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?”
“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.
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.
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.