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    Ch. 20 - Fahlun

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    Chapter 20
    Previous Chapter
    We made our way at length out of the forest, and saw a town before us
    enveloped in thick smoke, having a similar appearance to most of the
    English manufacturing towns, save that the smoke was greenish--it was
    the town Fahlun.

    The road now went downwards between large banks, formed by the dross
    deposited here from the smelting furnaces, and which looks like
    burnt-out hardened lava. No sprout or shrub was to be seen, not a
    blade of grass peeped forth by the way-side, not a bird flew past, but
    a strong sulphurous smell, as from among the craters in Solfatara,
    filled the air. The copper roof of the church shone with corrosive
    green.

    Long straight streets now appeared in view. It was as deathly still
    here as if sickness and disease had lain within these dark wooden
    houses, and frightened the inhabitants from coming abroad; yet
    sickness and disease come but to few here, for when the plague raged
    in Sweden, the rich and powerful of the land hastened to Fahlun, whose
    sulphureous air was the most healthy. An ochre-yellow water runs
    through the brook, between the houses; the smoke from the mines and
    smelting furnaces has imparted its tinge to them; it has even
    penetrated into the church, whose slender pillars are dark from the
    fumes of the copper. There chanced to come on a thunder-storm when we
    arrived, but its roaring and the lightning's flashes harmonized well
    with this town, which appears as if it were built on the edge of a
    crater.

    We went to see the copper mine which gives the whole district the name
    of "Stora Kopparberget," (the great copper mountain). According to the
    legend, its riches were discovered by two goats which were
    fighting--they struck the ground with their horns and some copper ore
    adhered to them.

    From the solitary red-ochre street we wandered over the great heaps of
    burnt-out dross and fragments of stone, accumulated to whole ramparts
    and hills. The fire shone from the smelting furnaces with green,
    yellow and red tongues of flame under a blue-green smoke; half-naked,
    black-smeared fellows threw out large glowing masses of fire, so that
    the sparks flew around and about:--one was reminded of Schiller's
    "Fridolin."

    The thick sulphureous smoke poured forth from the heaps of cleansed
    ore, under which the fire was in full activity, and the wind drove it
    across the road which we must pass. In smoke, and impregnated with
    smoke, stood building after building: three buildings had been
    strangely thrown, as it were, by one another: earth and stone-heaps,
    as if they were unfinished works of defence, extended around.
    Scaffolding, and long wooden bridges, had been erected there; large
    wheels turned round; long and heavy iron chains were in continual
    motion.

    We stood before an immense gulf, called "Stora Stöten," (the great
    mine). It had formerly three entrances, but they fell in and now there
    is but one. This immense sunken gulf now appears like a vast valley:
    the many openings below, to the shafts of the mine, look, from above,
    like the sand-martin's dark nest-holes in the declivities of the
    shore: there were a few wooden huts down there. Some strangers in
    miners' dresses, with their guide, each carrying a lighted fir-torch,
    appeared at the bottom, and disappeared again in one of the dark
    holes. From within the dark wooden houses, in which great water-wheels
    turned, issued some of the workmen. They came from the dizzying
    gulf--from narrow, deep wells: they stood in their wooden shoes two
    and two, on the edge of the tun which, attached to heavy chains, is
    hoisted up, singing and swinging the tun on all sides: they came up
    merry enough. Habit makes one daring.

    They told us that, during the passage upwards, it often happened that
    one or another, from pure wantonness, stepped quite out of the tun,
    and sat himself between the loose stones on the projecting piece of
    rock, whilst they fired and blasted the rock below so that it shook
    again, and the stones about him thundered down. Should one expostulate
    with him on his fool-hardiness, he would answer with the usual
    witticism here: "I have never before killed myself."

    One descends into some of the shafts by a sort of machinery, which
    looks as if they had placed two iron ladders against each other, each
    having a rocking movement, so that by treading on the ascending-step
    on the one side and then on the other, which goes upwards, one
    gradually ascends, and by going on the downward sinking-step one gets
    by degrees to the bottom. They said it was very easy, only one must
    step boldly, so that the foot should not come between and get crushed;
    and then one must remember that there is no railing or balustrade
    here, and directly outside these stairs there is the deep abyss into
    which one may fall headlong. The deepest shaft has a perpendicular
    depth of more than a hundred and ninety fathoms, but for this there is
    no danger, they say, only one must not be dizzy, nor get alarmed. One
    of the workmen, who had come up, descended with a lighted pine-branch
    as a torch: the flame illumined the dark rocky wall, and by degrees
    became only a faint streak of light which soon vanished.

    We were told that a few days before, five or six schoolboys had
    unobserved stolen in here, and amused themselves by going from step to
    step on these machine-like rocking stairs, in pitchy darkness, but at
    last they knew not rightly which way to go, up or down, and had then
    begun to shout and scream lustily. They escaped luckily that bout.

    By one of the large openings, called "Fat Mads," there are rich copper
    mines, but which have not yet been worked. A building stands above it:
    it was at the bottom of this that they found, in the year 1719, the
    corpse of a young miner. It appeared as if he had fallen down that
    very day, so unchanged did the body seem--but no one knew him. An old
    woman then stepped forward and burst into tears: the deceased was her
    bridegroom, who had disappeared forty nine years ago. She stood there
    old and wrinkled; he was young as when they had met for the last time
    nearly half a century before.[T]

    [Footnote T: In another mine they found, in the year 1635, a corpse
    perfectly fresh, and almost with the appearance of one asleep; but
    his clothes, and the ancient copper coins found on him, bore witness
    that it was two hundred years since he had perished there.]

    We went to "The Plant House," as it is called, where the vitriolated
    liquid is crystallized to sulphate of copper. It grew up long sticks
    placed upright in the boiling water, resembling long pieces of
    grass-green sugar. The steam was pungent, and the air in here
    penetrated our tongues--it was just as if one had a corroded spoon in
    one's mouth. It was really a luxury to come out again, even into the
    rarefied copper smoke, under the open sky.

    Steaming, burnt-out, and herbless as the district is on this side of
    the town, it is just as refreshing, green, and fertile on the opposite
    side of Fahlun. Tall leafy trees grow close to the farthest houses.
    One is directly in the fresh pine and birch forests, thence to the
    lake and to the distant blueish mountain sides near Zäther.

    The people here can tell you and show you memorials of Engelbrekt and
    his Dalecarlians' deeds, and of Gustavus Vasa's adventurous
    wanderings. But we will remain here in this smoke-enveloped town, with
    the silent street's dark houses. It was almost midnight when we went
    out and came to the market-place. There was a wedding in one of the
    houses, and a great crowd of persons stood outside, the women nearest
    the house, the men a little further back. According to an old Swedish
    custom, they called for the bride and bridegroom to come forward, and
    they did so--they durst not do otherwise. Peasant girls, with candles
    in their hands, stood on each side; it was a perfect tableau: the
    bride with downcast eyes, the bridegroom smiling, and the young
    bridesmaids each with a laughing face. And the people shouted: "Now
    turn yourselves a little! now the back! now the face! the bridegroom
    quite round, the bride a little nearer!" And the bridal pair turned
    and turned--nor was criticism wanting. In this instance, however, it
    was to their praise and honour, but that is not always the case. It
    may be a painful and terrible hour for a newly-wedded pair: if they do
    not please the public, or if they have something to say against the
    match, or the persons themselves, they are then soon made to know what
    is thought of them. There is perhaps also heard some rude jest or
    another, accompanied by the laughter of the crowd. We were told, that
    even in Stockholm the same custom was observed among the lower classes
    until a few years ago, so that a bridal pair, who, in order to avoid
    this exposure, wanted to drive off, were stopped by the crowd, the
    carriage-door was opened on each side, and the whole public marched
    through the carriage. They would see the bride and bridegroom--that
    was their right.

    Here, in Fahlun, the exhibition was friendly; the bridal pair smiled,
    the bridesmaids also, and the assembled crowd laughed and shouted,
    hurra! In the rest of the market-place and the streets around, there
    was dead silence and solitude.

    The roseate hue of eve still shone: it passed, changed into that of
    morn--it was the Midsummer time.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 20
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