Read CHAPTER II of Gudrid the Fair A Tale of the Discovery of America , free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on

Orme was a friend of Thorbeorn’s, and a prosperous man.  He lived at Erne Pillar, which is below Snaefellness, and near the sea.  There was a haven there and a town.  Moreover it was a Christian settlement, with a church and a priest.  Most of the houses and land there belonged to Orme, who lived in a good house of his own with his wife Halldis.  They had no children, which was a grief to them.

Thorbeorn brought Gudrid to the house, and had a good reception from the goodman and his wife.  “Take her with you, good wife, into your bower,” he said, “while I have a word with Orme.  He will tell you all about it, or I will.  It is good for me to be sure that it makes no matter which of us tells you.”

Halldis said, it was easy to see that Gudrid was not making a short stay, and took her with her through the house into the bower.  There, it was not long before she knew all that Thorbeorn or Orme could have to say, and may be more still.

Meantime, Thorbeorn, after much unnecessary havers, said to Orme:  “The matter is this, neighbour.  I ask you and the goodwife to take Gudrid here in fostership.  It will suit me in every way, and I hope you will agree to it.”

Orme said that it would suit him too very well.  “Nothing the mistress would like better than to see herself reflected in a young pair of eyes.”  Thorbeorn accepted that as a matter of course; but presently he asked whether they saw much company at Erne Pillar.

Not such a deal of company, Orme said.  Now and again a ship came in, and there was a bustle, with men coming and going, cheapening the goods.  “Nothing to you at Bathbrink, I daresay,” he added.  “They tell me that you keep a great house up there — as is fitting you should.”

“I have to remember what is expected of me,” Thorbeorn said, and felt that he was no nearer what he wanted to say than he had been.

“Gudrid is young,” he said, beginning again.

“She’s a beauty, it’s evident,” Orme said briskly, and instantly Thorbeorn felt himself bristling down the backbone.

“She is sought after on all hands — but not by any who is to my liking.  I hope that Halldis will look after her well.”

“She will look after her like one of her own,” said Orme.  Thorbeorn had rather he had said more than that.  He could not understand that Orme did not see what was at stake, and yet could not enlighten him further.  The good wife then came springing in.

“She will be happy, and so shall we be,” she said.  “I have a roomy heart, too long empty, woe’s me.  She will soon be singing about the house, and then we old folks will fall to it.  It will be like a nest of linnets.  She will scour our rusty pipes for us.  Excellent!”

Thorbeorn was put out that they seemed to think it pure pleasure to have his daughter on their hands instead of great responsibility and a call to duty.

“Well,” he said, “you have helped me with a serious trouble.  I leave her to you with confidence.  Where is she now?  For I must be going.”

“She is with the girls in the wash-house,” said Halldis.  “All chattering together like starlings on a thatch.  All talking at once, and none listening.  Do you wish her fetched?”

“No,” said Thorbeorn, waving his hand.  “She will do better where she is.”  He felt the impossibility of saying what he wished.  Then he took his way homewards, and the couple looked at each other.

“A love affair,” Halldis said.

“It looks like it,” said Orme.  “And there will be love affairs.  She’s a paragon.”

“That remains to be seen,” Halldis said.  “She’s a beauty at least.  But a baby as yet.  Wait till she’s cut her teeth.”

“I hope she won’t cut them here,” said Orme; but his wife said briskly, “Better here than there.”  Halldis could see through Thorbeorn and pity his barren pride.

Gudrid was happy at Erne Pillar, and soon very much at home.  She had found her voice at once, and now she began to find herself.  Her discoveries were made in the appreciative eyes of her foster-parents, for that is the first place in which we get our notion of ourselves.  The portrait encouraged her.  She became interesting to herself.  Then there were the neighbours, often in and out of the house, but always under the heedful eyes of the good wife.  Then there were the ships.  Last there were the priest, and his little church.  All the people at Erne Pillar had been christened, as had Thorbeorn himself been; but there was a great difference when you had a priest and a church.  The priest at Erne Pillar was a serious priest.  He said Mass every day, and expected you, or some of you, to be there.  Now Thorbeorn, Christian though he were, had never been to Mass in his life.  His Christianity consisted in turning his back on Frey.  Frey had been the chief God at Bathbrink and in all the country round.  Thorbeorn had been Frey’s priest at one time, but now would have nothing to say to him; and as for Gudrid, she had never known anything herself about Frey or the other gods, but had been sprinkled as soon as she could be carried down to Erne Pillar.  That, so far, had been the utmost of her Christianity.  But she had heard plenty of talk about the old gods; and now she was to hear more about them, and something of the new gods too.

Orme and Halldis had both been heathens and knew a deal about Frey and Redbeard, as they called Thor.  Orme was not interested in religion at all; but Halldis was.  Halldis kept well with the priest, but on certain nights of the year — on the night they called The Mother Night, for instance — she was restless, and used to go to the door and stand there looking out at the moonlight, as if she would be off with the others if she dared.  That, too, was what plenty other women at Erne Pillar were doing; but none of them went.  The priest saw to it.  Halldis taught Gudrid numberless songs — charms, incantations, love spells, and long, terrible tales about Valkyrs and their human lovers.  The girl came to understand that love might become a tearing, wringing business, and marriage a tame road for life to take.  Halldis’s songs were seldom about marriage, but always about love.  The two only came together in the same song when it was a case of a giant with a woman for his wife, or a Valkyr with a man for her husband.  These cases, it seems, had often occurred.  They were exciting and ended in tears — but not often in marriage as well.

She went to Mass first of all with Halldis, but afterwards, as often as not, she went alone.  Halldis had plenty to do at home.  If she kept to what was of obligation she thought she did very well.  But Gudrid liked the quiet and darkness; she used to stare at the lights till they multiplied themselves and danced like shooting stars.  She liked the murmur of the words, and the mysterious movements and shiftings of the priest.  When he lifted up the Host, she bowed her head, and used to hear her heart beating.  She supposed that something was happening overhead, and used to listen for the rushing sound of wings.  This was a constantly renewed excitement; it never failed her when she was well — and that was always.

The priest, who was a serious priest, and came from the south, was interested in Gudrid, and wanted her to confess and communicate; but she would not.  “No, I couldn’t do that,” she said, “without asking my foster-mother.”

“Ask her, then, my daughter,” said the priest.

“But she would have to ask my father,” said Gudrid, “who would not allow it.”

“But your father is a Christian, surely?” said the priest.

“Certainly he is a Christian.  He went into the river to be one.”

“Then he will order you to do your duty.”

Gudrid shook her head.  “No, no.  He would not like it at all.”

The priest spoke to Halldis about it, and scared her.  “It is not the custom here,” she said, “but I will ask Orme.”  The priest himself asked Orme, who rubbed his chin.  “One thing at a time is a good rule,” he said.  “We in Iceland are not much given to private talks between men and women.  Husband and wife is all very well.  And Thorbeorn is a peculiar man.  I recommend you to wait for a little.  These are early days for new customs.”

The priest was vexed.  He did not care to be called a man.