An Invitation To Visit Krokengaard
( Originally Published 1881 )
A Game of Croquet.—Delicious Fruits.—A Gentleman's Home.—Life by the Fjord.—Industrious Families.—Scandinavian Hospitality.—Parting Dinner.—Farewell to Krokengaard.
ON a warm July day I was crossing the Lyster fjord on my way to Krokengaard, on the eastern shore, almost opposite the Gaupne fjord, at the head of which is the valley of Juste-dal. There was not a breath of wind, nor a ripple on the sea; the rays of the sun fell upon the boat with great power, and my two boatmen were bathed in perspiration. Krokengaard stood at the foot of a high hill, and its buildings were surrounded by trees and golden fields of nearly ripe barley; fir and birch trees grew to a great height on the mountains, whose tops were hidden by fleecy clouds. The situation of this old homestead was well chosen, as there was no danger from avalanches of snow or rock.
My invitation to visit this place was characteristic of the hospitality of the country. A few days before, on board the steamer, I had made the acquaintance of two ladies—sisters; women can always travel safely alone in the country, and are sure of meeting with respectful consideration. I had been invited by them to visit their uncle, who, they were sure, would receive me with great pleasure ; they seemed sorry for me, thinking that I must feel very lonely—a stranger in a strange land, travelling in almost uninhabited districts, living with the poorest people, eating coarse food, and enduring many hard-ships. The elder was a doctor's wife, living near Bergen, and, with her sister, was on her way to Krokengaard, their uncle's , place, on a summer visit. Their last words to me, as they stepped from the deck of the steamer into the boat, had been "Do not fail to come to Krokengaard on your return ;" this was said with that peculiar Norwegian accent and soft voice which made the English they spoke sound the more pleasantly.
As we neared the shore the sound of our oars attracted the attention of the people who were working in the fields. We landed at a sheltered spot, where a boat lay stranded on the sand, and made our way by a wide. path through fields and meadows for a few hundred yards to a low stone wall surrounding a garden. Opening the gate, I entered an orchard of apple and cherry trees, both loaded with fine fruit of different species; there were also plums, currants, and gooseberries. The walks were lined with bushes in full bloom, and the place was filled With birds which had come to feed upon the fruits.
Knocking at the door of the old-fashioned white farm-house, a young lady presented herself, of whom I inquired if Captain Gerhard Mùnthe was at home. I was ushered into a room, where I found a handsome white-haired gentleman engaged in reading, who, as soon as he saw me, came forward and welcomed me in that courteous Norwegian manlier which made me at once feel quite at ease; his young wife, with a pleasant smile, also received me very kindly ; from the library, where I had been entertained, I was led into the parlor, where several ladies were chatting,busy with their needle-work. I was introduced to two daughters by a former marriage—fine-looking young ladies—and recognized among the company my two companions of the steamer, who, as I could see by the warm reception accorded me, had spoken about my coming; by their pleasant smiles I knew they had not forgotten me. After a general introduction, wine and cake were offered, and the venerable captain, looking at me, said, "Welcome to Krokengaard," and we bowed to each other. There was something so pleas-' ant, so frank, and so amiable in the manners of every one, that the uncomfortable feeling which is apt to come over one when first entering the house as an entire stranger soon-disappeared,
" We are all to dine," said the host, " with my brother and sister, at their home, and you will go with us. You will be welcome there also." The brother, a bachelor, welcomed me in French, and the sister in Norwegian. They had invited all the members of the family for the day. The captain took my arm as we entered the dining-room; the Norwegians having no smorgâs, the dinner began at once. The captain took the head of the table, being the eldest of the family, while I was on the right of the host, and a niece by marriage, a lady from Holland, was on his left; her husband, a nephew, an artist living in Düsseldorf, had come here on his wedding tour, to see once more the old homestead ; the brother was at the foot of the table, the sister in the centre. The dinner was good and substantial, and a sheep had been killed for the occasion; claret was served, and the first toast of welcome was given in my honor by the owner of Krokengaard in a complimentary speech. We spoke seven languages at table—Low-Dutch, which some of the young ladies had learned in order to converse with their cousin—French, English, German, Swedish, and Latin. This will give an idea of the education of the well-to-do people of Norway. Each person present, with the exception of two, understood, more or less, at least three languages besides their own; some understood the whole seven, and others in addition ; we had many a good laugh, for it al-most seemed as if we had come from the Tower of Babel, such was the confusion of tongues. The topics of conversation were very varied, showing that the company had had a wide range of observation and culture.
I was much amused with the Dutch lady, who seemed afraid that I did not recognize her nationality; several times she took particular pains to let me understand that she was from Holland, and that Hollanders were very unlike Germans. At that time the feeling of the mass of the people in Norway and Sweden was intensely French ; their sympathy for France was very earnest, and they almost felt as if the war was in part sustained by themselves ; this feeling was exhibited wherever I travelled, and no doubt had been intensified by the Prusso-Danish war.
After coffee and an exciting game of croquet, we went into a little orchard, and there helped ourselves to the cherries, ox-hearts, currants, raspberries, and gooseberries; this was a rare treat to me, for the year before I had not tasted anything of the kind, as in most districts the farmers do not cultivate them. I did not wonder that Krokengaard was celebrated for its fruits. The plum-trees were loaded.
My room commanded a fine view of the fjord and the snow-capped mountains and glaciers ; in the morning I was awakened by the singing of the birds, which are never disturbed by guns here, though their depredations are considerable.
The quiet of these Norwegian farms along the sea, standing alone by themselves, is very striking. They often occupy only narrow tracts of land covering the rocks, with high mountains at their back, and the water of the fjord in front; and with good land, and fir, birch, and other trees growing on the declivities or the tops of hills, to furnish fuel; surrounded by a few fields and meadows ; the sea the only highway.
At some distance from the house was a beautiful stream of clear water, coming down from rock to rock through a transverse narrow gorge, which fell perpendicularly, from a height of about thirty feet, and then the stream flowed over a bed of clear gravel, the water being so limpid that one could have counted every pebble. beneath. Along its shores are scattered beautiful white-trunked birch-trees ; while near by was the dark weather-beaten house of the working farmer of Krokengaard. On the bank of the river, higher up, was a little grist-mill, used for grinding the grain used on the place. This secluded corner by the stream and the fall, with its meadows, woods, and rocks, was the prettiest spot on the farm. Many such a picture as that of Krokengaard is to be found along the fjords of Norway.
Captain Gerhard Mùnthe, owner of the estate, enjoyed a literary reputation among his countrymen, for he had written a good history of Norway in his younger days. Often two or three such farms, pot far from each other, belonging to the members of the same family, are together. There you find the comforts and the refinements which education brings. The rooms are furnished nicely, though plainly; every part of the house is exceedingly clean ; the larder is well provided, and there is always a little stock of wine in the cellar for the use, of friends when they call ; the servants are very tidy ; there is always a good kitchen-garden ; flowers are cultivated abundantly ; the orchard is carefully kept ; the farm buildings and the fences are in good order; the cattle fine; the fields well ploughed ; and there is throughout a high order of cultivation, and a keen appreciation of the beauties of nature ; the trees and rocks are loved, and all the advantages that can be taken of the picturesque spot are eagerly improved. A little summer-house by the bluff; a bench under a tree, from which a fine view may be obtained ; a bathing-house built by the sea, or by the mountain brook; a well-painted and stanch boat, in which to row and fish ; and a fine sæter back in the mountains, are among the usual appointments. In the house there is generally a piano, and sometimes a harp, a guitar, or a violin, for music is cultivated. There is also a little library, a Bible, and other religious works, and a variety of useful volumes. On the parlor table one generally sees some of the latest publications, an illustrated paper for the children, and the newspapers from the large cities, which come by the post-steamers, weekly or semi-weekly, bringing the latest news, not only of Norway, but of the world, flashed across the wires. The steamers which carry the mails stop at many single places along the fjords, and reach their very extremities, for there are post-stations everywhere ; the hours of their arrival are fixed ; the people watch anxiously, and immediately after the steamer stops a boat is sent to receive the mail, or a boy goes after it by the mountain-path. Letters are among the treats which are awaited with great anxiety by the family : the wife, hoping to hear from father, mother, or friend; the husband expecting his business correspondence ; the daughter awaiting tidings from her dear friends in the cities, or from some school-mate, or from her lover, or a brother who has left the paternal roof to make his way in the world. Something is always looked for, and there is great disappointment when the messenger returns empty-handed. Driving is out of the question in these places, for there is no road, and the horses are used only for farm purposes. The education of children is not neglected; they are taught the truths of the Bible, but not in that austere way which often makes the young dislike religion. Everything that tends to produce intellectual development receives attention according to the means of the family, and great sacrifices are made in order to give the children a good education, and even to send them to the cities to pursue the higher branches. The girls are taught to be good house-keepers, and are skilful in all kinds of needle-work, embroidery, and knitting; they weave and make their own dresses, and there is always a sewing-machine in the sitting-room ; so that when they marry they are capable of taking care of themselves and their families. The life is essentially a home-life, rich in domestic comforts; solid culture is sought after, rather than superficial accomplishment, for the wife is often the only companion to cheer the otherwise lonely hours of winter. The people are acquainted with the current literature of their own country and scientific progress of the world, and the works of foreign countries are often found in humble homes. The children are taught music, and occasionally there is a visit from the neighbors, when young and old indulge in the pleasure of a social dance. The church is often far off, and the only way to go to it is by water, so that families attend public worship only a few times during the year, when the Lord's Supper is administered, or at the confirmation of the children, or when the weather is very fine. This rare attendance at church, however, does not seem to lessen the faith of the people; indeed, it seemed to me that the more lonely they are the more religious they become.
In these Norwegian households the wife is industrious, and the life of the mother seems to be given to the duty of making her home happy. She is devoted to her husband and her children ; she generally teaches the younger ones herself. The husband often prepares his boys for the higher schools, besides superintending the farm work, and carrying it on with system and economy, and calculates how much the crops will yield; how much butter and cheese can be spared and. sold after laying up the year's supply ; and how the wood of the forests can be economized and husbanded—for trees do not grow fast, and are becoming scarcer every year, and people must not be extravagant with their fuel. Occasionally, turf is burned also. He has to see that the right-sized trees are felled. Now and then a few large fir and pine trees are cut down, either for building purposes or to be sold, to increase the household fund when the crops are unrernunerative, or perhaps to give aid to a poorer neighbor, or to pay the expenses incurred by receiving more company than was expected, or by a prolonged visit to the city. Generally speaking, there is no abundance of money, and economy is necessary. No people are more generous, hospitable, or warm-hearted ; meanness and stinginess are foreign to the Norwegian or Swedish character, and, considering their resources, there is no other country where the stranger is so kindly received and so hospitably entertained. I have lived in the mountains with people who occupied poor log-houses, and whose sole food was potatoes ; but the little they had they heartily placed before me, and I had great trouble to make them take money. It seemed to them mean to sell food to a hungry man, or to take money for giving him shelter. The goodness of heart of the inhabitants of the retired mountain districts, away from the routes of tourists and the channels of traffic, has added greatly to the love and admiration I have for the Norwegian character.
It was with a feeling akin to sadness that I left Krokengaard, this pleasant home, where all had tried to make my stay agreeable. On the day of my departure the flag had been hoisted on the pole as a sign for the steamer to stop. As we sat at dinner around that cheerful family table, at the close of the repast the venerable host seemed suddenly to become particularly grave. He proposed my health, wished me success in all my undertakings, and expressed the hope that I had found Norway a good country, and the Norwegians a good people. " Our land is poor," he said ; " but we cannot change what God has made. We wish you success and health in your further travels. When you come again to Sogne fjord, come to Krokengaard; you shall always be welcomed. Do not de-lay too long," he added, with a thoughtful face, "for if you do, you may find one missing." The faces of the company grew sad as he spoke, and tears gathered in the eyes of many.
" Yes," said he, "if you want to see me, do not stay too long, for I am an old man ; the journey of my life is drawing to-wards its end. A happy journey to you, and welcome back to Krokengaard."
The parting touched me deeply, and I have never forgotten it; my thoughts often wander back over the sea, and wonder if the tall, erect form of the old captain, with his white flowing hair, still walks by the fjord at Krokengaard.