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The company, with the exception of the one great man in a civil uniform, were all of the lower rank of the trading classes. The handsome young bridegroom was, I think, foreman to a distiller; but, so far as a foreigner could judge, their manners were as unexceptionable as any I have met in the highest circles of their country; no word, look, or movement could offend the most delicate taste. Together with the absence of all awkward restraint, there was an evidently unassumed and all-pervading observance of the strictest decorum and politeness; and with the exception of that abominable practice of spitting—in which the priest was most proficient—in the corners of the room, there was not the least appearance of coarseness or vulgarity to be observed. Their politeness and good-will to myself I shall not readily forget.
At three o'clock precisely on that December morning, we walked down the snow-covered hill to meet the sledge which waited at its foot. The poor horses would have been the better for a share in the wild dance. The driver was a powerful man, so swathed in grey fur that not even a bit of his nose was visible; an English sportsman might have shot him in mistake for a bear. But the moon was now up; and such a moon as the Swedish one is! hanging between heaven and earth, distinct in the clear atmosphere, so large, so bright, and shedding that pale white light by which I have read a psalm in my Prayer-book without spectacles.
The great man of the party insisted on leaving me at home, although he passed his own house, and I had my friend still with me; and as he unhappily heard me express my dislike to cigars, he insisted, also, on sitting beside the driver, leaving the whole of the inside of his sledge to us. These things are of not the least consequence in themselves, but they are of consequence in indicating the manners of a people.
The streets of Stockholm are not lighted when the almanac says the moon ought to shine. There is no gas, and oil is better spared than spent. The windows of the Queen-dowager's apartments were still lighted as we passed the palace; shutters are not used in Stockholm, nor blinds commonly. They say her majesty sits up all night, but does not lie in bed all day, so that her old maids-of-honour have rather a waking life; they tell you she breakfasts at six in the evening and dines at eleven at night.
I had brought a wax taper in my pocket, and the key of the court door. I lighted my taper at the judge's lantern, locked the court door when he had ended his farewell bows, and having dismissed both him and the Swedish friend who had taken me to see the wedding, I mounted the hideous, dark stone stairs, and applied the key to the house-door where I lived; but, alas! it had been St. Stephen's-day, and some of the other dwellers there having come home long before me, had bolted the door inside!
The idea of finishing the night of St. Stephen'sday sitting on the cold, dark, terrible-looking stone stairs, set me, I suppose, into a state of desperation; and the violent bodily exercise to which I had been subjected, stimulated my powers, so that I applied to the door in a manner that caused no little terror to my ancient hostess. Not even my voice would persuade her it was I, until she examined my rooms, and found them empty.
"Why, Madame," said she, when she let me in, "how could I think you were not sleeping, when I knew that in England no one goes out on St. Stephen's-day?"
As the good lady knows so much more of my country than I do, and as I was very sleepy, I let the question go by default. She renewed it, however, the next day.
"No one goes out on St. Stephen's-day in England, Madame. They have no holidays in England. We do not mind the saints' days here in Sweden, either. Nay, that we do not now do. But we have holidays. You do not mind the saints in England, no more than we do; but you have no holidays, either. We have holidays, but not for the saints."
I brought my Prayer-book, and showed her all the saints' days, and the service for them.
The old lady smiled from ear to ear, threw back her head, and looking at me with a face that spoke a whole library of ecclesiastical knowledge, replied—
"Yes, yes, Madame, I know all that—I know it is there; but I know also that in England no one minds the Prayer-book!"
Then, in a lower tone, she relates to the lady beside her the source of her information, from which I gather that one of her many relations married an Englishwoman.
"But I was obliged to break through my national custom of seclusion on St. Stephen'sday," I rejoined, "for I went to see a wedding, in the old-fashioned style.''
"Ja-so!" cried out half-a-dozen voices in musical echo, and tones of surprise. And thus did I explain that I did not go out on St. Stephen's-day in Sweden, merely because all the world there does so.