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Stephen L. Talbott

During the 1880s the young Norwegian poet, Knut Hamsun -- who would several decades later receive the Nobel prize for literature -- put in time as a transient laborer on the American prairie. In Vagabond, his brief memoir of the period, Hamsun related the story of an accident that befell a small boy named Edwin. While handling some lumber, "Farmer Rodgers" -- Edwin's grandfather -- lost control of a plank, which struck the boy just above the eye. Edwin fell down "and lay there as if dead."

Hamsun, out on the prairie plowing, was urgently summoned. He quickly loosed the mules from the plow and ran to the homestead.

When I came to the farm, both grandparents were in full despair, and there was no end of their wailing. Mrs. Rodgers rolled the child on the floor this way and that, but could not bring him back to life. An ancient memory from youth came to my aid, and suddenly I had no doubt what was to be done. "Take his jacket off," I said. I had put my razor on my bed under the pillow, and now I quickly retrieved it. When I returned, I ripped off Edwin's shirtsleeve and began to cut into a vein of his arm.

The woman gave a shriek and threw herself upon me like one possessed;