BALTIC COMMUNITIES

AT Vordingborg, a small town at the extreme south of Sjaelland, the
largest and easternmost of the Danish islands, we felt ourselves to
be really for the first time in pure and simple Denmark (Esbjerg had
a certain international quality). We had sailed through the Langelands
Belt, skirting the monotonous agricultural coasts of all sorts of
islands, great and small, until one evening we reached this city, which
looked imposing on the map. When we had followed the skipper ashore on
his marketing expedition, and trodden all the stony streets of little
Vordingborg, we seemed to know what essential Denmark, dozing in the
midst of the Baltic, truly was.

Except a huge and antique fort, there was no visible historical basis
to this town. The main thoroughfare showed none of the dignity of
tradition. It was a bourgeois thoroughfare, and comfortable bourgeoises
were placidly shopping therein–the same little bourgeoises that one
sees all over the world. A fairly large hotel; sundry tobacconists;
a bookseller who also sold wall-papers; a sausage-shop, with a girl
actuating an efficient sausage-slicing machine, and in the window an
electric fan whirring close to a gigantic sausage. In the market, on a
vague open space, a few carts, with their shafts on the ground; a few
stalls; a few women; a butcher whipping off a hungry dog; three cheeses
on a stand; baskets of fruit and vegetables on the Danish ground; our
skipper chattering by signs and monosyllables in the middle. That was
Vordingborg.

[Illustration: 0146]

In the churchyard there were only two graves. The church had no more
architectural interest than a modern church in a London suburb, though
it was older. We went within. The numbers of the hymns at the last
service were still forlornly stuck up on the indicator. The altar and
screen were ingenuously decorated in the style of a high-class booth
at a fair. Three women in huge disfiguring aprons were cleaning the
interior. Their cloaks and a white umbrella lay on the stone floor.
They never even glanced at us. We left the church, and then skirting
market-gardens and climbing over the ramparts of the fort, we descended
to the mournful little railway station, and as we watched a little train
amble plaintively in and out of that terminus, we thought of the numbers
of the hymns sung at the last service in the church, and the immense
devastating ennui of provincial existence in remote places enveloped us
like a dank fog. We set sail, and quitted Vordingborg forever, lest we
might harden our hearts and be unjust to Vordingborg, which, after all,
at bottom, must be very like a million other townlets on earth.

Compared with some of the ports we made, Vordingborg was a metropolis
and a center of art. When we had threaded through the Ulfsund and the
Stege Strand and the intricacies of the Rogestrommen, we found shelter
in a village harbor of the name of Faxo. Faxo had nothing–nothing but
a thousand trucks of marl, a girl looking out of a window, and a locked
railway station. We walked inland into a forest, and encountered the
railway track in the middle of the forest, and we walked back to Faxo,
and it was the same Faxo, except that a splendid brig previously at
anchor in the outer roads was slipping away in the twilight, and leaving
us alone in Faxo.

At Spotsbjerg, on the north of the island of Sjælland, a small, untidy
fishing village with a harbor as big as a swimming-bath, there was not
even a visible church; we looked vainly for any church. But there was
a telephone, and on the quay there was a young and pretty girl leaning
motionless on her father’s, or her grandfather’s, tarpaulin shoulder.
Full of the thought that she would one day be old and plain, we fled
from Spotsbjerg, and traveled an incredible distance during the whole
of a bright Sunday, in order to refresh our mundane instincts at the
capital of the Jutland peninsula, Aarhus.

[Illustration: 0151]

And on approaching Aarhus, we ran into a regatta, and the _Velsa_ had
less of the air of an aristocrat among the industrial classes than in
such ports as Spotsbjerg and Faxo. Further, a reporter came to obtain
a “story” about the strange Dutch yacht with the English ensign. It was
almost equal to being anchored off the Battery, New York.

At Aarhus the pulse of the world was beating rather loud. In the windows
of the booksellers’ shops were photographs of the director of the
municipal theater surrounded by his troupe of stars. And he exactly
resembled his important brethren in the West End of London. I myself
was among the authors performed in the municipal theater, and I had a
strange, comic sensation of being world-renowned. Crowds surged in the
streets of Aarhus and in its cafés and tram-cars, and at least one of
its taxicabs was driven by a woman. It had a really admirable hotel, the
Royal, with first-class cooking, and a concert every night in its winter
garden, where the ruling classes met for inexpensive amusement, and
succeeded in amusing themselves with a dignity, a simplicity, and a
politeness that could not possibly be achieved in any provincial town in
England, were it five times the size of Aarhus. And why?

Withal, Aarhus, I have to confess, was not much of a place for elegance.
Its women failed, and the appearance of the women is the true test of a
civilization. So far in our Danish experience the women of Esbjerg
stood unrivaled. The ladies of Aarhus, even the leading ladies gathered
together in the Royal Hotel, lacked style and beauty. Many of them had
had the sense to retain the national short sleeve against the ruling of
fashion, but they did not arrive at any effect of individuality. They
were neither one thing nor the other. Their faces showed kindness,
efficiency, constancy, perhaps all the virtues; but they could not
capture the stranger’s interest.

There was more style at Helsingôr (Elsinore), a town much smaller than
Aarhus, but probably enlivened by naval and military influences, by its
close proximity to Sweden, with train-ferry communication therewith, and
by its connection with Hamlet and Shakspere. The night ferries keep the
town unduly awake, but they energize it. Till a late hour the station
and the quay are busy with dim figures of chattering youth in pale
costumes, and the departure of the glittering train-laden ferry to a
foreign country two miles off is a romantic spectacle. The churches of
Helsingôr have an architectural interest, and its fruit shops display
exotic fruits at high prices. Officers flit to and fro on bicycles.
Generals get out of a closed cab at the railway station, and they bear
a furled standard, and vanish importantly with it into the arcana of the
station. The newspapers of many countries are for sale at the kiosk. The
harbor-master is a great man, and a suave.

The pride of Helsingor is the Kronborg Castle, within sight of the town
and most grandiosely overlooking sea and land. Feudal castles are often
well placed, but one seldom sees a renaissance building of such heroic
proportions in such a dramatically conceived situation. The castle is of
course used chiefly as a barracks. On entering the enormous precincts,
we saw through a window a private sitting on a chair on a table, in
fatigue uniform, playing mildly a flageolet, and by his side on the
table another private in fatigue uniform, with a boot in one hand,
doing nothing whatever. And from these two figures, from the whitewashed
bareness of the chamber, and from the flageolet, was exhaled all the
monstrous melancholy of barrack-life, the same throughout the world.
Part of the castle is set aside as a museum, wherein, under the
direction of a guide, one is permitted to see a collection of pictures
the surpassing ugliness of which nearly renders them interesting. The
guide points through a window in the wall ten feet thick to a little
plot of turf. “Where Hamlet walked.” No historical authority is offered
to the visitor for this statement. The guide then leads one through a
series of large rooms, empty save for an occasional arm-chair, to the
true heart of the Kronborg, where he displayed to us a seated statue
of Mr. Hall Caine, tinted an extreme unpleasant bluish-white. An
inscription told that it had been presented to Kronborg by a committee
of Englishmen a few years earlier to mark some anniversary. The guide
said it was a statue of Shakspere. I could not believe him.

You may also like