A gypsy reveals to Ingrid that she will lose everything, but the cossetted vicar’s daughter is headstrong. She enters the Alvar despite every warning … and meets her fate there.
Ingrid continued to hate her father all week. It increased due to his stubbornness to lift the ban on her imprisonment, or come to talk to her in a reasonable way. All she did in her lonely hours was think of ways to escape her bedroom, a room she had come to despise, and to flee to Kalle. Of all people she knew, he had a tenderness and a caring in him that her own family lacked. And he was fluent in speech, enjoying to converse with her despite his uneducated brain.
Knowing her father would keep a close watch on her from now on, Ingrid realised she would have no means of leaving the house without someone escorting her. That’s when her plan arose to escape in the middle of the night when no one would expect her to go out.
Outside her bedroom window stood a huge oak tree with branches that reached almost to her windowsill. As children, Johan and she had managed to climb onto one of the branches and let themselves slip down with a rope they had attached to a thicker limb. The rope was no longer in place, but if she tore her sheet in small strips and tied them together, she could take them in her pocket before she climbed outside. Would that be feasible? It seemed like the only way to get out of the house. Apart from being obstinate, she also felt deeply that she had to show her father she was serious about her God as well. He wouldn’t want to listen in any other way.
Having all the hours of the night and day, as nobody came to see her in her isolation, Ingrid plotted and planned.
At regular times, Mrs Magnusson came up with a tray laden with food and drinks, mostly her favourite dishes, but Ingrid hardly touched any of it as she was angry with the housekeeper as well. Mrs Magnusson looked at her sheepishly each time she set down the tray. She tried to seduce the girl into small talk, but Ingrid didn’t respond.
Sullenly, she kept staring out the window, over the Alvar, until she heard the housekeeper turn the key in the lock again. She hadn’t forgotten the harsh words Mrs Mags had spoken about Kalle.
The only one who wasn’t to blame and whom she was going to miss was Max. He’d never really given his opinion on the matter. And of course, she thought of Johan, what he would think of her adventure, but decided she’d explain everything to him in two weeks’ time when he came home for Easter. Perhaps her brother would understand her better than their father. He might take her side.
Anyway, by then, this storm would have blown itself out and they would all see that Kalle meant no harm. After all, she simply wanted to make a statement, for them to realise how serious she was about this charity cause.
Ingrid dressed in her darkest clothes and put on her sturdy walking boots. Fully dressed she got into bed, extinguished the gas lamp and drew the cover over her. She listened as the house became silent. Wide awake, with big eyes and a pounding heart, she tried to lie still, but her legs kept moving because she was so nervous. At some point she thought she was idiotic to go ahead with her plan, but at other moments her anger flared up again and she knew she had to teach everyone a lesson.
She waited until two in the morning before she slipped out of bed to put on her coat and wrap a dark shawl around her light hair. She listened at the door; there was no sound in the whole house. Carefully she undid the window latch and opened the window. Fresh night air swirled around her. For a moment she sat on the sill weighing her chances. If she failed to do this and fell down, she would either wake someone up because of the crash or – if she hurt herself – lie there until morning and hell would break ensue.
“So you’d better do this right the first and only time,” she told herself as she stretched out her arms to grab the nearest branch. She got hold of it and pulled it towards her. “Now,” she ordered, and for a moment felt her body dangle in mid-air before she managed to climb onto the sturdy branch by using all the force in her arms. “See I can still do this,” she whispered to herself with relief, taking a moment to catch her breath.
Stealthily she climbed further down the tree to the branch Johan used to tie a rope. Unrolling the strips of linen, she tied them tightly around the branch. She pulled to check its strength. This is the moment, she said to herself as she climbed down a little further until she would have to rely on the sheet.
The distance to the ground was more than three yards, too far to jump. Hanging onto the makeshift rope, she trusted it to hold her weight. Sliding down, the ground came nearer and nearer until she stood on solid earth. She was free. Hallelujah.
She checked the downstairs part of the house, but there were no lights. The sheet would remain hanging on to the tree so she could climb back up later that night.
Tentatively, she found her way through the dark. It was a clear night with a sickle of the new moon hanging low. A myriad of sparkling stars twinkled in the firmament. A clear night in March meant it was quite cold and the ground was covered with a thin layer of frosty white. Ingrid shivered, cursing herself for not having put on her winter coat. She walked briskly instead.
As she knew the way so well, she didn’t hesitate where to put her feet and soon found herself on the footpath that led to the stone wall. The moment she was about to climb over it, she stopped in her tracks and looked back towards Smedby village. All was dark. Nobody was following her. The white church tower was vaguely visible.
Suddenly she wasn’t so sure of her plan. What would Kalle think when she arrived in the middle of the night? Or maybe he wasn’t even there, poaching somewhere. What would she do then? She would just have to return and hope she could climb up to her room again. She had left the latch on the window open; if she returned before daylight, she might be able to get in without anyone having noticed she’d been missing. Shaking herself from her fright, she looked ahead towards her goal.
What would she say to Kalle? That they were in this together; that she owed it to him to stand firm and withstand her father’s command. She would try to persuade Kalle to come with her to the vicarage and present himself to her father. That way her father could see for himself that the man was innocent and had a right to a decent home and decent treatment by society. She would urge her father to find Kalle a job, maybe again with Martin the blacksmith. Or maybe as someone’s farm-hand. Ingrid became more and more enthusiastic about her project, confident it would work out in the end.
After she’d manage to rehabilitate Kalle Ljundberg, she would make it clear to her father that this was the kind of work she wanted to do in her life. She didn’t want to marry. She wanted to devote herself to working for the poor. Maybe set up a school for children that now had to go out and work at a tender age because their parents needed the extra income. That was another of these blatant situations the rich of Södra Öland turned a blind eye to. Papa would understand she needed a goal in life. Max’s lessons were interesting enough in themselves, but didn’t really teach her anything about real life.
While she was thinking these thoughts, Ingrid sought her way over the limestone plates and around the low bushes and muddy pools with more difficulty then she had anticipated. She made slow progress and realised the walk was going to take her twice as long as usual. When she finally arrived, she would wait until it was light and then return together with Kalle. The option to return in the dark became slimmer and slimmer. If only he was home to let her in.
Ingrid filled her lungs with the cold air and said a prayer. “Lord Jesus Son of God, Have Mercy Upon Us.” She kept praying this sentence over and over and found a kind of cadenza walking and speaking these words. They comforted her and made the cold less piercing.
In the distance she thought she saw Kalle’s demarcation wall, but when she came closer she saw it was a herd of cream-coloured cows huddled together. Farmers were free to let their cows graze on the Alvar, where nobody ever came to steal them. Ingrid wasn’t afraid of the animals dozing in the night, some lying down, snorting wheezily as the girl passed.
“Hello, cows,” she greeted.
Finally she was glad to see Kalle’s territory before her and she opened the provisional gate in the wall. All was silent.
She had no idea if he was in the house or not so she called out, “Kalle are you home?” When nothing stirred, she called a little louder, “Kalle, it’s me Ingrid. Are you there?”
She walked around the house and tried to peer in, but the oilcloth was attached from the inside and she couldn’t see anything. She knocked on the door, calling his name again. She started to panic, feeling too alone in the dark, afraid, not knowing which way to turn.
Desperately, she banged on the door, begging him to let her in, crying now, deep sobs rising up from her chest, suddenly feeling weak with hunger. She hadn’t eaten properly for days. Again she listened. Close by a bird scattered and flew up in the air, its night’s rest disrupted by the noise. A cow lowed, and then the silence reigned over the Alvar again.
Shivering and miserable, Ingrid started for home. The haze in her eyes made her stumble and miss her footing several times. She sprained her left ankle and stumbled on, not sure which way she was heading. A low mist closed in around her, steely wet, impenetrable. She was losing her way, she was losing her mind. She needed to lie down and sleep, but understood she would most probably suffer from hypothermia if she did, so she kept going, trying to discern the first signs of dawn, which would have to be behind her. She had to head west, west, ever west.
“Papa,” she cried several times, ‘Papa, help me.”
The landscape was completely devoid of human activity. In the end she gave up and sat down on a huge stone that had stood fixed in the land since the last ice age.
“I just want to rest a little bit,” she told herself, “until I’ve regained my strength.”
In 2016 I joined the writer’s collective 13th Sign Publishing where – apart from publishing our books- we publish a free quarterly eZine on healthy living, healthy eating and great reading.
When I’m not writing or thinking about writing, you can find me at the paid job at my local university translating stuff and recruiting international students, experimenting with organic food in my kitchen, stretching my old bones in Yoga or glued to WhatsApp exchanging funny messages with my grown-up kids.
But writing is the real deal for me. My books focus on female characters who are faced with impossible choices in their lives but still manage to crack it whether they perish or survive. My stories are dark and gritty. After all ‘this life is not a stroll across the meadow’ as Doctor Zhivago already observed. I write both contemporary and historical fiction, sometimes with a dash of fantasy.