GUDRID THE FAIR
A Tale of the Discovery of America
"The Forest Lovers," "The Life and Death of Richard Yea and Nay," "Love and Lucy," etc.
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
By Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.
This tale is founded upon two sagas, which have been translated literally and without attempt to accord their discrepancies by York Powell and Vigfussen in their invaluable Origines Icelandicae. As well as those versions I have had another authority to help me, in Laing's Sea-Kings of Norway. I have blent the two accounts into one, and put forward the result with this word of explanation, which I hope will justify me in the treatment I have given them.
I don't forget that a "saga" is history, and that these sagas in particular furnish an account of the first discovery of America, no less a thing. Nevertheless, while I have been scrupulous in leaving the related facts as I found them, I have not hesitated to dwell upon the humanity in the tales, and to develop that as seemed fitting. I don't think that I have put anything into the relation which is not implied in the few words accorded me by the text. I believe that everything I give Gudrid and Freydis, Karlsefne and Leif and Eric Red to say or to do can be made out from hints, which I have made it my business to interpret. Character makes plot in life as well as in fiction, and a novelist is not worthy of his hire who can't weave a tale out of one or two people to whom he has been able to give life. All romantic invention proceeds from people or from atmosphere. Therefore, while I have shown, I hope, due respect to the exploration of America, I admit that my tale turns essentially upon the explorers of it. My business as a writer of tales has been to explore them rather than Wineland the Good. I have been more interested in Gudrid's husbands and babies than I had need to be as an historian. I am sure the tale is none the worse for it—and anyhow I can't help it. If I read of a woman called Gudrid, and a handsome woman at that, I am bound to know pretty soon what colour her hair was, and how she twisted it up. If I hear that she had three husbands and outlived them all I cannot rest until I know how she liked them, how they treated her; what feelings she had, what feelings they had. So I get to know them as well as I know her—and so it goes on. Wineland does not fail of getting discovered, but meantime some new people have been born into the world who do the business of discovering while doing their own human business of love and marriage and childbirth.
All this, I say, is implicit in the saga-history. So it is, but it has to be looked for. The saga listeners, I gather, took character very much for granted, as probably Homer's audience did. Odysseus was full of wiles, Achilles was terrible, Paris "a woman-haunting cheat," Gunnar of Lithend a poet and born fighter, Nial a sage, and so on. The poet gave them more than that, of course. Poetry apart, he did not disdain psychology. There is plenty psychology in both Iliad and Odyssey—less in the sagas, but still it is there. And when you come to know the persons of these great inventions there is as much psychology as any one can need, or may choose to put there—as much as there is in Hamlet, as much as there is in La Guerre et La Paix.
In Kormak's Saga, for instance, which I put forward some years ago as A Lover's Tale, is there no psychology? It is no way out of it to put down Kormak's tergiversations to sorcery. I doubt if that was good enough for the men who first heard the tale; it is certainly no good to us. In the strange barbaric recesses of the tale of Gunnar Helming and Frey's wife, what are we to make of it all unless we reckon with the states of poor Sigrid's soul, married to a gog-eyed wooden god? How came Halgerd to betray Gunnar to his foes, how came Nial to be burned in his bed? Can one read Laxdale and not desire to read through it into the proud heart of Gudrun?
And having once begun with them one could go on, I believe, until the hearts of all those fine, straight-dealing people were as plain to us as those of our superfine, sophisticated moderns. For Nature is still our mother and mistress, no less now than she ever was—and that's a good thing for the story-reader as well as for the story-teller.
Out of the Saga of Thorgils, which is a tale of Greenland's exploration, I hope that I drew a portrait of a good Icelander. Out of Eric's Saga and Karlsefne's Saga combined I believe there is a no less faithful picture of a good Icelandish woman. Gudrid was wise as well as fair, if I have read her truly; she was a good woman, wife and mother. The discovery of Wineland is to my own feelings quite beside the mark where she is involved; but I have put it all in, and wish there had been more of it. Psychology and romantic imagination will not help us much there. We want the facts, and they fail us. All that can be made out is that Karlsefne sailed up the Hudson. His Scraelings were Esquimaux. But who was the black-kirtled woman who appeared to Gudrid and gave herself the same name? And where was the Maggoty Sea? And what goaded Freydis to her dreadful deeds? I admire Freydis myself; I think she was a femme incomprise. I have taken pains with Freydis, though personally I had rather been Gudrid's fourth husband than Freydis's first.
I am not afraid of the accusation of vulgarising the classics. It is good that they should be loved, and if simplification and amplification humanise them I can stand the charge with philosophy. Of all classics known to me the sagas are the most unapproachable in their naked strength. Their frugality freezes the soul; they are laconic to baldness. I admire strength with anybody, but the starkness of the sagas shocks me. When Nial lies down by his old wife's side with the timbers roaring and crackling over his head, and Skarphedin, his son, says, "Our father goes early to bed, but that was to be expected, as he is an old man," Professor Ker, exulting in his strength, finds it admirable. I say it is inadequate, and not justified to us by what else the saga tells us of the speaker. I am sure that Skarphedin had more to say, or that if he had not the poet could have expressed him better. It recalls the humorous callousness of our soldiers, which, nakedly rendered, is often shocking. This is, however, not really the point. Terseness may be dramatic—it often is, as in "Cover her face—mine eyes dazzle—She died young"—but in narrative it may check instead of provoke the imagination. But if it provoke, is it not reasonable to let the imagination go to work upon it? If Skarphedin indeed took his father's death in that manner, is one not justified in going to work with Skarphedin, to find out what manner of man he was who could so express himself in supreme crisis? I trace a great deal of our soldiers' crude jesting at death to their Scandinavian blood; and nothing more intensely and painfully interesting has ever been given to the imagination to work upon than their conduct in the face of horror and sin of late, so dauntless, so blithe and so grim as it is.
Where heroism has been so shown on all sides of us in these three dreadful years, it is no longer possible to pick and choose heroic nations. One might otherwise have said that no such heroes were ever given to the world as the heroes of Iceland. That they are not accepted as such on all hands is no fault of the literature which presents them; for that literature, like all great art, makes demands upon its readers. It hands over the key, but if the lock is stiff it will not give you oil for the wards. That you must find for yourself. Oil for the wards is all I can pretend to here; and if I may say that I have humanised a tale of endurance, and clothed demigods and shadows in flesh and blood, I shall feel that I have done useful work, and bear charges of vulgarisation with a philosophy which assures me that the two terms are much of a muchness.
The great gestures, the large-scale maps, the grand manner are for history and epic, but genre for the novel—and what genre is so momentous to it as the human? Let Homer describe the wrath of Achilles and the passion of Hektor and Andromache. The novelist will want to know what Briseis felt when she was handed from hero to hero, will pore upon the matronly charity of Theano, the agony of the two young men Achilles slew by Skamander, and find the psychology of these pawns in the great game as enthralling as that of the high movers. I confess that to me Gudrid, the many times a wife and the always sweet and reserved, is more absorbing a tale than the discovery of Wineland. I like the two running Scots better than their country, would barter all Greenland for the tale of the winter sickness in Thorstan Black's house. So much apology I feel moved to offer for having put down Exploration from the chief place in the tale, and put up a wife and mother.
As for the verse—Gudrid's Wardlock chant is adapted from the Lay of Swipday and Merglad in Corpus Poeticum Boreale, I, 92 seq., and Thorstan's Song of Helgi and Sigrun is a partial version of that epic (ibid. 131).
GUDRID THE FAIR
Thorbeorn was old when this tale begins. His face was lean, his beard was grey, he stooped somewhat in the saddle. But he had a fiery mind, a high spirit, and was so rich, or believed so, that men said he could buy off Death more likely than any other man, seeing he would neither fail of hardihood nor money.
By this time, old age apart, he had done very well for himself, having not only buried a wife, but married another; having not only seen three sons out into the world and become a grandfather twice over; but having had also, by his second wife, whose name was Hollweg, a daughter, and an estate of Bathbrink which could be hers by and by, if he so pleased. This daughter was by name Gudrid, and by all men's consent Gudrid the Fair. Iceland has always been famous for handsome women; but three are chiefly commemorated as "the Fair." The first is Gudrun, who was daughter of Oswif; but she was now old. The second is Stangerd, daughter of Thorkel of Tongue, and at this time the wife of Battle-Berse of Sowerby in the north-west parts. This Gudrid, Thorbeorn's daughter, is the third, and was, at the moment, of marriageable age, being full fifteen years old.
She was a tall girl, well and beautifully made, with carriage so graceful and look so courteous that men used to stop in the road and gaze after her as she walked. Her hair was very nearly black, and made a plait which she could easily sit upon. She was no talker, but had the best of manners, whereby it happened that those who talked with her were eloquent and believed that she had been so. She had a beautiful voice and notable skill in singing. Men heard her songs, and rushed out into the dark emulous of desperate work, and the sooner the better, to deserve well of her. Thorbeorn was very proud of her; but it had been her mother's work to have her carefully trained. If she had lived this tale might not have been written; but she did not. She died a year before it begins, and left her old husband to a peck of troubles.
Thorbeorn was the last man to cope with trouble. He was too proud, too vain, and too idle—too proud to confide, too vain to accept, too idle to repair. He had always kept a great table and had a hall full of guests. He had them still, though he had not the money to pay for them. He borrowed on his property, and borrowed again to repay the first loans; he had ventures at sea, which failed him. He might have had help from his sons, but would not ask them. When Gudrid was fifteen years old these things vexed him sadly; but what vexed him more was that young men came to Bathbrink to see if they could get speech with her; and that some of them put forward friends with proposals to marry her. So far he had refused to treat with any. "It is not to be thought of," he generally said; sometimes, "It is very unsuitable"; and once, "I am greatly offended." Not that he did not fully intend to have her married—rather it was that he had a rooted belief in the greatness of his family and in the girl's merits, and could find none of the suitors at all equal to them.
He was one of those men who rather wish to believe in themselves than do it. He was always on the look-out for flaws upon his mettle. He thought that Gudrid was unapproachable, and when he found that she was not, fretted to make her so. But Gudrid herself was not at all unapproachable. She liked the company of her equals in age, and saw no reason why young men should not be anxious to talk to her, or why, if they hung about with the generality at the lower end of the hall, they should not be invited to the fire. With the girls in the bower she talked freely of courtships, and of young men. Thorbeorn would have been cut to the heart to hear her. It might have been better for him to have such a wound than the wound which actually he did receive.
He was riding home late one autumn evening. The weather was still mild and warm. Nearing home, he turned his horse on to the turf and walked him, with the reins hanging loose. Presently he was aware of two figures together under a clump of trees. One of them he saw at once for Gudrid. The other was a man, he knew not whom. Immediately hot water sprang into his eyes and veiled their sight, but he saw enough to guess more.
The pair were taking leave of each other. Their hands were clasped, their arms at length. They were far apart, the man talking, Gudrid listening. Then presently the strain on the arms relaxed, their clasped hands fell; they were near together. Gudrid, he saw, hung her head—and then, suddenly, the man put his other arm about her neck, and drew her to him and kissed her cheek. At that she broke away and ran towards the house. The man, looking after her for a little, then vaulted the turf wall and ran down the hillside towards the river, making great skips and jumps over the tussocks and boulders, as if he were as happy as a man could be. That was what Thorbeorn saw in the autumn dusk.
He went home in a dreadful state of mind, and could hardly bear to be served supper by his desecrated daughter. To think that those soft cheeks had been profaned by a strange youth, that those grave young eyes had looked kindly upon another than himself, that that fair hand had clasped another's in kindness—all this seemed to him horrible. He thought her a hypocrite; he thought himself insulted. Yet even he had to admit that the kiss was sudden, and she evidently surprised and (since she ran away at once) probably frightened. He judged that she was a novice at such work, but for all that was very much afraid that she took kindly to it.
He spent a great part of the night thinking it over, and before he went to sleep had made up his mind. Early in the morning he was out and about; before the day-meal he sent for Gudrid. She came, singing to herself, fresh as a rose and as fair. She asked his pleasure—and he had not the heart to tell her his displeasure. What he did say was this: "Put your gear together as soon as you can. I am taking you to Erne Pillar, where you will be put in fostership with Orme." Gudrid looked up startled, and saw in her father's eyes what she had not seen before. Her own eyes fell, she coloured up, turned and went away, to do as she was told.
It may be said at once that she had done very little harm, and none knowingly. The young man, who was one of the several who came to the house, was the son of a neighbour, a man of repute. Gudrid favoured him no more than any of the others, but it had so happened that he had been there that afternoon, talking with the girls, and that Gudrid had walked with him as far as the trees on his way home. He had protracted the farewells, and had snatched a kiss; she had been frightened and run away. That might have happened to anybody—but she knew now that Arnkel had had no business at the house when her father was not there. That could not be denied. She went soberly about her preparations, and the girls were full of pity. They talked it over and over, but there was nothing to be done. Her bundles and bales were corded upon the sumpter's back. She embraced and kissed her housemates. There were wet cheeks and trembling lips involved, but they were not hers. Then she was put up before her father, and away she went.
As for young Arnkel, he no more comes into the tale than he had stayed in Gudrid's mind.
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.
The second summer after Gudrid came to Erne Pillar a fine ship came in from Norway with a full cargo. She came in late in the evening, and everybody was on the shore to see her. Orme knew whose she was and all about her. She was Einar's ship, he said, and overdue. In the morning she would discharge her cargo in his warehouse, "and then," he said to Gudrid, "there will be matters for you to see to, which will last you a good while. Fine cloth, Einar always brings, and embroidered lengths from Russia. We shall have you going as gay as a kingfisher about the ways."
Nothing was done that night except that Orme was rowed out to the ship and stayed drinking with the master till late. But in the morning, when Gudrid went to Mass, she saw men bringing up the cargo from the quay; and when she came back from Mass, there, at the door of Orme's warehouse, was Orme himself talking to a stranger who had foreign clothes on him, a gold chain round his loins, from which hung a goodly knife in a sheath, and rings in his ears. Gudrid, being well brought up, looked neither to the right nor left, but dipped her head to her foster-father as she went by. She had on her sea-blue gown, and a blue silk handkerchief knotted in her hair. The handkerchief was there in obedience to the priest, who had told her she must not come to church bare-headed, even in the summer-time. The morning being fresh, her cheeks were a-flower with roses.
Orme greeted her with a happy word as she sped by him, but Einar, who was the stranger present, the master of the ship, looked after her, and presently said, "Tell me, who is that beautiful person?"
Orme told him who she was and of what stock. Einar's colour was high. "She is a prize for a good man indeed," he said. "And many and many a man has tried after her, beyond doubt?"
"Many and many a man," said Orme; "you are right there. But she is not for the first comer, nor yet for the second. I won't answer for herself, if herself had anything to say in it—which isn't likely. But for her father the Franklin, I will say as much as this, that he's a great man, and knows it, though not so well to do as he was. And he will be hard to come at in the matter of Gudrid."
Einar said no more about her just then, but turned to his affairs and was busy all day long. Then, at supper-time, Orme took him home to his house, where he was to stay so long as his occasions kept him in the country. Halldis made him very welcome, and then Gudrid came into the hall, and he had a greeting for her. He was young and fresh-coloured, and showed fine white teeth when he smiled, which was often. He produced his bales, presents for Halldis and Orme; and presently, while they were all pulling over the things, he held up a jointed girdle of wrought silver with crystals set in every square of it. This he offered to Gudrid.
"For you, lady, if you will accept of it," he said. Gudrid drew back and blushed. Then she looked at Halldis.
"Oh, may I?" she asked.
Halldis, who had her hands full of scarlet cloth, looked at the glittering thing. "It is too good to refuse," she said. "And why should you refuse it?"
"You will make me proud and contented if you will take it," Einar said. "It will be a kind action on your part."
"Einar speaks well," said Orme. "Put it about you, Gudrid." Gudrid put the belt round her waist and fastened it.
"That's a good fit," said Halldis. "It might have been made for you."
Einar was still looking at Gudrid, and smiling all the time.
"Does it please you, lady?" he said.
"It is beautiful," said Gudrid.
"It ought to be," Einar said. Then she thanked him fairly, and turned and ran away to show herself to the maids in the bower. Einar was very thoughtful for a time; but brightened up when Gudrid and the girls brought in the meal, and served it. He told tales of his voyages and entertained the company.
A very good tale he told of a friend of his called Biorn—Biorn Heriolfsson—who was a ship-man like himself, and had come home to Iceland two winters back expecting to find his father at home. But his father in the meantime had up-stick with everything and gone off to Greenland after Eric Red. That put Biorn out, because he was a man who liked old customs. It had always been his way to spend the winters at home with his father, and now here was his father flitted to Greenland. So Biorn stood on the deck of his ship, very much put out. "Shall we break bulk?" somebody asked him. "No," says Biorn, "you will not do that. Let me think." When he had thought he told the ship's company that he was minded to go to Greenland after his father, and they agreed to make the voyage. He fastened down his cargo again, refitted, and away. But it was one thing to resolve upon Greenland, and another thing to hit it off. He had not sailed those seas before, and falling in with bad weather, was driven out of his course; and then—to make matters worse—there came down upon him with a northerly wind a thick blanket of white fog in which he could get no hint of his whereabouts and drifted upon a strong current, fairly smothered up. He knew no more where he was than Einar himself could tell them; he lost count of days and nights, but estimated that he was three weeks at sea before the fog lifted and he saw the stars. In the morning the sun rose fair out of the sea, and he got a bearing. More than that, he saw before him—like a low bank of cloud—a strange coast lying on his starboard bow. He could not tell where he wag got to, or what land that might be, but was sure it was not Greenland. The land lay low, and was dark with woods. The shore was sandy, with hummocks of blown sand upon it, covered with grass; the surf very heavy. He coasted that country for two days and nights with a good wind off-shore, but would not try for a landing anywhere, being set upon Greenland and sure that he was not there. Other lands he saw, and a great island covered with snow, and ice-mountains rising sheer out of the sea—but still he kept on his course. After that he had a spell of heavy weather with green seas over him constantly; and last of all he saw another land, on his port bow, which he said was Greenland.
A great ness ran out far into the sea, which he made with safety, and found smooth water, a town, an anchorage, and a man in a boat fishing. Biorn drew alongside, feeling for his anchorage, and laughed to himself when the man looked up from his fishing and presently raised his hand and sawed the air once or twice. "Hail to you, father," said Biorn. "I thought you would be coming along," said his father. "You have hit me off to a nicety." Biorn said, "I don't know about the nicety of it. I have been seven weeks at sea since I left Iceland, and no man alive knows where I have been—least of all myself." "Be careful of my lines," said his father. "I am in the way to catch monsters, and have pots down and out all round me." At that Biorn threw his head up and laughed till he cried. "A scurvy on your monster pots," he said. "Here am I come from beating round the watery world to seek you, and you think only of pots."
Gudrid was thrilled to hear of the new lands; but Orme, who knew Heriolf, Biorn's father, was tickled to death with the old man's quirks. "That is Heriolf all over," he said. "And to say that such a man could get on with Eric Red. Greenland is not wide enough to hold those two."
But Gudrid held Einar with the most beautiful pair of eyes in Iceland. "And what country was it that Biorn found first?" she asked.
Einar said, "I can't tell you. He must have drifted south of Greenland, south and by west. I believe that he crossed the western ocean, which no man has ever yet done. It is a notable deed—but a thousand pities that he made no landing."
But Gudrid still gazed at him, and into him. "And will you not go yourself, and seek out that new country?"
Einar said, "I have often thought of it. It would be a fine adventure. But just now I have another adventure in my mind, which may delay me.
"And what adventure is that?"
Einar said, "I cannot tell you at the moment. It is not a settled thing by any means."
Halldis looked at Orme, and Orme nodded his head.
After that Einar saw much of Gudrid, and used to tell her tales of the sea. He was busy, of course, most of the day, but found time in the evenings; and in the mornings, too, he had the habit of going to church at Mass-time and kneeling behind her. She was pleased to find him there, and the first time showed it plainly. After that she was more than pleased, but careful not to show it. They used to walk home together, and sometimes did not go the straight road, but went round by the frith and looked at Einar's ship lying out at her moorings, swaying with the tide.
One day, looking at the ship there, Gudrid asked him again what his adventure was, and whether anything was settled. No, he said, nothing was settled; but he hoped it might be settled soon. "It does not depend altogether upon me," he said. "My mind was made up at once."
"But," said Gudrid, "if that adventure were settled and done with, would you not then think of seeking the new country which Biorn saw?"
"Well, I might do that," Einar replied. "But a man tires of the sea after a time, and I have had plenty of it. I am very well off, you must know. I might set up my house-pillars, and find me a wife."
"But you would not do that?"
"Ah," said Einar, "but I am sure that I would." She kept her gaze for the tide in the frith, feeling it would be indiscreet to say more.
A little later on he told her what the adventure was on which his heart was set, and when she had heard it she gave him her hand. But she told him that it did not rest with her—as he knew very well it did not. They sat together on the brae in the sun, and her hand remained in his keeping. Presently she said, "If my father says that we may, we will go out to find the new country together."
"We will go where you will," said Einar. "It will be all one to me."
Again she thought, with her face set towards the sea. Then she turned suddenly and put her arms round his neck.
Einar spoke to Orme about the affair, and Orme put on a scared look, though he had been expecting something of the kind. "You will find Thorbeorn hard to deal with," he said.
Einar replied, "Hard or not, I intend to come at him, for I love Gudrid, and she loves me. She is worth fighting for, being as good as she is fair."
"She is so," said Orme; "but, to tell you the truth, I don't know how you will set about it."
"I shall ask you to be my friend in it," Einar said. "He will listen to you sooner than any one."
Orme put his head on one side. "I don't care much about your errand. You will get me into hot water with Thorbeorn. Don't I tell you that he is a great man, an old settler and what-not? He knows his forefathers back to Baldur the Beautiful."
"You are telling me what I know already," said Einar, who was rather red, and showed a frown. "My own birth is no such thing. My father was a freedman. Well, I couldn't help that."
"If I am telling you stale news, neighbour," said Orme, "it is only that you may see what I have to tell Thorbeorn."
"Yes, yes, I know," Einar said. "He is a man of rank, and I no such thing. I grant it. But I have money, do you see? I am well off both in ships and credit; my name stands well in the world. And I am young, and he is old. I think I could be useful to Thorbeorn, if he would allow it—and I need not tell you I set no bounds in reason upon what I would put down for the sake of the match."
"Well," said Orme, "I will go and see him."
Gudrid could hear nothing of this until the morning; but then Einar told her what he had arranged with Orme. She now considered herself as pledged to Einar, though she was nothing of the kind. Loyalty to him persuaded her of it, and he found that very sweet, and was touched. They sat close together on the brae; she allowed him her hand, and rested her cheek on his shoulder. Einar, who was an honest young man, began to fear that he was doing wrong to allow it. But he could not resist a word or two for himself. He told her of his birth, saying that his father, Thorgar, of Thorgar's Fell, had been a freedman, but had done well since. "It is right you should know these things," he said.
Gudrid said that it was nothing to her; but Einar warned her that it might be much to her father. He went on: "To you perhaps it is enough that I love you dearly—and to me it is enough. But who knows? Maybe I shall not have the right to talk to you after to-morrow or next day. Now I wish to say this to you, that I shall never look at another woman, and will bind myself to you if you will accept it of me."
She sat erect at that and looked gravely at him. "You ought not to bind yourself," she said, "since I cannot."
"You cannot. I know that," he said. "But I both can and will."
Thereupon he brought out a handful of money from his breast and chose a gold coin of thin soft gold, with the head of a ragged old king on it. He told her where it came from, and how he had had it from a dead man after a battle in the mouth of a great river in Russia. Then he bit it in the middle with his teeth, and indented it fairly. He bent it to and fro until it was broken in half; and next he bored a hole in each portion, and gave one to Gudrid.
"Now I have tokened myself to you, my love," he said. "Do you wear that upon a chain which I will give you presently, and remember when you look at it, or take it in your hands, that I wear the fellow. If ever you want me, you have only to let that half-moon of gold come into Orme's hands, and sooner or later you will see me again. And so let it be between us from henceforward if you will."
She took the coin, and closed her hand upon it until he should give her the chain, but having it, she could not be to him as she had been before. She sat up straight and looked at the sea. Her hand was free for him; but he did not take it, and she felt sure he would not.
A constraint fell upon them; neither could find anything to say. Fate was between them.
So it was until Orme came back with his news.
He had nothing good to report. Thorbeorn had heard him with impatience, and as soon as he had ended put himself into a rage. His thin neck stiffened, his faded eyes showed fire. "Do you offer for my daughter on behalf of a thrall's son? Well for him he put you forward instead of a smaller man. But I take it ill coming from you whom I have always treated as a friend."
Orme had excused himself on the score of Einar's merits—for which he could answer, he said—and well-being. "He has two ships at sea in the Norway trade. His credit stands high on each side the water. There's many a worse man than he well married—and he loves your Gudrid beyond price. There is nothing he will not put down for her."
But that had wounded Thorbeorn in his most sensitive part. He knew that he was ruined and could not bear that other men should know it also. "It is hard that his money should tempt you to insult a poor man," he said. "I am what I am, and that is a man not so poor but he can keep his honour clear. You must think me poor indeed in other things than goods when you ask me to trade my own flesh and blood. Let me hear no more of it for fear I may get angry. It is the case, I see, that I rate my daughter's marriage more highly than you seem able to conceive of. I made a great mistake when I left her in your charge precisely to avoid what you have brought upon me. Now she shall come home, where she can be valued at the worth of her name and person. That is what I have to say to you, Orme." With that he had looked Orme straight in the face, and there had been no more to urge.
Einar heard it from Orme, but it was Halldis who told Gudrid the news. Gudrid received it in silence, but put her hand up and laid it over the token which fluttered in her bosom. "My pretty one," said Halldis, "I blame myself."
"No, no," Gudrid said, "you must not do that. Nobody is at fault." But Halldis thought Einar had been much to blame. She would have comforted Gudrid and made much of her if she had been able—but Gudrid would not have that. She served the table as before, and sat by Halldis afterwards while the men talked and passed the mead about. She was pale and silent, but did not give way, nor leave them till her usual time. When she was in her bed she sobbed, and buried her hot face in the bolster; but even then she did not cry. She was always impatient of deeds which led nowhere—and crying is a great deed.
In the morning they parted. "I shall sail as soon as may be now," he told her. "Iceland will be hateful to me if it hold us two apart."
"Maybe you will seek out the new country," she said, with a bleak smile.
"Maybe," he said. "But it may be you who see it first." She shook her head sadly.
"We do foolishly when we talk of my fate," she said, and then there was a silence which was like a winter fog. She broke it by throwing herself into his arms.
"Listen," she said with passion, "listen. They will give me to another man, but I shall be yours all the while. They might give me to two men, one on the heels of another, but it would be nothing. Do you believe it? You must believe it, you must."
"I believe it," said Einar; "but it is dreadful to talk about."
"No, it is not dreadful, because I tell you it is nothing," she said. "You are free to do what you will, and you offer me yourself. I did not like to accept it, because I thought I could give you nothing. But now I know I can. Tell me that you believe me, and then I must go."
He told her as he kissed her that he believed her—but it was not true. He did not believe her because he could not.
Then they parted. She went back to Orme's house, and he went his way along the shore of the frith.
Gudrid did not see Einar again. Kettle, the reeve of Bathbrink, came down to fetch her away, and by now she was behind him on his pad, while Einar was far into the fells. He did not return until late, and then he told Orme that he should sail with the first tide. "Whither will you go?" He said that he must go back to Norway to discharge, and after that did not know what he should do. "I am in heavy trouble over the way this has turned out. At such times a man cares little what may become of him."
"Yes, but men get over it," Orme said.
"I think that I shall not. There is that in her which will prevent me."
"She is like all women, I fancy," Orme said; "very tender where they are loved. They set more store upon love than men do, and whosoever offers it to them, it is a valuable thing, and enhances the offerer."
"That is not Gudrid's way," said Einar.
Orme felt sorry for him.
"Thorbeorn will make a marriage for Gudrid, you may be sure," he said. "And I dare swear she will be a good wife to the man who gets her."
"It is certain," said Einar.
Early next day he weighed his anchor and went down the frith. Now he leaves the tale.
But he did not leave Gudrid's mind, who now had little else to think of. Her father said nothing to her of the reason which had brought her home. He was stately and remote. Nor did he mention his difficulties, which were gathering so close about his house. But they were common knowledge at Bathbrink, and Gudrid heard of little else from morning till night. There was scarcity there, not of provision, but of guests. No young men came about the house, or filled the great table in the hall. Other men came, who wanted money, and went grumbling away, with voices which rose higher in complaint as they went further from the house. Thorbeorn himself was often away, and used to come back more silent and proud than he had gone out. The winter set in with wind and drifting snow. Darkness drew closer about the country; the sky was lemon colour, the fells were black. It was the time of great fires, and long festivals within-doors; but Thorbeorn's hall remained empty.
In the face of such manifest misery the love she had given to Einar and received from him shone far off like a winter star, which had no warmth for the blood. She used to look fondly at her token and try to make herself believe that his strong teeth had bitten the deep gauffres into its edge. When she succeeded the scene came back to her, she felt again as she had when he had been standing there beside her on the brae overlooking the racing water. Her eyes grew misty as she looked away into the dark, holding her relic clenched in her hand. But it was not real; these were only dreams of him.
So the winter came upon Bathbrink and lapped it in snow, and love grew numb with cold.
Towards winter's end Thorbeorn roused himself. He had made up his mind to face his troubles, and now saw a way of doing so with nobility. He would break up his homestead, sell his estates, pay his debts, and go abroad. That would be at once just and of good appearance in the world.
But he would not go east where he would find a life ready made for him, with the same state to maintain, and be no better off than he had been at home. It was for Greenland he intended, a new country with but few settlers in it yet. An old friend of his, one Eric Red, had gone out there for good reasons some years ago, and had often sent him messages begging him to join his colony. Now he would do it. The thought warmed him.
He set the business afoot at once, and sold the whole of his estate for a good price. When he had paid his creditors, which he did very particularly and with a great air, he had a good sum over and above the cost of his ship. His spirits rose, his taste for splendid hospitality revived. He resolved to give a great feast to all his friends and acquaintances, such a feast as should make men say that nobody had ever confronted misfortune more gallantly than Thorbeorn of Bathbrink.
It was a noble feast, lasting three days and nights; the greatest there had been made within the memory of men. Everybody came, for enmities were all forgotten. Orme was there from Erne Pillar, and Halldis was with him. Good Halldis embraced Gudrid, kissed her on both cheeks, and held her closely, very ready to revive memories. "And what have you to say to it? And how will you face the hardships of the strange land?" Gudrid was very guarded in her answers. "I shall like to see Greenland," she said; "we used to talk about it at Erne Pillar." It was true, Einar had told them of it, and of his friend Biorn who had found his father out there after seven weeks at sea.
"And you go out there without a husband?" said Halldis, with sympathy ready and waiting in her kindly eyes.
Gudrid said, "Why not? It is not I who have the wedding of myself." She would not meet Halldis half-way, nor any part of the way. Halldis felt the chill.
But Gudrid and her maidens did the last hospitalities of Bathbrink sweetly and diligently. They say that the qualities of the mistress are reflected in the maids. Gudrid was owned a beauty on all hands, but it was agreed that her manners enhanced her good looks, as a fair setting will show off a jewel. To see her at her service, you would have thought her without a care in the world. She could laugh and talk with one and all, she could be grave with the grave and gentle with those who mourned. But she would not let any know that she mourned herself. Any hint towards Einar turned her to smooth stone. She had that kind of pride from her father, the kind that is tender of itself.
As for Thorbeorn, he was splendid, and the more splendid he was the more he felt himself to be so. On the last night of his feast, when the hall was full, the horns nearly empty, and the torchlight getting low, he thumped the high table with the hilt of his dagger, and stood up in a dead silence.
"Neighbours," he said, "it is time I should bid you farewell. In this good land, where my fathers have lived before me, I too have lived my life out, and kept my customs, and good faith with all men; and have made many friends, and no enemies that I know of. As I have served mankind, so has mankind served me. To you, friends and guests, I say that we have proved each other and seen good days. But now, so it is that I at least must see some doubtful days. I have been pinched and straitened in many ways. I have had to consider whether I should stay on here in a mean way of life or move out into freer quarters. Old as I am, I choose to go abroad; nor do I think you will blame me if I can go away honourably, leaving no man the worse for my departure. Now my good friend Eric Red has asked me to share quarters with him in Greenland, where he has a settlement and keeps a great train—and thither I intend to go. And I shall go this very summer, if all turn out as I expect, and take, as I hope, your friendship with me. In any case let this feast stand to you as a token of my goodwill to every man here."
He stood for a moment looking forth upon the crowded tables, and at the women clustered about the doors. He was much moved by the force and plainness of his own words, and for a while every one kept silence, thinking that he had more to say. But he had not, and presently sat down in his seat. That was the signal for uproar. The men stood on the benches and shouted "Hail" to him; they helped the women up, too, who waved their hands or scarves, or whatever came handy. Gudrid saw Orme's hand held out to her, and took it, standing with the rest, with Orme's arm round her. In the excitement of everybody the emotions get loose. Orme held Gudrid closely to him and whispered in her ear, "If he would let you stay with us, Gudrid, how happy we should be!" She turned him her pale face, smiling into his; but Fate held her fast, and she did not even answer him. "Shall I have at him again, for Einar's sake?" said the good Orme, eager to procure happiness for somebody. At that she shook her head. "He would not have it. I am sure of that." So was Orme in his sober mind.
Meantime the neighbours were thronging about Thorbeorn, pledging him in horns of mead and ale. Many of them offered him stock or provision for the voyage; many cried that they would go with him to the new settlement. They would never thole a new master, they said, and fully believed it. Some thirty souls did actually go on the voyage. This was the greatest day of Thorbeorn's life so far.
Thorbeorn's ship lay ready for him in Rawnhaven; but there was much to do, what with hay and corn harvest, to get in, before he could leave. He sailed, then, fully late in the year—himself and his household, thirty or more of his friends beside, his house-pillars and all the stock he had left beside. He was burning to be off, the old adventurer that he was, but Gudrid was not of his way of feeling about it. The Icelanders were a race of stoics. What was to be held them spellbound. Far from hindering adventure, it promoted it; for you never knew but what Fate intended you to succeed. But Gudrid had seen how she might have been happy, and could not understand how otherwise she could be. The last night at home, so she fondly called Iceland, was spent with Orme and Halldis, to whose kindness she thawed at last. She cried upon Halldis's broad bosom, and revealed herself. "You see how it is with me now," she said. "If I never meet him again I shall never love another man. And I see no way of meeting him—and so I must be wretched." Then she fairly wailed: "I might have been so happy—I might have been!" till it was pity to hear her.
Presently she took out her token and showed it to Halldis. "That is all I have of Einar's," she said. Halldis said that she had the girdle he had given her. "Yes," she said, "but this has his teeth-marks in it." Then she sat up on Halldis's lap and looked shyly at her, saying, "I am going to ask you something."
"Ask, my child."
"If it should happen ever that I come home again, and want to see Einar, will you give him this from me? He will know then what to do."
Halldis promised. "He is mostly here every year," she said. "But there's no saying how it may find him."
"It will find him waiting for me," Gudrid said. "He promised me that."
"Oh, my dear, my dear," cried Halldis, "to be sure he did! What else could he say or feel at such a time?" But Gudrid held to her opinion, and to her token too. She said that she should always wear it; and Halldis had not the heart to exclaim.
They sailed with a fair wind, having waited for it, and were soon out of sight of land; but it did not hold. Bad weather overtook them, contrary winds, driving rain, fog—that overhanging curse of Greenland. They ran far out of their course and had to beat back again; cattle died, provision ran short; to crown all a sickness broke out among the company, whereof near half died. Thorbeorn kept hale and hearty throughout; and Gudrid took no harm. The wet, the clinging cold, the wild weather did not prevent her attending the sick, or doing the work which they should have done, had they been able. She had no time to be happy or unhappy, and was never afraid of anything.
It was hard upon the winter; the days were short, the nights bitter cold. The fog, thick and white like a fleece, seemed incapable of lifting. The wind came in short spells, the sea was lumpy. But one day as they were labouring and rolling, the ship straining and cordage creaking, Thorbeorn lifted his head, and bore hard upon the helm. "Breakers!" he shouted, and the crew sprang to the rail. A dark form seemed to lift out of the fog, like a core of blackness, and clouds of sea-birds wheeled overhead with harsh clamour. They were come unawares to Greenland the White, and within an ace of breaking up against her cliffs.
None on board knew what headland this might be; but Thorbeorn knew it was not Ericsfrith, which he had intended to make. They rounded it, however, without mishap, and had a fair wind when they were beyond it. At last they could see a shore with a rough breakwater of stones; and presently upon that shore some men standing together. They cast anchor and let down their sails, and before all was shipshape a boat came rowing out to them, with a man in the stern in a blue cloak. The boat came alongside, and they were hailed. "Who and whence are you?"
Thorbeorn told his name and port of origin. "I hoped to make Ericsfrith," he said.
"You have made a poor business of it," said the master of the boat. "This is Heriolfsness, a good ten hours' sailing from the frith; and I am Heriolf at your service."
Gudrid's heart leapt. This was the father of Biorn, of whom Einar had told her in the days of her happiness. That seemed for a moment to bring Einar within touching distance.
Meantime Heriolf came on board and greeted Thorbeorn fairly. He was a hale old man, with white hair and beard, and twinkling blue eyes. "You will do well," he said, "to stay with me through the winter. This is an unchancy country in winter time, what with fog and scurvy and one thing and another. In Iceland you do better, because you have the wind—but here the fog smothers everything. If my son Biorn were at home he could tell you of a new country, my word! But he's away, and no telling when he will be here again. Now, if you are willing, we will be going. My people will see to the housing of yours, and the stock shall be looked after as if it was my own. But you and your girl here will be happy to be by a hearth again."
So it was done. They found Heriolf a good host, his house well built and well stored. He had a comely wife, too, who took kindly to Gudrid. "That's a paragon of a girl you have there," Heriolf said. "If my son were at home I don't know how it would turn out."
"She's not for every one," said Thorbeorn, on his dignity at once.
"But my son Biorn is some one, let me tell you," said Heriolf. "He is a traveller who has seen more of the world than any man living, I dare say. And here in Greenland, you must know, a woman is a precious piece of goods. There was a woman brought in here last summer with a sick man who died before he had been a week in bed. Before he was buried there were six men fighting who should be her next. And two of them were killed outright; but none of them got her."
"Would she have none of them?" Thorbeorn asked, though he was not at all interested.
"She had no opportunity," said Heriolf. "For another man came and took her away before they had done fighting."
Thorbeorn held his head stiffly. "But my daughter is greatly descended," he said. "And Eric Red is of my friends."
"All that may be," said Heriolf, "but your daughter is a woman, and Eric Red himself no more than a man. In this country you have to deal with people as God made them. But there is a wise woman in the town, and maybe she will tell us what is written in the book of life."
"My daughter is a Christian," said Thorbeorn, but old Heriolf's mouth twitched.
"I dare swear she will be wanting to know what the book of life says, for all that. Let me tell you that a marriage is not over when the priest has said his say. No, nor yet begun, maybe."
Nobody could have been more easy to quarrel with than Heriolf upon the subject of his son, except Thorbeorn upon that of his daughter; yet there was no quarrel. It may be that Thorbeorn was too happy to stretch his thin legs towards a driftwood fire again, or again, that he recognised the sweet kernel of his host under the cruddled husk. However it was, he let the talk of wise women and the Book of Fate float over his head as the spume of the sea passes over the tangle far below. The spume creams and surges, then disparts; but the sea-tangle sways to the deep currents of the tide undisturbed. All well and good—but there was a Wise Woman.
Thorberg was the Wise Woman's name. She was the last alive of a family of nine, all women and all wise in the art of reading the days to come. It was supposed that she had come from Iceland, but nobody remembered to have brought her, nor knew of her origin. In these days she lived by herself in a hut of the Settlement at the Ness, and crouched over a peat fire all the winter, singing songs to herself which nobody could understand. In the summer she was often seen about among the pastures below the hills, but always by herself. When she was asked she might go out and show herself at men's houses where there was a feast going on; if she was treated according to her fancy she might foretell the fortune of the householder or of some guest of his, or the upshot of the coming harvest, whether of the sea or of the land. But everything must be exactly as she pleased. There was no telling what she would do or say.
Heriolf was the greatest man at the Ness, and kept the best table. He seldom lacked of guests during the dark months. He was a most hospitable man—loving, as he said, everything on two legs. He had never accepted the new religion, and stood well with Thorberg, but had such respect for her that he would never ask her to come to a feast unless the entertainment were what he thought worthy of her. This year, with Thorbeorn and Gudrid in the house, he felt that she ought to be asked up, so sent a man out to invite her, naming the day when the feast would be ready. Thorberg returned word that she would come, but made no promises of what she would say.
Immediately, Heriolf set about his preparations and, immediately, there was trouble with Thorbeorn. He did not like it at all. He took it ill that there should be such a fuss. Thorberg, it seemed, must have a high seat; she must be escorted to the feast; she must have her particular food, dressed just so; she must be treated with great respect, let alone, never crossed, never importuned. And he a Christian! "Heathen customs!" he said. "Friend, you shall have me excused. These things smell of brimstone. I could not be present by any means, and don't desire that Gudrid should be involved."
But Heriolf scouted him. "Hey," he said, "please yourself! But as for Gudrid, let her alone. Why should she not hear what the world has to say to her? What harm can come to a good girl? All kinds make this world."
Gudrid, whose hair he pulled, as he spoke, in a very friendly way, seeing his eyes twinkling and his lips twitching, coloured, but said that she should like to be at the feast. It was true, but apart from the truth, she would not hurt Heriolf's feelings.
"Of course you would like it," said Heriolf, greatly pleased. "I never knew a handsome girl yet who did not like to be told about it. Thorberg thinks a deal of handsome persons. You will find that she has a wonder-deal to tell about you. And perhaps we shall learn what my son Biorn means to do with himself when he comes home here, and finds a flower in the garth." Gudrid coloured more than ever at this; but she liked it. Thorbeorn waved his hand before him as though to brush gossamer from his path, and stalked away with his chin in the air, and his beard jutting out like a willow in the wind. He kept his word, though; and took himself to bed when the feast began.
These were the preparations made for Thorberg's visit. A high seat was set for her at the right hand of Heriolf's own, and upon it a cushion worked with runes and dragons in knots, stuffed with hen's feathers. That had to be wherever she went. Then she must sit in the chief place at the table, beside the giver of the feast, and her food must be seen to. First she must have a mess of oats seethed in kids' milk; then, for her meat, a dish made of the hearts of animals. Gizzards, too, of birds, and their livers, must be in it. There were to be set for her a brass spoon, and an ivory-hilted knife with rings of bronze upon the handle. She had a great horn for a beaker, adorned with silver; and then her drink was to be hot mead, with spices and apples floating in it. Heriolf saw to everything.
When all was ready, and the guests expected, a man was sent out to her house to bring Thorberg to the feast; and when all the guests were gathered, but by no means before, in she came. She was a tall fair woman, blue-eyed, broad-shouldered and of large presence. She had a wild, rich, comely face. She was dressed in a black robe which gleamed and reflected light. It clung to her as if she had been dipped in water. Silver clasps held it under the bosom, and from neck to foot it was set with large blue stones. Round her neck she had a string of beads, of red amber, as large as seagulls' eggs. She walked with a staff, knotted with amber; on her head was a hood of black lambskin, lined with white. There was a girdle round her loins made of dried puff-balls strung together, and a fishskin pouch hung from that, in which were the charms she used in her prophesying. Her shoes were calfskin with the hair outside, and were bound to her ankles with broad leather thongs. She had gloves on when she came in—catskin gloves with the hair turned inwards. So dressed, holding herself high and queenly, she stood in the doorway, and said, "Hail to this house," in a deep voice, like a bell. Then she took off her hood and gloves and gave them to him who attended upon her, while Heriolf came up to her, took her hands and kissed them, saying, "Sibyl, you are welcome."
After Heriolf all the company came crowding about her and saluted her as if she were a princess. To some she was gracious, at some she stared as if she could see through them to the wall beyond, at some she muttered with her lips and looked about, as if she were uneasy till they were gone. All the women curtseyed and kissed her hand, and presently Heriolf brought Gudrid to her. Gudrid did not kiss her hand, but curtseyed and spoke her fairly. Thorberg frowned, not unkindly.
"And who art thou, my child?"
Gudrid said, "I am a stranger, not long come to Greenland. I am Thorbeorn's daughter, of Bathbrink in Iceland."
"You have a good face, and a fair one," said Thorberg, "and yet you will not kiss my hands." Gudrid coloured and looked down. "Perhaps the day will come when you will kiss them," Thorberg said. "It would be no shame to you to do it."
Gudrid then said, "I will do it now if you will let me." But Thorberg patted her cheek and said, "By and by." The people thought that Gudrid had shown good manners by offering and that Thorberg was pleased with her.
They spread the table for the feast, and Gudrid served the guests with the other girls of the house. Thorberg sat by Heriolf, and said very little, which was all to the good, since it made men treasure what she did say, and find more in it than may have been there. Then, when the tables had been cleared, Heriolf stood up and asked her if she had been well-treated. Thorberg said, "You have given me your best, Franklin. No one can look for more."
"Would it please you, then, to reveal certain things to the company?"
She stared before her. "What do you desire to know?"
"Why," said Heriolf, "we should like to know how it stands with this house, and with those who are in it, and those who are of it; and how long these plagues of sickness and death are to oppress us; and other things which you may read out of the dark, and be moved to tell us."
She thought for a while, looking down the hall above the heads of those who stood to hear her. Just below the dais Gudrid was standing with the house-girls.
After a time Thorberg said, "Set me the spell-seat," and remained abstracted while it was being done.
Heriolf set up the spell-seat, and then Thorberg opened her pouch of magic and took out certain small flat stones covered with writing, and some tufts of feathers, a lump of brown amber, a ring of jet, and some teeth of a great sea-beast. All these she laid round the seat in a circle, except the ring of jet, which she kept in her hand. Then she sat upon the spell-seat, and said to Heriolf, "Bring me the woman who is to sing the Ward-locks." Those were the charms which had to be sung, not so much to invoke the spirits with whom she was familiar as to keep away those who were adverse.
Every man looked at his neighbour; the women whispered together, but all shook their heads. In and out among his guests Heriolf ran in a great taking. "Heard any one the like of this, that I should think of everything, and fail for one?" But nobody knew the songs. In his naked bed behind the wall lay old Thorbeorn with the blanket up to his nose, and jerked his thin legs, losing not one tittle of all this.
Presently, with Heriolf hot and flustered and at his wits' end, with women scouring the kitchen and the bower to find some one not counted yet, Gudrid turned round about to face the Wise Woman. She was pale, but her eyes were bright. "Whisht now," Thorberg cried in her deep tones; "heed the fair girl." The hush then was dreadful, but Gudrid said what was in her. "I am not a sorceress, and know nothing of magic, but Halldis my foster-mother taught me some songs which she said were Ward-locks and charms." Heriolf clapped his hands, and Thorberg smiled and said, "I believed thee wise when I saw thee first. And now perhaps it is for me to kiss thy hands, or even for the most of this company, for thou art timely as well as wise."
But Gudrid looked troubled. She did not at all wish to sing. "The songs," she said, "were sung idly at home while we sat at needlework. They did not mean anything to me. I thought no harm of them."
"Nor is there harm, my child," said Thorberg.
Gudrid said, "But this is a rite, and the song is part of it. I think I ought not to sing, because I am a Christian."
Thorberg was still smiling, but her eyes glittered. "It may be that thou canst serve the company here, and do no harm to thyself. Who should think the worse of thee? Certainly not I. But this is for our host to see about. It is he who made me sit here."
Now it was Heriolf's turn, and he pressed Gudrid hard. The girls too, and all the women who were there, were closely about her, asking with eyes and voices. Gudrid could not resist them, though she knew Thorbeorn would be angry, and believed herself that she ought not to have anything to do in magic. But she promised. The women made a circle about her; she thought for a little while, then lifted her head, and sang loud and clear—
"To Vala sang Vrind, The first charm I wind— What evil thou meetest Let drop it behind. Thyself for guide, The ghost is defied— Look forth To what thou shalt find.
Next charm I call— If despair thee befall As thou goest thy journey, May the Good Folk wall With wings, with wings Thy wayfarings— Look forth, Fear not at all.
This third charm I make— If the dark thee take On the road thou goest For this man's sake, May the hags of night Do thee no spite. Look forth, My heart is awake.
The fourth charm I tell Is the loosing spell— Though they bind thee in fetters And cast thee in cell, No walls shall clip thee, The irons shall slip thee— Look forth, All shall go well."
The song was to a strange wild air, very beautiful, known to many, of whom many had tears in their eyes to hear it again, and sung so well. Thorberg sat with her eyes closed, and nodded her head to the beats of it. It made a great effect, and Gudrid was praised by everybody. When it was over, Thorberg, being squarely on the spell-seat, said to her: "I thank you for the song, and for the good heart which was in it. I tell you that many beings besides those whom you see have been drawn in by the sound of your voice, beings who without it would have passed over our heads and paid no heed to us and our concerns. They have been here, they are here now all about us, and by their means I see many things clearly. And first, you, Heriolf, need not fear the death nor the sickness which are rife at this time. They will pass with the winter, and return again with another winter; and for a long time the winter will be hard upon you men in Greenland."
So much she said to Heriolf, but she had not ended her soothsay. Her eyes returned to Gudrid, who stood just below her.
"As for you, my daughter," she said, "I can read what is in store for you as if it was written in a book. You will have three husbands here in Greenland, and shall not go far to get them. All will be honourable men. One will be a famous man, and one an ugly man; but he will be kind. With all of them you will go great journeys over sea, but they will not all last long. One journey you will go, to a country far from here, which will be of the greatest length, and have hardships in it, and wonders, and a good gift for you. But all your ways lead to Iceland, and thither you will return. Out of you will come a great race of men, and you shall end your life-days in the way that pleases you best." Then her eyes grew less blank, and seemed able to see more clearly. She held out her hand towards Gudrid, who stood rooted, staring up with great eyes. "Farewell, daughter, and I give you hail," she said. Gudrid ran up the steps and kissed her hand.
Gudrid's fortune was envied by the girls of the house, who expressed themselves freely about it. "With your looks," they said, "it was to be expected she would take notice of you. But to see so much, and to tell you all!" The poor girl herself, however, took it very hard, and saw herself punished for impiety. She felt as if she was branded for ever—the girl who was to kill two men, and perhaps a third. In her mind's eye she could see that doomed first husband of hers, the shadow coldly upon him, herself looking sorrowfully at him, seeing him in the shadow but not able to speak of it. Her heart gave a leap of gratitude that Einar had been sent away by her father. It might have been he in the shadow. But would he be the second? Ah, no, she vowed he should not. Or would he be the third? Not if the third was to be an ugly man. Then there was the promise of the end: "Your ways tend to Iceland . . . thither you will return . . . you shall end your life-days in the way that pleases you best." Could that mean that Einar——? But after three honourable men had received death at her hand! She shuddered and hugged herself against the cold. Not even the promise of Einar seemed fortification enough for that. Nevertheless, there was comfort in the last days. She told her bedfellow stoutly that she did not believe a word of it, but the girl merely stared at her. Then she said: "I know who your first husband will be if he can persuade Thorbeorn. It is Skeggi of Whitewaterstrand." After that Gudrid had to be told all about it.
She told her father too—but not so stoutly—that she did not believe it; but in her heart she felt that it must be true. As for Thorbeorn, who had heard it all through the wall, whatever he may have thought, he was very indignant, and angry with her too. "Put such mummery out of your head. We are not Christians for nothing, I should hope. A scandalous hag with her bell-wether voice and airs of a great lady! What has she to do with good women, well brought up? A woman's duty is to leave match-making to her parents, and the future to God and His Angels. Who can foretell his end? Can the priest? Can the bishop? No. And who would wish to know it? Ask yourself. I am vexed that we should have fallen upon a heathen house, and much more that you should have lent yourself to its wicked customs."
Gudrid excused herself. "I couldn't help myself. They are kind people. It would have been ungracious. And I did know the songs. How could I have said I did not?"
"And who taught you such songs?"
"Halldis sang them," she said; "I learnt them of her."
He had to allow for much that she urged. "Well, think no more of it," he bade her.
"No, I must not," she said.
"When the time comes, when we are settled by Eric Red, I shall find a good husband for you, beyond a doubt."
"Yes," said Gudrid.
"Then we shall have the laugh of these mystery-mongers."
"As for me, I never heard such nonsense in my days."
"No," said Gudrid, looking about for a way of escape. She could neither put it out of her head, nor believe it nonsense. Fate hung heavy on her like a pall of smoke.
She had Skeggi of Whitewaterstrand pointed out to her by her room-mate, and recognised him as a young man she had often seen at the house. Now immediately she looked upon him with tenderness, and received his advances to acquaintance with such kindness that he conceived high hopes and went about with his chest swelling with pride. But all the time he was talking to her, or at her, rather, with the other girls, her heart was calling to him, "Do not marry me, do not, do not——" which he, unfortunately, interpreted in the opposite sense.
Oddly enough, though every one in the Settlement had heard the soothsay, and nobody doubted it, she was the only person concerned who took it closely to heart. Young Skeggi was earnest to have her to wife, and asked Heriolf to put his case forward to Thorbeorn. Thorbeorn, however, would have nothing to say to him. Skeggi disappeared, and Gudrid had a moment's ease.
The first things foretold by Thorberg came about with the quickening of the year. With the first blowing of the warm wet wind of the west, the fogs began to roll away off the land and pile themselves upon the flanks of the mountains. Then, when the earth had warmth enough in her body to thaw the iron mail about her ribs, the sickness in the Settlement abated. Men felt the light, and saw whence it came. The sun showed himself, first like a silver coin, then with sensible heat. The cattle were put out to pasture, the sheep could move and nibble about the foothills. Hens began to lay, cows to give milk, sheep to drop lambs. Thorbeorn made ready to sail to Ericsfrith, and Gudrid was able to forget that she was marked with a curse.
So the day for sailing came, a bright spring day with a soft wind, which crisped the waters of the bay and heaped froth upon the stones. At parting, old Heriolf twinkled his kind and frosty eyes upon Gudrid. "Farewell, my child," he said; "you are a notable woman who will do great things." She smiled, but sadly. "It seems I am to bring unhappiness to many," she said. "No, no, that's not how I look at it," said Heriolf. "Men must die, we all know. But more than one are to have your love and kindness while they live—and that is more than they ought to expect. If I were not so old, or my son Biorn were at home, we would keep you in the family. Who wants a long life? Not I, though I have had it. But who wants a good wife? Who does not?"
Gudrid said, "To be good is the least I can do. It seems very easy. But to be happy is difficult."
"I never found it so," said old Heriolf. And so they parted, she whither Fate beckoned her, and he to go fishing.
Eric Red, who lived at Brattalithe in Ericsfrith, had been a notable man all his life, and a man of mettle. In Earl Hakon's day in Norway he had been a Viking, had made a few friends and many enemies; then he had gone out to Iceland and founded a family in the west country, which might have endured to this day if it had not been for his headstrong way of doing. But, as before, he made more enemies than friends; and when he killed the son of Thorgest the Old, and was pursued for the slaughter at the Thing, he found that there was more feeling against him than he had reckoned on, and that Iceland could not hold him much longer. By what shifts a ship was hidden for him among the islands, and how his friends got him down by night, and rowed him aboard, and how he slipped his cable and escaped pursuit, cannot be told here. Enough to say that he found his way to Greenland, and chose out a fair haven for himself and his company. When he was settled in, and had his town of Ericshaven marked out, and his house built, he felt himself like a king and cast about for alliances. He sent out messengers to Iceland calling upon all men who had been his friends to rally about him. Many came, and by the time his friend Thorbeorn had decided to join him there was a strong settlement at Ericshaven.
Eric was now grown old, and was very fat. He thought himself that his work was over, but had hopes to see it continued in his sons. He had three sons by his wife Theodhild; the eldest was Leif, who was abroad at this time, supposed to be in Orkney. Leif was a fine tall man who took after his mother, and had none of Eric's fiery colour; the second son was Thorstan, who was as red as a fox; the third was Thorwald, and resembled Leif, but was of slighter build. Then there was a tempestuous daughter, named Freydis, a strongly made, fierce girl, who was fated to do terrible things. She was married to one of Eric's vassals, a man called Thorward of Garth, but treated him with great contempt and did just what she pleased. As for Theodhild, Eric's wife, she was a Christian at this time, and had taken herself out of Brattalithe for religion's sake. She had built a church in Ericshaven and found a priest to serve it; and now she lived in a small house hard by and practised austerities. She was a very stately woman, and held in great estimation all over the settled country. Eric Red was uneasy with her, because he believed that she scorned him; but her sons used to go to see her. She had quarrelled with Freydis irrevocably, and if she met her anywhere would never take any notice.
Thorbeorn was made welcome at Brattalithe and great attention shown to his fair daughter. Women were scarce in Greenland. Eric's two sons, Thorstan and Thorwald, immediately wanted her; but Thorstan was the elder and stronger, and soon came to terms with Thorwald. "My mind," he said, "is set upon Gudrid, and I am older than you by a good deal. I advise you to be my friend in the affair, otherwise no one knows how it may turn out." Thorwald said that that was fair enough: "But I advise you to be sharp about it." "Why so?" said Thorstan. Thorwald told him that he would be only one of many. He named one or two, and Thorstan frowned. Thorstan was a very honest man; he was a good poet and a great man for dreams, but slow and heavy minded. "A man must not be driven in such a matter," he said. "A man should not need it," Thorwald replied. "As you have spoken to me, so do you speak to Gudrid's old iron father. Hammer him smartly; knock sparks out of him. If you do not, some one else will, and I shall have wasted benevolence upon you. If you are not to be the lucky man, why am I to be thrown aside?"
This was in the very early days, before Thorbeorn had taken up lands in the Settlement. He was all that summer the guest of Eric at Brattalithe, and there was a great deal to do. Eric and Thorbeorn rode about the country, talking of this land and that. Gudrid fell into the ways of the house and made herself useful. She was taken to see Theodhild, and became friends with the stern, lonely woman. Theodhild spent much of her time in the little dark church she had had built. Until Gudrid came, she and the priest had had it pretty much to themselves, for the people in the Settlement stood by Eric, their great man. But Gudrid went to church with Theodhild, and renewed her emotions. She seemed to escape from her shadow in there. One little twinkling light before the altar shone to her through the fog and bade her still to hope.
Then there was Freydis. Oddly enough Freydis took to her, though she pretended to despise her. "You are one of those women whom men go mad about—one of the meek, still women who madden men," she said. "But I am one whom men madden rather; for I hate them and detest their ways, and yet cannot get on without them." Gudrid denied her maddening qualities, and denied that she was meek or still. She assured Freydis that she herself could get on very well without marriage. "I used not to think about it at all until I came to this country where, it seems to me, nobody thinks of anything else. The first thing that happened to me was dreadful. It is no wonder if I think about it now."
Freydis wished to hear what dreadful thing it was, and with a little pressing Gudrid told her what Thorberg had prophesied. Freydis stared. "Is that all? You have only to live in Greenland and live to be a hundred and you might have as many husbands. People die here in the winter like tadpoles in a dry summer. Three! Her moderation alarms me."
"But I must be sure of the death of two men!" said poor Gudrid.
"You must be sure of the death of every man in the world," said Freydis. "It may be that you will be glad enough to be sure of it before you have done with them. I am sure that I should be."
That was all the comfort she got out of Freydis; but happily she had a diversion of her thoughts. Biorn Heriolfsson, who had come round the Ness soon after Thorbeorn sailed, now came up to see Eric Red.
He was a brisk, vivacious man, with a good conceit of himself, and had much that was interesting to say of the new countries he had visited. Gudrid was rapt in attention, for every word he said seemed to make Einar visible to her, with his bright eyes, his ear-rings, his soft eager voice and his white teeth. Einar now stood for all sorts of things besides himself to Gudrid. He stood for home; he stood for Halldis and Orme who had loved her well; and he stood for the days when no heavy fate hung between her and the blue sky. He stood to her as to us the song of a lark may stand, when we are shut up within the walls of a town. She would have married him gladly, but for the Fate; but she no longer thought of him as a lover.
Therefore on account of all that he stood for—home, freedom, loving-kindness, hopefulness—she was enthralled by Biorn's talk, and could not hear enough of the new countries which he had seen. Einar's account of what he had done and where been was quite true. A fair wind took him out from Reekness, and he sailed before it until he had lost the land for two days. Two more days it held, then veered to the northward and blew down upon them the dense Greenland fog. He was now helpless, and for a week or more had no knowledge of his course; but he observed that a strong current was bearing him, as he thought, westward. That might be all to the good, he judged, forgetting how far south he had run before the thick weather caught him; anyhow, there was nothing to be done except to keep a sharp look-out for land a-starboard. He passed several icebergs and had a touch-and-go business with some of them, he said.
At last the fog lifted a little, and a light and fitful wind began to blow—from what quarter they had no means of knowing, but it was a chill wind. Biorn guessed it was northerly. He saw the stars before he saw the sun, and got his bearings. Next day it was fair. The sun rose out of the sea. The ship was heading nor'-nor'-west. He hoisted all sail, and made brave work of it. In the course of that day they saw land ahead, a long low line of dark, like a bank of rain-cloud. Biorn ran on, heading straight for it, but he had his doubts from the first, and when they could make out the country better he said to his mate, "That's never Greenland."
Sounding carefully, they came within two miles of the land, and could hear the thunder of the surf, and see it too. The sea was like a hilly country with troughs between the rollers like broad ghylls, Biorn said. He would be a bold man who tried to land there from a boat.
The country looked to be low-lying, with a sandy shore blown into small pointed hills. Behind those, so far as the eye could reach, there was a dense woodland—most of it black, or looking so, but with patches and belts of red and rose-colour; like flames, said Biorn. No mountains, no snow at all, though by now it was winter in Iceland. Biorn said, "I knew very little about it, to be sure, but knew it was not Greenland the White."
Eric asked him why he had not landed. "How should I land in a surf like that? And what was I to do in the country with my Norway merchandise still aboard, and my father God knew where? I knew he was not there—and that was enough for me."
"But, Biorn," said Gudrid, flushed and eager, "that was a new country you had found. How could you pass it by?"
"All very well," said Biorn, "but I'll trouble you to remember that Greenland was a new country to me—and my father in it moreover. And one new country at a time is enough, I suppose."
He went on to say that he coasted those flat wooded shores for the better part of two days and nights, keeping the land on his port bow, but when, as it seemed to him, the coast-line turned westward as if to make a great bay, thinking he would cut across it, he held on his course. It was another two-three days before they made land again, and then it was the same thing as before—woods, swamps, sand, driving rain, or good sunshine; and still no snow. Now he had trouble with his crew, who were for running into the land. They wanted wood and water, they said; but Biorn wouldn't have it. "I wanted my father," he said, "and besides there was abundance of water."
"What you wanted your father for beats me," said Eric, and Gudrid's bright eyes sparkled their approval of his judgment.
"A man may want to see his father more than a foreign country, I suppose," said Biorn. "You forget that I have seen a deal of foreign countries—Russia, Sweden, Dantzick and what-not."
Well, then they sailed for three days and nights before a spanking breeze from the southwest, and ran into the true winter cold, and presently saw land for the third time—snow mountains wreathed with cloud, snow upon the sea-beach itself. Biorn said it was an unchancy, inhospitable kind of country where his father would never choose to live. It was deep water so that they could come close in. There were no signs of habitancy; but there were white bears to be seen, in plenty. That was an island, he said. They held on their course, which was N.E. by E., the breeze stiffened into a gale; and then it came on to blow hard. They had more than enough of it under shortened sail, and shipping green seas every fourth wave. Then, for the fourth time, they sighted land, and a great ness which ran far out into the sea. "Greenland!" said Biorn; and Greenland it was. On the lee side of that ness was the very town about his father's house; and the very first man he saw was his father, with lobster-pots all round him.
That, he said, was how it had been, and anybody was welcome to the news. As for himself, he was a trader, and had no mind for fancy voyages. Eric said that he might take the adventure up himself, but at any rate his son Leif would take it up. Thorwald said that he intended to go if Leif would take him. "I want to see that country where there is no winter. That's the place for me. Will you come too, Thorstan?"
But Thorstan was looking at Gudrid and did not hear him.
Biorn stayed on some time longer with Eric Red, and had some talk with Gudrid. He had had his eye on her from the beginning, with curious, considering looks. After several attempts, swallowed down by himself with abrupt decision, he did manage to speak out. "It was of you that Thorberg prophesied at the Ness, I expect," he said.
"Yes, it was," said rueful Gudrid.
He tossed his foot from the knee, and looked at it swinging. "Such things as that make a man thoughtful."
Gudrid bent over her needlework. "You may be sure that she made me thoughtful."
"Well," said Biorn, "it is a glory to a woman to hear the like of that. But it makes a man think twice. Now, I daresay my father spoke to you about me, with a nod and wink, as we say? He is fond of me, is my father."
"And you, certainly, of him," Gudrid said. "You seem to be a loving couple."
"He spoke to me about you," Biorn went on, pursuing his own thoughts. "He was much taken with you, and seemed to think you were singled out for great honour. And clearly you are. But I value my life—and so I told my father. And then he spoke scornfully to me, and hurt my feelings." Gudrid found something to smile at in this.
But while she scared Biorn she attracted the brothers at Brattalithe, and others besides them. Thorstan Ericsson was exceedingly shy, and would never go into the bower to talk to the girls, nor into kitchen or wash-house when they were working there if he could help it. So he saw very little of Gudrid, and had nothing to say to her when he did see her. Yet he loved her deeply within himself, in an honourable way of worship, with no jealousy about it. Thorwald, his younger brother, was always in and out of the women's quarters, teasing the girls, getting in their way, and making them laugh. He was often outrageous, but they all liked him, and Thorstan trusted in his loyalty. He told Gudrid that Thorstan thought a great deal about her; but she knew that already. She used to sing in the evenings when the hall was full, and everybody praised her except Thorstan; yet she knew that he was more affected than any one. She felt his heavy eyes on her, and used to think of songs which would please him.
But Thorstan was dumb, and others were not. One day in the spring Gudrid was sent for. She was in the wash-house, up to the elbows in lather and foam, in no state for company. All the girls stopped work, and one said, "A wooer for Gudrid," and another, "Thorstan has found his voice." But they all helped her to make herself tidy, and wished her joy. She went out with all her colours flying. Her father was by the fire in the hall; Eric Red with him; and another man was standing there, tall and heavily made, in a red cloak. She had not seen him before. He was a dark-hued man, with bent brows, rather shaggy, and had a black beard. He kept his head bent, and his hands behind his back, but looked at her as she came in. So did Eric, in a kindly way. Thorbeorn only looked at the fire.
She went up to her father and put her hand on his shoulder. There was a short silence—but not enough time for her to collect her thoughts. Indeed, she had no thoughts.
"Gudrid," said Thorbeorn, "we think it is time for you to be settled, and have here an honourable man who has asked for you. He is our friend, Thore Easterling. He is well-descended and of good estimation with our host. His family is of Ramfirth in Iceland, and he has a fine estate here in Ericshaven. He has the new faith which we believe to be the true faith. Now we think you ought to feel yourself happy, being sure that you have every reason to be so. It will be a good marriage for you."
Gudrid said nothing, and kept her eyes fixed on the ground. Presently she removed her hand from her father's shoulder, let it fall to her side, and stood alone. It was a painful pause, felt to be so by all four, and broken presently by Thore himself. "Lady," he said, "I hope to have your good will in this. I have few pretentions to a lady's liking, but believe I am an honest and friendly man. If you will accept of my love and service I am content to trust myself to win yours."
Gudrid's throat was dry. She had difficulty in speaking. "I shall do my duty," she said. And then, "I shall obey my father in all things, as I ought."
Eric went over to her and took her hand. "I won't deny I shall be sorry to see you leave Brattalithe," he said. "I tell Thore here that if my Leif had been at home there's no saying what might have happened—but as it is, he's the lucky one. He will have a sweet wife, and owe it to us that she is as happy as she is good." She gave him a swift and searching look, a flash of gratitude in it for his humanity, but resumed her searching of the floor. Thorbeorn rose from his chair and said to Eric that they had better leave the pair together—but then Gudrid looked wild. "May I not go now? Must I stay here?" Her eyes asked so of Eric, but he only smiled. She caught at her father's sleeve. Then Thorbeorn kissed her forehead and said a few words of blessing. He and Eric went out together.
When they were gone Thore went over to Gudrid and put his arm firmly round her. "I see, my dear, that you are upset by this news of ours. Be sure that I understand it. My belief is, that you will be happy with me. I have a good house, warm and dry. You will see company, you will have your maids to see after; and when we have settled down together—maybe before the end of the summer, we will take ship to Iceland and pay a visit to my old mother who is in charge of my property out there. Now let me hear your voice. I know how sweetly you can talk—for I've heard you. And your singing makes me younger: a dreamer of dreams."