RING! RING! RING! TOLL! TOLL! TOLL! The alarm bells were ringing, over twelve hundred years ago; along the east coast of Britain they were ringing and tolling. The Baltic Pirates were coming.
The British children, and their fathers and mothers saw the long, gilded, dragon-prowed pirate-ships come flashing through the billows of the North Sea. Painted ships they were, high-pooped, each with a spreading square sail and oars that dipped and rose and dipped again. Shields hung along the bulwarks; swords, spears and axes bristled on the decks. The stiff gale blew the Pirates' flowing red or blond beards and tossing locks. Helmets shone, birnies glittered, and icy blue eyes gleamed. Gigantic, huge-limbed, bold, were the heathen Pirates from the Baltic Sea, shouting praises to their gods, Thor and Odin. Vikings we call those Pirates.
And when the British children and women saw them coming, they ran about hunting for places in which to hide. The British men got out their pikes to defend their homes and children.
And after the Pirates' raid was over and the British homes lay sacked and smoking in ashes, back across the North Sea, through the winding channels into the Baltic, sailed the Vikings, their ships laden with rich booty. To the lands of Denmark or Sweden, or to the coast of the Saxons and Angles, the Vikings sailed their ships and anchored in home-harbors, till ready for another raid. Many were the raids made during hundreds of years.
And the Vikings themselves had to watch for Pirates. For there were Rovers on the Baltic, in those days, who preyed on the Vikings. From time to time brave red-haired Finns fell upon the coast towns and villages of Sweden, and made many a successful raid.
In those far-away days, the lands encircling the Baltic, were swarming with countless heathen Tribes of different races. The lands could scarcely feed them all. And the desire for bold adventures, for booty, for battle, for new homes in strange lands--with broad acres, plenty to eat, and a chance to rule--was strong upon the restless, fierce folk of the Baltic.
IN those tumultuous days, the Baltic was not merely a protecting haven for Pirates. From its swarming beehive of peoples, went forth Tribes and Tribes and Tribes again migrating southward till at last they overwhelmed the mighty Roman Empire.
And from the Baltic shores sailed Saxons, Angles, and Danes who founded England in the British Isles. And in later days, English descendants of those same Baltic conquerors, crossed the Atlantic and helped colonize North America.
To go back to those far-off times of the Vikings, the peoples who did not leave their homes on the Baltic shores, but stayed to build cities, towns, and fleets of ships, became strong nations. Hundreds of years passed, and, in the Middle Ages, the Baltic was a centre of world commerce.
AND the Baltic is the Amber Sea.
Long, long ago, at the dawn of history, before the Birth of Christ, the Ancient Greeks used to buy a mysterious, beautiful substance, hard, light to lift, transparent like honey-drops, or of a milky yellow or clear, rich, red-brown color.
When they rubbed the substance, forth came a curious fragrance. When they burned it, up shot bright flames with a pleasant odor. And when they rubbed it again, lo! it was charged with an energy like that of the lodenstone, attracting objects to it. They were making the first electrical experiments, those Ancient Greeks, but they did not know it.
Nor did they know where the marvellous stuff came from. The Phoenician sailors had brought it from the coast of Gaul. The Gauls said that they had got it from the Tribes who dwelt near a northern water. They did not suspect, those Ancient Greeks, wise as they were, that the stuff--amber--was a petrified gum from the pine forests buried for unknown ages under the waves of the Baltic and in the amber-beds of its coast.
And if you admire amber, "the balsam of the forest, the gold of the sun, the shining of the water, the tin gling freshness of the breeze, when the world was young," you may read more about it in the Tiny Dictionary.
TODAY, great Christian nations descended from heathen Vikings and the Baltic Tribes of old times rule the Baltic Sea. A number of them have no sea-outlet for their ships to pass to other lands, except through the Baltic. That Sea is a great centre of world-trade.
The Baltic measures about 160,000 square miles. Its waters are nearly tideless, almost saltless, and in places quite shallow, and are warmed by the Gulf Stream. In the northeast lie thousands of islands and islets.
The Baltic stretches one long finger northward between Sweden and Finland, and becomes the Gulf of Bothnia. It points another finger westward towards Russia, between Finland and Estonia, and becomes the Gulf of Finland. It presses a finger into Latvia's coast, and is the Gulf of Riga.
As for the nations and races of the Baltic shores, get out your map and count them. They are many--German, Polish, Danish, Swedish, also Russian, and all those interesting peoples living on the eastern coast.
And it is those interesting East Baltic folk, Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian, who have told the stories in this book. So if you want to know about the Lapps who belong to the Republic of Finland, and about the Northern Lights, Lapp Reindeer Kings, Finland's thousand lakes and isles, Estonia's wonders, Latvia and Lithuania of the Amber Coast, and of many strange Baltic Things, read the Tiny Dictionary. Read it through! It is like a story--a true one!
If you are eight or ten years old, read:
Birch and the Star, by Thorne-Thomsen. Row, Peterson.
Stories of children in Finland and Norway. Some of them are by Topelius. Zacharias Topelius, the Finnish author, loved children, and wrote fairy tales for Finland's children. Very beautiful tales they are!
Canute Whistlewinks and Other Stories, by Topelius. Longmans.
Translated by Foss, edited by Olcott, eighteen of Topelius' most beautiful wonder tales. Some of the titles are "Canute Whistlewinks," the boy who had for supper, pearls and seafoam, hot bar-iron, and fairy dewdrops; "Sampo Lappelill," the Lapp boy who rode the reindeer with Golden Horns; "The Princess Lindengold," and the Lapland Wizard; "Star Eye" and Lapp magic.
Friends in Strange Garments, by Upjohn. Houghton.
In this charming little book, there is a story about the Great Amber Road to the Amber Coast. The other stories are about children of different lands.
Top-of-the-World-Stories, translated by Poulsson. Lothrop.
Lovely tales, from Topelius and other Northern writers. Some of the stories are "Knute Spelevink"; "Princess Lindagull"; "Sampo Lappelill"; "Legend of Mercy"; and "The Forest Witch."
If you are ten or fourteen years old, read:
Finland and the Tundra, by Walter. Peeps at Many Lands Series. Macmillan.
A travel book with colored pictures, about the Finns and their Arctic neighbors, the Samoyads.
Good Stories for Great Birthdays, by Olcott. Houghton.
Contains stories about the Lithuanian-Polish patriots, Kosciuszko and Count Pulaski.
Kalevala, the Land of Heroes, translated by Kirby, Everyman's Library, 2 volumes. Dutton.
The great Finnish poem about the Wizard Vainamoinen, and other Finnish wonder-heroes. If you like Hiawatha, you may want to hear this read aloud. When you are older, you will enjoy reading it yourself.
Sampo, by Baldwin. Scribner.
How the Magic Sampo ground out its treasures. How the Finland Wizards wrought their Spells. From the Kalevala, told in prose for children.
Troubadour Tales, by Stein. Page.
This contains one story, "The Lost Rune," telling how Elias Lonnrot went about among the Finnish peasants, gathering folk-songs. He published them in his book, the Kalevala.
If you are sixteen or over, read:
(These books were not written for young folk, but they are interesting.)
Beyond the Baltic, by Scott. Butterworth. (London)
If you like amber, you will find a delightful chapter here, telling many strange things about "Amber! The gem that not merely shines and glows, but diffuses fragrance round." Contains a map of the Amber Coast.
Finland and its People, by Medill. McBride.
An up-to-date, short travel-account of modern Finland, its life and aims. Illustrated with maps and photographs. If you ever tour Finland, be sure to take this with you!
Land of the Midnight Sun, by Du Chaillu. Harper.
If you borrow these two fat volume from the Public Library, you will revel in the Northern Adventures of the romantic traveller, Paul Du Chaillu, and in his many woodcut illustrations.
New Masters of the Baltic, by Ruhl. Dutton.
About those new Baltic Republics, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A book of travel, illustrated with photographs.
With Fire and Sword, by Sienkiewicz.
Translated from the Polish, tells about the struggles of the Poles, Lithuanians, and Cossacks. A powerful historical novel. Reading it, one imagines he can hear the march of Cossack hordes over the steppes. One seems to live in those tumultuous and terrible times, so vivid are the descriptions.