PART II. Neighboring Fields
2. CHAPTER II (continued)
At Alexandra's left sat a very old man, barefoot and wearing a long
blue blouse, open at the neck. His shaggy head is scarcely whiter
than it was sixteen years ago, but his little blue eyes have become
pale and watery, and his ruddy face is withered, like an apple that
has clung all winter to the tree. When Ivar lost his land through
mismanagement a dozen years ago, Alexandra took him in, and he has
been a member of her household ever since. He is too old to work
in the fields, but he hitches and unhitches the work-teams and
looks after the health of the stock. Sometimes of a winter evening
Alexandra calls him into the sitting-room to read the Bible aloud
to her, for he still reads very well. He dislikes human habitations,
so Alexandra has fitted him up a room in the barn, where he is very
comfortable, being near the horses and, as he says, further from
temptations. No one has ever found out what his temptations are.
In cold weather he sits by the kitchen fire and makes hammocks
or mends harness until it is time to go to bed. Then he says his
prayers at great length behind the stove, puts on his buffalo-skin
coat and goes out to his room in the barn.
Alexandra herself has changed very little. Her figure is fuller,
and she has more color. She seems sunnier and more vigorous than
she did as a young girl. But she still has the same calmness and
deliberation of manner, the same clear eyes, and she still wears
her hair in two braids wound round her head. It is so curly that
fiery ends escape from the braids and make her head look like one
of the big double sunflowers that fringe her vegetable garden.
Her face is always tanned in summer, for her sunbonnet is oftener
on her arm than on her head. But where her collar falls away from
her neck, or where her sleeves are pushed back from her wrist, the
skin is of such smoothness and whiteness as none but Swedish women
ever possess; skin with the freshness of the snow itself.
Alexandra did not talk much at the table, but she encouraged her
men to talk, and she always listened attentively, even when they
seemed to be talking foolishly.