Well we remember a horrible experience. We had driven all day, and were dead tired when we retired to rest, where big, fat, well-nourished brown things soon disturbed our peace; and, judging by the number of occupants that shared our couch, the peasant had let his bed out many times over. Sitting bolt up, we killed one, two, three, then we turned over and tried again to sleep; but a few moments and up we had to sit once more. Keating had failed utterly—Finnish bed-fiends smile at Keating—four, five, six—there they were like an advancing army. At last we could stand it no longer, and passed the night in our deck-chairs. Those folding deck-chairs were a constant joy. In the morning we peeped at the nice linen sheets; sprinkled on the beds were brown-red patches, here and there as numerous as plums in a pudding, each telling the horrible tale of murders committed by English women.
We had to rough it while travelling from Kuopio to Uleborg. Often eggs, milk, and black bread with good butter were the only reliable forms of food procurable, and the jolting of the carts was rather trying; but the clothes of the party suffered even more than ourselves—one shoe gradually began to part company with its sole, one straw hat gradually divided its brim from its crown, one of the men's coats nearly parted company from its sleeve, and the lining inside tore and hung down outside. We had not time to stop and mend such things as we might have mended, so we gradually grew to look worse and worse, our hair turning gray with dust, and our faces growing copper-coloured with the sun. We hardly looked up to West End style, and our beauty, if we ever possessed any, was no longer delicate and ethereal, but ruddy and robust. We were in the best of health and spirits, chaffing and laughing all day long, for what is the use of grumbling and growling over discomforts that cannot be helped—and half the joy of compagnons de voyage is to laugh away disagreeables at the time, or to chat over curious reminiscences afterwards.
Never less alone than when alone is a true maxim; but not for travelling; a pleasant companion adds a hundredfold to the pleasures of the journey, especially when the friendship is strong enough to stand the occasional strains on the temper which must occur along wild untrodden paths.
On that memorable drive through Savolax in Northern Finland, we paid a somewhat amusing and typical visit to a Pappi (clergyman) at a Pappila, or rectory. These country Luthersk Kyrka (Lutheran churches) are few and far between, a minister's district often extending eight or ten miles in every direction, and his parishioners therefore numbering about six or eight thousand, many of whom come ten miles or more to church, as they do in the Highlands of Scotland, where the Free Kirk is almost identical with the Lutheran Church of Finland. In both cases the post of minister is advertised as vacant, applicants send in names, which are "sifted," after which process the most suitable are asked to come and perform a service, and finally the Pappi of Finland, or minister of Scotland, is chosen by the people.
There is seldom an organ in the Finnish country churches, and, until Andrew Carnegie gave some, hardly ever in the Scotch Highlands—each religion has, however, its precentor or Lukkari, who leads the singing; both churches are very simple and plain—merely whitewashed—perhaps one picture over the altar—otherwise no ornamentation of any kind.
On one of our long drives we came to a village proudly possessing a church and a minister all to itself, and, being armed with an introduction to the Pappi, we arranged to call at the Pappila.
"Yes," replied a small boy with flaxen locks, "the Pappi is at home." Hearing which good news in we went. It was a large house for Finland, where a pastor is a great person. There were stables and cow-sheds, a granary, and quite a nice-sized one-storeyed wooden house. We marched into the salon—a specimen of every other drawing-room one meets; the wooden floor was painted ochre, and polished, before each window stood large indiarubber plants, and between the double windows was a layer of Iceland moss to keep out the draughts of winter, although at the time of our visit in July the thermometer stood somewhere about 90 Fahr., as it often does in Finland during summer, when the heat is sometimes intense. Before the middle window was the everlasting high-backed prim sofa of honour, on which the stranger or distinguished guest is always placed; before it the accustomed small table, with its white mat lying diamond fashion over the stuff cloth cover, all stiff and neat; also at other corners of the room were other tables surrounded by half a dozen similarly uncomfortable chairs, and in the corner was that rocking-chair which is never absent from any home. Poor Finlanders! they do not even know the luxury of a real English armchair, or a Chesterfield sofa, but always have to sit straight up as if waiting to eat their dinner—very healthy, no doubt, but rather trying to those accustomed to less formal drawing-room arrangements. But then it must be remembered that everything is done to encourage general conversation in Finland, and the rooms seem specially set out with that object.
In a moment one of the three double doors opened, and a lady of middle age, wearing a cotton gown, entered, and bade us welcome. She could only speak Finnish, so although we all smiled graciously, conversation came to an untimely end, for Finnish is as unlike English, French, German, or even Swedish, as Gaelic is to Greek. Happily the Pappi soon appeared; a fine-looking man with a beard and a kindly face. He spoke Swedish, and could understand a few German words; so he spoke Swedish, we spoke German very slowly, and the conversation, although, as may be imagined, not animated, was quite successful, particularly as it was helped occasionally by a translation from our cicerone, who could talk French fluently. We were particularly struck by a splendid old clock, wondrously painted, which stood in a corner of the room. A grandfather's clock is a very common piece of furniture in Finland, and in many of the farmhouses we visited we saw the queer old wooden cases we love so well in England, painted with true native art. Just as the Norwegians love ornamenting their woodwork with strange designs, so the Finns are partial to geometrical drawings of all descriptions; therefore corner cupboards, old bureaus, and grandfather clocks often come in for this form of decoration. Another favourite idea is to have a small cup of shot on the writing-table, into which the pen is dug when not in use—and sand is still used in many places instead of blotting-paper.
While the Pappi was explaining many things, his wife had slipped away, as good wives in Suomi always do, to order or make the coffee, because no matter at what time one pays a visit, coffee and cakes invariably appear in about half an hour; it is absolute rudeness to leave before they come, and it is good taste to drink two cups, although not such an offence to omit doing so as it is to leave a Moorish home without swallowing three cups of sweet mint-flavoured tea.
We were getting on nicely with our languages, endlessly repeating Voi, Voi, which seems to be as useful in Finnish as so in German, helped by a good deal of polite smiling, when a door opened and mamma returned, followed by a boy of seventeen, who was introduced as "our son." We got up and shook hands. He seized our finger, and bowed his head with a little jerk over it—that was not all, however, for, as if desirous of dislocating his neck, he repeated the performance with a second handshake. This was extra politeness on his part—two handshakes, two jerky bows; all so friendly and so homely.
By the time he had finished, we realised that another boy, a little younger, was standing behind ready to continue the entertainment.
Then came a girl, and seven small children, all brushed up and made beautiful for the occasion, marched in in a row to make acquaintance with the Englantilaiset, each, after he or she had greeted us, quietly sitting down at one of the other tables, where they all remained placidly staring during the rest of the visit. A circle is considered the right thing in Finland, and the old people alone talk—the young folk listening, and, let us hope, improving their minds. Coffee came at last; a funny little maid, with her hair in a long plait, brought in a tray, with a pretty embroidered cloth, a magnificent plated coffee-pot, luscious cream, and most appetising cakes, something like shortbread, and baked at home. We ate and we drank, we smiled upon the homely kind hostess, we shook hands with her, and all the children in a row on leaving, and the pastor, with a huge bunch of keys, accompanied us to see his church, which, funnily enough, we could only reach by the help of a small boat—all very well in the summer when boats can go, or in the winter when there is ice to cross, but rather disheartening at the mid-seasons, when crossing becomes a serious business and requires great skill. There was a "church boat" lying near by, a great huge cumbersome sort of concern that twelve people could row at a time, and two or three times as many more stand or sit in, and on Sundays this boat plied to and fro with the congregation. The church boats are quite an institution in Finland. They will sometimes hold as many as a hundred persons—like the old pilgrim boats—some twenty or thirty taking the oars at once. It is etiquette for every one to take a turn at rowing, and, as the church is often far away from the parishioners, it is no unusual thing for the church boat to start on Saturday night, when the Sabbath is really supposed to begin, and it is quite a feature in the life of Suomi to see the peasants arriving on Saturday evening straight from their work at the waterside, at the appointed time for starting to their devotions, with their little bundles of best clothes. They are all very friendly, and as they row to the church they generally sing, for there is no occasion on which a number of Finns meet together that they do not burst into song. This weekly meeting is much valued.
Arrived at the church, they put up for the night at the homesteads round about, for be it understood the church is often some distance even from a village; or, if balmy summer, they lie down beneath the trees and, under the brilliant canopy of heaven, take their rest.
When morning comes the women don their black frocks, the black or white head-scarves, take their Bibles—neatly folded up in white handkerchiefs—from their pockets, and generally prepare themselves for the great event of the week. When the church service, which lasts some hours, is over, they either turn up their skirts, or more often than not take off their best things and, putting them back into the little bundle, prepare to row home again.
The church boats are, of course, only used in the summer; in the winter the route is much shortened by the universal snow and ice, which makes it possible to sledge over land or sea alike, and make many short cuts. On a later date we went to a Sabbath service at a Luthersk Kyrka, and a very remarkable affair it proved. As we drove up to the church about one o'clock, we found over a hundred krra or native carts standing outside. In these funny "machines," as our Scotch friends would rightly call them, many of the congregation had arrived, and, after having tied their horses to the railings outside, gone in to service. The church held nearly four thousand people, and every man and woman present was a peasant. The building was crowded to excess, the sexes being divided by the centre aisle. Nearly every one wore black, that being considered the proper wear for Sundays, weddings, and festivals, especially for the married women, who also wore black silk handkerchiefs over their heads. Each woman carried a large white handkerchief in her hand, upon which she leaned her head while praying. Subsequently we found that all the females rolled their prayer-books up in these cloths while carrying them home.
Service had begun at ten, so that three hours of it was over when we arrived, and the Communion, which lasted another hour and a half, was about to begin. The place was packed, the day very hot, and the peasant atmosphere a little oppressive. We were much struck by the children; mere babies actually being nursed by their mothers, while elder urchins walked in and out of the building—going sometimes to have a game with various other little friends amidst the graves outside, plaiting daisy-chains, or telling fortunes by large ox-eyed daisies. The men walked out also and enjoyed a pipe or gossip with a neighbour, and there was that general air of freedom which prevails in a Roman Catholic Church during divine service; nevertheless, the intense simplicity, the devotion, the general inclination to moan and weep, reminded us of the Highland Kirk. But it was very surprising to hear the Pastor tell his congregation that at a certain day he would be at an appointed place to receive grain, butter, potatoes, calves, etc. The clergymen are paid in "kind," which to them is a suitable arrangement, as they are generally peasants' sons and well able to attend to their own glebes; but it did sound funny to hear a clergyman, standing in the pulpit, talk of butter and eggs.
When the congregation stood up we naturally stood up with them. The Finlanders are short, and for two women five feet seven or eight high, with hats on the tops of their heads, suddenly to rise, amazed a congregation the female members of which were seldom taller than five feet one or two, and wore nothing on their heads but a flat handkerchief. We felt like giraffes towering over the rest of the people, and grew gradually more and more ashamed of our height and hats, simple though the latter were. How we longed to be short and have our heads covered with black silk handkerchiefs like the rest of the folk around, so as to be unnoticeable in their midst.
We felt we were a very disturbing influence; for, gradually, those who had not noticed our entrance began to realise there was something strange in the church, and nudged their friends to look at two tall women—dark into the bargain—each with a hat on her head. Their surprise might be forgiven, for to them we must have appeared strange apparitions indeed. In that church there was no organ, but a young man got up and started the singing, just as a precentor does in the Highlands; having once given them the tune, that vast congregation followed his lead very much at their own sweet wills.
For our own part, certainly, we came away much impressed by their devoutness, and not a little touched and interested by the simplicity of the Lutheran service.
When we came out some of the men, who had previously slipped away, were beginning to harness their ponies in order to drive very possibly ten miles. Little groups were also forming to enjoy the luncheons brought in handkerchiefs, ere starting to walk back long distances to their homes.
Verily, we might have been in Scotland; there were the gossips round the church doors, the plate to hold the pence, covered with a white cloth, ay, and even the dogs were waiting; there were the women lifting up their black skirts, inside out, exactly as her Highland sister when attired in her best gown. How like in many characteristics the two nations are.
It seems ridiculous to be always writing of the intense heat in Finland, but as it is generally supposed to be a cold country, where furs and rugs are necessary even in the summer, we could not help being struck by the fact of the almost tropical temperature, at times, which we encountered all through June, July, and August. No wonder people had laughed at our fur coats on arrival. It is a fact that although in Finland the winters are terribly long and severe, the summers are extremely hot.
Just before reaching Iisalmi we turned in at the gate of Herr Stoehman, a large gentleman-farmer to whom we had an introduction, and paid a most pleasant visit. He was a delightful man, hospitality personified; and his wife at once invited us to stay with them, utter strangers though we were.
He has a sort of agricultural college, in the dairy department of which we were specially interested. Our host takes twenty peasants at a time, who remain for a two years' course. In the summer they are taught practical farming out of doors, in the winter theoretical, indoors.
It was a wonderful institution, splendidly organised, well kept, and quite a model in its way. Indeed, it is amazing to see how advanced the Finlanders are in all matters of technical education, and there is no doubt but that the future of Suomi will be the outcome of the present teaching.
Adjoining was a Mejeri, where a dozen women Were being instructed in butter and cheese-making. The butter all goes to England, while the cheese is an excellent copy of our own cheddar, which we have almost forgotten how to make.
Poor old Albion!
Butter and cheese-making is quite a new trade, pursued with energy in Finland.
Until about 1880 co-operative dairying was almost unknown in Denmark, and now Denmark is a rich country which has established over two thousand creameries, and sends to England alone some 7,000,000 worth of butter annually, to say nothing of eggs and bacon.
Finland not having been slow to see the extent to which Denmark had succeeded, Mejeris were established here and there over the land for the making of butter and cheese; indeed, there were in 1912 seven hundred and fifty-four of them in existence.
Imagine our surprise when driving along a country road, right in the wilds of Finland, to see a vast herd of cows being driven home to be milked; yet this happened several times.
"Where are they going?" we asked on one occasion; "how can so few families require so much milk?"
"They are going to the creamery," was the reply. "This neighbourhood could not use the milk, which is all made into cheese, and the cream into butter, to be exported to England."
Being much interested in the subject, having written a pamphlet Danish versus English Buttermaking, we of course stopped to see the creamery, and were amazed to find it conducted on the latest scientific Danish principles, and, although established little over a year, in full working order.
The proprietor only owned sixty cows, but he had the milk sent in from a hundred more, and exactly as they return the skim milk in Denmark, so they return it in Finland. By a careful process of autumn calving, the Finnish dairymen manage to have most milk in the winter, when they make butter, which they send seventy miles by sledge to the nearest railway train, to be borne hence to Hang, the only port in Finland that is open during the winter months. There it meets a steamer which conveys it to England.
In 1874, there were exported about 5,159,885 kilograms (about 2 lbs.).
In 1909, this quantity had doubled itself, the amount exported being 11,632,200 kilograms.
Of this, Great Britain took the larger share, her import of Finnish butter being of the value of twenty-four million marks, while Russia's only reached four million marks.
Formerly all the butter was sent to Russia; but Russia, like every other country, except England, woke up and began making her own butter. Finland, however, does not suffer, she merely ships to England direct, or through Denmark to England instead, and the trade in ten years has trebled itself.
Few of us in England realise what a large sum goes out of this country every day for butter consumed by a people unable to make it for themselves. England imports vast quantities of butter from Normandy, Brittany, Australia, and the Argentine, and much comes from Denmark, to which country Finland is a fair rival.
We stayed at the Mejeri late into the night, for we were always making mistakes as to time in that bewilderingly everlasting daylight. After weeks of eternal light, one begins to long for the peace of darkness.
One of my sister's greatest joys, and one of my greatest discomforts, was a kodak. Now, a large kodak is one of those hard uncomfortable things that refuses to be packed anywhere; it takes up too much room in a Gladstone bag, it is apt to get broken in the rug-strap, and, therefore, the wretched square box invariably has to be carried at all inconvenient times and seasons. However, as there were no photographs to be procured of Northern Finland, and my sister declared there was no time for me to make any sketches, we decided to struggle with the kodak, and I tried to bear the annoyance of its presence in the anticipation of the joy of future results. My sister kodaked here and kodaked there; she jumped out of the little cart and made snap-shots of old peasants and older houses, of remarkable-looking pigs and famine-stricken chickens. In fact, she and the kodak were here, there, and everywhere, and glorious reproductions were anticipated. Each day she exclaimed, "What a mercy we have not to wait for you to sketch. Why, I can do twenty or thirty pictures while you do one." I felt the reproof and was silenced.
Then came a day when the roll of a hundred had to be changed. We all know the everlasting cry, the endless excuse for bad photographs. "You see, the light got in;" and generally the offender, we learn, is some ruthless custom-house official, who cares nothing for travel and less for art, and whose one joy is unearthing cigars and disturbing ladies' hats. This time "the light got in" with a vengeance. For a couple of days my wretched sister endeavoured to find a place to change that roll, but in a land where there is continual day it is absolutely impossible to find night!
We inquired for cellars, we even sought for a cave—all unsuccessfully; and so the night we left the Mejeri she decided that the roll must be changed, and darkness secured somehow. There were two windows to our bedroom; we had two travelling rugs; one was pinned up over each window, but the light streamed in above and below and round the curtains. We then pinned up our skirts, but even that was not sufficient; we added bodices to the arrangement, the length of the sleeves filling up inconvenient cracks, but the light still streamed under and above and round the two doors. We laid pillows on the floor, and got rid of that streak of illumination; we stuffed the sides and top with towels, but even then there was a wretched grayness in our chamber which forbode ill.
"I know," exclaimed my sister, "I shall get under the bed." But as the bed was of wood and very low, she only succeeded in getting her own head and the kodak beneath its wooden planks, while I carefully built her in with blankets and eider-downs, and left her to stifle on a dreadfully hot night with a nasty-smelling little lamp under the mattresses.
She groaned and she sighed, but at last she emerged triumphant, if very hot, from the undertaking. Particularly happy in the result of our midnight performances, she started another roll, and felt assured that she had a hundred excellent photographs of the life of the people in the interior of dear old Finland. Only after we returned to London did the terrible truth reveal itself; the light had indeed got in, and one after another of the films, as they were taken from their bath, disclosed nothing but gray blackness!
The laugh (and the cry) was on my side now. Why, oh why, had I not persevered with the sketches, instead of only doing one at our midnight haven of rest in the Uleborg rapids?
[E] Described in A Winter Jaunt to Norway.
A "TORP" AND "TORPPARI" WEDDING
Like most Finnish towns, Iisalmi proved somewhat disappointing. We waited a day or two, to rest, to collect letters and answer them, to bathe and mend our clothes, and then gladly jogged on again.
Our start from Iisalmi for Kajana was somewhat remarkable. Having dined and enjoyed our coffee, we had ordered the krra for five o'clock, when it was cooler, well knowing that, in consequence of the Finns' slowness, it would take at least an hour to pack our luggage away. The queer little two-wheeled vehicles drove into the courtyard. They had no springs, and no hood to protect us from the rain or sun; but were merely fragile little wooden carts, such as are used by the natives themselves. The seat was placed across them dog-cart fashion, and behind it and under it the luggage had to be stowed. Verily, we were starting through Finland in carts!
On this occasion our party mustered six in all; therefore, as a krra holds but two, three of these primitive little vehicles were required for our accommodation. We were very anxious to dispense with the services of the coachmen, two of them at all events, as we had often done before, for it seemed quite ridiculous, considering we always drove ourselves, to take two men with us who were not wanted, and whose extra weight told on a long country journey. But not a bit of it; no amount of persuasion could induce them to stop behind. They were looking forward to the trip with pleasurable excitement, and evidently considered travelling with English ladies a special honour. The amount of talking and discussing and arranging that went on over this simple matter is appalling to think about even now. First of all they said there was too much luggage, although they had already interviewed the luggage the day before. Then they declared that if they took it they must be paid ten marks extra for doing so; then they packed all the heavy articles into one krra, and all the light into another, and finally came to the conclusion that this plan would not answer, and unpacked everything again. It really became ridiculous at last, and we sat on the steps of the little hostelry and roared with laughter to see them shaking their fists first at each other, and then at our unoffending Finnish friends, while measuring the Gladstones or thumping the rugs. All this fuss was about three Gladstones, a small dress-basket, only the size of a suit case, a bundle of rugs, and a basket full of provisions!
By half-past six, however, matters were amicably settled, and the patient little ponies, which had stood perfectly still throughout the squabble, feeling us mount into our places, started off at a full gallop out of the town almost before we had caught the reins. Sheer bravado on the part of the ponies, or one might perhaps better say training, for it is the habit of the country to go out of towns with a dash, and enter after the same fashion.
As a rule, the coachman sits on the floor at the feet of the off-side occupant of the krra, holding the reins immediately over the splash-board, and dangling his feet somewhere above the step. If he does not do this, he hangs on by his eyelashes behind, balanced on the top of the luggage.
Our men, or rather lads, afforded us much amusement before we parted with them two days later, for their interest in us was quite wonderful, and, finding that we were surprised at many things to which they were quite accustomed, they began showing off every trifle with the air of princes. When they came to a friend's house on the route they invited us to enter, consequently we drank milk with many queer folk, and patted the heads of numerous native children.
After our gentlemen friends had finally paid these coachmen and given them their tips at Kajana, some days later our sitting-room door burst open, and in the three solemnly filed, cap in hand, looking somewhat shy, and formally went through the process of handshaking with us all in turn. If the warmth of their affections was meant to be conveyed by the strength of their grip, they must have loved us very much indeed, for our fingers tingled for an hour afterwards; but the funniest part of all, perhaps, was the whisper of one in my ear. Finnish was his language; I did not understand a word and shook my head; when, putting his mouth still closer to my ear, he murmured the words again. Alas! I could not understand, and he knew it; yet his anxiety was so great he tried and tried again to make me comprehend. "Take me to England," at last I understood was the translation of the words the nervous youth, with many blushes and much twirling of his cap, kept repeating. But firmly and decisively I declined the honour, and he left quite crestfallen.
The tenant farmer, who often pays his rent in labour, is called a torppari, and his house a torp. He can only be likened to the crofters in the poorer parts of Scotland; but where the crofter builds his house of stone, the torppari erects his of wood; where the crofter burns peat and blackens his homestead absolutely, the torppari uses wood, and therefore the peat reek is missing, and the ceilings and walls merely browned; where the crofter sometimes has only earth for his flooring, the torp is floored neatly with wood, although that wood is often very much out of repair, the walls shaky with age, extra lumps of Iceland moss being poked in everywhere to keep out the snow and rain.
Before the door was a sort of half wigwam made of tree trunks, standing outwards with the top end leaning against the house; this was to protect the door from the winter snows, to make a sort of screen in fact, so that it need not be dug out every day as is sometimes necessary. The door itself was only about three feet high, and began a foot from the ground,—another plan to keep back the encroaching snow. Yet these torps are very superior, and the inhabitants much richer than those wretched folk who dwell in the Savupirtti, a house without a chimney.
There are many such queer abodes in Finland, more especially in the Savo or Savolax districts there yet remain a large number of these Savupirtti, the name given to a chimneyless house in the nominative singular in Finnish, famous as we know for its sixteen cases, which so alter the original that to a stranger the word becomes unrecognisable.
To a foreigner these Savupirtti are particularly interesting, and as we drove through the country we peeped into several of such curious homesteads, all more or less alike, and all absolutely identical in their poverty, homes which in 1912 only exist in the most remote districts.
Seeing a queer tumbledown little hovel without a chimney by the wayside, we called "bur-r-r" to the pony, which, like all good Scandinavian horses, immediately drew up, and, throwing down the knotted blue cotton reins, we hopped out, our student friend proceeding to take the top rail off the gate to admit of our clambering over the remaining bars. These strange loose fences are a speciality of Finland, and although they look so shaky and tumbledown, they withstand the winter storms, which is no slight matter. The same loose fences are to be found in the United States or Canada, but there they are made zig-zag, and called snake-fences. In Finland, the gates do not open; they are simply small pine trunks laid from one fence to the other, or any chance projecting bough, and when the peasant wants to open them, he pulls them out and wrecks the whole fragile construction. It saves locks and hinges, even nails, or, the native equivalent, tying with silver-birch twigs; but it is a ramshackle sort of contrivance nevertheless.
In we went to see a chimneyless cot. See, did we say? Nay, we could not see anything until our eyes became accustomed to the dim light. It was a tiny room, the stove occupying almost half the available space; there was no proper chimney; the hole at the top did not always accomplish the purpose for which it was intended, consequently the place was black with ancient smoke, and suffocating with modern fumes. The floor was carpeted with whole birch boughs, the leaves of which were drying in the atmosphere as winter fodder for the one treasured cow. For the cow is a greater possession to the Finn than his pig to the Irishman. The other quarter of the room contained a loom, and the space left was so limited we were not surprised that the dame found her little outside kitchen of much use. Two very small windows (not made to open) lighted the apartment; so how those folk saw during the long dark winter days was a mystery to us, for they made their own candles, they said, just as English folks formerly made dips, and we all know the illumination from dips is uncertain and not brilliant. Still smoke, want of ventilation, and scarcity of light did not seem to have made them blind, although it had certainly rendered them prematurely old.
Beyond was the bedroom, so low that a man could only stand upright in the middle; the wooden bed was folded away for the day, and the rough wooden table and bench denoted signs of an approaching meal, for a black bread loaf lay upon the table, and a wooden bowl of piim was at hand.
Standing on the little barley patch which surrounded the house, we saw a sort of wigwam composed of loose fir-tree trunks. They leant against one another, spread out because of their greater size at the bottom, and narrowed to a kind of open chimney at the top. This was the housewife's extra kitchen, and there on a heap of stones a wood fire was smouldering, above which hung a cauldron for washing purposes. How like the native wigwam of Southern climes was this Northern kitchen—in the latter case only available during the warm weather, but then the family washing for the year is done in summer, and sufficient rgbrd also baked for many months' consumption. Before we had finished inspecting this simple culinary arrangement, the housewife arrived. She was no blushing maid, no beautiful fresh peasant girl. Blushing, beautiful maids don't exist in Finland, for which want the Mongolian blood or the climate is to blame, as well as hard work. The girls work hard before they enter their teens, and at seventeen are quite like old women. The good body who welcomed us was much pleased to see visitors in her little Savupirtti, and delighted to supply us with fresh milk, for, in spite of their terrible poverty, these torppari possessed a cow—who does not in Finland?—wherein lies the source of their comparative wealth. The Highland crofter, on the other hand, rarely owns even a pig!
Naturally the advent of three krra created considerable sensation, and the old woman had immediately hurried to call her husband, so that he also might enjoy a look at the strangers. Consequently, he stood in the doorway awaiting our arrival.
Of course they neither of them wore any shoes or stockings. Even the richer peasants, who possess shoes or fur-lined boots for winter use, more often than not walk barefoot in the summer, while stockings are unknown luxuries, a piece of rag occasionally acting as a substitute.
The old lady's short serge skirt was coarsely woven, her white shirt was loose and clean, her apron was striped in many colours, after the native style, and all were "woven by herself," she told us with great pride. On her hair she wore a black cashmere kerchief. Her face might have belonged to a woman of a hundred, or a witch of the olden days, it was so wrinkled and tanned. Her hands were hard and horny, and yet, after half an hour's conversation, we discovered she was only about fifty-five, and her man seventy. But what a very, very old pair they really seemed. Weather-beaten and worn, poorly fed during the greater part of their lives, they were emaciated, and the stooping shoulders and deformed hands denoted hard work and a gray life. They seemed very jolly, nevertheless, this funny old pair. Perhaps it was our arrival, or perhaps in the warm sunny days they have not time to look on the dark side of things while gathering in the little tufts of grass that grow among the rocky boulders, drying birch leaves for the cow for winter, attending to the small patch of rye—their greatest earthly possession—or mending up the Savupirtti ere the first snows of October are upon them, that made them so cheerful.
The old woman was much more romantically inclined than the man. The Finnish character is slow and does not rush into speech; but a friendly pat on one grandchild's head, and a five-penni piece to the other, made our hostess quite chirpy. "May God's blessing accompany your journey," she said at parting; "may He protect the English ladies."
We got into cordial relations by degrees, and our friend the student, seeing a piece of woven band hanging up, asked its use.
"Ah," she answered, "that was one of the pieces the bridegroom gave to his groomsmen."
She was greatly delighted at our evident interest in her concerns, and told us how her son, when about twenty, met with a girl of another village, and took a fancy to her. (By law a girl must be fifteen, and a boy eighteen, and able to prove they have something to live on before they can marry.)
"He saw her many times, and decided to ask her to be his wife," she continued. "He had met the girl when he was working at her father's house, so he sent a puhemies, or spokesman, to ask for the girl's hand."
This personage is generally chosen from among the intended bridegroom's best friends, as in the days of Kalevala, and usually is possessed of a ready tongue. The puhemies still plays a very important rle, for not only does he ask for the girl's hand (while the suitor sits like a mute), but he is obliged to help at the wedding ceremony and feast, and also has to provide, from his own purse, brandy and coffee for all the guests.
After the proposal was accepted, our old friend told us there was an exchange of rings, her son got his bride such a splendid wide gold band—much wider than hers—and it was arranged that they would marry when the man had collected enough goods, and the girl had woven sufficient linen and stuffs to stock the little home.
"Of course," exclaimed the voluble old lady, "my son gave the kihlarahat."
"What is that?" we asked.
"Why, it is a sort of deposit given to the girl's father to show he really means to marry the girl. A cow, or something of that sort, denotes he is in earnest, and my son also gave money to the girl herself to buy things for their future household."
"How long were they engaged?"
"Two years—for we are poor, and it took that time to collect enough to get married. Ah, but the marriage was a grand thing, it was," and the old hag chuckled to herself at the remembrance.
All these things and many more the proud mother told us, till at last she became completely engrossed in the tale of her son's wedding. He was her only boy, and she talked of him and of his doings with as much pride as if he had been the greatest hero of this or any century. She informed us how, a month before the wedding, the young couple had gone to the pastor dressed in their best, the puhemies, of course, accompanying them, and there arranged to have the banns read three Sundays in the bride's district. We were struck by this strange resemblance to our own customs, and learnt that the publication of banns is quite universal in Finland.
"The wedding was here," she went on, warming to her narrative, "for, naturally, the wedding always takes place at the bridegroom's house."
Looking round at the extremely small two-roomed hovel, we wondered how it was possible to have lksiiset or polterabend, as our German friends call the festival before the wedding, at this bridegroom's house, for the one little sitting-room and the one little bedroom combined did not cover a larger space of ground than an ordinary billiard table.
"It is a very expensive thing to get married," she continued, "and my son had to give many presents to the Appi (father-in-law), Anoppi (mother-in-law), Morsianpiiat (bridesmaids), Sulhasrengit (groomsmen), etc."
Knowing the poverty of the place and the distance from a town where goods could be purchased, we enquired the sort of presents he gave.
"To all the bridesmaids," she said, "he gave Sukat (stockings), that being the fashion of the country, to the groomsmen he gave paita (shirts), to his mother-in-law, the Anoppi, he gave vaatteet (dress), and to the Appi he gave a vy (belt). Then to various other friends he distributed huivit (head handkerchiefs)," and altogether the wedding became a very serious drain on the family resources.
"But oh! it was a lovely time," she exclaimed rapturously. "A wedding is a splendid thing. We had a feast all that day and the next day, and then the priest came and they were married."
"Did many friends come to the wedding?" we ventured to ask.
"Oh yes, certainly, every one we knew came from miles round. Some brought a can of milk, and some brought corn brandy, and others brought grt (porridge), and Jrvinen had been to Iisalmi, so he brought back with him some white bread. Ay, it was a grand feast," and she rubbed her hands again and again, and positively smacked her lips at the recollection of the festival. "We danced, and ate, and sang, and made merry for two days, and then we all walked with my son and his bride to that little torp on the other side of the wood, and left them there, where they have lived ever since."
"Do you generally stay long in the same house in Finland?"
"Of course," she replied, "I came here when I was a bride, and I shall never leave it till I am a corpse."
This led to her telling us of the last funeral in the neighbourhood. A man died, and, according to custom, he was laid out in an outhouse. The coffin, made by a peasant friend, was brought on a sledge, and, it being March with snow on the ground—"to the rumble of a snow sledge swiftly bounding," as they say in Kalevala. The corpse on the fourth day was laid in the coffin, and placed in front of the house door. All the friends and relatives arrived for the final farewell. Each in turn went up to the dead man; the relations kissed him (it will be remembered the royal party kissed the corpse of the late Tzar before his funeral in the Fortress Church at St. Petersburg), and his friends all shook him by the hand. Then the coffin was screwed down, laid across a pony's back, to which it was securely strapped, and away they all trudged to the cemetery to bury their friend.
She went on to tell us of a curious old fashion in Finland, not altogether extinct. During the time that a corpse is being laid out and washed, professional women are engaged to come and sing "the corpse song." This is a weird melancholy chant, joined in by the relations as far as they are able, but chiefly undertaken by the paid singers. This confirmed what two of the Runo singers at Sordavala had told us, that they were often hired out to perform this lament, and, as we were much interested in such a quaint old custom, we asked them at the time if they would repeat it for us. They seemed delighted. The two women stood up opposite one another, and each holding her handkerchief over her eyes, rolled herself backwards and forwards, slowly singing the melancholy dirge the while. They had a perfect fund of song these Runo women, of whom our friend at the Savupirtti constantly reminded us; we told her that they had recited how Winminen had made himself a Kantele out of the head of a pike, and how he had played upon it so beautifully that the tears had welled to his own eyes until they began to flow, and as his tears fell into the sea the drops turned into beautiful pearls.
We asked the old dame if she could sing?
"Oh yes," and without more ado this prima donna sang a song about a girl sitting at a bridge waiting for her lover. It ran—Annuka, the maid of bo, sat at the end of the bridge waiting for a man after her own mind, a man with tender words. Out of the sea came a man, a watery form out of the depths of the waves with a golden helmet, a golden cloak upon his shoulders, golden gloves upon his hands, golden money in his pockets, and bridal trinkets such as formerly were given to all Finnish brides.
"Will you come with me, Annuka, fair maid of bo?"
"I do not want to, and I will not come," she answers.
Annuka, the maid of bo, sits at the end of the bridge, and waits for a man after her own mind, a man with tender words.
Out of the sea comes a man, a watery form out of the depths of the waves with a silver helmet, a silver cloak upon his shoulders, silver gloves upon his hands, silver money in his pockets, and silver bridal trinkets.
"Will you come with me, Annuka, fair maid of bo?"
"I do not want to, and I will not come," she answers.
Annuka, the maid of bo, sits at the end of the bridge, and waits for a man after her own mind, a man with tender words.
Out of the sea comes a man, a watery form out of the depths of the waves with a copper helmet, a copper cloak upon his shoulders, copper gloves upon his hands, copper money in his pockets, and copper bridal trinkets.
"Will you come with me, Annuka, fair maid of bo?"
"I do not want to, and I will not come," she answers.
Annuka, the maid of bo, sits at the end of the bridge, and waits for a man after her own mind, a man with tender words.
Out of the sea comes a man, a watery form out of the depths of the waves with an iron helmet, an iron cloak upon his shoulders, iron gloves upon his hands, iron money in his pockets, and iron bridal trinkets.
"Will you come with me, Annuka, fair maid of bo?"
"I do not want to, and I will not come," she answers.
And then came a poor man, whose only wealth was bread. It is not gold, nor silver, nor copper, nor iron, but bread that is the staff of life. This is emblematical, to show that money does not make happiness, and so Annuka, the maid of bo, takes him, and sings—
"Now I am coming to you, my husband. Annuka, the maid of bo, will be happy now, and happy evermore."
Many old Finnish songs repeat themselves like this, and most of them are very sad.
Our dear old woman was moved to tears as she sang in her squeaky voice, and rocked herself to and fro.
As she sang a butterfly flew past us, and was quickly joined by a second, when a small fight ensued, the pretty creatures coming together as though kissing one another in their frolicsome short-lived glee, and then separating again, perhaps for ever.
"Ukonkoira" (butterflies), remarked the old woman, beaming with pleasure. Then our student explained that the butterfly was looked upon as sacred, and its flight considered a good omen.
We had been much impressed by our old dame; her innocence and childish joy, her love of music, and her God-fearing goodness were most touching.
We cannot repeat too often that the Finn is musical and poetical to the core, indeed, he has a strong and romantic love for tales and stories, songs and melody, while riddles are to be met with at every turn, and the funny thing is that these riddles or mental puzzles often most mercilessly ridicule the Finns themselves.
No language, perhaps, is richer in sayings than the Finnish. When a Finn sees any one trying to perform some feat beyond his power, and failing, he immediately laughs and cries, "Eihn lehm puuhun pse" (the cow cannot climb a tree). Or, when speaking of his own country as superior to every other land, he invariably adds, "Oma maa mansikka muu maa mustikka" (my own land is a strawberry, all other lands are bilberries).
These proverbs and riddles, of which there are some thousands, are the solace of the winter evenings, when the old folk sit opposite one another in the dark—more often than not hand in hand—each trying who will give in first and find his store of riddles soonest exhausted. In fact, from childhood the Finn is taught to think and invent by means of riddles; in his solitude he ponders over them, and any man who evolves a good one is a hero in his village. They meet together for "riddle evenings," and most amusing are the punishments given to those who cannot answer three in succession. He is sent to Hymyl, which is something like being sent to Coventry.
He is given three chances, and if he can answer none every one sings—
Hyys hyys Hymyln! Kun et sitkn tied.
Meaning, "Well, well, off you go to Coventry as punishment for ignorance."
Then the poor delinquent is made to play the fool. He is set on a chair in the middle of the room, dressed up as fancy pleases the audience. His face is often absurdly painted, and after enduring every indignity, to the amusement of his friends, he is escorted from the room to ponder over the answers to the riddles. How they chaff him. Does he enjoy Hymyl? Are the dogs howling and the children running away? If he wants to come back he had better harness a mouse to his carriage, find a cat to act as coachman, and a saucepan for a sledge. He must wash himself with tar and paint himself with feathers.
And so they chaff and laugh on during those long winter evenings, in their badly-lighted homes, where books are still rare.
Every one in Finland can read to-day, but the first Finnish book was published in 1542, by Mikael Agricola, the Bishop who made the first translation of the New Testament; but they cannot read much in their dimly-lighted houses during the long winters, and therefore it is that they sing so constantly, and repeat mythical rhymes, or riddles and proverbs, which our host and hostess declared they loved.
Their Savupirtti and land did not belong to them, the latter told us. The actual owner was a farmer who let it out in various torps. Our particular friend, the torppari, paid him one-third of all he made off his holding, and gave him besides eight days' work during the year—being called upon for this manual contribution whenever the farmer was himself most pressed.
This particular little chimneyless house lay eighteen kilometres from Iisalmi, where the nearest shops were to be found. The poor old woman told us that she had had nine children, out of which number she had lost seven. When we considered the smallness of her home, the terrible want of ventilation and sanitation, the poverty of the people, and the hardness of their lives, we were not in the least surprised at her statement, but we marvelled much at the mother having survived all she must have gone through.
She made a wonderful picture as she sat on the wooden bedstead, her bare feet playing a tattoo on the wooden floor, while her clean clothes seemed absolutely to shine against the darkness of the wall behind her.
Although so far removed from civilisation, and from luxuries of any kind, the old couple knew how to read, and they had one or two treasured books. Poor as they were, they, like every other native peasant, possessed a Piplia (Bible), a Katkismus (catechism), a Virsikirja (hymn-book), and an Almanakka (almanac).
We ventured to ask the good soul if she ever read them. "Of course," she replied, "or what should we do at the lukukinkerit?"
"And what may that be?" we asked, surprised; only to learn that in the winter months the priests travel about by means of sledges from one big peasant's house to another, where the smaller torpparis all assemble, and there hold an examination of the people in order to ascertain their holy knowledge.
The peasants rather dread these lukukinkerit, as the priest asks them difficult questions, which it is considered an absolute disgrace not to be able to answer satisfactorily. As we know, this was formerly the custom in Scotland, and severe punishments were given to those who could not answer rightly, and prove themselves thoroughly versed in Bible history. This custom is now practically done away with in Scotland, although the examination for the communion, which takes place twice a year in the Highlands, partakes somewhat of the same nature. In Finland the winter examinations are very serious matters, and therefore it is that the Bible, prayer-book, and hymn-book are to be found in every peasant's home, while a profound knowledge of their contents is general.
Besides examining the folk on religious subjects, the priest also severely tests their reading capabilities, for no one can be married in Finland unless he be able to read to the satisfaction of his spiritual adviser. This means that all Finland can read. Yet in Russia, near by, only a quarter of the population know how to read, and far fewer can write, and they still count by beads.
As we turned to leave the little homestead, we noticed some apparently dead birch-trees planted on both sides of the front door, and knowing the birch and ash were still considered more or less sacred by the peasant, we wondered what such a shrubbery could signify—why, when the trees were dead, they had not been thrown away. Everything else looked fresh and green, so we were more than surprised to notice their crumpled brown leaves, and eventually asked how it came about that these two young trees were dead.
"It was my husband's Nimipiv (name-day) lately," said the old body, "and of course we went to the forest and cut down two birch-trees, and stuck them into the ground by the front door to bring him luck."
The name-day, be it understood, is an important event in Finnish family history, a festival equivalent to our birthday rejoicings; and in the case of the father or mother, the children generally all assemble on their parent's name-day. The richer folk have a dinner or a dance, or something of that kind—the poor a feast; but all decorate their front door with birch-trees, in honour of the occasion, while those who have the means to do so exchange presents.
Our dear old lady was almost tearful when we left, and, asking our names most affectionately, tried again and again to pronounce the queer-sounding Tweedie and Harley. A bright idea struck us; we would show her the words written, and thereupon we gave her our cards. This was too much joy. Fancy any one actually having her name on a card. Then she turned the extraordinary bits of pasteboard over and over, and seizing our hands, kissed them to show her gratitude. Afterwards she went to her cupboard, and producing a white handkerchief, one of those she kept for conveying her Bible to and from church, carefully wrapped the cards round and round, and promised to keep them always in remembrance of her strange visitors.
It was really wonderful, driving along the roads, how near our three krra kept to one another; sometimes, indeed, they were so close that we could all converse conveniently. This answered very well, but when, by chance or design, they got about twenty or thirty yards apart, the dust kicked up by the horse in front was so fearful that we suffered much, and it was really amusing at the end of each day to see how completely our hair was powdered, and note the wonderful gray hue our faces had assumed, eyelashes, eyebrows and all. I was wearing a black dress, on the lapels of which it afforded amusement to my companions to play a game of noughts and crosses with their fingers amid the accumulated dust. It was extraordinary, considering the thickness of the sand, for it was more sand than dust that lay upon the roads, that our ponies could go so well; and when the sun was at its height the heat was so fearful, and the number of mosquitoes and horseflies so appalling, that this inconvenience, coupled with the dust, still made it absolutely impossible at times for us to pursue our journey during the mid-day hours; but those glorious northern evenings made up for all the discomfort.
The roads themselves were wonderfully straight, and as there is a red post every kilometre (or half mile), we could tell how far we went without even turning our heads, because we could count five or six posts at the same time, so straight was the way.
As we proceeded farther North the country became more hilly, and our little animals would stop and walk up steep inclines; having reached the summit, however, they were wont to gallop full speed to the bottom.
We reached a most charming majatalo. It was near midnight, and, as it is one of the best in Finland, it was decided that we should there spend a night. It was only the pretence of a night, however, for the coachman declared it would be quite impossible to drive during the heat of the following day, and, consequently, We must start again on our way at four in the morning at the very latest.
Here at last, thank heaven, we found a majatalo which was properly inspected. There were iron bedsteads and clean mattresses, and, having suffered so terribly as we had done, it seemed very bad luck that we could not enjoy more than three hours' rest in such delightful quarters. While our supper, which consisted of milk, coffee, eggs, and delicious butter, supplemented with the white bread we brought with us, was being prepared, we had a look into the large farmhouse where our host himself lived.
Instead of the family being in bed, as in an ordinary English farm they would be at midnight, a girl was sitting in the corner making butter with an old-fashioned churn of the wooden-handled type, which you pull up and down to use. There had evidently been a great baking that day or the day before, for the farm kitchen seemed to contain hundreds of loaves, which were stacked on the floor, piled on the table, and strewn on benches, not yet having been suspended by means of strings from the ceilings and rafters.
We thoroughly enjoyed that evening meal, sitting on the balcony, or rather large porch of the little annexe kept for strangers; one and all agreed no nicer butter, sweeter milk, or more perfect cream—of which they brought us a quart jug—could be found anywhere, and that travellers must indeed be hard to please who could not live for a few days on such excellent farm produce, even though they might have to dispense with the luxuries of fish, flesh, and fowl.
Three A.M. is a little early to turn out of bed, but when one is travelling through the wilds one must do many trying things, so we all got up at that hour, which, judging by our feelings, seemed to us still midnight. The sun, however, was of a different opinion, he was up and shining brilliantly long before any of us.
We had previously told our Finnish student the joke of having tried to order hot water over night, and, after much explanation and many struggles to make her understand, how the girl had returned with a teacup full of the boiling liquid, and declared that the greatest trouble we were forced to encounter in Finland was to get any water to wash with, more especially warm.
He smiled, but was not daunted. We heard him up early, and imagined he was arranging things with the coachman and ordering breakfast—for we cannot ever be sufficiently grateful to our Finnish friends for their kindness and thoughtfulness in managing everything for our comfort from the first day of our stay in Finland till the last; but he had done more than this, and apparently made up his mind that we should never, while he travelled with us, have cause to accuse Finland again of being unable to produce Hett vatten!
At three A.M. a knock came at the door—a most unusual form of proceeding in a country where every one walks in without this preliminary—and, having opened it in reply, we found a buxom maid standing with an enormous jug of boiling water, and a yet more enormous wooden pail, such as one might require for a family wash, full of the same boiling liquid, and a tub outside the door from which volumes of steam were rising. It was for the English ladies, she said.
Our student had paid us out, and we felt ashamed and sorry.
As we sat at breakfast we watched a girl drawing water from the well. Every house in Finland, be it understood, has its well, over which is a raised wooden platform something like a table with a hole in the middle for the bucket to pass through. A few feet back a solid pillar stands on the ground, through the fork-like top of which a pine-tree trunk is fixed, generally about thirty feet long. It is balanced in such a way that at the one end of it a large stone is tied to make it heavy, while suspended from a fine point, standing in mid-air, appear a series of wooden posts joined together by iron hasps so as to form a long chain or cord, to the bottom end of which the bucket is attached. Thus the bucket with its wooden string is, when filled with water, equivalent in weight to the stone at the other end of the pump. In fact, the whole thing is made on the principle of a pair of scales.
The girl seized the empty bucket, pulled it over the hole, and, hanging on to the jointed poles with all her weight, sent the bucket down some thirty feet into the well below. By this time the stone at the far end of the pole was up in mid-air. When she thought the bucket was full she let go, and immediately it began to rise at the same time as the stone at the other end began to descend, and in a moment the beautiful well-water reached the surface. Such pumps as these are to be found all over Finland, and their manufacture seems a speciality of the country.
We had considerable fun over the coffee cups at breakfast, for every one of them had written round its border love passages and mottoes in Finnish—another instance of how the love of proverbs and mottoes is noticeable everywhere throughout the country. Our gentleman friends had great jokes over these inscriptions, but they unkindly refused to tell us what they really meant.
We had learnt a good deal of Finnish from sheer necessity, and could manage to order coffee or milk, or to pay what was necessary, but our knowledge of the language did not go far enough for us to understand the wonderful little tales printed round the coffee cups from which we drank. Again we were given silver spoons.
For once we really started at the hour named, and at four o'clock, with a crack of the whip, our ponies galloped out of the yard of the most delightful majatalo we had ever slept in. On we drove through the early hours of the morning, everything looking fresh and bright, the birds singing, the rabbits running across the road. As we passed fields where the peasants were gathering in their hay, or ploughing with an old-fashioned hand-plough, such as was used in Bible days and is still common in Morocco, we wondered what Finnish peasants would think of all our modern inventions for saving labour, especially that wonderful machine where the wheat goes in at the top and comes out corn at one end, chaff in the middle, and straw, bound ready for sale, at the other. We drove on till nine o'clock, by which time we were all ready for another meal. Jogging along country roads aids digestion, and by nine we had forgotten we had ever eaten any breakfast at all. We had really arranged to spend some hours at our next halting-place, in fact not to leave until the cool of the evening, so as to rest both our horses and ourselves, and be saved the glare and the heat. But tired as our animals seemed, and weary though we were, that station proved impossible. We had to stay for a couple of hours, for it would have been cruel to ask the ponies to leave sooner, but we were indeed thankful that we had not arranged to spend the night in such an awful hole. To relate the horror of that majatalo would be too fearful a task. Suffice it to say everything was filthy, and we felt sick at heart when drinking milk and coffee at the place. Worse still, our white bread had come to an end, and we had to eat some of the native rye bread. The housewife and all the women in the house being terrible even to look upon, it seemed perfectly awful to eat bread that they had made, but yet we were so hungry. Reader, pity our plight.
Though the sun was blazing, we dare not sit inside, for the little tufts of hair tied round the legs of the tables a foot and a half from the floor found here practical use. These fur protectors are often used in Suomi to keep insects from crawling up the legs of the table, but, in this case, when we bent down to look at the bit of ba-lamb's fur so tied, we saw to our horror that it was full of animal life. Calling the attention of one of our Finnish friends to this fact, he told us that there was a saying that none of these creepy things would come across filbunke, and that a friend of his, travelling in these Northern parts, had on one occasion been so pestered that he fetched a wooden mug of filbunke, and with a wooden spoon made a ring on the floor with the soured milk, inside which he sat in peace, the crawling things remaining on the outside of his charmed circle.
"And," he added, laughing, "we will go and fetch filbunke, if you like, and then you can all sit inside rings of your own."
"No," we replied, "instead of doing that, let us get away from here as quickly as possible."
Out we sallied, therefore, to ask the coachman how soon he could be ready to drive on to Kajana.
How typical. There was one of the lads, aged thirteen, lying on his back, flat out on the wooden steps of the house, smoking hard at a native pipe; his felt hat was pulled down over his eyes, his top boots were standing beside him, and over them hung the rags he used for stockings.
"Go on," he said. "Oh! we cannot go on till this afternoon, it's too hot."
"But," remonstrated Grandpapa, "it is not so very far to Kajana, and the ladies are anxious to get to the end of their journey."
"Quite impossible," he replied, "the horses must rest."
Wherein he certainly was right; the poor brutes had come well, and, after all, whatever the horrors and inconveniences may be to oneself, one cannot drive dumb animals to death, so, therefore, at that majatalo we stayed, weary and hungry prisoners for hours. Only think of it!
Oh, how glad we were to shake the dust of that station from our feet, and how ridiculous it seemed to us that such dirty untidy folk could exist in the present day, to whom "Cleanliness is next to godliness" was an unknown fact.
We found some amusement, however, for the family had just received in a box-case a sewing-machine—a real English sewing-machine. A "traveller" had been round even to this sequestered spot, possessed of sufficient eloquence to persuade the farmer to buy his goods, and it certainly did seem remarkable that in such a primitive homestead, with its spinning-wheel and hand-loom in one corner, a sewing machine and a new American clock should stand in the other.
On we jogged; but, be it owned, so many consecutive days' driving and so few hours' rest, in carts without springs or seats and without backs, were beginning to tell, and we were one and all finding our backbones getting very limp. The poor little ponies too began to show signs of fatigue, but luckily we at last reached a hilltop which showed we were drawing close to the end of our krra journey. We pulled up for a while to give the poor creatures time to breathe, and for us to see the wide-spreading forests around. The view extended for miles and miles, and undulating away to the horizon, nothing appeared but pine-trees.
No one can imagine the vastness, the black darkness, the sombre grandness of those pine forests of Finland.
Then the descent began; there were terribly steep little bits, where the one idea of the ponies seemed to be to fly away from the wheels that were tearing along behind them. We held on tightly to the blue knitted reins, for the descents in some places were so severe that even those sure-footed little ponies were inclined to stumble—fatigue was the cause, no doubt;—but if our own descent were exciting, it was yet more alarming to look back at the krra following, too close for comfort, behind us, literally waggling from side to side in their fast and precipitous descent, encircled by clouds of dust.
Kajana at last. What a promised haven of rest after travelling for days in springless carts, happily through some of the most beautiful and interesting parts of Finland.
Tar hardly sounds exciting; but the transport of tar can be thrilling.
We were worn out and weary when we reached Kajana, where we were the only visitors in the hotel, and, as the beds very rapidly proved impossible, we women-folk confiscated the large—and I suppose only—sitting-room as our bed-chamber. A horsehair sofa, of a hard old-fashioned type, formed a downy couch for one; the dining-table, covered by one of the travelling-rugs, answered as a bed—rather of the prison plank-bed order—for number two; and the old-fashioned spinet, standing against the wall, furnished sleeping accommodation for number three. We had some compunctions on retiring to rest, because, after our luxurious beds had been fixed up, as the Americans would say, we discovered there was no means whatever for fastening the door,—it was, as usual, minus bolts and locks; but as Kajana was a quiet sleepy little town, and no one else was staying in the hotel but our own men-folk on the other side of the courtyard, weary and worn out with our jolty drive, and our waterfall bath, we lay down to rest. We were all half asleep when the door suddenly opened and in marched two men. They stood transfixed, for of course it was quite light enough for them to see the strange positions of the three occupants of the sitting-room; and the sight scared them even more than their appearance surprised us, for they turned and fled. We could not help laughing, and wondering what strange tales of our eccentricities would enliven the town that night.
Descending the rapids of the Uleborg river in a tar-boat is one of the most exciting experiences imaginable. Ice-boat sailing in Holland, skilbnung (snow-shoeing) in Norway, tobogganing in Switzerland, horse-riding in Morocco—all have their charms and their dangers—but, even to an old traveller, a tar-boat and a cataract proved new-found joys. There is a vast district in Finland, about 65 North latitude, extending from the frontier of Russia right across to Uleborg on the Gulf of Bothnia where tar plays a very important rle; so important, in fact, that this large stretch of land, as big or bigger than Wales, is practically given over to its manufacture and transport.
After leaving Kuopio, as we had travelled Northwards towards Lapland, the aspect of the country altered every twenty miles. It became far more hilly, for Finland, as a whole, is flat. The vegetation had changed likewise, and we suddenly found ourselves among tracts of dwarf birch so familiar to travellers in Iceland.
As we had driven on towards Kajana we had repeatedly passed pine-trees from which part of the bark was cut away, and, not realising we were now in tar-land, wondered at such destruction.
The history of the tar, with which we are so familiar, is very strange, and not unmixed with dangers. Pine-trees, growing in great forests where the bear, wolf, and elk are not unknown, are chosen for its production. The first year the bark is carefully cut away from the ground as high as a man can reach, except on the northern side of the tree, where a strip two inches wide is left intact. Now this strip is always the strongest part of the bark because it faces northwards, and it is, therefore, left to keep the tree alive and to prevent it from drying. All the rest of the trunk remains bare, shining white and silvery in the sunlight, and forms a thick yellow juice, which oozes out of the tree, and smells strongly of turpentine. This ultimately makes the tar.
The next year the same process is repeated, except that then the bark is peeled higher up the tree, the strip on the northern side always being left as before to keep the sap alive. The tenacity of the life of bark is wonderful, as may be seen at a place like Burnham Beeches, where, in many cases, all the inside of the tree has practically gone, and yet the bark lives and the tree produces leaves.
This treatment goes on for four, and sometimes five, years, until most of the tree is stripped. It was in this naked condition the pines first attracted our attention, for a barkless tree covered with a thick yellow sap, to the uninitiated, is an unusual sight. In October, or early in November, of each year the selected pines are duly cut down, and later, by the aid of sledges, they are dragged over the snow through the forests to the nearest tervahauta (kiln), there to be burnt into tar.
So cold is it in this part of the world during winter that the thermometer often drops to 30 or 40 Fahr. below freezing-point, and then the hard-worked little horses look like balls of snow, the heat from their bodies forming drops at the end of their manes, tails, and even their long coats, for their hair grows to an even greater length than the Shetland ponies. At last their coats become so stiff they are not able to move, so they often have to be taken indoors and thawed by the oven's friendly warmth.
These sturdy little beasts gallop over the hardened forest track, dragging their wood behind them—for without the aid of snow to level the roads, or ice to enable the peasants to make short cuts across the lakes, little trade could be done. The winter comes as a boon and a blessing to man in those Northern realms; all transport is performed by its aid, sledges travel over snow more easily than wheels over roadless ways, and sukset or ski and snowshoes traverse snow or ice more rapidly than the ordinary summer pedestrian.
Suffocated with heat and dust, we were ourselves bumping along in a springless krra, when our attention was first arrested by—what? let us say a huge basin built on piles. This was a tervahauta or tar-kiln, which looked like an enormous mushroom turned upside down, standing on a thick stem of wooden piles, only in this case the mushroom was ninety or a hundred feet in circumference, and the stem at least fifteen feet wide.
As we have nothing at all like it in England, it is difficult to describe its appearance. Think of a flattened basin or soup-plate made of pine-trees and covered over with cement, so that an enormous fire may burn for days upon it. In the middle, which slopes downwards like a wine funnel, is a hole for the tar to run through into a wooden pipe, which carries it to the base of the kiln; passing along to the outside, the wooden pipe is arranged in such a way that a barrel can be put at the end to receive the tar. This vast basin has to be very solidly built in order to withstand the weight of wood—sometimes over a hundred trees at a time—and also the ravages of fire, therefore it is securely fastened and supported at the edges by whole trunks of trees bound together with cement. Once built, however, it lasts for years, and, therefore, most tar-farmers have a tervahauta of their own.
The felled timber, having been sawn into pieces about a yard long in order that they may be conveniently packed on the sledges, arrive at the kiln before spring, so that by June all is ready for the actual manufacture of the tar itself. The tervahauta basin is then packed as full as it is possible to stack the wood, which is always laid round the middle in order to leave a hole in the centre free to receive the tar. By the time the mass is ready it looks like a small hillock, and is made even more so in appearance by being thickly covered over with turf, that it may be quite air-tight, and that a sort of dry distillation may go on. Fires are then lighted at different points round the edge, to the end that the interior may catch fire, the process being aided by a train of old tar which runs from the burning point to the centre, as dynamite is laid prior to an explosion. By this means the whole huge bonfire shortly begins to smoulder.
The fire burns for ten days and nights, during which time it is never left, a man always staying beside the tervahauta to see no accident disastrous to the tar happens. As the heat inside increases, the tar gradually begins to drop through the wooden pipe into barrels below, and from sixty to two hundred of them may be extracted from one kiln load. Needless to say, one man cannot move the filled barrel and replace it with an empty one, so, whenever such a change becomes necessary, by means of a shrill whistle he summons a companion to his aid; at other times he sits alone and watches for hours together the smouldering flames.
Making the barrels is another Finnish trade, and the peasants, who manufacture them in winter, get from eightpence to tenpence each, for they have to be very strong. It is, indeed, much more difficult to make a tar-barrel than a water-cask.
Here ingenuity has to come to the peasant's aid; each barrel, when filled, weighs about four hundred pounds, and has to be conveyed from the forest country to the nearest waterway or town. Finns rise to the occasion, however. They take thick pieces of wood, on to which a kind of axle is securely attached, and adjusting them by means of ingenious pegs fixed at both ends of the barrel, where the side pieces of wood project beyond the actual top and bottom, the cask itself practically becomes its own wheels. Wooden shafts are fixed from the axle to the horse's collar, and though, with his queer load, the little ponies are not beauties to look at, they are marvels to go, trotting along over tree trunks and stony boulders to the nearest waterway, the barrels following—carriage and wheels in one.
After many vicissitudes this tar arrives at the end of its land journey—but if that be on the frontier of Russia, it may still have two hundred and fifty miles of river, lake, and rapid to traverse before it reaches Uleborg, where it is transhipped to England, America, and Germany.
It had been arranged that we were to descend the wonderful rapids from Kajana to Uleborg, a day and a half's journey; but we wanted to taste something of the ascent as well,—there is no down without an up, and we thought we should like to try both. The tar-boats that go down the Oulunjoki river, heavily laden with their wares, take two or three days, and have to come up again empty; this is the heaviest and most tiring part of the whole performance to the boatmen, and cannot be accomplished under two or three weeks. They sometimes bring back five hundred or six hundred pounds of salt or flour, for although they take down twenty-five or thirty times as much as this in weight, they cannot manage more on the return journey, when, to lighten the boat as much as possible, they even take off the top planks or bulwarks and leave them behind at Uleborg, putting new bulwarks a foot broad made of half-inch plank before the next downward voyage.
A tar-boat is a very peculiar craft, and, when one sees it for the first time, it seems impossible that anything so fragile can travel over two hundred miles by river, rapid, lake, and cataract. The boats are generally from thirty-five to forty-five feet long, but never more than four feet wide, or they could not be steered between the rocks of the swirling cataracts. They are pointed at both ends like a gondola, but it is not the narrowness and length that strike terror into the heart of a stranger, but rather the thinness of the wood of which they are built. The boat is made of the planks of well-grown trees, which planks, though over a foot wide, are sawn down to three-quarters of an inch thick, so that in the strongest part only three-quarters of an inch divides passengers and crew from the water, that water being full of rocks and swirling whirlpools. Four planks a foot wide and three-quarters of an inch thick, as a rule, make the sides of a tar-boat, not nailed, be it understood, but merely tied together with pieces of thin birch twig! Holes are bored, the birch threaded through, securely fastened, and then, to make the whole thing water-tight, the seams are well caulked with tar. This simple tying process gives the craft great flexibility, and if she graze a rock, or be buffeted by an extra heavy wave, she bends instead of breaking.
From all this it will be inferred the boat is extraordinarily light, or it could never be got home again—but when twenty-four or twenty-eight barrels, each weighing four to five hundred pounds, are in it, the water comes right up to the gunwale, so an extra planking of a foot wide is tied on in the manner aforementioned, to keep the waves out, and that planking is only half an inch thick. Therefore the barrels are only divided from the seething water by three-quarters of an inch, and the waves are kept back by even a slighter barrier.
It is amazing that such a long fragile craft can survive that torrent of water at all.
When the last boats go down in October, ice has already begun to form, and they frequently suffer very much from its sharp edges, for which reason the perils of those late journeys are often hideous. When the tar-barrels reach Kajana from the forests they are only worth from twelve to eighteen marks each, and if one considers the labour entailed to get them there, it seems remarkable that any profit can be made out of the trade. Very cleverly the heavy tubs are lifted by a crane into the boat, which is just wide enough to take them in twos and twos lengthwise—three or four perhaps being placed on the top of all. The biggest cargo consists of twenty-eight barrels. Before the tubs are really shipped they are tested, as wine is tested, to see that the quality is all right, and that they are worth the perilous carriage. So many of these boats ply backwards and forwards during July, August, September, and October, that sometimes as many as a hundred will pass Kajana in one day. This gives some idea of the industry and its enormous importance to that vast tract of country. Indeed, from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels find their way down the Uleborg river alone during these months.
Owing to the courtesy of Herr Fabrikor Herman Renfors, to whom the Governor of the Province had kindly given us an introduction, we went a mile and a half up the rapids and through a couple of locks in his private tar-boat, just for the experience. The heat being tropical, we did not start till six P.M., when we found Herr Renfors waiting at the entrance to the first lock, as arranged, in a real tar-boat, which he was steering himself, for, being an enthusiastic fisherman, he goes out alone for days at a time, and can steer up or down the rapids as well as any pilot. No one who has not seen a rapid can realise the nerve this requires. Seats had been roughly put in for us to sit on, otherwise, as a rule, except for the oarsmen's bench and the barrels, these boats are absolutely empty. Our friend, the steersman, sat at the bow, and with a sort of oar, held in position by a rope of plaited straw fixed a little on one side, guided the fragile bark. First we had to go into a lock. Any one acquainted with a nice wide shallow Thames lock may think he knows all about such matters; but in reality he does nothing of the kind. For this Finnish lock, and there are two of them close together, is very long, forty-five feet being required for the boat alone, and nearly as much for the rush of water at each end to prevent that single boat being swamped. As the rise of water is over twenty feet, the lock is some forty feet deep and only six or seven feet wide. The walls are tarred black, and, although the sun blazed outside, when we entered this long narrow vault the air struck chill and cold, and it was so dark and weird that it seemed like going into an underground cellar, or an elongated coffin. As those massive wooden doors closed behind us, we felt as though we were about to be buried alive in a well, or were enacting some gruesome scene fitted for Dante's wondrous pen when dipped in ink of horror. The gates slammed. The chains grated. The two oarsmen steadied the boat by means of poles which they held against the sides of those dark walls, the steersman with another pole kept her off the newly shut massive wooden door—and then—oh! we gasped, as a volume of water over ten feet descended a little in front of us, absolutely soaking the oarsmen, and showering spray over every one.