“You begged and teased me to come here so that I should forget what day it was, and now I get this reminder!”
Again Lars raised the brandy bottle to his lips. This time, however, the wife cast herself upon him with prayers and tears. Replacing the bottle on the table, he said with a laugh: “Keep it! Keep it for all of me!” With that he rose and kicked the chair out of his way. “Good-bye to you, Ol’ Bengtsa,” he said to the host. “I hope you will pardon my leaving, but to-day I must go to a place where I can drink in peace.”
He rushed toward the gate, his wife following. When he was passing out into the road, he pushed her back. “Why can’t you let me be!” he cried fiercely. “I’ve had my warning, and I go to meet my doom!”
All day, while the party was going on at the seine-maker’s, Jan of Ruffluck kept to his hut. But at evening he went out and sat down up on the flat stone in front of the house, as was his wont. He was not ill exactly, but he felt weak and tired. The hut had become so overheated during the long, hot sunny day that he thought it would be nice to get a breath of fresh air. He found, however, that it was not much cooler outside, but he sat still all the same, mostly because there was so much out here that was beautiful to the eye.
It had been an excessively hot and dry month of June and forest fires, which always rage every rainless summer, had already got going. This he could tell by the pretty bluish-white smoke banks that rose above the hills at the other side of the lake. Presently, away off to southward, a shimmery white curly cloud head appeared, while in the west, over against Great Peak, huge smoke-blended clouds rolled up and up. It seemed to him as if the whole world were afire.
No flames could be seen from where he sat, but there was no mistaking that fire had broken out and could hold sway indefinitely. He only hoped it would confine itself to the forest trees, and not sweep down upon huts and farmsteads.
He could scarcely breathe. It was as if such quantities of air had been consumed that there was very little of it left. At short intervals he sensed an odour, as of something burning, that stuck in his nostrils. That odour did not come from any cook stove in the Ashdales! It was a salutation from the great stake of pine needles, and moss, and brushwood that sizzled and burned many miles away.
A little while ago the sun had gone down, red as fire, leaving in its wake enough colour to tint the whole sky, which was now rose hued not only across that corner of it where the sun had just been seen, but over its entire expanse. At the same time the waters of Dove Lake had become as dark as mirror glass in the shadow of the towering hills. In this black-looking water ran streaks of red blood and molten gold.
It was the sort of night that makes one feel that the earth is not worthy a glance; that only the heavens and the waters that mirror them are worth seeing.