Farm Of Nystuen
( Originally Published 1881 )
AT a distance of twenty-four miles from the church of Borgund, after a romantic drive, I came to the mountain farm and post-station of Nystuen, situated on the lonely shores of the Utrovand, 3162 feet above the level of the sea, and near the highest point on the route. Welcome, indeed, is the place in winter, when, cold and hungry, the traveller reaches its hospitable roof, and gets a hearty meal, a glass of wine, an excellent cup of coffee, and a very comfortable bed. At this time of the year the crowd of tourists has disappeared, and one may enjoy from the windows of his warm room the frozen lake and wintry landscape, with its cloudless sky by day and its twinkling stars by night; or he may, perchance, watch a driving snow-storm, and congratulate himself on his pleasant quarters; or listen to the whistling winds, which at times make the houses tremble, and which might overthrow them were they not built parallel to the valley and the course of the tempest.
The summers here are very short; grain cannot ripen, though grass is abundant, and there is grazing-land enough for pasturage, and a crop of hay for winter use of many cows and horses. Their long and severe winters are not lonely, for, as a rule, the people in such out-of-the-way places have large families, and their children and grandchildren make quite a colony. Old Knut Nystuen was the progenitor of a large number of descendants. He has now given up the station to his son, and occupies with his worthy spouse a house in which there are some rooms up-stairs for guests.
They have their enjoyments, and idleness is unknown. The females weave, spin, and knit; the men fish and hunt, and at-tend to the farm-work, getting the wood and hay sometimes from long distances.
From Nystuen the road eastward descends rapidly into Valders, in the midst of a gloomy scenery, enlivened by the river and birch-clad woods, and a few farms. At a distance of about nine miles the head of Vangs Mjosen is reached 1494 feet above the sea. Sombre indeed is the landscape which encircles its water.
There are few parishes in Scandinavia so pleasantly remembered by me as that of Vang. The farms Opdal, Tune, trust, Kvale, Haugen Ellingsbo, Bo, Soyne, Kattevold, Baggethan, Kvam, Lene, Sparstad,Nordland, and others will never be forgotten. Each farm in Scandinavia. has its name ; some-times these have been divided either by inheritance or other causes, and each owner builds a home on his part, but all bear the same title. Where the soil is good there may be a number at short distances from each other connected by rough, narrow roads; passable by carts.
Valders is one of the most romantic inland districts of Norway. The ever-changing panorama, which in the north is weird, becomes more cheerful as one descends into Slidre and Aurdal; in the latter some of the views are exquisite, especially when the road passes the eastern slope of the Tonsaasen by a gradual ascent of over seven miles. The northern part of Valders is poor, for, as in many other parts of Norway, stones are plentiful, good soil scarce, and families large ; but the mountain pastures are rich, and the inhabitants derive a modest revenue from the produce of their dairies. Whenever I came to Vang, the only thing that troubled me was to decide at which farm I should stop first, for I did not want to give cause for jealousy; therefore, that they might feel that I loved them all, I had to make each a visit.
Many are the pleasant weeks I have spent in this Arcadian spot, where the people seemed to vie with each other as to who should render their friend Paul most happy; nothing was ever too good for him. No matter at what time he came, day' or night, he was always welcome ; the best of their cheer was put before him. I could not make a short visit anywhere, and be allowed to depart without taking a draught of milk, a cup of coffee, a little dram of bränvin, or eating something. It was impossible to decline ; and many a time, unknown to these good people, did I feel unwell from too much of their delicious coffee—sometimes drinking ten or fifteen cups a day with as many meals.
The stiff leather knee breeches are getting out of fashion, and the costume consists of a vadmal suit--a jacket, waistcoat with silver buttons, and pantaloons. The fashionable parts of the toilet are the woollen scarf and the round felt hat, the latter being worn in the house or at the dance, under the idea that it is nobby. The women wear the usual vadmal dresses, or others of lighter material, and a colored kerchief on their heads.
One of the peculiarities of the Norwegian farmer is that etiquette demands that a friend when visiting him shall ignore that the preparations made on his arrival are on his account. The guest has no sooner seated himself than coffee is roasted, the coffee-pot put on the fire, and food prepared. When he sees that everything is nearly ready, he gets up and says, " Good-bye;" upon which he is entreated to remain, and, after a little resistance on his part, is led up-stairs or into the next room. The coffee-cups are always filled to overflowing, for otherwise it would appear stingy.
Another custom that amused me greatly is when milk or branvin is offered; the guest at first refuses, saying, "Do not waste it ou me." The host insists on his drinking; then the guest sips, and returns the bowl or glass, saying, "It is too much." Another remonstrance takes place, and then, the third time, he swallows the contents of the glass.
The Norwegian bonde is manly, self-possessed, and brave. Beneath his rough exterior he has a most kindly heart; outwardly cold, but easily moved to the other extreme, kind to his family, and merciful to his beast, he must be known to be, appreciated. He is truly and honestly pious ; his religious feelings are deep, and have been cultivated from his earliest boyhood. In rare instances fanaticism may blind his better nature and make of him a bigot.
In the character of both men and women is a vein of quietness and pensiveness—the result, no doubt, of the stern nature that surrounds them. Parents are kind and gentle to their children, and I cannot recall an instance when I heard coarse language used to them or saw them beaten. Members of families are affectionate to each other, although they are reserved. Quarrels are very rare ; even on the commonest farm I have never witnessed scenes of violence between husband and wife.
The farmers are very clever at all kinds of handicraft. When one wants to build a house, or make any addition to his farm, he goes to the forest and cuts the trees, and is his own carpenter. He may also be a tanner, harness-maker, black smith, shoemaker, and miller; along the coast he can build boats and ships, and is an expert fisherman ; he is also a maker of musical instruments and furniture, a goldsmith and jeweller. As a hunter in the mountains, he pursues the bear, the wild reindeer, or the ptarmigan.
There is no country in Europe where the rites of hospitality are held more sacred than among the Scandinavians. The traveller is surprised and delighted to see everywhere this beautiful trait in the character of the people. Even the poor are never allowed to depart from a house without being offered something to eat, and in such a manner as not to hurt their feeling of pride. The stranger all over the country is reminded of these words of the elder Edda:
The one who comes as a guest
The way I came to Vang for the first time happened in this manner. I was travelling on one of the steamers plying between Bergen and the Sogne fjord. As usual, I had made myself one of the people, chatting with the bonder. While at dinner with several of them I noticed a man watching nsl with now and then a contented smile passing over his face. As I learned afterwards from him, he was delighted to see a stranger so free, and apparently so happy in the society of people who were, like himself, bonder. At the dessert he came and inquired if I was not Paul Du Chaillu; and, on an affirmative answer, said his name was Nils Tune, from Yang; in Valders; that he was a member of the Storthing, and added that I would be welcome at his farm. He understood that I came to study the home life of the Scandinavians: he said that he would introduce me to his neighbors, and that he had no doubt that I would like the people of Valders. I accepted his invitation, and, soon after my arrival, I found that he had spoken well of me. Wherever I went, I received from the first a kind reception.
Nils Tune had been elected to the Storthing by the people of Valders. In Norway the rural constituencies are the Iiberals, and those of the cities the conservatives. There is no doubt that a bitter feeling exists between the two. This I gathered in conversation with the bonder, many of whom believe that they are despised by the Herres„ I always tried, when they said so to me, to make them think they were mistaken, but it was of no avail. One day Nils, when speaking on the subject, said, with eyes flaming with anger, "Yes, Paul, many people in the cities believe that we are no bet-ter than cattle." Upon which I remonstrated, and mentioned gentlemen in Christiania who he knew did not despise the bonder.
Between the high-road and Vangs-mjosen is the old wooden church, and near it the parsonage, the latter with large, comfortable buildings. A whole-souled man was Prest Konow. So generous was he to the poor of his parish that the farm be-longing to the living of the church could not support Tim and his family. Happily lie had a rich father in Bergen, who now and then sent him money, and which was no sooner received than a great part of it was spent in relieving the distress of the poor. He gave in a quiet way-following, in this respect, the principle of the religion he. professed; but now and then an over-grateful man with a large family, or a poor widow, could not refrain from telling me what the good pastor had done for them, repenting afterwards for their weakness, knowing that they would be scolded for having told of the kind deed which had been done in secret. It is no sinecure to be a clergyman in some of the districts of Norway, either inland or by the sea. Some of the parishes are very extensive, and occupy an almost uninhabited country; the hamlets being far apart, of course they cannot support a pastor for each church. Chapels, therefore, are often built at a great distance from the parish church, and can only be reached by bridle-paths or narrow mountain-roads. A schedule of time for the year designates the date of service in each place; and in sunshine, rain or snow, the clergyman, on horseback or in his cariole, must reach the church-wet, overcome by the heat, or possibly half frozen. It is no unusual thing for one pastor to have under his charge three or four churches, and services are held in them only once in three or four weeks, and sometimes not more than four times a year. When the churches are in the neighborhood of a fjord he has to go in a boat, often in very stormy weather. The Norwegian clergy-men are thoroughly educated ; many of them speak one or two foreign languages, one of which is usually English. They are hospitable and kind-hearted ; and in many poor districts they are the only examples of a higher civilization, the parsonage being the place where cleanliness can be learned. There is no class in which black sheep cannot be found; but, as a rule, the Scandinavian clergy are loved and respected.
The worthy pastor of Vang was a staunch conservative, and did not agree well with the radical Storthingsman, Nils Tune, who was most advanced in his politics, and advocated progress and the abolition of laws which he thought were obsolete, or ought to be repealed, some of these affecting the privileges of the Lutheran Church.
My visits to the parsonage were most enjoyable, but the generous man many times would have had me stay longer; be could not understand how I could rough it among the farmers, and partake of their fare. Among my many friend were the people of Haugen and Nertrost. The dwelling house at Haugen had an upper story, reached from the porch by a steep ladder-like staircase, consisting of a large and two small rooms. This part of the building was, as is always the case, scrupulously clean, and reserved for the use of guests. The lower story was arranged in the same manner, with the exception that one of the small rooms was a kitchen, with an open fireplace in one corner. The large rooms down and up stairs were heated by stoves, which are used extensively in Vang, for birch-trees are scarce. Thomas Thomasson and his wife, Guri, could never do enough for me; and his dear old father, Whose kind heart and honesty could be read in his face,thought that there was nothing too good for me in Yang. Three children, a maid and a man servant, completed the household. Adjoining the house was a little garden, with currant-bushes and a few patches of turnips.
It is the custom that the guest shall eat alone. In the room used on such occasions the table is set with a fine white cloth, and silver forks and spoons; after the meal is served, the wife, who waits upon him, leaves him alone, coming once or twice during the repast to urge him to eat more. For one intending to, spend a few years in Scandinavia, the prospect of this solitary way of eating was not very cheerful; so, on coming to a farm, after allowing a day or two for such. ceremonious proceedings,I invariably insisted on breaking this rule, and eating on the plain board with the family and farm hands, to the great dismay of the matron of the house. When this point had been gained, there were others almost as difficult to obtain—that of making them give up the silver spoon put before me for a wooden one, as used by the family. Farmers take great pride in such rude spoons, each member of the family having his own, with his or her initials cut on the handle. The next was that I should be allowed to take a piece of flat bread instead of a plate, if these were not used ; to put my spoon into the large dish of grot like the others, and to help myself to the sour milk in the same manner. When the latter was too sour, the wife always insisted that I should have sweet milk, and this I did not refuse.
One night at Haugen, while in profound slumber, I found myself suddenly awakened by a rather rough- shaking, and, opening my eyes, I saw friend Thomas with a candle' in one hand and a bottle, with two small glasses, in, the other. " Paul," said he, " you may have heard my wife cry out a little while ago; she has just given birth to a fine infant.." With out saying another word, he put the candle on the table, and, filling two small glasses, added, "Let us celebrate the event, and you must empty the glass ;" to refuse would have been the height of impropriety, and have shown a great lack of friendship; so I wished long life to the new-born, and speedy recovery to-the wife.
It is the custom on the birth of a child for the wife of every neighbor to cook a dish of flodegrode (this is porridge, cooked with cream instead of milk, or a rice pudding), and bring it to the convalescent ; there is a good deal of rivalry among the matrons, who try to outdo each other in the quality and size of the dish.
Nertrost was one of the best. farms in Yang.. There were two houses, one of which was for guests, and for keeping. the clothes of the family. John Nertröst was a good-looking fellow, a fine specimen of a Valders man, kind, upright, and active. His wife, Sigrid, daughter of a bonde living a few miles down the valley, was a pattern house-keeper, and, like her husband, loved me. They could never do enough for me ; the sheepskins on my bed were clean and white, and soft as down; they are excellent protectors against rheumatism, of which I never had the slightest symptoms. No matter how short were my walks, I must be hungry on my return. Early in the morning a cup of coffee was brought to me while in bed. Any time I required a horse it was ready; if I wanted to go anywhere, good John was always willing to take me.
One day there was a christening at Nertrost, as there had been an increase in the family. This was followed by a feast; and I had been especially requested several days before not to go visiting far away, for I must be on hand. The pastor and his wife on such occasions are always invited, also members of the respective families and friends. A pleasant time we had of it; the best crockery, and the silver forks and spoons were brought out; meat, cakes, and puddings were abundant.
The people of Valders are great dancers, and expert in the Balling, the great feat of which consists in now and then touching with one foot the ceiling, which is, as a rule, nine feet from the floor. One of the most characteristic national dances is the spring dance, a part of which is for the girl to bold the end of the uplifted fingers of her partner and then pirouette around with such rapidity that her dress becomes inflated like a balloon, rising sometimes to the knees, when, by a dexterous motion of her hand, she brings her skirt down. When one goes to a party he must make up his mind to per-spire freely even without dancing. The lower room is used as the dancing-hall, which is always crowded to suffocation, for there is a general invitation. All the young folks, and even old, enjoy the fun. A lamp raised above danger of contact dimly lights the place, chairs, table, and benches have been taken away; the fiddler stands in a corner. After awhile, in order to urge him to play with more zest, the company put in his hat a few coppers, and then another dance takes place. The crowd is generally so great that there is hardly space to move, and the atmosphere becomes so intolerable that the room has to be partially cleared. The boys sometimes hide a bottle of bränvin, and invite their friends to have a drink on the sly. The festivities ordinarily last till the early hours of morning.
Among my best bachelor friends were Ole, Lars, and John. When in Vang, the good fellows would have felt unhappy if they had passed a day without meeting me. They were determined that Paul should not spend a lonely day in their hamlet, and were always making plans for my entertainent-at one time a dinner, or a girls' or boys' supper was given at their own farm for me, or they caused their relatives to invite me to their houses. Sometimes we would row over to the other side of the lake, spend a day or two, and have a good time among their friends, who always prepared a feast for. me. The three even went so far as to bother the clergy-man a whole winter, simply because they wished to speak to me ïn English on my return the following year.
Sorrow found its way into the hamlet of Vang, and a day of mourning came to its people, for death had laid his cold hand upon an old and much-respected widow of the place.
Funerals as well as weddings are generally appointed for Sunday. It is the custom to keep the body for a number of days' before interment. As the time for the performance of the last sacred rites approached, preparations were made at the farm of the deceased by her eldest son for entertaining the mourners and invited guests during the begravelse, which was to last three days, on a scale commensurate with the station and wealth of the family.
The day before the burial, relatives and those who lived far away arrived; the utmost decorum prevailed, and food was eaten in silence. Those who are invited usually bring or send contributions of provisions; and, as the crockery and utensils of the household are not sufficient on such an occasion, the neighbors lend theirs. On the morning of the funeral the house was crowded with people; every one had a solemn face, and their conversation was in a low whisper. When the hour of departure arrived, all took a last look at the deceased; then the coffin (of plain boards) was nailed, and put on a sledge, though there was no snow on the ground; over it was spread a fine home-woven woollen covering. Numerous vehicles followed in procession, as the farmers always ride on such an occasion as a mark of respect. On reaching the church-yard, which was about half a mile distant, the clergyman was in waiting; he read the burial-service, and threw three shovelfuls of earth over the coffin, which was then lowered into the grave, each one present throwing some earth upon it; the pit was then filled in the midst of deep silence.
All then returned to the house, which in the mean time had undergone a complete transformation ; long tables, with white table-cloths, were set, loaded with eatables. First, the male portion of the guests were invited to take a little branvin; a blessing was asked as the guests stood before their respective seats, after which the repast began. Long before dark many of the company were hilarious, for they had drank much.
Everything was as plentiful as at a joyful feast, and many had no sleep. The next day was passed in eating and drinking, and a stranger might have thought that it was a wedding festival instead of a begravelse.
One good farmer suggested that in America we must have. a grand time on such occasions, as the people are so rich. When I told him that we ate or drank nothing, but wept directly home after the burial, he said, "Do I understand that they are so stingy in your country?" The idea of people going to a, funeral, and having nothing there to eat or drink, struck him as savoring of meanness, and he turned his back on me in disgust.
Vivid, indeed, is the remembrance of my last visit to 'Yang, and especially of the two days preceding my departure. I had to- see all my friends, even across the lake, and to eat wherever I made a call. On the last evening I was perfectly exhausted, for I had partaken of thirty meals in two days, and. drank-thirty-four large cups of coffee, and I had to skal many mes besides. There was no escape; I had eaten with their neighbors, why should I not do the same with them ? Was I not to go on my journey across the Atlantic? Would it not be a long time before they would see me again ?
As I took leave, the mother or daughters would hand me a pair of woollen stockings, gloves, mittens, or cuffs, and say, " Paul, we have macle these for you—keep them. to remember us by ;" often my initials or their own were embroidered upon them. Others would give me a silver ring, brooch, or other little token of friendship. Some old matrons were more practical, saying, "Paul, take this cheese and sausage." Expostulation was vain ; the answer was, "America is far away, and you may be hungry on the road."
I was touched deeply by the feelings of sorrow caused by my departure. I could see tears in their eyes, and sad faces spoke more than words. "Paul,'" many would say, "do not forget us; write to us from America. You shall always be most welcome ;" whispering the parting words, "God be with you over the wide ocean," as they pressed my hands. When I left the hamlet John was not at home, but Ole and Lars accompanied me for some distance with almost silent sadness.
It is now many. months since I have heard from Vang. One thing or another has prevented my writing, but the dear friends I have there are often remembered; their kindly faces are still before me, and their cheers of welcome ring yet in my ears. The memory of the happy days spent in their midst will always be cherished. Manly lads and fair maidens have wedded, bashful young girls have become comely damsels; the wheel of time has. brought many changes, both happy and sorrowful. The good lansman Wangensten, of Kvam, is dead ; most touching was the last letter to me which he dictated to his son, when he had hardly strength to sign his name. Uncomplainingly he spoke of his sufferings and approaching end, and added, "Though I shall be missing when you return to Vang, do not fail to come to Kvam; you .will be welcomed by my family." Nils Tune has also gone, and over his grave the rancor of political strife has been forgotten and forgiven he was honest and incorruptible.
'Dearly do I love to read- the letters from my friends of Yang. Husbands, wives, daughters, and sons write to me affectionately, and none are more appreciated than the letters of the children. Sigrid Nertrost, the wife of John, writes; "Little Berit (their daughter) cries because she cannot write to Paul." Little Anna Haugen, in a letter of her father, sends a tiny heart and a ring made of glass pearls. Ole, who has since, been married, writes, " During Christmas we have had many gatherings, drank toasts to our friend Paul, and John has composed two verses which we - sang." These I give:.
Now at Christmas there is joy
A toast for Paul Du Chaffin: