover over, and all went well again for a time; then came winter, the drop of water froze to an icicle, and stopped the machine for good.
The goats must do as their master–learn to do without.
Hard times–the man had need of help, and there was none, yet still he found a way. He worked and worked at his home; he made a window in the hut with two panes of real glass, and that was a bright and wonderful day in his life. No need of lighting fires to see; he could sit indoors and work at his wooden troughs by daylight. Better days, brighter days … eyah!
He read no books, but his thoughts were often with God; it was natural, coming of simplicity and awe. The stars in the sky, the wind in the trees, the solitude and the wide-spreading snow, the might of earth and over earth filled him many times a day with a deep earnestness. He was a sinner and feared God; on Sundays he washed himself out of reverence for the holy day, but worked none the less as through the week.
Spring came; he worked on his patch of ground, and planted potatoes. His livestock multiplied; the two she-goats had each had twins, making seven in all about the place. He made a bigger shed for them, ready for further increase, and put a couple of glass panes in there too. Ay, ’twas lighter and brighter now in every way.
And then at last came help; the woman he needed. She tacked about for a long time, this way and that across the hillside, before venturing near; it was evening before she could bring herself to come down. And then she came–a big, brown-eyed girl, full-built and coarse, with good, heavy hands, and rough hide brogues on her feet as if she had been a Lapp, and a calfskin bag slung from her shoulders. Not altogether young; speaking politely; somewhere nearing thirty.
There was nothing to fear; but she gave him greeting and said hastily: “I was going cross the hills, and took this way, that was all.”
“Ho,” said the man. He could barely take her meaning, for she spoke in a slovenly way, also, she kept her face turned aside.
“Ay,” said she, “’tis a long way to come.”
“Ay, it’s that,” says the man. “Cross the hills, you said?”
“And what for?”
“I’ve my people there.”
“Eh, so you’ve your people there? And what’s your name?”
“Inger. And what’s yours?”
“Isak? H’m. D’you live here yourself, maybe?”
“Ay, here, such as it is.”
“Why, ’tis none so bad,” said she to please him.
Now he had grown something clever to think out the way of things, and it struck him then she’d come for that very business and no other; had started out two days back just to come here. Maybe she had heard of his wanting a woman to help.
“Go inside a bit and rest your feet,” said he.
They went into the hut and took a bit of the food she had brought, and some of his goats’ milk to drink; then they made coffee, that she had brought with her in a bladder. Settled down comfortably over their coffee until bedtime. And in the night, he lay wanting her, and she was willing.
She did not go away next morning; all that day she did not go, but helped about the place; milked the goats, and scoured pots and things with fine sand, and got them clean. She did not go away at all. Inger was her name. And Isak was his name.
And now it was another life for the solitary man. True, this wife of his had a curious slovenly way of speech, and always turning her face aside, by reason of a hare-lip that she had, but that was no matter. Save that her mouth was disfigured, she would hardly have come to him at all; he might well be grateful for that she was marked with a hare-lip. And as to that, he himself was no beauty. Isak with the iron beard and rugged body, a grim and surly figure of a man; ay, as a man seen through a flaw in the window-pane. His look was not a gentle one; as if Barabbas might break loose at any minute. It was a wonder Inger herself did not run away.
She did not run away. When he had been out, and came home again, there was Inger at the hut; the two were one, the woman and the hut.
It was another mouth for him to feed, but no loss in that; he had more freedom now, and could go and stay as he needed. And there were matters to be looked to away from home. There was the river; pleasant to look at, and deep and swift besides; a river not to be despised; it must come from some big water up in the hills. He got himself some fishing gear and went exploring; in the evening he came back with a basket of trout and char. This was a great thing to Inger, and a marvel; she was overwhelmed, being no way used to fine dishes. She clapped her hands and cried out: “Why! Wherever….” And she was not slow to see how he was pleased at her surprise, and proud of it, for she said more in the same strain–oh, she had never seen the like, and how had he ever managed to find such things!
Inger was a blessing, too, in other ways. No clever head nor great in wit, maybe–but she had two lambing ewes with some of her kinsfolk, and brought them down. It was the best they could have wished for at the hut; sheep with wool and lambs four new head to their stock about the place; it was growing, getting bigger; a wonder and a marvel how their stock was grown. And Inger brought more; clothes, and little trifles of her own, a looking-glass and a string of pretty glass beads, a spinning-wheel, and carding-combs. Why, if she went on that gait the hut would soon be filled from floor to roof and no room for more! Isak was astonished in his turn at all this wealth of goods, but being a silent man and slow to speak, he said nothing, only shambled out to the door-slab and looked at the weather, and shambled in again. Ay, he had been lucky indeed; he felt himself more and more in love, or drawn towards her, or whatever it might be.
“You’ve no call to fetch along all such stuff,” said he. “Tis more than’s needed.”
“I’ve more if I like to fetch it. And there’s uncle Sivert besides–you’ve heard of him?” “No.”
“Why, he’s a rich man, and district treasurer besides.”
Love makes a fool of the wise. Isak felt he must do something grand himself, and overdid it. “What I was going to say; you’ve no need to bother with hoeing potatoes. I’ll do it myself the evening, when I come home.”
And he took his ax and went off to the woods.
She heard him felling in the woods, not so far off; she could hear from the crash that he was felling big timber. She listened for a while, and then went out to the potato field and set to work hoeing. Love makes fools wise.
Isak came home in the evening, hauling a huge trunk by a rope. Oh, that simple and innocent Isak, he made all the noise he could with his tree-trunk, and coughed and hemmed, all for her to come out and wonder at him. And sure enough:
“Why, you’re out of your senses,” said Inger when she came out. “Is that work for a man single-handed?” He made no answer; wouldn’t have said a word for anything. To do a little more than was work for a man single-handed was nothing to speak of–nothing at all. A stick of timber–huh! “And what are you going to do with it?” she asked.
“Oh, we’ll see,” he answered carelessly, as if scarcely heeding she was there.
But when he saw that she had hoed the potatoes after all he was not pleased. It was as if she had done almost as much as he; and that was not to his liking. He slipped the rope from the tree-trunk and went off with it once more.
“What, haven’t you done yet?”
“No,” said he gruffly.
And he came back with another stick like the last, only with no noise nor sign of being out of breath; hauled it up to the hut like an ox, and left it there.
That summer he felled a mass of timber, and brought it to the hut.
Inger packed up some food one day in her calfskin bag. “I’d thought of going across to see my people, just how they’re faring.”
“Ay,” said Isak.
“I must have a bit of talk with them about things.”
Isak did not go out at once to see her off, but waited quite a while. And when at last he shambled out, looking never the least bit anxious, never the least bit miserable and full of fear, Inger was all but vanished already through the fringe of the forest.
“Hem!” He cleared his throat, and called, “Will you be coming back maybe?” He had not meant to ask her that, but….
“Coming back? Why, what’s in your mind? Of course I’ll be coming back.”
So he was left alone again–eyah, well …! With his strength, and the love of work that was in him, he could not idle in and out about the hut doing nothing; he set to, clearing timber, felling straight, good sticks, and cutting them flat on two sides. He worked at this all through the day, then he milked the goats and went to bed.
Sadly bare and empty now in the hut; a heavy silence clung about the peat walls and the earthen floor; a deep and solemn loneliness. Spinning-wheel and carding-combs were in their place; the beads, too, were safe as they had been, stowed away in a bag under the roof. Inger had taken nothing of her belongings. But Isak, unthinkably simple as he was, grew afraid of the dark in the light summer nights, and saw Shapes and Things stealing past the window. He got up before dawn, about two o’clock by the light, and ate his breakfast, a mighty dish of porridge to last the day, and save the waste of time in cooking more. In the evening he turned up new ground, to make a bigger field for the potatoes.
Three days he worked with spade and ax by turns; Inger should be coming on the next. ‘Twould be but reasonable to have a platter of fish for her when she came–but the straight road to the water lay by the way she would come, and it might seem…. So he went a longer way; a new way, over the hills where he had never been before. Grey rock and brown, and strewed about with bits of heavy stone, heavy as copper or lead. There might be many things in those heavy stones; gold or silver, like as not–he had no knowledge of such things, and did not care. He came to the water; the fly was up, and the fish were biting well that night. He brought home a basket of fish that Inger would open her eyes to see! Going back in the morning by the way he had come, he picked up a couple of the heavy little stones among the hills; they were brown, with specks of dark blue here and there, and wondrous heavy in the hand.
Inger had not come, and did not come. This was the fourth day. He milked the goats as he had used to do when he lived alone with them and had no other to help; then he went up to a quarry near by and carried down stones; great piles of carefully chosen blocks and flakes, to build a wall. He was busy with no end of things.
On the fifth evening, he turned in to rest with a little fear at his heart–but there were the carding-combs and spinning-wheel, and the string of beads. Sadly empty and bare in the hut, and never a sound; the hours were long, and when at last he did hear something like a sound of footsteps outside, he told himself that it was fancy, nothing more. “Eyah, _Herregud_!” [Footnote: Literally, “Lord God.” The word is frequently used, as here, in a sense of resignation, as it were a sigh.] he murmured, desolate in spirit. And Isak was not one to use words lightly. There was the tramping of feet again outside, and a moment after something gliding past the window; something with horns, something alive. He sprang up, over to the door, and lo, a vision! “God or the devil,” muttered Isak, who did not use words lightly. He saw a cow; Inger and a cow, vanishing into the shed.
If he had not stood there himself and heard it–Inger talking softly to the cow in the shed–he would not have believed. But there he stood. And all at once a black misgiving came into his mind: a clever wife, ay, a manager of wonders–but, after all…. No, it was too much, and that was the only word for it. A spinning-wheel and carding-combs at a pinch; even the beads perhaps, though they were over fine to be come by in any way proper and natural. But a cow, picked up straying on the road, maybe, or in a field–it would be missed in no time, and have to be found.
Inger stepped out of the shed, and said with a proud little laugh:
“It’s only me. I’ve brought my cow along.”
“H’m,” said Isak.
“It was that made me so long–I couldn’t go but softly with her over the hills.”
“And so you’ve brought a cow?” said he.
“Yes,” said she, all ready to burst with greatness and riches on earth. “Don’t you believe me, perhaps?”
Isak feared the worst, but made no sign, and only said:
“Come inside and get something to eat.”
“Did you see her? Isn’t she a pretty cow?”
“Ay, a fine cow,” said Isak. And speaking as carelessly as he could, he asked, “Where d’you get her?”
“Her name’s Goldenhorns. What’s that wall to be for you’ve been building up here? You’ll work yourself to death, you will. Oh, come and look at the cow, now, won’t you?”
They went out to look, and Isak was in his underclothes, but that was no matter. They looked and looked the cow all over carefully, in every part, and noted all the markings, head and shoulders, buttocks and thighs, where it was red and white, and how it stood.
“How old d’you think she might be?” asked Isak cautiously.
“Think? Why, she’s just exactly a tiny way on in her fourth year. I brought her up myself, and they all said it was the sweetest calf they’d ever seen. But will there be feed enough here d’you think?”
Isak began to believe, as he was only too willing to do, that all was well. “As for the feed, why, there’ll be feed enough, never fear.”
Then they went indoors to eat and drink and make an evening together. They lay awake talking of Cow; of the great event. “And isn’t she a dear cow, too? Her second’s on the way. And her name’s Goldenhorns. Are you asleep, Isak?”
“And what do you think, she knew me again; knew me at once, and followed me like a lamb. We lay up in the hills a bit last night.”
“But she’ll have to be tied up through the summer, all the same, or she’ll be running off. A cow’s a cow.”
“Where’s she been before?” asked Isak at last.
“Why, with my people, where she belonged. And they were quite sorry to lose her, I can tell you; and the little ones cried when I took her away.”
Could she be making it all up, and coming out with it so pat? No, it wasn’t thinkable. It must be true, the cow was hers. Ho, they were getting well-to-do, with this hut of theirs, this farm of theirs; why, ’twas good enough for any one. Ay, they’d as good as all they could wish for already. Oh, that Inger; he loved her and she loved him again; they were frugal folk; they lived in primitive wise, and lacked for nothing. “Let’s go to sleep!” And they went to sleep. And wakened in the morning to another day, with things to look at, matters to see to, once again; ay, toil and pleasure, ups and downs, the way of life.
As, for instance, with those timber baulks–should he try to fit them up together? Isak had kept his eyes about him down in the village, with that very thing in mind, and seen how it was done; he could build with timber himself, why not? Moreover, it was a call upon him; it must be done. Hadn’t they a farm with sheep, a farm with a cow already, goats that were many already and would be more?–their live stock alone was crowding them out of the turf hut; something must be done. And best get on with it at once, while the potatoes were still in flower, and before the haytime began. Inger would have to lend a hand here and there.
Isak wakes in the night and gets up, Inger sleeping fine and sound after her long tramp, and out he goes to the cowshed. Now it must not be thought that he talked to Cow in any obsequious and disgustful flattery; no, he patted her decently, and looked her over once more in every part, to see if there should, by chance, be any sign, any mark of her belonging to strange owners. No mark, no sign, and Isak steals away relieved.
There lies the timber. He falls to, rolling the baulks, then lifting them, setting them up against the wall in a framework; one big frame for a parlour, and a smaller one–there must be a room to sleep in. It was heavy work, hard-breathing work, and his mind being set on it, he forgot the time. There comes a smoke from the roof-hole of the hut, and Inger steps out and calls to breakfast.
“And what are you busy with now?” asked Inger.
“You’re early about,” says Isak, and that was all.
Ho, that Isak with his secrets and his lordly ways! But it pleased him, maybe, to have her asking and wondering, and curious about his doings. He ate a bit, and sat for a while in the hut before going out again. What could he be waiting for?
“H’m,” says he at last, getting up. “This won’t do. Can’t sit here idling today. Work to be done.”
“Seems like you’re building,” says Inger. “What?”
And he answered condescendingly, this great man who went about building with timber all by himself, he answered: “Why, you can see as much, I take it.”
“Yes…. Yes, of course.”
“Building–why, there’s no help for it as I can see.. Here’s you come bringing a whole cow to the farm–that means a cowshed, I suppose?”
Poor Inger, not so eternally wise as he, as Isak, that lord of creation. And this was before she learned to know him, and reckon with his way of putting things. Says Inger:
“Why, it’s never a cowshed you’re building, surely?”
“Ho,” says he.
“But you don’t mean it? I–I thought you’d be building a house first.”
“Think so?” says Isak, putting up a face as if he’d never in life have thought of that himself.
“Why yes. And put the beasts in the hut.”
Isak thought for a bit. “Ay, maybe ‘twould be best so.”
“There,” says Inger, all glad and triumphant. “You see I’m some good after all.”
“Ay, that’s true. And what’d you say to a house with two rooms in?”
“_Two_ rooms? Oh …! Why, ‘twould be just like other folks. Do you think we could?”
They did. Isak he went about building, notching his baulks and fitting up his framework; also he managed a hearth and fireplace of picked stones, though this last was troublesome, and Isak himself was not always pleased with his work. Haytime came, and he was forced to climb down from his building and go about the hillsides far and near, cutting grass and bearing home the hay in mighty loads. Then one rainy day he must go down to the village.
“What you want in the village?”
“Well, I can’t say exactly as yet….”
He set off, and stayed away two days, and came Back with a cooking-stove–a barge of a man surging up through the forest with a whole iron stove on his back. “‘Tis more than a man can do,” said Inger. “You’ll kill yourself that gait.” But Isak pulled down the stone hearth, that didn’t look so well in the new house, and set up the cooking-stove in its place. “‘Tisn’t every one has a cooking-stove,” said Inger. “Of all the wonders, how we’re getting on!…”
Haymaking still; Isak bringing in loads and masses of hay, for woodland grass is not the same as meadow grass, more’s the pity, but poorer by far. It was only on rainy days now that he could spare time for his building; ’twas a lengthy business, and even by August, when all the hay was in, safely stored under the shelter of the rock, the new house was still but half-way done. Then by September: “This won’t do,” said Isak. “You’d better run down to the village and get a man to help.” Inger had been something poorly of late, and didn’t run much now, but all the same she got herself ready to go.
But Isak had changed his mind again; had put on his lordly manner again, and said he would manage by himself. “No call to bother with other folk,” says he; “I can manage it alone.”
“‘Tis more than one man’s work,” says Inger. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
“Just help me to hoist these up,” says Isak, and that was all.
October came, and Inger had to give up. This was a hard blow, for the roof-beams must be got up at any cost, and the place covered in before the autumn rains; there was not a day to be lost. What could be wrong with Inger? Not going to be ill? She would make cheese now and then from the goats’ milk, but beyond that she did little save shifting Goldenhorns a dozen times a day where she grazed.
“Bring up a good-sized basket, or a box,” she had said, “next time you’re down to the village.”
“What d’you want that for?” asked Isak.
“I’ll just be wanting it,” said Inger.
Isak hauled up the roof-beams on a rope, Inger guiding them with one hand; it seemed a help just to have her about. Bit by bit the work went on; there was no great height to the roof, but the timber was huge and heavy for a little house.
The weather kept fine, more or less. Inger got the potatoes in by herself, and Isak had the roofing done before the rain came on in earnest. The goats were brought in of a night into the hut and all slept there together; they managed somehow, they managed everyway, and did not grumble.
Isak was getting ready for another journey down to the village. Said Inger very humbly:
“Do you think perhaps you could bring up a good-sized basket, or a box?”
“I’ve ordered some glass windows,” said Isak. “and a couple of painted doors. I’ll have to fetch them up,” said he in his lordly way.
“Ay well, then. It’s no great matter about the basket.”
“What did you want with a basket? What’s it for?”
“What’s it for?… Oh, haven’t you eyes in your head!”
Isak went off deep in thought. Two days later he came back, with a window and a door for the parlour, and a door for the bedroom; also he had hung round his neck in front a good-sized packing-case, and full of provisions to boot.
“You’ll carry yourself to death one day,” said Inger.
“Ho, indeed!” Isak was very far indeed from being dead; he took out a bottle of medicine from his pocket–naphtha it was–and gave it to Inger with orders to take it regularly and get well again. And there were the windows and the painted doors that he could fairly boast of; he set to work at once fitting them in. Oh, such little doors, and secondhand at that, but painted up all neat and fine again in red and white; ’twas almost as good as having pictures on the walls.
And now they moved into the new building, and the animals had the turf hut to themselves, only a lambing ewe was left with Cow, lest she should feel lonely.
They had done well, these builders in the waste: ay, ’twas a wonder and a marvel to themselves.
Isak worked on the land until the frost act in; there were stones and roots to be dug up and cleared away, and the meadow to be levelled ready for next year. When the ground hardened, he left his field work and became a woodman, felling and cutting up great quantities of logs.
“What do you want with all these logs?” Inger would say.
“Oh, they’ll be useful some way,” said Isak off-handedly, as though he had no plan. But Isak had a plan, never fear. Here was virgin forest, a dense growth, right close up to the house, a barrier hedging in his fields where he wanted room. Moreover, there must be some way of getting the logs down to the village that winter; there were folk enough would be glad of wood for firing. It was sound enough, and Isak was in no doubt; he stuck to his work in the forest, felling trees and cutting them up into logs.
Inger came out often, to watch him at work. He took no notice, but made as if her coming were no matter, and not at all a thing he wished for her to do; but she understood all the same that it pleased him to have her there. They had a strange way, too, of speaking to each other at times.
“Couldn’t you find things to do but come out here and get stark frozen?” says Isak.
“I’m well enough for me,” says Inger. “But I can’t see there’s any living sense in you working yourself to death like you do.”
“Ho! You just pick up that coat of mine there and put it on you.”
“Put on your coat? Likely, indeed. I’ve no time to sit here now, with Goldenhorns ready to calve and all.”
“H’m, Calving, you say?”
“As if you didn’t know! But what do you think now about that same calf. Let it stay and be weaned, maybe?”
“Do as you think; ’tis none of my business with calves and things.”
“Well, ‘twould be a pity to eat up calf, seems to me. And leave us with but one cow on the place.”
“Don’t seem to me like you’d do that anyway,” says Isak.
That was their way. Lonely folk, ugly to look at and overfull of growth, but a blessing for each other, for the beasts, and for the earth.
And Goldenhorns calved. A great day in the wilderness, a joy and a delight. They gave her flour-wash, and Isak himself saw to it there was no stint of flour, though he had carried it all the way himself, on his back. And there lay a pretty calf, a beauty, red-flanked like her mother, and comically bewildered at the miracle of coming into the world. In a couple of years she would be having calves of her own.
“‘Twill be a grand fine cow when she grows up,” said Inger. “And what are we to call her, now? I can’t think.”
Inger was childish in her ways, and no clever wit for anything.
“Call her?” said Isak. “Why, Silverhorns, of course; what else?”
The first snow came. As soon as there was a passable road, Isak set out for the village, full of concealment and mystery as ever, when Inger asked his errand. And sure enough, he came back this time with a new and unthinkable surprise. A horse and sledge, nothing less.
“Here’s foolishness,” says Inger. “And you’ve not stolen it, I suppose?”
“Well, found it, then?”
Now if only he could have said: “‘Tis my horse–our horse….” But to tell the truth, he had only hired it, after all. Hired horse and sledge to cart his logs.
Isak drove down with his loads of firewood, and brought back food, herrings and flour. And one day he came up with a young bull on the sledge; bought it for next to nothing, by reason they were getting short of fodder down in the village. Shaggy and thin, no ways a beauty, but decently built for all that, and wanted no more than proper feed to set it right. And with a cow they had already….
“What’ll you be bringing up next?” said Inger.
Isak brought up a host of things. Brought up planks and a saw he had got in exchange for timber; a grindstone, a wafer iron, tools–all in exchange for his logs. Inger was bursting with riches, and said each time: “What, more things! When we’ve cattle and all a body could think of!”
They had enough to meet their needs for no little time to come, and were well-to-do folk. What was Isak to start on again next spring? He had thought it all out, tramping down beside his loads of wood that winter; he would clear more ground over the hillside and level it off, cut up more logs to dry through the summer, and take down double loads when the snow came fit for sledging. It worked out beautifully.
But there was another matter Isak had thought of times out of number: that Goldenhorns, where had she come from, whose had she been? There was never a wife on earth like Inger. Ho! a wild thing she was, that let him do as he pleased with her, and was glad of it. But–suppose one day they were to come for the cow, and take it away–and worse, maybe, to come after? What was it Inger herself had said about the horse: “You haven’t stolen it, I suppose, or found it?” That was her first thought, yes. That was what she had said; who could say if she were to be trusted–what should he do? He had thought of it all many a time. And here he had brought up a mate himself for the cow–for a stolen cow, maybe!
And there was the horse he would have to return again. A pity–for ’twas a little friendly beast, and grown fond of them already.
“Never mind,” said Inger comfortingly. “Why, you’ve done wonders already.”
“Ay, but just now with the spring coming on–and I’ve need of a horse….”
Next morning he drove off quietly with the last load, and was away two days. Coming back on foot the third day, he stopped as he neared the house, and stood listening. There was a curious noise inside…. A child crying–Eyah, _Herregud_!… Well, there it was; but a terrible strange thing. And Inger had never said a word.
He stepped inside, and there first thing of all was the packing-case–the famous packing-case that he had carried home slung round his neck in front; there it was, hung up by a string at each end from the ceiling, a cradle and a bedplace for the child. Inger was up, pottering about half-dressed–she had milked the cow and the goats, as it might have been just an ordinary day.
The child stopped crying. “You’re through with it already?” said Isak.
“Ay, I’m through with it now.”
“It came the first evening you were gone.”
“I’d only to get my things off and hang up the cradle there, but it was too much for me, like, and I had to lie down.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Why, I couldn’t say to a minute when it’d be. ‘Tis a boy.”
“Ho, a boy.”
“And I can’t for the life of me think what we’re to call him,” said Inger.
Isak peeped at the little red face; well shaped it was, and no hare-lip, and a growth of hair all thick on the head. A fine little fellow for his rank and station in a packing-case; Isak felt himself curiously weak. The rugged man stood there with a miracle before him; a thing created first of all in a sacred mist, showing forth now in life with a little face like an allegory. Days and years, and the miracle would be a human being.
“Come and have your food,” said Inger….
* * * * *
Isak is a woodman, felling trees and sawing logs. He is better off now than before, having a saw. He works away, and mighty piles of wood grow up; he makes a street of them, a town, built up of stacks and piles of wood. Inger is more about the house now, and does not come out as before to watch him at his work; Isak must find a pretext now and then to slip off home for a moment instead. Queer to have a little fellow like that about the place! Isak, of course, would never dream of taking any notice–’twas but a bit of a thing in a packing-case. And as for being fond of it … But when it cried, well, it was only human nature to feel just a little something for a cry like that; a little tiny cry like that.
“Don’t touch him!” says Inger. “With your hands all messed up with resin and all!”
“Resin, indeed!” says Isak. “Why, I haven’t had resin on my hands since I built this house. Give me the boy, let me take him–there, he’s as right as can be!”
* * * * *
Early in May came a visitor. A woman came over the hills to that lonely place where none ever came; she was of Inger’s kinsfolk, though not near, and they made her welcome.
“I thought I’d just look in,” she says, “and see how Goldenhorns gets on since she left us.”
Inger looks at the child, and talks to it in a little pitying voice: “Ah, there’s none asks how he’s getting on, that’s but a little tiny thing.”
“Why, as for that, any one can see how he’s getting on. A fine little lad and all. And who’d have thought it a year gone, Inger, to find you here with house and husband and child and all manner of things.”
“‘Tis no doing of mine to praise. But there’s one sitting there that took me as I was and no more.”
“And wedded?–Not wedded yet, no, I see.”
“We’ll see about it, the time this little man’s to be christened,” says Inger. “We’d have been wedded before, but couldn’t come by it, getting down to a church and all. What do you say, Isak?”
“Wedded?” says Isak. “Why, yes, of course.”
“But if as you’d help us, Oline,” says Inger. “Just to come up for a few days in the off time once, and look to the creatures here while we’re away?”
Ay, Oline would do that.
“We’ll see it’s no loss to you after.”
Why, as to that, she’d leave it to them…. “And you’re building again, I see. Now what’ll that be for? Isn’t there built enough?”
Inger sees her chance and puts in here: “Why, you must ask him about that. I’m not to know.”
“Building?” says Isak. “Oh, ’tis nothing to speak of. A bit of a shed, maybe, if we should need it. What’s that you were saying about Goldenhorns? You’d like to see her?”
They go across to the cowshed, and there’s cow and calf to show, and an ox to boot. The visitor nods her head, looking at the beasts, and at the shed; all fine as could be, and clean as couldn’t be cleaner. “Trust Inger for looking after creatures every way,” says Oline.
Isak puts a question: “Goldenhorns was at your place before?”
“Ay, from a calf. Not my place, though; at my son’s. But ’tis all the same. And we’ve her mother still.”
Isak had not heard better news a long while; it was a burden lighter. Goldenhorns was his and Inger’s by honest right. To tell the truth, he had half thought of getting rid of his trouble in a sorry way; to kill off the cow that autumn, scrape the hide, bury the horns, and thus make away with all trace of Cow Goldenhorns in this life. No need for that now. And he grew mightily proud of Inger all at once.
“Ay, Inger,” says he. “She’s one to manage things, that’s true. There’s not her like nor equal to be found. ‘Twas a poor place here till I got a woman of my own, as you might say.”
“Why, ’tis but natural so,” says Oline.
And so this woman from across the hills, a soft-spoken creature with her wits about her, and by name Oline, she stayed with them a couple of days, and had the little room to sleep in. And, when she set out for home, she had a bundle of wool that Inger had given her, from the sheep. There was no call to hide that bundle of wool, but Oline took care that Isak should not see it.
Then the child and Isak and his wife again; the same world again, and the work of the day, with many little joys and big. Goldenhorns was yielding well, the goats had dropped their kids and were yielding well; Inger had a row of red and white cheeses already, stored away to get ripe. It was her plan to save up cheeses till there were enough to buy a loom. Oh, that Inger; she knew how to weave.
And Isak built a shed–he too had a plan of his own, no doubt. He set up a new wing built out from the side of the turf hut, with double panelling boards, made a doorway in it, and a neat little window with four panes; laid on a roof of outer boards, and made do with that till the ground thawed and he could get turf. All that was useful and necessary; no flooring, no smooth-planed walls, but Isak had fixed up a box partition, as for a horse, and a manger.
It was nearing the end of May. The sun had thawed the high ground; Isak roofed in his shed with turf and it was finished. Then one morning he ate a meal to last for the day, took some more food with him, shouldered pick and spade, and went down to the village.
“Bring up three yards of cotton print, if you can,” Inger called after him.
“What do you want with that?” said Isak.
Isak was long away; it almost seemed as if he had gone for good. Inger looked at the weather every day, noting the way of the wind, as if she were expecting a sailing-ship; she went out at nighttime to listen; even thought of taking the child on her arm and going after him. Then at last he came back, with a horse and cart. “_Piro_!” shouted Isak as he drew up; shouted so as to be heard. And the horse was well behaved, and stood as quiet as could be, nodding at the turf hut as if it knew the place again. Nevertheless, Isak must call out, “Hi, come and hold the horse a bit, can’t you?”
Out goes Inger. “Where is it now? Oh, Isak, have you hired him again? Where have you been all this time? ‘Tis six days gone.”
“Where d’you think I’d be? Had to go all sorts of ways round to find a road for this cart of mine. Hold the horse a bit, can’t you?”
“Cart of yours! You don’t mean to say you’ve bought that cart?”
Isak dumb; Isak swelling with things unspoken. He lifts out a plough and a harrow he has brought; nails, provisions, a grindstone, a sack of corn. “And how’s the child?” he asks.
“Child’s all right. Have you bought that cart, that’s what I want to know? For here have I been longing and longing for a loom,” says she jestingly, in her gladness at having him back again.
Isak dumb once more, for a long space, busied with his own affairs, pondering, looking round for a place to put all his goods and implements; it was hard to find room for them all. But when Inger gave up asking, and began talking to the horse instead, he came out of his lofty silence at last.
“Ever see a farm _without_ a horse and cart, and plough and harrows, and all the rest of it? And since you want to know, why, I’ve bought that horse and cart, and all that’s in it,” says he.
And Inger could only shake her head and murmur: “Well, I never did see such a man!”
Isak was no longer littleness and humility; he had paid, as it were, like a gentleman, for Goldenhorns. “Here you are,” he could say. “I’ve brought along a horse; we can call it quits.”
He stood there, upright and agile, against his wont; shifted the plough once more, picked it up and carried it with one hand and stood it up against the wall. Oh, he could manage an estate! He took up the other things: the harrow, the grindstone, a new fork he had bought, all the costly agricultural implements, treasures of the new home, a grand array. All requisite appliances–nothing was lacking.
“H’m. As for that loom, why, we’ll manage that too, I dare say, as long as I’ve my health. And there’s your cotton print; they’d none but blue, so I took that.”
There was no end to the things he brought. A bottomless well, rich in all manner of things, like a city store.
Says Inger: “I wish Oline could have seen all this when she was here.”
Just like a woman! Sheer senseless vanity–as if that mattered! Isak sniffed contemptuously. Though perhaps he himself would not have been displeased if Oline had been there to see.
The child was crying.
“Go in and look after the boy,” said Isak. “I’ll look to the horse.”
He takes out the horse and leads it into the stable: ay, here is Isak putting his horse into the stable. Feeds it and strokes it and treats it tenderly. And how much was owing now, on that horse and cart?–Everything, the whole sum, a mighty debt; but it should all be paid that summer, never fear. He had stacks of cordwood to pay with, and some building bark from last year’s cut, not to speak of heavy timber. There was time enough. But later on, when the pride and glory had cooled off a little, there were bitter hours of fear and anxiety; all depended on the summer and the crops; how the year turned out.
The days now were occupied in field work and more field work; he cleared new bits of ground, getting out roots and stones; ploughing, manuring, harrowing, working with pick and spade, breaking lumps of soil and crumbling them with hand and heel; a tiller of the ground always, laying out fields like velvet carpets. He waited a couple of days longer–there was a look of rain about–and then he sowed his corn.
For generations back, into forgotten time, his fathers before him had sowed corn; solemnly, on a still, calm evening, best with a gentle fall of warm and misty rain, soon after the grey goose flight. Potatoes were a new thing, nothing mystic, nothing religious; women and children could plant them–earth-apples that came from foreign parts, like coffee; fine rich food, but much like swedes and mangolds. Corn was nothing less than bread; corn or no corn meant life or death.
Isak walked bareheaded, in Jesu name, a sower. Like a tree-stump with hands to look at, but in his heart like a child. Every cast was made with care, in a spirit of kindly resignation. Look! the tiny grains that are to take life and grow, shoot up into ears, and give more corn again; so it is throughout all the earth where corn is sown. Palestine, America, the valleys of Norway itself–a great wide world, and here is Isak, a tiny speck in the midst of it all, a sower. Little showers of corn flung out fanwise from his hand; a kindly clouded sky, with a promise of the faintest little misty rain.
It was the slack time between the seasons, but the woman Oline did not come.
Isak was free of the soil now; he had two scythes and two rakes ready for the haymaking; he made long bottom boards for the cart for getting in the hay, and procured a couple of runners and some suitable wood to make a sledge for the winter. Many useful things he did. Even to shelves. He set up a pair of shelves inside the house, as an excellent place to keep various things, such as an almanac–he had bought one at last–and ladles and vessels not in use. Inger thought a deal of those two shelves.
Inger was easily pleased; she thought a great deal of everything. There was Goldenhorns, for instance, no fear of her running away now, with the calf and bull to play with; she ran about in the woods all day long. The goats too were thriving, their heavy udders almost dragging on the ground. Inger made a long robe of blue cotton print, and a little cap of the same stuff, as pretty as could be–and that was for the christening. The boy himself watched her at work many a time; a blessed wonder of a boy he was, and if she was so bent on calling him Eleseus, why, Isak supposed she must have her way. When the robe was finished, it had a long train to it, nigh on a yard and a half of cotton print, and every inch of it money spent; but what of that–the child was their first-born.
“What about those beads of yours?” said Isak. “If as they’re ever to be used at all….”
Oh, but Inger had thought of them already, those beads of hers. Trust a mother for that. Inger said nothing, and was very proud. The beads were none so many; they would not make a necklace for the boy, but they would look pretty stitched on the front of his cap, and there they should be.
But Oline did not come.
If it had not been for the cattle, they could have gone off all three of them, and come back a few days later with the child properly christened. And if it had not been for that matter of getting wedded, Inger might have gone by herself.
“If we put off the wedding business for a bit?” said Isak. But Inger was loth to put it off; it would be ten or twelve years at least before Eleseus was old enough to stay behind and look to the milking while they went.
No, Isak must use his brains to find a way. The whole thing had come about somehow without their knowing; maybe the wedding business was just as important as the christening–how should he know? The weather looked like drought–a thoroughly wicked drought; if the rain did not come before long, their crops would be burnt up. But all was in the hand of God. Isak made ready to go down to the village and find some one to come up. All those miles again!
And all that fuss just to be wed and christened. Ay, outlying folks had many troubles, great and small.
At last Oline did come….
And now they were wedded and christened, everything decently in order; they had remembered to have the wedding first, so the child could be christened as of a wedded pair. But the drought kept on, and the tiny cornfields were parched, those velvet carpets parched–and why? ‘Twas all in the hand of God. Isak mowed his bits of meadow; there was little grass on them for all he had manured them well that spring. He mowed and mowed on the hillsides, farther and farther out; mowing and turning and carting home loads of hay, as if he would never tire,–for he had a horse already, and a well-stocked farm. But by mid-July he had to cut the corn for green fodder, there was no help for it. And now all depended on the potato crop.
What was that about potatoes? Were they just a thing from foreign parts, like coffee; a luxury, an extra? Oh, the potato is a lordly fruit; drought or downpour, it grows and grows all the same. It laughs at the weather, and will stand anything; only deal kindly with it, and it yields fifteen-fold again. Not the blood of a grape, but the flesh of a chestnut, to be boiled or roasted, used in every way. A man may lack corn to make bread, but give him potatoes and he will not starve. Roast them in the embers, and there is supper; boil them in water, and there’s a breakfast ready. As for meat, it’s little is needed beside. Potatoes can be served with what you please; a dish of milk, a herring, is enough. The rich eat them with butter; poor folk manage with a tiny pinch of salt. Isak could make a feast of them on Sundays, with a mess of cream from Goldenhorns’ milk. Poor despised potato–a blessed thing!
But now–things look black even for the potato crop.
Isak looked at the sky unnumbered times in the day. And the sky was blue. Many an evening it looked as if a shower were coming. Isak would go in and say, “Like as not we’ll be getting that rain after all.” And a couple of hours later all would be as hopeless as before.
The drought had lasted seven weeks now, and the heat was serious; the potatoes stood all the time in flower; flowering marvellously, unnaturally. The cornfields looked from a distance as if under snow. Where was it all to end? The almanac said nothing–almanacs nowadays were not what they used to be; an almanac now was no good at all. Now it looked like rain again, and Isak went in to Inger: “We’ll have rain this night, God willing.”
“Is it looking that way?”
“Ay. And the horse is shivering a bit, like they will.”
Inger glanced towards the door and said, “Ay, you see, ’twill come right enough.”
A few drops fell. Hours passed, they had their supper, and when Isak went out in the night to look, the sky was blue.
“Well, well,” said Inger; “anyway, ’twill give the last bit of lichen another day to dry,” said she to comfort him all she could.
Isak had been getting lichen, as much as he could, and had a fine lot, all of the best. It was good fodder, and he treated it as he would hay, covering it over with bark in the woods. There was only a little still left out, and now, when Inger spoke of it, he answered despairingly, as if it were all one, “I’ll not take it in if it is dry.”
“Isak, you don’t mean it!” said Inger.
And next day, sure enough, he did not take it in. He left it out and never touched it, just as he had said. Let it stay where it was, there’d be no rain anyway; let it stay where it was in God’s name! He could take it in some time before Christmas, if so be as the sun hadn’t burnt it all up to nothing.
Isak was deeply and thoroughly offended. It was no longer a pleasure and a delight to sit outside on the door-slab and look out over his lands and be the owner of it all. There was the potato field flowering madly, and drying up; let the lichen stay where it was–what did he care? That Isak! Who could say; perhaps he had a bit of a sly little thought in his mind for all his stolid simpleness; maybe he knew what he was doing after all, trying to tempt the blue sky now, at the change of the moon.
That evening it looked like rain once more. “You ought to have got that lichen in,” said Inger.
“What for?” said Isak, looking all surprised.
“Ay, you with your nonsense–but it might be rain after all.”
“There’ll be no rain this year, you can see for yourself.”
But for all that, it grew curiously dark in the night. They could see through the glass window that it was darker–ay, and as if something beat against the panes, something wet, whatever it might be. Inger woke up. “‘Tis rain! look at the window-panes.”
But Isak only sniffed. “Rain?–not a bit of it. Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Ah, it’s no good pretending,” said Inger.
Isak was pretending–ay, that was it. Rain it was, sure enough, and a good heavy shower–but as soon as it had rained enough to spoil Isak’s lichen, it stopped. The sky was blue. “What did I say,” said Isak, stiff-necked and hard.
The shower made no difference to the potato crop, and days came and went; the sky was blue. Isak set to work on his timber sledge, worked hard at it, and bowed his heart, and planed away humbly at runners and shafts. Eyah, _Herregud_! Ay, the days came and went, and the child grew. Inger churned and made cheeses; there was no serious danger; folk that had their wits about them and could work need not die for the sake of one bad year. Moreover, after nine weeks, there came a regular blessing of rain, rain all one day and night, and sixteen hours of it pouring as hard as it could. If it had come but two weeks back, Isak would have said, “It’s too late now!” As it was, he said to Inger, “You see, that’ll save some of the potatoes.”
“Ay,” said Inger hopefully. “It’ll save the lot, you’ll see.”
And now things were looking better. Rain every day; good, thorough showers. Everything looking green again, as by a miracle. The potatoes were flowering still, worse than before, and with big berries growing out at the tops, which was not as it should be; but none could say what might be at the roots–Isak had not ventured to look. Then one day Inger went out and found over a score of little potatoes under one plant. “And they’ve five weeks more to grow in,” said Inger. Oh, that Inger, always trying to comfort and speak hopefully through her hare-lip. It was not pretty to hear when she spoke, for a sort of hissing, like steam from a leaky valve, but a comfort all the same out in the wilds. And a happy and cheerful soul she was at all times.
“I wish you could manage to make another bed,” she said to Isak one day.
“Ho!” said he.
“Why, there’s no hurry, but still….”
They started getting in the potatoes, and finished by Michaelmas, as the custom is. It was a middling year–a good year; once again it was seen that potatoes didn’t care so much about the weather, but grew up all the same, and could stand a deal. A middling year–a good year … well, not perhaps, if they worked it out exactly, but that they couldn’t do this year. A Lapp had passed that way one day and said how fine their potatoes were up there; it was much worse, he said, down in the village.
And now Isak had a few weeks more to work the ground before the frost set in. The cattle were out, grazing where they pleased; it was good to work with them about, and hear the bells, though it did take some of his time now and again. There was the bull, mischievous beast, would take to butting at the lichen stacks; and as for the goats, they were high and low and everywhere, even to the roof of the hut.
Troubles great and small.
One day Isak heard a sudden shout; Inger stood on the door-slab with the child in her arms, pointing over to the bull and the pretty little cow Silverhorns–they were making love. Isak threw down his pick and raced over to the pair, but it was too late, by the look of it. The mischief was done. “Oh, the little rascal, she’s all too young–half a year too soon, a child!” Isak got her into the hut, but it was too late.
“Well, well,” says Inger, “’tis none so bad after all, in a way; if she’d waited, we’d have had both of them bearing at the same time.” Oh, that Inger; not so bright as some, maybe, yet, for all that, she may well have known what she was about when she let the pair loose together that morning.
Winter came, Inger carding and spinning, Isak driving down with loads of wood; fine dry wood and good going; all his debts paid off and settled; horse and cart, plough and harrow his very own. He drove down with Inger’s goats’ milk cheeses, and brought back woollen thread, a loom, shuttles and beam and all; brought back flour and provisions, more planks, and boards and nails; one day he brought home a lamp.
“As true as I’m here I won’t believe it,” says Inger. But she had long had in her mind about a lamp for all that. They lit it the same evening, and were in paradise; little Eleseus he thought, no doubt, it was the sun. “Look how he stares all wondering like,” said Isak. And now Inger could spin of an evening by lamplight.
He brought up linen for shirts, and new hide shoes for Inger. She had asked for some dye-stuffs, too, for the wool, and he brought them. Then one day he came back with a clock. With what?–A clock. This was too much for Inger; she was overwhelmed and could not say a word. Isak hung it up on the wall, and set it at a guess, wound it up, and let it strike. The child turned its eyes at the sound and then looked at its mother. “Ay, you may wonder,” said Inger, and took the child to her, not a little touched herself. Of all good things, here in a lonely place, there was nothing could be better than a clock to go all the dark winter through, and strike so prettily at the hours.
When the last load was carted down, Isak turned woodman once more, felling and stacking, building his streets, his town of wood-piles for next winter. He was getting farther and farther from the homestead now, there was a great broad stretch of hillside all ready for tillage. He would not cut close any more, but simply throw the biggest trees with dry tops.
He knew well enough, of course, what Inger had been thinking of when she asked for another bed; best to hurry up and get it ready. One dark evening he came home from the woods, and sure enough, Inger had got it over–another boy–and was lying down. That Inger! Only that very morning she had tried to get him to go down to the village again: “‘Tis time the horse had something to do,” says she. “Eating his head off all day.”
“I’ve no time for such-like nonsense,” said Isak shortly, and went out. Now he understood; she had wanted to get him out of the way. And why? Surely ’twas as well to have him about the house.
“Why can’t you ever tell a man what’s coming?” said he.
“You make a bed for yourself and sleep in the little room,” said Inger.
As for that, it was not only a bedstead to make; there must be bedclothes to spread. They had but one skin rug, and there would be no getting another till next autumn, when there were wethers to kill–and even then two skins would not make a blanket. Isak had a hard time, with cold at nights, for a while; he tried burying himself in the hay under the rock-shelter, tried to bed down for himself with the cows. Isak was homeless. Well for him that it was May; soon June would be in; July….
A wonderful deal they had managed, out there in the wilderness; house for themselves and housing for the cattle, and ground cleared and cultivated, all in three years. Isak was building again–what was he building now? A new shed, a lean-to, jutting out from the house. The whole place rang with the noise as he hammered in his eight-inch nails. Inger came out now and again and said it was trying for the little ones.
“Ay, the little ones–go in and talk to them then, sing a bit. Eleseus, he can have a bucket lid to hammer on himself. And it’s only while I’m doing these big nails just here, at the cross-beams, that’s got to bear the whole. Only planks after that, two-and-a-half-inch nails, as gentle as building dolls’ houses.”
Small wonder if Isak hammered and thumped. There stood a barrel of herrings, and the flour, and all kinds of food-stuffs in the stable; better than lying out in the open, maybe, but the pork tasted of it already; a shed they must have, and that was clear. As for the little ones, they’d get used to the noise in no time. Eleseus was inclined to be ailing somehow, but the other took nourishment sturdily, like a fat cherub, and when he wasn’t crying, he slept. A wonder of a child! Isak made no objection to his being called Sivert, though he himself would rather have preferred Jacob. Inger could hit on the right thing at times. Eleseus was named after the priest of her parish, and that was a fine name to be sure; but Sivert was called after his mother’s uncle, the district treasurer, who was a well-to-do man, with neither wife nor child to come after him. They couldn’t do better than name the boy after him.
Then came spring, and the new season’s work; all was down in the earth before Whitsun. When there had been only Eleseus to look after, Inger could never find time to help her husband, being tied to her first-born; now, with two children in the house, it was different; she helped in the fields and managed a deal of odd work here and there; planting potatoes, sowing carrots and turnips. A wife like that is none so easy to find. And she had her loom besides; at all odd minutes she would slip into the little room and weave a couple of spools, making half-wool stuff for underclothes for the winter. Then when she had dyed her wools, it was red and blue dress material for herself and the little ones; at last she put in several colours, and made a bedspread for Isak all by herself. No fancy work from Inger’s loom; useful and necessary things, and sound all through.
Oh, they were doing famously, these settlers in the wilds; they had got on so far, and if this year’s crops turned out well they would be enviable folk, no less. What was lacking on the place at all? A hayloft, perhaps; a big barn with a threshing-floor inside–but that might come in time. Ay, it would come, never fear, only give then time. And now pretty Silverhorns had calved, the sheep had lambs, the goats had kids, the young stock fairly swarmed about the place. And what of the little household itself? Eleseus could walk already, walk by himself wherever he pleased, and little Sivert was christened. Inger? By all signs and tokens, making ready for another turn; she was not what you’d call niggardly at bearing. Another child–oh, a mere nothing to Inger! Though, to be sure, she was proud enough of them when they came. Fine little creatures, as any one could see. ‘Twas not all, by a long way, that the Lord had blessed with such fine big children. Inger was young, and making the most of it. She was no beauty, and had suffered all her girlhood by reason of the same, being set aside and looked down on. The young men never noticed her, though she could dance and work as well. They found nothing sweet in her, and turned elsewhere. But now her time had come; she was in full flower and constantly with child. Isak himself, her lord and master, was earnest and stolid as ever, but he had got on well, and was content. How he had managed to live till Inger came was a mystery; feeding, no doubt, on potatoes and goats’ milk, or maybe venturesome dishes without a name; now, he had all that a man could think of in his place in the world.
There came another drought, a new bad year. Os-Anders the Lapp, coming by with his dog, brought news that folk in the village had cut their corn already, for fodder.
“‘Tis a poor look out,” said Inger, “when it comes to that.”
“Ay. But they’ve the herring. A fine haul, ’tis said. Your Uncle Sivert, he’s going to build a country house.”
“Why, he was none so badly off before.”
“That’s true. And like to be the same with you, for all it seems.”
“Why, as to that, thank God, we’ve enough for our little needs. What do they say at home about me up here?”
Os-Anders wags his head helplessly; there’s no end to the great things they say; more than he can tell. A pleasant-spoken fellow, like all the Lapps.
“If as you’d care for a dish of milk now, you’ve only to say so,” says Inger.
“‘Tis more than’s worth your while. But if you’ve a sup for the dog here….”
Milk for Os-Anders, and food for the dog. Os-Anders lifts his head suddenly, at a kind of music inside the house.
“‘Tis only our clock,” says Inger. “It strikes the hours that way.” Inger bursting with pride.
The Lapp wags his head again: “House and cattle and all manner of things. There’s nothing a man could think of but you’ve that thing.”
“Ay, we’ve much to be thankful for, ’tis true.”
“I forgot to say, there’s Oline was asking after you.”
“Oline? How is it with her?”
“She’s none so poorly. Where will your husband be now?”
“He’ll be at work in the fields somewhere.”
“They say he’s not bought yet,” says the Lapp carelessly.
“Bought? Who says so?”
“Why, ’tis what they say.”
“But who’s he to buy from? ‘Tis common land.”
“Ay, ’tis so.”
“And sweat of his brow to every spade of it.”
“Why, they say ’tis the State owns all the land.”
Inger could make nothing of this. “Ay, maybe so. Was it Oline said so?”
“I don’t well remember,” says the Lapp, and his shifty eyes looked all ways around.
Inger wondered why he did not beg for anything; Os-Anders always begged, as do all the Lapps. Os-Anders sits scraping at the bowl of his clay pipe, and and lights up. What a pipe! He puffs and draws at it till his wrinkled old face looks like a wizard’s runes.
“No need to ask if the little ones there are yours,” says he, flattering again. “They’re as like you as could be. The living image of yourself when you were small.”
Now Inger was a monster and a deformity to look at; ’twas all wrong, of course, but she swelled with pride for all that. Even a Lapp can gladden a mother’s heart.
“If it wasn’t that your sack there’s so full, I’d find you something to put in it,” says Inger.
“Nay, ’tis more than’s worth your while.”
Inger goes inside with the child on her arm; Eleseus stays outside with the Lapp. The two make friends at once; the child sees something curious in the sack, something soft and fluffy, and wants to pat it. The dog stands alert, barking and whining. Inger comes out with a parcel of food; she gives a cry, and drops down on the door-slab.
“What’s that you’ve got there? What is it?”
“Tis nothing. Only a hare.”
“I saw it.”
“‘Twas the boy wanted to look. Dog ran it down this morning and killed it, and I brought it along….”
“Here’s your food,” said Inger.
One bad year never comes alone. Isak had grown patient, and took what fell to his lot. The corn was parched, and the hay was poor, but the potatoes looked like pulling through once more–bad enough, all things together, but not the worst. Isak had still a season’s yield of cordwood and timber to sell in the village, and the herring fishery had been rich all round the coast, so there was plenty of money to buy wood. Indeed, it almost looked like a providence that the corn harvest had failed–for how could he have threshed it without a barn and threshing-floor? Call it providence; there’s no harm in that sometimes.
There were other things not so easily put out of mind. What was it a certain Lapp had said to Inger that summer–something about not having bought? Buy, what should he buy for? The ground was there, the forest was there; he had cleared and tilled, built up a homestead in the midst of a natural wilderness, winning bread for himself and his, asking nothing of any man, but working, and working alone. He had often thought himself of asking the Lensmand [Footnote: Sheriff’s officer, in charge of a small district.] about the matter when he went down to the village, but had always put it off; the Lensmand was not a pleasant man to deal with, so people said, and Isak was not one to talk much. What could he say if he went–what had he come for?
One day that winter the Lensmand himself came driving up to the place. There was a man with him, and a lot of papers in a bag. Geissler himself, the Lensmand, no less. He looked at the broad open hillside, cleared of timber, smooth and unbroken under the snow; he thought perhaps that it was all tilled land already, for he said:
“Why, this is a whole big farm you’ve got. You don’t expect to get all this for nothing?”
There it was! Isak was terror-stricken and said not a word.
“You ought to have come to me at first, and bought the land,” said Geissler.
The Lensmand talked of valuations, of boundaries, taxes, taxes to the State, and, when he had explained the matter a little, Isak began to see that there was something reasonable in it after all. The Lensmand turned to his companion teasingly. “Now then, you call yourself a surveyor, what’s the extent of cultivated ground here?” He did not wait for the other to reply, but noted down himself, at a guess. Then he asked Isak about the crops, how much hay, how many bushels of potatoes. And then about boundaries. They could not go round the place marking out waist-deep in snow; and in summer no one could get up there at all. What did Isak think himself about the extent of woodland and pasturage?–Isak had no idea at all; he had always thought of the place as being his own as far as he could see. The Lensmand said that the State required definite boundaries. “And the greater the extent, the more you will have to pay.”
“And they won’t give you all you think you can swallow; they’ll let you have what’s reasonable for your needs.”
Inger brought in some milk for the visitors; they drank it, and she brought in some more. The Lensmand a surly fellow? He stroked Eleseus’ hair, and looked at something the child was playing with. “Playing with stones, what? Let me see. H’m, heavy. Looks like some kind of ore.”
“There’s plenty such up in the hills,” said Isak.
The Lensmand came back to business. “South and west from here’s what you want most, I suppose? Shall we say a couple of furlongs to the southward?”
“Two furlongs!” exclaimed his assistant.
“_You_ couldn’t till two hundred yards,” said his chief shortly.
“What will that cost?” asked Isak.
“Can’t say. It all depends. But I’ll put it as low as I can on my report; it’s miles away from anywhere, and difficult to get at.”
“But two furlongs!” said the assistant again.
The Lensmand entered duly, two furlongs to the southward, and asked: “What about the hills? How much do you want that way?”
“I’ll need all up as far as the water. There’s a big water up there,” said Isak.
The Lensmand noted that. “And how far north?”
“Why, it’s no great matter that way. ‘Tis but moorland most, and little timber.”
The Lensmand fixed the northward boundary at one furlong. “East?”
“That’s no great matter either. ‘Tis bare field all from here into Sweden.”
The Lensmand noted down again. He made a rapid calculation, and said: “It’ll make a good-sized place, even at that. Anywhere near the village, of course, it’d be worth a lot of money; nobody could have bought it. I’ll send in a report, and say a hundred _Daler_ would be fair. What do you think?” he asked his assistant.
“It’s giving it away,” said the other.
“A hundred _Daler_?” said Inger. “Isak, you’ve no call to take so big a place.”
“No–o,” said Isak.
The assistant put in hurriedly: “That’s just what I say. It’s miles too big for you as it is. What will you do with it?”
“Cultivate it,” said the Lensmand.
He had been sitting there writing and working in his head, with the children crying every now and then; he did not want to have the whole thing to do again. As it was, he would not be home till late that night, perhaps not before morning. He thrust the papers into the bag; the matter was settled.
“Put the horse in,” he said to his companion. And turning to Isak: “As a matter of fact, they ought to give you the place for nothing, and pay you into the bargain, the way you’ve worked. I’ll say as much when I send in the report. Then we’ll see how much the State will ask for the title-deeds.”
Isak–it was hard to say how he felt about it. Half as if he were not ill-pleased after all to find his land valued at a big price, after the work he had done. As for the hundred _Daler_, he could manage to pay that off, no doubt, in course of time. He made no further business about it; he could go on working as he had done hitherto, clearing and cultivating, fetching loads of timber from the untended woodlands. Isak was not a man to look about anxiously for what might come; he worked.
Inger thanked the Lensmand, and hoped he would put in a word for them with the State.
“Yes, yes. But I’ve no say in the matter myself. All I have to do is to say what I have seen, and what I think. How old is the youngest there?”
“Six months as near as can be.”
“Boy or girl?”
The Lensmand was no tyrant, but shallow, and not overconscientious. He ignored his assistant, Brede Olsen, who by virtue of his office should be an expert in such affairs; the matter was settled out of hand, by guesswork. Yet for Isak and his wife it was a serious matter enough–ay, and for who should come after them, maybe for generations. But he set it all down, as it pleased him, making a document of it on the spot. Withal a kindly man; he took a bright coin from his pocket and gave it to little Sivert; then he nodded to the others and went out to the sledge.
Suddenly he asked: “What do you call the place?”
“Yes. What’s its name? We must have a name for it”
No one had ever thought of that before. Inger and Isak looked at each other.
“Sellanraa?” said the Lensmand. He must have invented it out of his own head; maybe it was not a name at all. But he only nodded, and said again, “Sellanraa!” and drove off.
Settled again, at a guess, anything would do. The name, the price, the boundaries….
Some weeks later, when Isak was down in the village, he heard rumours of some business about Lensmand Geissler; there had been an inquiry about some moneys he could not account for, and the matter had been reported to his superior. Well, such things did happen; some folk were content to stumble through life anyhow, till they ran up against those that walked.
Then one day Isak went down with a load of wood, and coming back, who should drive with him on his sledge but Lensmand Geissler. He stepped out from the trees, on to the road, waved his hand, and simply said: “Take me along, will you?”
They drove for a while, neither speaking. Once the passenger took a flask from his pocket and drank; offered it to Isak, who declined. “I’m afraid this journey will upset my stomach,” said the Lensmand.
He began at once to talk about Isak’s deal in land. “I sent off the report at once, with a strong recommendation on my own account. Sellanraa’s a nice name. As a matter of fact, they ought to let you have the place for nothing, wouldn’t do to say so, of course. If I had, they’d only have taken offence and put their own price on it. I suggested fifty _Daler_.”
“Ho. Fifty, you said? Not a hundred?”
The Lensmand puckered his brow and thought a moment. “As far as I recollect it was fifty. Yes….”
“And where will you be going, now?” asked Isak.
“Over to Vesterbotten, to my wife’s people.”
“‘Tis none so easy that way at this time of year.”
“I’ll manage. Couldn’t you go with me a bit?”
“Ay; you shan’t go alone.”
They came to the farm, and the Lensmand stayed the night, sleeping in the little room. In the morning, he brought out his flask again, and remarked: “I’m sure this journey’s going to upset my stomach.” For the rest, he was much the same as last time, kindly, decisive, but fussy, and little concerned about his own affairs. Possibly it might not be so bad after all. Isak ventured to point out that the hillside was not all under cultivation yet, but only some small squares here and there. The Lensmand took the information in a curious fashion. “I knew that well enough, of course, last time I was here, when I made out the report. But Brede, the fellow who was with me, he didn’t see it. Brede, he’s no earthly good. But they work it out by table. With all the ground as I entered it, and only so few loads of hay, so few bushels of potatoes, they’ll say at once that it must be poor soil, cheap soil, you understand. I did my best for you, and you take my word for it, that’ll do the trick. It’s two and thirty thousand fellows of your stamp the country wants.”
The Lensmand nodded and turned to Inger. “How old’s the youngest?”
“He’s just three-quarters of a year.”
“And a boy, is he?”
“But you must see and get that business settled as soon as ever you can,” said he to Isak again. “There’s another man wants to purchase now, midway between here and the village, and as soon as he does, this’ll be worth more. You buy now, get the place first, and let the price go up after–that way, you’ll be getting some return for all the work you’ve put into it. It was you that started cultivating here at all. ‘Twas all wilderness before.”
They were grateful for his advice, and asked if it was not he himself that would arrange the matter. He answered that he had done all he could; everything now depended on the State. “I’m going across to Vesterbotten now, and I shan’t be coming back,” he told them straightforwardly.
He gave Inger an _Ort_, and that was overmuch. “You can take a bit of meat down to my people in the village next time you’re killing,” said he. “My wife’ll pay you. Take a cheese or so, too, any time you can. The children like it.”
Isak went with him up over the hills; it was firm, good going on the higher ground, easier than below. Isak received a whole _Daler_.
In that manner was it Lensmand Geissler left the place, and he did not come back. No great loss, folk said, he being looked on as a doubtful personage, an adventurer. Not that he hadn’t the knowledge; he was a learned man, and had studied this and that, but he lived too freely, and spent other people’s money. It came out later that he had left the place after a sharp reprimand from his superior, Amtmand Pleym; but nothing was done about his family officially, and they went on living there, a good while after–his wife and three children. And it was not long before the money unaccounted for was sent from Sweden, so that Geissler’s wife and children could not be said to be held as hostages, but stayed on simply because it pleased them.
Isak and Inger had no cause to complain of Geissler’s dealings with them, not by a long way. And there was no saying what sort of man his successor would be–perhaps they would have to go over the whole business again!
The Amtmand [Footnote: Governor of a country] sent one of his clerks up to the village, to be the new Lensmand. He was a man about forty, son of a local magistrate, by name Heyerdahl. He had lacked the means to go to the university and enter the service that way; instead, he had been constrained to sit in an office, writing at a desk, for fifteen years. He was unmarried, having never been able to afford a wife. His chief, Amtmand Pleym, had inherited him from his predecessor, and paid him the same miserable wage that had been given before; Heyerdahl took it, and went on writing at his desk as before.
Isak plucked up his courage, and went to see him.
“Documents in the Sellanraa case …? Here they are, just returned from the Department. They want to know all sorts of things–the whole business is in a dreadful muddle, as Geissler left it,” said the official. “The Department wishes to be informed as to whether any considerable crop of marketable berries is to be reckoned with on the estate. Whether there is any heavy timber. Whether possibly there may be ores or metals of value an the hills adjoining. Mention is made of water, but nothing stated as to any fishery in the same. This Geissler appears to have furnished certain information, but he’s not to be trusted, and here have I to go through the whole affair again after him. I shall have to come up to Sellanraa and make a thorough inspection and valuation. How many miles is it up there? The Department, of course, requires that adequate boundaries be drawn: yes, we shall have to beat the bounds in due order.”
“‘Tis no light business setting up boundaries this time of year,” said Isak. “Not till later on in the summer.”
“Anyhow, it’ll have to be done. The Department can’t wait all through the summer for an answer. I’ll come up myself as soon as I can get away. I shall have to be out that way in any case, there’s another plot of land a man’s inquiring about.”
“Will that be him that’s going to buy up between me and the village?”
“Can’t say, I’m sure. Very likely. As a matter of fact, it’s a man from the office here, my assistant in the office. He was here in Geissler’s time. Asked Geissler about it, I understand, but Geissler put him off; said he couldn’t cultivate a hundred yards of land. So he sent in an application to the Amtmand, and I’m instructed to see the matter through. More of Geissler’s muddling!”
Lensmand Heyerdahl came up to the farm, and brought with him his assistant, Brede. They had got thoroughly wet crossing the moors, and wetter still they were before they’d finished tramping the boundary lines through melting snow and slush up and down the hills. The Lensmand set to work zealously the first day, but on the second he had had enough, and contented himself with standing still for the most part, pointing and shouting directions. There was no further talk about prospecting for ore in the “adjoining hills,” and as for marketable berries–they would have a look at the moors on the way back, he said.
The Department requested information on quite a number of points–there were tables for all sorts of things, no doubt. The only thing that seemed reasonable was the question of timber. Certainly, there was some heavy timber, and that within the limits of Isak’s proposed holding, but not enough to reckon with for sale; no more than would be required to keep up the place. Even if there had been timber in plenty, who was to carry it all the many miles to where it could be sold? Only Isak, trundling like a tub-wheel through the forest in winter-time carting some few heavy sticks down to the village, to bring back planks and boards for his building.
Geissler, the incomprehensible, had, it seemed, sent in a report which was not easily upset. Here was his successor going through the whole thing again, trying to find mistakes and blatant inaccuracies–but all in vain. It was noticeable that he consulted his assistant at every turn, and paid heed to what he said, which was not Geissler’s way at all. That same assistant, moreover, must presumably have altered his own opinion, since he was now a would-be purchaser himself of lands from the common ground held by the State.
“What about the price?” asked the Lensmand.
“Fifty _Daler_ is the most they can fairly ask of any buyer,” answered the expert.
Lensmand Heyerdahl drew up his report in elegant phrasing. Geissler had written: “The man will also have to pay land tax every year; he cannot afford to pay more for the place than fifty _Daler_, in annual instalments over ten years. The State can accept his offer, or take away his land and the fruits of his work.” Heyerdahl wrote: “He now humbly begs to submit this application to the Department: that he be allowed to retain this land, upon which, albeit without right of possession, he has up to this present effected considerable improvements, for a purchase price of 50–fifty–_Speciedaler_, the amount to be paid in annual instalments as may seem fit to the Department to apportion the same.”
Lensmand Heyerdahl promised Isak to do his best. “I hope to succeed in procuring you possession of the estate,” he said.
The big bull is to be sent away. It has grown to an enormous beast, and costs too much to feed; Isak is taking it down to the village, to bring up a suitable yearling in exchange.
It was Inger’s idea. And Inger had no doubt her own reasons for getting Isak out of the place on that particular day.
“If you are going at all, you’d better go today,” she said. “The bull’s in fine condition; ’twill fetch a good price at this time of year. You take him down to the village, and they’ll send him to be sold in town–townsfolk pay anything for their meat.”
“Ay,” says Isak.
“If only the beast doesn’t make trouble on the way down.”
Isak made no answer.
“But he’s been out and about now this last week, and getting used to things.”
Isak was silent. He took a big knife, hung it in a sheath at his waist, and led out the bull.
A mighty beast it was, glossy-coated and terrible to look at, swaying at the buttocks as it walked. A trifle short in the leg; when it ran, it crushed down the undergrowth with its chest; it was like a railway engine. Its neck was huge almost to deformity; there was the strength of an elephant in that neck.
“If only he doesn’t get mad with you,” said Inger.
Isak thought for a moment. “Why, if as he takes it that way, I’ll just have to slaughter him half-way and carry down the meat.”
Inger sat down on the door-slab. She was in pain; her face was aflame. She had kept her feet till Isak was gone; now he and the bull were out of sight, and she could give way to a groan without fear. Little Eleseus can talk a little already; he asks: “Mama hurt? “–“Yes, hurt.” He mimics her, pressing his hands to his sides and groaning. Little Sivert is asleep.
Inger takes Eleseus inside the house, gives him some things to play with on the floor, and gets into bed herself. Her time was come. She is perfectly conscious all the while, keeps an eye on Eleseus, glances at the clock on the wall to see the time. Never a cry, hardly a movement; the struggle is in her vitals–a burden is loosened and glides from her. Almost at the same moment she hears a strange cry in the bed, a blessed little voice; poor thing, poor little thing … and now she cannot rest, but lifts herself up and looks down. What is it? Her face is grey and blank in a moment, without expression or intelligence; a groan is heard; unnatural, impossible–a choking gasp.
She slips back on the bed. A minute passes; she cannot rest, the little cry down there in the bed grows louder, she raises herself once more, and sees–O God, the direst of all! No mercy, no hope–and this a girl!
Isak could not have gone more than a couple of miles or so. It was hardly an hour since he had left. In less than ten minutes Inger had borne her child and killed it….