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"Hi!" cried the boys, both together; "one might be sure you would wish
for something silly! What should we do with _two_ girls, indeed?"
"But father said he would bring 'something nice,' and _I_ think girls
are the very nicest things in the world," replied Olga, sturdily.
There would certainly have been more serious words, but just then good
grandmother Ingeborg called "supper," and away scampered the hungry
little party to their evening meal of brown bread and cream, to which
was added, as a treat that night, a bit of goat's-milk cheese.
During midsummer in Norway the sun does not set for nearly ten weeks,
and only when little heads nod, and bright eyes shut and refuse to
open, do children know that it is "sleep-time." So on this day, though
the little hearts longed to wait for father's coming, six heavy lids
said "no," and soon the tired children were sleeping soundly on their
sweet, fresh beds of birch-twigs.
[Illustration: OLAF GIVES KRIKEL A RIDE IN HIS SLED.]
A few miles beyond Lyngen, on the north, a little colony of wandering
Lapps had pitched their tents, some years before our story begins, and
finding there a pleasant resting-place, had made it their home,
bringing with them their herds of reindeer to feed on the abundant
lichens with which the stony fields and hill-side trees were covered.
Somewhat apart from the little cluster of tents stood one, quite
pretentious, where dwelt Haakon, the wealthiest Lapp of all the tribe.
He counted his reindeer by hundreds, and in his tent, half buried in
the ground for safe keeping, were two great chests filled with furs,
gay, bright-colored jackets and skirts, beautiful articles of carved
bone and wood, and, more valuable than all, a little iron-bound box
full of silver marks. For Haakon had married Gunilda, a rich maiden of
one of the richest Lapp families, and she had brought these to his
Here, for a while, Gunilda lived a peaceful, happy life. Haakon was
kind, and, when baby Niels came to share her love, the days were full
of joy and content. She made him a little cradle of green baize bound
with bright scarlet, filled with moss as soft and fine as velvet, and
covered with a dainty quilt of hare's-skin. This was hung by a cord to
one of the tent-poles, and here the baby rocked for hours, while his
mother sang to him quaint, weird songs, that yet were not sad because
of the joyous baby laugh that mingled with the notes.
But, alas! after a time Haakon fell into bad habits and grew cruel and
hard to Gunilda. Though she spoke no word, her meek eyes reproached him
when he let the strong drink, or "finkel," steal away his senses; and
because he could not bear this look, he gave his wife many an unkind
word and blow, so that at last her heart was broken. Even baby Hansa,
who had come to take Niels' place in the little cradle, could not
comfort her; and, one day, when Haakon was sleeping, stupidly, by the
tent-fire, Gunilda kissed her children,--then she, too, slept, but
never to waken.
When Haakon came to his senses, he was sad for a while; but he loved
his finkel more than either children or wealth, and many a long day he
would leave them and go to Lyngen, to drink with his companions there.
Ah! those were lonely days for Niels and little Hansa. The Lapp women
were kind, taking good care of the little ones in Haakon's absence, and
would have coaxed them away to their tents to play with the other
children; but Niels remembered his gentle-voiced mother, and would not
go with those women who spoke so harshly, though their words were kind.
Hansa and he were happy alone together. Each season brought its own
joys to their simple, childish hearts; but they loved best the soft,
balmy summer-time, when the harvests ripened quickly in the warm
sunshine, and they could wander away from their tent to the fields
where the reapers were at work, who had always a kindly word for the
gentle, quiet Lapp children. Here Hansa would sit for hours, weaving
garlands of the sweet yellow violets, pink heath, anemones, and dainty
harebells, that grew in such profusion along the borders of the fields
and among the grain, that the reapers, in cutting the wheat, laid the
flowers low before them as well. Niels liked to bind the sheaves, and
did his work so deftly that he was always welcome. He it was, too, who
made such a wonderful "scarecrow" that not a bird dared venture near.
But little Hansa laughed and said: "Silly birds! the old hat cannot
harm you. See! I will bring my flowers close beside it." Then the
reapers, laughing, called the ugly scarecrow "Hansa's guardian."
So the years went by, and the children lived their quiet life, happy
with each other. It seemed as though the tender mother-love that had
been theirs in their babyhood was around them still, guarding and
shielding them from harm. Niels was a wonderful boy, the neighbors
said, and little Hansa, by the time she was twelve years old, could
spin and weave, and embroider on tanned reindeer-skins (which are used
for boots and harness) better than many a Lapp woman. Besides, she was
so clever and good that every one loved her. Every one, alas! but
Haakon, her father. He was not openly cruel; with Gunilda's death the
blows had ceased, but Hansa seemed to look at him with her mother's
gentle, reproachful eyes, and so he dreaded and disliked her.
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