The Finns do it all most good-naturedly, 'tis true, but occasionally it is inconvenient nevertheless.
Finns are very intense; they are men of few words; slow to anger, and slower to forgive. They never do anything in a hurry. Life is very serious to them, and they endure great privations with patience. They never trifle; flirtation they abhor; and chaff they simply do not understand. They are honest to a degree, kindhearted, respect law and order, and love peace. They are more than hospitable; they are, in fact, overpoweringly generous in their invitations to the veriest stranger; they are kind in their dealings with foreigners—doing their best to entertain them, to understand their speech, although often speaking four or five languages themselves, and to show them all they can of their land, of which they are immensely proud.
They have none of the beauty, brilliancy, or charm of the South; but all the sterling assets and good qualities of the North.
IMATRA'S ROARING CATARACT
The scenery of Finland is, as a rule, neither grand nor impressive. It has not the mountains of Switzerland topped with everlasting snow, nor the rocky fjords of Norway; no dear little Tyrolese chalets, nor sweet English cottages set in fair gardens, no splendid stretches of emerald-green sward, and iron-bound coast scenery such as is the delight of the tourist in Ireland, nor purple-crowned hills as in Scotland; nevertheless, it has a charm of its own, and can boast more lakes, canals, and rivers, all connected in some marvellous way, than any of the countries mentioned.
It is indeed a land of many thousand lakes, and one might add many, many thousand islands. There are large islands covered with pine forests, tiny solitary rocky islets, on which perchance a house has been built for a pilot; mere patches of earth islands, where flourishes one solitary pine, that looks from a distance as if it were actually growing on the surface of the water.
Round the coast line there are dangerous and hidden haunts where smuggling goes on to a large extent, while, when traversing the inland lakes, big steamers have to keep to certain routes marked by buoys—sometimes merely by sticks.
Except in the far North the country is very flat, and even in the North a few hundred feet is the limit of the highest land. Further South even less elevation is found, although the country is by no means so uniformly level as Holland, Denmark, or Russia.
One can travel nearly all over Finland in steamers, and very comfortable steamers they are too, with nice little cabins and good restaurants. Provided with one's own deck-chair, many pleasant days can be passed on the calm waters round the coast, or the yet calmer lakes and canals inland, where one marvels at the engineering skill and the wonderful steering powers of English-speaking captains of Finnish birth.
We decided on our way back from Sordavala to stop at the famous cataract of Imatra. It was one of the few railway journeys we made during our jaunt in Finland, for we always went by water for choice, and it proved somewhat remarkable.
Can there be such a thing as a musical train? If so, verily the name would apply to that by which we travelled. The passengers were made up of odds and ends; among them were most of the students who had taken part in the Festival, a great many representatives of various choirs, some of the athletes who had charmed us with their gymnastic exercises, for which the country is famous, and several visitors like ourselves. Of course, these folk never previously practised singing together, but after Professor Dickenson, standing on the platform, had returned thanks on behalf of the visitors for their cordial reception in Sordavala, which speech was replied to by the Mayor of the town, some one called upon the audience to sing the national air "Maamme." The voices rose and fell immediately. Heads were poked out from carriage windows in order that lusty throats might sing their beloved air. All at once three students on the platform waved their caps on high, and a regular musical performance ensued. To a stranger it seemed a remarkable demonstration.
Supposing the occupants of an English train were suddenly called upon to sing "God save the King," what would be the result? Why, that more than half the passengers would prove so shy they could not even attempt it; another quarter might wander about the notes at their own sweet will, and, perhaps, a small percentage would sing it in tune. But then, just think, the Finns are so imbued with music, and practise so continually—for they seem to sing on every conceivable occasion—that the sopranos naturally took up their part, the basses and the tenors kept to their own notes, and perfect harmony prevailed.
Not content with singing half a dozen songs while waiting for the train to get under way, many carriage loads sang off and on during the whole seven hours of the journey to Andrea, where we changed in order to catch a train for Imatra. Having an hour to spare at this junction, a walk was suggested along the railway line. This was not at all so dangerous a feat as might be imagined, for although only a single line, trains ran so very seldom that pedestrians might walk up and down for half a day and never see one.
We wandered with a delightful man whose rle it was to act as interpreter between the Finnish and Swedish languages in the House of Commons, a position called tulkki or translator, just as Canada uses interpreters for English and French.
We were amazed to find him conversant with all kinds of English literature; he spoke with familiarity of Dickens, Thackeray, Shakespeare, twelve of whose plays, by the bye, have been translated into Finnish and performed at the theatre, and he was even acquainted with the works of Rudyard Kipling, Swinburne, Browning, and Mrs. Humphry Ward. With equal aptitude he discussed Daudet and Zola, Tolstoi and Tourgenieff, and, to our astonishment, we found that although he spoke only indifferent German, he could read English, French, German, and Russian authors in the original.
As we wandered down the railway line, our attention was arrested by an extraordinary carriage which stood on a siding. A sort of engine was in front, but, behind, a glass house composed the remainder of the waggon. We had never before seen anything like it, and wondered if it could be an observatory on wheels, until we noticed that in the forepart of the train was a snow-plough, such as is to be seen on every engine in Norway during mid-winter, a plough which closely resembles an American cow-catcher.
"That," remarked our friend, "is a Finnish snow-plough. It is with the greatest difficulty we can keep the lines clear in winter, and it is not sufficient to have an ordinary snow-plough attached to the engine, therefore, just as ice-breakers endeavour to keep the port of Hang open during winter, so these snow-ploughs ply to and fro along the railway lines, throwing up vast heaps of snow on each side, until they make a wall sometimes ten or twelve feet high. These walls form a sort of protection to the trains, and gradually become so hard that, by the end of the winter snow, they might be built of stone, they are so strong."
There are not many railways in Finland, the first being laid in 1862; with the exception of private ones, which are narrow, they all have the wide Russian gauge.
Speaking of the ice-breaker at Hang, we may say that, in spite of all endeavours to keep the only winter port of Finland open during the cold months, ice sometimes gains the mastery, and for several weeks that Finnish port becomes closed.
Our friend was a most interesting companion, and explained something of the mysteries of the University. He told us that it was first founded in 1640 at bo, but in 1829, when bo was burnt to ashes and many thousand volumes were destroyed, it was considered advisable to move the University to Helsingfors, a town which at that time had a larger population than the older capital.
"You see," he said, "we have no Court here, no great wealth, but few nobility, and, therefore, every one and everything is centred round our University. It comprises four faculties—Theology, Law, Medicine, and Philosophy."
"What does your title of Magister mean?" we ventured to ask.
"It is equivalent to your M.A.," he said; "but our degrees are only given every fourth year, when we keep up much old-fashioned pomp. Crowds of people come to see the ceremony, and all the successful candidates, as they receive their degrees, are given, if they are Master of Arts, a gold ring, if doctors, a silk-covered hat, while on their heads a crown of laurels is actually placed. It is an old custom for each man to choose one from among his lady friends to be his wreath-binder, and she is supposed to undertake the making of his laurel crown. This was all very well so long as men only took the degree, but great jokes have arisen since women have stepped in, because ladies naturally think it is only right that men should weave their laurel-wreaths."
"And do they?"
"I believe they do. If not actually with their own hands, they superintend the making of such wreaths for their lady friends, whom we welcome to our University with open arms."
When we had arrived at Andrea, on our journey to Imatra from the Russian frontier, out tumbled a number of cyclists, who found to their distress that it would be necessary to wait about half an hour to continue their journey. It was overpoweringly hot; these young students stood on the platform discussing the situation, and at last they decided to cycle the twenty or thirty miles instead of waiting for the train. They took off their coats and strapped them on to the handles of their machines, and in pretty flannel shirts, gaily chaffing and laughing, off they started for their ride. We rather pitied them, as we saw them start under those melting sun's rays, and preferred our own idea of a quiet stroll.
At last we heard the whistle of our train, and had to scamper back along the railway line in order to secure our seats.
We crawled along, in the usual fashion of Finnish trains, to the world-renowned Imatra. Arrived at the hotel, which is built beside the roaring cataract, where thousands of tons of water rush and tear from January to December, we went into the dining-room to order dinner, and there, sitting round the table in the best of spirits, were the students, who had actually ridden quicker from Andrea than our train had brought us.
Parts of Finland are very beautiful, and travelling through the country is a most interesting experience; but, at the same time, there are none of the excellent motor roads such as we find in France or Germany. It is not a good country for motorists, waterways being its chief attraction, and its boat service is excellent; but the roads, although well marked by sign-posts and mile-stones (kilometres), are certainly not good.
Oh! the joy that night of being in a real hotel, with a real brass bedstead and a real spring mattress, to say nothing of once again seeing a proper sized wash-hand basin and jug.
Above the roar of the seething waters, fretting at our very feet, claps of thunder made themselves heard, and rain descended in torrents, while vivid, flashes of lightning lit up the wondrous cataract of Imatra.
Thunderstorms are quite common in those parts, and we felt glad of that one, as it did something to dispel for a time the oppressive heat.
Next morning the scene was changed, and as we looked in calm weather from the balcony window, we were fascinated by the vast volume of water dashing ceaselessly on its ruthless way below.
Later, sitting on a rocky boulder, we gazed in awe at the scene before us. This was Imatra. This is one of the three famous falls which form the chain of a vast cataract. This avalanche of foam and spray, this swirling, tearing, rushing stream, this endless torrent pursuing its wild course, year in, year out—this was Imatra, one of the strongest water powers in the world—the Niagara of Europe.
Not a waterfall in the real sense of the word, for within the space of half a mile the water only actually falls about forty feet; but that narrow channel, scarcely twenty yards across, with its rock-bound walls, is daily washed by thousands and thousands of tons of foaming water, poured into it from the quickly flowing Vuoksen's wide waters.
As we sat and contemplated one of the grandest efforts of creation, this wonderful compression of a vast river into a narrow gorge, we realised how small is the power of man compared with the mighty strength of nature. See how the waves, which can be likened only to the waves of the sea in time of storm, as if in fury at their sudden compression, rush over that rock, then curl back, and pause in the air a moment before tearing on, roaring and hissing with rage, to the whirlpool farther down the stream. See how they dash from side to side, see how the spray rises in the air for the dainty sunlight to play among its foam. Hear the noise, like that of thunder, as a great angry white horse dashes down that storm-washed chasm. This is strength and force and power, this is beauty and grandeur. This is Imatra, one of Finland's gems set in a regal crown.
Such a scene enters one's very soul; such grand majestic power, such might, such force, inspire one with lofty feelings, and make one realise a greater power, a greater strength than our poor world can give. Are we not all the better for looking on such scenes? These vast glories of nature, however, should be viewed in peace to enable the spectator to enjoy their greatness and to receive their full influence. Niagara is more vast—and Niagara is boarded by chimneys and men's villainy. Imatra, if humbler, therefore, is almost more impressive.
Yet the hand of the Philistine is, alas! to be found even in primitive Finland. As the modern Roman lights his glorious Colosseum with red and purple fires, so the Finn illumines his wondrous falls with electric light; spans it by the most modern of modern bridges, and does not even attempt to hide "the latest improvements" by a coating of pine trunks. Worse still, he writes or carves his name on every bench and on numerous rocks, and erects hideous summer-houses built of wooden plankings and tin, where the knotted pine-tree would have been as useful and twice as picturesque.
Finland, pause! If you wish to entice travellers to your shores, to bring strangers among you, keep your beautiful nature unspoiled, or, where change is absolutely necessary, try to imitate nature's own methods by using the glorious trees around you, instead of iron and tin shaped by man's hand; pause before you have murdered your natural loveliness by ghastly modernity, or you will be too late.
Attend to your sanitation if you will—that requires seeing to badly; provide more water and more towels for travellers who are accustomed to wash themselves in private, but don't imagine hideous modern erections will attract tourists, they but discourage them.
Imatra is glorious. Wallinkoski, the lower fall, is more picturesque, perhaps, but both are wonderful; they are worth journeying far to see, and holding in recollection for ever. We have nothing like them anywhere in Britain. The Falls of Foyers are as crumbs in a loaf of bread when compared with Imatra. The fall at Badgastein is as nothing beside Finland's great cataract; Hnefos in Norway a mere trifle. In Europe Imatra stands alone, with perhaps the exception of its solitary rival, Trollhttan in Sweden, the exquisite beauty of which is already marred by the sacrilegious hand of the Philistine.
Above all, Finland, you should not allow St. Petersburg to light her streets with your water power; there is enough water in Imatra to light half Europe—but keep it for yourselves, keep it as a pearl in a beautiful casket. Imatra is one of Finland's grandest possessions.
It seems impossible that salmon could live in such a cataract, but yet it is a fact that they do.
Verily, Finland is a paradise for fishermen. A paradise for lines and rods, reels and flies, for masters of the piscatorial art; there are to be found freshwater lakes, and glorious rivers full of fish. Some call it the heaven of anglers, and permission to fish can easily be obtained, and is absurdly inexpensive.
The best-known spot is Harraka, near Imatra, because the English Fishing Club from St. Petersburg found sport in those wonderful waters until they acquired Varpa Saari, an island a little farther down the river.
The Saimen Lake is about 150 miles long, and the river Vuoksen, which forms Imatra, joins this fishing water with the famous Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe, which again empties itself into the sea by the Neva. This is not a fishing-book, or pages might be written of happy hours spent with grayling or trout with a fly, or spinning from a boat with a minnow.
Kind reader, have you ever been driven in a Black Maria? That is, we believe, the name of the cumbersome carriage which conveys prisoners from one police-station to another, or to their prison home? We have; but it was not an English Black Maria, and, luckily, we were never anywhere taken from one police-station to another. Our Black Maria was the omnibus that plies between Imatra and Rttijrvi, some twenty miles distant, where we travelled in order to catch the steamer which was to convey us down the famous Saimen Canal back to our delightful Ilkesaari host, in time for the annual Johanni and the wonderful Kokko fires, more famous in Finland to-day than the Baal fires formerly were in Britain.
It was a beautiful drive; at least we gathered that it would have been a beautiful drive if we had not been shut up in the Black Maria. As it was, we were nearly jolted to death on the hardest of hard wooden seats, and arrived stiff, sore, and tired, with aching backs at Rttijrvi.
A good dinner, however, soon made us forget our miseries, though it really seemed as if we had come in a prison van, when, the moment our Black Maria drew up at the small inn, a man rushed down the steps, seized upon our poor friend the Magister and began, violently gesticulating, to explain something about money.
What on earth had the poor Magister done that he should be jumped on in this way? Were we criminals without our knowledge, and was this our jailor who stood gesticulating, and scowling, and waving his arms about in excitement? We felt we must immediately produce our passports to prove our respectability, and, strong in our knowledge of innocence, were quite prepared to maintain our rights of freedom in spite of the appearance of any limb of Finnish law.
After all, it proved to be a mere flash in the pan. Explanation was soon vouchsafed. We had driven that morning in a private carriage to Wallinkoski to see the wonderful fall below Imatra, and the landlord, having forgotten to charge that journey in the bill, had allowed us to leave Imatra without paying for his beautiful equipage; discovering his mistake, however, as soon as our backs were turned, he had telephoned to the inn that we should send back the money by Black Maria. Though we had so dishonestly departed without paying our just debts, nothing worse came of the matter.
We might have been locked up in a Finnish prison!
We paid in coin for the carriage, and by our profound gratitude to the Magister and Grandpapa, who had added so ably to our enjoyment. Our time together for the moment was over, and once more my sister and I were alone.
As we stood on the little pier at Rttijrvi, waiting for the steamer which was to bear us down the beautiful Saimen Canal, we were somewhat horrified to find that the only other probable passengers were two men, both of whom were practically unable to keep on their feet. In honour of the day they had apparently been having a jollification, and it will ever remain a marvel to us that they did not tumble over the side of the pier—which had no railing—into the water beneath.
It seemed almost impossible, under the circumstances, to believe that in the rural districts of Finland generally there are no licensed houses, except in a few health resorts, where a medical man is stationed. Also at a few railway stations bona fide travellers may be supplied. There is a strict law against importing spirits at all into Finland, while if more than ten litres are sent from one place to another in the country they are "subject to control." Indeed, no person, unless licensed to sell spirits, is allowed to keep more than six litres in his house for every grown-up individual living in the establishment; and the same rigorous rules that apply to spirits are enforced against liqueurs which, when tried at a temperature of 15 Celsius, are found to contain more than twenty-two per cent. of alcohol.
The temperance regulations are most stringent, and yet we are reluctantly obliged to own we saw a vast amount of drunkenness in Suomi. Small wonder, then, that the moment women became members of Parliament the first thing they did was to legislate for the diminution of this lack of sobriety.
The Civic Authorities can, and do, give the whole trade of wine, spirits, and liqueurs as a monopoly for two consecutive years to companies who undertake to sell, not for their own gain, but "in the interests of morality and sobriety;" three-fifths of the profits being paid to the town for general purposes of usefulness, and the remaining two-fifths to the State.
As regards beer—in the country the County Councils rule the selling, in the towns the Civic Authorities. The brewers are, however, allowed to sell beer, provided they do not give more than twenty-five litres to one person.
The Senate or the Governor can, in some cases, grant special licenses, to sell wines and spirits to bathing-places, steamers, etc.,—from all of which careful, not to say stringent, regulations, it may be inferred that Finland is rigorous as regards the drink question; wherefore strangers feel all the more surprised to meet inebriates so constantly, as we must, unfortunately, admit was the case when we were in Finland.
The two men rolling about at the end of the pier and, singing lustily, sadly disturbed our peace of mind, for my sister and I were going back to Ilkesaari alone, and as they seemed likely to be our only companions, we felt a couple of hours spent in such society would be rather more than we cared for. They might be affectionate or abusive, or they might even commit suicide, they were so deadly drunk.
Ah! what was that? Emerging from a lock came a bower of greenery rather than a steamer. The little ship was literally covered, not only with branches, but with whole birch-trees, and very pretty she looked as she glided towards us, decorated for the famous Juhannus-ilta (Midsummer Day).
Taking hasty farewells of Grandpapa and the Magister, whom we were to meet again a week or two later, we hurried on board, and found to our joy that the unsteady Finlanders were not allowed to follow us. With a puff and a whistle the steamer left such undesirable passengers behind, and the last we saw of them was fighting and struggling with one another, each man apparently imagining, in his muddled imbecility, that his own companion had kept him from going on board, whereas in reality the ticket-collector, now safely journeying with us, was the sole offender.
It is a delightful journey down the famous Saimen Canal, and there was a particular charm about it that night, because, as evening advanced, great beacon fires illuminated the scene.
This Canal, which took eleven years to make, is very beautiful. It passes through twenty-eight locks, generally with a fall of about nine feet for each; that is to say, the entire fall is nearly three hundred feet. The canal is only wide enough for one ship to pass at a time, except at the crossing places; and when steamers pass up or down, all other traffic has to draw into one of these sidings.
We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful night as we glided over that wonderful achievement of engineering skill. The locks were only just large enough to admit our steamer, and it really seemed as if but a few inches at either end and at the sides were to spare.
It was Midsummer Day; the greatest day of the whole year in a Finn's estimation. Hence the decorations. We passed steamers all gaily festooned with the sacred birch, as our own little ship, and huge barges of wood ornamented in similar fashion floating down to the sea. Picturesque little girls, with handkerchiefs tied over their heads, were running about on the banks selling wild strawberries. They were dressed in long skirts, which hung to their ankles, and wore no shoes or stockings.
In spite of the terrific thunderstorm on the previous night, the thermometer had stood all day at about 96 in the shade. As we glided along, a lurid black sky looked threatening behind us, while forked lightning—such forked lightning as we had never seen before—played games in the heavens. And yet, at the self-same time, on the other side was to be seen one of the most glorious sunsets that can possibly be imagined; one of those marvellous bits of colour which make those who behold it feel how inadequate are brush and canvas to reproduce such glorious tones.
These Finland skies and glorious nights, almost midnight suns, in June, July, and August, are worth the journey. The sunrises and sunsets of the Arctic are more beautiful than in the Tropics.
We were now returning to finish our visit at Ilkesaari, and, it being the Finnish Midsummer Day, we had been compelled to hurry our trip from Sordavala somewhat, so as to be back in time to see the famous pagan Kokko fires.
As is well known, it was—till comparatively recent times—the custom even in England to light on St. John's Eve Bael or Baal fires, which were really a survival of pagan Sun Worship. All over Finland Bael fires are still lighted on Juhannus-ilta (Midsummer Eve).
The people look forward from year to year to these Kokko fires, as Juhanni is the great festival both for rich and poor. All is bustle and confusion on the 23rd of June, preparing for the event. Then comes the lighting of the Kokko, and, later in the evening, the bond-dans or ball—no one apparently going to bed that night—which ball is followed by a universal holiday.
As to the origin of the Kokko fires, no one in Finland seems very certain. The custom must be a very ancient one, though it is continued universally in that little-known country to the present day. As a rule, the bonfire is lit on the top of a hill, or in places where there is water at the water's edge, preferably on a small island, or sometimes on a raft which, when ignited, is floated out over the surface of the lake.
The 24th of June being about the brightest day in a land where, at that time of year, it is everlasting daylight, the effect of the brilliant artificial illumination is marred in consequence of the absence of a gloomy, weird, and mysteriously indistinct background of night, the sky in those high latitudes being, during the summer nights, never darker than it is in England at dawn. Nevertheless, the Kokko are so big that they assert themselves, and as we sailed down the canal we must have passed a dozen or more of those flaming beacons. It is difficult to estimate their size. Wood in Finland is comparatively valueless; tar is literally made on the premises; consequently old tar-barrels are placed one on the top of another, branches, and even trunks of trees, surmount the whole, and the erection is some twenty or thirty feet high before it is ignited. Imagine, then, the flames that ascend when once the magic match fires the much-betarred heap.
For hours and hours those Kokko fires burnt. Indeed, it would be considered ill luck if they did not smoulder through the whole of the night. And it is round such festive flames that the peasant folks gather to dance and sing and play games, and generally celebrate the festival of the ancient god Bael. The large landed proprietors invite their tenantry to these great ceremonies, and for hours before it is time to light the fire, boats are arriving laden with guests.
When we landed about ten o'clock on the private pier at Ilkesaari, at which we had asked our captain to set us ashore, we were warmly met by our former hostess, and told that their Kokko was ready and only waiting our arrival to be ignited. So away we all sped to the other side of the island to see the fun.
All the members of the family had assembled—some thirty or forty people, in fact, for Finland is famous for big families—and tables of cakes and coffee were spread at a point from which every one could see the enormous Kokko, as high as a haystack, standing on a lonely rock in the water. The boatmen went off and lighted it, having thrown turpentine over the dried branches, and stacked up tar-barrels, so that it might the more readily catch fire, and in a few moments huge volumes of smoke began to ascend, and the flames danced high into the heavens. Great tongues of fire leapt and sprung on high, only to be reflected in all their glory in the smooth waters below. Peering down an avenue of pine-trees to the lake beyond, that fire looked very grand—a splendid relic of ancient heathenism.
Every one sang as the Kokko burst into flame. The General of the garrison, the dapper young lieutenant, the dear old grandmother, the men and women students of the party in their pretty white caps, the children dressed as dear little Swedish peasants—all joined the choruses; while behind were the servants and the real peasants themselves. The tenants had come over the water to enjoy the fun at their master's home in boats so gaily decorated and garnished with huge boughs of the sacred birch-tree that the boat itself was almost hidden. Finnish singing is generally rather weird chanting, sad and melancholy, but not without a strange fascination, and the way a number of odd people in that huge assembly could sing together, each taking his or her own part, without any previous practice, again showed the marvellous amount of music inborn in the Finlander.
It was a beautiful night. The rich shades of the sunset fighting the warm colours of the flames, the gurgling of the water, and the surging of the peasants' boats, or the swish of their oars as they rowed to the festival in gay holiday attire, was something to be remembered—something picturesque and almost barbaric. The surroundings were poetical, the scene weird, the music delightful, and a glowing lustre overspread it all as the ascending flames shed lurid lights on the faces of the spectators, while the rocks on which we stood reflected the warm colours caught by the trunks of the pine-trees, whose tops soared heavenwards as though trying to kiss the fleeting clouds.
Laughter and merriment rent the air, as youth mingled with age, riches with poverty, in true happiness, for was it not Juhannus-ilta—a night when all must be gay!
Gradually, as the time wore on, the fires burnt low, the lights and reflections became less and less distinct on the water, the shadows of evening fell, and the dew of night was in the air; then, and not till then, did we repair to a huge room adjoining the house, used for the grandchildren to play in during summer, or for weddings and such like festivals, and here the family, the guests, the servants, and the peasants danced. It was like a tenants' ball at a Scotch castle or Irish domain, with a touch of greater novelty. Finnish dances are strange; a young man spies a young woman, he rushes at her, seizes her by the waist, dances lustily, and then lets her go as if she were a hot potato. But that night there was a hero—a real live hero—the native of a neighbouring village, who had been away in America for seven years, and just returned rich and prosperous, and full of adventures, to his fatherland. His advent had been awaited with keen interest by all the village maids; rivalry for his favours ran rife. Every girl in the place was dying to talk to him, to dance with him, and he, in return, told them "how beautiful every woman was in America, how they talked, and sang, and danced, and laughed, and how America was enchanting," until all the maids grew jealous.
We slipped off to bed at midnight, tired after our tedious journey, and anxious to read quietly the bundles of letters from folk at home, which had been awaiting our return, but the bond-dans went on till breakfast-time, for a Finn who cannot dance the jenka all through the midsummer night is not considered worthy of his country.
The festivals continued all the next day for those who were not too sleepy to enjoy them.
WOMEN AND EDUCATION
Before describing our own life in a haunted castle, with its joys and its fears, we must pause and reflect on two of the most important factors in Finnish life—the position of women, and the excellence of education. For it is the present advancement of both that will make a future for Suomi, and even to-day can teach us much.
In 1890 the population of Finland numbered two and a half millions, which included—
Females 1,208,599 Males 1,171,541 Total 2,380,140
In 1908 the figures were—
Females 1,515,916 Males 1,496,933 Total 3,012,849
These figures show that there has been a large preponderance of the female sex, and though in the last twenty years this surplus has diminished by one half, it may perhaps in some measure account for the wonderful way in which women have pushed themselves to the front and ceased to look upon matrimony as the only profession open to the sex.
The system of public instruction is making rapid progress. The expenses of primary education are divided between the State and the Communes, while those of the higher education generally fall on the State.
The Finnish University, founded in 1640, is maintained by the latter, and includes four faculties.
In 1870 the first woman matriculated at the University, three years later another followed suit, but until 1885 they were alone, when two others joined them. It was very difficult in those days to obtain permission to enter for the matriculation; as will be seen, there are at present a large number of female students, several of whom have taken degrees in medicine, dentistry, arts, law, and science.
The woman question is now one of great moment in Finland, but the first book published on the subject only appeared in May 1894. This Calendar of Women's Work was really a great undertaking, and the statistics and materials to complete it were collected by more than a thousand agents of both sexes, the Senate giving a grant of three thousand marks to pay for the printing expenses. Its object was, by giving careful tables of employment, and names and addresses of employers, to enable young women readily to find a vocation.
Beginning by a historic sketch, it showed how Finnish linen was famous as early as 1552, and how taxes were paid by such means at that time.
It pointed out the present great desire to increase home industries, and stated that out of five hundred and thirty parishes applied to, four hundred had sent to the Women's Association asking for help in the formation of schools, or loan of patterns and models, implements and tools.
It noticed how, in 1890, a vast number of women were employed upon the land: 8580 peasants, 2516 farmers, 5631 cottagers, and 76,857 agricultural servants; we must remember Finnish women are physically strong and well-fitted for agricultural work.
It showed how dairy work was being much taken up by women, who tended the cows, milked them, made the butter, for which they obtained prizes, and went on to notice how gardening was being developed in the country, and how it might further be undertaken with advantage.
There are in 1912 fourteen dairying schools, thirty-seven schools for the care of cattle, and twelve housekeeping and gardening schools—all for women.
In fact, one cannot travel through Finland without being struck by the position of women on every side. It may, of course, arise from the fact that the Finns are poor, and, large families not being uncommon, it is impossible for the parents to keep their daughters in idleness; and as no country is more democratic than Finland, where there is no court and little aristocracy, the daughters of senators and generals take up all kinds of work. Whatever the cause, it is amazing to find the vast number of employments open to women, and the excellent way in which they fill these posts. There is no law to prevent women working at anything they choose.
Amongst the unmarried women it is more the exception than the rule to find them idle, and instead of work being looked upon as degrading, it is admired on all sides, especially teaching, which is considered one of the finest positions for a man or woman in Finland. And it is scientific teaching, for they learn how to impart knowledge to others, instead of doing it in a dilatory and dilettante manner, as so often happens elsewhere.
We were impressed by the force and the marvellous energy and splendid independence of the women of Suomi, who became independent workers long before their sisters in Britain.
All this is particularly interesting with the struggle going on now around us, for to our mind it is remarkable that so remote a country, one so little known and so unappreciated, should have thus suddenly burst forth and hold the most advanced ideas for both men and women. That endless sex question is never discussed. There is no sex question in Finland, men and women are practically equals, and on that basis society is formed. Sex equality has always been a characteristic of the race, as we find from the ancient Kalevala poem.
In spite of advanced education, in spite of the emancipation of women (which is erroneously supposed to work otherwise), Finland is noted for its morality, and, indeed, stands among the nations of Europe as one of the most virtuous.
There is no married woman's property act, all property being owned jointly by husband and wife. This is called the marriage right.
In the excellent pamphlet printed for the Chicago Exhibition, we find the following:—
Marriageable Age.—According to the law which is now in force, a girl need be no more than fifteen years of age in order to be marriageable. Very few girls, however, marry at such an early age. Among the peasantry, women, as a rule, marry earlier than they do among the cultivated classes.
The Solemnisation of Marriages.—According to the law of 1734, which remained valid until 1864, a spinster could not marry without the consent of her father, or, if he were dead, of her mother. Both parents being dead, this duty devolved upon the eldest male member of the family.
In the year 1864 (31st October) a law was enacted according to which girls, after their twenty-first year, are free to marry without the consent of either father or mother. For a marriage to be lawful the banns must be read from the pulpit on three several Sundays, and the marriage ceremony must be performed by a clergyman.
Statutes of 1889.—In the statutes of 1889 the law on antenuptial marriage agreements was altered to the advantage of the wife. By means of antenuptial agreements a woman may now not only retain as her special property whatever she possessed before marriage, and whatever she may have, after marriage, inherited, received as a gift, or as a legacy, but she may also reserve for herself the right of taking charge of and managing her own property and the income thereof.
In 1908, a law was passed enacting that no girl under the age of seventeen years should marry. How much wiser than in England.
As soon as the marriage ceremony has been performed, "the husband becomes the natural guardian of his wife," is responsible for her and manages their property.
In spite, however, of a woman being under the legal guardianship of her husband, there is probably no country where women are held in more reverence and respect than in Finland. While in Germany the middle class Hausfrau takes a back seat, hardly speaking before her lord and master, and being in many cases scarcely better than a general servant (of the Jack-of-all-trades and master of none class), doing a little cooking, seeing to the dusting and cleaning, helping make the beds, wash the children, and everlastingly producing her big basket of Handarbeit, the Finnish woman, although just as domesticated, is less ostentatious in her performance of such duties, and, like her sisters in England, attends to her household matters in the morning, according to a regulated plan worked out for herself; trains her servants properly, and, having set the clock going for the day, expects the machinery to work. Every decent household should be managed on some such plan, and we all know that the busier the woman the more comfortable, as a rule, she makes her home; the mere fact of her having an occupation, inspires those about her to work. Added to which, the busy woman knows order and method are the only means by which satisfactory results can possibly be obtained, and that order and method which she has acquired herself she is able to teach her less-educated domestics, or anyway inspire them with it.
Idle people are always apparently busy; but it is the business of muddle, while really busy people always have time for everything, and keep everything in its place.
Finnish ladies are thoroughly well educated. They are musical and artistic, beautiful needle-women, manage their homes well, and they have read enough to join in any discussion in which they take an interest. They are, consequently, treated by their husbands as equals, and although until 1907 they had no political rights, women were much employed in government services. They were not debarred from becoming members of the great societies. For instance, as far back as 1897, among the two hundred and twelve Fellows that composed the Geographical Society of Finland there were seventy-three women, yet in 1913 our Royal Geographical Society shrieked at the idea of woman entering their portals. The Swedish Literary Society, with thirteen hundred members, has eighty-two women on its books. The same with the philanthropic societies, music, art, etc. In fact, all doors are open to women.
Ladies have done much for the cause of temperance, and in all philanthropic movements they are busy; they have organised schools for the deaf, dumb, blind, and crippled, and look after night shelters, mothers' unions, ragged unions, rescue homes, working homes for children, benevolent societies, etc.
The pamphlet, speaking of unmarried women, also says—
Rights of Unmarried Women enlarged.—In 1864 (on the 31st of October) the position of unmarried women was improved. According to the law that was then enacted, an unmarried woman—
1. When she has reached her fifteenth year, may take charge of whatever she may earn.
2. When she has reached her twenty-first year she may manage her own property, if she chooses to do so, provided that she informs the court of her intention.
3. When she has reached her twenty-fifth year she is of age, and may manage her own property without informing the court thereof.
Rights of Inheritance.—In the beginning of the Swedish rule our country probably conformed to the old Swedish laws and regulations, according to which women had a right to inherit property only in cases where there were no male heirs.
Legislation of Birger Jarl: Women inherited one-third.—In the middle of the thirteenth century, Finnish (as well as Swedish) women were awarded the right of inheriting a third part of the property left by their parents, whereas two-thirds accrued to the male heirs. For this improvement our women were indebted to Birger Jarl, the great Swedish legislator and statesman, who bears an honoured name in our history.
Many exceptions, however, were made to this rule. Where the father was a landowner, for instance, the principal estate always descended to the son, whereas the daughter had to be content with some smaller estate of less value, or with part of the personal property.
Legislation of 1734: Daughters and Sons of Town People, etc., inherit Equal Shares.—Such was the state of things for several centuries, till it was at last changed somewhat for the better when the law of 1734 came into force. This law decreed that the sons and daughters of commoners living in towns, and those of the clergy, were to inherit equal shares. The daughters of the nobility and of all landowners in the country, however, remained in the same position as before.
Law now in force: Daughters and Sons inherit Equal Shares.—This lasted nearly one and a half centuries, until in all classes of society the daughters received the right of inheriting equal shares with the sons, which they did, according to a law enacted on 27th June 1878. Hence Finnish women now possess the same rights of inheritance as men. The latter, however, still in some cases have the advantage over women; e.g. where there is landed property to be inherited and the principal estate cannot be conveniently divided, then the brother or male heir is entitled to purchase the sister's part. The benefit thus accruing to the son injures the position of the daughter, in case the brother is a spendthrift or unable to pay the sum which represents her share of the paternal estate. Among the peasantry it is still customary to buy off the daughter with a small sum of money, regardless of what the true value of the estate may be, or with part of the personality, so that the male heir may have the whole of the estate.
Divorce is somewhat uncommon in Finland. Indeed, next to Belgium, that country shows the smallest number of divorced marriages; still divorce may be granted on the following grounds:—
On the plea of adultery. It is not, however, enough for the guilty party to acknowledge his or her guilt, which must be fully proved, as well as the time when, the place where, and the person with whom, it was committed.
If either husband or wife have, after the betrothal but before the marriage, committed adultery with some one else, and this is made known after marriage, the innocent party may claim a divorce, if he or she demand it.
The law is in this respect severer with women than with men; for if a husband be informed of his wife having been seduced by some one else before her betrothal with him, he has the right to claim divorce from her, but the wife has not the same right vice vers.
On the plea of deliberate desertion or prolonged absence. If either husband or wife absent himself or herself from home and do not return within a year after, the other party having inserted in the official newspapers of the country an advertisement calling on him or her to return, the one who remained at home has the right to sue for a divorce.
Far more marriages are marred by incompatibility of temper than by actual immorality, and, surely, if two people find they have made a mistake, and are irritants instead of sedatives to one another, they should not be left to champ and fret like horses at too severe a bit, for all their long sad lives—to mar one another's happiness, to worry their children, and annoy their friends. Our hideously cruel separation orders merely encourage immorality. Finland shows us an excellent example. The very fact of being able to get free makes folk less inclined to struggle at their chains. If life is intolerable to Mrs. Jones in Finland, away she goes by herself; at the end of a year Mr. Jones advertises three times in the paper for his wife or for information that will lead to his knowing her whereabouts; no one responds, and Mr. Jones can sue for and obtain a divorce without any of those scandalous details appearing in the press which are a disgrace to English journalism.
If either husband or wife be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
Besides these cases, which are set forth in the law as sufficient causes for divorce, there are other circumstances in consequence of which a marriage may be dissolved,—but only by means of direct application to the Emperor and Grand Duke of Finland, who may grant it as a favour. A divorced wife is considered as a widow; she has no more duties toward her husband, and can dispose of her person as well as of her property. A divorced couple may peaceably settle all about the children; but if they cannot do this, the innocent parent is entitled to take charge of them. Both parents must contribute means for their maintenance and education.
Since 1906, women in Finland have had exactly the same political rights as men. Practically every man and woman over twenty-four years of age may not only vote for Parliament, but is also eligible as a member. At the election of 1907, nineteen women members were returned; this number has fluctuated, however, and in 1912 there are but fourteen women members.
They also have municipal rights. Unmarried women, widows, and divorced women, provided they submitted to the necessary conditions, were given the municipal vote in 1873. Women are members of School Boards, Poor Law Guardians, and are eligible as members of several other municipal and parochial Boards; but they may not be chosen for Town Councils or the corresponding councils in rural parishes. In 1908 the Diet passed a new law concerning the municipal vote, giving equal rights to men and women, but that law being very Radical had—four years later—not received the sanction of the sovereign.
In the matter of education Finland is most advanced; and the fees all up the scale from folk-schools to the University itself are extremely low.
The folk-schools in 1910 were attended by 188,479 children, which was 6.11 per cent. of the population. The same year there were 2677 female teachers and 2222 male teachers in the folk-schools. Every country Commune has at least one permanent folk-school, but most have several. There are besides these, ambulatory schools, where teachers visit remote villages and hold classes, in order that children may not suffer by being a long distance from a folk-school.
Besides the folk-schools there are secondary schools, most of them leading up to the University. These numbered, in 1912, one hundred and twenty-seven. Seventy-four of them are mixed schools, and twenty-seven for boys only, the other twenty-six being for girls.
Many preparatory schools exist under private auspices, over which there is no State inspection.
The better-class children go to the secondary schools, though they are open to all classes, the fees being only thirty-two shillings per annum, with a reduction for brothers or sisters, and 20 per cent. of the whole number of pupils are received free of charge. In the private schools the annual fee varies, but rarely rises above ten pounds.
In Helsingfors the salaries for teachers in folk-schools are different for men and women, the latter receiving from 2000 to 3000 marks a year, and the men from 2400 to nearly 4000 marks per annum.
In the country Communes, however, salaries are now the same for men and women; but a teacher with a family dependent on him receives a bonus in addition to the salary, and this applies to men and women equally.
Could anything be better? Truly, a eugenic doctrine in the best sense. Could we in England not learn one of our many needed lessons in education from Finland on this point? All are entitled to a pension after thirty years' service.
Beyond the folk-schools are practical continuation classes for needlework, cooking, weaving, household work, and book-keeping.
And then, again, there are People's Colleges for both sexes aged about eighteen, for the advancement of culture and knowledge, and to kindle noble impulses.
One of these People's Colleges was established by a woman for women, and has now obtained a grant from the public funds.
Besides all the foregoing there are normal institutes or seminaries for folk-school teachers of both sexes; six of these seminaries are for Finnish folk-school teaching, and two for Swedish ones.
The instruction is free, candidates must be eighteen years of age, and the subjects are:—Biblical history and the Bible, Christianity and moral philosophy, popular psychology, pedagogics and the science of teaching, school-keeping, the mother tongue and the reading of suitable works in it, mathematics, geography, history, the statistics of Finland, natural history, calligraphy, writing of short essays, drawing and modelling, singing and instrumental music, elementary anatomy, physiology, and the care of small children according to the laws of hygiene. To all this long list there are added for female students, instruction in needlework and weaving, housekeeping, and gardening; and for the male, sljd, gardening, and fieldwork.
There are also State high schools for girls doing excellent work.
THE AMOUNT OF SALARIES AT THE STATE HIGH SCHOOLS FOR GIRLS.
+ -+ -+ + -+ No. of Salary Salary Lessons Marks increased a Week (Finnish after currency). fifteen years. + -+ -+ + -+ Lady Principal (lodgings free of charge) 14 2000 3200 Teachers (female) 20 1800 3000 Assistant Teachers (female) Drawing and Calligraphy 10 1000 1600 Singing 7 700 980 Gymnastics 15 1500 2400 "Kollega" (male or female) Senior 22 3800 6200 "Kollega" (male or female) Junior 22 3600 6000 + -+ -+ + -+
In Helsingfors and Wiborg, where the living is more expensive than in other Finnish towns, the principals and the lady teachers (but not the "kollegas") are in receipt of an addition to their salaries. Thus in Helsingfors a lady principal receives from the beginning 2800 marks, and after fifteen years' service, 4000.
Although this does not sound high remuneration, it must be remembered that salaries and expenses are proportionately low in Suomi.
Every woman entering the University must obtain permission from the Chancellor. He always grants it now, though formerly he often refused. There are, in 1912, 730 women out of a total of 3030 students—that is, 24 per cent.
There is no general annual fee at the University; at matriculation every student pays thirty-six shillings, and there is a small extra charge for the use of the laboratories; and, of course, students needing special instruction in any particular subject pay their professor a separate fee, about a pound per annum. In addition there are small fees for the examinations.
Men and women pay exactly the same, and enter for the same examinations, working side by side. The first woman to take a degree at the University (bacca laureate) was Frken Emma Irene Astrm in 1873, when she was appointed professor (lector) at one of the seminaries for the education of folk-school teachers.
In 1884 the Finnish Women's Association was formed, having obtained permission from the State for their name. Their object is to work for the elevation of their sex, intellectually and morally, and to better women's social and economical position.
Thirty years have seen the formation of many such societies; perhaps the greatest of them is an association called "Martha," similar to our English Mothers' Union. Its purpose is to approach the different classes and to heighten the standard of life among the poor by developing the women's ability in housekeeping and educating their children. It is spread all over the country, and has more than a hundred and fifty affiliated associations.
As we have already noticed, women follow many occupations which in the British islands are regarded as entirely men's employments—bricklaying, carpentry, paper-hanging, slaughtering, ship-loading, were all to be found in the returns, when I was in the country, under women's work. In public offices they were constantly employed long before women in Britain were recognised as capable of doing clerical work on a large scale; and even now, while our banks are staffed entirely by men, women in Finland are largely employed as clerks in banks as well as in insurance offices. They monopolise the telephone, and are in great request as compositors.
But turning to the more domestic duties of women; the Finns are as thorough in these as in other branches of education. It was at one time rather a fashion for the young ladies of Finland to go over to Sweden and enter what is called a Hushllskola, the literal translation of which is a "household school." They are taught cooking, laundry-work, weaving, dressmaking, house-maid's work, everything, in fact, that a woman could possibly want to know if she were left without any servants, or even on a desert island. They are practically instructed how to garden, they are sent marketing, they are taught to fish, and, having landed their prey, how to clean and cook it. In fact, they are fitted to be maids-of-all-work, skilled labourers and sportsmen, at one and the same time.
The full course occupies about eighteen months, and met with such success in Sweden that Finlanders have now organised several Hushllskola in Finland itself.
In 1799 one Wibeleins started a sort of technical education scheme. He printed books to further the weaving trade, gave prizes for spun thread, etc., to encourage the old trade then dying away—for women in the time of Kalevala wove, embroidered, spun, and worked in silver and bronze, at least so say the bards. Indeed, in 1529, bo linen was so famous that it was always used by the King of Sweden, therefore it is not surprising that weaving is still quite a pastime among Finnish ladies, and every cottager knows how to ply her shuttle. Where it has fallen into disuse women go about the country to teach and revive the decaying industry.
It is very sad when old trades disappear in rural districts, for nothing can take their place. No modern factories are started near at hand to employ the folk, and the result is they give up their old occupations and too often do not take to new instead. For instance, the once famous lace of Raumo, formerly sent in large quantities to Sweden and Russia (the thread came from England), was almost a forgotten art; but as with us, care has been taken to restore these old local industries, and Raumo lace-making is now in a most flourishing state.
The many employments open to women do not make the more fortunate forget those in trouble. Nursing the sick is a favourite profession in Finland, the emolument varying from two to six hundred marks per annum, in addition to board, etc.
Massage is a very old institution, so ancient that every village since the olden times has had at least one rubbing woman, as they call her. In the country they are generally given food in payment, but in towns from twenty-five penni to a mark for the time occupied. So many women do massage that really every one seems to know something about it, and one almost feels that massage must have originated in Suomi. It is certainly a great feature of Finnish life; and in addition to these massage women, who work for next to nothing, and who are merely peasant women, there are now everywhere in Finland highly trained masseuses, or, as they prefer to be called, "sick-gymnasts."
The University maintains courses, lasting for three years, for the training of such "sick-gymnasts," and the pupils are very often ladies from the best families. A qualified "sick-gymnast" often gets a remunerative practice, and may make an annual income of 10,000 marks or more.
The physical development of women is given a high place in the school curriculum in Finland, as was instanced in the Olympic games at Stockholm in 1912, when a group of Finnish girls proved by their suppleness of body and gymnastic proficiency that the traditions of Southern Greece are ably maintained to-day in Finland in the North.
One must not leave the subject of women in Suomi without touching upon their achievements in literature and the sister arts.
The earliest woman writer was Sarah Wacklin (1790-1846), who has left a valuable record of Finnish life in the first years of the nineteenth century. Her successors took up the question of the rights of women, and their emancipation; and the works of Mrs. Fredrika Runeberg (1807-1879) and Miss Adelaide Ehrnroth both set forth the arguments of the cause most strongly, not only in articles and pamphlets, but in novels of a high standard.
Since then many women have entered their names on the roll of the country's literature, and, strangely enough, the two girls I chaperoned through Finland—for, of course, being married I could act as a chaperone—were so inspired by the work of writing and its manifold interests, that both of them took to the pen later, and one is known to-day as Paul Waineman, and the other as Baroness Lonie Aminoff.
When we went to Kuopio we hoped to meet Minna Canth, one of the first Finnish writers in the country, whose powers as a dramatist we had learnt at Sordavala. We inquired where she lived, and found that she had a drapery store.
Every one in Finland works in some way, and, all work being considered honourable, the shopkeeper is equal to the noble.
Minna Canth's husband died some years ago, and being left with a family, she started this store, and certainly, when one realised that she was a woman with children to look after, that she wrote much—which we know takes time—it is perfectly wonderful how she could find energy and leisure to look after her shop. Yet it was so, and the business was in a most flourishing condition.
Finnish lady artists for the first time received international prizes and medals at the great World's Exhibition in Paris in the year 1889.
Of the achievements of Finland's women artists during the last twenty years I must not write in detail, for Finland has forged ahead in art as in other matters. At the time of my first visit, few Finnish women had devoted themselves to sculpture, and only one—Miss Sigrid af Forselles—had accomplished really good work. But to-day she no longer stands alone.
Already we see the first generation that benefited by the recognition of the power of women enjoying the prime of early manhood and womanhood; and it is certain that in the enormous upheaval in the old order of things that is going on all over the world, Suomi will hold her own in the forefront of education, for the learning of the mother must prove a valuable asset in moulding the characters of the citizens of the future.
A HAUNTED CASTLE
The bells rang! It was four A.M. when the ship Concordia, which had been our home for thirty-six hours, arrived at Nyslott, one of the small towns which are sparsely scattered over Finland.
Nyslott is famous for two things: its very modern "bath cure" accompanied by a "kasino"—of which French watering-places need have no jealousy—and, by way of extreme from such modernity, its other attraction is an old ruined castle, built originally in 1475. The castle is the most perfect left in Finland, and its position is certainly the most picturesque, for it stands quite alone on an island of rock, round which the current forms endless whirlpools. It is built with sharp buttresses, and once had five towers, of which, alas, only three remain, but those three are very perfect.
What stories that castle could tell of wars and sieges, of Russian and Swedish possessors, of Catholic and Lutheran sway, and of cruelty too horrible to dwell upon, although one cannot help realising its possibilities after entering the little dark cell in which two men were built up to live together in darkness and in hunger till death ended their sufferings.
The Roman Catholic Chapel still remains; windowless, save for a small hole over the stone altar, which certainly suggests artificial light having been thrown from behind on some sacred relic or picture—a theatrical effect not unknown to that faith. Its uneven stone floor, and its niches for the sacramental cup, all remain in weird darkness to remind one of ages long gone by. In turn the Castle has been Catholic, Lutheran, and Greek—so three persuasions have had their sway, and each has left its mark.
Our thoughtful friend, Grandpapa, whom we had left a fortnight before at Rttijrvi, was waiting for us at Nyslott, or rather, a moment after the ship stopped at the quayside in the early dawn of morning, he arrived, accompanied by a man in a boat, one of those regular Finnish boats pointed at each end known as a kuiru.
"Where are we to live?" we called, over the side.
"In the Castle, as you wished," was the reply; and overjoyed at the prospect of anything so romantic, we quickly transferred ourselves and our baggage into the boat below.
"I'm very anxious about this arrangement," said our youthful old friend. "When I arrived a fortnight ago, and found there was not a room to be had in the town, I was in despair; after wandering from house to house, again I beseeched the little hotel to take me in; but even their sofas were occupied. However, determining not to leave Nyslott till I had seen the famous castle, I got a boat and rowed across. Veni, vidi, vici—for I persuaded the watchman to put me up for the night, and there I am still. When, yesterday, I could find no habitation for you, I reluctantly telegraphed that the town was full and I was only put up by the Vahtimestari of the Castle. Imagine my horror when I got your reply—'Arrive 4 A.M., arrange stay Castle.'"
"Were you so very much horrified?" we laughed. "We thought it would be such fun, and so delightfully romantic."
"It was no fun to me. I felt utterly taken aback, and went off to consult an artist friend, who was painting the queer old place.
"'Nonsense, my dear fellow,' he said, 'you can't lodge ladies in this barrack. It's all very well for two watchmen, or for you, if you like, to rough it—but for women—nonsense, it is impossible.'
"'But,' I remarked, 'they are very enterprising, and one of them, who is writing a book, loves queer corners, odd experiences, and native life.'
"'I daresay,' replied he, 'but this Castle, I repeat, is impossible, especially for Englishwomen, who are all accustomed to much luxury.'
"Back into the town I went again to try for rooms, but without success. What was to be done? You were on the way, time was growing short, and I had arranged nothing. So once more to my watchman I returned and told him my awful dilemma, and the depths of my despair. He so thoroughly entered into the spirit of the thing, that he promised to do the best he could, and in an hour's time he had arranged for extra towels and a few necessaries to be sent over from the town."
"Delightful!" we exclaimed; "what a dear man! It is like a romance in a story book."
"But my story is not finished," Grandpapa replied, with a rueful face; "we had set to work to sweep, and brush, and clean with a will, in order to make the room more worthy of its occupants, when the Vahtimestari suddenly said—
"'I'm afraid, after all, you will have to go and get permission from the Mayor, or I may get into trouble for allowing ladies to sleep in this ruined Castle.'"
Here was an adventure. Our hearts quailed a little as we waited breathlessly for the finish of the story.
"I got into the boat," went on our friend, "pulled on shore, and set off to the Mayor, in order to obtain permission for you to sleep there. At first he sternly refused.
"'Ridiculous!' he said, 'bats and owls, goblins and ghosts! that is not a fit home for ladies—ridiculous, and quite impossible.'
"I explained and argued, told him how enterprising you were, and how well versed in travel, and at last he gave in, saying, 'Well, the old Castle has withstood many sieges, and it is hard it must give in without powder or shot to two Englishwomen.'
"Thus his reluctant permission was granted, and away I came triumphant. You are to have the watchmen's room, they the kitchen, and I am to sleep in the Lutheran Church, which chances to have a roof."
We were delighted, and at once started for our haunted Castle. We rowed away to our island home, and, when we appreciated the difficulty of steering through the fast-running whirlpool, to the only gate with its fine portcullis, we realised we were indeed on adventure bent.
It was barely dawn, and as we swept over the seething waters, and stood under the ancient archway, we felt like Mary Queen of Scots before the gates of Fotheringay.
We were indeed triumphantly triumphant. Far from the whistle of a train, right in the interior of Finland, standing beneath the portals of a famous castle virtually ruined and uninhabited—we felt at home.
The streaks of early morning sunlight lent enchantment to the romantic surroundings, as we wandered along queer passages, where the walls varied from five to fifteen feet thick, peeped into cellars and dungeons, and bending our heads under Norman arches, at last entered the first courtyard. We saw mysterious winding staircases, generally spiral, leading up and down into deep dark mystery. Certainly so far the ruins did not look as though they would protect any one from wind and rain, and we passed on, through walls that seemed impregnable, to ruined chambers, utterly roofless, in and out of which pigeons were flying happily at their sweet will.
The second courtyard was gravelled; but round its sides tangled beds of syringa in full flower, red and black currants nearly ripe, pretty wild roses and lilac almost looked homely, while white and yellow marguerites shadowed dear little wild strawberries, and a general air of naturalness prevailed. We had reached the very centre of our enchanted castle! How often had this courtyard been the scene of revelry, of tournaments and joustings, at which lovely woman had smiled and distributed her favours from the surrounding battlements.
"There is your room," exclaimed Grandpapa at last, pointing to a modern little bit of building erected for the custodian's use, in which, sure enough, was a real glass window.
Up the modern steps we mounted, to find a nice big room, poorly furnished, 'tis true, with one bed and a garden seat, two wooden chairs and a long wooden school bench, a table on which stood a brown earthenware bowl, and a large glass water carafe, that glass bottle which had haunted us since we set foot in Finland. The bench was to do duty for washstand and the impedimenta thereto. The wooden floor was delightfully scrubbed, and what mattered the simplicity when all was so delightfully clean!
Lo and behold, a bouquet of flowers stood in a tumbler on the table, the votive offering of the Finnish custodian himself; a charming welcome to his English visitors.
Out of this large bare chamber led a dear little kitchen, and farther along a passage and up some stairs we came to the old church—capable of seating a couple of hundred persons, although it did not really possess a single seat—which was to serve as Grandpapa's bedroom. Churches invariably do service for sleepers even to-day in Iceland, where hotels are practically non-existent, except in two or three instances, and even habitations are few and far between.[C]
So this was to be for a brief space our home; a real, wild, weird, romantic home, seated on its rocky island away from the world, away from every sign of life save pigeons or bats; full of grim spirits—if tradition were to be believed—and nightly walked by strange women and blood-stained men—for stories there are in plenty concerning the great Castle of Olavin Linna as the Finns call it, at Savonlinna, the Finnish name for Nyslott.
We wandered everywhere: we peered into all the mysteries. Verily a ruin. Mounting to an upper floor by the solid stone steps outside, we found ourselves in another chamber, the roof of which was supported by rafters, through the thick walls of which a long dark passage led us round two sides of the courtyard, passing a small tower by the way from which we could see yet another court, whose wide grass-grown ramparts overhung the rapidly-flowing current of the lake.
Here was the hall of the knights, a long and dark chamber—so dark, in fact, that we wondered how any one had ever been able to see clearly in it. On all sides were rooms and pitch-black dungeons, for at the time the Castle was built (1475) the powers-that-were thought nothing of shutting people up in dark little holes, where they left them to die, and the Olavin Linna seems to have been particularly rich in such choice chambers. From where we stood, a few steps up a winding staircase led us to a big tower containing a large round room, called the ladies' drawing-room. The dames of that period certainly had a glorious view all round for miles and miles, although they were far removed from the life going on below. From this point of vantage we saw how the Castle literally covered the whole of the rock, and occupied a most commanding position where three lakes met. As we wandered down again, we chanced into a queer sort of chamber, wherein half a dozen weird straggling trees struggled to exist. It was almost dark; the storms of winter could rustle through those blank windows, and the trees were white, and gray, and sickly—more like phantoms than real trees—so queer and withered and pale and anmic were their leaves, and yet they stood eight or ten feet high, showing they had boldly struggled for life.
After having thus gained a general idea, snatched a sort of bird's-eye view of this strange Castle, we returned to our room and investigated its capabilities.
There was one small bed, already honourably mentioned, and a garden seat—one of those well-known benches made of thin wooden laths, with a rounded uncomfortable seat and back.
"Could we manage with such meagre accommodation?" Grandpapa asked timorously, "or must another bed be hired; that is to say, if another bed can be hired, or bought, in a town already overcrowded."
We looked at our friend's troubled face, and, feeling we had already caused him a sad amount of inconvenience, valiantly replied, "We will manage." And manage we did.
To the "elderly scribe" was allotted the bed, a very finely carved wooden erection; but let me at once own that, although I had slept on hay in a tent in other lands, passed a night on a dining-room table, several on the floor, and in deck-chairs, I never slept in anything quite so "knobby" as that extraordinary bed. A lump here, and a lump there, always seemed to select the most inconvenient part of one's frame to stick in, and sometimes getting on a nerve quite numbed the spot. After the first night I asked the Vahtimestari to turn and knead the mattress, which he cheerfully promised to do, and no doubt did. But all his turning and pounding was perfectly useless, so after a second restless night, which left me beautifully black and blue from head to foot, I determined to investigate the mysteries of that bed for myself.
When I removed the under-sheet a bewildering problem was solved. On the top of the mattress lay an enormous coat, lined throughout with black sheepskin. Its double-rolled collar had made a huge ridge down the middle of my back, across which a thick waist-belt had not unsuccessfully tried to form a bridge—the sleeves could only be accounted mountains, while innumerable buttons had left their impress on every inch of my body! I felt very sorry for my flesh that morning!
Four nights passed on a hard garden seat does not sound entrancing; nevertheless, on such a non-captivating couch, my sister, helped by rugs and a pillow, slept the sleep of the just, and of youth.
Her "plank bed" may have been—nay, certainly must have been—hard, and the Castle certainly was primitive, but everything, bedding included, was spotlessly clean, and, after all, cleanliness and a quiet conscience compensate for much—anyhow she slept; that is a fact for which I can vouch.
During the first night of our stay at Nyslott one of us lay and dreamed a semi-waking dream, in which the old rock—Nature's fortress—appeared in the lake bleak, bare, grim, and lonely until 1475, when the first stones of Olavin Linna were laid. After that the scene suddenly shifted, and the bloody battles of 1743, when Nyslott was taken by the Russians, were again fought for the benefit of a new spectator, only, as it seemed, for the Castle to be given back four years later to Finland! A very curious reminiscence to occur to any person's mind between "sleeping and waking." Later on, that over-tired traveller mused dreamily on the three periods of history, pictured scenes during the two hundred and sixty-eight years of Swedish sovereignty, the half century under Russian sway, and the more modern happenings under Finnish rule, its troubles practically ended in 1871, from which date they have been but a souvenir in the history of Europe.
Olavin Linna was the spot around which three different races met and struggled; the Russians, the Finns, and the Swedes. The Russians with their superior numbers, their riches, and their sharpness, pushed the Finns towards the North and took their country, the now northern half of Russia in Europe. The Swedes came and conquered the Slavs; founded a dynasty and called their State Russia (i.e. Sweden, Ruotsi being the Finnish name for Sweden to this day). The Swedes also conquered the remaining part of ancient Finland, and introduced Christianity, and the strong and freedom-loving Scandinavian law.
The struggle now remained between the Scandinavians and the Slavs—between a democratic and courageous race and an oligarchic and diplomatic one. Then our Castle—our own—for had we not conquered it?—was built on the frontier to resist the inroads of the Slavs. But again the Russians were triumphant. Sweden succumbed, while Russia took the remainder of ancient Finland. Since then Russia has become a great power.
Alexander I. granted to that part of Finland, imbued with Scandinavian law, the privilege of considering itself a nation, and continuing its former laws and government. Under this state of things the country grew prosperous. It arose and shook itself from its dormant existence of the previous six hundred years, collected its own traditions, and worked hard for education, so that it might continue a distinct race.
Then was built the large modern red brick schoolhouse at Savonlinna—a fortress of learning to take the place of the old Castle, and to teach the people that "the pen is indeed mightier than the sword."
One of us twain dreamed again! Saw the Castle built by Erik Tott, a member of one of the greatest Finnish-Swedish families, and read the inscription—
Anno Domini 1475 leth iag Erik Axelsson Ridder i Lagn, bygia thette Slt, Gud till loff, Christum, helga Christna tro till styrkielse, och th var hustra min Elin Gtstaffsdotter i Lagmans.
Anno Domini 1475 let Erik, son of Axel Knight of Lagn, build this Castle to the Glory of God, to strengthen the Holy Christian Faith in Christ: and then was my wife's name Elin, daughter of Gtstaff[D] in Lagmans.
That weary traveller saw the indignation at its erection at Nyslott, just within the Russian limits of the frontier, saw the five splendid towers finished, of which three now remain, and the Bastion Dick properly rebuilt.
And then all grew suddenly dark, and, in a deeper sleep, that dreamer groped along the gloomy subterranean passage, said to run from the clock tower to the town, seemed to hear the rushing water, a hundred and twenty feet deep at this point, tearing like a cataract overhead, peered into those many strange dark chambers, and hearkened, appalled, to the piercing shrieks of those two wretched men bricked up together in yonder small chamber, in darkness till death brought relief.
What a life, and what a death! Four stone walls round a room about six feet by ten—with an earthen floor and a low ceiling—no window for light, no stove for warmth in that bitterly cold land.
Half waking from troubled slumber the weary traveller shivered to think of the horror that had been enacted so close to her elaborately carved bedstead and its lumpy mattress.
How hot it still was! The day had been almost tropical, but it is a merciful provision of Providence that all days, even one beginning at four A.M., must end at last, and as I, the nineteenth century traveller, the "elderly scribe," aroused myself sufficiently to shake off those terrible visions of a cruel past, I realised it was getting on for midnight. I heard our friend going to rest in his chapel-chamber, and, turning over, tried to go to sleep. How quiet everything was! Except for the gnawing of the rats or mice under the floor—no unusual sound in an old castle, of course—and so unconsciousness came—I slept—yes, I slept—till——
Ah! what was that! Was it? yes, it was—some one calling; and yet it could not be.
The custodians had both retired to their kitchen to rest I knew—for had I not heard them trudging upstairs to seek their improvised couches long before?—and yet, most certainly, a loud strange call had broken the silence of night. Was it, really uttered by a human being, or could it be—no, no, of course not. A spirit? Ridiculous! The very idea was preposterous, and, lying down again, I argued how absurd were such fears, how I had been simply dreaming; over-fatigued after a long day's travel—how, in fact, my mind was disorganised, and the best thing to do was to fall asleep at once. At that moment a tremendous peal of thunder broke overhead, while, simultaneously, the whole room was flooded with light. It played over the walls, it danced over the floor, and then a clap more tremendous than the first seemed to shake the very building. Yet through the roll of heaven's artillery I heard that hideous weird cry distinctly audible.
Starting up again in response, I began to think sleeping in a haunted castle was not such fun after all; that there must be something very uncanny about Nyslott, more especially when a strange door creaked on its hinges, that sort of rasping squeak one associates with the opening of a door generally kept firmly closed—and muffled feet pattered over the stairs.
Nearer came the sound, nearer, yet nearer. My heart jumped into my mouth, it ceased almost to beat as the strange footsteps stopped on the very threshold of our room. "Oh!" I gasped, thinking that in another moment spirit fingers would turn the handle, and a ghostly figure enter the room. What form would it take? Would the phantom be man or woman—tall or short—an assassin, murderer, or victim? Yes, the steps had ceased at our very door, and the next moment they would be upon us.
But after that brief pause the muffled patter passed on, it became more and more indistinct, and again all was still.
What a relief! it was perhaps nothing after all—imagination, hallucination probably, but nothing real—nothing any way to fear.
Stay though! The voice, a voice, another voice unheard before, spoke in murmured accents, and then a deeper bass than that which had previously called shouted again and again in muffled reply.
This was too horrible!
It must be a ghost; nay, not even a single ghost but two, and what chance had one poor living woman and a sleeping girl against such odds from the spirit land?
The whole thing, even at Nyslott, seemed too terribly impossible; so I pinched myself to make sure I was awake, only to hear the awful footsteps—duplicated—coming back! By this time my sister was awake, and lazily asking "What is the matter?"
"H-st-st," I answered under my breath.
Thud, thud—the mysterious footsteps drew nearer and nearer—
They were almost again at our door, when absolutely petrified by fear, and clammy by reason of the awful Nyslott stories we had been told, we twain sat up straight feeling creepy and cold all over.
The footsteps came on apace, and we held our breath, thinking our time had come; but was it? could it be? Yes, yes, thank heaven it was! We recognised the voice of our own custodian talking softly to his comrade.
It was no ghost after all! only the under Vahtimestari who, having spent the evening on shore, shouted as usual to be admitted. It was his strange voice echoing through those empty corridors and vaulted chambers that had waked us from our first sleep. His cries not being heard by reason of thunder roaring and rolling, he had called and called again with increasing energy till admitted.