Henry [Garrett] 1804-1860 Newland.

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

. (page 32 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

gentleman and a kammerjunker, as he is."*

" He is the only man in Sweden who does, then," said
Birger. " I will engage for it. Bjornstjerna, Hof Ofwer
Jagmastere, as he writes himself, never loses a chance if he
can get one on the sly. By the way, how nicely the mist
has cleared off, without any one seeing it. Positively I can
see the stars again. I told you it would be so : —

" Through storm and rain,
The weary midnight hours must wane,
Ere joyous morning come again,
And bid the gloom retire. "

" I wish I could take you up to our day look-out place,"
said the Captain ; " we should have a good view of the watch-
fires from it now. I stood there for an hour together on the
first night, looking at the fires of the hallet ; and by this time
the dref must have come quite near enough for us to see
them too."

" Well," said Birger, " come along ! I think I know the
way, — it is the path I came down by this morning, is it not '?"

" Yes it is, but it will never do on a dark night like this ;
it is not over-safe by day, and there are shreds of the mist
hanging about us still. We want light for that path."

" And light you shall have," said Birger. " Here, Tom,
split me this fir-root, it is as full of turpentine as it can hold.

* Stags are not common so far north, but they are to be met with
now and then. Elks are much more often seen, and are now pretty
plentiful. In the days of which the author is writing, the Game Laws
were, on paper at least, very strict about both elks and red-deer. Time
was, when the former of these were classed with the bear and the
lynx, and were absolutely outlawed as noxious beasts. At the time
the author was in Sweden, the laws had gone to the other extreme, and
they were absolutely protected, — everybody being forbidden to shoot
them ; a prohibition which, though it prevented men from going after
them openly, was, in fact, as little regarded as most laws are in the
fjeld. Now, they may be shot, only under certain restrictions.



THE LOOK-OUT. 363

There," continued he, thrusting the end of one of the slips
into the blaze, and striking up the song of the Dalecarlian
miners : —

" ' Brother, kindle thy bright light,
For here below 'tis dark as night ;
Gloomy may be on earth thy way,
But light and good shall make it day.'

" Now then, I think we start by this ledge ; light another
of these pine-slips, Tom, and bring the whole bundle with

you."

The path was not altogether a safe one, certainly, for it
was a narrow ledge, winding round the face of the cliff that
formed the northern side of the pass, and leading to a sort of
promontory which jutted forward somewhat in advance of
the range ; but there were plenty of branches to hold on by,
and there was no real danger as long as there was light
enough to see where to place the feet ; and when they had
got fairly out of the range of their own enormous fire, the
stars were glimmering, and the night was not, after all, so
very dark. A withered ash, the bare trunk of which stretched
out horizontally, like a finger-post, from the extreme point,
was their look-out, and bore the strip of calico, once white,
but now sullied and dishonoured by twenty-four hours of
continuous rain, which marked the position of their picket.

The look-out commanded completely the position of the
hallet, the encampment of which was placed among some
straggling copse that feathered the reverse slope of the spur
of rock which connected the range of hills with the rapids
and falls of the river. Among this bushwood were scattered,
irregularly, the cooking and sleeping fires, glancing every
now and then on the huts of boughs and other temporary
shelter which had been run up to protect the men from the
wet, while, on the bare crest of the spur, which had been
entirely denuded of what little timber it possessed, was a
line of fifty watch-fires, one to each skalfogde's command ;
each of these had its stoker, who from time to time replen-
ished its blaze with fresh logs, — and its sentry, who, sitting or .
lying in some dark recess, was to fire at everything that
came within the circle of the light. Everything betokened



364 THE FOREST BY NIGHT.

extreme watchfulness ; not a fire burnt dim, — black figures
were continually passing and repassing before them, — and
every now and then a straggling shot waked up the echoes,
and kept the whole line in a state of continual agitation.

The dref, which had advanced a little during the day, was
still five or six miles off, and their fires, which formed a vast
semicircle, were, for the most part, hidden by the trees ; but
a hazy and continuous line of misty light defined the whole
position, tinging the very sky with redness, so that the receding
skirts of the mist looked luminous, like a terrestrial aurora
borealis.

While they yet gazed, the tree tops, which, beyond the
reflection of the fires, had hitherto been one unbroken sea
of blackness, came gradually into view : first the spiry tops
of the firs, then the rounder and softer outlines of the birch
and ash, grew more and more defined ; then the character
of the foliage became distinguishable, — the glaucous white of
the poplar and the fringiness of the ash and rowan : then a
soft pale light, interspersed with deep broad shadows, was
cast over the scene, slightly dimming the glow of the watch-
fires, and contrasting strangely with their yellow light ; and
then the half moon rose up from the cliffs behind them, illu-
minating the distant landscape, but bringing that imme-
diately beneath their feet into blacker and darker shade.

" Your friend Bjornstjerna is a plucky fellow, — that I will
say for him ; most men would have turned tail at such a
a drench of rain as we have had ; and now virtue promises
to be its own reward — we shall have a glorious day to-
morrow."

u I think we shall," said Birger, — " indeed, I am sure we
shall, as far as the weather is concerned ; but I am afraid
that will not prevent us from suffering some loss by what we
have had already. You may depend on it every beast
within our circle has gone the rounds and tried the weak
points of it, — some have escaped, at all events. The wolves
last night, and the stags just now, have forced the passage
with very little loss ; and certainly ours is not the most un-
guarded spot in the line.

" By George ! Birger ! that shot is from our post !"



THE BEAE. 365

" Not a doubt of that, — and there's another ! "Wait a bit,
it may be nothing after all."

" O ! but it is something !" said the Captain, in an agony,
.as three or four more shots rang from the out-post itself,
followed by confused cries and shouts, as if men were engaged
in mortal conflict.

The Captain threw himself on the steep descent, the whole
of which he would have accomplished very much quicker than
was at all salutary for his bones, had not Birger caught him
by the collar as he was disappearing.

" For God's sake, mind what you are about ! Take a torch
in your hand, if you must go ; or, better still, let Tom go
first. Whatever it is, the thing must be over long before
you can get there. All you will do at that headlong speed
will be to break your neck down the precipice !"

Tom, much more cool, had already taken the lead, and was
throwing a light on the narrow and broken pathway for the
Captain to see where to place his footsteps. Birger's selection
of Tom for a leader was a good one, for it was absolutely im-
possible for one man to pass another during the descent, and
no threats or entreaties from the Captain could urge the
phlegmatic Norwegian beyond the bounds of strict prudence.
The last ten feet of the rock the Captain leaped, and pounced
down from above into the midst of the picket.

Before the great fire lay a full-grown bear, dead, and
bleeding from a dozen wounds, and round him were grouped
the whole picket — including the sentries, who had deserted
their posts, — whooping, and hallooing, and screaming, and
making all sorts of unintelligible noises.

The story was soon told, when the men had been reduced
to something like order. The bear had been attempting to
steal past the first fire, and, sidling away from it, had almost
run over the two sentries, who were much too frightened to
tire with any aim or effect. The bear, almost as frightened
as they, had rushed forward, but, startled at the great blaze
upon which he came suddenly at the turn of the pass, hesi-
tated a moment, and received Torkel's spear in his breast.
The rifles and guns, which were lying about, were caught
up and discharged indiscriminately, and, as luck would have



365 THE BEAK.

it, without taking effect on any of the party. Some rushed
on with their axes, some with knives, some with blazing
brands ; and the bear dropped down among them, mobbed
to death, eveiy individual of the party being firmly convinced
that it was he, and none but he, who had struck the victor
stroke.

" Well !" said Birger, " there is the bear, at all events ; and
a good thing for us that he is there ; we should not have
heard the last of it from Moodie for some time, if he had
slipped off. Hang him up, my men ; we will skin him when
we have time and daylight ; we do not want to make goat's
meat of that fellow, at all events. Hang him up openly, by
the side of the wolf."

" Bother that moon," said the Captain, sulkily, for he did
not enter into the spirit of ' quod facit per aliumfacit per
se.' " "What a set of lunatics we were to go staring after the
picturesque instead of minding our business ; all of us toge-
ther, too !"

" It was very poetical," said the Parson.

" Yes, that is the very thing. Birger, you do not take in
the allusion, I can see — a ' grate powut,' as they pronounce
it, is, in Ireland, slang for an irrecoverable fool."

" Well ! well !" said Birger, laughing, — for, being an old
bear-hunter, he was not jealous, and could afford to laugh, —
" we have not got to the higher flights of poetry yet, and
we will take good care not to leave our posts again. As for
you, Captain, pends~toi, brave Crillon, nous nous sommes com-
battus a Arcques et tu ny etais pas. However, I think we had
better get a little sleep, those who can, for the chances are
we shall want steady nerves to-morrow."

So, sending back the sentries to their posts, the whole
party, with their weapons by their sides, and everything
ready for a sudden emergency, rolled themselves up in their
cloaks, with their feet to the fire, one of them (taking it by
turns of an hour each) walking up and down, rifle in hand,
within the circle of its light.






MUTTON CHOPS. 367



CHAPTER XXVI.



BEATING OUT THE SKAL.



" Now the hunting train is ready. Hark, away ! By dale and height
Horns are sounding, — hawks ascending up to Odin's halls of light.
Terror-struck, the wild-wood creatures seek their dens 'mid woods and

reeds ;
While, with spear advanced pursuing, she, the air Valkyria speeds."

Frithi of Tegner.

" Hillo, Moodie ! what news ?" said the Captain ; " have
a cup of coffee and a — a — chop," as that individual strode
down the pass from the side farthest removed from the skal
looking — as, indeed, was very nearly the case — as if he had
neither trimmed his beard nor washed his face since the
beginning of the campaign.

" Why, the news is, that you had better look out sharp, if
you mean to do credit to my recommendation. I had a
message from Bjornstjerna last night, that he meant to get
the dref in motion an hour before sunrise, so as to beat out,
and give the men time to get home before evening ; they
must have been advancing for these two hours ; our people
have heard their shouts distinctly enough, audi only wonder
we have had no game yet. Capital mutton chops, these," he
added ; " who is your butcher V

" O, we are pretty good foragers," said the Captain, care-
lessly, but at the same time casting an anxious glance round
the encampment, to see whether there were any tell-tale horns
or hoofs lurking about. " Terrible weather yesterday, was

not it r

" Upon my word, it was as much as I could do to keep
the men at their posts ; I have got one or two skulkers down



3G8 THE DASHING WHITE SERJEANT.

in the Landman's books, but I do not think I can have the
conscience to inflict the fine ; I had half a mind to skulk
myself; — we must do it, though, in justice to the honest
fellows who braved the weather. I think the best man I
have is a woman ; she did more service in shaming the men
and keeping them to their duty than a dozen of us. I had
occasion to degrade a skalfogde for drunkenness, and I pro-
moted her into the vacancy on the spot. How the men
laughed : they call her some Swedish equivalent to the
" Dashing White Serjeant," — and I only wish I had a dozen
white Serjeants instead of one. But what have you done
here in the shooting way 1 I heard a good deal of firing last
night from your post ; you have made yourselves pretty
comfortable, at all events."

" It is a way we have in the army," said the Parson.
" There is our spoliarium, however," pointing to a group of
carcasses that were hanging to the lower branches of a fir,—
" one bear, two wolves, five foxes, a lot of hares, and " —
here the Captain plucked his sleeve, — " and — that is all,
besides a young bear which I killed in the fjeld as I came
along."

" Oh come ! that is not so bad ; and that bear is a glorious
fellow ! who killed him V

" Why, we cannot justly say," replied the Captain, sheep-
ishly : " the fact is, he made a charge upon the picket, and it
took a good many hands to quiet him, — you may see that by
the gashes ; I am afraid the skin is terribly injured."

" What a mercenary dog you are ; these are honourable
scars, which, while they impair the beauty, only enhance the
value ; — every cut is the memorial of a gallant deed."

Whether the Captain, — who was vehemently anxious to
kill a bear to his own hand, and whose conscience upbraided
him bitterly for his last night's dereliction of duty, — coin-
cided in this sentiment, might be doubted ; at all events, he
made no attempt to remove the doubt by indiscreet con-
fessions, and was only too glad to shift the subject, lest any
untimely observation from his companions or attendants
might reveal the true state of the case.

" What have you done yourself ?" said he ; " I am sure



CHANCE MEDLEY. 369

your people must have fired twenty shots for our one ; I
thought you were having a mock skirmish, at one time."

" O, those people fire at anything or nothing, just for the
sake of making a noise. We have got a good many wolves
and foxes, though, and a rascally lynx or two ; but we have
not been so fortunate as you with the bears ; though I am
clear we saw two or three during the night. I am sorry to
say that there were three or four stags killed, and I do not
know what to do about it. There was a herd last night very
restless ; it had tried our line at several points. I had given
strict orders to let them pass, but they always got headed
back, somehow, — in fact, the men fired at them, that is the
truth of it, and the skalfogdar say they could not prevent
them. This morning, as many as three were brought in
dead, and I am sure I do not see how I am to identify the
men who fired ; they were firing all night, and every skal-
fogde stoutly denies that his party had anything to do
with it."

" Oh ! how were the people to distinguish one beast from
another in the dark ? " said the Captain ; " you may be
thankful they have not shot one another, and that you have
not had three or four peasants brought in this morning,
instead of three or four deer."

" Upon my word, there would have been less said if it had
been so. However, I must report it to Bjornstjerna, and
leave him to do what he pleases. I strongly suspect my
dashing white serjeant of being one of the murderers. Give
me another chop, — that mutton of yours is the very best
thing I have eaten since we left Gaddebiick, — and then you
really must get to your posts ; we shall have the dref down
upon us before we know where we are. Several hares had
been showing themselves, and trying to pass the line before
I came up, and they will not do that by daytime, unless they
are driven. You had better break up the encampment as soon
as you have done breakfast : let Jacob stow everything ready
for moving, and then send him off to have the carioles har-
nessed. The skal will break up before noon, and then there
will be such a rush of fellows wanting to get home, that the
chances are we shall have a Flemish account of our horses, if

2 B



370 A DISAPPOINTMENT.

we do not look sharp after them now. People are in no ways
particular on these occasions ; there are so many of them, that
it is difficult to fix the blame anywhere, and all roguery
goes down to the account of mistake and confusion."

« Yery well," said the Captain, jumping up and carefully
loading the rifle which Tom had just been cleaning from the
effects of the night's dews and rain, while the shot-gun had
been doing duty in its place by the Captain's side, — " then
here goes ; I am going to the foot of the pass, and shall
not want Tom this half hour, so he may help Jacob. Birger
is going to the look-out place, and he will not want his man
either. What will you do, Parson V

" Why, I think I will take a turn with Moodie clown the
hallet, when he goes back to inspect his posts. I shall want
Torkel to carry my rifle, as I may not come back here ; but
your two men will be enough to help Jacob. How are we
to carry these great beasts ?"

" Oh, that is Bjornstjerna's business. I dare say he has
given orders for a sufficient number of carts, or, at all events,
we shall have men enough to carry them when the skal breaks
up. These are public property, — you need not trouble your-
selves about them ; what we have to think about is our own
little belongings."

" Public property !" said the Captain ; " I did not bargain
for that ; I want the skins to hang up in my paternal halls,
as trophies of the battle."

" Then you must buy them," said Moodie ; " there will be
an auction up the village as soon as the skal breaks up, and
by offering a little more than the market price, you may
secure anything that you want. It really is a very fair regula-
tion," he added, observing a shade of discontent on the Cap-
tain's brow. " You shot them, no doubt ; but you could
not have got a shot at them at all if it had not been for these
people driving them. Properly speaking, they belong to
Bjornstjerna, but I understand he has given up his right to
the men, if so, they Avill all be converted into brandy before
night-fall, you may be quite sure. However, come along, —
that last volley was from the dref, and it sounded quite
close."



THE HALLET REVISITED. 371

Moodie's path was by no means either easy or safe, for he
carefully avoided the straight road which would have led him
across the shooting line, and contriving to make a circuit and
scramble down the face of the cliff at a small fissure, which
lay a quarter of a mile to the north of the pass, he attained
the rear of the ballet without disturbing or tainting the
ground. It may be observed, that there was no such extreme
necessity for all this precaution ; but Moodie was, after
all, an Englishman, and a hunter of but four years' standing,
and, if he was the least bit in the world a martinet, he
was not altogether without excuse, — and really his position
was, it must be confessed, very scientifically occupied.

At the time that he and the Parson came on the ground,
the ballet was just relieving guard, in order to give the
morning watch an opportunity of breakfasting before the
general turn out ; and the scene was extremely picturesque.

The breakfast was an extempore affair enough, except
among those parties who had been so fortunate as to
knock a hare on the head, or to secure a joint of what
Moodie turned his face away from, and the Captain per-
sisted in calling mutton. A little rye meal, mixed up cold,
or in special cases, when kettles could be had, made into
stirabout, was very nearly the whole of it. An older com-
mander would have closed his eyes to the sight of brandy,
and his nose to the smell of aniseed, but Moodie was young,
and faithful to his trust.

Groups of men and women were collected round the fires
for cooking, some rubbing up firearms, some snapping and
oiling obstinate locks and picking touchholes which the wet
had damaged, and drying powder which either would not go
off at all or else flashed in the eves and singed the hair
and eyebrows of the operators. Gradually, however, they
all began to straggle into their line, for the sounds of the
dref were more and more audible, and now and then some
scared and crouching beast would show itself on the side of
the hill, and after drawing upon itself the fire of all who
were within a quarter of mile of it, would shrink timidly
back into cover, nine times in ten absolutely unharmed.
Now would come, high over head, and altogether iree from

2 b 2



372 BIEGER'S POST.

tlie chance of shot, a gallant blackcock or a tjiider, who,
having run or flitted under cover for miles, had at last taken
heart of grace, looked his danger in the face, and dashed
across the line with that success which bravery deserves.
Hares would from time to time race along the brow, unable
to make up their mind which way they would head, and
sometimes would draw a fruitless shot or two from a young
and over-ardent sportsman, followed by the grave rebuke of
his steadier skalfogde.

Meanwhile the Captain had advanced along into the
shooting line, and building himself up a screen of branches,
where he could fully command the passage, waited patiently
for what luck would send him ; absolutely despising the
smaller game that occasionally stole across the line and
sheltered themselves in fancied security in the skalplatz,
and not greatly disturbed by the occasional double-shots
from Birger's look-out place on the cliff above, though this
was not unfrequently followed by a rattle of the twigs, or a
soft thud, as his victim came tumbling to the earth.

Birger's post, indeed, had proved an excellent position for
winged game, for the grouse, though by no means plentiful
anywhere in Sweden, had been collected from twenty miles
of country by the continued driving. Many, of course, had
taken wing, and dashing over the heights, had found security
in the higher fjeld, or across the river. But the grouse,
especially the old cock, is a running bird, and numbers of
them had continued toddling away by short and startled
runs, a mile or so in advance of the dref, and now, hearing
the noises in front as well as in the rear, and beginning to
comprehend the precise dangers of their position, were, one
after another, taking wing. Many of these followed the line
of the cliffs, unwilling, perhaps unable to face them, but coast-
ing their inequalities, and looking out for a lower point ;
these would come exactly on a level with Birger's stand, and
very seldom passed it unharmed.

All this the Captain left unheeded ; his soul was above
black game ; and, burning to wash away the disgrace of the
preceding night, he kept his eye resolutely fixed on the
shooting line; something moves — it is a bear — no — a ras-



THE CAPTAIN OBTAINS HIS WISH. 373

cally wolf, in that nonchalant style which no amount of
danger will induce him to put off, slouches across — not across,
for he is worthy of the Captain's rifle ; a shot reaches him,
and he rolls over and over to the very foot of the shelter he
had sought. NTot a stir is heard from the Captain's screen,
and when the little puff of white smoke is dissipated into
air, no one would have told where the fatal shot had come
from. There goes a real full-grown bear, in downright
earnest, and followed by two half-grown cubs, crouching and
squatting, and making themselves as small as possible, like
so many rabbits stealing out of cover ; but confound them,
they are three hundred yards down the line, the Captain
will not risk wounding or missing them, and they disappear
into the trees of the skalplatz to be headed back by the
hallet when too late to return.

And now the shouts and cries began to come louder and
louder ; and the hares, which had lingered as long as possible
on the edge of the wood, began to creep, or steal, or race, or
bound across the line, and among them several specimens of
better game ; the men were actually beginning to show
themselves here and there in what, from the closing in of
the ranks, had now become close order, so that nothing could