"—or anything that is thy neighbor's"
Felicia and Erling were alone in the room, and he said: "It's a long time since you mentioned anything about that little shortcoming in Julie."
Felicia bit her lower lip thoughtfully and did not reply at once; then she began with an extenuating circumstance: "Fortunately, so far it's only here at home she takes things. I would have been told if it had happened anywhere else."
"Tell me about it—I don't like to ask questions."
"There is a change. That time it started, long ago, it was mostly I who was the victim, although it did happen others also missed things. She acted more like a sleepwalker in the beginning. Now it never happens that anyone but me has things stolen. The fact that nothing is stolen from Julie—if we now should assume that it is not she—can have a good reason. It would be almost impossible to steal from her, because of the location of her room, and also because she is so careful with her belongings. I must mention that too. But there is no doubt who the thief is."
She stopped a moment.
"I feel, in a way, so uncomfortable about what I say now: my underwear disappears if I don't watch out."
It was apparent she considered this as an indication that the thief was a woman. Erling said nothing, but he thought that this was no indication at all. He realized there was nothing to prevent a female kleptomaniac from appropriating women's clothing under certain circumstances. The disease might be very complicated. Yet, a female thief stealing female garments led one primarily to think of an ordinary thief. Much more often male fetish-worshipers practiced that kind of stealing.[p. 122]
"During the last half year I've lost a number of things of no particular value, except for two rather valuable ones. They were those earrings you brought me from Las Palmas seven years ago, and the pearls Jan gave me on my fortieth birthday. I have not mentioned it to him, but a couple of times since, I should obviously have worn them. He too must understand. No one else has lost anything."
Both were talking in low voices, listening for the faintest sound.
"And it couldn't be anyone else?"
"No. Anyway, it would have been impossible for anyone else to get to the rings and the pearls—except Jan, and that, I believe, would be going a little far. To be quite frank—if I reported it she would be picked up."
"It seems amazing that my daughter should develop such a tendency—here she has for so long found all the love and understanding anyone could hope for."
"Yes, but she didn't find it when she needed it most."
Felicia hesitated a moment, then continued: "I can put it this way—almost a hundred percent of what I lose, Jan has given me; of actual valuables only the earrings came from you. When you say she gets so much love here there shouldn't be any reason for this sickness—mightn't one suspect she continues to steal from a sort of habit? She began stealing love, and the old, senseless technique is carried on. You know better than anyone, Erling, that old habits are difficult to change."
She looked at the bottle and shrugged her shoulders.
"She is using her old technique," said Felicia with a little change in her voice, "because now she is after another love she also doubts she can get: the gifts I have received from Jan ought rightly to have gone to someone else."
"Well, that's one interpretation," admitted Erling, but thought in the same moment of the underwear; perhaps Felicia had thought farther ahead than he at first had suspected.
"I look at it this way, Erling; when it started it was love and understanding in general that she hungered for. Now she doesn't like it that you give me presents, and Jan must under no circumstances do it! And something else: her caresses of Jan are quite innocent—seemingly. But she is almost twenty-three, Erling."
She laughed, and her laughter was honest enough: "I'm not at home in many sciences, but there is one I know: Julie is in love with Jan."
"She knows our situation, Felicia—do you think that might strengthen such an idea in her?"
"I'm sure of it. But only in the dark part of her brain. In her [p. 123] enlightened part she is too wise to draw such a conclusion. Such 'rules of three' are indications of sickness, or in any case too childish for a sensible, grown person like Julie. I know almost all there is to know about Julie awake—and a great deal about Julie dormant. You must realize I am half mother and half sister, she is half sister and half daughter."
Felicia smiled: "How does he react? He and Julie are in the same situation—with this unimportant difference that Jan thinks it too silly to steal. 'Forgive me,' he says, 'I believe those were your cigarettes.'"
"Now listen, Felicia, don't try to tell me Jan is in love with Julie."
"Of course he is. Otherwise he would have discovered her proclivity long ago."
"Balderdash!" exclaimed Erling, and when Felicia fell into a paroxysm of laughter, he said angrily, "I think you take the whole thing a little too much as a joke."
"I've never been able to see anything funny in Julie's kleptomania, Erling. The poor girl is under a burden which might lead to the saddest consequences. I do not think she knows it. This has been repeated several times and that makes it anything but funny. In one way of course, she knows what she is doing, but she keeps it in a sort of closet without light. I don't know what complicated names there are for such things—I'm only trying to tell you something there is not the slightest doubt about. It is related to somnambulism in some way; come to think of it, she does walk in her sleep at times. But it doesn't check entirely—too much has been taken when she was awake. Remember, she and I are always together, or practically always. No one knows her as I do. She is completely innocent. Once I explained to her the word kleptomania, when she ran across it in a paper—it was shortly after she had come here. 'How stupid,' she said, and read on without further comment. You may be sure my eyes were open."
Erling did not doubt Felicia's eyes had been open. When were they not? She had eyes in the back of her head. But—wasn't Julie equally sharp about her disease, and aware of whom she was up against? Erling smiled in paternal pride at the thought Julie might have fooled Felicia. Felicia's eyes were indeed open. She said, "What are you smiling at?"
"I'm smiling because you apparently think of it as a joke that those two are in love with each other."
"How else could I take it? Would it be becoming to Jan Venhaug's faithless wife to start crying?"[p. 124]
"You haven't exactly cried, but I've certainly been made to suffer when you thought that I had been out with—"
"That's entirely different."
Erling shook his head. Obviously it was something different, since he wasn't married to Felicia and there were some things he need not talk about with her.
"For one thing," she said, "it's entirely different when you chase other women, because Jan likes only a sensible and good girl like Julie. There is no comparison. Secondly, love is so many things. Those two keep flirting in all innocence, yet not so innocent as they themselves believe. What could I do about it? Tell them something they wouldn't enjoy knowing, and thus make myself nasty? In the third place, you have no business dissipating and then coming here with all sorts of tales, about being tired and having colds."
She slowed down, and he felt it was high time. He recognized her peculiar smile, indicating deep seriousness: "There are times when a woman is forced to think men are Sunday-school children—I don't mean those little hypocrites one meets everywhere in life, I mean those one reads about in the Sunday-school papers, those amazing ones. You are unable to look into the future, and therefore you are surprised at any happening a woman with an ounce of brains has anticipated all along. Julie came here when she was fifteen, brought up in a children's home and any other place she had happened to land, poor soul. She was on her guard like a homeless, mangy dog—suspicious, difficult, confused, ever ready to lie, ever ready to crouch under the whip. Such was Julie when she came here, but I realized the girl had possibilities, and I went after her with all my might. She turned into a nightmare to me when it dawned on her that I wasn't going to birch her or use vile language, It would have been much easier to keep her down where she was. Well, we got over that stage, but it took three years for her to find herself. And at last we arrived with the Julie who is now twenty-two. It was obvious she would worship Jan, idolize him, adore him. I knew it before the poor child had come to Venhaug. Anything else was absolutely unthinkable. It was also unthinkable that such unabashed devotion would leave the object without response, especially as the girl has plenty of what my grandmother used to call male-appeal, and furthermore was trained by me to make use of her advantage. Unfortunately, I did not forsee that Julie was a kleptomaniac or had any other character defects, as perhaps I should have. As far as I know now it would have been quite out of the ordinary if something like this hadn't developed. It grew from stealing love in general to—a specialized stealing of my husband; perhaps it is a [p. 125] compliment of sorts that she has kept her stealing of love inside Venhaug. I have been defeated in my educational effort and I must take my punishment. As you see, I haven't been able to make it thoroughly clear to Julie that love one cannot obtain through threat, through purchase or theft. It is something one is given on time. It has no price. Today Julie knows this very well, but in some one of her cellar chambers she still harbors a dream-like misconception, a simple, childish impulse. It is my fault she hasn't been able to root out this devil, this stupid imp, and crush it."
Erling kept silent. He felt uncomfortable when Felicia pulled up—by the tail as it were—that part of his past which had to do with Julie. It didn't shine.
"Julie will see the light, if she hasn't already. She can put her best foot forward if it is something she really wants. She wouldn't be your daughter if she could much longer manage an existence as a kleptomaniac nun. One day she will appear in my room and say, 'Felicia, here is silver and much else I've saved to buy Jan—' and then suddenly her mouth will fall open and she'll say, 'What kind of nonsense am I talking, Felicia! I must have been walking in my sleep.'"
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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