Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 25

FINMARK AND HAMMERFEST.


The steamer lay at Tromsöe all day, affording us an opportunity to visit an encampment of Lapps in Tromsdal, about four miles to the eastward. So far as the Lapps were concerned, I had seen enough of them, but I joined the party for the sake of the northern summer. The captain was kind enough to despatch a messenger to the Lapps, immediately on our arrival, that their herd of reindeer, pasturing on the mountains, might be driven down for our edification, and also exerted himself to procure a horse for the American lady. The horse came, in due time, but a side saddle is an article unknown in the arctic regions, and the lady was obliged to trust herself to a man's saddle and the guidance of a Norseman of the most remarkable health, strength, and stupidity.

Our path led up a deep valley, shut in by overhanging cliffs, and blocked up at the eastern end by the huge mass of the fjeld. The streams, poured down the crags from their snowy reservoirs, spread themselves over the steep side of the hill, making a succession of quagmires, over which we were obliged to spring and scramble in breakneck style. The sun was intensely hot in the enclosed valley, and we found the shade of the birchen groves very grateful. Some of the trees grew to a height of forty feet, with trunks the thickness of a man's body. There were also ash and alder trees, of smaller size, and a profusion of brilliant wild flowers. The little multeberry was in blossom; the ranunculus, the globe-flower, the purple geranium, the heath, and the blue forget-me-not spangled the ground, and on every hillock the young ferns unrolled their aromatic scrolls written with wonderful fables of the southern spring. For it was only spring here, or rather the very beginning of summer. The earth had only become warm enough to conceive and bring forth flowers, and she was now making the most of the little maternity vouchsafed to her. The air was full of winged insects, darting hither and thither in astonishment at finding themselves alive; the herbage seemed to be visibly growing under your eyes; even the wild shapes of the trees were expressive of haste, lest the winter might come on them unawares; and I noticed that the year's growth had been shot out at once, so that the young sprays might have time to harden and to protect the next year's buds. There was no lush, rollicking out-burst of foliage, no mellow, epicurean languor of the woods, no easy unfolding of leaf on leaf, as in the long security of our summers; but everywhere a feverish hurry on the part of nature to do something, even if it should only be half done. And above the valley, behind its mural ramparts, glowered the cold white snows, which had withdrawn for a little while, but lay in wait, ready to spring down as soon as the protecting sunshine should fail.

The lady had one harmless tumble into the mud, and we were all pretty well fatigued with our rough walk, when we reached the Lapp encampment. It consisted only of two families, who lived in their characteristic gammes, or huts of earth, which serve them also for winter dwellings. These burrows were thrown up on a grassy meadow, beside a rapid stream which came down from the fjeld; and at a little distance were two folds, or corrals for their reindeer, fenced with pickets slanting outward. A number of brown-haired, tailless dogs, so much resembling bear-cubs that at first sight we took them for such, were playing about the doors. A middle-aged Lapp, with two women and three or four children, were the inmates. They scented profit, and received us in a friendly way, allowing the curious strangers to go in and out at pleasure, to tease the dogs, drink the reindeer milk, inspect the children, rock the baby, and buy horn spoons to the extent of their desire. They were smaller than the Lapps of Kautokeino--or perhaps the latter appeared larger in their winter dresses--and astonishingly dirty. Their appearance is much more disgusting in summer than in winter, when the snow, to a certain extent, purifies everything. After waiting an hour or more, the herd appeared descending the fjeld, and driven toward the fold by two young Lapps, assisted by their dogs. There were about four hundred in all, nearly one-third being calves. Their hoarse bleating and the cracking noise made by their knee-joints, as they crowded together into a dense mass of grey, mossy backs, made a very peculiar sound; and this combined with their ragged look, from the process of shedding their coats of hair, did not very favourably impress those of our party who saw them for the first time. The old Lapp and his boy, a strapping fellow of fifteen, with a ruddy, olive complexion and almost Chinese features, caught a number of the cows with lassos, and proceeded to wean the young deer by anointing the mothers' dugs with cow-dung, which they carried in pails slung over their shoulders. In this delightful occupation we left them, and returned to Tromsöe.

As we crossed the mouth of the Ulvsfjord, that evening we had an open sea horizon toward the north, a clear sky, and so much sunshine at eleven o'clock that it was evident the Polar day had dawned upon us at last. The illumination of the shores was unearthly in its glory, and the wonderful effects of the orange sunlight, playing upon the dark hues of the island cliffs, can neither be told nor painted. The sun hung low between Fuglöe, rising like a double dome from the sea, and the tall mountains of Arnöe, both of which islands resembled immense masses of transparent purple glass, gradually melting into crimson fire at their bases. The glassy, leaden-coloured sea was powdered with a golden bloom, and the tremendous precipices at the mouth of the Lyngen Fjord, behind us, were steeped in a dark red, mellow flush, and touched with pencillings of pure, rose-coloured light, until their naked ribs seemed to be clothed in imperial velvet. As we turned into the Fjord and ran southward along their bases, a waterfall, struck by the sun, fell in fiery orange foam down the red walls, and the blue ice-pillars of a beautiful glacier filled up the ravine beyond it. We were all on deck, and all faces, excited by the divine splendour of the scene, and tinged by the same wonderful aureole, shone as if transfigured. In my whole life I have never seen a spectacle so unearthly beautiful.

Our course brought the sun rapidly toward the ruby cliffs of Arnöe, and it was evident that he would soon be hidden from sight. It was not yet half-past eleven, and an enthusiastic passenger begged the captain to stop the vessel until midnight. "Why," said the latter, "it is midnight now, or very near it; you have Drontheim time, which is almost forty minutes in arrears." True enough, the real time lacked but five minutes of midnight, and those of us who had sharp eyes and strong imaginations saw the sun make his last dip and rise a little, before he vanished in a blaze of glory behind Arnöe. I turned away with my eyes full of dazzling spheres of crimson and gold, which danced before me wherever I looked, and it was a long time before they were blotted out by the semi-oblivion of a daylight sleep.

The next morning found us at the entrance of the long Alten Fjord. Here the gashed, hacked, split, scarred and shattered character of the mountains ceases, and they suddenly assume a long, rolling outline, full of bold features, but less wild and fantastic. On the southern side of the fjord many of them are clothed with birch and fir to the height of a thousand feet. The valleys here are cultivated to some extent, and produce, in good seasons, tolerable crops of potatoes, barley, and buckwheat. This is above lat. 70°, or parallel with the northern part of Greenland, and consequently the highest cultivated land in the world. In the valley of the Alten River, the Scotch fir sometimes reaches a height of seventy or eighty feet. This district is called the Paradise of Finmark, and no doubt floats in the imaginations of the settlers on Mageröe and the dreary Porsanger Fjord, as Andalusia and Syria float in ours. It is well that human bliss is so relative in its character.

At Talvik, a cheerful village with a very neat, pretty church, who should come on board but Pastor Hvoslef, our Kautokeino friend of the last winter! He had been made one of a Government Commission of four, appointed to investigate and report upon the dissensions between the nomadic Lapps and those who have settled habitations. A better person could not have been chosen than this good man, who has the welfare of the Lapps truly at heart, and in whose sincerity every one in the North confides.

We had on board Mr. Thomas, the superintendent of the copper works at Kaafjord, who had just resigned his seat in the Storthing and given up his situation for the purpose of taking charge of some mines at Copiapo, in Chili. Mr. Thomas is an Englishman, who has been for twenty years past one of the leading men of Finmark, and no other man, I venture to say, has done more to improve and enlighten that neglected province. His loss will not be easily replaced. At Talvik, his wife, a pleasant, intelligent Norwegian lady, came on board; and, as we passed the rocky portals guarding the entrance to the little harbour of Kaafjord, a gun, planted on a miniature battery above the landing-place, pealed forth a salute of welcome. I could partly understand Mr. Thomas's long residence in those regions, when I saw what a wild, picturesque spot he had chosen for his home. The cavernous entrances to the copper mines yawned in the face of the cliff above the outer bay below, on the water's edge, stood the smelting works, surrounded by labourers' cottages; a graceful white church crowned a rocky headland a little further on; and beyond, above a green lawn, decked with a few scattering birches, stood a comfortable mansion, with a garden in the rear. The flag of Norway and the cross of St. George floated from separate staffs on the lawn. There were a number of houses, surrounded with potato-fields on the slope stretching around the bay, and an opening of the hills at its head gave us a glimpse of the fir forests of the inland valleys. On such a cloudless day as we had, it was a cheerful and home-like spot.

We took a friendly leave of Mr. Thomas and departed, the little battery giving us I don't know how many three-gun salutes as we moved off. A number of whales spouted on all sides of us as we crossed the head of the fjord to Bosekop, near the mouth of the Alten River. This is a little village on a bare rocky headland, which completely shuts out from view the rich valley of the Alten, about which the Finmarkers speak with so much enthusiasm. "Ah, you should see the farms on the Alten," say they; "there we have large houses, fields, meadows, cattle, and the finest timber." This is Altengaard, familiar to all the readers of Mügge's "Afraja." The gaard, however, is a single large estate, and not a name applied to the whole district, as those unfamiliar with Norsk nomenclature might suppose. Here the Catholics have established a mission--ostensibly a missionary boarding-house, for the purpose of acclimating arctic apostles; but the people, who regard it with the greatest suspicion and distrust, suspect that the ultimate object is the overthrow of their inherited, venerated, and deeply-rooted Lutheran faith. At Bosekop we lost Pastor Hvoslef, and took on board the chief of the mission, the Catholic Bishop of the Arctic Zone--for I believe his diocese includes Greenland, Spitzbergen, and Polar America. Here is a Calmuck Tartar, thought I, as a short, strongly-built man, with sallow complexion, deep-set eyes, broad nostrils, heavy mouth, pointed chin, and high cheek-bones, stepped on board; but he proved to be a Russian baron, whose conversion cost him his estates. He had a massive head, however, in which intellect predominated, and his thoroughly polished manners went far to counteract the effect of one of the most unprepossessing countenances I ever saw.

M. Gay, who had known the bishop at Paris, at once entered into conversation with him. A short time afterwards, my attention was drawn to the spot where they stood by loud and angry exclamations. Two of our Norwegian savans stood before the bishop, and one of them, with a face white with rage, was furiously vociferating: "It is not true! it is not true! Norway is a free country!" "In this respect, it is not free," answered the bishop, with more coolness than I thought he could have shown, under such circumstances: "You know very well that no one can hold office except those who belong to your State Church--neither a Catholic, nor a Methodist, nor a Quaker: whereas in France, as I have said, a Protestant may even become a minister of the Government." "But we do not believe in the Catholic faith:--we will have nothing to do with it!" screamed the Norwegian. "We are not discussing our creeds," answered the bishop: "I say that, though Norway is a free country, politically, it does not secure equal rights to all its citizens, and so far as the toleration of religious beliefs is concerned, it is behind most other countries of Europe." He thereupon retreated to the cabin, for a crowd had gathered about the disputants, and the deck-passengers pressing aft, seemed more than usually excited by what was going on. The Norwegian shaking with fury, hissed through his set teeth: "How dare he come here to insult our national feeling!" Yes, but every word was true; and the scene was only another illustration of the intense vanity of the Norwegians in regard to their country. Woe to the man who says a word against Norway, though he say nothing but what everybody knows to be true! So long as you praise everything--scenery, people, climate, institutions, and customs--or keep silent where you cannot praise, you have the most genial conversation; but drop a word of honest dissent or censure, and you will see how quickly every one draws back into his shell. There are parts of our own country where a foreigner might make the same observation. Let a Norwegian travel in the Southern States, and dare to say a word in objection to slavery!

There is nothing of interest between Alten and Hammerfest, except the old sea-margins on the cliffs and a small glacier on the island of Seiland. The coast is dismally bleak and barren. Whales were very abundant; we sometimes saw a dozen spouting at one time. They were of the hump-backed species, and of only moderate size; yet the fishery would doubtless pay very well, if the natives had enterprise enough to undertake it. I believe, however, there is no whale fishery on the whole Norwegian coast. The desolate hills of Qvalö surmounted by the pointed peak of the Tjuve Fjeld, or "Thief Mountain,"--so called because it steals so much of the winter sunshine,--announced our approach to Hammerfest, and towards nine o'clock in the evening we were at anchor in the little harbour. The summer trade had just opened, and forty Russian vessels, which had arrived from the White Sea during the previous week or two, lay crowded before the large fish warehouses built along the water. They were all three-masted schooners, the main and mizen masts set close together, and with very heavy, square hulls. Strong Muscovite faces, adorned with magnificent beards, stared at us from the decks, and a jabber of Russian, Finnish, Lapp, and Norwegian, came from the rough boats crowding about our gangways. The north wind, blowing to us off the land, was filled with the perfume of dried codfish, train oil, and burning whale-"scraps," with which, as we soon found, the whole place is thoroughly saturated.

There is one hotel in the place, containing half a dozen chambers of the size of a state-room. We secured quarters here with a great deal of difficulty, owing to slowness of comprehension on the part of an old lady who had charge of the house. The other American, who at first took rooms for himself and wife, gave them up again very prudently; for the noises of the billiard-room penetrated through the thin wooden partitions, and my bed, at least, had been slept in by one of the codfish aristocracy, for the salty odour was so pungent that it kept me awake for a long time. With our fare, we had less reason to complain. Fresh salmon, arctic ptarmigan, and reindeer's tongue were delicacies which would have delighted any palate, and the wine had really seen Bordeaux, although rainy weather had evidently prevailed during the voyage thence to Hammerfest. The town lies in a deep bight, inclosed by precipitous cliffs, on the south-western side of the island, whence the sun, by this time long past his midsummer altitude, was not visible at midnight. Those of our passengers who intended returning by the Nordkap climbed the hills to get another view of him, but unfortunately went upon the wrong summit, so that they did not see him after all. I was so fatigued, from the imperfect sleep of the sunshiny nights and the crowd of new and exciting impressions which the voyage had given me, that I went to bed; but my friend sat up until long past midnight, writing, with curtains drawn.


Bayard Taylor