Changes in brattalid—the scots continue to plot and plan.
Greenland again! Flatface standing on the wharf at Brattalid; Anders beside him; groups of Norse men, women, and children, and Skraelingers, around and scattered along the bay.
What a commotion there was in the colony, to be sure, when it was discovered that two large ships were sailing up the fiord; and what a commotion it created in the breasts of those on board these ships when it was discovered that two other large ships were already at anchor in the harbour!
It is not necessary to detain the reader with the details of question and reply, by which the truth was at last elicited on both sides. Suffice it to say that the two ships were found to be merchant-vessels from Iceland, and that, among other colonists, they had brought out several men whose purpose was to teach and plant the new religion. Already a small building had been set up, with a short tower on the roof, which the Norsemen were told was a church, and in which some of the services of the Christian religion were performed. Elsewhere several new houses had been built, and everywhere there were signs of increasing population and prosperity.
Leif was half pleased, half disappointed at all this. It was gratifying to find things prospering so well, but it was not pleasant to see the old place so greatly changed, and to have much of the old home-feeling done away.
However, little was said on the subject. The Vinland colonists were too busy at first, meeting with relations and old companions, and being introduced to new friends, to say or think much about the matter. After a few days they became reconciled to the change, and settled down into a regular busy life.
One evening Heika went to the house of his friend Edwinsson, who owned the boat that he wished to become possessed of. He found that the man was not at home, but there was a serving-woman in the house.
“Edwinsson no longer lives here,” said the girl. “He has gone to live with old Haraldson and manage his boats, for the old man is not able for that work now.”
“Do you mean Bertha’s father?” asked Heika.
“Yes; Haraldson is Bertha’s father.”
Heika went at once to search for his friend. By the way he chanced to meet with his brother.
“Come, Hake,” said he, “I want you to go with me to find Edwinsson.”
“With all my heart,” said Hake.
They soon came to old Haraldson’s house, which lay at the extreme west of Brattalid; and when Heika opened the door, there he saw the old man seated in a large chair, propped up with eider-down pillows. Bertha was seated on a stool at his feet holding one of his hands.
“Come in, Heika,” she cried, springing up and hasting forward with pleasure. “I have been trying to tell dear father about the whale you killed in Vinland.”
She stopped abruptly on observing that Hake was behind his brother. Recovering herself quickly, however, she welcomed him also with a slight blush.
“I want you, Heika,” she continued, “to tell the story to my father.”
“Ay, sit down here, young man, and tell it me,” said Haraldson, in a tremulous voice. “I love to hear anything about Vinland, especially what pleases Bertha. Dear Bertha! I have become very frail since she went away—very frail; and it has been a weary time—a weary time. But come, tell me about the whale.”
“Gladly would I do that,” said Heika; “but I have business with your man Edwinsson—business which I want to put out of hands at once. But Hake will tell the story of the whale. He is a better sagaman than I.”
“Let Hake tell it, then,” returned the old man. “You will find Edwinsson somewhere about among my boats.”
Hake gladly sat down beside Bertha, and began the story of the whale, while his brother went down to the beach, where he found his friend.
“Edwinsson,” said Heika, after some conversation had passed between them, “you have a good boat near Leif’s wharf. Will you lend it to me?”
“Right willingly,” replied his friend.
“But I am bound on an excursion that may chance to end in the wreck of the boat,” said Heika. “Will you hold me responsible if I lose it?”
“’Twill be difficult to hold thee responsible,” returned Edwinsson, laughing, “if ye lose your life along with it. But that matters not. I gift thee the boat if thou wilt have it. I count it a small gift to the man who saved my life.”
“Thanks, Edwinsson—thanks. I accept the gift, and, if my venture is successful, I shall try to let you share the benefit in some way or other.”
“Hast discovered a new fishing-ground, Heika? What venture do ye intend?” asked the other.
“That I will keep secret just now,” said Heika, laughing carelessly. “I don’t want to be followed at first. Ye shall know all about it soon. But hearken, friend, make no mention of it. One does not like to be laughed at if one fails, you know.”
So saying, Heika went off to Leif’s wharf, loosed the boat which he found there, hoisted the sail, and dropped down with the tide to the mouth of the fiord. Here a light breeze was blowing, under the influence of which he soon ran round the point of land that divided Ericsfiord from Heriulfness. In the course of another hour he reached the western skerries.
The skerries or islets in question were little better than bare rocks, which lay about fifty yards from the mainland, along which they formed a sort of breakwater for a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile. Within this breakwater there were several narrow and well-sheltered inlets. Into one of these Heika ran his boat, and made it fast in a place which was so well overshadowed by rocks, that the boat could neither be seen from the land nor from the sea.
On the landward side this inlet could be reached by a path, which, though it appeared somewhat rugged, was nevertheless easy to traverse. Up this path Heika hastened after making the boat fast, intending to return to Brattalid by land. The distance over land was much shorter than by water, so that he could soon reach Leif’s house, and his brief absence would attract no attention.
Just as the Scot issued from behind the rocks which concealed the path to the inlet, he was suddenly bereft almost of the power to move by the unexpected sight of Leif himself advancing towards him!
Poor Heika’s heart died within him. He felt that all his long-cherished and deeply-laid plans were crushed, just as they were about to be carried into effect, and a feeling of fierce despair prompted him, for a moment, to commit some wild deed of violence, but he observed that Leif’s head was bent forward and his eyes rested on the ground, as he advanced slowly, like one who meditates. Heika drew swiftly back behind the rock, from the shelter of which he had barely passed, and breathed freely again when Leif passed by, without showing any symptom of having observed him. Waiting till he had sauntered beyond the next turn in the path, he started at his utmost speed, and was soon beyond the reach of Leif’s eyes, and back in Brattalid with a relieved mind.
Had the Scot waited to observe the motions of his master after passing the turn in the path above mentioned, he would not have experienced so much mental relief; for no sooner had Leif got behind a small but thick bush than he turned abruptly, raised his head with an intelligent smile, lay down behind the bush, and looked quietly through its foliage. He saw Heika issue from behind the rock, observed his cautious glances from side to side, and, with something like a chuckle, witnessed his rapid flight in the direction of the settlement.
“Hem! something i’ the wind,” muttered Leif, rising and walking towards the spot whence his thrall had issued.
He found the rugged path, descended to the inlet, discovered the boat, and stood looking at it with a perplexed air for full ten minutes. Thereafter he shook his head once or twice, smiled in a grave manner, and slowly sauntered home absorbed in meditation.
“Hake,” whispered Heika to his brother that night, as they sat down together in the little sleeping-closet off Leif’s hall, that had been allotted to their use, “all my hopes and plans were on the point of being ruined to-day.”
“Ruined! brother. How was that?”
Heika related to him all that had occurred at the inlet near the western skerries.
“Art thou sure he saw thee not?” asked Hake earnestly.
“There can be no doubt of that,” replied Heika, “for he had no cause to suspect that anything was wrong; and if he had seen me as I first stood before him, motionless with surprise, he would doubtless have hailed me. No, no; something was working very hard in his brain, for he passed on without the least sign of having seen me.”
“That is well, brother, yet I do not feel easy, for it is well-known that Leif is a shrewd man, with great command over his feelings. But now, tell me how best I shall aid you in this enterprise.”
“That is best done by using your bow well, for we shall require a large supply of dried meat for the voyage, and we must work diligently as well as secretly during our few hours of leisure, if we would get ready in time to sail before the rough winds of autumn set in. There are some tight casks in Leif’s old store which I mean to take possession of, at the last, for water. Our service will more than pay for these and any other trifles we may find it needful to appropriate.”
Hake thought in his heart that the enterprise was a wild and foolish one, but, having promised to engage in it, he resolved not to cast the slightest hindrance in the way, or to say a single word of discouragement. He therefore approved of all that Heika suggested, and said that he would give his aid most vigorously.
“Moreover,” he continued, “I have had some consolation to-day which will spur me on, for I have got Bertha to admit that she loves me, and to promise that if I can obtain my freedom she will wed me. She even gave me to understand that she would wed me as a thrall, if only Leif and Karlsefin would give their consent. But that shall not be. Bertha shall never be a thrall’s bride. I will return and claim her, as I have said.”
Heika made no reply, but continued to gaze at the floor in silence.
“Methinks ye are perplexed by something, brother,” said Hake.
“I am thinking,” replied Heika, “that it is a pity we cannot use those curious marks made on skins, wherewith, we are told, men can communicate one with another when they are absent from each other.”
“What causes the regret just now?”
“I grudge to quit Leif without a parting word,” returned Heika, looking at his brother with peculiar earnestness; “it seems so ungrateful, so unkind to one who has ever treated us well.”
“I think with you in that, brother,” said Hake.
“It would be so easy too,” continued Heika, “to have some method of letting him know what I think, if we could only agree about the signs or signals beforehand.”
Hake laughed softly.
“That would not be easy; for we could scarcely go to him and say, ‘Leif, when you see these particular marks on a certain stone, you are to understand that we take leave of you for ever with hearty good-will!’ I fear that his suspicions might be aroused thereby.”
“Nay, but I only express regret that we have not some such mode of intercourse,” returned Heika, smiling. “Ye know the sign of the split arrow which tells of war. Why might we not multiply such signs? For instance, by laying a billet of firewood across a man’s bed, one might signify that he bade him farewell with tender affection and goodwill!”
“Why, brother,” said Hake, laughing, “ye look at me as earnestly as if you had said something smart; whereas I regard your idea as but a clumsy one. A billet of wood laid across your friend’s bed might more fitly suggest that you wanted to knock out his brains, or damage his skin, or burn him alive!”
Heika laughed heartily, and said that he feared he had nothing of the spirit of the skald about him, and that his power of invention was not great.
“But I have more news to give thee, brother, besides that regarding Bertha,” said Hake. “Do you know there is a countryman of ours on board of one of the ships that brought out the men of the new religion, and he has but lately seen our father and Emma?”
Heika started and laid his hand on his brother’s arm, while he gazed earnestly into his face.
“It is ill jesting on such a subject,” he said somewhat sternly.
“So think I, brother; therefore I recommend you not to jest,” returned Hake gravely.
“Nay, but is it true?”
“Ay, true as that the sky is over our heads. I have had a long talk with him, and when he found I was a countryman he gave me a hug that made my ribs bend. His name is Sawneysson, a very giant of a man, with hair that might have grown on the back of a Greenland bear, only that it is red instead of white. He told me that he knew our father well by sight, and last saw him taking a ramble on Dunedin hill, whither he had walked from our village on the Forth, which shows that the old man’s vigour has improved. Emma was with him too, so Sawneysson said, looking beautiful, but somewhat sad.”
“How knew he her name?” asked Heika.
“He knew it not,” replied Hake. “He did but say that a fair maiden walked with our father, and I knew at once from his description that it was Emma. But you can inquire for yourself at his own mouth, for this countryman of ours is an enthusiastic fellow, and fond of talking about home.”
“Brother,” said Heika, with a sad but earnest look, “I must give this man the cold shoulder.”
“Nay, then, disappointment must have changed thee much,” said Hake, in surprise, “for that is the last thing I had expected thee to say.”
“It is not disappointment but caution that makes me speak and think as I do. If we seem to be too eager about our native land it may tend to make Leif more watchful of us, which of all things would be the greatest misfortune that could befall us just at this time.”
“There is something in that,” returned Hake; “but will it not suffice to exercise a little caution and self-restraint, without giving our countryman the cold shoulder?”
“I know not,” replied Heika, with a troubled air; “but I would that he had not turned up just now, though I confess it gladdens me to hear of our father and Emma.—Now, Hake, we must to bed if we would be up betimes to secure a little leisure for the carrying out of our enterprise.”
Without further conversation the brothers threw off their coats and shoes, and lay down together with the rest of their clothing on, so as to be ready for an early start. The shield and helmet of each hung on the wall just over the bed, and their two swords leaned against the bed itself, within reach of their hands, for thus guardedly did men deem it necessary to take their rest in the warlike days of old.