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Chapter 9 The First Night in Vinland.

  • The prize which had thus fallen into the hands of the Norsemen was of grea_mportance, because it furnished a large supply of food, which thus enable_hem to go leisurely to work in establishing themselves, instead of, as woul_therwise have been the case, spending much of their time and energy i_rocuring that necessity of life by hunting and fishing.
  • It was also exceedingly fortunate that the whale had been killed a littl_efore the time of high water, because that enabled them to fasten rope_hrough its nose and row with it still farther in to the shore. Thi_ccomplished, the boats made several trips back to the ship and landed all th_en, and these, with a number of ropes, hauled up the carcase foot by foot a_he tide rose. After reaching a certain point at high water they could get i_p no farther, and when the tide turned all the men twice doubled could no_ave budged it an inch. The ropes were therefore tied together and lengthene_ntil they reached a strong tree near the beach, to which they were fastened.
  • Leaving their prize thus secured they hastened back to the ship, hauled up th_nchor, and made for the mouth of the river, but they had lost so much of th_lood-tide, in consequence of their battle with the whale, and the evening wa_o far advanced, that they resolved to delay further proceedings until th_ollowing day.
  • The ship was therefore hauled close in to the land at the river’s mouth an_llowed to take the ground on a spit of sand. Here the men landed and soo_uilt up a pile of stones, between which and the ship a gangway was made. Th_omen were thus enabled to walk comfortably ashore. And here, on a grass_pot, they pitched their tents for the first time in Vinland.
  • Provisions were now brought on shore and large fires were kindled which blaze_p and glared magnificently as the night drew on, rendering the spit of san_ith the grassy knoll in the centre of it quite a cheerful and ruddy spot. _ew trees were cut down and stretched across the spit at its neck on the lan_ide, and there several sentinels were placed as a precaution—for which ther_eemed little occasion.
  • Karlsefin then set up a pole with a flag on it and took formal possession o_his new land, after which the whole colony sat down on the grass—some unde_he tents, others under the starry sky—to supper. The cattle, it may here b_oted, were not landed at this place, as they were to be taken up the rive_ext day, but their spirits were refreshed with a good supply of new-mow_rass, so that it is to be hoped, and presumed, they rejoiced not less tha_heir human companions in the satisfactory state of things.
  • In the largest tent, Karlsefin, Biarne, Thorward, Gudrid, Freydissa, Astrid,
  • and Olaf, sat down to a sumptuous repast of dried Greenland-fish and fres_inland-whale, besides which they had soup and beer. Being healthy and hungry,
  • they did full justice to the good things. Bertha and Thora served and the_oined in the repast.
  • “This is pleasant, isn’t it, Freydissa?” asked Biarne, with his mouth full.
  • Freydissa, with her mouth not quite so full, admitted that it was, for sh_appened to be in an amiable humour—as well she might!
  • “Come, let us pledge the new land in a can of beer,” cried Biarne, pouring th_everage out of an earthenware jar into a squat old Norse flagon of embosse_ilver. “Thorward, fill up!”
  • “I will join you heartily in that,” cried Thorward, suiting the action to th_ord.
  • “And I,” said Karlsefin, raising an empty flagon to his lips, “will pledge i_n a wish. I wish—prosperity to Vinland!”
  • “Come, Karlsefin,” remonstrated Biarne, “forego austerity for once, an_rink.”
  • “Not I,” returned the skipper, with a laugh.
  • “Wherefore not?”
  • “First, because a wish is quite as potent as a drink in that respect; second,
  • because our beer is nearly finished, and we have not yet the means to concoc_ore, so that it were ill-advised to rob _you_ , Biarne, by helping to consum_hat which I do not like; and, last of all, I think it a happy occasion thi_n which to forswear beer altogether!”
  • “Have thy way,” said Biarne, helping himself to another whale-steak of larg_imensions. “You are too good a fellow to quarrel with on such triflin_round. Here, pass the jar, Thorward; I will drink his portion as well as m_wn.”
  • “And I will join you both,” cried little Olaf with a comical turn of hi_yebrows. “Here, I wish prosperity to Vinland, and drink it, too, in water.”
  • “We can all join thee in that, Olaf,” said Gudrid I with an approving nod an_augh. “Come, girls, fill up your cups and pledge to Vinland.”
  • “Stop!” shouted Biarne in sudden anxiety.
  • They all paused with the cups half-way to their lips.
  • “ _You_ must not drink, Freydissa,” he continued seriously. “Gudrid did cal_pon the _girls_ to join her: surely ye don’t—”
  • He was cut short by Freydissa throwing her cup of water in his face.
  • With a burst of laughter Biarne fell backwards, and, partly to avoid th_eluge, partly for fun, rolled out of the tent, when he got up and dried hi_ripping beard.
  • “No more of that, fair girl, I beseech thee,” he said, resuming his place an_ccupation. “I will not again offend—if thou wilt not again misunderstand!”
  • Freydissa made no reply to this, silence being her usual method of showin_hat she condescended to be in good humour—and they were all very merry ove_heir evening meal. From the noise and laughter and songs around them, it wa_vident that the rest of the company were enjoying their first night on shor_o the full, insomuch that Olaf was led, in the height of his glee, to expres_ wish that they could live in that free-and-easy fashion for ever.
  • “’Tis of no use wishing it,” observed Karlsefin; “if you would insure succes_ou must, according to Biarne, drink it in beer.”
  • “I cry you mercy, skipper,” said Biarne; “if you persecute me thus I shall no_e able to drink any more to-night. Hand me the jar, Thorward, and let m_rink again before I come to that pass.”
  • “Hark!” exclaimed Gudrid, “there must be something going to happen, for al_he men have become suddenly quiet.”
  • They listened intently for a moment or two, when Krake’s voice broke the dee_ilence:— “Come, now, don’t think so long about it, as if ye were composin_omething new. Every one knows, sure, that it’s about sweet Scotland you’r_oing to sing.”
  • “Right, Krake, right,” replied a rich deep voice, which it required no sigh_o tell belonged to Hake, the young Scot; “but there are many songs abou_weet Scotland, and I am uncertain which to choose.”
  • “Let it be lively,” said Krake.
  • “No, no, no,” chorussed some of the men; “let it be slow and sad.”
  • “Well well,” laughed the half-Irishman—as he was fond of styling himself—“hav_t your own way. If ye won’t be glad, by all means be sad.”
  • A moment after, Hake’s manly tones rose on the still air like the sound of a_rgan, while he sang one of the ancient airs of his native land, wherein, lik_he same airs of modern days, were sounded the praises of Scotland’s heathe_ills and brawling burns—her bonny daughters and her stalwart sons.
  • To those in the large tent who had listened, with breathless attention an_eads half averted, it was evident that song, sentiments, and singer wer_ighly appreciated, from the burst of hearty applause at the conclusion, an_he eager demand for another ditty. But Hake protested that his ruling mott_as “fair play,” and that the songs must circle round.
  • “So let it be,” cried Swend.—“Krake, it is your turn next.”
  • “I won’t keep ye waiting,” said that worthy, “though I might do it, too, if _as to put off time selecting from the songs of old Ireland, for it’s endles_hey are—and in great variety. Sure, I could give ye songs about hills an_treams that are superior to Scotland’s burns and braes any day—almost up t_hose of Gamle Norge if they were a bit higher—the hills I mean, not th_ongs, which are too high already for a man with a low voice—and I could sin_e a lament that would make ye shed tears enough to wash us all off the spi_f land here into the sea; but that’s not in my way. I’m fond of a livel_itty, so here you are.”
  • With that Krake struck up an air in which it was roundly asserted that Irelan_as the finest country in the world (except Iceland, as he stopped in his son_o remark); that Irish boys and girls lived in a state of perpetual hilarit_nd good-will, and that the boys displayed this amiable and pleasant conditio_hiefly in the way of kissing the girls and cracking each other’s crowns.
  • After that, Swend was called on to sing, which he did of Norway wit_remendous enthusiasm and noise but little melody. Then another man sang _ove-ditty in a very gruff voice and much out of tune, which, nevertheless, t_he man’s evident satisfaction, was laughingly applauded. After him _entimental youth sang, in a sweet tenor voice, an Icelandic air, and the_yrker was called on to do his part, but flatly refused to sing. He offered t_ell a saga instead, however, which he did in such a manner that he made th_ides of the Norsemen ache with laughter—though, to say truth, they laughe_ore at the teller than the tale.
  • Thus with song and saga they passed the first hours of the night, while th_amp-fires blazed ruddily on their weather-beaten faces, and the heavenl_onstellations shone, not only on the surrounding landscape, but appeared t_ight up another world of cloudland beneath the surface of the sleeping sea.
  • At last Karlsefin went out to them.
  • “Now, lads,” said he, “it is high time that you laid your heads on you_illows. Men who do not sleep well cannot labour well. To-morrow we have har_ork before us in taking possession and settling our new home. God ha_rospered us thus far. We have made a good beginning in Vinland. May it be th_oretaste of a happy ending. Away, then, and get you to rest before the nigh_s older, and let your sleep be sound, for I will see to it that the sentinel_osted round the camp are vigilant.”
  • The men received this brief speech with a murmur of willing acquiescence, an_t once obeyed the order; though Krake observed that he fell in with th_ustom merely out of respect to the opinions of his comrades, having himsel_ong ago learned to do without sleep in Ireland, where the lads were in th_abit of working—or fighting—all day, dancing all night, and going home wit_he girls in the morning! Each Norseman then sought a spot upon the grass_noll suited to his taste; used his arm, or a hillock, or stone, for a pillow,
  • or anything else that came conveniently to hand, and with his sword or ax_eside him, and his shield above him as a coverlet, courted repose, while th_right stars twinkled him to sleep, and the rippling wavelets on the shor_iscoursed his lullaby.