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I believe, as much as I am, but they are too patriotic to say so; and while the rain pours down in ceaseless torrents, they assure me this is nothing to the always dark and foggy weather in England.
Nevertheless they are looking to the approach of frost and snow as eagerly as the citizens of a famine-pressed town expect that of a plentybringing deliverer.
"Let us only have a good winter," says my Grefve, "and then you will be content with Sweden."
"Was it a good one last winter?" I ask, being only desirous to find out what "a good winter" means.
"Nay, last winter was a bare winter; all was open; it is a bad winter then."
"Whatis a good one then?''
"When there is plenty of snow and ice; when it is not bare. It is bad when there is no snow; but the snow should not come before the frost; then it will soon melt away; the frost should come first, then the snow, and so the frost again; then it will hold; the snow freezes in the frozen ground and grows hard; and—what do you call that?" said Grefven, moving a creaking boot up and down on the bare floor.
"Yes, it crackles—so; yes, that is good, then there is good sledging, and the industry goes on "well in the country. It is well when the weather sets in so in October month, and lasts on good till April; and then if the sun comes out at once warm and strong, it brings the spring quickly on. But our seasons are changing, and the winters are not so good as they were formerly; this winter, they say, we shall have a good hard one."
I shivered in anticipation, and strove not to wish for a bad Swedish winter, because I really wished to brave the terrors of what is here considered a good one. My state is a dull, quiescent, and expectant one; but all is activity and preparation around me. Housewifes are now preparing their winter stores, changing the arrangement of rooms, making numerous and excellent preserves, pickling meat and fish, laying in all sorts of provisions—the necessity of which in a town would puzzle me if my good dame, with a singularly knowing nod of the head, did not enlighten me by saying—
"Yes, yes, Madame, you do not know that; that is natural, for in England you know nothing of housekeeping—but here, you see, we understand all that. We could get all these from the shops certainly, if the shops had them; but before the water is open, the shops may be finished, and if they are not finished they would be dear. So you see we understand all that here. In England they leave all to servants. Yes, I know that."
As the dear old woman has never been beyond the confines of two or three Swedish provinces, I venture to ask how she comes to know our manners and customs so well. But a wise nodding of the head, a glance over the large spectacles, a broad grin, and the words, "Yes, yes, I know all that"—are my answers. Then a half whisper to a lady who is knitting beside her, lets out more of the secret:
"A relation of mine married an Englishwoman; she knew nothing, nothing at all of our housekeeping; they are so droll, those English—they think of nothing but their education."
Now, what are termed in Swedish speech "the good families"—that is, the rich or noble ones—are coming into town for the winter; houses and apartments are now let and taken; servants are changing places; everything, and every one, is in a state of movement. The pleasant villapalaces of Haga, Drottningholm, and Eosendal, will be shut up, and that of Stockholm be occupied.
One week in the end of this month is given up to servants, who are hired each six months; and if they do not leave their places at this time, and in April, they are usually allowed extra liberty, to amuse themselves, visit their relatives, or refit their wardrobes. It is an admirable practice.
The streets are almost covered with heaps of wood; the sound of the saw and the chopper, the noise of falling logs, are all around. At every door there is a store of fuel entering. Never did I see so much wood for firing carried through a town. The sight adds to my fears for the "good winter'' of which they speak. The narrow streets, in some parts, are impassable; the wood carts stand, or drive, five, six, seven, eight deep; passing at any side they like, and often forming a line quite across the street. If the foot passengers endeavour to thread their way, or creep as close as possible—not to the flags, for, with few exceptions, there is only an open drain and the walls of the houses by which to creep— but if they do warily try to creep along, up goes a tilted cart—the horse, in the old style, being taken out, and allowed to wander from it—and down pour the great logs of wood, rolling at their own free will. If they do not fall on your head or your feet, or if—as the men saw and chop them, and fling them from the hands of one into the arms of another, who tosses them to a third on the steps of a cellar—they chance to intercept your person, and break an arm, or a leg, or head, why, one can only think that industry must go on, and the numerous surgeons of Stockholm ought to share in its results.
I am too restless to do anything. I do not know what is before me, yet fancy I too should prepare for the winter, as I see every one else is doing.
Now comes in my ever-bustling, never-resting hostess, whose voice exceeds all voices in brainpenetrating power, who wishes me to do everything but what I want to do, and desires me to have everything but what I wish her to give me; who contends it is ridiculous to think I should require a carpet under my feet, and asserts it is impossible I can do without a muff for my hands. She has come now to have the double windows put in.
"Will they keep out the noise?" I ask.
"Certainly; but it is not for that we use them, it is to keep out the cold."
"The rooms are too warm already; I have but