"Where Heaven itself, brought down to Earth, Seemed fairer than above;"
while the opposite mountain rose rich with harvest fields and farmhouses. There are similar landscapes between Fribourg and Vevay, in Switzerland—finer, perhaps, except that all cultivated scenery in Norway gains wonderfully in effect from the savage environment of the barren fjelds. Here, cultivation is somewhat of a phenomenon, and a rich, thickly settled valley strikes one with a certain surprise. The Norwegians have been accused of neglecting agriculture; but I do not see that much more could be expected of them. The subjugation of virgin soil, as we had occasion to notice, is a serious work. At the best, the grain harvests are uncertain, while fish are almost as sure as the season; and so the surplus agricultural population either emigrates or removes to the fishing grounds on the coast. There is, undoubtedly, a considerable quantity of wild land which could be made arable, but the same means, applied to the improvement of that which is at present under cultivation, would accomplish far more beneficent results.
Leaving the valley, we drove for some time through pine forests, and here, as elsewhere, had occasion to notice the manner in which this source of wealth has been drained of late years. The trees were very straight and beautiful, but there were none of more than middle age. All the fine old timber had been cut away; all Norway, in fact, has been despoiled in like manner, and the people are but just awaking to the fact, that they are killing a goose which lays golden eggs. The government, so prudently economical that it only allows $100,000 worth of silver to be quarried annually in the mines of Kongsberg, lest the supply should be exhausted, has, I believe, adopted measures for the preservation of the forests; but I am not able to state their precise character. Except in valleys remote from the rivers and fjords, one now finds very little mature timber.
"The tallest pine, Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast Of some great admiral,"
I have not yet seen.
We at last came upon a little lake, in a close glen with walls 1000 feet high. Not suspecting that we had ascended much above the sea-level, we were surprised to see the gorge all at once open below us, revealing a dark-blue lake, far down among the mountains. We stood on the brink of a wall, over which the stream at our side fell in a "hank" of divided cataracts. Our road was engineered with great difficulty to the bottom of the steep, whence a gentler descent took us to the hamlet of Vasenden, at the head of the lake. Beyond this there was no road for carrioles, and we accordingly gave ours in charge of a bright, active and intelligent little postmaster, twelve years old. He and his mother then rowed us across the lake to the village of Graven, whence there was a bridle-road across the mountains to a branch of the Hardanger Fjord. They demanded only twelve skillings (ten cents) for the row of three miles, and then posted off to a neighbouring farmhouse to engage horses for us.
There was a neat white dwelling on the hill, which we took to be the parsonage, but which proved to be the residence of an army captain on leave, whom we found sitting in the door, cleaning his gun, as we approached. He courteously ushered us into the house, and made his appearance soon afterwards in a clean shirt, followed by his wife, with wine and cakes upon a tray. I found him to be a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and of an earnest and reflective turn of mind, rare in men of his profession. He spoke chiefly of the passion for emigration which now possesses the Norwegian farmers, considering it not rendered necessary by their actual condition, but rather one of those contagions which spread through communities and nations, overcoming alike prudence and prejudice. He deplored it as retarding the development of Norway. Personal interest, however, is everywhere stronger than patriotism, and I see no signs of the emigration decreasing for some years to come.
After waiting a considerable time, we obtained two horses and a strapping farmer's son for guide. The fellow was delighted to find out where we came from, and was continually shouting to the people in the fields: "Here these are Americans: they were born there!" whereat the people stared, saluted, and then stared again. He shouldered our packs and marched beside the horses with the greatest ease. "You are strong," I remarked. "Yes," he replied, "I am a strong Normand," making his patriotism an excuse for his personal pride. We had a terribly tough pull up the mountain, through fine woods, to the summit level of the fjeld. The view backwards, over the lake, was enchanting, and we lingered long on the steep, loth to lose it. Turning again, a desolate lake lay before us, heathery swells of the bleak table-land and distant peaks, touched with snow. Once upon the broad, level summit of a Norwegian fjeld, one would never guess what lovely valleys lie under those misty breaks which separate its immense lobes—what gashes of life and beauty penetrate its stony heart. There are, in fact, two Norways: one above—a series of detached, irregular masses, bleak, snowy, wind-swept and heather-grown, inhabited by herdsmen and hunters: and one below—a ramification of narrow veins of land and water, with fields and forests, highways and villages.
So, when we had traversed the upper land for several miles, we came to a brink overlooking another branch of the lower land, and descended through thick woods to the farms of Ulvik, on the Eyfjord, an arm of the Hardanger. The shores were gloriously beautiful; slopes of dazzling turf inclosed the bright blue water, and clumps of oak, ash, and linden, in park-like groups, studded the fields. Low red farmhouses, each with its hollow square of stables and granaries, dotted the hill-sides, and the people, male and female, were everywhere out reaping the ripe barley and piling it, pillar-wise, upon tall stakes. Owing to this circumstance we were obliged to wait some time for oarsmen. There was no milk to be had, nor indeed anything to eat, notwithstanding the signs of plenty on all sides. My friend, wandering from house to house, at last discovered an old man, who brought him a bowl of mead in exchange for a cigar. Late in the afternoon two men came, put us into a shabby and leaky boat, and pulled away slowly for Vik, ten miles distant.
The fjord was shut in by lofty and abrupt mountains, often interrupted by deep lateral gorges. This is the general character of the Hardanger Fjord, a broad winding sheet of water, with many arms, but whose extent is diminished to the eye by the grandeur of its shores. Nothing can be wilder or more desolate than this scenery, especially at the junction of the two branches, where all signs of habitation are shut out of sight, and one is surrounded by mighty precipices of dark-red rock, vanishing away to the eastward in a gloomy defile. It was three hours and a half before we reached Vik, at the head of a bay on the southern side. Here, however, some English fishermen were quartered and we made sure of a supper. The landlord, of course, received their superfluous salmon, and they were not the men to spare a potato-field, so both were forthcoming, and in the satisfaction of appeased hunger, we were willing to indorse the opinion of a former English traveller in the guest's book: "This place seems to me a paradise, although very probably it is not one." The luxury of fishing, which I never could understand, has taught the Norwegians to regard travellers as their proper prey. Why should a man, they think, pay 50l. for the privilege of catching fish, which he gives away as soon as caught, unless he don't know how else to get rid of his money? Were it not that fishing in Norway includes pure air, hard fare, and healthy exercise, I should agree with somebody's definition of angling, "a rod with a fly at one end and a fool at the other;" but it is all that, and besides furnished us with a good meal more than once; wherefore I respect it.
We were now but eight miles from the Voring-Foss, and set out betimes the next morning, taking with us a bottle of red wine, some dry bread, and Peder Halstensen as guide. I mention Peder particularly, because he is the only jolly, lively, wide-awake, open-hearted Norwegian I have ever seen. As rollicking as a Neapolitan, as chatty as an Andalusian, and as frank as a Tyrolese, he formed a remarkable contrast to the men with whom we had hitherto come in contact. He had long black hair, wicked black eyes, and a mouth which laughed even when his face was at rest. Add a capital tenor voice, a lithe, active frame, and something irresistibly odd and droll in his motions, and you have his principal points. We walked across the birch-wooded isthmus behind Vik to the Eyfjordsvand, a lake about three miles long, which completely cuts off the further valley, the mountains on either side falling to it in sheer precipices 1000 feet high.
We embarked in a crazy, leaky boat, Peder pulling vigorously and singing. "Frie dig ved lifvet" ("Life let us cherish"), with all the contentment on his face which is expressed in Mozart's immortal melody. "Peder," said I, "do you know the national song of Norway?" "I should think so," was his answer, stopping short in the midst of a wild fjeld-song, clearing his throat, and singing with a fervour and enthusiasm which rang wide over the lonely lake:—
"Minstrel, awaken the harp from its slumbers, Strike for old Norway, the land of the free! High and heroic, in soul-stirring numbers, Clime of our fathers, we strike it for thee! Old recollections awake our affections— Hallow the name of the land of our birth; Each heart beats its loudest, each cheek glows its proudest, For Norway the ancient, the throne of the earth!"[D]
"Dost thou know," said he, becoming more familiar in his address, "that a lawyer (by the name of Bjerregaard) wrote this song, and the Storthing at Christiania gave him a hundred specie dollars for it. That was not too much, was it?" "No," said I, "five hundred dollars would have been little enough for such a song." "Yes, yes, that it would," was his earnest assent; and as I happened at that moment to ask whether we could see the peaks of the Halling Jokeln, he commenced a soeter-song of life on the lofty fjeld—a song of snow, and free winds, and blue sky. By this time we had reached the other end of the lake, where, in the midst of a little valley of rich alluvial soil, covered with patches of barley and potatoes, stood the hamlet of Saebo. Here Peder procured a horse for my friend, and we entered the mouth of a sublime gorge which opened to the eastward—a mere split in the mighty ramparts of the Hardanger-Fjeld. Peder was continually shouting to the people in the fields: "Look here! These are Americans, these two, and the other one is a German! This one talks Norsk, and the others don't."
We ascended the defile by a rough footpath, at first through alder thickets, but afterwards over immense masses of rocky ruin, which had tumbled from the crags far above, and almost blocked up the valley. For silence, desolation, and awful grandeur, this defile equals any of the Alpine passes. In the spring, when the rocks, split by wedges of ice, disengage themselves from the summit, and thunder down upon the piled wrecks of ages, it must be terribly sublime. A bridge, consisting of two logs spanned across abutments of loose stones, and vibrating strongly under our tread, took us over the torrent. Our road, for some distance was now a mere staircase, scrambling up, down, under, over, and between the chaos of sundered rocks. A little further, and the defile shut in altogether, forming a cul de sac of apparently perpendicular walls, from 2000 to 3000 feet high. "How are we to get out of this?" I asked Peder. "Yonder," said he, pointing to the inaccessible summit in front. "But where does the stream come from?" "That you will soon see." Lo! all at once a clean split from top to bottom disclosed itself in the wall on our left, and in passing its mouth we had a glimpse up the monstrous chasm, whose dark-blue sides, falling sheer 3000 feet, vanished at the bottom in eternal gloom and spray.
Crossing the stream again, we commenced ascending over the debris of stony avalanches, the path becoming steeper and steeper, until the far-off summit almost hung over our heads. It was now a zigzag ladder, roughly thrown together, but very firm. The red mare which my friend rode climbed it like a cat, never hesitating, even at an angle of 50 deg., and never making a false step. The performance of this noble animal was almost incredible. I should never have believed a horse capable of such gymnastics, had I not seen it with my own eyes, had I not mounted her myself at the most difficult points, in order to test her powers. You, who have climbed the Mayenwand, in going from the glacier of the Rhone to the Grimsel, imagine a slant higher, steeper, and composed of loose rocks, and you will have an exact picture of our ascent. We climbed well; and yet it took us just an hour and a half to reach the summit.
We were now on the great plateau of the Hardanger Fjeld, 2500 feet above the sea. A wild region lay before us—great swells, covered with heather, sweeping into the distance and given up to solitude and silence. A few isolated peaks, streaked with snow, rose from this upper level; and a deep break on our left revealed the top of the chasm through which the torrent made its way. At its extremity, a mile or more distant, rose a light cloud of vapour, seeming close at hand in the thin mountain air. The thick, spongy soil, not more than two feet deep, rests on a solid bed of rock,—the entire Hardanger Fjeld, in fact, is but a single rock,—and is therefore always swampy. Whortleberries were abundant, as well as the multeberry (Rubus chamoemorus), which I have found growing in Newfoundland; and Peder, running off on the hunt of them, was continually leading us astray. But at last, we approached the wreath of whirling spray, and heard the hollow roar of the Voring-Foss. The great chasm yawned before us; another step, and we stood on the brink. I seized the branch of a tough pine sapling as a support and leaned over. My head did not swim; the height was too great for that, the impression too grand and wonderful. The shelf of rock on which I stood projected far out over a gulf 1200 feet deep, whose opposite side rose in one great escarpment from the bottom to a height of 800 feet above my head. On this black wall, wet with eternal spray, was painted a splendid rainbow, forming two thirds of a circle before it melted into the gloom below. A little stream fell in one long thread of silver from the very summit, like a plumb-line dropped to measure the 2000 feet. On my right hand the river, coming down from the level of the fjeld in a torn, twisted, and boiling mass, reached the brink of the gulf at a point about 400 feet below me, whence it fell in a single sheet to the bottom, a depth of between 800 and 900 feet.
Could one view it from below, this fall would present one of the grandest spectacles in the world. In height, volume of water, and sublime surroundings it has no equal. The spectator, however, looks down upon it from a great height above its brink, whence it is so foreshortened that he can only guess its majesty and beauty. By lying upon your belly and thrusting your head out beyond the roots of the pines, you can safely peer into the dread abyss, and watch, through the vortex of whirling spray in its tortured womb, the starry coruscations which radiate from the bottom of the fall, like rockets of water incessantly exploding. But this view, sublime as it is, only whets your desire to stand below, and see the river, with its sprayey crest shining against the sky, make but one leap from heaven to hell. Some persons have succeeded, by entering the chasm at its mouth in the valley below, in getting far enough to see a portion of the fall, the remainder being concealed by a projecting rock; and the time will come, no doubt, when somebody will have energy enough to carry a path to its very foot. I envy the travellers who will then visit the Voring-Foss.
A short distance above the fall there are a few cabins inhabited by soeters, or herdsmen, whither we repaired to procure some fresh milk. The house was rude and dirty; but the people received us in a friendly manner. The powerful housewife laid aside her hay-rake, and brought us milk which was actually sweet (a rare thing in Norway,) dirty, but not rancid butter, and tolerable cheese. When my friend asked for water, she dipped a pailful from a neighbouring stream, thick with decayed moss and vegetable mould, and handed it to him. He was nice enough to pick out a rotten root before drinking, which one of the children snatched up from the floor and ate. Yet these people did not appear to be in want; they were healthy, cheerful, and contented; and their filthy manner of living was the result of sheer indolence and slovenliness. There was nothing to prevent them from being neat and comfortable, even with their scanty means; but the good gifts of God are always spoiled and wasted in dirty hands.
When we opened our bottle of wine, an exquisite aroma diffused itself through the room—a mingled smell of vine blossoms and ripe grapes. How could the coarse vintage sent to the North, watered and chemically doctored as it is, produce such a miracle? We tasted—superb old Chateau Latour, from the sunniest hill of Bordeaux! By whatever accident it had wandered thither, it did not fall into unappreciative hands. Even Brita Halstendsdatter Hol, the strong housewife, smacked her lips over the glass which she drank after sitting to me for her portrait.
When the sketch was completed, we filled the empty bottle with milk and set out on our return.
[D] Latham's translation.
SKETCHES FROM THE BERGENSTIFT.
Our return from the Voring-Foss to the hamlet of Saebo was accomplished without accident or particular incident. As we were crossing the Eyfjordsvand, the stillness of the savage glen, yet more profound in the dusk of evening, was broken by the sudden thunder of a slide in some valley to the eastward. Peder stopped in the midst of "Frie dig ved lifvet" and listened. "Ho!" said he, "the spring is the time when the rocks come down, but that sounds like a big fellow, too." Peder was not so lively on the way back, not because he was fatigued, for in showing us how they danced on the fjeld, he flung himself into the air in a marvellous manner, and turned over twice before coming down, but partly because he had broken our bottle of milk, and partly because there was something on his mind. I waited patiently, knowing that it would come out at last, as indeed it did. "You see," said he, hesitatingly, "some travellers give a drink-money to the guide. It isn't an obligation, you know; but then some give it. Now, if you should choose to give me anything, don't pay it to the landlord for me, because then I won't get it. You are not bound to do so you know but some travellers do it, and I don't know but you might also. Now, if you should, give it directly to me, and then I will have it." When we reached Vik, we called Peder aside and gave him three marks. "Oh, you must pay your bill to the landlord," said he. "But that is your drink-money," I explained. "That?" he exclaimed; "it is not possible! Frie dig ved lifvet," &c., and so he sang, cut a pigeon-wing or two, and proceeded to knot and double knot the money in a corner of his pocket-handkerchief.
"Come and take a swim!" said Peder, reappearing. "I can swim ever since I fell into the water. I tumbled off the pier, you must know, and down I went. Everything became black before my eyes; and I thought to myself, 'Peder, this is the end of you.' But I kicked and splashed nevertheless, until my eyes opened again, wide enough to see where a rope was. Well, after I found I could fall into the water without drowning, I was not afraid to swim." In fact, Peder now swam very well, and floundered about with great satisfaction in the ice cold water. A single plunge was all I could endure. After supper the landlady came in to talk to me about America. She had a son in California, and a daughter in Wisconsin, and showed me their daguerreotypes and some bits of gold with great pride. She was a stout, kindly, motherly body, and paid especial attention to our wants on finding where we came from. Indeed we were treated in the most friendly manner by these good people, and had no reason to complain of our reckoning on leaving. This experience confirms me in the belief that honesty and simplicity may still be characteristics of the Norwegians in the more remote parts of the country.
We bade a cordial farewell to Vik next morning, and set off on our return, in splendid sunshine. Peder was in the boat, rejoiced to be with us again; and we had no sooner gotten under way, than he began singing, "Frie dig ved lifvet." It was an intensely hot day, and the shores of Ulvik were perfectly dazzling. The turf had a silken gloss; the trees stood darkly and richly green, and the water was purest sapphire. "It is a beautiful bay, is it not?" said the farmer who furnished us with horses, after we had left the boat and were slowly climbing the fjeld. I thought I had never seen a finer; but when heaven and earth are in entire harmony, when form, colour and atmosphere accord like some rich swell of music, whatever one sees is perfect. Hence I shall not say how beautiful the bay of Ulvik was to me, since under other aspects the description would not be true.
The farmer's little daughter, however, who came along to take back one of the horses, would have been a pleasant apparition at any time and in any season. She wore her Sunday dress, consisting of a scarlet boddice over a white chemise, green petticoat, and white apron, while her shining flaxen hair was plaited into one long braid with narrow strips of crimson and yellow cloth and then twisted like a garland around her head. She was not more than twelve or thirteen years old, but tall, straight as a young pine, and beautifully formed, with the promise of early maidenhood in the gentle swell of her bosom. Her complexion was lovely—pink, brightened with sunburnt gold,—and her eyes like the blossoms of the forget-me-not, in hue. In watching her firm yet graceful tread, as she easily kept pace with the horse, I could not realise that in a few more years she would probably be no more graceful and beautiful than the women at work in the fields—coarse, clumsy shapes, with frowzy hair, leathery faces, and enormous hanging breasts.
In the Bergenstift, however, one sometimes sees a pretty face; and the natural grace of the form is not always lost. About Vossevangen, for instance, the farmers' daughters are often quite handsome; but beauty, either male or female, is in Norway the rarest apparition. The grown-up women, especially after marriage, are in general remarkably plain. Except among some of the native tribes of Africa, I have nowhere seen such overgrown, loose, pendant breasts as among them. This is not the case in Sweden, where, if there are few beauties, there are at least a great many passable faces. There are marked differences in the blood of the two nations; and the greater variety of feature and complexion in Norway seems to indicate a less complete fusion of the original stocks.
We were rowed across the Graven Lake by an old farmer, who wore the costume of the last century,—a red coat, a la Frederic the Great, long waistcoat, and white knee-breeches. He demanded double the lawful fare, which, indeed, was shamefully small; and we paid him without demur. At Vasenden we found our carrioles and harness in good condition, nothing having been abstracted except a ball of twine. Horses were in waiting, apparently belonging to some well-to-do farmer; for the boys were well dressed, and took especial care of them. We reached the merchant's comfortable residence at Vossevangen before sunset, and made amends on his sumptuous fare for the privations of the past three days.
We now resumed the main road between Christiania and Bergen. The same cloudless days continued to dawn upon us. For one summer, Norway had changed climates with Spain. Our oil-cloths were burnt up and cracked by the heat, our clothes covered with dust, and our faces became as brown as those of Bedouins. For a week we had not a cloud in the sky; the superbly clear days belied the old saying of "weather-breeders."
Our road, on leaving Vossevangen, led through pine-forests, following the course of a stream up a wild valley, enclosed by lofty mountains. Some lovely cataracts fell from the steep on our left; but this is the land of cataracts and there is many a one, not even distinguished by a name, which would be renowned in Switzerland. I asked my postillion the name of the stream beside us. "Oh," said he, "it has none; it is not big enough!" He wanted to take us all the way through to Gudvangen, twenty-eight miles, on our paying double fare, predicting that we would be obliged to wait three hours for fresh horses at each intermediate station. He waited some time at Tvinde, the first station, in the hope that we would yield, but departed suddenly in a rage on seeing that the horses were already coming. At this place, a stout young fellow, who had evidently been asleep, came out of the house and stood in the door staring at us with open mouth for a full hour. The postmaster sat on the step and did likewise. It was the height of harvest-time, and the weather favourable almost to a miracle; yet most of the harvesters lay upon their backs under the trees as we passed. The women appeared to do most of the out-door, as well as the in-door work. They are certainly far more industrious than the men, who, judging from what I saw of them, are downright indolent Evidences of slow, patient, plodding toil, one sees truly; but active industry, thrift, and honest ambition, nowhere.
The scenery increased in wildness and roughness as we proceeded. The summit of Hvitnaset (White-nose) lifted its pinnacles of grey rock over the brow of the mountains on the north, and in front, pale, blue-grey peaks, 5000 feet high, appeared on either hand. The next station was a village of huts on the side of a hill. Everybody was in the fields except one woman, who remained to take charge of the station. She was a stupid creature, but had a proper sense of her duty; for she started at full speed to order horses, and we afterwards found that she must have run full three English miles in the space of half an hour. The emigration to America from this part of Bergenstift has been very great, and the people exhibited much curiosity to see and speak with us.
The scenery became at the same time more barren and more magnificent, as we approached the last station, Stalheim, which is a miserable little village at the head of the famous Naerodal. Our farmer-postillion wished to take us on to Gudvangen with the same horses, urging the same reasons as the former one. It would have been better if we had accepted his proposal; but our previous experience had made us mistrustful. The man spoke truth, however; hour after hour passed away, and the horses came not. A few miserable people collected about us, and begged money. I sketched the oldest, ugliest and dirtiest of them, as a specimen, but regretted it afterwards, as his gratitude on receiving a trifle for sitting, obliged me to give him my hand. Hereupon another old fellow, not quite so hideous, wanted to be taken also. "Lars," said a woman to the former, "are you not ashamed to have so ugly a face as yours go to America?" "Oh," said he, "it does not look so ugly in the book." His delight on getting the money created some amusement. "Indeed," he protested, "I am poor, and want it; and you need not laugh."
The last gush of sunset was brightening the tops of the savage fjeld when the horses arrived. We had waited two hours and three quarters and I therefore wrote a complaint in the post-book in my best Norsk. From the top of a hill beyond the village, we looked down into the Naerodal. We stood on the brink of a tremendous wall about a thousand feet above the valley. On one side, the stream we had been following fell in a single cascade 400 feet; on the other, a second stream, issuing from some unseen defile, flung its several ribbons of foam from nearly an equal height. The valley, or rather gorge, disappeared in front between mountains of sheer rock, which rose to the height of 3000 feet. The road—a splendid specimen of engineering—was doubled back and forth around the edge of a spur projecting from the wall on which we stood, and so descended to the bottom. Once below, our carrioles rolled rapidly down the gorge, which was already dusky with twilight. The stream, of the most exquisite translucent azure-green colour, rolled between us; and the mountain crests towered so far above, that our necks ached as we looked upwards. I have seen but one valley which in depth and sublimity can equal the Naerodal—the pass of the Taurus, in Asia Minor, leading from Cappadocia into Cilicia. In many places the precipices were 2000 feet in perpendicular height; and the streams of the upper fjeld, falling from the summits, lost themselves in evanescent water-dust before they reached the bottom. The bed of the valley was heaped with fragments of rock; which are loosed from above with every returning spring.
It was quite dark before we reached Gudvangen, thoroughly tired and as hungry as wolves. My postillion, on hearing me complain, pulled a piece of dry mutton out of his pocket and gave it to me. He was very anxious to learn whether brandy and tobacco were as dear in America as in Norway; if so, he did not wish to emigrate. A stout girl had charge of Braisted's horse; the female postillions always fell to his lot. She complained of hard work and poor pay, and would emigrate if she had the money. At Gudvangen we had a boat journey of thirty-five miles before us, and therefore engaged two boats with eight oarsmen for the morrow. The people tried hard to make us take more, but we had more than the number actually required by law, and, as it turned out, quite as many as were necessary. Travellers generally supply themselves with brandy for the use of their boatmen, from an idea that they will be stubborn and dilatory without it. We did so in no single instance; yet our men were always steady and cheerful.
We shipped our carrioles and sent them off in the larger boat, delaying our own departure until we had fortified ourselves with a good breakfast, and laid in some hard bread and pork omelette, for the day. The Gudvangen Fjord, down which we now glided over the glassy water, is a narrow mountain avenue of glorious scenery. The unseen plateaus of the Blaa and Graa Fjelds, on either hand, spilled their streams over precipices from 1000 to 2000 feet in height, above whose cornices shot the pointed summits of bare grey rock, wreathed in shifting clouds, 4000 feet above the sea. Pine-trees feathered the less abrupt steeps, with patches of dazzling turf here and there; and wherever a gentler slope could be found in the coves, stood cottages surrounded by potato-fields and ripe barley stacked on poles. Not a breath of air rippled the dark water, which was a perfect mirror to the mountains and the strip of sky between them, while broad sheets of morning sunshine, streaming down the breaks in the line of precipices, interrupted with patches of fiery colour the deep, rich, transparent gloom of the shadows. It was an enchanted voyage until we reached the mouth of the Aurlands Fjord, divided from that of Gudvangen by a single rocky buttress 1000 feet high. Beyond this point the watery channel is much broader, and the shores diminish in grandeur as they approach the Sogne Fjord, of which this is but a lateral branch.
I was a little disappointed in the scenery of Sogne Fjord, The mountains which enclose it are masses of sterile rock, neither lofty nor bold enough in their forms to make impression, after the unrivalled scenery through which we had passed. The point of Vangnaes, a short distance to the westward, is the "Framnaes" of Frithiof's Saga, and I therefore looked towards it with some interest, for the sake of that hero and his northern lily, Ingeborg. There are many bauta-stones still standing on the shore, but one who is familiar with Tegner's poem must not expect to find his descriptions verified, either in scenery or tradition. On turning eastward, around the point of Fronningen, we were surprised by the sudden appearance of two handsome houses, with orchards and gardens, on the sunny side of the bank. The vegetation, protected in some degree from the sea-winds, was wonderfully rich and luxuriant. There were now occasional pine-woods on the southern shore, but the general aspect of this fjord is bleak and desolate. In the heat and breathless silence of noonday, the water was like solid crystal. A faint line, as if drawn with a pencil along the bases of the opposite mountains, divided them from the equally perfect and palpable mountains inverted below them. In the shadows near us, it was quite impossible to detect the boundary between the substance and its counterpart. In the afternoon we passed the mouth of the northern arms of the fjord, which strike into the heart of the wildest and grandest region of Norway; the valley of Justedal, with its tremendous glaciers, the snowy teeth of the Hurunger, and the crowning peaks of the Skagtolstind. Our course lay down the other arm, to Laerdalsoren, at the head of the fjord. By five o'clock it came in sight, at the mouth of a valley opening through the barren flanks on the Fille Fjeld. We landed, after a voyage of ten hours, and found welcome signs of civilisation in a neat but exorbitant inn.
Our boatmen, with the exception of stopping half an hour for breakfast, had pulled steadily the whole time. We had no cause to be dissatisfied with them, while they were delighted with the moderate gratuity we gave them. They were tough, well-made fellows, possessing a considerable amount of endurance, but less actual strength than one would suspect. Braisted, who occasionally tried his hand at an oar, could pull them around with the greatest ease. English travellers whom I have met inform me that in almost every trial they find themselves stronger than the Norwegians. This is probably to be accounted for by their insufficient nourishment. Sour milk and oaten bread never yet fed an athlete. The proportions of their bodies would admit of fine muscular development; and if they cannot do what their Viking ancestors once did, it is because they no longer live upon the spoils of other lands, as they.
HALLINGDAL—THE COUNTRY-PEOPLE OF NORWAY.
There are two roads from Laerdalsoren to Christiania, the eastern one passing through the districts of Valders and Hadeland, by way of the Little Miosen Lake and the Randsfjord, while the western, after crossing the Fille Fjeld, descends the long Hallingdal to Ringerike. In point of scenery there is little difference between them; but as we intended visiting the province of Tellemark, in Southern Norway, we chose the latter. The valley of the Fille Fjeld, which we entered on leaving Laerdalsoren, is enclosed by wild, barren mountains, more isolated and irregular in their forms than the Hardanger and Dovre Fjelds. There were occasional precipices and dancing waterfalls, but in general the same tameness and monotony we had found on the Sogne Fjord. Down the bed of the valley flowed a large rapid stream, clear as crystal, and of a beautiful beryl tint. The cultivation was scanty; and the potato fields, utterly ruined by disease, tainted the air with sickening effluvia. The occasional forests on the hill-sides were of fir and birch, while poplar, ash, and linden grew in the valley. The only fruit-trees I saw were some sour red cherries.
But in the splendour of the day, this unfriendly valley shone like a dell of the Apennines. Not a cloud disturbed the serenity of the sky; the brown grass and yellow moss on the mountains were painted with sunny gold, and the gloss and sparkle of the foliage equalled that of the Italian ilex and laurel. On the second stage a new and superb road carried us through the rugged defile of Saltenaaset. This pass is evidently the effect of some mighty avalanche thousands of ages ago. The valley is blocked up by tremendous masses of rock, hurled one upon the other in the wildest confusion, while the shattered peaks from which they fell still tower far above. Threading this chaos in the shadow of the rocks, we looked across the glen upon a braided chain of foam, twisted together at the end into a long white cascade, which dropped into the gulf below. In another place, a rainbow meteor suddenly flashed across the face of a dark crag, betraying the dusty spray of a fall, else invisible.
On the third stage the road, after mounting a difficult steep, descended into the valley of Borgund, in which stands most probably the most ancient church in Norway. It is a singular, fantastic structure, bristling with spiky spires and covered with a scale armour of black pitched shingles. It is certainly of no more recent date than the twelfth century, and possibly of the close of the eleventh. The architecture shows the Byzantine style in the rounded choir and the arched galleries along the sides, the Gothic in the windows and pointed gables, and the horned ornaments on the roof suggest the pagan temples of the ante-Christian period. A more grotesque affair could hardly be found in Christendom; it could only be matched among the monstrosities of Chinese art. With the exception of the church of Hitterdal, in Tellemark, a building of similar date, this is the best preserved of the few antiquities of Norway. The entire absence of feudal castles is a thing to be noticed. Serfdom never existed here, and one result of this circumstance, perhaps, is the ease with which institutions of a purely republican stamp have been introduced.
Our road still proceeded up the bottom of a rough barren valley, crossing stony headlands on either side. At the station of Haug our course turned to the south-east, climbing a slope leading to the plateau of the Fille Fjeld—a severe pull for our horses in the intense heat. The birch woods gradually diminished in size until they ceased altogether, and the naked plain stretched before us. In this upper land the air was delicious and inspiring. We were more than 3000 feet above the sea, but the summits to the right and left, with their soft gleams of pale gray, lilac and purple hues in the sunshine, and pure blue in shadow, rose to the height of 6000. The heat of the previous ten days had stripped them bare of snow, and the landscape was drear and monotonous. The summits of the Norwegian Fjelds have only the charm of wildness and bleakness. I doubt whether any mountains of equal height exhibit less grandeur in their upper regions. The most imposing features of Norwegian scenery are its deep valleys, its tremendous gorges with their cataracts, flung like banners from steeps which seem to lean against the very sky, and, most of all, its winding, labyrinthine fjords—valleys of the sea, in which the phenomena of the valleys of the land are repeated. I found no scenery in the Bergenstift of so original and impressive a character as that of the Lofoden Isles.
The day was Sunday, and we, of course, expect to see some evidence of it in the appearance of the people. Yet, during the whole day, we found but one clean person—the hostess of an inn on the summit of Fille Fjeld, where we stopped to bait our horses. She was a young fresh-faced woman, in the first year of her wifehood, and her snowy chemise and tidy petticoat made her shine like a star among the dirty and frowzy creatures in the kitchen. I should not forget a boy, who was washing his face in a brook as we passed; but he was young, and didn't know any better. Otherwise the people lounged about the houses, or sat on the rocks in the sun, filthy, and something else, to judge from certain signs. At Haug, forgetting that it was a fast station, where there is no tilsigelse (money for ordering horses) to be paid, I handed the usual sum to the landlady, saying: "This is for tilsigelse." "It is quite right," said she, pocketing the coin.
Skirting an azure lake, we crossed the highest part of the pass, nearly four thousand feet above the sea, and descended a naked valley to the inn of Bjoberg. The landlord received us very cordially; and as the inn promised tolerable accommodation, he easily persuaded us to stop there for the night. His wife wore a frightful costume, which we afterwards found to prevail throughout all Hemsedal and Hallingdal. It consisted simply of a band across the shoulders, above the breasts, passing around the arms and over the back of the neck, with an immense baggy, dangling skirt hanging therefrom to the ancles. Whether she was fat or lean, straight or crooked, symmetrical or deformed, it was impossible to discern, except when the wind blew. The only thing to be said in favour of such a costume is, that it does not impede the development and expansion of the body in any direction. Hence I would strongly recommend its adoption to the advocates of reform in feminine dress at home. There is certainly none of that weight upon the hips, of which they complain in the fashionable costume. It is far more baggy, loose, and hideous than the Bloomer, with the additional advantage of making all ages and styles of beauty equally repulsive, while on the score of health and convenience, there is still less to be said against it. Do not stop at half-way measures, oh, fair reformers!
It seems incredible that, in a pastoral country like Norway, it should be almost impossible to procure sweet milk and good butter. The cattle are of good quality, there is no better grass in the world; and the only explanation of the fact is to be found in the general want of cleanliness, especially among the inhabitants of the mountain districts, which are devoted to pasturage alone. Knowing this, one wonders the less to see no measures taken for a supply of water in the richer grain-growing valleys, where it is so easily procurable. At Bjoberg, for instance, there was a stream of delicious water flowing down the hill, close beside the inn, and four bored pine-trunks would have brought it to the very door; but, instead of that, the landlady whirled off to the stream in her revolving dress, to wash the dishes, or to bring us half a pint to wash ourselves. We found water much more abundant the previous winter in Swedish Lapland.
Leaving Bjoberg betimes, we drove rapidly down Hemsedal, enjoying the pure delicious airs of the upper fjeld. The scenery was bleak and grey; and even the soft pencil of the morning sun failed to impart any charm to it, except the nameless fascination of utter solitude and silence. The valley descends so gradually that we had driven two Norsk miles before the fir-forests in its bed began to creep up the mountain-sides. During the second stage we passed the remarkable peak of Saaten, on the opposite side of the valley—the end or cape of a long projecting ridge, terminating in a scarped cliff, from the very summit of which fell a cascade from three to four hundred feet in height. Where the water came from, it was impossible to guess, unless there were a large deposit of snow in the rear; for the mountains fell away behind Saaten, and the jagged, cleft headland rose alone above the valley. It was a strange and fantastic feature of the landscape, and, to me, a new form in the repertory of mountain aspects.
We now drove, through fir-woods balmy with warm resinous odours, to Ekre, where we had ordered breakfast by forbud. The morning air had given us a healthy appetite; but our spirits sank when the only person at the station, a stupid girl of twenty, dressed in the same bulging, hideous sack, informed us that nothing was to be had. After some persuasion she promised us coffee, cheese, and bread, which came in due time; but with the best will we found it impossible to eat anything. The butter was rather black than yellow, the cheese as detestable to the taste as to the smell, the bread made apparently of saw-dust, with a slight mixture of oat-bran, and the coffee muddy dregs, with some sour cream in a cup, and sugar-candy which appeared to have been sucked and then dropped in the ashes. The original colour of the girl's hands was barely to be distinguished through their coating of dirt; and all of us, tough old travellers as we were, sickened at the sight of her. I verily believe that the poorer classes of the Norwegians are the filthiest people in Europe. They are even worse than the Lapps, for their habits of life allow them to be clean.
After passing Ekre, our view opened down the valley, over a wild stretch of wooded hills, to the blue mountain folds of the Hallingdal, which crosses the Hemsedal almost at right angles, and receives its tributary waters. The forms of the mountains are here more gradual; and those grand sweeps and breaks which constitute the peculiar charms of the scenery of the Bergenstift are met with no longer. We had a hot ride to the next station, where we were obliged to wait nearly an hour in the kitchen, our forbud not having been forwarded from the former station as soon as the law allowed us to expect. A strapping boy of eighteen acted as station master. His trowsers reached considerably above his shoulder blades, leaving barely room for a waistcoat, six inches long, to be buttoned over his collar bone. The characteristic costumes of Norway are more quaint and picturesque in the published illustrations than in the reality, particularly those of Hemsedal. My postillion to this station was a communicative fellow, and gave me some information about the value of labour. A harvest-hand gets from one mark (twenty-one cents) to one and a half daily, with food, or two marks without. Most work is paid by the job; a strong lumber-man may make two and a half marks when the days are long, at six skillings (five cents) a tree—a plowman two marks. In the winter the usual wages of labourers are two marks a week, with board. Shoemakers, tailors, and other mechanics average about the same daily. When one considers the scarcity of good food, and the high price of all luxuries, especially tobacco and brandy, it does not seem strange that the emigration fever should be so prevalent. The Norwegians have two traits in common with a large class of Americans—rampant patriotism and love of gain; but they cannot so easily satisfy the latter without sacrificing the former.
From the village of Gol, with its dark pretty church, we descended a steep of many hundred feet, into Hallingdal, whose broad stream flashed blue in the sunshine far below us. The mountains were now wooded to their very summits; and over the less abrupt slopes, ripe oats and barley-fields made yellow spots of harvest among the dark forests. By this time we were out of smoking material, and stopped at the house of a landhandlare, or country merchant, to procure a supply. A riotous sound came from the door as we approached. Six or eight men, all more or less drunk, and one woman, were inside, singing, jumping, and howling like a pack of Bedlamites. We bought the whole stock of tobacco, consisting of two cigars, and hastened out of the den. The last station of ten miles was down the beautiful Hallingdal, through a country which seemed rich by contrast with Hemsedal and the barren fjeld. Our stopping-place was the village of Naes, which we reached in a famished condition, having eaten nothing all day. There were two landhandlare in the place, with one of whom we lodged. Here we found a few signs of Christianity, such as gardens and decent dresses; but both of the merchant's shops swarmed with rum-drinkers.
I had written, and sent off from Bjoberg, forbud tickets for every station as far as Kongsberg. By the legal regulations, the skyds-skaffer is obliged to send forward such tickets as soon as received, the traveller paying the cost thereof on his arrival. Notwithstanding we had given our forbud twelve hours' start, and had punctually paid the expense at every station, we overtook it at Naes. The postmaster came to know whether we would have it sent on by special express, or wait until some traveller bound the same way would take it for us. I ordered it to be sent immediately, astounded at such a question, until, making the acquaintance of a Scotchman and his wife, who had arrived in advance of us, the mystery was solved. They had spent the night at the first station beyond Bjoberg, where our forbud tickets were given to them, with the request that they would deliver them. They had punctually done so as far as Naes, where the people had endeavoured to prevent them from stopping for the night, insisting that they were bound to go on and carry the forbud. The cool impudence of this transaction reached the sublime. At every station that day, pay had been taken for service unperformed, and it was more than once demanded twice over.
We trusted the repeated assurance of the postmaster at Naes, that our tickets had been forwarded at once, and paid him accordingly. But at the first station next morning we found that he had not done so; and this interlinked chain of swindling lasted the whole day. We were obliged to wait an hour or two at every post, to pay for messengers who probably never went, and then to resist a demand for payment at the other end of the station. What redress was there? We might indeed have written a complaint in imperfect Norsk, which would be read by an inspector a month afterwards; or perhaps it would be crossed out as soon as we left, as we saw done in several cases. Unless a traveller is very well versed in the language and in the laws relating to the skyds system, he has no defence against imposition, and even in such a case, he can only obtain redress through delay. The system can only work equitably when the people are honest; and perhaps they were so when it was first adopted.
Here I must tell an unpleasant truth. There must have been some foundation in the beginning for the wide reputation which the Norwegians have for honest simplicity of character; but the accounts given by former travellers are undeserved praise if applied at present. The people are trading on fictitious capital. "Should I have a written contract?" I asked of a landlord, in relation to a man with whom I was making a bargain. "Oh, no," said he, "everybody is honest in Norway;" and the same man tried his best to cheat me. Said Braisted, "I once heard an old sailor say,—'when a man has a reputation for honesty, watch him!'"—and there is some knowledge of human nature in the remark. Norway was a fresh field when Laing went thither opportunities for imposition were so rare, that the faculty had not been developed; he found the people honest, and later travellers have been content with echoing his opinion. "When I first came to the country," said an Irish gentleman who for ten years past has spent his summers there, "I was advised, as I did not understand the currency, to offer a handful in payment, and let the people take what was due to them." "Would you do it now?" I asked. "No, indeed," said he, "and the man who then advised me, a Norwegian merchant, now says he would not do it either." An English salmon-fisher told me very much the same thing. "I believe they are honest in their intercourse with each other," said he; "but they do not scruple to take advantage of travellers whenever they can." For my own part, I must say that in no country of Europe, except Italy, have I experienced so many attempts at imposition. Another Englishman, who has been farming in Norway for several years, and who employs about forty labourers, has been obliged to procure Swedes, on account of the peculations of native hands. I came to Norway with the popular impression concerning the people, and would not confess myself so disagreeably undeceived, could I suppose that my own experiences were exceptional. I found, however, that they tallied with those of other travellers; and the conclusion is too flagrant to be concealed.
As a general rule, I have found the people honest in proportion as they are stupid. They are quick-witted whenever the spirit of gain is aroused; and the ease with which they pick up little arts of acquisitiveness does not suggest an integrity proof against temptation. It is but a negative virtue, rather than that stable quality rooted in the very core of a man's nature. I may, perhaps, judge a little harshly; but when one finds the love of gain so strongly developed, so keen and grasping, in combination with the four capital vices of the Norwegians—indolence, filth, drunkenness, and licentiousness,—the descent to such dishonest arts as I have described is scarcely a single step. There are, no doubt, many districts where the people are still untempted by rich tourists and sportsmen, and retain the virtues once ascribed to the whole population: but that there has been a general and rapid deterioration of character cannot be denied. The statistics of morality, for instance, show that one child out of every ten is illegitimate; and the ratio has been steadily increasing for the past fifty years. Would that the more intelligent classes would seriously set themselves to work for the good of "Gamle Norge" instead of being content with the poetical flourish of her name!
The following day, from Naes to Green, was a continuation of our journey down the Hallingdal. There was little change in the scenery,—high fir-wooded mountains on either hand, the lower slopes spotted with farms. The houses showed some slight improvement as we advanced. The people were all at work in the fields, cutting the year's satisfactory harvest. A scorching sun blazed in a cloudless sky; the earth was baked and dry, and suffocating clouds of dust rose from under our horses' hoofs. Most of the women in the fields, on account of the heat, had pulled off their body-sacks, and were working in shifts made on the same principle, which reached to the knees. Other garments they had none. A few, recognising us as strangers, hastily threw on their sacks or got behind a barley-stack until we had passed; the others were quite unconcerned. One, whose garment was exceedingly short, no sooner saw us than she commenced a fjeld dance, full of astonishing leaps and whirls to the great diversion of the other hands. "Weel done, cutty sark!" I cried; but the quotation was thrown away upon her.
Green, on the Kroder Lake, which we did not reach until long after dark, was an oasis after our previous experience. Such clean, refined, friendly people, such a neat table, such excellent fare, and such delicious beds we had certainly never seen before. Blessed be decency! blessed be humanity! was our fervent ejaculation. And when in the morning we paid an honest reckoning and received a hearty "lycksame resa!" (a lucky journey!) at parting, we vowed that the place should always be green in our memories. Thence to Kongsberg we had fast stations and civilised people; the country was open, well settled, and cultivated, the scenery pleasant and picturesque, and, except the insufferable heat and dust, we could complain of nothing.
TELLEMARK AND THE RIUKAN FOSS.
Kongsberg, where we arrived on the 26th of August, is celebrated for its extensive silver mines, which were first opened by Christian IV in 1624, and are now worked by the Government. They are doubtless interesting to mineralogists; but we did not visit them. The guide-book says, "The principal entrance to the mines is through a level nearly two English miles in length; from this level you descend by thirty-eight perpendicular ladders, of the average length of five fathoms each, a very fatiguing task, and then find yourself at the bottom of the shaft, and are rewarded by the sight of the veins of native silver"—not a bit of which, after all, are you allowed to put into your pocket. Thank you! I prefer remaining above ground, and was content with having in my possession smelted specimens of the ore, stamped with the head of Oscar I.
The goal of our journey was the Riukan Foss, which lies in Upper Tellemark, on the south-eastern edge of the great plateau of the Hardanger Fjeld. This cascade disputes with the Voring Foss the supremacy of the thousand waterfalls of Norway. There are several ways from Kongsberg thither; and in our ignorance of the country, we suffered ourselves to be guided by the landlord of our hotel. Let no traveller follow our example! The road he recommended was almost impassable for carrioles, and miserably supplied with horses, while that through Hitterdal, by which we returned, is broad, smooth, and excellent. We left on the morning after our arrival, taking a road which led up the valley of the Lauven for some distance, and then struck westward through the hills to a little station called Moen. Here, as the place was rarely visited by travellers, the people were simple, honest, and friendly. Horses could not be had in less than two hours; and my postillion, an intelligent fellow far gone in consumption, proposed taking the same horse to the next station, fifteen miles further. He accepted my offer of increased pay; but another, who appeared to be the owner of the horses, refused, demanding more than double the usual rates. "How is it?" said I, "that you were willing to bring us to Moen for one and a half marks, and will not take us to Bolkesjo for less than five?" "It was my turn," he answered, "to furnish post-horses. I am bound by law to bring you here at the price fixed by the law; but now I can make my own bargain, and I want a price that will leave me some profit." This was reasonable enough; and we finally agreed to retain two of the horses, taking the postmaster's for a third.
The region we now traversed was almost a wilderness. There were grazing-farms in the valley, with a few fields of oats or barley; but these soon ceased, and an interminable forest enclosed us. The road, terribly rough and stony, crossed spurs of the hills, slowly climbing to a wild summit-level, whence we caught glimpses of lakes far below us, and the blue mountain-ranges in the west, with the pyramidal peak of the Gousta Fjeld crowning them. Bolkesjo, which we reached in a little more than two hours, is a small hamlet on the western slope of the mountain, overlooking a wide tract of lake and forest. Most of the inhabitants were away in the harvest-fields; but the skyds-shaffer, a tall powerful fellow, with a grin of ineffable stupidity on his face, came forward as we pulled in our horses on the turfy square between the rows of magazines. "Can we get horses at once?" "Ne-e-ey!" was his drawling answer, accompanied with a still broader grin, as if the thing were a good joke. "How soon?" "In three hours." "But if we pay fast prices?" He hesitated, scratched his head, and drawled, "In a liten stund" (a "short time"), which may mean any time from five minutes to as many hours. "Can we get fresh milk?" "Ne-e-ey!" "Can we get butter?" "Ne-e-ey!" "What can we get?" "Nothing." Fortunately we had foreseen this emergency, and had brought a meal with us from Kongsberg.
We took possession of the kitchen, a spacious and tolerably clean apartment, with ponderous benches against two sides of it, and two bedsteads, as huge and ugly as those of kings, built along the third. Enormous platters of pewter, earthen and stone ware, were ranged on shelves; while a cupboard, fantastically painted, contained the smaller crockery. There was a heavy red and green cornice above the bed, upon which the names of the host and his wife, with the date of their marriage, were painted in yellow letters. The worthy couple lay so high that several steps were necessary to enable them to reach the bed, in which process their eyes encountered words of admonition, painted upon triangular boards, introduced to strengthen the pillars at the head and foot. One of these inscriptions ran, "This is my bed: here I take my rest in the night, and when morning comes I get up cheerfully and go to work;" and the other, "When thou liest down to sleep think on thy last hour, pray that God will guard thy sleep, and be ready for thy last hour when it comes." On the bottom of the cupboard was a representation of two individuals with chalk-white faces and inky eyes, smoking their pipes and clinking glasses. The same fondness for decorations and inscriptions is seen in all the houses in Tellemark and a great part of Hallingdal. Some of them are thoroughly Chinese in gaudy colour and grotesque design.
In the course of an hour and a half we obtained three strong and spirited stallions, and continued our journey towards the Tind-So. During this stage of twelve or thirteen miles, the quality of our carrioles was tested in the most satisfactory manner. Up-hill and down, over stock and stone, jolted on rock and wrenched in gulley, they were whirled at a smashing rate; but the tough ash and firmly-welded iron resisted every shock. For any other than Norwegian horses and vehicles, it would have been hazardous travelling. We were anxious to retain the same animals for the remaining stage to Tinoset, at the foot of the lake; but the postillions refused, and a further delay of two hours was the consequence. It was dark when the new horses came; and ten miles of forest lay before us. We were ferried one by one across the Tind Elv, on a weak, loose raft and got our carrioles up a frightful bank on the opposite side by miraculous luck. Fortunately we struck the post-road from Hitterdal at this place; for it would have been impossible to ride over such rocky by-ways as we had left behind us. A white streak was all that was visible in the gloom of the forest. We kept in the middle of it, not knowing whether the road went up, down, or on a level, until we had gone over it. At last, however, the forest came to an end, and we saw Tind Lake lying still and black in the starlight. All were in bed at Tinoset; but we went into the common sleeping-room, and stirred the people up promiscuously until we found the housewife, who gave us the only supper the house afforded—hard oaten bread and milk. We three then made the most of two small beds.
In the morning we took a boat, with four oarsmen, for Mael, at the mouth of the Westfjord-dal, in which lies the Riukan Foss. There was no end to our wonderful weather. In rainy Norway the sky had for once forgotten its clouds. One after another dawned the bright Egyptian days, followed by nights soft, starry, and dewless. The wooded shores of the long Tind Lake were illuminated with perfect sunshine, and its mirror of translucent beryl broke into light waves under the northern breeze. Yet, with every advantage of sun and air, I found this lake undeserving of its reputation for picturesque beauty. The highest peaks rise to the height of 2000 feet, but there is nothing bold and decided in their forms, and after the splendid fjords of the western coast the scenery appears tame and commonplace. Our boatmen pulled well, and by noon brought us to Hakenaes, a distance of twenty-one miles. Here we stopped to engage horses to the Riukan Foss, as there is no post-station at Mael. While the old man put off in his boat to notify the farmers whose turn it was to supply the animals, we entered the farm-house, a substantial two-story building. The rooms were tolerably clean and well stocked with the clumsy, heavy furniture of the country, which is mostly made by the farmers themselves, every man being his own carpenter, cooper, and blacksmith. There were some odd old stools, made of segments of the trunk of a tree, the upper part hollowed out so as to receive the body, and form a support for the back. I have no doubt that this fashion of seat is as old as the time of the Vikings. The owner was evidently a man in tolerable circumstances, and we therefore cherished the hope of getting a good meal; but all that the old woman, with the best will in the world, was able to furnish, was milk, butter, oaten bread, and an egg apiece. The upper rooms were all supplied with beds, one of which displayed remarkable portraits of the Crown Prince of Denmark and his spouse, upon the head-board. In another room was a loom of primitive construction.
It was nearly two hours before the old farmer returned with the information that the horses would be at Mael as soon as we; but we lay upon the bank for some time after arriving there, watching the postillions swim them across the mouth of the Maan Elv. Leaving the boat, which was to await our return the next day, we set off up the Westfjord-dal, towards the broad cone-like mass of the Gousta-Fjeld, whose huge bulk, 6000 feet in height, loomed grandly over the valley. The houses of Mael, clustered about its little church, were scattered over the slope above the lake; and across the river, amid the fields of grass and grain, stood another village of equal size. The bed of the valley, dotted with farms and groups of farm-houses, appeared to be thickly populated; but as a farmer's residence rarely consists of less than six buildings—sometimes even eight—a stranger would naturally overrate the number of inhabitants. The production of grain, also, is much less than would be supposed from the amount of land under cultivation, owing to the heads being so light. The valley of the Maan, apparently a rich and populous region, is in reality rather the reverse. In relation to its beauty, however, there can be no two opinions. Deeply sunken between the Gousta and another bold spur of the Hardanger, its golden harvest-fields and groves of birch, ash, and pine seem doubly charming from the contrast of the savage steeps overhanging them, at first scantily feathered with fir-trees, and scarred with the tracks of cataracts and slides, then streaked only with patches of grey moss, and at last bleak and sublimely bare. The deeply-channelled cone of the Gousta, with its indented summit, rose far above us, sharp and clear in the thin ether; but its base, wrapped in forests and wet by many a waterfall—sank into the bed of blue vapour which filled the valley.
There was no Arabian, nor even Byzantine blood in our horses; and our attendants—a stout full-grown farmer and a boy of sixteen—easily kept pace with their slow rough trot. In order to reach Tinoset the next day, we had determined to push on to the Riukan Foss the same evening. Our quarters for the night were to be in the house of the old farmer, Ole Torgensen, in the village of Dal, half-way between Mael and the cataract, which we did not reach until five o'clock, when the sun was already resting his chin on the shoulder of the Gousta. On a turfy slope surrounded with groves, above the pretty little church of Dal, we found Ole's gaard. There was no one at home except the daughter, a blooming lass of twenty, whose neat dress, and graceful, friendly deportment, after the hideous feminines of Hallingdal, in their ungirdled sacks and shifts, so charmed us that if we had been younger, more sentimental, and less experienced in such matters, I should not answer for the consequences. She ushered us into the guests' room, which was neatness itself, set before us a bottle of Bavarian beer and promised to have a supper ready on our return.
There were still ten miles to the Riukan, and consequently no time to be lost. The valley contracted, squeezing the Maan between the interlocking bases of the mountains, through which, in the course of uncounted centuries, it had worn itself a deep groove, cut straight and clean into the heart of the rock. The loud, perpetual roar of the vexed waters filled the glen; the only sound except the bleating of goats clinging to the steep pastures above us. The mountain walls on either hand were now so high and precipitous, that the bed of the valley lay wholly in shadow; and on looking back, its further foldings were dimly seen through purple mist. Only the peak of the Gousta, which from this point appeared an entire and perfect pyramid, 1500 feet in perpendicular height above the mountain platform from which it rose, gleamed with a rich bronze lustre in the setting sun. The valley was now a mere ascending gorge, along the sides of which our road climbed. Before us extended a slanting shelf thrust out from the mountain, and affording room for a few cottages and fields; but all else was naked rock and ragged pine. From one of the huts we passed, a crippled, distorted form crawled out on its hands and knees to beg of us. It was a boy of sixteen, struck with another and scarcely less frightful form of leprosy. In this case, instead of hideous swellings and fungous excrescences, the limbs gradually dry up and drop off piecemeal at the joints. Well may the victims of both these forms of hopeless disease curse the hour in which they were begotten. I know of no more awful example of that visitation of the sins of the parents upon the children, which almost always attends confirmed drunkenness, filth, and licentiousness.
When we reached the little hamlet on the shelf of the mountain, the last rays of the sun were playing on the summits above. We had mounted about 2000 feet since leaving the Tind Lake, and the dusky valley yawned far beneath us, its termination invisible, as if leading downward into a lower world. Many hundreds of feet below the edge of the wild little platform on which we stood, thundered the Maan in a cleft, the bottom of which the sun has never beheld. Beyond this the path was impracticable for horses; we walked, climbed, or scrambled along the side of the dizzy steep, where, in many places, a false step would have sent us to the brink of gulfs whose mysteries we had no desire to explore. After we had advanced nearly two miles in this manner, ascending rapidly all the time, a hollow reverberation, and a glimpse of profounder abysses ahead, revealed the neighbourhood of the Riukan. All at once patches of lurid gloom appeared through the openings of the birch thicket we were threading, and we came abruptly upon the brink of the great chasm into which the river falls.
The Riukan lay before us, a miracle of sprayey splendour, an apparition of unearthly loveliness, set in a framework of darkness and terror befitting the jaws of hell. Before us, so high against the sky as to shut out the colours of sunset, rose the top of the valley—the level of the Hardanger table land, on which, a short distance further, lies the Mios-Vand, a lovely lake, in which the Maan Elv is born. The river first comes into sight a mass of boiling foam, shooting around the corner of a line of black cliffs which are rent for its passage, curves to the right as it descends, and then drops in a single fall of 500 feet in a hollow caldron of bare black rock. The water is already foam as it leaps from the summit; and the successive waves, as they are whirled into the air, and feel the gusts which for ever revolve around the abyss, drop into beaded fringes in falling, and go fluttering down like scarfs of the richest lace. It is not water, but the spirit of water. The bottom is lost in a shifting snowy film, with starry rays of foam radiating from its heart, below which, as the clouds shifts, break momentary gleams of perfect emerald light. What fairy bowers of some Northern Undine are suggested in those sudden flashes of silver and green! In that dim profound, which human eye can but partially explore, in which human foot shall never be set, what secret wonders may still lie hidden! And around this vision of perfect loveliness, rise the awful walls wet with spray which never dries, and crossed by ledges of dazzling turf, from the gulf so far below our feet, until, still further above our heads, they lift their irregular cornices against the sky.
I do not think I am extravagant when I say that the Riukan Foss is the most beautiful cataract in the world. I looked upon it with that involuntary suspension of the breath and quickening of the pulse, which is the surest recognition of beauty. The whole scene, with its breadth and grandeur of form, and its superb gloom of colouring, enshrining this one glorious flash of grace, and brightness, and loveliness, is indelibly impressed upon my mind. Not alone during that half hour of fading sunset, but day after day, and night after night, the embroidered spray wreaths of the Riukan were falling before me.
We turned away reluctantly at last, when the emerald pavement of Undine's palace was no longer visible through the shooting meteors of silver foam. The depths of Westfjord-dal were filled with purple darkness: only the perfect pyramid of the Gousta, lifted upon a mountain basement more than 4000 feet in height, shone like a colossal wedge of fire against the violet sky. By the time we reached our horses we discovered that we were hungry, and, leaving the attendants to follow at their leisure, we urged the tired animals down the rocky road. The smell of fresh-cut grain and sweet mountain hay filled the cool evening air; darkness crept under the birches and pines, and we no longer met the home-going harvesters. Between nine and ten our horses took the way to a gaard standing a little off the road; but it did not appear to be Ole Torgensen's, so we kept on. In the darkness, however, we began to doubt our memory, and finally turned back again. This time there could be no mistake: it was not Ole Torgensen's. I knocked at various doors, and hallooed loudly, until a sleepy farmer made his appearance, and started us forward again. He kindly offered to accompany us, but we did not think it necessary. Terribly fatigued and hungry, we at last saw a star of promise—the light of Ole's kitchen window. There was a white cloth on the table in the guests' house, and Ole's charming daughter—the Rose of Westfjord-dalen—did not keep us long waiting. Roast mutton, tender as her own heart, potatoes plump as her cheeks, and beer sparkling as her eyes, graced the board; but emptiness, void as our own celibate lives, was there when we arose. In the upper room there were beds, with linen fresh as youth and aromatic as spring; and the peace of a full stomach and a clear conscience descended upon our sleep.
In the morning we prepared for an early return to Mael, as the boatmen were anxious to get back to their barley-fields. I found but one expression in the guests' book—that of satisfaction with Ole Torgensen, and cheerfully added our amen to the previous declarations. Ole's bill proved his honesty, no less than his worthy face. He brightened up on learning that we were Americans. "Why," said he, "there have only been two Americans here before in all my life; and you cannot be a born American, because you speak Norsk so well." "Oh," said I, "I have learned the language in travelling." "Is it possible?" he exclaimed: "then you must have a powerful intellect." "By no means," said I, "it is a very easy thing; I have travelled much, and can speak six other languages." "Now, God help us!" cried he; "seven languages! It is truly wonderful how much comprehension God has given unto man, that he can keep seven languages in his head at one time. Here am I, and I am not a fool; yet I do not see how it would be possible for me to speak anything but Norsk; and when I think of you, it shows me what wonders God has done. Will you not make a mark under your name, in the book, so that I may distinguish you from the other two?" I cheerfully complied, and hereby notify future visitors why my name is italicised in Ole's book.
We bade farewell to the good old man, and rode down the valley of the Maan, through the morning shadow of the Gousta. Our boat was in readiness; and its couch of fir boughs in the stern became a pleasant divan of indolence, after our hard horses and rough roads. We reached Tinoset by one o'clock, but were obliged to wait until four for horses. The only refreshment we could obtain was oaten bread, and weak spruce beer. Off at last, we took the post-road to Hitterdal, a smooth, excellent highway, through interminable forests of fir and pine. Towards the close of the stage, glimpses of a broad, beautiful, and thickly-settled valley glimmered through the woods, and we found ourselves on the edge of a tremendous gully, apparently the bed of an extinct river. The banks on both sides were composed entirely of gravel and huge rounded pebbles, masses of which we loosened at the top, and sent down the sides, gathering as they rolled, until in a cloud of dust they crashed with a sound like thunder upon the loose shingles of the bottom 200 feet below. It was scarcely possible to account for this phenomenon by the action of spring torrents from the melted snow. The immense banks of gravel, which we found to extend for a considerable distance along the northern side of the valley, seemed rather to be the deposit of an ocean-flood.
Hitterdal, with its enclosed fields, its harvests, and groups of picturesque, substantial farm-houses, gave us promise of good quarters for the night; and when our postillions stopped at the door of a prosperous-looking establishment, we congratulated ourselves on our luck. But (—) never whistle until you are out of the woods. The people seemed decidedly not to like the idea of our remaining, but promised to give us supper and beds. They were stupid, but not unfriendly; and our causes of dissatisfaction were, first, that they were so outrageously filthy, and secondly, that they lived so miserably when their means evidently allowed them to do better. The family room, with its two cumbrous bedsteads built against the wall, and indescribably dirty beds, was given up to us, the family betaking themselves to the stable. As they issued thence in the morning, in single garments, we were involuntary observers of their degree of bodily neatness; and the impression was one we would willingly forget. Yet a great painted desk in the room contained, amid many flourishes, the names and character of the host and hostess, as follows:—"Andres Svennogsen Bamble, and Ragnil Thorkilsdatter Bamble, Which These Two Are Respectable People." Over the cupboard, studded with earthen-ware dishes, was an inscription in misspelt Latin: "Solli Deo Glorria." Our supper consisted of boiled potatoes and fried salt pork, which, having seen the respectable hosts, it required considerable courage to eat, although we had not seen the cooking. Fleas darkened the floor; and they, with the fear of something worse, prevented us from sleeping much. We did not ask for coffee in the morning, but, as soon as we could procure horses, drove away hungry and disgusted from Bamble-Kaasa and its respectable inhabitants.
The church of Hitterdal, larger than that of Borgund, dates from about the same period, probably the twelfth century. Its style is similar, although it has not the same horned ornaments upon the roof, and the Byzantine features being simpler, produce a more harmonious effect. It is a charmingly quaint and picturesque building, and the people of the valley are justly proud of it. The interior has been renovated, not in the best style.
Well, to make this very long chapter short, we passed the beautiful falls of the Tind Elv, drove for more than twenty miles over wild piny hills, and then descended to Kongsberg, where Fru Hansen comforted us with a good dinner. The next day we breakfasted in Drammen, and, in baking heat and stifling dust, traversed the civilised country between that city and Christiania. Our Norwegian travel was now at an end; and, as a snobby Englishman once said to me of the Nile, "it is a good thing to have gotten over."
NORWAY AND SWEDEN.
We spent four days in Christiania, after completing our Norwegian travels. The sky was still perfectly clear, and up to the day of our departure no rain fell. Out of sixty days which we had devoted to Norway, only four were rainy—a degree of good fortune which rarely falls to the lot of travellers in the North.
Christiania, from its proximity to the continent, and its character as capital of the country, is sufficiently advanced in the arts of living, to be a pleasant resting-place after the desagremens and privations of travel in the interior. It has two or three tolerably good and very exorbitant hotels, and some bankers with less than the usual amount of conscience. One of them offered to change some Prussian thalers for my friend, at only ten per cent. less than their current value. The vognmand from whom we purchased our carrioles, endeavoured to evade his bargain, and protested that he had not money enough to repurchase them. I insisted, however, and with such good effect that he finally pulled a roll of notes, amounting to several hundred dollars out of his pocket, and paid me the amount in full. The English travellers whom I met had not fared any better; and one and all of us were obliged to recede from our preconceived ideas of Norwegian character. But enough of an unpleasant theme; I would rather praise than blame, any day, but I can neither praise nor be silent when censure is a part of the truth.
I had a long conversation with a distinguished Norwegian, on the condition of the country people. He differed with me in the opinion that the clergy were to some extent responsible for their filthy and licentious habits, asserting that, though the latter were petits seigneurs, with considerable privileges and powers, the people were jealously suspicious of any attempt to exert an influence upon their lives. But is not this a natural result of the preaching of doctrinal religion, of giving an undue value to external forms and ceremonies? "We have a stubborn people," said my informant; "their excessive self-esteem makes them difficult to manage. Besides, their morals are perhaps better than would be inferred from the statistics. Old habits have been retained, in many districts, which are certainly reprehensible, but which spring from custom rather than depravity. I wish they were less vain and sensitive, since in that case they would improve more rapidly." He stated also that the surprising number of illegitimate births is partly accounted for by the fact that there are a great number of connections which have all the character of marriage except the actual ceremony. This is an affair of considerable cost and show; and many of the poorer people, unable to afford it, live together rather than wait, hoping that a time may come when they will be able to defray the expenses, and legitimate the children who may meanwhile be born. In some cases the parties disagree, the connection is broken off, and each one seeks a new mate. Whatever palliation there may be in particular instances, the moral effect of this custom is unquestionably bad; and the volume of statistics recently published by Herr Sundt, who was appointed by the Storthing to investigate the subject, shows that there is no agricultural population in the world which stands lower in the scale of chastity, than that of Norway.
In the course of our conversation, the gentleman gave an amusing instance of the very sensitiveness which he condemned. I happened, casually, to speak of the Icelandic language. "The Icelandic language!" he exclaimed. "So you also in America call it Icelandic; but you ought to know that it is Norwegian. It is the same language spoken by the Norwegian Vikings who colonised Iceland—the old Norsk, which originated here, and was merely carried thither." "We certainly have some reason," I replied, "seeing that it now only exists in Iceland, and has not been spoken in Norway for centuries; but let me ask why you, speaking Danish, call your language Norsk." "Our language, as written and printed, is certainly pure Danish," said he; "but there is some difference of accent in speaking it." He did not add that this difference is strenuously preserved and even increased by the Norwegians, that they may not be suspected of speaking Danish, while they resist with equal zeal, any approach to the Swedish. Often, in thoughtlessly speaking of the language as Danish, I have heard the ill-humoured reply, "Our language is not Danish, but Norsk." As well might we say at home, "We speak American, not English."
I had the good fortune to find Professor Munck, the historian of Norway, at home, though on the eve of leaving for Italy. He is one of the few distinguished literary names the country has produced. Holberg the comedian was born in Bergen; but he is generally classed among the Danish authors. In art, however, Norway takes no mean rank, the names of her painters Dahl, Gude, and Tidemand having a European reputation. Professor Munck is about fifty years of age, and a fine specimen of the Viking stock. He speaks English fluently, and I regretted that the shortness of my stay did not allow me to make further drafts on his surplus intelligence. In the Museum of Northern Antiquities, which is small, as compared with that of Copenhagen, but admirably arranged, I made the acquaintance of Professor Keyser, the author of a very interesting work, on the "Religion of Northmen," a translation of which by Mr. Barclay Pennock, appeared in New York, some three years ago.
I was indebted to Professor Munck, for a sight of the Storthing, or National Legislative Assembly, which was then in session. The large hall of the University, a semi-circular room, something like our Senate Chamber, has been given up to its use, until an appropriate building shall be erected. The appearance and conduct of the body strikingly reminded me of one of our State Legislatures. The members were plain, practical-looking men, chosen from all classes, and without any distinguishing mark of dress. The speaker was quite a young man, with a moustache. Schweigaard the first jurist in Norway, was speaking as we entered. The hall is very badly constructed for sound, and I could not understand the drift of his speech, but was exceedingly struck by the dryness of his manner. The Norwegian Constitution has been in operation forty-three years, and its provisions, in most respects so just and liberal, have been most thoroughly and satisfactorily tested. The Swedes and a small conservative party in Norway, would willingly see the powers of the Storthing curtailed a little; but the people now know what they have got, and are further than ever from yielding any part of it. In the house of almost every Norwegian farmer, one sees the constitution, with the facsimile autographs of its signers, framed and conspicuously hung up. The reproach has been made, that it is not an original instrument—that it is merely a translation of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, a copy of the French Constitution of 1791, &c.; but it is none the worse for that. Its framers at least had the wisdom to produce the right thing at the right time, and by their resolution and determined attitude to change a subject province into a free and independent state: for, carefully guarded as it is, the union with Sweden is only a source of strength and security.