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Chapter 16 Joyful Meetings and Hearty Greetings.

  • Need we attempt to describe the joy of our friends in Vinland, when, on_fternoon towards the end of autumn, they saw their old ship sweep into th_ake under oars and sail, and cast anchor in the bay? We think not.
  • The reader must possess but a small power of fancy who cannot, without the ai_f description, call up vividly the gladsome faces of men and women when the_aw the familiar vessel appear, and beheld the bulwarks crowded with well- known faces. Besides, words cannot paint Olaf’s sparkling eyes, and the screa_f delight when he recognised his father standing in sedate gravity on th_oop.
  • Suffice it to say that the joy culminated at night, as human joys no_nfrequently do, in a feast, at which, as a matter of course, the whole stor_f the arrival and settlement in Vinland was told over again to the newcomers, as if it had never been told before. But there was this advantage in th_elling, that instead of all being told by Thorward, each man gave his ow_ersion of his own doings, or, at all events, delegated the telling to _riend who was likely to do him justice. Sometimes one or another undertoo_hat friendly act, without having it laid upon him. Thus, Krake undertook t_elate the discovery of the grapes by Tyrker, and Tyrker retaliated by givin_n account of the accident in connexion with a mud-hole that had happened t_rake. This brought out Biarne, who went into a still more minute account o_hat event with reference to its bearing on Freydissa, and that gentle woma_evenged herself by giving an account of the manner in which Hake had robbe_iarne of the honour of killing a brown bear, the mention of which ferociou_nimal naturally suggested to Olaf the brave deed of his dear pet the blac_ull, to a narrative of which he craved and obtained attention. From the blac_ull to the baby was an easy and natural transition—more so perhaps than ma_ppear at first sight—for the bull suggested the cows, and the cows the milk, which last naturally led to thoughts of the great consumer thereof.
  • It is right to say here, however, that the baby was among the first object_resented to Leif and his friends after their arrival; and great was th_nterest with which they viewed this first-born of the American land. Th_rinkles, by the way, were gone by that time. They had been filled up s_ompletely that the place where they once were resembled a fair and smoot_ound ball of fresh butter, with two bright blue holes in it, a knob belo_hem, and a ripe cherry underneath that.
  • Snorro happened to be particularly amiable when first presented to his ne_riends. Of course he had not at that time reached the crowing or smiling age.
  • His goodness as yet was negative. He did not squall; he did not screw up hi_ace into inconceivable formations; he did not grow alarmingly red in th_ace; he did not insist on having milk, seeing that he had already had as muc_s he could possibly hold—no, he did none of these things, but lay in Gudrid’_rms, the very embodiment of stolid and expressionless indifference to al_arthly things—those who loved him best included.
  • But this state of “goodness” did not last long. He soon began to display wha_ay be styled the old-Adamic part of his nature, and induced Leif, after muc_ong-suffering, to suggest that “that would do,” and that “he had better b_aken away!”
  • The effervescence of the colony caused by this infusion of new elements er_ong settled down. The immigrants took part in the general labour and duties.
  • Timber-cutting, grape-gathering, hay-making, fishing, hunting, exploring, eating, drinking, and sleeping, went on with unabated vigour, and thus, gradually, autumn merged into winter.
  • But winter did not bring in its train the total change that these Norsemen ha_een accustomed to in their more northern homes. The season was to the_omparatively mild. True, there was a good deal of snow, and it frequentl_ave to the branches of the trees that silvery coating which, in sunshine, converts the winter forest into the very realms of fairyland; but the snow di_ot lie deep on the ground, or prevent the cattle from remaining out an_inding food all the winter. There was ice, also, on the lake, thick enough t_dmit of walking on it, and sledging with ponies, but not thick enough t_revent them cutting easily through it, and fishing with lines and hooks, mad_f bone and baited with bits of fat, with which they caught enormous trout, little short of salmon in size, and quite as good for food.
  • Daring the winter there was plenty of occupation for every one in the colony.
  • For one thing, it cost a large number of the best men constant and hard labou_erely to supply the colonists with firewood and food. Then the felling o_imber for export was carried on during winter as easily as in summer, and th_rapping of wild animals for their furs was a prolific branch of industry.
  • Sometimes the men changed their work for the sake of variety. The hunter_ccasionally took to fishing, the fishers to timber felling and squaring, th_imber-cutters to trapping; the trappers undertook the work of the firewood- cutters, and these latter relieved the men who performed the duties o_urniture-making, repairing, general home-work and guarding the settlement.
  • Thus the work went on, and circled round.
  • Of course all this implied a vast deal of tear and wear. Buttons had not a_hat time been invented, but tags could burst off as well as buttons, an_oops were not warranted to last for ever, any more than button-holes. Sock_ere unknown to those hardy pioneers, but soft leather shoes, not unlik_ocassins, and boots resembling those of the Esquimaux of the present day, were constantly wearing out, and needed to be replaced or repaired; hence th_omen of the colony had their hands full, for, besides these renovating dutie_hich devolved on them, they had also the housekeeping—a duty in itsel_alling for an amount of constant labour, anxiety, and attention which tha_idiculous creature _man_ never can or will understand or appreciate—at leas_o the women say, but, being a man, we incline to differ from them as to that!
  • Then, when each day’s work was over, the men returned to their several abode_ired and hungry. Arrangements had been made that so many men should dwell an_ess together, and the women were so appointed that each mess was properl_ooked after. Thus the men found cheerful fires, clean hearths, spread tables, smoking viands, and a pleasant welcome on their return home; and, afte_upper, were wont to spend the evenings in recounting their day’s experiences, telling sagas, singing songs, or discussing general principles—a species o_iscussion, by the way, which must certainly have originated in Eden after th_all!
  • In Karlsefin’s large hall the largest number of men and women were nightl_ssembled, and there the time was spent much in the same way, but with thi_ifference, that the heads of the settlement were naturally appealed to i_isputed matters, and conversation frequently merged into something lik_rations from Leif and Biarne Karlsefin and Thorward, all of whom were far- travelled, well-informed, and capable of sustaining the interest of thei_udiences for a prolonged period.
  • In those days the art of writing was unknown among the Norsemen, and it wa_heir custom to fix the history of their great achievements, as well as muc_f their more domestic doings, in their memories by means of song and story.
  • Men gifted with powers of composition in prose and verse undertook to enshrin_eeds and incidents in appropriate language at the time of their occurrence, and these scalds or poets, and saga-men or chroniclers, although they migh_erhaps have _coloured_ their narratives and poems slightly, were not likel_o have falsified them, because they were at first related and sung in th_resence of actors and eye-witnesses, to attempt imposition on whom would hav_een useless as well as ridiculous. Hence those old songs and sagas had thei_oundation in truth. After they were once launched into the memories of men, the form of words, doubtless, tended to protect them to some extent fro_dulteration, and even when all allowance is made for man’s well-know_endency to invent and exaggerate, it still remains likely that _all_ th_ruth would be retained, although surrounded more or less with fiction. T_istinguish the true from the false in such cases is not so difficult _rocess as one at first sight might suppose. Men with penetrating minds an_etentive memories, who are trained to such work, are swift to detect th_haff amongst the wheat, and although in their winnowing operations they ma_requently blow away a few grains of wheat, they seldom or never accept any o_he chaff as good grain.
  • We urge all this upon the reader, because the narratives and poems which wer_omposed and related by Karlsefin and his friends that winter, doubtles_ontained those truths which were not taken out of the traditionary state, collected and committed to writing by the Icelandic saga-writers, until abou_ne hundred years afterwards, at the end of the eleventh or beginning of th_welfth century.
  • On these winter evenings, too, Karlsefin sometimes broached the subject of th_ew religion, which had been so recently introduced into Greenland. He tol_hem that he had not received much instruction in it, so that he could no_resume to explain it all to them, but added that he had become acquainte_ith the name and some of the precepts of Jesus Christ, and these last, h_aid, seemed to him so good and so true that he now believed in Him who taugh_hem, and would not exchange that belief for all the riches of this world, “for,” said he, “the world we dwell in is passing away—that to which we g_hall never pass away.” His chief delight in the new religion was that Jesu_hrist was described as a Saviour from sin, and he thought that to b_elivered from wicked thoughts in the heart and wicked deeds of the body wa_he surest road to perfect happiness.
  • The Norsemen listened to all this with profound interest, for none of the_ere so much wedded to their old religion as to feel any jealousy of the new; but although they thought much about it, they spoke little, for all were awar_hat the two religions could not go together—the acceptance of the one implie_he rejection of the other.
  • Frequently during the winter Karlsefin and Leif had earnest conversation_bout the prospects of the infant colony.
  • “Leif,” said Karlsefin, one day, “my mind is troubled.”
  • “That is bad,” replied Leif; “what troubles it?”
  • “The thoughts that crowd upon me in regard to this settlement.”
  • “I marvel not at that,” returned Leif, stopping and looking across the lake, on the margin of which they were walking; “your charge is a heavy one, callin_or earnest thought and careful management. But what is the particular vie_hat gives you uneasiness?”
  • “Why, the fact that it does not stand on a foundation which is likely to b_ermanent. A house may not be very large, but if its foundation be good i_ill stand. If, however, its foundation be bad, then the bigger and grander i_s, so much the worse for the house.”
  • “That is true. Go on.”
  • “Well, it seems to me that the foundation of our settlement is not good. It i_rue that some of us have our wives here, and there is, besides, a sprinklin_f young girls, who are being courted by some of the men; nevertheless i_emains a stubborn truth that far the greater part of the men are those wh_ame out with Thorward and me, and have left either wives or sweethearts i_orway and in Iceland. Now these may be pleased to remain here for a time, bu_t cannot be expected that they will sit down contentedly and make it thei_ome.”
  • “There is truth in what you say, Karlsefin. Have any of your men spoken o_hat subject?”
  • “No, none as yet; but I have not failed to note that some of them are not s_heerful and hearty as they used to be.”
  • “What is to prevent you making a voyage to Iceland and Norway next spring,” said Leif, “and bringing out the wives and families, and, if you can, th_weethearts of these men?”
  • Karlsefin laughed heartily at this suggestion. “Why, Leif,” he said, “has you_ojourn on the barren coast of Greenland so wrought on your good sense, o_our feelings, that you should suppose thirty or forty families will agree a_nce to leave home and kindred to sail for and settle in a new land of th_est that they have barely,—perhaps never—heard of; and think you tha_weethearts have so few lovers at home that they will jump at those who ar_arthest away from them? It is one thing to take time and trouble to collec_en and households that are willing to emigrate; it is another thin_ltogether to induce households to follow men who have already emigrated.”
  • “Nay, but I would counsel you to take the men home along with you, so tha_hey might use their persuasions,” returned Leif; “but, as you say, it is no_ likely course to take, even in that way. What, then, do you think, is wises_o be done?”
  • “I cannot yet reply to that, Leif. I see no course open.”
  • “Tell me, Karlsefin, how is it with yourself?” asked Leif, looking earnestl_t his friend. “Are you content to dwell here?”
  • Karlsefin did not reply for a few seconds.
  • “Well, to tell you the truth,” he said at length, “I do not relish the notio_f calling Vinland _home_. The sea is my home. I have dwelt on it the greate_art of my life. I love its free breezes and surging waves. The very smell o_ts salt spray brings pleasant memories to my soul. I cannot brook the soli_arth. While I walk I feel as if I were glued to it, and when I lie down I a_oo still. It is like death. On the sea, whether I stand, or walk, or lie, _m ever bounding on. Yes; the sea is my native home, and when old ag_onstrains me to forsake it, and take to the land, my home must be i_celand.”
  • “Truly if that be your state of mind,” said Leif, laughing, “there is littl_ope of your finally coming to an anchor here.”
  • “But,” continued Karlsefin, less energetically, “it would not be right in m_o forsake those whom I have led hither. I am bound to remain by and aid the_s long as they are willing to stay—at least until they do not require m_ervices.”
  • “That is well spoken, friend,” said Leif. “Thou art indeed so bound. Now, wha_ would counsel is this, that you should spend another year, or perhaps tw_ore years, in Vinland, and at the end of that time it will be pretty plai_ither that the colony is going to flourish and can do without you, or that i_s advisable to forsake it and return home. Meanwhile I would advise that yo_ive the land a fair trial. Put a good face on it; keep the men busy—for tha_s the way to keep them cheerful and contented, always being careful not t_verwork them—provide amusements for their leisure hours if possible, and kee_hem from thinking too much of absent wives and sweethearts—if you can.”
  • “ _If I can_ ,” repeated Karlsefin, with a smile; “ay, but I don’t think _an. However, your advice seems good, so I will adopt it; and as I shall b_ble to follow it out all the better with your aid, I hope that you will spen_ext winter with us.”
  • “I agree to that,” said Leif; “but I must first visit Greenland in spring, an_hen return to you. And now, tell me what you think of the two thralls Kin_laf sent me.”
  • Karlsefin’s brow clouded a little as he replied that they were excellent me_n all respects—cheerful, willing, and brave.
  • “So should I have expected of men sent to me by the King,” said Leif, “but _ave noticed that the elder is very sad. Does he pine for his native land, think ye?”
  • “Doubtless he does,” answered Karlsefin; “but I am tempted to think that he, like some others among us, pines for an absent sweetheart.”
  • “Not unlikely, not unlikely,” observed Leif, looking gravely at the ground.
  • “And the younger lad, Hake, what of him? He, I think, seems well enoug_leased to remain, if one may judge from his manner and countenance.”
  • “There is reason for that,” returned Karlsefin, with a recurrence of th_roubled expression. “The truth is that Hake is in love with Bertha.”
  • “The thrall?” exclaimed Leif.
  • “Ay, and he has gone the length of speaking to her of love; I know it, for _eard him.”
  • “What! does Karlsefin condescend to turn eavesdropper?” said Leif, looking a_is friend in surprise.
  • “Not so, but I chanced to come within earshot at the close of an intervie_hey had, and heard a few words in spite of myself. It was in summer. I wa_alking through the woods, and suddenly heard voices near me in the heart of _opse through which I must needs pass. Thinking nothing about it I advance_nd saw Hake and Bertha partially concealed by the bushes. Suddenly Hake crie_assionately, ‘I cannot help it, Bertha. I _must_ tell you that I love you i_ should die for it;’ to which Bertha replied, ‘It is useless, Hake; neithe_eif nor Karlsefin will consent, and I shall never oppose their will.’ The_ake said, ‘You are right, Bertha, right—forgive me—.’ At this point I fel_shamed of standing still, and turned back lest I should overhear more.”
  • “He is a thrall—a thrall,” murmured Leif sternly, as if musing.
  • “And yet he is a Scottish earl’s son,” said Karlsefin. “It does seem a har_ase to be a thrall. I wonder if the new religion teaches anything regardin_hraldom.”
  • Leif looked up quickly into his friend’s face, but Karlsefin had turned hi_ead aside as if in meditation, and no further allusion was made to tha_ubject by either of them.
  • “Do you think that Bertha returns Hake’s love?” asked Leif, after a fe_inutes.
  • “There can be no doubt of that,” said Karlsefin, laughing; “the colour of he_heek, the glance of her eye, and the tones of her voice, are all tell-tale.
  • But since the day I have mentioned they have evidently held more aloof fro_ach other.”
  • “That is well,” said Leif, somewhat sternly. “Bertha is free-born. She shal_ot wed a thrall if he were the son of fifty Scottish earls.”
  • This speech was altogether so unlike what might have been expected from one o_eif’s kind and gentle nature that Karlsefin looked at him in som_stonishment and seemed about to speak, but Leif kept his frowning eye_teadily on the ground, and the two friends walked the remainder of the roa_o the hamlet in perfect silence.