Page images

to exterminate, the worthy man grasped his sword and rushed down upon them. The poor creatures took to flight, but did not relinquish their stock of food till Thorgils had hewn off one of their hands. This stock of victuals was a great catch, and so long as it lasted the work of boat-building progressed rapidly. The baby was not yet weaned : it seemed to be tolerably healthy, and engrossed its father's whole affection. The bonder washed and dressed his child every day, and brought it to the beach when he went to work on the new smack, that the little one might be near him, and might amuse itself with shells and pebbles. Winter passed, and with summer the settlers put to sea in their vessel. They kept the Jökulls on one side of them and the ice-fields, which covered the ocean, on the other, steering due south. The coast of Greenland presents a succession of scenes of savage beauty. Bare crags of black trap, 2,000 feet high, capped by beds of ice, rise abruptly from the water, or terraces of alternate snow and rock soar into the clouds. Stony needles start out of the seas, and their bases in summer are white with foam. Deep inlets between mural precipices crowned by ice, wind for many miles inland, and terminate in glaciers of prodigious magnitude. These fjords, now twinkling in the sun, now shaded in gloom, are the resort of countless wild-fowl, relieving the desolation of the landscape. Icy platforms dip to the sea from the high table land of the interior, and their tall blue cliffs, continually undermined by the surge, fall into the waves with a roar like thunder, and stud the sea with icebergs. At rare intervals, a sheltered bay is green with meadows and bushes of service tree, willow, and birch, but the prevailing hues of the shore are black and white. The settlers wintered in a little island, the caves of which Were thronged with seals; and when summer came they put to sea again. Among the rocks they found the eggs of a black-backed

gull; and the poor fellows boiled them, and gave one to the child, who eat half of it, but declined taking any more. On their asking him the reason, he replied that all around him stinted themselves in food, so he would stint himself also. A broken oar washed up on the shingle gave the men hopes that they were nearing inhabited country. A few days after this they reached a craggy frith, and ran the boat ashore. Thorleif and his foster-brothers brought out the tent and pitched it on a grassy spot, whilst his father went in search of eggs and shell-fish. The kettle was brought on land, and drift-wood was collected for a fire, as the weather was still piercingly cold. After a scanty supper all went to sleep, intending to spend a few days in the fjord fishing, as their provisions had run short, and then to continue their course. Kolr was the first to wake next morning, and he went down to the shore. The boat was nowhere to be seen. The young man returned to the tent, and without saying a word lay down. Thorleif rose next, and he descended to the sands. His heart sank when he found that the little smack was gone; and he also lay down again, without having the courage to tell his father of their loss. Thorgils woke now, and went out of the tent, followed by Kolr and Thorleif, both silent and crushed by the disaster. When the truth flashed upon him, he saw that all hopes of life were gone. Jökulls flanked the fjord, the beach was too diminutive to allow for much lodgment of drift-wood, so that there was no chance of the men being able to build house or boat, and the situation, exposed to the north, would be insupportable through the winter. “The baby!” moaned Thorgils, and his eye flashed wildly with despair; take the poor little thing, Thorleif' and put it to death, that it may not languish with starvation before my eyes.”

“Father l’’ exclaimed Thorleif, “I cannot do what you bid me.” “Kolr! then you take it. There are no hopes of our ever being able to leave this spot.” And when the men hesitated, Thorgils started up, with all the savageness of frenzy, and dared them to disobey him. The two young men then went to the tent, lifted the child, and walked away with it. “You must slay it,” said Kolr; “I have not the heart to do it myself.” “Never !” answered Thorleif.; “it would ill become me to kill my little brother. Besides, I know full well that if the child dies, my father will pine away. We had better leave the little fellow somewhere out of sight, till the first agony of despair is past.” Kolr gladly acquiesced, and little Thorfin was placed in a Sunny nook, and left to play with the buds and mosses around him. On the return of the youths to the tent, Thorgils asked after the child, and when he learned that they had not killed it, he grasped their hands, and thanked them fervently for having spared the little life so dear to him. Then he ran to the spot where his baby lay, and hugged it passionately to his breast. He would not part with the poor thing now, but kept it locked in his arms throughout the night. Next morning he woke Thorleif to tell him his dream. “I fancied myself back at Tratharholt,” said he ; “and I saw a swan come in at the door. It shunned me at first, but presently I caught the white bird, and stroked its soft feathers. Then it laid its neck on my shoulder, and caressed me with its bill.” “This dream signifies, that you shall marry a young wife, father 1 and that at first she will care little for you, but after a while, she will love you very tenderly.” “I dreamed again,” continued Thorgils; “and methought I sat in the garden of Tratharholt. Seven leeks grew around me and waxed great, so that they spread till they filled the garden. But one of them shot higher than all the rest, and its head resembled a cluster of golden flowers.” “Father that signifies that you shall have seven children, and that their descendants will spread through Iceland; of them shall spring one who is to excel all the others.” “I dreamed once more,” said Thorgils, “and saw my guardian spirits come to me and bid me cheer up, for that they had brought my boat again to shore.” Then he started up, girded on his sword, and hurried down to the strand. The little smack was soon found, washed up in a creek; and, near at hand, was something which was calculated equally to rejoice the poor man's heart. This was a bear with one of its fore arms broken, and nearly dead with cold, struggling in a crack of the ice, trying to scramble up on the hummock from which it had slipped. Thorgils drew his sword, leaped towards the beast, and smote it to the heart. Then catching at its ears, to prevent Bruin from sinking, he called for Thorleif to assist him in drawing it out of the water. When the brute was brought to land, it was found to have been frost-bitten in its foot; “hence,” says the Saga writer, “you may judge how Thorgils must have suffered from the severity of the cold and frosts.” This godsend was soon skinned and cut up. Thorgils portioned off each man's share, and put aside that which was to be reserved for another time. The poor starving fellows were wofully disappointed, to see how little he set before each. “You give scanty rations, father l’” said Thorleif. “My boy!” answered the bonder, “we do not need food now in the same degree as we shall when we are hard at work.” Soon after this, Thorgils and his party rowed off, and kept farther out to sea than had been hitherto possible. Their advance was very slow. Sometimes they had to lift their boat out of the water, and carry it across a sheet of

ice; at other times, they pushed it through rifts in the icefloes, which were too narrow to admit of their rowing. They suffered severely from thirst. On one occasion, Starkathr asked leave of Thorgils to wring into a quiver the shirts drenched with perspiration, from the toil of continual rowing. The bonder would neither forbid nor give consent, and the poor fellows succeeded in extracting, by this means, a scanty supply. But before tasting it, they offered the few drops to Thorgils. He took the quiver from their hands and rose up in the boat. The men watched him, expecting that he would propose a toast, as he held the arrow-case before him, looking into it thoughtfully. Then, stepping to the bows, he poured it out, exclaiming— “Foul fiend I thou hast plagued us too long ! Now, in the name of God, I bid thee depart, and molest us no more l’’ As he said the words, there was a rustling in the bows, and a large bird, strange and hideous, something like an auk, rose from among the tackle, and, spreading its wings, flew north, hoarsely croaking. “Thanks be to God!” said Thorgils. “We are delivered from the hands of our enemy; our privations are over and we shall now meet with success.” A glistening heap of ice was at no great distance from the boat; the men pulled towards it, and found that the hollows were full of the purest water, which had trickled from the sides of the iceberg, as the sun melted its glittering spires. Shortly after this they made for land, and ran the boat up on the shore of a small island. Here they found a tent, and, on entering it, discovered one of the runaway thralls in the last stage of sickness. He told them that he had been forced by the others to join them; that he had secured nothing of the stolen property, except the tent; and that he was guiltless of the blood of Thorey, who had been murdered by the thrall Snoekollr. Before Thorgils and the others left the island, the unhappy man died, and they buried him in the sands by the shore.

« PreviousContinue »