Knut Hamsun.

Growth of the Soil online

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"What's that you've got over there? Built a mill of your own, have
you? grind your own corn? Excellent. And you've turned up a good bit
of ground since I was here last."

"Is she well?"

"Eh? Oh, your wife! - yes, she's well and fit. Let's go in the next
room. I'll tell you all about it."

"'Tis not in order," put in Oline. Oline had her own reasons for not
wishing them to go in. They went into the little room nevertheless,
and closed the door. Oline stood in the kitchen and could hear

Geissler sat down, slapped his knee with a powerful hand, and there he
was - master of Isak's fate.

"You haven't sold that copper tract yet?" he asked.


"Good. I'll buy it myself. Yes, I've seen Inger and some other people
too. She'll be out before long, if I'm not greatly mistaken - the case
has been submitted to the King."

"The King?"

"The King, yes. I went in to have a talk with your wife - they managed
it for me, of course, no difficulty about that - and we had a long
talk. 'Well, Inger, how are you getting on? Nicely, what?' 'Why, I've
no cause to complain.'' Like to be home again?' 'Ay, I'll not say no.'
'And so you shall before very long,' said I. And I'll tell you this
much, Isak, she's a good girl, is Inger. No blubbering, not so much
as a tear, but smiling and laughing ... they've fixed up that trouble
with her mouth, by the way - operation - sewed it up again. 'Good-bye,
then,' said I. 'You won't be here very long, I'll promise you that.'

"Then I went to the Governor - he saw me, of course, no difficulty
about that. 'You've a woman here,' said I,' that ought to be out of
the place, and back in her home - Inger Sellanraa.' 'Inger?' said he;
'why, yes. She's a good sort - I wish we could keep her for twenty
years,' said he. 'Well, you won't,' said I. 'She's been here too long
already.' 'Too long?' says he. 'Do you know what she's in for?' 'I
know all about it,' says I, 'being Lensmand in the district.' 'Oh,'
says he, 'won't you sit down?' Quite the proper thing to say, of
course. 'Why,' says the Governor then, 'we do what we can for her
here, and her little girl too. So she's from your part of the country,
is she? We've helped her to get a sewing-machine of her own; she's
gone through the workshops right to the top, and we've taught her a
deal - weaving, household work, dyeing, cutting out. Been here too
long, you say?' Well, I'd got my answer ready for that all right, but
it could wait, so I only said her case had been badly muddled, and had
to be taken up again; now, after the revision of the criminal code,
she'd probably have been acquitted altogether. And I told him about
the hare. 'A hare?' says the Governor. 'A hare,' says I. 'And the
child was born with a hare-lip.' 'Oh,' says he, smiling, 'I see. And
you think they ought to have made more allowance for that?' 'They
didn't make any at all,' said I, 'for it wasn't mentioned.' 'Well, I
dare say it's not so bad, after all.' 'Bad enough for her, anyway.'
'Do you believe a hare can work miracles, then?' says he. 'As to
that,' said I, 'whether a hare can work miracles or not's a matter I
won't discuss just now. The question is, what effect the _sight_ of a
hare might have on a woman with her disfigurement, in her condition.'
Well, he thought over that for a bit. 'H'm,' says he at last. 'Maybe,
maybe. Anyhow, we're not concerned with that here. All we have to
do is to take over the people they send us; not to revise their
sentences. And according to her sentence, Inger's not yet finished her

"Well, then, I started on what I wanted to say all along. 'There was
a serious oversight made in bringing her here to begin with,' said I.
'An oversight?' 'Yes. In the first place, she ought never to have been
sent across the country at all in the state she was in.' He looks at
me stiffly. 'No, that's perfectly true,' says he. 'But it's nothing to
do with us here, you know.' 'And in the second place,' said I, 'she
ought certainly not to have been in the prison for full two months
without any notice taken of her condition by the authorities here.'
That put him out, I could see; he said nothing for quite a while. 'Are
you instructed to act on her behalf?' says he at last. 'Yes, I am,'
said I. Well, then, he started on about how pleased they had been with
her, and telling me over again all they'd taught her and done for her
there - taught her to write too, he said. And the little girl had been
put out to nurse with decent people, and so on. Then I told him how
things were at home, with Inger away. Two youngsters left behind,
and only a hired woman to look after them, and all the rest. 'I've a
statement from her husband,' said I, 'that I can submit whether the
case be taken up for thorough revision, or an application be made
for a pardon.' 'I'd like to see that statement,' says the Governor.
'Right,' said I. 'I'll bring it along tomorrow in visiting hours.'"

Isak sat listening - it was thrilling to hear, a wonderful tale from
foreign parts. He followed Geissler's mouth with slavish eyes.

Geissler went on: "I went straight back to the hotel and wrote out a
statement; did the whole thing myself, you understand, and signed it
'Isak Sellanraa.' Don't imagine, though, I said a word against the way
they'd managed things in the prison. Not a word. Next day I went along
with the paper. 'Won't you sit down?' says the Governor, the moment I
got inside the door. He read through what I'd written, nodded here and
there, and at last he says: 'Very good, very good indeed. It'd hardly
do, perhaps, to have the case brought up again for revision, but....'
'Wait a bit,' said I. 'I've another document that I think will make it
right.' Had him there again, you see. 'Well,' he says, all of a hurry,
'I've been thinking over the matter since yesterday, and I consider
there's good and sufficient grounds to apply for a pardon.' 'And the
application would have the Governor's support?' I asked. 'Certainly;
yes, I'll give it my best recommendation.' Then I bowed and said: 'In
that case, there will be no difficulty about the pardon, of course. I
thank you, sir, on behalf of a suffering woman and a stricken home.'
Then says he: 'I don't think there should be any need of further
declarations - from the district, I mean - about her case. You know the
woman yourself - that should be quite enough.' I knew well enough, of
course, why he wanted the thing settled quietly as possible, so I just
agreed: said it would only delay the proceedings to collect further

"And there you are, Isak, that's the whole story." Geissler looked at
his watch. "And now let's get to business. Can you go with me up to
the ground again?"

Isak was a stony creature, a stump of a man; he did not find it
easy to change the subject all at once; he was all preoccupied with
thoughts and wondering, and began asking questions of this and that.
He learned that the application had been sent up to the King, and
might be decided in one of the first State Councils. "'Tis all a
miracle," said he.

Then they went up into the hills; Geissler, his man, and Isak, and
were out for some hours. In a very short time Geissler had followed
the lie of the copper vein over a wide stretch of land and marked out
the limits of the tract he wanted. Here, there, and everywhere he was.
But no fool, for all his hasty movements; quick to judge, but sound
enough for all that.

When they came back to the farm once more with a sack full of samples
of ore - he got out writing materials and sat down to write. He did not
bury himself completely in his writing, though, but talked now and
again. "Well, Isak, it won't be such a big sum this time, for the
land, but I can give you a couple of hundred _Daler_ anyway, on the
spot." Then he wrote again. "Remind me before I go, I want to see that
mill of yours," said he. Then he caught sight of some blue and red
marks on the frame of the loom, and asked."Who drew that?" Now that
was Eleseus, had drawn a horse and a goat; he used his coloured pencil
on the loom and woodwork anywhere, having no paper. "Not at all bad,"
said Geissler, and gave Eleseus a coin.

Geissler went on writing for a bit, and then looked up. "You'll be
having other people taking up land hereabouts before long."

At this the man with him spoke: "There's some started already."

"Ho! And who might that be?"

"Well, first, there's the folk at Breidablik, as they call it - man
Brede, at Breidablik."

"Him - puh!" sniffed Geissler contemptuously.

"Then there's one or two others besides, have bought."

"Doubt if they're any good, any of them," said Geissler. And noticing
at the same moment that there were two boys in the room, he caught
hold of little Sivert and gave him a coin. A remarkable man was
Geissler. His eyes, by the way, had begun to look soreish; there was a
kind of redness at the edges. Might have been sleeplessness; the same
thing comes at times from drinking of strong waters. But he did not
look dejected at all; and for all his talking of this and that between
times, he was thinking no doubt of his document all the while, for
suddenly he picked up the pen and wrote a piece more.

At last he seemed to have finished.

He turned to Isak: "Well, as I said, it won't make you a rich man all
at once, this deal. But there may be more to come. We'll fix it up so
that you get more later on. Anyhow, I can give you two hundred now."

Isak understood but little of the whole thing, but two hundred _Daler_
was at any rate another miracle, and an unreasonable sum. He would get
it on paper, of course, not paid in cash, but let that be. Isak had
other things in his head just now.

"And you think she'll be pardoned?" he asked.

"Eh? Oh, your wife! Well, if there'd been a telegraph office in the
village, I'd have wired to Trondhjem and asked if she hadn't been set
free already."

Isak had heard men speak of the telegraph; a wonderful thing, a string
hung up on big poles, something altogether above the common earth. The
mention of it now seemed to shake his faith in Geissler's big words,
and he put in anxiously: "But suppose the King says no?"

Said Geissler: "In that case, I send in my supplementary material, a
full account of the whole affair. And then they _must_ set her free.
There's not a shadow of doubt."

Then he read over what he had written; the contract for purchase
of the land. Two hundred _Daler_ cash down, and later, a nice high
percentage of receipts from working, or ultimate disposal by further
sale, of the copper tract. "Sign your name here," said Geissler.

Isak would have signed readily enough, but he was no scholar; in all
his life he had got no farther than cutting initials in wood. But
there was that hateful creature Oline looking on; he took up the
pen - a beastly thing, too light to handle anyway - turned it right
end down, and _wrote_ - wrote his name. Whereupon Geissler added
something, presumably an explanation, and the man he had brought with
him signed as a witness.


But Oline was still there, standing immovable - it was indeed but now
she had turned so stiff. What was to happen?

"Dinner on the table, Oline," said Isak, possibly with a tough of
dignity, after having signed his name in writing on a paper. "Such as
we can offer," he added to Geissler.

"Smells good enough," said Geissler. "Sound meat and drink. Here,
Isak, here's your money!" Geissler took out his pocket-book - thick and
fat it was, too - drew from it two bundles of notes and laid them down.
"Count it over yourself."

Not a movement, not a sound.

"Isak," said Geissler again.

"Ay. Yes," answered Isak, and murmured, overwhelmed, "'Tis not that
I've asked for it, nor would - after all you've done."

"Ten tens in that - should be, and twenty fives here," said Geissler
shortly. "And I hope there'll be more than that by a long way for your
share soon."

And then it was that Oline recovered from her trance. The wonder had
happened after all. She set the food on the table.

Next morning Geissler went out to the river to look at the mill.
It was small enough, and roughly built; ay, a mill for dwarfs, for
trollfolk, but strong and useful for a man's work. Isak led his guest
a little farther up the river, and showed him another fall he had been
working on a bit; it was to turn a saw, if so be God gave him health.
"The only thing," he said, "it's a heavy long way from school: I'll
have to get the lads to stay down in the village." But Geissler,
always so quick to find a way, saw nothing to worry about here. "There
are more people buying and settling here now," said he. "It won't be
long before there's enough to start a school."

"Ay, maybe, but not before my boys are grown."

"Well, why not let them live on a farm down in the village? You could
drive in with the boys and some food, and bring them up again three
weeks - six weeks after; it would be easy enough for you, surely?"

"Ay, maybe," said Isak.

Ay, all things would be easy enough, if Inger came home. House and
land and food and grand things enough, and a big sum of money too he
had, and his strength; he was hard as nails. Health and strength -
ay, full and unspoiled, unworn, in every way, the health and strength
of a man.

When Geissler had gone, Isak began thinking of many presumptuous
things. Ay, for had not Geissler, that blessing to them all, said at
parting that he would send a message very soon - would send a telegram
as soon as ever he could. "You can call in at the post office in a
fortnight's time," he had said. And that in itself was a wonderful
thing enough. Isak set to work making a seat for the cart. A seat, of
course, that could be taken off when using the cart for manure, but to
be put in again when any one wanted to drive. And when he had got
the seat made, it looked so white and new that it had to be painted
darker. As for that, there were things enough that had to be done! The
whole place wanted painting, to begin with. And he had been thinking
for years past of building a proper barn with a bridge, to house
in the crop. He had thought, too, of getting that saw set up and
finished; of fencing in all his cultivated ground; of building a boat
on the lake up in the hills. Many things he had thought of doing. But
hard as he worked, unreasonably hard - what did it help against time?
Time - it was the time that was too short. It was Sunday before he
knew, and then directly after, lo it was Sunday again!

Paint he would, in any case; that was decided and emphatic. The
buildings stood there grey and bare - stood there like houses in their
shirt sleeves. There was time yet before the busy season; the spring
was hardly begun yet; the young things were out, but there was frost
in the ground still.

Isak goes down to the village, taking with him a few score of eggs for
sale, and brings back paint. There was enough for one building, for
the barn, and it was painted red. He fetches up more paint, yellow
ochre this time, for the house itself. "Ay, 'tis as I said, here's
going to be fine and grand," grumbles Oline every day. Ay, Oline could
guess, no doubt, that her time at Sellanraa would soon be up; she was
tough and strong enough to bear it, though not without bitterness.
Isak, on his part, no longer sought to settle up old scores with her
now, though she pilfered and put away things lavishly enough towards
the end. He made her a present of a young wether; after all, she had
been with him a long time, and worked for little pay. And Oline had
not been so bad with the children; she was not stern and strictly
righteous and that sort of thing, but had a knack of dealing with
children: listened to what they said, and let them do more or less
as they pleased. If they came round while she was making cheese, she
would give them a bit to taste; if they begged to be let off washing
their faces one Sunday, she would let them off.

When Isak had given his walls a first coat, he went down to the
village again and brought up all the paint he could carry. Three coats
he put on in all, and white on the window-frames and corners. To come
back now and look at his home there on the hillside, it was like
looking at a fairy palace. The wilderness was inhabited and
unrecognizable, a blessing had come upon it, life had arisen there
from a long dream, human creatures lived there, children played about
the houses. And the forest stretched away, big and kindly, right up to
the blue heights.

But the last time Isak went down for paint, the storekeeper gave him
a blue envelope with a crest on, and 5 _skilling_ to pay. It was a
telegram which had been forwarded by post, and was from Lensmand
Geissler. A blessing on that man Geissler, wonderful man that he was!
He telegraphed these few words, that Inger was free, "Home soonest
possible: Geissler." And at this the store took to whirling curiously
round and round; the counter and the people in the shop were suddenly
far away. Isak felt rather than heard himself saying, "_Herregud_!"
and "Praise and thanks to God."

"She might be here no later than tomorrow the day," said the
storekeeper, "if so be she's left Trondhjem in time."

"Ho!" said Isak.

He waited till the next day. The carrier came up with letters, from
the landing-stage where the steamer put in, but no Inger. "Then she
won't be here now till next week," the storekeeper said.

Almost as well, after all, that there was time to wait - Isak has many
things to do. Should he forget himself altogether, and neglect his
land? He sets off home again and begins carting out manure. It is
soon done. He sticks a crowbar into the earth, noting how the frost
disappears from day to day. The sun is big and strong now, the snow
is gone, green showing everywhere; the cattle are out to graze. Isak
ploughs one day, and a few days later he is sowing corn, planting
potatoes. Ho, the youngsters too, planting potatoes like angels;
blessed little hands they have, and what can their father do but

Then Isak washes out the cart down by the river, and puts the seat
in. Talks to the lads about a little journey; he must have a little
journey down to the village.

"But aren't you going to walk?"

"Not today. I've took into my head to go down with horse and cart

"Can't we come too?"

"You've got to be good boys, and stay at home this time. Your own
mother'll be coming very soon, and she'll learn you a many things."

Eleseus is all for learning things; he asks: "Father, when you did
that writing on the paper - what does it feel like?"

"Why, 'tis hardly to feel at all; just like a bit of nothing in the

"But doesn't it slip, like on the ice?"

"What slip?"

"The pen thing, that you write with?"

"Ay, there's the pen. But you have to learn to steer it, you'll see."

But little Sivert he was of another mind, and said nothing about pens;
he wanted to ride in the cart; just to sit up on the seat before the
horse was put in, and drive like that, driving ever so fast in a cart
without a horse. And it was all his doing that father let them both
sit up and ride with him a long way down the road.

Chapter XI

Isak drives on till he comes to a tarn, a bit of a pool on the moor,
and there he pulls up. A pool on the moors, black, deep down, and the
little surface of the water perfectly still; Isak knew what that was
good for; he had hardly used any other mirror in his life than such a
bit of water on the moors. Look how nice and neat he is today, with a
red shirt; he takes out a pair of scissors now, and trims his beard.
Vain barge of a man; is he going to make himself handsome all at once,
and cut away five years' growth of iron beard? He cuts and cuts away,
looking at himself in his glass. He might have done all this at home,
of course, but was shy of doing it before Oline; it was quite enough
to stand there right in front of her nose and put on a red shirt. He
cuts and cuts away, a certain amount of beard falls into his patent
mirror. The horse grows impatient at last and is moving on; Isak is
fain to be content with himself as he is, and gets up again. And
indeed he feels somehow younger already - devil knows what it could be,
but somehow slighter of build. Isak drives down to the village.

Next day the mail boat comes in. Isak climbs up on a rock by the
storekeeper's wharf, looking out, but still no Inger to be
seen. Passengers there were, grown-up folk and children with
them - _Herregud_! - but no Inger. He had kept in the background,
sitting on his rock, but there was no need to stay behind any longer;
he gets down and goes to the steamer. Barrels and cases trundling
ashore, people and mailbags, but still Isak lacked what he had come
for. There was something there - a woman with a little girl, up at the
entrance to the landing-stage already; but the woman was prettier to
look at than Inger - though Inger was good enough. What - why - but it
was Inger! "H'm," said Isak, and trundled up to meet them. Greetings:
"_Goddag_," said Inger, and held out her hand; a little cold, a little
pale after the voyage, and being ill on the way. Isak, he just stood
there; at last he said:

"H'm. 'Tis a fine day and all."

"I saw you down there all along," said Inger. "But I didn't want to
come crowding ashore with the rest. So you're down in the village

"Ay, yes. H'm."

"And all's well at home, everything all right?"

"Ay, thank you kindly."

"This is Leopoldine; she's stood the voyage much better than I did.
This is your papa, Leopoldine; come and shake hands nicely."

"H'm," said Isak, feeling very strange - ay, he was like a stranger
with them all at once.

Said Inger: "If you find a sewing-machine down by the boat, it'll be
mine. And there's a chest as well."

Off goes Isak, goes off more than willingly, after the chest; the
men on board showed him which it was. The sewing-machine was another
matter; Inger had to go down and find that herself. It was a handsome
box, of curious shape, with a round cover over, and a handle to carry
it by - a sewing-machine in these parts! Isak hoisted the chest and the
sewing-machine on to his shoulders, and turned to his wife and child:

"I'll have these up in no time, and come back for her after."

"Come back for who?" asked Inger, with a smile. "Did you think she
couldn't walk by herself, a big girl like that?"

They walked up to where Isak had left the horse and cart.

"New horse, you've got?" said Inger. "And what's that you've got - a
cart with a seat in?"

"Tis but natural," said Isak. "What I was going to say: Wouldn't you
care for a little bit of something to eat? I've brought things all

"Wait till we get a bit on the way," said she. "Leopoldine, can you
sit up by yourself?"

But her father won't have it; she might fall down under the wheels.
"You sit up with her and drive yourself."

So they drove off, Isak walking behind.

He looked at the two in the cart as he walked. There was Inger, all
strangely dressed and strange and fine to look at, with no hare-lip
now, but only a tiny scar on the upper lip. No hissing when she
talked; she spoke all clearly, and that was the wonder of it all. A
grey-and-red woollen wrap with a fringe looked grand on her dark hair.
She turned round in her seat on the cart, and called to him:

"It's a pity you didn't bring a skin rug with you; it'll be cold, I
doubt, for the child towards night."

"She can have my jacket," said Isak. "And when we get up in the woods,
I've left a rug there on the way."

"Oh, have you a rug up in the woods?"

"Ay. I wouldn't bring it down all the way, for if you didn't come

"H'm. What was it you said before - the boys are well and all?"

"Ay, thank you kindly."

"They'll be big lads now, I doubt?"

"Ay, that's true. They've just been planting potatoes."

"Oh!" said the mother, smiling, and shaking her head. "Can they plant
potatoes already?"

"Why, Eleseus, he gives a hand with this, and little Sivert helps with
that," said Isak proudly.

Little Leopoldine was asking for something to eat. Oh, the pretty
little creature; a ladybird up on a cart! She talked with a sing in
her voice, with a strange accent, as she had learned in Trondhjem.
Inger had to translate now and again. She had her brothers' features,
the brown eyes and oval cheeks that all had got from their mother; ay,
they were their mother's children, and well that they were so! Isak
was something shy of his little girl, shy of her tiny shoes and long,
thin, woollen stockings and short frock; when she had come to meet her
strange papa she had curtseyed and offered him a tiny hand.

They got up into the woods and halted for a rest and a meal all round.

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