It was a wonderful sensation; we were walled in, we were deep in the lock, and as the water poured down in two falls, for there was a platform half way to break its tremendous force, our boat bobbed up and down like a cockle-shell. We felt an upset meant death, for no one could possibly have climbed up those steep black walls, still less swum or even kept his head above such volumes of water.
Up, up, up, we went until we had risen over twenty feet, which dwindled to nothing when the door opened at the end of the waterfall and we glided out into the world of sunshine, to see our friend the old castle before us again, the pine-trees on the banks, and the funny little wooden town on our right. Verily a transformation scene—a return to life and light and air, after water and darkness.
Before us was a small rapid, and, having rowed up under the lee of the land, it was perfectly marvellous to see how the boat was suddenly turned right across the bubbling water, and steered like a gliding eel in and out of waves and spray to the other side, which we reached by means of hard pulling, without losing more than thirty or forty feet by the strong current. Here came another lock, and several minutes were again spent in rising another twenty feet, before we were at a level to continue our course. Then came a stretch which could be rowed, although, of course, the stream was always against us; but two stalwart Finns sitting side by side pulled well, and on we sped until the next rapid was reached, when out we all had to bundle, and the fragile craft had to be towed, as the strength of the water made it impossible to row against it. There was a path of rocky boulders, uneven and somewhat primitive, such a towing path being always found beside the rapids, as the oarsmen have to get out and tow at all such places. Therefore, when returning home from Uleborg, the sailors have to row either against the stream (one long tract, however, being across a lake where it is possible to sail), or else they have to walk and pull. No wonder it takes them three weeks to make the voyage.
Having landed us, the two oarsmen pulled with a rope, but as the boat would have been torn to pieces on the rocks beside the bubbling water, the steersman had to keep her off by means of a long pole; and hard work he evidently found it, bending the whole weight of his body in the process, straining every nerve at times. It is terrific exertion to get even such a light thing as a tar-boat over such places, and in a mile and a half we had to get out four times as well as pass through the two locks (there are but four on the whole river), and we only reached the pilot station after working a whole hour and a half, which gave us a good idea of the weariness of toiling up stream, and the wonders of coming down, for we retraced the same route in exactly fourteen minutes.
We crossed the famous rapid, described in Kalevala as the scene where one of the heroes went swirling round and round; we watched women steering with marvellous agility and skill, and there, on the bank, we saw a stalwart Finn, with an artistic pink shirt, awaiting our arrival to pilot us down again, our host preferring to employ a pilot for the descent when he had any one on board besides himself.
The pilot was a splendidly made young fellow of twenty-four; a very picture, with his tan trousers, and long brown leather boots doubled back under the knee like a brigand, but ready to pull up to the thigh when necessary. On his felt cap he wore a silver badge with the letters L.M. clearly stamped. "What do they mean?" we asked.
"L.M. is an abbreviation for laskumies or pilot—it means that he is a certified pilot for this stream," replied Herr Renfors, "and as there are ladies here I am going to get him to take the boat down—ladies are such a responsibility," he laughed, "I dare not undertake the task."
We soon entered into conversation with this picturesque Finn, and found his father was also a laskumies, and that as a boy he always went with him, steering the boat down when he was fourteen, although he did not get his badge till he was eighteen years of age. As soon as he got it he married, and now had two children. These pilots only receive their badges after careful examination from the government, and, the pay being good, and the position considered a post of honour, they are eagerly-sought-for appointments.
"How wildly exciting it is," we exclaimed, as we whirled round corners, waves dashing into our boat only to be baled out with a sort of wooden spoon.
"I make this little journey sometimes twenty times in a day," he replied; "but I can't say I find it very entertaining."
Sometimes we simply gasped—especially when nearing Kajana, and we knew we had to go under the bridge before us, while the youth was steering apparently straight for the rocks on the shore. Destruction seemed imminent, the water was tearing along under the bridge at an awful rate, but he still steered on for the rocks; we held our breath—till, at the eleventh and three-quarter hour, so to speak, the pink-shirted Finn quietly twisted his steering pole, and under the bridge we shot and out at the other side quite safely.
We breathed again!
Pilots are only necessary for the rapids, and they receive one mark for the shorter and two marks for the longer stretches, one of which is thirteen miles in length, so that a boat between Kajana and Uleborg has to pay ten marks for its pilots, which they are bound by law to carry. On some of the stretches there are as many as twenty-four pilots to each rapid.
Our experience of a tar-boat but whetted our appetite, and we looked forward, all pleasurable anticipation, to our descent to the coast.
The next morning at seven A.M. we left Kajana in a very small steamboat to cross the great Oulujrvi lake, and arrived about twelve at Waala, where our own tar-boat was awaiting us. We were struck, as we passed over the lake, to see a veritable flower-garden upon the surface of the water. The lake is so wide that at times we quite lost sight of one shore; yet these small flowers, something like primroses, only white, with their floating roots, were everywhere, looking almost like snow upon the water! We passed boats sailing down with tar, the wind being with them, and we passed empty boats rowing up. They never go home the entire way under three weeks, and even coming down the rapids, if the wind is against them, they may take several days to reach Uleborg. Whereas, with wind to help them across the lake, they can go down laden in a little over two days all the way from Russia. Once started on the downward route they seldom rest until their journey is completed, for it is important for each boat to do three voyages from Russia during the season, if possible, and more, of course, from shorter distances.
We were horrified to find that a large number of women and children were employed on the water. Rowing or towing such heavy boats is a serious matter; and to see a couple of women, or a woman and a child, doing the work, the husband, brother, or other male relative steering where no professional pilot is necessary, made us feel sick at heart. Such work is not fit for them, and in the case of young girls and boys must surely be most injurious. When returning home the poor creatures often pull their boat out of the water and, turning her on one side, spend the night under her sheltering cover.
The tar-boats ply a dangerous trade; but our own experiences must be described in another chapter.
DESCENDING THE RAPIDS
In our case it took twenty-nine hours without sleep to descend the rapids, for we left Kajana at seven A.M. on Thursday morning, and only reached Uleborg at mid-day on Friday. The journey is perfectly wonderful, but should only be undertaken by people blessed with strong nerves and possessed of iron constitutions. From Kajana to Uleborg one travels down the splendid Oulu river and across the Oulujrvi lake, joining the river again on the other side of Waala.
It was indeed an experience, in more ways than one. The first hours we spent in a small steamer, too small to carry a restaurant, so, let it be understood at once, provisions must be taken for the whole journey, unless the traveller wishes starvation to be added to his other hardships.
The Oulujrvi lake is a terror to the tar-boats, for it is one of the largest lakes in Finland, and when there is a storm the fragile tar-boat is forced to hug the land for safety, or draw up altogether and lie-to until the storm has spent itself. Many of these small craft have been taken unawares when out in the middle of the lake, and come to signal grief accordingly. Then again, in times of dead calm, the heavily-laden boat does not even have the benefit of the quickly-running water to bear her on her way, and the three occupants of the vessel have to row the entire distance, for the steersman, no longer requiring to guide her with his enormous pole, ships it and rows at the side with one oar,—with which at the same time he guides. These steering poles are really remarkable; they are about twelve or fifteen feet long, and are simply a solid trunk of a pine tree as wide as a man's hand can grasp at the thinnest end, broadening out, and trimmed in such a way that they form a kind of flat solid paddle at the other end. The weight of these poles is overpowering, even when slipped through the ring of plaited tree branches which keeps them in place, and makes them easier to hold securely. When the cataracts are reached, even these strong poles shiver with the force of the water, and the steersman has all his work to do to combat the rushing waters; his whole bodily weight must be brought to bear in order to fight those waves and steer his craft safely through them. Every muscle is strained to meet the power of those swirling waters.
No praise we can give is too high for the skill of the pilot of the rapids, no admiration too great, for it is to that and his physical strength, to his power and calmness, to his dexterity and boundless knowledge of hidden dangers and unexpected horrors, that the safety of our lives is due, and, when we peeped occasionally at our steersman as we flew over the great rapid, where for over an hour every nerve, every fibre of his body was strung to agonising pitch, we looked and wondered. His eyes were fixed steadfastly before him, and as he flung all the weight of his body on to his pole, the whole boat trembled, but in a second obeyed his bidding and twisted whither he wished. Second, did we say? half-second, quarter-second, would be more accurate, for the bow of the boat was guided at giddy speed to within a few feet of a rock, and just as she was about to touch, twisted off again for us to ride over some crested wave, or fly down some channel which just cleared the death-trap.
By such means we zig-zagged from side to side of the river, which at the cataracts is generally nearly a quarter of a mile broad, and in the calmer stretches widens out to half a mile and more.
Speaking of pilots and their wondrous skill, in the autumn of 1912, by Imperial decrees, the Finnish Pilot Department was transferred to the Russian Ministry of Marine. So marvellous, so dexterous has been the work of the Finnish pilots for generations of inherited knowledge, that an Englishman can but quake at the advisability of such a change. Finland was so indignant that half the pilots stationed on the coast and the islands—about five hundred men—resigned en bloc. The famous pilot school at Helsingfors no longer exists.
These pilots used to mark out the ship routes every spring so cleverly that shipwrecks were rare; but in the summer of 1912 the new Russian staff made such endless mistakes and omitted so many risky channels that a great many disasters followed on the coast, though not serious ones. Luckily, the regular Finnish passenger steamers have not suffered, as they all carry their own pilots.
Strategical considerations have been officially adduced for the Russification of the Finnish pilot service; but the wisdom of this strategy may be open to doubt. In time of war the passages nearer the coast will naturally be of the greatest strategic importance, and it would seem highly unsafe to confide the navigation of war-vessels to the new Caspian pilots, who cannot possibly in a few years acquire an intimate knowledge of these extremely difficult waters. The new measure dispenses with the services of those men who, born and bred on the spot, and having the advantage of generations of traditional knowledge, can alone with safety do pilot service, especially in time of war, when guiding beacons and rock-marking poles and buoys are removed, and there is nothing to guide the navigator except that knowledge which has become second nature to the pilot trained to do service in his own home waters.
But we are digressing.
We arrived at Waala—a cluster of small houses—about 11.30, and, landing from our little steamer, found that although our tar-boat had been ordered and everything was ready owing to the kindness of the inspector of the district, who himself came to see us off, we could not get really under way before one o'clock. All the luggage had to be packed into the boat,—not much luggage, be it said, for, beyond the reach of the railways, one bag or suit-case per person is all that is possible (less is preferable), as that can go into one of the little krra (carts), or can be carried by a peasant when necessary. Travelling through the interior and northern parts of Finland is roughing it indeed, and when it comes to being away from the post-stations (where carriages and horses are procurable, and generally fairly good), and sleeping in a real peasant's house, then one realises what discomfort means, and for cleanliness prefers to sit on a hard wooden chair all night for safety's sake.
At last we were, all six (for this number composed our party), seated, some on Gladstones, some on an enormous rug case, some on nothing, or something equally uncomfortable, but all of us as low down as possible, such being the inspector's orders, as our weight steadied the boat, and, being below the water's level, kept us from getting wet from the spray, although we found, by experience, it did not prevent our shipping whole seas, and getting thoroughly soaked.
"The wind is against you," remarked the inspector, "which is a pity, as it will occupy much longer time, and you will get more wet, but by three A.M. (fourteen hours) you ought to reach Muhos, where you can snatch a few hours' sleep before going on in the little steamer that will take you down the last stretch of the river to Uleborg."
It was bad enough, in theory, to sit fourteen hours within the cramped precincts of a tar-boat with one's knees up to one's chin, like an Eastern mummy, but it was nothing to what in practice we really endured. However, we luckily cannot foresee the future, and with light hearts, under a blazing sun, we started, a man at the stern to steer, a woman and a boy in the bow to row, and ourselves and our goods securely stowed away—packed almost as closely as herrings in a barrel.
Directly after leaving Waala, within a few minutes in fact, we came to the Niska Koski rapid. Six miles at flying speed; six miles tearing over huge waves at break-neck pace; six miles with a new experience every second; six miles feeling that every turn, every moment must be our last.
No one could dream of the excitements of speeding six miles in such a long fragile craft, in which we crouched so low our faces were almost level with the seething surface of the rapid. Turning here and twisting there between rocks or piled-up walls of stone, absolutely seeing and feeling the drop of the water, as one bounded over a fall—such an experience cannot be described. As those massive waves struck the boat, and threw volumes of water into our laps, we felt inclined to shriek at the speed at which we were flying. Wildly we were tearing past the banks, when, lo!—what was that? A broken tar-boat; a mere scattered mass of wooden beams, which only a few hours before had been a boat like our own.
In spite of the marvellous dexterity of the pilots, accidents happen sometimes; and that very morning, the wind being strongly against the boats descending, a steersman venturing a little too near a hidden rock, his frail craft was instantly shattered to pieces. The tar-barrels, bubbling over the water like Indian corn over a fire, were picked up many miles below; but, as the accident happened near the water's edge, the crew were luckily saved.
That journey was a marvellous experience; one of the most exciting and interesting of the writer's life; not only did it represent a wonderful force of nature, but an example of what skill and a cool head can do; for what man without both could steer a boat through such rapids—such cataracts? Those rapids at Montreal seemed far less imposing to me afterwards.
At times the waves looked as if they were really returning upon us, yet in reality we were going with the stream, but the rocks below made them curl back again. Along the stream several crews were toiling and straining at their towing ropes to get their empty boats to Kajana. Oh, what work in that heat! No wonder they all dreaded that return journey. Toiling along the bank were the wretched men and women making their way back towards Russia. The strangely uneven stone wall along which they pulled their tar-boat looked as if it would cut their poor bare feet to pieces. Two generally tugged at the rope, a third keeping the boat off the wall by means of a long pole; and for a fortnight or three weeks they tugged and pulled their empty boat, or in calmer stretches sailed or rowed back the route along which we were now flying at such lightning speed.
Then came two hours of calm rowing along a beautiful stretch of river, where rocks and pine-trees rose straight from the water's edge, and queer little gray houses denoted peasants' homesteads, peeping out among the almost yellow rye-fields, or the newly gathered hay crops. Small black and white curly sheep gambolled in the meadows—those very sheep whose coats are so famous as Kajana Lambs, rivalling even Russian Astrakhan.
Imagine a fall of two hundred feet of water in a long, thin, fragile boat; yet such is possible at Pyhkoski, another of the rapids, during a stretch of cataract about thirteen miles long—as an average, these wondrous falls are about a quarter of a mile broad, sometimes more, sometimes less. They are indeed most truly marvellous.
It was a perfect evening as we neared Pyhkoski. The wind had fallen, and when, after passing a rapid, we drew up by the bank to enjoy our evening meal, the sun at 9.30 was just beginning its long set. We had left Waala at 1.30, and been travelling in the boat cramped by the position all the time, so were beginning to feel the pleasant pangs of hunger. With a pine wood behind us, where bilberries, just ripening among the ferns, covered the ground, we six friends—four Finlanders and two English—made a very happy party. Oh, the joy of stretching our limbs and standing erect once more. We cooked our tea by the aid of a spirit-lamp, ate hard-boiled eggs and some most delicious cold trout, devoured whole loaves of white bread and butter, and were feeling as happy as possible—when suddenly the glorious golden orb shining through the skies of evening, was reflected in flaming colour nearer home, for, lo! the lamp in the tea-basket exploded with a terrific bang and a tongue of flame which brought us all to our feet in an instant. Here was a calamity to occur on such a dry night, in a long rainless summer, and in a pine forest, too, where if the trees once ignited, flames might spread for miles and miles, causing incalculable damage. We all knew the danger, and each prepared to assist in putting out the fire. Grandpapa, with the agility of a cat, seized the burning basket and threw it and its contents bodily into the river—great was the frizzle as it touched the water, and greater the noise as plates and spoons clattered into the stream. They were of little value in comparison to the prevention of a forest fire.
Poor man, he was wet to his knees standing in the water, and he looked almost as if he had been taking a mud bath by the time he succeeded in rescuing what was possible of our crockery and plate. But, undoubtedly, he prevented much serious damage of valuable property by his prompt action. The remainder of our meal was lost, and our delightful basket, that had travelled in many lands, destroyed. It had never failed before—but we afterwards unravelled the mystery. The Apothek, whom we asked to supply us with some methylated spirit, not understanding our request, had substituted something which did not suit the lamp.
"All's well that ends well," however, so we will say no more about his mistake, save that we lost our second cup of tea, and went hungry to bed.
Never, never did any one behold more wonderful reflections than were to be seen that night on the Ule river. As the empty boats passed up a quiet reach sufficiently shallow to permit of punting, the reflections of the coloured shirts and poles, of the old brown boats and the cheery faces on board, were as distinct in the water as the things themselves. Every blade of grass found its double in that mirror-like stream, every rock appeared darker and larger below than it did above the water; but our admiration was distracted by mosquitoes,—when we drew up at a small torp to take up a fresh pilot, who was to steer us safely over the famous Pyhkoski rapids. By this time it was 10.30 on an August night, and the sun just above the pine tops, which seemed striving to soar high enough to warm themselves in its glorious rich colourings, and we feared it might be too late, and the mist too dense, to attempt such a dangerous passage. Half a dozen pilots assembled on the bank—their day's work being over—declared it was perfectly safe, as safe at least as it ever can be, therefore, after shipping our man, away we rowed—the river having broadened again to three-quarters of a mile, so that it looked like a lake.
A small child offered us a little wooden tub of luscious yellow berries, suomuurain (Finnish), Hjortron (Swedish), for a mark—the same would have cost about eight marks at Helsingfors—which we gladly bought and ate as we drifted along. Those delicious northern delicacies, with a taste of the pine-tree, greatly refreshed us. We had made up our minds early in the day, that as we could not take more than four or five hours' rest, to sleep on the bank, and make a large fire to keep away the mosquitoes. The weather was all that could be wished; indeed, the heat of the day had been so great we had all sat with white pocket-handkerchiefs hanging from under our hats and down our necks to keep off the blazing sun, no parasols being possible when correct steering meant life or death. In fact, we had decided to manage the best sort of "camp out" we could with a coat each and a couple of Scotch plaid rugs among us all. The prospect seemed more pleasant than a one or two-roomed torp shared with the torppari's family; for we had suffered so much in strange beds already, and had woefully regretted many times not having brought hammocks, which we might have slung out of doors on those splendid June and July nights, and slept in peace under the daylight canopy of heaven. Accordingly, a camp on the bank had been voted and passed by unanimous acclamation.
No artist's brush could reproduce such a scene. In the foreground a roaring seething mass of water denoted strength and power, beyond lay a strange hazy mist, like a soft gauze film, rising in the sudden chill of evening from the warmed water, and the whole landscape was rendered more weird and unreal in places by the wild white spray which ascended, as the waves lapped some hidden or visible rock lying right across our course. Farther on, the river was bordered by pine and fir-trees, through the stems of which the departing sun shone, glinting here and there upon the bark; the warm shades of the sky dappled with red and yellow, painted by a Mighty Hand, were well in keeping with the "Holy Stream," as this rapid is called by the peasants living along its shores.
A mystic scene of wondrous beauty; more and more the vapours rose, until a great soft barrier seemed erected before us, almost as high as the trees; dense at their roots, tapering away to indistinctness at their tops, where the sunset glow lay warm and bright upon their prickly branches.
It reminded one of glorious evenings in Switzerland, where snow-clad peaks soar above the clouds, their majestic heads rising as it were from nothingness. That night on the Ule river, this strong, strange, misty fog was very remarkable—such a contrast to the intense heat of the day, so great a contrast to the marvellous clearness which had preceded it, so mystic after the photographic distinctness of a few hours before.
A shriek from our steersman, and we found we were flying madly towards a sort of wooden pier; we held our breath, it seemed so close. In the mist we were almost upon it before we saw our danger; but when the pilot shouted, the oarsmen instantly shipped. Even when going through the rapids it should be explained that two men in the bows keep rowing continuously to help to steady the boat; but on the occasion in question, just when the agony point was reached, they lifted their oars, and we swung round a corner—not to sudden death as we fully expected, but into a comparatively calm stretch of water; where, lo! we found before us a white bank. It was vapour, mist, fog, what you will; but a cold evening, after a day of intense heat, had clothed the river in thick white clouds, impenetrable to the sight—cold, clammy, terrifying to a stranger.
"It is impossible," exclaimed the oarsman to our Finnish-speaking friends; "I thought I could get you to Muhos to-night, but until that fog lifts we can go no farther, it is not safe. I can do no more. It would mean death."
Here was a prospect. We had been eleven hours in the boat, for it was now midnight. We had been grilled all day and burnt with the heat, and now we were perished with wet from the wash of the waves, and cold from the damp chill air. We could not lie on the ground—no fire would ignite amid such soaking grass; what was to become of us we did not know.
We wanted experiences, and we had got them, more than we bargained for. Who could have imagined such a day would turn to such a night? Who indeed!
We all looked at each other, we all sighed. One suggested sitting as we were all bolt upright, with the boat moored to some bank—others thought a walk might prove an agreeable change—the wisest held their tongues, thought much, and said little.
We were in the middle of the stream, when, without a word of explanation, our steersman suddenly turned the bow of our frail bark right across the water, and with one rush her nose hit the bank; our speed was so great that we were all shaken from our seats, as the boat bounded off again, but the pilot was an old experienced hand, and, by some wondrous gymnastic feat, he got her side sufficiently near the bank for our boy, with a rope in his hand, to spring upon terra firma and hold us fast, without shattering our bark completely to pieces with the force of our sudden arrival.
"Is this fog usual?" we asked the pilot.
"No, very unusual, only after such intense heat as we have had to-day. If I had not landed you at this spot and now, another yard would have made doing so impossible, for this is the top of the Pyhkoski rapid, the most dangerous of all, and it is thirteen miles long."
What a plight! Hungry, tired, miserable, cold, to be suddenly turned, whether we wished it or not, out of our only refuge and home.
"Close by here," he continued, "is a peasant's house—you must go there for some hours."
We looked; but the fog was so thick we could see nothing, therefore, without a word of remonstrance, we followed our pilot, plodding through grass soaked in moisture which reached to our knees, feeling very chilled, wet, and weary, but all trying to keep stout hearts and turn cheery faces to misfortune.
Yes, there—as if sent as a blessing from heaven—we saw a little house peeping through the fog.
We went to the door; we knocked, we knocked again. No answer. We shook the door; it was locked. We called; no one replied. We walked round the house and tried the windows—all closed, securely closed. We knocked and called louder than before. Still no answer.
What disappointment! The house was deserted. On the very eve of shelter we were baffled. Was it not enough to fill our hearts with despair? We could not go back, for we had nowhere to go; we could not sit on the bank, for that fog brooded evil. Some one suggested bursting open the door, for shelter we must have, and began rattling away with that purpose, when, lo! a voice, an awful voice called "Hulloa!"
"It is haunted," exclaimed some one; "it is a ghost, or a spirit or something. Do let us go away—what a horrible place."
"It is a phantom house," cried another, "this is not real—come, come—come away."
But the voice again called "Hulloa!"
The sound seemed nearer, and looking round we saw a white apparition standing in a darkened doorway on the other side of the garden, a figure clad in white approached through the mist; it was very ghostly. Was it hallucination, the result of exhausted minds and bodies, weak from want of food, and perished with wet and cold, or was it—yes, it was—a man.
We could have hugged that delightful Finn, our joy was so great at his appearance, key in hand ready to open the door. He did so; a delicious hot air rushed upon us—it seemed like entering a Turkish bath; but when a second door was opened the heat became even more intense, for the kitchen fire was still alight, and, as if sent as an extra blessing from above, the coffee-pot was actually on the hob, filled and ready for the peasants' early morning meal. Could anything be more providential—warmth and succour—food, beds, and comfort!
Like savages we rushed upon the coffee-pot, blew the dying embers into flame, took off our soaking shoes and stockings and placed them beside the oven, pattering barefoot over the boards; we boiled milk, which was standing near, and drank the warming, soothing beverage.
All this took time, and, while the others worked, the writer made a hurried sketch by the daylight of midnight at the "Haven of Refuge," as we christened our new abode.
The kitchen, or general living-room, was, typically Finnish. The large oven stood on one side furnished with the usual stone stairs, up which the family clamber in the winter months, in order that they may sleep on the top of the fireplace, and thus secure warmth during the night.
On the other side we noticed a hand-loom with linen in it, which the good housewife was weaving for her family. Before it was a wooden tub, wherein flour for making brown bread was standing ready to be mixed on the morrow; in front of it was a large wooden mortar, cut out of a solid tree trunk.
The light was dim, for it was midnight, and, although perfectly clear outside, the windows of the little gray house were so few and so small that but little light could gain admittance.
This but added to the weirdness of the scene. It all seemed unreal—the dim glow from the spluttering wood, freshly put on, the beautiful shining copper coffee-pot, the dark obscurity on the top of the oven. The low ceiling with its massive wooden beams, the table spread for the early breakfast—or maybe the remnants of the evening meal—with a beer-hen full of Kalja, a pot, rudely carved, filled with piim or soured milk, and the salted fish so loved by the peasantry—there all the necessaries and luxuries of Finnish humble life were well in evidence.
The atmosphere was somewhat oppressive, for in those homesteads the windows are never opened from year's end to year's end—indeed, most of them won't open at all.
In a corner hung a kantele, the instrument to which the Finns sing their famous songs as described. This romantic chamber, with its picturesque peasant occupants and its artistic effect, merely wanted the addition of the music of Finland to complete its charm, and the farmer most kindly offered to play it for us.
In his white corduroy trousers, his coarse white shirt—the buttons of which were unfastened at the throat—and the collar loosely turned back, showing a bronzed chest, he looked like an operatic hero, the while he sat before his instrument and sang some of those wondrous songs dear to the heart of every Finn. He could hardly have been worthy of his land had he failed to be musical, born and bred in a veritable garden of song and sentiment, and the romance of our midnight arrival seemed to kindle all the imagination in this man's nature. While he played the kantele, and the pilot made coffee, the old wife was busying herself in preparing for our meal, and we were much amused at her producing a key and opening the door of a dear old bureau, from which she unearthed some wonderful china mugs, each of which was tied up in a separate pocket-handkerchief. They had various strange pictures upon them, representing scenes in America, and it turned out that they had been brought home as a gift to his parents by a son who had settled in the Far West.
We were indeed amazed when we were each handed a real silver spoon—not tin or electro—but real silver, and very quaint they were too, for the bowls were much bigger than the short handles themselves. These luxuries were in keeping with the beautiful linen on the beds, made by the old woman, and the wonderful white curtains in front of the windows, also woven by the housewife, who had likewise crocheted the lace that bordered them.
They had not those things because they were rich; for, on the contrary, they were poor. Such are the ordinary Finnish farmers' possessions; however small the homestead, linen and window curtains are generally to be found. So many comforts, coupled with the bare simplicity of the boards, the long benches for seats, and hard wooden chairs, did not lead us to expect the comic tragedy to follow.
It was one A.M., and we were all feeling quite merry again, after our warm coffee and milk, as we spread one of the rugs on the floor of the kitchen for the gentlemen—the boatmen lying on the boards—and carried our larger rug into the second room for the ladies, rolling our cloaks up into pillows, for the heat from the oven was so great that we did not want them. We lay down in our steaming clothes, which we dare not take off, to snatch a few hours' sleep, until the fog should kindly lift and enable us to get a couple of hours farther on our way to Muhos, from which place the little "cataract steamer" was to start at seven A.M. for Uleborg.
"Good-night—not a word," the last caution added because every one wanted to say how merciful it was that we had found such delightful shelter, warmth, and even food.
Obediently we settled down and prepared to enjoy our much-needed rest. A quarter of an hour passed; first one turned uneasily, and then another; the first one sighed, and then the second; first one spoke, and then another; first one rose and went to the window, and then another. Could it be? No—yes—no! Oh the horror of it! the place was alive!
Only a quarter of an hour, yet we were bitten nearly to death, for we had made the personal acquaintance of a species of pest too horrible to name. It really was too much, we felt almost inclined to cry, the situation was so terrible. We could not go outside, for malaria and ague seemed imminent; we could not go on in our boat, for the rapids were dangerous in fog, death-traps in fact—what, oh, what were we to do?
We heard movements in the kitchen. We called. The answer said "Come in, certainly," and we entered to find our men's hair literally standing on end as they stood, rug in hand, scanning the floor, over which a perfect zoological garden was promenading as coolly as flies on a hot summer's day over a kitchen ceiling—and we had no shoes or stockings on.
There were small red animals creeping sideways, there were little brown animals hopping, there were huge fat round beasts whose death left an unpleasant odour, there were crawling gray creatures, and every one was an enormous specimen of its kind, and—yes, 'tis true—they were there in millions.
It seems loathsome to write, but it was worse to see and feel, and one must write it, for the would-be traveller among the peasant homes of Finland ought to know what he may expect. Enchanting as the country is, interesting and hospitable as are its peasantry, the Finns must learn how to deal with such a curse, or no one will dare to enter any dwelling, until the tourist club opens shelters everywhere and supplies iron beds and good mattresses, and a capable woman to look after them all and keep them clean. Even the enthusiastic fisherman could not stand such bedfellows.
Six wooden chairs were placed in two rows in the small porch, and there in the cold wet early morning air we sat as quietly as circumstances would permit, for leaving the heated rooms did not mean leaving our tormentors.
We drew our coats round our shivering forms, we blew upon our chilled fingers to get up the circulation, we stared out at blank gray fog thick with malaria and ague.
Now came a revelation. The occupants of this house never slept in it during the hot weather. Why? Simply because they could not. Even they themselves could not stand the vermin, and therefore, like many other peasants of Finland, they lie in the hayloft in the summer months for preference, and that was where our friend had come from to give us help and succour, as we fondly believed, when he appeared like a benevolent apparition in that darkened door-way.
During all our horrors the farmer slept.
"We must not tell the people of the house what has happened," said our good-hearted student; "they would be most awfully offended, and there is no knowing what they might do with defenceless travellers in such an out-of-the-way spot."
"But we must pay them," I observed.
"Of course," agreed Grandpapa, "but we need not tell them that we have sat up on these chairs surrounded by a carpet of hay all night."
"But they will know," I ventured to remark. "We cannot clear away all this hay even if we move the chairs."
"I have it," said the student, after a long pause, during which we had all sought an excuse to enable us to depart without hurting the farmer's feelings, "I will tell them that we sat up here because the ladies wanted to see the sunrise."
"Just so," we all assented, gazing abstractedly towards the west at the black wall of the opposite barn, which totally obstructed all view of any kind, even if the fog had not made a sunrise an absolutely ridiculous suggestion. But we were all so weak and worn out that if any one had suggested the sunset at three in the morning, we would still have said, "Just so."
Luckily, one forgets the disagreeables of life unless they have an amusing side as this had.
Pleasant memories linger.
First one of us got up and went to see if there was the slightest chance of the mist clearing—another peeped at a little baby calf standing alone in a shed, where it nearly had a fit with fright at the unexpected sight of visitors—another walked round the house to see if the mist was clearing on the opposite side, and then all sat down dejectedly in a row again on those hard wooden seats. At last, when it was really time to leave, with an effort of will we made up our mind to go back to the bedroom to fetch an umbrella and a hat which had been left behind. It was lighter now, and as we stooped to pick up the umbrella, that had fallen upon the ground, we started back in horror, for a perfect colony of every conceivably sized and shaped crawling beast was walking over the floor. Gathering up our skirts we flew with winged feet from that haunted chamber, but not before we had seized upon the hat, which had lain upon the table, and out of which hopped and crawled enormous—well—we left that house as noiselessly as we had come, left it surrounded in fog, without waking a soul, after putting the money upon the table in payment for our night's lodging. We left, glad to shake its dust and its etceteras from our feet; but it will ever remain in our minds as a bad dream, a dream of another world, the world of insect land, into the mysteries of which we never wish to peep again.
The most wonderful bit of our journey was yet to come. The waves were too short and jumpy for the waves of the sea, and the boat too fragile for a sea boat, yet we did not even gasp now, we had got so accustomed to drenchings, and our nerves were steadier, if over-wrought, as we danced and plunged over these waters.
For some four or five miles the Pyhkoski rapid is narrower than those higher up the river, and sheer rocks rise straight from the water's edge and pine-trees skirt these on either side, literally growing out of the boulders without any apparent roots. It is a grand and wonderful passage waterway: and one the return boats cannot manage at all, there being no towing path, so that the oarsmen have to put their boats on carts and drive them across the land. This is not an easy job, because the length and fragility of the boats mean risk of breaking their backs. Great care is therefore required.
The mist disappeared as the sun rose, and the birds began to sing gaily as we skipped and jumped over the seething waters, till at last we saw before us a solid wall of high steep rock, rising perpendicularly seventy or eighty feet from the water. Our steersman made straight for its hard cold base, round which whirled a roaring cataract. Surely this time death stared us in the face. Had he gone to sleep or lost his senses, or was he paralysed with fatigue?
On, on, on we went; we glanced round anxiously to see what had happened to the man. He sat motionless, his eyes staring wildly before him, looking hardly human. Our hearts seemed positively to stand still as the boat's bow got within eight or nine feet of that massive wall, going straight for it, at a pace no one could believe who has not visited the spot and felt the horror of it.
We seemed on the very brink of eternity, gazing into the unknown, and as the drowning man reviews his whole life in a second, we in like manner saw our past, and peered into the future.
Our paralysing fear was fleeting; another moment and our boat's head flew to the left, our craft quivered all over, and then head first down the rapid she plunged into the swirling pool, with a feeling as if she were going up on the other side of the dancing waves.
The danger was past, and our steersman's recently grim face assumed a look of happy content.
This rock, be it explained, is the most dangerous point between Russia and the Gulf of Bothnia; many and many a tar-boat has been shattered and lives lost at this spot, as it stands at a corner of a sharp turn of the cataract, and a regular whirlpool is always seething at its base—the water forming a fall of two or three feet—swirling round and going up again like a sort of wave. There is only one possible way to pass in safety, and that is to take the boat right up to the rock and turn, when almost too late, with such dexterity that the boat descends on the falling wave at so wild a pace that she crosses the whirlpool too quickly to be sucked under, and then bounds away safely on the opposite breaker.
It was horrible—but it was grand.
We sat still and silent.
To say we were tired hardly describes the situation. We were absolutely exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, were we, after our late experiences, that when—twenty-eight hours after leaving Kajana, twenty-eight hours of constant strain—we got into the little steamer at Muhos which was to convey us the last part of our journey to Uleborg, we were literally worn out. This steamer plied to and fro on a wide stretch of the famous Ule river, where the stream was quick and yet not a cataract. It was only a little vessel, without a cabin of any kind, and with hard uninviting wooden benches running along its stern end for the accommodation of passengers. We went on board before she started, and, feeling that we at last had a chance to rest, lay down all six speechless on the floor or the benches of the little boat, our heads supported merely by a rug or a travelling bag, and apparently fell asleep at once, for when we woke it was to find that a dozen peasants had assembled on board, all of whom were eagerly discussing us and staring at the sight of six exhausted strangers, whom report told them had descended the famous rapids the previous night with considerable danger. Even that short sleep refreshed us somewhat, and, but for the discomforts we had brought away with us from the hideous little gray house, we might have dreamed on for hours.
Oh, how glad we felt as our little droschkies drew up in front of the grand-looking stone hotel at Uleborg, which proved as uncomfortable inside as it was magnificent in appearance outside.
Having secured our rooms, out we all sailed with our little bundles of clean clothes packed under our arms, and as quickly as possible made our way to the public bath-houses, feeling that it would require all the bath-women in Finland to make us clean again.
If ever self-control in this world had been required, it had been called upon when we endeavoured, during the last hours of that horrible journey, to sit still and smile, and try and look comfortable.
Lapland! When we had talked of Lapland, kind friends had looked surprised, and in subdued tones and hushed whispers asked us if we knew what Lapland in the summer meant?
"There are many inhabitants in a Lap's hut," they said, "and although in the winter such things are kept in subjection by the cold, we should never dream of crossing over the border into Lapland in the summer time."
We had laughed their fears to scorn, and remained determined to pursue our way towards the Tundras and the land of the Samoyads, but our friends were right and we were wrong. Now, after our recent experiences, we decided, with one accord, that wild horses and millions of golden pounds could not drag us through Lapland in summer, knowing the sort of horrors we should have to encounter, and which we had already endured to such an extent that we felt degraded, mentally, morally, and physically. A mosquito bite is perhaps the most hurtful of all. There is poison in it, and that means pain; but these other things, although not so harmful, are so loathsomely filthy that one feels ashamed to be one's self, and to hate one's own very existence.
Surely there can be no inhabited house duty in Finland, or the State would indeed be rich.
The Uleborg salmon is among the most famous in the world. Seeing the fish caught is very interesting, especially when the take happens to be about two hundred. The Ule river is wide, and for a hundred or more miles up its course are the famous rapids, which we had been fortunate enough to descend alive, as described in the last chapter. How the salmon manage to swim against such a force of water must ever remain a marvel; but they do, and the fishing near Waala and various other stretches is excellent. In the winter months all but the waterfalls—and even some of them—are frozen solid; it is during these spells of cold that trees are thrown on to the ice to be conveyed, free of charge, to Uleborg on the rushing waters of spring. Not dozens, but thousands and tens of thousands of trees are carried by such means down to the coast. This goes on until the 10th of June, and, therefore, it is not until then that the salmon piers, with their nets, can be put up. Accordingly, every year on that day in June sixty men start work at Uleborg, and in eight days erect two barriers, about three hundred yards apart, each crossing the entire stream, except for one spot left clear for the boats to pass through. These piers are very simple, and one wonders that such fragile erections can withstand the immense rush. Wooden staves are driven into the ground with great difficulty, planks are laid upon them, and then large stones are piled up which keep all steady, the whole thing being bound together by rope made of birch-tree branches.
On either side of the barrier are the nets, perhaps a hundred altogether, or twenty-five a side on each of the pier erections. They resemble nets on the Thames or anywhere else, except that they are much larger, being intended to catch big fish.
We were so fascinated the first time we went to see the salmon caught, that we returned the second day to watch the performance again. We little dreamed that our curiosity in their fishing was exciting equal interest in the Uleborg folk. Such, however, was the case, as a notice afterwards appeared in the paper to say that the English women had been twice to look at the salmon-catching, had appeared much interested in what they saw, and had asked many questions. It was a good thing we were not up to any mischief, as the Finnish press was so fond of chronicling all our doings.
At five o'clock every morning and evening, the nets are lifted, and, as a rule, about a hundred fish are taken each time, although we were fortunate enough to see a catch of nearly twice that number. Some of them were little—weighing only two or three pounds—but the average appeared to be about twenty pounds, while one or two of the salmon turned the scale at forty.
About a dozen men assembled on the bank, all smoking their everlasting pipes, some who had been lying asleep on the grass being roused from their slumbers, for it was five in the afternoon and time for them to start on their "catch." Each wooden pier was to be tackled by half a dozen men in a tar-boat, and, as we were particularly anxious to see this done, I persuaded one of the men to let me join his party, which he only allowed me to do after I had faithfully promised to sit perfectly still. I have described what cockly things these tar-boats are, even filled with their barrels or luggage for ballast, but when perfectly empty, as they always are when they go to fetch the salmon except for the weight of half a dozen men, it is a perfect marvel they do not upset. They are not so long, however, as those used for the rapids, although they are pointed the same at both ends, and the planks are equally wide and thin and as quaintly tied together. Off I went to the farthest end of one of these long wooden vessels; the boat was punted to the desired spot, the water apparently not being very deep at that point, and, having brought their craft up sideways against the wooden erection with its nets, the men who had run along the top of the pier—a somewhat dangerous proceeding—drew the net sluices up one by one so that the men in our boat might get at the salmon, while one of her crew, with a long stick and a hook at the end, pulled the net from the bed of the river. It was most awfully exciting; sometimes the meshes would come up with half a dozen fish in them, sometimes disappointment awaited the fishermen, for they got nothing. But what struck me as particularly strange was the fact that half the salmon were dead and half were alive; apparently the dead ones had been in the net some hours (more than twelve was impossible as the nets had been taken up at five A.M.). Two or three hours' captivity, however, with such a tremendous weight of water passing over them was enough to knock the life out of any fish. It was a trying moment when a monster salmon, struggling frantically, was pulled half into our boat; but the men cleverly speared them or knocked them on the head with a large mallet, which killed them instantly. Ere half an hour elapsed we had emptied all the nets along our pier, and with the boat well filled with beautiful shining fish, we returned to the little landing-stage from which we originally started.
As those fish—nearly two hundred in number—lay on that small wooden pier they made a mighty show, and it seemed wonderful to consider that seventy or eighty salmon had been taken at the same spot only a few hours previously, while one hundred and twenty-five miles farther up the river something between fifty and a hundred are netted daily.
Everything was managed in the most business-like fashion, and with great cleanliness. Two men, one on either side of the pier, sat on tubs turned upside down and, each with a knife in his hand, proceeded to clean the fish. They cut its throat, and, with the most marvellous rapidity, cleansed it, the mysteries from the interior being put aside for sale to the poor; then another man came forward and, picking up the fish thus prepared, washed it most carefully in the stream. In a very short space of time the whole catch of salmon were lying cleaned and washed upon the dripping pier. They were then put on trucks or wheelbarrows and rolled up to the ice-house. Here all the fish were accurately weighed, the number of kilos. being entered in a ledger, and, after sorting out the large from the small, they were packed into ice in enormous wooden tubs, and within a couple of hours most of them were on their way to St. Petersburg.
The net fishing ends during the last days of August, when the nets and the piers have to be taken away and packed up carefully for the following summer's use.
It was at this salmon ground that my sister and I were much amused at two little incidents.
We were sitting on a wooden bench, waiting till all should be ready, when one of the fishermen came and stood before us. He was smoking and his hands were in his pockets as he paused within a few feet of us in a most leisurely manner. He did not do so rudely, although perhaps somewhat awkwardly. As he was evidently a Finlander we felt unable to converse with the gentleman, and therefore merely smiled.
"You speak English?" he said in that language.
"Certainly," we replied, somewhat taken aback.
"So do I," he rejoined.
As he was a poor-looking person, with tattered clothing and a Finnish countenance, we were somewhat amazed, and we asked if he were a Scotchman, that type more closely resembling the Finn than the Saxon race.
"No," he replied, "I am a Finn, but was a sailor for years, and I have been over to America as an emigrant."
"You speak English wonderfully well," we answered, really surprised at the purity of the man's accent.
"Yes," he said, "I was several years in America, where I lost all the money I had made at sea. It took me a long time to collect enough to come home again, but I have just come back, and if not richer, anyway I hope I'm wiser." And he thereupon began to explain the advantages and disadvantages of emigration.
Imagine in the far North, almost on the borders of Lapland, being addressed in our own tongue by a man in rags. We were astonished; yet all over Finland one meets with sailors who speak the King's English, and in Uleborg we were struck with the fact on two other occasions—the first being when the man at the helm of a small penny steamer addressed us, and the second when a blue-coated policeman entered into conversation.
This shows how universal our clumsy grammarless language is becoming. But still, although English is the language of commerce, and with English one can travel all over the world, better than with any other tongue, the only way really to enjoy and appreciate voyaging in foreign lands is either to speak the language of the people, or, if that cannot be managed, to have some one always at hand capable and willing to translate.
Knowledge of the language of a country is a golden key to enjoyment.
As we left the salmon ground a lady, who had apparently been watching the proceedings from afar, desiring to know more of such strange beings as the "two English ladies," advanced, and, on the trifling pretext of asking if we had lost our way, addressed us in excellent French.
We thanked her, and replied we had been for several days in Uleborg and knew our way quite well; but she was not to be baffled—she came to have a talk and she meant to have it—therefore she walked beside us the whole way back to the hotel, giving us little bits of information, though much more inclined to ask us questions than to answer those to which we were really in need of replies.
Will any one deny that the Finlander is inquisitive? Perhaps the reader will be inquisitive too when he learns that unintentionally we made a match. Nevertheless, the statement is quite true. We, most innocent and unoffending—we, who abhor interference in all matrimonial affairs—we, without design or intent, made a match.
It came about in this way.
By mere chance I chaperoned a charming and delightful girl down the Gulf of Bothnia. Her coming with us was only decided upon during the last five minutes of our stay, and her clothes were positively repacked on the platform of the station to enable her to do so at all.
We had been given introductions to a delightful Baron at one of the towns en route to Hang, and having arrived at our destination, and not being masters of the language, we asked our maiden fair to kindly telephone in her own language and acquaint the Baron with the fact of our arrival. She did so; they were strangers, and each heard the other's dulcet tones for the first time through the mechanical mysteries of the telephone. The Baron joined us an hour later, he invited us to dinner, he escorted us about, he drove us to a park, he sat beside us in the evening while we drank coffee and admired the view. He came to see us off the following day, he gave us books and flowers as a parting gift, and we left.
Pangs of remorse fill my soul as I write these lines. For the twenty-four hours we remained in that town I monopolised this delightful Baron. I plied him with questions, I insisted on his showing me everything there was to be seen of interest, and telling me many things I wished to know about his country, and, with regret, truth compels me to repeat, that, so dense were my powers of perception, I monopolised him almost entirely, while he must have been longing to be alone with the girl he had fallen in love with at first sight—or at first hearing.
We left Finland shortly after this, but had hardly reached our native shore before a letter from the charming girl arrived, in which she said, "Fancy, the Baron turned up here the other day, and the day after his arrival he proposed, I accepted him, and we shall be married by the end of the month."
Comment is needless. Romance will have its sway in spite of dense Englishwomen and stupid writers, who do not see what is going on under their noses, in their search for less interesting information elsewhere.
From romance to reality is but a span, and fishermen, and their name is legion, may be glad to learn a little about the fishing in Finland, and that the best rivers lie in the governor's province of Wiborg. There are lake salmon, trout, and grayling; minnows and sand-eels are specially favoured as bait.
In the Government district of St. Michael excellent sport is also to be found, especially Salmo eriox and trout. Dead bait is chiefly used. But a large stretch of this water is rented by the Kalkis fisk Klubb.
In the district of Kuopio permission to fish may be obtained from Henriksson, the manager of a large ironwork at Warkaus and Konnus. Silk bait and Devon minnows prove most useful.
In the province of Uleborg salmon of every kind can be caught at Waala, where there is a charge of ten marks (eight shillings) for the season. There are also trout and grayling, and the ordinary English flies and minnows are the best bait, Jock Scott, Dry Doctor, Zulu, and shrimp being great favourites. Sportsmen can put up at Lannimalio, or Poukamo, at the peasants' small farms; but information is readily given by the English Consul at Uleborg, who, although a Finlander, knows English well.
At the town of Kajana two marks a day is charged for trout and grayling fishing, but in the adjacent rivers, Hyrynsalmi and Kuusamo, the fishing is free.
On the borders of Russia, at Kem, the best grayling fishing perhaps in the world is to be found.
The sport generally begins on the 1st April, and ends at Waala on 15th September, and at Kajana a few days later.
Practically all the fishing is free, and when not so, the charge is merely nominal. Near Waala salmon up to 50 lbs., grayling 5 lbs., or trout 18 lbs. are not uncommon.
There is no netting except at two points on the Ule river, and there is a great move nowadays to take the nets off from Saturday to Monday to let the fish free.
Herman Renfors was then the best fisherman in Finland. He told us that during five days, in September 1885,—things are not nearly so good as this nowadays—he caught the following:—
Sept. 9. 18 Grayling weighing 19 lbs. 8 Salmon, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 9, 24, 31 = 93 " ———— 112 lbs. " 10. 18 Grayling weighing 21 lbs. 7 Salmon, 4, 5, 6, 16, 27, 30, 40 = 128 " ———— 149 lbs. " 11. 18 Grayling weighing 16 lbs. 5 Salmon, 7, 18, 26, 36, 52 = 139 " ———— 155 lbs. " 12. 6 Grayling weighing 6 lbs. 8 Salmon, 5, 5, 6, 7, 14, 29, 30, 43 = 139 " ———— 145 lbs. " 13. 6 Grayling weighing 6 lbs. 6 Salmon, 4, 2, 5, 31, 32, 33 = 107 " ———— 113 lbs. Total in five days 674 lbs. ========
Verily a record. His sister made his flies; and the salmon which weighed 52 lbs. he got with a salmon-spoon of his own make. He uses a spinning-rod 11 feet long, or a fly-rod 14 feet long. We saw him fishing in the famous rapids, and never shall we forget the dexterity of his throw, or the art of his "play." He once caught 1600 lbs. of fish in three weeks. Masters of the piscatorial art, does not envy enter your souls?
But this is digression, and our narrative demands that we proceed to tell how a twopenny fare in a little steamboat from Uleborg brought us to the tar stores. On a Finnish steamboat one often requires change, so much paper money being in use, and the plan for procuring it is somewhat original. In neat little paper bags change for half a mark or a whole mark is securely fastened down, the colour of the bag indicating the amount of money it contains, therefore there can be no cheating. If one wants a mark changed the ticket-collector immediately produces a little sealed envelope containing a mark in pence, and having opened it one pays him whatever may be due.
From fifty thousand to seventy thousand barrels of tar are deposited every summer by the boats which shoot the Ule rapids upon the quay near the town. What a sight! There they were piled two and three high like pipes of wine in the great London vaults, but in this case the barrels were not under cover, but simply lay on a quay that was railed in. Every barrel had to be tested before final shipment, and when we arrived a man was going round for this purpose trying each cask after the bung had been extracted. He wore high boots, and carried his ink-bottle in his boot leg as the London brewer carries his ink in his coat pocket. Then a helper, who followed behind, thumped in the bung while the foreman made his notes in a book, and in a few minutes a man or a woman came and rolled the barrel away. Those employed in the task wore strong leather gloves with no fingers—only a thumb, and so tarred they were absolutely hard, as also their boots from walking over the tarry ground. And yet all the faces were beautifully clean, and the clothes almost spotless.
The ground at these stores is literally sodden with tar, though here and there little drains are cut in order to collect it; the air being permeated by its wholesome smell.
Fancy if such a quay caught fire. Fancy those thousands of barrels in flames—and yet a famous admiral once set fire to this very tar store in the name of England; a little act of destruction that Finland has never quite forgiven Great Britain.
After spending some days in Uleborg, it became necessary to make a forward movement—not towards Lapland, as originally intended, for that had been vetoed as impossible in summer. We were still hundreds, we might almost say thousands, of miles from home, when we arranged to leave our pleasant quarters on the following afternoon for Hang.
What a truly national experience! First of all, the Petersburg steamer, by which we were to travel, though announced to start at three P.M., never left its moorings till 4.40. Only one hour and forty minutes late, but that was a mere trifle to a Finn. The cargo was taken on board up to the very last minute—eighteen enormous barrels of salmon (twice or thrice the size of eighteen-gallon casks of beer), five hundred rolls of leather, which, having come as raw skins from America, had been dressed in Uleborg, ready for Riga, whither the consignment was bound, also a hundred big baskets, made of the plaited bark so common in Finland, filled with glue, likewise the product of a leather factory.
One thing amazed us immensely; viz. that our steamer was allowed to lie almost alongside of the tar stores we had so lately visited. With the aid of only one single spark from her chimney all those barrels would quickly be ablaze. However, the genial English-speaking captain, as well as the British Consul who had come to see us off, set our minds at rest by explaining that the steamer only burnt coal, no wood-burning boat being allowed near the tar—the coal making few sparks and wood many. Fancy, coal! we had not seen or heard of coal for weeks; all the trains, the houses, and the steamboats, burn wood only, except the large ships that go right out to sea, and they could not burn wood, because of its bulk, unless they dragged a dozen barges behind them to give a continuous supply on the voyage.
Another Finnish scene was being enacted around us. About a dozen emigrants were leaving their native land by way of Hang, where they were to change steamers for England, and pass thence to America. They had paid seven or eight pounds each for their passage money, and were going off to seek their fortunes in a new world—going to a strange country, speaking another tongue than their own, going away from all they had on earth, from friends, relations, associations, going full of hope, perchance to fail! Some years later, when I was in the States, I learned what excellent emigrants these Finlanders make, and how successful they generally become, but they looked so sad that day that our hearts ached for them as they sat on their little boxes and bundles on the quays, among the sixty or seventy friends who had come to see them off. The bell rang; no one moved. It rang again, when each said to the other Hyvsti (good-bye), and with a jaunty shake of the hand all round, the emigrants marched on board, and our ship steamed away, without a wet eye or a smothered sob.
Will nothing move these people? Is it that they hide their feelings, or is it that they have none to conceal?
The stoicism of the Finn is one of his strongest characteristics.
As we passed out of the harbour our thoughts recurred to heart-breaking farewells on board P. and O. and Orient steamers, where the partings are generally only for a few years, and the voyagers are going to lands speaking their own language and to appointments ready waiting for them. How strange is the emigrant, and how far more enigmatical the Finn.
Our steamer bo was delightful, quite the most comfortable we chanced on in Finland; the captain, a charming man, fortunately spoke excellent English, although over the cabin door was written a grand specimen of a Swedish word—Aktersalongspassagerare, meaning first-class passenger saloon.
Although the bo plied from Uleborg to Petersburg, and was a large passenger steamer, she stopped at many places for two or three hours at a time, in order to take in passengers and cargo, while we lay-to at night because of the dangers of the coast, and waited half a day at Wasa, one of the most important towns in Finland. The train journey from Uleborg to bo occupies thirty hours, while the steamer dawdles placidly over the same distance for three days and a half.
Have you ever travelled with a melon? If not, you have lost a delightful experience—please try. At one of the many halting-places on our way to Hang, we were wandering through the streets on a very hot day, when in a shop window some beautiful melons attracted our attention.
"Oh!" exclaimed my sister, "we must have one, how cool and refreshing they look."
"What shall we do with it?" I asked.
"Send it down to the steamer," was her reply, "it will be so nice on board."
We accordingly went in, bought the melon with the help of our best Swedish, for here, being opposite Sweden, that language was still in vogue; we explained it was to go to the ngbtshytt (cabin) number ten, and left cheerfully.
We returned to our steamer home; while leaving the harbour we remained on deck, and it was not until late in the evening, when the ship began to roll considerably, that we went below. At the head of the cabin stairs a most extraordinary odour greeted our senses; as we neared our cabin the smell increased; when we opened the door we were nearly knocked down by the terrible scent of the melon which had looked so charming in the shop window. Though very hot all day, as the weather had been decidedly rough for some hours, the port-hole was closed, therefore the melon had thoroughly scented the queer little cabin.
"This is impossible," I exclaimed. "I never smelt anything so overpowering in my life, except a cod-liver oil factory in Iceland. We cannot sleep in such an atmosphere."
My sister looked crestfallen.
"It is rather strong," said she pensively; "shall we put it outside?"
"No," I replied, "if we, who bought it, cannot endure the smell, how are the wretched occupants on the other side to put up with such an inconvenience?"
"Then we must eat it," she remarked with conviction, and, undoing the paper and cutting a slice, she proceeded solemnly to devour that melon. Strangely enough, in spite of its overpowering odour, the fruit tasted delicious, for, be it owned, I ate some too, and when we had enjoyed our feast we opened the port-hole and threw its rind into a watery grave. We had not been long in bed before we heard a great commotion outside—an appeal to the stewardess, then angry words, and at last a regular row. Dare we own the cause? It was our melon!
No one knew it was our melon, but half awake, holding on to keep in our bunks at all, we lay and listened to the angry discussion, feeling it could serve no good purpose if we got up to confess a dead and buried sin. Nevertheless, that melon lay long on our consciences. We will never voluntarily travel with one again.
We did not fall asleep till we had pulled up for the night. As we lay we reviewed our past experiences, and thought over the towns of Suomi. Uleborg, which we had just left, is perhaps the most northerly town of any importance in Europe, and, after Helsingfors, it is the most imposing in Finland. Wiborg, which from its position is on the high road to Russia, ought to be handsome also and have good stone buildings, but it is not handsome, and has few good buildings. Willmanstrand is merely a collection of small wooden houses, some barracks, and numberless tents for camping out. Nyslott is scattered, and of no importance were it not for its Castle and its new bath-house. Kuopio is perhaps the most picturesquely situated inland town in Finland, and the view from Puijo, a hill of some height behind the township, is really good on a fine night. It is extensive, and gives a wonderful idea of the lakes and islands, rivers and forests of which Finland is composed. Iisalmi is nothing—hardly possesses an hotel, in fact—and Kajana not much better, although the rapids make it of great interest. Sordavala, as a town, is simple, neither beautifully situated nor interesting, except as a centre of learning, for it possesses wonderful schools for men and women. Tammerfors may be called the Manchester of Finland; but the towns are really hardly worth mentioning as towns, being all built of wood and utterly lacking historical interest. The towns are the weak part of Finland.
The water-ways are the amazement of every traveller; the people most interesting. That both have a charm, and a very distinct charm, cannot be denied, and therefore Finland is a country well worth visiting. For the fisherman there is splendid sport. For the gun there is much game, and in some parts both are free. To the swimmer there are endless spots to bathe; in a canoe the country can be traversed from end to end. For the botanist there are many interesting and even arctic flowers. For the artist there are almost unequalled sunsets and sky effects. For the pedestrian there are fairly good roads,—but for the fashionable tourist who likes Paris, London, or Rome, there is absolutely no attraction, and a Saratoga trunk could not find lodging. There are a few trains and many boats in parts, but, once away from these, the traveller must rough it in every sense; leave all but absolutely necessary luggage behind, and keep that well within bounds; and prepare to live on peasant's fare, such as fish, milk, coffee, eggs, black bread and butter (all of which are excellent). He must never be in a hurry, must go good-naturedly and cheerfully to work, and, above all, possess a strong constitution that can endure eight or ten hours' jolting a day in carts without springs. Such travelling is the only way to see the country, and learn the habits and customs of the people, the Karelen and Savolax districts being especially worth visiting by any one who has such objects in view.
At length we dropped off to sleep, feeling our visit had been well worth the little inconveniences we laughed away. Finland is much to be preferred for a holiday than many better-known countries.
At different little towns along the Gulf of Bothnia the steamer stopped in answer to a "call," and some passenger clambered on board from a small boat, which mode of proceeding reminded us of the ships that go round Oban and Mull and such Scotch ports, where the same sort of thing goes on, the letters being dropped by the vessel as she passes.
At Jacobstad, our first real halting-place, we stayed six hours to take on board many barrels of tar made in the neighbourhood, chicory, etc. Beside our boat, two large steamers (German and English) were being laden with wood. Britain was taking some thousands of solid staves, about five feet long, for the coal-pits at home, where they are used as supports. Germany's importation was planks, probably for building purposes. Women were doing all the work; they were pushing truck-loads along a railway line, lifting the staves one by one on to a primitive sort of truck-like arrangement that could be dragged on board by the crane, and heavy work it appeared, although they did not seem to mind much. The English boat was already full, but the wood was being stacked up on the deck as high as the bridge. As she was a steamer, it seemed hardly profitable to burn coal to convey wood to Britain! All round the harbour, if we can give it such a name, were rafts still in the water, or stacks of wood in a more advanced condition ready for export. The rafts were being taken to pieces now they had reached the coast; men standing to their waists in water loosened the ties, while horses pulled the pine-tree trunks on shore. Finns have no time to idle in the summer, for it is during those four or five months that everything must be done, and sufficient money earned to keep them for the rest of the year. Luckily the days are long, and certainly the peasantry take advantage of the light, for they seem to work hard for eighteen or twenty hours at a stretch.
Wasa is celebrated for its beautiful girls; and remembering that during eight or nine weeks in Finland we had seen no pretty peasants, and only about as many good-looking girls of the better class as could be counted on the fingers of both hands, full of pleasant anticipation we went on shore to see these beauteous maids—and—there were none. The town was deserted, every one had gone away to their island or country homes, and no doubt taken the pretty girls with them. At all events they had left Wasa, which, to our surprise, was lined by boulevards of trees, quite green and picturesque, stone houses here and there, and an occasional villa; and if we did not find lovely females, we saw many with tidy heads, an adjunct as important to a woman as a well-shaved chin to a man. Wasa was one of the nicest-looking towns of Finland.
Every one in it spoke Swedish. For weeks we had been travelling through parts of the country where Finnish was the only tongue, but here we were in another atmosphere. Soon after leaving Uleborg we found the peasants speaking Swedish. In winter they can walk over the Gulf of Bothnia to Sweden, so it is hardly to be wondered at that they preserve their old language. It is the same all the way down the coast to Helsingfors. Of course we went to the baths at Wasa; we always did everywhere. There are no baths in hotels or on board ships, but each town has its warm baths, and its swimming-baths railed off on the water-side, and there are regular attendants everywhere.
Lo! in the swimming-bath two mermaids played and frolicked when we entered, and, let us own at once, they were two very beautiful girls—so beautiful, in fact, that we feel we ought to retract our remarks anent the lack of loveliness in the female sex. Somewhat hungry after our dip we went to the caf—and to another surprise. The girl behind the counter was lovely. Well—well—here was the third beauty in one day, and all hidden from masculine gaze, for two had been at the ladies' swimming-bath, and the third was in a caf for ladies only. Poor men of Finland, how much you have missed!
We asked for rolls and butter and jam, with a cup of coffee, as we were not dining till 3.30. The lovely maid opened her eyes wide.
An endless source of amusement to the natives was the Englishwomen eating jam. Although they have so many wonderful berries in Finland, and make them into the most luscious preserves, they eat the sweetened ones as pudding and the unsweetened with meat, but such a thing as eating Hjortron on bread and butter was considered too utterly funny an idea. At the little caf at Wasa the brilliant notion seized us of having white bread, butter, and Hjortron preserve. Our kind Finnish friend gave the order, and the pretty girl repeated—
"Hjortron? But there is no meat."
"We don't want any meat; but the ladies would like some jam with their coffee."
"Then shall I bring you cream to eat it as pudding?" she asked, still more amazed.
"No," was the reply, "they will eat it spread on bread and butter."
"What! Hjortron on bread and butter!" the waitress exclaimed. "Impossible!"
And to her mind the combination was as incongruous as preserves eaten with meat would be to the ordinary English peasant, or as our mint sauce served with lamb seems to a foreigner, who also looks upon our rhubarb tart as a dose of medicine.
Another thing that surprised the folk was that we always wanted salt. It is really remarkable how seldom a Finlander touches it at all; indeed, they will sit down and calmly eat an egg without even a grain of salt. Perhaps there is something in the climate that makes it less necessary for them than other folk, because we know that in the interior of some parts of Africa, the craving for salt is so dreadful that a native will willingly give the same weight in gold for its equivalent in salt.
We stopped at bo, the ancient capital of Finland, justly proud of its stone cathedral. Two things struck us as extraordinary in this building. The first were long words painted on several of the pews—"Fr Nattvardsgster Rippiwk warten," which, being translated into English, notified "For those who were waiting for the communion."
The second thing was a mummy, almost as old as the cathedral itself, which was begun in the year 1258 by Bishop Heinrich. Stay, yet a third thing caught our attention—the Scotch names on the monuments, the descendants of which people still live in Finland. Many Scotch settled in Suomi centuries ago, and England has the proud honour of having sent over the first Protestant bishop to Finland.
We saw marvellous mummies—all once living members of some of the oldest families in Finland; there they lie in wondrous caverns in the crypt, but as formerly tourists were wicked enough to tear off fingers and so forth in remembrance of these folks, they are now no longer shown. However, that delightful gentleman, the Head of the Police, who escorted us about bo, had the mysterious iron trapdoor in the floor uplifted, and down some steep steps—almost ladder-like, with queer guttering tallow dips in our hands—we stumbled into the mummies' vault. The mummies themselves were not beautiful. The whole figure was there, it is true, but shrivelled and blackened by age. The coffins or sarcophagi in which they lay were in many cases of exquisite workmanship.
We cannot dwell on the history of the cathedral, which has played such an important part in the religious controversies of the country, any more than we may linger among the mummies and general sights of the respective towns, because this in no way purposes to be a guide-book. All information of that kind is excellently given in Dr. August Ramsay's admirable little guide to his own land, which has been translated into several languages. For the same reason we must pass over the interesting castle—not nearly so delightful though as our dear old haunted pile at Nyslott—with its valuable collection of national curiosities, among which figures an old-fashioned flail, used until comparatively modern times, to beat the devil out of the church.
It was at bo we were introduced to one of the greatest delicacies of Finland.
Crayfish, for which the Finnish word is rapu, appear to be found in nearly all the lakes and rivers in the south and middle of Finland. Oh, how we loved those crayfish. There is a close season for them which lasts from the 1st of May until the 15th of July, but immediately after the latter date they are caught by the tens of thousands and sent in large consignments to St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and even Berlin. Catching these little crayfish is not only a profession, but also a great source of amusement to young and old among the better class.
At night, or the early morning, is the best time for the sport. A man takes ten or more sticks, to the end of each of which he fastens a piece of string about thirty to fifty centimetres long. To this string he secures a piece of meat, which, be it owned, is considered by the little fish a more dainty morsel when slightly tainted. These sticks he fixes to the bank or holds in his hands, so that the piece of meat is below the surface of the water. Having secured what may be called all his fishing-rods safely at a certain distance, he wanders along the banks observing carefully where a crayfish is hanging on to a piece of meat by its claws. When such is the case he quickly gets hold of a landing-net, and placing it under its little black shell lifts the animal out of the water. Then he goes to the next stick, and generally the crayfish catch on so quickly, he is busily employed the whole time going from one rod to another. The more professional catchers have a net under the bait, but that is not really necessary. Young men and women thoroughly enjoy these crayfish parties, where it is said the maidens sometimes catch other fish than the rapu.
It was really amazing, in the market-place at bo, to see the large baskets filled with these little crayfish. Think of it, ye gourmands. They were not sold singly or even by the score, but by the hundred; and a hundred of them cost fourpence. When one remembers the enormous price paid in Paris for bisque soup, and the expense of crevisse, generally, one feels what a fortune ought to lie in those baskets. But such is life. We either have too much or too little of everything.
A FASHIONABLE WATERING-PLACE.
One cannot be long in Finland during the summer without being asked "Are you going to Hang?"
"See Rome and die" seems there to be transformed into "See Hang and live."
"Where is Hang, what is Hang—why Hang?" we at last inquired in desperation.
The Finlander to whom we spoke looked aghast, and explained that "not to have heard of Hang was a crime, not to have been to Hang a misfortune."
Accordingly, desiring to do the correct thing before leaving the land of thousands of lakes, we took the steamer from the ancient town of bo, to the modern fashionable watering-place of Hang.
It was ten o'clock at night when we arrived from bo, and were met with warm welcome by kind friends on the quay, with whom we drove to the hotel, as we thought, but that was quite a mistake. We were at Hang, and within five minutes the Isvoschtschik stopped before a pavilion where music was jingling inspiriting tunes; up the steps we were hurried, and at the top found ourselves, travel-stained and tired, in the midst of a wild and furious Finnish, or, to speak more properly, Russian ball.
It was a strange spectacle. At first we thought that some sixty or seventy sailors from the four Russian men-of-war lying in the harbour had been let out for the evening, their blue serge blouses and lighter linen collars with white stripes having a familiar air, still it seemed strange that such smart ladies, in dainty gowns, hats flowered in Paris, and laces fingered in Belgium, should be dancing with ordinary able-bodied seamen. Ere long we discovered these sailors were cadets, or midshipmen, as we should call them, among the number being two Russian princes and many of the nobility. Then there were officers in naval uniform, elderly Generals—who had merely come in to have a look—clad in long gray coats lined with scarlet; small persons wearing top-boots and spurs, with linen coats and brass buttons, who smilingly said they were "in the Guards," although their stature hardly reminded us of their English namesakes! girls in shirts and skirts and sailor hats, got up for the seaside and comfort, who looked as much out of place in this Casino ballroom as many high dames appeared next morning while wandering down to the "Bad Hus" to be bathed in mud or pine, their gorgeous silk linings and lace-trimmed skirts appearing absolutely ridiculous on the sandy roads or beach. To be well-dressed is to be suitably dressed, and Hang, like many another watering-place, has much to learn in the way of common sense.
It was Sunday. The ball had begun as usual on that evening at seven, and was over about eleven; but while it lasted every one danced hard, and the youngsters from the ships romped and whirled madly round the room, as youth alone knows how. We all get old very soon—let us enjoy such wild delights while we may.
No one with a slender purse should go to Hang, not at least unless he has made a bargain with an hotel, or he will find that even a little Finnish watering-place ventures to charge twelve marks (9s. 9d.) a day for a small room, not even facing the sea (with 1 mark 50 penni for bougies extra), in a hotel that has neither drawing-room, billiard-room, nor reading-room. But it must again be repeated that Finland is not cheap, that travelling indeed is just as expensive there as anywhere else abroad, more expensive, in fact, than in some of the loveliest parts of the Tyrol, or the quaintest districts of Brittany and Normandy. And perhaps the most distressing part of the whole business is the prevalent idea that every Englishman must be immensely rich, and consequently willing to pay whatever ridiculous sum the Finns may choose to ask—an idea which cannot be too soon dispelled.
Hang is certainly a charming spot as far as situation goes, and lies in more salt water than any other place in Finland, for it is the nearest point to the German Ocean, while during the winter months it is the only port that is open for Finland and Northern Russia—even this is not always the case, though an ice-breaker works hard day and night to disperse the ice, which endeavour generally proves successful, or the winter export of butter, one of Finland's greatest industries, would be stopped and perhaps ruined. Not only Hang but all the southern coast of Finland shelters the summer houses of many of the aristocracy of Russia.
Out to sea are islands; skirting the coasts are splendid granite rocks, showing the glacial progress later than in other lands, for Finland remained cold longer than our own country. Pine-trees make a sort of park thickly studded with wooden villas of every shape and size, some gray, some deep red, all with balconies wide enough to serve for dining-rooms, though the pretty villas themselves are often only one storey high. It is very difficult in such a seaside labyrinth to find one's friends, because most of the houses are nameless, and many are not even on roads—just standing lonely among the pines. They are dear little homes, often very picturesque and primitive, so primitive that it utterly bewilders any stranger, unaccustomed to such incongruities, to see a lady in patent leather shoes and silk stockings, dressed as if going to Hurlingham or the Bois de Boulogne, emerge from one of them and daintily step through sand to the Casino—walking hither and thither, nodding a dozen times a day to the same acquaintances, speaking to others, gossiping over everything and everybody with a chosen few, while her daughter is left to play tennis with that Finnish girl's idea of all manly beauty, "a lieutenant," or knocks a very big ball with a very small mallet through an ancient croquet hoop, that must have come out of the ark—that is to say, if croquet hoops ever went into the ark.
Hang is a dear, sweet, reposeful, health-giving, primitive place, spoilt by gay Russians and would-be-fashionable Finns, who seem to aim at aping Trouville or Ostend without the French chic, or the Parisian gaiet de coeur.
Wonderful summer evenings, splendid effects of light and shade on the water, beautiful scenery, glorious dawns and sunsets—everything was there to delight the poet, to inspire the painter, to tempt the worldly to reflect, but no one paused to think, only nodded to another friend, laughed over a new hat, chaffed about the latest flirtation, and passed on.