Read CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN of The Norsemen in the West , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

DISAPPOINTMENT TERMINATES IN UNLOOKED-FOR SUCCESS, AND THE SAGA COMES TO AN END.

During some weeks after the events narrated in the last chapter, the Scottish brothers continued quietly, stealthily, and steadily to collect provisions and all things necessary for the projected voyage across the Atlantic.

During the same period the general business of the settlement was prosecuted with activity.  The Christian missionaries not only instructed the people in the new faith, and baptised those that believed, but assisted and guided them in the building of huts and houses, the planning of wharves and the laying out of townships; while the crews of the two recently arrived ships, having found it necessary to make up their minds to winter in Greenland, busied themselves in collecting fats, oil, skins, feathers, etcetera, to be packed and got ready for shipment in the following spring.

Karlsefin also made preparations for a voyage in spring to Iceland, and Thorward, Biarne, Krake, and the other Vinland heroes assisted in that work, or in some other of the multifarious duties that had to be attended to in the colony, while Olaf undertook the responsible duty of superintending the education, mental and physical, of that rampant little Vinlander, Snorro, the son of Karlsefin.

Leif Ericsson exercised a sort of general superintendence of the whole colony.  It seemed to be tacitly agreed on and admitted that he was the national chief or governor, and as no one was disposed to dispute his claim to that position all was peace and harmony.

Nevertheless there was something unusual in Leif’s manner at that time which rather perplexed his friends, and quite puzzled Anders, his major-domo.

That free and easy individual could not understand the dreamy moods into which his master fell, still less could he comprehend the gleams of quiet humour and expressions of intense seriousness, with other contradictory appearances, which occasionally manifested themselves in Leif’s visage and demeanour.  It was plain that there was much on his mind, and that much of that was gay as well as grave.  Anders made several attempts to find out what was the matter, but was met at one time with grave evasion, at another with quiet jocularity, which left him as wise as before.

Towards the Scottish brothers Leif maintained an unvarying aspect of reserve, which filled them with uneasiness; but with the female members of his household, and the children, he was all gentleness, and often playful.

“Leif,” said Karlsefin to him one day, “it appears to me that something weighs on your mind, or else ye have left some of your wits in Vinland.”

“Think ye not that the cares of such a large and growing colony are sufficient to account for any new wrinkles that may appear on my brow?” replied Leif, with a peculiar smile, and a glance from the corner of his eye.

“Well, I daresay that might account for it, and yet things are swimming on so well that these cares do not seem to be much increased.”

“Sometimes domestic cares trouble a man more than public ones, Karlsefin.  Look at thy friend Thorward, now.  ’Tis little that he would care for a mountain of outside troubles on his broad shoulders if he might only drop them when he crossed the threshold of his own door.”

“That is true,” returned the other; “if a man have not peace in his own house, there is no peace for him on earth.  Nevertheless my friend Thorward is not in such a bad case.  Freydissa has improved vastly of late, and Thorward has also grown more amiable and less contradictions- add to which, he and she love each other dearly.  But, Leif, there can be no domestic troubles in your case, for your household is well ordered.”

“Thank God there are none,” said Leif seriously.  It was the first time that Leif had used that expression, and his friend heard it with some surprise and pleasure, but said nothing.

“Still,” continued Leif, “I am not destitute of troubles.  Has not that thrall Hake overturned the peace of my sweet kinswoman Bertha?  The girl loves the thrall-I can see that, as plain as I can see the vane on yonder mast-head-and there is no cure for love!”

Karlsefin looked earnestly at his friend as if about to speak, but observing the stern frown on Leif’s countenance, he forbore.

In a minute or so Karlsefin remarked quietly that Hake was a faithful thrall.

“I’m not so sure of that as ye seem to be,” returned Leif, with increasing sternness, “but, whether faithful or not, no thrall shall ever wed Bertha.”

“What is that you say about Bertha?” asked Biarne, coming up just then.

“Nothing of moment,” replied Leif.  “What news bring you, Biarne? for that ye bring news is plain by the glance of your eye.”

“My eye is an incorrigible tell-tale,” cried Biarne, laughing.  “However, it has not much to tell at present.  Only that you are about to receive a visit from some old friends, and that Anders will have to keep his kettles full for some time to come.  A band of Skraelingers are .  But here they come to speak for themselves.”

At that moment a troop of the Greenland savages came round the point- the identical point where they had received such a terrible shock some years before-with Flatface dancing joyously in front of them.

Flatface had heard of their coming, had gone out to meet them, had found several of his relations among them, and was now returning, scarce able to contain himself with delight, as he made their mouths water by dilating at great length on the delicious things contained in Anders’s capacious kettles.

While Leif and the others went to meet the Skraelingers, Heika and his brother sat in their own sleeping-closet, talking in a low tone, and making the final arrangements for their flight.

“Now are ye sure that all is on board-nothing omitted?” asked Hake, “for it will be hard to obtain anything once we are out on the sea, and we can’t well return to fetch what we have forgotten.”

“All is ready,” answered Heika sadly.  “I cannot tell how much it grieves me to go away in this fashion; but freedom must be regained at any price.  Now remember, meet me exactly when the moon shows its upper edge above the sea to-night.  Not later, and not sooner, for the longer ye can remain about the hall the less likely will any one be to inquire after me.”

“I will be sure not to fail you; but, Heika, is that not a little too late?  The flood-tide will be past, and if there is any sea on, it will be ill passing the skerries, many of which are but little covered, even at high water.”

“Trust me, Hake; it will not be too late.  Be sure that ye come no sooner-else evil may ensue.”

“My heart sinks when I think of Bertha,” said Hake, with a deep sigh.  “It will seem so cold, so hard, so unaccountable, to leave her without one word, one farewell.”

“Think better of it, brother,” said Heika eagerly; “I am prepared to start alone even now!”

“Never!” exclaimed Hake, flushing,-“What? shall I draw back like a coward at the last moment, after pledging my word to go? and shall I leave you to face this enterprise alone?  Nay, Heika, we have suffered for many years together, we shall triumph now together-or perish.”

“My poor brother,” said Heika, grasping Hake’s hand, and kissing it with deep feeling.-“But go now to the hall, and leave me; I hear them laying the tables for supper.  The window is easily removed; I will hasten at once and get things ready.  Take good care not to re-enter this closet after leaving it, for the carls are moving about the hall, and may chance to observe that it is empty.  Be circumspect, brother.”

They squeezed hands again, and Hake went into the hall, where he mingled with the house-carls, and chatted carelessly about the events of the day.

The instant he was gone Heika rose and removed the parchment window, took a billet of firewood and laid it across the bed, then, leaping out, he walked smartly towards the west end of the village.

It was beginning to grow dark, and few of the people were about.  To those whom he passed Heika nodded familiarly, but did not stop.  The moment he had rounded the cliff which hid Brattalid from view, he ran westward at full speed.

Meanwhile supper was laid in the hall, and all were awaiting the entrance of the master of the house and Karlsefin, but there was no appearance of either.  After a quarter of an hour had passed, and they were beginning to wonder what had become of them, the door opened and Biarne entered, saying that Leif had sent him to say that as he had business which would keep him out late, they were not to wait supper for him.

Hake began to feel somewhat uneasy at this, and when supper was finished he resolved to leave the house a little before the appointed time.  For that purpose he entered the sleeping-closet, intending to pass out by the window.

The first thing that caught his eye was the billet of firewood lying across the bed!  His heart almost stood still at the sight, for this, coupled with Heika’s display of deep feeling, and their recent conversation about signs, caused the truth to flash upon him.

With one bound he passed through the window and flew westward like the wind-round the point, over the ridge, and down towards the appointed rendezvous at the skerries.

But, to return to Heika.  When he neared the inlet he changed his pace to a rapid walk, and glanced cautiously from side to side, to make quite sure that he was not observed by any one who might chance to have wandered in that direction.

Now, it is a well-known fact in the affairs of this world, that many strange things occur in a most unaccountable manner.  Who can tell how it was, or why it was that, just a few minutes before Heika approached the inlet from the landward side, a small boat entered it from the seaward side, out of which stepped Leif Ericsson and Karlsefin?  They drew their boat into a corner in deep shadow, and then, going to another corner, also in deep shadow, sat down on a ledge of rock without uttering a single word.

They had never been in that inlet before; had never seen it, probably never thought of it before, yet there they were, quietly seated in it- and, just in the nick of time!

From the place where they sat neither their own boat nor Leif’s could be seen-only the landward opening of the inlet.

Presently approaching footsteps were heard.  The two friends rose.  A moment later and Heika stood before them.  He stopped abruptly on beholding them, and his eyes blazed with astonishment, rage, and despair.  Suddenly he looked round as if in search of a weapon, or of a way of escape.

“Be wise, lad,” said Leif, kindly yet very gravely; “no evil will come of it if ye are wise, and take your misfortunes like a man.”

Heika was subdued by the gentle tone.  He crossed his arms on his heaving chest, and stood erect before them with his head slightly drooped, and a look of profound sadness, rather than disappointment, on his countenance.

“Come hither, Heika,” said Leif, pointing seaward, “I have somewhat to show thee.”

They went down the beach till they stood beside the boat, which was ready for sea.

“This is a strange sight,” he continued; “here is an excellent boat, well found, well loaded, well busked in every way for a long voyage.  Knowest thou aught in regard to it, Heika?”

“I know,” answered the Scot, bitterly, “that if ye had come hither only half-an-hour later, that boat would have been on its way with me to Scotland.”

“What, with you alone?”

“Ay-with me alone.”

“That is strange,” said Leif, somewhat perplexed; “I had fancied that you brothers loved each other passing well; but I suppose that a man who can be guilty of ingratitude is not to be much depended on in the matter of affection.”

Heika winced at these words-not that the charge of ingratitude affected him, but he could not submit calmly to the unjust supposition that in his contemplated flight he had been actuated by selfish indifference to his brother.  At the same time he would not condescend to give any explanation of his conduct.  Drawing himself up, he looked Leif full in the face.

“Norseman,” he said, “small is the gratitude I owe to thee.  ’Tis true, ye have treated me and my brother kindly since we came hither, and for that I owe thee thanks, and would gladly have paid this debt before leaving, had such been consistent with flight; but kindness, however great, is not a worthy price for liberty, and when King Olaf Tryggvisson sent me to thee, I made no promise to sell my liberty at such a price.  But in regard to Hake-”

“Ay, in regard to Hake, go on; why dost thou stop?” said Leif, in a stern tone.  “There is some truth in what ye say about gratitude; but what of Hake?”

The Scot still remained silent, with his lips compressed, and dropped his eyes sternly on the ground.

“This seems to me a bad business,” said Karlsefin, who had hitherto listened with an expression of anxiety and disappointment gradually deepening on his countenance.  “I had thought better of thee, Heika.  Surely Hake’s longing to be free and in his own native land must be to the full as strong as thine.  I am puzzled, moreover, for two were better than one in the mad voyage ye thought to undertake.”

Heika smiled at this.

“Truly,” he said, “my brother loves his native land and freedom, nevertheless he prefers bondage to freedom, and Greenland to his native land.  And yet would he fain have sacrificed his preference, and resigned his bondage out of love to me, if I would have allowed him.”

“Resigned his bondage, Heika!” exclaimed Leif.  “Ye speak in riddles, man; what mean you?”

Instead of replying the Scot looked at Leif with an intelligent smile, and held up his forefinger as if to call attention.  At the same moment the sound as if of some one running at full speed was heard faintly in the distance.

Leif and Karlsefin looked at the Scot in surprise.

“It is my brother,” he said, sadly.

In a few seconds the steps were close at hand.  Leif seized Karlsefin by the arm, and dragged him swiftly under the deep shadow of the cliffs just as Hake came through the narrow opening with such a rush that on seeing Heika he could not avoid plunging violently into his extended arms.

“Was this right in thee, brother?” he cried, laying his hand on Heika’s shoulder, on recovering himself; “was it wise to treat me thus like a child?”

“It was kindly meant,” said Heika, much perplexed as to how he should act in existing circumstances.

“Kindly meant!” exclaimed Hake, vehemently.  “Ay, well do I know that, yet it was not wisely kind to forsake me after promising to take me with you, when ye knew that I did but leave Bertha for a time, and meant to come back and win or demand her from .”

“Hush! brother, hush!” cried Heika, laying his hand on the other’s mouth.  “Whatever I thought or meant to do matters little now, for I have found it impossible to undertake this voyage after all.”

“Impossible!” echoed Hake; “why, what craven spirit has come over thee?  Is not the boat ready? am not I ready, and is not the opportunity favourable?”

“All is ready, no doubt,” replied Heika, hesitating, “but-”

“But the truth is,” cried Leif, as he and Karlsefin issued from their place of concealment, laughing heartily, “the truth is, that the opportunity is not favourable, for I have some objection to either of you leaving me at present-though the objection is not so strong but that it might give way if ye desired it greatly.  Come hither, all of you.”

He went a few steps towards the boat, and pointing to it, said-“Tell me, Hake, for thou art not a bad counsellor at need, dost think that vessel there is a sufficiently large one to venture a voyage in it on these northern seas at this time of year?”

“It is large enough for men who would be free,” replied Hake moodily, for his astonishment on first beholding his master had given place to deep mortification, now that he perceived his brother’s hopes and plans were frustrated.

“Nay, as to being free,” returned Leif, with a laugh, “thy brother hinted not long ago something about thy preference for thraldom, in regard to which I now perceive some glimmering of reason; but I ask thee for a matter-of-fact opinion.  Dost think there would be much risk in the voyage thy brother contemplated?”

“There would be some risk, doubtless, yet not so much but that we would have run it for the sake of freedom.”

“H’m!  In my opinion it would have been a mad venture,” rejoined Leif.  “What say you, Karlsefin?”

“A useless venture, as well as mad,” he replied; “for death, not freedom, would have been the end of it.”

“So I think,” returned Leif, “and that is my only objection to your undertaking it, Hake.  Nevertheless if you and Heika are still willing to venture, ye may do so.  There lies the boat; a fair wind is blowing outside; get on board, shove off, hoist the sail and away to bonny Scotland if you will, for I grant you freedom to go!”

“It is ill to jest with thralls,” said Heika, looking sternly at his master.

“Nay, I do not jest-nor are ye thralls,” replied Leif, assuming a look and tone of unwonted seriousness.  “Give me your attention, friends; and thou, Karlsefin, take note of what I say, for I care not to talk much on this subject until my mind is more clear upon it.  My opinion is that this new religion which we hear so much of just now, is true.  It is of God-not of man, and I believe that Jesus Christ, my Lord, has come in the flesh to save His people from their sins.  Many things have led me to this opinion, in regard to which I will not speak.  I have thought and heard much for some years past, and woefully have I been staggered, as well as helped on, by the men who have been sent to Greenland with the Good News.  Some have, by their conduct squaring with their profession, led me to believe.  Others have, by their conduct belying their profession, hindered me.  But the Lord Himself has led me into a certain measure of light; and there is one law of His in particular, which just now comes home to me with much power, namely this-`Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’  This law, I am persuaded, is of God.  Long have I lived, and never before have I seen it acted on till these Christians came amongst us.  They do not, indeed, always practise as they teach; but they are imperfect, therefore they cannot practise fully as they teach, because they teach perfection.  This law I shall henceforth follow as I best can.  I follow it to-day.  If I were in thraldom to you, Heika, just now, I would wish you to set me free, therefore I now set you and your brother free.  The rule is very simple of application.  It only wants a willing spirit.  And let me add-ye have to thank the Lord, not me, for your freedom.”

The brothers stood speechless with surprise on hearing this, but Karlsefin grasped Leif’s hand and said very earnestly-“Ye have done well, brother.  Long have I thought to urge thee to this, and frequently have I asked of Him that it might be as it has turned out.  Now, my prayer is answered.  But what say Heika and Hake to this?”

“Never mind what they say,” returned Leif brusquely.  “Doubtless their thoughts interfere with their speech at present.  And hark ’ee, all; as I said before, I desire to have no further talk at present on this point.  Ye are welcome to tell whom ye please what I have said, and what I have done, and why I have done it-there let the matter rest.  So now, Heika and Hake,” he added, in a gay tone, “I mean what I say.  There lies the boat, and ye are free to go if it please you.  Only, if ye will accept my advice you will make up your minds to spend this winter in Greenland as my guests, and in spring there will be better weather and a more fitting craft to carry you over the sea to Scotland.  Meanwhile Hake will have ample opportunity to woo, win, and wed-without demanding-the fair Bertha!”

Need we say that the brothers gladly accepted this generous invitation, and endeavoured, in spite of Leif’s prohibition, to express their gratitude in a few earnest though broken sentences.

Great was the surprise that night in Brattalid, when it was made known that Leif Ericsson had given freedom to his thralls out of regard to the Christian religion.  Leif afterwards told his friends that it was out of regard to the Founder of that religion, but it was long before many of the people could see a distinction in that.  Numerous were the theological discussions, too, which this act of emancipation called forth in every household, and great was the joy which it created in one or two hearts.

To say nothing of the young Scots themselves, it caused the heart of timid little Bertha to sing for joy, while Gudrid, Astrid, and Thora rejoiced sympathetically, and looked forward with pleasant anticipation to the approaching marriage.  Even Freydissa opened out in a new light on the occasion, and congratulated her handmaiden heartily, telling her with real sincerity that marriage was the only thing she was fit for!

But it was Olaf who displayed the greatest amount of feeling on the occasion, and it was Snorro on whom he expended himself!

On the morning after the great event, he hoisted Snorro on his back with his wonted care and tenderness, and hurried off with him to the solitude of the sea-shore-for, alas! there were no umbrageous solitudes in Greenland.  There, not far from the spot where Flatface and his friends had once been made to wriggle their coat-tails with terror, he set Snorro down, and, sitting on a rock beside him, said-

“Now, old man, it is going to have a talk with me.”

“Iss,” replied Snorro, very contentedly.

“Does it know what has happened to Hake and Heika?”

Snorro shook his head.

“Well, my father has set them both free.”

Bof f’ee?” repeated Snorro, with a puzzled look.

“Yes, both.”

“W’at’s f’ee?” asked Snorro.

Olaf was greatly perplexed, for he knew not how to convey an idea of the meaning of that word to his little friend.  He made various attempts, however, by means of simple illustrations and words, to explain it, but without success-as was made plain by Snorro’s usually intelligent countenance remaining a perfect blank.

At last he seized the child by both wrists and held him fast for a few seconds.

“Snorro,” he said, “you are not free while I hold you.  Now,” he added, releasing the wrists, “you are free.”

Snorro’s countenance was no longer blank, but, on the contrary, extremely perplexed.

“Leif,” he said, “no’ hold Heika an’ Hake by e hands!”

“No,” replied Olaf, “but he holds them by the spirit.”

“W’at’s spiwit?” asked Snorro.

Olaf was in despair!

“Well, well,” he cried, after stroking his chin and pulling his nose, and knuckling his forehead in the vain hope of hitting on some other mode of explaining his meaning; “it don’t matter, old man.  They are free, and that has made them very happy; and oh!  I am very glad, because I am so fond of Hake.  Don’t you remember how he came to save us from the Skraelingers, and nearly did it too?  And he is going to be married to Bertha.  Isn’t that nice?  It knows what married means, don’t it?”

“No,” said Snorro.

“Well, no matter; it’s what seems to make everybody very happy; and
Bertha is very happy, and so am I, for I’m fond of Bertha, as well as of
Hake; and so is Snorro, isn’t he?”

“Iss,” replied Snorro, with a very decided nod.

“Well, that’s all very pleasant,” continued Olaf, running on with the subject until it led him into another subject, which led him into a third and fourth, and so on, with the ever-varying moods of his gay and fanciful mind, until he was led in spirit to Vinland, where he and Snorro remained lost in the woods, perfectly contented and happy, for the remainder of the day.

And now, patient reader, we must lead you in spirit away from the scenes on which we have dwelt so long, across the wide ocean to Scotland.

There, on the heights of a lion-like hill, stand Heika and Hake.  A precipitous crag rises behind them.  In front towers a rock, from which Edwin’s castle frowns down on the huts of an embryo city.  The undulating woodland between resounds with the notes of the huntsman’s horn.  Away in the distance lie the clear waters of the fiord of Forth, and the background of Scotia’s highland hills mingling with the sky.

The brothers stand in rapt and silent admiration of the scene, as well they may, for it is surpassingly beautiful.  But they do not stand alone.  Bertha leans on Hake’s arm, and a tall girl with dark hair leans on Heika’s.  Beside them stands a fine-looking though somewhat delicate old man; whose benignant gaze seems to be more attracted by the young people than the scenery.

Need we say that this is the Scottish Earl, the father of our fleet-footed thralls, and that the dark-haired girl is Emma?  We will not violate your sense of propriety, gentle reader, by talking of Mrs Heika; nor will we venture to make reference to the little Heikas left at home!

But these are not all the party.  Karlsefin, Biarne, and Thorward are there-on a visit to the Earl-with Gudrid and Freydissa; and away on the fiord they can see their two Norse galleys towering like quaint giants at rest among the small craft that ply and skim about there.

Shall we listen to what our friends say?  We think not.  Too long already have we caused them to break the silence which they have maintained for the last eight hundred years.  Let us rather bid their shades depart with a kind farewell.

But before the memory of them is quite gone, let us say a word or two in conclusion.

Whether the Norsemen ever returned again to Vinland is a matter of uncertainty, for the saga is silent on that point; and it is to be feared that Snorro, the first American, did not return to take possession of his native land, for when the great continent was re-discovered about five hundred years later, only “red-skins” were found there; and the Pilgrim Fathers make no mention of having met with descendants of any colony of white men.

What ultimately became of Snorro and Olaf is, we regret to say, unknown.  This, however, is certain, that Karlsefin, according to his oft-expressed intention, retired to Iceland, where he dwelt happily with Gudrid, Leif, Biarne, and Thorward for many years.  It is therefore probable that Snorro and Olaf took to a seafaring life, which was almost the only life open to enterprising men in those days.  If they did, they distinguished themselves-there can be no doubt whatever upon that point.

As to the other personages who have figured in our tale, we can only surmise-at least hope-that they lived long and happily, for the saga relates nothing as to the end of their respective careers.  But of this we are quite sure, that wherever they went, or however long they lived, they never failed to retain a lively recollection of that romantic period of their lives when they sojourned in the pleasant groves of Vinland-that mighty continent which, all unsuspected by these men of old, was destined, in the course of time, to play such a grand and important part in the world’s history.

Thus ends all that we have got to tell of the adventures of the Norsemen in the West, and the Discovery of America before Columbus.