The Katrina Saga: In Two Parts. Part I

“ FORR English Ladies.” This was the address on the back of a muchthumbed envelope, resting on top of the key rack in the dining-room of our Bergen hotel. If “For” had been spelled correctly, the letter would not have been half so likely to be read ; but that extra outsider of an r was irresistibly attractive. The words of the letter itself were, if not equally original in spelling, at least as unique in arrangement, and altogether the advertisement answered its purposes far better than if it had been written in good English. The naïveté with which the writer went on to say, “ I do recommend me,” was delicious, and when she herself appeared there was something in her whole personal bearing entirely in keeping with the child-like and unconscious complacency of her phraseology. “I do recommend me ” was written all over her face, and, as things turned out, if it had been “I do guarantee me,” it had not been too strong an indorsement. A more tireless, willing, thoughtful, helpful, eager, shrewd little creature than Katrina never chattered. Looking back from the last day to the first of my acquaintance with her, I feel a remorseful twinge as I think how near I came to taking instead of her, as my maid for a month’s journeying, a stately young woman, who, appearing in answer to my advertisement, handed me her card with dignity, and begged my pardon for inquiring precisely what it would be that she would have to do for me, besides the turning of English into Norwegian, and vice versa. The contrast between this specific gravity and Katrina’s hearty and unreflecting “ I will do my best to satisfy you in all occasions ” did not sufficiently impress me in the outset. But many a time afterward did I recall it, and believe more than ever in the doctrine of lucky stars and good angels.

When Katrina appeared, punctually to the appointed minute, half an hour before the time for setting off, I saw with pleasure that she was wrapped in a warm cloak of dark cloth. I had seen her before, flitting about in shawls of various sorts, loosely pinned at the throat in a disjointed kind of way, which gave to her appearance an expression that I did not like, — an expression of desultory if not intermittent respectability. But wrapped in this heavy cloak, she was decorum personified.

“ Ah, Katrina,” I said, “ I am very glad to see you are warmly dressed. This summer you keep in Norway is so cold, one needs winter clothes all the time.”

“ Yes, I must,” she replied. “ I get fever and ague in New York, and since then it always reminds me. That was six years ago ; but it reminds me, — the freezing at my neck,” putting her hand to the back of her neck.

It was in New York, then, that she had learned so much English. This explained everything, — the curious mixture of volubility and inaccuracy and slang in her speech. She had been for several months a house servant in New York, “ with an Irish lady; such a nice lady. Her husband, he took care of a bank ; kept it clean, don’t you see, and all such tings. And we lived in the top in the eight story : we was always going up and down in the elewator.”

After this she had been a button-hole maker in a great clothing house, and next, had married one of her own countrymen ; a nephew, by the way, of the famous Norwegian giant at Barnum’s Museum, — a fact which Katrina stated simply, without any apparent boast, adding, “ My husband’s father were guyant, too. There be many guyants in that part of the country.”

Perhaps it was wicked, seeing that Katrina had had such hopes of learning much English in her month with me, not to have told her then and there that g in the English word giant was always soft. But I could not. Neither did I once, from first to last, correct her inimitable and delicious pronunciations. I confined my instructions to the endeavor to make her understand clearly the meanings of words, and to teach her true synonyms ; but as for meddling with her pronunciations, I would as soon have been caught trying to teach a baby to speak plain. I fear, towards the last, she began to suspect this, and to be half aware of the not wholly disinterested pleasure which I took in listening to her eager prattle ; but she did not accuse me, and I let her set off for home not one whit wiser in the matter of the sounds of the English language than she had been when she came away, except so far as she might have unconsciously caught them from hearing me speak. It is just as well : her English is quite good enough as it is, for all practical purposes in Norway, and would lose half its charm and value to English-speaking people if she were to learn to say the words as we say them.

To set off by boat from Bergen means to set off by boats ; it would not be an idle addition to the phrase, either, to say, not only by boats, but among boats, in, out, over, and across boats; and one may consider himself lucky if he is not called upon to add, — the whole truth being told, — under boats. Arriving at the wharf, he is shown where his steamer lies, midway in the harbor; whether it be at anchor, or hoisted on a raft of small boats, he is at first at loss to see. However, rowing alongside, he discovers that the raft of small boats is only a crowd, like any other crowd, of movable things or creatures, and can be shoved, jostled, pushed out of the way, and compelled to give room. A Norwegian can elbow his boat through a tight-packed mass of boats with as dexterous and irresistible force as another man can elbow his way on foot, on dry land, in a crowd of men. So long as you are sitting quiet in the middle of the boat, merely swayed from side to side by his gyrations, with no sort of responsibility as to their successive direction, and with implicit faith in their being right, it is all very well. But when your Norwegian springs up, confident, poises one foot on the edge of his own boat, the other foot on the edge of another boat, plants one of his oars against the gunwale of a third boat, and rests the other oar hard up against the high side of a steamboat and then authoritatively requests you to rise and make pathway for yourself across and between all these oars and boats, and leap varying chasms of water between them and the ladder up the steamer’s side, dismay seizes you, if you are not to the water born. I did not hear of anybody’s being drowned in attempting to get on board a Bergen steamer. But why somebody is not, every day in the week, I do not know, if it often happens to people to thread and surmount such a labyrinth of small rocking boats as lay around the dampskib Jupiter, in which Katrina and I sailed for Christiania.

The Northern nations of Europe seem to have hit upon signally appropriate names for that place of torment which in English is called steamboat. There are times when simply to pronounce the words dampskib or dampbaad is soothing to the nerves; and nowhere oftener than in Norway can one be called upon to seek such relief. It is an accepted thing in Norway that no steamboat can be counted on either to arrive or depart within one, two, or three hours of its advertised time. The guide-books all state this fact: so nobody who, thus forewarned, has chosen to trust himself to the dampskib has any right to complain if the whole plan of his journey is disarranged and frustrated by the thing’s not arriving within four hours of the time it had promised. But it is not set down in the guide-books, as it ought to be, that there is something else on which the traveler in Norwegian dampskibs can place no dependence whatever ; and that is the engaging beforehand of his state-room. To have engaged a state-room one week beforehand, positively, explicitly, and then, upon arriving on board, to be confronted by a smiling captain, who states in an off-hand manner, as if it were an every-day occurrence, that “ he is very sorry, but it is impossible to let you have it; ” and who, when he is pressed for an explanation of the impossibility, has no better reason to give than that two gentlemen wanted the state-room, and as the two gentlemen could not go in the ladies’ cabin, and you, owing to the misfortune of your sex, could, therefore the two gentlemen have the state-room, and you will take the one remaining untenanted berth in the cabin, — this is what may happen in a Norwegian dampskib. If one is resolute enough to halt in the gangway, and, ordering the porters bearing the luggage to halt also, say, calmly, “Very well; then I must return to my hotel, and wait for another boat, in which I can have a state-room. It would be quite out of the question, my making the journey in the cabin,” the captain will discover some way of disposing of the two gentlemen, and without putting them into the ladies’ cabin : but this late concession, not to the justice of your claim, only to your determination in enforcing it, does not in any wise conciliate your respect or your amiability. The fact of the imposition and unfairness is the same. I ought to say, however, that this is the only matter in which I found unfairness in Norway. In regard to everything else the Norwegian has to provide, or to sell, he is just and honest; but when it comes to the question of dampskib accommodations, he seems to take leave of all his sense of obligation to be either.

As I crept into the narrow trough called a berth, in my hardly-won stateroom, a vision flitted past the door : a tall and graceful figure, in a tight, shabby black gown ; a classic head, set with the grace of a lily on a slender neck; pale brown hair, put back, braided, and wound in a knot behind, all save a few short curls, which fell lightly floating and waving over a low forehead ; a pair of honest, merry gray eyes, with a swift twinkle at the corners, and a sudden serious tenderness in their depths; a straight nose, with a nostril spirited and fine as an Arabian’s ; a mouth of flawless beauty, unless it might be that the upper lip was a trifle too short, but this fault only added to the piquancy of the face. I lifted myself on my elbow to look at her. She was gone ; and I sank back, thinking of the pictures that the world raved over, so few short years ago, of the lovely Eugénie. Here was a face strangely like hers, but with far more fire and character, — a Norwegian girl, evidently poor. I was wondering if I should see her again, and how I could manage to set Katrina on her track, and if I could find out who she was, when, lo, there she stood by my side, bending above me, and saying something Norwegian over and over in a gentle voice : and Katrina behind her, saying, “ This is the lady what has care of all. She do say, ‘ Poor lady, poor lady, to be so sick.’ She is sorry that you are sick.” I gazed at her in stupefied wonder. This radiant creature the stewardess of a steamboat! She was more beautiful near, than at a distance. I am sure I have never seen so beautiful a woman. And coming nearer, one could see clearly, almost as radiant as her physical beauty, the beauty of a fine and sweet nature shining through. Her smile was transcendent. I am not over easy to be stirred by women’s fair looks. Seldom I see a woman’s face that gives me unalloyed pleasure. Faces are half - terrifying things to one who studies them, such paradoxical masks are they; only one half mask, and the other half bared secrets of a life-time. Their mere physical beauty, however great it may be, is so underlaid and overlaid by tokens and traces and scars of things in which the flesh and blood of it have played part that a fair face can rarely be more than half fair. But here was a face with beauty such as the old Greeks put into marble ; and shining through it the honesty and innocence of an untaught child, the good-will and content of a faithful working-girl, and the native archness of a healthful maiden. I am not unaware that all this must have the sound of an invention, and there being no man to bear witness to my tale, except such as have sailed in the Norwegian dampskib Jupiter, it will not be much believed ; nevertheless, I shall tell it. Not being the sort of artist to bring the girl’s face away in a portfolio, the only thing left for me is to try to set it in the poor portraiture of words. Poor enough portraiture it is that words can fashion, even for things less subtle than faces, — a day or a sky, a swift passion or a thought. Words seem always to those who work with them more or less failures; but most of all are they impotent and disappointing when a face is to be told. Yet, I shall not cast away my sketch of the beautiful Anna. It is the only one which will ever be made of her. Now that I think of it, however, there is one testimony to be added to mine, — a testimony of much weight, too, taken in the connection, for it was of such involuntariness.

On the second day of my voyage in the Jupiter, in the course of a conversation with the captain, I took occasion to speak of the good-will and efficiency of his stewardess. He assented warmly to my praise of her ; adding that she was born of very poor parents, and had litthe education herself beyond knowing how to read and write, but was a person of rare goodness.

I then said, “ And of very rare beauty, also. I have never seen a more beautiful face.”

“ Yes,” he replied. “ There is something very not common about her. Her face is quite antic.” Antique, he meant, but for the first few seconds I could not imagine what it was he had intended. He also, then, had recognized, as this phrase shows, the truly classic quality of the girl’s beauty ; and he is the only witness I am able to bring to prove that my description of her face and figure and look and bearing are not an ingenious fable wrought out of nothing.

From Katrina, also, there came testimonies to Anna’s rare quality.

“ I have been in long speech with Anna,” she said, before we had been at sea a day. “ I tink she will come to Bergen, by my husband and me. She can be trusted; I can tell in one firstest minute vat peoples is to be trusted. She is so polite always, but she passes ghentlemens without speaking, except she has business. I can tell.”

Shrewd Katrina ! Her husband has a sort of restaurant and billiard-room in Bergen ; a place not over-creditable, I fear, although keeping within the pale of respectability. It is a sore trial to Katrina, his doing this, especially the selling of liquor. She had several times refused her consent to his going into the business, “ but dis time,” she said, “ he had it before I knowed anyting, don’t you see ? He did n’t tell me. I always link dere is de wifes and children, and may be de mens don’t take home no bread ; and den to sit dere and drink, it is shame, don’t you see ? But if he don’t do, some other mans would ; so tere it is, don’t you see ? And tere is money in it, you see.” Poor Katrina had tried in vain to shelter herself and appease her conscience by this old sophistry. Her pride and self-respect still so revolted at the trade that she would not go to the place to stay. “ He not get me to go tere. He not want me, either. I would not work in such a place.”

But she had no scruples about endeavoring to engage Anna as a waitergirl for the place.

“ She will be by my husband and me,” she said, “ and it is always shut every night at ten o’clock ; and my husband is very strict man. He will have all right. She can have all her times after dat; and here she have only four dollars a mont, and my husband gives more tan dat. And I shall teach to her English ; I gives her one hour every day. Dat is great for her, for she vill go to America next year. If she can English speak, she get twice the money in America. Oh, ven I go to America, I did not know de name of one ting; and every night I cry and cry ; I tink I never learn ; but dat Irish lady I live by, she vas so kind to me as my own mother. Oh, I like Irish peoples ; the Irish and the Americans, dey are what I like best. I don’t like de English ; and Chermans, I don’t like dem ; dey vill take all out of your pocket. She is intended;1 and dat is good. When one are intended one must be careful; and if he is one you love, ten you don’t vant to do anyting else ; and her sweetheart is a nice young fellow. He is in the engyne in a Hamburg boat. She has been speaking by me about him.”

The dampskib Jupiter is a roller. It is a marvel how anything not a log can roll at such a rate. The state-room berths being built across instead of lengthwise, the result is a perpetual tossing of heads versus feet. As Katrina expressively put it, “ It is first te head, and den te feets up. Dat is te worstest. Dat makes te difference.”

Ill, helpless, almost as tight wedged in as a knife-blade shut in its handle, I lay in my trough a day and a night. The swinging port-hole through which I feebly looked made a series of everchanging vignettes of the bits of water, sky, land, it showed : moss-crowned hillocks of stone ; now and then a red roof, or a sloop scudding by. The shore of Norway is a kaleidoscope of land, rock, and water, broken up. To call it shore at all seems half a misnomer. I have never heard of a census of the islands on the Norway coast, but it would be a matter of great interest to know if it needs the decimals of millions to reckon them. This would not be hard to be believed by one who has sailed two days and two nights in their labyrinths. They are a more distinctive feature in the beauty of Norway’s seaward face than even her majestic mountain ranges. They have as much and as changing beauty of color as those, and, added to the subtle and exhaustless beauty of changing color, they have the still subtler charm of that mysterious combination of rest and restlessness, stillness and motion, solidity and evanescence, which is the dower of all islands, and most of all of the islands of outer seas. Even more than from the stern solemnity of their mountain-walled fjords must the Norwegians have drawn their ancient inspirations, I imagine, from the wooing, baffling, luring, forbidding, locking and unlocking, and never-revealing vistas, channels, gates, and barriers of their islands. They are round and soft and mossy as hillocks of sphagnum in a green marsh. You may sink above your ankles in the moist, delicious verdure, which looks from the sea like a mere mantle lightly flung over the rock. Or they are bare and gray and unbroken, as if coated in mail of stone ; and you might clutch in vain for so much as the help of a crevice or a shrub, if you were cast on their sides. Some lie level and low, with oases of vividest green in their hollows ; these lift and loom in the noon or the twilight, with a mirage which the desert cannot outdo. Some rise up in precipices of sudden wall, countless Gibraltars, which no mortal power can scale, and only wild creatures with tireless wings can approach. They are lashed by foaming waves, and the echoes peal like laughter among them ; the tide brings them all it has ; the morning sun lights them up, top after top, like beacons of its way out to sea, and leaves them again at night, lingeringly, one by one ; changing them often into the semblance of jewels by the last red rays of its sinking light. They seem, as you sail swiftly among them, to be sailing too, a flotilla of glittering kingdoms ; your escort, your convoy ; shifting to right, to left, in gorgeous parade of skillful display, as for a pageant. When you anchor, they too are of a sudden at rest; solid, substantial land again, wooing you to take possession. There are myriads of them still unknown, untrodden, and sure to remain so forever, no matter how long the world may last; as sure as if the old spells were true, and the gods had made them invincible by a charm, or lonely under an eternal curse. At the mouths of the great fjords they seem sometimes to have fallen back and into line, as if to do honor to whomever might come sailing in. They must have greatly helped the splendor of the processions of viking ships, a thousand years ago, in the days when a viking thought nothing of setting sail for the South or the East with six or seven hundred ships in his fleet. If their birch-trees were as plumy then as now, there was nothing finer than they in all that a viking adorned his ships with, not even the gilt dragons at the prow.

Before the close of the second day of our voyage, the six passengers in the ladies’cabin had reached the end of their journey and left the boat. By way of atonement for his first scheming to rob me of my state-room, the captain now magnanimously offered to me the whole of the ladies’ cabin, for which he had no farther use. How gladly I accepted it! How gleefully I watched my broad bed being made on a sofa, lengthwise the rolling Jupiter! How pleased was Katrina, how cheery the beautiful stewardess.

“ Good - night! Good - night! Sleep well! Sleep well ! ” they both said as they left me.

“ Now it will be different; not te head and feets any more. De oder way is bestest,” added Katrina, as she lurched out of the room.

How triumphantly I locked the door! How well I slept! All of which would be of no consequence here, except that it makes such a background for what followed. Out of a sleep sound as only the sleep of one worn out by seasickness can be, I was roused by a dash of water in my face. Too bewildered at first to understand what had happened, I sat up in bed quickly, and thereby brought my face considerably nearer the porthole, directly above my pillow, just in time to receive another full dash of water in my very teeth ; and water by no means clean, either, as I instantly perceived. The situation explained itself. The port-hole had not been shut tight; the decks were being washed. Swash, swash, it came, with frightful dexterity, aimed it would seem at that very port-hole, and nowhere else. I sprang up, seized the handle of the porthole window, and tried to tighten it. In my ignorance and fright I turned it the wrong way ; in poured the dirty water. There stood I, clapping the window to with all my might, but utterly unable either to fasten it or to hold it tight enough to keep out the water. Calling for help was useless, even if my voice could have been heard above the noise of the boat; the door of my cabin was locked. Swash, swash, in it came, more and more, and dirtier and dirtier; trickling down the back of the red velvet sofa, drenching my pillows and sheets, and spattering me. One of the few things one never ceases being astonished at in this world is the length a minute can seem when one is uncomfortable. It could n’t have been many minutes, but it seemed an hour, before I had succeeded in partially fastening that port-hole, unlocking that cabin door, and bringing Anna to the rescue. Before she arrived the dirty swashes had left the first porthole and gone to the second, which, luckily, had been fastened tight, and all danger was over. But if I had been afloat and in danger of drowning, her sympathy could not have been greater. She came running, her feet bare — very white they were, too, and rosy pink on the untside edges, like a baby’s, I noticed, — and her gown but partly on. It was only half past four, and she had been, no doubt, as sound asleep as I. With comic pantomime of distress, and repeated exclamations of “ Poor lady, poor lady!” which phrase I already knew by heart, she gathered up the wet bed, made me another in a dry corner, and then vanished; and I heard her telling the tale of my disaster, in excited tones, to Katrina, who soon appeared, with a look half sympathy, half amusement, on her face.

“ Now, dat is great tings,” she said, giving the innocent port-hole another hard twist at the handle. “ I tink you vill be glad ven you comes to Christiania. Dey say it vill be tere at ten, but I tink it is only shtories.”

It was not. Already we were well up in the smoothness and shelter of the beautiful Christiania Fjord, — a great bay, which is in the beginning like a sea looking southward into an ocean ; then reaches up northward, counting its miles by scores, shooting its shining inlets to right and left, narrowing and yielding itself more and more to the embrace of the land, till, suddenly, headed off by a knot of hills, it turns around, and as if seeking the outer sea it has left behind runs due south for miles, making the peninsula of Nesodden. On this peninsula is the little town of Drobak, where thirty thousand pounds’ worth of ice is stored every winter, to be sold in London as “ Wenham Lake ice.” This ice was in summer the water of countless little lakes. The region round about the Christiania Fjord is set full of them, lily-grown and fir-shaded. Once they freeze over, they are marked for their destiny ; the snow is kept from them ; if the surface be too much roughened it is planed ; then it is lined off into great squares, cut out by an ice-plow, pried up by wedges, loaded on carts, and carried to the ice-houses. There it is packed into solid bulk, with layers of sawdust between to prevent the blocks from freezing together again. We shall use thousands of pounds of this ice ourselves next year. The Christiania ice merchants have chuckled at the reports of the midsummer of 1880 in the United States.

The fjord was so glassy smooth, as we sailed up, that even the Jupiter could not roll, but glided ; and seemed to try to hush its jarring sounds, as if holding its breath, with sense of the shame it was to disturb such sunny silence. The shores on either hand were darkly wooded ; here and there a country-seat on higher ground, with a gay flag floating out. No Norwegian house is complete without its flag-staff. On Sundays, on all holidays, on the birthdays of members of the family, and on all days when guests are expected at the house, the flag is run up. This pretty custom gives a festal air to all places; since one can never walk far without coming on a house that keeps either a birthday or a guest-day.

There seemed almost a mirage on the western shore of the bay. The captain, noticing this, called my attention to it, and said it was often to be seen on the Norway fjords, “ but it was always on the head.” In reply to my puzzled look, he went on to say, by way of making it perfectly clear, that “ the mountains stood always on their heads ; ” that is, “ their heads down to the heads of the other mountains.” He then spoke of the strange looming of the water-line often seen in Holland, where he had traveled; but where, he said, he never wished to go again, they were “ such dirty people.” This accusation brought against the Dutch was indeed startling. I exclaimed in surprise, saying that the world gave the Dutch credit for being the cleanliest of people. Yes, he said, they did scrub ; it was to be admitted that they kept their houses clean ; “ but they do put the spitkin on the table when they eat.”

“ Spitkin,” cried I. “ What is that ? You do not mean spittoon, surely ? ”

“ Yes, yes, that is it; the spitkin in which to spit. It is high, like what we keep to put flowers in, — so high,” holding his hand about twelve inches from the table; “ made just like what we put for flowers; and they put it always on the table, when they are eating. I have myself seen it. And they do eat and spit, and eat and spit, ugh ! ” and the captain shook himself with a great shudder, as well he might, at the recollection. “I do never wish to see Holland again.”

I took the opportunity then to praise the Norwegian “ spitkin,” which is a most ingenious device ; and not only ingenious, but wholesome and cleanly. It is an open brass pan, some four inches in depth, filled with broken twigs of green juniper. These are put in fresh and clean every day, — an invention, no doubt, of poverty, in the first place; for the Norwegian has been hard pressed for centuries, and has learned to set his fragrant juniper and fir boughs to all manner of uses unknown in other countries: for instance, spreading them down for outside door-mats, in country houses, another pretty and cleanly custom. But the juniper-filled “spitkin” is the triumph of them all, and he would be a benefactor who would introduce its civilization into all countries. The captain seemed pleased with my commendation, and said hesitatingly, —

“ There is a tale, that. They do say, — excuse me,” bowing apologetically, — “ they do say that it is in America spitted everywhere ; and that an American who was in Norway did see the spitkin on the stove, but did not know it was spitkin.”

This part of the story I could most easily credit, having myself looked wonderingly for several days at the pretty little oval brass pan, filled with juniper twigs, standing on the hearth of the turret-like stove in my Bergen bedroom, and having finally come to the conclusion that the juniper twigs must be kept there for kindlings.

“ So he did spit everywhere on the stove; it was all around spitted. And when the servant came in he said, ‘ Take away that thing with green stuff; I want to spit in that place.’ ”

The captain told this story with much hesitancy of manner and repeated “ excuse me’s,” but he was reassured by my hearty laughter, and my confession that my own ignorance of the proper use of the juniper spitkin had been quite equal to my countryman’s.

Christiania looks well, as one approaches it by water ; it is snugged in on the lower half of an amphitheatre of high wooded hills, which open as they recede, showing ravines, and suggesting countless delightful ways up and out into the country. Many ships lie in the harbor; on either hand are wooded peninsulas and islands; and everywhere are to be seen light or bright-colored country-houses. The first expression of the city itself, as one enters it, is disappointingly modern, if one has his head full of Haralds and Olafs, and expects to see some traces of the old Osloe. The Christiania of to-day is new, as newness is reckoned in Norway, for it dates back only to the middle of the sixteenth century; but it is as characteristically Norwegian as if it were older, — a pleasanter place to stay in than Bergen, and a much better starting point for Norway travel.

“ A cautious guest,
When he comes to his hostel,
Speaketh but little;
With his ears he listeneth,
With his eyes he looketh:
Thus the wise learneth.”

an old Norwegian song says.

When walking through the labyrinths of the Victoria Hotel in Christiania, and listening with my ears, I heard dripping and plashing water, and when, looking with my eyes, I saw long dark corridors, damp court-yards, and rooms on which no sun ever had shone, I spoke little, but forthwith drove away in search of airier, sunnier, drier quarters. There were many mysterious inside balconies of beautiful gay flowers at the Victoria, but they did not redeem it.

“ I tink dat place is like a prison more tan it is like a hótle,” said Katrina, as we drove away ; in which she was quite right. “ I don’t see vhy tey need make a hótle like dat; nobody vould stay in prison ! ” At the Hotel Scandinavie, a big room with six sides and five windows pleased her better. “ Dis is vat you like,” she said; “here tere is light.”

Light! If there had only been darkness ! In the Norway summer, one comes actually to yearn for a little Christian darkness to go to bed by : much as he may crave a stronger sun by day, to keep him warm, he would like to have a reasonable night time for sleeping. At first there is a stimulus, and a weird sort of triumphant sense of outwitting nature, in finding one’s self able to read or to write by the sun’s light till nearly midnight of the clock. But presently it becomes clear that the outwitting is on the other side. What avails it that there is light enough for one to write by at ten o’clock at night, if he is tired out, does not want to write, and longs for nothing but to go to sleep ? If it were dark, and he longed to write, nothing would be easier than to light candles and write all night, if he chose and could pay for his candles. But neither money nor ingenuity can compass for him a normal darkness to sleep in. The Norwegian house is one half window : in their long winters they need all the sun they can get; not an outside blind, not an inside shutter, not a dark shade, to be seen ; streaming, flooding, radiating in and round about the rooms, comes the light, welcome or unwelcome, early and late. And to the words “ early ” and “late” there are in a Norway summer new meanings : the early light of the summer morning sets in about half past two ; the late light of the summer evening fades into a luminous twilight about eleven. Enjoyment of this species of perpetual day soon comes to an end. After the traveler has written home to everybody once by broad daylight at ten o’clock, the fun of the thing is over: normal sleepiness begins to hunger for its rights, and dissatisfaction takes the place of wondering amusement. This dissatisfaction reaches its climax in a few days ; then, if he is wise, the traveler provides himself with several pieces of dark green cambric, which he pins up at his windows at bed-time, thereby making it possible to get seven or eight hours’ rest for his tired eyes. But the green cambric will not shut out sounds ; and he is lucky if he is not kept awake until one or two o’clock every night by the unceasing tread and loud chatter of the cheerful Norwegians, who have been forced to form the habit of sitting up half their night-time, to get in the course of a year their full quota of daytime.

“ I tink King Ring lived not far from dis place,” said Katrina, stretching her head out of first one and then another of the five windows, and looking up and down the busy streets ; “ not in Christiania, but I tink not very far away. Did ever you hear of King Ring? Oh, dat is our best story in all Norway,— te saga of King Ring ! ”

“ Cannot you tell it to me, Katrina ? ” said I, trying to speak as if I had never heard of King Ring.

“ Vell, King Ring, he loved Ingeborg. I cannot tell ; I do not remember. My father, you see, — not my right father, but my father the hatter; he whose little home I showed you in Bergen, — he used to take books out, vere you pay so much for one week, you see; and I only get half an hour, may be, or few minutes, but I steal de book, and read all vat I can. I vas only little den : oh, it is years ago. But it is our best story in all Norway. Ingeborgwas beauty, you see, and all in te kings families vat vanted her : many ghentlemens, and Ring, he killed three or four, I tink ; and den after he killed dem three or four, den he lost her, after all, don’t you see ; and tat was te fun of it.”

“ But I don’t think that was funny at all, Katrina,” I said. “ I don’t believe King Ring thought it so.”

“ No, I don't tink, either ; but den, you see, he had all killed for nothing, and den he lost her himself. I tink it was on the ice : it broke. A stranger told dem not to take the ice ; but King Ring, he would go. I tink dat was te way it was.”

It was plain that Katrina’s reminiscences of her stolen childish readings of the Frithiof’s Saga were incorrect as well as fragmentary, but her eager enthusiasm over it was delicious. Her face kindled, as she repeated, “ Oh, it is our best story in all Norway ! ” and when I told her that the next day she should go to a circulating library and get a copy of the book, and read it to me, her eyes actually flashed with pleasure.

Early the next morning she set off. A nondescript roving commission she bore: “a copy of the Frithiof’s Saga in Norwegian, [how guiltily I feared she might stumble upon it in an English translation !] and anything in the way of fruit or vegetables.” These were her instructions. It was an hour before she came back, flushed with victory, sure of her success and of my satisfaction. She burst into the room, brandishing in one hand two turnips and a carrot ; in the other she hugged up in front of her a newspaper, bursting and red-stained, full of fresh raspberries ; under her left arm, held very tight, a little old copy of the Frithiof’s Saga. Breathless, she dropped the raspberries down, newspaper and all, in a rolling pile on the table, exclaiming, “ I tink I shall not get tese home, after I get te oders in my oder hand ! Are tese what you like ? ” holding the turnips and carrot close up to my face. “ I vas asking for oranges,” she continued, “ but it is one month ago since they leaved Christiania.”

“ What! ” I exclaimed.

“ One mont ago since dey were to see in Christiania,” she repeated, impatiently. “ It is not mont since I vas eating dem in Bergen. I tought in a great place like Christiania dere would be more tings as in Bergen; but it is all shtories, you see.”

How well I came to know the look of that little ragged old copy of the grand Saga, and of Katrina’s face, as she bent puzzling over it, every now and then bursting out with some ejaculated bit of translation, beginning always with, “ Vell, you see ! ” I kept her hard at work at it, reading it to me, while I lingered over my lonely breakfasts and dinners, or while we sat under fragrant fir-trees on country hills. Wherever we went, the little old book and Katrina’s Norwegian and English Dictionary, older still, went with us.

Her English, always incalculably wrong and right, in startling alternations, became a thousand times droller when she set herself to deliberate renderings of the lines of the Saga. She went often, in one bound, in a single stanza, from the extreme of nonsense to the climax of poetical beauty of phrase; her pronunciation, always as unexpected and irregular as her construction of phrases, grew less and less correct, as she grew excited and absorbed in the tale. The troublesome th sound, which in ordinary conversation she managed to enunciate in perhaps one time out of ten, disappeared entirely from her poetry; and in place of it, came the most refreshing t’s and d’s. The worse her pronunciation and the more broken her English, the better I liked it and the more poetical was the translation. Many men have tried their hand at translation of the Frithiof’s Saga, but I have read none which gave me so much pleasure as I had from hearing Katrina’s; neither do I believe that any poet has studied and rewritten it, however cultured he might be, with more enthusiasm and delight than this Norwegian girl of the people, to whom many of the mythological allusions were as unintelligible as if they had been written in Sanskrit. She had a convenient way of disposing of those when she came to such as she did not understand : “ Dat’s some o’ dem old gods, you see, — dem gods vat dey used to worship.” It was evident from many of Katrina’s terms of expression, and from her peculiar delight in the most poetical lines and thoughts in the Saga, that she herself was of a highly poetical temperament. I was more and more impressed by this, and began at last to marvel at the fineness of her appreciations. But I was not prepared for her turning the tables suddenly upon me, as she did, one day, after I had helped her to a few phrases in a stanza over which she had come to a halt in difficulties.

“ As sure’s I’m aliv,” she exclaimed, “ I believe you ’re a poet your own self, too ! ” While I was considering what reply to make to this charge, she went on : “ Dat’s what tey call me in my own country. I can make songs. I make a many: all te birtdays and all te extra days in our family, all come to mo and say, ‘ Now, Katrina, you has to make song.’ Dey tink I can make song in one minute for all ! [What a kinship is there, all the world over, in some sorts of misery.] Ven I’ve went to America, I made a nice song,” she added. “ I vould like you to see.”

“ Indeed, I would like very much to see it, Katrina,” I replied. “ Have you it here ? ”

“ I got it in my head, here,” she said, laughing, tapping her broad forehead. “ I keeps it in my head.”

But it was a long time before I could persuade her to give it to me. She persisted in saying that she could not translate it.

“ Surely, Katrina,” I said. “ it cannot be harder than the Frithiof’s Saga, of which you have read me so much.”

“ Dat is very different,” was all I could extract from her. I think that she felt a certain pride in not having her own stanzas fail of true appreciation owing to their being put in broken English. At last, however, I got it. She had been hard at work a whole forenoon in her room, with her dictionary and pencil. In the afternoon she came to me, holding several sheets of muchscribbled brown paper in her hand, and said shyly, “ Now I can read it.” I wrote it down as she read it, only in one or two instances helping her with a word, and here it is : —


THE time of departure is near,
And I am no more in my home;
But God, be thou my protector.
I don’t know how it will go,
Out on the big ocean,
From my father and mother ;
I don’t know for sure where at last
My dwelling-place will be on the earth.
My thanks to all my dear,
To my foster father and mother;
In the distant land, as well as the near,
Your word shall be my guide.
It may happen that we never meet on earth,
But my wish is that God forever
Be with you and bless you.
Don’t forget ; bring my compliments over
To that place where my cradle stood, —
The dear Akrehavnske waves,
What I lately took leave of.
Don’t mourn, my father and mother,
It is to my benefit;
My best thanks for all the goodness
You have bestowed on me.
A last farewell to you
All, ray dear friends;
May the life’s fortune, honor, and glory
Be with you wherever you are.
I know you are all standing
In deep thoughts
When Harald Haarfager weighs anchor,
And I am away from you.
A wreath of memory
I will twine or twist round
My dear native land,
And as a lark happy sing
This my well-meaned song.
Oh, that we all may be
Wreathed with glory,
And in the last carry our wreaths of glory
In heaven’s hall.

Watching my face keenly, she read my approbation of her simple little song, and, nodding her head with satisfaction, said, —

“ Oh, sometime you see I ain’t quite that foolish I look to ! I got big book of all my songs. Nobody but myself could read dem papers. It is all pulled up, and five six words standing one on top of oder.”

H. H.

  1. Betrothed.