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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.