“I’m not your judge, Lars Gunnarson,” he said in warm, reassuring tones, “but if you have something on your conscience, you can come to me. I shall look for you every day. Only don’t put it off too long!”
The second winter of the little girl’s absence from home was an extremely severe one. By the middle of January it had grown so unbearably cold that snow had to be banked around all the little huts in the Ashdales as a protection against the elements, and every night the cows had to be covered with straw, to keep them from freezing to death.
It was so cold that the bread froze; the cheese froze, and even the butter turned to ice. The fire itself seemed unable to hold its warmth. It mattered not how many logs one laid in the fireplace, the heat spread no farther than to the edge of the hearth.
One day, when the winter was at its worst, Jan decided that instead of going out to his work he would stay at home and help Katrina keep the fire alive. Neither he nor the wife ventured outside the hut that day, and the longer they remained indoors the more they felt the cold. At five o’clock in the afternoon, when it began to grow dark, Katrina said they might as well “turn in”; it was no good their sitting up any longer, torturing themselves.
During the afternoon Jan had gone over to the window, time and again, and peered out through a little corner of a pane that had remained clear, though the rest of the glass was thickly crusted with frost flowers. And now he went back there again.
“You can go to bed, Katrina dear,” he said as he stood looking out, “but I’ve got to stay up a while longer.”
“Well I never!” ejaculated Katrina. “Why should you stay up? Why can’t you go to bed as well as I?”
But Jan did not reply to her questions. “It’s strange I haven’t seen Agrippa Praestberg pass by yet,” he said.
“Is it him you’re waiting for!” snapped Katrina. “He hasn’t been so extra nice to you that you need feel called upon to sit up and freeze on his account!”
Jan put up his hand with a sweep of authority—this being the only mannerism acquired during his emperorship which had not been dropped. There was no fear of Praestberg coming to them, he told her. He had heard that the old man had been invited to a drinking bout at a fisherman’s but here in the Ashdales, but so far he had not seen him go by.
“I suppose he has had the good sense to stay at home,” said Katrina.
It grew colder and colder. The corners of the house creaked as if the freezing wind were knocking to be let in. All the bushes and trees were covered with such thick coats of snow and rim frost they looked quite shapeless. But bushes and trees, like humans, had to clothe themselves as well as they could, in order to be protected against the cold.
In a little while Katrina observed: “I see by the clock it’s only half after five, but all the same I’ll put on the porridge pot and prepare the evening meal. After supper, you can sit up and wait for Praestberg or go to bed, whichever you like.”