Around the big warm stove the boys gathered (for it was positively Siberian in the region of the windows), and while undressing played various pranks upon each other, which created much merriment. But the most laughter was provoked at the expense of Finn Hoyer, a boy of fourteen, whose bare back his brother insisted upon exhibiting to his guest; for it was decorated with a facsimile of the picture on the stove, showing roses and luscious peaches and grapes in red relief. Three years before, on Christmas Eve, the boys had stood about the red-hot stove, undressing for their bath, and Finn, who was naked, had, in the general scrimmage to get first into the bath-tub, been pushed against the glowing iron, the ornamentation of which had been beautifully burned upon his back. He had to be wrapped in oil and cotton after that adventure, and he recovered in due time, but never quite relished the distinction he had acquired by his pictorial skin.
It was long before Albert fell asleep; for the cold kept up a continual fusillade, as of musketry, during the entire night. The woodwork of the walls snapped and cracked with loud reports; and a little after midnight a servant came in and stuffed the stove full of birch-wood, until it roared like an angry lion. This roar finally lulled Albert to sleep, in spite of the startling noises about him.
The next morning the boys were aroused at seven o'clock by a servant, who brought a tray with the most fragrant coffee and hot rolls. It was in honor of the guest that, in accordance with Norse custom, this early meal was served; and all the boys, carrying pillows and blankets, gathered on Albert's and Ralph's bed and feasted right royally. So it seemed to them, at least; for any break in the ordinary routine, be it ever so slight, is an event to the young. Then they had a pillow-fight, thawed at the stove the water in the pitchers (for it was frozen hard), and arrayed themselves to descend and meet the family at the nine o'clock breakfast. When this repast was at an end, the question arose how they were to entertain their guest, and various plans were proposed. But to all Ralph's propositions his mother interposed the objection that it was too cold.
"Mother is right," said Mr. Hoyer; "it is so cold that 'the chips jump on the hill-side.' You'll have to be content with indoor sports to-day."
"But, father, it is not more than twenty degrees below zero," the boy demurred. "I am sure we can stand that, if we keep in motion. I have been out at thirty without losing either ears or nose."
He went to the window to observe the thermometer; but the dim daylight scarcely penetrated the fantastic frost-crystals, which, like a splendid exotic flora, covered the panes. Only at the upper corner, where the ice had commenced to thaw, a few timid sunbeams were peeping in, making the lamp upon the table seem pale and sickly. Whenever the door to the hall was opened a white cloud of vapor rolled in; and every one made haste to shut the door, in order to save the precious heat. The boys, being doomed to remain indoors, walked about restlessly, felt each other's muscle, punched each other, and sometimes, for want of better employment, teased the little girls. Mr. Hoyer, seeing how miserable they were, finally took pity on them, and, after having thawed out a window-pane sufficiently to see the thermometer outside, gave his consent to a little expedition on skees down to the river.
And now, boys, you ought to have seen them! Now there was life in them! You would scarcely have dreamed that they were the same creatures who, a moment ago, looked so listless and miserable. What rollicking laughter and fun, while they bundled one another in scarfs, cardigan-jackets, fur-lined top-boots, and overcoats!
"You had better take your guns along, boys," said the father, as they stormed out through the front door; "you might strike a couple of ptarmigan, or a mountain-cock, over on the west side."