Eros and the deathwatch beetle
Erling walked over the black slate flagstones and saw through the white birches the contours of Old Venhaug, which was now his home. There I will sit and look at the pensioner's cottage, where Aunt Gustava will sit and look at Old Venhaug. He smiled. I'll sit many a good day yet and share a mug of cider with Aunt Gustava. Was it really ordained in the stars that she would be the last one? Life has indeed brought me plenty of one thing and another, and finally it has brought me Aunt Gustava.
In a few days it would be May. Today was the first evening of Spring after a long winter. From the top of one of the birches a blackbird was still singing in the twilight. Julie and Jan had gone to bed an hour ago; he himself had remained sitting in the living room, looking at the portrait of Felicia which now had been placed between the enlarged photographs of her brothers. Jan, unlike Erling, could not be alone. He found no peace after the sun had set. Jan himself thought this feeling would now soon abate; it was already lessening, he had said to Erling when they were alone for a moment, "and as long as Julie is with me nothing can happen to her."
Erling did not share in his fear. The one to suffer most in the dark now was that unknown one, and that person was gone with the wind, as Aunt Gustava put it. Erling had discussed it with her only once. She had been quite sharp where Tor Anderssen was concerned. But Aunt Gustava could not be lured into any insinuations, even if she had speculated in some definite direction. She voiced the opinion that it must have been a man, for men got all kinds of notions in their heads, and now he was gone, and it hadn't been God's will, what that fool had done, even stupid men could understand that much, and if they thought it was God's will, then they were only trying to invent ideas about Our Lord, and they would all "fall by their own counsels."
Aunt Gustava herself had no intention of falling by her own counsels, as she now approached ninety, and had pressed Erling to promise her a wheel chair "when my knees go real mean." Aunt Gustava's disintegration had begun slowly, from below, but it had taken more than twelve years to reach the knees. Erling looked tranquilly forward to the day when he would be wheeling Aunt Gustava about Venhaug in an elegantly chromed chair, and had promised to wheel her right up to the graveside in it. This had raised her ire and she had prophesied that "fire would destroy the blasphemer's house." He could never quite figure out [p. 369] if she was wiser than most or a little feeble-minded, but either way he liked Aunt Gustava. Between meals he often came and gave her food through the window of her cottage.
Erling was not so sure that Julie and Jan had started their conjugal life on an especially good foundation, but he said nothing about the matter, and he himself had always voiced the opinion that no love resembled an earlier one, and each new one must be measured by its own standards. He himself had sought women when he was afraid, but had not simultaneously sent his father-in-law to commit murder. That Julie's devotion to Jan must lead her to where she now was, had been completely obvious, but there was something about Jan he didn't understand. He himself could not dream of having anything to do with a woman for a long time to come, perhaps never. He had loved many, and one girl he had loved had died suddenly from eating poisonous mushrooms. It had taken two years before the dead one stopped coming between him and other women.
Yet, always everything happened differently. It would not be a corpse to interfere this time—a dead one, but not a corpse. What interfered now was not one single object, but everything that was Felicia. It was a black, clucking hole in the Numedal River and the Werewolf that caught her there. It was almost becoming a habit of his to walk every evening to the place where the hole had been and look for a moment down the stream where she had disappeared. She would never be found now, and this seemed to him fitting. But among the many visions and memories and moods there was one tie that held him completely, and he felt that that tie would never break—it was a prayer, a tender call he heard: Always it was you, my Erling; I was the born one-man's-woman and always it was you. But you crushed it for me, you put your heel on my dream, you, my Erling, who must act the son of the limping village tailor, long after he was dead in your heart. But behind a soiled and defiled dream I remained faithful to you every hour from the moment I met you until the Werewolf took me, I, Felicia, who never wished to have anyone but my Erling.
She had bequeathed him a crushed dream, she would not wish him to meet other women, it was high time he became faithful to her, she had wanted it that way—Felicia, the woman who became too strong for him and refused to bear him a child. Now she had him and so it must remain. He could never go to another woman after having seen that black hole. She whispered to him from somewhere out there in the early spring night, from the forest down in the Numedal valley. She sent him a message through the words Queen Gunhild gave Hrut Herjolvsson to [p. 370] take along on the journey when he wished to leave her, but there was no longer a curse in the words after a thousand years had passed:
Had I so great power over you as I believe, then I put this burden on you that you will never carry your desire to fulfillment with the woman you expect to find in Iceland.
Let it be so, Felicia, until we meet in Erlingvik.
He stopped between the tall birches and listened to the blackbird. He smiled wanly to himself. Jan Venhaug was fifteen years younger than he, and must have a different view in many matters. What have you actually thought, Jan, of the threads that were spun, up to the night you lay down to sleep with my daughter and made me the old pensioner on your estate?
Now he could see clearly, without irritation, that fate had lavished on the tailor's son all he could wish. By long and devious ways he had been given all he had asked. There would be no complaint if the hammer one day should fall. He had been a puppet in the hands of unknown powers, a person who strangely enough had always felt humiliated and a little ridiculous because he had gained people's favor and people's hate, and during the last dozen years also people's envy.
And then? He recalled a late, mild and misty summer night when he and Felicia had walked over to Old Venhaug. She had held him by the fingers of one hand and pulled him, pretending that he was reluctant, and had recited:
Ride, ride rouse,
To the miller's house,
Where nobody's home,
But a rat and a mouse,
And a little fellow-nick,
Who says dicke-dick,
He entered Old Venhaug where nobody was at home, except a rat and a mouse and the deathwatch beetle in the wall, which said dicke-dick, dukke-dick.
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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