Henry [Garrett] 1804-1860 Newland.

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

. (page 14 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

which they hitherto passed on their way ; but Torkel fol-
lowed it with a confidence which, as it turned out, was noti
misplaced ; for it soon widened out into a broad green glade, ;
at the further end of which stood a sceter of no mean pre-:

The portions of cultivated and inhabited land in Norway
are almost always mere strips, the immediate banks of rivers
or of lakes — most of them are actually bounded by the
forest ; and in no case is the wild unenclosed country at any


great distance from them. Every farm, therefore, has, as a
necessary portion of its establishment, its sceter, or mountain
pasture, to which every head of cattle is driven as soon as
the grass has sprung, in order to allow the meadows of the
lower farms to be laid up for hay. At these it is often a very
difficult thing to get a mess of milk in the summer, for
almost all the cheese and butter of the kingdom is made at
the sceters. They are generally abundantly stocked with
dairy furniture, but, as they are abandoned in the winter,
they seldom exhibit any great amount of luxury. They
consist generally of rude log- huts, of sufficient solidity, no
doubt, for these logs are whole trunks of pines roughly
squared and laid upon one another, morticed firmly at the
corners, but of very little comfort indeed, notwithstanding.
They contain generally a single room, a chimneyless fireplace,
and a mud floor, in most places sufficiently dirty, with a few
sheds and pens surrounding the main hut.

The present soeter, however, was one of far greater preten-
sions, it was built of sawn timber, and boasted of an upper
floor, implying, of necessity, a separation between human
beings who could climb a ladder, and cows and pigs who
could not. This projected some two or three feet on every
side beyond the lower storey, forming at once a shade and a
shelter for the cattle, according as the weather required one
or the other, and, in its turn, was crowned with a low-
pitched shingled roof, whose eaves had another projection
of two or three feet, so that, seen end on end, it had the ap-
pearance of a gigantic mushroom standing on its stalk. The
dairymen had been men of taste as well as of leisure, for the
barge-boards which protected its gables were ingeniously
carved and painted with texts from Scripture, and the heavy
corners of the projecting upper storey terminated in pendants
no less grotesque than elaborate. There was one window in
each gable and two in the side, the sills of which had been
planed and painted with some date, text, or motto, like the

Round these sceters there are generally some patches of
enclosed ground where hay is made, or where the more tender
of the herds or flocks are protected, but here there seemed


to be a complete farm ; full forty acres had been redeemed
from the forest, and enclosed by the peculiar fence of the
country ; which, except that it is straight, is in its general
appearance not unlike the snake fences of America. It is
formed by planting posts in the ground by pairs at small
distances between pair and pair, and then heaping a quantity
of loose planks and stems, and any other refuse timber
which comes to hand, between them, the t©ps being kept
firm by a ligature of birch-bark or some such mate-
rial. These fences, when they begin to rot, which they do
very soon, are the harbour of all sorts of small vermin, and
are, in fact, the great eye-sores of Swedish scenery.

In the present instance, this was pre-eminently the case ;
not only the fences, but everything else, was in a terrible
state of disrepair — in many places the posts were gone, in
others the birch ropes had rotted through, and the miscel-
laneous timber which had formed the fence was lvin^ about
entwined with a spiry growth of creepers and brambles, a
mass of rottenness. The house itself was in a more pro-
mising state ; it was evident that it had been partially re-
paired and put in order, and that very recently, for many of
the timbers showed by their white gashes, the recent marks
of the axe, and the axe which had made them was lying
across the door sill.

Torkel lifted the latch — that was easy, for there was no
bolt or lock to prevent him — but the place was evidently
uninhabited — he looked on Tom with a face of disappoint-

" Faith !" said he, " this is too bad. Torgenson told me
that the Soberud party were to drive their cattle to the fjeld
on Thursday last, and the weather has been as fine as fine
can be. Well ! there is no trusting people."

" There is no trusting Torgenson's daughter, at all events,"
said Tom, " for I suspect it was from her that you had the
information ; Lota is much too pretty to be trusted further
than you can see her; and I have no doubt she made some
excuse herself for not coming last Thursday. It was natural
enough too ; of course she would not like to come to the
sceter before young Svensen sailed."


" The Thousand take young Svensen, and you too !" said
Torkel, turning round as sharply as if Tom had bitten him
in earnest, but catching a grin upon the latter's countenance
which he had not time to dismiss, looked very much as if he
meditated making him pay for his ill-timed joke, when a
loud, clear voice was heard in the glade below, making
the leafy arches of the old forest ring with the ballad of
master Olaf —

" Master Olaf rode forth ere the dawn of day,
And came where the elf iolk were dancing away,
The dances so merry,
So merry in the green- wood."

Torkel stopped to listen, and Tom laughed.

" The elf father put forth his white hand, and quoth he,
Master Olaf stand forth, dance a measure with me,
The dances so merry,
So merry in the green- wood."

" Here they come at last," said Tom ; " pretty Lota is not
half so false as you thought her, Torkel. The Haabet has
sailed, I suppose," added he, in a stage whisper. Torkel,
however was much too happy to pay the smallest attention
to his malicious insinuations, but took up the song for him-
self. Whether Lota put any particular meaning on the
words of it, we will not take upon ourselves to say —

"And neither I will, and neither I may,
For to-morrow it is my own wedding-day,"

shouted he, at the full pitch of his voice, while the whole
party took up the chorus —

"The dances so merry,
So merry in the green- wood."

By this time the approaching party had emerged from the
forest, and came along the glade in an irregular procession,
putting one in mind of the Nemorins and Estelles of ancient
pastorals, and all the more so from their picturesque costumes.
The men wore certainly absurdly short round jackets, but
they had rows of silver buttons on them, and brown short
trousers worked with red tape, very high in the waistband,


to match the jacket, but coming down no further than the
calf of the leg, which was ornamented with bright blue stock-
ings, with crimson clocks.

The women had all of them red kerchiefs on their heads,
the ends oi which hung down their backs, and red or yellow
bodices with great silver brooches on them, and blue petti-
coats trimmed with red or vellow. Both sexes adorn them-
selves with all the silver they can collect ; the men's shirt
buttons are sometimes as big as a walnut, and on gala days
they will wear three or four of them strung one under another

All the party were loaded with the utensils necessary for
following their occupations in the fjeld ; the women were
carrying the pails, while the men's loads, which consisted of
all sorts of heterogeneous articles, were topped with the great
iron kettles in which they simmer their milk, after the
Devonshire fashion, in order to collect the whole of the cream.

There were little carts, too, that is to say, baskets
placed upon two wheels and an axle, and drawn by little
cream-coloured ponies ; stout, stubby little beasts, very
high crested, and with black manes and tails — the former
hogged, the latter peculiarly full and flowing. A Swede
generally values his horse according to the quantity of hair
on his tail. These were loaded — it did not take much to
load them — with meal for the summer's grod, and strings ot
flad brod, a few sheep skins, particularly dirty, though in
very close proximity to the provisions, — and now and then
the black kettle, which its owner was too lazy to carry.
Then came the goats and sheep, and the little cows following
like dogs, now and then stopping to take a bite, when the
turf looked particularly sweet and tempting — little fairy cows
were they, much smaller than our Alderneys, finer in the
bone, and more active on their legs ; they looked as if they
had a cross of the deer in them. They were all of one
colour — probably that of the original wild cattle — a sort of
dirty cream colour, approaching to dun, and almost black on
the legs and muzzle.

The party was a combined one, and was bound eventually
to several other sceters besides this, but they had agreed to
make their first night's halt in Torgenson's pasture, and be-


side the regular herdsmen and dairymaids, as many super-
numeraries as can possibly find excuse for going, accompany
the first setting out of the expedition, which is always looked
upon in the light of a holiday and a merry-making.

And a holiday and a merry-making it seemed to be,
judging by the shouts, and screams, and laughter, and
rude love-making that was going on amcng the gentle
shepherds and shepherdesses of the north ; but, for all that,
there was a good deal of real work too. Sceter-life may be
a life of pleasure, but it certainly is anything but a life of ease.

The Soberud division, bestial as well as human, evidently
seemed to consider themselves quite at home ; and the cows
belonging to it, which looked as if they recognised the old lo-
calities, roamed at liberty ; but the parties bound to the more
distant mountains were occupied in hobbling, and tethering,
and knee-haltering their respective charges, mindful of their
morrow's march and of the difficulty of collecting cattle
and even sheep, which, except that they keep together, are
just as bad, from among the intricacies of a strange forest.
Some were forming temporary pounds, by effecting rude
repairs in the dilapidated fences, chopping and hewing, for
that purpose, great limbs of trees and trees themselves,
with as little concern as, in England, men might cut thistles.

Streams of blue smoke began now to steal up through the
trees, and fires began to glimmer in the evening twilight,
while the girls brought in pail after pail of fresh milk, and
swung their kettles, gipsy fashion, and, opening their
packages, measured out, with careful and parsimonious fore-
sight, the rye-meal that was to thicken it into grod. Meal
is precious in the mountains, though milk is not.

Whether the Haabet had sailed, or what had become of
poor Svensen, did not transpire; but certain it was that the
damsels from Soberud, after looking in vain for their mis-
tress, were obliged, that evening, to act on their own
discretion — and equally certain it was that the Parson,
whose knife had been inconsiderately lent to Torkel on the
preceding day, was obliged to eat his broiled gjep with two
sticks, the knife and the fortunate individual in whose
' pocket it was, being, for the time, invisible.





" 'Tis a homestead that scarce has an equal,
Plenteous in wood and corn-fields, with rich grassy meadow and

moorland —
This won my lather, long since, in wedding the farmer's fair daughter ;
Here, at length he grew old, like a summer's eve calmly declining,
Here he spent the best years of his life, and dwelt like a king, amid plenty.
Servants he had by the score — men servants to plough with the oxen,
And maids in the house besides, and children, the joy of their mother —
Thus sowing and reaping, in comfort, from season to season, abode he,
Envied by all around — but having the good will of all men." —

The Elk Hunters — Muneberg.

Sunrise found the whole bivouac in a stir ; the habits of
the Norwegian are always early — at least in the summer
time — and many of the parties had to travel to the yet
distant soeters and wilder uplands : cows are not very
fast travellers, and the load which a dairyman carries on
his back when he is bound to those fjelds, which are in-
accessible to carts, is by no means a light one : ponies
sometimes carry the heavier loads, but this is not often, as
they are useless in the fjeld life, and in the summer are
generally wanted for posting, as well as for agricultural pur-
poses ; the loads are generally carried by the men — some-
times bv the women even, — and the milk-kettle which crowns
the pack is alone a weight which few would like to carry
far, even on level ground.

The white smoke was already curling about the trees in

long thin columns, and the girls were already bringing in

their pails of new milk, a very fair proportion of which

'would be consumed with the morning's grod, which was

already bubbling in the kettles.

Grod, in high life, means all sorts of eatables that are semi-
liquid ; but in the fjeld it is invariably made thus: the


water is heated in the grea.t milk-kettle to a galloping boil,
and its temperature is raised to a still higher point by the
addition of salt ; meal, generally rye-meal, is then thinly
sprinkled into it, the great art being to separate the particles,
so as to prevent them from forming lumps. As soon as the
contents of the kettle are thick enough for the bubbles to
make little pops, the grod is taken off the fire and served up
with milk. When that milk is fresh, no one need desire a
better breakfast ; but when, as is generally the case, they
mix it with milk that has been purposely kept till it is
curdled over with incipient corruption, in which state they
prefer it, it is as disgusting a mess as ever attained the
dignity of a popular dish.

In the present instance they were obliged to put up with
fresh milk, no other being procurable ; and the fishermen,
having grilled the remains of their gjep (an especial delicacy),
and added to it some of the contents of their havresacs, sent
a deputation, headed by Birger, to invite Miss Lota and her
hand-maidens to partake of their breakfast. This was a
proceeding which Torkel regarded with very questionable
pleasure. He was flattered, no doubt, at the attentions paid
to his lady-love by the fishermen, who could not speak
Norske ; but, at the same time, was rather jealous of those of
Birger, who could. \

Lota, however, was in no way disconcerted ; she came
smiling and blushing, indeed, but without any sort of affecta-
tion or bashfulness, and listened graciously, and without
laughing, to the blundering compliments paid her by the
Englishmen ; and without any great amount of coquetry, con-
sidering the rarity of guardsmen in the Tellemark, to the
tender elegance of the Swede. Torkel had very good reason
to be proud of her, and none at all to be jealous, particularly
as the knapsacks were already packed up for the march.

The fishermen were in no particular hurry : the track to
Soberud was perfectly known; even if the droves of cows and
the flocks of sheep that had come up it the day before had
not already marked it very sufficiently. The way was not
long either, for it was but a day's journey to the herds ;
the breaking up of the bivouac was very picturesque ; Lota


was very pretty, and Birger found her very entertaining.
It is no wonder that they lingered.

However, the shadows of the trees began to shorten.
Party after party came up with their merry " farvels ;" the
songs and the laughter, and the tinkling of the bells, sounded
fainter and fainter from under the arches of the forest ; and,
last of all, the fishermen, reluctantly shouldering their knap-
sacks, took their journey down the glade; with the exception
of Torkel, who, having something to adjust about his straps,
was not exactly ready, and in fact was not seen for a couple
of hours afterwards. He did not join them, indeed, till the
party had made their first halt near the banks of a mountain

The halt was called somewhat sooner than usual, for the
Captain, who, with his gun in his hand and old Grog at his
heels, was a little in advance, and had first caught sight of
the lake, had caught sight also of an object floating quietly
along in the middle of it, which his practised eye at once
assured him was that very rare and beautiful bird, the nor
them diver.

He threw himself flat on the ground, an action in which
he was implicitly imitated by the rest of the party, who,
though they had not seen the bird, were quite aware that
there was some good reason for the caution.

In truth, there are few birds more difficult to kill than the
northern diver ; to the greatest watchfulness he unites the
most wonderful quickness of eye and motion, and, large as
he is, he is fully able to duck the flash, as it is called, — that is
to say, to dive between the time of seeing the flash and feel-
ing the shot.

They retired a hundred yards or so and smoked the pipe
of council, thus giving Torkel the opportunity of coming up
with them.

Torkel was well acquainted with the ground, as was
natural, not only because the lake was celebrated for ducks
and the country round it for tjader, but also because it hap
pened to lie on the mountain track between his own home
and Torgen son's farm, a road which business (he did not
state of what nature) required him to travel \ery often.


His plan was founded on a well-known characteristic in
the nature of diving birds : during their dive they cannot
breathe, and therefore on rising to the surface for a moment
or so, they cannot make any immediate effort either to dive
or to fly. He proposed, therefore, that the Captain should
conceal himself among the understuff, and that the rest,
taking different positions about the lake, which was not
large, should break twigs and slightly alarm the bird, who
would naturally edge away toward the point occupied by the
Captain, and the object being a valuable prize, an hour or so
was not grudged, as there was plenty of time to spare. The
party having first reconnoitred their ground, marked the
position to be occupied by the Captain on the lee side of the
lake, and ascertained that the bird was still resting on the
water, separated, taking a wide circuit, lest they should alarm
it prematurely.

The Captain, with his gun ready cocked, lay at full length
on the top of a little ledge of rock about six feet high, which
sloped away from the water, forming a sort of minature cliff.
It afforded very little cover apparently — there was nothing
between it and the water but a light fringe of cranberry
b us h es — but the cover was perfect to a man in a recumbent
position, and the Captain being dressed entirely, cap and all,
in Lowland plaid, the most invisible colour in the world,
looked, even if he had been seen, like a piece of the rock on
which he lay. This place had been selected with forethought,
for the bird is wonderfully suspicious, and will not approach
any strong cover at all.

For half an hour after the Captain had wormed himself to
the edge of the rock, the bird lay as still as if it had been
asleep, which it certainly was not ; at the end of that time
there was a quick turn of its neck, and its eye was evidently
glancing round the margin, but the body remained as quiet
and motionless as before ; there was not a ripple on the
water, and it was only by observing the diminishing distance
between it and a lily leaf that happened to be lying on the
surface, that even the practised eye of the Captain could tell
that it was in motion, and was nearing him imperceptibly.
There had been no sound, nor had the bird caught aright e£



anything ; but the Parson had come between it and the wind,
and the light air, that was not sufficient even to move the
surface, had carried down the scent.

The Parson had caught sight of the lilv, as well as the
Captain, and, seeing the bird in motion, had halted, leaving
it to the scent alone to effect his purpose. But in a few
minutes it was evident that the bird had become stationary,
having either drifted out of the stream of scent, or, possibly,
having imagined that it was now far enough from the suspected

A slight snapping of dry wood just broke the stillness ;
again that sharp, anxious glance, and the imperceptible
motion, was renewed ; another and another snap, and now
the water seemed to rise against the bird's breast, and a slight
wake to be left behind him, — but it was still that same
gliding motion, as if it were slipping through the water : at
last, when the distance was sufficiently great to secure against
flying, a cap was raised, and responded to by two or three hats
at different places ; the bird had disappeared, while the calm
quiet water showed no trace of anything having broken its
surface. Half-a-dozen pair of eyes were anxiously on the
look-out, and long and long was it before the smallest sign
rewarded their vigilance. At last, and many hundred yards
from the point at Avhich they had lost sight of it, a black spot
was seen floating on the water, as quietly and unconcernedly
as if it had never been disturbed. It was, however, a good
way to the right of the line in which they were endeavouring
to drive it ; the hats had disappeared, and for ten minutes
the lake was as quiet as if the eye of man had never rested
upon it. Then came again the glance, the move, the dive,-
then an anxious moment of watchfulness, — then a white pun"
of smoke and a stream of hopping shot playing ducks and
drakes across the water, — then the sharp, ringing report,
caught up and repeated by echo after echo, — and there lay
the bird, faintly stirring the surface, in the last struggles oi
death, — and there was gallant old Grog, plunging into the lake,
and making the water foam before him in his eagerness.
Pour or five ducks, which had hitherto been basking unseen
among the stones, sprang into air ; and a flight of teal


appeared suddenly whistling over the water, and, turning
closely and together as they came unawares within a dozen
yards of the Parson, received his right and left shots among
them, and, with the loss of three or four of their company,
scattered hither and thither among the trees.

" Hurrah, Grog ! — bring him along, boy ! bring him along ! "
shouted the Captain ; and on every side, instead of the quiet,
gliding, creeping figures, just peering about the understufT,
were seen forms bounding and tearing through the cover.

The prize was one which the Captain, a taxidermist and
a veteran collector, had long desired to possess, and great was
the care with which it was secured on the top of Jacob's
knapsack ; it being entrusted to him, as the most phlegmatic
of the party and the least likely to be led away by any ex-
citement of sport, — for at last they had arrived into something
like shooting country : the character of the ground was
more open and free from timber than anything they had
seen, and the understufT of whort and cranberry was pro-
portionally thicker and more luxuriant ; it was ground which
a dog could quarter without any very great amount of diffi-
culty, particularly as it was absolutely free from brambles,
and that furze was unknown in those latitudes anywhere
outside of a greenhouse.

It was more for the amusement of the thing, and for the
sake of ascertaining the resources of the country, that the
party extended themselves into a line and beat their way
onwards, for it was too early in the year for shooting
anything but wild ducks. Game laws in Norway exist,
certainly, but are utterly disregarded ; still the broods of
grouse were, as yet, too young to take care of themselves,
and it would have been sheer murdering the innocents to
injure the grey hens, which, into the bargain, are at this time
not fit for eating. This proceeding seemed very absurd to
Torkel and to Tom, for a Norwegian has no idea of preserving
the game — in reality, he can eat and relish much that most
civilized people cannot ; but, besides that, he is a selfish
animal, and the poor lean bird that he secures for himself in
spring, is better than the fine, fat, plump, autumnal one that
he has left for his neighbour.

M 2


Hen after hen got up and tumbled away before the dogs