Skrim did send for Per.
Per reported for duty some distance away, in the northern part of the district. He was going to town. He was tingling with excitement. He knew what the town looked like from many books and pictures, but still he was excited.
Another boy was there to help with the droving. His name was Hans, and he was the same age as Per. They had been confirmed together, since they belonged to the same parish.
And there was a surprised cow waiting to be led away by Skrim and his drovers. It was the beginning of Skrim's herd, like the source of a river. A woman was standing there waiting with the cow. Skrim checked in his book to see if it was the right one.
"Off you go, then," said Skrim to the cow. It was the drought speaking out of his mouth.
Per and Hans were absorbed and solemn. They had food in their knapsacks; they were going far. The single cow soon had company: at each lane leading off to the farms, cattle were waiting for them. It was a bright autumn morning, with frost in the grass.
So it went. All the farms had been forced to make their sacrifice to the pitiless drought summer. Per and Hans followed the herd; Skrim walked in front.
They came to Bringa. Per had been thinking about it all along. Now they were there.
Bringa lay a short distance above the road. It had a good [p. 129] position in the woods. Above it was steep mountainside. The lane down to the main road was gravelled and well kept. There at the gate waiting for Skrim stood the farmer, and Olav, and Åsne Bakken, each with a cow on a rope.
Olav did not know that Per was going as a drover, it was clear. He looked confused. Åsne stood calmly, watching Per. A whole summer had passed over her since he had seen her last. A brown summer. She had grown a good deal too.
"Good day!" she said.
There were the cows. Per noticed that they were standing beside Åsne and that they were accustomed to her. She untied the ropes and gave them up to Skrim. Per watched Åsne, noting how she had grown and changed.
Olav was standing stiffly. He and Per did not look at each other. But just as Per was about to leave, they did so. They gave each other a long look. There was no yearning in it; it was simply long and silent.
"Get going, will you?" said Skrim sharply from up in front.
"Have a good trip!" called Åsne, and raised her arm. Those arms that had raked hay and milked cows this summer; Per gazed at them.
"Why don't you come along too?" called Hans to Åsne teasingly, being free of Per's restraint. He knew Åsne from the confirmation class, and besides he had nothing to hide from her. He was free.
Åsne laughed. "Wish I could," she said. There was longing in her voice. She could say nothing to Per, and he could say nothing to her. Only Hans stood there free.
"Get moving," said Skrim roughly. "See you," he said to the farmer from Bringa.
And they left. Now the Bringa cows were on their way to the big slaughterhouse. Now Åsne, who had milked them, was on her way back to Bringa to stay there for the winter. She would work in the house and milk big, warm animals. Per saw it in a flash, saw her milking big, warm animals.[p. 130]
Now Olav was on his way home to Bringa.
Per pulled himself together and began to drive the herd. The slaughterhouse was the goal of this journey.
More farm gates. More cows. Skrim checked in his terrible book to see if they were the right ones.
They came to the farm called Bufast. Father and Aunt Anne were standing at the gate. It was strange to Per to be approaching it from the north, almost as a stranger—to be stopping at Bufast only briefly while this broad-shouldered farmer and this young woman gave up three cows to the herd.
"Have a good journey," said Auntie.
Father said nothing. He let the cows join the herd and then left. He went down to the farm called Bufast. Per was going out into the world.
Per tried to tell himself that he was going out into the world and would never come back again. At once he felt sad, for he could see it was good to live at Bufast. The buildings were old, weathered to a fine gray; there was a spreading rowan tree in the yard. It was his own farm, and now he was leaving it.
"Have you never seen that farm before?" teased Hans. Hans was drunk with joy because he was going to town that day. Per returned to reality with a start.
The gravel digger came out of his pits. Per had always seen him; he would never change or die, but would pile up round heaps of gravel forever.
"Hi!" he said to Per, like a handshake. Per was proud. Old fellows came out of their gravel pits and called hi! to him. They hurried on.
The Bufast cows kept to the back of the herd. They knew Per and walked just in front of him. That, too, affected him. He could not help remembering that he had seen them as new-born calves with the first milk dribbling out of the corners of their mouths. Now it was another story; now they were off to the big slaughterhouse.
They walked and walked, Skrim relentless and lean up in front. Relentless and lean as the drought summer itself.[p. 131]
The consignments of cows ceased when they left the areas where Skrim did business. In these districts the cattle went to other traders.
It must have been because Per knew they were going to be slaughtered that they seemed to him to be walking differently from other cows. Some of them set up a sudden staccato lowing. Then they dropped their heads again. Per thought about this until he forgot to be happy about the journey for long stretches at a time. Yet Hans remained plump and jolly, without a care in the world.
It was exhausting plodding behind a herd of cows all day. The cows were hungry and snatched at the grass along the wayside, the fresh, tender grass that the rain had at last tempted out. Rain and grass and cattle and flowing milk—you felt it all as something pleasant and attractive. But this herd was written down in Skrim's list and was frightening.
The scent of the potato fields was in the air. In some places people were digging the ripened potatoes. Those on the road could only breathe in the fragrance of the withered, drying potato plants.
Hans laughed aloud.
"What is it?" asked Per.
"Nothing—Skrim crabbing along at the head of his slaughter-herd, and everything!" said Hans.
Copyright © 1934 by Olaf Norlis Forlag, Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1967 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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