In days of old, just as in modern times, tars, when at sea, were wont t_ssemble on the “fo’c’sle,” or forecastle, and spin yarns—as we have seen—whe_he weather was fine and their work was done.
One sunny afternoon, on the forecastle of Karlsefin’s ship—which, by the way, was called “ _The Snake_ ,” and had a snake’s head and neck for a figure- head—there was assembled a group of seamen, among whom were Tyrker the Turk, one of Thorward’s men named Swend, who was very stout and heavy, and one o_arlsefin’s men called Krake, who was a wild jocular man with a peculiar twan_n his speech, the result of having been long a prisoner in Ireland. W_ention these men particularly, because it was they who took the chief part i_onversations and in story-telling. The two Scots were also there, but the_ere very quiet, and talked little; nevertheless, they were interested an_ttentive listeners. Olaf was there also, all eyes and ears,—for Olaf drank i_tories, and songs, and jests, as the sea-sand drinks water—so said Tyrker; but Krake immediately contradicted him, saying that when the sea-sand was ful_f water it drank no more, as was plain from the fact that it did not drink u_he sea, whereas Olaf went on drinking and was _never_ satisfied.
“Come, sing us a song, Krake,” cried Tyrker, giving the former a slap on th_houlder; “let us hear how the Danish kings were served by the Irish boys.”
“Not I,” said Krake, firmly. “I’ve told ye two stories already. It’s Hake’_urn now to give us a song, or what else he pleases.”
“But you’ll sing it after Hake has sung, won’t you, Krake?” pleaded several o_he men.
“I’ll not say ‘No’ to that.”
Hake, who possessed a soft and deep bass voice of very fine quality, at onc_cceded to the request for a song. Crossing his arms on his chest, an_ooking, as if in meditation, towards the eastern horizon, he sang, to one o_is national airs, “The Land across the Sea.”
The deep pathos of Hake’s voice, more than the words, melted these hard_orsemen almost to tears, and for a few minutes effectually put to flight th_pirit of fun that had prevailed.
“That’s your own composin’, I’ll be bound,” said Krake, “an’ sure it’s no_ad. It’s Scotland you mean, no doubt, by the land across the sea. Ah! I’v_eard much of that land. The natives are very fond of it, they say. It must b_ fine country. I’ve heard Irishmen, who have been there, say that if i_asn’t for Ireland they’d think it the finest country in the world.”
“No doubt,” answered Hake with a laugh, “and I dare say Swend, there, woul_hink it the finest country in the world after Norway.”
“Ha! Gamle Norge,” (Old Norway) said Swend with enthusiasm, “there is n_ountry like _that_ under the sun.”
“Except Greenland,” said Olaf, stoutly.
“Or Iceland,” observed Biarne, who had joined the group. “Where can you sho_uch mountains—spouting fire, and smoke, and melted stones,—or such boilin_ountains, ten feet thick and a hundred feet high, as we have in Iceland?”
“That’s true,” observed Krake, who was an Icelander.
“Oh!” exclaimed Tyrker, with a peculiar twist of his ugly countenance, “Turke_s the land that beats all others completely.”
At this there was a general laugh.
“Why, how can that be?” cried Swend, who was inclined to take up the questio_ather hotly. “What have you to boast of in Turkey?”
“Eh! What have we _not_ , is the question. What shall I say? Ha! we hav_grapes_ there; and we do make _such_ a drink of them—Oh!—”
Here Tyrker screwed his face and figure into what was meant for a condition o_cstasy.
“’Twere well that they had no grapes there, Tyrker,” said Biarne, “for if al_e true that Karlsefin tells us of that drink, they would be better withou_t.”
“I wish I had it!” remarked Tyrker, pathetically.
“Well, it is said that we shall find grapes in Vinland,” observed Swend, “an_s we are told there is everything else there that man can desire, our ne_ountry will beat all the others put together,—so hurrah for Vinland!”
The cheer was given with right good-will, and then Tyrker reminded Krake o_is promise to sing a song. Krake, whose jovial spirits made him always read_or anything, at once struck up to a rattling ditty:—
> _**The Danish Kings**_.
> > One night when one o’ the Irish Kings > Was sleeping in his bed, > Six Danish Kings—so Sigvat sings— > Came an’ cut off his head.
> The Irish boys they heard the noise, > And flocked unto the shore; > They caught the kings, and put out their eyes, > And left them in their gore.
> > _Chorus_ —Oh! this is the way we served the kings, > An’ spoiled their pleasure, the dirty things, > When they came to harry and flap their wings > Upon the Irish shore-ore, > Upon the Irish shore.
> > Next year the Danes took terrible pains > To wipe that stain away; > They came with a fleet, their foes to meet, > Across the stormy say.
> Each Irish carl great stones did hurl > In such a mighty rain, > The Danes went down, with a horrible stoun, > An’ never came up again!
> > Oh! this is the way, etcetera.
The men were still laughing and applauding Krake’s song when Olaf, who chance_o look over the bow of the vessel, started up and shouted “Land, ho!” in _hrill voice, that rang through the whole ship.
Instantly, the poop and forecastle were crowded, and there, on the starboar_ow, they saw a faint blue line of hills far away on the horizon. Olaf go_ull credit for having discovered the land first on this occasion; and fo_ome time everything else was forgotten in speculations as to what this ne_and would turn out to be; but the wind, which had been getting lighter ever_our that day, died away almost to a calm, so that, as there was no prospec_f reaching the land for some hours, the men gradually fell back to their ol_laces and occupation.
“Now, then, Krake,” said Tyrker, “tell us the story about that king you wer_alking of the other day; which was it? Harald—”
“Ay, King Harald,” said Krake, “and how he came to get the name of Greyskin.
Well, you must know that it’s not many years ago since my father, Sigurd, wa_ trader between Iceland and Norway. He went to other places too, sometimes—and once to Ireland, on which occasion it was that I was take_risoner and kept so long in the country, that I became an Irishman. But afte_scaping and getting home I managed to change back into an Icelander, as y_ay see! Well, in my father’s younger days, before I was born—which was _ity! for he needed help sorely at that time, and I would have been just th_an to turn myself handy to any sort of work; however, it wasn’t _my_ault,—in his younger days, my father one summer went over from Iceland t_orway,—his ship loaded till she could hardly float, with skins and peltry, chiefly grey wolves. It’s my opinion that the reason she didn’t go down wa_hat they had packed her so tight there was no room for the water to get i_nd sink her. Anyway, over the sea she went and got safe to Norway.
“At that time King Harald, one of the sons of Eric, reigned in Norway, afte_he death of King Hakon the Good. He and my father were great friends, bu_hey had not met for some time; and not since Harald had come to his dignity.
My father sailed to Hardanger, intending to dispose of his pelts there if h_ould. Now, King Harald generally had his seat in Hordaland and Bogaland, an_ome of his brothers were usually with him; but it chanced that year that the_ent to Hardanger, so my father and the king met, and had great doings, drinking beer and talking about old times when they were boys together.
“My father then went to the place where the greatest number of people were me_n the fiord, but nobody would buy any of his skins. He couldn’t understan_his at all, and was very much annoyed at it, and at night when he was a_upper with the king he tells him about it. The king was in a funny humou_hat night. He had dashed his beard with beer to a great extent, and laughe_eartily sometimes without my father being able to see what was the joke. Bu_y father was a knowing man. He knew well enough that people are sometime_iven to hearty laughter without troubling themselves much about th_oke—especially when they are beery,—so he laughed too, out of friendliness, and was very sociable.
“When my father went away the king promised to pay him a visit on board of hi_hip next day, which he did, sure enough; and my father took care to let it b_nown that he was coming, so there was no lack of the principal peopl_hereabouts. They had all come down together, by the merest chance, to th_lace where the ship lay, just to enjoy the fresh air—being fresher there tha_ay than at most other places on the fiord, no doubt!
“King Harald came with a fully-manned boat, and a number of followers. He wa_ery condescending and full of fun, as he had been the night before. When h_as going away he looked at the skins, and said to my father, ‘Wilt thou giv_e a present of one of these wolf-skins?’
“‘Willingly,’ says my father, ‘and as many more as you please.’
“On this, the king wrapped himself up in a wolf-skin and went back to his boa_nd rowed away. Immediately after, all the boats in his suite came alongsid_nd looked at the wolf-skins with great admiration, and every man bought jus_uch another wolf-skin as the king had got. In a few days so many people cam_o buy skins, that not half of them could be served with what they wanted, an_he upshot was that my father’s vessel was cleared out down to the keel, an_hereafter the king went, as you know, by the name of Harald Greyskin.
“But here we are, comrades,” continued Krake, rising, “drawing near to th_and,—I’ll have a look at it.”
The country off which they soon cast anchor was flat and overgrown with wood; and the strand far around consisted of white sand, and was very low toward_he sea. Biarne said that it was the country to which Leif had given the nam_f Markland, because it was well-wooded; they therefore went ashore in th_mall boat, but finding nothing in particular to attract their interest, the_oon returned on board and again put to sea with an onshore wind from th_orth-east. (Some antiquaries appear to be of opinion that Helloland must hav_een Newfoundland, and Markland some part of Nova Scotia.)
For two days they continued their voyage with the same wind, and then mad_and for the third time and found it to be an island. It was blowing hard a_he time, and Biarne advised that they should take shelter there and wait fo_ood weather. This they did, and, as before, a few of them landed to explor_he country, but there was not much to take note of. Little Olaf, who was on_f the explorers, observed dew on the grass, and, remembering that Leif ha_aid that the dew on one of the islands which he met with was _sweet_ , h_hook some into the hollow of his hand and tasted it, but looked disappointed.
“Are you thirsty, Olaf?” asked Karlsefin, who, with Biarne, walked beside him.
“No, but I wondered if the dew would be sweet. My father said it was, on on_f the islands he came to.”
“Foolish boy,” said Biarne, laughing; “Leif did but speak in a figure. He wa_ery hot and tired at the time, and found the dew sweet to his thirsty spiri_s well as refreshing to his tongue.”
“Thus you see, Olaf,” observed Karlsefin, with a sly look at Biarne, “wheneve_ou chance to observe your father getting angry, and hear him say that hi_eer is sour, you are not to suppose that it is really sour, but mus_nderstand that it is only sour to his cross spirit as well as disagreeable t_is tongue.”
Olaf received this with a loud laugh, for, though he was puzzled for a momen_y Biarne’s explanation, he saw through the jest at once.
“Well, Biarne,” returned Olaf; “whether the dew was sweet to my father’_ongue or to his spirit I cannot tell, but I remember that when he told u_bout the sweet dew, he said it was near to the island where he found it tha_he country he called Vinland lay. So, if this be the sweet-dew island, Vinland cannot be far off.”
“The boy is sharp beyond his years,” said Karlsefin, stopping abruptly an_ooking at Biarne; “what thinkest thou of that?”
“I think,” replied the other, “that Olaf will be a great discoverer some day, for it seems to me not unlikely that he may be right.”
“Come, we shall soon see,” said Karlsefin, turning round and hastening back t_he boat.
Biarne either had not seen this particular spot on his former visit to thes_hores, which is quite probable, or he may have forgotten it, for he did no_ecognise it as he had done the first land they made; but before they lef_ricsfiord, Leif had given them a very minute and careful description of th_ppearance of the coast of Vinland, especially of that part of it where he ha_ade good his landing and set up his booths, so that the explorers might be i_ position to judge correctly when they should approach it. Nevertheless, a_very one knows, regions, even when well defined, may wear very differen_spects when seen by different people, for the first time, from differen_oints of view. So it was on this occasion. The voyagers had hit the island _hort distance further south than the spot where Leif came upon it, and di_ot recognise it in the least. Indeed they had begun to doubt whether i_eally was an island at all. But now that Olaf had awakened their suspicions, they hastened eagerly on board the “ _Snake_ ,” and sailed round the coas_ntil they came into a sound which lay between the Island and a cape tha_utted out northward from the land.
“’Tis Vinland!” cried Biarne in an excited tone.
“Don’t be too sure of that,” said Thorward, as a sudden burst of sunshine li_p land and sea.
“I cannot be too sure,” cried Biarne, pointing to the land. “See, there is th_ess that Leif spoke of going out northwards from the land; there is th_sland; here, between it and the ness, is the sound, and yonder, doubtless, i_he mouth of the river which comes out of the lake where the son of Eric buil_is booths. Ho! Vinland! hurrah!” he shouted, enthusiastically waving his ca_bove his head.
The men were not slow to echo his cheer, and they gave it forth not a whi_ess heartily.
“’Tis a noble land to look upon,” said Gudrid, who with the other females o_he party had been for some time gazing silently and wistfully towards it.
“Perchance it may be a _great_ land some day,” observed Karlsefin.
“Who knows?” murmured Thorward in a contemplative tone.
“Ay, who knows?” echoed Biarne; “time and luck can work wonders.”
“God’s blessing can work wonders,” said Karlsefin, impressively; “may He gran_t to us while we sojourn here!”
With that he gave orders to prepare to let go the anchor, but the sound, ove_hich they were gliding slowly before a light wind, was very shallow, and h_ad scarcely ceased speaking when the ship struck with considerable violence, and remained fast upon the sand.