december 31, 2004

A talk in the dark

The priest had talked to the stranger for two hours, and now they had both fallen silent and the room was quiet. Dark had long ago fallen outside, but a tallow candle burnt on the desk and illuminated the two men. The farmer sat on the extreme edge of a chair, still smiling and glittering, but the priest, who sat at his desk, was obviously in anguish. He leaned forwards with his head in his hands and his elbows propped on the table . From time to time he gave a sigh which shook his whole frame.

What had happened was that he'd failed with all his speeched to persuade the other to give him a definite promise that he would go home by land. He just came up with evasions: sometimes he said that he was expected at a particular time; then that he was to tired to take the long way round on the shore. The priest had offered to give him a list, but he had not wanted to accept. He didn't want to travel now, when the spring slush was so bad. He was afraid of everything except the walk home over the ice.

The priest sat and went over in his mind everything they had discussed, trying to find some way to get a firm hold of the man so he could save him. That was the extraordinary thing about him: that he always slipped away and would not be caught. It was like plunging a hand into running water and trying to seize hold of it.

The priest had started by saying that he had asked him in because he wanted to warn him against taking the route across the lake. He knew that the ice in Church Bay, beneath their windows, was unsafe. The stranger would only reply that the ice had been a good ell thick when he left home that morning. That could never have melted in a day, even if it had been in the full glare of the sun. -- No, there was no danger on the lake, the priest didn't think that either; but in the bay, where the river ran in -- At this, the young man looked as if he were having trouble keeping a straight face, He was a fisherman, and had lived by this lake all his life. The priest could be very certain that he had more sense than to pass by the weakened ice of an inflowing river.

But there was a special reason which meant that he should beware of traveling over the ice this particular evening. And so the priest had told him what he had heard from the shore road. It was astonishing how little this worried the young man, as if it were just everyday gossip. If you worried about that stuff, he said, you'd never dare walk on the lake at all.

The priest asked whether he believed him. Yes, of course he did. He himself had heard them bellow and howl in their depths but it was just bravado. They were just the little lake trolls, showing off. Like everyone else who lived in Jössehärad, they liked to have a little fun.

He stood there, smiling the whole time, and it was impossible to get him to take the warning seriously. The priest felt a growing fear that he would never be able to persuade him that there was danger out there. It shouldn't have been difficult, but there was something that kept obstructing his efforts. The priest had said to himself that he must discover what it was, if he was to gain power over this man.

The Fisherman was otherwise outgoing enough, and talked about all sorts of things. The priest had learnt that his name was Gille Folkesson, and that he lived on the other side of the lake. He was married, too, and had a young, pretty wife of whom he was very proud. She wasn't from peasant stock, as he was. She was the daughter of a farmer who owned his own land; but he looked after her well, even though he was only a fisherman. She couldn't have done better if she had married a farmer.

"She won't do that well if you go and drown yourself", the priest had said, but once gain Gille took this for a joke and would have laughed out loud if he'd dared.

He was a wholly contented man, and not without a boastful edge. He had built his boat himself, and it was so light it flew over the water at his lightest touch on the oars. Also, he had more success fishing than anyone else. That was what let him live so well, even though he owned no land. It wasn't at all unusual for him to get so many fish in a single haul of the net that there was no room for them all in the boat.

This talk caught the priest's attention. "You are pretty certain of your good luck, aren't you?" he asked suddenly. "Sure", came the answer; and, as he said this, the fisherman's eyes shone more brightly than ever. "And I've got reason to be."

Posted by andrewb at december 31, 2004 11:08 FM | TrackBack