Chapter II.
 

Dal is a modest hamlet consisting of but a few houses; some on either side of a road that is little more than a bridle-path, others scattered over the surrounding hills. But they all face the narrow valley of Vesfjorddal, with their backs to the line of hills to the north, at the base of which flows the Maan.

A little church erected in 1855, whose chancel is pierced by two narrow stained-glass windows, lifts its square belfry from out a leafy grove hard by. Here and there rustic bridges cross the rivulets that dance merrily along toward the river. In the distance are two or three primitive saw-mills, run by water-power, with a wheel to move the saw, as well as a wheel to move the beam or the tree; and seen from a little distance, the chapel, saw-mills, houses, and cabins, all seem to be enveloped in a soft olive haze that emanates from the dark-green firs and the paler birches which either singly or in groups extend from the winding banks of the Maan to the crests of the lofty mountains.

Such is the fresh and laughing hamlet of Dal, with its picturesque dwellings, painted, some of them, in delicate green or pale pink tints, others in such glaring colors as bright yellow and blood-red. The roofs of birch bark, covered with turf, which is mown in the autumn, are crowned with natural flowers. All this is indescribably charming, and eminently characteristic of the most picturesque country in the world. In short, Dal is in the Telemark, the Telemark is in Norway, and Norway is in Switzerland, with thousands of fiords that permit the sea to kiss the feet of its mountains.

The Telemark composes the broad portion of the immense horn that Norway forms between Bergen and Christiania.

This dependency of the prefecture of Batsberg, has the mountains and glaciers of Switzerland, but it is not Switzerland. It has gigantic water-falls like North America, but it is not America. The landscape is adorned with picturesque cottages, and processions of inhabitants, clad in costumes of a former age, like Holland, but it is not Holland. The Telemark is far better than any or all of these; it is the Telemark, noted above all countries in the world for the beauty of its scenery. The writer has had the pleasure of visiting it. He has explored it thoroughly, in a kariol with relays of post-horses--when he could get them--and he brought back with him such a vivid recollection of its manifold charms that he would be glad to convey some idea of it to the reader of this simple narrative.

At the date of this story, 1862, Norway was not yet traversed by the railroad that now enables one to go from Stockholm to Drontheim, by way of Christiania. Now, an extensive network of iron rails extends entirely across these two Scandinavian countries, which are so averse to a united existence. But imprisoned in a railroad-carriage, the traveler, though he makes much more rapid progress than in a kariol, misses all the originality that formerly pervaded the routes of travel. He misses the journey through Southern Sweden on the curious Gotha Canal, in which the steamboats, by rising from lock to lock, manage to reach an elevation of three hundred feet. Nor does he have an opportunity to visit the falls of Trolletann, nor Drammen, nor Kongsberg, nor any of the beauties of the Telemark.

In those days the railroad existed only upon paper. Twenty years were to elapse before one could traverse the Scandinavian kingdom from one shore to the other in forty hours, and visit the North Cape on excursion tickets to Spitzberg.

In those days Dal was, and may it long remain, the central point for foreign or native tourists, these last being for the most part students from Christiania. From Dal they could wander over the entire Telemark and Hardanger region, explore the valley of Vesfjorddal between Lakes Mjos and Tinn, and visit the wonderful cataracts of the Rjukan Tun. The hamlet boasts of but one inn, but that is certainly the most attractive and comfortable imaginable, and one of the most important also, for it can offer four bed-chambers for the accommodation of its guests. In a word, it is Dame Hansen's inn.

A few benches surround the base of its pink walls, which are separated from the ground by a substantial granite foundation. The spruce rafters and weather-boarding have acquired such hardness and toughness with age that the sharpest hatchet can make little or no impression upon them. Between the roughly hewn rafters, which are placed horizontally one above the other, a mixture of clay and turf forms a stanch roof, through which the hardest winter rains can not force their way.

Upstairs, in the bedrooms, the ceilings are painted in dark red or black tints to contrast with the more cheerful and delicate hues of the wood-work.

In one corner of the large hall stands a huge cylinder stove, the pipe of which rises nearly to the ceiling, before it disappears in the kitchen chimney. In another corner stands a tall clock which emits a sonorous tick-tack, as its carved hands travel slowly around its enameled face. Here is a secretary, black with age, side by side with a massive iron tripod. Upon the mantel is an immense terra-cotta candlestick which can be transformed into a three-branched candelabrum by turning it upside down. The handsomest furniture in the house adorns this spacious hall--the birch-root table, with its spreading feet, the big chest with its richly wrought brass handles, in which the Sunday and holiday clothing is kept, the tall arm-chair, hard and uncomfortable as a church-pew, the painted wooden chairs, and the spinning-wheel striped with green, to contrast with the scarlet petticoat of the spinner.

Yonder stands the pot in which the butter is kept, and the paddle with which it is worked, and here is the tobacco-box, and the grater of elaborately carved bone.

And, finally, over the door which opens into the kitchen is a large dresser, with long rows of brass and copper cooking-utensils and bright-colored dishes, the little grindstone for sharpening knives, half-buried in its varnished case, and the egg-dish, old enough to serve as a chalice.

And how wonderful and amusing are the walls, hung with linen tapestries representing scenes from the Bible, and brilliant with all the gorgeous coloring of the pictures of Epinal.

As for the guests' rooms, though they are less pretentious, they are no less comfortable, with their spotless neatness, their curtains of hanging-vines that droop from the turf-covered roof, their huge beds, sheeted with snowy and fragrant linen, and their hangings with verses from the Old Testament, embroidered in yellow upon a red ground.

Nor must we forget that the floor of the main hall, and the floors of all the rooms, both upstairs and down, are strewn with little twigs of birch, pine, and juniper, whose leaves fill the house with their healthful and exhilarating odor.

Can one imagine a more charming posada in Italy, or a more seductive fonda in Spain? No. And the crowd of English tourists have not yet raised the scale of prices as in Switzerland--at least, they had not at the time of which I write. In Dal, the current coin is not the pound sterling, the sovereign of which the travelers' purse is soon emptied. It is a silver coin, worth about five francs, and its subdivisions are the mark, equal in value to about a franc, and the skilling, which must not be confounded with the English shilling, as it is only equivalent to a French sou.

Nor will the tourist have any opportunity to use or abuse the pretentious bank-note in the Telemark. One-mark notes are white; five-mark notes are blue; ten-mark notes are yellow; fifty-mark notes, green; one hundred mark notes, red. Two more, and we should have all the colors of the rainbow.

Besides--and this is a point of very considerable importance--the food one obtains at the Dal inn is excellent; a very unusual thing at houses of public entertainment in this locality, for the Telemark deserves only too well its surname of the Buttermilk Country. At Tiness, Listhus, Tinoset, and many other places, no bread is to be had, or if there be, it is of such poor quality as to be uneatable. One finds there only an oaten cake, known as flat brod, dry, black, and hard as pasteboard, or a coarse loaf composed of a mixture of birch-bark, lichens, and chopped straw. Eggs are a luxury, and a most stale and unprofitable one; but there is any quantity of poor beer to be had, a profusion of buttermilk, either sweet or sour, and sometimes a little coffee, so thick and muddy that it is much more like distilled soot than the products of Mocha or Rio Nunez.

In Dame Hansen's establishment, on the contrary, cellar and larder were alike well-stored. What more could the most exacting tourist ask than salmon, either salt or smoked--fresh salmon that have never tasted tainted waters, fish from the pure streams of the Telemark, fowls, neither too fat nor too lean, eggs in every style, crisp oaten and barley cakes, fruits, more especially strawberries, bread--unleavened bread, it is here, but of the very best quality--beer, and some old bottles of that Saint Julien that have spread the fame of French vineyards even to this distant land?

And this being the case, it is not strange that the inn at Dal is well and favorably known in all the countries of Northern Europe.

One can see this, too, by glancing over the register in which many travelers have not only recorded their names, but paid glowing tributes to Dame Hansen's merits as an inn-keeper. The names are principally those of Swedes and Norwegians from every part of Scandinavia; but the English make a very respectable showing; and one of them, who had waited at least an hour for the summit of Gousta to emerge from the morning mist that enveloped it, wrote upon one of the pages:

"Patientia omnia vincit?"