“Let me congratulate you, Ingmar,” she said, her voice shaking with joy. “You and I have been strongly opposed to each other of late in matters of religion; but since God does not grant me the solace of having you with us, I thank Him for allowing you to become master of the old farm.”
Ingmar did not speak. His hand lay limp in Karin’s, and when she let it drop, he stood there looking just as unhappy as he had looked all day.
The men who had been inside at the final settlement came out now, and shook hands with Ingmar, offering their congratulations. “Good luck to you, Ingmar Ingmarsson of the Ingmar Farm!” they said.
At that a glimmer of happiness crossed Ingmar’s face, and he murmured softly to himself: “Ingmar Ingmarsson of the Ingmar Farm.” He was like a child that has just received a gift it has long been wishing for. But the next moment his expression changed to one of intense revolt and repugnance, as if he would have thrust the coveted prize from him.
In a flash the news had spread .all over the farm. People talked loudly and questioned eagerly; some were so pleased they wept for joy. No one listened now to the cries of the auctioneer, but everybody crowded around Ingmar to wish him happiness—peasants and gentlefolk, friends and strangers, alike.
Ingmar, standing there, surrounded by all these happy people, suddenly looked up. He then saw Mother Stina, standing a little apart from the others, her eyes fixed on him. She was very pale, and looked old and poor. As he met her gaze, she turned and walked away.
Ingmar hastily left the others and hurried after her. Then bending down to her, every muscle of his face aquiver with grief, he said in a husky voice:
“Go home to Gertrude, Mother Stina, and tell her that I have betrayed her, that I’ve sold myself for the farm. Tell her never to think more of such a miserable wretch as I.”
Something strange had come over Gertrude that she could neither stay nor control—something that grew and grew until it finally threatened to take complete possession of her.
It began at the moment when she learned that Ingmar had failed her. It was really a boundless fear of seeing Ingmar again—of suddenly meeting him on the road, or at church, or elsewhere. Why that would be such a terrible thing she hardly knew, but she felt that she could never endure it.
Gertrude would have preferred shutting herself in, day and night, so as to be sure of not meeting Ingmar; but that was not possible for a poor girl like her. She had to go out and work in the garden, and every morning and evening she was obliged to tramp the long distance from the house to the pasture to milk the cows, and she was often sent to the village store to buy sugar and meal and whatever else was needed in the house.
When Gertrude went out on the road she would always draw her kerchief far down over her face, keep her eyes lowered, and rush on as if fiends were pursuing her. As soon as she could, she would turn from the highroad, and take the narrow bypaths alongside the ditches and drains, where she felt there was less likelihood of her meeting Ingmar.