Friday, May 11, 2012

Hamsun: Getting rid of Barbro

It was an open quarrel between them this time. But even that died away after a time, and all was well again. That is to say, not well exactly--no, but passable. Barbro was careful and more submissive; she knew there was danger. But that way, life at Maaneland grew even more forced and intolerable--no frankness, no joy between them, always on guard. It could not last long, but as long as it lasted at all, Axel was forced to be content. He had got this girl on the place, and had wanted her for himself and had her, tied his life to her; it was not an easy matter to alter all that. Barbro knew everything about the place: where pots and vessels stood, when cows and goats were to bear, if the winter feed would be short or plenty, how much milk was for cheese and how much for food--a stranger would know nothing of it all, and even so, a stranger was perhaps not to be had.  

Oh, but Axel had thought many a time of getting rid of Barbro and taking another girl to help; she was a wicked thing at times, and he was almost afraid of her. Even when he had the misfortune to get on well with her he drew back at times in fear of her strange cruelty and brutal ways; but she was pretty to look at, and could be sweet at times, and bury him deep in her arms. So it had been--but that was over now. No, thank you--Barbro was not going to have all that miserable business over again. But it was not so easy to change.... "Let's get married at once, then," said Axel, urging her.  "At once?" said she. "Nay; I must go into town first about my teeth, they're all but gone as it is."  So there was nothing to do but go on as before. And Barbro had no real wages now, but far beyond what her wages would have been; and every time she asked for money and he gave it, she thanked him as for a gift. But for all that Axel could not make out where the money went--what could she want money for out in the wilds? Was she hoarding for herself? But what on earth was there to save and save for, all the year round?  

There was much that Axel could not make out. Hadn't he given her a ring--ay, a real gold ring? And they had got on well together, too, after that last gift; but it could not last for ever, far from it; and he could not go on buying rings to give her. In a word--did she mean to throw him over? Women were strange creatures! Was there a man with a good farm and a well-stocked place of his own waiting for her somewhere else? Axel could at times go so far as to strike his fist on the table in his impatience with women and their foolish humours.  A strange thing, Barbro seemed to have nothing really in her head but the thought of Bergen and town life. Well and good. But if so, why had she come back at all, confound her! A telegram from her father would never have moved her a step in itself; she must have had some other reason. And now here she was, eternally discontented from morning to night, year after year. All these wooden buckets, instead of proper iron pails; cooking-pots instead of saucepans; the everlasting milking instead of a little walk round to the dairy; heavy boots, yellow soap, a pillow stuffed with hay; no military bands, no people. Living like this....

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil  (1917) (translated by W. W. Worster)

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