Chapter 11 Settling Down—Hake Proves that his Arms, as well as his Legs,
are Good—A Wonderful Fishing Incident, which Ends in a Scene Between Freydiss_nd Krake.
The little hamlet on the Vinland lake, which had been so long silent an_eserted, resounded from that time forth with the voices and activities o_nergetic labourers, for these adventurous Norsemen had much to do befor_heir new home could be made comfortable.
The forest and undergrowth around had to be cleared; the huts, of which ther_ere six, had to be cleaned out, fitted up with new parchment in th_indows—for there was no glass in those days—and new thatch on the roofs, besides being generally repaired; additional huts had to be built for th_eople, pens for the sheep, and stabling for the cattle, all of which implie_elling and squaring timber, while the smaller articles of household furnitur_nd fittings kept the people generally in full occupation. Of course a part_ad to be told off as hunters for the community, while another party were se_o attend to the nets in the lake, and a third, under the special charge o_arlsefin, went out at intervals to scour the woods, with the double purpos_f procuring food and investigating the character and resources of the ne_and.
In regard to this last these settlers had every reason to be satisfied. Th_ountry appeared to be boundless in extent, and was pleasantly diversified i_orm; the waters teemed with fish, the land was rich with verdure, and th_orests swarmed with game, large and small.
One day Karlsefin and Biarne, attended by Hake and several men, went out for _amble of exploration in the direction of the small river, or branch of th_arge river, mentioned in a previous chapter. Some of the party were arme_ith bows and arrows, others had spears, the leader and his friend carrie_hort spears or javelins. All wore their swords and iron head-pieces, an_arried shields. Indeed, no party was ever allowed to go beyond th_eighbourhood of the settlement without being fully armed, for although n_atives had yet been seen, it was quite possible, nay, highly probable, tha_hen they did appear, their arrival would be sudden and unexpected.
As they advanced, they heard a rustle of leaves behind a knoll, and nex_nstant a large deer bounded across their path. Karlsefin hurled his spea_ith sudden violence, and grazed its back. Biarne flung his weapon and misse_t. There was an exclamation of disappointment among the men, which, however, was turned into a cheer of satisfaction when Hake let fly an arrow and shot i_hrough the heart. So forcibly was the shaft sent that it passed quite throug_he animal, and stood, bloodstained and quivering, in the stem of a tre_eyond, while the deer leaped its own height into the air, and fell stone-dea_pon the sward.
“A brave shot—excellently done!” exclaimed Karlsefin, turning to the youn_cot with a look of admiration; “and not the first or second time I have see_hee do something of the same sort, from which I conclude that it is no_hance, but that your hand is always quick, and your eye generally true. Is i_ot so?”
“I never miss my mark,” said Hake.
“How now? you _never_ miss your mark? It seems to me, young man, that thoug_our air is modest, your heart and words are boastful.”
“I never boast,” replied Hake gravely.
“Say you so?” cried Karlsefin energetically, glancing round among the trees.
“Come, clear yourself in this matter. See you yonder little bird on th_opmost branch of that birch-tree that overhangs the stream? It is a plai_bject, well defined against the sky. Touch it if you can.”
“That little bird,” said Hake, without moving, “is not _my mark_. I never mak_ mark of the moon, nor yet of an object utterly beyond the compass of m_hafts.”
“Well, it _is_ considerably out of range,” returned Karlsefin, laughing; “bu_ome, I will test you. See you the round knot on the stem of yonder pine? I_s small truly, so small that I can barely see it, nevertheless it is not mor_han half a bow-shot off. Do you object to make _that_ your mark?”
The words had scarcely left his lips when an arrow stood quivering in the kno_eferred to.
With an exclamation and look of surprise Karlsefin said it must have been _hance, and Biarne seemed inclined to hold the same opinion; but while the_ere yet speaking, Hake planted another arrow close by the side of the first.
“Once more, Hake,” said Krake, who stood close behind the archer; “there’s _aying in Ireland that there’s good fortune in odd numbers: try it again.”
The Scot readily complied, and sent a third shaft into the knot, with its hea_ouching the heads of the other two arrows.
“Enough, enough, your arms are as good as your legs,” said Karlsefin. “Ye ar_ valuable thrall, Hake, and Leif Ericsson has reason to be grateful to Kin_laf of Norway for his gift.—Here, two of you, sling that deer on a pole an_ear it to Gudrid. Tell her how deftly it was brought down, and relate wha_ou have seen just now. And hark ’ee,” he added, with a peculiar smile, “ther_s no occasion to say anything about what occurred before the successful shot.
It always adds to the value of a good story that it be briefly as well a_ithily told, and disencumbered from unnecessary details. A wise tongue i_hat which knows when to wag and when to lie still.—Come, Biarne, we wil_roceed in our examination of this stream.”
Leaving behind them the two men who were to return to the huts with the deer, they proceeded down the banks of Little River, until they came to the poo_here Hake and his brother had seen the salmon leap. On the way down, however, the leader had been convinced of the fact that many salmon were there, havin_een several rise, and observed others passing over some of the pebbl_hallows.
“It was here, was it not,” asked Biarne, “that you and your brother saw th_almon leaping on the occasion of your first visit?”
“It was,” replied Hake.
“At what part of the pool?”
“Just below the tail of the island, where the water is deep, and rolls wit_umberless oily ripples.”
“Ha! a likely spot,” said Karlsefin.
At that moment a salmon leaped out of the pool, as if to assure him tha_ake’s statement was true, and immediately afterwards another fish rose an_lourished its fan-like tail, as if to make assurance doubly sure.
For some time they went about examining that part of the river, which, th_eader will remember, has been described as being divided for some distance b_ long island into two streams, which again united after spreading out into _road rippling shallow. Here Biarne was very silent and very close in hi_nspection of the bed of the river, particularly at the top and lower end o_he island.
“It appears to me as if some plan were rolling in your head, Biarne,” sai_arlsefin; “what may it be?”
“Truly a plan is forming in my brain. Simple enough too, only the detail_equire consideration.”
“Well, we must now return home, so we can discuss it on the way.”
“You know of our custom in Iceland,” said Biarne, as they retraced thei_teps, “in regard to a river which is similar to this in the matter of havin_wo channels—they shut off the water from one channel and catch the fish whe_he bed is dry.”
“Know it? Ay, I know it well; why, man, how comes it that this did not occu_o me before? We will have it tried, and that without delay. What is wort_oing at all is worth doing at once, unless it can be clearly shown that ther_hall be distinct gain by delay. As this cannot be shown on the presen_ccasion we will begin to-morrow.”
Accordingly, in pursuance of this resolve, Karlsefin went down to the islan_n Little River with a large party of men, and set to work. Biarne undertoo_o superintend what may be termed the engineering operations, and Thorward, who was a handy fellow, directed the mechanical details.
First of all, Biarne fixed on the spot at the top of the island where a da_as to be thrown across the right branch of the stream—that being the channe_hich was to be run dry—and planned the direction in which it was to be place_nd the form it was to take. Then strong stakes were driven into the bed o_he river all across the head of that branch. While this was being don_horward marked off some tall straight trees in the forest, and set men to cu_hem down, while Karlsefin directed, and with his own hands aided, a part_ppointed to collect large piles of earth, sand, stones, mud, and branches, o_he river’s bank.
Although the men were numerous and active, the work was so extensive that i_as sunset before all the stakes were driven, the first of the heavy logs lai_own in the bed of the stream, and the rest of the material collected i_eadiness on the banks. Having completed these preparations they returned t_he huts and made arrangements for a grand effort on the following day.
Early in the morning nearly the whole body of the people set off to Littl_iver, leaving the settlement in charge of one or two men who chanced at tha_ime to be sick. Of course Olaf was with them, armed with a huge iron hoo_astened to the end of a stout pole. All the women also went, being quite a_nxious as the men to witness the sport.
The island reached, Karlsefin divided his party into two bands. The smalle_ody, numbering about twenty-five, were stationed in the water at the lowe_nd of the channel, at equal distances from each other, so as to extend fro_he tail of the island to the right bank of the stream. These carried stron_oles about seven feet long, and were placed there to frighten back any fis_hat might attempt to rush down the river. The rest of the men went in a bod_o the dam, and there awaited orders.
When all was ready Karlsefin said to them— “My lads, if we would act well w_ust act together. Here is the plan on which you are to proceed. On gettin_he word from Biarne to begin, you will all set to work to dam up the water, right across from this bank to the head of the island. You see that we hav_lready done the work in part, so that it only requires to be completed, an_o have the centre gap stopped up. That will be the difficult point, for th_reat rush of water will be there, and you will have to do it quickly—to heav_n the logs and stones and rubbish, not forgetting the branches and the turf, which will keep all together—as if your very lives depended on your speed. _ertain number of you, who shall be told off presently, will do your best a_he same time to deepen the channel of the other branch of the stream. Whe_his is done you will have a little breathing space, for doubtless the wate_ill take a little time to run off. You will take advantage of this time t_et your hooks and poles and landing-nets in readiness. For the rest your ow_ense will guide you.—Now, Biarne, tell off the men and go to work.”
Reader, you should have seen the countenance of little Olaf Ericsson when al_his was being said and done! Many a time had he seen nets hauled and fis_aken, and often had he dreamt of netting whales and other sea-monsters, bu_ever before had he imagined such a thing as laying the bed of a river dry; and his exuberant fancy depicted to him scenes which it is not possible t_escribe. His visage glowed, and his large blue eyes glared with excitement, while his little bosom heaved and his heart beat high with expectation.
This condition of course increased tenfold when he saw the men cast off mor_r less of their upper garments and spring to the work with the energy o_unatics. In his own small way he carried logs and branches and mud and stone_ill he was as dirty and dishevelled as the best of them; and when Gudri_ooked horrified at him, and said that it would be next to impossible to clea_im, he burst into such a fit of laughter that he lost his balance, fell hea_ver heels into the river, which was only knee-deep at the place, and came ou_ore than half-washed in a moment!
“You see it won’t be so difficult as you think,” he cried, laughing an_asping when he emerged; “another plunge like that would make me quite clean, aunty.”
“Ho! Olaf, were you after a salmon?” cried Swend, as he passed with a larg_og on his shoulder.
“Not I, Swend; it was a whale I was after.”
“You don’t say that, boy?” cried Krake, in a tone of admiration. “Was he a bi_ne?”
“Oh! frightful—so big that—that—I couldn’t see him all.”
“Couldn’t see him _at all_? Ah, then, he _was_ a big one, sure. The things w_an’t see at all are always the most wonderful.”
“Foolish boy,” said Gudrid; “come, I will wring the water out of you_lothes.”
“’Tis hardly worth while, aunty,” said Olaf, coming on shore; “I’ll be as wet, as ever in a few minutes.”
The careful Gudrid nevertheless wrung as much water out of his drippin_arments as was possible without taking them off. By the time this was don_he dam had been completed, and the men stood on the banks of the river wipin_ff and wringing out the superabundant mud and water from their clothes, besides getting ready hooks, nets, and staves. Some of the nets were severa_athoms in length. Others were small bags fastened to wooden rings at the en_f long poles.
Presently a shout was heard from the men at the lower end of the pool, an_hey were seen to use their staves smartly several times, as some of the fish, alarmed no doubt at the strange doings above, endeavoured to shoot down th_iver. Ere long the stony ground on which these men stood became a ripplin_hallow, and, soon afterwards, a neck of land connecting the lower end of th_sland with the shore. They therefore abandoned it and rejoined their comrade_igher up. The fish were now imprisoned in a pool, retreat having bee_ffectually cut off above and below, and the whole river diverted into the be_f its left branch.
As the water lowered it became obvious that the pool thus isolated wa_bsolutely swarming with salmon, for they could be seen darting hither an_hither in shoals, making for the deeper parts of the pool, and jostling on_nother under stones. Gradually little islets began to appear as the wate_ontinued to sink, and then the fish seemed to be seized with a panic. The_hot like silver arrows from bank to bank—up the pool and down again, as i_njoying a piscatorial country dance, or, in blind flight, rushed clear ou_pon the pebbly islets, in half dozens at a time, where they leaped, slid, twirled, and bounded frantically, in what bore some resemblance to _iscatorial reel. Then, slipping into the water again, and recovering thei_ins and tails, they shot away to encounter similar misfortune elsewhere, o_o thrust their noses under stones, and—entertaining the same delusive notion_hat are said to characterise the ostrich—imagine that they were not seen!
By degrees the islets enlarged until they joined here and there, and, finally, the state of things being inverted, the bed of the stream became a series o_ittle ponds, which were absolutely boiling with fish—not unlike, as Krak_emarked, to the boiling springs of Iceland, only that those boiled with hea_nstead of with living fish.
And now commenced a scene such as, unquestionably, had not been witnesse_here since Vinland was created. The Norsemen were half mad with excitement.
The women ran up and down the banks clapping their hands and shouting wit_elight, while Freydissa, unable to contain herself, cast appearances to th_ogs, leaped among the men, and joined in the fray.
“The big pool first; this way, lads!” shouted Karlsefin, as he seized the en_f a long net and dragged it towards the pool in question.
Twenty willing hands assisted. The net encircled the pool and was thrust in; men with poles forced one side of it down to the bottom, and the two ends wer_auled upon might and main. At the same moment, other men went with hand net_o smaller pools, and, scooping up the fish, sent them writhing and strugglin_hrough the air towards the bank, where Gudrid, Thora, Astrid, Gunhild, Sigrid, and even timid Bertha, sought in vain to restrain their struggles an_revent them from wriggling back into the almost dry bed of the stream.
“Haul away with heart, men!” shouted Biarne, who was at one end of the larg_et.
Already the stout ropes were strained to the uttermost—at last the net cam_ut bursting with salmon; more hands were hailed; it was run over the pebbles, up the bank, and onwards to a flat open spot, where, with a shout, it wa_mptied on the greensward.
Talk of silver bars! The simile is wretched. No simile is of any avail here.
The brightest and freshest silver bars ever cast might shine as much as thes_almon did, but they could not glitter so, for they could not wriggle an_pring and tumble. They could not show that delicate pink which enhanced th_ilvery sheen so wondrously. They could not exhibit that vigorous life whic_old of firm flakes—suggestive of glorious meals for many a day to come. Pooh!
even their intrinsic value could not suggest anything in this case,—for al_he silver bars that ever were coined on earth could not have purchased th_ppetites which made the mouths of these Norsemen to water, as they gazed i_dmiration on that vast hecatomb of splendid salmon! They absolutely dance_ound the fish—it might almost be said they danced _with_ them—in triumphan_lee!
“Come, come,” cried Karlsefin loudly; “to work! to work! Ye may dance afte_hat is done. Here, sweep this pool also.”
With a cheer the men ran down the bank, and little Olaf followed, havin_lready used his hook with such effect that he had pulled six large fish ou_f various holes and added them to the general pile.
“Take care, Olaf, that you don’t fall in and get drowned,” cried Biarne as h_an past.
“Hurrah!” shouted Olaf, with a flourish of his weapon, which made th_arrowest possible miss of _cleeking_ Tyrker by the nose.
“Have a care!” roared the Turk.
“You’ve much need to say that,” replied Olaf, with a laugh, for Tyrker at tha_oment set his heel upon a salmon, fell, and rolled heavily down the bank. Bu_yrker was tough. He rose with a growl and a grin and ran on to join hi_omrades.
A second pool was netted, and with the like result. As the net was bein_ragged forth, Olaf saw that several fish had escaped. He struck in his hoo_t random, for the pools, being by that time a thick compound of mud an_ater, could not be seen into.
“Oh! I’ve got him!” he shouted, struggling with the handle of his hook, whic_erked so violently that the sturdy little fellow was almost thrown to th_round.
“Hold on!” cried Thorward, running to his aid.
“Why, Olaf, what’s this? Have a care. Not too fast. There. Hallo!—an eel.”
And so it was—an enormous eel, that went twirling round the pole in wondrou_ashion until it freed itself, and, after twisting round the limbs of Olaf an_horward, who in vain sought to hold it fast, made off over the wet stones a_f they were its native element, and slid into another large pool, where i_isappeared.
“Never mind, Olaf,” cried Thorward, with a laugh, “you’ll catch hold of i_gain. Hook away at it, lad. Don’t give.”
A tremendous shriek arose from the women on the bank at this juncture.
“Oh! look! look at Freydissa!” cried Gunhild, pointing wildly to the rive_ed.
And there Freydissa stood—up to the arm-pits in mud and salmon!
Whether she had fallen in or been pushed in no one could tell, bu_nquestionably she _was_ in, having gone in, too, head-foremost, so that, although she had struggled right-end up she reappeared coated with mud to a_xtent that might have suggested a sculptor’s clay model—had sculptors bee_nown to the Norsemen of those days.
There was an irresistible roar of laughter at first, and then loud expression_f condolence and sympathy, while a dozen strong, but wet and dirty, hand_ere stretched forth to the rescue.
“Here, lay hold of my hand, poor thing,” cried Krake; “there, now, don’t cry; it would only be wasting tears, with so much water on your face already.”
If anything could have made Freydissa cry it would have been that remark, fo_t implied that she was inclined to weep, while nothing was further from he_houghts at that time.
She did, however, grasp Krake’s hand, but instead of aiding herself by it t_et out of the hole, she gave it such a vigorous and hearty pull that Krak_ent souse into the mud beside her. Before he could recover himself Freydiss_ad put her knee on his body, and, using him as a foot-rest, thrust him deepe_own as she stepped out.
The delight with which this was hailed is beyond description, and many a yea_assed after that before men grew tired of twitting Krake about the pleasan_ud-bath that had been given him by Freydissa on the occasion of th_elebrated take of salmon at Little River in Vinland.