Chapter 24 The Burning on the Fortress—A Threatened Fight Ends in a Feast,
Which Leads to Friendship—Happy Reunion and Proposed Desertion.
Next morning, according to arrangement, the Norsemen were up and away b_aybreak; but they did not start off alone. A much larger fleet than they ha_argained for accompanied them. Karlsefin, however, made no objection, partl_ecause objection would have been unavailing, and partly because the native_ere so genuinely well-disposed towards him, that he felt assured there was n_eason to distrust them or to fear their numbers.
Little did Karlsefin think, as they proceeded happily and leisurely down th_tream at that time, the urgent need there was for haste, or the dir_xtremity to which his friends at Leifsgaard had been reduced. Knowing, o_ourse, nothing about this, they descended by easy stages and encamped in goo_ime at night, in order to have their fires lighted and food cooked befor_aylight had quite disappeared, so that they might have the more time to si_hatting by the light of the camp-fires and enjoying the fine summer weather.
On the other hand, had Leif only known how soon his friends were to return, h_ight have held the fortress longer than he did, by continuing his desperat_allies to check the raising of the pile that was meant to burn him out; bu_ot being aware of this, and finding that the necessity for constant vigilanc_nd frequent sallies was wearing out his men, he resolved to abandon th_astle to its fate and take to the ship.
Watching his opportunity, he had everything portable collected, and, durin_he darkest hour of a dark night, quietly issued from the little fortress, descended to the beach, and got on board the _Snake_ , with all the women an_en, without the savages being aware of the movement.
Once on board, he fortified the vessel as well as he could, and hung th_hields round the bulwarks.
Curiously enough, the savages had fixed on that very night for setting fire t_heir pile of timber, which by that time towered to a height that made i_lmost equal to the fortress it was about to consume. At grey dawn the torc_as applied to it. At the very same hour Karlsefin and his men, accompanied b_heir savage friends, launched their canoes and left the encampment of th_revious night.
The leader of the fleet had purposely encamped when not very far from th_ettlement, preferring, with such a large and unexpected party, rather t_rrive in the morning than at night.
Great then was the surprise of the Norsemen when, soon after starting, the_aw a dense cloud of smoke rising in the far distance, and deep was thei_nxiety when they observed that this cloud not only spread abroad an_ncreased in density, but appeared to float exactly over the place where th_ettlement lay.
“Give way, lads! push on! There is something wrong at the gaard,” shoute_arlsefin when he became thoroughly alive to the fact.
There was little necessity for urging the men. Each man became an impulsiv_olcano and drove his paddle into the water with such force and fury that th_anoes almost leaped out of the river as well as over it.
Meanwhile the sun rose in splendour, and with it rose the mighty flames of th_onfire, which soon caught the neighbouring trees and licked them up as i_hey had been stubble. Such intense heat could not be long withstood. Th_ooden fortress was soon in flames, and then arose a yell of triumph from th_avages, which sent dismay to the hearts of those who were approaching, an_verawed the little band that still lay undiscovered on board the _Snake_.
But when it was ascertained that there was no one in the fortress, a cry o_ury followed the shout of triumph, and the whole band, at once suspectin_hat their enemies had taken to their vessel, rushed down to the shores of th_ake.
There they found the Norsemen ready to receive them; but they found more tha_hey had expected, for, just then, Karlsefin and his men swept round the poin_bove the bay with a tremendous cheer, and were followed by a continuou_tream of the canoes of their savage friends whom they had outstripped in th_ad race.
Karlsefin did not wait to ascertain how affairs stood. Enough for him that th_illage seemed to be in flames. Observing, as he passed, that his comrades an_he women were safe on board the _Snake_ , he ran the canoes high and dry o_he beach and leaped ashore. Drawing quickly up into a compact line, th_orsemen rushed with wild shout upon the foe. The natives did not await th_nset. Surprise alone had kept them waiting there as long as they did. Wit_ne consent, and a hideous yell, they turned and fled like autumn leave_efore the wind.
Returning to the friendly savages, who had looked on at all this in som_urprise and with no little concern, Karlsefin looked very sternly at them, pointed to the woods into which his enemies had vanished, shook his fist, an_therwise attempted by signs to indicate his displeasure, and to advise th_nstant interference of the friendly savages in the way of bringing abou_eaceful relations.
The natives were intelligent enough and prompt in action. A party of them a_nce started off to the woods, while Karlsefin went on board the _Snake_ , where he found Leif and his friends right glad to meet him, and the women, i_ state of the wildest delight, almost devouring Olaf and Snorro, who had bee_ent direct to the vessel when the men landed to attack the savages.
“’Tis good for the eyes to see thy sweet face, Gudrid,” he said, giving hi_ife a hearty kiss, “and I am quite sure that Snorro agrees with me in that.”
“He does, he does,” cried Gudrid, hugging the child, who clung round her nec_ith a tenacity that he had never before exhibited, having learned, no doubt, that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Oh! I am so happy, and so thankful. My sweet bairn! Where did you find him?
How did you rescue him? I felt _sure_ you would do it. How did he look when h_aw you? and—”
“Hold, Gudrid,” cried Karlsefin, laughing, “joy has upset thy judgment. I ca_nswer but one question at a time.”
Gudrid made no reply; indeed she did not seem to expect an answer to he_ueries, for she had turned again to Snorro and Olaf, whom she overwhelme_ith embraces, endearing epithets, and questions, in all which she was abl_ssisted by Bertha, Astrid, and Thora. Even Freydissa became soft for once; kissed Olaf and Snorro several times in a passionate manner, and was unusuall_racious to Thorward.
“Ye came in the nick of time,” said Leif, as he and his friends retired to th_oop for a brief consultation.
“So it would seem,” said Biarne, “but it was more by good fortune than goo_lanning, for I left you weak-handed; and if good luck had not brought us her_ust at the time we did, methinks there would have been heavy hearts amon_s.”
“A higher Power than good luck brought us hither in time,” said Karlsefin.
“That is true,” said Leif, with a nod and an earnest look at his friend.
“I doubt it not,” returned Biarne, “and the same Power doubtless led me t_tart off with a reinforcement in time to help you in the hour of need, Karlsefin. But it is my advice now that we go ashore and put the huts in _tate of defence as quickly as may be.”
“That is just my opinion,” replied Karlsefin, “for it may be that the friendl_atives will find it easier to be converted into foes than to turn our enemie_nto friends. What is your advice, Leif?”
“That we land and do as Biarne suggests without delay.”
“And what if these villains come down in such overwhelming numbers—as they no_an easily do—that they shall carry all before them and drive us into th_ake?” asked Thorward.
“Why, man,” cried Biarne, with a touch of ire, “if I did not know thee well _ould say that thou wert timid.”
“Knowing me well; then, as ye say,” returned Thorward, “and reserving th_atter of timidity for future discussion, what reply have ye to make to m_uestion?”
“That we must make up our minds to be drowned, like Freydissa’s cat,” replie_iarne.
“Nay, not quite that,” said Leif, with a smile; “we can at least have th_omfort of leaving our bones on the land to mingle with those of as man_avages as we can slay.”
“The thought of that would prove a great comfort to the women, no doubt, whe_hey were carried off by the savages,” returned Thorward, with a touch o_arcasm in his tone.
“I see what you mean,” said Karlsefin; “that we should have the _Snake_ read_o fall back on if we chance to be beaten; but, to say truth, the idea o_eing beaten by such miserable savages never entered my head.”
“The consideration of your head’s thickness, then,” said Thorward, “would b_n additional element of comfort, no doubt, to the women in case of thing_oing against us.”
At this Karlsefin laughed, and asked Thorward what he would advise.
“My advice is,” said he, “that we not only get the _Snake_ ready for a lon_oyage, but that we haul round my ship also,—which by good fortune is her_ust now—and get her ready. There is no need to put our goods and chattels o_oard, for if things went ill with us we could no doubt keep the savages a_ay long enough to accomplish that by means of placing Biarne at the post o_anger with orders to die rather than give in; but I would leave the women an_hildren on board at any rate to keep them out of harm’s way—”
“And it is _my_ advice,” cried Freydissa, coming up at the moment, “that y_et about it at once without more talk, else the women and children will hav_o set you the example.”
There was a general laugh at the tone and manner in which this was said, an_he four chiefs left the poop to carry out their plans. Meanwhile an immens_oncourse of natives assembled on the neighbouring heights, and for a lon_ime carried on a discussion, which, to judge from the violence of thei_esticulations, must have been pretty hot. At last their meeting came to a_brupt close, and a large band was seen to separate from the rest and mov_own towards the hamlet.
Before they reached it the Norsemen had manned the defences and awaited them.
“They come on a peaceful errand, I think,” said Karlsefin, who stood at th_rincipal opening. “At least it seems to me that they carry no arms. What sa_ou, Hake? Your eyes are sharp.”
“They are unarmed,” replied Hake.
This was found to be the case; and when they had approached to within a lon_ow-shot of the defences, all doubt as to their intention was removed by thei_olding up their hands and making other peaceful demonstrations.
Judging it wise to meet such advances promptly and without suspicion, Karlsefin at once selected a number of his stoutest men, and causing them t_ay aside their arms, issued forth to meet the savages. There was, as on _ormer occasion, a great deal of gesticulation and talking with the eyes, th_pshot of which was, that the brown men and the white men vowed eterna_riendship, and agreed to inaugurate the happy commencement thereof with _east—a sort of picnic on a grand scale—in which food was to be supplied b_oth parties, arms were to be left at home on both sides, and the scene o_perations was to be a plot of open ground near to, but outside, the hamlet.
It is easy to record all this briefly, but it must not therefore be suppose_hat it was easy of arrangement, on the part of the high contracting parties, whose tongues were unavoidably useless in the consultation.
Krake proved himself to be the most eloquent speaker in sign-language, and th_anner in which he made his meaning intelligible to the savages was worthy o_hilosophic study. It is, however, quite beyond the powers of description; _reat deal of it consisting not only of signs which might indeed be described, but of sounds—guttural and otherwise—which could not be spelt. We ar_onstrained, therefore, to leave it to the reader’s imagination.
At the feast an immense quantity of venison and salmon was consumed, as yo_ay easily believe, and a great number of speeches were made by bot_arties—the men of each side approving and applauding their own speakers, an_istening to those of the other side with as much solemnity of attention as i_hey understood every word.
There were two points of great interest connected with this feast, which w_ust not omit to mention. One was, the unexpected arrival, in the middle o_t, of the old chief, Whitepow, in a canoe, with Utway and a few of hi_rincipal men, and his grandson Powlet. These were hailed by both parties wit_reat delight, because they formed an additional bond of union between them.
It had been arranged by Karlsefin, for the sake of security, that the savage_nd Norsemen should not intermingle, but that they should sit in two distinc_roups opposite to each other. Whitepow, however, ignorant of, or indifferen_o such arrangements, passed over at once to the Norsemen on his arrival, an_ent through the ceremony, which he had so recently acquired, of shaking hand_ll round. Powlet also followed his example, and so did Utway. They then sa_own, and the latter did good service in the cause of peace by making a_nthusiastic speech, which the Norsemen could see, from his pantomimi_otions, related to his own good treatment at their hands in time past.
Powlet also unwittingly aided in the same good cause, by running up to Ola_nd bestowing on him a variety of attentions, which were all expressive o_ood-will and joy at meeting with him again. He also shouted the name o_norro several times with great energy, but Olaf could only reply by shakin_is head and pointing towards the hamlet where Snorro and the women had bee_eft under a strong and trusty guard.
The other point of interest to which we have alluded was, that a number of th_avages became particularly earnest and eager, when the eating was concluded, in their endeavours to impress something on their new friends, which the_ould not for a long time be made to understand even by the most graphic an_nergetic signs.
“I fear, Krake, that you have eaten too much, or by some other means hav_poilt your powers of interpretation,” said Leif with a laugh, as the puzzle_nterpreter shook his head for the fifth time at an energetic young savag_ith a red spot on his chin, and a blue stripe on his nose, who had bee_esticulating—we might almost say agonising—before him for some time.
“’Tis beyond my powers entirely,” said Krake. “Try it again, Bluenose,” h_dded, turning once more to the savage with resolute intensity o_oncentration; “drive about your limbs and looks a little harder. I’ll make y_ut if it’s in the power of man.”
Thus adjured, the young savage opened his mouth wide, pointed with his finge_own his throat, then up at the sky, spread both hands abroad in a vagu_anner, and exclaimed “ho!” as though to say, “that’s plain enough, surely!”
“Oh, for shame! Is it eaten too much ye have? Is that what ye want to say?”
That was evidently not what he wanted to say, for the poor savage looked roun_ith quite a disconsolate aspect.
“Come hither, Powlet,” cried Biarne; “you’re a smart boy; see if you can mak_he matter somewhat plainer.”
Powlet at all events understood his name, and Biarne’s beckoning finger, fo_e rose and went to him. Biarne confronted him with the young savage, and tol_he two to talk with each other by means of signs, which consisted in hi_ouching the lips of both and thrusting their heads together.
The young savage smiled intelligently and spoke to Powlet, who thereupo_urned to Biarne, and, rolling his eyes for a few seconds, uttered a low wail.
“Sure it isn’t pains you’re troubled with?” asked Krake, in a voice of pity.
“I do believe it must be that they refer to some one whom we have wounde_uring the fight,” suggested Leif, “and that they think we have him conceale_n the hamlet.”
“It seems to me,” said Thorward, “that if they were troubled about a wounde_r missing comrade, they would have asked for him sooner.”
“That is true,” replied Leif. “I wish we knew what it is they woul_ommunicate, for they appear to be very anxious about it.”
As he spoke, a tall savage, with an unusually grave countenance, stalked fro_mong his fellows, thrust Powlet and the young man whom Krake had style_luenose aside, and seated himself on the ground in imitation of the free-and- easy manner of the Norsemen. Suddenly his face lighted up. He clapped bot_ands to his chest and breathed hard, then raised his hands aloft, looke_nthusiastically up at the sky, rolled his eyes in a fearful manner, opene_is mouth wide, and gave utterance to a series of indescribable howls.
Checking himself in the midst of one of these, he suddenly resumed his grav_spect, looked straight at Krake, and said “Ho!”
That he thought he had hit the mark, and conveyed the meaning of himself an_is friends precisely, was made evident by the other savages, who nodded thei_eads emphatically, and exclaimed “Ho!” with earnestness.
“H’m! ’tis easy to say ‘Ho!’” replied Krake, more perplexed than ever, “and if ‘Ho’ would be a satisfactory answer, I’d give ye as much as ye liked of that; but I can’t make head or tail of what it is ye would be at.”
“Stay,” exclaimed Hake, stepping quickly forward, “I think I know what the_ant.”
Saying this, he looked earnestly at the grave savage, and ran over one or tw_otes of a song.
No words in any language could convey such a powerful meaning as did the bea_f intelligence and delight which overspread the faces of these sons of th_ilderness. The “ho! ho! hos!” and noddings were repeated with such energy, that Krake advised them to “stop that, lest their heads should come of_ltogether!”
“I thought so,” said Hake, turning away from them; “they want you to give the_ song, Krake.”
“They shall have that, and welcome,” cried the jovial Norseman, striking u_he “Danish Kings” at once, with all the fire of his nature.
The natives sat in rapt solemnity, and when the Norsemen joined laughingly i_he chorus, they allowed a faint smile to play for a moment on their faces, and murmured their satisfaction to each other when the song was done. But i_as evident that they wanted something more, for they did not seem quit_atisfied until one of their number rose, and going up to Hake touched hi_ips with his finger.
“Ha! I thought so!” exclaimed Krake in contempt. “It’s bad taste ye have t_ant a song from _him_ after hearing _me_! But what else could we expect fro_e?”
Hake willingly complied with their wish, and it then became evident that th_avages had gained their point at last, for they listened with half-close_yes, and more than half-opened mouths, while he was singing, and heaved _eep sigh when he had finished.
Thus pleasantly was the feast concluded, and thus they sealed thei_riendship.
But there was something still more satisfactory in store for the Norsemen, fo_t was soon afterwards discovered that the savages possessed a large quantit_f beautiful furs, with which, of course, they were willing to part for th_erest trifle, in the shape of a shred of brilliant cloth or an ornamenta_auble.
This was not only fortunate, as affording an opportunity for the Norsemen t_rocure full and valuable cargoes for both their ships, but as creating a bus_nd interesting occupation, which would prevent the natives from growing wear_f inaction, and, perhaps, falling into those forms of mischief whic_roverbially lie ready to idle hands.
“It seems to me, friends,” said Leif one evening, shortly after the feast jus_escribed, while he was seated in the chief hall, polishing his iro_eadpiece, and occasionally watching the active hands of Gudrid and Thora a_hey busied themselves about domestic affairs, while Bertha sat beside hi_andling Snorro on her knee,—“It seems to me that we have got together such _ich cargo that the sooner we send our ships to Greenland the better. They ca_hen return with fresh supplies of such things as are needed in good time. Fo_yself, I will go with the ships, and overlook the loading of them i_reenland.”
“Oh! may I go with you?” exclaimed Bertha, looking up suddenly with muc_agerness.
Hake, who was seated at the lower end of the hall, busily engaged in making _ow, paused abruptly in his work, but did not raise his head.
“I have no objection, if Freydissa has none,” answered Leif.
“Freydissa will be only too glad to get rid of her,” replied that amiabl_oman, who was engaged in the manufacture of a leathern tunic for Snorro; “sh_s tired of milk-and-water.”
“And yet milk-and-water is more likely to agree with you than anythin_esembling beer,” said Biarne, with a laugh.
“I should be sorry to leave Vinland,” returned Bertha, “but I am very _very_nxious to see my dear father again. Besides—I can return hither.”
Hake’s hand was suddenly released, and resumed its occupation.
“If you go, Leif,” asked Karlsefin, “will you return and spend the winter wit_s?”
“I will not promise that,” replied Leif with a smile.
There was silence for some minutes, which was broken at length by a very smal_oice saying:—
“’Norro go to G’eenland too?”
Poor Snorro was as regardless of the _S_ in his own name as he was of the _l_n Olaf’s!
“’Norro may go, if Gudrid will allow him,” answered Leif, patting the child’_urly pate.
“And O’af too?” added Snorro.
“Of course _I_ must go if Snorrie goes,” cried Olaf who had just entered th_all. “We could not live separate—could we, Snorrie?” He caught up the chil_nd placed him on his back in his wonted fashion. “Just think,” he continued, “what would it do in Greenland without O’af to give it rides and take it ou_or long walks?”
“Ay, and go lost with it in the woods,” added Biarne.
Olaf blushed, but replied promptly— “That would be impossible, Biarne, fo_here are no woods in Greenland.”
“If Snorro goes so must I,” said Thora. “He could not get on without hi_urse.”
“Methinks we had better all go together to Greenland,” said Astrid, who wa_usy preparing supper.
“Not bad advice,” observed Biarne, somewhat seriously.
“Do you mean what you say?” asked Karlsefin.
“I half mean it,” replied Biarne.
There was a pause here. Karlsefin then said— “It seems to me, friends, tha_ur minds are all jumping together. I have thought for a long time of leavin_inland, for it is plain to me that as we stand just now we cannot make muc_eadway. Many of our men are longing to get back to their families, some t_heir sweethearts, and some to their native land; while, from what you hav_aid, it would seem that none of us are very anxious to remain.”
“Do not speak for _all_ ,” said Thorward.
“Well, dost _thou_ wish to stay?”
“It may be that I do. At any rate, we have had much trouble in coming hithe_nd settling ourselves, and it would be a pity to lose all our labours unles_e can’t help it. There may be others of my way of thinking in the colony. I_s my advice that before we discuss such a matter we had better call a Thing, (an assembly for discussion) and do it in an orderly way.”
“By all means,” said Karlsefin, “let us discuss the matter for _decision_ in _hing; yet our discussing here for amusement is not disorderly.”
After a little more conversation it was finally arranged that a Thing, o_eneral assembly of the people, should be called on the following day, t_iscuss and decide on the propriety of forsaking Vinland and returning home.