On coming to the gravelled yard in front of the jail he saw a guard on duty and asked him if this was not the day that Brita Ericsson was to be discharged.
“Yes, I think there is a woman coming out to-day,” the guard answered.
“One who has been in for infanticide,” Ingmar explained.
“Oh, that one! Yes, she’ll be out this forenoon.”
Ingmar stationed himself under a tree, to wait. Not for a second did he take his eyes off the prison gate. “I dare say there are some among those who have gone in there that haven’t fared any too well,” he thought. “I don’t want to brag, but maybe there’s many a one on the inside that has suffered less than I who am outside. Well, I declare, Big Ingmar has brought me here to fetch my bride from the prison house,” he remarked to himself. “But I can’t say that little Ingmar is overpleased at the thought; he would have liked seeing her pass through a gate of honour instead, with her mother standing by her side, to give her to the bridegroom. And then they should have driven to the church in a flower-trimmed chaise, followed by a big bridal procession, and she should have sat beside him dressed as a bride, and smiling under her bridal crown.”
The gate opened several times. First, a chaplain come out, then it was the wife of the governor of the prison, and then some servants who were going to town. Finally Brita came. When the gate opened he felt a cramp at the heart. “It is she,” he thought. His eyes dropped. He was as if paralyzed, and could not move. When he had recovered himself, he looked up; she was then standing on the steps outside the gate.
She stood there a moment, quite still; she had pushed back her headshawl and, with eyes that were clear and open, she looked out across the landscape. The prison stood on high ground, and beyond the town and the stretches of forest she could see her native hills.
Suddenly she seemed to be shaken by some unseen force; she covered her face with her hands and sank down upon the stone step. Ingmar could hear her sobs from where he stood.
Presently he went over to her, and waited. She was crying so hard that she seemed deaf to every other sound; and he had to stand there a long time. At last he said:
“Don’t cry like that, Brita!”
She looked up. “O God in Heaven!” she exclaimed, “are you here?”
Instantly all that she had done to him flashed across her mind—and what it must have cost him to come. With a cry of joy she threw her arms around his neck and began to sob again.
“How I have longed that you might come!” she said.
Ingmar’s heart began to beat faster at the thought of her being so pleased with him. “Why, Brita, have you really been longing for me?” he said, quite moved.
“I have wanted so much to ask your forgiveness.”
Ingmar drew himself up to his full height and said very coldly: