The boy heard no more of what the old cow said. He had opened the cowhouse door and gone across the yard, and in to the dead whom he had but lately been so afraid of.
It was not so poor in the cabin as he had expected. It was well supplied with the sort of things one generally finds among those who have relatives in America. In a corner there was an American rocking chair; on the table before the window lay a brocaded plush cover; there was a pretty spread on the bed; on the walls, in carved-wood frames, hung the photographs of the children and grandchildren who had gone away; on the bureau stood high vases and a couple of candlesticks, with thick, spiral candles in them.
The boy searched for a matchbox and lighted these candles, not because he needed more light than he already had; but because he thought that this was one way to honour the dead.
Then he went up to her, closed her eyes, folded her hands across her breast, and stroked back the thin gray hair from her face.
He thought no more about being afraid of her. He was so deeply grieved because she had been forced to live out her old age in loneliness and longing. He, at least, would watch over her dead body this night.
He hunted up the psalm book, and seated himself to read a couple of psalms in an undertone. But in the middle of the reading he paused—because he had begun to think about his mother and father.
Think, that parents can long so for their children! This he had never known. Think, that life can be as though it was over for them when the children are away! Think, if those at home longed for him in the same way that this old peasant woman had longed!
This thought made him happy, but he dared not believe in it. He had not been such a one that anybody could long for him.
But what he had not been, perhaps he could become.
Round about him he saw the portraits of those who were away. They were big, strong men and women with earnest faces. There were brides in long veils, and gentlemen in fine clothes; and there were children with waved hair and pretty white dresses. And he thought that they all stared blindly into vacancy—and did not want to see.
“Poor you!” said the boy to the portraits. “Your mother is dead. You cannot make reparation now, because you went away from her. But my mother is living!”
Here he paused, and nodded and smiled to himself. “My mother is living,” said he. “Both father and mother are living.”
FROM TABERG TO HUSKVARNA
Friday, April fifteenth.
The boy sat awake nearly all night, but toward morning he fell asleep and then he dreamed of his father and mother. He could hardly recognise them. They had both grown gray, and had old and wrinkled faces. He asked how this had come about, and they answered that they had aged so because they had longed for him. He was both touched and astonished, for he had never believed but what they were glad to be rid of him.