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Chapter 8

ADVENTURES AMONG THE FINNS.


We drank so much milk (for want of more solid food) at Juoxengi, that in spite of sound sleep under our sheepskin blankets, we both awoke with headaches in the morning. The Finnish landlord gave me to understand, by holding up his fore-finger, and pronouncing the word "x," that I was to pay one rigsdaler (about 26 cents), for our entertainment, and was overcome with grateful surprise when I added a trifle more. We got underway by six o'clock, when the night was just at its darkest, and it was next to impossible to discern any track on the spotless snow. Trusting to good luck to escape overturning, we followed in the wake of the skjutsbonde, who had mounted our baggage sled upon one of the country sledges, and rode perched upon his lofty seat. Our horses were tolerable, but we had eighteen miles to Pello, the next station, which we reached about ten o'clock.

Our road was mostly upon the Torne River, sometimes taking to the woods on either side, to cut off bends. The morn was hours in dawning, with the same splendid transitions of colour. The forests were indescribable in their silence, whiteness, and wonderful variety of snowy adornment. The weeping birches leaned over the road, and formed white fringed arches; the firs wore mantles of ermine, and ruffs and tippets of the softest swan's down. Snow, wind, and frost had worked the most marvellous transformations in the forms of the forest. Here were kneeling nuns, with their arms hanging listlessly by their sides, and the white cowls falling over their faces; there lay a warrior's helmet; lace curtains, torn and ragged, hung from the points of little Gothic spires; caverns, lined with sparry incrustations, silver palm-leaves, doors, loop-holes, arches and arcades were thrown together in a fantastic confusion and mingled with the more decided forms of the larger trees, which, even, were trees but in form, so completely were they wrapped in their dazzling disguise. It was an enchanted land, where you hardly dared to breathe, lest a breath might break the spell.

There was still little change in the features of the country, except that it became wilder and more rugged, and the settlements poorer and further apart. There were low hills on either side, wildernesses of birch and fir, and floors of level snow over the rivers and marshes. On approaching Pello, we saw our first reindeer, standing beside a hut. He was a large, handsome animal; his master, who wore a fur dress, we of course set down for a Lapp. At the inn a skinny old hag, who knew a dozen words of Swedish, got us some bread, milk, and raw frozen salmon, which, with the aid of a great deal of butter, sufficed us for a meal. Our next stage was to Kardis, sixteen miles, which we made in four hours. While in the midst of a forest on the Swedish side, we fell in with a herd of reindeer, attended by half-a-dozen Lapps. They came tramping along through the snow, about fifty in number, including a dozen which ran loose. The others were harnessed to pulks, the canoe-shaped reindeer sledges, many of which were filled with stores and baggage. The Lapps were rather good-looking young fellows, with a bright, coppery, orange complexion, and were by no means so ill-favoured, short, and stunted as I had imagined. One of them was, indeed, really handsome, with his laughing eyes, sparkling teeth, and a slender, black moustache.

We were obliged to wait a quarter-of-an-hour while the herd passed, and then took to the river again. The effect of sunset on the snow was marvellous--the spotless mounds and drifts, far and near, being stained with soft rose colour, until they resembled nothing so much as heaps of strawberry ice. At Kardis the people sent for an interpreter, who was a young man, entirely blind. He helped us to get our horses, although we were detained an hour, as only one horse is kept in readiness at these stations, and the neighbourhood must be scoured to procure another. I employed the time in learning a few Finnish words--the whole travelling-stock, in fact, on which I made the journey to Muonioniska. That the reader may see how few words of a strange language will enable him to travel, as well as to give a sample of Finnish, I herewith copy my whole vocabulary:

one x two cax three kolma four nelia five viis six oos seven settima eight kahexa nine hexa ten kiumene a half puoli horses hevorste immediately varsin ready walmis drive on! ay perli! how much? guinga palia a mile peligorma bread leba meat liha milk maito butter voy fire valkr a bed sngu (Swedish) good hva bad ph

We kept on our way up the river, in the brilliant afternoon moonlight. The horses were slow; so were the two skjutsbonder, to whom I cried in vain: "Ay perli!" Braisted with difficulty restrained his inclination to cuff their ears. Hour after hour went by, and we grew more and more hungry, wrathful and impatient. About eight o'clock they stopped below a house on the Russian side, pitched some hay to the horses, climbed the bank, and summoned us to follow. We made our way with some difficulty through the snow, and entered the hut, which proved to be the abode of a cooper--at least the occupant, a rough, shaggy, dirty Orson of a fellow, was seated upon the floor, making a tub, by the light of the fire. The joists overhead were piled with seasoned wood, and long bundles of thin, dry fir, which is used for torches during the winter darkness. There was neither chair nor table in the hut; but a low bench ran around the walls, and a rough bedstead was built against one corner. Two buckets of sour milk, with a wooden ladle, stood beside the door. This beverage appears to be generally used by the Finns for quenching thirst, instead of water. Our postilions were sitting silently upon the bench, and we followed their example, lit our pipes, and puffed away, while the cooper, after the first glance, went on with his work; and the other members of his family, clustered together in the dusky corner behind the fireplace, were equally silent. Half an hour passed, and the spirit moved no one to open his mouth. I judged at last that the horses had been baited sufficiently, silently showed my watch to the postilions, who, with ourselves, got up and went away without a word having been said to mar the quaint drollery of the incident.

While at Haparanda, we had been recommended to stop at Kingis Bruk, at the junction of the Torne and Muonio. "There," we were told, "you can get everything you want: there is a fine house, good beds, and plenty to eat and drink." Our blind interpreter at Kardis repeated this advice. "Don't go on to Kexisvara;" (the next station) said he, "stop at Kengis, where everything is good." Toward Kengis, then, this oasis in the arctic desolation, our souls yearned. We drove on until ten o'clock in the brilliant moonlight and mild, delicious air--for the temperature had actually risen to 25 above zero!--before a break in the hills announced the junction of the two rivers. There was a large house on the top of a hill on our left, and, to our great joy, the postilions drove directly up to it. "Is this Kengis?" I asked, but their answers I could not understand, and they had already unharnessed their horses.

There was a light in the house, and we caught a glimpse of a woman's face at the window, as we drove up. But the light was immediately extinguished, and everything became silent. I knocked at the door, which was partly open, but no one came. I then pushed: a heavy log of wood, which was leaning against it from the inside, fell with a noise which reverberated through the house. I waited awhile, and then, groping my way along a passage to the door of the room which had been lighted, knocked loudly. After a little delay, the door was opened by a young man, who ushered me into a warm, comfortable room, and then quietly stared at me, as if to ask what I wanted. "We are travellers and strangers," said I, "and wish to stop for the night." "This is not an inn," he answered; "it is the residence of the patron of the iron works." I may here remark that it is the general custom in Sweden, in remote districts, for travellers to call without ceremony upon the parson, magistrate, or any other prominent man in a village, and claim his hospitality. In spite of this doubtful reception, considering that our horses were already stabled and the station three or four miles further, I remarked again: "But perhaps we may be allowed to remain here until morning?" "I will ask," he replied, left the room, and soon returned with an affirmative answer.

We had a large, handsomely furnished room, with a sofa and curtained bed, into which we tumbled as soon as the servant-girl, in compliance with a hint of mine, had brought up some bread, milk, and cheese. We had a cup of coffee in the morning, and were preparing to leave when the patron appeared. He was a short, stout, intelligent Swede, who greeted us courteously, and after a little conversation, urged us to stay until after breakfast. We were too hungry to need much persuasion, and indeed the table set with tjde, or capercailie (one of the finest game birds in the world), potatoes, cranberries, and whipped cream, accompanied with excellent Ume ale, and concluded with coffee, surpassed anything we had sat down to for many a day. The patron gave me considerable information about the country, and quieted a little anxiety I was beginning to feel, by assuring me that we should find post-horses all the way to Muonioniska, still ninety-five miles distant. He informed me that we had already got beyond the daylight, as the sun had not yet risen at Kengis. This, however, was in consequence of a hill to the southward, as we afterwards found that the sun was again above the horizon.

We laid in fuel enough to last us through the day, and then took leave of our host, who invited us to visit him on our return. Crossing the Torne, an hour's drive over the hills brought us to the village of Kexisvara, where we were obliged to wait some time for our horses. At the inn there was a well forty feet deep, with the longest sweep-pole I ever saw. The landlady and her two sisters were pleasant bodies, and sociably inclined, if we could have talked to them. They were all spinning tow, their wheels purring like pleased lionesses. The sun's disc came in sight at a quarter past eleven, and at noon his lower limb just touched the horizon. The sky was of a splendid saffron hue, which changed into a burning brassy yellow.

Our horses promised little for speed when we set out, and their harness being ill adapted to our sleds increased the difficulty. Instead of hames there were wide wooden yokes, the ends of which passed through mortices in the ends of the shafts, and were fastened with pins, while, as there was no belly-bands, the yokes rose on going down hill, bringing our sleds upon the horses' heels. The Finnish sleds have excessively long shafts, in order to prevent this. Our road all day was upon the Muonio River, the main branch of the Torne, and the boundary between Sweden and Russia, above the junction. There had been a violent wind during the night, and the track was completely filled up. The Torne and Muonio are both very swift rivers, abounding in dangerous rapids, but during the winter, rapids and all, they are solid as granite from their sources to the Bothnian Gulf. We plunged along slowly, hour after hour, more than half the time clinging to one side or the other, to prevent our sled from overturning--and yet it upset at least a dozen times during the day. The scenery was without change: low, black fir forests on either hand, with the decorative snow blown off them; no villages, or signs of life, except the deserted huts of the wood-cutters, nor did we meet but one sled during the whole day. Here and there, on the banks, were sharp, canoe-like boats, twenty or thirty feet long, turned bottom upward. The sky was overcast, shutting out the glorious coloring of the past days. The sun set before one o'clock, and the dull twilight deepened apace into night. Nothing could be more cheerless and dismal: we smoked and talked a little, with much silence between, and I began to think that one more such day would disgust me with the Arctic Zone.

It was four o'clock, and our horses were beginning to stagger, when we reached a little village called Jokijalka, on the Russian side. The postilion stopped at a house, or rather a quadrangle of huts, which he made me comprehend was an inn, adding that it was 4 poln and 3 belikor (a fearfully unintelligible distance!) to the next one. We entered, and found promise enough in the thin, sallow, sandy-haired, and most obsequious landlord, and a whole herd of rosy children, to decide us to stop. We were ushered into the milk-room, which was warm and carpeted, and had a single narrow bed. I employed my vocabulary with good effect, the quick-witted children helping me out, and in due time we got a supper of fried mutton, bread, butter, and hot milk. The children came in every few minutes to stare at our writing, an operation which they probably never saw before. They would stand in silent curiosity for half an hour at a time, then suddenly rush out, and enjoy a relief of shouts and laughter on the outside. Since leaving Matarengi we had been regarded at all the stations with much wonder, not always unmixed with mistrust. Whether this was simply a manifestation of the dislike which the Finns have for the Swedes, for whom they probably took us, or of other suspicions on their part, we could not decide.

After a time one of the neighbors, who had been sent for on account of his knowing a very few words of Swedish, was ushered into the room. Through him I ordered horses, and ascertained that the next station, Kihlangi, was three and a half Swedish miles distant, but there was a place on the Russian side, one mile off, where we could change horses. We had finished writing, and were sitting by the stove, consulting how we should arrange the bed so as to avoid contact with the dirty coverlet, when the man returned and told us we must go into another house. We crossed the yard to the opposite building, where, to our great surprise, we were ushered into a warm room, with two good beds, which had clean though coarse sheets, a table, looking-glass, and a bit of carpet on the floor. The whole male household congregated to see us take possession and ascertain whether our wants were supplied. I slept luxuriously until awakened by the sound of our landlord bringing in wood to light the fire. He no sooner saw that my eyes were open than he snatched off his cap and threw it upon the floor, moving about with as much awe and silence as if it were the Emperor's bedroom. His daughter brought us excellent coffee betimes. We washed our faces with our tumblers of drinking water, and got under way by half-past six.

The temperature had changed again in the night, being 28 below zero, but the sky was clear and the morning moonlight superb. By this time we were so far north that the moon did not set at all, but wheeled around the sky, sinking to within eight degrees of the horizon at noonday. Our road led across the river, past the church of Kolare, and through a stretch of the Swedish forests back to the river again. To our great surprise, the wind had not blown here, the snow still hung heavy on the trees, and the road was well beaten. At the Russian post-house we found only a woman with the usual troop of children, the eldest of whom, a boy of sixteen, was splitting fir to make torches. I called out "hevorste!" (horses), to which he made a deliberate answer, and went on with his work. After some consultation with the old woman, a younger boy was sent off somewhere, and we sat down to await the result. I called for meat, milk, bread, and butter, which procured us in course of time a pitcher of cold milk, some bread made of ground barley straw, horribly hard and tough, and a lump of sour frozen butter. There was some putrid fish in a wooden bowl, on which the family had breakfasted, while an immense pot of sour milk, butter, broken bread, and straw meal, hanging over the fire, contained their dinner. This was testimony enough to the accounts we had heard in Stockholm, of the year's famine in Finland; and we seemed likely to participate in it.

I chewed the straw bread vigorously for an hour, and succeeded in swallowing enough to fill my stomach, though not enough to satisfy my hunger. The younger children occupied themselves in peeling off the soft inner bark of the fir, which they ate ravenously. They were handsome, fair-skinned youngsters, but not so rosy and beautiful as those of the Norrland Swedes. We were obliged to wait more than two hours before the horses arrived, thus losing a large part of our daylight. The postilions fastened our sleds behind their own large sledges, with flat runners, which got through the snow more easily than ours. We lay down in the sledge, stretched ourselves at full length upon a bed of hay, covered our feet with the deerskin, and set off. We had gone about a Swedish mile when the postilions stopped to feed the horses before a house on the Russian side. There was nobody within, but some coals among the ashes on the hearth showed that it had been used, apparently, as a place of rest and shelter. A tall, powerful Finn, who was travelling alone, was there, smoking his pipe. We all sat down and did likewise, in the bare, dark hut. There were the three Finns, in complete dresses of reindeer skin, and ourselves, swaddled from head to foot, with only a small segment of scarlet face visible between our frosted furs and icy beards. It was a true Arctic picture, as seen by the pale dawn which glimmered on the wastes of snow outside.

We had a poor horse, which soon showed signs of breaking down, especially when we again entered a belt of country where the wind had blown, the trees were clear, and the track filled up. At half-past eleven we saw the light of the sun on the tops of the hills, and at noon about half his disc was visible. The cold was intense; my hands became so stiff and benumbed that I had great difficulty in preventing them from freezing, and my companion's feet almost lost all feeling. It was well for us that we were frequently obliged to walk, to aid the horse. The country was a wilderness of mournful and dismal scenery--low hills and woods, stripped bare of snow, the dark firs hung with black, crape-like moss, alternating with morasses. Our Finnish postilions were pleasant, cheerful fellows, who insisted on our riding when there was the least prospect of a road. Near a solitary hut (the only one on the road) we met a man driving a reindeer. After this we lost all signs of our way, except the almost obliterated track of his pulk. The snow was deeper than ever, and our horses were ready to drop at every step. We had been five hours on the road; the driver said Kihlangi was "x verst" distant, and at three, finally, we arrived. We appreciated rather better what we had endured when we found that the temperature was 44 below zero.

I at once ordered horses, and a strapping young fellow was sent off in a bad humor to get them. We found it impossible, however, to procure milk or anything to eat, and as the cold was not to be borne else, we were obliged to resort to a bottle of cognac and our Haparanda bread. The old woman sat by the fire smoking, and gave not the least attention to our demands. I paid our postilions in Norwegian orts, which they laid upon a chair and counted, with the assistance of the whole family. After the reckoning was finished they asked me what the value of each piece was, which gave rise to a second general computation. There was, apparently, more than they had expected, for they both made me a formal address of thanks, and took my hand. Seeing that I had produced a good effect I repeated my demand for milk. The old woman refused, but the men interfered in my behalf; she went out and presently returned with a bowl full, which she heated for us. By this time our horses had arrived, and one of our new postilions prepared himself for the journey, by stripping to the loins and putting on a clean shirt. He was splendidly built, with clean, firm muscle, a white glossy skin, and no superfluity of flesh. He then donned a reindeer of psk, leggings and boots, and we started again.

It was nearly five o'clock, and superb moonlight. This time they mounted our sleds upon their own sledges, so that we rode much higher than usual. Our way lay up the Muonio River: the track was entirely snowed up, and we had to break a new one, guided by the fir-trees stuck in the ice. The snow was full three feet deep, and whenever the sledge got a little off the old road, the runners cut in so that we could scarcely move. The milk and cognac had warmed us tolerably, and we did not suffer much from the intense cold. My nose, however, had been rubbed raw, and I was obliged to tie a handkerchief across my face to protect it.

While journeying along in this way, the sledge suddenly tilted over, and we were flung head foremost into the snow. Our drivers righted the sledge, we shook ourselves and got in again, but had not gone ten yards before the same thing happened again. This was no joke on such a night, but we took it good-humouredly, to the relief of the Finns, who seemed to expect a scolding. Very soon we went over a third time, and then a fourth, after which they kept near us and held on when there was any danger. I became very drowsy, and struggled with all my force to keep awake, for sleeping was too hazardous. Braisted kept his senses about him by singing, for our encouragement, the mariner's hymn:--

"Fear not, but trust in Providence, Wherever thou may'st be."

Thus hour after hour passed away. Fortunately we had good, strong horses, which walked fast and steadily. The scenery was always the same--low, wooded hills on either side of the winding, snowy plain of the river. We had made up our minds not to reach Parkajoki before midnight, but at half-past ten our track left the river, mounted the Swedish bank, and very soon brought us to a quadrangle of low huts, having the appearance of an inn. I could scarcely believe my eyes when we stopped before the door. "Is this Parkajoki?" I asked. "Ja!" answered the postilion. Braisted and I sprang out instantly, hugged each other in delight, and rushed into the warm inn. The thermometer still showed -44, and we prided ourselves a little on having travelled for seventeen hours in such a cold with so little food to keep up our animal heat. The landlord, a young man, with a bristly beard of three weeks' growth, showed us into the milk room, where there was a bed of reindeer skins. His wife brought us some fresh hay, a quilt and a sheepskin coverlet, and we soon forgot both our hunger and our frozen blood.

In the morning coffee was brought to us, and as nothing else was to be had, we drank four cups apiece. The landlord asked half a rigs (13 cents) for our entertainment, and was overcome with gratitude when I gave him double the sum. We had the same sledges as the previous night, but new postilions and excellent horses. The temperature had risen to 5 below zero, with a cloudy sky and a light snow falling. We got off at eight o'clock, found a track partly broken, and went on at a merry trot up the river. We took sometimes one bank and sometimes the other, until, after passing the rapid of Eyanpaika (which was frozen solid, although large masses of transparent ice lay piled like rocks on either side), we kept the Swedish bank. We were in excellent spirits, in the hope of reaching Muonioniska before dark, but the steady trot of our horses brought us out of the woods by noon, and we saw before us the long, scattering village, a mile or two distant, across the river. To our left, on a gentle slope, stood a red, two-story building, surrounded by out-houses, with a few humbler habitations in its vicinity. This was Muoniovara, on the Swedish side--the end of our Finnish journey.


Bayard Taylor