Henry [Garrett] 1804-1860 Newland.

Forest scenes in Norway and Sweden: being extracts from the journal of a fisherman online

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jumped over the boundary, and thanked God that Sweden
could not jump after her."*

Jacob had sense enough not to hear this laudatory remark on
his late sovereign's discrimination, but, with his ordinary
phlegm, resumed his load and his place in the line of march.

* Christina, daughter of the great Gustavus Adolphus, a popular
and able sovereign, abdicated voluntarily, — wearied of the toils of
government, — and is said to have uttered some such speech as that
attributed to hei by Torkel on crossing the little stream which in those
days separated hei late dominions from those of Denmark.


" By the way," said the Parson, as they resumed their
journey, " what was it, Torkel, that made you scrape the mud
from your right foot and put it on your head in that insane
manner, just now ?"

" I can answer that," said Birger ; " you know that the
whole tribe of Alfs, white, brown, and black, and the Trolls,
and in fact the whole class that go under the generic
name of Bj erg-folk, or Hill-men, live under the earth. To
see them, therefore, on ordinary occasions, you must put
yourself — at least, typically — in a similar condition. That
upon which you have trod must cover your head ; and you
take it from the right foot rather than the left, partly as
being more lucky, and partly because the left being a mark
of disrespect, would incense the dwarfs, who would be sure
to make you pay for it sooner or later ; in fact they are a
dangerous race to meddle with at all, they take offence so
very easily. I believe, however, this is the safest plan, for
tbey are not aware, unless you betray yourself, that the
veil is removed from your sight. Did you never hear the
story of the Ferryman of Sund T

The Englishman, of course, had not heard it, neither had
any of the men, for the legend is Danish and local ; and
though anything Danish is much better known in Norway
than stories or legends relating to Sweden, it so happened
that it was new to them all, and they closed up to listen to it.

" One evening, between the two lights,* a strange man
came to the ferry at Sund and engaged all the boats : no
sooner had the bargain been made, than they began to sink
deeper and deeper into the water, as if some heavy cargo had
been put into them, though the astonished boatmen could see
nothing, and the boats looked quite empty.

" ' Shove off,' said the stranger, ' you have got quite load
enough for one trip ;' and so they had, for the gunwales were
not a couple of inches from the water, and the boats pulled

* Between "the two lights," — that is to say, twilight, — is always the
time in which all spirits of the middle earth have the greatest power ;
of course the reason is, that seen indistinctly in the doubtful light of
morning or evening, natural objects take strange forms, and exhibit
appearances which are ascribed to the supernatural.


so heavily, that it was as much as the men could do to get
to the Vandsyssel side ; if the water had not been wonderfully
calm, they could not have done it at all — but it was calm ;
and all under the wake of the moon it looked as if it was
covered with a network of silver filigree, to chain down the

" As soon as the boats touched the "Vandsyssel shore, they
began rising in the water again, as if their freight had been
taken out of them, and then the stranger sent them back
again ; and so it went on throughout the whole night, and
very hard work the ferrymen had, bringing over cargoes of

" Then the day began to break, and the eastern sky to
whiten ; and just as the coming sun shot up his seven lances
to show the world that King Day was at hand, the stranger,
who had arranged all tin's, paid the ferrymen, not counting
the coins, but filling their hats with them with both hands,
as a boy shovels out his nuts.

" l What had they been bringing over ? ' asked one of
them. ' Cannot you be quiet, and know when you are well
off,' said the stranger ; 'you need not be afraid of the custom-
house dues ; they will have sharp eyes to see anything con-
traband in what you have carried over last night ; put your
money in your pockets and be thankful — you will not earn
so much in the next three years.'

" But in the mean while one of the ferrymen, a sharper
fellow than his neighbours, jumped on shore, and did just
exactly what Torkel did just now — put a piece of clay from
the sole of his shoe on the crown of his head. His eyes
were opened at once ; all the sandhills about Aalberg were
alive with little people, every one of them carrying on his
back gold and silver pots, and jugs, and vessels of every de-
scription — the whole place looked like one gigantic anthill.

" ' O-ho,' said he, ' that's what you are about ; well, joy go
with you, we shall not be plagued with you any more on our
side of the water ; that 's one good job, anyhow.'

" But it was not a good job for him ; it is very possible to
be too sharp for one's own good. All his gold money turned


to yellow queens,* and his silver money to chipped oyster-
shells, and he never got rich, or anything more than a poor
ferryman of Sund, while his companions had their hats full
of ancient Danish gold and silver coins, and bought ships of
their own, and went trading to Holland and the free towns,
and became great men."

" Upon my word, Torkel," said the Parson, " you are too
venturesome ; it is just as well that there were no Trolls to
be seen just now at the well ; but you must not try it again,
or you will never become a great man, or command a ship —
not that this would suit you very well, I suppose."

"Torkel would undertake the command of the Haabet,
just now, I'll engage, little as he knows about seamanship, if
he could only get young Svensen out of her," said Mr Tom,
with a knowing grin ; to which inuendo, whatever it might
mean, Torkel playfully replied by kicking out behind at him
with one foot, after the manner of a donkey. He missed
Tom, however, to his and Piersen's intense mirth ; but what
was the precise nature of the joke, there was now no oppor-
tunity of explaining, as the descent had become so steep that
the assistance of the hand was necessary, in order to keep
their footing.

At a few hundred yards from the dwarfs well, they had
fallen in with a little streamlet, running eastward, on a pretty
rapid descent, even from the first, but which now began to
form a series of diminutive cascades, leaping in so many
spouts from rock to rock, while the ground, over which it
ran, seemed as if it was fast changing from the horizontal to
the perpendicular ; indeed, had there not been plenty of rocks
jutting out, and a good crop of twisted and gnarled trunks
and roots, many portions of the journey might have been
accomplished with more speed than pleasure.

The rapidity of the descent soon brought them to the
bottom of a deep hollow valley, far above the level of the
sea, indeed, but low compared with the abrupt heights that
surrounded it. It was one of those singular features in

* A sort of scallop, of very beautiful colour.


Norwegian scenery, a valley without an outlet ; its bottom
occupied by a deep, black, still lake, whose only drain — if it
had any drain at all except the porous nature of the soil —
was under the surface. As the ground rose rapidly on every
side, it did not answer to cut timber which could never be
carried, and the forest here was left in the wildest state of
desolation. Solid, substantial firs, of ancient growth, were
the predominant tree ; but the soil was rich and the valley
sheltered, and there was a plentiful sprinkling of birch and
wych-elm, interspersed with a much rarer tree, the stubborn
old oak himself.

Beneath this mingled canopy w T as a plentiful undergrowth
of juniper, and enormous ferns. There was a still, calm
desolateness about the whole scene, for many of the trees
were dead, not by accident or disease, but from pure old age,,
and stood where they had withered, or reclined against the
younger brethren of the forest, exhibiting their torn and
ragged bark, and stretching forth their bare and leafless

DO ' O m

arms : the very rill — their lively and noisy companion
hitherto — seemed to be sobered down, and to partake here
of the general sadness, as it soaked its still way among the

f. rushes and weeds that encumbered its course.

Where it ran, or rather crept, into the lake, a small marshy
delta was formed of the sand carried down in its course ; and
here was moored an old crazy boat, half full of water, with a
couple of old primitive oars ; the whole had a bleached and
weather-stained appearance, well in keeping with the general
character of the scene. The boat belonged to a sceter some
three or four miles off, on the western slope of the moun-
tains, and was used occasionally by the inhabitants, when, at
rare intervals, they amused themselves by setting lay lines
for the char, for which the lake had a local celebrity. The

f ; soeter belonged to Piersen's brother, and it was he who had

I induced Birger to visit the spot.

Having baled out the boat with their mess tins,,
they pulled out into the lake, which turned out to be

j very much larger than they expected to find it. The spot
where the boat was moored, and which indeed looked like
a small, deep, still tarn, was in fact only a bay, or inlet, and



the whole lake was a body with numerous arms, none of
them very large in themselves, but making a very large
piece of water when taken together.

Of course it had a name ; every rock, and stream, and
splash of water in Norway, has a name of one sort or other ;
but whatever it might have been, it was unknown to the
fishermen, and this dark pool was entered into their diaries
by the appropriate appellation of the " Lake of the "Woods."
Mountains surrounded it on every side, steep, abrupt,
plunging into the deep dark water, and wooded from base to
summit with a dense black mass of wood wherever tree
could stand on rock. There was not beach or shore of any
kind ; the mountain rose from the water itself, so steep as
to be scarcely accessible, and, in many places, not accessible
at all. As for a bird, Avernus itself could not be more
destitute of them. Not a sound was heard, except the splash
of the cumbersome oar, and the creaking of the rowlock, and
that sounded so loud, and so out of place in the universal
stillness, that the rowers tried to dip them quietly, as if
they feared to awaken the desolate echoes.

" Ah," said Birger, in a whisper, " this is just the place for
the ' Lady of the Lake ;' I hope she will do us no harm for
trespassing on her territories."

The men looked uneasy, and a little whispering went on
between Tom and Piersen, who were pulling, they resting
on their oars the while, from which the drops trickled off
and dripped into the silent water. Tom brightened up.
" I do not think she will hurt us," he said ; " she had a very
line cake from Piersen's family last Christmas, and she will
not hurt any one while he is with us."

" What a confounded set of gluttonous sprites you have
in your country," said the Captain ; " mercenary devils they
are too."

" Hush, hush, don't abuse them, at all events while you
are on their territories. The fact is, the 'Lady of the Lake '
is the easiest propitiated of all the sprites : she is an epicure,
too, and not a glutton ; she likes her cake good, but she does
not care how small it is. On Christmas Eve you pick a very
small hole in the ice, and put a cake by the side of it, only


just big enough to go through it ; and if you watch, which
is not a safe thing to do if you have any sins unconfessed,*
you may see, not the lady herself, for she is never seen, but
her small white hand and arm, as she takes the offering and
draws it down through the hole in the ice. Those see her
best who are born on the eves of the holiest festivals."

u That is all nonsense," said Jacob, " I never could see
her at all, often as I have looked, and I was born on Easter

" Why you precious rascal," said the Captain, " how could
you expect it 1 When were your sins shriven, I should like
to know ?"

The men were not by any means displeased at Jacob's rebuff,

who seemed much more disconcerted by it than the occasion.

at all required ; when Birger took up the conversation.

" There is danger in that," said he, " not that you should miss

seeing the Lady, but that you should suffer for your rashness.

The fact is," he continued, turning to his friends, "the

Lady of the Lake is the impersonation of the sudden squalls

which fall unexpectedly on open spaces of any kind in

mountainous countries, and her small white hand and arm

are the dangerous little white breakers that are stirred up

by the gusts, which, though diminutive when compared with

the mighty rollers of the ocean, very often do draw men

down, just as the hand draws Torkel's cake. There is a

similar spirit for the rivers, called the Black Horse, and

another for the sea. This latter is called King Tolf, and is

represented as driving furiously across the Sound, his chariot

drawn by water-horses, and cutting right through any ship

3r boat that may lie in his path. But they all signify the

same thing, in different situations to which their several

attributes are very well adapted."

* In the Swedish Church there used to be a regular private confession
nade to the priest before every Communion, on which occasion an offer-
•ory, called confession-money, was deposited on the altar. It is, indeed,
he rule of the Church still, though, since a royal ordinance, in 1686,
brbade penitents to select their own confessors, confining them to the
>riest of their parish, the custom has fallen into disuse ; still the old
xpressions are frequently retained.

L 2


" And that thing is ?"

" Death, by drowning."

" Here are the corks," broke in Piersen in very indiffernet
English; "we shall have gjep for supper to-day, I see the
floats bobbing."

The corks which he had pointed out were, in reality, a
string of birch-bark floats, which on being examined, were
found attached to lines anchored in the very deepest spot
of the whole lake ; for the gjep, or great lake char, unlike
any of its congeners, and indeed unlike any fresh-water
fish whatever, except the common char, the eel, and the
fictitious mal,* is never found but in the deepest waters.

Birger, who was the hero of this fishing, caught the nearest
float in the crook of his gaff, and began hauling in — evidently
there was something, for at first the line twitched and
twitched and was nearly jerked out of his hand ; but as he
hauled on (and in good truth the line seemed as long as ii
some one, as Paddy says, had cut off the other end of it),
it came lighter and lighter, and before he had got it in, i
large ugly fish, three or four pounds weight, with an enor
mous protuberant belly, lay helpless on the surface.

" That's the fellow," said Piersen, pouncing on him, — but
the fish made little effort to get away ; it was almost deac
before he got hold of it. The gjep, though classed as a chai
by the learned, is as little like the bright crimson char oi
our own lakes or of the mountain lakes of Norway as can wel
be imagined ; never met with except in water of immense
depth, never found out of his hole, never caught except witl
a still and (so the Swedes assert) a stinking bait, he bear
the colours and character of his local habitation, a sober darl

* The mal is said to be a great-headed, wide-mouthed monster, with
long beard, of the same colour as the eel ; and, like the eel, slimy am
without any perceptible scales. It is said to grow to the length c;
twelve or fourteen feet, to weigh three or four hundred pounds, and t
carry on his back fin a strong, sharp lance, which it can elevate or depress a
pleasure. It is supposed to lie seeking whom or what it may devou '
in the deepest and muddiest holes of rivers or lakes. The author ha
heard this fish talked of very often, but has never seen one, and believe
fully that it may safely be classed with the Black Horse, the Mid- Gar
Serpent, and Dr. Clarke's Furia Infernalis.


olive brown back, a dark grey side shot with purple, which
turns black when the fish is dead ; no red spots or very
minute ones, no splashes of red or anything red about it,
except one bright line along the edge of the fins. The most
remarkable point about it, its enormous belly, from which it
derives its name, Salvelinus ventricosus, is really no distin-
guishing mark at all, except of its habitat. The fact is,
drawn suddenly and against its will from the depths of the
lake, its air-bladder swells so enormously as to kill the fish,
and give it that peculiarly inelegant appearance.

Inelegant as it looks, and disagreeable as it is to catch, it
is by far the best eating of any Swedish fish, and, from its
rarity, and from the difficulty of catching it, bears, when
it is to be had at all, which is very seldom, by far the
highest price of any fish in the market. In fact, to eat
it at all in perfection, a man must go after it ; it will
never answer to catch it for amusement ; but the men may
easily be set to lay lines for it while other sports are going

Four or five of these highly prized fish were hauled in one
after another by Birger, who looked as proud of his exploit
as if he had landed a schoolmaster.* When the lines had
been all coiled up and deposited in the boat, Birger pro-
posed visiting some rushes that he remembered, in a hope
of meeting with wild fowl ; a hope in which he was dis-
appointed, not at all to the surprise of his brother fisher-
men, for the whole lake looked so black and gloomy
that no duck of ordinary taste would think of pitching
there ; it was, however, an interesting voyage among
the sad and silent intricacies of the lake ; but it so hap-
pened, that in returning they took a turn short of their
point and wandered into another deep and narrow inlet,
very like that from which they had started, but still not the

So like was one spot to another that they had pulled some

* The leading fish of each shoal, or school, as it is called, — usually a
salmon of considerable weight and experience — is so termed by the Irish
' fishermen.


^considerable distance before the mistake was found out, andil
when it was, so much time had been lost that they were j
unwilling to pull back.

"Piu noja un miglio in dietro che dieci in avanti,"
said the Captain ; " let us pull on and see what luck will
send us."

Piersen, on being consulted, as best acquainted with the ]
country, did not seem to know a great deal about it, but 1
imagined that if once on shore he could cut into the
right track ; and the fishermen having taken a look at
their compasses, and the sun, and the wind, what little there J
was of it, decided that at all events the adventure should {
be tried.

Hardly had this conclusion been arrived at, when the boat {
grounded on a bed of spongy rushes, so like that from which J
they had embarked, that it was with difficulty they could i
persuade themselves that it was not the very same — there I
was the same little soaking rill, the same mossy, soppy turf, j
and when they had gone on a little further, there was the'
same leaping, sparkling brooklet, bounding from rock to rock,
just like that by which they had descended.

A good stiff pull it took them to reach the top, and then
it was evident enough that the spot they had attained was
not the same as that from which they had descended. There
was no hill on the other side, properly so called, but a wide
smooth plain of light sand, shelving, certainly, towards the
east, but shelving so gradually, that the declivity was scarcely
perceptible ; it was completely overshadowed by large mas-
sive well-grown pines, not growing together closely but in
patches (as is generally the case both in Norway and Sweden),
so as to leave grassy glades and featherly copse-wood between
the groups, but regularly and evenly, as if they had all
been planted at measured distances. The branches formed
a complete canopy over head, shutting out both air and sun-
shine, and effectually destroying everything like verdure
beneath : the tall straight monotonous trunks with a pur-
plish crimson tint on their bark, effectually walled in the
view on every side, and the whole ground was carpeted with
a slippery covering of dead pine-leaves.


"I hope this will not last long," said the Captain, "the
place is so dark and the air so close and stifling, that it seems
like walking through turpentine vaults. However, our road
lies this way, that is certain," putting his compass on the
ground so that it could traverse easily, " and at all events we
must come to a water-course sooner or later."

But they did not come to a water-course ; whether there
were none, the sand being sufficiently permeable to sop up
the rain, or whether they were travelling on the rise between
two parallel brooks, did not appear ; but mile after mile was
skated and slid over with considerable fatigue and exertion,
and the same scene lay before them, and around them, and
above them. Tall clear branchless stems, with long vistas
between them opening and closing as they went on, vistas
which led to nothing and terminated in nothing but the
same bare, branchless, dead-looking poles. Their compasses
and a slight declivity told them that they were not travelling
in a circle, and their reason enlightened them as to the fact
that everything except a circle must have an end ; but after
three hours' very hard work and some dozen of tumbles a
piece, that end seemed as far off as ever.

The only variety was a dead tree, and the only apparent
difference between the living and the dead was, that in this
case the straight perpendicular lines were crossed by lines as
straight, which were diagonal ; for the dead trees for the
most part reclined against their living neighbours, very
much to the detriment of the latter. As for a bird, it did
not seem as if birds could live there ; nor could they in the
close space beneath that dark-green canopy ; but every now
and then there was a tantalizing whirr of wings, as a black-
cock threw himself out from the topmost branches, and, far
above their heads, skimmed along in that bright sunshine
which could not penetrate to them. This is a favourite
haunt of the black-cock, for the pine-tops and their young
buds are its most welcome food, and often render its flesh
absolutely uneatable from the strong turpentiny flavour
they impart to it.

At last, and after they had well-nigh begun to despair, the
trees began to be thinner. Here and there a patch of sky


relieved the monotonous black, here and there a sunbeam j
would struggle down; then a little grass, weak and pale,
would cast a shade of sickly green over the ashy brown ci'
the dead fir leaves, and afford a somewhat steadier footing ;
a patch of birch was hailed with the joy with which one
meets a welcome friend • cattle paths, deceptive as they are,
afforded at least a token of civilization : and now the whort
and the cranberry began to show themselves, and the hos-
pitable juniper too, the remembrancer of bright crackling
fires and aromatic floors, and —

" Oh, positively we must have a halt now, for the difficul-jl
ties are over," said Birger, and, though he had plenty of
tobacco in his havresac, out of sheer sentiment he stuffed his
pipe with the dead strippy bark of that useful shrub, which;
is generally its mountain substitute.

A few minutes were sufficient for their rest ; breathing the'
fresh air again was in itselt a luxury, and treading the firm;
elastic turf a refreshment. As they went on, the landscape
began to resume its park- like character, glades to open, trees!
to feather down, gentians to embroider the green with their
blue flower work, and lilies of the valley to perfume the air. )
They were as much lost as ever, but the country looked so
like the beautiful banks of the Torjedahl, that they could;
not but think themselves at home.

"This will do," said Torkel, at last, who apparently had
recognised some well-known landmark, " we shall soon find'
a night's lodging now, and a kind welcome into the bar-

The track into which he had struck, did not at first
appear more inviting than any of the numerous cattle-paths ;

Online LibraryHenry [Garrett] 1804-1860 NewlandForest scenes in Norway and Sweden: being extracts from the journal of a fisherman → online text (page 13 of 36)