Felicia Venhaug, one morning early in August, 1957, received a telephone call from Erling Vik; he was coming to Venhaug that same day.
When she hung up she tossed her head as a colt would do, making her mane of white hair fall back in order. She walked quickly in her flat shoes through the rooms, calling Julie, Erling's daughter; but there was no one else in the house. She stopped at a window and looked down into the garden, where Tor Anderssen, the gardener, was busy cutting some withered roses which he gathered in his old, badly worn hat.
Felicia knit her brows; the flower garden was none of Tor Anderssen's business, and least of all her rose garden. He had his definite domain—the kitchen garden, the fruit garden, and two of the three greenhouses. There, he was his own master as long as he met his obligations; he should keep away from her roses.
Her anger died down. She knew that if Erling hadn't called she wouldn't have cared whether the gardener tended her roses or not. But as she watched the man her expression grew more threatening; she clenched her fist around the key in her skirt pocket, the key to the third greenhouse, her greenhouse, and her lips parted in a smile that was difficult to interpret; perhaps scorn, with a touch of hate, or fear.
She took a step backward so as not to be seen by Tor Anderssen as he straightened his abnormally long back and scanned the windows of the manor house. Just then, in that very motion, he resembled a sea-animal that breaks through the surface and looks about, wet and repulsive, like a nightmare phantom, gray and depressing, the heavy-lidded eyes glancing past the windows. Tor Anderssen Haukas was his name, according to his [p. 5] papers, but if anyone called him "Haukas" you could see the anger smouldering in his eyes. What could be wrong with a fine name like Haukas? A good, euphonious name no one should be angry over. She had taken the trouble to investigate whether the name Haukas was listed in the criminal register, but it wasn't. Though she would have been glad to find some definite reason, it annoyed her that she had gone to the trouble. But no, he was angry only because his name was Haukas; he wanted to be called Anderssen. A good name, Anderssen, but Haukas wasn't despicable. She stared at him, wondering what other faults she could discover in him. His gray coat was too long, in spite of his great height, and then the pockets were so low that his arms hung perpendicular when he stood in his usual position with his hands in his deep pockets not reaching the bottom. Where could he have got hold of that ridiculous coat? The question irritated her; no one would ever order such a garment, and no tailor would originate it, except possibly Erling Vik's late, blessed father, the village tailor at Rjukan. And that walrus-mustache! Everything hung from that man as if he himself hung—which should have happened long ago, and which so easily could have, during the war; not a few would have enjoyed doing it, would have gladly stoned him and hanged him, she thought bitterly. But neither the Germans nor the native traitors had as long legs as Tor Anderssen, and no one was a better shot than he—that stupid fool Tor Anderssen who had been too dumb and unimaginative to believe that he might lose his life, and too cunning to be caught in a trap. People like him had survived, while her brothers . . .[p. 6]
Again Felicia sheeted in her sails; why bother about Tor Anderssen? But she clenched the hothouse key and thought: You should know who has telephoned! You should only know how he called at the right moment to let you slobber in vain!
She went down into the garden and pretended not to see the gardener. This was rather easy since one never knew exactly where he lurked. As she arrived at the greenhouse and pushed the key in the door she glanced around the garden; Tor Anderssen had vanished. She smiled. That demon would find no satisfaction today.
She walked the length of the hothouse, small birds fluttering about her, until she reached the ventilator at the far wall. She closed it and picked up a sackcloth towel from the floor and hung it over the ventilator. Then she walked back, still followed by the birds, turned the tap above the big barrel and let the water run. It was lukewarm; now in the summer it came from pipes that lay in the sun on the ground.
Felicia began to water the plants. Walking back and forth with the hose she now and then raised her free hand to remove a finch from her hair, all the while a smile playing over her lips, an absent look in her eyes.
Erling Vik lived at Lier and took the train from Drammen to Kongsberg when he came to visit at Venhaug, which was at Numedalslagen, west of the river, about fifteen miles north of the town of Kongsberg. He had been her lover for thirteen years, yet each time she was to see him she was seized with the same warm joy. She relived again something of what she had felt that day in spring of 1950, when he returned after sixteen-months in the Canary Islands.
Then—1950, more than seven years ago—that demon Tor Anderssen had not yet taken her into his power, and today she would not enter into his mountain-hold. She had felt early in the morning that it would be today, but now Erling had called. Her knight Erling had, through a mere telephone call, saved her from the demon.
She felt that the reunion with Erling that time in 1950 had been their first great meeting as lovers, in spite of the fact that their affair had begun during their refugee days in Stockholm. That time in 1950 had been a reunion to dream about, glorious moments very few are destined to enjoy. In the beginning so much had been wrong—the war that had hurt her so profoundly, and all the conflicts arising when she was unwilling to choose between two men she loved.
Later, a shadow had come over her at Venhaug. She said to herself that Erling was to blame, but she said it with a feeling of pain that perhaps was a bad conscience. We have guilty thoughts, she whispered to her birds.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 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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