Oh, but it seemed good to him to sleep once more in a comfortable bed, and to eat properly cooked food! And then to be at home with Karin, who looked after his comfort as tenderly as a mother! She had ordered new clothes for him; and she had a way of coming in from the kitchen and handing him some dainty or other, as if he were still a little boy. And what wonderful things had happened at home while he was up in the forest! Ingmar had heard only a few vague rumours about Hellgum’s teachings; but now Karin and Halvor told him of the great happiness that had come to them, and of how they and their friends were trying to help one another to walk in the ways of God.
“We are sure you will want to join us,” said Karin.
Ingmar replied that maybe he would, but that he must think it over first.
“All winter I longed for you to come home and share our bliss,” the sister went on, “for now we no longer live upon earth, but in ’The New Jerusalem which is come down from Heaven!’”
Ingmar said he was glad to hear that Hellgum was still in the neighbourhood. The summer before the preacher had often dropped in at the mill to chat with Ingmar, and the two had become good friends. Ingmar thought him the finest chap he had ever met. Never had he come across any one who was so much of a man, so firm in his convictions, and so sure of himself. Sometimes, when there had been a great rush of work at the mill, Hellgum had pulled off his coat and given them a lift. Ingmar had been amazed at the man’s cleverness; he had never seen any one who was so quick at his work. Just then Hellgum happened to be away for a few days, but was Expected back shortly.
“Once you’ve talked with Hellgum, I think that you will join us,” Karin said. Ingmar thought so, too, although he felt a little reluctant about accepting anything which had not been approved by his father.
“But wasn’t it father himself who taught us that we must always walk in the ways of God?” argued Karin.
Everything seemed to be so bright and so promising! Ingmar had never dreamed that it would be so delightful to get back among people once more. There was only one thing wanting: no one ever spoke of the schoolmaster and his wife, or of Gertrude, which was most disquieting to him. He had not seen Gertrude for a whole year. In the summer he had never been without news of her; for then hardly a day went by that some one did not speak of the Storms. He thought that perhaps this silence regarding his old friends was accidental. When one feels timid about asking questions, and when no one voluntarily speaks of that which one longs above everything to hear about, it is mighty provoking, to say the least.
But if young Ingmar seemed to be happy and content, the same could not be said of Strong Ingmar. The old man had of late become sullen and taciturn and difficult to get on with.
“I believe you are homesick for the forest,” Ingmar said to him one afternoon as they sat on separate logs eating their sandwiches.