« PreviousContinue »
scoundrel, who is both a thief and a murderer. This is what I call giving verdict against all right and equity.” They replied that there was a difference between equity and common law, and that though morally Uspak might be criminal, yet legally he was guiltless. “May be l’” said Ofeigr, with an incredulous shake of his head; “but your oaths, dear lifel To think of the oaths you have taken l’’ “What of them ?” “Why, did you not swear, on your admission to the seat of justice, that your finding would be according to truth, equity and law; was it not so 2° The judges answered in the affirmative. Then Ofeigr said, “And what could be more according to equity, than that he who slew an innocent man, who is moreover a deliberate thief, should be sentenced to outlawry. Think! Is it not better to follow the dictates of conscience, to judge truly and righteously, than according to the letter of the law. A very serious responsibility is incurred by those who undertake to judge in a court of law, for they are not only bound by the laws under which they act, but they have to answer to a much higher tribunal—that of their own consciences. Conscience is a tender plant, which should not be tampered with. I am an old man, my hair is grey, and I feel daily more keenly the necessity of obeying conscience above all things. I am pained for you, dear friends ! as I know what a heavy load your consciences will have to bear, not only for having given wrong judgment this day, but for having thereby violated your solemn oath to judge according unto right.” The old man had allowed the bag of silver to slide from beneath his cloak during this address, and had then hitched it up again. He noticed that the eyes of the judges had followed the purse; so he continued— “It would be perhaps as well to reconsider your verdict, and to judge righteously and with justice, and thus secure the friendship of all good and upright men.”
As he spoke, he poured the silver out before him, and began counting it into little heaps. “It is quite pleasant to find myself here among old friends,” said Ofeigr; “and really, I cannot resist the temptation of making you all a little present, just by way of keeping up old acquaintance. So please, my judges, accept an ounce of silver apiece, and you who break up the action, half a mark each. Dear friends and relatives, oaths are too sacred and solemn to be tampered with. Excuse my anxiety for your welfare, in thus pointing out to you the path of duty.” The judges looked very solemn, and conscience began to gnaw like a worm. The sin of violating an oath struck them in a way it had never struck them before. They came round to Ofeigr’s way of thinking, pocketed the silver, reviewed the suit, sent for Oddr, hurried through the legal forms, declared Uspak guilty, and then the court broke up. Nothing transpired during the night; but, next morning, Oddr stood up and called aloud: “Hear all ! a man, hight Uspak, was outlawed last night in the northern quarter court, for the slaying of Wali. As a mark by which he may be recognized, know all that he is a large-built man, has brown hair, high cheek-bones, large hands, and a sturdy pair of legs.” People stared, for few had heard of the proceedings during the night, and it was thought that Oddr had acted with wonderful skill in having got his case through. Styrmir and Thorarinn were much disconcerted at the action having terminated thus, and at their becoming the butt of every one's jokes. Matters could not stop thus, that was certain; so they assembled their kinsmen, Hermundr, Gellir, Egill, Járnskeggi, Skeggbroddi, and Thorgeir, and these eight took an oath that they would hold together, till they had driven Oddr to self-doom or outlawry. It was called self-doom when a defendant threw himself on the mercy of the plaintiff, and Paid any fine which his antagonist chose to demand. Next spring they rode to Melr, and summoned Oddr for having used bribery in the law court. Oddr took things easily, and did not trouble himself much about the impending Suit, till his father warned him of its serious nature, and of the impossibility of his escaping the sentence of banishment, unless he followed his advice. “And what is that ?” asked Oddr. “My advice is,” said the old man, “that you get your chattels on board ship, as soon as all men go to the annual Thing, and that you cruise about, waiting to hear the end of the action. I will go to the council, but you must provide me with a good bag of silver, in case of emergencies.” Oddr obeyed; and no one was aware of the arrangement except himself and his father. The Thing met, and the eight confederates were in high glee, for they were satisfied that no one would venture to oppose this action, so that they could easily carry it through court. One day the old man, Ofeigr, in a brown study, limped out of his booth, shaking his head sadly, for no man of consequence could he find, who would lend his support to Oddr against the banded chieftains, for love or money. The aged man's knees shook under him, as he lurched from side to side, moving among the booths. At last he came to that of Egill, one of those who were banded together, and hung about the door, weighed down by his infirmities, whilst some men were talking within to Egill. When they walked out, Ofeigr hobbled in and greeted Egill, who looked at him, and asked his name. He told it. “Then you have come to speak about your son's case: that won't do. I have no leisure for it, and it is useless your thinking of talking me over; I am only one among many, who are involved in this suit.” “No, no,” croaked Ofeigr; “I am but a stupid old man, who dearly loves a bit of gossip with clever and courtly gentlemen like you, so you will oblige me, I know, by letting me listen to you, whilst you talk.” “Well, I have not the least objection | Come and sit by me, and we can chat on indifferent matters; only indifferent ones, mind l "
“Quite so,” answered the old rogue. “So you are a landowner, Egill, I hear, and have got a venerable mansion, out at Borg.”
“I hear all sorts of things about you, Egill. You are just a man to my fancy. You don't stint any man of his food, but keep open house. I so like old-fashioned hospitality. And you are fond of company, and love to have a house full. That is so very nice, so prince-like, I must say !” “I am glad you think so,” quoth Egill, smiling; “for I have always heard that you are a man whose opinion is worth something, and you are a man of good family, too !” “Ah ! it is all very civil of you to say that l” answered Ofeigr; “but I'm a man of little consequence, and make no pretention to a place among the landed gentry of Iceland. Whilst you—you are quite one of our leading aristocrats. More's the pity that you should be short of cash, and unable to keep up your former hospitality.” “Ay! but the tide will turn I reckon on getting some pretty good pickings soon,” quoth Egill, slily. “You do 1" exclaimed Ofeigr; “I am positively delighted to hear you say so. But where will they come from, tell me 2'' “Well,” answered Egill; “since you ask me, I answer that we confederates reckon on getting Oddr's money; and he is so wealthy that the eighth part, which is to be my share, will quite set me up.” “I can give you every information on that head; perhaps, you may wish to know, with precision, what you may expect to obtain.” “You are an excellent, shrewd old man: I long to hear!” answered Egill. “Then you may calculate on receiving precisely one-sixteenth portion of the land of Melr, a few acres of irreclaimable bog : that will be your share, nothing more 1 The law officers have a right to half of all confiscated property, the other half
will be divided among you who are banded together.”
“Nonsense, man l' exclaimed Egill, with vehemence; “how can you make that out, when your son is one of the wealthiest bonders in the island 2 There are his goods and chattels—l’’ “Do you really think that Oddr would be such a fool as to let his moveable goods fall into your hands 2 Between ourselves—but don't breathe a word of this to any one else— my boy has shipped everything which could be got away, and is now cruising rather near to your home at Borg. I suppose that outlawry will be a matter of indifference to him at sea, and with all the world before him. My son knows, of course, that you are opposing him. He is not far from the Borgarfjord, rather near your house, unpleasantly near perhaps, for I presume that the venerable mansion is left undefended.” Egill became very red and uncomfortable; he took a turn up and down the booth, and then, reseating himself, said, “The case is altered certainly. I wish to goodness that I had never become involved in it ! We confederates shall become the joke of the whole island; confound it ! I have been reckoning on making a pretty penny out of this l My purse is drained, and, confound it ! I shall not be able to scrape through another winter without some windfall dropping in. I might have expected that Oddr would never suffer us to pounce on his moveable goods ! A nice mess I am in, to be sure l’’ “Come, come !” said the old man; “things are not yet at their blackest. You are not yet the laughing-stock of all Iceland, not yet starved out of house and home, not yet constrained to sell the venerable mansion. I suppose that you must be uncommonly badly off for cash just now, well !” and the big money-bag began to dance up and down on the old man's knee. Egill's eyes lighted on it, and Ofeigr at once drew it from under his cloak, saying, “I should quite like to make you a little present, Egill !” Then he untied the bag, and poured two hundred pieces of silver into Egill's lap. “There now !” quoth Ofeigr; “accept this from me, and