A couple of hours passed; Per and the others worked in the field. The spring sowing had an incitement about it. You felt an urge to quicken the pace. To clatter, to shout, to watch the soil spurting in front of the implements. But it was no use trying to do more than think about it. Goldie set the pace and would not let himself be tempted beyond it.
"Look at Father!" called Åsmund. "He's starting to work again."
Åsmund's voice was unrecognizably happy and relieved. He must have been longing to see this.
Auntie straightened her back. "Yes, look at your father."
Then she gave a start. "Something will happen. You must go to him, Per!"
Per looked up too. Over in the cleared land stood Father, in the deep, black furrow where his field ended and the uncultivated grass began. He was standing there working, tall and very much in his rightful element. They heard the clinking of stones. They did not know how long he had been working there; they had been too busy to notice and down in a hollow in the field so that they could not see around them.
"Go over, Per. Quickly!"
"No!" said Åsmund. Clearly Åsmund had had a burning wish fulfilled: that of seeing Father in his rightful place again. They realized they had all been longing to see this. They could not drive him away.
"But he'll destroy himself this time," said Auntie. "He's been forbidden to do any work."
Per remembered Father's devouring eyes a while ago. Something had broken out.[p. 165]
The spade clanged against a stone. Father, who couldn't manage anything, was digging. Was it a miracle? Now they could hear the mattock, the satisfied, thick sound of a mattock in gravel and sand.
Åsmund and Per were standing close together as they had seldom stood before. The boy Åsmund was in no doubt: a miracle had happened. And his belief infected Per. Per believed with Åsmund. Only Aunt Anne did not let herself be deceived.
"We must get him away from there," she said, and hurried across. They did not call out to stop her. They only looked to see if Mother was in sight; it would make her happy.
Father stood swinging the mattock. The sound reached them, satisfied and staccato. Aunt Anne had come up to him now. They heard her speaking in a high, frightened voice. They did not hear the earthy voice answer. Goldie turned his head towards the fright in Auntie's voice.
She was gesticulating. "Come here!"
They ran, seized with sudden dread.
Father went on striking with the mattock in stubborn rhythm, red in the face with obstinacy. Where did he find the strength, he who had none? He had probably been there for a couple of hours. He swung the mattock, crumbling the light gray subsoil. Small stones that lay as if cast into the hard rind of the gravel were loosened. A larger stone was lying beside them. Father seized the crowbar and pitched into the big stone. The heavy, steel crowbar. Now Father was working with a strength he did not own, and it would be bound to take its toll.
Aunt Anne stood helpless. Åsmund turned white and trembled. Per flew at his father: "Hey there!"
Father took no notice, simply went on working.
"Hey there! Get away from here!"
"Leave me alone!" shouted his father back. "You're not going to destroy me any longer!" he added. "Just you try."
He talked as if addressing a crowd of enemies and continued [p. 166] with what he was doing. He was clearly in pain, but he went on.
"Run home and get your mother!" said Auntie, and Åsmund ran.
Per shook his father by the arm. "You'll kill yourself doing this! Don't you remember? If you work you'll kill yourself."
Father paused and fumbled a little. His face was close to Per's; it was large, heavy, and ravaged with impatience. His eyes were staring and wide with defiance and futile longing. Then the gleam in them altered; they saw Per and recognized him.
"This is where you belong, Per," he said. "You can never leave it."
It sounded like a command.
Per did not reply. His father insisted: "Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes. And now come home."
Per felt grown-up. He drew Father away. He felt strong. He got Father half out of the furrow, but then Father found a spark of his borrowed strength again and shoved Per aside.
"Is it you or I who's the boy?" asked that rough, rusty voice. He seized the spade and began shovelling the loose gravel.
Aunt Anne had collected herself and came forward.
"You're being unkind to us now, Eilev."
"I'm only showing you that I can still work, I'm—"
"Eilev, come now before Ingjerd has to come and get you home. It's much better."
"Stop plaguing me!" he shouted. "What do you know about it all?"
He went on with it, digging, breaking stones. Everything was done with great skill. He attacked the stone in the right way, his mattock bit into the gravel, his movements with the spade were easy and assured. Every exertion pained his shattered body; you saw how he winced with each stab.
There were Mother and Åsmund. Mother looked calm.
Father began to resist before she had even reached him. "Yes, I can see you!" he began. "Just you come along and try!"[p. 167]
He bent over the stones and the soil again. It was alarming. All around them was the spring day, the earth open and raw. Over there stood Goldie. Farther downhill the river churned. The air was singing. But here Father's own people were gathered about him to take him by storm, as if he were a dangerous force that had to be destroyed—and he saw them all as enemies on the attack.
"Let him alone," said Per quickly to his mother. "You won't get anywhere."
"Oh, I expect I will."
She stepped down into the earth to him and stood, all gentleness, in the newly dug soil. There she put her arm around his shoulders as he bent over digging. She had been his woman for a long time. He knew those arms from better times, more beautiful moments.
"Eilev, when you know you shouldn't—"
"Be quiet! What do you know about this?"
She did not let go, but said, unable to hide her fear any more: "No, I don't know anything about this. But you must live and stay with us!"
"I'll die if I go on as I have been doing, let me tell you."
He managed to shake off her arm and gesticulated to give himself room. His defiance increased; he grasped the mattock and swung it around him to make the space greater.
Per was about to jump on him all the same, but Aunt Anne screamed "No!" so sharply that he paused.
Mother stood deathly pale, hurt and insulted. "You'll have to learn your lesson when it comes, then, Eilev," she said bitterly.
"Let him alone, Per," she added. "He shall have his own way."
Her voice was bitter. She spoke with such sudden authority that none of them tried to oppose Father any more. He should have his own way. They knew what would happen, but he should have his own way.
He must have felt as if he was in a fight. He stood there breaking up the stones, digging, back in his old breakneck [p. 168] rhythm. But he seemed to be fighting an enemy. He did not look as if he loved earth this time, but was tortured and persecuted by her. And his people there on the slope around him were also his enemies. He was ringed about by enemies.
They stood in a half-circle, waiting for him to collapse. It was dreadful to watch, and Per was on the point of going forward, and Aunt Anne was on the point of going forward—but Mother was the one to decide now; she was the closest to him.
"Leave Eilev in peace," she said. "You can go away if you want. It has nothing to do with you."
But they stayed. The sight of him toiling in senseless defiance held them there. They knew he would lose pitifully against the forces he was defying. It was horrible. He did not even see them now, only toiled in delirium, moaning each time he felt a stab of pain in his body.
Behind them they heard a high whinny. It made them all start: there was a wildness about it. Goldie was standing far away in the field wondering why they did not come back. He whinnied, and they all started and saw death before their eyes. Death. Strange that a horse's whinny should remind them of death. Father did not even notice.
Mother stood still. Per thought with a shudder that this was most likely a settlement of accounts; that this thing ravaging Father, this defiance and fury, had burned and ravaged secretly when Father and Mother were alone together. One could only guess, but Mother was standing as if it were so. It has nothing to do with you, she had said, and so they stood knowing themselves to be ignorant and small.
"Oh—" said someone.
It was finished.
He was finished. His swollen, defiant face turned gray, and he crumpled up over his stomach, then sat down on the edge of the furrow to steady himself. His head hung nodding, unable to carry itself upright.
Mother went to him quickly. They all went to him. Per held his breath: would Mother spare him a rap because he [p. 169] had lost? Would she say: There you are, what did I say, Eilev? Or would she not say it? She bent over him; she took hold of his head and righted it— Dear God, don't let her say it—
"Come home, Eilev," she said. "You've finished with this now."
She simply spoke, not with authority nor as a victor. He was too exhausted to answer.
Joy flooded Per, in spite of everything. If Mother had taken advantage of Father's stupidity, it would have been worse than all the rest. She had not done so.
They got Father to his feet and helped him home, supporting him on three sides, while Åsmund went in front of the procession as if showing the way. It was a strange thing for Åsmund to do; Per remembered it long afterwards without understanding.
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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