Never for a moment did she feel free from fear; for there was not a single place in all the parish where she could feel certain of not running across him. If she went rowing on the river, he might be there floating his timber, or if she ventured into the depths of the forest, he might cross her path on his way to work.
When weeding in the garden, she would often glance down the road, so that she might see if he were approaching, and make her escape. Ingmar was so well known about the place that her dog would not have barked at sight of him, and her pigeons, that strutted about the gravel walk, would not have flown up and warned her of his approach with the rustle of their flapping wings.
Gertrude’s haunting dread did not diminish, but rather increased from day to day. All her grief had turned to fear, and her strength to combat it grew less and less. “Soon I shall not dare venture outside the door,” she thought. “I may get to be a bit queer and morose, even if I don’t become quite insane. God, God, take this awful fear away from me!” she prayed. “I can see that my mother and father think I’m not right in my head; and every one else must think the same. Oh, dear Lord God, help me!” she cried.
When this fear condition was at its worst, it happened one night that Gertrude had an extraordinary dream. She dreamed that she had gone out, with her milk pail on her arm, to do the milking. The cows were grazing in an enclosed meadow near the skirt of the forest, a long way from home. She went by the narrow paths, alongside the ditches and field drains. She had great difficulty in walking, for she felt so weak and weary that she could hardly lift her feet. “What can be the matter with me?” she asked herself, in the dream. “Why is it so hard for me to walk?” And she also answered herself. “You are tired because you carry about with you this heavy burden of sorrow.”
When she finally got to the pasturage, there were no cows in sight. She became uneasy, and began to look for them in their usual haunts—behind the brushwood, over by the brook, and under the birches—but there was not a sign of them. While searching for the cows she discovered a gap in the hedge, on the side fronting the forest. She grew terribly alarmed, and stood wringing her hands. It suddenly occurred to her that the cows must have cleared this opening. “Tired as I am, must I now tramp the whole forest to find them!” she whimpered, in her dream.
But she went straight on into the woods, slowly pushing her way through fir brush and prickly juniper bushes. Presently she found herself walking on a smooth and even road without knowing how she had got there. The road was soft and rather slippery from the brown fir needles that covered it. On either side stood great towering pines, and on the yellow moss under the trees sunbeams were playing. Here it was so lovely and so peaceful that she almost forgot her fears.