« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
But I told Karin that I would go to see the Russian Minister; and though my hostess, and her ladies also, looked as if their propriety was not a little shocked, I did go, and found I was not at all singular in doing so.
It was a melancholy homily on the vanity of life.
There, in that fine mansion, so luxuriantly furnished for the Russian Embassy, lay its late possessor, the representative of the great Autocrat, though a German and Lutheran--dressed in full uniform, surrounded with plants and flowers in pots, and laid in a lighted-up chamber he was to be exhibited for three days to all
His vassals, lately so submissive and deferential, stood around the bier talking and smiling among themselves; and the rudest rabble of Stockholm had free ingress to look at him, to laugh, and to go away, tramping, clattering, jesting down the passages and halls, which they covered with mud and dirt.
“They might well believe he was dead,” said a medical man to me, "for his head had been opened before they saw him." But Karin was not satisfied of the fact until she had a decided verdict
It was a curious exemplification of the character of the Swedish people. It is not, of
course, in the higher orders one must look for characteristics. This dogged determination, this desire to be satisfied, this adherence to any right they consider their own, may be proved in the exhibition of a bride, or that of a' corpse.
A lawyer of Stockholm told me, that, though almost all the lower orders of Swedes are capable of being, and actually are, their own counsel in cases of litigation, there are many simple countrymen who, in doubtful and disputed causes, will not be satisfied without an appeal to the King himself. That this appeal they frequently make in person; travelling to the capital, obtaining an audience, and asking the opinion of His Majesty, who, in my informant's words, may reply—“My good friend, I cannot just give you a decision on that, but I will give you a lawyer who will tell you all about it."
The lawyer so appointed must act gratuitously, as all lawyers here are Royal secretaries, and obliged to act for those who are unable to pay; and in any case, writings only are paid for, and not consultations. Now, Grefven is a Royal secretary; but he is not placed; he has been for, I think, nearly twenty years of his life, acting as a supernumerary, dependent solely on the writing he
gets to do when there is too much for others. Such a life, until beyond middle age, one trembles to think of!
Poor Grefyen ! he is one of those who never has time to do anything. I often feel sorry for him; but-man kan inte hjelpe det! Grefven was sitting with me the evening of the day I speak of, when the solemn toll of a bell struck my ear-the first toll I had heard, for the bells in the north ring rather cheerfully for funerals. He instantly started, and began to count the strokes.
“It is in the north! It is here, beside us,” he exclaimed.
“What !” I cried, looking about the room.
« The fire! that is the fire bell; it sounds so many strokes for whatever quarter the fire is in;" and Grefyen hastened away.
Then went the drum along under my window and presently out came the Royal Guards, and down marched the soldiers, and the whole of the north quarter was alive.
Every householder is by law obliged to contribute one person to help in extinguishing a fire in his own quarter. And by the same law the King of Sweden is bound to act as chief fireman on such
occasions; at least as their commander-in-chief. They say the Crown Prince is exceedingly active at such times. And the late King Carl Johan, though he was subject in his later years to long sedentary fits, during which he would not leave his room, at the news of a fire would feel his warrior spirit re-kindle, mount his horse and gallop to the scene of action, and to the combat with the fire-king.
During another fire that occurred since I have been here, the Queen and the Princesses stood on the pedestal of the statue in the great square to watch the progress of the flames.
Fires are not by any means frequent in Stockholm; there are but few wooden houses; and though they do not appear to be rapid in extinguishing the flames, they certainly succeed in preventing them spreading.
This fire was in the next angle of my square, and though it went no further than the small timber-yard where it originated, the bells tolled, the soldiers tramped, the sailors sang, and the people talked the whole night through; so that sleep being impossible, I had abundant opportunity for observing new effects produced by the
shadows cast from the dark smoke and fiery flame on the snowy scenery around.
It was not till about ten o'clock the next day that the soldiers retired and the bells ceased.
And now comes the first real snow-storm I have seen in the north. It drove along in a white moving cloud. The ever-changing aspect of my Place is now most singular. My crystal lake, indeed, is gone; but through the white driving mist, rapidly-driven sledges are seen traversing the road that lay between it and the water where the vessels are laid up; and all is seen as if through a white veil. The tall bare masts of the ships, and the formal lines of trees, are curiously mystified.
The wild and angry storm has something so strong and cruel in its breath; it lifts the snow, and whirls it round and round, and up like a spray-cloud to the dark sky; but still the snow comes again, and deep and deeper; and rests there still when the storm-fit is over, like Patience beneath the assaults of a tyrant.
“Now, then," said myold Countess-housekeeper, smiling widely, and rubbing her hands—"now, then, you begin to see our winter; you never