« PreviousContinue »
were safely jogging along the level road. Almost breathless, and quite bewildered, I instinctively turned round to see what manner of wild being this girl behind was. If you believe me, she was leaning over my shoulder, shaking her sides laughing at me, her sparkling blue eyes now all ablaze with excitement, her cheeks glowing like peonies, her lips wide apart, displaying the most exquisite set of teeth I ever beheld, while her long golden tresses, bursting from the red handkerchief which served as a sort of crowning glory to her head, floated in wavy ringlets over her shoulders. Hermosa! it was enough to thaw an anchorite! She was certainly very prettythere was no doubt of that; full of life, overflowing with health and vitality, and delighted at the confusion and astonishment of the strange gentleman she had taken in charge.
Can any body tell me what it is that produces such a singular sensation when one looks over his shoulder and discovers the face of a pretty and innocent young girl within a few inches of his own, her beautiful eyes sparkling like a pair of stars, and shooting magic scintillations through and through him, body and soul, while her breath falls like a zephyr upon his cheek? Tell me, ye who deal in metaphysics, what is it? There is certainly a kind of charm in it, against which no mortal man is proof. Though naturally prejudiced against the female sex, and firmly convinced that we could get along in the world much better without them, I was not altogether insensible to beauty in an artistical point of view, otherwise I should never have been able to grace the pages of HARPER with the above likeness of this Norwegian sylph. After all, it must be admitted that they have a way about them which makes us feel overpowered and irresponsible in their presence. Doubtless this fair damsel was unconscious of the damage she was inflicting upon a wayworn and defenseless traveler. Her very innocence was itself her chiefest charm. Either she was the most innocent or the most designing of her sex. She thought nothing of holding on to my shoulder, and talked as glibly and pleasantly, with her beaming face close to my ear, as if I had been her brother or her cousin, or possibly her uncle, though I did not exactly like to regard it in that point of view. What she was saying I could not conjecture, save by her roguish expression and her merry peals of laughter.
“Jeg kan ikke tale Norsk ! –I can't speak Norwegian”—was all I could say, at which she laughed more joyously than ever, and rattled off a number of excellent jokes, no doubt at my helpless condition. Indeed, I strongly suspected, from a familiar word bere and there, that she was making love to me out of mere sport, though she was guarded enough not to make any intelligible demonstration to that effect. At last I got out my vocabulary, and as we jogged quietly along the road, by catching a word now and then, and making her repeat what she said very slowly, got so far as to construct something of a conversation.
“What is your name, skën Jumfru?” I asked. “Maria,” was the answer. “A pretty name; and Maria is a very pretty girl.”
She tossed her head a little scornfully, as much as to say Maria was not to be fooled by flattery.
“What is your name ?” said Maria, after a pause.
“I like Americans—I don't like Englishmen,” said the girl.
“ Have you a lover ?”
with flauntinstered with minered all over them-a
“I wish you joy.” “Thank you !"
At this moment a carriage drawn by two horses hove in sight. It was an English traveling party—an old gentleman and two ladies, evidently his wife and daughter. As they drew near they seemed to be a little perplexed at the singular equipage before them—a small horse, nearly dead and lathered all over with foam; a cariole bespattered with mud; a dashing fine girl behind, with flaunting hair, a short petticoat, and a flaming pair of red stockings; myself in the body of the cariole, covered from head to foot with mire, my beard flying out in every direction, and my hair still standing on end from the effects of recent fright-a very singular spectacle to meet in the middle of a public highway, even in Norway. The road was very narrow at the point of meeting. It became necessary for one of the vehicles to pull up the side of the hill a little in order to allow room for the other to pass. Being the lighter party as well as under obligations of gallantry, I at once gave way. While endeavoring to make a passage, the old gentleman gruffly observed to the public generally,
“What an excessively bad road !” “ Very !” said I. “Beastly!” growled the Englishman. “Abominable !” said I. “Oh, you are an Englishman ?” said the elderly lady.
“No, madam—an American,” I answered, with great suavity.
“Oh, an American !" said the young lady, taking out her note-book; “ dear me, how very interesting !"
“From California,” I added, with a smile of pride. “How very interesting !” exclaimed the young lady. “A great country,” said I.
“Gray," observed the elderly lady, in an under tone, looking very hard at the girl, who was still standing on the little board at the back of the cariole, and who coolly and saucily surveyed the traveling party, “Gray, is that a Norwegian girl ?”
“ Yes, madam; she is my postillion, only she rides bebind, according to the Norwegian custom.”
“Dear me !" cried the young lady,“ how very interesting !"
“And dangerous too,” I observed.
The elderly lady looked puzzled. She was thinking of dangers to which I had no reference.
“Dangerous ?” exclaimed the young lady.
“ Yes; she came near breaking my neck down that hill;" and here I gave the party a brief synopsis of the adventure.
“Devilish odd !” growled the old Englishman, impatiently. “Good-day, sir. Come, get up!”
The elderly lady said nothing, but looked suspicious.
“Dear me!” exclaimed the young lady, as they drove off; “how very—” This was the last I heard, but I suppose she considered it interesting. The whole affair, no doubt, stands fully recorded in her note-book.
The way being now clear, we proceeded on our journey. In a little while the station-house was in sight, and after a few minutes' drive I was obliged to part from my interesting companion. At first I hesitated about proffering the usual fee of four shillings; but, upon reflection, it occurred to me that I had no right to consider her any thing more than a post-boy. It was worth something extra to travel with one so lively and entertaining, so I handed her double the usual allowance, at which she made a very polite courtesy, and greatly relieved my embarrassment by giving me a hearty shake of the hand and wishing me a pleasant journey. This was the last I saw of my Norwegian Diana. She is a young damsel of great beauty and vivacity, not to say a little wild. I trust she is now happily married to the object of her affections.
HOW THEY LIVE. EVERY where on the route through the interior I found the peasants kind, hospitable, and simple-hearted. Sometimes I made a detour of several miles from the main road for the purpose of catching a glimpse of the homelife of the farmers; and, imperfect as my means of communication were, I never had any difficulty in making acquaintance with them after announcing myself as a traveler from California. They had all heard, more or less, of that wonderful land of gold, and entertained the most vague and exaggerated notions of its mineral resources. It was not uncommon to find men who believed that the whole country was yellow with gold; that such quantities of that ore abounded in it as to be of little or no value. When I told them that the country was very rich in the precious metals, but that every hill was not a mass of gold, nor the bed of every river lined with rocks and pebbles of the same material, they looked a little incredulous, not to say disappointed. Many of them seemed surprised that a Californian should be traveling through a distant land like Norway merely for amusement, and few seemed to be entirely satisfied when I assured them, in answer to their questions, that I was not very rich; that I was neither a merchant, nor a speculator, nor the owner of gold mines, but simply an indifferent artist making sketches of their country for pastime. French, German, and English artists they could believe in, for they saw plenty of them in the wilds of Norway every summer; but what use would such a poor business be in California, they said, where every man could make a thousand dollars a day digging for gold ? I even fancied they looked at my rough and dust -.