Hubert Smith.

Tent life with English Gipsies in Norway online

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the bridge, and being hungry, boldly walked into one
which bore some resemblance to a place of refreshment.
They civilly said they had nothing, and that there was a
house on the hill, beyond the station, where refreshment
might be had. They meant the house at which we had
lately stayed.* It was about half-past two o'clock when
we again crossed the bridge, and called at the telegraph
office. The polite clerk seemed rather pleased to see
us, at the same time handing a telegram with much

A life-boat on the ocean to the shipwrecked mariner,
could not have given much greater pleasure. The pro-
visions had been found. Our name was not on the case,
but our mention of Messrs. Hudson Brothers, as con-
signors, had fortunately furnished the clue. They would
reach Eidsvold that night. With some degree of satisfac-
tion we soon ascended the hill, and came to our quiet
retreat. The comely " pige " welcomed us — she seemed
much pleased — and we were shown into a finer, and more
stately chamber, than the one we had before occupied.
AVe were hungry, and our dinner was quickly served.
Cotelettes, potatoes, and some kind of sweet dish, with
some " Baiersk 01." Then we wrote letters at a table

* A large hotel lias since been built at Eidsvold railway station.



near tlie window, in view of tlie Mjosen Lake. All
w\as quietude; we felt as if we were lost. At six
o'clock our thermometer was 82° Fahrenlieit. AVc
determined to take a Badekar (bath). The large w^ooden
bath-house was at a short distance below the
" gjwstgiver-gaard."

Crossing over a light wooden bridge from the lake
shore, we were immediately on a balcony extending round

-*^?fr- — ■


the building, above the waters of the lake. Doors opened
from the balcony into the bath-rooms. Each visitor has
a small dressing-room adjoining another small room, in
which stands a zinc bath. As we looked in, a curious
leather spout pendant from the ceiling supplied the water
to the bath. It was a clumsy contrivance, and out of
repair ; part of the water poured in streams on the floor,
whilst the other portion found its way into the bath.

The man in attendance, who came to prepare the bath^
could not understand what heat we required, especially



as they use Reaumur, and we use the Fahrenheit thermo-
meter. A Norwegian gentleman, just takmg his bath,
and very scantily clothed, at the request of the man,
politely came to the bath-room door to act as interpreter.
He spoke some English, and kindly reheved us from our
difficulty. Thanking him for his aid, he bowed and
retired. The price of our bath was fivepence. Giving
the attendant a few skillings, we returned to our pleasant
room at the quiet " gjoestgiver-gaard." How dreamy we

felt at eve, as we watched from our window the lights
and shadows on the Lake Mjosen. A gilded surface in
the evening sun — how full of beauty — one seemed to
view the imagery of other worlds. There is in nature
more than art can tell, or language render. Not a leaf
but has its history, a flower its tale, nor a sound without
its music to the mind. There were some quaint old
paintings on the panels of the chamber, which caught
our attention as we sat musing there, and we hastily
sketched them. One represented a priest in old-fashioned



clerical costume walking unconsciously as lie reads, into
a river, or out to sea. The priest is saying, as lie reads :
" Jea- niaa traae til Bunden i dette Problem for jeg gaae
vidre." (I must go to tlie bottom of tliis problem be-
fore I go farther.)

The otlier painting represented a stout clergyman
who is beins: rowed along a lake or river. He is so stout

that the end of the boat in which he sits is nearly under
water. He is supposed to be shouting to the boatman :

" Hal'ud maiine. Der gaa er Dampen." (Pull aw'ay,
lad ! There goes the steamer.)

With our mind much at ease we retired early to rest.
By some chance they put us to sleep in Esmeralda's bed.
We rose at four o'clock the next morniuG:, and wrote
letters. Our " frokost " w\as served at seven o'clock. It
was a beautiful morning : our comely "pige" was there,
but she had no gipsy Noah to admire. We paid our

-three marks sixteen skillino's.

Slinging our


courier-bag over our slioulder, as we gave tlie comely
"pige" a douceur, Ave again wished these kind and
attentive people farewell. It must be owned that we
lingered for a moment near this quiet retreat, so full
of pleasant moments and long-to-be-remembered remi-

At the railway-station the case of provisions, which
had arrived, cost us one dollar. Sealing our letters in
the telegraph office, we posted them. The case of pro-
visions, which was very heavy, was brought down to the
steamer, and placed on the jetty to be taken on board.
We then noticed, fastened to it, a letter from Mr. Ben-
' nett, and Hudson Brothers' receipted bill, attached out-
side the case. It appeared that some of the packages in
the case had burst open. Pea-flour, wheat-flour, salt, and
other contents had got mixed and spread about in wild
confusion. Mr. Bennett had kindly had the pea-flour
and salt put into a bag. Great care is requisite in packing
for long journeys. The provisions were all right at last.
Paying another visit to the telegi'aph office, we remitted
to Mr. Bennett a sum sufficient to cover all costs inci-
dental to the l)aggage and expenses, and also wrote
a letter to him. We must ever acknowledge his kind
attention. ]\Ir. Bennett's services are invaluable to new
arrivals ; ten minutes' conversation with him will often
save the tourist days of trouble, vexation, and delay.
You have, also, the feeling that he is a gentleman, and
you can trust his advice. Our telegraph clerk was
wonderfully polite, and we felt a certain amount of regret
when for the last time we wished Inm good morning.
As Ave left the office, he said, in very good English,
" I think, sir, you are now all right."

G 2


Wc returned to the steamer, wliicli left Eidsvold at
lialf-past eleven in the forenoon.* The passengers were
for the most part plaiidy dressed, and of the class of small
farmers. The men Avore large, ample trousers, and thiclc,
heavy \yellington boots. The excursion along the lake
was delightful. The Mjosen is sixty-three English miles-
in length. On the shores of the lake, the steamer passed
numerous f-avms and pleasant homesteads, with pine and
lir forests forming a distant background. Towards Lille-
hammer the scenery becomes more picturesque ; the land-
ing stations often reminded us of colonial settlements.
Then we became acquainted with a young passenger and
his friend who were going to Lillehammer. The friend
spoke a few words of English. A tall, smart-looking
young Norwegian officer, neatly dressed in plain clothes,
who had travelled in England, France, and Prussia, spoke
English fluently. Whilst we were conversing, an old
man came up with a number of knives to sell ; they were
suspended to a wire. After some inspection, we selected
two knives at six marks each, and one at one dollar.
Then came the money payment ; it was a serious busi-
ness. AYe produced a handful of those varied coins,
many not counting for the value they are marked. A
young man who spoke a few words of English volun-
teered to count out the sum. The countenance of the
old man gazing on my money, and the young man, who
was anxious to be exact to a skilling, Avould have made
a good subject for Frith, or some artist skilful in makhig-^
a group on canvas convey its own wordless. history. The

* In a mansion at EiJsvolJ, formerly the residence of the Anker family,
tlie Constitution of Norway was draAvn up and signed, and the independence
and free institutions of the Norwegian people guaranteed iipon the unity of
their country with Sweden, in 1814.


liimtmg-kiiives were Intended as presents to our gipsies.
Although the only Englishmen on board, with such
homely, kind people, we felt as with friends, and they
seemed to give us welcome to their beautiful land. As
we surveyed the Lake scene, the Dronningen steamed in
sight. Our friend the captain took off his hat in salutation
to our captain and passengers. When we were returning
his greeting he seemed to recognise us, and again waved
his hat in final adieu. The Dronningen is said to be the
best steamer on the lake. What a strange exhilaration
we felt as we inhaled the pure lake breeze, vrhilst the
steamer glided along the waters of the Mjosen. We had
no care. The moments seemed an existence of perfect
■enjoyment, with only a short span dividing us from our
tents, and people, and first Norwegian camp, whence we
should wander over many leagues of nature's fairest
scenes. On the shores of the lake, to our right, stand
the ruins of Stor Hammer cathedral, forming some pictu-
resque arches, in broken decay, nearly all that remains of
a once noble pile destroyed in 1507. At this part of the
lake, George Bidder, once renowned as the calculating-
boy, whose wonderful memory and rapid calculations we
had often read of in days gone by, had purchased an

* George Parkes Bidder was born aLout the year 1800. So wonderful
were his meutal powers for giving ready solution to the most dithcult
questions iu aritlinietic, without the aid of pen or pencil, tliat he was known
iu early life as tlie " Calculating Boy." Among the many instances of his
ready ability, he once answered in a very short time the following (juestion :
— " Supposing the sun be 95,000,000 of miles from the earth, and that it
were possible for an insect, whose pace should be seven and a-half inches
per minute, to travel that space, how long would it take him to reach the
sun?" Bidder became a civil engineer, and was at one time President of
the Institution of Civil Engineers.


Altliongli there are not inauy castles in Norway, on
tlie island of Helgco arc tlie ruins of a fortress built by
Hako IV. The old church of Ringsaker, on the eastern
shore of the lake, is said to possess an altar curiously
carved, and also the body of a priest, singularly preserved
from the ruthless hand of time.* The old church is said
to stand on the battle-field where St. Olaf gained one of
his many victories, and adds one more interesting asso-
ciation to the shores of the Mjosen.

Dinner on board the steamer is announced as "fertig"'
(ready). It was not a table d'hote consisting of many
dishes, but a substantial meal of fish, meat, and a Nor-
wegian dish, of which milk formed a large ingredient.
As we afterwards lounged on deck, the Norwegian officer
looked over our song, gave us some hints of pronuncia-
tion of Norsk words, and said the English verses were
well translated into Norwegian. The song, with its
engraved bordure of gipsy life and Norwegian scenery,
seemed to interest him very much ; and before he left
at Hammer he was much pleased with the copy we
presented for his acceptance.

One large island, in the lake, we were told, was the
most fertile in Norway. The shores of the lake are not
very far distant from each other. All was sunshine, with
a strong breeze upon the lake. How changed the scene
in winter. One of the passengers told us the winter
continued eight months, sometimes even nine months.
The days in summer are often very warm, and the nights
cold. The homesteads had no pretensions to Swiss
decoration ; and the villages had a similar appearance to
a new settlement in Australia. Without the forest trees

* A similar instance is mentioned in Laino's '• Toiu- in Sweden."


Norway would soon be a sterile spot. Take tlie timber
from the mountains, and all would be a barren, cheerless
wilderness of rocks and stones. It is to be hoped that
government will one day restrain the rapid destruction
of the forests. Even in England the shady lanes are
fast vanishing before the close-cropped hedge-rows ;
barely a fence which is considered necessary in this
utilitarian age. The birds, which once found shelter and
convenience for building their nests, are diminishing
hist, and one must often listen in vain for their cheerful

The steamer passed a very picturesque rocky island
towards Lillehammer. Only one traveller now remained
who spoke English, and his stock was limited, consisting
of two words. Fortunately, we arranged with the steward
for a stock of three bottles of brandy, and two or three
bottles of St. Jullien claret, before the officer who spoke
English left the vessel. We paid one dollar for our fare,
and three dollars one mark and eight shillings for dinner,
coffee, ale, bread and cheese, three bottles of brandy, and
two of claret. AVe tried in vain to pass an English sove-
reign, to economise our small coin. The steward spoke
a little English. He was a jolly-looking, buzzy, fuzzy,
smick-smack, smooth, straight up-and-down, and no
mistake, sort of fellow. He did his best to assist us.
We soon steamed up to the wooden pier below Lille-
hammer. Noah was standing between our two tents,
pitched on a rise of ground, above a wooden building by
the pier. Noah saw us at once, and came down to the

* By uu Act of Parliament, 35tli and 36tli Victoria, chapter 78, dated
loth Angust, 1872, protection is now given to a large number of wild birds
in England between the 15th March and 1st August in each year.


pier as jauntily as possible, Avitli a pipe, to our great
surprise, stuck in liis mouth.

Waiting until the passengers had gone on shore, we
called Noah on board, and gave him the bottles to carry
to our tents. The case was slung on to the pier. The
steward referred to the captain, who spoke Enghsh, and
decided that the amount we had already paid included
carriage to Lillehammer. They wished us good-by, and
we left the vessel. A porter from one of the hotels, who
came to us, placed the case on a truck, and we told him
to take it up to our tents. Esmeralda came forward as
we approached the camp. The gipsies were much pleased
to see us again. Esmeralda said she knew we w-ere ou
the steamer. Whilst we were talking, we caught sight
of the truck and case going up the road from the lake
to the town of Lillehammer. Noah and ourselves WQwi
after it, and soon after Noah and the porter brought it to
the tents. The case was a lar^-e wooden box of consider-
able weight. With much satisfaction we contemplated
its arrival in camp. The tents were now actually pitched
on the shore of the beautiful Mjosen Lake. Its calm
waters, lovely in the eventide, and the quietude of nature,
gave us one more glimpse of perfect happiness.


" Let us rest a bit in our tent this fine evening to collect our memo-
randa from tlie note-book hurriedly pencilled. Yet it is not easy to
vyithdraw the eye from the beautiful picture before us, framed by the
curtains of o\u- canvas boudoir." — The Roh Roy on the Jordan.


The Mjosen is a fine lake. Tlie scenery is not bold,
or imposing in wild and rugged outline, but it is beautiful
and pleasing. There is a riclmess often wanted in the
wilder scenes of nature. Our contemplation must be
short ; we have work to do. Noah with my Tennant's
geological hammer soon began to loosen the nails of the
provision-case. A crowd of boys, who gathered round,
and the tall man in the background, rendered the group
of spectators a complete study ; there was an expression
of deep interest as Noah loosened every nail. Our
gipsies had been well cared-for by the gallant captain of
the Dronningen. He had kindly arranged for our
people to pitch their tents on some waste ground near
the lake ; the woman of the house above seemed to
exercise a sort of right over it, and had agreed to supply
our people with food at the house. She was an ener-


gctic old woman, Avitli not a very good-tempered expres-
sion of countenance, but she liad been very attentive.

The captain had on the previous evening taken our
gipsies in a boat across the lake. They had spent the
evening very pleasantly with himself and wife. Some
sympathy was expressed for the separation of Esmeralda
from her husband, referring to myself. The gipsies, we
afterwards understood, had a gay time on board the
Dronnmgen ; they pla^'ed at the captain's request, who
collected quite a fortune for them. Noah and Zachariah*
w^ere also treated to cigars, and various liquids by the
passengers. Their voyage on the Mjosen Lake seemed
to have been unusually gay. Once more we were in
camp, and the boys from the town above kept accumu-
lating round our tents. Then w^e went up the road
towards Lillehammer with our maps, and examined
the route, and the direction ready for our journey next
morning. When we returned, it w^as eight o'clock.
There w^ere so many people about, that Esmeralda and
myself w^nt up to the woman's house to have coffee.
Noah and Zachariah afterwards took their turn whilst
we stayed at the tents. Noah had our instructions to
pay the woman, but he was quite unable to regulate the
account. We found the old woman, who was exceed-
ingly polite, charged us three dollars for our coffee that
evening, and a day and a half board for our gipsies, and
the use of the waste ground. The charge was nearly as
much as we had paid at the comfortable inn at Eidsvold,
with lodgings for a longer period. The gipsies had

* After the foregoing pages liad passed tliroxigh the press, we succeeded
ill obtaining from a parish in Gloncestershire the certificate of baj)tism of
" Zacharia ;" we shall therefore in future give the name exactly as it is
spelt in the certificate of baptism.


promised lier some music ; and as we were anxious to
pass the time until the people shoukl disperse, Esmeralda
and Zachariah came up to play one or two tunes. We
had an upstairs room, very bare of furniture, containing
only a small table and sofa and two or three chairs.
Esmeralda sat on the sofa, and mj^self and Zacharia at
each end of the table. Away went the violin and the tam-
bourine, waltzes and polkas, in rapid succession. The old
woman walked about in an ecstacy. Very shortly after-
Avards a large crowd of both sexes appeared at the doors
of the room, and we motioned for them to dance or sit
down. In came the steward of the steamer, smoking a
cigar, and the cashier with him. Bang, bang, went the
tambourine. Esmeralda, with her dark eyes flashing, was
no mean tambourinist. With regard to dancing they
seem very diffident. Chairs were brought, and the
steward and cashier were accommodated. The former
smoked, and seemed on the best of terms with himself
and everybody else. He was a good-humoured, good-
tempered fellov/, and pressed us to have something to
drink. Notwithstanding we declined, in came the
Avoman of the house with two bottles of beer and glasses
for us. The bottles were uncorked and the steward
came to pour out the beer ; but although he pressed us
to take some, and also to allow our gipsies to do so, we
were firm in our determination. With an air of almost
disappointment that we did not accept their hospitality,
he returned to his seat. Jingle, jingle, went the brasses
of the tambourine. The room, and passages to it
became quite thronged. The steward smoked; the
cashier seemed, we thought, to look Avith apparent admi-
ration at our tambourinist. AVe had evidently an ap-


prcciativG audience. The assemblage reminded us, as
we sat there hi quiet contemplation, of one of those
foreign scenes at times represented in dramas in London.
Gipsies, foreign costumes, log-house, landlady, peasants
with knives at their sides, steward of steamer and
cashier, wild strip of broken ground below the house,
tents, donkeys, steamer, and the lake beautiful with the
shadow of declining day — all the elements of romance
were there, and it was a reality.

AYe looked at our watch : it was nearly ten. We
rose, and passing through the visitors wished them good
evening, and were soon seated in our tents. Group after
group of people came thronging down, taking a cursory
glance, as they passed, as if unwilling to intrude. We
were busy arranging and packing our things for the
next morning : some would now and then peep in ; one
went so far as to take hold of our tent carpet and
examine it. Another laid hold of our iron kettle-prop
outside, and it vvas amusing to see the earnest discussion
that was going on as to its use. An intelligent man
with a benign smile made a motion with it, as if making-
holes in the ground, and whilst pointing to the tent-rods
looked at us for confirmation. He was evidently much
gratitied by our nod of assent. The centre of attraction
were the donkeys ; party after party from Lillehammer
swept by our tents along the broken ground, to the spot
where our donkeys stood. They were examined with an
earnestness which showed our friends to be warmly
attached to the subject of natural history. The steward
came up to our tents, soon after Ave left the house, and
pressed us to come Avith him on board the steamer, but
we declined; whereupon he took oft' his hat and left.


The goods porter of tlie steamer wandered about our
tents for some time, and at last came up and said lie
wanted half a dollar more for the carriage of the case.
When we took out our money to pay him, he said it was
a dollar. Perhaps we misunderstood him at first. Tlie
captain had said we had nothing more to pay ; but, not
having any time to investigate the matter, we trusted
to tlie proverbial honesty of the Norwegians, and so paid
the dollar required. Taking advantage of a lull in the
number of the visitors, as it was becoming late, the case
was unpacked. Then more visitors came ; but we went
on and repacked our provisions in our bags, for carriage
the next morning on our donkeys. Some of the lookers-
on near our tents criticised our biscuits, and especiaKy
our pea-flour which was scattered over everything.
They did so good humouredly, and seemed astonished at
our stores. Zachariah launched the empty case on the
lake below. Our visitors at last became few in number,
and less frequent.

Esmeralda carefully packed up her dress with the
silver buttons. She had hung it on a bush near the
tents after they had arrived at Lillehammer. The blue
dress and the silver buttons gleaming in the sun must
have been a pleasing sight. At last we went to bed ;
that is, we retired to sleep on our waterproof rug and
carpet within our tent partition. The indistinct sound
of voices outside our tents and the noise of persons who
appeared to be wandering about the donkeys still con-
tinued, but we were all soon asleep; The thermometer
had been at 8G° Fahrenheit in the day.

The hum of a small mosquito awoke us at about two


o'clock ill tlie morning ; at half-past two o'clock we
roused our gipsies. The things were soon packed on the
donkeys by Noah, who was an excellent packer. We
finally struck our camp at three o'clock a.m. The house
Avhere our coffee liad been supplied the previous evening
Avas shut up, and wrapt in silence ; the woman of the house
was possibly slumbering with the three dollars under
her pillow. The steamer lay moored at the wooden
pier, where the steward and cashier, if they slept on
board, may have been dreaming of the dark-eyed gitana.

How silent all seemed in the early morning on the
banks of the Mjosen Vand. Not a soul stirring, save one
solitary fisherman in his boat in the far distance upon the
lake. With our Alpine stocks, tents, and baggage,
donkeys and gipsies, w^e slowl}^ ascended the road to
Lillehammer. How delightful in the freshness of the
early morning to commence our nomadic wandering of
many days. Laing says, in his excellent work on Nor-
way,'" " A young and clever English sportsman, especi-
ally if he had a taste, also, for any branch of natural
history, ought to pass a summer very agreeabl}" with his
rifle, fishing-rod, and his tent, among the fjelde and lakes,
encamping where fancy and sport might lead him, and
carry all his accommodation on a couple of ponies.'^

As we passed through the town of Lillehammer we

Online LibraryHubert SmithTent life with English Gipsies in Norway → online text (page 7 of 37)