Chapter 17 In which Glumm takes to hunting on the Mountains fo_onsolation, and finds it unexpectedly, while Alric proves himself a Hero.
“I go to the fells to-day,” said Glumm to Alric one morning, as the latte_pened the door of Glummstede and entered the hall.
“I go also,” said Alric, leaning a stout spear which he carried against th_all, and sitting down on a stool beside the fire to watch Glumm as h_quipped himself for the chase.
“Art ready, then? for the day is late,” said Glumm.
“All busked,” replied the boy.—“I say, Glumm, is that a new spear thou has_ot?”
“Aye; I took it from a Swedish viking the last fight I had off the coast. W_ad a tough job of it, and left one or two stout men behind to glut the bird_f Odin, but we brought away much booty. This was part of it,” he added, buckling on a long hunting-knife, which was stuck in a richly ornamente_heath, “and that silver tankard too, besides the red mantle that my mothe_ears, and a few other things—but my comrades got the most of it.”
“I wish I had been there, Glumm,” said Alric.
“If Hilda were here, lad, she would say it is wrong to wish to fight.”
“Hilda has strange thoughts,” observed the boy.
“So has Erling,” remarked his companion.
“And so has Ada,” said Alric, with a sly glance.
Glumm looked up quickly. “What knowest _thou_ about Ada?” said he.
The sly look vanished before Glumm had time to observe it, and an expressio_f extreme innocence took its place as the lad replied—
“I know as much about her as is usual with one who has known a girl, and bee_ften with her, since the day he was born.”
“True,” muttered Glumm, stooping to fasten the thongs that laced the untanne_hoes on his feet. “Ada has strange thoughts also, as thou sayest. Come now, take thy spear, and let us be gone.”
“Where shall we go to-day?” asked Alric.
“To the wolf’s glen.”
“To the wolf’s glen? that is far.”
“Is it too far for thee, lad?”
“Nay, twice the distance were not too far for me,” returned the boy proudly; “but the day advances, and there is danger without honour in walking on th_ells after dark.”
“The more need for haste,” said Glumm, opening the door and going out.
Alric followed, and for some time these two walked in silence, as the path wa_ery steep, and so narrow for a considerable distance, that they could no_alk abreast.
Snow lay pretty thickly on the mountains, particularly in sheltered places, but in exposed parts it had been blown off, and the hunters could advanc_asily. In about ten minutes after setting out they lost sight of Glummstede.
As they advanced higher and deeper into the mountains, the fiord and the sea, with its innumerable skerries, was lost to view, but it was not until they ha_oiled upwards and onwards for nearly two hours that they reached those dar_ecesses of the fells to which the bears and wolves were wont to retreat afte_ommitting depredations on the farms in the valleys far below.
There was something in the rugged grandeur of the scenery here, in th_hiteness of the snow, the blackness of the rocks which peeped out from it_oluminous wreaths, the lightness of the atmosphere, and, above all, th_mpressive silence, which possessed an indescribable charm for the romanti_ind of Alric, and which induced even the stern matter-of-fact Glumm to trea_ith slower steps, and to look around him with a feeling almost akin to awe.
No living thing was to be seen, either among the stupendous crags which stil_owered above, or in the depths which they had left below; but there wer_everal footprints of wolves, all of which Glumm declared, after carefu_xamination, to be old.
“See here, lad,” he said, turning up one of these footprints with the butt o_is spear; “observe the hardish ball of snow just under the print; that show_hat the track is somewhat old. If it had been quite fresh there would hav_een no such ball.”
“Thou must think my memory of the shortest, Glumm, for I have been told tha_very time I have been out with thee.”
“True, but thou art so stupid,” said Glumm, laying his spear lightly acros_he boy’s shoulders, “that I have thought fit to impress it on thee b_epetition, having an interest in thine education, although thou dost no_eserve it.”
“I deserve it, mayhap, more than ye think.”
“How so, boy?”
“ _Why_ , because I have for a long time past taken an uncommon interest i_hy welfare.”
Glumm laughed, and said he did not know that there was any occasion to concer_imself about his welfare.
“Oh yes, there is!” cried Alric, “for, when a man goes moping about th_ountry as if he were fey, or as if he had dreamed of seeing his own guardia_pirit, his friends cannot help being concerned about him.”
“Why, what is running in the lad’s head?” said Glumm, looking with a perplexe_xpression at his young companion.
“Nothing runs in my head, save ordinary thoughts. If there be any unusua_unning at all, it must be in thine own.”
“Speak, thou little fox,” said Glumm, suddenly grasping Alric by the nape o_he neck and giving him a shake.
“Nay then, if that is thy plan,” said the boy, “give it a fair trial. Shak_way, and see what comes of it. Thou mayest shake out blood, bones, flesh, an_ife too, and carry home my skin as a trophy, but be assured that thou shal_ot shake a word off my tongue!”
“Boldly spoken,” said Glumm, laughing, as he released the lad; “but I thin_hy tone would change if I were to take thee at thy word.”
“That it would not. Thou art not the first man whom I have defied, aye, an_rawn blood from, as that red-haired Dane—”
Alric stopped suddenly. He had reached that age when the tendency to boas_egins, at least in manly boys, to be checked by increasing good sense an_ood taste. Yet it is no disparagement of Alric’s character to say that h_ound it uncommonly difficult to refrain, when occasion served, from makin_eference to his first warlike exploit, even although frequent rebukes an_ncreasing wisdom told him that boasting was only fit for the lips of cowards.
“Why do ye stop?” asked Glumm, who quite understood the boy’s feelings, an_dmired his exercise of self-control.
“Be—because I have said enough.”
“Good is it,” observed the other, “when man or boy knows that he has sai_nough, and has the power to stop when he knows it. But come, Alric, thou has_ot said enough to me yet on the matter that—that—”
“What matter?” asked Alric, with a sly look.
“Why, the matter of my welfare, to be sure.”
“Ah, true. Well, methinks, Glumm, that I could give thee a little medicine fo_hy mind, but I won’t, unless ye promise to keep thy spear off my back.”
“I promise,” said Glumm, whose curiosity was aroused.
“It is a sad thing when a man looks sweet and a maid looks sour, but there i_ worse thing; that is when the maid _feels_ sour. Thou lovest Ada—”
“Hold!” cried Glumm, turning fiercely on his companion, “and let not thy per_ongue dare to speak of such things, else will I show thee that there ar_ther things besides spears to lay across thy shoulders.”
“Now art thou truly Glumm the Gruff,” cried Alric, laughing, as he leaped t_he other side of a mass of fallen rock; “but if thy humour changes not, _ill show thee that I am not named Lightfoot for nothing. Come, don’t fume an_ret there like a bear with a headache, but let me speak, and I warrant m_hou wilt be reasonably glad.”
“Go on, then, thou incorrigible.”
“Very well; but none of thy hard names, friend Glumm, else will I set my bi_rother Erling at thee. There now, don’t give way again. What a storm-clou_hou art! Will the knowledge that Ada loves thee as truly as thou lovest he_alm thee down?”
“I see thou hast discovered my secret,” said Glumm, looking at his littl_riend with a somewhat confused expression, “though how the knowledge came t_hee is past my understanding. Yet as thou art so clever a warlock I woul_ain know what ye mean about ‘Ada’s love for me.’ Hadst thou said her hatred, I could have believed thee without explanation.”
“Let us go on, then,” said Alric, “for there is nothing to be gained and onl_ime to be lost by thus talking across a stone.”
The path which they followed was broad at that part, and not quite so rugged, so that Alric could walk alongside of his stout friend as he related to hi_he incident that was the means of enlightening him as to Ada’s feeling_owards her lover. It was plain from the expression on the Norseman’s fac_hat his soul was rejoiced at the discovery, and he strode forward at such _ace that the boy was fain to call a halt.
“Thinkest thou that my legs are as long as thine?” he said, stopping an_anting.
Glumm laughed; and the laugh was loud and strong. He would have laughed a_nything just then, for the humour was upon him, and he felt it difficult t_epress a shout at the end of it!
“Come on, Alric, I will go slower. But art thou sure of all this? Hast no_istaken the words?”
“Mistaken the words!” cried the boy; “why, I tell thee they were as plain t_y ears and my senses as what thou hast said this moment.”
“Good,” said Glumm; “and now the question comes up, how must I behave to her?
But thou canst not aid me herein, for in such matters thou hast had n_xperience.”
“Out upon thee for a stupid monster!” said the boy; “have I not just prove_hat my experience is very deep? I have not, indeed, got the length tho_ast—of wandering about like a poor ghost or a half-witted fellow, but I hav_een enough of such matters to know what common sense says.”
“And, pray, what does common sense say?”
“Why, it says, Act towards the maid like a sane man, and, above all, a tru_an. Don’t go about the land gnashing thy teeth until everyone laughs at thee.
Don’t go staring at her in grim silence as if she were a wraith; and, mor_articularly, don’t pretend to be fond of other girls, for thou didst make _itiful mess of that attempt. In short, be Glumm without being Gruff, an_on’t try to be anybody else. Be kind and straightforward to her, worship her, or, as Kettle Flatnose said the other day, ‘kiss the ground she walks on,’ i_hou art so inclined, but don’t worry her life out. Show that thou art fond o_er, and willing to bide _her_ time. Go on viking cruise, for the prover_ays that an ‘absent body makes a longing spirit,’ and bring her bac_hiploads of kirtles and mantles and armlets, and gold and silve_rnaments—that’s what common sense says, Glumm, and a great deal more besides, but I fear much that it is all wasted on thee.”
“Heyday!” exclaimed Glumm, “what wisdom do I hear? Assuredly we must call the_lric hinn Frode hereafter. One would think thou must have been born befor_hine own grandfather.”
“Truly that is not so difficult to fancy,” retorted Alric. “Even now I fee_ike a great-grandfather while I listen to thee. There wants but a smoot_ound face and a lisping tongue to make thine appearance suitable to th_isdom! But what is this that we have here?”
The boy pointed to a track of some animal in the snow a few yards to one sid_f the path.
“A wolf track,” said Glumm, turning aside.
“A notably huge one,” remarked the boy.
“And quite fresh,” said the man.
“Which is proved,” rejoined Alric in a slow, solemn voice, “by the fact tha_here is no ball of snow beneath the—”
“Hold thy pert tongue,” said Glumm in a hoarse whisper, “the brute must b_lose to us. Do thou keep in the lower end of this gorge—see, yonder, where i_s narrow. I will go round to the upper end; perchance the wolf is there. I_o, we stand a good chance of killing him, for the sides of the chasm are lik_wo walls all the way up. But,” added Glumm, hesitating a moment, and lookin_ixedly at the small but sturdy frame of his companion, whose heightene_olour and flashing eyes betokened a roused spirit, “I doubt thy—that is—_ave no fear of the spirit, if the body were a little bigger.”
“Take thine own big body off, Glumm,” said Alric, “and leave me to guard th_ass.”
Glumm grinned as he turned and strode away.
The spot which the hunters had reached merits particular notice. It was one o_hose wild deep rents or fissures which are usually found near the summits o_lmost inaccessible mountains. It was not, however, at the top of the highes_ange in that neighbourhood, being merely on the summit of a ridge which wa_ndeed very high—perhaps five or six thousand feet—but still far below th_erried and shattered peaks which towered in all directions round Horlingdal, shutting it out from all communication with the rest of the world excep_hrough the fiord and the pass leading over to the Springs.
On the place where Alric parted from his friend the rocks of the gorge o_efile rose almost perpendicularly on both sides, and as he advanced he foun_hat the space between became narrower, until, at the spot where he was t_ake his stand, there was an opening of scarcely six feet in width. Beyon_his the chasm widened a little, until, at its higher end, it was nearl_wenty yards broad; but, owing to the widening nature of the defile, the on_pening could not be seen from the other, although they were little more tha_our hundred yards apart.
The track of the wolf led directly through the pass into the gorge. As the la_ook his stand he observed with much satisfaction that it was that of a_nusually large animal. This feeling was tempered, however, with some anxiet_est it should have escaped at the other opening. It was also mixed with _ouch of agitation; for although Alric had seen his friend and Erling kil_olves and bears too, he had never before been left to face the foe b_imself, and to sustain the brunt of the charge in his own proper person.
Beyond an occasional flutter of the heart, however, there was nothing t_ndicate, even to himself, that he was not as firm as the rock on which h_tood.
Now, let it not be supposed that we are here portraying a hero of romance i_hom is united the enthusiasm of the boy with the calm courage of the man. W_rave attention, more particularly that of boys, to the followin_bservations:—
In the highly safe and civilised times in which we live, many thousands of u_ever have a chance, from personal experience, of forming a just estimate o_he powers of an average man or boy, and we are too apt to ascribe that t_eroism which is simply due to knowledge. A man _knows_ that he can do _ertain thing that seems extremely dangerous, therefore he does it boldly, no_ecause he is superlatively bold by any means, but because he knows there i_o risk—at least none to him. The proverb that “Familiarity breeds contempt” applies as truly to danger as to anything else; and well is it for the worl_hat the majority of human beings are prone to familiarise themselves wit_anger in spite of those well-meaning but weak ones who have been born with _endency to say perpetually, “Take care,” “Don’t run such risk”, etcetera.
“Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;” and man has echoe_he sentiment in the proverb, “Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well”.
Do you climb?—then do it well—do it in such circumstances that your spiri_ill get used to seeing profound depths below you without your heart meltin_nto hot water and your nerves quaking. Do you leap?—then do it well—do it s_hat you may be able to turn it to some good account in the day of trial; d_t so that you may know _how_ to leap off a runaway carriage, for instance, without being killed. Learn to jump off high cliffs into deep water, so that, should the opportunity ever offer, you may be able to plunge off the hig_ulwarks of a vessel to save a sister, or mother, or child, with as littl_hought about yourself as if you were jumping off a sofa. Observe, we do no_dvocate recklessness. To leap off a cliff so high that you will be sure to b_illed is not leaping “well”; but neither is it well to content yourself wit_ jump of three or four feet as your utmost attainment, because that is fa_hort of many a leap which may have to be taken in this world to save eve_our own life, not to mention the lives of others. But enough of thi_isquisition, which, the reader will observe, has been entered upon chiefly i_rder to prove that we do not ascribe heroic courage to Alric when we sa_hat, having been familiar with danger from his birth, he prepared to face _olf of unknown size and ferocity with considerable coolness, if no_ndifference to danger.
Glumm meanwhile reached the other end of the ravine, and there, to his intens_isappointment, found the track of the wolf leading away towards the ope_ountains beyond. Just where it left the ravine, however, the animal had ru_bout so much that the track was crossed and recrossed in confusion. Glum_herefore had difficulty at first in following it up, but when he did so, great was his joy to find that it doubled back and re-entered the defile.
Pressing quickly forward, he came to a broken part, near the centre, where, among a heap of grey, weather-worn rocks he perceived two sharp-pointe_bjects, like a pair of erect ears! To make certain, he hurled a stone toward_he place. The objects instantly disappeared!
Immediately afterwards, a long grey back and a bushy tail were visible as th_olf glided among the rocks, making for the side of the precipice, with th_ntention, doubtless, of rushing past this bold intruder.
Glumm observed the movement, and promptly went in the same direction. The wol_oticed this, and paused abruptly—remaining still, as if uncertain what to do.
The hunter at once put to flight his uncertainty by gliding swiftly toward_im. Seeing this, the wolf abandoned the attempt at concealment and bounde_nto the centre of the ravine, where, with his bristles erect, his bac_lightly arched, and all his glittering teeth and blood-red gums exposed, h_tood for a moment or two the very picture of intensified fury. The hunte_dvanced with his spear levelled, steadily, but not hastily, because there wa_ufficient space on either hand to render the meeting of the animal in it_ush a matter of extreme difficulty, while at every step he took, th_recipices on either side drew closer together. The brute had evidently _trong objection to turn back, and preferred to run the risk of passing it_oe, for it suddenly sprang to one side and ran up the cliff as far a_ossible, like a cat, while it made for the upper end of the ravine.
The Norseman, whose powerful frame was by this time strung to intensity o_ction, leaped to the same side with the agility of a panther, and got i_efore it. The wolf did not stop, but with a ferocious growl it swerved aside, and bounded to the other side of the ravine. Again the hunter leaped across, and stood in its way. He bent forward to resist the animal’s weight an_mpetus, but the baffled wolf was cowed by his resolute front. It turned tail, and fled, followed by Glumm with a wild halloo!
When the first growl was heard by Alric, it strung him up to the right pitc_nstantly, and the next one caused the blood to rush to his face, for he hear_he halloo which Glumm uttered as he followed in pursuit. The distance wa_hort. Another moment and the boy saw the infuriated animal springing toward_im, with Glumm rushing madly after it. Alric was already in the centre of th_ass with the spear levelled, and his body bent in anticipation of the shock.
The wolf saw him, but did not check its pace—with a furious Norseman boundin_ehind there was no room for hesitation. It lowered its head, increased it_peed, and ran at the opening like a thunderbolt. When within three yards o_he boy it swerved, and, leaping up, pawed the cliff on the left while in th_ir. Alric had foreseen this—his only doubt had been as to which side th_rute would incline to. He sprang at the same moment, and met it full in th_ace as it came down. The point of his spear entered the wolf’s chest, an_enetrated deep into its body. A terrific yell followed. The spear handl_roke in the middle, and the boy fell on his face, while the wolf went righ_ver him, yelling and biting the spear, as, carried on by its impetus, i_olled head over heels for several yards among the rocks.
Alric jumped up unhurt, and, for want of a better weapon, seized a mass o_tone, which he raised above his head, and hurled at the wolf, hitting i_airly on the skull. At the same moment Glumm ran up, intending to transfi_he brute with his spear.
“Hold thy hand, Glumm,” gasped the boy.
Glumm checked himself.
“In truth it needs no more,” he said, bringing the butt of his weapon to th_round, and leaning on it, while he looked on at the last struggles of th_ying wolf. “Fairly done, lad,” he added, with a nod of approval, “this wil_ake a man of thee.”
The boy did not speak, but stood with his chest still heaving, his breat_oming fast, and the expression of triumph on his countenance showing that fo_im a new era had opened up—that the days of boasting had ended, and those o_anly action had fairly and auspiciously begun.