Blöndal scraped his knife across the plate.
"Would you like some skyr and cream, District Commissioner?" she asked, taking the empty dish.
Blöndal waved his hands in front of his chest as if to decline, then paused. "Well, all right, then. Thank you."
Lauga blushed and turned to fetch the soft cheese.
"And I would not object to coffee," he called after her as she ducked her head around the curtain.
"What does he want?" Steina asked, huddling by the fire in the kitchen. "I can't hear anything except you, clomping up and down the corridor."
Lauga shoved the dirty plate at her. "He hasn't said anything yet. He wants skyr and coffee."
Steina exchanged looks with Kristín, who rolled her eyes. "We have no coffee," Steina said quietly.
"Yes we do. I saw some in the pantry last week."
Steina hesitated. "I I drank it."
"Steina! The coffee isn't for us! We save it for occasions!"
"Occasions? The Commissioner never visits."
"The District Commissioner, Steina!"
"The servants are coming back from Reykjavík soon. We might have more then."
"That's then. What are we going to do now?" Exasperated, Lauga pushed Kristín in the direction of the pantry. "Skyr and cream! Hurry."
"I wanted to know what it tasted like," Steina offered.
"It's too late. Bring him some fresh milk instead. Bring everything in when it's ready. Actually no, let Kristín. You look like you've been rolling in the dirt with the horses." Lauga shot a scathing look at the dung on Steina's clothes and walked back down the corridor.
Blöndal was waiting for her. "Young lady. I suppose you are wondering at my occasioning your family with a visit."
"My name is Sigurlaug. Or Lauga, if you like."
"Is it some business of my father's? He is"
"Southbound, yes, I know. Your sister told me, and Oh look, here she is."
Lauga turned and saw Steina emerging round the side of the partition, carrying the soft cheese, cream and berries in one grimy hand, and the milk in the other. Lauga gave her sister a vexed look as Steina accidentally dragged the edge of the curtain through the skyr. Fortunately the District Commissioner seemed oblivious.
"Sir," Steina mumbled. She set the bowl and cup on the table in front of him, and then gave an awkward curtsey. "May it do you good."
"Thank you," Blöndal replied. He sniffed the skyr appraisingly, then looked up at the two sisters. He smiled thinly. "Who is the elder?"
Lauga nudged Steina to prompt her, but she remained silent, gaping at the brilliant red of the man's coat.
"I am younger, District Commissioner," Lauga said eventually, smiling to show off her dimples. "By one year. Steinvör is twenty-one this month."
"Everyone calls me Steina."
"You are both very pretty," Blöndal said.
"Thank you, sir." Lauga nudged Steina again.
"Thank you," Steina mumbled.
"Both have your father's fair hair, though I see you have your mother's blue eyes," he said, nodding at Lauga. He pushed the untouched bowl towards her and took up the milk. He sniffed it and set it down on the table again.
"Please, sir, eat," Lauga said, motioning to the bowl.
"Thank you, but I am suddenly sated." Blöndal reached into his coat pocket. "Now, I would have preferred to discuss this with the master of the house, but as District Officer Jón isn't here and this cannot wait until his return, I see I must tell his daughters." He took up his sheet of paper and unfolded it upon the table for them to read.
"I trust that you are familiar with the event that occurred at Illugastadir last year?" he asked.
Excerpted from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Kent. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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