The Norwegian Emigrant
SCENES FROM ACTUAL LIFE.—No. I.
THE NORWEGIAN EMIGRANT.
BY THE EDITOR.
Keen blew a northwest wind over the brown hills and through the valleys, where a line boat lay on the Erie canal, shut in by ice, one morning in November. A sleety rain had closed in snow on the previous day, followed by gusty breezes from the plains of Canada, and when the sun had set mid rolled up clouds of purple and gold with an orange green sky glittering behind, and stars flashing bright overhead, the boatmen had muffled themselves in their warmest coats, while the shivering boy whipped up his horses, anxious passengers clustered on deck, and the captain as he saw the ice fibres shoot over still spots of water, muttered, "'tis our last trip this season." Midnight had settled calm over the leafless woods and white capped summits, and plains where the dry grass rustled; ice had formed fast on the narrow line of the canal, and the crowded inmates of the boat had heard a crackling and hissing as she broke her way. An hour or two after there had been a call from the shore, the helmsman had summoned the captain, the half waked sleepers looking out of the doors and windows had seen the lamps gleam in long lines over the frozen surface, and all hands had turned in for a quiet nap ; the boat was fast.
And now it was morning. Welcome day, may be to the crew, who through the summer months had smothered in narrow bunks under their low roofed boat, sluggishly journeying to and fro over the same monotonous way, and who could now find change of labor in familiar places. Welcome day may be to the captain, sleeping late in dreams over his summer's gains and his winter speculations. But a most unwelcome day to the poor emigrants, who friendless, moneyless, houseless, without place in society or work before them, with no intelligible speech to make known their wants or ask their way, found themselves on the verge of winter about to be turned on shore amid the woods some half day's journey from ------. The hearts of those strangers were chill as they heard the summons of men made hard by familiarity with similar scenes of distress to leave the boat, which, uncomfortable as it was, still seemed to have some warmth of home. But leave the boat they plainly must. And a few hours saw them, men and boys on foot, women and children on trunks and bundles in country wagons, making their way to the next inland city. What lessons of a true order of society might this tendency of the poor to cluster in crowds teach us. Among them was Ulric, of Norway, with his wife, an infant born some three weeks before, and five older children. Poor Ulric! It needed a heart as brave and patient as thine, to be kind and gentle and thoughtful, that day, amidst thy multiplied anxieties.
Ulric had left Norway in the early summer with some score of his neighbors to settle in Iowa, with money enough in his purse from hard earnings to buy him a small farm, and with good hope of getting a shelter over the heads of his family before cold weather. But the oft repeated, only sadder because frequent tale, of imposition and outrage upon emigrants, had been true of him. A drunken captain in a leaky water-logged ship spun out their voyage to a most unexpected length; their store of provision was exhausted; famine, bad air, a closely packed crowd, the heat of calms, and above all, care and trouble, bred fever on board, and late in August he landed sick at quarantine. Recovery was slow; expenses, necessary and unnecessary of all kinds eat up his means ; the duplicity of a fellow lodger when they had actually reached New York lessened still more his little capital; in a dirty, crowded inn, amidst filth and noise his baby was born; his companions more fortunate had gone a month and more before him; he paid to a cheating agent who assured him that he could reach the far west his full fare round the lakes, with a company of Germans who did not speak his language, as he did not theirs, had he left Albany; and now where and how thought he, as with little Fritz's hand in his he trudged over the frozen ruts, where and how were he and his to winter. Pious parents had taught Ulric in maxims, written into his very heart, that the Providence which tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, counts the very hairs of the head of the humblest and poorest. And but for faith in this law of divine love which shines warm in adversity, his prospect in life would have seemed more cheerless and bleak than the bare trees and heathery hills of this strange land. But Fritz! what was hardship to a boy 1 He picked up the glossy chesnuts which the wind had shaken from the open burrs, laughed at the squirrels which chippered as they ran on the fences and hid, and echoed the caw of the crows as they flew southward overhead. "What bankrupts in happy love would grown men be in this hard world, were it not for the treasure of joy which youth stores in the heart.
Weeks past, and December with its fogs and rains, and January with its snows and thaws had come, Ulric gaining as he could with the saw, for which he paid the last dollar, small sums amidst many rival applicants for the poor privilege of earning an honest livelihood by humble toil, when at last his goods were pawned, his funds exhausted, and one evening he found himself standing in the street holding his baby, while the children warmed their feet by stamping on the sloppy pavement, and their mother was for the first time in her life begging bread. The lamps shone,on the sad group. Many stopped for a moment and muttering "emigrants,"hurried on to comfortable houses. But at length a gentleman rather advanced in life, with a lady several years younger leaning on his arm, in the countenances of each of which a kindly smile lingered as if from pleased recollection of the visit of mercy from which they were returning, came to where they stood, and did not pass, but pressed poor Ulric's hand and patted the wet shoulders of the children, and drew from their imperfect words the story of their sufferings. " What can we do for them, Mary ; is not the room where the Carey's lived empty now ? There is a bed chamber adjoining, and a stove, and I think they will do very well. Let us get them there at once." To procure a cart, to place the children upon it, to find the mother, and give the driver his directions, was for this benevolent couple the work of a few moments; and then with Ulric they followed. It was an hour beyond their usual time of taking their evening meal, and it carried them far from their course through the melting snow and mild; but kindness was to them as daily food; the needy were ever their nearest kin, and love made the " longest way round their shortest road home," as they had often and often proved. Did not the face of Fritz, glowing red as he blew the fire, and the gentle form of the sick mother as sitting on the floor she rocked to sleep her infant, and the half bashful, half confiding group of the children hungrily eating their supper, and Ulric's courteous thanks, as cap in hand he bowed them from the door, mingle pleasantly in their dreams that night ?
And who were Mr. and Mrs. White? If you had asked of the poor of ------, they would have said, "Who are they? why they are honest employers who pay a dollar when wages are six shillings, and liberal counsel who give best advice without a fee. Who but he filled his house, parlors and chambers, and all with Irish families when the great fire burned the square in ---- street? Who but he, old as he is and sometimes sick, went round with pails of coffee and soup when the flood drove the inhabitants from their homes on the river, and sheds and tents were put up for them on the hill there ? Who but they nursed us when the cholera broke out ? He sent Mrs. Lane's deaf and dumb boy to the Asylum, and put him in the stage himself and paid his fare. He bought the bible printed for the blind in raised letters for Mr. Wise, and Mrs. White sat by him whole afternoons teaching him to read. Who but he got the old jail, which was too dirty for pigs torn down, and the new one yonder built, and carries books to the prisoners and talks with them, and finds them work when they come out ? There are no black dungeons there we can tell you, where the crazy people are kept caged and whipped and starved on dirty straw, for he had all of them sent to the Hospital. And if you should go some day to the public school, you would find him there asking the children questions and bidding them good bye with some pleasant words that they never forget. And his wife, bless her angel heart, is just like him. Whom have they not helped ? It would take all day to tell the half they do of acts of love. They are friends to the friendless, practical christians." But perhaps some of the " unco guid" as Burns calls them, would have responded : "Nay ! not so ! Mr. and Mrs. White are neighborly, quiet, harmless, kind; but they do not believe right, and are not orthodox. Pity such moral people should be Infidels."
If you had asked now good Mr. and Mrs. W. to give account of themselves against this heavy charge of heresy, they might have changed the subject, or kept silence, or plead guilty, or made a cheerful repartee; but the heart would have said through their calm smiling eyes and cloudless brows, " we are fellow mortals who believe that life as it is, is far too hard for the most, and that there is not the least danger of making it too happy; that we need not be afraid to help others, for we owe all we have and are to others help of us; that men seem worse than they really are, and that even the worst can mend ; that society breeds the crimes it punishes, and that kind words are surer cures of evil than legal penalties. We have too many faults ourselves to judge others; we hope for a time when justice and love will do away with these unnatural and monstrous contrasts of condition; and meanwhile we share as we can what our father has en. trusted to our stewardship."
One thing Mr. White had done, which particularly deserves mention and imitation from all who have means, even moderate. In the first place, he had built a block of clean, commodious houses, in an airy situation, well arranged on the different floors for several families, which he let out at moderate rents to honest and temperate laboring men. For the plan of moving old tumble down buildings into narrow quarters on the outskirts of towns, and filling them at exorbitant rates from garret to cellar with wretched inmates, where children learn to swear and quarrel, to lie and steal and to deprave themselves with every bad habit amid the drunken brawls of parents made desperate by discomfort, seemed to him the worst of the many bad ways of screwing the interest of capital out of the poor. In the centre of this block he had fitted up a reading room and library, always warm and lighted, where lectures were from time to time given, and where the young apprentices were welcome to come and study. In one corner he had established an honest grocer, who would not barter away his conscience by charging double prices for damaged or adulterated articles sold by driblets. Lastly, he had arranged the cellars in partitions, giving one store room to each family, that for once the poor might have an opportunity which they most need, and seldom can command, though the wealthy who need it least always avail themselves of it, to buy wholesale when fuel and food are cheapest, and so be encouraged to economy and thrift. And to crown his wise charity, he weekly or daily visited his humble friends and gave them his advice ; and when it seemed prudent and useful loaned them small sums, and thus saved them from the greedy clutches of the pawnbroker, and the worse clutches of despair, the demon that drives so many to guilt. In an upper room of this truly happy neighborhood did our good friends establish for the winter the poor Norwegians ; and so after their measure give the hospitalities of this free land to the hard laborers, who in waves of industry pour in year by year to aid its redemption to the service of man. These hospitalities we all, as children of emigrants, most surely owe. Providence sees how we render to others the gifts we have received.
Four months or more had passed away. The boys had put aside their skates, thrown stones through the rotting ice, and paddled on boards along the canal; the crows skimming on low wings flew over the meadows; the blackbirds in crowded orchestra chanted their chorus to spring on the beaches and maples; in low grounds the long bending willows began to show their yellow green; and wind flowers opened their graceful bells in sunny nooks; once again the locks were to be opened, and canal boats awoke from their winter's sleep. Bugles blew a merry note, flags waved, stages rattled, loaded carts bore the accumulated goods from bursting storehouses, lazy hands were drawn from the pockets, loungers became bustling business men; all were alive and laughing and eager in the warm bright morning; when a little heart scene was acted in Mr. White's parlor, that angels smiled to see.
A good Norwegian priest who had left his own land to follow with words of comfort and counsel the scattered brethren of his church in America, had arrived from his winter's journeying at -----, and visited among others Ulric and his family. The whole dammed up river of their gratitude, which they had no words to tell in English, had been poured into his confiding bosom; and now when they were to bid farewell to their benefactors, he had come with them as their interpreter. There they stood, dressed in their native costume, neat though threadbare, parents and children hand in hand, and their honored pastor in front. And just risen from the breakfast table surprised and full of sensibility, at once joyful and sad, the good patriarch and his wife with a little boy whom they had adopted clinging round them, came forward with their welcome. There were too many thoughts and feelings on both sides for much speaking. Warm pressures of the hands, smiles mingling in the tears like gleams amid the showers, thanks spoken with sobs and deep tones in their broken tongue; and then as by one impulse the grateful band knelt down, and their minister in words simple and sweet, and gushing warm from the heart, called down the blessings of heaven upon those who had smoothed the path for weary feet, and been brother and sister to wanderers far away from fatherland and kindred. What heralds are such scenes of mankind's reunion upon earth in one great family, with one name and speech ; what prophecies of the grand reunion of all spirits hereafter in the mansions of our Heavenly Father.