Page images
PDF
EPUB

split up and dried in the summer, but there had not been time then to do the work properly, so he had come to begin getting the huts ready for the woodmen, who were to spend the next few days in the forest. As he spoke, he pointed to a couple of holes, about two feet deep, one of which was already partly roofed with pine branches and strips of birch bark. There he was to live till his master's logs were duly marked, and taken to the farm. The little old book from which Elg (as my old man was called) had sung his hymn was still in his hand; and when I noticed it, he told me he had been himself a "torpare,' or small farmer, living on an estate where he worked in lieu of payment for his cottage and bit of land. He had had his horse and cart, with a couple of cows, and such fine pigs and poultry! His daughter, Edda, the last left of his family, had helped him to work, and they had had a root-grubber almost every year themselves. But that had now long been over: he was thankful to have fallen into kind hands, and to be able still to do a good deal of work, if he was only allowed to take his own time about it. Edda's hymn-book, he told me as we talked further, was a great comfort to him : he liked to use her own, tattered as it was, for she had sung from it at the very gates of that mansion in her Father's house, in which he trusted she was waiting for him. She died early in the spring, just after Easter: would I wish to hear the hymn she sang last? Of course I wished it; and in his thin old voice Elg chanted the Swedish version of that noble Latin Easter-song, which I had once heard at Rome in its fullest glory.

The contrast of past and present seldom struck me more than it did while I stood with Elg, in his fox-skin cap and long leathern apron, under the mountain-ash tree in that lonely forest; and I afterwards wrote a translation from the Latin of Edda's fayourite hymn, which I venture to give here:

[blocks in formation]

Christ, our Hope, is risen indeed :
Saviour, be Thou still our speed !
First-born from the dead, have Thou
Mercy on Thy people now!

Hallelujah!

The short silence that followed this untutored singing was filled up by the birds, who were still twittering among the glowing berries over our heads; and then Elg began telling me that his master had lately tracked a bear to his “ide,' or winter quarters, and that if I wished for his skin, or indeed for his whole carcase, and had a fancy for bear-hunting, it would be easy to make arrangements for my seeing and sharing in the

whole sport.

Bruin, about whose private property we were thus talking, was quite unsuspicious of the proposed bargain; but having once been ringed, it would cost little trouble to find him when wanted. I was delighted at the information, and already enjoyed the idea of arriving with my spoils at a dear old home I thought of, among the oaken glades of the New Foresthow different from that, spreading its interminable firs around me! We were interrupted by the noise of voices and of sledges approaching towards us; and soon the woodmen arrived for whose use the holes (of which I found there were many more than I had at first seen) had been dug in the ground before frost and snow were likely to set in. I was now in the midst of a stirring scene, for they were come provided with all necessary implements of wood-craft, and with meal, cheese, herrings, and fodder, like the pioneers of a small colony, which indeed they were to be during the greater part of the long winter.

After giving Elg a roll of tobacco, which he joyfully received, I took advantage of the return of one of the sledges to proceed to the farm occupied by his master. At some distance from where the woodmen were already at work, in a little valley open to the sun, I found a long low wooden house, with the roof covered with house-leek, which was still visible through the patches of snow; and my first interview was with a quaint old dame, in her black knitted garments, sitting comfortably upon one end of a blazing young pine-tree, that filled up the ample fire-place in the hall. She was diligently knitting, as usual, with children and dogs near her, and was the farmer's mother. I had to make my bargain with her; but her son arrived just as she had set me down to an excellent meal, after a preliminary glass of corn-brandy. He approved of all we had settled, and gave me his opinion that snow would set in that night thoroughly for the winter; whereupon I despatched a messenger to Sarafeld for my hunting gear, desiring also that no dogs should be sent to me, as they would only be in the way where there were well-trained ones already for bear-hunting. It was nearly indifferent to me where I lived, and I thought I should like to see something of peasant life. After the first good snow-storm, I began learning to run on skidor,' as the snowskates are called ; and hard work I had, and many a bump and bruise, before I was able to use them properly.

" These snow-skates are from twelve to fourteen feet long, about as broad as a man's foot, and turned up at the point. The foot is stuck in two loops in the middle of the “skidor," and the wearer shoves himself along, first one foot and then the other, over the snow, keeping himself on the balance with a pointed stick, which cannot sink in, owing to a round shield placed eight inches up it.' Thus far I had read in England, but I could have formed no idea of what the enjoyment was of first finding myself able to giide along the frozen surface of the snow thus provided, till I had succeeded in running on skidor to pay a visit to my friends at Sarafeld, a distance of about fifteen miles. No Swedish gentleman ever thinks of taking violent exercise, if he can possibly avoid it; and my appearance excited great wonder and amusement amongst my friends there. The following day I drove myself back to the farm in a small sledge, drawn by a spirited Norsk horse, promising to carry the skin of my bear to Sarafeld as soon as he was captured. My host at the farm and his men had tracked his steps with the utmost patience, and his winter quarters proved to be in an old deserted ant-hill, in the remotest part of the forest, where the wood-cutters had not for many years been at work.

After what I then thought a most exciting day's sport, and which I could scarcely have accomplished without the aid of my skidor, I had the satisfaction of shooting him with my double-barreled Manton, just as he was running right on end at me on all fours, with the evident intention of toppling me over on the snow.

The curée' was performed with great skill by my host, and the skin pronounced a remarkably fine one. I was anxious to fulfil my promise, and as soon as possible started with it, in my sledge, for Sarafeld, while the moon shone brilliantly along the fell side, and threw the strangest shadows through the pines, bringing out here and there some silvery birch tree, like a tall weeping ghost in their recesses.

I was quite alone, and as I sped along through this weird scenery, one after another the stories I had heard from my worthy host's little old mother, as she sat knitting at the end of the burning logs, always looking much as she did when I first saw her, came vividly back into my mind.

I thought of Karin, the peasant-girl of Darkulla, who was tending her father's sheep on the hills, and saw the herd of enchanted deer, but did pot know they were the chieftains of some elder world, till their leader, a noble stag with antlered front and dark mournful eyes, stood by her side, in his human form, one autumn evening, and implored her to become his bride. Karin would not listen to a proposal so unworthy of a Christian maiden ; and the deer Aitted away across the fells, and she returned to her father's house, in the valley of Mora.

She was its sole mistress, and a great deal of work devolved upon her, especially before the great Church festivals; and so it happened that on the following Christmas morning, when the farmer mounted his horse early and rode across the forest to church, Karin forgot to sing her Christmas carol before she began to dress the kitchen with sprigs of spruce-fir and of mountain-ash for the great solemnity. While she was thus employed, she heard the sound of light foot-steps all round the house, and presently in came the enchanted deer. They brought her rich wedding-presents, and garments fit for a queenly bride; and they set the bride's seat in the middle of the room, and their leader made Karin sit upon it, and placed a sparkling crown upon her long flaxen hair. Meanwhile, her father had been surprised by the incessant barking of her little dog Ratichin, who had followed him, and said to himself, * All is not right at home. I must go back and see what Karin is doing.' Back accordingly he rode, and when he reached his own door and looked in at the windows, he saw the house all lighted up with candles and full of people, and on the bride-seat his daughter sitting, wearing the marriage crown. He caught up an axe that lay in the porch, and stood with it for an instant in the doorway, then hurled it across the room, right over Karin's head, so that it struck into the wall; and on that, the weddingguests, with the bridegroom, all resumed their shapes as deer, and fled helter-skelter from the farm. The farmer hung up Karin's crown, with its resplendent gems, in the parish church, and she ever after sang her Christmas carol in due time, and married an earthly- What was that bark? It made my horse prick up his ears, and start forward. Again it came, short and quick, from the fell ; and soon the cause of his terror was apparent. Just behind my sledge, on the long white surface of the fell-side, which was almost as smooth as looking-glass, the shadow of a wolf's head was defined with perfect clearness. He had doubtless scented the bear's skin, and was following, and would follow, steadfastly, till he got hold of it or of me. No need to urge on my brave little Norsk horse; mile after mile he went at his quickest pace, the wolf meanwhile keeping up with him behind, but never stopping, even to bark again. I spoke cheerily to him, but I could see that his mortal fear of our pursuer was beginning to tell upon him; and my ammunition was all gone, so that I had nothing for it but to go on, hoping that the wolf, if it came to the worst, would be satisfied with the raw skin which I might be obliged to throw to him-an ignominious ending of my sport! At last Sarafeld came in sight, and by a desperate effort we still kept ahead of the wolf, though I often felt as if he was on the point of bounding on my shoulders, and more than once I heard his panting breath close to my ear. Hurrah! the farm-yard gate is thrown open, and in we glide, to safety and to welcome! But the shaggy wolf has passed in after usand lo! it was my favourite dog that had followed the sledge for so many weary miles, that he now sank down exhausted at my feet. The half savage dog whose wolfish peculiarities had often struck me, but who had been left at Sarafeld from the time I first went to the farm! How he came to meet me by a perfectly new track that I had never thought of taking before the bear-hunt, I cannot tell; but from that day he became my constant companion, and he serves to remind me now, by my English fire-side, of many a wild legend, and of many a Scandinavian sport in which he bore a part. His name is Ratichin. March 29th, 1867.

E. O.

GIVING UP.

6

SOMETHING was wrong, decidedly. The old church clock that for so many
years had looked down complacently upon the village, was peevish and
out of sorts this morning. His very face, which had always appeared
the quintessence of good-nature, seemed altered ; and if such a thing had
been possible, one would have said it was puckered and drawn into all
kinds of uncomfortable angles. On that bright December morning, if
ever clock was discontented and unhappy_here it stood! The bells were
ringing merrily for morning service; in a few moments they would cease,
for it was almost half-past ten, and yet the unfortunate fingers of the
clock pointed to three minutes to five! and nothing would make them
move.
• Don't

you
think
you

could go on?' gently insinuated the Ivy, which grew luxuriantly upon the tower; it's such a shocking thing to tell lies; and besides, you mislead people so :' and she gave a slight tap with one of her sharp-pointed leaves.

What's that to you?' savagely answered the Clock; don't you think it would be better if you minded your own business; are you going to turn preacher ?'

Now the clock was naturally of an amiable temper; his broad fat face wore generally a smile, (or at least it appeared so) and encircled by the beautiful Ivy he had just been so unmercifully snubbing, in the length and breadth of the kingdom you would not have found a prettier or a pleasanter looking village clock. Well! poor thing, he had certainly had a good deal to try his temper that morning. In the first place, the village clock-maker had been turning him inside out. The late severe frosts must have injured some of the works, but that surely was no fault of his; the half-blind old clock-maker must have assuredly thought it was, for he had taken this tube out and put other tubes in, till the poor clock was almost beside himself. Then the beadle, late for prayers, had in passing glanced at the tower.

* If that blessed old clock ain't wrong again,' said he; "it's nearly used up, I reckon,'

The two great men of the village, while walking briskly to catch the train, bad that morning been heard to say, “Something must be done to

« PreviousContinue »