« PreviousContinue »
stone in question, which is about twelve feet long. The only marks on it are these:—
The larger of the two is certainly intended for Thor's hammer, a magical character. Whether this stone were used in heathen times, for sacrificial purposes, or at a later period, for the incantations of witchcraft, I cannot say.
This table of Icelandic magical signs, I give for the benefit of those of my readers who dabble in the black art.
Below Melr is the cairn of Kormak; it has been opened, the Archdeacon told me, but was found to contain nothing. The Middle-frith is full of historic interest, for not only does the Gretla relate to it, but also the Sagas of Kormak, Thorth hretha, and the Banded-men. The latter contains an account of a law-suit, so spirited, so full of curious interest, and giving such a lively picture of the manner in which litigation was carried on in the eleventh century, that I shall epitomize it now for the benefit of the reader, as I did at Melr on that Sunday evening for the amusement of my friend, Mr. Briggs.
AT Melr, in Mithfjord, lived a worthy, straightforward sort of a man, Oddr by name; he was rich, for he had been much in commerce, and every cruise had been attended with success. Oddr was, unfortunately, on no very good terms with his father, who lived at Reykir, beyond the river; and it is difficult to say which was in the wrong. Certainly Oddr had left home without saying good-by to his father; but then, the old gentleman had treated him shabbily, and had invariably kept him at a distance. Now that Oddr was rich, pride kept the old man from claiming relationship, and Oddr's resentment had not yet cooled, so they never met, though they lived within sight of each other. It happened that Oddr was involved in strife with a vile fellow named Uspak, who had murdered Wali, their mutual friend, in mistake for Oddr, Uspak had influential kinsmen, yet there was little chance of their taking up his cause,_at least, so thought Oddr, when he commenced legal proceedings against the culprit, with a view to getting him outlawed. Having summoned witnesses to the murder, Oddr went to Althing, the general council, as summer drew nigh, hoping to get his action through court without difficulty. All went on Smoothly for a time, and he came at last to summoning the defendant to take legal exception to the suit. Now it happened that two relations of the accused, Styrmir and Thorarinn, were sitting near the Doomring, chatting. Quoth the former, “Do you hear, friend ? There goes the summons for exception to be taken l what do you intend doing 2 ” “Letting the action proceed, of course,” answered Thorarinn ; “it is perfectly just. Oddr has excellent reason for desiring a villain like Uspak to be punished.” “That is all very well ! but remember the delinquent is a relation.” “I care naught about that l” said Thorarinn. “Perhaps not,” spoke Styrmir; “but you must consider that all sorts of ill-natured things will be said of you, if you let a cousin be outlawed, without lifting your little finger to help him. There is a flaw in the action, and that you must See as clearly as myself.” “I have noticed it all along,” broke in Thorarinn. “Then why on earth don't you answer the summons ! This Oddr tosses his head, as though no one dare oppose him. In a little while you will find that he has become so powerful and arrogant, that he will tread us all underfoot.” “As you like then l’’ answered Thorarinn; “but I have a presentiment that our meddling with a bad cause like this will only bring us into trouble.” “Not it !” exclaimed Styrmir, starting from his seat, and walking to the doomring. “Oddr 1" called he, “I take exception The action is wrongly set on foot. You have Summoned your ten witnesses at home, that is against the law; they should have been summoned at the Thing, and not in the district where you live. Thus your action breaks down.” Oddr was silent, and thought the matter over, then, finding that the exception was legitimate, he withdrew, and returned to his booth.
* Banda-manna Saga. I use the word banded-men instead of confede. lates, as it is a more exact rendering of the Icelandic name.
As he was passing through an alley between two of the booths, he nearly ran against an old man, dressed in a blacksleeved cloak, which was torn ; and he had one of the sleeves dangling behind his back. The aged man had a spiked staff in his hand, and a broad-brimmed hat on his head, from under which his eyes wandered restlessly to and fro. He was bent nearly double, and hobbled onwards, groping his way with his staff. This old man was Ofeigr, the father of Oddr. “You are quick in coming from court l” quoth he, in a harsh, grating voice; “things have gone on swimmingly of course, and now, that knave Uspak is proclaimed guilty, ay ?” “No, indeed,” answered Oddr ; “he has got off.” “Ah, ha!” giggled the old fellow; “you fine gentlemen are fond of poking fun at old people. Pray how is it possible that the man should be allowed to escape 2 is he not really criminal 2 ” “There can be no doubt on that score,” said Oddr. “What l” exclaimed Ofeigr; “and he not declared guilty 2” “A flaw was found in my summons, and the case broke down,” answered Oddr, with some irritation. “It is quite possible,” said the old man, “that you are more in your element when bartering or steering a ship than when engaged in an action at law. Yet I still think that you are trying to hoax me !” “Well!” answered Oddr, with considerable asperity; “I don't care a straw whether you think so or not.” “Perhaps not,” retorted Ofeigr; “but this I can tell you, that if you had only asked me, I could have told you at the outset that your case was illegally set on foot. You were too high and mighty to ask advice, or you need not have come on this wild-goose chase.” “I don't see that your meddling with the matter would mend it !” “The case is not hopeless yet, and I do not mind assisting you ; but you must let me know whether you are ready to pay Well.”
“I shall not spare my money,” answered Oddr. “Then hand over to me a tolerably heavy bag of silver. I tell you what,” quoth the old man with a leer; “the eyes of many a man hanker after hard cash ! We shall see what effect this money will have when it is brought into court l” Oddr gave him a large purse, and then walked home to his booth. Ofeigr, however, hobbled along the plain, till he came to the Northern quarter court, and there he asked, how the actions were going on. He was told that some had been settled, others had broken down, and others, again, were ready for the final SUIIIlm OnS. “Pray how ended my son's case ? Is it legally concluded ?” asked Ofeigr. “It is concluded after a fashion,” answered the judges, who were winding up matters for the day, as it was becoming late in the evening. “And, of course, Uspak is doomed guilty l’” “Nay, nay !” was the answer; “he is not indeed.” “How comes that ?” inquired the old man. “There was found a flaw. Your son had set the action afoot illegally.” “Hal” exclaimed Ofeigr; “have you any objection to a poor old body, such as me, coming within the doomring 2 ” “None in the world !” So he tottered into the circle and sat down. “Well!” quoth the old gentleman; “I can't quite understand what you have told me. Actually, Uspak is acquitted— So I understand you—though his guilt was as clear as daylight.” “There was legal exception taken l’’ With an expression of amazement, he exclaimed— “How could you allow a trifle like that to interfere with the course of justice so that you have acquitted a depraved