The baby’s skin was white and soft, her cheeks rosy, her hair as yellow as Gerda’s. She opened her blue eyes wide at the sight of the strangers, but not a sound did she make. Evidently Lapp babies were not expected to cry.
The coffee was soon ready, and was poured into cups for the guests, while Erik and his brother and sisters drank theirs in turn from a big bowl.
Lieutenant Ekman talked with Erik’s father, who, like many of the Lapps, could speak Swedish; but the children were all silent, and the dogs lay still in their corner, their gleaming eyes watching every motion of the strangers.
When Gerda had finished drinking the coffee, which was very good, she took two small packages from her pocket and put them into her father’s hand. “They are for Erik’s family,” she whispered. “Birger and I bought them in Gellivare.”
“Don’t you think it would be better for you to give them out yourself?” he asked; but Gerda shook her head as if she had suddenly become dumb, and so Lieutenant Ekman distributed the gifts.
There was a string of shells for the youngest child; a silver ring, a beaded belt, a knife and a cheap watch for the older children; a box of matches and some tobacco for the father, and some needles and bright colored thread for the mother.
“We should like to give you something in return,” said Erik’s father; “but we have nothing in the world except our reindeer. If we should give you one of them you might have some trouble in taking it home,” and he laughed loudly at the idea.
“If you wish to please me, you can do so and help your son at the same time,” replied Lieutenant Ekman. “Erik is a good lad. He can read well, and has studied while he has been working in the mines. Now he wishes to learn a trade, and we can take him with us to Stockholm if you will let him go.”
Erik’s father did not speak for a few moments; then he rose and opened the door of the tent, motioning for the others to follow him out into the forest.
The brief thunder-storm was over, the high noonday sun was shining down into the clearing, and the rumble of Thor’s hammer could be heard only faintly in the distance. In the trees overhead the birds were calling to one another, shaking the drops of rain from many a twig and leaf as they flitted among the green branches.
Erik’s father took up a stout birch staff which was leaning against the tent, and led the way to the reindeer pasture, followed by his dogs.
These dogs are the useful friends of the Lapps. They are very strong and brave, and watch the reindeer constantly to keep them together. When the herd is attacked by a pack of wolves, the frightened animals scatter in all directions, and then the owner and his dogs have hard work to round them up again.
Now, as the dogs walked along behind their master, they stopped once in a while to sniff the air, and their keen eyes seemed to see everything.