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Chapter 19 New Experiences—Difficulties Encountered and Overcome—Thorwar_nd Tyrker Make a Joint Effort, with Humbling Results.

  • It may be as well to remark here, that the Norsemen were not altogethe_gnorant of the course of the great river on which they had now embarked.
  • During their sojourn in those regions they had, as we have said, sent out man_xploring parties, and were pretty well acquainted with the nature of th_ountry within fifty miles or so in all directions. These expeditions, however, had been conducted chiefly on land; only one of them by water.
  • That one consisted of a solitary canoe, manned by four men, of whom Heika wa_teersman, while Hake managed the bow-paddle, these having proved themselve_f all the party the most apt to learn the use of the paddle and management o_he canoe. During the fight with the savages, recorded in a previous chapter, the brothers had observed that the man who sat in the bow was of quite as muc_mportance in regard to steering as he who sat in the stern; and when the_fterwards ascended the river, and found it necessary to shoot hither an_hither amongst the surges, cross-currents, and eddies of a rapid, they the_iscovered that simple steering at one end of their frail bark would no_uffice, but that it was necessary to steer, as it were, at both ends.
  • Sometimes, in order to avoid a stone, or a dangerous whirlpool, or a violen_hoot, it became necessary to turn the canoe almost on its centre, as on _ivot, or at least within its own length; and in order to accomplish this, th_teersman had to dip his paddle as far out to one side as possible, to dra_he stern in that direction, while the bowman did the same on the opposit_ide, and drew the bow the other way—thus causing the light craft to spi_ound almost instantly. The two guiding men thus acted in unison, and it wa_nly by thoroughly understanding each other, in all conceivable situations, that good and safe steering could be achieved.
  • The canoes which had been captured from the savages were frail barks in th_ost literal sense of these words. They were made of the bark of the birch- tree, a substance which, though tough, was very easily split insomuch that _ingle touch upon a stone was sufficient to cause a bad leak. Hence the utmos_are was required in their navigation. But although thus easily damaged the_ere also easily repaired, the materials for reparation—or even, if necessary, reconstruction—being always at hand in the forest.
  • Now although Heika and his brother were, as we have said, remarkably expert, it does not follow that those were equally so who managed the other two canoe_f the expedition. On the contrary, their experience in canoeing had hithert_een slight. Karlsefin and his bowman Krake were indeed tolerably expert, having practised a good deal with the Scottish brothers, but Thorward turne_ut to be an uncommonly bad canoe-man; nevertheless, with the self-confidenc_atural to a good seaman, and one who was expert with the oar, he scouted th_dea that anything connected with fresh-water voyaging could prove difficul_o _him_ , and resolutely claimed and took his position as one of th_teersmen of the expedition. His bowman, Tyrker, as ill luck would have it, turned out to be the worst man of them all in rough water, although he ha_hown himself sufficiently good on the smooth lake to induce the belief tha_e might do well enough.
  • But their various powers in this respect were not at first put to the test, because for a very long way the river was uninterrupted by rapids, an_rogress was therefore comparatively easy. The scenery through which the_assed was rich and varied in the extreme. At one part the river ran betwee_igh banks, which were covered to the water’s edge with trees and bushes o_ifferent kinds, many of them being exceedingly brilliant in colour. A_nother part the banks were lower, with level spaces like lawns, and here an_here little openings where rivulets joined the river, their beds affordin_ar-reaching glimpses of woodland, in which deer might occasionally be see_ambolling. Elsewhere the river widened occasionally into something like _ake, with wooded islets on its calm surface, while everywhere the water, earth, and air teemed with animal life—fish, flesh, fowl, and insect. It wa_uch a sight of God’s beautiful earth as may still be witnessed by those who, leaving the civilised world behind, plunge into the vast wildernesses tha_xist to this day in North America.
  • Beautiful though it was, however, the Norsemen had small leisure and not muc_apacity to admire it, being pre-occupied and oppressed by anxiety as to th_ate of the children. Still, in spite of this, a burst of admiration woul_scape them ever and anon as they passed rapidly along.
  • The first night they came to the spot where the natives had encamped the nigh_efore, and all hands were very sanguine of overtaking them quickly. They wen_bout the encampment examining everything, stirring up the embers of th_ires, which were still hot, and searching for little footprints.
  • Hake’s unerring bow had supplied the party with fresh venison and some wild- geese. While they sat over the fires that night roasting steaks and enjoyin_arrow-bones, they discussed their prospects.
  • “They have got but a short start of us,” said Karlsefin, looking thoughtfull_nto the fire, before which he reclined on a couch of pine-branches, “and i_e push on with vigour, giving ourselves only just sufficient repose to kee_p our strength, we shall be sure to overtake them in a day or two.”
  • “It may be so,” said Thorward, with a doubtful shake of the head; “but yo_now, brother, that a stern chase is usually a long one.”
  • Thorward was one of those unfortunate men who get the credit of desiring t_hrow wet blankets and cold water upon everything, whereas, poor man, his onl_ault was a tendency to view things critically, so as to avoid the evi_onsequences of acting on the impulse of an over-sanguine temperament.
  • Thorward was a safe adviser, but was not a pleasant one, to those who regar_ll objection as opposition, and who don’t like to look difficulties full i_he face. However, there is no question that it would have been better fo_im, sometimes, if he had been gifted with the power of holding his tongue!
  • His friend Karlsefin, however, fully appreciated and understood him.
  • “True,” said he, with a quiet smile, “as you say, a stern chase is a long one; nevertheless we are not _far_ astern, and that is what I count on fo_hortening the chase.”
  • “That is a just remark,” said Thorward gravely, applying a marrow-bone to hi_ips, and drinking the semi-liquid fat therefrom as if from a cup; “but _hink you might make it (this is most excellent marrow!) a still shorter chas_f you would take my advice.—Ho! Krake, hand me another marrow-bone. It seem_o me that Vinland deer have a peculiar sweetness, which is not so obvious i_hose of Norway, though perchance it is hunger which gives the relish; and ye_an I truly say that I have been hungered in Norway. However, I care not t_nvestigate reasons too closely while I am engaged in the actual practice o_onsumption.”
  • Here he put another marrow-bone to his lips, and sucked out the contents wit_nfinite gusto.
  • “And what may your advice be?” asked his friend, laughing.
  • “I’ll wager that Hake could tell you if his mouth were not too full,” replie_horward, with a smile.
  • “Say, thou thrall, before refilling that capacious cavern, what had best b_one in order to increase our speed?”
  • Hake checked a piece of wild-fowl on its passage to his mouth, and, after _oment’s consideration, replied that in his opinion lightening the load of th_anoe was the best thing to be done.
  • “And say,” continued Thorward, beginning to (eat) a large drumstick, “how ma_that_ be done?”
  • “By leaving our provisions behind,” answered Hake.
  • “Ha! did not I say that he could tell you?” growled Thorward between hi_eeth, which were at that moment conflicting with the sinewy part of th_rumstick.
  • “There is something in that,” remarked Karlsefin.
  • “ _Something_ in it!” exclaimed Thorward, resting for a moment from hi_abours in order to wash all down with a cataract of water; “why, there i_verything in it. Who ever heard of a man running a race with a ful_tomach—much less winning it? If we would win we must voyage light; besides, what need is there to carry salt salmon and dried flesh with us when the wood_re swarming with such as these, and when we have a man in our company who ca_ring down a magpie on the wing?”
  • “And that’s true, if anything ever was,” observed Krake, who had been too bus_p to that point to do more than listen.
  • Hake nodded his approval of the sentiment, and Karlsefin said that he quit_greed with it, and would act upon the advice next day.
  • “Just take a _very_ little salmon,” suggested Tyrker, with a sigh, “for fea_his good fortune should perhaps come suddenly to an end.”
  • There was a general laugh at Tyrker’s caution, and Karlsefin said he was a_iberty to fill his own pockets with salmon for his own use, if he chose.
  • “Sure it would be much better,” cried Krake, “to eat a week’s allowance all a_nce, and so save time and trouble.”
  • “If I had your stomach, Krake, I might try that,” retorted Tyrker, “but min_s not big enough.”
  • “Well, now,” returned Krake, “if you only continue to over-eat for a week o_wo, as you’re doing just now, you’ll find it big enough—and more!”
  • “We must sleep to-night, and not talk,” said Karlsefin gravely, for he sa_hat the dispute was likely to wax hot. “Come, get you all to rest. I wil_all you two hours hence.”
  • Every man of the expedition was sound asleep in a few minutes after that, wit_he exception of their leader, who was to keep the first half-hou_atch—Thorward, Heika, and Hake being appointed to relieve him and each othe_n succession.
  • The moon was shining brightly when the two hours had elapsed. This was ver_ortunate, because they expected to arrive at the rapids ere long, and woul_equire light to ascend them. Owing to recent heavy rains, however, th_urrent was so strong that they did not reach the rapids till sunrise. Befor_tarting, they had buried all their provisions in such a way that they migh_e dug up and used, if necessary, on their return.
  • “’Tis as well that we have daylight here,” observed Karlsefin, as he, Thorward, and Hake stood on a rocky part of the bank just below the rapids, and surveyed the place before making the attempt.
  • It might have been observed that Thorward’s face expressed some unusua_ymptoms of feeling, as he looked up the river, and saw there nothing but _urbulent mass of heaving surges dashing themselves wildly against shar_orbidding rocks, which at one moment were grinning like black teeth amids_he white foam, and the next were overwhelmed by the swelling billows.
  • “You don’t mean to say we have to go up that maelstrom?” he said, pointing t_he river, and looking at Hake.
  • “I would there were any other road,” answered Hake, smiling, “but truly I kno_f none. The canoes are light, and might be carried by land to the still wate_bove the rapids, but, as you see, the banks here are sheer up and dow_ithout foothold for a crow, and if we try to go round by the woods on eithe_ide, we shall have a march of ten miles through such a country that th_anoes will be torn to pieces before the journey is completed.”
  • “Have you and Heika ever ascended that mad stream?” cried Thorward.
  • “Ay—twice.”
  • “Without overturning?”
  • “Yes—without overturning.”
  • Again Thorward bestowed on the river a long silent gaze, and his countenanc_ore an expression of blank surprise, which was so amusing that Karlsefi_orgot for a moment the anxiety that oppressed him, and burst into a heart_it of laughter.
  • “Ye have little to laugh at,” said Thorward gravely. “It is all very well t_alk of seamanship—and, truly, if you will give me a good boat with a stou_air of oars, and the roughest sea you ever saw, I will show you what I ca_o—but who ever heard of a man going afloat in an egg-shell on a monstrou_ettle of boiling water?”
  • “Why, Hake says he has done it,” said Karlsefin.
  • “When I see him do it I will believe it,” replied Thorward doggedly.
  • “You will not, I suppose, object to follow, if I lead the way?” asked Hake.
  • “Go to, thrall! Dost think I am afraid?” said Thorward sternly; and then, a_f he thought such talk trifling, turned on his heel with a light laugh, an_as about to descend the bank of the river to the spot where the men stood i_ group near the canoes, when Karlsefin called him back.
  • “Softly, not so fast, Thorward. Although no doubt we are valiant sailors—an_oe betide the infatuated man who shall venture to deny it!—yet must we pu_ur pride in our pouches for once, and accept instruction from Hake. Afte_ll, it is said that wise men may learn something from babes—if so, why ma_ot sea-kings learn from thralls?—unless, indeed, we be not up to the mark o_ise men.”
  • “I am all attention,” said Thorward.
  • “This, then,” said Hake, pointing to a large rock in the middle of the stream, “is the course you must pursue, if ye would reach the upper end of the rapi_n a dry skin. See you yonder rock—the largest—where the foam breaks mos_iercely, as if in wrath because it cannot overleap it? Well, that is ou_irst resting-place. If you follow my finger closely, you will see, near th_oot of the rapid, two smaller rocks, one below the other; they only show no_nd then as the surges rise and fall, but each has an eddy, or a tail o_mooth water below it. Do you see them?”
  • “I see, I see,” cried Thorward, becoming interested in spite of himself; “but, truly, if thou callest that part of the river smooth and a ‘tail,’ I hope _ay never fall into the clutches of the smooth animal to which that tai_elongs.”
  • “It is smooth compared with the rest,” continued Hake, “and has a back-draugh_hich will enable us to rest there a moment. You will observe that the ston_bove has also a tail, the end of which comes quite down to the head of th_ail below. Well, then, you must make such a bold dash at the rapid that yo_hall reach the lower eddy. That gained, the men will rest a space an_reathe, but not cease paddling altogether, else will you be carried dow_gain. Then make a dash into the stream and paddle might and main till yo_each the eddy above. You will thus have advanced about thirty yards, and b_n a position to make a dash for the long eddy that extends from the bi_ock.”
  • “That is all very plain,” observed Thorward; “but does it not seem to you, Hake, that the best way to explain matters would be to go and ascend while w_ook on and learn a lesson through our eyes?”
  • “I am ready,” was the youth’s brief reply; for he was a little hurt by th_eaman’s tone and manner.
  • “Thorward is right, Hake,” said Karlsefin. “Go, take your own canoe up. W_ill watch you from this spot, and follow if all goes well.”
  • The young Scot at once sprang down the bank, and in a few minutes his cano_ith its six men, and Heika steering, shot out from the bank towards th_apid.
  • All tendency to jest forsook Thorward as he stood beside his friend on th_liff with compressed lips and frowning brow, gazing upon the cork-like vesse_hich danced upon the troubled waters. In a minute it was at the foot of th_roken water. Then Heika’s voice rose above the roar of the stream, as he gav_ shout and urged on his men. The canoe sprang into the boiling flood. I_ppeared to remain stationary, while the men struggled might and main.
  • “’Tis too strong for them!” cried Thorward, becoming excited.
  • “No; they advance!” said Karlsefin in a deep, earnest tone.
  • This was true, but their progress was very small. Gradually they overcame th_ower of the stream and shot into the first eddy, amid the cheers of thei_omrades on shore. Here they waited only a moment or two, and then made a das_or the second eddy. There was a shout of disappointment from the men, becaus_hey swept down so fast that it seemed as if all the distance gained had bee_ost; but suddenly the canoe was caught by the extreme tail of the eddy, th_ownward motion of its bow was stopped, it was turned straight upstream, an_hey paddled easily towards the second rock. Another brief pause was mad_ere, and then a dash was made for the eddy below the large rock. This wa_ore easily gained, but the turbulence of the water was so great that ther_as much more danger in crossing from one eddy to the other than there ha_een before.
  • Under the large rock they rested for a few minutes, and then, dashing out int_he rapid, renewed the struggle. Thus, yard by yard, taking advantage of ever_vailable rock and eddy, they surmounted the difficulty and landed at the hea_f the rapids, where they waved their caps to their friends below.
  • “It’s Krake that wishes he was there!” observed that worthy, wiping th_erspiration from his brow and drawing a long deep breath; for the mere sigh_f the struggle had excited him almost as much as if he had engaged in it.
  • “’Tis Krake that will soon be there if all goes well,” remarked Karlsefin, with a laugh, as he came forward and ordered his canoe to be pushed off. “_ill be ready to follow, but you had better go first, Thorward. If anythin_efalls you I am here to aid.”
  • “Well, come along, lads,” cried Thorward. “Get into the bow, Tyrker, and se_hat you do your duty like a man. Much depends on you—more’s the pity!” H_dded the last words in a low voice, for Thorward, being a very self-relian_an, would like to have performed all the duties himself, had that bee_ossible.
  • “Shove off!”
  • They shot from the bank and made for the rapid gallantly. Thorward’s shou_uite eclipsed that of Heika on taking the rapid. Truly, if strength of lun_ould have done it, he might have taken his canoe up single-handed, for h_oared like a bull of Bashan when Tyrker missed a stroke of his paddle, thereby letting the bow sweep round so that the canoe was carried back to th_oint whence it had started.
  • Tremendous was the roar uttered by Thorward when they faced the rapid th_econd time, and fierce was the struggle of the men when in it, and anxiou_as Tyrker to redeem his error—so anxious, in fact, that he missed anothe_troke and well-nigh fell overboard!
  • It is said that “Fortune favours the brave.” There was no lack of bravery i_yrker—only lack of experience and coolness—and Fortune favoured him on thi_ccasion. If he had _not_ missed a stroke and fallen forward, hi_iscalculation of aqueous forces would have sent the canoe past the mark i_he opposite direction from the last time; but the missed stroke was the bes_troke of all, for it allowed the canoe to shoot into the first eddy, an_onverted a terrific roar of wrath from Thorward into a hearty cheer.
  • Resting a few moments, as Heika and his crew had done, they then addresse_hemselves to the second part of the rapid. Here Thorward steered so well tha_he canoe took the stream at the proper angle; but Tyrker, never havin_erceived what the right angle was, and strongly impressed with the belie_hat the bow was pointing too much up the river, made a sudden stroke on th_rong side! The canoe instantly flew not only to the tail of the eddy, bu_ight across it into the wild surges beyond, where it was all but upset, firs_o one side then to the other, after which it spun round like a teetotum, an_as carried with fearful violence towards one of those rocky ridges which w_ave described as being alternately covered and uncovered by the foam. On th_rest of a bulging cascade they were fortunately borne right over this ridge, which next moment showed its black teeth, as if grinning at the dire mischie_t might have done if it had only chosen to bite! Next instant the cano_verturned, and left the men to flounder to land, while it went careering dow_owards the gravelly shallows below.
  • Now Karlsefin had anticipated this, and was prepared for it. In the firs_lace, he had caused the arms, etcetera, to be removed from Thorward’s cano_efore it set out, saying that he would carry them up in his canoe, so tha_is friend’s might go light. Then, having his vessel ready and manned, he a_nce pushed out and intercepted the other canoe before it reached the gravell_hallows, where it would have been much damaged, if not dashed to pieces.
  • “That is bad luck,” observed Thorward, somewhat sulkily, as, after swimmin_shore, he wrung the water from his garments.
  • “Not worse than might have been expected on a first trial,” said Karlsefin, laughing. “Besides, that rascal Tyrker deceived me. Had I known he was so bad, you should have had Krake.”
  • Poor Tyrker, very much crestfallen, kept carefully away from the party, an_id not hear that remark.
  • “Now it is my turn,” continued Karlsefin. “If we get up safely I will sen_eika down to take the bow of your canoe.”
  • Karlsefin, as we said, was somewhat more expert than most of the men i_anaging canoes, and Krake, besides having had more experience than many o_is fellows, had once before visited and ascended this rapid. They therefor_ade the ascent almost as well as the Scots had done.
  • Arrived at the upper end, Hake and Heika were ordered to remove everything ou_f their canoe, and, with a full crew, to run down to the aid of thei_riends. Karlsefin himself went with them as one of the crew, so that he migh_ake the steering paddle when Heika should resign it in order to act a_horward’s bowman. Thus manned, the second attempt was crowned with success, and, not long afterwards the three canoes swept into a smooth reach of th_iver above the rapids, and proceeded on their way.
  • But a great deal of time had been lost in this way, and Karlsefin felt that i_ust be made up for by renewed diligence and protracted labour.