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Chapter 35

A TRAMP THROUGH WERMELAND AND DALECARLIA.


On leaving Carlstad our route lay northward up the valley of the Klar Elv, in the province of Wermeland, and thence over the hills, by way of Westerdal, in Dalecarlia, to the head of the Siljan Lake. The greater part of this region is almost unknown to travellers, and belongs to the poorest and wildest parts of Sweden. We made choice of it for this reason, that we might become acquainted with the people in their true character, and compare them with the same class in Norway. Our heavy luggage had all been sent on to Stockholm, in the charge of an Irish friend, and we retained no more than could be carried easily in two packs, as we anticipated being obliged to perform part of the journey on foot.

It rained in torrents during the day we spent in Carlstad, and some lumber merchants of Gottenburg, who were on their way to Fryxendal, to superintend the getting down of their rafts, predicted that the deluge would last an entire month. There was always a month of rainy weather at this season they said, and we had better give up our proposed journey. We trusted to our combined good luck however, and were not deceived, for, with the exception of two days, we had charming weather during the remainder of our stay in Sweden. Having engaged a two-horse cart for the first post-station, we left Carlstad on the morning of the 11th of September. The clouds were still heavy, but gradually rolled into compacter masses, giving promise of breaking away. The city is built upon a little island at the head of the lake, whence we crossed to the mainland by a strong old bridge. Our road led eastward through a slightly undulating country, where broad woods of fir and birch divided the large, well cultivated farms. The gårds, or mansions, which we passed, with their gardens and ornamental shrubbery, gave evidence of comfort and competence. The people were in the harvest-fields, cutting oats, which they piled upon stakes to dry. Every one we met saluted us courteously, with a cheerful and friendly air, which was all the more agreeable by contrast with the Norwegian reserve.

At the station, Prestegård, we procured a good breakfast of ham, eggs, and potatoes, and engaged two carts to take us further. We now turned northward over a lovely rolling country, watered with frequent streams,--a land of soft outlines, of woods and swelling knolls, to which the stately old houses gave an expression of contentment and household happiness. At Deye we left our carts, shouldered our packs, and trudged off on foot up the valley of the Klar Elv, which is here a broad lazy stream, filled with tens of thousands of pine-logs, waiting to be carried down to the Wener by the first freshet. The scenery charmed us by its rich and quiet beauty; it was without grand or striking features, but gently undulating, peaceful, and home-like. We found walking very fatiguing in the hot sun, which blazed upon us all the afternoon with a summer heat. The handsome residences and gardens, which we occasionally passed, gave evidence of taste and refinement in their possessors, and there was a pleasant grace in the courteous greetings of the country people whom we met. Towards evening we reached a post-station, and were tired enough to take horses again. It was after dark before we drew up at Ohlsäter, in the heart of Wermeland. Here we found a neat, comfortable room, with clean beds, and procured a supper of superb potatoes. The landlord was a tall, handsome fellow, whose friendly manners, and frank face, breathing honesty and kindness in every lineament, quite won my heart. Were there more such persons in the world, it would be a pleasanter place of residence.

We took horses and bone-shattering carts in the morning, for a distance of thirteen miles up the valley of the Klar Elv. The country was very picturesque and beautiful, well cultivated, and quite thickly settled. The wood in the sheltered bed of the valley was of remarkably fine growth; the birch trees were the largest I ever saw, some of them being over one hundred feet in height. Comfortable residences, with orchards and well-kept gardens attached, were quite frequent, and large sawmills along the river, which in some places was entirely concealed by floating rafts of lumber, gave an air of industry and animation to the landscape. In one place the road was spanned, for a considerable distance, with triumphal arches of foliage. I inquired the meaning of this display of the boy who accompanied us. "Why," said he, "there was a wedding a week ago, at the herregård (gentleman's residence); the young Herr got married, and these arches were put up for him and his bride." The herregård, which we passed soon afterwards, was an imposing mansion, upon an eminence overlooking the valley. Beside it was a jernbruk, or iron-works, from which a tramway, some miles in length, led to the mines.

Resuming our knapsacks, we walked on up the valley. The hills on either side increased in height, and gloomed darkly under a threatening sky. The aspect of the country gradually became wilder, though, wherever there was cultivation, it bore the same evidence of thrift and prosperity. After a steady walk of four hours, we reached the village of Råda, where our road left the beautiful Klar Elv, and struck northwards towards Westerdal, in Dalecarlia. We procured a dinner of potatoes and bacon, with excellent ale, enjoying, meanwhile, a lovely view over a lake to the eastward, which stretched away for ten miles between the wooded hills. The evening was cold and raw: we drove through pine-woods, around the head of the lake, and by six o'clock reached Asplund, a miserable little hamlet on a dreary hill. The post-station was a forlorn cottage with a single room, not of the most inviting appearance. I asked if we could get quarters for the night. "If you will stay, of course you can," said the occupant, an old woman; "but there is no bed, and I can get you horses directly to go on." It was a distance of thirteen miles to the next station, but we yielded to the old woman's hint, and set forward. The road led through woods, which seemed interminable. We were jammed together into a little two-wheeled cart, with the boy between our knees. He seemed much disinclined to hurry the horse, but soon fell asleep, and one of us held him by the collar to prevent his tumbling out, while the other took the lines, and urged on our slow beast. The night was so dark that we had great difficulty in keeping the road, but towards eleven o'clock we emerged from the woods, and found, by shaking the boy, that we were approaching the station at last. This was a little place called Laggasen, on the northern frontier of Wermeland.

Everybody had gone to bed in the hut at which we stopped. We entered the kitchen, which was at the same time the bedroom, and aroused the inmates, who consisted of a lonely woman, with two or three children. She got up in a very scanty chemise, lit a wooden splinter, and inspected us, and, in answer to our demand for a bed, informed us that we would have to lie upon the floor. We were about to do this, when she said we could get good quarters at the Nore, on the top of the hill. Her earnestness in persuading us to go made me suspect that she merely wanted to get rid of us, and I insisted that she should accompany us to show the way. After some hesitation she consented, and we set out. We first crossed a broad swamp, on a road made of loose logs, then climbed a hill, and trudged for some distance across stubble-fields, until my patience was quite worn out, and Braisted made use of some powerful maritime expressions. Finally, we reached a house, which we entered without more ado. The close, stifling atmosphere, and the sound of hard breathing on all sides, showed us that a whole family had been for some hours asleep there. Our guide thumped on the door, and hailed, and at length somebody awoke. "Can you give two travellers a bed?" she asked. "No," was the comfortable reply, followed by the yell of an aroused baby and the noises of the older children. We retreated at once, and opened a battery of reproaches on the old woman for having brought us on a fool's errand. "There is Ohlsen's," she replied, very quietly, "I think I can get you a bed there." Whereupon we entered another house in the same unceremonious manner, but with a better result. A plump, good-natured housewife jumped out of bed, went to an opposite door, and thumped upon it. "Lars!" she cried, "come out of that this minute!" As we entered, with a torch of dry fir, Lars, who proved to be a middle-aged man, got out of bed sleepily, picked up his clothes and marched off. The hostess then brought clean sheets and pillow-cases, and by midnight we were sweetly and blissfully stowed away together in the place vacated by poor Lars.

Nothing could exceed the kindness and courtesy of the good people in the morning. The hostess brought us coffee, and her son went off to get us a horse and cart. She would make no charge, as we had had so little, she said, and was quite grateful for the moderate sum I gave her. We had a wild road over hills, covered with pine forests, through the breaks in which we now and then caught a glimpse of a long lake to the westward, shining with a steel-blue gleam in the morning sun. There were but few clearings along the road, and miles frequently intervened without a sign of human habitation. We met, however, with great numbers of travellers, mostly farmers, with laden hay-carts. It was Sunday morning, and I could not help contrasting these people with those we had seen on the same day three weeks previous whilst crossing the Fille Fjeld. Here, every one had evidently been washed and combed: the men wore clean shirts and stockings, and the women chemises of snowy whiteness under their gay boddices. They were mostly Dalecarlians, in the picturesque costume of the province. We entered Dalecarlia on this stage, and the frank fresh faces of these people, their unmistakable expression of honesty and integrity, and the hearty cordiality of their greetings, welcomed us delightfully to the storied ground of Sweden.

Towards noon we reached the village of Tyngsjö, a little settlement buried in the heart of the wild woods. A mile or two of the southern slope of a hill had been cleared away, and over this a number of dark wooden farmhouses were scattered, with oats and potato-fields around them. An odd little church stood in midst, and the rich swell of a hymn, sung by sweet Swedish voices, floated to us over the fields as we drove up to the post-station. The master, a tall, slender man, with yellow locks falling upon his shoulders, and a face which might be trusted with millions, welcomed us with a fine antique courtesy, and at once sent off for horses. In a little while three farmers came, saluting us gracefully, and standing bareheaded while they spoke to us. One of them, who wore a dark brown jacket and knee-breeches, with a clean white shirt and stockings, had a strikingly beautiful head. The face was a perfect oval, the eyes large and dark, and the jet-black hair, parted on the forehead, fell in silky waves upon his shoulders. He was as handsome and graceful as one of Vandyk's cavaliers, and showed the born gentleman in his demeanour. He proposed that we should take one horse, as it could be gotten without delay, while two (which the law obliged us to take and pay for, if the farmers chose), would have detained us an hour. As the women were in church, the postmaster himself cooked us some freshly-dug potatoes, which, with excellent butter, he set before us. "I have a kind of ale," said he, "which is called porter; if you will try it, perhaps you will like it." It was, in reality, so good, that we took a second bottle with us for refreshment on the road. When I asked how much we should pay, he said: "I don't think you should pay anything, there was so little." "Well," said I, "It is worth at least half a rigsdaler." "Oh, but that may be too much," he answered, hesitatingly.

Our postillion was a fine handsome fellow, so rosy and robust that it made one feel stronger and healthier to sit beside him. He did not spare the horse, which was a big, capable animal, and we rolled along through endless forests of fir and pine as rapidly as the sandy road would allow. After we had gone about eight miles he left us, taking a shorter footpath through the woods. We guessed at our proper direction, sometimes taking the wrong road, but finally, after two hours or more, emerged from the woods into Westerdal, one of the two great valleys from which Dalecarlia (Dalarne, or The Dales) takes its name. The day was magnificent, clear, and with a cold north-east wind, resembling the latter part of October at home. The broad, level valley, with its fields and clustered villages, lay before us in the pale, cold autumnal sunshine, with low blue hills bounding it in the distance. We met many parties in carts, either returning from church, or on their way to visit neighbours. All were in brilliant Sunday costume, the men in blue jackets and knee-breeches, with vests of red or some other brilliant colour, and the women with gay embroidered boddices, white sleeves, and striped petticoats of blue, red, brown, and purple, and scarlet stockings. Some of them wore, in addition, an outer jacket of snowy sheepskin, with elaborate ornamental stitch-work on the back. Their faces were as frank and cheerful as their dresses were tidy, and they all greeted us with that spontaneous goodness of heart which recognises a brother in every man. We had again taken a wrong road, and a merry party carefully set us right again, one old lady even proposing to leave her friends and accompany us, for fear we should go astray again.

We crossed the Westerdal by a floating bridge, and towards sunset reached the inn of Rågsveden, our destination. It was a farmer's gård, standing a little distance off the road. An entrance through one of the buildings, closed with double doors, admitted us into the courtyard, a hollow square, surrounded with two story wooden dwellings, painted dark red. There seemed to be no one at home, but after knocking and calling for a time an old man made his appearance. He was in his second childhood, but knew enough to usher us into the kitchen and ask us to wait for the landlord's arrival. After half an hour our postillion arrived with four or five men in their gayest and trimmest costume, the landlord among them. They immediately asked who and what we were, and we were then obliged to give them an account of all our travels. Their questions were shrewd and intelligent, and their manner of asking, coupled as it was with their native courtesy, showed an earnest desire for information, which we were most willing to gratify. By and by the hostess came, and we were ushered into a very pleasant room, with two beds, and furnished with a supper of fresh meat, potatoes, and mead. The landlord and two or three of the neighbours sat with us before the fire until we were too sleepy to answer any more questions. A more naturally independent and manly bearing I have never seen than that of our host. He was a tall, powerful man, of middle age, with very handsome features, which were softened but not weakened in expression by his long blond hair, parted on his forehead. He had the proper pride which belongs to the consciousness of worth, and has no kinship with empty vanity. "We have come to Dalecarlia to see the descendants of the people who gave Gustavus Vasa his throne," said I, curious to see whether he would betray any signs of flattered pride. His blue eye flashed a little, as he sat with his hands clasped over one knee, gazing at the fire, a light flush ran over his temples--but he said nothing. Some time ago a proposition was made to place a portrait of Gustavus Vasa in the church at Mora. "No," said the Dalecarlians, "we will not have it: we do not need any picture to remind us of what our fathers have done."

The landlady was a little woman, who confessed to being forty-nine years old, although she did not appear to be more than forty. "I have had a great deal of headache," said she, "and I look much older than I am." Her teeth were superb, as were those of all the women we saw. I do not suppose a tooth-brush is known in the valley; yet the teeth one sees are perfect pearls. The use of so much sour milk is said to preserve them. There was a younger person in the house, whom we took to be a girl of sixteen, but who proved to be the son's wife, a woman of twenty-six, and the mother of two or three children. The Dalecarlians marry young when they are able, but even in opposite cases they rarely commit any violation of the laws of morality. Instances are frequent, I was told, where a man and woman, unable to defray the expense of marriage, live together for years in a state of mutual chastity, until they have saved a sum sufficient to enable them to assume the responsibilities of married life. I know there is no honester, and I doubt whether there is a purer, people on the earth than these Dalecarlians.

We awoke to another glorious autumnal day. The valley was white with frost in the morning, and the air deliciously keen and cold; but after sunrise heavy white vapours arose from the spangled grass, and the day gradually grew milder. I was amused at the naïve curiosity of the landlady and her daughter-in-law, who came into our room very early, that they might see the make of our garments and our manner of dressing. As they did not appear to be conscious of any impropriety, we did not think it necessary to feel embarrassed. Our Lapland journey had taught us habits of self-possession under such trying circumstances. We had coffee, paid an absurdly small sum for our entertainment, and took a cordial leave of the good people. A boy of fifteen, whose eyes, teeth and complexion kept my admiration on the stretch during the whole stage, drove us through unbroken woods to Skamhed, ten miles further down the valley. Here the inn was a little one story hut, miserable to behold externally, but containing a neat guest's room and moreover, as we discovered in the course of time--a good breakfast. While we were waiting there, a man came up who greeted us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, on learning that we came from America. "Are you not afraid to travel so far from home?" he asked: "how could you cross the great sea?" "Oh," I answered, "there is no more danger in one part of the world than another." "Yes," said he, "God is as near on the water as on the land"--unconsciously repeating the last words of Sir Humphrey Gilbert: "Christ walked upon the waves and quieted them, and he walks yet, for them that believe in Him." Hereupon he began repeating some hymns, mingled with texts of Scripture, which process he continued until we became heartily tired. I took him at a venture, for an over-enthusiastic Läsare, or "Reader," the name given to the Swedish dissenters.

We had a station of twenty three miles before us, to the village of Landbobyn, which lies in the wooded wilderness between Osterdal and Westerdal. Our postillion, a fine young fellow of twenty-two, over six feet in height, put on his best blue jacket and knee-breeches, with a leather apron reaching from his shoulders to below his knees. This is an article worn by almost all Dalecarlians for the purpose of saving their clothes while at work, and gives them an awkward and ungraceful air. This fellow, in spite of a little fear at the bare idea, expressed his willingness to go with us all over the world, but the spirit of wandering was evidently so easy to be kindled in him, that I rather discouraged him. We had a monotonous journey of five hours through a forest of pine, fir, and birch, in which deer and elk are frequently met with; while the wolf and the bear haunt its remoter valleys. The ground was but slightly undulating, and the scenery in general was as tame as it was savage.

Landbobyn was a wretched hamlet on the banks of a stream, with a few cleared fields about it. As the sun had not yet set, we determined to push on to Kettbo, eight or ten miles further, and engaged a boy to pilot us through the woods. The post-station was a miserable place, where we found it impossible to get anything to eat. I sat down and talked with the family while our guide recruited himself with a large dish of thick sour milk. "Why do you travel about the earth?" asked his mother: "is it that you may spy out the poverty of the people and see how miserably they live?" "No," said I, "it is that I may become acquainted with the people, whether they are poor or not." "But," she continued, "did you ever see a people poorer than we?" "Often," said I; "because you are contented, and no one can be entirely poor who does not complain." She shook her head with a sad smile and said nothing.

Our guide poled us across the river in a rickety boat, and then plunged into the woods. He was a tall, well grown boy of fifteen or sixteen, with a beautiful oval face, long fair hair parted in the middle and hanging upon his shoulders, and a fine, manly, resolute expression. With his jacket, girdle, knee-breeches, and the high crowned and broad brimmed felt hat he wore, he reminded me strongly of the picture of Gustavus Vasa in his Dalecarlian disguise, in the cathedral of Upsala. He was a splendid walker, and quite put me, old pedestrian as I am, out of countenance. The footpath we followed was terribly rough; we stumbled over stock and stone, leaped fallen trees, crossed swamps on tussocks of spongy moss, and climbed over heaps of granite boulders: yet, while we were panting and exhausted with our exertions to keep pace with him, he walked onward as quietly and easily as if the smoothest meadow turf were under his feet. I was quite puzzled by the speed he kept up on such a hard path, without seeming to put forth any extra strength. At sunset he pointed out some clearings on a hill side over the tree tops, a mile or two ahead, as our destination. Dusk was gathering as we came upon a pretty lake, with a village scattered along its hilly shore. The post-station, however, was beyond it, and after some delay the boy procured a boat and rowed us across. Telling us to go up the hill and we should find the inn, he bade us good bye and set out on his return.

We soon reached a gård, the owner whereof, after satisfying his curiosity concerning us by numerous questions, informed us that the inn was still further. After groping about in the dark for awhile, we found it. The landlord and his wife were sitting before the fire, and seemed, I thought, considerably embarrassed by our arrival. There was no bed, they said, and they had nothing that we could eat; their house was beyond the lake, and they only came over to take charge of the post-station when their turn arrived. We were devoured with hunger and thirst, and told them we should be satisfied with potatoes and a place on the floor. The wife's brother, who came in soon afterwards, was thereupon despatched across the lake to bring coffee for us, and the pleasant good-wife put our potatoes upon the fire to boil. We lit our pipes, meanwhile, and sat before the fire, talking with our host and some neighbours who came in. They had much to ask about America, none of them having ever before seen a native of that country. Their questions related principally to the cost of living, to the value of labour, the price of grain, the climate and productions, and the character of our laws. They informed me that the usual wages in Dalecarlia were 24 skillings (13 cents) a day, and that one tunne (about 480 lbs.) of rye cost 32 rigsdaler ($8.37-1/2). "No doubt you write descriptions of your travels?" asked the landlord. I assented. "And then, perhaps, you make books of them?" he continued: whereupon one of the neighbours asked, "But do you get any money for your books?"

The potatoes were finally done, and they, with some delicious milk, constituted our supper. By this time the brother had returned, bringing with him coffee, a pillow, and a large coverlet made entirely of cat-skins. A deep bed of hay was spread upon the floor, a coarse linen sheet thrown over it, and, with the soft fur covering, we had a sumptuous bed. About midnight we were awakened by an arrival. Two tailors, one of them hump-backed, on their way to Wermeland, came in, with a tall, strong woman as postillion. The fire was rekindled, and every thing which the landlord had extracted from us was repeated to the new comers, together with a very genial criticism upon our personal appearance and character. After an hour or two, more hay was brought in and the two tailors and the postillioness lay down side by side. We had barely got to sleep again, when there was another arrival. "I am the post-girl," said a female voice. Hereupon everybody woke up, and the story of the two foreign travellers was told over again. In the course of the conversation I learned that the girl carried the post twenty English miles once a week, for which she received 24 rigs ($6.25) annually. "It is a hard business," said the hump-backed tailor. "Yes; but I am obliged to do it," answered the girl. After her departure we were not again disturbed, and managed to get some sleep at last.

We all completed our toilettes in the same room, without the least embarrassment; and, with a traveller's curiosity, I may be pardoned for noticing the general bodily cleanliness of my various bed-fellows, especially as the city Swedes are in the habit of saying that the country people are shockingly dirty. We had coffee, and made arrangements with the girl who had brought the tailors to take us back in her cart. Our host would make no charge for the bed, and next to nothing for our fare, so I put a bank-note in the hand of little Pehr, his only child, telling him to take care of it, and spend it wisely when he grew up. The delight of the good people knew no bounds. Pehr must hold up his little mouth to be kissed, again and again; the mother shook us warmly by the hand, and the father harnessed his horse and started with us. May the blessing of God be upon all poor, honest, and contented people!

Our road led between wooded hills to the Siljan-Forss, a large iron-foundry upon a stream which flows into the Siljan Lake. It was a lovely morning, and our postillion who was a woman of good sense and some intelligence, chatted with me the whole way. She was delighted to find that we could so easily make ourselves understood. "When I saw you first in the night," said she, "I thought you must certainly be Swedes. All the foreigners I saw in Stockholm had something dark and cloudy in their countenances, but both of you have shining faces." She questioned me a great deal about the sacred localities of Palestine, and about the state of religion in America. She evidently belonged to the Läsare, who, she stated, were very numerous in Dalecarlia. "It is a shame," said she, "that we poor people are obliged to pay so much for the support of the Church, whether we belong to it or not. Our taxes amount to 40 rigs yearly, ten of which, in Mora parish, go to the priest. They say he has an income of half a rigs every hour of his life. King Oscar wishes to make religion free, and so it ought to be, but the clergy are all against him, and the clergy control the Bondestånd (House of Peasants), and so he can do nothing." The woman was thirty-one years old, and worn with hard labour. I asked her if she was married. "No," she answered, with a deep sigh, looking at the betrothal-ring on her finger. "Ah," she continued, "we are all poor, Sweden is a poor country; we have only iron and timber, not grain, and cotton, and silk, and sugar, like other countries."

As we descended towards the post-station of Vik we caught a glimpse of the Siljan Lake to the south, and the tall tower of Mora Church, far to the eastward. At Vik, where we found the same simple and honest race of people, we parted with the postillioness and with our host of Kettbo, who thanked us again in Pehr's name, as he shook hands for the last time. We now had fast horses, and a fine road over a long wooded hill, which was quite covered with the lingon, or Swedish cranberry. From the further slope we at last looked down upon Mora, at the head of the Siljan Lake, in the midst of a broad and fertile valley. Ten miles to the eastward arose the spire of Orsa, and southward, on an island in the lake, the tall church of Sollerön. "You can see three churches at once," said our postillion with great pride. So we could, and also the large, stately inn of Mora--a most welcome sight to us, after five days on potato diet.


Bayard Taylor