“You might have let him take the girl,” said Katrina. “I’m afraid you’ll fall with her!”
“What, I let him have my child? What are you thinking of, woman! Didn’t you see who he was?”
“What harm would there have been in letting her ride with the superintendent of the ironworks?”
Jan Anderson of Ruffluck stood stockstill. “Was that the superintendent at Doveness?” he said, looking as though he had just come out of a dream.
“Why of course! Who did you suppose it was?”
Yes, where had Jan’s thoughts been? What child had he been carrying? Where had he intended going? In what land had he wandered? He stood stroking his forehead, and looked rather bewildered when he answered Katrina.
“I thought it was Herod, King of Judea, and his wife, Herodias,” he said.
When the little girl of Ruffluck was three years old she had an illness which must have been the scarlet fever, for her little body was red all over and burning hot to the touch. She would not eat, nor could she sleep; she just lay tossing in delirium. Jan could not think of going away from home so long as she was sick. He stayed in the hut day after day, and it looked as though Eric of Falla’s rye would go unthreshed that year.
It was Katrina who nursed the little girl, who spread the quilt over her every time she cast it off, and who fed her a little diluted blueberry cordial, which the housewife at Falla had sent them. When the little maid was well Jan always looked after her; but as soon as she became ill he was afraid to touch her, lest he might not handle her carefully enough and would only hurt her. He never stirred from the house, but sat in a corner by the hearth all day, his eyes fixed on the sick child.
The little one lay in her own crib with only a couple of straw pillows under her, and no sheets. It must have been hard on the delicate little body, made sensitive by rash and inflammation, to lie upon the coarse tow-cloth pillow-casings.
Strange to say, every time the child began to toss on the bed Jan would think of the finest thing he had to his name—his Sunday shirt.
He possessed only one good shirt, which was of smooth white linen, with a starched front It was so well made that it would have been quite good enough for the superintendent at Doveness. And Jan was very proud of that shirt. The rest of his wearing apparel, which was in constant use, was as coarse as were the pillow-casings the little girl lay on.
But maybe it was only stupid in him to be thinking of that shirt? Katrina would never in the world let him ruin it, for she had given it to him as a wedding present.
Anyhow, Katrina was doing all she could. She borrowed a horse from Eric of Falla, wrapped the little one in shawls and quilts and rode to the doctor’s with her. That was courageous of Katrina—though Jan could not see that it did any good. Certainly no help came out of the big medicine bottle she brought back with her from the apothecary’s, nor from any of the doctor’s other prescriptions.