Out Stealing Timber VI
Thea thought her mother had fallen out of her chair or knocked something over outside, and she hurried to wipe the dough from her hands, taking the cloth with her as she rushed from the kitchen, hoping she wouldn’t be faced with a bad injury. But as she rounded the corner of the house she realised that the bulk of the sounds were made, not by her mother at all, but by a masculine voice and what seemed to be the movements and protests of a horse and trap.
The young man, though he was some years older than herself, perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years old, was familiar and sparked a series of tiny memories. Blond hair and a whisper of whiskers on his chin and his top lip. He had dismounted from his trap and was trying to calm the fjordling, stroking her two-tone mane and whispering sweet-nothings into her ear. At the same time he was stretching out his other hand to Solveig, Thea’s pale and frail mother, sitting in her chair in the sun.
When Thea came into his line of vision he was fully stretched like a picture of Golgotha, one hand on the beast, the other touching the fingers of the invalid, but his features broadened as he presented Thea with a smile and she saw that though he was only familiar to her, she was fully recognised by him.
‘I hope this isn’t inconvenient,’ he said. ‘I’m staying in the area, and I thought . . .’
And there he was, in his voice. It had been some years since she had seen him, perhaps four years, and then only briefly. She would have been twelve or thirteen at the time. But before that, when she was a little girl, the relations between their two fathers had been more active, and they had been regularly together during the months of summer. Though he was, no doubt, fully grown, the boy remained in his voice and on his smiling lips.
Solveig got to her feet and would have taken a step towards him, but Thea managed to get to her and settle her back down again. ‘Look, mother,’ she said, “We have a visitor come to see you. You remember Kristian Olsen from Engelsvik.’
‘Ole?’ she asked. ‘Is it really Ole?’
‘It’s Ole’s son, mother. Kristian, all grown tall and handsome.’
‘Ah,’ Solveig said. Kristian? Really?’
‘My father sends his regards,’ Kristian said. ‘He often speaks of you and your husband.’ While he spoke he unhitched the fjordling from the trap and let her wander around a grove of trees on the far side of the track. ‘She’ll be quiet now,’ he said, gazing for a moment through the branches towards the sea. ‘Though I should give her some water.’ He manhandled the two-wheel trap up against the fence and turned to give his hand to Thea. ‘It’s been a long time,’ he said. ‘Too long. Though I’ve thought of you.’
‘And I you,’ she said. ‘When I think on happy times. You have changed, though, grown taller than I remember.’
‘And you have changed,’ he said. ‘For the better. In my mind you were still a child in braids.’
Thea felt herself flush, for it was not her braids to which he referred, except by name. ‘I’ll find a bucket for the fjordling,’ she said. ‘Then we’ll catch up. Mother will entertain you.’
She collected a bucket from a shelf in the barn and took it around to the water butt for the horse. She realised it was the fulfillment of a promise, Kristian Olsen arriving on their doorstep just now. A month earlier her aunt had told her that the young men would come around once she started bleeding. And it had happened exactly as the old woman said. Ten days ago she had bled for the first time, though only for a day and a night. Hardly bled at all in fact, not what she had been led to expect. But two days after the little bleed a much bigger one had come, thick black curds had slowed her down in her daily tasks and, especially in the mornings, they had been accompanied by a dolour and a dullness which invited her to see the world as nothing more than a graveyard.
And then, as suddenly as it had begun, only yesterday, the bleeding stopped. It ceased and the world began anew. And today the first young man was already arrived, summoned by a happening of which he could have no knowledge.
. . . . . . . . . . to be continued