THE NEXT MORNING
Ola Serka himself, who was the most distinguished man among the Lapps, had said that he would find Osa’s father, but he appeared to be in no haste and sat huddled outside the tent, thinking of Jon Esserson and wondering how best to tell him of his daughter’s arrival. It would require diplomacy in order that Jon Esserson might not become alarmed and flee. He was an odd sort of man who was afraid of children. He used to say that the sight of them made him so melancholy that he could not endure it.
While Ola Serka deliberated, Osa, the goose girl, and Aslak, the young Lapp boy who had stared so hard at her the night before, sat on the ground in front of the tent and chatted.
Aslak had been to school and could speak Swedish. He was telling Osa about the life of the “Samefolk,” assuring her that they fared better than other people.
Osa thought that they lived wretchedly, and told him so.
“You don’t know what you are talking about!” said Aslak curtly. “Only stop with us a week and you shall see that we are the happiest people on earth.”
“If I were to stop here a whole week, I should be choked by all the smoke in the tent,” Osa retorted.
“Don’t say that!” protested the boy. “You know nothing of us. Let me tell you something which will make you understand that the longer you stay with us the more contented you will become.”
Thereupon Aslak began to tell Osa how a sickness called “The Black Plague” once raged throughout the land. He was not certain as to whether it had swept through the real “Sameland,” where they now were, but in Jaemtland it had raged so brutally that among the Samefolk, who lived in the forests and mountains there, all had died except a boy of fifteen. Among the Swedes, who lived in the valleys, none was left but a girl, who was also fifteen years old.
The boy and girl separately tramped the desolate country all winter in search of other human beings. Finally, toward spring, the two met. Aslak continued: “The Swedish girl begged the Lapp boy to accompany her southward, where she could meet people of her own race. She did not wish to tarry longer in Jaemtland, where there were only vacant homesteads. I’ll take you wherever you wish to go,’ said the boy, ’but not before winter. It’s spring now, and my reindeer go westward toward the mountains. You know that we who are of the Samefolk must go where our reindeer take us.’ The Swedish girl was the daughter of wealthy parents. She was used to living under a roof, sleeping in a bed, and eating at a table. She had always despised the poor mountaineers and thought that those who lived under the open sky were most unfortunate; but she was afraid to return to her home, where there were none but the dead. ’At least let me go with you to the mountains,’ she said to the boy, ’so that I sha’n’t have to tramp about here all alone and never hear the sound of a human voice.’