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Why do I meddle in other people’s affairs? Why did I come to this town in the first place? Was it because of some cosmic disaster, because of Gladstone’s cold, for example? Heh-heh-heh, God help you, child, if you tell the truth: that actually you were on your way home but were suddenly so deeply moved at the sight of this town – small and miserable as it is – that you almost wept with a strange, mysterious joy when you saw all those flags.


I suffered no pain, my hunger had taken the edge off; instead I felt pleasantly empty, untouched by everything around me and happy to be unseen by all. I put my legs up on the bench and leaned back, the best way to feel the true well-being of seclusion. There wasn't a cloud in my mind, nor did I feel any discomfort, and I hadn't a single unfulfilled desire or craving as far as my thought could reach. I lay with open eyes in a state of utter absence from myself and felt deliciously out of it.

However estranged I was from myself in that moment, so completely at the mercy of invisible influences, nothing that was taking place around me escaped my perception. A big brown dog ran across the street, toward the Students’ Promenade and down to the amusement park; it had a narrow collar of German silver. Father up the street a window was opened on the second floor and a maid, her sleeves rolled up, leaned out and began to clean the panes on the outside. Nothing escaped my attention, I was lucid and self-possessed; everything rushed in upon me with a brilliant distinctness, as if an intense light had suddenly sprung up around me.

(…) my nervousness refused to go away. During the day I sat and wrote with my hands swathed in rags, merely because I couldn’t stand my own breath on them. When Jens Olai slammed the stable door downstairs or a dog entered the back yard and started barking, I felt as though pierced to the quick by cold stabs of pain which hit me everywhere. I was fairly done for.

Quivering with rage and exhaustion, I keep on standing in the same place, still whispering oaths and insults, catching my breath after my fit of crying, broken and limp after my insane explosion of anger. I stood there maybe for half an hour, gasping and whispering while holding on to the gate. 4


Growth of the Soil

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.