The Katrina Saga: In Two Parts. Part Ii
MURRAY'S Guide-Book, that paradoxical union of the false and the true, says of Christiania, “ There is not much of interest in the town, and it may be seen in from four to five hours.” The person who made that statement did not have Katrina with him, and perhaps ought therefore to be forgiven. He had not strolled with her through the market square of a morning, and among the old women, squatted low, with half a dozen flat, open baskets of fruit before them : blueberries, currants, raspberries, plums, pears, and all shades, sizes, and flavors of cherries, from the pale and tasteless yellow up to those wine-red and juicy as a grape ; the very cherry, it must have been, which made Lucullus think it worth while to carry the tree in triumphal procession into Rome. Queer little wooden boxes set on four low wheels, with a short pole, by which a strong man or woman can draw them, are the distinctive feature of out-door trade in the Christiania market-places. A compacter, cheaper device for combining storage, transportation, and exhibition was never hit on. The boxes hold a great deal. They make a good counter ; and when there are twenty or thirty of them together, with poles set up at the four corners, a clothes-line fastened from pole to pole and swung full of cheap stuffs of one sort and another, ready-made garments, hats, caps, bonnets, shoes, clothes-pins, wooden spoons, baskets, and boxes, — the venders sitting behind or among their wares, on firkins bottom side up, — it is a spectacle not to be despised; and when a market-place, filled with such many-colored fluttering merchandise as this, is also flanked by old clothes stalls which are like nothing except the Ghetto, or Rag Fair in London, it is indeed worth looking at. To have at one’s side an alert native, of frugal mind and unsparing tongue, belonging to that class of women who can never see a low-priced article offered for sale without, for the moment, contemplating it as a possible purchase, adds incalculably to the interest of a saunter through such a market. The thrifty Katrina never lost sight of the possibility of lighting upon some bargain of value to her home housekeeping ; and our rooms filled up from day to day with her acquisitions. She was absolutely without false pride in the matter of carrying odd burdens. One day she came lugging a big twisted door-mat, with, “ You see dat ? For de door. In Bergen I give exact double.” The climax of her purchases was a fine washboard, which she brought in in her arms, and exclaimed, laughing, “ What you tink the porter say to me ? He ask if I am going to take in washing up here. I only give two crowns for dat,” she said, eying it with the fondest exultation, and setting it in a conspicuous place, leaning against the side of the room ; “ it is better as I get for four in Bergen.” Good little Katrina ! her hands were too white and pretty to be spoiled by hard rubbing on a washboard. They were her one vanity, and it was pardonable.
“ Did you ever see hand like mine ? ” she said one day, spreading her right hand out on the table. “ Dere was two English ladies, dey say it ought to be made in warx, and send to see in Crystal Palace. See dem ? ” she continued, sticking her left forefinger into the four dimples which marked the spots where knuckles are in ordinary hands; “ dem is nice.” It was true. The hand was not small, but it was a model: plump, solid, dimples for knuckles, all the fingers straight and shapely ; done in “ warx,” it would have been a beautiful thing, and her pleasure in it was just as guileless as her delight in her washboard.
As she delved deeper in her Frithiof’s Saga, she discovered that she had been greatly wrong in her childish impressions of the story: “ It was not as I tough t,” she said ; “ King Ring did get Ingeborg after; but he had to die, and leaved her.”
When we went out to Oscar’s Hall, which is a pretty country seat of the king’s, on the beautiful peninsula of Ladegaardsöen, she was far more interested in the sculptured cornice which told the story of Frithiof and Ingeborg, than in any of the more splendid things, or those more suggestive of: the life of the king. The rooms are showily decorated : ceilings in white with gold stars, walls paneled with velvet ; gay-colored frescoes, and throne-like chairs in which " many kings and queens have sat,” the old woman who kept the keys said. Everywhere were the royal shields with the crown and the lion; at the corners of the doors, at the crossings of ceiling beams, above brackets, looking-glasses, and on chair-backs.
“ I tink the king get tired looking at his crown all de time,” remarked Katrina, composedly. “ I wonder vere dey could put in one more.”
The bronze statues of some of the old kings pleased her better. She studied them carefully : Olaf and Harald Haarfager, Sverre Sigurdson and Olaf Tryggvesson ; they stand leaning upon their spears, as if on guard. The face of Harald looks true to the record of him : a fair-haired, blue-eyed man, who stopped at nothing when he wanted his way, and was just as ready to fall in love with six successive women after he had labored hard twelve years for Gyda, and won her, as before.
“ He is de nicest,” said Katrina, lingering before his statue, and reaching up and fingering the bronze curiously. “ Ain’t it wonderful how dey can make such tings! ” she added with a deepdrawn sigh. But when I pointed to the cornice, and said, “ Katrina, I think that must be the story of the Frithiof’s Saga,” she bounded, and threw her head back, like a deer snuffing the wind. “ Ja, ja,” cried the old woman, evidently pleased that I recognized it, and then she began to pour out the tale. Is there a peasant in all Norway that does not know it, I wonder ? The first medallion was of the children, Frithiof and Ingeborg, playing together. “ Dere,” said Katrina, “ dat is vat I told you. Two trees growed in one place, nicely in the garden ; one growed with de strongth of de oak, dat was Frithiof; and de rose in the green walley, dat was Ingeborg de beauty.”
Very closely she scanned the medallions one after the other, criticising their fidelity to the record. When she came to the one where Frithiof is supporting King Ring on his knee, fainting, or sleeping, she exclaimed, “Dere, if he had been dat bad, he could have killed King Ring den, ven he was sleeping ; but see, he have thrown his sword away ; ” and at last, when the sculpture represented King Ring dying, and bequeathing his beautiful queen and her children to Frithiof, she exclaimed, " Dere, dem two boys belongs to King Ring ; but now Frithiof gets her. Dat is good, after all dat dem two had gone through with.”
King Oscar makes very little use of this pretty country house. He comes there sometimes once or twice in the course of a summer, for a day, or part of a day, but never to sleep, the old woman said. All the rest of the time it is empty and desolate, with only this one poor old woman to keep it tidy ; a good berth for her, but a pity that nobody should be taking comfort all summer in the superb outlooks and offlooks from its windows and porch, and in the shady walks along the banks of the fjord. One of the old Norway kings, Hakon, thought the peninsula beautiful enough for a wedding morning gift to his queen, but it seems not to have been held so dear by her as it ought, for she gave it away to the monks who lived on the neighboring island of Hovedöen. Then, in the time of the Reformation, when monks had to scatter and go begging, and monastic properties were lying about loose everywhere, the Norwegian kings picked up Ladegaardsöen again, and it has been a crown property ever since.
One of the most charming of the short drives in what Katrina called “ the nearance ” of Christiania is to the " Grefsens Bad,” a water-cure establishment only two miles away, by road, to the north, but lying so much higher up than the town that it seems to lie in another world, — as in fact it does, for, climbing there, one rises to another and so different air that he becomes another man, being born again through his lungs. It is a good pull up a stony and ill-kept road, to reach the place, but it is more than worth while, for sake of the clear look out to sea, over a delicious foreground of vivid green fields and woods.
“ This is the place where all the sick peoples in Norway do come when de doctors cannot do nottings more for dem,” said Katrina ; “ den dey comes here. Here came our last king, King Oscar, and den he did die on the dock veil he vas coming away. He had all de climb dis bill vor notting. Ven it is the time, one has to go, no matter how much money dey will pay ; dere is One ” . . . Here she stopped hesitating for a word . . . “ You know all vat I mean : dere is One what has it all his own way, not de way we wish it shall be.” This she said devoutly, and was silent for an unwonted length of time afterwards.
As we were driving down the steepest part of the hill, a man came running after us, calling so loudly to us to stop that we were alarmed, thinking something must be wrong with our carriage, or in the road. Not at all. He was a roadside merchant; not precisely a peddler, since he never went out of his own town, but a kind of aristocratic vender in a small circuit, it seemed ; we saw him afterwards in other suburbs, bearing with him the same mysterious basket, and I very much fear, poor fellow, the same still more mysterious articles in it. Not even on Norwegian country roads, I think, could there be found many souls so dead to all sense of beauty as to buy the hideous and costly combinations which he insisted upon laying in my lap : a sofa-cushion, square, thick, and hard, of wine-colored velvet, with a sprawling tree and bird laid upon it in an appliqué pattern cut out of black and white velvet ; a long and narrow strip of the same velvet, with the same black and white velvet foliage and poultry, was trimmed at the ends with heavy fringe, and intended for a sideboard or a bureau ; a large square tablecloth to match completed the list of his extraordinary wares. It was so odd a wayside incident that it seemed to loom quite out of its normal proportions as a mere effort at traffic. He insisted on spreading the articles in my lap. He could not be persuaded to take them away. The driver turning round on his seat, and Katrina leaning over from hers, both rapt in admiration of the monstrosities, were stolidly oblivious of my indifference. The things seemed to grow bigger and bigger each moment, and more and more hideous, and it was at last only by a sudden effort of sternness, as if shaking off a spell, that I succeeded in compelling the man to lift them from my knees and fold them away in his basket. As soon as he had gone, I was seized with misgivings that I had been ungracious, and these misgivings were much heightened by Katrina’s soliloquizing as follows: —
“ He ! I tink he never take dem tings away. His wife are sick ; dat is de reason he is on de road instead of her. He was sure you would buy dem.”
I hope they are sold. I wish I could know.
The suburbs of Christiania which lie along the road to the Grefsens Bad are ugly, dusty, and unpleasing. “ I tink we go some oder way dan way we came,” said Katrina. “ Dere must be better way.” So saying, she stopped the driver abruptly, and after some vigorous conversation he took another road.
“ He ask more money to go by St. John’s Hill, but I tell him you not pay any more. I can see it is not farther ; I ask him if he tink I got eyes in de head,” she said scornfully, waving her fat fingers towards the city which lay close at hand.
“ Ah, dat is great day,” she continued, “ St. John’s Day. Keep you dat in America ? Here it is fires all round, from one hill to one hill. Dat is from de old time. I tink it is from Catolics. Dey did do so much for dem old saints, you see. I tink dat is it ; but I tink dey do not just know in Norway to-day what for dey do it. It has been old custom from parents to parents.”
Then I told her about Balder, and his death, and asked her if she had never seen the country people put a boat on the top of their bonfire on St. John’s Eve.
“ Yes, I did see dat, once, in Stavanger,” she replied, “ but it was old boat ; no use any more. I tink dat be to save wood. It are cheapest wood dey have, old boat. Dat were not to give to any god.”
“ No, you are mistaken, Katrina,” I said. “ They have done that for hundreds of years in Norway. It is to remind them of Balder’s great ship, the Hringhorn, and to commemorate his death.”
“ May be,” she said curtly, “ but I don’t tink. I only see dat once ; and all my life I see de fires, all round Bergen, and everywhere, and dere was no boat on dem. I don’t tink.”
We drove into the city through one of the smaller fruit markets, where, late as it was, the old women still lingered with their baskets of cherries, pears, and currants ; they were not losing time, for they were all knitting, fast as their fingers could fly ; such a thing as a Norwegian wasting time is not to be seen, I verily believe, from the North Cape to the Skager Rack, and one would think that they knit stockings enough for the whole continent of Europe ; old men, old women, little girls, and even little boys, all knitting, knitting, morning, noon, and night, by roadsides, on doorsills, in market places ; wherever they sit down, or stand, to rest, they knit. As our carriage stopped, down went the stockings, balls rolling, yarn tangling, on the sidewalk, and up jumped the old women, all crowding round me, smiling, each holding out a specimen of her fruit for me to taste. “ Eat, lady, eat. It is good.” “ Eat and you will buy.” “ No such cherries as these in Christiania.” “ Taste of my plums.” A chorus of imploring voices and rattling hail of sks. Hurried and confused talk in the Norwegian tongue as spoken by uneducated people is a bewildering racket ; it hardly sounds like human voices. If the smiles did not redeem it, it would be something insupportable ; but the smiles do redeem it, transfigure it, lift it up to the level of superior harmonies. Such graciousness of eye and of smiling lips triumphs over all possible discord of sound ; even over the Norwegian battery of consonants.
Katrina fired back to them all ; I fear she reproved them; for they subsided suddenly into silence, and left the outstretched withered palms holding the fruit to speak for themselves.
“ I only tell dem you cannot buy all de market out. You can say vat you like,” she said.
Pears and cherries, and plums too, because t he old plum-woman looked poorer than the rest, I bought, and as we drove away the chorus followed us again with good wishes. “ Dey are like crazy old vomans,” remarked Katrina ; “ I never heard such noise of old vomans to once time before.” A few minutes after we reached the house she disappeared suddenly, and presently returned with a little cantelope melon in her hands. Standing before me, with a curious and hesitating look on her face, she said, “ Is dis vat you like ? ”
“ Oh, yes ! ” I exclaimed, grateful for the sight. “ I was longing for one yesterday. Where did you get it ? ”
“ I not get it. I borrow it for you to see. I tell the man I bring it back,” she replied, still with the same curious expressions of doubt flitting over her queer little face.
“ Why, whose melon is it ? ” I exclaimed. “ What did you bring it for if it were not for sale ? ”
“ Oh, it is for selled. if you like to buy,” she said ; still with the hesitant expression.
“ Of course I like to buy it,” I said impatiently. “ How much does it cost ? ”
“ Dat is it,” replied Katrina sententiously. “ It is too dear to buy, I tell the man ; but he said I should bring it to you, to see. I tink you vill not buy it ; ” still with the quizzical look on her face.
Quite out of patience, I cried, “ But why don’t you tell me the price of it? I should like it very much. It can’t be so very dear.”
“ Dat it can,” answered Katrina chuckling, at last letting out her suppressed laugh. “ He ask six kroner for dat ting ; and I tink you not buy it at such price, so I bring to make you laugh.”
One dollar and sixty-two cents for a tiny cautelope ! Katrina had her reward. “ Oh, but I am dat glad ven I make you laugh,” she said roguishly, picking up her melon, as I cried out with surprise and amusement, “ I should think not. I never heard of such a price for a melon.”
“ So I tink,” said Katrina. “ I ask de man who buy dem melons, and he say plenty peoples; but I tink it is all shtories.” And she ran down stairs laughing so that I heard her, all the way, two flights down to the door.
High up on the dark wooded mountain wall which lies to the north and northwest of Christiania is a spot of light color. In the early morning it is vivid green ; sometimes at sunset it catches a tint of gold ; but neither at morn nor at night can it ever be overlooked. It is a perpetual lure to the eye, and stimulus to the imagination. What eyrie is it that has cleared for itself this loop-hole in the solid mountain forest ? Is it a clearing, or only a bit of varied wooding of a contrasting color to the rest ? For several days I looked at it before I asked, and I had grown so impressed by its mystery and charm, that when I found it was a house, the summer home of a rich Christiania family, and one of the places always shown to travelers, I felt more than half-way minded not to go near it ; to keep it still nothing more than a far away, changing, luring oasis of sunny gold or wistful green on the mountain side. Had it been called by any other name, my instinct to leave it unknown might have triumphed ; but the words “ Frogner Sæter ” were almost as great a lure to the imagination as the green oasis itself. The sæter, high up on some mountain side, is the fulfilling of the Norwegian out-door life, the key-note of the Norwegian summer. The gentle kine know it as well as their mistresses who go thither with them. Three months in the upper air, in the spicy and fragrant woods — no matter if it be solitary and if the work be hard, the sæter life must be the best the Norwegians know — must elevate and develop them, and strengthen them for their long, sunless winters. I had looked up from the Vossevangen Valley, from Ringeriket, and from the Hardanger country to many such gleaming points of lighter green, tossed up as it were on the billowy forests. They were beyond the reach of any methods of ascent at my command ; unwillingly I had accepted again and again the wisdom of the farm people, who said “ the road up to the sæter was too hard for those who were not used to it.” Reluctantly I had put the sæter out of my hopes, as a thing to be known only by imagination and other people’s descriptions. Therefore the name of the Frogner Sæter was a lure not to be resisted ; a sæter to which one might drive in a comfortable carriage over a good road could not be the ideal sæter of the wild country life, but still, it was called “ sæter ; ” we would go ; and we would take a day for the going and coming.
“ Dat will be bestest,” said Katrina. “ I tink you like dat high place better as Christiania.”
On the way we called at the office of a homœopathic physician, whose name had been given to me by a Bergen friend, He spoke no English, and for the first time Katrina’s failed. I saw at once that she did not convey my meanings to him, nor his to me, with accuracy. She was out of her depth. Her mortification was droll ; it reached the climax when it came to the word “dynamic.” Poor little child ! How should she have known that !
“ I vill understand ! I vill ! ” she exclaimed ; and the good-natured doctor took pains to explain to her at some length ; at the end of his explanation she turned to me triumphantly, with a nod : “ Now I know very well ; it is another kind of strongth from the strongth of a machine. It is not such strongth that you can see, or you can make with your hands ; but it is strongth all the same,” — a definition which might be commended to the careful attention of all persons in the habit or need of using the word dynamic.
It is five miles from Christiania out and up to the Frogner Sæter: first through pretty suburban streets which are more roads than streets, with picturesque wooden houses, painted in wonderful colors, — lilac, apple-green, white with orange-colored settings to doors and windows, yellow pine left its own color, oiled, and decorated with white or with maroon red ; they look like the gay toy houses sold in boxes for children to play with ; there is no one of them, perhaps, which one would not grow very weary of, if he had to see it every day, but the effect of the succession of them along the roadside is surprisingly gay and picturesque. Their variety of shape and the pretty little balconies of carved lattice work add much to this picturesqueness. They are all surrounded by flower gardens of a simple kind ; old-fashioned flowers growing in clumps and straight borders, and every windowsill full of plants in bloom ; windows all opening outward like doors ; so that in a warm day, when every window-sash is thrown open, the houses have a strange look of being a-flutter. There is no expression of elegance or of the habits or standards of great wealth about these suburban houses of Christiania ; but there is a very rare and charming expression of comfort and good cheer, and a childlike simplicity which dotes on flowers and has not outgrown the love of bright colors. I do not know anywhere a region where houses are so instantly and good-naturedly attractive, with a suggestion of good fellowship, and sensible, easy-going good times inside and out.
The last three miles of the road to the sæter are steadily up, and all the way through dense woods of fir and spruce, — that grand Norway spruce, which spreads its boughs out generously as palms, and loads down each twig so full that by their own weight of shining green the lower branches trail out along the ground, and the upper ones fold a little and slant downwards from the middle, as if avalanches of snow had just slid off on each side and bent them. Here were great beds of ferns, clusters of bluebells, and territories of linnea. In June, the mountain side must be fragrant with its flowers.
Katrina glowed with pleasure. In her colder, barrener home she had seen no such lavishness as this.
“ Oh, but ven one tinks, how nature is wonderful ! ” she cried. “ Here all dese tings grow up, demselves ! noting to be done. Are dey not wort more dan in gardens ? In gardens always must be put in a corn before anyting come up ; and all dese nice tings come up alone, demselves.”
“ Oh, but see vat God has done ; how much better than all vat people can ; no matter vat dey make ! ”
Half-way up the mountain we came to a tiny house, set in a clearing barely big enough to hold the house and let a little sun in on it from above.
“ Oh I wish-shed I had dat little house ! ” she exclaimed. “ Dat house could stand in Bergen. I like to carry dat home and dem trees to it; but my husband, he would not like it. He likes Bergen house bestest.”
As we drew near the top, we met carriages coming down. Evidently it was the custom to drive to the Frogner Sæter.
“ I tink in dat first carriage were Chews,” said Katrina, scornfully. “ I do hate dem Chews. I can’t bear dat kind of people.”
“ Why not, Katrina ? ” I asked. “ It is not fair to hate people because of their religion.”
“ Oh, dat I don’t know about deir religion,” she replied carelessly. “ I don’t tink dey got much religion any how. I tink dey are kind of thieves. I saw it in New York. Ven I went into Chew shop, he say a ting are tree dollar ; and I say, ‘ No, dat are too dear.’ Den he say, ' You can have for two dollar ; ' and I say, ' No I cannot take ; ’ and den he say, ‘ Oh, have it for one dollar and half ; ’ and I tink all such tings are not real. I hate dem Chews. Dey are all de same in all places. Dey are chust like dat, if dey come in Norway. Very few Chews comes in Norway. Dat is one good ting.”
In a small open, part clearing, part natural rocky crest of the hill, stood the sæter : great spaces of pink heather to right and left of it, a fir wood walling it on two sides ; to the south and the east, a clear off look over the two bays of the Christiania Fjord, past all their islands, out to sea, and the farthest horizon ; Christiania lay like an insignificant huddle of buildings in the nearer foreground ; its only beauty now being in its rich surrounding of farm lands, which seemed to hold it like a rough brown pebble in an emerald setting.
The house itself fronted south. Its piazza and front windows commanded this grand view. It was of pine logs, smoothed and morticed into each other at the corners. Behind it was a hollow square of the farm buildings : sheds, barns, and the pretty white cottage of the overseer. The overseer’s wife came running to meet us, and with cordial good-will took us into the house, and showed us every room. She had the pride of a retainer in the place, and when she found that none of its beauty was lost on me, she warmed and grew communicative. It will not be easy to describe the charm of this log-house ; only logs inside as well as out ; but the logs are Norway pine, yellow and hard and shining, taking a polish for floors and ceiling as fine as ash or maple, and making for the walls belts and stripes of gold color better than paper ; all cross beams and partitions are morticed at the joinings, instead of crossing and lapping. This alone gives to these Norwegian houses an expression quite unlike that of ordinary log-houses. A little carved work of a simple pattern, at the cornices of the rooms and on the ceiling beams, was the only ornamentation of the house ; and a great glass door, of a single pane, opening on the piazza, was the only luxurious thing about it. Everything else was simply and beautifully picturesque. Old Norwegian tapestries hung here and there on the walls, their vivid reds and blues coming out superbly on the yellow pine ; curious antique corner cupboards, painted in chaotic colors of fantastic brightness; old fireplaces built out into the room, in the style of the most ancient Norwegian farmhouses ; old brasses, sconces,plaques, and candlesticks ; and a long dining-table, with wooden benches of hollowed planks for seats, such as are to be seen today in some of the old ruined baronial castles in England.
In the second-story rooms were oldfashioned bedsteads ; one of carved pine, so high that it needed a step-ladder to mount it ; the other built like a cupboard against the wall, and shut by two sliding doors, which on being pushed back disclosed two narrow bunks. This is the style of bed in many of the Norwegian farm-houses still. On the sliding door of the upper bunk was a small photograph of the prince imperial, and the woman told us with great pride that he had slept one night in that bed.
Up-stairs again, by narrow winding stairs, and there we found the whole floor left undivided save by the big chimney stack which came up in the middle ; the gable ends of the garret opened out in two great doors like barn doors ; under the eaves, the whole length of each side, was a row of bunk beds, five on each side, separated only by a board partition. This was a great common bedroom, “ used for gentlemen at Christmas time,” the woman said. “ There had as many as fifteen or twenty gentlemen slept in that room.”
At Christmas, it seems, it is the habit of the family owning this unique and charming country house to come up into the woods for a two weeks’ festivity. The snow is deep. The mercury is well down near zero or below ; but the road up the mountain is swept level smooth : sledges can go easier in winter than carriages can in summer ; and the vast outlook over the glittering white land and shining blue sea full of ice islands must be grander than when the islands and the land are green. Pine logs in huge fireplaces can warm any room ; and persons of the sort that would think of spending Christmas in a fir wood on a mountain top could make a house warm even better than pine logs could do it. Christmas at the Frogner Sæter must be a Christmas worth having.
“ The house is as full as ever it can hold,” said the woman, “ and fifty sit down to dinner sometimes ; they think nothing of driving up from Christiania and down again at midnight.”
What a place for sleigh-bells to ring on a frosty night ; that rocky hill crest swung out as it were in clear space of upper air, with the great Christiania Fjord stretching away beneath, an icebound, ice-flaked sea, white and steel black under the winter moon ! I fancied the house blazing like a many-sided beacon out of the darkness of the mountain front at midnight ; the bells clanging ; the voices of lovers and loved chiming ; and laughter and mirth ringing ; I think for years to come the picture will be so vivid in my mind, that I shall find myself on many a Christmas night mentally listening to the swift bells chiming down the mountain from the Frogner Sæter.
The eastern end of the piazza is closed in by a great window, one single pane of glass like the door ; so that in this corner, sheltered from the wind, but losing nothing of the view, one can sit in even cold weather. Katrina cuddled herself down like a kitten, in the sun, on the piazza steps, and looking up at me, as I sat in this sheltered corner, said approvingly, —
“ Dis you like. I ask de voman if we could stay here ; but she got no room : else she would like to keep us. I tink I stay here all my life : only for my husband, I go back.”
Then she pulled out the Saga and read some pages of Ingeborg’s Lament, convulsing me in the beginning by saying that it was “ Ingeborg’s Whale.” It was long before I grasped that she meant “ Wail. ”
“ What you say ven it is like as if you cry, but you do not cry ?” she said. “ Dat is it. It stands in my dictionary, whale !” and she reiterated it with some impatience at my stupidity in not better understanding my own language. When I explained to her the vast difference between “ whale ” and “ wail ” she was convulsed in her turn. “ Oh, dere are so many words in English which do have same sound and mean so different ting,” she said, “ I tink I never learn to speak English in dis world.”
While we were sitting there, a great speckled woodpecker flew out from the depths of the wood, lighted on a fir near the house, and began racing up and down the tree, tapping the bark with his strong bill, like the strokes of a hammer.
“ There is your Gertrude bird, Katrina,” said I. She looked bewildered. “ The woman that Christ punished,” I said, “ and turned her into the Gertrude bird ; do you not know the old story ? ” No, she had never heard it. She listened with wide-open eyes while I told her the old Norwegian legend, which it was strange that I knew and she did not, how Christ and Peter, stopping one day at the door of a woman who was kneading her bread, asked her for a piece. She broke a piece for them, but as she was rolling it out, it grew under her roller till it filled her table. She laid it aside, saying it was too large, broke off another piece, rolled it out with the same result ; it grew larger every moment. She laid that aside, and took a third bit, the smallest she could possibly break off ; the same result ; that too grew under her roller till it covered the table. Then her heart was entirely hardened, and she laid this third piece on one side, saying, “ Go your ways, I cannot spare you any bread to-day.” Then Christ was angry, and opened her eyes to see who he was. She fell on her knees, and implored his forgiveness, but he said, “ No. You shall henceforth seek your bread from day to day, between the wood and the bark ; ” and he changed her into a bird, the Gertrude bird, or woodpecker. The legend runs, however, that relenting, the Lord said that when the plumage of the bird should become entirely black, her punishment should be at an end. The Gertrude bird grows darker and darker every year, and, when it is old, has no white to be seen in its plumage. When the white has all disappeared, then the Lord Christ takes it for his own, so the legend says ; and no Norwegian will ever injure a Gertrude bird, because he believes it to be under God’s protection, doing this penance.
“ Is dat true ?” asked Katrina seriously. “ Dat must have been when de Lord was going about on dis earth ; ven he was ghost. I never hear dat.”
I tried to explain to her the idea of a fable.
“ Fable,” she said, “ fable,— dat is to teach people to be giving ven dey got, and not send peoples away vidout notings. Dat ’s what I see, many times I see. But I do not see dat de peoples dat is all for saving all dey got, gets any richer. I tink if you give all the time to dem dat is poorer, dat is de way to be richer. Dere is always some vat is poorer.”
In the cozy little sitting-room of her white cottage, the farmer’s wife gave us a lunch which would not have been any shame to any lady’s table,—scrambled eggs, bread, rusks, milk, and a queer sort of election cake, with raisins but no sugar. This Katrina eyed with the greed of a child ; watched to see if I liked it, and exclaimed, “ We only get dat once a year, at Christmas time.” Seeing that I left a large piece on my plate, she finally said, “ Do you tink it would be shame if I take dat home ? It is too good to be leaved.” With great glee, on my first word of permission, she crammed it into her omnivorous pocket, which already held a dozen or more green apples that she had persisted in picking up by the roadside, as we came.
As we drove down the mountain, the glimpses here and there, between the trees, of the fjord and islands were even more beautiful than the great panorama seen from the top. Little children ran out to open gates for us, and made their pretty Norwegian curtsies, with smiles of gratitude for a penny ; we met scores of peasant women going out to their homes, bearing all sorts of burdens swung from a yoke laid across their shoulders. The thing that a Norwegian cannot contrive to swing from one side or the other of his shoulder-yoke must be very big indeed. The yokes seem equally adapted to everything, from a butter firkin to a silk handkerchief full of cabbages. Weights which would be far too heavy to carry in any other way the peasants take in this, and trot along between their swinging loads at as round a pace as if they had nothing to carry. We drove a roundabout way to our hotel, to enable Katrina to see an old teacher of hers ; through street after street of monotonous stucco-walled houses, each with a big open door, a covered way leading into a court behind, and glimpses of clothes-lines, or other walls and doorways, or green yards, beyond ; two thirds of the houses in Christiania are on this plan ; the families live in flats, or parts of flats. Sometimes there are eight or ten brass bell-handles, one above another, on the side of one of these big doorways, each door-bell marking a family. The teacher lived in a respectable but plain house of this kind, — she and her sister ; they had taught Katrina in Bergen when she was a child, and she retained a warm and grateful memory of them ; one had been married, and her husband was in America, where they were both going to join him soon. Everywhere in Norway one meets people whose hearts are in America : sons, husbands, daughters, lovers. Everybody would go if it were possible ; once fourteen thousand went in one year, I was told. These poor women had been working hard to support themselves by teaching and by embroidering. Katrina brought down, to exhibit to me, a dog’s head embroidered in the finest possible silks, silks that made a hair stroke like a fine pen ; it was a marvelously ingenious thing, but no more interesting than the “ Lord’s Prayer written in the circumference of two inches,” or any of that class of marvels.
“ Dey take dese to America.” Katrina said. “ Did you ever see anyting like dem dere ? Dey get thirty kroner for one of dem dogs. It is chust like live dog.”
After we returned, Katrina disappeared again on one of her mysterious expeditions, whose returns were usually of great interest to me. This time they brought to both of us disappointment. Coming in with a radiant face, and the usual little newspaper bundle in her hand, she cried out, “ Now I got you de bestest ting yet,” and held out her treasures : a pint of small berries, a little larger than whortleberries, and as black and shining as jet. “ Dis is de bestest berry in all Norway,” she exclaimed, whipping one into her own mouth ; “ see if you like.”
I incautiously took three or four at once. Not since the days of old-fashioned Dover’s and James’s powders have I ever tasted a more nauseous combination of flavors, than resided in those glittering black berries.
“ You not like dem berries ?” cried poor Katrina, in dismay at my disgust, raising her voice and its inflections at every syllable. “ You not like dem berries ? I never hear of nobody not liking dem berries. Dey is bestest we got ! Any way, I eat dem myself,” she added philosophically, and retreated crestfallen to her room, where I heard her smacking her lips over them for half an hour. I believe she ate the whole at a sitting. They must have been a variety of black currant, and exclusively intended by nature for medicinal purposes, but Katrina came out hearty and well as ever the next day, after having swallowed some twelve or sixteen ounces of them.
By way of atoning for her mishap with the berries, she ran out early the next morning and bought a little packet of odds and ends of strong - scented leaves, and dust of several kinds, and, coming up behind my chair, held it close under my nose, with —
“ Ain’t dat nice smell ? Ain’t dat better as dem berries ? Oh, I tink I never stop laughing ven I am at home ven I tink how you eat dem berries. Dey are de bestest berries we got.”
On my approving the scent, she seemed much pleased, and laid the little packet on my table, remarking that I could “ chust smell it ven I liked.”She added that in the winter time they kept it in all Norwegian houses and strewed it on the stoves when they were hot, and it “ smelled beautiful.” They called it “ king’s smoke,” she said, and nobody would be without it.
It is easy to see why the Norwegians, from the king down, must need some such device as this to make tolerable the air in their stove-heated rooms in winter. It was appalling to look at their four and five storied stoves, and think how scorched the air must be by such a mass of heated iron. The average Norwegian stove is as high as the door of the room, or even higher. It is built up of sections of square-cornered hollow iron pipe, somewhat as we build card houses ; back and forth, forward and back, up and across, through these hollow blocks of cast iron, goes the heated air. It takes hours to get the tower heated from bottom to top, but once it is heated there is a radiating mass of burnt iron, with which it must be terrible to be shut up. The open spaces between the cross sections must be very convenient for many purposes : to keep all sorts of things hot ; and a man given to the habit of tipping back in his chair, and liking to sit with his feet higher than his head, could keep his favorite attitude and warm his feet at the same time, a thing that could n’t be done with any other sort of stove.
One of my last days in Christiania was spent on the island of Hovedöen, a short half hour’s row from the town. Here are the ruins of an old monastery, dating back to the first half of the twelfth century, and of priceless interest to antiquarians, who tell inch by inch, among the old grass-grown stones, just where the abbot sat, and the monks prayed, and through which arch they walked at vespers. Bits of the old carved cornices are standing everywhere, leaning up against the moss-grown walls, which look much less old for being hoary with moss. One thing they had in the monastery of Hovedöen, a well of icecold, sparkling water, which might have consoled them for much lack of wine ; and if the limes and poplars and birches were half as beautiful in 1147 as they are now, the monks were to be envied, when a whole nunneryful of nuns took refuge on their island in the time of the first onslaught on convents. What strolls under those trees ! There are several species of flowers growing there now which grow nowhere else in all the region about, and tradition says that these nuns planted them. The paths are edged with heather and thyme and bluebells, and that daintiest of little vetches, the golden yellow, whose blossoms were well named by the devout sisters “ Mary’s golden shoes.” As we rowed home at sunset over the amber and silver w’ater, Katrina sang Norwegian songs : her voice, though untrained and shrill, had sweet notes in it, and she sang with the same childlike heartiness and innocent exultation that she showed in everything else. “ Old Norway ” was the refrain of the song she liked most and sang best, and more than one manly Norwegian voice joined in with hers with good-will and fervor.
At the botanical gardens a Victoria regia was on the point of blooming. Day after day I had driven out there, to see it ; each day confident, each day disappointed. The professor, a quaint and learned old man, simple in speech and behavior, as all great scientific men are, glided about in a linen coat, his shears hanging in a big sheath on one side his belt, his pruning knife on the other, and a big note-book in his breast pocket. His life seemed to me one of the few ideal ones I had ever seen. His house stands on a high terrace in the garden, looking southward, over the city to the fjord. It is a long, low cottage, with dormer windows sunk deep in the red-tiled roof, shaded by two great horsechestnut trees, which are so old that clumps of grass have grown in their gnarled knots. Here he plants, and watches, and studies ; triumphs over the utmost rigors of the Norway climate, and points with pride to a dozen varieties of Indian corn thriving in his grounds. Tropical plants of all climes he has cajoled or coerced into living outof-doors all winter in Norway. One large house full of begonias was his special pride ; tier after tier of the splendid velvet leaves, all shades of color in the blossoms ; one could not have dreamed that the world held so many varieties of begonia. He was annoyed by his Victoria regia’s tardiness. There it lay, lolling in its huge lake,—in a sultry heated air which it was almost dangerous for human lungs to breathe. Its seven huge leaves spread out in round disks on which a child could stand safe. In the middle, just out of the water, rose the mysterious red bud. It was a plant he had himself raised in one year from seed ; and he felt towards it as to a child.
“ I cannot promise. I did think it should have opened this morning. It has lifted itself one inch since last night,” he said, “ It is not my fault,” he added apologetically, like a parent who cannot make a child obey. Then he showed me, by his clasped hands, how it opened ; in a series of spasmodic unclosings, as if by throes, at intervals of five or six minutes ; each unclosing revealing more and more of the petals, till at last, at the end of a half hour, the whole snowy blossom is unfolded : one day open, then towards night, by a similar series of throe-like movements, it closes, and the next morning, between nine and eleven, opens again in the same way, but no longer white. In the night it has changed its color. One look, one taste, one day, of life has flushed it rose-red. As the old professor told me this tale, not new, but always wonderful and solemn, his face kindled with delight and awe. No astronomer reckoning the times and colors of a recurring planet could have had a vivider sense of the beauty and grandeur of its law. The last thing I did in Christiania was to drive for the third time to see if this flower had unfolded. It had apparently made no movement for twenty-four hours.
“ I tought you not see dat flower,” said Katrina, who had looked with some impatience on the repeated bootless journeys. “ I tink it is hoombug. I tink it is all shtories.”
To me there was a half omen in the flower’s delay. Norway also had shown me only half its beauty ; I was going away wistful and unsatisfied. “You must have another Victoria next summer,” I said to the quaint old professor, when I bade him good-by ; and as Katrina ran swiftly off the deck of the steamer, that I might not see any tears in her eyes, bidding me farewell, I said also to her,
“ Next summer, Katrina. Study the Frithiof’s Saga, and read me the rest of it, next summer.”
I hope she will not study it so well as to improve too much in her renderings. Could any good English be so good as this ?
FRITHIOF AND INGEBORG.
Two trees growed bold and silent; never before the north never ween such beauties; they growed nicely in the garden.
The one growed up with the strongth of the oak : and the stem was as the handle of the Spear: but the crown shaked in the wind like the top on the helmet.
But the other one growed like a rose: like a rose when the winter just is going away: but the spring what, stands in its buds still in dreams childly is smiling.
The storm shall go round the world. In fight with the storm, the oak will stand: the sun in the spring will glow on the heaven. Then the rose opens its ripe lips.
So they growed in joy and play: and Frithiof was the young oak : but the rose in the green walley was named Ingeborg the Beauty.
If you seen dem two in the daylight, you would think of Freya’s dwelling: where many a little pair is swinging with yellow hair, and Tings like roses.
But if you saw dem in the moonlight, dancing easy around, you would tink to see an erl king pair dancing among the wreaths of the walley. How he was glad —
“ Dem ’s the nicest vairses, I tink.”
— how he was glad, how it was dear to him, when he got to write the first letter of her name, and afterwards to learn his Ingeborg, that was to Frithiof more than the king’s honor.
How nicely when with the little sail, ven they vent over the surface of the water, how happy with her little white hands she is clapping ven he turns the rudder.
How far up it was hanging in the top of the tree, to the bird’s nest, he found up; sure was not either the eagle’s nest, when she stand pointing down below.
You could n’t find a river, no matter how hard it was, without he could carry her over. It is so beautiful when the waves are roaring to be keeped fast in little white arms.
The first flower brought up in the spring, the first strawberry that gets red, the first stem that golden bended down, he happy brought his Ingeborg.
But the days of childhood goes quickly away: there stands a youth: and in a while the hope, the brave, and the fire is standing in his face. There stands a maiden, with the bosom swelling.
Very often Frithiof went out a hunting. Such a hunting would frighten many: without spear and sword the brave would fetch the bear: they were fighting breast to breast: and after the glory in an awful state, the hunter went home with what he got.
What girl would n't like to take that?
“ Ven he had been fighting that way, you see, without any sword or anyting.”
Then dear to the women is the fierce of a man. The strongth is wort the beauty, and they will fit well for another, as well as the helm fits the brain of an hero.
But if he in the winter evening, with his soul fierce, by the fire’s beam was reading of bright Walhalla, a song, a song of the gods —
“ Vell, dat ’s the mans ; vat ’s the vomens ? ”
“ Goddesses ? ”
“ Vell, dat ’s it.”
— a song of the gods and goddesses’ joy, he was tinking;, Yellow is the hair of Freya. My Inge-
“ Vat ’s a big field called when it is all over ripe ? ”
“ Yellow ? ”
“ No,” a shake of the head.
— is like the fields when easy waves the summer wind a golden net round all the flower bundles.
Iduna’s bosom is rich, and beautiful it waves under the green satin. I know a twin satin wave in where light Alfs hid themself.
And the eyes of Frigga are blue as the heavenly whole; still often I looked at two eyes under the vault of heaven : against dem are a spring day dark to look at.
How can it be they praise Gerda’s white cheeks, and the new-come snow in the north light beam ?
I looked at cheeks, the snow mountain’s beam ain’t so beautiful in the red of the morning.
I know a heart as soft as Narnia’s, if not so much spoken of.
Well praised of the skalds you, Nanna’s happy Balder!
Oh, that I as you could die missed of the soft and honest, maiden, your Nanna like. I should glad go down to Hell’s the dark kingdom.
But the king’s daughter sat and sung a hero song, and weaved glad into the stuff all things the hero have done, the blue sea, the green walley, and rock-rifts.
There growed out in snow-white vool the shining shields of —
“ Ain’t there a word you say spinned ? ”
— spinned gold ; red as the lightning flew the lances of the war, and stiff of silver was every armor.
But as she quickly is weaving and nicely, she gets the heroes Frithiof’s shape, and as she comes farther into the weave, she gets red, but still she sees them with joy.
But Frithiof did cut in walley and field many an I and F in the bark of —
“ He cut all round. Wherever he come, he cut them two.”
—the trees. These Runes is healed with happy and joy, just like the young hearts together.
When the daylight stands in its emerald —
Here we had a long halt, Katrina insisting on saying “ smaragd,” and declaring that that was an English word ; she had seen it often, and " it could not be pronounced in any other way ; ” she had seen it in Lady Montaig in Turkey : “ she had loads of smaragds and all such things.” Her contrition when she discovered her mistake was inimitable.
She had read this account of Lady Montagu in Turkey, in her Hundred Lessons, at school so many times, she knew it by heart, which she proceeded to prove by long quotations.
— and the king of the light with the golden hair, and the mens, is busy wandering, then they did only think one on each other.
When the night is standing in its emerald, and the mother of the sleep with dark hair and all are silent, and the stars are wandering, den they only is dreaming of each other.
Thou Earth dat fix thee [or gets new] every spring, and is braiding the flowers into your hair, the beantifullest of them, give me friendly, for a wreath to reward Frithiof.
Thou Oeean, dat in thy dark room has pearls in thousands, give me the best, the beautifullest, and the beautifullest neck I will bind them to.
Thou button on Odin’s King-chair, Thou World’s Eye Golden Sun, if yon were mine, your shining round I would give Frithiof as shield.
Thou lantern in the All Father’s Home, the moon with the pale torch, if you were mine, I would give it as an emerald for my beautiful hand-maiden.
Your love would n’t be any good to you.
Different lots Norna gives out.
That maiden is daughter to King Bele.
Mounts her family.
You, de son of Thorstein peasant
Must give way, because like thrives best with like.’
“ He have to leave because he vas poor, you see.”
My arm will win me king’s race.
The king of the wood fall,
The king of the forest fall in spite of claw and howl:
His race I inherit with the Skin.’
Because the world belongs to the free.
Easy, courage can reconcile fortune,
And de Hope carries a king’s crown.
He was fader of all dem oder gods, you see.”
He weighs not de burden, but de wort;
“ Look now, all dese be strange words.”
If it so were, vid de God of de Tunder;
Grow safe, grow happy, my white lily,
Our covenant are fast as the Norna’s will.
This is her translation of the last stanzas of the account of Ingeborg’s marriage to Frithiof : —
In come Ingeborg in hermine sack, and bright jewels, followed of a crowd of maids like de stars wid de moon. Wid de tears in de beautiful eyes she fall to her brother’s heart; but he lead the dear sister up to Frithiof’s noble breast; and over the God’s altar she reach-ched her hand to de childhood’s friend, to her heart’s beloved.
A few days before I left Christiania, Katrina had come shyly up to my table, one evening, and tossed down on it a paper, saying, —
“ Dere is anoder. Dis one is for you.”
On looking at it, I found it contained four stanzas of Norwegian verse, in which my name occurred often. No persuasions I could bring to bear on her would induce her to translate it. She only laughed, said she could not, and that some of my Norwegian friends must read it to me. She read it aloud in the Norwegian, and to my ignorant ear the lines had a rhythmical and musical sound. She herself was pleased with it. “ It is nice song, dat song,” she said ; but turn it into English for me she would not. Each day, however, she asked if I had had it translated, and finding on the last day that I had not, she darted into her room, shut the door, and in the course of two hours came out, saying, “ I got it part done ; but dey tell you better as I tell you.”
The truth was, the tribute was so flattering, she preferred it should come to me second hand. She shrank from saying directly, in open speech, all that it had pleased her affectionate heart to say in the verses. Three of the stanzas I give exactly as she wrote them. The rest is a secret between Katrina and me.
You, who with me
Were that kind I set her beside
My parents. Like a sunbeamed picture
For my look, you painted stands.
My wishes here translated
With you to Colorado go.
Be with me on the life’s way.
Let me still after a while find or meet
You energisk. I would n’t forget.
God, be thou a true guide
For her over the big ocean;
Keep away from her all torments
That she happy may reach her home.
As remembrance along with you home,
Though a stranger I am placed
And as servant for you,
The heaven’s best reward I pray down
For all you did to me.
Good luck and honor
Be with you till you die.
The last verse seems to me to sound fur better in Norwegian than in English, and is it not more fitting to end the Katrina Saga in a few of her words, in her own tongue ?
Som Erindring med dem hjem,
Sjbut som Freinmed jeg er stillet
Og som Tjener kun for dem.
Himlen’s rige Lön nedbeder
Jeg for Lidet og for Stort,
Mrs. Jackson, Held og Hæder
Fölge dem til Döden’s Port.”