Naturally any institution so purely national as the Finnish bastu was worth investigating—in fact, could not be omitted from our programme. Bathing with the peasants themselves, however, being impossible, we arranged to enjoy the extraordinary pleasure at a friend's house, where we could be duly washed by one of her own servants; for, be it understood, there is always one servant in every better-class establishment who understands the bastu, and can, and does wash the family.
When she is washed, we unfortunately omitted to inquire. In towns, such as Helsingfors, there are professional women-washers, who go from house to house to bathe and massage men and women alike. Theirs is a regular trade, and as the higher class of the profession receive about a shilling for "attending" each bath given at a private house, the employment is not one to be despised. Neither is it, as proved by the fact that there are over 300 public bathing-women in little Finland.
On the eventful night of our initiation, supper was over, the house-party and guests were all assembled on the balcony, the women engaged in needlework, and the men smoking cigarettes, when Saima, the Finnish servant, arrived to solemnly announce in a loud tone that the English lady's bath was ready. Taking a fond farewell of the family, I marched solemnly behind the flaxen-haired Saima, who had thoroughly entered into the spirit of the joke of giving an English lady a Finnish bath, neither the bather nor attendant being able to understand one word of what the other spoke. Down an avenue overshadowed by trees we proceeded, getting a peep of a perfectly glorious sunset which bathed one side of the lake in yellow hues, while the other was lighted by an enormous blood-red moon, for in those Northern climes there are many strange natural effects far more beautiful than in the South. It was a wonderful evening, and I paused to consider which was the more beautiful, the departing day or the coming night, both of which were fighting for supremacy.
Saima would brook no delay, however, so I had to hurry on. Immediately before us was the bastu—a wee wooden house like a small Swiss chlet, the outer room, where I undressed, containing a large oven. The inner room boasted only one small window, through which the departing day did not shine very brilliantly, luckily for my modesty. Its furniture was only a large-sized tin bath filled with cold water, opposite to which were seven very wide wooden steps like a staircase, twelve feet wide perhaps, the top step forming a kind of platform where there was just room to sit without one's head touching the tarred ceiling above. The steps and the platform were covered with straw—Finnish fashion—for the great occasion.
I wondered what next, but had not much time for speculation, for Saima—who only took off her outer dress—grasped me by the hand, her face aglow with the intense heat, led me up the wooden staircase, and signed her will that I should sit on the straw-strewn platform afore honourably mentioned.
Oh, the heat! Many of us know Turkish baths; but then we take them gradually, whereas in the bastu one plunges into volcanic fires at once. Blinking in the dim light, I found that beside us was a brick-built stove, for which the fire, as I had noticed while disrobing, is in the outer chamber, and when the washing-woman threw a pail of water upon the surface of the great heated stones, placed for the purpose inside the stove, the steam ascended in volumes, and the temperature went up, until I exclaimed, in one of the few Swedish sentences I knew, "Mycket hett" (very hot), at which agonised remark Saima laughed uproariously, and, nodding and smiling, fetched another pail of water from the cold bath, and threw its contents on the brick furnace in order that more steaming fumes might ascend. Almost stifled I blinked, and gasped, and groaned by turns, repeating again and again, "Mycket hett," "alltfr hett" (too hot), "Tack s mycket" (thank you), in tones of anguish. Much amused, Saima—who, be it understood, was a Swedish-speaking Finn—stood smiling cheerfully at my discomfiture; but, happily, at last she seemed to think I might have had enough, for, after waving my hands hopelessly to the accompaniment of "Nej tack, nej tack" (no thank you), she apparently understood and desisted.
A moment later, through the steam, her smiling face ascended the stairs, with a pail of hot water in one hand, and a lump of soft soap in the other, on which was a large bundle of white fibre, something like hemp. Dipping this in the pail, she soon made a lather with the soap, and, taking up limb after limb, scrubbed hard and long—scrubbed until my skin tingled, and in the damp mysterious heat I began to wonder how much of my body would emerge from the ordeal. This scrubbing was a long process, and if the Finns wash one another as industriously as Saima washed me, no one in Finland should ever be dirty, although most of them must lose several skins a year. Pails of water were then thrown over me, over the straw, over everything, and I heard the soapy water gurgling away into the lake below, which was covered with yellow and white water-lilies. Lilies cannot object to soap, or they would never bloom in Finland as they do.
"Mycket bra" (very good), I called again and again, hoping that appreciation might perhaps make Saima desist, as the exclamations at the heat did not seem to alarm her. More water was thrown on to the steaming bricks, and Saima retired, returning immediately with a great bundle of birch leaves, tied up with a string, such as I had often seen her on former occasions sweeping the floors with. Dipping the branches of the birch into a pail of hot water she proceeded to beat her victim all over! Yes, beat me, beat me hard. She laughed, and I laughed; but the more I laughed the harder she thumped, till the sharp edges of the leaves left almost a sting, while the strong healthy Saima beat me harder and harder, dipping the leaves into hot water continually, and grinning cheerily all the time.
The peasantry in Finland are occasionally good enough to wash one another, and stories are told of a dozen of them sitting in rows on the wooden steps, each man vigorously beating his neighbour with birch boughs.
At harvest time, when the heat is very great, and the work very hard, labourers have a bath every night! Frequently, after our wonderful experience at Ilkesaari, we saw, while journeying farther into the country, shoals of human beings strolling off to enjoy their bastu or Sauna.
It was a weird and wonderful experience. I was really beginning to feel the heat dreadful after an hour, and was confident the blood must be galloping through my veins. Finally the good-tempered Finnish maid appeared to be of the same mind, for she fetched a pail of cold water, and, pouring a good drop on my head—which made me jump—she dipped her birch branches therein and switched them over me. Had I followed true Finnish fashion I should then have taken a midnight plunge straight into the lake outside—or in winter taken a roll in the snow—but, our bath being rather more aristocratic, I only descended the slippery steps, really gasping with the heat and treatment, and jumped into that bath of cold water previously mentioned; before—clad only in burning hot towels—returning to the outer room to dress.
I puffed and panted, and, quite exhausted, longed for a Turkish divan and quiet rest before, robed in fur coats and thick under-garments, I trotted home to bed.
The bath was taken, the mystery unravelled; I had been washed according to native ideas and customs, and understood what the whole thing meant. Some pleasures are too nearly allied to pain to be really pleasant.
Whether it was the heat, or exhaustion, or the loss of one skin or many, I know not; but after a glass of mjd, that most delicious and refreshing of Finnish drinks, I slept splendidly—the first time after weeks of anxiety and grief—and felt fit next morning for any amount of hard work, even for a journey to Russia through Finland, though we did not speak or understand the language of either country. Adversity may develop character, but it is mighty unpleasant.
The Finnish peasant thinks nothing of being seen by his friends or his neighbours in a state of nature, apropos of which peculiarity a well-known general told us the following story—
He had been inspecting a district, and for his benefit parades, etc., were held. Some hours afterwards he went for a ride, and on returning to the village he passed a Sauna, where the folk were enjoying their primitive kind of Turkish bath. According to the usual custom one of the men came out to dress himself; but, having left his clothes in a little pile some twenty feet from the Sauna door, he had hardly looked out his things when he noticed that the general was upon him. Though not in the least confused by the fact of his nakedness, for which he made no apology, he nevertheless exclaimed in tones of horror, "The general! the general!" and began rummaging among the articles on the ground, till at last he pulled forth a wig, which, all in a hurry, he clapped on his head wrong side up, then standing proudly erect he saluted the general as he passed.
The poor fellow evidently considered his wig of much more importance than his shirt. Modesty is a matter of climate and custom, just as morals are a matter of geography.
Another amusing story is told of an elegant Englishman who had heard so much of Finnish baths that he determined to try one; having arrived at some small town, he told the Isvoschtschik to go to the bastu. Away they drove, and finally drew up at a very nice house, where he paid the twopence halfpenny fare for his cab, rang the bell, and was admitted by a woman servant. He only knew half a dozen words in Swedish, but repeated bastu to the smiling lass, being surprised at the elegance of the furniture in the room into which he had been shown. The girl smiled again and left him. However, thinking it was all right, he proceeded to undress, and, having entirely disrobed, he stood ready to be escorted into the bath, and accordingly rang for the woman to come and wash and massage him. A few moments later the door opened, and a very beautiful young dame stood before him. She was no masseuse, but the wife of the pastor, into whose house he had come by mistake owing to his want of knowledge of the pronunciation of the language. Tableau!
We had many curious experiences when bathing in the lakes, and seemed to excite as much interest in the peasantry of Finland as a Chinaman with his pigtail would in a small country village in England. At Sordavala, for instance, there was a charming little bath-house belonging to our next host, for which we got the key and prepared to enjoy a swim. A bathing-dress was not to be bought for love or money. No one had ever heard of such a thing, but my sister's modesty forbade her appearing without one so near a town, and, now that we had left our kind hostess at Ilkesaari, she could no longer borrow one. Through the town of Sordavala, therefore, we marched from shop to shop until we lighted upon a sort of store where linen goods were procurable. Blue and white-striped galatea exactly suited the purpose, as it would be light for packing, and the colour could not run. We bought it, we paid for it, and home we marched. In less than an hour that gown was cut out by the aid of a pair of nail scissors, without any kind or sort of pattern whatever, and was sewn up ready for use. Out my sister went to bathe, triumphant; but so rare was a bathing-dress that the onlookers thought the English lady had fallen into the water by mischance with all her clothes on.
My sister had hardly taken a plunge from the spring-board into the water below, before every man, woman, and child in the neighbourhood began exclaiming one to the other, "The English lady has tumbled in," and, absolutely, before the bather's head could appear again from the depths of the water they had all run to the bank to have a look at the phenomenon, more prepared to rescue her from drowning than to see her swimming far out into the lake with clothes on. Of course their interest was heightened by the appearance of the dress and cap, for even the better-class Finlanders very rarely wear any covering on their bodies while bathing, and as the women never dive or swim under water a cap is not necessary to keep their hair dry. They evidently considered my sister and her attire something remarkably funny.
Again at Iisalmi, another place of some importance, when we went down to the bath-house we found it surrounded by dozens of boys of all ages and descriptions, who were enjoying themselves gamboling in the water.
A Finnish gentleman of the town, to whom we had an introduction, kindly came with us to unlock the door and see that everything was satisfactory, and he quickly explained to the boys they must go away into the next cove as strange ladies were about to bathe. Very reluctantly they went, and, wishing us good-bye and a pleasant dip, he went too.
We undressed, donned our aquatic attire, plunged into the water, to discover, in a few moments, a row of grinning spectators, varying in age from three years old to thirty, sitting up on the banks like monkeys in a cage, thoroughly enjoying the joke. They laughed and they chatted, they pointed, they waved their arms, and they evidently considered our performances most extraordinary.
These are only two instances out of many, for everywhere we went we caused interest and amusement.
One of our party through Northern Finland was a magnificent swimmer. He had a cheery way of jumping into a boat, rowing himself far out into the lake, and then taking a header which excited the admiration of all beholders. At Kuopio he rowed far out as was his usual habit, while the old women of the bath-house watched his performance from the shore. One minute went by, and he did not reappear; two minutes went by, and they still did not see his head. "He is drowned, he is drowned," they shrieked in despair, and great was the hubbub and dismay which ensued before he came up again smiling some distance from the spot where he had originally plunged from the boat. Besides being a strong swimmer, he was a remarkable diver, and if two minutes and a half be the length of time a human being can breathe under water, then we can safely say two minutes and a half was the length of time he always stayed, for in every town we halted he invariably caused consternation in the heart of some one, who thought the stranger in their midst had gone to a watery grave. He preferred the boat for the sake of his dive, but, as a rule, every one in Finland bathes from the bath-houses, where there are little rooms for undressing, in front of which a big stretch of the lake is walled in as a swimming bath. A penny is the usual charge, and an extra penny for the towel.
Although every Finlander bathes, as, indeed, they must do during their hot summers, every Finlander does not swim, and it is a remarkable thing that among the women, who go daily—sometimes twice a day—to the swimming bath, most of them will sit on the steps or haul themselves round by means of a rope, and never learn how to keep themselves afloat without artificial help.
Walking through the park at Kuopio one day with the Baroness Michaeloff, my attention was arrested by the extraordinary number of ant hills we passed.
"They are used for baths," she explained.
"For what?" I asked, thinking I could not have heard aright.
"For baths," she repeated; "formerly these muurahais kylpy (ant-heap baths) were quite commonly employed as a cure for rheumatism and many other ailments; but now I fancy it is only the peasants who take them, or very old folk, perhaps."
"Can an ant bath be had here?"
"Certainly. But surely you don't think of taking one?"
"Indeed I do, though. I am trying all the baths of Finland, and an ant-heap bath must not be omitted, if it is possible to have such a thing."
The kindly lady laughed heartily as she said, "Mais, Madame, est-ce que possible que vous vouliez prendre un de ces bains?"
"Certainment, cela me fait plaisir," I replied, and accordingly we then and there marched off to the bath-house to see how my desire might best be accomplished.
The whole matter did not take long to arrange. Next day, at ten o'clock, the muurahais kylpy bath was to be ready, and, in spite of all the chaff round the governor's dinner-table that night about my queer experiment, nothing daunted I presented myself at the appointed hour. The head Frken, who luckily spoke German, explained that my bath was ready.
Into a dear little room I went, and lo, the hot water in the bath was brown! while, floating on the surface, I saw a small linen sack, shaped like a pillow-case, securely tied at the end. The cushion contained the ant-heap, on which boiling water had been poured, so that the animals were really dead, the colour of the water having come from their bodies, and the room was impregnated with the odour of pines.
Did I shiver at the thought? Well, a little, perhaps; nevertheless, I tumbled into the warm water, and was scrubbed Finnish fashion by the old bath-woman, with her scrubbing brush, her soft soap, her birch branches, and, afterwards, her massage (given under the water), the Frken sitting all the while on the sofa, chatting affably, and describing how the peasants omitted the sacks and simply threw the ant-heap au naturel into the bath.
The small room had two doors—one opening into the passage, and one into the douche-chamber, which also served for another bathroom. Presently the first of the doors opened, and a girl, without apology, entered and took away a sponge. Did this intrusion make me feel shy? Well, you see, one gets over shyness after being washed like a baby once or twice; but she had hardly disappeared before the other door opened, giving admission to a second woman, who came in and deposited a towel; a moment later some one else appeared, and after a good stare departed; then came a fourth on some pretext or other, and I was beginning to think of the queer stories told of Japan, where the whole paper wall slides back, and the natives enjoy the spectacle of English folk bathing, when yet a fifth came into the room. This was too much, and I asked the Frken why they had all forgotten so many things.
She laughed merrily.
"I'm afraid it's curiosity to see an English lady having an ant-heap bath, so please don't be angry," and she laughed again.
A spectacle, verily! But who could be angry with such innocent people? I had come to try a strange Finnish bath which interested me—why should they not come to see a queer Englishwoman if it amused them? Flinging shyness to the winds, therefore, I smiled and grinned at the next woman who entered as though I liked being on view and she went away happy.
What was a muurahais kylpy like? Candidly, it resembled any other ordinary warm bath, only the water was very black, and there was a strange aromatic odour about it; but there was nothing horrible in the experience, although I had a good douche—three kinds of good douches in fact—for the sake of peace of mind afterwards.
A douche is delightful, especially on a hot day, and the bath-woman was particularly anxious that I should try the various kinds arranged from the floor, the ceiling, and the walls of the room.
"But," I explained to the lady with a good deal of patting and gesticulation, "hair a yard long cannot be wet every day, even in the summer time, and to have a shower-bath was impossible, as she could not lend a cap."
She looked distressed, but she was not going to be beaten, and beckoning for me to wait, she departed, returning a few minutes afterwards with a small white china basin; this she put on her head upside down, to show me that it would serve the purpose of a cap, and holding the rim with both hands she moved it round and round, in a way which indicated that wherever the water of the shower-bath was falling most was the side to move the basin to.
It was an original idea this shower-bath trick, and it answered very well, but then baths in Finland are an art, and Finland without its bath-houses would not be Finland at all, so I had the shower feeling like a plum pudding inside a basin.
The reason that the muurahais kylpy bath is efficacious for rheumatism and of strengthening property is due to the amount of formic acid the ants contain. Added to which, these industrious little animals live upon the pine needles, and therefore suck all the strength from the most juicy part of the turpentiny pine, and, as we all know, turpentine is much employed in all kinds of embrocation used for rheumatism, lumbago, and sprains. Soon we shall give up these appliances in favour of inoculation maybe.
The next strange bath we experienced was in a waterfall, and was yet more remarkable. Yes, in a real waterfall where a tremendous volume of water dashed down about ten feet. It was at Kajana, a town lying on a stretch of the famous Ule rapids. The real fall is about forty feet, over which not even the tar-boats—described in a later chapter—dare venture; consequently, two locks, each containing twenty feet of water, have been made for their use. No one could swim, even in the calmer waters above or below the locks, because of the cataracts, so a bath-house has been erected beside the fall, to which the water is brought, by means of a wooden trough, to a sort of small chamber, where it rushes in. That waterfall bath was a most alarming place. It was almost dark as we entered the little chamber through which the water passed.
How shall we describe it? It was a small room about eight or ten feet square, with a wooden floor and walls. The top of the wall facing us did not join the roof by about a foot, so as to enable the water to rush in, and the bottom of the wall behind us did not reach the floor by another foot, so as to allow the water to rush out. Some half-dozen stairs descended from the platform on which we stood to the floor below, but as the only light came in where the falling water was always dripping, the walls were soaking wet, and therefore quite black. It was dull and mystic to say the least of it. Once the full force of the water was turned on by the large wooden arm, it poured in with such tremendous force from about ten feet above, that in a moment the floor below was a bubbling, seething, frothing pool, and as we descended the steps into this bath, now some two or three feet deep, the force of the stream was so great that we had actually to hold on by the rail of the stairs to keep our feet at all on the slippery floor below. It was a lovely sensation. A piece of bacon bubbling about in the fat of the frying-pan must experience something like the same movement as we did, bobbing up and down in this rapidly flowing stream. It almost bumped us over, it lifted us off our feet, and yet, as the water swirled round us, the feeling was delicious, and its very coldness was most enjoyable after the heat outside, and the dust we had travelled through.
As we grew courageous and accustomed to the darkness, we walked more under the fall itself, but the water, simply thumping on our backs and shoulders, came with such force, that we felt exactly as if we were being well pummelled with a pair of boxing-gloves, or being violently massaged, a delicious tingling sensation being the result. It washed our hair and rinsed it in a way it had never been rinsed before; but the force of the water was so great that it was impossible to keep our whole head under the fall for more than a second at a time, as it almost stunned us. The volume was so strong that it would have rendered us quickly insensible. We women all emerged from the waterfall-bath like drowned rats; or, to put it more poetically, like mermaids, feeling splendidly refreshed, and wider awake than we had probably ever felt in our lives before. The magnitude and force of that waterfall-bath makes me gasp even now to remember. It requires a stout heart to stand underneath it; nevertheless, how delicious the experience to the travel-stained and weary traveller, who had been suffering from tropical sun, and driving for days along dusty roads in springless carts.
We four women had taken the opportunity of washing our powdered hair, the accumulation of many days' dust, back to its natural colour, and, as we all possessed locks which fell considerably below our waists, they would not dry in five minutes, therefore, each with a towel over her shoulders, we came up on to the little pier, hat in hand, and our hair hanging down our backs. It certainly was somewhat primitive to sit all in a row, with our backs to the sun, on the fashionable promenade or pier of the town. But the town was not big, and the fashion was not great, and we gradually screwed up our courage, and finally walked home through the streets in the same way, carrying our hats, with towels over our shoulders for cloaks. That was all very well, but when we reached the small hotel the dinner was already on the table, for we had dallied so long over our bath that our gentlemen were impatiently waiting for our advent, and persuaded us not to stop to dress our hair as they were starving, so down we sat, just as we were, to partake of the meal.
But one hardly ever does anything uncommon or a little out of the ordinances of society, in this world, without being sorry for it afterwards, and having put off struggling with knots, tangled plaits, and hair-pins, until after dinner, we were horrified when the door opened and three unknown men marched in to join our meal. There was no escape; we were caught like rats in cages. What on earth they thought of strange women sitting in towels, and with dishevelled locks, we dare not think. Imagine our confusion.
One was a lieutenant in the army; he was young and shy, and his discomfiture at the scene was even greater than our own. The second proved to be a delightful man; a young engineer who was employed in planning the route for the new railway to Kajana. He told us that he had been for over a month travelling through the forests and bogs of the country, surveying for the best route for the projected line, and that the wooden staves we had noticed so often along the road, as we drove from Kuopio, were the marks laid down as the most suitable direction for the railway to take.
He had heard of us, for some peasants had told him, with great excitement, that morning that a party of eight people were driving through Savolax, and some of them were English. Poor man, he told us of his sufferings in the bogs, and how in some of the low-lying districts the mosquitoes had tormented him so awfully that he had been quite ill. Even Finlanders suffer sometimes, it would seem; therefore strangers need not complain. Sir Ronald Ross has done so much to obliterate the malaria-carrying mosquito, perhaps he would like to turn his attention to Finland and Lapland where mosquitoes are a veritable curse to enjoyment if not to health.
In spite of our dishevelled locks, we after all enjoyed a very pleasant meal.
A NIGHT IN A MONASTERY
Having torn ourselves away from our kind friends at Ilkesaari for a time, and digressed from our story to describe Finnish baths, we must now own that the prospect of a night in a monastery was very exciting—more especially when that monastery chanced to belong to Russia, and to stand alone on an island in the middle of the great Ladoga lake, which no doubt once joined together the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland. It is the largest lake in Europe, and celebrated also for the cold temperature of its water, which, in spite of its vast size, is always more or less frozen over in winter. It never warms in summer, and therefore there can be little or no bathing around its shores.
Sordavala, where we embarked—of which more anon—is Finnish, staunch Finnish, while Valamo, where we landed, is a Russian monastery; therefore no love exists between the two centres, and few arrangements are made for the comfort and transport of strangers, with the result that a couple of steamers go and come as they like; no one knew when they would start, and much less when they would return. Nevertheless, on one eventful Sunday morning, the longest day of the year, we were hoisted on board the Baallam (the V, true Russian fashion, had turned into a B) from our little boat below, and seated ourselves comfortably on the vessel which belongs to the famous monastery. Though we had been in many ships, manned by many types of sailors, from the swarthy Moor to the short sturdy Icelander, the agile Italian to the fearless Norseman, we here encountered a class of sailor we had never seen before.
He was tall and lank and lean; he wore a sort of long gown of black cloth, green on the shoulders with age, and frayed at the elbows, while a girdle of plaited wool encircled his waist. He had no collar or cuffs, but his feet were encased in long sea-boots, which peeped out from under his petticoats, and his hair—well, his hair hung over his shoulders almost to his waist, and on his head was placed a high round black-cloth cap. He was like no class or form of sailor we had ever seen before. He was something weird and uncanny. His face was neither bronzed by the sea nor tanned by the sun, but had an unhealthy pallor about it, and his sunken eyes looked wistfully over a world of which he seemingly knew nothing. Yet he was a sailor, this antithesis of a Jack Tar, and he was also—a Russian monk! His hands were none of the cleanest, his clothes none of the sweetest; but it was not salt water that made them so—it was oil and age.
We were well armed with an introduction to the Igumen or head of the monastery, the sort of cardinal or bishop of the island. And we were also provided with a large basket of provisions, since no one can get anything at Valamo except such food as the monks eat and cook themselves, not but that their food is generally good enough as simple fare goes; but at the precise time of our visit there happened to be a great fast in the Greek Church, during which it is impossible to secure even milk and butter, the monks being forbidden such luxuries. The only things obtainable were black bread, soup made from cabbage, groats, a sort of buck-wheat porridge cooked in oil, and small beer or tea. On such diet or on potato soup, the seventy monks and four hundred probationers live for six weeks in the height of summer, as well as at Easter and other festivals. Oil is used profusely in cooking at such periods as a sort of penance. At other seasons milk and butter are allowed, fish is eaten on Sundays, and more farinaceous and vegetable foods enjoyed, although strong beer, wine, and meat are never touched.
Knowing the difficulty of getting food of any kind during one of these strict fasts, and not being particularly devoted to rancid oil, we asked a friend to be sure and order for us a good basket of eatables, and, among other things, a fowl.
It may be well to mention that Frau von Lilly accompanied us on our trip to Sordavala, Valamo, and Imatra, acting as guide, cicerone, and friend. Being an excellent linguist, and well versed in the manners and customs of her country, her aid was invaluable; indeed, it is to her we owe much of the success of our summer jaunt to Finland. At Sordavala, however, we were joined for a few days by a young Finlander, whose family name is a household word in Suomi, and who, though still youthful, having inherited the wisdom of his ancestors, and kindly patronising ways, proved such an excellent courier, organiser, and companion, that in joke we christened him "Grandpapa," finding his wisdom far beyond his years.
Poor Grandpapa! How we teased the youth, how we imposed upon his good nature; but through it all he emerged victorious, and has the gratification of knowing he finally escorted two Englishwomen through some of the wild untrodden paths of his native land, and shipped them for home, alive and well, and none the worse for strange experiences—experiences not unmixed at times with a spice of danger.
Such were our travelling companions, joined later by Grandpapa's handsome sisters, and a very delightful student, whose father is one of the best-known men in Finland; to say nothing of a young baron, a magister, and a General, who accompanied us for a day or two at different points along our route, and then left us again, to attend other calls of duty; often our party increased to six, eight, or ten, so we were always well looked after.
To Grandpapa was entrusted the ordering of a fowl for Valamo, for the party of four.
"What? A whole fowl?" he asked.
"Certainly. Surely you would not provide half a fowl for four people, would you?"
"No. But I might provide four fowls for one person, which would be more suitable."
We smiled a sickly smile, at what we supposed to be an attempt at Finnish humour too profound for our weak intellects to grasp, or perhaps our smile veiled the hidden sarcasm we felt within at such poor fun.
Grandpapa forgot the fowl; but in his sleep he suddenly awoke from a dreadful nightmare, during the horrors of which that cackling creature glared upon him in the enormity of his sin. Next morning he was up before the chickens' elderly friends, the cocks, began to crow, and ere they had completed their morning song, well—the stock of the farmyard was lessened.
Before we steamed away from the little pier, the basket of eatables arrived, and we went off happy in the possession of a fowl, sardines, cold eggs, tea, white bread and butter, a large bottle of milk, to say nothing of a small cellar of birch-bark plaitings which formed a basket, containing Lager beer and soda water. All this, as written down, may seem a too goodly supply, but be it remembered we were three healthy women who had to be provisioned for thirty-six hours; Grandpapa did not come with us to the monastery.
Two hours' steam over the northern portion of that enormous lake brought forty islands, which form a group called Valamo, in sight, with the great white and blue-domed Russian church standing out clearly against a lovely sky. This building took four years to finish. The monks built nearly all of it themselves, made the bricks, carved the wood, painted the walls, ceilings, etc., and did all the goldsmith's work for lamps and altars. It is very massive, very great, catholic in its gaudy style, but sadly wanting tone. Much may, however, be accomplished by the kindly hand of time, which often renders the crudest things artistic, as it gently heals the wounds of grief.
We were struck by the size of the place; close beside the monastery and large church was a huge building, a sort of hotel for visitors, containing two thousand beds! They are small rooms and small beds, 'tis true, but at times of great pilgrimages and Greek festivals they are quite full. No one pays; hospitality, such as it is, is free; the visitor merely gives what he likes to the church on leaving. But the monks, who dispense hospitality gratis, do a roaring trade in photographs and rosaries, and are very pressing to sell them to strangers, not that they need be, as the monastery is noted for its riches. It certainly does not display any sign of wealth on the backs of its inhabitants, for some of their long coats looked green and yellow with age, and we were not surprised at their shabby appearance when we learned that they each only had one coat a year in which to do all their work, no matter how dirty that work might be. Are they not there to mortify the flesh and learn economy? What is the want of raiment when compared with the wants of the soul?
They are given triennially an enormous thick fur coat, cap, and gloves, so their wardrobes are not large, and some of the men seem to take little interest in keeping even their few garments clean or tidy.
Beyond this hostelry with its two thousand beds, which was built by the monks to house their better-class visitors, is yet another large building for the use of the poorer pilgrims, who sometimes come in hundreds at a time to do penance at this famous monastery. Besides the two vast barracks for strangers, are stables for eighty horses, a shed for sixty cows, large gardens, piers, and storehouses, so that Valamo is really a huge colony, a little world, not entirely inhabited by men, however, for many of the pilgrims are women, while several of the scrubbers and cleaners in the hostelries are old wives.
Leaving the boat we walked up a hill, and then up some wide steps, behind the white stone copings of which purple and white lilac nodded and scented the air. This staircase was more like one in the famous Borghesa Gardens at Rome than anything we could have expected to meet with in the north-east of Europe, mid-way between Britain and Siberia. Passing under an archway we found ourselves in a huge courtyard; just opposite to where we stood was the refectory. On the right the church, Or rather two churches, for the one is really built over the other, appeared looking very imposing. All around the quadrangle were the cells. Each monk had one for himself, as well as a novice to attend on him, such are his privileges; in the other cells two novices are housed together, and have to take it in turns to keep their small and comfortless abode clean and tidy.
It was a wondrous sight that met our view. The mid-day meal was just over when we arrived, four hundred and seventy men were streaming out of the dining-hall. How strange they looked, each man clothed in a long black robe like a catholic priest, and each wearing his beard unshaven and his hair long, for, in imitation of our Lord, they let their hair grow to any length, never touching it with steel; the locks of some few fell almost to their waist, but, as a rule, a man's hair does not seem to grow longer than his shoulders, although cases have been known where it has reached the knee. Strange to say, at Valamo most of the monks had curls, and a lovely sort of auburn seemed the prevailing colour of their hair. If they had only kept it nicely, the wavy locks and pretty warm colour would have been charming, but in most instances it was dirty and unkempt. Their faces and hands were as dirty as their coats, and altogether the idea that cleanliness is next to godliness seemed to be totally wanting in that island; still there were exceptions, and two of them luckily fell to our lot.
We stood on the steps of the church transfixed. It seemed such a strange scene. It was no religious ceremony, merely the return of the monks and novices from their mid-day meal in the refectory, but yet the spectacle was fascinating.
Out of the door came the great Igumen; his face was kindly, and his locks hung over his shoulders. His cloth hat almost covered his eyes, and his long black veil fell behind him like a train. A crucifix and a cross lay upon his breast, and he walked with the stately tread of a Pope. He was followed by his monks clad in the same high straight cloth hats—like top hats in shape but minus the brim—from which also fell black-cloth veils. When in church long-trained skirts are added by the monks, who remain covered during most of the service; every one else uncovering.
On walked the Igumen with lordly mien, monks, novices, and pilgrims bowing and crouching before him, some of them kneeling and touching the ground with their foreheads many times, others kissing his hands, or even the hems of his garments. Each and all were pleading for some holy privilege.
The lower grades followed the priests respectfully. Novices of the monastery kissed the ordinary monks' hands, for the latter of course are holy and worthy of much reverence, or the monks and novices fell upon one another's necks as they did in the old Bible days. We thought at first they were kissing, but we soon saw their lips merely touched first one shoulder and then another, a more usual salutation than a handshake in the monastery. Such obeisance from man to man was wonderful, and the overpowering delight in the faces of the pilgrims was striking, as they accomplished the deeds of reverence they had come so many hundreds of miles shoeless to perform. Sometimes as many as three thousand pilgrims arrive in one day.
To the great Igumen, as he neared his door, we gave our letter of introduction; he quickly glanced at it, then, turning to a handsome young novice standing near, spoke a few words, and, with a wave of his hand, a sweet smile and distant bow, passed on.
Forward came the young man. He was about six feet high, thin and lithesome, very cleanly and gentlemanly in appearance, with the most beautiful face imaginable, the sort of spiritual countenance one finds in the old masters when they strove to represent St. John, and his soft auburn hair fell on his shoulders with a round curl at the end. He was a type of a beautiful boy, twenty years of age perhaps.
Doffing his black cloth cap, he said—
"Vielleicht die Damen sprechen deutsch?" (Perhaps the ladies talk German?)
"Gewiss" (certainly), we answered, only too delighted to be addressed in a language we knew amongst those Russian-speaking folk.
Then he continued, "If you allow me I will show you our homes. The Igumen has put me entirely at your disposal."
He spoke so charmingly and so fluently, we could not refrain from asking him where he had learnt to speak such excellent German.
"My mother is German," he replied, "but my father is Russian, and, therefore, I must belong to the Orthodox Church." Of course, it is a known fact that if the father belongs to the Greek Church all the children must belong to that church, and once Greek always Greek.
He seemed to have a sad look in his eyes as he said this, and we asked if he liked being in the monastery. "Of course. Certainly. It is quite of my own free will."
He laid great emphasis on my own free will, but, somehow, there was a ring in his voice that made us feel there was more force than truth in the assertion, and, being urged by curiosity, we led the conversation back to the same theme later in the day.
He took us to the guest's apartment first. We passed under a large archway, where, bidding us wait a moment, he ran on to a couple of priests, who were sitting like sentinels at either side of a staircase, and, after some parley with them, returned and explained he had arranged for us to have room No. 25.
We discovered subsequently that all the women's rooms were on the first floor, and those of all the men on the second; husbands and wives invariably being separated.
Our guide courteously asked us to follow him, and, accordingly, down a long and somewhat dark corridor we wandered to No. 25. The walls of the gallery were plainly whitewashed, and ornamented only by an occasional small picture of a saint, before which most passers-by paused and crossed themselves.
No. 25 proved to be but a tiny room, a sort of long cupboard, containing three little wooden beds, two chairs, and one stool, which latter served as a wash-hand stand; there was besides a small table in the window, and positively nothing else. It could not have been more sparsely furnished, and it could not have been smaller, for there was only enough space to pass up and down between the beds. It savoured of a ship's cabin, yet it was the honoured guest-chamber of a monastery where hospitality coupled with strict simplicity reigned.
Ere leaving us with the most gracious of bows, our new friend explained he would return anon.
At once we unpacked our small bundle, and arranged our luncheon basket, so that on our return, in an hour's time, after visiting the gardens, for which our novice had gone to fetch the key, we might have something to eat.
When we re-entered our tiny chamber for that festive meal, we asked Brother Sebastian, who had meantime charmed us by his gracious kindly ways, if he would join us.
He looked sadly and wistfully at the viands, ere he answered, "No, thank you, Gndige Frau—I must not."
There really seemed no harm in feeding the poor ill-nourished monk, so, spite of the refusal, we begged him out of sheer humanity to change his mind, and have some of our precious chicken.
"I ought not to eat with strangers," he replied. "A little tea and bread, however, I will take, if you please; such small luxuries are allowed in fasting time, but I must not have any sardines or fowl, or cheese, or butter, or milk, thank you," he continued, as we handed each in turn.
It seemed as though we had been reckoning without our host. Where, oh! where, was the much-discussed chicken? Each parcel we opened proved to be something else, and we looked from one to the other amazed. Grandpapa was not there to ask, but Grandpapa had told us the story of his dream, a mere phantasy of crowing chanticleers, and we began to fear he had never ordered that chicken at all.
We were really getting more than anxious when the last parcel—a very small one—lay in its white paper at the bottom of that basket.
Even Brother Sebastian began to share our anxiety and sorrow, as he consolingly told us no meat, fish, or fowl was to be procured for love or money on the Island. Slowly and sadly we undid that little parcel, and lo! happily sitting on the white paper were three small pigeons.
"No chicken, but small pigeons," we exclaimed—"how ridiculous; why, they are so tiny there is nothing on them."
Yet it turned out the creatures were not pigeons but the typical fowls eaten in Finland during the month of July. Almost as soon as the baby chicken has learnt to walk about alone, and long before he is the possessor of real feathers, his owner marks him for slaughter; he is killed and eaten. Very extravagant, but very delicious. A Hamburger fowl or a French poussin is good and tender, but he is nothing to be compared with the succulent Finlander, whose wishing-bone is not one inch long.
Having devoured a whole fowl for my dinner, I brought away the small bone as a memento of a ravenous appetite—unappeased by an entire spring chicken.
Brother Sebastian smiled at the incident, and we tried to persuade him to change his mind and join us; he looked longingly at the modest dainties which seemed to bring back recollections of the days when he lived in the world, and enjoyed the pleasures thereof, but he only said—
"Besten Dank, meine Dame, but my conscience will not let me eat such luxuries. I cannot take more than the Church allows in fast times—the tea and bread is amply sufficient, for this is white bread, and that is a delicacy I have not tasted for years; all ours is black and sour. I should like to eat a sardine, but my conscience would kill me afterwards, you see."
As we did not wish to kill the unsophisticated youth, we pressed him no further.
What a picture we made, we four, in a far-away chamber of the Valamo Monastery with that beautiful boy sitting on the queer coverleted couch.
He told us that three years previously he had "made a fault." We did not ask of what nature, and he did not say; he only stated that his father who was a high official in the Russian Army, had, on the advice of the priest, sent him here to repent.
"Was it not very strange at first?"
"Yes, for you see we live in Moscow, and my father knows every one, and there are many grand people always at our house. It seemed difficult to me because most of the inmates here are peasants, and once within the monastery walls we are all equal; we are all men, and God's servants. Rank counts as nothing, for no one knows our names except the Igumen himself. When we enter we give up our garments, our money, our identity, and clothe ourselves as servants of the Church until we leave again, or take the vows of monks and give up the world for ever."
"How do you become monks?" we inquired, interested.
"We cannot do so till we are thirty years of age—we are novices at first, and free to go away, but at thirty we can decide to take the vows, give up all we possess, and dedicate our lives to the Church, if we desire to do so. Then our name is struck off the police rolls."
"You are lost, in fact?"
"Yes, lost to the world, for although while novices we can get away occasionally for a time on important business, once we become monks it is hardly possible to obtain leave of absence. A monk," he continued proudly, "wears a tall hat, has a room to himself, is waited upon by a probationer, sits at the upper table, and leads a much easier life as regards all kinds of work."
He had spoken such splendid German, this fine young fellow with the sympathetic eyes, through which his very soul shone, that we again complimented him.
"I used to speak some French," he said; "for we had a French governess, as children, and always spoke that language in the nursery; but since I have been here there has been so little occasion to employ it, I have quite forgotten that tongue. Indeed, in four years—for I have stayed some months beyond my time of punishment—I find even my German, which, as I told you, is my mother's language, getting rusty, and I am not sure that I could write it in Latenischen-Buchstaben now at all."
"What a pity," we exclaimed, "that you do not read French and German so as to keep your knowledge up to date."
"We are not allowed to read anything that is not in the Cloister Monastery," he replied, "which for the most part only contains theological books, with a few scientific works, and those are written in Russian, Hebrew, Slavonic, and Greek, so I have no chance, you see."
"Do you mean to say you have no opportunity of keeping up the knowledge you already possess?"
"Not that kind of knowledge. I love botany, but there are no books relating to botany here—so I am forgetting that also. We never read, even the monks seldom do."
"But you have the newspapers," we remarked, horrified to think of a young intellect rotting and mouldering away in such a manner.
"I have not seen a newspaper for nearly four years, never since I came here. We are not allowed such things."
"But you said you were sent here for only three years' punishment—how does it happen you have remained for nearly four?"
"Because I chose to stay on; you see I have lost touch with the world. My parents sent me here against my will, now I stay here against their will, because they have unfitted me by the life I have led here for that from which I came."
We listened appalled.
"Will you tell me some news, kind ladies?" he added, the while a mournful look came into his face, "for, as the Igumen said I might take you round to-day and stay with you, I should like to hear something to tell the others to-night."
"What sort of news?" we asked, a lump rising in our throats as we realised the sadness of this young life. Gently born and gently bred, educated as a gentleman, for nearly four years he had mixed with those beneath him, socially and intellectually, until he had almost reached their level. He lived with those by birth his inferiors, although he kept himself smart and clean and tidy.
"Oh!" he said, "I remember Home Rule was written about when I last saw the papers. Home Rule for Ireland like one has in Finland."
Hardly believing in his total innocence of the outer world, we asked—
"Does no one ever really see a paper in this monastery?"
"The Igumen does, I think, no one else; but I did hear, through visitors, that our young Tzarwitch had been made Tzar lately."
Oh! the pity of it all. Talking to this beautiful boy was like speaking to a spirit from another world.
We ransacked our brains as to what would interest an educated young man, whose knowledge of the events that had engrossed his fellows for four whole years was a perfect blank.
"Have you heard of horseless carriages and flying machines?" we asked.
"No. What are they; what do you mean? Don't joke, please, because every true word you say is of value to me, you see," he said, in an almost beseeching tone, with a wistful expression in his eyes.
It was very touching, and we almost wept over his boyish pleasure at our description of modern doings. We told him of everything and anything we could think of, and he sat, poor lad, the while sipping tea without milk or sugar as though it were nectar, and eating white bread, as if the most tasty of French confections.
"You are good to me," he said; "you are kind to tell me," and tears sparkled in his eyes.
"Why, why," in distress we asked him, "do you stay here?"
"It is very nice," he said, but we heard that strange ring again in the voice of that beautiful boy.
"But to live here is selfish and wrong; you live for yourself, you do not teach the ignorant, or heal the sick; you bury yourself away from temptation, so there is no virtue in being good. Ignorance is not virtue, it is knowledge tempered by abstinence that spells victory. You are educated in mind and strong in body; you could do much finer work for your God by going into the world than by staying at Valamo. You ought to mix among your fellows, help them in their lives, and show them a good example in your own."
"You think so?" he almost gasped, rising from his seat. "So help me, God! I have been feeling as much myself. I know there is something wrong in this reposeful life; I feel—I feel sometimes—and yet, I am very happy here." A statement it was quite impossible to believe.
We spoke to him very earnestly, for there was something deeply touching about the lad, and then he repeated he was free to go if he chose. He explained that when his penance was performed and he was free to leave, some months before, he had become so accustomed to the life, so afraid of the world, that he chose to remain. But that, latterly, doubts began to trouble him, and now, well, he was glad to hear us talk; it had done him good, for he never, never before talked so much to strangers, and it was perhaps wrong for him to do so now. If such were the case, might Heaven forgive him.
"But come," he finished, as though desirous of changing the subject, "I must show you our refectory."
We had become so entranced by the boy, his doubts and fears, that we rose reluctantly to follow the gaunt youth, whose bodily and mental strength seemed wasting away in that atmosphere of baleful repose.
He showed us the great dining-hall where the wooden tables were laid for supper. There were no cloths; cloths being only used for great feast-days, and the simplicity was greater than a convict prison, and the diet far more strict. Yet these men chose it of their own free will. No wonder our starving classes elect to live in prison at the country's expense during the cold winter months, and to sleep in our public parks during the summer; such a life is far preferable, more free and yet well cared for than that of the Russian monk.
Little brown earthenware soup plates, with delicious pale-green glazed china linings, stood in front of every monk's place. Benches without backs were their seats, and tall wooden boxes their salt-cellars. On each table stood a couple of large pewter soup-tureens filled with small beer; they drink from a sort of pewter soup ladle, which they replace on the edge of the pot after use.
What about germ disease in such a place, O ye bacteriologists? But certainly the average monk looks very ill, even when presumably healthy!
In the olden feudal days in England meals were arranged in precisely the same way, as may be seen to-day in College Halls at the Universities or the London Temple. Here in the Monastery the raised dais at the end was occupied by the Igumen, seated on a chair of state; his most important monks were next him, then came the lower grades, and below the wooden salts sat the novices and apprentices.
Three meals a day are served in this hall, a long grace preceding and closing each, and a certain number of the younger men are told off to wait on the others, which they have to do as silently as possible, while portions of the Bible are read out by a monk during each meal from a high desk.
After leaving the dining-room we went over the workshops, where in winter everything of every sort is made; these four hundred and seventy men—if they do not work for the outer world—work for themselves and their island home. They build their churches and other edifices, make the bricks and mortar, their coats and clothes, their boots and shoes, mould their pottery, carve their wooden church ornamentations, shape them in plaster, or beat them in metal. There are goldsmiths and joiners, leather tanners and furriers, amongst them, and during the long dreary frozen winters they all ply these trades. Verily a small body of socialists, each working for the general good of the little colony.
It is then they make the sacred pictures, the ikons for which the monastery is famous, which, together with rosaries and photos, are sold during the summer months to visitors. When these things are disposed of the monks count their profits and make their bills by the aid of coloured balls on a frame, such as children sometimes learn to count with. There are five red balls on one bar, five yellow on another, etc., and by some deft and mysterious movement of these balls the monk, like any ordinary Russian shopkeeper, quickly makes up his bills and presents his account.
"You must come in one of our pilgrim boats to another of our islands," said our friend Sebastian, to which proposal we readily agreed.
What a boat it was! Talk of the old Viking ships that sailed to America or Iceland, and held a couple of hundred persons. The Valamo pilgrim's boat did not fall far short in bulk and capacity of those old historic craft. Six oars on each side, and three or four men at each, with plenty of room in the well, or at the stern and bows, for another hundred persons to stow themselves away. We were not pilgrims, and the Igumen had kindly ordered a steam launch to tug us. Some fifty or sixty other visitors took advantage of the occasion and accompanied us on our "water party."
It was certainly very beautiful and most unique. Monks in all ages and all countries have ever seemed to pitch upon the most lovely spots of mother earth in which to plant their homes, and our friends at Valamo were not behind in this respect.
We were amazed at the beautiful waterways, constantly reminding us of the backwaters in the Thames. On the banks we passed farms; splendid-looking creameries, where all the milk was now being made into butter or cheese for the winter—luxuries denied, as has been said before, to Valamo during the fasting season.
We came to a primitive pier, where the trees hung right over the sides, the leaves dipping into the water. It was very secluded, very beautiful, and wonderfully reposeful. Our path lay through a lovely wood, where wild flowers grew in profusion, among them a kind of wild orchid with a delicious perfume, and the small wild arum lily. It is strange that such rare plants should grow there, when one remembers that for six or eight months of the year the land is ice-bound. On the island we visited a small church, within the sacred precincts of which no woman's foot dare tread, but we had a peep at another chapel where a hermit once lived. He never spoke to any one for seven years, and slept nightly in his coffin, in which he was not buried, however, it being necessary to keep the article for visitors to gaze upon.
On our return we much enjoyed a cup of tea in our cloister chamber, where the Russian samovar was boiling in readiness. It was not long ere the sonorous monastery bell tolled six, and every one turned towards the church for service, which was to last till about nine o'clock—service of that duration being a daily occurrence. Every one stands the whole of the time. After nine o'clock the monks and novices go to bed, but at three A.M. the great bell rings and they all have to get up again for another service, which lasts for two or three hours more. Altogether at Valamo about five or six hours out of every twenty-four are spent in prayer.
During the winter months every one in the monastery has to be present at both the day and night services, namely, stand or kneel on bare flags in the church for the time just mentioned. In summer the authorities are not so strict, and provided all attend the service every night, and the second one two or three times a week, nothing is said about a couple or so being missed.
Being a monastery church, all the men stood on one side, the women, visitors, and pilgrims on the other, during the service at which we were present. Afterwards, in the Greek Churches in St. Petersburg, we found that the sexes were not divided in this manner.
It was the first time we had participated at a Russian service, and the chief impression left on our minds was the endless movement of the congregation. They were everlastingly crossing themselves, not once, but two or three times running, and every few minutes they all did it again; then about every twelfth person would kneel down, and putting his hands on the floor before him touch the ground with his forehead like the Mohammedans when they pray to the Prophet, and tell their beads as true monks tell theirs. One man we watched go down forty times running and cross himself three times between each reverence! A penance, no doubt, but a penance unlikely to do any one much good, at least so we could not help thinking.
Again, a woman, a poor fat old pilgrim, who got on her knees with the greatest difficulty, remained with her forehead on the ground for at least five minutes, till we really began to wonder if she were dead; but at last she rose after some trouble, for we had to help her up, and we fervently hoped that was the end of her penance, poor old soul. Not a bit of it; a quarter of an hour afterwards she was down again and when we left she was still praying. Then a strange-looking sort of priest came and stood beside us, instead of joining the other men who clustered round the Igumen's throne or before the altar. After scrutinising him for some time, surprised at a man standing among the women, we discovered he was a she come on a pilgrimage to pray. She of strange garb was an abbess!
The reverence in the Greek Church is far more living than it now is in the Church of Rome, though outwardly both are so much alike to the outsider. The Catholic priests cannot marry, while the priests in the Greek Church may do so.
We were getting very tired of standing listening to the monotonous reading of the psalms, watching the priests walking about in their long black robes, taking their hats off and on, and endlessly kneeling or bowing to the great Igumen who stood during the whole ceremony on a carved wooden throne covered with scarlet velvet. The singing was very unequal. The choirs came in from both sides of the altar twice, and formed themselves into a half circle on the floor of the church—as choirs used to do at the representations of the Greek plays of old. We were well-nigh suffocated with incense and the strange odour that emanates from a Russian peasant, and had begun to think of those queer little wooden beds in which we were to pass the night—and what a contrast the primitive cell was to that gorgeous glittering church—when we saw our "beautiful boy" beckoning to us.
We followed him out.
"I have bad news for you," he said; "your boat for to-morrow is to leave to-night—in half an hour."
"Why?" we asked, aghast.
"The other passengers desire to leave to-night and proceed by way of the Holy Island back to Sordavala; they all wish it, so the captain is going."
"But is there no other boat for us?"
"None to-morrow," he replied.
"But it was arranged to leave to-morrow," we faltered. "We took our tickets on that understanding; we have unpacked here; we are prepared for a night in a monastery, and have given up our rooms at Sordavala."
"It is of no avail," he said; "the greatest number carry the day here, and the others all want to go. I have done my best, but it is of no use."
We rushed to our cloister-chamber, bundled our things into a bag, and marched off to the boat, sorry indeed to miss our night in the monastery, and still more sorry to leave that beautiful youth behind on his island home, an island which rises solitary from one of the deepest parts of the vast Ladoga lake—rises like a pyramid over a thousand feet through the water, and yet remains almost hillless on the surface, though covered with dense foliage. As we glided over the perfectly still water, we saw the blue domes of the new church in the sunlight, towering above the woods like the guardian angel of the island.
We had made friends with several of the monks who spoke a little French or German, and who came to see us off and wish us a pleasant journey. They followed our steamer along the banks and waved good-bye again and again, especially Brother Sebastian, who had spent nearly twelve hours in our company during that glorious summer day.
What would become of him, we wondered. Would he waste his life among those men, so few of whom were, socially or intellectually, his equals, or would he return to the world?
Drops of water make the ocean, and grains of sand build up the universe: would he, atom though he was, return to his position in society, lead an honest, noble, virtuous life, and by his influence help his nation?
Holy Island was perhaps more beautiful than Valamo, and although so near to Valamo the natural features were entirely changed. Here the rocks rose straight out of the water for a hundred feet or more, like a perpendicular wall, but lying very much deeper under the sea, as the iceberg does—they were such strange rocks, they looked as if they were sliced down straight by man's hand, instead of being nature's own work. We landed and walked along a wonderful pathway, hewn out of the side of the solid rock, from which we looked sheer down into the water below; here and there the path was only made of wooden plankings, which joined one rock to another over some yawning chasm below. Suddenly we came upon a cave, a strange wee place about fifteen feet long and four wide, where a holy friar had once lived and prayed, although it was so low he was unable to stand upright. An altar still remains with its ever-burning lamp, but the religious element was rather spoilt, when a couple of monks met us and asked the gentlemen for cigars, though smoking is prohibited by their sect.
On this island the wild arum lilies we had before noticed grew profusely, while the vegetation everywhere was beautiful, and yet eight or ten feet of snow covered the ground all through the long winter. As we left Holy Island, it was past ten o'clock at night, and yet what could that be? We were far away from land, and still there seemed to be land quite close to us. What could it mean? It was a mirage. Such a mirage is sometimes seen on the vast Ladoga lake as in the plains of Egypt, and vastly beautiful it was. A fitting ending to a strangely beautiful day we thought, as we softly glided over the water.
It was the longest day of the year, and when at eleven P.M. we neared Sordavala the sun had not set. Its glorious reflections and warm colourings stirred our hearts' inmost depths, and bathed us in a sweet content as we sat silent and awed, dreaming of the strangely pathetic story of that beautiful boy.
SORDAVALA, OR A MUSICAL FESTIVAL
Terror had entered our souls when we read in the Nya Pressen, the day before leaving for the musical festival at Sordavala, the following: "Sordavala has only thirteen hundred inhabitants, and some ten thousand people have arrived for the Juhla. They are sleeping on floors and tables, and any one who can get even a share in a bed must be more than satisfied. Food cannot be procured, and general discomfort reigns." This was not cheerful; indeed the prospect seemed terrible, more especially when, after getting up at five o'clock, and driving some miles to Wiborg, we arrived at the station only to find the train crammed from end to end, and not a chance of a seat anywhere. Confusion reigned, every one was struggling with every one else for places, and the scrimmage was as great as though it were "a cheap trip to Margate and back" in the height of the season. There were only second and third-class carriages, with a sort of fourth, which was said to hold "forty men or eight horses," and had no windows, but was provided with rough benches and odd boxes for the passengers to sit on. In such a terrible railway carriage all the members of the brass band travelled with their music stands and instruments.
We ran from end to end of the platform in despair. It was the only train of the day, and full. Even Frau von Lilly, with all her Swedish and all her Finnish, could not succeed in finding places. At last an official stepped forward, and, touching his hat, remarked—
"There are no seats to be had in any compartment, but, as so many persons desire to go on, we shall probably send a relief train in an hour."
"Are we to wait on the chance of 'probably'?"
"Yes, I think you must. In fact, I am almost sure you must; but in any case you cannot go in that; it is just off."
And sure enough away steamed number one before the stolid Finns could make up their minds to despatch number two; nevertheless, an hour afterwards the relief train was ready and comparatively empty, so we travelled in peace.
All these slow arrangements and avoidances of committal to any announcement of fact, constantly reminded us of Scotland—indeed, it is quite remarkable how closely a Finn and a Highlander resemble each other in appearance, in stolid worth, and dogged deliberation; how they eat porridge or grt, oatcake or knckebrd, and have many other strange little peculiarities of manner and diet in common.
We got under weigh at last, and settled down for a few restful hours in a comfortable Finnish railway carriage. The train, ever dignified and deliberate of pace, had just passed Jaakkima in the South-East of Finland, almost due North from Petersburg. The heat was great that June day, and here and there, as the engine puffed through the pine forests, dense columns of smoke rising from the woods near the railway lines alarmed all who beheld, and warned the neighbouring peasants to dig trenches, which alone could stay the fierce flames, rapidly gathering force, that meant destruction.
At many stations we paused, not necessarily for passengers to alight or ascend, but to stock our engine with fuel. There, stacked high and wide and broad, was the wood cut into pieces about two feet long, intended to feed our locomotive, and a couple of men were always in readiness to throw it into the tender as quickly as possible, compatible with the slowness of the Finn.
The heat in the train was so intense that it made us feel drowsy, but, as we fortunately had the end compartment in the corridor-carriage, we were able to open the door and get a breath of air. A bridge somewhat insecure-looking joined us to the next waggon, and a very amusing scene presented itself. The guard was flirting with a Finnish maid, a typical peasant, with a comely figure, set off by a well-fitting bodice. She had high cheek-bones and a wondrous round moon face; a large, good-tempered mouth filled with beautiful teeth, a good complexion, and weak, thin, straight flaxen hair, combed back from a very high forehead. She wore the usual handkerchief over her head. Had she been dark instead of fair, judging by the width of her face and the lines of her eyes, she might have been a Chinese; but to an English mind she appeared anything but beautiful, although clean and healthy looking. She, like many others of her class, had the neatest hands and feet imaginable, although the latter were encased in black mohair boots with elastic sides, a very favourite foot-covering in Finland.
All along the line there ran a sort of tumbledown wooden fencing, loosely made, and about four or five feet high, meant to keep back the snow in winter. The very thought of snow was refreshing on that broiling day.
As we gasped with the heat, and pondered over the scrambled meal at Jaakkima, we listened to the strangely sad but entrancing singing of a number of peasants in the next waggon, all bound like ourselves for Sordavala, although they were really rehearsing for the Festival, while we were drowsily proceeding thither merely as spectators.
How they flirted those two on the bridge outside our carriage. Spite of the hard outlines of her face, and her peculiarly small Finnish eyes, the maiden managed to ogle and smile upon the guard standing with his hands upon the rail; so slender was the support, that it seemed as if he might readily fall off the train and be killed by the wheels below. The flirtation was not only on her side, for presently he took her hand, a fat little round hand, with a golden circle upon one of the fingers, which denoted betrothal or marriage, and pressed it fondly. We could not understand their Finnish speech; but there is a language comprehensible to all, in every clime. That the pair were in love no one could for a moment doubt, and that they heeded nothing of those quaint old Finnish chants, distinctly audible from the opposite carriage, was evident, for they talked on and on.
We passed Niva; here and there the waters of a lake glinted in the sunshine, or a river wound away to the sea, strewn with floating wood, as though its waters were one huge raft.
The singing ceased; save the merry laugh of the Finnish girl, nothing but the click-cluck-click of the wheels was audible. The guard leaned over her, whispered in her ear, then, as if yielding to some sudden impulse, pressed her to his heart; and, still to the accompaniment of that endless click-cluck-click, implanted a kiss on her full round lips. For a moment they stood thus, held in warm embrace, muttering those sweet nothings which to lovers mean all the world.
Suddenly the door behind them opened, and one of the singers, nervous and excited from the long practice of his national airs, came upon the bridge to let the gentle zephyrs cool his heated brow.
All smiles, this sunburnt blonde, whose hair fell in long locks, cut off straight, like the ancient saints in pictures, stood before us—his pink flannel shirt almost matching the colour of his complexion.
In a moment all was changed; his happy smile vanished into a glance of deadly hate, the colour fled from his face, leaving him ashy-pale, fire literally shot from his eyes as he gazed upon his affianced bride; but he did not speak.
His hand violently sought his belt, and in a moment the long blade of one of those Scandinavian puukko—knives all peasants use—gleamed in the sunshine. For an instant he balanced it on high, and then, with a shriek more wild than human, he plunged the blade deep down into his betrothed's white breast.
Like a tiger the guilty guard sprang upon him; madly they fought while the girl lay still and senseless at their feet, a tiny stream of blood trickling from her breast.
Northern rage once roused is uncontrollable; and there, on the bridge of the moving train, those two men struggled for mastery, till—yes, yes—the light railing gave way, and together the hater and the hated fell over the side, and were cut to pieces by the wheels.
What a moment! a groan, a piercing shriek, rent the air!
Then, with a gasp, hot and cold, and wet by turns, I woke to find it was all a dream!
* * * * *
The run to Sordavala proved a hot and tedious journey of seven hours, but even dusty railway journeys must come to an end, and we arrived at our destination in Eastern Finland about three o'clock.
The crowd at the country station was horrible, and the clamour for cabs, carts, and the general odds and ends of vehicles in waiting to transfer us to our destination, reminded us much of Ober Ammergau on a smaller scale.
This Sordavala festival is really the outcome of an old religious ceremony, just as the Welsh Eisteddfod is a child of Druidical meetings for prayer and song. In ancient days bards sang and prayed, and now both in Finland and in England the survival is a sort of musical competition.
Our Eisteddfod, encouraged by the landed proprietors of Wales, forms a useful bond between landlord and tenant, employer and employed. It is held yearly, in different towns, and prizes are given for choir singing, for which fifty to a hundred voices will assemble from one village, all the choirs joining together in some of the great choruses. Rewards are also given for knitting, for the best national costumes, for solo singing, violin and harp playing, for original poems in Welsh, and for recitations.
In Finland the competition, strangely enough, also takes place once a year, and dates back to the old Runo Singers, who orally handed down the national music from generation to generation. Each time the Festival is, as in Wales, held in a different town, the idea being to raise the tastes of the populace, and to encourage the practice of music among a thoroughly musical people. Clubs or choirs are sent from all corners of Finland to compete; the old national airs—of which there are hundreds, ay thousands—are sung, and that unique native instrument the Kantele is played. For hundreds of years these Runo Singers have handed on the songs of their forefathers by word of mouth, and have kept their history alive.
It was Elias Lnnrot who collected these Kantele songs. For years and years he travelled about the country gathering them together by ear and word of mouth, and, having weeded out the repetitions, he edited the famous epical Kalevala, and later collected quantities of other lyric ballads from the heathen times, and published them as Kanteletar. Thus much ancient music and verse was revived that had almost been forgotten. But of this we must speak in the next chapter.
That Finland is thoroughly musical may be inferred from the dozens of choirs sent to the Sordavala Festival from all parts of the country. The peasant voices, in spite of being but slightly trained, or at all events trained very little, sing together wonderfully. Indeed, it was surprising to find how they could all take their proper parts, and keep to them; but the supreme delight, perhaps, of the Festival was the student corps, composed of fifty men from the University of Helsingfors, who sang together most beautifully, the choir being conducted by one of themselves. They had some glorious voices among them, and as they sang the national airs of Finland, marching backwards and forwards to the park, their feet keeping time with their music, the effect of their distant singing in the pine-woods was most enthralling.
Strangely enough, when they went to sing on the public platform raised in the park for the occasion, they wore evening dress and white gloves. Dress-clothes are somewhat of a rarity in Finland, as they are in many other continental countries; but there they stood in a semicircle on the dais, each man with his white velvet student cap in his hand, and, to the spectators, standing a little in the distance, the effect of snowy-white shirt, white gloves, and white cap shown up in the glancing sunbeams by black clothes, was somewhat funny.
The performers met with tremendous applause, and certainly deserved it. Although German students often sing beautifully, and are indeed famous for their rendering of the Volkslieder, those from Helsingfors sang as well if not better.
We often dined at the same hotel where they lodged, during the week, and when they marched in they sang a grace. After they had finished their dinner, they generally, before leaving, sang two or three songs by special request of visitors dining at the various tables.
Morning, noon, and night those students sang! Small bands of them went to meet the trains coming in, if they expected friends, and stood upon the platform lustily singing their welcome. They went to see other friends off, and, amidst much doffing of caps, they sang farewell songs. They marched in torchlight processions—although the torches were not very successful when all was daylight—and everywhere they went they met with the greatest enthusiasm.
Modern singing at the Festival, in parts and glees, was very good, showing the great musical talent of the people, while especially delightful were the out-of-door concerts. Another charm of the Festival consisted in the exhibition of peasants' work.
As we entered the museum where we were to hear the Kantele Concert, we stood transfixed. At a bare wooden table a quite, quite old man with long-flowing locks was sitting with his elbows on the boards, his hands stretched over his Kantele, which he was playing delightfully.
The small flat musical instrument reminded one of the zither of Tyrol, while the strange airs bore some similarity to the bagpipe music of Scotland, at least in time, which, like the piper, the old man beat with his foot. His blue eyes were fixed on the wall opposite, with a strange, weird, far-off look, and never for one moment did he relax his gaze. He seemed absolutely absorbed by his music, and as the queer old figure—a sort of Moses with his long beard—played his native instrument, amid the quaint trappings of the museum for background, we felt enthralled by the sombre surroundings and curious apparition, who might have been Winminen himself, the mythological god of music in Finland.
Others followed; they all played charmingly, and their usually sombre faces seemed quite changed by the sounds of music. Music has always played an important part in the history of Finland—for good be it owned, and not, as Tolstoi suggested, to arouse the vilest passions.
Look at the faces of the people dowered with such legends. The Runo Singers live in another world from ours. Theirs is the land of poetry and romance; theirs the careless, happy dream of life. The things of this world, the sordid littleness, the petty struggles, the very fight for bread, they wot not of, for they are content with little. Socialism and Syndicalism have not robbed them of life's joys.
They sit and sing, and dream. See the far-away look on yon man's features; see how intensely he gazes on some vision painted visibly for him on the blank wall. His very face and mind seem transported to other realms. As the song rises and falls his expression alters, and when he strikes those stirring chords on the Kantele and speaks of bloodshed and war his whole being seems changed.
We noticed one peculiarity with the Runo Singers, viz., that each vocalist repeated the whole line twice. For instance—
"The old man fished." All the others took up the word "fished," and then every one present sang the whole of the line a second time in company with the original singer, again repeating the word fished at the end alone. After that the original singer took up the next line by himself, his friends repeating the last word, ere joining him in the repetition of the line itself.
This seemed to be a speciality, for we noticed it again and again, and, as the performers all chanted well together, the effect was delightful; at the same time the practice unduly lengthens the progress of the songs, some of which go on for hours in a dull, monotonous recitative.
We always had to cross the river at Sordavala whenever we went out to dinner, or attended any of the concerts, as our home was on one bank and the representations and restaurant on the other, and one old Russian boatman was particularly attentive in waiting about for us at the hours when he thought it likely we should require to be ferried over. His bark was decorated, like all the other craft at Sordavala, with silver birch, which, as we knew, is sacred in Finland, and great branches of its silver boughs were cut to ornament the kuiru (native boats). It was wonderful what a pretty effect this gave, for they were not little boughs, but great branches stuck on the rowlocks in such a manner as to make the boat appear a veritable bower. When several craft were on the water together, they had the effect of a beautiful picture, with the red and pink shirts of the boatmen, and the white or black handkerchiefs over the women's heads.
Our old Russian was a wonderful-looking individual, with shaggy grisly locks which fell in regular ringlets upon his shoulders—the sort of man one would love to paint. Every wrinkle upon his face was italicised by dirt, and his faded red shirt appeared a dream of colour for an artist's eye. He was much interested in us all, and at last he ventured to ask Frau von Lilly where the ladies came from.
"England," she replied in Russian.
"Ah! I know about England," he returned; "it has many big towns, and they are strong towns. England is much afraid that our Tzar might take those big towns."
"Do you think so?"
"Yes, I know; but the ladies do not look English, they are so dark. Is it the fierce sun of their country that has burned them so black?"
We laughed; we had heard of many things, but not often of "the fierce sun of England."
"You are not English?" he went on, addressing our friend.
"No," replied Frau von Lilly, "I am a Finlander."
"You? Why, you speak Russian, and you are dark, too; your face is not like a Finn's, it is not wide enough, and your hair is too black. He," pointing to Grandpapa, "is a Finlander, and looks like one."
Fancy such observations from an old Russian boatman. The same wonderful interest in our concerns and welfare was, however, evinced on all sides. The whole town of Sordavala had positively thrilled with excitement when the Committee of the Fte learned that some English people were coming to their Festival. Instantly that Committee wrote to say they would do everything they could for the visitors' "komfort," which they certainly did. They gave us the best rooms in the place, they opened their museums for us that we might view them, privately, they gave us Runo singing entertainments with ourselves for sole audience, they found seats for us in the theatre when every seat was sold, and they treated us in all ways as though we had been princesses. But everything we said was noted, and everything we did cautiously watched; therefore for a short time we tasted something of the horrors of that publicity which must be the bane of existence to royalty.
Long after we had left Sordavala we happened to refer to that town when conversing with some friends.
"Isn't it amusing?" one of them observed. "I saw in the paper the other day that some English people who went to Sordavala for the Festival, had written beforehand a letter to the Manager of the Committee to say "they required a suite of apartments, not higher than the third floor, with a bathroom."
We could not help smiling. It was the old story of "The Three Black Crows" over again! We had been the only English people at the Festival, we had never written a line ourselves to any member of the Committee; a native friend had done so for us, however, saying "that rooms would be required for three ladies, two English, and one Finnish."
One of the features of the Festival which interested us the most was a representation, at a little improvised theatre, of a typical modern Finnish play, by Finnish actors.
Anna Liisa was the piece chosen, because it was a peasant drama. It is written by one of Finland's greatest dramatists—perhaps the greatest in the Finnish language—and a woman!
It was only a small impromptu theatre, packed to suffocation by a most wonderfully sympathetic audience, but as the play was very representative, we give a slight sketch of the subject.
The curtain rose on a little peasant log-hut with its huge chimney, where over a small native stove heated by wood, pots were boiling.
Fixed to a chair was a spinning machine, made of wood and shaped like an umbrella, which twisted round and round, while the bride-elect, with her fair hair hanging down in a plait, sat upon the stage.
Her fianc says how happy they will be in three weeks when they are married; but Anna Liisa, although desperately in love with her betrothed, hangs back, and refuses to sit upon his knee. At last Johannes coaxes her to his side, and expresses huge delight at the prospect of their future. He tells her how he loves her with a never-fading love, is certain of her goodness, and that she has never loved any one else; he warmly praises her virtue; but, nevertheless, as he speaks, she shudders. Immediately an old woman comes in (Husso), the mother of Mikko, a man with whom Anna Liisa had formerly had some relations; her words are of evil import, for she tells the girl if she marries Johannes, who has just left the room, she will do her harm.
Anna pretending not to care, the old woman becomes furious and threatens her.
"I shall tell of your intrigue with my son. I have but to whisper of a——"
"Mother, no, no."
"But I can, and I will, and more than that, may speak of——"
The girl implores, tells of her real, honest love for Johannes, beseeches Mikko's mother to hold her peace, but the woman is obdurate.
Anna suffers tortures when left alone with her little sister, because the girl will talk of the delights of the coming wedding, and how nice it would be if Anna Liisa had a child for her to dress like a doll. The bride's father and mother, who know nothing of their daughter's intrigue, come and drink coffee, and like true peasants they pour the coffee into a saucer, and putting a bit of sugar into their mouths imbibe the beverage through it, supporting the saucer on five fingers. Thus happily they all sit together—a real representation of life in a peasant home. In the midst of it all the former lover, Mikko, who was once a servant on the farm, comes in and is very insulting to the bridegroom-elect, and very insinuating to Anna Liisa. At last Johannes gets angry; threats ensue. Mikko says "that he was once engaged to a girl and intends to have her" (looking pointedly at Anna Liisa). It seems as if the whole story would be revealed, but at that moment the little sister rushes in to say Mikko's horse has run away, and he goes off, leaving the bride and bridegroom alone, when the former implores Johannes to trust her always and in everything, which he promises to do, greatly wondering the while at her request.
When the second act opens the father and mother are discussing before Anna Liisa her own virtues. They say what a good wife their child will make, they lay stress upon her honesty, integrity, and truthfulness, and while the words sink into the guilty girl's heart like gall and wormwood, she sits and knits with apparent calmness. At last, however, the parents leave the room, and while she is thinking of following them, in comes Mikko. Finding herself alone with Mikko the poor girl entreats him to leave her, to leave her in peace and happiness to marry the man she loves, and if possible to forget her guilty past.
"If you marry me you will get peace," he says.
"No. Nor shall I ever know peace again," she replies; "but I may have some happiness."
At this moment her fianc enters the room. Mikko seizes the opportunity to tell him there is a secret between them that will disturb the happiness of all his future life. The girl appeals to Mikko by looks and gesticulations, but each time he manages to evade her gaze, and utters such strange insinuations that at last Johannes exclaims—
"This is too much!" and a desperate quarrel ensues.
Anna Liisa wishes to speak alone with Mikko. To this Johannes objects, thinking that Anna Liisa ought not to have any secret with Mikko unknown to him.
Then the whole family bundles home, having been to the store to buy things for the approaching festival.
"The matter is so," says Mikko, "that Anna Liisa was my bride four years ago. And now I come to take her, but that fellow has in the meantime——"
The Father. "Your bride! That's a lie."
The Mother. "Good gracious! You want me to believe all kinds of things—Anna Liisa—who then was only fifteen years old. Don't listen to such things, Johannes. They're only senseless chat. I'll warrant that they have no foundation whatever. Besides, others would certainly have noticed had any such relations existed between them."
Mikko. "It was not noticed. We succeeded in concealing it so well that nobody had the slightest idea."
The Father. "Shut up, Mikko, ere I get furious. That my daughter should have secret intrigues with a groom. Fie, for shame! How dare you spread such vile slander. Had it concerned any other!—But Anna Liisa, whom everybody knows to be the most steady and honourable girl in the whole neighbourhood. That you can be so impudent. For shame, I say once more."
Mikko. "Ask Anna Liisa herself if I have spoken truth or falsehood."
The Father. "Can't you open your mouth, girl? Clear yourself from such disgusting insults."
The Mother. "Defend yourself, Anna Liisa."
Johannes. "Say that he lies, and I will believe you."
Matters have gone too far. The disclosure cannot be put off.
Broken-hearted she only exclaims—
"Oh, good God!"
Mikko in his mad rage fetches his old mother, who corroborates all he has said, and tells the story of Anna Liisa's guilt, adding—
"And she could have been put in prison."
"Why?" they all cry in chorus.
"Because she murdered her child."
Anna Liisa says nothing for a time, but finally she falls on her knees before her father and implores his pardon. Then she confesses that everything the woman has said is true, even the accusation that she murdered her own child.
Her father snatches up a hatchet and tries to kill her, in which attempt he would have succeeded had not Mikko interfered and dragged her away.
When the third act opens the father, mother, and fianc are found discussing the situation, and finally deciding to let their friends come to the congratulatory festival on first reading of the banns, and pretend that nothing unusual had happened. Afterwards they could rearrange the relationship.
The mother, who had been watching Anna Liisa, is afraid of her curious apathetic behaviour, and looks out of the window, when she sees her setting off in a boat, apparently with the purpose of self-destruction. She and the fianc rush off to save her and bring her home. The girl explains in wild despair how she thought she saw her child under the water, and intended to jump in and rescue him. She raves somewhat like Ophelia in Hamlet, but her former lover Mikko comes back to her, and whispers in her ear. She rejects him violently.