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William Edwards
Through Scandinavia to Moscow

Through Scandinavia to Moscow
William Edwards

William Seymour Edwards

Through Scandinavia to Moscow

I

London to Denmark Across the North Sea

    Esbjerg, Denmark, August 25, 1902.

We came down from London to Harwich toward the end of the day. Our train was a “Special” running to catch the steamer for Denmark. We were delayed a couple of hours in the dingy, dirty London station by reason of a great fog which had crept in over Harwich from the North Sea, and then, the boat had to wait upon the tide.

The instant the train backed in alongside the station platform – only ten minutes before it would pull out – there was the usual scramble and grab to seize a seat in the first-carriage-you-can and pandemonium reigned. H is well trained by this time, however, and I quickly had her comfortably ensconced in a seat by a window with bags and shawls pyramided by her side the better to hold a place for me. Meantime, I hurried to a truck where stood awaiting me a well-tipped porter and together we safely stowed two “boxes” into a certain particular “luggage van,” the number of which I was careful to note so that I might be sure quickly to find the “luggage” again, when we should arrive at Harwich, else a stranger might walk off with it as aptly as with his own.

Our “carriage” was packed “full-up” with several men and women, who looked dourly at us and at each other as they sat glumly squeezed together, elbows in each other’s ribs. So forbidding was the prospect confronting me that I did not presume to attempt a conversation. These comrades, however, soon dropped out at the way-stations, until only one lone man was left, when I took heart and made bold to accost him. I found him very civil and, recognizing me to be a foreign visitor, he spoke with freedom. One Englishman never forgives another for sitting beside him, unintroduced, and squeezing him up in a railway carriage; but he harbors no such grudge against his American cousin, equally the victim of British methods.

Our vis-à-vis had been a volunteer-trooper in South Africa, and had just come back to England, after two years’ hardship and exposure. He had given up a good position in order to serve his country, and had been promised that the place would be kept open for him against his return. He tells me he now finds a stay-at-home holds his job. He has “a wife and two little lads to keep,” and so far he has had “no luck in finding work.” There are thousands of others in as bad a fix as he, he says, returned patriots who are starving for lack of work. He denounced the entire Boer-smashing business most savagely and declared that as for South Africa, he “would not take the whole of it for a gift.” We hear this sort of talk everywhere among the people we casually meet. The average Englishman takes small pride in his Army. “It gives fat jobs to the aristocracy, it is death to us,” is what I have heard a dozen times remarked. Our new acquaintance seemed to feel the better for having thus spoken out his mind, and when we parted, wished us a “prosperous voyage.”

The ship was in motion within twenty minutes after our train reached the Harwich pier. To my landsman’s thinking the air was yet murky with the fog. Big sirens were booming all about us. The melancholy clang of tidal bells sounded in sombre muffled tones from many anchored buoys. It was a drear, dank night to leave the land. We moved slowly, sounding our own hoarse whistle all the while. I stood upon the upper deck peering into the mists till we had come well out to sea. There were few boats moving, no big ones. Multitudes of small schooners and sloops rode at anchor, their danger lights faintly gleaming. I wondered we did not run down and crush them, but the pilot seemed to apprehend the presence of another boat even before the smallest ray of light shone through the fog. One or two great ships we came shockingly close upon. At least, I was jarred more than once when their huge black hulks and reaching masts suddenly grew up before me out of the dead white curtain of the mists. The estuary which leads from Harwich to the sea is long and tortuous. Only a pilot who has been born upon it, and from boyhood learned its currents and its tides, its shallows and its shoals, may dare to guide a boat along it, even in broad day. How much greater the skill and knowledge required thus to steer a ship through these labyrinthine channels amidst the fogs and blackness of such a night! The Captain told me he was always uneasy when coming out, no matter when, and never felt safe until far out upon the sea. Even in open water he must keep the sharpest kind of a watch lest some one of the myriad fishing craft which haunt these waters, should lie athwart the way.

The sea was quiet, rolling with a long slow swell. The rising wind soughed softly through the rigging when, toward midnight, I at last turned in.

All day Sunday the North Sea lay smooth and glassy as a pond; no hint of the turmoil and tempest which so often rage upon its shallow depths. We did not see many vessels; far to the north I made out the smoke of a steamer which the captain said was bound for Kristiansand, in Norway; and south of us were a few sail, which I took to be fishing luggers from Holland. Nor were there many seabirds flying. The sky hung low and in the gray air was the feel of a storm in the offing. Toward dark, about eight o’clock, a misty rain settled down upon us, and the rising wind began swashing the dripping waters along the decks. Toward half past nine we descried a dim glimmer in the east, – a beacon light flickering through the night, – and then another with different intervals of flash, a mile or two out upon the left, and then our ears caught the deep bellow of a fog horn across the sea. We were nearing the west coast of the Province of Jutland, in Denmark. Our port lay dead ahead between the lights. Another hour of cautious navigating, for there are many sand bars and shifting shoals along this coast, and we came steaming slowly, very slowly, among trembling lights – fishing smacks at anchor with their night signals burning – and then we crept up to a big black wharf. We were arrived at Esbjerg.

The train for Copenhagen (Kjoebenhavn) would leave at midnight, an eight-hours’ ride and no sleeping car attached.

We decided to stay aboard the ship, sleep peacefully in our wide-berthed stateroom and take a train at eleven o’clock of the morning, which would give us a daylight ride.

We were entering Denmark by the back door. The sea-loving traveler generally approaches by one of the ocean liners which sail direct from New York to Copenhagen; those who find terror in the sea enter by way of Kiel, and an all-rail ride through Holland and Germany, crossing the channel to Ostend, Dieppe, or the Hook. Only the few voyage across the North Sea with its frequent storms – the few who, like ourselves, are good sailors and do not fear the stress of tide and tempest. We were now at Esbjerg, and must cross the entire peninsula of Denmark, its Little Belt, its Big Belt and the large islands of Funen and Zealand to reach our journey’s end.

I am already beginning to pick up the Danish speech, a mixture of English, German, Dutch and new strange throat gutturals, the latter difficult for an American larynx to make. And yet so similar is this mother tongue of Scandinavia to the modern English, that I can often tell what a Dane is saying by the very similarity of the sounds: “Go Morn” – (good morning), “Farvel” – (farewell).

Our fellow passengers were mostly Danes. This is their favorite route for coming home. They are a quiet, rather pensive people. The men, much of the time, were smoking, and drinking beer and a white brandy. The women were often sitting in the smoking room with them, enjoying, I presume, the perfume of tobacco, as every right-minded woman should, and it may be, also finding solace in the scent of the strong brown beer, which they are not themselves indisposed to quaff.

The cooking on this Danish boat has been good. We have keenly appreciated the improvement upon the diet of roast beef, boiled mutton, boiled ham, boiled potatoes, and boiled peas steeped in mint, which we have been compelled to exist upon during the past few weeks in Britain.

II

Esbjerg – Across Jutland, Funen and Zealand, the Little Belt and the Big Belt to Copenhagen – Friends Met along the Way

    Hotel Dagmar (“Dahmar”),
    Copenhagen, Denmark, August 27, 1902.

Here we are in “Kjoebenhavn,” which word you will find it quite impossible properly to pronounce, however strenuously your tongue may try.

My letter, beginning in Esbjerg, was broken short by the necessity of sleep. We wisely remained upon the ship and took full benefit of our comfortable berths. In the morning we were up betimes, obtained a cup of coffee and a roll, and then, sending our bags and baggage to the railway station, set out afoot.

The air was misty, full of a fine drizzling rain. It was regular Scotch and English weather, but the atmosphere was cooler and not so heavy as in Britain. The little stone-and-brick-built town is clean and neat, with its main street well asphalted. It lies on a gentle slope of hillside which lifts from the water. A giant lighthouse, rising from the highest point of land, is the first object to meet the view. Back of this, upon the level summit, lies the best of the town. The buildings are generally of one and two stories, with steep, gabled roofs.

H, in her Scottish “bonnet,” and I, in my raincoat, were quite impervious to wetness, and we spent the morning strolling here and there, stopping to see, among other things, the tubs and tanks of fish in the market square, where fishwives in big, white caps, stood quite heedless of the rain. The fish were almost wholly the famous roed spoette (red spots), one of the flounder family, much resembling the English sole.

Wanting cigars, I was tempted into a little shop, and found it kept by an intelligent young Dane, who instantly confessed to me, in good United States, that he had lived in America and there done well. In fact, it was plain to see that his heart still beat for the great Republic. His father had died and he had come back to Denmark to care for his old mother, and then, he had fallen in love with the blue-eyed daughter of a citizen of Esbjerg, an only child. So now, with several little Danes added to his charge, he was fixed fast in Esbjerg. But he was “always grieving for America,” he said. He delighted to see us, and sent for his young wife, who came smiling in to us with her baby in her arms. H says he told his wife in Danish, that we were Americans just like all others she would see, if she should ever reach New York! So I bought a box of cigars from him, instead of one or two, and found them good smoking and well worth the very moderate cost.

Crossing the market square to a long, low building, which somehow had about it that indefinable air suggestive of a breakfast comfortably cooked, we came to an inn, in the low-ceilinged dining room of which were little tables set about upon the sanded floor. Two or three men of the sea were smoking in one corner, a bar and a red-cheeked barmaid were in another, and two huge, yellow, Great-Dane dogs occupied most of the remaining space. We chose a table by the window and H ordered roed spoette, rolls and coffee. The fish was delicious, possessing a harder, sweeter flesh than the English sole; and rolls with salted butter rejoiced my palate, for I am dreadfully tired of English butter with no salt; and then we were given big brown pancakes with currant jelly, all we could eat. It was a breakfast fit for a Viking. The bill was only three kroner and twenty oere, which equals about eighty-six cents.

At the railway station, a mile from the docks, our tickets, bought in London, gave us the best on the train, better than similar carriages in England, for here they are bigger, with larger windows and the cars are set on trucks.

The journey to Copenhagen was over and through a sandy, flat and slightly rolling country, more carefully tilled and more generally cultivated than in England, with more grain, wheat and rye; with more vegetables, turnips, carrots, cabbage and potatoes. There were cattle, herds of large red cows, for Denmark is now the dairy of all Europe. But I saw no steers, nor beef cattle, fattening for the market, and but few sheep; nor any hogs running afield – the last are probably kept up. The houses are set singly upon the farms, are surrounded by outbuildings, and are usually of one story and often big and rambling with ells and gables, and generally have thatched roofs. The barns are big and substantial. More people are here upon the land than in England, and not living in clustered villages, as in France; the fields are divided usually by hedges. There are sluggish waterways and canals, and ponds where fish are bred and raised for market; and almost every hilltop is capped with a Dutch-looking windmill.

The train moved deliberately. It made from twenty to twenty-five miles an hour, stopping a long time at each station. We hadn’t gone far when a bald-pated, round-headed Herr climbed in and we speedily fell into talk with him. H speaks Danish enough to get on, and I use my pocket dictionary, and pick up what I can. His name was Hansen and he “owns” the “Hotel Kikkenborg,” at “Brammige,” wherever that may be. He told us of the country we were passing through and helped me on the Danish gutturals. You must gurgle the sounds down in your gullet as though you were quite filled with water, and the more profound the depth from which the sound comes forth, the more perfect the speech. We lost him at the first change of cars, when we boarded an immense ferryboat to cross the strait of water called the Little Belt, which separates the main land from the large island of Funen, but we found ourselves again in kindly company, this time, with a gray-bearded man and two ladies, his wife and daughter. He was “Inspector of Edifices” for the Government. They had been spending a few weeks on the island of Fanoe at Nordby, a fashionable seaside resort much patronized by the gentry of Copenhagen. He talked with me in fluent German, and the ladies conversed readily in French, while all spoke with H in Dansk and so we got on, fell fast friends and were introduced to a beau of the Froeken, a young “Doctor” who had “just taken his degree.” We sat together while crossing the island of Funen and on the ferryboat top all through the long sail across the Big Belt which divides Funen from the island of Zealand. Our friends here pointed out to us where it was that Charles X of Sweden, and his army of foot and horse and guns made their dare-devil passage on the ice that night in January, 1658, crossing the Little and Big Belts to Zealand and Copenhagen, forcing the beaten Danes by the Peace of Roskilde to cede the great Provinces of Skaania, Halland and Bleking, which made Sweden forever henceforth a formidable European state, – “God’s work,” the Swedes declared, for these salty waters were never before frozen solid enough to bear an army’s weight, – nor have they been since. We parted only at the journey’s end. Our friends were pleasant people of the aristocratic office-holding class, content to live simply on the modest stipend the Government may grant, who neither speak nor read English, and who listened to the tales of bigness in America with doubting wonder. “A building twenty stories high!” “Impossible!” “Eighty millions of people!” “Incredible!” “America already holds four hundred thousand Danes – one-fifth of the Danish race.” “Ja! Alas! That is too true!” “Our young men are never satisfied to come back to stay when once they have lived in America!” “Our young men don’t return, it’s hard upon our girls.”

Our new found friends, when we lunched upon the big ferryboat, introduced us to that very Danish dish called Smoer Broed, thickly buttered rye bread overlaid with raw herring or smoked goose breast, a Viking dainty – a salty appetizer well calculated to make the Norseman quaff from his flagon with more than usual vim, and to drive an American in hurried search of plain water! These salty snacks of cold bread and cold fish are as eagerly devoured and enjoyed by the Scandinavian as are the peppery, stinging eatables for which every Mexican palate yearns.

It was dusk when we arrived in the large and commodious Main station at Copenhagen. The suburbs of the city were hidden from us by the gathering darkness, and the electric lights were glowing when we left the train.

We missed General and Mrs. C at the station, so great was the crowd, but found them when we came to our hotel, the Dagmar, they having themselves missed us and followed on our track.

There are many good hotels in Copenhagen and this is among the larger and more popular stopping places of the Danes themselves. It is built along the clean Vestre Boulevard, with umbrageous trees in front of it, and possesses that rare thing, an elevator. In the dining room we sit at little tables, and find the cooking much superior to what one generally meets in England. It is more after the French sort, the Danes priding themselves greatly upon their soups and sauces. In our rooms, which look out upon the broad, paved boulevard, the furniture is old style mahogany, very substantial, and in the corner there is one of those immense porcelain stoves reaching to the ceiling, which is the general mode of heating large rooms in these Scandinavian lands.

Copenhagen is a city of four hundred thousand people, one-quarter of the estimated population of Denmark, and the city is growing steadily at the expense of the country, – increasing too fast for a land the population of which is as steadily growing less. English is said to be the fashionable foreign tongue in court circles, by reason of the British royal connection; but among the people the German speech is steadily and stealthily taking a foremost place, and this despite the fact that the Danes dislike Germany and view the Germans with well-founded fear. You will talk to a Dane but a few moments before he is pouring out his heart to you about the atrocious robbery of the splendid Provinces of Sleswik and Holstein, of which Bismarck despoiled the little kingdom nearly forty years ago. Almost half of Denmark was then lopped off at a single blow, – nor England nor Russia interfering to save the Danes, – and now they are ever in uneasy spirit lest Germany encroach yet more upon them and ultimately devour them, land and sea. They feel she is incessantly creeping on to them with all the cunning of a hungry cat.

III

Copenhagen, a Quaint and Ancient City

    Kjoebenhavn, Dannmark,
    (Copenhagen, Denmark), August 28, 1902.

The Copenhagener declares that his beloved “Kjoebenhavn” is not really an ancient city, although he admits it has been in active business since the middle of the tenth century, nearly one thousand years.

My Danish friends assert that it is my “Yankee eye,” which is so new, and prove the modernity of their town by telling me how many times it has been bombarded, how often sacked and razed, how frequently burned up; and yet, despite their facts, I still make bold to say the city bears the markings of an ancient town.

Long, long ago, even before the time of King Gorm the Old, here were markets by the water’s side, where the fisherman brought his catch, the peasant fetched his eggs and milk and cheese and what the soil might yield, where the itinerant merchant came to show and trade his wares. These handy markets by the sea were at first moved constantly about; by and by they came to be held, year after year, in the self-same spot; the temporary clustered settlement became a lasting town. As the centuries rolled on these market hamlets expanded into a single commercial rendezvous for all the northern world. Thus Copenhagen won her name (Kopman-haven– merchant port) and grew until her commerce made her the heir to the trade and traffic of the Hanseatic League, and she was recognized as supreme mistress of the commerce of the North by London and Bremen, Brussels and Bordeaux, as well as by the merchant fleets of Venice and the Levant.

Those were the days when her Kings and hardy seamen would as lief drink and fight and die as eat and live; their very recklessness made them masters of the North; they even annexed the mighty Norseman, and made Norway a Danish Province; they hammered and held in check their doughty cousins, the Swedes; they brought beneath their sway the Provinces of Skaania, of Halland and of Bleking, the southern portion of what is now known as Sweden; they dominated the cities along the shores of the North and Baltic Seas.

Copenhagen became, in fact as well as in name, the veritable capital of the North. In politics and in intrigue she played the master hand. She gathered to herself the arts and the sciences, the fashion and the elegance, of the North; and to-day, although warlike pride and power have fallen from her, although trade and commerce have lessened in her midst, yet the arts and the sciences, the culture and the elegance are still her own, and the fine old city claims to be as markedly as of yore the intellectual center of the Scandinavian race.

Copenhagen is a flat-lying city; it has no hills in it, while there are many canals and watery lanes which wind through it and lead to the sea, or as the Danes would say the Sund (Sound), – that narrow strait which links the Baltic to the Kattegat, where Denmark and Sweden appear once to have split apart.

The buildings are generally of brick, sometimes of stone, never of wood; they are large and substantial, often four and five stories high, with gabled roofs, sharp and steep, covered with tiles.

In the older parts of the city, the streets are narrow, and twist and turn and change their names even more often than the Rues of Paris. In the newer section, toward the north and northwest, there are long straight boulevards and straight cross streets, and the inevitable air of modern monotony.

The feeling and impression which stole over me the first morning I strolled about the city became almost one of sadness. The wistful, pensive faces of the people; their unobtrusive politeness; the inconsequential traffic of drays and carts along the quiet streets; canals and quays half empty where there should have been big packs of boats; absence everywhere of bustle and ado, – all these were almost pathetic. It might have been a Puritan Sabbath, so silent stood the big stone docks and piers among the lapping waters. There was none of[Pg 17][Pg 18] the ponderous movement of London, none of the liveliness of Paris, nor the busy-ness of Hamburg, of Bremen, of Amsterdam, of Rotterdam and Antwerp, although once Copenhagen was peer of any one. The bales of goods, the tons of merchandise which once filled her lofts and cellars are no longer there. The commerce which once made the city rich and gave her power has ebbed away. She is far fallen into commercial and industrial decay.

The causes which have wrought this collapse of the once great city are, perhaps, difficult to analyze. At least, those Danes with whom I have talked upon the matter are not at all agreed. Nor are they united upon the solution of the problem of restoring the city to the proud place she once held as metropolis of the northern world.