The Ice People 25 - The Angel - Margit Sandemo - E-Book

The Ice People 25 - The Angel E-Book

Margit Sandemo

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Beschreibung

From an early age, Tula Backe realized that she was different from everyone else: she was one of the Ice People's stricken. She did not use her extraordinary gifts solely for good purposes, and her secret was revealed because an evil power, much stronger than her, had devilish plans for her. It was Tengel the Evil who had chosen Tula to be the one to wake him from his long slumber … The Legend of the Ice People series has already captivated over 45 million readers across the world. The story of the Ice People is a moving legend of love and supernatural powers 'Margit Sandemo is, simply, quite wonderful.' - The Guardian 'Full of convincing characters, well estabished in time and place, and enlightening ... will get your eyes popping, and quite possibly groins twitching ... these are graphic novels without pictures ... I want to know what happens next.' - The Times 'A mixure of myth and legend interwoven with historical events, this is imaginative creation that involves the reader from the first page to the last.' - Historical Novels Review 'Loved by the masses, the prolific Margit Sandemo has written over 172 novels to date and is Scandinavia s most widely read author...' - Scanorama magazine

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The Angel

The Legend of the Ice People 25 - The Angel

© Margit Sandemo 1984

© eBook in English: Jentas A/S, 2018

Series: The Legend of The Ice People

Title: The Angel

Title number: 25

Original title: Ängel med dolda horn

Translator: Anna Halager

© Translation: Jentas A/S

ISBN: 978-87-7107-588-5

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchase.

All contracts and agreements regarding the work, translation, editing, and layout are owned by Jentas A/S.

Acknowledgement

The legend of the Ice People is dedicated with love and gratitude to the memory of my dear late husband Asbjorn Sandemo, who made my life a fairy tale.

Margit Sandemo

The Ice People - Reviews

‘Margit Sandemo is, simply, quite wonderful.’

- The Guardian

‘Full of convincing characters, well estabished in time and place, and enlightening ... will get your eyes popping, and quite possibly groins twitching ... these are graphic novels without pictures ... I want to know what happens next.’

- The Times

‘A mixure of myth and legend interwoven with historical events, this is imaginative creation that involves the reader from the first page to the last.’

- Historical Novels Review

‘Loved by the masses, the prolific Margit Sandemo has written over 172 novels to date and is Scandinavia s most widely read author...’

- Scanorama magazine

The Legend of the Ice People

The legend of the Ice People begins many centuries ago with Tengel the Evil. He was ruthless and greedy, and there was only one way to get everything that he wanted: he had to make a pact with the devil. He travelled far into the wilderness and summoned the devil with a magic potion that he had brewed in a pot. Tengel the Evil gained unlimited wealth and power but in exchange, he cursed his own family. One of his descendants in every generation would serve the Devil with evil deeds. When it was done, Tengel buried the pot. If anyone found it, the curse would be broken.

So the curse was passed down through Tengel’s descendants, the Ice People. One person in every generation was born with yellow cat’s eyes, a sign of the curse, and magical powers which they used to serve the Devil. One day the most powerful of all the cursed Ice People would be born.

This is what the legend says. Nobody knows whether it is true, but in the 16th century, a cursed child of the Ice People was born. He tried to turn evil into good, which is why they called him Tengel the Good. This legend is about his family. Actually, it is mostly about the women in his family – the women who held the fate of the Ice People in their hands.

Chapter 1

Tula Backe was perfect in every way, the kind of child any parents would want: robust, kind-hearted, chubby and cheerful. There were no problems with her whatsoever when she was small. Golden curls, always wearing an inquisitive look on her face, and a broad, ready smile in a thoroughly healthy face. She was also sweet. A gorgeous little dumpling you wanted to give a big hug to.

Visitors to the house would say: “What a charming little girl you have, Gunilla and Erland! A little gem, a little angel!”

But Tula was a devil! It was just that she didn’t tell anyone.

All the Ice People were sure that the child Gunilla had lost (their first, born prematurely) must have been the stricken one of that generation, because the three others – Anna Maria, Tula and Eskil – were all so sweet!

Tula was the only one who knew that things weren’t quite right with her. That is to say, she was really thrilled to be one of the stricken. But she was a sly and very intelligent child, and used to joke that she was “the angel with hidden horns”.

She also had a good sense of humour. This was where she differed from Sölve, with whom she otherwise had a lot in common. Sölve had never been able to laugh at himself. Otherwise the two of them were similar in the sense that he had also succeeded in hiding his special quirks. But Sölve was late to grasp that he was cursed, whereas Tula knew right from the beginning that there was something wrong with her. She couldn’t remember precisely when it dawned on her because it was as if she had known it all along. For just as long, she had understood that she must cherish and conceal what she knew.

At a very early age, Tula realized that people tend to like a cheerful and compliant child, so this was what she became – on the surface, that is. And she had the time of her life. If, from time to time, this pious behaviour became too sickening for her, she would quietly swear to herself. Curses that she had picked up from the farm boys. She had a unique talent for knowing which expressions had the most shocking effect; she would save them up in her mind and feast on them when she was alone.

Like many of her predecessors, including Sol, she absolutely adored her parents. She also adored her grandfather, Arv. They were the best friends in the world, and heaven help anyone who hurt Grandfather or Grandmother Siri, or her parents, Gunilla and Erland! Tula could be fearsome – in secret, of course.

There were plenty of people she didn’t care for. Nevertheless, she had discovered that Arvid Posse, who was the local member of parliament and the estate owner at Bergqvara, was a nice old man. He basked in Tula’s favour, though of course he knew nothing about it. There was a lot that the people of Bergqvara didn’t know about Tula. Take, for instance, the time when a farmhand with narrow, cunning eyes had been hired to work on the estate farm. Tula was about five years old at the time and so chubby and lovely that the local women would fool about and tell her she was delicious and as sweet as honey.

Nobody knew that the new farmhand belonged to a gang of robbers, or that years ago Count Posse, when a magistrate, had sentenced him to prison. It was ages ago when he was a young man, and Count Posse would not have recognized him now because he was middle-aged with poor teeth and persistent stubble. In any case, the estate owner rarely saw his farmhands because they were the responsibility of the farm bailiff.

The farmhand was known as Olle Creep, and that name alone ought to have made them cautious. He had come to Bergqvara for one reason only: to take revenge on the bastard who had had the nerve to sentence him and his cronies to the jailhouse. Most of the other gang members were dead now. But he was alive – and he wanted revenge!

It was a dreadful shame that Count Posse wasn’t very often at Bergqvara. He spent most of his time in Stockholm where he was a greatly respected politician. One couldn’t help fretting about it! But right now, he was at home.

It was late spring and the estate owner was inspecting his property.

It’s now or never, thought Olle Creep.

He had a rifle that he had stolen from a soldier he had been forced to silence forever. That couldn’t be helped – he had also needed to get hold of the ammunition and the soldier had been unwilling to hand it over. The rifle was hidden up in the hayloft. Olle Creep peered about with a sinister look in his eyes. There was nobody around. Nobody except the little girl who lived on the judge’s farm. The one they called an angel. Olle Creep sneered at the name, but in his heart of hearts he had to agree that it was fitting. He had never seen a more adorable child. She was by no means a small, dainty elf but a chubby, cheerful ray of sunshine. You might never meet such a gorgeous child again in a lifetime.

She was darting about over there on the garden path. She had arranged some sticks and stones in a pattern and was jumping about between them, very preoccupied. She didn’t even look up when he turned up from the meadow and walked across to the barn. Now he was up in the hayloft, but where was his rifle? Yes, it was in its hiding place, well hidden! Olle Creep loaded the rifle, slowly and meticulously. He had plenty of time. The estate owner would have to walk through the stable first. Then he would take leave of his companions and walk across the fields on his own. Olle Creep knew his routine by now. Count Posse was a pensive man. He loved to roam about on his own on the rare occasions when he was at home. He was behind the barn now, and on his way across the meadow ... no one could see him.

People would hear the shot of course, but it would be quite a while before anybody realized where it had come from. Before they found Count Posse out in the fields, the rifle would be hidden away and Olle Creep would be back at work, just as surprised as everybody else.

The sheriff was bound to reach the conclusion that Count Posse had been killed by a stray shot – perhaps from a poacher in the forest?

The rifle was loaded. Olle Creep took his position by a small peephole up in the hayloft.

The estate owner was coming closer ... that snooty devil of a judge. Now Olle Creep would get even with him! He would get revenge for every year he had slogged, every single stone he had carried ...

A little farther into the field! There! Perfect! Now you’re about to die, my friend! Olle’s finger was bent, ready to fire a shot.

“Boo!”

Olle started. A small shadow had appeared behind a pillar and he heard laughter.

“I frightened you, didn’t I?” Tula laughed. “You didn’t see me at all!”

Olle Creep cursed silently as he tried to hide the rifle, which wasn’t easy.

“Are you shooting crows?”

Tula wasn’t tall enough to look out of the peephole. Thank goodness for that, Olle thought.

“Er ... crows? Yes ... yes, precisely!”

For an instant he very much wanted to wring the neck of this unsuspecting little creature, who was hopping about the loft in short skirts. By now the estate owner was far away and he had missed the magic moment. But Olle didn’t want to have to conceal another murder. The little girl was very much loved. There would be general consternation if she disappeared and was found dead on the estate. People were so damned sentimental over children. Now she was climbing down and a moment later she had gone.

And so had Councillor Posse.

Olle Creep swore like mad. He was absolutely livid.

A few days later, he had another chance. The estate owner was out alone riding his horse. He was on his way to see the vicar in Bergunda. As always, he would come back at dusk and ride home along the avenue. As soon as night fell, Olle Creep sneaked out and into the avenue. There he tied a rope right across the road between two trees, at a height that meant the horse couldn’t help stumble on it and fall. Count Posse always rode fast.

Now the snare was set. Olle Creep inspected his handiwork and was pleased as he trudged back up to the farm. He didn’t want to go right home but would lie in wait at a distance, so he would have time to remove the line before it was discovered. But he hadn’t walked far before he heard a soft call behind him.

“Olle Creep!”

What? Did they use his nickname openly here?

He heard small, quick steps behind him. He stopped.

Tula gasped eagerly: “You forgot ... this ... rope. It was very difficult ... to untie. There you are!”

She was so proud of being able to lend a helping hand!

Olle took the rope. He was getting more and more angry.

“Mind your own business, you snotty little brat!” he snarled as he walked away, raging inside. Far down the avenue, horses’ hooves could be heard approaching. Olle Creep didn’t stop to listen. He simply walked away in order not to be seen.

Then there was the time when he was roofing a building and the estate owner happened to stand right underneath him ... He was holding a heavy tile in his hand. All he needed to do was let go of it – and then make himself scarce before anybody caught sight of him.

He heard that young voice he hated pipe up from far below: “Are you up there, Olle Creep? Can I come up to you?”

There he stood – with the tile in his hand, ready to drop it over the side. Tula was standing down there on the lawn. Right below him were the estate owner and the farm bailiff, who had both taken a step back, gazing up at him.

Damn her! Satan’s brat!”

Olle Creep had no idea how right he was.

Then the estate owner returned to Stockholm. But his sons were still there! The estate owner had six sons, and the one who was most frequently out in the courtyard and around the farm buildings was Arvid Mauritz Posse, who was thirteen. Why hadn’t Olle thought of that before? An even better revenge! The son! If he was killed, what would the mighty councillor say about that?

Yes, it was obvious! Such a hothead was much easier to make short work of. Olle began to make new plans.

This turned out to be much more difficult than he had thought. Count Posse’s sons adored the naughty little farm brat, so she seemed to be all over the place at Bergqvara. She, who in her ignorant innocence had upset Olle’s plans several times already almost made him choke with frustration. Tula was always with one of the estate owner’s sons, running along at their heels admiringly. The idiots seemed delighted and flattered; they seemed to like her rippling laughter, which echoed everywhere and which Olle simply hated.

Actually, Tula didn’t really live on the Bergqvara Estate. Her parents had a farm of their own that had grown big and profitable. But her father, Erland, was a good soldier and had been promoted, so he was often away on duty. At those times Tula and her mother, Gunilla, would stay with her grandfather, the estate manager Arv Grip, at Bergqvara. This was safer for Gunilla and young Tula. However, Gunilla really wanted to stay there for quite a different reason. She didn’t care to admit it but she was worried about her dear old father. She was so afraid that he would get hurt or fall ill. This way she could be nearby. Gunilla really had no reason to worry, because her father was neither sick nor frail. He was fifty-seven, which was nothing for a man of the Ice People. But Arv was simply grateful to have his daughter and grandchild staying with him. At long last he had managed to persuade Siri of Kvarnbäcken to marry him, but she still suffered from the effects of her terrible years in the Devil’s Ravine. Young Tula was a breath of fresh air in his life with the two fragile women, Gunilla and Siri.

Olle Creep, on the other hand, wanted that damned little ray of sunshine and her entire family far away.

He would get the better of them, no doubt about that! He couldn’t care less about the manager’s family. They were unimportant. It was the Posse family he wanted to break, and right now he was focusing on that puppy, Arvid Mauritz.

Strangely enough, it never occurred to Olle to render Tula harmless first. He ought to have done that, but his primitive thoughts were still focused on striking at Councillor Posse, who had sent him to prison.

The opportunity presented itself one day when the thirteen-year-old was alone on the farm. Tula, that jinx who happened to turn up at every critical moment, was indoors having dinner with her mother. At least he didn’t have to worry about her this time. Wonderful!

Olle Creep had dared to speak to young Arvid about a promising young animal that the neighbour wanted to buy for a tidy sum. But this was something Olle couldn’t decide on his own. Would young Arvid Mauritz – who was, of course, a true expert – please come with him into the stable and take a look at the calf so that Olle wouldn’t do something stupid? The bailiff? No, he was out in the forest, measuring up timber.

Arvid was flattered at being regarded as an expert, so he promised to come over to the stable in half an hour’s time. All Olle Creep had to do was wait in the stable.

There he made his preparations. A snare around the lad’s neck, then away with him into a hole Olle had dug in a corner of the stable, then pour earth into the hole immediately afterwards. No trace. Nobody would even know that the boy had walked into the stable, for the simple reason that all the servants were at a party and all the labourers were in the forest.

Tula was alone in Grandfather Arv’s house. Her grandfather had gone into the forest and Grandmother Siri and her mother were in the laundry room. So Tula thought it wouldn’t matter if she opened Grandfather’s exciting chest of drawers and had a look at all the priceless objects he kept there. There was the medal for long and loyal service. She couldn’t use that. There was the commemorative coin that the king himself had given him. Grandfather had told her about it many times. The coin looked a bit peculiar, and Grandfather had said that you couldn’t use it as money.

What about this one, then? Tula’s chubby little hand held a big, shiny coin that Erland had sometimes told her about. It could be used to buy the whole world!

Tula firmly believed this. She had inherited her father’s tendency to brag. She closed the drawer without the least pang of conscience and, with the coin held tightly in her hand, she ran outside. The coin was so big that she could hardly close her fingers around it.

I’m sure Grandfather will forgive me, she said confidently to herself.

Young Arvid Mauritz Posse was heading towards the stable when he met an eager, panting Tula, who stopped him. Her sweet, innocent face was flushed.

“Arvid!”

Tula was the only one among the employees and their families who could get away with addressing the councillor’s sons informally.

“Arvid, the farmhand asked me to tell you that he has been summoned to work in the forest. But if you could take a look at the calf tomorrow ...?”

The thirteen-year-old hesitated. “I could go over and see for myself. Only I don’t know which calf he has in mind ...”

“Perhaps it’s best to wait until tomorrow then?”

“Er, all right then. I’d better do that, hadn’t I. Thank you, little Tula.”

He gave the dear little thing a pat on her golden head and turned around. As soon as Arvid had gone, Tula ran over to the stable.

Olle Creep was getting impatient. Would that rogue never turn up? Here he was with the snare in his trouser pocket. The lad wouldn’t be able to see his hand in front of him in the dark corner by the calves’ stall. And then ... a quick yank!

But where the hell was Arvid Mauritz Posse?

Something – a movement or a sound or a sensation – made Olle Creep turn his head.

That little diabolical girl was there again!

She was sitting on the edge of the large fertilizer container, which was Bergqvara’s latest innovation. She sat with her head tilted, gazing one moment at Olle and the next moment at a big, shiny coin she held in her hand as she hummed quietly to herself.

Olle Creep had never seen such a big coin, had never stolen anything even half as valuable, and he knew what it was worth! My word! With that coin, he wouldn’t have to work any more for the rest of his life.

That was an exaggeration, but to Olle, the coin seemed the solution to all his humiliations. He forgot young Arvid Mauritz Posse. His eyes were popping out of his head.

“Where did you get that from?” Olle asked with a husky voice. He couldn’t take his eyes off the coin. His hands were literally itching.

All Tula said was: “It’s mine!”

“Give it to me!”

His voice was so hoarse that it was hardly possible to understand what Olle was saying. This little brat was the only hindrance to his eternal happiness. It would be the easiest thing in the world to ...

Just as he was getting dangerously close to Tula, she said: “Well, take it then!”

She tossed the coin into the huge, bubbling pool of slurry as she jumped elegantly down from the edge, just out of reach of Olle’s hands as he tried to grab her.

Olle Creep let out a cry of anxiety. The coin! It might be lost! It mustn’t, it just mustn’t!

Wealth! A wonderful life of idleness was now disappearing into the dark brown manure. He could still see the shining coin floating on top of the mass but soon it would ...

Without hesitation, Olle Creep climbed up onto the edge and jumped as far into the slurry pit as he could. This was during the spring thaw, when the container was full of thawed winter dung and the whole lot was one big, stinking, rocking mass. But Olle worked his way determinedly across it for the few yards he needed until his hand locked triumphantly around the coin, just before it sank below the surface. It was his, it really was!

Then everything became very strange. Suddenly he was aware that he couldn’t touch the bottom. Oh, well, never mind. Surely he could work his way back and grab the side. It was really yucky. He hadn’t thought of that before he jumped into the container.

But he had the coin!

That brat! Now she was sitting on the edge once more, looking down at him. He would damn well give her a hiding as soon as he got out of this muck!

As soon as he got out?

No matter how hard he tried to reach the edge of the container, it was as if it receded farther and farther away from him. He could not turn around because the mass was far too thick. So he didn’t know how close he was to the far edge.

Olle was finding it harder to stay upright in the container. His arms were beginning to feel limp and his legs were deep in the dung.

The girl’s eyes ...

They were so strange. So ... but ... ?

He opened his mouth to shout but got a whole mouthful of liquid manure.

Tula jumped down from the edge of the container and ran out of the stable.

“You see, Arvid is my friend. One day, he’ll be a very important man,” she said to the air.

Which did indeed. Young Arvid Posse became Sweden’s prime minister. But that’s a different story.

They found Olle Creep a few weeks later when they came to fetch some manure to spread on the fields. He was still holding Arv Grip’s big silver coin in his clenched fist.

“Oh, so he was the one who was so light-fingered,” said Arv to old Count Posse. What a relief for us all, he thought. I know Gunilla was very worried that it might be Tula. How could she think that of this sweet little angel?

Count Posse said: “Don’t speak ill of the dead. I just need to be more careful about those I employ. But how on earth did he end up in the slurry container?”

“I think it would be best not to think too much about that,” muttered Arv Grip, not knowing how true that was. “I can just scrub the coin clean in boiling water and put it back in its rightful place in my chest.”

“I think you should do that,” Count Posse replied.

Under the craggy apple trees, young Tula was half-carrying, half-dragging an enormous black cat, which, just like the Midgard serpent in Thor’s arms, almost trailed on the ground in Tula’s arms. Like a true descendant of the Ice People, Tula really loved animals.

Chapter 2

It was this love of animals that would often nearly ruin Tula – or, more precisely, betray her. Each year at killing time she would make a big scene, because she knew every single animal in the barn and considered herself their friend. One year she had been unable to control herself and had wished death on those committing this “atrocity” against one of her four-legged friends. The four men who helped to slaughter the animals were bedridden for several weeks with a life-threatening illness, while Tula huddled in a corner, grieving over the friend she had patted and talked to in the barn so often. No one connected young Tula to the four men’s illness, of course, because they could see how she was suffering. So when killing time came round again, Gunilla moved to the small farm with the little girl in order to spare her unnecessary mental pain.

Everybody thought it was wonderful that Tula was so fond of the poor animals. Her grandfather, Arv, ought to have paid attention to that. Love of animals was something that characterized all the members of the Ice People, in particular those among them who were cursed. However, Arv couldn’t see that there was anything wrong with his grandchild, whom he doted on.

Then there were the unfortunate visits to church. One of Tula’s certainties was that she didn’t want to reveal her peculiarity to anybody! She wanted to be a sweet, nice girl, so that she could do whatever she wanted without a soul suspecting anything.

Every Sunday, the whole family would go to Bergunda Church, and that included Tula, of course. A few times she had been allowed not to attend, with the excuse that she had a temperature or something, but she couldn’t go on like that week after week and she was wise enough to understand that. She simply had to hold out.

For a cursed person like her, it was a great effort just to enter the church, not to mention sitting quietly for hours on end listening to what she considered to be absolute nonsense. It was almost unbearable. Since the blood of evil flowed quite freely in her veins, she had to compensate for her suffering, building a wall against all the priest’s good words. Except that his words weren’t confined to goodness – a congregation should always be made aware of its sins, which only pious prayers could save the people from. When the priest thundered about fire and brimstone in hell, Tula was in her element. But otherwise she would sit with her hands tightly clenched, rattling off long strings of bad words quietly to herself.

The priest’s eyes would often dwell on Tula with her beautiful golden hair. Might she not be an angel who had fallen from heaven? Look how fervently she is praying, he would think. She is putting her entire soul into the prayer, folding her hands so that her knuckles turn white, and her whole face reflects a frenetic determination.

Hell, hell, hell, Tula would be thinking, grinding her teeth audibly while her eyebrows contracted over the threatening look in her eyes.

God’s little lamb, the priest would think.

This little lamb of God wanted the priest and all God’s glory to go straight to hell. You devilish, damned shit! she thought. You and your damned sermon can go to hell! This was how she went on, sometimes using even worse words that she had heard the boys call out to women who walked past them.

At church Tula got into a cold sweat and felt nauseous, and if she wasn’t allowed to react in this grotesque manner, with her fire and brimstone and threats, she would run out screaming and make a scandal. Of course, she didn’t dare to wish for the priest to go to hell. Her oaths weren’t incantations, merely consoling words and wishful thinking. But Tula’s mother, Gunilla, was worried about her daughter’s constant feverish attacks every Sunday afternoon ...

Tula had a little friend the same age as herself. This was Amalia, the farm bailiff’s daughter. They played nicely together, but now and then Amalia thought that Tula had strange ideas. Like the straightforward little girl she was, she would say: “Tula, you’re crazy. You can’t see straight through the wall at people inside!” But this was precisely what Tula could do. She had just mentioned that she’d seen the farm bailiff call on the driver’s wife, and they were naked in bed doing something very strange.

Tula realized immediately that she had dropped her guard and quickly said: “Oh, it was just something I invented. You do understand that? Of course I can’t see through walls!”

“You shouldn’t talk like that,” said Amalia disapprovingly. “Grown-up people are never naked. Surely you know that!”

Tula bore these words in mind. She understood that she was different from other people and strove to be like Amalia in every way. This was how she actually became a time-server, trying to fit in with whatever Amalia believed about this or that. Of course, it wasn’t in Tula’s nature to let others dominate her, but she didn’t dare do otherwise. Amalia thought it was terrific to make the decisions and have somebody who did everything she said. It meant the friendship wasn’t quite genuine, but this was how Tula wanted it. This was how it would have to be if Tula was to hide the fact that she was stricken.

As she grew up, of course, she made a number of blunders! Such as when an arrogant lady in Bergunda Parish was invited to after-church coffee at the estate manager’s house and happened to say something derogatory about Erland of Backa. She declared that he was nothing but the son of a smallholder who had ingratiated himself with the Grip family and married above his station. She said this to another of the guests at a time when none of the hosts was in the room.

Apart from young Tula. The lady was speaking ill of her father! Her dear, sweet, good-natured father! The evil blood of the Ice People boiled over in Tula. And this time, her incantations were not only frightening. This time she really meant them!

“May shame and disgrace come over you, you damned bitch!” the dear child said quietly to herself. “May the whole parish look down on you as if you were a cur that everyone kicks! May you be forced to ask my father for mercy!”

And this was what happened. The lady’s husband was an officer. Everybody knew that he had been stationed abroad for many months. Then a travelling journeyman, a scoundrel who scraped a living doing various dubious jobs wherever he could earn a copper, came to the lady’s door and asked her whether she had any odd jobs she needed done. After that she didn’t know what got into her, but she became very interested in the young man. Her husband had been away for a very long time, after all!

What made her put on that thin dress that revealed most of her breasts? And not wear anything underneath it? She, a very virtuous lady who had never taken any initiative in her relationship with her husband but had sighed and suffered while he fulfilled his marital duty. Afterwards she had sighed again, this time with relief at finally being allowed to go to sleep.

What on earth made her go out into the stable where the odd-job man was grooming the horse? Why did she feel that he was exuding heat that gave her a tickling sensation between her legs? How could she bring herself to tremble and cling to him so that he couldn’t help but understand what the arrogant lady desired? He wasn’t even good-looking, and was probably crawling with lice. The man put his hand up her skirt, and when he could feel how ready she was he didn’t hesitate for a second. It was a passionate coupling in which the lady hardly played a passive role.

Afterwards he left the farm and never returned.

But he left something behind. The arrogant officer’s wife now became a laughing-stock in the parish. The signs soon showed that she had been with another man while her husband was abroad. She was living proof that you could still get pregnant at the age of forty. Before her husband returned, she had a daughter who resembled neither her nor the officer, but was the very image of an itinerant journeyman who had quickly left the parish nine months ago.

Didn’t people talk? That lady, who had always been so haughty and considered herself better than all the other wives in Bergunda! It was balm for wounded souls! Her protestations that the dangerous man had raped her didn’t help in the least. One of her servants, who had also shown an interest in the man and had sneaked after him, had witnessed their encounter in the stable. Never had she heard a raped women moan with such immense pleasure!

The scandal was terrible. The lady couldn’t go outside her house any longer. She hid herself from the abuse, laughter and gobs of spit directed at her.

One evening, under cover of darkness, she sneaked over to Erland of Backa, who was on leave for a couple of weeks. On her knees, crying, she begged him: “Please, please have mercy on an unfortunate woman. I know you serve under my husband’s command. Please greet him from me and tell him that whatever he might hear, I’m totally innocent. Please be merciful!”

“Well ... er ...” began Erland, who was somewhat slow on the uptake. “But that’s not true!”

“I swear on the salvation of my soul!”

Erland, deadly serious, replied: “Someone saw you jumping up and down on that man – he was virtually raped!”

The lady turned pale and wrung her hands. “Oh, I entreat you! Can’t you tell my husband before he comes back that it wasn’t my fault?”

Erland said: “I never lie! However, I’ll ask your husband to be patient with you. Cows are impossible to control once they’re on heat until they have a bull with them. When womenfolk are keen to copulate, they must have a man. That is the rule of nature. Your husband has been away for a long time, so no wonder you’re itching. I’ll ask the captain to keep this at the back of his mind when he returns. I’ll prepare him for his wife’s embarrassment, and I’ll ask him to be nice to your young daughter because she didn’t ask to be conceived in such a miserable manner – in adultery in the stable hay.”

This made the officer’s wife want to clip Erland’s ears, though of course she couldn’t do that. Instead she humbled herself and said: “Thank you, Mr Backa!”

But if she ever had the opportunity, she was going to seek revenge for all his insulting words. A miserable standard-bearer, a smallholder, having the nerve to chastise her, the wife of a captain! This was ... this was unheard of!

Then she remembered her situation again, and the proof of her adultery lying in the cot at home, and walked away downcast and with her head bowed.

Erland’s intercession didn’t help much. The husband returned home like an angry bull. The little girl was allowed to stay, since Erland had asked him so nicely to be good to her and the captain didn’t have any children of his own. He found a good nurse to take care of the child but his wife was mercilessly kicked out. He didn’t want to have to look at her any more. He thought of all the humiliating times when he had had to beg to be allowed what was his marital right and had lain in a lifeless embrace listening to her sighs of self-sacrifice, waiting for him to finish. And then she had sex with the most shameless of men – with an itinerant journeyman!