« ZurückWeiter »
soap, made a fine lather. We were nine hours on the way, most of the time within the fjords, where heavy mists hid the fjelds and, falling, seemed to bar the way. The air was dank and chill, and when I at last saw Eide in the distance, I thought happily that for seven long months I need go nowhere in a boat.
There were Kruses to meet me on the sea-rocks and help me with the surf, and other Kruses, higher up, to hug me and escort me up the stony path, Kruses running down the little lanes and coming to doors to greet me, and meeting me at Amalya's threshold, and dropping in later to bid me welcome. Other Kruses were out fishing. And so I settled down to keep house in Kvisten, which means the Attic.
You remember, of course, the story of the Three Bears and the Little Girl? Kvisten now resembles the home of the Little Wee Bear. All my life I have been bothered by chairs and tables unsuited to my height, and here was my opportunity. Joen Magnus, who is a carpenter, postman, fisherman, and a trifle of a farmer, has adapted many boxes for me. His charge is six cents an hour. I pay seven, and thus the pleasantest relations are established. There are twenty-two boxes, large and small, in Kvisten's two rooms, though you would never suspect it, and all are suited to the needs of the Little Wee Bear and of me. They are my boxes, — mine to me, and therein lies their and therein lies their charm. I own the kettle, the zinc pails, the frying-pan, and the broom. No one has the right to invade Kvisten, and put soda in my tea, and boil it 'to get the goodness out,' or to add sugar and nutmeg to my potatoes. No 'sweet soup' shall cross my threshold! I am weary of conforming, through many years, to the ways of other people. Now I propose to have some ways of
This cottage is perched high on a slope above the sea, so close that, as I sit by my packing-case table, I see only sky and water and distant fjelds. In stormy weather, the great surges seem charging on to overwhelm Kvisten. They made me dizzy at first, and to get my bearings, I must rise and look down on the shore rocks and the grass-sod roofs of the Kruse trading-post, and boat-houses that shelter high-prowed fishing-boats, Ornen, Svanen, Hvalen, Famiglien -the Eagle, the Swan, the Whale, the Family.
The village of Eide (pronounced Ida) lies huddled along the fjord, looking south between two islands over nine miles of sea. On the north are gray, storm-bleached grass fields, rocky fjelds on either side, and a pond, which only a long dike of up-tossed boulders separates from the lonely Northern Sea. On the east, a great solemn promontory rears precipitous cliffs two thousand feet above the surf, and seems to be saying, 'Thus far.' I don't think it is my fancy that makes those northern waters seem sterner, more melancholy, than those of the east or west. On summer nights the glory of the sunset and the sunrise both are there; but now, in November, the sun is far away, making its shallow arc in the south.
I have been busy with preparations for winter salting mutton and herrings, ordering supplies, filling little boxes with soil, and planting or sowing correctives of a too fishy, salty diet: chives and parsley, cress, and that best of all anti-scorbutics, the native scurvygrass.'
Amalya's quarters, called Huset, and mine, Kvisten, are on the most neighborly of terms, and often, starting to go downstairs with a little offering like a turnip or a cup of canned tomato, I met Amalya coming up with a bit of fried fish or a pancake.
I am to have three lambs from an
other island. The first one came in midOctober, escorted from the landingplace by a score of small boys. It was dismaying to be confronted by a whole lamb, intact, but Amalya kindly officiated as mistress of ceremonies. Ole Jakob, a neighbor, was asked to kill and dress it in the cellar, I peering down fearfully from time to time through a trap-door in the kitchen. Ole Jakob had half the tallow, the feet, fifty öre (about fourteen cents), and two cigars, and declared himself more than satisfied, handsomely paid, in fact, and sent his thanks. I replied, politely, through Amalya, that the thanks were to him. Amalya's family has whale-meat, salted, to eke out winter supplies. I have eaten fresh whale-meat scores of times and found it very good — almost like beef. But it changes sadly when kept in brine, and has a curiously pervasive odor. The days when Huset has whale for dinner, Kvisten ventilates diligently, loses interest in cooking, and takes gloomy views of the war.
I find that many people think my name is Mistela. Not knowing the meaning of the word Miss, and adding it to my surname, they think it a Christian name, like Marguerite or Malene. I like it as I hear it from a group of children. 'Here comes Mistela,' I hear the older ones say; 'now, bid good-day prettily to Mistela.' And as I pass, they raise half-frightened eyes to me and say in soft chorus, 'Godan dagur, Mistela.'
This is the time of year when we are packed away in heavy, low-lying clouds that turn even midday to twilight. Storms and heavy rain day after day. Green slime growing on the little lanes, rocks, and cottage-walls. Housework is difficult in the uncertain light. There is a feeling like black cobwebs before the eyes. While I wait for the light to brighten, the shadows deepen and the brief day has passed. A lantern is an indispensable part of Kvisten's outfit.
When, in late afternoons, a bit of war news is telephoned to the doctor, he writes it on a piece of paper, and puts it in a little frame that hangs on the outer wall of a cottage. Buffeted by the storm, I make a zigzaggy progress up to that cottage, where a group of men are burning their fingers with matches and growling about the doctor's writing. Often I am kept there long, reading by the light of my lantern the message, as others join the group, and feeling very bashful about my queer pronunciation of Danish.
Am I or am I not a Kalve Kone? That means a halibut woman, one who possesses mysterious powers that can charm a big halibut to the hook of a fisherman. But the fisherman must have promised her verbally, or in his thoughts at sea, the beitu - a choice bit, cut from the fish between the fore-fins. And for this beitu no thanks should ever be given, though pleasure may be indirectly expressed. Last week, a man on the fishing-bank promised me the beitu, and a few minutes later he was having a sharp fight with a halibut that weighed almost two hundred pounds. When he came with the beitu, Amalya, who was speaking Faroe-ese for me, explained that, of course, Mistela understood that no thanks were to be given for it, but she was awfully glad to have it, and considered it handsomely done of him. Two days later, another man promised me the beitu, and caught nothing. So what is one to think?
December 22, 1914.
A British trawler came in this morning to get supplies for the homeward run. I saw the ship's boat nearing land, and knew I would be needed to help with the 'trawler English.' I found Neils already in difficulty about 'grub,' 'bac,' and 'tates,' which the man had demanded. During the next hour I made acquaintance with plug, shag,
and cavendish, helped to make out attestations, and sent a messenger among the cottages to find potatoes. The man's face looked drawn and heavily lined, though he was not yet middle-aged. I understood it when he told me that he had been in the mine-sweepers' brigade. Two of their vessels had disappeared, leaving no trace of crew or wreckage. The man expected to reach port by Christmas, and I asked him about the homeward run - whether he followed all the prescribed routes of the Admiralty. 'Huh!' he exclaimed, with contempt, if we did, we'd never get any furrader. Run for it and take yer chances. That's the only way!'
He gave me no thanks for my help, no word of farewell. He gathered up his purchases, paused in the doorway, and looked with weather-wise eyes on land and sea. 'Wind's against us,' he muttered; 'everything's against us' and so departedly sadly.
Later. I have heard that his ship has been shelled and sunk, but what has become of the sad little man I do not know.
Our letters to England now go first to Copenhagen, then to Aarhus in Denmark, then by a butter-and-bacon freighter back the whole length of the North Sea, north of the Orkney Isles, and down the west coast of England to Manchester or Liverpool. Time, from sixteen to twenty-six days.
Yesterday a little deserter from Germany had tea here. Really he is from Slesvig. He explained earnestly, 'Papa, Danish; mama, Swedish. Born in Germany, but not a German!' I was surprised to find how well he speaks Danish, though Germany has done all in its power since 1864 to suppress the language. When he tried to speak English, he mixed it with German. His elder brother had been killed in the first days of the war. His best friend was called to service, but an accident delayed him.
Next morning his young wife received the message, 'Two hours late. Shot.' That was too much for the little Slesviger. He would rather be shot as a deserter than fight for Germany. He was a meek, pallid boy, but his eyes fairly blazed as he told of the death of his friend. Many adventures he has had, many narrow escapes, but now he has a British pass, is cook on a fishing vessel, and eventually will go to Denmark.
March 7, 1915.
The winter passes quickly, and it is time to think of garden-plots. Kvisten has lately been deeply involved in potatoes. Food-supplies are uncertain, and the Governor urges all to plant as many potatoes as possible, and new varieties have been sent from Denmark. I think my faulty Danish is responsible for the arrival from Thorshavn of more kinds, in larger numbers, than I had expected. It has been a time of stress, looking each potato sternly in the eye, to see if it means to sprout. I have made a little collection for each family of the Kruse clan, two other friends, and myself. Nine families, and five varieties for each family, and each variety to be kept separate and correctly labeled, and I to cook, eat, work, and sleep in the midst of it all. By bedtime so many potatoes had been imprinted on my retinas that, when I closed my weary eyes, I could distinctly see potatoes, brilliantly illuminated, floating in space. And now in the dim light, under my cot-bed, my packing-case table, wherever there is a place, are potatoes in shallow boxes, standing prettily in rows, making sprouts.
July 15, 1915.
I was going to show Eide what's what in the way of little gardens, but this is a bad ice-year in the far North. Those Greenland ice-floes will not go. They drift and pack and drift again, be
sieging Iceland's northern coasts, and causing ice-fogs that check and blast vegetation in these islands. Those peas and parsnips, cauliflower and oysterplant seedlings, one by one, went by the board, until only potatoes and turnips were left. Then blight attacked the potatoes, dry rot and horrid white worms the turnips, and a coast-wind tore my rhubarb to bits. I have two pea-plants that are doing well, but they are in a pot in Kvisten. Amalya has seen dried peas, and she always thought they were dug from the ground, like potatoes.
We have all felt the need of a peatfire in the haugi · the wild out-fields. There is nothing like it as a restorer of cheerfulness. And on one of our few clear days, we went to a lake among the hills, five hundred feet above the sea. It was the coldest picnic I have ever attended, but with many attractions kittiwakes taking fresh-water baths in the lake, black-backed gulls barking among the cliffs, and curlew chortling over the grassy slopes. Omma (which means grandmother) and I tended the peat-fire and made large quantities of tea to restore the circulation of those who fished for trout, from boats, and we returned home at half-past nine, when the sun was still shining on the fjelds. Not that we wanted to, but we were so very cold!
January 30, 1916.
In a letter received from America the writer says she thinks of me as 'dreaming away the peaceful days far from turmoil and agitation.' I will now tell you of one of my 'peaceful days.'
We knew by noon that a storm was brewing, for the sea was restless, the reefs moaning, and the rising wind hooted in a way that meant trouble to come. Darkness closed in early, and by four o'clock we were in the grip of a hurricane from the north. The house shook and groaned and strained like a labor
ing ship at sea. Torrents of icy rain and masses of sea-water carried horizontally through the air bombarded the house, and on the northern side forced their way through every crevice and joist and crack. Under the eaves, in the sloping closets, Josefine and I crawled on all fours, with lanterns, exhuming the contents, while Omma brought sacks and mops, buckets and tubs. In Kvisten, with its thin roof of zinc, its walls of two layers of planks, the uproar was so great that we had to shout to be heard. Yet above it all sounded that high shrill crying- the vox humana of a hurricane.
During the worst gusts there was a curious lifting sensation, as if something had gone wrong with the attraction of gravity. It was singularly disconcerting to lose all sense of weight and stability, and feel that Kvisten might whirl away like a pack of cards. What a night that was, we thinking that the roof would go, the house be carried from its foundations, and then what would Amalya do? For in that time of fear Amalya's little son was born. I had him in my charge, five minutes old, so blue and cold he was,
I make from time to time tentative efforts to secure a passport, but they come to naught. I am in the diplomatic jurisdiction of Copenhagen; but with this troublesome heart the long and very dangerous journey to Denmark is impossible. I would venture the shorter one to Scotland, if I could get a passport. I wrote explaining fully how I was situated, that a 'personal application' could not be made, and giving the best of credentials. Such a trusting, naïve letter it was so sure that there
would be some accommodation in the law for one of Uncle Sam's family, stranded in a far-away land. A few words, in reply, from a secretary, merely say that passports are issued on 'personal application.' So I remain in my island attic.
June 15, 1916.
We have had an anxious week. First, a rumor of the great sea-fight off Jutland, and then the death of Lord Kitchener. Faroe folk, before the war, have known little and cared less about the great ones of the outer world. But they knew about Lord Kitchener, and his death seems to them a personal loss, as if one more safeguard between their homes and the enemy had been broken down. And now, in another sense, they are comrades of the sea, for he has died the death that some of them will die. When the news came, I took a Kitchener photograph with me down to the Kruse Store, where there is always a group of fishermen gossiping and smoking. They crowded around me eagerly, to see it, and I saw tears in the eyes of some of the older men. 'A brave man, a good man,' they said softly.
March 18, 1917. The Thorshavn authorities announce that there is a three-months' supply of grain and flour on hand, but future supplies are uncertain, and we are enjoined to use as little as possible, and to bear our coming troubles 'with calm and dignity.' Now we have used a sevenweeks' portion, and in all that time not one pound of food has come to the islands. I cut down on light, fuel, and food, and could have eaten less and yet carried on as usual. I will not say that I did not want to eat more. Queerly enough, I was more hungry in my dreams than in my waking hours. I gave little thought to bacon in pre-war days, but now, about once a week, I dream about it. I sit down, with joy,
before a large dish of delicately browned curly bacon, when suddenly it vanishes away. Distractedly I search everywhere, mopping away my tears, see it in the distance, pursue it, and it again eludes me. My grief wakes me, and I find that real tears have made me uncomfortably damp.
Next week our rationing will begin, and on Monday there will be a houseto-house inspection. Private supplies must be declared and attestations made. The whole matter is rather complicated, and the Thorshavn powers that be have kindly tried to explain, in technical language, in many columns of the little semi-weekly paper. We get on fairly well in everyday Danish, but these explanations have made trouble. And now I see groups of excited men, waving ragged copies of Dimmalætting, and hear such comments, in Faroe speech, as, 'Fool thou! I say thou canst not have sago!' 'Death and torment! You've got it wrong!' "'S death! Oatmeal is rationed!' 'Out with thee! Thou 'lt have to swear on truth and honor how many potatoes thou hast!' And I know that Eide's men-folk are earnestly striving for comprehension before the ordeal on Monday.
15 May, 1917.
Some supplies have come, enough to carry us through the next few weeks. In Thorshavn some employment is given on public works, and throughout the islands land-owning peasants have more food, some milk and fats, and dried mutton. But in poor fishing villages there is much undernourishment. There is an old saying, 'When Eide's fishing-lines are dry, Eide hungers.' Yesterday four 'six-man boats' (boats rowed by six men) were out, and a few small fish were the only returns for the hard day's work of twenty-four men. Many people have only their ration of coarse rye-meal, weak tea and coffee,