Read CHAPTER SEVEN of Chasing the Sun , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

A SUNDAY ON SHORE

Only once during their voyage along the rugged coast of Norway did our three friends go to church!  It must not be supposed, however, that therefore they were heathens.  Far from it.  Fred and his companions were truly Christian men.  That is to say, they not only called themselves Christians, but they made it their earnest aim to walk after the example of Christ, and to exhibit their Christianity by their deeds.  But only once during their trip had they the opportunity of visiting a church on a Sunday forenoon when service was going on.

It happened to be on a bright calm Sunday.  There was just enough of wind to urge the Snowflake through the water at the rate of two miles an hour.  Fred’s usual custom was to get to a secure anchorage on Saturdays, so as to be able to spend the Sabbath as a day of rest.  But this was not always practicable, because the water was so deep close inshore that no bottom could be found in many places, and often they were obliged to continue their voyage on Sunday.  This, however, was a matter of small importance, because the working of the yacht required so little attention ­especially in fine weather ­that it did not interfere with the services or the rest of the day.  Fred made a point of assembling the crew and reading the Church of England service every Sunday forenoon, and a chapter or two from the Bible in the evening.

On the present occasion they were all assembled on the quarterdeck joining in the morning service.  The breeze was steady, and the steersman was the only man on duty, but he was not thereby prevented from attending to what was being read.  The vessel was gliding along close under a precipice which towered high above the mast, and, at a short distance ahead, extended out in a bold promontory or headland.  Elsewhere mountainous islands hemmed them in.

When they reached the promontory Fred was reading that beautiful Psalm, the 95th, ­which appeared somewhat appropriate to the occasion.

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord:  let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.

“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and shew ourselves glad in Him with psalms.

“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

“In His hand are all the corners of the earth:  and the strength of the hills is His also.

“The sea is His, and He made it:  and His hands prepared the dry land.

“O come, let us worship and fall down:  and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”

Fred happened to look up at the last words, and an exclamation of wonder broke from him as he pointed towards the shore.  The schooner had just doubled the towering promontory, and a new scene had been suddenly opened up to view.

Just beyond the promontory the coast-line took an abrupt bend to the right, at the end of which was a sequestered little bay, with a beach of yellow sand, and a cluster of grassy mounds behind, of the brightest emerald green.  The bay and the green mounds and the strip of yellow sand were all exceedingly small, and were surrounded by a mass of rugged rocks of a cold, whitish-grey colour.  Beyond these were the great purple mountains of the mainland.  Ahead and in front towered the islands of the coast.  The whole of the surrounding scenery was wild, rugged, and barren.  This one little spot alone was soft and lovely; it shone out like a bright jewel from its dark setting.  All round the bay were clustering cottages, with white walls and red roofs, ­some on the sides of the mounds, others perched on rocks that projected out into the sea.  On the highest of these mounds stood a church, and in the bay floated a large Norwegian vessel and numerous small boats.

The promontory round which the Snowflake had just passed completely sheltered this bay, so that the water was like a sheet of glass, in which everything ­boats, rocks, mounds, cottages, and church ­was clearly reflected.

The church-bell was ringing.  It was a small bell, and its sweet sound came floating softly over the sea to the ears of our voyagers like an old familiar hymn.  The interest of this scene was further enhanced by the assembling of the people to church.  Boats were seen pushing off from every island, issuing from every creek, rowing over the calm water, and all converging towards the little bay with the yellow strand.  Each boat was crowded with men, women, and children; and as the men wore red caps, and the women white kerchiefs on their heads, their appearance was quite brilliant.  In other respects, their clothes being all homespun and of one dark colour, their aspect was sombre enough.  So numerous were the boats, and so suddenly did they make their appearance, that it seemed as if the land were being invaded by a foreign host.

All this was taken in at a glance by the yacht party as they doubled the promontory, and glided slowly into the bay.

“This is our anchorage,” said the Captain.

“Very well, let go the anchor, and we will finish the service after it is down,” said Temple, rising and taking up the telescope to examine the groups of people on shore.

As each boat discharged its load on the little stone pier, the males and females separated into two distinct bands and walked slowly and sedately towards the church, at the door of which the whole congregation assembled, still keeping in two separate bands, to await the arrival of the clergyman.

In a few minutes the rattle of the chain announced that the anchor was down.  The sails were dewed up, and service was continued.

“Now,” said Fred, when he had concluded, “lower the boat, Captain ­I will go to church.  Will any one of you join me?”

“What’s the use of my going?” said Sam Sorrel; “I won’t understand a word.”

“You’re not sure of that,” said Grant.  “Besides it is so long since we’ve been to church, that I feel as if I should enjoy it whether I understand it or not.”

“If it don’t do you no good, sir, it can’t do you no harm,” urged Bob Bowie, who was evidently anxious to get ashore.

“Come along,” cried Fred, jumping into the boat, and taking his seat in the stern-sheets.

He was quickly followed by his companions and by honest Bob, whose delight in a ramble on shore was only equalled by his love for a voyage on the sea!

“Ain’t it an xtroar’nary church, sir?” said Bob, sidling up to Temple and touching his hat, as they ascended the green mound on which the building stood.

“It is, Bob, most remarkable,” replied Fred.

To say truth, there could not be two opinions on this point.  The church was of very peculiar and curious form.  It was more like a number of dove-cots placed together than anything else; those dove-cots, I mean, which have sloping roofs, and are frequently seen nailed against the sides of houses in country places.  Take four such dove-cots and place them back to back so as to form a sort of square; on the top of these place three more dove-cots, also back to back; above these set up two more dove-cots, and one on the top of all, with a short steeple above it, and a spire with an enormous weathercock on the top of that, and the building will not be a bad model of a Norwegian church, especially if you paint the sides white, and the gabled roofs blackish-red.

Inside, this church was found to be exceedingly plain, but very clean.  The pews and galleries and walls were of unpainted fir, and the ceiling was whitewashed.  The entire building was utterly devoid of ornament, except round the altar, above which there was a large crucifix and a few candles, and other things somewhat resembling those used in Roman Catholic worship.

The service had begun some time before the arrival of our friends.  It was a Lutheran church, and the ceremonial resembled that of the English Church in some respects, that of the Roman Catholic in others.

The entrance of so many strangers of course created some sensation, even although they entered as quietly as possible and sat down on the first seats they found vacant.  The people seemed to have native politeness in them.  They could not, indeed, resist the temptation to look round, but they did it modestly, and only indulged in glances, as if they felt that it was rude to stare at strangers.

Unfortunately Bob Bowie had not been warned that it is the custom in Norway for the men to sit together on one side of the church and the women on the other side, and, being rather a stupid man in some matters, he did not observe that the door by which he entered led to the women’s pews.  Being by nature a modest man, he cast down his eyes on entering, and did not again raise them until he found himself seated beside a Norwegian female in a black gown and a white head-dress, with a baby in her arms, which also wore a black gown and a white head-dress.  Bob sat with a solemn look on his bluff visage, and wiped his bald forehead gently for some time ere he discovered that he was the only male being in the midst of a crowd of two hundred women and girls and female infants!

On making this discovery honest Bob’s body became exceedingly warm and his face uncommonly red.  He glanced round uneasily, blew his nose, rose suddenly, and, putting on his hat with the back to the front, went out of the church on tip-toe as quietly as possible, and was not again seen, until, an hour afterwards, he was discovered seated on the sunny side of a rock near the boat calmly smoking his pipe!

Bob was somewhat ashamed of this little adventure, and did not like to have it spoken of.  As a matter of course his comrades did not spare him; but, being the steward of the ship, and having supreme command over the food, he so contrived to punish his messmates that they very soon gave up joking him about his going to church with the Norse girls!

It cannot be said that any of the three friends made much of the sermon that day.  Fred understood only a sentence here and there, Grant understood only a word now and then, and Sam Sorrel understood nothing at all; but from the earnestness of the preacher, especially when the name of our Saviour was mentioned, they were inclined to believe that a good work was going on there.

In this opinion they were further strengthened when, on afterwards visiting the pastor, they found him to be a man of singularly kind and earnest disposition, with agreeable and unaffected manners.  He wore a long loose robe of black material, and a thick white frill round his neck similar to that usually seen in the portraits of the great Reformer Martin Luther.

His family consisted of a wife and four children ­a sturdy boy, and three flaxen-haired girls, all of whom vied with each other in paying attention to their visitors.  Coffee was instantly produced, and cakes made by the fair fingers of the goodwife.  The pastor could speak a little French, so that his visitors were able to converse with him, but the other members of the family could speak nothing but their native tongue.  However, this did not prove a great stumbling-block, for, while Grant talked French with the pastor, Fred entertained his hostess in his best Norse, and Sam Sorrel, not to be behindhand, got the children round him, and made such wonderful use of ver so goot and his other pet phrases, that he succeeded in getting the boy on his knee, and in setting the girls off into giggles of laughter.

They spent that Sunday and the following Monday at this pleasant place, and were taken by the pastor all over his house and grounds and village, after which he conducted them to the summit of a mountain, whence they obtained one of the finest views they had yet seen in Norway.

Here, for the first time since leaving England, they regarded a fair wind with disfavour; they bade adieu to the pastor and his family with a little of that sad feeling which one experiences when parting, perhaps for ever, from dear friends.

But time and the sun would not wait.  The anchor was tripped; the sails were spread; in half an hour the place had dwindled away to a bright green spot in the far distance; then they rounded the beetling crags of an island ­and it vanished from their view.