After the Long Winter Sleep
Night. Bright night.
The fire was burning down on the hearth. Now everyone was dreaming on his straw couch with eyes open and senses awakened, dreaming of past joys and future happiness.
The Lapp in his twig hut, the miner in his stone cottage, and the peasant under his low rafters, all of them lay there and listened: Was the spring coming now? A dripping from the roof, the high-pitched note of a bird, ay, it was a miracle of God.
In Bergstaden there was excitement and a swarm of travellers coming and going. In the lodging houses doors opened and shut day and night—in the outbuildings as well as in the main building. The closer spring came, the greater the excitement. The light nights, with blue sky and stars that were almost white, kept both young and old from their beds. They walked along side by side, thinking, No, you're not asleep, are you? Now, when they had just awakened from their long winter sleep? Now life was beginning again at the beginning.
And out in the stables which the travellers used, there was a strong smell of horses and tarred harness. Ice and snow were [p. 16] melting in the yards. Hay which had fallen from the hayracks lay floating like yellow mats on the mud. Sledges stood on end with their shining runners turned outwards, glittering like silver in the light of the night.
Avalanches of snow, black earth, and withered straw fell from the house roofs. And the magpie was busy building its nest under the eaves from dried twigs fetched from afar; it was so far to the nearest forest from Bergstaden. Laughing and chattering they put one twig on the other in the morning sun. "Skarr! Rarr! Arr!" they said. "Skarr! Rarr! Arr!"
In one of the stable doorways Tøllef Elgsjøen stood counting some coins he held in the hollow of his right hand. The light from the clear spring sky in the north fell on their silver. And it seemed to the wagoner that they shone with such luster that it almost hurt his eyes. Yes, now he had to see how much money he had got from Sigismund for the journey. And Tøllef counted and counted, over and over again. He'd got too much, for sure, hadn't he? A whole crown too much, at least. That Sigismund was a queer chap. When he got out of the wagon outside Leich's house, he took out his purse, laughed, and rattled it close up to Tøllef's ears. And then he said something which Tøllef hadn't understood, sounded like Greek to him. And then both he and his wife laughed. "Cup your hand and hold it up, my good Tøllef!" he said. Then he took his purse and emptied it into Tøllef's band. When Tøllef wanted to count the money, he just closed his hand and said, "We'll count it later." "He's cheating me!" Tøllef thought. "Downright cheating me!" He must count the money once again. He got down on one knee, cleaned the doorstep carefully with his elbow, and laid one coin beside the other. . . . He tried to work it out, tugged at his hair, and counted! He couldn't exactly say that he had a head for figures, but there was a crown too much, that there was. God bless the pastor! Now he repented all the bad things he had thought about Sigismund. Wasn't it just what he had always said to himself, that one should never say or think anything bad about a person one didn't know. The wagoner put the money remorsefully into his purse and [p. 17] snapped the lock. "Click!" it said. And then he put it, slender though it was, into the inside pocket in his waistcoat, and buttoned up each brass button thoughtfully and seriously.
He stood there wondering whether he should go into the house and sit down for a while on a stool; he wouldn't get any sleep tonight anyway—it was queer with sleep in the spring, it was as if it disappeared with the snow and the ice. But what if he just went into the stable and sat down there on a hayrack? He could let the stable door stay open; then he could see the pale, beautiful spring light.
He reached out for his food bag and took it with him. His swallow was dry; he had an empty feeling in his stomach. He hadn't eaten any real food today. But then he remembered that his bag was empty. Well, it was no good complaining about that! Tomorrow he could buy enough to fill both his knapsack and his metal food container. That was easy when one had the money.
Tøllef slapped himself proudly over his chest where the purse lay.
Yes, that old sheriff wasn't going to get his hands on this money. He seldom saw any cash for the charcoal and the transport; all he got for his hard work went straight to the provision store. And to the sheriff!
He tottered, exhausted, the empty food bag over his shoulder, in through the door, and threw himself down on the straw put out for the horses.
When the church bell struck one shortly afterwards, the wagoner was asleep. He tossed in his sleep. He dreamt that he ate and ate and was never satisfied. And then he dreamt about the big gold nugget.
Copyright © 1923 by H. Aschehoug & Co. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1968 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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