Japanese water color
In the evening Erling retired to Old Venhaug early. A little later Felicia yawned and put away her sewing. She was tired, and said she was going to bed. Soon one could hear the faint sound of water running into her tub. Jan went upstairs and to bed in his own room; he usually took his bath when his work was finished.
Felicia emerged naked from the bathroom and tripped on tiptoe along the broad hall to her own room. Quickly she fluttered her nightdress over her head and crept contentedly into bed but felt a little annoyed as she dozed off because she was letting sleep displace such a feeling of well-being. She started at once to dream she was walking through a summer spruce-wood where it smelled of pitch and the sun warmed her skin. She stretched backward a little as she walked, thrusting out her breasts and gaining an even balance. How lovely to be only twenty and walk about naked in Japan. All the Japanese were at work, poor devils; on such a beautiful day they ought to have been with her in the forest, enjoying themselves. Something tickled her left hand; she stopped and noticed a [p. 221] blister was forming, and then the skin parted pleasantly and a brown-fried fish poked its head out. She took it by the gills and pulled it out, it felt so remarkably pleasant, but she couldn't think what to do with a fried trout in the middle of the morning. Dubiously she put it down in the green grass and continued as before. The forest opened up and in the distance to the right lay Fujiyama with its sharp yet soft lines. The sky had turned bluer and seemed higher now that Jan had managed to make the Russians and the Americans agree to raise it. It had also been such a beautiful day when the telephone rang and God asked if he might speak to Jan for a moment.
The crater of the volcano was tilted so she could see into the oval opening and the light pillar of smoke that rose. People were known to have climbed the sides of Fujiyama, but no one had continued to climb up the smoke pillar and sit on it. Except possibly Jan. She laughed until she shook. To see him, shy as he was, sitting on top of the smoke pillar over Fujiyama in his new fine suit and with a hat on his head.
She felt ashamed and blushed a little at having laughed at Jan in Japan—and at the foot of a holy mountain at that. Always one did the wrong thing. She walked down to a tempting brook and lay down in the lovely grass at the edge, first on her back, then on her stomach, then on her back again. One must make sure one tanned evenly, she thought, and was reminded of the brown-fried trout. A moose bull came down from Fujiyama. He stood across from her on the other shore, watched her before he lowered his head to drink the clear water. Then he raised his head again. From his lips water dripped down into the streaming brook. Felicia thought it was strange she wasn't afraid of such a big moose bull, standing there only a few yards from her, and she having no clothes on, and then she blushed. It must be unfeminine not to be afraid. She tried to but didn't succeed. The bull winked at her with one eye. The old sinner's flirting—for he must be an old sinner—was so ridiculous she could laugh herself to death, she kicked up her heels and laughed at the dear old gardener who had told her so many new and interesting stories she couldn't go to sleep that night but only think about how kind he was and that she must become a gardener. Here he stood and touched her so pleasantly, and it was indeed pleasant, then, to be fourteen. All the birds fluttered up from her body and played in the air. She felt the wind from their wings on her breasts and the air glittered with hummingbirds, but she must have been naughty, she had laughed at Jan in Japan. The moose bull made a flying jump across the brook and she tried to yell but it only turned into muffled lowing and she awakened. A surprise dawned on her: of course she had yelled, but it [p. 222] had been a false alarm, plain cheating: she had almost burst from joy when the bull started to jump, and then, unfortunately, she had been awakened by her own hypocritical cry.
She turned on the light and sat up in bed. Her conscience bothered her that she could lie alone and enjoy herself so much. She had been aware of Jan being shy when she said good night to him. And she hadn't taken the hint because she was tired. Shy Jan—after fifteen years! Tired and tired—she had had strength enough to go to a movie in Japan, in a way, and alone, and had imagined she was twenty.
Felicia rose and rinsed her mouth before she stole out through the hall and to Jan. He was in bed reading a book which he let drop when he saw her. She noticed how he squinted a little, a reaction she recognized so well in him when he was pleased.
She put away his book and wormed herself into bed: "Do you know, Jan, I can still blush. I have blushed twice tonight. Could you imagine that?"
"And then I've been to Japan and laughed at a moose who came down from Fujiyama and thought he was something. He winked with his right eye and so I didn't notice the other one. He reminded me of someone and then I realized it was the old gardener at Slemdal, the one with the birds—"
She stopped suddenly.
"There is another gardener who is more real," said Jan presently.
Felicia stiffened. But she must say something, find something to say, anything, otherwise he would wonder—if he didn't already know—
In her agitation she dared not speak.
Jan must not have noticed anything for he said calmly, "I get a little angry when he looks at you that way. I almost feel an urge to ask him to control himself. I have seen him stare at you like a beast in heat."
She exhaled cautiously.
"I think he is a really disgusting character," said Jan, "and no one knows what goes on inside him. But if something ever gets into his wooden head it stays there. He was a tool during the War . . . . There is something about him I don't like. When he came here in 1945, then things were different—but . . . . Well, I don't think I would have let him come a month later. And the contract he got then was too advantageous to him—it doesn't make much difference to us by now, but there it is."
Felicia coughed a little to try her voice. "What is it mainly you have against him?"[p. 223]
"I don't know what to say. He does what he is supposed to do. Always has. You know I approve of people I don't have to keep telling what I expect. I'm sick of people who can't perform according to agreement but have to be constantly reminded. You remember that dairy worker we had."
Yes, Felicia remembered him. It's hard on the nerves to repeat each morning what must be done during the day. One morning when the hungry livestock made such a noise it sounded as if the barn were on fire, Jan had told him to leave on the instant. Enough was enough. Furiously he had paid his full wages, feeling this was the simplest and cheapest way.
"I've never had to tell Tor Anderssen a single thing," he said. "But I wish he weren't there."
Jan put his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling: "Sometimes there are things one knows but can't do anything about. I would like to get rid of Tor Anderssen. He has never had a woman and he exudes rape. He is puritanism's farthest outpost."
Jan started, and listened. "What was that?" asked Felicia, and listened, too. "I thought—"
Jan slid out of bed and walked soundlessly toward the door. She saw his firm body from behind and thought how strong he was, a man of iron. He opened the door, looked down the hall, and listened. Then he ran with spring-like steps to the staircase and down.
He returned but stood a moment, naked, in the open door and looked once more down the hall. "Hmm," he said, "I could have sworn—"
He closed the door and came back to bed. "It must be that the house is so new—it still keeps laboring, still talking to itself."
She could see he wasn't convinced, but at last he seemed to forget. She lay close to him and noticed how he slid into rest. Jan worked hard from the moment he arose in the morning until he went to bed. He liked hard work. And because of this he could hardly keep awake once in bed. He had been reading when she came in; he must have been expecting her, then. She smiled as she watched him go to sleep. When she was with him she never left until he was asleep. She never tired of seeing him go to sleep. She could not tell why every time it was equally nice and peaceful to see Jan sink into sleep. Anyway, it was among the most wonderful things she knew.
It might happen that he came in to her, but only very seldom, almost never. He had been looking for her the other evening. It had been many months since the time before. Always I must—
She ceased her caresses, waited a moment, and pulled herself silently [p. 224] from the bed, walked out into the hall and closed the door behind her. Inside the door of her own room she stood for a moment and looked at each individual object before she closed the door behind her. Once more she inspected her belongings on the bedside table, before she opened cabinets and drawers. She remained staring down into one drawer. She knew where her things were and noticed at once what was missing. She locked the door and went to bed.
While she made herself comfortable in bed, Jan quickly passed her door, hugging the wall in order to avoid creaking floor boards. He used the same technique as when he approached animals at play—to get where he wanted while the one not supposed to hear drowned out other sounds. He walked down the steps, listened again at the bottom one. Without striking a light he crossed the room and felt if the veranda door was locked. It was, the key on the inside. Then he felt window after window in the whole house, and at last the kitchen door. All were closed and locked from inside. Once before this evening he had made the same inspection, with the same result. He stood silently in the darkness and pondered. Long ago a problem had arisen which appeared insoluble. Had Felicia also thought of it, but kept silent about it? How was it possible there was a thief in the house and for many years now they had been unable to catch him in the act, or even discover who he was? In a way Felicia could be forgiven, for she had suspected Julie and her mind stopped there. Jan was inclined to agree with Felicia, but he wanted to know, not only think he knew.
Jan was unsentimental; he told himself there were only two at Venhaug it could not be, namely himself and Erling. Rarely, very rarely, did more than two weeks pass without something disappearing. Even though Erling was quite clever he could not sit at Blom's in Oslo or at home in Lier and steal from them at Venhaug. And it could not be any one of the servants for they did not stay at Venhaug at night. If it had been any one among them, he or she would long ago have been caught in one of Jan's many traps. There remained only four—Julie, Felicia, and the two little girls. To Jan it seemed equally bad whichever one was the culprit. Felicia? Jan was not blind to Felicia's diversity. If she experienced any of the black-outs she suspected in Julie (Jan felt sure Felicia never would do it with a clear head) then she would have a motive strong enough to blame Julie.
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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