A black hole in the ice on the Numedal River
None of them had wished to voice apprehension when Felicia stayed away so long. It was Jan who gave way first and called the post office. Erling could hear she hadn't been there, and he dropped his cigarette on the floor. Jan looked helplessly into the air as he put down the receiver, awkwardly.
Julie offered to run over to Aunt Gustava. Felicia must be there, of course she must (but why send someone for her then). They saw her run down the road as a person does when the ground is slippery, making unexpected jumps, gliding along, sometimes suddenly colliding with the trees. But Jan was fearful of evil, and all were apprehensive. Almost an hour and a half had passed, and there seemed no explanation except an accident. Jan ran out and started the car; he had just put on the chains. He drove off alone, the same road Julie had taken. The old snow on the road was packed and slippery and now covered with new-fallen snow. Now and again the wheels spun in the slush, while the snow kept falling with increasing thickness. It was calm but the vision was clear only fifteen to twenty paces ahead.
Someone came running from Aunt Gustava's cottage; he saw it was Julie and waited for her.
Felicia had not called on Aunt Gustava, Julie panted through the open car window, but stopped when she received no answer. Jan sat looking at his hands; he had turned pale.
"Jump in," he said, presently, and when she sat beside him he turned the car about. He drove like a crazy man the mile back to the house. He switched off the motor and rushed with hat and overcoat inside to the [p. 349] telephone. There was only a constable in the Kongsberg police station, so he called the home of Chief of Police Rud. They were old acquaintances and had gone through school together. He explained the situation and said in a controlled voice that an accident must have happened. Could Rud take the car and come at once? Could he bring a dog and some men?
Rud tried to say something about Felicia being sure to turn up soon and explain all very simply.
"Listen!" said Jan, sharply. "You know Felicia; she would never dream of scaring us this way. It isn't like Felicia, and you know it. This is not her doing, whatever it is."
He turned with the receiver at his ear and when he saw that only Erling was in the room, he continued in the same frozen voice, "You know as well as I there is little hope of finding her alive."
He and Erling started down the road to meet the chief's car and perhaps discover some clue. The snow kept falling and a wind was coming up. They skidded on the slippery surface under the snow. They could see no tracks leading into the forest on either side, and if there had been any they would surely have been deep enough to show through the fresh snow. Shortly before they reached Aunt Gustava's road they met the police car, which came with a speed that was insane in the poor visibility and the treacherous road condition. It slowed down and stopped in a cloud of snow. Rud jumped out with a police dog on a leash.
"This weather," said Rud, but didn't bother to finish the sentence. He was given what little information they had. Then he instructed the sergeant at the wheel to follow them toward the post office. They walked ahead with the dog who sniffed the snow and pulled at the leash. It stopped and looked up at Rud. "Well, what is it, Samson?"
The dog said definitely nothing, and they continued their walk.
Quite suddenly Samson left the road and wanted to take off into the forest on the right. He whined and trembled as he poked his nose into the snow and came up with an ordinary bottle-cork. Rud took it and smelled it. "Thrown away recently," he said. "Look, it's quite dry." He smelled it some more.
They all had the same thought: someone had drunk a pick-me-up here. But that person must have emptied the bottle also. As far as that was concerned, anyone might have had a cork in his pocket and thrown it away.
"It doesn't smell of alcohol," said Rud.[p. 350]
The dog was wild to get farther into the forest, he scratched and ran hither and yon as far as the leash would permit.
Rud ordered him to keep quiet. He was inspecting what all three now saw, and he called to his sergeant.
There was a deep furrow in the snow, half a yard to a yard wide. It seemed someone had tried to obliterate it at the edges. It led as far as they could see into the forest, rather indistinct under the falling snow, but not to be mistaken. Rud felt with his hands in the snow. "The old snow is broken," he said. "This indentation has been made after the snow started to fall, I'm sure."
It became difficult to handle the dog. They followed the furrow at the side of the excited animal. Samson sniffed eagerly in one place and scratched up something from the snow, snorting with excitement.
All saw simultaneously the little clump of bloody snow. Erling felt his whole body revolt, and in the same moment Jan tumbled over like a falling tree.
"Take care of him, Erling," said Rud. He was almost as hoarse as the frenzied Samson. "Come with me!" he called to the sergeant.
They struggled on, stumbled and groaned. The ground was hopelessly cut up down here near the river. Jan had regained consciousness. He and Erling stumbled after the others. Neither one of them attempted to say anything. They caught up with the other two men who stood in the snow a few yards from the edge of the river and looked into a black hole in the ice, where the current boiled and clucked. The furrow led to it.
Stricken, Jan and Erling sat down in the snow a few paces away. The dog sniffed and sniffed toward the hole.
The wind was increasing. In the whirling snow they were as isolated from the rest of the world as in a diving bell. Rud took the cork from his pocket and looked at it glumly. Erling sat staring at the hole. Jan sat with his head lowered and his bare hands stuck into the snow. He had lost his hat and the snow gathered in his hair.
The policemen approached them with the dog. Rud tried to control his voice: "Have you had any dealings with that collaborator crowd since the war?"
Jan did not move and did not reply. Then he raised his head a little, his eyes happened to catch the hole, and he looked down again; his head seemed to hang loose. Erling replied, thickly, "Jan gave some boys work shortly after the war, when things were hard for them. Some boys that had gone astray only. He was on good terms with them. I myself have seen a few collaborators, quite obviously, but have spoken to only one, who came to call on me early in August, last year; I threw him out. It [p. 351] was that Torvald Ørje, the one we used to call little Goebbels, the one they made chief of police at Os."
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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