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    Ch. 9 - The Skjärgaards

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    Chapter 9
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    The canal voyage through Sweden goes at first constantly upwards,
    through elvs and lakes, forests and rocky land. From the heights we
    look down on vast extents of forest-land and large waters, and by
    degrees the vessel sinks again down through mountain torrents. At Mem
    we are again down by the salt fiord: a solitary tower raises its head
    between the remains of low, thick walls--it is the ruins of Stegeberg.
    The coast is covered to a great extent with dark, melancholy forests,
    which enclose small grass-grown valleys. The screaming sea-gulls fly
    around our vessel; we are by the Baltic; we feel the fresh sea-breeze:
    it blows as in the times of the ancient heroes, when the sea-kings,
    sons of high-born fathers, exercised their deeds here. The same sea's
    surface then appeared to them as now to us, with its numberless isles,
    which lie strewed about here in the water by thousands along the whole
    coast. The depth of water between the rocky isles and the solid land
    is that we call "The Skjärgaards:" their waters flow into each other
    with varying splendour. We see it in the sunshine, and it is like a
    large English landscape garden; but the greensward plain is here the
    deep sea, the flower-beds in it are rocks and reefs, rich in firs and
    pines, oaks and bushes. Mark how, when the wind blows from the east,
    and the sea breaks over sunken rocks and is dashed back again in spray
    from the cliffs, your limbs feel--even through the ship on which you
    stand--the power of the sea: you are lifted as if by supernatural
    hands.

    We rush on against wind and sea, as if it were the sea-god's snorting
    horse that bore us; from Skjärgaard to Skjärgaard. The signal-gun is
    fired, and the pilot comes from that solitary wooden house. Sometimes
    we look upon the open sea, sometimes we glide again in between dark,
    stony islands; they lie like gigantic monsters in the water: one has
    the form of the tortoise's arched shell, another has the elephant's
    back and rough grey colour. Mouldering, light grey rocks indicate that
    the wind and weather past centuries has lashed over them.

    We now approach larger rocky islands, and the huge, grey, broken rocks
    of the main land, where dwarfish pine woods grow in a continual combat
    with the blast; the Skjärgaards sometimes become only a narrow canal,
    sometimes an extensive lake strewed with small islets, all of stone,
    and often only a mere block of stone, to which a single little
    fir-tree clings fast: screaming sea-gulls flutter around the
    land-marks that are set up; and now we see a single farm-house, whose
    red-painted sides shine forth from the dark background. A group of
    cows lies basking in the sun on the stony surface, near a little
    smiling pasture, which appears to have been cultivated here or cut out
    of a meadow in Scania. How solitary must it not be to live on that
    little island! Ask the boy who sits there by the cattle, he will be
    able to tell us. "It is lively and merry here," says he. "The day is
    so long and light, the seal sits out there on the stone and barks in
    the early morning hour, and all the steamers from the canal must pass
    here. I know them all; and when the sun goes down in the evening, it
    is a whole history to look into the clouds over the land: there stand
    mountains with palaces, in silver and in gold, in red and in blue;
    sailing dragons with golden crowns, or an old giant with a beard down
    to his waist--altogether of clouds, and they are always changing.

    "The storms come on in the autumn, and then there is often much
    anxiety when father is out to help ships in distress; but one becomes,
    as it were, a new being.

    "In winter the ice is locked fast and firm, and we drive from island
    to island and to the main land; and if the bear or the wolf pays us a
    visit we take his skin for a winter covering: it is warm in the room
    there, and they read and tell stories about old times!"

    Yes, old Time, how thou dost unfold thyself with remembrances of these
    very Skjärgaards--old Time which belonged to the brave. These waters,
    these rocky isles and strands, saw heroes more greatly active than
    actively good: they swung the axe to give the mortal blow, or as they
    called it, "the whining Jetteqvinde."[E]

    [Footnote E: Giantess.]

    Here came the Vikings with their ships: on the headland yonder they
    levied provisions; the grazing cattle were slaughtered and borne away.
    Ye mouldering cliffs, had ye but a tongue, ye might tell us about the
    duels with the two-handed sword--about the deeds of the giants. Ye saw
    the hero hew with the sword, and cast the javelin: his left hand was
    as cunning as his right The sword moved so quickly in the air that
    there seemed to be three. Ye saw him, when he in all his martial array
    sprang forwards and backwards, higher than he himself was tall, and if
    he sprang into the sea he swam like a whale. Ye saw the two
    combatants: the one darted his javelin, the other caught it in the
    air, and cast it back again, so that it pierced through shield and man
    down into the earth. Ye saw warriors with sharp swords and angry
    hearts; the sword was struck downwards so as to cut the knee, out the
    combatant sprang into the air, and the sword whizzed under his feet.
    Mighty Sagas from the olden times! Mouldering rocks, could ye but tell
    us of these things!

    Ye, deep waters, bore the Vikings' ships, and when the strong in
    battle lifted the iron anchor and cast it against the enemy's vessel,
    so that the planks were rent asunder, ye poured your dark heavy seas
    into the hold, so that the bark sank. The wild _Berserk_ who with
    naked breast stood against his enemy's blows, mad as a dog, howling
    like a bear, tearing his shield asunder, rushing to the bottom of the
    sea here, and fetching up stones, which ordinary men could not
    raise--history peoples these waters, these cliffs for us! A future
    poet will conjure them to this Scandinavian Archipelago, chisel the
    true forms out of the old Sagas, the bold, the rude, the greatness and
    imperfections of the time, in their habits as they lived.

    They rise again for us on yonder island, where the wind is whistling
    through the young fir wood. The house is of beams, roofed with bark;
    the smoke from the fire on the broad stone in the hall, whirls through
    the air-hole, near which stands the cask of mead; the cushions lie on
    the bench before the closed bedsteads; deer-skins hang over the balk
    walls, ornamented with shields, helmets, and armour. Effigies of gods,
    carved, on wooden poles, stand before the high seat where the noble
    Viking sits, a high-born father's youngest son, great in fame, but
    still greater in deeds; the skjalds (bards) and foster-brothers sit
    nearest to him. They defended the coasts of their countrymen, and the
    pious women; they fetched wheat and honey from England, they went to
    the White Sea for sables and furs--their adventures are related in
    song. We see the old man ride in rich clothing, with gloves sewn with
    golden thread, and with a hat brought from Garderige; we see the youth
    with a golden fillet around his brow; we see him at the _Thing_; we
    see him in battle and in play, where the best is he that can cut off
    the other's eyebrows without scratching the skin, or causing a wink
    with the eyes, on pain of losing his station. The woman sits in the
    log-house at her loom, and in the late moonlight nights the spirits of
    the fallen come and sit down around the fire, where they shake the
    wet, dripping clothes; but the serf sleeps in the ashes, and on the
    kitchen bench, and dreams that he dips his bread in the fat soup, and
    licks his fingers.

    Thou future poet, thou wilt call forth the vanished forms from the
    Sagas, thou wilt people these islands, and let us glide past these
    reminiscences of the olden time with the mind full of them; clearly
    and truly wilt thou let us glide, as we now with the power of steam
    fly past that firmly standing scenery, the swelling sea, rocks and
    reefs, the main land, and wood-grown islands.

    We are already past Braavigen, where numberless ships from the
    northern kingdoms lay, when Upsala's King, Sigurd Ring, came,
    challenged by Harald Hildetand, who, old and grey, feared to die on a
    sick bed, and would fall in battle; and the mainland thundered like
    the plains of Marathon beneath the tramp of horses' hoofs during the
    battle:[F] bards and female warriors surrounded the Danish King. The
    blind old man raised himself high in his chariot, gave his horse free
    rein, and hewed his way. Odin himself had due reverence paid to
    Hildetand's bones; and the pile was kindled, and the King laid on it,
    and Sigurd conjured all to cast gold and weapons, the most valuable
    they possessed, into the fire; and the bards sang to it, and the
    female warriors struck the spears on the bright shields. Upsala's
    Lord, Sigurd Ring, became King of Sweden and Denmark: so says the
    Saga, which sounded over the land and water from these coasts.

    [Footnote F: The battle of Braavalla.]

    The memorials of olden times pass swiftly through our thoughts; we fly
    past the scene of manly exercises and great deeds in the olden
    times--the ship cleaves the mighty waters with its iron paddles, from
    Skjärgaard to Skjärgaard.
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