“That is the best way in the world to travel over the snow,” said Birger, who had come to find Gerda. “See how fast they go!”
Suddenly one of the men darted away from the others, balanced himself for a moment with his long staff, and then shot down the hill like an arrow. A mound of snow six feet high had been built up directly in his path, and as he reached it, he crouched down, gave a spring, and landed thirty or forty feet below, plowing up the light snow into a great cloud, and then slipping on down the hill and out upon the frozen bay.
Many others tried the slide and jump: some fell and rolled over in the snow, others lost off their skis, which came coasting down hill alone like runaway sleds, while others made a long leap with beautiful grace and freedom.
“This method of travelling across country on skis, when there is deep snow, is hundreds of years old,” said Fru Ekman, who had come to send the twins away for more fun, while she took her place again beside Karen.
“Men were skiing in Scandinavia as long ago as old Roman times, and Magnus the Good, who defeated the Roman legions, had a company of ski-soldiers. Gustav Vasa organized a corps of snow-skaters, and Gustavus Adolphus used his runners as messengers and scouts.”
At that moment there was a sudden commotion outside the door, and a crowd of the skaters came into the casino for some hot coffee, their merry voices and laughter filling the room. Seldom is there gathered together a company of finer men and women, boys and girls, than Karen saw before her. Descendants of the Vikings these were,—golden-haired, keen-eyed and crimson-cheeked.
“Look at that great fellow, taller than all the others,” Fru Ekman whispered to Karen. “He is the champion figure-skater of Europe.”
“He looks like Baldur, the god of the sun,” Karen whispered in reply; and then forgot everything else in watching the gay company.
“I have never seen so many people having such a good time before,” she explained to Fru Ekman after a little while. “At the Sea-gull Light there was never anything like this. It is more like the stories of the gathering of the gods, than just plain Sweden.
“I suppose Birger is going to try for a skating prize some day,” she added rather wistfully.
Fru Ekman bent and kissed the little girl. “Yes,” she answered, “that is why he puts on his skates every day and practices figure-skating on the ice in the canals. But keep a brave heart, little Karen. You, too, shall wear skates some day.”
Karen’s face lighted up with a happy smile, and a fire of hope was kindled in her heart which made the long hours shorter, and the hard work at the gymnasium easier to bear.
It was the day before Christmas,—such a busy day in the Ekman household. In fact, it had been a busy week in every household in Sweden, for before the tree is lighted on Christmas Eve every room must be cleaned and scrubbed and polished, so that not a speck of dirt or dust may be found anywhere.