Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Father Mikko

FAR up in the ice-bound north, where the sun is almost invisible in winter, and where the summer nights are bright as day, there lies a land which we call Finland; but the people who live there call it Suomenmaa now, and long, long ago they used to call it Kalevala (which means the land of heroes). And north of Finland lies Lapland, which the Finns now call Lappi, but in the olden days they called it Pohjola (that is, Northland). There the night lasts for whole weeks and months about Christmas, and in the summer again they have no night at all for many weeks. For more than half the year their country is wrapped in snow and frost, and yet they are both of them a kind-hearted people, and among the most honest and truthful in the world.

               One dark winter's day an old man was driving in a sledge through the fir forest in the northern part of Finland. He was so well wrapped up in sheep-skin robes that he looked more like a huge bundle of rugs, with a cord round the middle, than anything else, and the great white sheep-skin cap which he wore hid all the upper part of his face, while the lower part was buried in the high collar of his coat. All one could see was a pair of bright blue eyes with frost-fringed eyelashes, blinking at the snow that was thrown up every now and then by his horse's feet.

               He was a travelling merchant from away up in the north-western part of Russia, and had been in southern Finland to sell his wares, at the winter fairs that are held every year in the Finnish towns and villages. Now he was on his way home, and had come up through Kuopio, and had got on past Kajana already, but now it had just begun to snow, and as the storm grew worse, he pressed on to reach the cabin of a friend who lived not far ahead; and he intended to stay there until the storm should subside and the weather be fit for travelling once more.

               It was not long before he reached the cabin, and getting out of his sledge slowly, being stiff from the cold and the cramped position, he knocked on the door with his whip-handle. It was opened at once, and he was invited in without even waiting to see who it was, and was given the welcome that is always given in that country to a wearied traveller. But when he had taken his wraps off there was a general cry of recognition, and a second even more hearty welcome.

               'Welcome, Father Mikko!'

               'What good fortune has brought you hither?'

               'Come up to the fire,' and a chorus of cries from two little children, who greeted 'Pappa Mikko' with delight as an old and welcome acquaintance. Then the father of the family went out and attended to Father Mikko's horse and sledge, and in a few minutes was back again and joined the old man by the fire. Next his wife brought out the brandy-bottle and two glasses, and after her husband had filled them, he and Father Mikko drank each other's health very formally, for that is the first thing one must do when a guest comes in that country. You must touch your glass against your friend's, and say 'good health,' and raising it to your lips drink it straight off, and all the time you must look each other straight in the eyes.

               When this important formality was finished the four members of the family and Father Mikko made themselves comfortable around the fire, and they began to ask him how things had prospered with him since they had seen him last, and to tell him about themselves--how Erik, the father of the family, had been sick, and the harvest had been extra good that year, and one of the cows had a calf, and all the things that happen to people in the country.

               And then he told them of what was going on in the towns where he had been, and how every one was beginning to get ready for Christmas. And he turned to the two little children and told them about the children in the towns--how they had had such a lovely time at 'Little Christmas,' [1] at the house he was staying in. How the little ones had a tiny little tree with wee wax candles on it exactly like the big tree they were to have at Christmas, and how, when he left, all the children had begun to be impatient for Christmas Eve, with its presents and Christmas fish and porridge.

               After the old man had ended his account it was dinner-time, and they all ate with splendid appetites, while Father Mikko declared that the herring and potatoes and rye-bread and beer made a far better dinner than any he had had in the big cities in the south--not even in Helsingfors had he had a better. Then when dinner was over, and they had all gathered round the fire again, little Mimi climbed up into 'Pappa Mikko's' lap, and begged him to tell them 'all the stories he had ever heard, from the very beginning of the world all the way down.' And her father and mother joined with her in her request, for in their land even the grown-up people have not become too grand to listen to stories. As for the little boy, Antero, he was too shy to say anything; but he was so much interested to hear 'Pappa Mikko' that he actually forgot to nibble away at a piece of candy which 'Pappa Mikko' had brought from St. Michel.

               The old man smiled, for he was always asked for stories wherever he went--he was a famous story-teller--and, stroking little Mimi's hair gently, he looked at the group around the fire before replying. There was Erik, the father, a broad-shouldered man, with a dark, weather-beaten face and rather a sad look, as so many of his countrymen have. His face showed that his struggle in the world had not been easy, for he had to be working from the time he got up until he went to bed; and then when the harvest had been bad, and the winter much longer than usual, and everything seemed to go wrong--ah! it was so hard then to see the mother and the little ones have only bark-bread to eat, and not always enough of that, and one winter they had had nothing else for months. Erik wouldn't have minded for himself, but for them ...! Ah well, that was all over now; he had been able at last to save up a little sum of money, and the harvests were extra good this year, and he had bought Mother Stina a cloak for Christmas! Just think of it--a fine cloak, all the way from the fair at Kuopio!

               And next to Erik sat his wife Stina, a short, fat little woman, with such a merry face and happy-looking eyes that you could hardly believe that she had lived on anything but the best herring and potatoes and rye-bread all her life. Close by her side was her little boy Antero, who was only seven years old, and in his eagerness for the stories to commence he still held his piece of candy in his hand without tasting it.

               Then there was little Mimi in Father Mikko's lap. She was nearly ten years old, and was not a pretty little girl; but she had very lovely soft brown eyes and curly flaxen hair, and a quiet, demure manner of her own, and her mother declared that when she grew up she would be able to spin and weave and cook better than any other girl in the parish, and that the young man that should get her Mimi for a wife would get a real treasure.

               And lastly, there was Father Mikko himself, an old man over sixty, yet strong and hearty, with a long gray beard and gray hair, and eyes that fairly twinkled with good humour. You could hardly see his mouth for his beard and moustache, and certainly his nose was a little too small and turned up at the end to be exactly handsome, and his cheek-bones did stand out a little too high; but yet everybody, young and old, liked him, and his famous stories made him a welcome guest wherever he came.

               So Father Mikko lit his queer little pipe, and settled down comfortably with Mimi in his lap, and a glass of beer at his side to refresh himself with when he grew weary of talking. There was only the firelight in the room, and as the flames roared up the chimney they cast a warm, cosy light over the whole room, and made them all feel so comfortable that they thanked God in their hearts in their simple way, because they had so many blessings and comforts when such a storm was raging outside that it shook the house and drifted the snow up higher than the doors and windows.

               Then Father Mikko began, and this is the first story that he told them.



[1] A children's festival about one week before the real Christmas.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Father Mikko
Tale Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Book Title: Finnish Legends for English Children
Book Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1893
Country of Origin: Finland
Classification: unclassified

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