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Absalom's Hair

Harald Kaas was sixty.
He had given up his free, uncriticised bachelor life; his yacht was no longer seen
off the coast in summer; his tours to England and the south had ceased; nay, he
was rarely to be found even at his club in Christiania. His gigantic figure was
never seen in the doorways; he was failing.
Bandy-legged he had always been, but this defect had increased; his herculean
back was rounded, and he stooped a little. His forehead, always of the broadest--
no one else's hat would fit him- -was now one of the highest, that is to say, he
had lost all his hair, except a ragged lock over each ear and a thin fringe behind.
He was beginning also to lose his teeth, which were strong though small, and
blackened by tobacco; and now, instead of "deuce take it" he said "deush take it."
He had always held his hands half closed as though grasping something; now
they had stiffened so that he could never open them fully. The little finger of his
left hand had been bitten off "in gratitude" by an adversary whom he had
knocked down: according to Harald's version of the story, he had compelled the
fellow to swallow the piece on the spot.
He was fond of caressing the stump, and it often served as an introduction to the
history of his exploits, which became greater and greater as he grew older and
His small sharp eyes were deep set and looked at one with great intensity. There
was power in his individuality, and, besides shrewd sense, he possessed a
considerable gift for mechanics. His boundless self-esteem was not devoid of
greatness, and the emphasis with which both body and soul proclaimed
themselves made him one of the originals of the country.
Why was he nothing more?
He lived on his estate, Hellebergene, whose large woods skirted the coast, while
numerous leasehold farms lay along the course of the river. At one time this
estate had belonged to the Kurt family, and had now come back to them, in so far
as that Harald's father, as every one knew, was not a Kaas at all, but a Kurt; it
was he who had got the estate together again; a book might be written about the
ways and means that he had employed.
The house looked out over a bay studded with islands; farther out were more
islands and the open sea. An immensely long building, raised on an old and
massive foundation, its eastern wing barely half furnished, the western inhabited
by Harald Kaas, who lived his curious life here.