« ZurückWeiter »
and wind-dried codlings. I can tell when a mother has been giving part of her scanty allowance to children or husband. There is a certain over-bright eye, an exalted expression, a strained, white look of the skin over the nose and around the mouth.
A well-to-do friend in Glasgow offered help, and I wrote asking for a little fine barley-meal and patent health-foods for the mothers of new-born babies and for sick children. She wisely sent my letter on to London, with her application for a permit. It showed that I asked only for those in real need.
Eight Faroe cutters have been sunk on the Faroe Banks. The men could not believe that Germany would harm peaceful fishermen of a neutral land, on the grounds where their forbears had fished for a thousand years. This is a hard blow. The cutters soon would have gone to the Iceland summer fishery, and on that the people rely for help through the winter.
June 20, 1917.
After a cold, dark spring and early summer, we have had a week of real sunshine, such as we seldom see, and we have basked in it and become dry and warm and sunburned, and the days have been all too long and too light for one's strength. It is the time of peatwork, and a friend, Olivina, and I have had a private picnic on a promontory where she owns a peat-field. She was to 'set up' peats, and I to sketch and collect plants. So it was supposed, but the truth is, we had saved up flour from our ration, and in all secrecy we took the frying-pan with us and made pancakes on the heights, and the full quota of work was not done that day. After the pancakes on a day so rare it seemed advisable to let work go, and climb to the top of the headland. There, twelve hundred feet above the sea, we looked across perhaps twenty miles of shimmering sea-levels, - blue and pink
and pearl, - and there was no land between us and the North Pole. Puffins darted to and fro like little shuttles below us. Gulls circled with no perceptible motion of their wings. A long, lean freighter passed, probably bound for Archangel. Then, from the east, came two pretty sister ships, shining in new white paint. They kept close together, and seemed like two little children abroad on some brave adventure. Once they checked, almost stopped, and Olivina clutched my arm. 'Undervands baaden!' she quavered. But no, it was no submarine that had stopped them, only the fierce race, or current, sweeping eastward, and strongest at this phase of the moon.
12 July, 1917.
Yesterday I was startled by the sight of seven large trawlers, all armed, swinging in from the open sea. Eide is a lonely place. I had not seen a trawler, except far away, for more than two years. Amalya was calling to me to hurry that probably torpedoed crews were being brought to land. I found that only a slight accident to machinery had brought them in. But I could help about sending a telephone message, and soon a burly skipper and I were having a chat while awaiting an answer. He looked at me in amazement when he heard I was an American and had been in Eide almost three years. 'Good Lord!' he exclaimed, smiting his thigh in emphasis. 'How have you held out in this hole?'
I replied, with spirit, that it was n't a hole: there were many beautiful places near; I liked the people and was glad to be here. But later, looking about me, I admitted that Eide in the fog was not looking its best that day, all dank and dripping, and the cods' heads and refuse too much in evidence.
Later, I met the young lieutenant in charge of the defenses. So trim and fit and lean he was, with clear, steady
eyes. It was a credit to his discernment that he understood that this shabby old party who appeared out of the fog had a message that he must hear. To trawler captains I could not give it. No censor would pass it in the post. I looked into the eyes of that young man, and constrained him to listen; and as, for the time being, I had much dynamic force in me, he did listen, bless him, murmuring at intervals, "That is interesting'; 'I did n't know that'; 'I'll remember that'; 'I'll do my best."
And then they sailed away, and I wandered about in much distress of mind. I was in the grip of nostalgia. The refined, clean-cut speech of the young officer, the first I had heard since April, 1914, brought to mind all I had lost, was losing, in this exile. Out in the world the current of life was sweeping onward, full and strong, and I-what was I doing in this backwater, this futile eddy?
Then the fog lifted from the fields. Between two peaks the moon was rising. No stars are seen on a Faroe summer night. The pale moon casts no shadows. But a silvery radiance mingles with the daylight and the last glow of the sunset colors. Nothing is hidden, nothing obscured. The faint far fjelds show lovely tones of blue and violet. I could see the shining of the little streams as they slipped over the basalt ledges, the vivid green of their mosses, and the rich purples and reds reflected from the cliffs in the sea below.
It was so still that not the least line of white showed along the coast; but, as I looked, the whole surface of the sea rose, swelled upward and forward, and with a muffled roar, a great white flung itself along the cliffs' base and over the dark reefs. It swept backward, and all again was still.
So beautiful it was, Helen, so peaceful, that my own troubles seemed of lit
tle moment, the way before me easier to follow.
Four out of five salt ships from the Mediterranean, which had permission to come to the Faroes outside the 'danger zone,' have been forced by the cruisers to turn back into it for examination at Kirkwall, and as they came out they were torpedoed. So good ships and men are lost to England, and food that the salt would have cured; and much hardship is brought on the Faroes. For, with no salt to cure the fish, there can be no fishing. The Germans are greatly pleased to have their game hunted in for them. . . . (The Censor suppressed this last paragraph. I thought he would, but I could n't refrain.)
On Sudero is the last port from which ships sail for lands down below.' There bands of British trawlers, homeward bound from Iceland, drop anchor, and signal to the port officials, 'We have come in to sleep.' Close together the ships lie, a little flock of hunted creatures, and for seven hours all is quiet on board. Then out they go, no rest for them till they reach a Scottish haven. Much suffering and many lives and ships have been spared to Britain by this little neutral group, in a waste of waters where ships can take shelter, and torpedoed crews and wounded men find help and nursing. Money cannot pay for these things, but the British Government might let us have some petroleum, and allow a ship with supplies from America to be examined at Halifax instead of at Kirkwall, in the danger
15 August, 1917.
We think with dread of the coming darkness. No petroleum on sale, of course no gas or electric light, no coal, no candles, and only a scanty supply of peat. America, as well as England, refuses us petroleum. (I wish I could have Mr. Hoover here on a December night, in one of our worst gales!) A new
odor has been added to Eide's general fishiness. House-fathers and mothers are trying out highly unpleasant fishlivers. Small boys are fishing for codlings. The old folks are praying that the Lord will send a flock of driving whales, to give food and light for the coming winter. And the smiths have gathered in all the old cans and every scrap of tin and brass, and are experimenting on little fish-oil lamps. They require a reservoir above the burner, a pressure to force the oil up to the wick.
The truth is, petroleum, postal rights, and other desiderata, are denied us because the British Government is afraid that the Faroes will be used as a supply station for German submarines.
It is surprising what can be done in contriving ways and means. The soles of my felt shoes are quite worn out, and I have re-covered them with a piece of a neighboring fisherman's discarded trousers, giving in return a little flour. Anna has made a fine pair of shoes for her little girl from a fifteen-year-old felt hat. I bartered three envelopes the other day for a lamp-chimney with a broken top, a handkerchief for a small cod, and I have known a large spoonful of soft soap to be 'swapped' for three hairpins.
20 October, 1917.
We have a new baby, a frail little creature, unfit to bear the coming winter. She is not six weeks old, an age when the normal child is a little pig, with unawakened intelligence. This dear baby looks from one to another with bright, questioning eyes, earnestly, sadly, and yet with a sweet composure that seems strange in such a helpless mite. We laugh at her, and tell her that she need n't put on such dignified airs, that we mean well, even if our manners are not as fine as hers. I suppose she seems older because there is no baby fat to hide the pure oval of her face and the fine lines of neck and shoulders. VOL. 188-NO. ↓
We have had heavy rains and a low temperature since the middle of July. Even now, between snow-squalls, haymaking is going on. Many are bearing home the half-dry hay, to spread it out in their little cellars. Wretched food it will be for the poor cows; but there is nothing else to give them.
30 January, 1918. Eide had a 'dry Christmas' (no spirits for sale), and so, for many women and children, a happier Christmas than usual. We made a quite charming little tree from a piece of spar, with sticks inserted here and there for branches, and covered with heather and crowberry. Amalya fished out some decorations from her childhood days; there were some little toys sent in August from a Scottish friend. I made cornucopias with the colored illustrations of a Liberty rug-and-carpet catalogue (and very pretty they were), and from beeswax cast ashore from a torpedoed vessel we had little brown candles, which spluttered briskly as they burned, from the sea-salt in them. We had long been saving from our flour-and sugar-rations, and by an elaborate system of barter and by mutual gifts in the Kruse clan, we managed to have some good Christmas food, and sugar-candies and gingernuts for the tree. It was really something like a Danish Christmas, with the singing of the Christmas songs, 'Still Night, Holy Night,' and 'A Child is born in Bethlehem.'
We are having a terrible winter. Such cold has never before been recorded in the Faroes. This long siege began on December first. I was at the window after dinner, wondering at the strange ashy-red color on the fjelds, when, with a noise like thunder on Kvisten's roof, all was blotted out, as if a gray blanket had been thrown across the window. The gale raged with hurricane force until the next morning.
Seven were killed (two on this island) rand. 'Now don't get anything for me.
and many injured.
Then followed week after week of gales from the North. No fjelds, no sea, no sky, all milled up in a whirling fog of hard-cutting snow. The light in Kvisten was dim and gray, so thick was the ice on the window. I shared my wardrobe with my potatoes, yet they were frozen. The water-supply gave out long ago. There is too little peat to melt much snow. The only water we have must be brought some distance, from a brackish pool near the sea. The salt water makes a sticky glaze on the skin without cleaning it. There is practically no soap in the village, no soda or other cleansing stuffs. The fish-oil lamps diffuse a universal oiliness. But there is one advantage in the common plight: no one can look with disdain on his fellow man and say, 'I am clean.'
The pride of the family, Melrose by name, a large, half-Cheviot ram, blew away in that opening gale. His carcass was fished up three days later from the sea. This is not a time for undue fastidiousness, and Amalya has salted most of the meat, and the rest we ate with a properly thankful spirit. Only I wished that Amalya would speak of the dear departed as mutton, instead of saying, 'Nella' (our boy's name for me), 'will you have another piece of Melrose?'
The baby, Elizabeth, fails from day to day. The doctor went to Denmark last year, and no one will come to take his place while the war lasts. But no doctor could help her. She needs warmth and sunshine, and Amalya should have a generous and varied diet. The people miss the little visits of happier days between the cottages, the gossip over a cup of tea and coffee, and perhaps little cakes brought out to honor a guest. Now the food-rations do not admit of hospitality. I admire the kindly fibbing that goes on when a neighbor comes on some necessary er
I've just had breakfast, and could n't eat a bite more.' Often I am asked wistfully, 'Has the Fróken any news of the Amerika ship with coffee?' as if, being an American, I must possess special knowledge. But not a word have we heard. 23 April, 1918.
The baby, Elizabeth, died on Easter Day. The world is too hard a place now for little babies. Our boy, Oli, grieves for her; and knowing that many things are ordered from Thorshavn, he begs Amalya to write for another little sister just like Elizabeth, to be sent on at
30 May, 1918.
The American schooner has come to Thorshavn, nine months from port. She must have feared she was fated to be another Flying Dutchman. Month after month of contrary gales crippled her at last, so she drifted into the danger zone and had to seek a Shetland haven for repairs. Part of the cargo is damaged, but the coffee is saved. The news passed swiftly over Eide, called by happy voices from house to house. I saw tears of joy on one wrinkled old face, and heard a quavering voice singing the gay 'Coffee Song' - a danceballad that the singer had danced more than a half century before.
And now our only postal communication with the outer world is by one old hooker, which brings salt and some restricted wares from a British port, and takes back salt fish and fish-liver oil. To name it is forbidden, but seamen call it "The Lucky Ship.' Nor can we ask when it will come or go. During more than two years the valiant old skipper, now aged seventy-four, has gone back and forth across the danger zone, having adventures that cannot be told. There is one young gunner on board, but all the crew and officers range from fifty-five to seventy years.
15 December, 1918.
All was quiet when the few-worded message came of the signing of the Armistice. Of course, in a little neutral land there would be no official celebration. A crowd gathered quickly when the few-worded bulletin was put up, and some asked me, 'Can it be true?' And some said, 'God give it be truth!' and some wiped their eyes. And I said 'Gud ske Lov' (God be praised), and went away where I could see from afar that northern shore, where now I need not dread to look, fearing what I might find there. For the seas are to be clean once more! And then I went back to Kvisten and did my housework, and that was all.
15 January, 1919.
In December, for the first time since July, 1916, a real steamer entered Eide fjord. A shabby black old hooker, to be sure, but it was the 'Lucky Ship.' And now I can tell its name, the Cromwell, and the brave old skipper's name is Captain Gibb, of Aberdeen, and the ship belongs to the Iceland Shipping Co., Leith, Scotland. I wanted to go on board, but we are quarantined against the Spanish influenza and no one is allowed on deck. Only by going to windward can bags of salt be delivered to the freight rowboats, and oils and fish transferred to the steamer.
THORSHAVN, 2 August, 1919. The breaking up of my life in Kvislife in Kvisten was a hard time. I was really ill with a 'near-pneumonia' cold. Storms and heavy surf swept the village-front, making the launching of a boat impos
sible. Could I get to Thorshavn in time to go on the Chaldur? Would she go to Scotland on her way to Denmark? Was my promised passage assured, when scores of passengers on the spot were clamoring to go? I dared not let myself think of the parting from those who had become so dear to me. Silence seemed the only way of getting through with it. Once I said shakily, 'Amalya, you know what is in my heart?'-'Yes, Nella, I know.' Then, just in time, the storm subsided.
Our boy at the last would not say good-bye. 'Nella was bad. Nella should not go to England. Nella should stay in Kvisten always.'
It was a small party that set forth in the tiny fishing motor-boat. Our housefather at the helm, a brother-in-law at the engine, two neighbors as assistants, Fru Kruse and I the passengers. The box-like pit where whelks for bait are kept had been cleaned out, and Fru Kruse and I sat down there, with our heads peering out above the rim. A piece of canvas stretched overhead kept out the rain. And so we chug-chugged southward, hour after hour, in the gently falling rain, toward Thorshavn, where I was to see a pony and a tree for the first time in five years. Part of the time we were between the islands, then on the open sea, past treacherous reefs and sucking whirlpools off the Stromö coast, where many a boat has 'gone away.' Then, as we rounded a point of land, we saw on the far southern horizon a faint smudge of smoke. That was our Chaldur, and she will take me south to Scotland.