All through Norway it is customary to cure the hay in this way on tall racks instead of on the ground. The sun and the breeze certainly do have a better chance at it, so there is less danger of losing a crop through dampness after the mowing. Every farmer keeps on hand quantities of long, slender poles for making such racks. Other poles are fastened across them by withes or pins in long horizontal parallels ; sometimes wire forms the parallels ; the hay is pushed between the horizontal bars, a handful at a time, be-ginning at the bottom and continuing till the fragrant wall of green is as high as the workers can reach. (That elderly woman has nearly reached the limit of her own strong arms.) The wooden rakes were probably made at home during long winter evenings by the men of the familymost Norwegians are clever with the knife. When the hay is perfectly cured it will be carried off and stored in the loft of the barnor barns, if the establishment is a large one. The carts they use for transporting the hay are, to American eyes, curiously small and low, with wheels no bigger than a toy wagon, such as the chubby urchin might have for a plaything. We shall see such a cart later, over near Olden (Position 64), when we reach the Nordfjord district.
The people here speak only Norwegian. The young women may both belong to the family, but it is not certain. It is here as it used to be a few generations ago in a New England farming districtthe daughter of a farmer in modest circumstances often works for wages in the family of a neighbor where there is more work to be done, and mistress and maid share the toil without much evident distinction of rank. Underneath the apparent democracy there is, however, in many cases a strong consciousness of social rank, based on property qualifications. A man who owns his land and buildings is the superior of another man to whom he leases a part of the estate or an adjoining estate. Bright eyes and a winsome manner are a girl’s most valued assets, still, everything else being equal, the girl whose father has the sunniest acres and the biggest barns is likely to be the belle of the neighborhood. In any case girls learn to do all sorts of housework and lend a hand in the field besides, out-door air and exercise giving most of them robust strength. Their favorite social amusement is dancing evenings and Sunday afternoonsstrictly religious they all are, but the custom of the country encourages any innocent recreation after church is over for the day. Young people make the most of their opportunity for friendly visiting.
Country girls like these have practically the same freedom as American girls in the matter of youthful friendships and courtships, but it is still customary for the father, mother or some elderly relative of the young man to pay a formal call and make the definite offer of marriage, addressing it to the girl’s parents or guardians. Sometimes, of course, match-making parents take these matters arbitrarily into their own hands, just as in other lands, and Romeo and Juliet have a sad time. Oftener the affair has really been all decided beforehand between the lovers, and the formal asking in marriage is merely a decorous recognition of the claims of etiquette.
Anybody who knows Gunnar, that delightful story written years ago by Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, will be reminded at once by this solemn youngster of the little Norse lad who used to play go riding, astride of a beam in his grandmother’s cottage, and of the way he used to devour her tales about the enchanted princess and the three-headed Trold and the beautiful, mysterious Hulder with a scarlet bodice and long golden hair. The simple country idyl is well worth reading, for the insight it gives into the inner life of a shy child who awakens to the fascinating reality of life beyond the confines of the little valley at home.
Life in this particular valley is really much less isolated than it was where Gunnar dreamed his boyish dreams, for a little farther down that road which we see leading along the hillside is a villageonly a small one, to be sure, but still a considerable social center for Norway where scattered homesteads are the rule. Consult the same map that we have lately been using (Map 5) and the encircled 33 will show where we are to stand to look over the village. The length of the red lines extending from the 33 promises a view considerably more extensive than the last.