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By Tarjei Vesaas, Elizabeth Rokkan
Peter Owen PublishersCopyright © 1966 Gyldendal Norsk Forlag A/S
All rights reserved.
By Bridge and Current
The wind filtering from the distance; and the old stone bridge over the river where the high road goes. The dark parapet of the bridge, its stones fretted over time by rain, sun and wind, tall and dominating in the landscape. The mountainside in the one direction does not detract from the bridge and its impressive appearance — daringly built, with wide arches.
A current that looks like still water.
A river that is too deep and powerful for its movements to be visible on this flat valley floor. No rippling of the current against the stones. Great masses of water glide away day and night, and no one thinks about it unless reminded of it. Gliding depths moving past without pause.
Out on the bridge the young boy Torvil came to a halt, stopped by some thought. It was a day in late summer. Idle holiday-time. Torvil looked absently down into the water. He was eighteen years old, lived beside this bridge, and had seen the bridge and the river for as long as he could remember.
Torvil stood thinking about his girl, his friend Aud.
Aud, too, he had seen every day for as long as he could remember, because she lived in the house next to his, and because she was the same age as himself. She had always been his playfellow. And she had been his only real friend.
Now they were eighteen years old.
They knew very well what their parents at home in the two houses were hoping for and counting on — and this alone acted as a brake on things that might otherwise have happened naturally. They felt they wanted to defy them. But they knew too that they liked one another, and had no need of any other company. Now and again they touched each other, but let go at once — because four wiseacres were sitting at home wanting this to happen. With a tingling in his body he thought about what would happen in the end all the same.
Torvil stood on the bridge and set a star on Aud. A star without a name.
It is a bit different this summer, isn't it?
A star without a name.
Because of a certainty.
And because of a deep uncertainty.
All you have to do is reach out a hand ...
Because of a kind of fear.
Standing on the bridge, remembering.
Aud had been a good, wise playfellow. They had always taken the same path to school.
He well remembered one day when he had stopped on the way and said to her, 'You mustn't grow any more, Aud.'
That toss of the head.
'You mustn't get any taller.'
'Pooh, that's none of your business.'
But he had suddenly seen that she mustn't. Now she was tall enough, and everything, and beautiful.
Each of them was an only child, yet neither of them was.
The four of them at home had arranged even that with infinitely calm concern.
Sometimes you had an urge to shout and halloo to these mothers and fathers, 'We have a lot to think about, too!' But nothing came of it. The wiseacres went on as before, talking and talking.
But of course they didn't, he thought at once. There was no need to be unfair to them.
Standing on the bridge, remembering.
Even though it was summer and holiday-time and there was swimming and lazing about, and much traffic over the bridge, they still kept to themselves. Other companions seemed so distant that they had no need of them, even those who did not live far away. Aud and Torvil's friendship was such that they were afraid of anyone disturbing it.
It was a confident friendship most of the time, but not always. He remembered clearly how he had touched Aud one warm, lightly clad day. They had often clutched each other wildly when fighting, but this nervous hand was light as a leaf, so that Aud had started in surprise.
He did not say anything, not even her name. Just that hand.
She had started in surprise. 'What is it?' Her face was burning.
'Nothing,' he said.
'Don't do it, then.'
'All right, I said.'
Both their faces were burning.
Then they had been bewildered sixteen-year-olds. There had been occasional incidents since, but never anything really serious or binding. They flinched from it. The adults' prodding had its effect. The fact that they had known one another all their lives had its effect.
He noticed boys staring at Aud, unable to take their eyes off her.
Yes, he thought. I know. That's what Aud's like. And I know far more about it than they do.
Out on the bridge where he was standing the evening air was mild after a pleasant late summer's day, mild, yet with a penetrating cross-wind. When you lean long enough over the railings like this and look down into the water, a bridge starts to keel over. Not this bridge; there was not enough pull in the water. The current was deep down. The silent river flowed out of a wood, glittering through the trees from far away. In the opposite direction the waterway sparkled as it moved between ploughed fields and farm-houses.
The motorists hummed past, meeting on the bridge. At this time of day the traffic was heavy. Torvil turned his back on it.
Tonight it would become almost silent. The bridge would lie deserted. The river and the bridge would again be alone. The one could not stop seeping and flowing with all its hidden cargo, and the other could not fall down.
It came to Torvil suddenly, as he stood there: Tonight I'll take those few steps across to Aud!
No, he thought at once, from old habit. The idea had assaulted him so unexpectedly.
But perhaps I shall?
Was something over?
He told himself, on a hunch: Aud wants it.CHAPTER 2
The Stone Shadow
In a strange glow, Torvil let go of the railing and started walking. He was so lost in thought that he crossed the bridge instead of going home as he ought, and did not notice until he reached the other side.
This walk might well have been his last.
He turned quickly to cross the road and go back, oblivious of what was happening until a mountain of a lorry reared up, seemingly right in front of his face, with a whining and screeching of brakes. He screeched too, threw himself to one side with a speed he did not know he possessed, and felt the huge mountain glide alongside, knocking him over as it passed. At the same time a little snake of a thought wriggled through him, so rapidly that he only managed to grasp it by the tail before it had gone.
But he was alive, he was unharmed.
Someone came and snatched him from the ditch, someone whose eyes were tense with fear — and then delighted and relieved when it seemed that Torvil was unhurt. Other people were arguing heatedly up on the road. Two or three cars stood crookedly, blocking the traffic. Soon there were more of them. A voice raised in anger carried a long way: 'Anyone'd think you were blind! Driving straight at people like that.'
And another voice: 'Yes, if that boy hadn't moved as quick as lightning, you'd have been a —'
The man who was the butt of their comments saw only Torvil; his eyes were still shining with joy because Torvil was alive.
'You looked as if you were walking in your sleep, Torvil.'
'I must have been.'
'Well, it didn't happen this time, thank God.'
He reached up and rapped his knuckles on the edge of the lorry.
The pile-up on the road untangled itself and the cars drove away. They too were undamaged. But when Torvil started to walk on over the bridge towards his home, he grew weak and began seeing black shadows. He had to leave the road altogether and sit down while the reaction struggled in him and ran its course.
A silent, powerful shadow seemed to fall over the place.
What is this?
Torvil did not move. He knew this was for him. An enormous shadow seemed to be passing by, yet taking him along with it, overshadowing him.
It was the shadow of a stone.
It is different from other shadows. Deep. Chill. Silent. Silent under wild, stooping rocks, as if close to the valley of death.
When the shadow of the stone comes with its dark veil, settling on you and blotting out everything — and you have something similar in you that goes to meet it ...
Was it the rock here on this side of the bridge that had raised itself up twice as tall, and was now stooping forward? That was how it felt inside the deep shadow.
The rock was not making a shadow by hiding the sun; the sun had set. No, it was the unfamiliar shadow of the stone that chilled. Torvil seemed to be down in a hollow, and knew it was for him.
He tried to seize the thought that had snapped like a snake and run away. It now seemed to stand for something extremely important. He could not call it back.
He really should not have been alive now. That was what it was.
The rock stood there with its enormous shadow.
All the same, it passed after a while. The shadow slid away. It did not thin out, but left him.
Fleeting seconds. How long had it lasted, the whole thing? He could not tell. Torvil straightened himself up again and found he could stand, could walk. Thirsty, he at last heard the traffic on the road close by. The sudden noise of the cars as they rounded the bends was reassuring. A waterfall of light seemed to strike the stooping mountainside and put it in its place.
Nonsense, it's just that I felt a bit faint. Now all I have to do is go home.
But it was not over with the first wave. The second and final one came when he was in the middle of the bridge. Without warning a new, chilling shadow stood over him.
No use defying it. The unheeding shadow settled on him. Torvil saw grey walls of stone stooping forward in the twilight; they were pale and flecked with green and there was a smell of shut-in masonry.
It's not for me, he tried to think, I know it's the shock I had just now and can't shake off.
He held on to the railing of the bridge with both hands while the moment of weakness ravaged him.
But the sensation was not so acute this time. It was interrupted by the roar of a lorry slashing his confusion and splintering the shadow which made Torvil jump out of his skin. The heavy vehicle drove straight past, but behind it came a car whose driver must have noticed that Torvil was behaving rather oddly, for it stopped.
Torvil was holding on to the railing again. The motorist lowered the window.
'Anything the matter?'
'No, it's all right.'
'I'm not so sure, looks as if something's wrong. This is a dangerous road to be on if you're not fit.'
'Thank you, but there's nothing wrong with me.'
What on earth do I look like? he thought.
'Want a lift?'
'No thanks, I live just across the bridge.'
And he was gone.
But Torvil had been cheered up.
Aud and I live only a few yards away.
He began walking.
Did I manage? he thought suddenly, not quite knowing what he meant by it. What was all that nonsense about a stone shadow? And what was that snapping thought that could not be seized before it was gone?CHAPTER 3
A few yards is no distance at all. There stood the twin houses. They were not built by twins; they were called that because, from the outside, they looked identical. Two good friends had decided to build them like this in their younger days when they both married at the same time and needed a house. They wanted to live close to one another, so they each bought building land here by the bridge. And here they had Aud and Torvil at about the same time. They had the same kind of work too, at the same school.
Two trim houses, wall to wall on a flat piece of land by the river.
Torvil went into Aud's house. Outside the late summer dusk had just begun to fall, and from indoors the lamplight filtered cosily through the curtains. The glow was welcoming. This is where a nice girl lives, and her mother who I like so much.
Fortunately the two mothers in the twin houses differed somewhat, breaking the monotony. From childhood Torvil had been accustomed to finding it more exciting over at Aud's house than at home with his own mother. He had no particular criticism to make of his mother, but Aud's always seemed happier.
He found her in her bright, shining kitchen. There was no sign of Aud. Her mother was alone, busy as usual. There was a smell of warm syrup, and a couple of wasps were buzzing above the kitchen counter in front of the open window.
Torvil asked her preoccupied back, 'Where's Aud?'
'Oh, is it you?' she answered without turning round. I'll get her to turn round, he thought.
'I almost got run over just now up on the road.'
The back turned quickly. 'Good gracious! You must be careful.'
'No one was hurt. But where's Aud?'
'Don't know. She was here a while ago. If she's not with you then she must be up in her room.'
She turned back to the saucepan of hot red syrup.
Torvil went up to Aud's room, but it was empty. Only a little clock ticking on a little table — a comfortable, pleasant sound. Everything here hinted of Aud. There was a scent of Aud. No, he was wrong, it was the scent of the ripe garden coming in through the open window.
Torvil felt he had to stay there for a while before returning downstairs. He had not closed the door, and the curtains were billowing in the draught. An open book lay on the table. The bed was neatly and properly made.
That's where Aud likes naked, thinking.
He had to stay there for a while on that account too. It was reassuring to look at Aud's things, particularly after that unsettling experience with the stone shadow. Everything was familiar, just as familiar as his own room over in the other house.
What was it he had taken on this evening, just before he was nearly run over?
Strange to be standing here.
In any case Aud was not to be found. He went down again to tell her mother.
'She wasn't there.'
'Oh well, she's probably gone for a walk, then.'
'I'll go and find her.'
She glanced up at him; perhaps she could hear something in his voice.
'Is anything the matter, Torvil?'
'Come back before it gets too late, won't you?'
There was nothing significant in this, only a mechanical echo from their childhood when Aud was small and needed looking after. Her mother was quite placid in her trim apron, standing in the warm smell of syrup, among the sweet-toothed wasps trying to get into the pan.
Torvil went out into the yard.
He had to find Aud to tell her about what had happened on the road and about the strange stone shadow. They always shared things. It usually helped.
Torvil whistled a long signal.
A car rattled across the bridge, drowning any answer. He whistled again. If Aud were to hear it she would come; it was an old and binding agreement. During their childhood they had made many such agreements, and they were still in force.
She did not come.
For no reason he grew uneasy and walked quickly away from the houses towards the wood. But for the shadow on the bridge he would have done nothing, merely waited for Aud to come home when it suited her; merely gone in to his own silent parents and agreed with whatever they said and found himself a book. But because he had barely escaped a fatal accident that afternoon he now felt unreasonable anxiety for Aud.
Here there was an open piece of level ground running down to the river, but on the other side the water was hidden behind thick birches and fir trees. The wood stretched far inland.
Aud must have gone into the wood, as so often before. They went there alone or together, and were familiar with the terrain. Nothing could happen to you in there. Why don't you leave Aud alone? he told himself.
No. I must tell her while it's still quivering in me.
He whistled the signal. No answer.
He walked along the bank among the first rustling birches and out to the water's edge to see if anyone was sitting on the river bank. No Aud.
He walked on, his eyes blank.
He stood in front of a tree and thought: Perhaps I'm not looking for Aud at all. Not today. I'm simply following my own path, this dry, empty path of mine. I don't know why. I'm following it and I'm thirsty. I don't know why.
The snapping snake in that split second — was that what it wanted to say to me in parting: that this was nothing more than a dry empty path, and that — snap! — now it's over?
He pulled himself together and whistled once more.
The floor of the wood was not level like a floor, there were hummocks and holes and thick brushwood. Torvil walked into the wood, over the soft surface of the ground. His footsteps could not be heard. It was almost twilight now. Where was Aud?
He had not whistled for a while. He was about to do so again, but stopped abruptly.
He was standing in front of a large stone that must have fallen here long ago, and now lay between the trees, covered with moss.
He heard something unexpected — there on the other side of the stone.
It was weeping. He thought he recognized the weeping from many fights, but could not make it out all the same. Unrecognizable and yet familiar.
It's Aud weeping.
No doubt about it.
And at once he was certain: something new is about to begin.CHAPTER 4
Aud's weeping behind the stone.
In the undergrowth.
Out into the twilight. Out into nothing.
Aud's weeping behind the stone spreads through the undergrowth, it ripples along the floor of the wood. A young person lying on the deep, dark earth, bent towards the ground because everything suddenly seems to be too blind.
It's too much to bear.
Sorrow lies behind a stone, but travels further, out beyond this, further than the wind that penetrates inland, spreading out from what is tom up, from what is shut in — when it feels as if what is of most value has foundered.
When your whole body is aware that it is so. More aware with every moment.
I can't bear it any more. It's not true that it is so. But it is true, and I don't understand. I feel something rising up in me from the earth itself. What is it that possesses me? I want to share in it. Everything wants to share in it.
Aud's weeping behind the stone spreads, settles and is gone, yet is renewed again and again, because of its source.
When you have thought and dreamed about the very thing that has foundered here so fearfully ...
You can never be sure.
Sorrow lies behind a stone.
Aud's frantic weeping behind the stone. Whoever hears it knows that this girl is naked and exposed — for the moment there is nothing concealing her.
Excerpted from The Bridges by Tarjei Vesaas, Elizabeth Rokkan. Copyright © 1966 Gyldendal Norsk Forlag A/S. Excerpted by permission of Peter Owen Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPart One: Involved,
1 By Bridge and Current,
2 The Stone Shadow,
3 At Home,
4 Aud's Weeping,
5 Into the Darkness,
6 In the Twin Houses,
7 Nightmare about the Dog and the Clearing,
8 Night Riddles,
9 The Easy Morning,
Part Two: Gliding Depths,
10 A Thousand Ways,
11 The Message,
12 Outside the Nursery,
13 The First Meeting,
14 Gliding Depths,
15 Like a Flash of Lightning,
16 In a Huddle of Youngsters,
17 From a Cellar of Need,
18 Aud and Torvil,
19 Grieving in the Night-Dark Wood,
20 The Other World,
Part Three: The Eye In The Well,
21 The Dog,
22 The Second Meeting,
23 When You Are Stripped,
24 The Third Meeting,
25 Aud and Torvil,
26 Night in the Field between House and Stream,
27 Valborg's Fourth Meeting,
28 The Rising Eye in the Well,
30 Three Bridges,
31 The Uplifting Wind,