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A SAGA ABOUT GREENLAND.
(<3BC. A.D. 986 — 99.)
To the south of this well-watered plain, over which our eyes reach to the horizon in full view of the white peaks of Tindfjalla, is a farm named Tratharholt, crowning a toft which rises out of green meads and almost impassable swamps.
This hillock was occupied by farm buildings in 986, when my story begins.
It then belonged to a bonder, Thorgils, who lived on it, surrounded by his family and friends.
The farmer was a man of strong convictions. Having satisfied his own mind that the religion of the (Esir was false, and that Christianity opened a more glorious future to man, besides being more accordant with his own internal convictions of morality, Thorgils received baptism, and remained ever after a staunch adherent to the true faith. He did not exactly become a model Christian, but he acted consistently with the little light given him, and that is saying a great deal for any man.
One idea he certainly had grasped, that he owed a chivalrous obedience to Christ as his Monarch; but of the laws which govern the Kingdom of Grace, and the obligations which he had incurred on his admission into it, he was profoundly ignorant.
Thorgils' own disposition prevented him from acquiring the requisite knowledge; for he was passionately fond of change; and the love of visiting new scenes was so strongly implanted in his soul, that not even the fertility of the meadows around Tratharholt could attach him to a quiet life, and restrain him from indulging in his natural roving propensities. However, he had spent several years at his fair farm, and kept himself from vegetating by squabbles with his neighbours, and by litigation with his brother chiefs.
* Ftoamanna Saga, chap. 20 — 24, 28, 29, in Fornsbgur, Leipz. 1860.
At last, on an inauspicious day, came a message from Eirek the Red, the discoverer of Greenland, begging Thorgils to pay him a visit, and assist him in colonizing the new country.
. This was a proposal after the bonder's own heart: he fired up with enthusiasm at once; and if Greenland had been Paradise, he could not have been more impatient of the delay which the rigour of winter imposed on him of postponing his voyage till the summer.
"What think you of this expedition to Greenland?" asked Thorgils one night of his good woman; "people do say that Eirek is becoming enormously wealthy."
"You must please yourself about going," answered Thorey, his wife; "but the voyage is long and boisterous enough to make me shrink at the notion of it. I have become much attached to Tratharholt!"
"My dear," quoth the bonder, "lean think and dream of nothing but Greenland, with its glorious meadows and rich mountain pastures; so that I shall have no rest till I have seen it with my own eyes. But there is no necessity for you to accompany me at present. If you prefer it, you can remain at home and keep house till I return and report the state of the country."
"No! sweet friend!" replied the housewife; "wherever you go I shall follow, only I have no great forebodings of success."
The husband added, "I have been talking matters over with your foster-father, Josteinn, and he is already half inclined to join me in my venture, and bring along with him that termagant of a wife of his, and his fine strapping boys, Eolr and Skarkathr. Oar son, Thorleif, shall also accompany us, and he is a man of experience after his Norway voyage. So, you see, we shall be quite a family party!"
When summer was well set in, all was ready for the voyage. Thorgils had purchased a vessel conjointly with Josteinn, and had laden it with all things necessary for farming in Greenland. Both of the bonders brought a select party of thralls to manage the vessel and tend the cattle in the new settlement. Unfortunately, Thorgils' little daughter sickened at the last moment, and had to be left behind with a friendly farmer, as it was impossible to delay sailing till her recovery.
On the eve of departure, Thorgils had a dream. A mighty red-bearded figure stood before him, brandishing a heavy mallet.
"I am Thor!" spoke the apparition; "you have renounced me for the white Christ. I shall be your foe, unless you return to my worship. Storm and tempest, or soft breezes, are at your choice. I can fan you swiftly to your new home over a blue scarce-ruffled deep, or sink you like lead with one blow of my hammer, in the green, boiling ocean."
"Be off!" exclaimed Thorgils; "I care little for your threats. I commit my course to Him whom the winds and the sea obey."
"Follow me!" said Thor, and his voice was loud and wrathful like the mutter of thunder among the icefields of Eyjafjalla.
In his dream the bonder fancied that he was led by the red-bearded one to the summit of a bluff overhanging the sea.
A brown ragged rack was creeping up the heavens; puffs of wind made cat's-paws on the palpitating bosom of the deep, and then sighed through the stunted grass of the headland.
The god raised his hand, and with a howl the gale descended. Billows heaped themselves up, and thundered against the crags, shivering into white eddies of foam and drifts of brine.
As far as the eye could stretch was a wild dancing ocean, working like yeast, the wave tops cut off by the squall and sent flying in scuds of bitter spray. Gulls wheeled and plunged amongst the foam, Mother Gary's chickens fleeted through the hissing tumbling surf.
For one moment the sun shone forth above the northern horizon, sending a streak of flame over the god's stern countenance, and then it went down beyond the seething deep, leaving wind and sea to their wild strife, in the gloom of night.
"Such storms await you!" saidThor; "be advised in time, and sacrifice to me."
"Never, never!" cried the dreamer; "away with you, foul tempter! He who ransomed earth by His precious blood, shall guard and keep me ever!"
Then the vision faded from his eyes, and Thorgils awoke. His wife was softly breathing in sleep at his side. He roused her, and related to her his strange dream.
"This bodes ill!" she said; "were I to see such a vision, I should hardly venture on the deep."
"It is too late to change plans," quoth Thorgils; "now we must make the best of a bad business, and keep the dream from Josteinn and the rest."
The sun came out right gloriously on the morning of departure. A breeze sprang up and filled the white sail; the gallant vessel stood out to sea; the snowy heads of the Jokulls lessened in the wake: all promised fair for a prosperous voyage.
Alas! this fair beginning was speedily cut short by storms succeeding each other in rapid succession, so that the ship was beaten about day after day, and week after week, with scarcely any intermission.
The men were worn out with the continued toil of bailing, and the exhaustion of a sickness which had carried off some of the thralls, and left others in a state of great debility. Food ran scarce, and most of the cattle on board perished. The water in the vats was expended, and thirst was quenched by rain and snow.
After the voyage had fated three maniiha, Tiorgilj became aware that Josteinn'a men. were m^frr-^frTiIR a sacrifice, to propitiate the offended god of thunder and tempest.
He at once grasped an axe, and walking afn, said to the mnrmnrers, MI understand that you propose offering to Thor ! Now mark my words. I sh^IT split the head of the first man who dares do such a thing, and fl:ng him overboard to the fishes."
The bonder spoke with determination; and as he was known to be a man of his word, no one ventured to disobey his wishes.
That night Thor appeared to him again. "Have not my threats proved true?" he asked. "The equinox is at hand, and then these gales will redouble their fury. Return to your old faith, and in seven days you shall be in port."
"Though by rejecting you, I should ensure my never seeing land again, I would renounce yon utterly and for ever!"
The god looked at Thorgils with a grave expression; then he said, deliberately, "Though you cut yourself off from me completely, yet pay me my due!"
Thorgils was sorely puzzled at the god's last words, and it was not till morning had broken that their signification flashed across him.
He then remembered having vowed a calf to Thor in his heathen days; this calf had grown into an old cow, and was at that time on board ship.
"If the demon wants the creature he shall have her; one must abide by a promise!" said the bonder: so he cast the beast overboard, notwithstanding his wife's urgent expostulations and representations of the destitution to which they were approaching. "A promise is a promise, even though made to a devil!" quoth Thorgils.
Shortly after this, a bank of snowy Jokulls rose above the horizon, and on the morrow the ship's head was turned towards a bay, girt in between ice mountains, and with a pleasant pebbly beach to the west, up which the surf hissed and tumbled.