Out Stealing Timber VIII
When Thea returned from watering the fjordling, Kristian Olsen was still at the feet of her mother, Solveig. He had plucked a long straw from the dry grass and was sucking on it, sitting with his spine against the house and gazing up at the sky, seeming to hang on every word coming from the old woman’s lips, though she was only talking, as always, about the old days.
He didn’t look at Thea. ‘She was dry, that horse of yours,’ she said. ‘I had to hold her back or she would’ve been sick.’
‘She’s a greedy animal sometimes,’ he said. ‘Not mine, though, she belongs to my aunt in Fuglevik. The trap, too. I’ve been working on the new chapel in Tomb, but they needed a rest for a while. Suppose I should’ve gone home to Engelsvik, but I hadn’t seen my aunt for a long time so I took the opportunity.’
‘We heard you were living in Kristiania,’ Thea told him.
‘I was there for a time, after my apprenticeship in England. But I’ve been back a year or more now; there’s a lot of work for a builder in these parts.’
‘For those with money,’ Solveig said. ‘Not for the poor.’
He laughed. ‘As ever. The poor look to America for a life.’
‘And the rich, too, or so we’re told,’ Thea said. ‘Seems to be more folk sailing away every time you look round.’ When he didn’t reply she said, ‘But maybe you’re thinking of emigrating yourself?’
‘Not me,’ Kristian said. ‘My thoughts keep me close to home. When I found myself out here this morning I could only wonder where I’d find some pretty girls.’
Thea’s cheeks began to flush again and she hurried to the kitchen, where she’d left the sourdough in a mound on the table. She poured a shallow pool of goose grease on the table and pounded the dough until it had absorbed the fat, gave it a little more flour to take the stickiness away and folded it into a round. She covered the pot of goose grease with a wooden stopper and placed it back on the shelf. Next to it she kept a smaller pot of pig lard, which she used for the same purpose, and next to that was an even smaller crock of whale oil, which was used for feast days and weddings. Though there had not been a wedding for a long time.