"I want two beds," cried one. "I wish for five beds," screamed another. "Give me a room with blinds," exclaimed a third. The female clerk, meantime, having completely lost her head, was calling off numbers like an auctioneer. Suddenly she turned to me, who had not yet opened my mouth, and almost paralyzed me with these words:
"Number 20 will do for you, three beds and one cradle!"
When I recovered from my swoon, I found that my friend had come up quietly after the battle, and had secured two single rooms.
Saying farewell to Odde, a day's delightful sail between majestic mountains brought us to one of Norway's most important cities - Bergen. Although we lingered here three days, we had the wonderful experience of continual sunshine. I rightly call it wonderful; for Bergen is the rainiest city in the world and is sarcastically called "The fatherland of drizzle." The people in Christiania claim that in Bergen when a horse sees a man without an umbrella, he shies! It is also said that a sea-captain, who was born in Bergen, and all his life had sailed between his native city and the outer world, came one day into its harbor when by chance the sun was shining. At once he put about and set forth to sea again, believing that he had made a mistake in his port. As we approached the pier at Bergen, I saw what, in the distance, appeared to be a mob. It proved, however, to be the usual crowd which gathers round the Bergen Fish Market.
The Bergen Fish Market.
This is not, after all, so strange if we reflect that fish is the great commodity of Bergen, and that this city is the chief distributing station for Norwegian fish to the entire world. Several centuries ago, a company of German merchants, who formed the famous Hanseatic League, established themselves here and held for years within their hands the monopoly of all the fishing trade of Norway, compelling even the Norwegian fishermen to send their catch of fish to Bergen for re-shipment to other ports of Europe. It is true the league exists no longer, but its influence still survives, and nothing can divert the trade from following in its ancient channel. Over the hills that rise above the city a splendid driveway has been made. A Bergen resident spoke of it to me as "The Drink Road".
"What is the meaning of so strange a title?" I inquired.
"It is so called," he said, "because it is constructed wholly out of the profits derived from the sale of ardent spirits." Observing my astonishment, he added: "Do you not understand our famous liquor law in Bergen?"
Monsters Of The Deep.
Bergen's "drink road".
I confessed my ignorance.
"Then let me explain it to you," he exclaimed. "Perhaps I can best do this," he added, "by pointing out to you that melancholy individual standing by the gang-plank. He used to be a liquor-seller here, but he has lost his 'spirits,' for our municipal government now has the sale of liquors entirely in its own hands. It first decides how many licenses are needed, and then, instead of giving them to private individuals, it grants them only to a responsible stock company. The books of this company must be at all times open to inspection, and all its rules are strictly under government control. Moreover, the company is not allowed to make more than five per cent. on its invested capital. All profits over that amount are given to public improvements, roads, parks, schools, or hospitals".
I asked if the law gave general satisfaction.
"We are delighted with it," was the answer. "It is now thirteen years since it was started, and all the prominent towns in Norway, except three, have followed our example. The liquors, in the first place, are all carefully selected. Secondly, the bars are not attractive gin-palaces, but plain rooms, with no seats for customers. No loitering on the premises is allowed. Only a small amount is sold at any one time. Children are not allowed to serve as messengers. Even the bartenders are appointed by the government, and wear a uniform and a number, by which they can be easily identified in case of complaint; and as a practical result," he added, "by taking the liquor traffic out of the hands of irresponsible agents the annual amount of ardent spirits sold has been reduced from twelve and a half to five and a half million quarts; and yet our Bergen company has earned each year a net profit of one hundred and twenty-five per cent, one hundred and twenty of which is, as I have said, applied to public charities!"