Wednesday, November 10, 2004 +

The Ordinary Hairpins

E. C. Bentley,
Loved History
And Mystery.

I enjoyed Trent Intervenes more than I did Trent's Last Case.

A thick carpet of rich pasture began where the deep birch-belt ended at the top of the height. It stretched away for miles over a gently sloping upland. As Trent came into the open, panting after a strenuous forty-minute climb, the heads of a score of browsing cattle were sleepily turned towards him. Beyond them wandered many more; and two hundred yards away stood a tiny hut, turf-roofed.

This plateau was the saeter; the high grass-land, attached to some valley farm. Trent had heard long ago, and never thought since, of this feature of Norway's rural life. At the appointed time, the cattle would be driven up by an easier detour to the mountain pastures for their summer holiday, to be attended there by some peasant—usually a young girl—who lived solitary with the herd. Such wires as that he had seen were kept bright by the daily descent of milk-churns, let down by a line from above, received by a farmhand at the road below.

And there, at the side of the hut, a woman stood. Trent, as he approached, noted her short, rough skirt and coarse, sack-like upper garment, her thick grey stockings and clumsy clogs. About her bare head her pale-gold hair was fastened in tight plaits. As she looked up on hearing Trent's footfall, two heavy silver earrings dangled about the tanned and careworn face of this very type of the middle-aged peasant woman of the region.

She ceased her task of scraping a large cake of chocolate into a bowl, and straightened her tall body. Smiling, with lean hands on her hips, she spoke in Norwegian, greeting him.

Trent made the proper reply. “And that,” he added in his own tongue, “is a large part of all the Norwegian I know. Perhaps, madam, you speak English.” Her light blue eyes looked puzzlement, and she spoke again, pointing down to the valley. He nodded; and she began to talk pleasantly in her unknown speech. From within the hut she brought two thick mugs; she pointed rapidly to the chocolate in the bowl, to himself and herself.

“I should like it of all things,” he said. “You are most kind and hospitable, like all your people. What a pity it is we have no language in common!” She brought him a stool and gave him the chocolate cake and a knife, making signs that he should continue the scraping; then within the hut she kindled a fire of twigs and began to boil water in a black pot. Plainly this was her dwelling, the roughest Trent had ever seen. He could discern that on the two small shelves were ranged a few pieces of chipped earthenware. A wooden bed-place, with straw and two neatly folded blankets, filled a third of the space in the hut. All the carpentering was of the rudest. From a small chest in a corner she drew a biscuit-tin, half full of flat cakes of stale rye bread. There seemed to be nothing else in the tiny place but a heap of twigs for fuel.

She made chocolate in the two mugs, and then, at Trent's insistence in dumb show, she sat on the only stool at a rude table outside the hut, while her guest made a seat of an upturned milking-pail. She continued to talk amiably and unintelligibly, while he finished with difficulty the half of a bread-cake.

“I believe, madam,” he said at last, setting down his empty mug, “you are taking simply to hear the sound of your own voice. In your case, that is excusable. You don't understand English, so I will tell you to your face that it is a most wonderful voice. I should say,” he went on thoughtfullly, “that you ought to have been one of the greatest sopranos that ever lived.”

4B 6A 54 27 7F 15 00 7D 55 6F 30 5A 67 17 35 2A
30 4F 7A 15 28 20 31 7F 16 14 25 32 6C 63 3A 4C
21 5B 16 48 4A 62 3F 34 3B 73 10 3E 52 2E 1D 60
10 0A 1A 39 38 20 1A 03 11 1A 54 7D 56 42 31 77
32 19 0E 44 33 66 72 7E 51 78 63 7B 64 4A 20 3E
3A 45 55 70 17 11 3C 67 1F 5B 68 6C 25 13 6B 58
03 3B 1B 46 0D 66 16 63 44 70 1F 09 0E 18 2F 52
7B 0A 02 7E 10 5A 10 0F 64 49 70 72 16 77 12 5B
0C 58 39 75 1E 40 6A 18 66 24 59 4B 13 7C 27 05
7A 4B 71 5F 2D 33 7C 39 04 04 5E 1D 66 00 05 7E
77 18 7F 15 3B 2B 09 57 11 66 26 7C 1B 4D 44 15
64 14 12 76 36 56 55 30 5F 76 5A 29 75 34 52 6B
1A 55 2C 3C 62 0B 14 4D 43 0F 65 68 53 20 5A 24
09 29 74 0A 2A 79 15 01 38 16 1F 7F 43 53 30 58
78 5B 3F 7A 6F 34 0E 3D 53 7B 33 47 7D 25 34 75
74 79 73 08 23 4D 7C 43 7F 77 67 6D 5F 1E 54 3F
0E 36 41 4F 6E 7A 6E 60 47 1B 50 67 0E 13

—E. C. Bentley, in “The Ordinary Hairpins,” Trent Intervenes (1938).