It happened in Felicia's time
The following morning Erling was standing at his window, watching a new workday begin at Venhaug. When he went to bed last evening he [p. 371] had wondered if he actually had any insuperable desire to awaken again. Now he couldn't understand it.
During the night he had slept well, for the first time in months, better even than in his good days. A bad dream had awakened him, but he had shaken it off and gone to sleep again. Now he remembered it clearly. Once when Erling had happened to mention Gulnare, Felicia had said that she would have liked to meet him when he was sixteen.
"How silly," he had replied, "you couldn't have endured the sight of me—besides, you weren't even born."
"I know," she had said, seriously, "but that has nothing to do with it, how old I was, or even if I didn't exist: my desire is equally great."
He knew she wanted all that was his. She could never reconcile herself to that first-love time she had been denied and never would know. Someone else had received it. Not she. She had loved him deeply. One time she had said she would have liked to be his twin sister so they could have held hands through life. He had never divulged anything to her about Gulnare and Mrs. Kortsen. Gulnare she had heard about, but surely not the connection with Mrs. Kortsen (he wasn't quite sure). He had been afraid of what he might read in her face had she ever learnt whom she also had struck that time when she avenged her brothers.
Once more he had thought through the situation which had created these enmities and sharpened them. Theoretically it was all meaningless, without roots in reality, to discuss the war-killings that were so absolutely in a class by themselves. It was completely senseless to call them political murders, which would have covered something quite different. The liquidations in Norway could not be compared to anything that had happened or been experienced before. They were a self-defense, thrust upon them during a gangster regime, and he had never heard anything other than that all the killers today were completely free from regret. He himself was. Those who shot informers and other traitors, had worked as soldiers in war. The means might take various forms against any enemy that flouted human rights and with hands dripping blood boasted and preached high-mindedness and nobleness. All came down to sober mathematics: that or that man will cost us so and so many lives if we don't take his. No one had shuddered crossing an informer's grave. There could never be any debate about this, not even when those who carried weapons declared to their accusers: You were not in my shoes, you sat at home, attended to the interests of the foreigners—or, you kept quiet as mice and had nothing to say until you attacked us—after the danger was passed. They had hid under the beds in those days when all [p. 372] suns were extinguished; now they abuse us because we did not follow a conscience they now say they had sixteen years ago.
Everything had been upside-down. Thousands had been sent from the country as slaves, other thousands had been driven into exile. How many thousands had been murdered? What redress had been given the one-time slaves? None. The official watchword during the war had been: no honor except for traitors; it seemed in these latter days about to become a reality. After thirteen years since Norway and Denmark regained their liberty, who was now the spokesman? Could anything be discerned except vapid, quarrelsome self-righteousness among those who sat at home chewing their nails at election time in Scandinavia? First it became un-dangerous to say which horse one would have backed if one had dared back any, then it became crafty to join the masses of people with a bad conscience, and the perhaps not quite so many who now showed quite clearly which side they had chosen in their hearts. For them no internment laws were written, and they were not black-listed by the overlords. Physically this would have been impossible.
He shed his bitter thoughts as he espied the new gardener walking between the greenhouses, smoking his morning pipe, a peace pipe. He pondered the phenomenon Tor Anderssen Haukas; one evening he had come to Jan and said he must leave at once, for there were ghosts at Venhaug.
Tor Anderssen was not the only one to discover this. It is human nature to hold on to a sensation as long as possible; therefore its life must be prolonged with ghosts. This invention of Tor Anderssen could have been painful to him if his alibi had been less definite.
The following morning Erling had been called in for a council of war. Julie had confessed to Jan. There they had sat, Julie, Jan, Aunt Gustava, and himself, without much being said, yet they had to make a decision.
Julie insisted that all be kept secret, and they let her have her will. Jan had not said a single word, but the other two knew he would agree with Julie. The police had gone into every detail about Tor Anderssen at the time of Felicia's murder and it was proved beyond doubt that he did not do it. Must they then let the police dig into all this other business? The police would undoubtedly be anxious to pursue this new lead, but all of them knew it would divulge nothing. "Aunt Gustava and I," said Julie, "would never have said a word about it, if it hadn't been that I can't live here at Venhaug as a thief. Felicia would have agreed about this. She would also have agreed that this Tor Anderssen business must not be spread through the national press, and perhaps even abroad."[p. 373]
"You're right!" interrupted Aunt Gustava. "I would have felt the same if it had been from my bureau drawer he—"
All ended up in a forced smile—Tor Anderssen was safe. Jan had intended to say right along, "Whatever Julie wants, and then, never another word about this."
"I only want to add this," said Aunt Gustava, "it's now clear why poor Felicia thought it was Julie. How could she imagine it was a man—but I tell you—"
Jan raised his hand, and they were denied information about the notions lurking in male heads.
The new gardener, enveloped in his smoke clouds, was walking toward his cottage. They had looked with disbelief at him when he came to Venhaug, for never had a description fitted so well as Felicia's of the old gardener at Slemdal. All was there, the white locks, the age, the friendly smile, the trustworthiness, the serenity. He had asked that the birds be left in Felicia's greenhouse.
"I feel I recognize him," Julie had said, "but the one Felicia knew must have been a hundred by now, so unfortunately it couldn't be him."
Erling was again thinking of his dream, which must have risen from what Felicia had said about wishing she had met him when he was sixteen. He had met her there in the yard, he had felt it must be she. She was very young. How old he himself was he could not understand, but in the dream he seemed to have passed through several age periods, not chronologically, but round and about in his ages. Felicia had asked why he never returned, but he did not understand what she meant, and did not wish her to discover she was not Felicia at all. She was Gulnare whom he dragged into the hay and raped. She hit and kicked, pleaded and cried, but could not escape. As far as he could remember it was the first time since puberty that, awake or in dreams, he had considered the encounter with woman as a deserved, cruel, lascivious, and sneering punishment. He had awakened in a cold perspiration, in time to keep from vomiting.
From where he was now standing he could see part of the roof of Felicia's greenhouse. Inside there, sitting on a chair feeding a fledgling, she had said to him, "I feel so strangely sure I will never be forgotten. In the neighborhood here they'll one day say: It happened in Felicia's time."
Your time, my time, our time, our forefathers' time. One said it without meaning anything in particular. Your days, my days, our fathers' days. Words once sated with meaning, sated with nostalgia. Felicia no longer shares time with me. She has used up her days.[p. 374]
She would be right. She would be remembered, but the memory is nothing to the dead who have no days and don't know they have been, don't know they existed once on the wave of time, don't know they showed their faces in time's gliding mirror. No one lives in his own saga. It is in your consciousness and mine they are a saga. One widens one's consciousness with one dearly loved, with one's dead child, or dead friend, they are nowhere else, they are obliterated from the picture. God's kingdom is within you, nowhere else.
She was married to Jan Venhaug, one of the forebears who took a woman from outside, after one of the great wars, they will relate. That was very long ago. It is told she brought many new customs to Venhaug. The old people said she went to the underground demons and never returned, but it has also been said that they pulled her down into the Numedal River.
What we see now is only the end, Erling said to himself. I will take up what went before. I will dig it all up and begin with the spring night of 1934, when she and I had our fate linked together so that in many years it became one. Some day I will walk across the yard to New Venhaug, and tell Jan and my daughter Julie: "Look here," I will say. "I've been sitting at Old Venhaug and have written down all that happened in Felicia's time, about Norway in peace and Norway at war, as seen by Erling from Rjukan."
With this accomplished he might quit story-telling and move to another Venhaug; it is called Erlingvik, and there he will find Felicia.
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.
TEI markup and other features Copyright © 2000 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.
To buy the paperback book, see: http://www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress/books/1693.htm