Julie, thin and pale, stood working at the kitchen table. Aunt Gustava had been given a comfortable chair and sat in a corner with her cogitations. She had voiced a few stray thoughts about her depraved son, and her husband who hadn't had sense enough to die like decent people. [p. 360] She had also made a few statements about the farmer who no longer permitted her to live in her own cottage and had threatened her with the old people's home. Well, now at last she was secure in the pensioner's cottage at Venhaug, because at all times there had lived decent people on that farm. "Where good people walk, there God has His road."
With this sentence Aunt Gustava encompassed Bjørnson, God, and Venhaug, but Julie did not react.
"Imagine! He filled my cottage with chickens! Ruined my kitchen drawers, used them all for the hens to lay eggs! There's no law and order in this country any longer! Chicken-shit all over! What a fool! But such are men."
She looked askance at Julie, who didn't seem to listen.
"No, don't ever trust men," sighed Aunt Gustava.
No reaction was apparent and she started again. "Trust them one cannot. They're up to one trick or another. They're a different breed. Look only at your father—nothing to that man from beginning to end, but at least he has the decency to keep an old pensioner woman company at times. No one else does that. And helps me drink my cider. But that gardener, Tor—"
Aunt Gustava sighed as only one of her proportions might. "They are peculiar," she said. "Like my husband. It took time before we got together, I'll tell you. I didn't want him—he was such a fool. And then to fly up in the top of a tree while his wife was busy washing windows."
She stopped and looked with wide-open eyes at Julie, who was kneading dough. Then she looked back in the corner for a moment, before she resumed. "I didn't have much of underwear, no, I didn't, nothing I could afford to lose—"
Julie gave Aunt Gustava a tired look. Was the old woman getting confused in her head?
Aunt Gustava caught the sign of life, and continued. "Imagine that stupid fool—he stole my pants!"
Julie rested her hands on the edge of the kneading trough and looked at Aunt Gustava. "What are you jabbering about?"
"My fiance, of course. He stole my underwear. And he got a shameful death, too. It couldn't be anyone else, you see. And so I told him—"
Aunt Gustava described how she had taken her husband-to-be by the neck and held him until he confessed the whole pitiful business.
Julie kept watching Aunt Gustava until the old woman was through with the tale.
"I've read about such things," said Julie, with effort.[p. 361]
But Aunt Gustava had discerned something in her voice. She looked out through the window and said, "There he is now, at the car, that Tor Anderssen."
Julie glanced through the window, too. "I thought you were talking about Tor Anderssen a moment ago. I don't believe I really heard what you said."
"Ah, just stupid men in general. Where is he off to now?"
"Well, I guess we won't see him for a few hours then. He must fill himself with beer, too, I guess."
Julie looked down into the trough. She picked up a knife and slowly scraped the sticky dough from her hands. Then she crossed the floor to wash them.
"Aren't you going to finish?" asked Aunt Gustava, her eyes on the dough trough.
Julie was standing in the middle of the kitchen and looked at her. They heard the car leave. Julie had turned still paler. Her voice trembled. "Let's have it, Aunt Gustava! Is that what you mean?"
"Well, as you said—perhaps I'm only jabbering."
They could no longer hear the car. Julie said, "Would there be any use in me taking a look?"
Now their eyes met, the young and the ancient ones. Aunt Gustava could suddenly keep absolutely silent.
Julie pulled out a drawer and picked up a big bunch of keys. Her hands trembled. She looked again at Aunt Gustava, who sighed mightily and said, "Oh, these men—"
Julie put the keys in her apron pocket and went out.
Aunt Gustava remained sitting in her chair, looking down on her stomach. She knew nothing, but she knew what she knew. She knew men were a damned nuisance. They got notions. One must keep one's eyes on them, then everything was clear as daylight. Stupid they were also. Hadn't she herself been sitting in this very corner telling the police a thing or two? And what had they done? They only said please answer their questions and forget about the rest.
Sometimes things might be wrong with girls too. Only look at Julie. She was a fine girl, as far as Aunt Gustava knew, but she had been shamelessly hasty to secure house and home for herself; and her father was a little off. And so was her mother, one might say. And she had been in the kind of homes where they send depraved parents' children. And Erling and Felicia. And Tor Anderssen, that drooler—
All this added up to a plain sum in mathematics, to Aunt Gustava's [p. 362] common-sense mind. Julie was one, the gardener two, Erling three. One of them had stolen from Felicia. And sometimes picked up other objects, to make it less apparent. She found no others to put on her list; it must be one of them. Now Julie had been sorted out, and Aunt Gustava allowed herself the human weakness to discount her whilom drinking companion. There remained only the gardener. The murderer was more difficult. It could not have been any one of them. Well, well, my dear Lord, you must know my husband never touched my pants, well, I mean, not when they were hanging on the line. But do look at my good intention, and anyway, he had his notions at times.
She waddled in to the living room, where through the window she could see the chimney and part of the roof on the gardener's house. Aunt Gustava looked at the clock and sat down at the window. Half an hour must have passed when a black, nasty smoke rose from the chimney. Aunt Gustava studied the smoke as if it might tell her something, and it did: the thief was Tor Anderssen.
Smoke was still pouring forth when Julie appeared among the bushes and, almost exhausted it seemed, approached Venhaug. In one hand she carried a table napkin or a piece of cloth with something in it. She went into the kitchen, put her burden in a cupboard, and banged the door shut. The contents of the cloth had clattered.
Aunt Gustava had regained her chair before Julie returned but did not hide the fact that she had been watching. "What was it you burned, Julie?"
Trembling and hoarse, Julie replied, "I only took—only pieces of jewelry and such. The rest I put in the fireplace and poured kerosene over it."
"I thought as much."
"How did you get on to it, Aunt Gustava?"
"Ah, well, you see, men—they get their notions."
"And the other—?"
Julie's voice broke. "That other, Aunt Gustava—you who are so wise?"
"No, Julie, that other, that's something I don't think we'll ever know now. That poor devil is gone. But you see, the police, they're so eager to put their claws into someone, and now they can at least cage up a gardener—"
"You keep quiet about this, Aunt Gustava!"
"Well, I thought as much. There's already been enough nonsense about Felicia and if they get to know about this as well—"
Julie raised her hand as if ready to strike. "Stop it, Aunt Gustava!"[p. 363]
Aunt Gustava quickly dried her eyes with the back of her hand. "It's a peculiar thing, my little girl. To get to be as old as I, I mean. Then the most peculiar things can happen which one never sees, yet one has seen them anyway, Julie, and you must never trust men, of whatever kind they may be, that I want to tell you, for they have their notions. One must hold them by the ears, and keep an eye on each finger, and never pay the slightest attention to what they say."
She added, pathetically, "They will 'fall by their own counsels.'"
The rest of a cold beef roast stood within reach on the kitchen counter. Aunt Gustava pulled it toward her and looked for something with which to slice it. Julie handed her the bread knife. "Help yourself, Aunt Gustava!"
Aunt Gustava cut herself a fairly good-sized slice. "I must always have something to chew on before dinner," she said, "to deaden the painful appetite a little. Otherwise I'll eat too much and grow too fat."
She cut herself one more appetite-deadener and said, with her jaws full of meat, "I don't suppose they thought I knew anything about that thievery, eh? But Aunt Gustava knows when to listen well. They must have thought it was you, my little girl?"
At last the tears came. Julie brushed them away and said, "I suppose they did. Like you."
"No, not I," said Aunt Gustava calmly, and chewed on. "But men are terrible in that way. Now you'll see the gardener take off this evening, and then we'll have one less of them."
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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