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Chapter 7 Songs and Sagas—Vinland at Last!

  • 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.