THE BURIAL OF THE EMPEROR
It was on the Sunday before Christmas they were to bury Katrina of Ruffluck. Usually on that particular Sabbath the church attendance is very poor, as most people like to put off their church-going until the great Holy Day services.
When the few mourners from the Ashdales drove into the pine grove between the church and the town hall, they were astonished. For such crowds of people as were assembled there that Sunday were rarely seen even when the Dean of Bro came to Svartsjoe once a year, to preach, or at a church election.
It went without saying that it was not for the purpose of following old Katrina to her grave that every one to a man turned out. Something else must have brought them there. Possibly some great personage was expected at the church, or maybe some clergyman other than the regular pastor was going to preach, thought the Ashdales folk, who lived in such an out-of-the-way corner that much could happen in the parish without their ever hearing of it.
The mourners drove up to the cleared space behind the town hall, where they stepped down from the wagons. Here, as in the grove, they found throngs of people, but otherwise they saw nothing out of the ordinary. Their astonishment increased, but they felt loath to question any one as to what was going on; for persons who drive in a funeral procession are expected to keep to themselves and not to enter into conversation with those who have no part in the mourning.
The coffin was removed from the hearse and placed upon two black trestles which had been set up just outside the town hall, where the body and those who had come with it were to remain until the bells began to toll and the pastor and the sexton were ready to go with them to the churchyard.
It was a stormy day. Rain came down in lashing showers and beat against the coffin. One thing was certain: it could never be said that fine weather had brought all these people out.
But that day nobody seemed to mind the rain and wind. People stood quietly and patiently under the open sky without seeking the shelter of either the church or the town hall.
The six pall-bearers and others who had gathered around Katrina noticed that there were two trestles there besides those on which her coffin rested. Then there was to be another burial that day. This they had not known of before. Yet no funeral procession could be seen approaching. It was already so late that it should have been at the church by that time.
When it was about ten minutes of ten o’clock and time to be moving toward the churchyard, the Ashdales folk noticed that every one withdrew in the direction of the Daer Nol home, which was only two minutes’ walk from the church. They saw then what they had not observed before, that the path leading from the town hall to the house of Daer Nol was strewn with spruce twigs and that a spruce tree had been placed at either side of the gate. Then it was from there a body was to be taken. They wondered why nothing had been said about a death in a family of such prominence. Besides, there were no sheets put up at the windows, as there should be in a house of mourning.