"Who told thee that thou wast naked?"
Erling stayed in his usual room at Old Venhaug, which stood unoccupied now. He picked up a newspaper but was unable to concentrate and gave up. On his bedside table a tallow candle spluttered. The rain beat against the windows and splashed on the window sills. A nearby brook had turned into a thundering waterfall. Erling sucked in the living sounds. It was a little after twelve. Someone was entering the house, climbing the stairway; he recognized the sound of the quick steps, the swishing raincoat. A light knock on the door and Felicia stepped in. The water ran in streams from the coat and the southwester; her rubber boots glittered. She doffed the wet garments and spread the raincoat over a chair like a tent. She only smiled at him, without saying a word, while she quickly undressed. Her body was brown like a Maori's, and the color seemed even warmer in the fluttering half-light. Her hair spread like a white bird over her head and when the faint light struck her eyes there were sudden gleams. When she placed her cool body next to his he felt for a few seconds a prayer within him, that it might remain exactly like this for long, but even before his wish was conscious they had been swept down the rapids.
Erling spent himself before Felicia and he watched her transformation—her calm and happy face with half-open mouth and blissful smile which with a few spasms was suddenly turned into a Medusa-like fury, a contorted face as in labor pain. Nerves and muscles around the beautiful eyes became lax, giving her the ugly cross-eyed look of a changeling. Suddenly Erling was thrown aside, as when a cross-wave hits a boat. Groaning she fumbled after him and one of her hands managed to get hold of his hair. He was afraid he might break her fingers—they were [p. 97] frozen as in a cramp—but he loosened her grip so as not to have his hair pulled out by the roots. By now he was sufficiently outside to appreciate the more comic aspect of what was happening and he wondered if perhaps at last he could see a sensible reason why people in the old days wore nightcaps. Standing beside the bed he watched her rave on to an end, and he recalled that the winged horse of poetry was the offspring of the sea-god Poseidon and Medusa.
Felicia came to, in a contorted position, looked at him in irritation, and said angrily, "What are you laughing at, you clown?"
She lay down, her head on his shoulder, and listened to the rain, she too. He caressed her body and murmured, "Can you imagine anything more—anything more cozy than a pouring rain in a dark August night?"
"Two people all alone at Old Venhaug," she said, "what could be more blissful. During nights like this I always think of the wild animals and all the little birds; I can so well see the woodcock, and the grouse, sitting on their roosting-branches so close to the trunk; they sit bird-warm and sleep while the wind roars and the rain pours down, and the tree rocks them to sleep, along with other birds in other trees, while a loose roof-tile rattles at Old Venhaug, and I must tell Jan tomorrow morning, for he is very particular about the roof-tiles, you know—'Mend in time,' he says—anyway I'm crazy about you because you haven't been here for so long, and thank you for not showing up drunk—"
"You rave like the night itself, Felicia. Your speech is like unto the wild stream of a spring brook, and nothing is like your sweet brew—"
"Stop it! We are in August. You can compose poetry after work-hours, as your brother so rightly remarked. I woke up early this morning, before daylight, and thought of you. I could think of nothing else but you, and couldn't sleep. It was the same the whole morning, up till noon, I was thinking—today Erling must come; and when the telephone rang I jumped past Julie and grabbed it myself—it couldn't be anyone but you, and it was. 'How silly can one get!' Julie said."
"No! She meant me. 'Have you had a letter?' she said, 'or how do you know Erling is coming?' I was thinking of you the whole morning the day you arrived from Las Palmas, and when I was at your house—all the time I was thinking of all sorts of things about you; and I'm with you just as clearly when you cheat on me, then too I wake up in the night and feel murderous, but this time I knew you were longing for me—men are such beasts!"
This unexpected ending relieved him from having to answer; he would have felt silly in saying he had been thinking similar things about [p. 98] her, and equally strong. He would rather tell her this some other time. If he told her now it would be like listening to someone tell you how sick he has been, and then interrupting to say you have been even sicker.
"Men might be beasts," he said. "Nevertheless, you tramped through pouring rain to get into bed with one here at Old Venhaug."
"Wasn't that why you came to see us?"
"I came for everything Venhaug stands for," he said, seriously. He leaned over and stroked her along her back, for this simple operation was the nicest thing she could think of when she was relaxed as now. After a while she turned over on her back and he continued to massage her. She lay with her eyes closed, as if sleeping, and breathed evenly. Then she grew restless, put one of her arms around his neck and pulled him down on her. Well, this was better, he thought; that relaxing business inclined one to piety.
She rose, went over to the chair where his clothes lay, and felt in his pockets for cigarettes. His eyes followed her soft movements; it stirred him more than the first time he had seen her naked (suddenly he remembered Gulnare). Then the roles had been the opposite—he had been married, she had been only seventeen. Now she was forty, but never had he felt her younger, happier, more smiling. There she stood, as slender as the seventeen-year-old, her white halo disheveled, lighting first a cigarette for him, then one for herself—for a fleeting second, in the light from the match, he caught the glitter in her eyes. The avenging angel, the enemy of enemies, he saw just then. Only four days had elapsed that time, after her younger brother's death, before she had taken revenge on the informer.
How distant, so long ago and unreal . . . .
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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