Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

The Land of the Long Night online

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It was lined throughout with thick, hairy wolf skin, which is said by
the people of the far North to be the warmest lining after the skin of
the reindeer. I also purchased big top-boots lined inside with furry
wolf skin, and a round beaver cap with a border which, when turned down,
protected my ears and came to my eyes. I had besides a big, heavy hood,
lined with fur, to be used when it was very cold. I had a pair of
leather mittens lined inside with fur (mittens keep one's hands much
warmer than gloves, because they are not so tight and they do not impede
the circulation of the blood). The collar of my coat rose above my head
and almost hid my face, and when I wore my hood only my eyes could be
seen. In this winter costume I could drive all day long without feeling

From Stockholm I drove to Upsala by road - for I did not care for railway
travelling - changing horse and vehicle at every post station. When I
reached Gefle winter had come on in earnest. Now all the houses in the
hamlets and towns which I passed had double windows, and at the bottom,
between the two, a layer of cotton was spread to absorb the moisture.
Instead of sliding sashes, French windows opening like doors are used,
and one of the panes of each is free for ventilation. The rooms were
uncarpeted, just as in summer, but rugs were spread on the floors.

As I drove along it was pleasant to see at the windows, behind the panes
of glass, pots filled with roses, carnations, geraniums, and other
plants, all bending in the direction of the sun. The sun gave scarcely
any heat, yet all the plants in a room liked to look towards the light.

I was always so glad at the end of the day's travelling to rest at a
post station, to enter the "stuga," the every-day room, where the family
lives, and see the blazing open fireplace. How nice it was to jump into
a feather bed, and sink deep and be lost in it, and to cover myself with
a quilt filled with feathers or eider down!

When I found a pleasant station I would remain there a day or two to
rest, for it was hard to drive day after day, for ten, twelve, or
fifteen, and sometimes eighteen hours. It was interesting to see the
whole family at their daily occupations; to see the women spin, weave,
or knit; to see the men make skees, wooden shoes, etc., and the girls
and boys go to school and have fun and play together, throwing snowballs
at each other; making snow forts and defending them against other girls
and boys that came to attack them. I wished sometimes to join in the
fray, for I love fun.

The snow was deep, and the snow-ploughs, drawn by three horses, were
seen pretty often on the road. The streets in the little hamlets or
towns were often blocked.

[Illustration: "On the road were many snow-ploughs at work levelling the



After I left the town of Gefle the blue sky became obscured by clouds, a
few flakes of snow began to fall, then more and more came down, and soon
they covered the old snow, that was already of good depth.

I had never before had a post-horse that went so fast, and I wondered
why. The horse knew, but I did not: a big snowstorm was coming! He was
afraid of being caught in it, and wanted to reach his stable in time.
After a while the snow fell so thick that I could see nothing ahead. To
make things worse it began to blow hard. Then I dropped the reins and
let the horse go as he pleased. As he knew that the snowstorm was
coming, so he would know how to get home. Suddenly he gave three or four
loud neighs; this announced his arrival. Then he turned to the right and
entered a yard. He had reached home!

The next morning it was still snowing; nevertheless I started. On the
road were many snow-ploughs at work levelling the snow. These ploughs
were of triangular form, made of heavy timber braced with crossbeams.
They were generally from eight to ten feet in width at the back, which
was the broadest part, and above fifteen feet long. They were drawn by
four horses and attended by two men.

The ploughs were followed by heavy rollers of wood to pack the snow.

Erik, my driver, said that every farmer is obliged to furnish horses to
clear the road and level it after a snowstorm. The number of horses he
furnishes is regulated by the size of his farm. It is very important
that the road should be kept in good order, and the rules are strictly

As we travelled along the road, it was amusing to see horses and dogs
roll in the snow; they enjoyed it! The horses that we drove would often
take a nip of the snow, and the dogs that followed us did likewise.

One day when I was looking at two horses rolling in the snow near a
farmhouse, I suddenly felt a great jerk and we were pitched out
headlong! Our horse wanted to have some fun! So he fell on his side and
was about to roll over and enjoy himself, taking the sleigh with him;
but we did not see the joke. We succeeded in putting him on his legs.
The driver gave the animal a good scolding: "Shame on you, shame on
you!" he said to him. The horse listened, and seemed to understand him.
I think he felt ashamed.

As I journeyed further north the snow got deeper and deeper every hour.
Snow-ploughs were now drawn by five horses and generally attended by
three men.

The snowstorm still continued. It had now lasted over four days, and
with no appearance of holding up. The wind at times blew very hard.

In spite of the snowstorm I continued to travel, and had passed the
towns of Söderhamn, Hudicksvall, Sundsvall, and Hernösand, with their
streets deep in snow. On the fifth day we had great difficulty in
getting along. In some places the ploughs had not passed over the road
since two days before, for we were now going through a very sparsely
inhabited country. Some parts of the road were honeycombed with holes
about fifteen inches deep, made in this way: each horse that had passed
stepped in the tracks of the one that had preceded him, and made the
holes deeper and deeper, which made walking very difficult for the poor

The further north I went the deeper became the snow, and travelling
became tedious. Our sleigh tumbled on one side or the other, upsetting
before we could say "Boo!" At each effort the poor horse made to
extricate himself, we had either to get out of the sleigh or be thrown
out. The poor brute would often sink to his neck, and sometimes almost
to his head when he got out of the snow-plough's track! In order to make
some headway and to make up for the slowness of the horses and bad
roads, I travelled sixteen and eighteen hours a day, and when I came to
a post station I was pretty tired.

The ploughs I now met were drawn by six horses and attended by four or
five men. The struggles of the poor animals as they sank continually in
the deep soft snow and tried to extricate themselves, were sometimes
painful to behold.

We always had to be careful to drive in the middle of the road, where
the snow had been cleared and packed by the snow-ploughs and the
rollers. Sometimes we could not tell where it was, for the land around
was deeply buried and the track of the snow-ploughs was hidden by the
fresh-fallen snow.

When my driver made a mistake and drove one way or the other outside of
the track, the first intimation we had was that of the horse sinking
suddenly, being ourselves upset or nearly so. Then we had a lot of
trouble putting him on the track again.

After several of these mishaps, the driver would say to me: "Now I am
going to let the horse go by himself. He is accustomed every year to go
in deep snow on this road and he will know the way." "You are right," I
would reply.

When let alone the horse would walk very slowly, and he would hesitate
each time he put either his right or his left foot on the snow, to make
sure he was on the right track. If he thought he was on the left of the
road, it was his left foot that came down first; if he thought he was to
the right of the road, he put his right foot down, but not until he had
made sure that he was right. If he saw that he had made a mistake, he
turned quickly to one side or the other.

One day the horse suddenly dropped one leg in the soft snow, on the
right side of the track; this unbalanced him and - bang! he fell on his
side, taking the sleigh with him. We were pitched out, and as we got up
on our legs we found ourselves in snow up to our necks. Only after
frantic efforts did the horse succeed in regaining his footing.

As I looked around and saw our situation, and that our three heads were
just above the snow, with the horse's head looking at us, his eyes
seeming to say, "Are you not going to help me out of this?" I gave a
great shout of laughter, for the sight was so funny that I forgot being
pitched out - and I said to the driver, "Don't we look funny, the horse
included, with only our heads and shoulders above the snow!"

What a job we had to extricate ourselves, put the poor horse on the
track again, and afterwards right the sleigh. Then we found that the
harness was broken in several places, and we had to mend it the best way
we could with numb fingers. I had stopped laughing, for there was no fun
in that.

"At this rate of travelling," I said to the driver, "it will take a
whole day to go three or four miles. I do not know whether our poor
horse will be able to stand it. Look at him! He looks as if he were a
smoke-stack, so much steam is rising from his body. He may become so
exhausted that he will not be able to go further, and we shall have to
abandon the sleigh."

"It is so," coolly replied Lars the driver, and he remained silent

I felt sorry for the poor horse, and reproached myself for not having
tarried at the last post station.

Then I said to Lars, "If the horse gives out, we will try to build a
snow house for us three. You have some hay, and he will not starve. As
for ourselves, we will try to reach some farm and get some food and some
oats for our poor dear horse. I am very sorry we have no skees with us."

There was so much snow over the land that I thought I had come to "Snow
Land." It was over twelve feet in depth; it had been snowing for six
consecutive days and nights, and it was snowing yet. I was now between
the sixty-third and sixty-fourth degrees of north latitude, and I had to
travel on the road nearly two hundred miles more before I came to the
southern part of "The Land of the Long Night." The little town of Umeå
for which I was bound was still far away. I said to myself, "I have to
cross this 'Snow Land' before I reach 'The Land of the Long Night.' What
hard work it will be!"

A little further on we came to the post station - and how glad I was to
spend the night there - to get into a feather bed. The following day the
snow-ploughs and the rollers were busy, and the centre of the highway
was made passable for some miles further north. So bidding good-bye to
the station master and to my driver of the day before, I started with a
fine young horse and a strong young fellow for a driver.

As I looked around, I could see snow, snow, deep snow everywhere. The
fences, the stone walls of the scattered farms, and the huge boulders
with which that part of the country is covered were buried out of sight;
only the tops of the birches and of the fir and pine trees could be
seen. I had not met such deep snow before! I had never encountered such
a continuous snowstorm! "Surely," I said to myself again, as I looked
over the country, "this is 'Snow Land.'" I wondered how long it would
take to cross it. The snow was nearly fourteen feet deep on a level.

I next came to a part of the country where thousands of branches of pine
and fir trees had been planted in two rows to show the line of the road.
I could not tell now when I was travelling over a river, a lake, on
land, or over the frozen Gulf of Bothnia!

As we were passing over one of the barren districts, a swamp in summer,
full of stones and boulders, without a house in sight, I said to my
driver: "When are we coming to the next farm?"

"At the rate we are going," he replied, "it will take us two hours at

"Then let us stop and give a little of the hay you have brought with you
to the horse. After he has rested a while, we will start again."

After the horse had eaten his hay, we started. We had not gone long,
however, before we were upset. The horse had not kept to the road. We
had a hard time to right the sleigh and bring the horse back to firm
snow. It was such hard work that the perspiration was dripping from our
faces, though it was 23 degrees below zero.

"I have had enough of this travelling," I said to the driver; "the snow
is too deep and soft to go on. The snow-ploughs have not done much good
here. They evidently could not go far."

"I do not believe," he replied, "that horses will be given to you at the
next post station, even if we should reach there to-day. But I am sure
we cannot do it, and we shall have to stop at the first farm we meet and
ask the farmer for shelter until people can travel on the road again."

Two hours afterwards I saw in the distance a little hamlet, or a number
of farms close together. What a sight! Many of the small houses were
buried in the snow, and only their roofs or chimneys could be seen. From
some of the chimneys smoke was curling upwards. I was delighted.

Every one was busy digging and making trenches, so that the light and
air might reach the windows, or that communication could be had between
the buildings, especially those where the animals were housed. In some
cases the exit had first to be made through the chimney.

It was a very strange sight indeed! and I said to myself, "Surely I am
in 'Snow Land.'"



Soon after we stopped at one of these farms. A trench about fifteen feet
deep had been made, leading to the door of the dwelling-house. Here
lived friends of my driver. I alighted and walked through the narrow
trench and opened the storm door. In the little hall hung long coats
lined with woolly sheepskin; on the floor were wooden shoes, shovels,
axes, etc. A ladder stood upright against the wall.

I opened the other door. As I entered I found myself in a large room. I
saluted the farmer and family. They all looked at me with astonishment,
for I was not one of the neighbors, and who could I be!

The farmer said: "What are you doing, stranger, on the highroad with
snow so deep, and when travelling is suspended, snow-ploughs abandoned,
horses belonging to them gone to the nearest farms? You cannot go
further until the snow packs itself with its own weight, and the
snow-ploughs and rollers are able to work on the road. Did you come here
on skees?"

"No, I drove," I replied.

"Where is your horse?"

"At the gate," I answered.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"I am going north as far as the extremity of Northern Europe. I want to
be in that land during the time of 'The Long Night,' when no sun is to
be seen for weeks; but I am afraid I cannot travel further for a few
days on account of the deep snow, and I shall have to wait; and as we
cannot go further and reach the post station, I come to ask you if you
can give shelter to a stranger far from his country."

"You are welcome," he replied; and his wife added, "We are poor people,
we have a humble home, for our farm is small, but you will have the best
we have."

"I thank you ever so much," I replied.

The farmer put more wood on the fire, the sticks being placed upright,
in which manner they throw out much more heat, and a sudden blaze filled
the room with a bright glow.

I like these farmers' fireplaces. They are always built of masonry in
one of the corners of the room. The platform is about one foot above the
floor and generally four or five feet square, with a crane to hang
kettles or cooking pots on; and when only the embers remain a trap in
the chimney is closed, to prevent the heat from getting out.

The wife put the coffee kettle over the fire, and one of the daughters
kept herself busy with the coffee mill.

In the mean time my driver came in and was welcomed, and they asked him
about me. When they heard I was from America they shouted, "From
America!" and when they had recovered from their astonishment, the
husband said, "I have a brother in America." The wife said, "I have a
sister and two nieces in America," and tears came into her eyes. They
did also into mine; there was at once a bond of union between us. To
them the United States was so far away, and I was so far from home. They
often thought of their folks and friends who had emigrated to our land.

The family was composed of three daughters and two sons. The girls had
fair hair and large blue eyes, and were strong enough to be victorious
in a wrestling contest with big boys.

The sons helped their father on the farm. The names of the girls were:
Engla Matilda, Serlotta Maria, and Kajsa Maria; the mother Lovisa
Kristina; the father Carl; the sons were Nils and Erik.

The big room was strange-looking. In one corner was the large open
fireplace. A large hand loom, with an unfinished piece of thick coarse
woollen stuff or cloth which was being woven, was in another corner.
Near by were three spinning-wheels; upon one was flax and on the two
others wool. On the walls were shelves for plates, saucers, glasses,
mugs, dishes, etc.

The ceiling was about eight or nine feet in height. There was an opening
in it which was accessible by a ladder. I wanted very much to know what
there was above. Along the walls were several wooden benches like
sofas, upon which the people sat. A large wooden table with wooden
benches and two or three wooden chairs completed the furniture. There
was a trap-door in the middle of the floor, leading into the cellar; and
as this never froze, the potatoes and other vegetables, the butter and
cheese, and ale were kept there.

By the side of the living-room were two doors leading to two small
rooms. One had shelves for pails containing milk and the churn to make
butter with. In the other room were a number of painted chests, with the
initials of the owners upon them, and lots of dresses hanging along the
walls, and a bed.

The husband suddenly disappeared through the trap-door and soon came
back with potatoes and a big piece of bacon. The sight roused my
appetite. The potatoes were washed and boiled, and the pan was put over
the fire and the bacon cut into slices and fried.

The meal was put on a very clean table without tablecloth, and then the
driver and I were bidden to sit down and eat. Our coffee cups were
filled to the brim, and every two or three minutes we were urged to eat
more, to drink more coffee. How good were the potatoes! How good were
the bacon and the cheese and the butter! I thought that that meal tasted
better than any I had eaten in my life.

[Illustration: "The husband suddenly disappeared through the trap-door
and soon came back with potatoes and a big piece of bacon."]

When we stopped, for we had eaten to our hearts' content, with one voice
husband and wife said: "Eat more, eat more;" and before I knew it, our
two cups were filled for the third time, and more potatoes and bacon
were put on our plates. They all seemed so happy to see us eat with such
an appetite.

The dear farmers of Norway and Sweden were always so hospitable and kind
to me. Do not wonder that I love them. No one in these countries has
ever tried to do me harm or ever robbed me of a penny.

After our meal we stretched our legs before the open fireplace. I was
more happy than if I had been in a splendid palace. I forgot the snow
and storm. How nice it was to be in front of a fireplace when the storm
was raging!

The farmer put more sticks on the fire. The room was in a perfect blaze
of light. Gradually the fire died out, and when there were only embers
left he stirred them with the poker until not a particle of flame
appeared, and when there was no danger of fumes he shut the trap so that
no heat would escape through the chimney. The time of going to bed had

I was wondering all the time where we were all going to sleep, for there
were no beds in sight. "Perhaps," said I to myself, "we are all going up
the ladder to sleep upstairs. Perhaps we are going to sleep on the
floor." But I did not see any mattress, sheepskins, or home-made woollen
blankets anywhere - and these when together would have made a big pile.

Suddenly I saw the daughters come to the bench-like sofas and pull out
a drawer out of each sofa. These were to be the beds. They were filled
with hay, with two sheepskins on the top to be used as sheets and

These sliding boxes could be made of different widths, according to the
number of occupants that were to sleep in the same bed.

I said to myself, "Strange-looking beds these," when one of the girls
said, "Sometimes we can squeeze five or six into one of these beds." I
was glad I was not going to be the fifth or sixth, for we should have
been packed like sardines or herring.

When everything was ready the boys ascended the ladder and went to sleep
upstairs. A bed was given me, and the rest of the family slept in their
own, two girls sleeping in one bed. Then we bade each other good-night.
How warm and comfortable were my sheepskins!

In the middle of the night I heard the howling of the wind; a terrific
gale was blowing. How thankful I felt to be under shelter! Early in the
morning, while still in bed, I was startled by the shouts of one of the
boys: "Father, we are snowed in! We cannot get out of the house!"

"Are we snowed in?" I exclaimed.

"Yes," shouted the two boys at the same time. I jumped out of bed to
find out if it was a joke. It was true!

The boys were delighted, and said with great glee: "The wind has filled
all the trenches with snow. We shall have to get out through the
chimney. What fun that will be!"

I thought also that it would be fun. I had never got out of a house
through the chimney, and I was anxious now to do it, for I might never
get another chance.

Everybody was now out of bed. "It is good that the cellar is full of
potatoes and that a sack of the Russian flour has not been touched, so
we have plenty of food," said the father. "Besides, there is bacon,
cheese, and butter," said one of the girls. Another added, "We have
inside firewood for three days without being obliged to go to the

The farmer said, "There has never been so much snow during living man's
memory. Old Pehr, my neighbor, whom I went to see yesterday, and who is
eighty-four years old, said that he never remembered such a snowstorm."

I thought of the poor horse that had worked so hard to bring us here.
"Boys, we must make the way clear to the stable and feed your horse and
mine," I said. "Let us hurry and go out through the chimney."

"They are all right," said the father; "I left so much fodder before
them that they will not starve even if we could not reach them to-day."

"Dear horses, how useful to us," I said. "I often wonder that there are
some men so cruel and so hard-hearted as to beat the poor animals when
they have not strength enough to carry the heavy load put upon them, or
to make them work when they are ill. It is a good thing that there are
societies in many countries for the prevention of cruelty to horses and
other animals."

"It is so," said they all with one voice; "we do not know of any one
among our neighbors who is unkind to his horse. We do not know what we
should do if our poor horse were ill."

"Yes," said one of the girls, "when he was a colt our horse used to put
his head through the door to get pieces of potatoes and apples. We love

The ladder was fetched and put into the chimney. There was no trouble
about that, for the chimney was so wide. The shovels were brought in.
There were three of them. Then Nils ascended the ladder, and afterwards
crept to the top. This was a hard job. Erik followed, and succeeded also
in reaching the roof. Then we heard voices coming down the chimney.

"Father," called the boys, "tie the shovels to the cord we drop." They
had taken the precaution of carrying a cord with them. The shovels were
hauled up.

[Illustration: "The boys got hold of my hands and pulled me through."]

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 2 of 16)