Little by little Per's shock subsided. At first there was yawning emptiness where Botolv had been; then it lessened. Only later did it return.
Olav Bringa had heard what had happened and came to Bufast. He came over time after time. Per was less often allowed [p. 65] to visit Olav at Bringa. But he went there now and then. Bringa was like all other farms. You recognized it all from what went on at home.
When school began everything was back to normal, in appearance at any rate. Per had to work and be the best. There was little pleasure in it, but it gave him no peace until he did.
He came no closer to Mother and Father because Botolv was dead. Now Mother concentrated on the baby, Åsmund. Per was big and could look after himself, they said.
Around the people there was a ring of animals. Per was with them a great deal. He was in Brownie's stall and in the barn with the cows and the calves, the sheep and the pig. Nearly all of them except the pig would greet him with outstretched muzzles.
Could he become good to animals? He wondered about it, not knowing exactly what it meant.
Father didn't seem to do anything to be good to animals. The horse got a solitary pat, a cow too on occasion. All the same, Father was what Aunt Anne had said. You knew it and saw it. Father was something mysterious and valuable: he was good to animals.
Brownie was too old and had to be put away. Per knew nothing about it until Father went over to the stall one morning with two men. Father's voice was normal—deep and calm just as when he remarked that the ground was sodden or something of the kind. He said, "We're taking Brownie away, Per."
Per knew at once that this meant Brownie was going to be killed. He had a strange feeling in his feet the minute he heard it. Father's large, set face showed no grief.
Per tried to slip out through the door, but Mother stopped him. "Stay indoors."
From the window Per watched Father lead Brownie out of his stall. Brownie was hanging his head. Suddenly he seemed oddly naked as he was led out without his harness. He had been led like this so many times, but not until today [p. 66] had he looked naked because of it. His back was hollow; Per had heard the word swaybacked used to describe it. His belly was enormous, and he had broad, heavy hooves.
Father went first, leading naked Brownie. Two men followed them, looking as if they had done something wrong. The whole procession had a silence about it; you had the feeling that they were making no noise as they walked.
Per felt an ugly expression forming inside himself: old plug.
Old plug, old plug. He could not get rid of it. Brownie himself was walking across Bufast yard, where he had plodded his whole life, naked and an old plug. Father was looking straight in front of him, as if unable to turn his head. The two men followed him stiffly and noiselessly. Then they all disappeared behind the barn.
This was death.
Brownie, who had shivered with fear when people approached him with the smell of slaughter on their hands—now he had to face it himself.
It was dreadful. Per felt giddy, gripped with shuddering anxiety much the same as he had felt that night with Botolv. Death! Botolv had died as he was holding him. He could not help thinking of nameless dangers. Quiet, noiseless people with heads that could not turn. Plug. Old plugs. Savage bulls were tied down to meet death. The silly, gentle calves were slaughtered when they were two weeks old. Naked old plugs with pot bellies. . . .
This was death.
On this side of the barn Aunt Anne was standing waiting with a bucket in each hand. Two empty buckets.
Boom! came from behind the barn.
At once Auntie ran around the corner and disappeared. Now the buckets would be filled.
Mother was indoors. She was holding on to Åsmund to stop him from running out. The shot exploded, and the air indoors was choked by the event they had not seen.
Per asked, "Is it true that Father is good to animals?"[p. 67]
"Is what?" said Mother.
"Good to animals."
Mother smiled, and Per had thirsted for that smile. She said reassuringly, as if reassuring Brownie, "Yes, Father's good to animals. He has been all his life."
Auntie came in with the buckets.
Father came in with red hands. His face was just as calm. In one red hand he had a long knife. And yet he was good to animals.
"Get me some water," he said.
Mother asked how it had gone.
"It went well," said Father.
Per was certain that Father was good to animals, but if he tried to explain to himself why, he got nowhere. It was just that it made what he had done less dreadful.
It was late autumn, and the ground was encrusted with ice. The slaughtering season. The slaughterers were going the round of the farms. Father wanted to do it himself because he was good to animals. The world was full of riddles.
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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