Before Fylgia (6)

Aug, 2019

Before Fylgia, there was another story, told by the villagers themselves. Many of my readers have asked about it, and so I decided to post it here. This is the sixth installment. Not yet fiction, it occupies a realm of its own.

     Carl Fredrik Lundgren was a man with a firm handshake.  Villagers remember him as purposeful and trustworthy, fired by new ideas in farming and economics. “He was not like the rest of us,” says Bertil, who became Lundgren’s hired man in the early 1930s. “He had a tremendous brain. Had he gone to university, he would have been up there with the best of them. Wasn’t anyone who could have stopped him.”

     Carl Fredrik Lundgren was born in the province of Halland in 1875. His father, Carl Magnus Lundgren, was born out of wedlock in 1838.  In 1873 he married Ebba Bagge, who came from a line of clergymen, merchants, and sea captains, all prominent members of the upper middle class.

     When Carl Fredrik was nine years old, the family moved to Kungsäter, where his father leased Hultaberg, the large farm owned by the Crown and previously leased by Baron Falkenberg.  His mother died in 1887, after giving birth to eight children. His father came upon hard times but retained the lease of Hultaberg until his death in 1893. Financial difficulties may well have been the reason why Carl Fredrik did not continue his education beyond the obligatory nine years of grade school and possibly some time spent at an agricultural school. Carl Fredrik’s passion for farming had shown itself early on. As a boy he cried when rains ruined the harvest.

     After his father’s death, Carl Fredrik Lundgren first worked as a farm hand in a neighboring village. Around the turn of the century he attended large textile fairs all over Sweden as one of Gottfried Bergenheim’s traveling salesmen. His interest in farming prevailed, and in 1904 he became Ninus Brodin’s new tenant farmer. This put him in charge of Prastgarden, a farm covering 63 acres of cultivated land and 223 acres of forest and pasture. In articles he wrote for a Varberg newspaper, he praised life in the country as far superior to that in the city. While not denying the importance of industry, he felt it must always be secondary to agriculture. Industry, if unchecked, led to destruction. It lured the workers away from the farms, used and discarded them with no concern for human dignity.  Agriculture, on the other hand, was the very foundation of Swedish society. Progress, prosperity, even liberty, ultimately rested on the land. It kept its workers strong and focused, made them part of a greater whole, gave them a sense of meaning and belonging.

     It was as a newspaper man that Lundgren visited Torp in the late summer of 1908. He was working on a series of articles about the farms of the parish. Torp, in those days, was certainly one of the most prosperous, its land about as extensive as that of Prastgarden, with 68 acres of cultivated fields, and 200 acres of forest and pasture. The barn and the stables were sprawling red structures pressing against forest and steep granite rock. Facing them, set apart by a cobblestoned courtyard, was the two-storied main house, painted white. Large elm trees bordered the pathway leading up to the main entrance. Surrounding the house was the garden, with raked gravel paths and peonies as far as the eye could see. A white flagpole with a golden knob flew the blue and yellow Swedish flag — on days when the flag was not raised, the wind cracked the ropes against the pole in protest. Towards the outskirts of the garden, pear and apple trees dominated, mixed in with white and purple lilacs, weeping willows and grottoes of billowing linden trees. A shoot from Baroness Falkenberg’s Danish cherry tree had long since taken root and in the spring its blossoms were the talk of the village. Still farther out, red and black currants took over, with patches of rhubarb, gooseberries, and black and red currants. Around it all ran a hedge of hawthorn, kept at bay by Anders. 

     Lundgren was invited in. “I was glad to see that the Börjessons had preserved the kind of old country home which is almost extinct today, even in our parts,” he wrote in the ensuing article. In the living room, Fina’s woven curtains let the sunlight through, while her geraniums and ferns filled the window sills. The floor boards had never known linoleum, and the wallpaper was a soft rich blue. The light gray sofa and the chairs with their turned legs, lyre backs, and pale yellow upholstery were made by a local cabinet-maker. To a less sophisticated visitor, they might have seemed too elegant for a farm house, but the style, a restrained Louis XVI, had become common in well-to-do Swedish homes after Swedish King Gustav III introduced it in the late 1700s.

     The room also held one or two large wooden chests, with leaves and flowers painted on a brownish red background imitating marble. Anna’s sister Ida had seen similar chests when staying with a family in Stockholm. One of her letters home mentions a visit to Skansen, a large open air museum which had opened in 1891. “In the old cottages were several chests just like ours,” she wrote. “Madame thought they were so nice, and when I told her we have several, some of them in the attic, she thought I was joking. We also saw some copper kettles, not nearly as beautiful as our large ones. Had I told her we keep one of them in the barn I guess she would have swooned.”

     “Mrs. Börjesson is a highly competent woman, liked by all,” Lundgren wrote, “and the Börjesson children, some of whom are young adults, are well brought up and behave themselves accordingly.” One of the daughters, “a well built, handsome woman in her early twenties,” served coffee and cake. Presumably it was Selma, who was 24 years old at the time. Anna was only 19.

     Carl Börjesson, in Lundgren’s words, was “a man in his fifties, known for his many services within and without the parish.” That year Carl Börjesson was running for a seat in the Second Chamber of the Parliament, a body largely made up of freeholder farmers. For a number of years, Carl Börjesson had also served as a member of the Älvsborg Province Council, which represented an area covering some 8,000 square miles with a population of 317,000. The responsibility of the provincial council was twofold. It determined budgets for medical care, education, transportation, and law enforcement. It also elected members of the First Chamber of the Parliament, which was a forum for nobility, higher civil servants, military men, and industrialists.

     Over cognac, Lundgren and Carl Börjesson no doubt discussed politics. As members of the Conservative Party, both would have frowned on changes in suffrage about to be pushed through by a coalition of Liberals and Social Democrats. In the past, suffrage had been based on income and property, the general assumption being that those who did well by themselves also would do well by the country. Beginning in 1909, the polls would be open to a much larger segment of the population, and one unlikely to vote Conservative. Though still closed to women, elections for the Second Chamber would be open to all men, provided they did not owe taxes for the past three years. At local elections, open to both men and women, no voter would be entitled to more than 40 votes. Though hardly democratic, it was still a drastic change from the old system of the fyrk, which allowed an estimated seven percent to control the outcome.

     In the course of the visit Carl Börjesson also took Lundgren on a tour of the farm. By the early 1900s, under the protection of a stable tariff system, Swedish agriculture flourished. As proof of Carl Börjesson’s successes, Lundgren cited the year-old barn, “well built, of solid material.” It housed the new farm machinery: plows, graders, harrows, and seeders. The reaper, mostly used for grass, was of Swedish manufacture, perhaps a Viking or a Herkules.  Pulling it were Carl Börjesson’s large Ardenners, powerful horses of Belgian origin. Once used to transport Napoleon’s troops, the breed had been introduced to Sweden in the 1870s.  Boxes of stud books, published by the Swedish Ardenner Association, are still in the attic of Torp. The stallions weighed about 2,000 pounds and stood nearly 17 hands. Their collars fit snugly on their well defined withers, their endurance and intelligence were uncontested, and they bore wonderful names, like Jupiter,Ballancort, and Democrate de Bogaerden.

     As Carl Börjesson and Lundgren inspected the fields, the talk likely turned to artificial fertilizers, a controversial subject at the time. Lundgren’s writings reflected his belief that man must complete what God began. A successful farmer, aside from being a good businessman, must also keep abreast of the latest in agricultural research. His most important capital was the soil: if exhausted it would no longer yield a profit. Fertilizing with manure alone was wasteful. While it did supply nitrogen and potassium, it contained relatively small amounts of phosphoric acid. Therefore, Lundgren argued, it made sense to add the latter artificially.

     Carl Börjesson, I suspect, argued the other side.  He always welcomed a debate: he enjoyed the jostling. Like many of the other farmers, he did not feel that artificial fertilizers justified the cost. Rotating the crops was in itself a protection against tired soils. “Look at the forest,” he used to say. “If we cut down the evergreens, the deciduous will follow. It’s nature’s way, and she needs no help from us.” Barnyard manure would take care of the rest. It completed a cycle that linked the animals to the field, returned to the land what once grew on it, and added humus and bacteria without which any soil would be barren. Besides, there was plenty of manure to go around; Carl Börjesson certainly did not foresee a shortage.

     The farm, on the whole, bespoke Carl Börjesson’s point. Lundgren admired the crops, except for a field of “less than pretty” third-year grass and clover. In Kungsäter, the 1908 harvest would be one of the best ever recorded. Turnips, beets, and potatoes came out of the ground so large that the children took them to school to show them to their teacher. The rye was said to have grown taller than a man. It was so coarse that the scythes had to be sharpened every five minutes; the women who bound it covered their arms with thick wool stockings. Indeed, all over Sweden the harvests that year were abundant. The total value was estimated at 800 million crowns, about 200 million more than average. Farmers claimed that everyone stood to benefit. “If the farmer is rich,” they said, “the whole world is rich.”

     Before Lundgren left, it was time for the milking.  Anders kept the cow barn spotless: whitewashed walls, roomy stalls with plenty of straw for the cows to lie down on, and sanded floors so the milk maids would not slip. The cows — reddish brown with patches of white — entered the barn in a single line, the order fixed. Anxious to be milked, they mooed and tossed their heads. When they spotted Carl Börjesson and Lundgren, they bridled and held back. For a while the outcome seemed uncertain — cows are suspicious of strangers — but urged on by Anders and other cows behind them they plunged into their stanchions with milk spraying from their swinging udders. Lundgren counted about thirty “good-looking” animals, most of them with show ring honors. Like all good producers, they were lean rather than fat, with deep chests, sleek coats, and sturdy hooves. The veins stood out boldly on their sides and abdomens; their udders were heavy and thin-skinned, free of calluses, with long pointed teats extending forward and up.

     As the mooing subsided, the milkmaids sat down on their low, three-legged stools. Each woman knew her own cows, and the cows knew her. If a heifer was high-strung, the woman took her time, running her fingers over the udder, holding the teats without squeezing, pushing upward once or twice, in imitation of a thirsty calf. As the heifer relaxed and “let down,” the woman leaned her forehead against the animal’s flank and began to milk as usual, rhythmically and forcefully, repeating the same movement over and over, separating the milk from the udder with her thumb and her forefinger, then pressing it down the teat with her remaining fingers and the palm of her hand. Jets of milk struck the buckets, at first hard and hollow, later more muffled, as the contents of the buckets whipped into creamy foam.  The cows chewed their cuds, swished their tails, and plopped manure into the concrete gutters. Occasionally a woman’s voice praised or scolded. Soon the entire barn smelled of contentment and warm, large bodies. 

     One of the milk maids was Selma. “Many modern women are ‘afraid’ to milk,” Lundgren wrote. “I was therefore deeply gratified to see that the Börjesson daughter — the same young woman who helped serve the coffee — was not one of them. When I left, both she and her sister, in clean frocks, were in the barn milking. Honor to them both, and to all young women who stay home and work at the family farm!  What would Sweden’s future be without them?”

     The sister, most likely, was Anna.

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