THE IRON STAR And what It saw on Its Journey through the Ages
From Myth to History
JOHN PRESTON TRUE Author of "Scouting for Washington," "Their Club and Ours," "Shoulder Arms," etc.
Illustrated by Lilian Crawford True
This is a wonderful old world of ours, the one we live in. It is wonderful to think how it has grown, day by day, year by year, century by century, and by each step of Time just a little better worth living in. It is like a beautiful fairy story, with the great advantage of being true.
Of course none of us were here when the world began, so we did not see the beginning of it, but some of us have worked the problem backward through the years to find out what the beginning was like; and starting from a good dry spot, if you follow the wanderings of my Iron Star, I believe you will at no time be very far from the truth of the way in which girls and boys and their elders lived in the days now long ago. Will you make the journey with me?
J. P. T.
HOW THE STAR CAME INTO THIS WORLD.
HOW THE STAR AGAIN BEGAN TO TRAVEL.
HOW THE STAR WAS CARRIED ON THE WARPATH, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
HOW THE STAR WENT TO THE NORTHLAND.
HOW THE STAR FLEW INTO MANY PIECES AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
HOW FRAGMENTS OF THE STAR TRAVELLED TO A FAR COUNTRY.
HOW THE STAR HELPED ULF THE SILENT TO WIN A GREAT NAME.
HOW THE IRON STAR VISITED A GREAT KING.
HOW THE STAR HELPED TO WIN A THRONE.
HOW THE STAR SANG A SONG OF FREEDOM TO A CAPTIVE KING.
HOW THE STAR WAS PRESENT AT THE GREAT GIFT OF THE BARONS.
AND HOW IT WENT HALF ROUND THE EARTH, YET CROSSED AGAIN AT LAST THE TRAIL OF LEIF ERICSSON.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE FALLING OF THE STAR
STONE AGE SPEARS AND POTTERY
KNIVES, FROM THE BRONZE AGE
THE STORIES OF UMPL'S HUNTING
"JARL SIGURD, THRALL AM I, YET A CHIEF'S SON ALSO"
HOW EDITH FAIRHAIR SPUN THE SNOW-WHITE YARN
ULF, THE YOUNG VIKING
THE STATUE OF LEIF ERICSSON
THE HUNTING OF THE BEAR
THE GHOSTS AND WOLVES THEY SAW BEYOND THE FIRE
THE FLAG OF THE WHITE BEAR'S HEAD
WHERE LOUIS FOUND THE ARMOUR OF THE VIKING
THE IRON HAND ON THE MAGNA CHARTA
THE TENT POLE OF THE SARACEN
IN THE CAMP OF THE ARABS
CAPTAIN MYLES STANDISH
HOW THE STAR CAME INTO THIS WORLD.
To begin with, it all happened a very long time ago,—some say five thousand years, some say ten thousand years, and one wise man says it never happened at all; but even the wise are not wise at all times, and I am inclined to believe that it was in one of those unwise times that the doubt was raised; for I believe it happened, although I am not sure about the date.
One thing is certain: there was a time when Europe was about all forest, where it wasn't water or bare rock. There were no cities, so of course there were no policemen. There were not even kings and queens, although the present kings and queens don't like to be reminded that there ever was a time when the world got along without any. They think it is impolite. Of course, sometimes it is impolite to tell the truth, and then one can only say nothing, or talk of the weather. So any young king or queen who reads this may go back and read it again and skip that line.
Be it as it may, there once lived in that great forest a boy and his sister. Not being able to speak their language I do not know what their names may have meant; but they had names, one sounding like a grunt, the other a hiss. Better call them Umpl and Sptz, which is as near as I can come to it. Of course Sptz was the girl; and they both believed most firmly in hobgoblins, evil spirits, wicked elves, that were ever on the watch for them in the dark; and when they heard the long cre-ak of a tree branch rubbing on another branch in the night as the wind arose, their ears told them that it was a branch, but their fears said it was a goblin, and in the night-time they believed their fears the most. If only they had fire, with its light and warmth, it would be different! So they thought many a day, when the sunlight glinted through the tree trunks and lay in spots upon the moss. Then the dark came down, and still they had no fire.
Does this seem strange? Remember, then, that matches were not made in those days. Sometimes they got fire by striking two bits of stone together. There were men who knew how to make fire by rubbing bits of wood together. Some day you might try that. I can promise you that you will get very warm; but I don't think it will be because of the fire which you make by it unless some one first shows you how, and Umpl and Sptz's father did not happen to be one of the men who knew how. It was thus a great misfortune when one day the fire went out, or, rather, was put out by the roof falling on it. You must know, that if this was before the days of cities, it was also before the days of houses, and our young friends lived in a cave. On the whole, it was a good cave, fairly high inside and small to get into, and not too smoky when the wind was right. When it wasn't they could go outside, or have a smaller fire: and when that ton of rock came down so suddenly on both fire and supper they were not at all surprised. It had happened before; but the father was angry just the same, and said that he would rather it had fallen on Sptz. Girls were not thought so much of in those days as they are now. But there! girls are like queens: they don't like to be reminded of such things.
Well, the fire was out. So was the supper. The father picked up his war-club and spear and went out after some more, thinking over in his mind which of his neighbours had a fire and at the same time was not at war with him. He did a deal of thinking and brought to mind every cave for forty or fifty miles around, then shook his shocky head. It was of no use whatever. It was all war. So, when he came back with a bundle of hares they had to cook their supper without any fire, and every one knows how hard that is.
What was nearly as bad, they could not depend on the fire to keep out night prowlers. As they sat in the cave one night the stars in the doorway were darkened. The father had just time to spring to the entrance with a spear when in came the huge head and shoulders of a monstrous Cave Bear. The spear bit deep into the vast shaggy chest and the air was filled with such a shuddering roar that several more pieces of stone fell from the roof; and after all it was not the spear, but the sand and sharp bits of stone which Umpl flung in his eyes that made the animal back out, growling and brushing his head in a rage. Sptz and her mother lost no time in heaping into the entrance all the stone blocks that lay around, till it was so small that they had to take some out in the morning so they themselves could go out, and the father vowed to be the death of that bear before he was a week older. But he looked blue as he said it, for he knew very well the bear would be more likely to be the death of him.
So all the more earnestly they watched the valley below them for some wreath of smoke aside from the well-known spots where enemies were cooking their dinners. Sometimes a thunder-storm would sweep across from peak to peak, and then they would all be out of the cave, looking eagerly. If a tree was struck by lightning, now, they might get fire from it. More than once a tree was struck and Umpl and Sptz raced off through the rain to the spot, regardless of the evil spirits which every Cave boy knew lived in the storm. But every time they arrived only to find that the drenching rain had washed out all of the fire but the smell, and that was not very satisfying; so they had to go disconsolately back and take the beating which they were sure to get for disappointing their elders, and had to do a double amount of work besides.
It was not all playtime with Umpl and Sptz by any means. Sptz had to help her mother about the cooking, when there was any. She also had to help tan the skins of wild animals into a beautifully soft kind of leather which they could make into cloaks for winter wear by pricking holes in them with sharp bits of bone and weaving thongs, instead of sewing edges together with needles and thread. Sptz never saw either in all her girl-life.
Umpl had his own work. Outside, hare-catching kept him busy. It is wonderful how many a family can eat when it tries hard, and when deer are scarce, or the father is a long way off on a hunt and there is no meat in the kitchen. Then he had to dig up certain juicy roots that were good—when he could find them. A great part of his time also was spent in breaking bones and stones into small pieces for his father to work up into arrowheads. Umpl hated that. He would not have minded doing the fine work about it, but just to crack bones all his spare time was not joyful; and, now that there was no fire to pull wood for, he had just so much more spare time for bone-cracking.
One afternoon both Umpl and Sptz went out together. It was not very late, and on so clear a day one could see a long way through the glades among the tree trunks, which was something to be considered. Once when it was not so clear they had spent a long time on the outer branches of a tree waiting for a Cave Bear to get hungry enough to give them up and hunt for another dinner. But this was a better day. They knew of a log in the forest, that was all covered with vines, and this was the time of the year when also it would be covered with berries that were worth having. They gave a careful look around before sitting down, marked a tree that looked like easy climbing, and then went for the berries; but they still sat facing different ways, so that any danger which might come from any side could be seen in time for flight. Overhead they had not thought of looking.
And yet it was from overhead that danger was coming. Far up in the sky a star was falling. Why it fell no one knows; but fall it did. It came hurtling out of space, like a great fiery dragon, leaving a long flaming train across the sky that lit up the whole world like a torch. The birds in the forest fluttered and screamed in fear. The wild beasts crouched under the largest trees that were near. It looked as though the whole world was on fire!
Many miles upward, if one goes so high, he comes to a place where there is no air. As you come nearer the earth you begin to find some, although very thin indeed. Then it grows thicker, till there is enough for one to breathe and live in. But the air is wrapped around the earth like a cushion, or like a peach around its stone; and you know that even a cushion, or a football, or a bicycle tire can be blown up with air so hard that it seems like a rock and would hurt if you struck it. The star struck this cushion. It was flying so fast— hundreds of miles a second, or in the time between two ticks of a clock—that the air which it met did not have time to be pushed out of its way, and it was like running up against a hard wall. There was an enormous crash like thunder, but ten thousand thousand times as loud, and that star broke all up into pieces.
The pieces flew every way. Some went scurrying off for hundreds of miles and fell into the sea, where they made the water around them boiling hot. Some probably flew back again the way the star had come. Some perhaps flew high enough to fall into the moon itself! but one piece, about as large as a bushel basket, came zipping downward at a long angle, like a blazing ball of flame, for it had struck the air so hard a blow that the heat of it had melted the fragment. Down it came, crashing through the great limbs of the trees beyond Umpl and Sptz with a huge rushing roar, and when it struck the earth the ground trembled for half a mile around, especially as it glanced from a ledge after diving deep in the soil, and came leaping out of the soil again only to fall with a thud a rod or two away.
It is hard to say whether Umpl or Sptz was the more frightened. Umpl thought of nothing but dragons, and was scared white. Sptz was whiter to begin with, as she lived more in the cave underground, and now that she thought the sky was falling she could think of nothing else. But she was the first to find out that they were not dead after all. Then she gave a start, and sniffed eagerly. She smelt something.
Jumping up on the log she looked around, and—no, it couldn't be! but it was, though—fire. Real fire! Smoking away merrily among the dead leaves where a bit of molten star had been scraped off by a tree trunk and had fallen. Sptz flew to it like a bird. In no time, more dead leaves were heaped around the light flame; with a shout of joy Umpl rushed to a windfall and brought an armful of wood, and soon a royal fire was sending out light and heat, beautifully nickering upward among the trees. Umpl knew what to do now as well as any one. He hunted up two pitchy sticks and set them both alight. Then he held them before him, crossed like a pair of scissors, with the flame where the joint was; and in that way he kept them both alight, burning each other up, until they reached home. And then—what a royal supper they had!
I might tell you many more things about Umpl and Sptz. For instance, how they went to the place again in after days and found the piece of the fallen star, broken into several pieces. And how Sptz found that one of them was just the thing to crack nuts on, and Umpl found another was quite as good as a bone-cracker, till his father took it from him and made a head of it for his war-club, where it did great bone-cracking in another way. And I might tell how Umpl learned at last to take one sharp stone and, by pressing on it with another, break off little chips until what was left became a beautiful arrowhead, and how he made so many, and so many chips around the cave, and so many other chipmakers were doing likewise, that to-day men call the time when Umpl lived the Stone Age, for all their axes, knives, and tools seemed made of stone. Some day I may tell more. Meanwhile, now you know how the Iron Star came into this world of ours.
HOW THE STAR AGAIN BEGAN TO TRAVEL.
It certainly seemed to both Umpl and Sptz that the iron mass which was once a falling star had brought good luck to them. Fire in itself was a grand thing. It was so good not to lie cold o' nights, or to be obliged to fill up the doorway with stones and pull them down in the morning. Many and many a time they went to the spot where the large piece lay and looked at it with half-frightened eyes. They could not understand it. Where did it come from? Why did it come there? When would it go away? Did a spirit throw it, or was it itself a spirit? All these and many other odd thoughts came to them because of it; and this was one of the very best things that ever happened to either. No other Cave boy or girl in the whole valley ever took the trouble to think about anything that was not connected with dinner, or the latest style of wearing burrs in their hair; and when Umpl thought so long about it that he feared it must be a spirit, and laid his best arrowhead on it as an offering, while Sptz for the same reason brought a queer bit of bone with a feather in one end and a scrap of rabbit fur around it, the thoughts were good for them. It did for their small brains just what a boy does for his arm when he swings a club or a dumb-bell. It made them stronger, so that they could use them for other things and use them better.
Umpl, for one thing, looked upward among the trees oftener. He saw more birds, he learned their actions better and so knew better how to have roast bird for supper. So perhaps they were right about the good luck. Besides, both of them were growing up. Sptz had learned to make acorn bread and found a hollow on the top of the Iron Star which was just the thing to grind up nuts in. Umpl was two feet taller than when the star fell, and could draw a bow and send an arrow right through a stag. And one great day he met a Cave Bear and sent his flint-headed shaft whistling with such force that it broke through the hard skull of the savage beast and dropped him in his tracks.
All his life long Umpl wore on his arm an ornament made out of the longest teeth and sharpest claws of that bear; and boys and girls looked at it and wondered if they would ever have the right to be so honored. Umpl had become a man. But he was a very young one still.
This luck did not follow every one in that long valley. There came a time when it did not rain for nearly a year. The springs stopped running. The birds flew away. The hares went, no one knew where. The stags disappeared. Food was hard to earn, and every meat-eater in the valley found it so, and many of them lived only by eating each other. Umpl's eyes were brighter, and he was thinner than in better days; yet he still managed to find some things eatable; and he laid it all to the Star. And one day he found himself a long way from the cave and among a dozen young men as hungry as himself, and each one ready to kill the other. It was very much as though they had all met there for a picnic.
It was a part of Umpl's good fortune that he had of late been carrying with him the Star-club that his father had made. On his arm gleamed the Cave Bear's teeth, grim and white; and when the others saw that they stopped to think a moment. They feared the bear. Who dared, then, to meet the Cave Bear's slayer? And then something happened which gave them other thoughts still more unpleasant.
Straight through the glade came the rush of galloping feet, and an antlered stag swept by like a stone from a sling. So swiftly did he pass that no arrow was ready save Umpl's. His went hurtling after, straight at the back of the tossing head, and the great deer fell in a heap, stone-dead. But what had scared him?
Ah! They did not need to ask. Gaunt, grey forms were rushing toward them. Green eyes were flashing in the black shadows beyond. They did not need the long howl to tell them that it was the wolf-pack from beyond the mountains, starved out of its usual range.
There was but one thing to do—to take to the trees; and it was well that the trees near by were low limbed. Umpl was the last one up. But he was also the only one who had a great slice of that stag as a luncheon. The fact that he had it proved that the white-toothed bracelet told the truth in regard to his bravery.
While the wolves fought over their prey below Umpl looked at them and thought. The others looked without thinking. Presently the noise grew less, and Umpl looked about him and began to talk to the other young men. He pointed out to them that one wolf, or two, would not have dared to attack them. But as a band they had made even the bracelet- wearer flee. So with themselves. One, or even two of them could not go to another land where there was more water and game; but suppose they stopped making war on each other and went as a band across the great mountains? This country was eaten out. There were not caves enough to go round among young men who wanted caves of their own. Elsewhere things might be better. They could not be worse. And he would go with them, taking Sptz, who could cook well, and the Iron Star, which would bring them luck.
It seemed a very good idea, especially to youths who had none of their own; and they agreed to form a band and go, if Umpl first would prove the luck of the Star.
The youth nodded, and held up his club.
"This was made from it. Now see!"
Tying to it one end of the long thong he always carried, Umpl flung the iron mass down on the head of a wolf that was trying to leap up within reach. The animal fell, and his mates sprang on him, as wolves will, and ate him up. Five times Umpl did it before the rest began to take warning, and even then a pretended tumble brought them back and three more fell. The rest ran back to a wider circle, and before they got over their scare Umpl was on the ground and back again, with his bow and quiver of arrows; and that was the beginning of the end of that wolf-pack, while every youth in the trees now believed in the Star.
They found the Iron Star was heavy. It took Umpl two days to plan out a way for them to carry it, and to cut down with stone axes saplings to sling it on. But the rest looked up to him as a leader now; and when they left the valley he was their chief, with Sptz trotting on behind carrying a skin of acorn-flour, and the crossed and lighted firebrands.
It was a weary march through the mountains. For many weeks they travelled. They found more game than in the valley behind, but nowhere enough to be worth staying for, and at last one morning they found a very curious thing. Across the gorge through which they were travelling there was a barricade of trees, which had been cut down by men. But why? It could not be for war, since they were not arranged in a way suitable for that. Still, men had done it, and they looked carefully around for the cave where the men belonged. It was better to find it than to be found by its owners.
But they did not find any. Beyond the barricade was a little meadow, shoulder deep in a curious grass with bristly heads which grew very thickly. Wading through it, beyond a thicket, the sight that met them struck them dumb with surprise! Before them was a lake. Out in the lake what seemed a cluster of dome-shaped rocks rose from the water, and a narrow path to shore was made with trunks of trees tied together. Before them, in a place fenced off, were stags of a kind they never saw before, with long smooth horns and shaggy, black hair. In among them wild pigs were grunting around a man who was feeding them, and this looked like witchcraft. Why did not the animals kill him instantly? They had met wild pigs in their old valley and held them in great respect as fighters. What kind of men were these who ruled such savage beasts? And was that a wolf, stealing toward them, and giving warning with that barking howl?
There were lively doings in that village when that howl went up. On the whole, it was well for Umpl and his party that Sptz was with them. Breaking a green branch, she went forward in advance and spears were slowly lowered. Someone was found who could speak a few Cave-Men words, and all could use sign language; so the case was explained and Umpl welcomed. The Star was given a special welcome and a hut all to itself.
Nothing in all their lives had seemed more curious to Umpl and Sptz than those huts. They were made of twigs and reeds wattled into basketwork, and then clay plastered over all until they were water tight, and they were perched on logs driven into the bottom of the lake like piles. There were clay things on the fires, too, and by the smell they knew that some good cooking was going on; but never before had they seen a pot that would hold water or stand fire.
On the other hand, Umpl was looked at with much respect by the Lake- Dwellers (as we now call those people). He was taller than they by half a head. The tooth bracelet told its own tale, for they, too, knew the Cave Bear. So they made him presents, and of value, one of the choicest being a knife of copper. This was a great wonder to Umpl and his people. A knife which would not break, as their flint ones did, but bent and could be pounded straight again, was exceedingly odd. They even showed Umpl a piece of copper which had been brought to the village in a large lump by some young men from a far country, and explained how the knife had been hammered out with stones.
This gave Umpl an idea. Taking a flint knife he sawed off a slice of copper from the lump and with his iron war-club he hammered it out on the Iron Star and fashioned a beautiful spearhead in no time, the iron clinking merrily beneath his blows. There was a great rush around him after that. Every one who had copper wanted it worked up, and Umpl was clear-headed enough to bargain for a hut for his people and one for himself and Sptz.
Here he lived happily for many years. He owned a share in the long- horned cattle. His men were the best hunters in the village, and the copper things he made were sought for by men who came long distances. Sometimes they brought him bars of copper. After a time some one brought tin, and two pieces fell into the fire one day, along with a copper knife, and all three were melted into one and cooled in a little hollow in the ashes after the fire was out. Umpl was astonished to find that the sharp edge of this would cut like flint, yet would not bend like copper; and he began to make regular knives and spearheads of such material, finding out a way of making clay moulds and pouring the melted metal into them to harden into the right shapes. Of course these were far more valuable than the copper tools and they were sold here and there among the tribes of other peoples, and often travelled far from where they were made. Other people began to find out how to make them, and made so many that, although they still used flint knives too, yet people nowadays when speaking of that long ago time often call it the Bronze Age, because tin and copper, when melted together in a certain way, make bronze. But the Iron Star's travels were not ended.
HOW THE STAR WAS CARRIED ON THE WARPATH, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Just why it seemed necessary for Umpl and his people to go to war with anybody may not be clear. They were living very happily in their village on the lake. Their cattle were fat; their fields of that curious grass through which Umpl had waded before he knew what it was good for were sure to harvest grain enough to make bread, and Sptz had found that grain-bread was as much better than acorn-bread as sponge cake is better than gingerbread; although both gingerbread and acorn- bread are good enough for any one, when one cannot get anything better.
Sptz had found many things in that village which were just what she wanted. For one thing, out of the long, shaggy hair of the longer- horned cattle had been found a way of spinning thread and weaving cloth in pretty patterns. Sptz could dress a deerskin beautifully, and make out of it a cloak fit for a warrior to wear, but she had never learned to weave. Still, when the other girls showed their best dresses to each other and chattered, and looked over their shoulder at Sptz in her deerskin mantle, some young man with a bracelet on his arm would be quite likely to pass by them and go straight to Sptz with strings of white and pearly beads in his hand—beads made from the shells which he had found in lake and river—and ask her to make for him a warrior's cloak. Such beads were not found every day. To have as many as a dozen strings around one's neck, and all one's sleeves trimmed with them, and enough left to weave in and out of one's glossy black hair, and to make a broad, tinkling band around each ankle—why, Sptz was a rich girl! and best of all, it was all her own earning. No one gave it to her for nothing. Her own ten fingers and round arms had won those jewels.
By-and-by some chief as wise as Umpl and as great would come from a far-off village, with the teeth of the Cave Bear on his arm, and the feather of the eagle in his hair; by his side would hang a sword of ruddy copper; in his hand would be a spear tufted with finest fur. The green branches of peace would be waved, and he would pass in peace along the plank-way from the shore; but while he talked with Umpl and the other chiefs at the council his eyes, like a wise man's, would be roving hither and yonder, learning much about this new village and its people. And there, as she would be standing modestly behind the village girls, yet a full head taller than any of them, and straight as a young pine, with the sunlight flashing on her necklaces, there he would see—Sptz.
What was to happen next she would not say, even to herself. But she worked very hard at her deerskins, and always had one in hand, pricking little holes in it in odd and fashionable patterns, into which she could rub berry stain. Sometimes she ornamented them with pictures of animals, queerly drawn, which were thought very fine. But here Umpl could beat her.
Umpl could take a great bone, and with a sharp flint and a copper knife which had been hammered until it was almost as hard as flint, he could carve on that white bone a picture of a fierce wild bull, so naturally that you would want to run away if he had not also carved a young warrior rushing down all ready to do battle with the beast. Every animal that Umpl had ever killed in the forest he had pictured out on the hardest and whitest bones he could find. They were his picture books, and he could take one in hand, perhaps a sketch of the great hairy elephant which we call the mammoth, and show it around the circle and then tell the story of that hunt. And they would look at the picture a moment and shut their eyes and seem to see it all just as it happened. Some of those carved pictures have lasted until this day, for I myself have seen them!
But after a time things became altogether too peaceful. They began to want something exciting—they could not go to the theatre, for there never had been such a thing. Just ordinary, plain hunting was not enough—it was too tame. There wasn't enough danger in it, and any boy will understand at once what I mean by that.
More than half of the good things of life owe their goodness to the very fact that danger attends them in some form,—danger of being "caught," of being "it," of being "put out" by some one on the other side; and the fun all comes from the being able, by your own quick foot, or eye, or thought, to win the game. The more you play that game the better you can play it, and when it gets too easy then you feel that it is tame, and you want something harder to win than the prize of such baby-play. We all feel this in one way or another. We always have, since long before the days of Umpl. And it is just because of this that we now know more and can do more than Umpl did or could.
But in Umpl's day there was only one thing more dangerous than the hunt for the Cave Bear. There was but one game which made a young man think, and plan, and contrive as never before to come out ahead. There was but one which brought him so much honour when he won, or which cost so much when he lost, and which he thought was for that reason so well worth playing, and that game was—the hunt for the Cave Man.
Very cunning was he. His club was heavy, his flint-edged spear was sharp. The young man who went hunting for him without first studying hard and learning from his elders as much as they could tell him was more than likely never to come back at all. Perhaps for that very reason there were not so many lads in those days as there are now who think that they "know it all" without study.
But Umpl did really know it all, for the very good reason that he had been a Cave boy himself not so very long before. So when he went out from that village at the head of his men one fine day, while the sun was shining brightly and the birds were singing, he did not neglect a single one of the many things which he had been told would bring good luck to his hunting. Every arrow was as perfect as it could be made, from feather to point. Every head of flint or bone had been tested to make sure that it was firm. Each young man had his own little sack full of bread ready baked, so that no fire by its smoke need betray them; while as to the danger because they had no fire—why, that was a part of the game. Lastly—but in Umpl's eyes the most important of all—they carried, as of old, in a sling, the Iron Star. Surely this was not the time to leave that good-luck-bringer at home, so Umpl reasoned. Thus the Star once more set out upon its travels.
Now, the errand which one goes on sometimes has a great deal to do with what he finds at the end of it. I don't mean to say that the Star had anything to do with it at all, or that it knew right from wrong. But this is certain; on its last journey Umpl was seeking only a home where he and Sptz might live and find food in a time of famine. But now he was seeking to harm people who had never even heard of him; and if bad fortune befell, the errand itself was not good enough to deserve a better.
A wise man long afterward once wrote down the words of Jesus, "They who live by the sword shall perish by the sword," and it is a good saying. Thus it happened, that, after a wild hunt through the silent forests to the northwest for many weeks, one day they found a village which was all too strong for them. It was like arousing a hornet's nest. Umpl got out of it safely enough, with an arrow hole or two here and there where they did not count. But he did not have so many to lead back home again; and the Iron Star, alas! was lost, captured by the enemy. Umpl never laid eyes on it again.
Neither did Umpl's son. But the son of Umpl's son knew all about it, as far as any one person knew; for in the long nights when the water rippled lazily up against the mossy logs beneath the huts, and the evening smoke curled upward from the after-supper fires, then was the time for stories of great marvels in the days of old; and Umpleton, as the boy was called, knew well that far in the northwest was the Star that once had made the fortune of his family. So, when he in his turn was partly grown up, he packed up a sack full of cakes, as his grandfather had done, took another full of beautiful bronze knives and trinkets which he himself had made, and the Star-club, which Umpl had never lost. With these he started off on a trading expedition. Times were better now than in the old days, and traders were more plenty.
For many weary weeks he wandered. Weeks ran into months, months became years, and still Umpleton wandered from village to village, from tribe to tribe, trading, keeping his eyes open, and asking questions from the old men. He learned many things from them, and although it was long before the days of books, yet by remembering what he heard and thinking it over he became for the time a young man whose word was worth listening to and whose opinion was worth having.
So, one evening he stopped at a chief's hut where he was known, and decided a very knotty question so wisely and justly that they asked him to tarry with them for a while. He answered them in a dreamy way, for his mind was thinking of the Star and his fruitless quest, forgetting that even thus it had brought good fortune, since it had given him knowledge.
They asked him how he made his bronze, and he showed them how. Then they in turn showed him certain small, very heavy black stones, which they used to make hot in the fire, and by placing in their pots would make the water in them boil furiously without danger of breaking the pot, as the fire was apt to do. As he looked at them it seemed to him that they were not unlike his Star-club, and, liking to try things, he raked a hot one out of the fire and began to hammer it with his club. He found he could hammer it like copper as long as it was hot, and he knew he had made a great find!
While the chief looked on in amazement, he found that by heating one he could flatten it out, then he could make small ones stick to it while hot and hammer all into one mass, then into a bar, and from that he could make an axe-head with an edge which would cut clean through a copper ring as though it was but cheese; next, when he was in a hurry to cool it off, and for that reason put it into water, he found that the metal became so hard that he had no tool which could scratch it, no bronze which it would not cut sheer through; and in all the Forestland no chief was so happy as the headman of that village! Axes that would cut wood as never axe cut before! Weapons which would not break nor grow blunt at the first blow! What treasures!
Every fragment of those heavy stones was brought to Umpleton. They dug deep into the hillside for them. They made so many tools that although both stone, copper and bronze ones were still in use yet they were used only by those who could not afford the better ones. And in some such way began what we now call the Iron Age; and at last, one joyous day, two young boys found a mass of metal so heavy that they could not lift it; and by the carvings on it Umpleton found that it was indeed the treasure of his family for which he had searched so long, and the search for which had been the cause of his present fortune. Once more the Iron Star was in the hut of the son of a Cave Man.
HOW THE STAR WENT TO THE NORTHLAND.
The Iron Age! What a ringing, resonant sound, stern and grim! There is nothing in it of the dull "tunk" of stone, or the blither "clink" of copper. Instead it seems to call to mind the clang of hammers on helmet or anvil, or shield or tool, according to whether it is a time of war or peace—and in the Iron Age there was indeed very little of peace that did not look a great deal more like war.
In the Forest, many times as far from the land where Umpl lived as one could see from the tallest tree top, there lived a boy—a chief's son. His name was Ulf, the son of Urgan, who was the son of Umpleton, who, as you will remember, was the grandson of Umpl. It was thus a very long time after Umpl's day; and yet, here is a very curious thing: Umpl had blue eyes and black eyebrows and hair; so had Ulf! Umpl had a nose with a little rise in the bridge of it, like a curve; so had Ulf! Umpl's ears had been of a longer, narrower pattern than those of his mates; Ulf had the same style of narrow ear on each side of his head; and just as Umpl thought, and dreamed a little, and planned, and looked far ahead to what he might do as the leader of a band of warriors if he could bring them to reason, instead of shooting them all with his bow and arrows when the wolves had them treed,—so now in their games Ulf was the one who did the planning. He was the one who was leader in them all. And in all the village, boy though he was, except his father, or grandfather Umpleton, no man could take a bit of iron, or of copper and make a better spearhead or a finer bracelet. He had his own small kit of tools, most of which he had made himself. He had in his father's hut the Iron Star, which served as his anvil and which he thought turned out better work than any other. And just as clearly as though he had read it in a book he knew the story of that Star, from the day it fell from the skies down to his own time. Father had told it to son, son to his son, and so on to Ulf's young day. That was the way in which people were taught history before the days of books.
This is not so strange. But is it not a most wonderful thing that just because Umpl, from the falling of the Star was led to think, and make his brain stronger and wiser than his mates, the result of it should last so long that it made a leader of a boy more than a hundred years after Umpl's day? Just think of it! Let us suppose that you were to make up your mind that you would make the most of yourself; that, when a quarrel began at school, before taking sides you would think carefully over both sides, and make sure which was the right one, and then fight for it your hardest, instead of taking up the side you happened to hear about first; and because of your doing this every day, and in every case that has two sides, just suppose that a boy should live two hundred years from now, who would be your great-great- great-great-grandson; who would be as like you as one pea is like another, and who would grow up to be a great judge of the Supreme Court, or perhaps President of the United States!
And yet, this is happening right along all around us! Just to think of it every day makes me wonder, sometimes, what my thoughts yesterday will have to do with my own many-times-great-grandson a hundred years from now. Will he have reason to be glad or sorry?
But let us get back to Ulf.
Now and then in his Forest home he heard tales of a nation still farther to the northwest; a race of wonderfully strong men who, strange to say, had yellow hair and pink cheeks. They were also terrible fighters, and no one could stand against them among all the black or brown haired tribes. Just why a band of Northmen, as they were called,—some dictionary makers spell it Norsemen,—should think it worth while to go so far inland I cannot say; but a war-party did get as far as Ulf's village on a plundering expedition, perhaps hoping to find gold.
They did not find any, but they did find Ulf, who happened to be making such a hammering that he did not hear what was going on till it was too late to run; so he did the next best thing, and fought like a wolf. Now, if there was one thing that the Northmen valued more than another it was courage, and their leader was so pleased with the lad's pluck that—after he had picked one of his arrows out of his own arm and had warded off with some trouble various lightning-like jabs of a copper knife—he directed his men to "throw a noose over that young wildcat" and bring him along, together with what other treasure they might find.
Among that treasure was the Iron Star. Not that they knew its story, but because they knew iron when they saw it, and what iron was good for. So that is how Ulf and the Star together first saw the sea shining in the sun as it lapped in and around the black ledges of a Norway fjord, as the inlets of that rocky land are called. But it was a weary journey thither.
What a strange sight was the glistening sea to Ulf, a son of the Forest! During the long march he had learned much of the language of his captors—it was somewhat like his own; so, when the leader turned on the brow of a hill and cried in a thundering cheer, "The vik! the vik!" he knew that the rockbound harbour and the end of the journey were in sight. What a harbour really was he had no idea. When the men raced up the hill he ran too, till the sight struck him dumb.
What was that broad, gleaming, heaving plain? Whoever saw earth toss up and down like that? What was that great animal creeping across it, borne onward by so many legs, to where others lay silent on the narrow strip of beach? The time came when he knew better what a longship was, and the difference between legs and oars. But now—what huge houses those were to one who had always lived in a hut! Could it be possible that one could climb up inside and find a room up above the top of another room? Ulf had never seen a stairway or a ladder in his life. And what were those creatures with shining yellow and white things in their own yellow hair, clad in robes of many colours, and some of them so very, very beautiful? He had not felt fear when he fought with the Jarl—the leader. He was afraid now, for these might be spirits!
Meanwhile, the "spirits" took a very lively interest in the slender, black-haired little thrall, as slaves were called. They were in the habit of saying what they thought in those days, and it was quite a matter of course when little Edith Fairhair declared that he was "ex- ceed-ing-ly good-looking," and that she meant to ask her father to give him to her to play with. As her father happened to be the Jarl himself, of course she got what she wanted. So Ulf came to live in Jarl Sigurd's household. It was a very great change from Forest-life, and he was just the boy to make good use of it.
For one thing, his old life had taught him how to keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. Few around him knew how many, many things he thought about, in that silent black head of his. When the white-headed old man with the harp came in a great longship, with the train of a visiting jarl, and sang songs that never came to an end, songs about mighty men of other days, their wars and battles, he listened right well from his place far down the long hall where the thralls sat at suppertime.
Not one of those sagas, as they were called, did he miss. When he by daytime watched the sheep he thought of them, and told them over to himself. Thus he learned of other lands. He learned of Thor, and Odin, and the other gods which the Jarl worshipped with all his men, since they had never heard of the one true God, our Father of all. And he knew the Jarl believed that if a man was brave, and honest, and told the truth and lived a life pleasing to the gods, that pleasant things would happen to him after death. This was a much better thing to believe than to think that death was the end of everything, as they thought in the Forestland in those days. So he liked the sagas.
But Ulf the Silent was not always as silent as his name would imply. One night after supper, when the cattle had been fed, the chores were done, and the boys and girls were skipping stones on the beach together, the largest boy, Thorold, had proved that he could throw a stone the furthest, but grew quite angry because he could not make one skip along the water as many times as Ulf. He said many things that were not nice to hear, and finally cried,
"I am a freeman's son and thou art only a thrall. And I am the stronger," shaking his fist in the other's face.
"So is an ox," said Ulf, quietly, and Edith Fairhair cried out "Good!" Ulf was her thrall, and she did not like Thorold, anyway. He was too rough because he was strong, and too stupid. Then said Ulf,
"If Sigurd was Jarl only because he is strong, Thorolf would be Jarl in his stead."
Now, Thorold was the son of Thorolf, and this was more than he could stand. He sprang at Ulf without another word. But that son of the Forest had not been called a wildcat by Sigurd without reason, and when they came to the ground together it was he who was on top, and he stayed there, too, till some men came along and picked him off. Things looked black for Ulf just then.
However, it might have been worse. Thorold was not much hurt, except in his pride, and Edith Fairhair insisted that before Ulf was flogged the matter should be judged by the Jarl himself, which was perfectly proper, since Ulf belonged to his household. Thus Ulf found himself brought into the hall, the steps echoing among the rafters overhead, and along past rows of shields and spears that hung upon the wall, to where the Jarl sat at the further end, on the "high seat" as it was called. The saga-singer sat there on the low platform, and on the high-seat itself also rested the Jarl's other visitor, and through the window the rays of the setting sun glinted like flame on the helmets which each chief wore, and on the golden bosses and buckles of their armour.
Jarl Sigurd was not particularly surprised at a claim for justice, but he was surprised to see among the witnesses his own daughter, standing modestly apart lest the stranger should think ill of her, yet with her father's own calm, proud look in her eye. Then he saw Ulf, and began to understand.
The trial was brief enough, for every one told the truth, even Thorold. The Jarl heard them patiently, to the last one, then politely asked the opinion of the other chief. Now the guest, Jarl Swend, knew perfectly well that of all the sailors in longships along that land not one was more long-headed, more perfect in the art of war or in making other leaders at a council believe his was the better way, than was the man who sat by his side. So he looked at Ulf and laughed a little; then he said,
"If this black-haired thrall is guilty of aught then am I, for I too say, 'If Sigurd was Jarl only because of his strength,' another than he might lead us in battle. Every man has two strong arms. So strong arms are many, but wise heads are few."
Now this was a good word, and Sigurd was well pleased, as indeed he ought to have been, for it was a great compliment to himself. But it seemed to him that it would be well for him to say next a word which might show that he was worthy of such praise. So, after he had thought a while, he said,
"Ulf goes free. He has done no wrong. Thorold should learn that a warrior who does not think as well as strike is good only for rowing. Now, this is my word to thee and to all my small people. Jarl Swend well says that strong arms are plenty, but heads to plan are few. Let us raise up more good heads. Twelve moons from now I will call you together. On that day the boy who brings to me the most wonderful thing which he has made with his own hands, planned out by himself, shall receive a prize worthy of a jarl's giving."
He paused, and looked thoughtfully at Edith Fairhair's eager face. Then he said,
"If the girls wish to try it like their brothers, they too shall have a prize of their own to win. And those who do not win it will yet be none the worse for trying."
Then Jarl Swend laughed as he looked at Sigurd, and said,
"Truly, it is not for nothing that men call thee Sigurd the Wise; now I see why the young men who sail their longships from your vik are luckier than other men." And Sigurd was satisfied.
But when all the other lads had gone, and the sunset flush had faded into grey, Ulf lingered, then went up to the high seat, and said, boldly,
"Jarl Sigurd, thrall am I, yet a chief's son also. Is the offer open to me?"
Sigurd looked at a scar on his arm and laughed. Then he nodded kindly, and said,
"Thrall thou art, and a chief's son also. Win thou the prize and thrall art thou no longer."
Then Ulf took a long, long look at the Jarl, a look which somehow included Edith Fairhair also, and went away.
HOW THE STAR FLEW INTO MANY PIECES, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
What a glorious thing it is to be young and full of life! Ulf went out of the long hall so delighted that he hardly knew whether his feet did not have wings; and he went straight to the shore of the vik, climbed up into one of the longships, made his way to the lofty prow and sat down to think it over. That prow curved upward and over like a great swan's neck, with a dragon's head carved on the end, and he noted with curious eyes how here and there could be seen a splintered scar and in it perhaps still the arrow-head that made it. He dug one out and looked at it, with a sniff of contempt. He knew he could make a better one himself. He did not know that that arrow-head was made in a faraway island, called Britain, where traders went to buy tin. British arrow-heads have been great travellers.
The sight of the weapon, however, and the hole it had made gave Ulf just the tail-end of an idea! He began to think, oh, so hard!—to think and to plan.
Up in a sheltered corner lay the Iron Star, just where it first had been flung down by its weary-armed bearers on the day when it reached the vik. Ulf's first free act had been to arrange a few bits of bark over it to keep it from the weather; and, being out of sight, of course it was forgotten. But Ulf remembered! That Star had always been the good fortune of his family. Could it not help him now? So he sat and planned, till the grey gulls ceased their restless circling over the waters of the fjord and went to rest. But while he thought his hardest, still through it all he seemed to hear, like a golden hum woven in and out of the fabric of his dreamsong of freedom, the voice of Edith Fairhair.
Of course the young folks of the vik were all in a thrill of excitement. Such planning, and telling of plans, and not a little boasting! But Ulf the Silent watched the sheep and kept apart. One night, however, when the men were leaping, wrestling and trying other feats, Thorolf the Strong had beaten many, when Ulf suddenly said,
"One thing, Thorolf, I would like to see done. Under yonder bark lies a black stone. I do not think the man lives who can break it with one blow of a hammer."
This he said craftily, for he did not know just what spirit might be angered by the blow, and if evil came of it, it was better that it came to the captor than the captive.
"Behold the man now!" said Thorolf, loudly, and kicked away the bark, then looked foolish as he saw the Star, while all the men around sat down and laughed. But Thorolf brought a hammer and struck a great blow. Sparks flew, and that was all, except that Ulf caught his breath and winked. He really could not help it that first time, and felt very much ashamed. Fortunately, every one was laughing at Thorolf and did not see him. That strong man tried again, with as little result, and all laughed harder, even Jarl Sigurd.
This was more than Thorolf could stand. Rushing to a smithy he brought back the largest hammer in it, swung it twice round his head, then brought it down with a crash on one of the many lumps that studded the Star; and this time he broke it clean off. Again and again he struck, furiously angry, breaking off lump after lump, and when the laughter became cheers he flung down the mallet and was well pleased when the Jarl said,
"By the Hammer of Thor! Thorolf the Strong is well named!"
But Ulf was still more pleased; and when all had gone away he stored in a safe place all the bits of the Star which had been broken off—to tell the truth, when Thorolf ended little was left of it but bits.
From that time on, Ulf spent all his spare time in the smithy. It was not regularly in use at that period, and few cared to ask what he was doing. Now and then a boy looked in, but all he saw was that Ulf was forging the bits of iron into slender spindles and had a heap already done. Such spindles made good fish-hooks, when bent and pointed, and they were well content when he gave them one or two. Much of his time while sheep-watching he was busy also; and one day Edith Fairhair found he had not forgotten her. She came running to the Jarl to show him a great treasure.
Sigurd looked it over curiously. It was the long shank bone of an ox, polished till it was as white as ivory, and carved in quaint patterns. Then on one side two figures were scratched in quite skilfully; one evidently a captive holding out chained hands, the other a girl holding up a knife. On the other side were the same figures, but the chain had been cut in two. Something rattled within the bone, and taking out a pretty stopper the Jarl let fall in his lap five slender, shining rods of steel, so beautifully round and smooth and glistening that he cried,
"Well done, Ulf! When the year is ended I think none other will surpass this."
And, indeed, in all the village round the vik there was not another such a set of knitting needles.
But Ulf the Silent looked fearlessly up at Sigurd and said,
"Needles are women's tools. The son of a chief is worth a greater price than that."
And Jarl Sigurd as he looked at him could think of nothing but of how in his own young days he had caught a baby falcon, and of the scratchy time he had in taming it. Yet, when he had taught it to love him in its own fierce fashion, not one of his other good things pleased him so well as his hawk. Perhaps here was another hawk as well worth training.
As for Edith, she hugged her new gift over and over again; she was as delighted a girl as ever stood on one foot because she was too happy to stand on two, and finally off she rushed to show her treasure to her mother.
She had dreams of prizes, too! Out in the flock there was a white sheep which she called hers, since she had brought it up as a lamb when its mother would not own it, as is sometimes the way with sheep— silly things! It was shearing-time now and she wanted that wool.
Sheep-shearing is not an easy thing for a girl to do. But she got Ulf to wash the animal under a near-by water-fall, and to tie its feet, and after about a day of it she sheared it quite nicely; but it would be hard to say whether the sheep or Edith was the more weary of it when the task was done. She could say how she felt, and spoke her small mind about it with great freedom. As for the sheep, it gave a bleat, a skip, and went off with a great tail-wagging, and would not come near Edith Fairhair for a week, which is a long time for a sheep to remember.
Meanwhile, Edith had the wool.
What a snowy, fleecy pile it made, to be sure! And what fun it was to take up a handful of it, roll it into a string between her fingers, then twist one end of it around a spindle which she would throw out in the air with a twirl that would make it spin. Of course this would twist the wool into a thread, fine or large, according to whether the spindle was twirled strongly or not.
All the ladies that Edith Fairhair ever saw had just such spindles and used them, too. Her mother had one of pure gold, which had been made for a queen, and which the Jarl had brought from a far country; and in the long winter evenings, when the storm howled without, and the huge logs were piled on the fire, it was a beautiful thing to see the little flashing darts flying out from the white hands toward the darkness, each held by a white cord; and foot by foot, as the strong yarn grew in length, it would be wound for safe keeping around the little cross on the large end of the spindle until it would quite hide it from sight. Then a slender stick would be bent up like a "U" and tied so; and the yarn would be wound around the two arms in long loops, all ready to be dipped in dye to colour it. If any one wanted still finer thread, they could take this yarn and spin it still more, and with stronger fingers.
Edith Fairhair's spindle was made out of a bit of that wonderful Star. Ulf made it, and gave it to her in his silent, boyish way. Many and many a yard of warm, thick yarn she had spun with it before the early winter came. Then came out the precious knitting needles; and really it seemed as though there was magic in them, so all the women said. The yarn slipped along them so smoothly, never catching and only now and then dropping stitches! Altogether, it was a very happy winter, and a very busy one for Edith Fairhair; and if her mother helped her now and then over the hard places, what then? Is not that what mothers are for, and what they love to do? Still, the most of the great work Edith did herself. She only asked to be shown how, and very contentedly did the rest.
Then, winter was the time for weaving. This Edith could not do, as yet. She was not quite strong enough. One had to sit in a frame that had a row of threads stretched across it, with another row running the same way but so fastened that at one end they could be either raised up above the level of the first row or dropped beneath it. Sitting at the tied end her mother would throw a little wooden boat skimming between the two sets of threads, from one side to the other, the boat being laden with a spool of yarn and dragging a thread behind it. When the boat reached the other side, the thread would be drawn tight. Then with the foot in a strap the loose bar would be drawn down, taking one set of threads with it, and there would be the boat's thread caught as in a trap. Then the boat would come flashing back on its return voyage, up would go the bar again, and that thread would be fast, too, just as the other was; and so the cloth would grow, by just the width of the boat-thread, with each trip.
It was slow work, to be sure; but then, one had plenty of time. Then, too, it was such pretty work! One could have several little boats, each laden with a differently coloured thread. By using two at a time, going opposite ways, the cloth would have a "pepper-and-salt" mixture of colour, as we call it now; or by using one for a time and then the other, it would make broad stripes of colour, which was thought very fine. Yet, after all, Edith Fairhair thought nothing could be prettier than pure white—if only it was kept white. But, white or coloured, she never tired watching the flying shuttles, as we call the little boats to-day.
Meanwhile, all through the winter, merrily rang the smithy with clink of hammer on heated steel. After that gift to Edith the Jarl told Ulf he might take all the time he needed for his freedom-work; and he took it. Pounds of steel needles had been made and stored away. He had tried to remember all he ever heard about how to temper them, and he already had learned to watch the glowing steel slowly change its colour from dazzling white as it cooled to rose red, and at just the right moment to plunge it into water. But he only tried it on one or two bits, as yet, just to make sure he was right; and these utterly astonished him by their hardness. No iron that he had ever seen was like it. Of course he laid it all to the magic of the Star, as many a warrior did in after years, not knowing that in that kind of iron there is often a small mixture of nickel, such as our five-cent piece is made of, and that steel made from such a mixture is harder and tougher than any other kind. Bicycle-makers have found this out for themselves, and know the reason of the toughness, but it was a great mystery to Ulf.
It made him very happy, however; and blithely clinked his small hammer as he worked away, weaving a strange kind of cloth that was not made of soft wool, nor was it woven in a loom with flashing shuttle. Instead, inch by inch of it, as it grew, was thrust into the glowing coals and heated; first in the shape of slender steel needles, which were cut off and twisted into tiny rings, dozens of them; then these were hooked into each other, ring into ring, and hammered while still hot till each was solid, and as though it had never been straight in its life or anything else but a ring, without beginning or end. Then came the great thing—the tempering. How anxiously he watched it! How carefully he blew the fire as the strip of iron cloth lay in the coals! Then what a hissing it made and what a shout of triumph Ulf gave when at last the perfect temper was reached and the strip was bubbling the water! Many such strips lay piled in a dry place before spring came, and with it the time for joining them all together.
It was a great day for the young folks of the vik when the contest was to be decided. Half-a-dozen longships of other jarls happened to be in port at the time and Jarl Sigurd was not sorry to let his visitors see what his young people could do. Wonderfully well made were many of the trials. One boy showed a bow of two great horns joined together, which only Thorolf the Strong could bend. Another showed an oxhorn, with the tip cut off and ornamented, and the whole horn carved in spiral grooves; and raising it to his lips he blew a blast that could be heard a mile! There seemed to be as many different things as there were boys and girls to make them; and Jarl Sigurd was pleased indeed when the other jarls with one voice said that among the works of the girls the finest and most useful of all was a snow-white garment like a knitted jersey, made from the sheep's wool by Edith Fairhair. How her cheeks glowed bright red, and how bright her eyes shone, when she had to wear it before them and say who made it! What was the value of the prize compared with the look her father gave her! yet, those bracelets were of pure gold, and came from far across the seas.
"But where is Ulf?" said Sigurd, suddenly. "The lad is proud, and I hope he has not failed."
"My thrall does not fail in what he tries to do!" said Edith, and the jarls all laughed, save Sigurd, who shook his head with smiling reproof, saying,
"The thrall waits till after the freeman, and that is well. Now, some one call him."
Then Ulf the Silent stepped forward from behind the throng, and laid before the jarls a package that was carefully wrapped in deerskin. It gave a soft, musical tinkle as he laid it down and vanished in the throng again. With laughter Jarl Sigurd stooped forward, saying,
"The lad was braver when he sent an arrow through my arm than he is to-day," and untied the package. "It is not light, jarls. What!—by Thor and Odin, and all the gods of Valhalla! when did man ever see the like?"
Oh, what a rare sight it was!—thousands of tiny rings of steel, cunningly woven together by the hand of one whose father and whose father's father had worked in metal, and who had taught him all they knew! The light rippled across the folds in flashes like molten silver; the loose links along the edges rang like fairy bells, and not one jarl in all his travels had ever seen a more beautiful shirt of mail. A king of kings might be proud to wear it. Yet it was made by Jarl Sigurd's thrall!
"No! by Tyr, thrall is he no longer! Stand forward, Ulf. Choose thou; wilt go back to the Forest? If so, I will send thee with a guard of honour. Wilt stay in my household? Then thou art as my son, and in days to come a longship will I give thee to command."
Then Ulf the Silent, with a sidelong look at Edith Fairhair, said, "I thank thee, Jarl; at the vik I choose to stay." And great was the laughter and applause.
But when the strangers had sailed away, Jarl Sigurd brought out that shirt of mail and tried it on, but found it all too small for him, and said,
"Thou crafty one! Tell me, didst make this small that thou mayst the younger hope to wear it?"
Then Ulf broke silence, and told the wondering Jarl the story of the Star, as far as he knew it, and how, as a family matter, it appeared to be better that Ulf alone should own the mail; to which the Jarl shudderingly agreed, for, brave though he was, he feared witchcraft. Then Ulf set the mail on a post and bade Thorolf the Strong send a spear through it if he could.
Scornfully the giant hurled a javelin at the mark, and gasped as it fell shivered like glass at the foot of the post. On the armour, not a scar!
"It is dwarf-worked; elves did it!" he cried. And for a like reason many a sword and suit of armour has been thought to be made by magic by men who did not know of nickel steel.
But not all of the Star was used in that suit of armour. Some of it Ulf kept for sword and battle-axe. Some of it went to gentler uses, and some of it in the shape of harpstrings in other days sang a song of liberty to a captive king. But no braver sight the vik ever saw than the one when out through the black wolf's-mouth of massive cliffs one morning a swift longship sped, with the early wind rounding the great sail and helping the rowers with their oars. A line of shields hung along each side, helmeted heads gleamed here and there, and high in the stern the rising sun made a form shine like a statue of silver flame as he waved farewell to those on shore, who cheerily waved and shouted farewells back again. Jarl Sigurd was now too old to take the seas; and Edith Fairhair—was still Edith Fairhair. Ulf the Silent had still his fame to win. But she knew that he would win it.
HOW FRAGMENTS OF THE STAR TRAVELLED TO A FAR COUNTRY.
Ulf still had a name to win; but what a glorious thing it was to stand there in the stern of that swift craft and feel it quiver with life beneath him in response to the rhythmic stroke of the oarsmen, as it surged through the heaving water. Brightly the sunlight leaped along the sea. Snow-white was the foam that flashed upward underneath the curving prow, and now and then jetted high enough to come hissing inboard on the wind when the fitful gusts shifted to the rightabout. The men laughed, and carelessly shook the drops from their broad backs when it splashed among them.
What a hardy set of men they were, those Northmen of old! They had no compass; they must steer by the sun, or by the stars, guess at their rate of sailing and tell by that how many more days distant was their destination. If the weather was fine, well. But if the sky clouded over, and sun nor star was seen for a week or more, while the wind veered at its own will, the chances were more than even that they would bring up on some coast where they had never been, with water and food to get, and perhaps every headland bristling with hostile spears. All this they knew, yet out to sea they went as happily as a fisherman seeks his nets. Trading, starving, fighting, plundering,—it was all one to them. On the whole, they seemed to like fighting the best of all, since that is what their sagas told most about.
But Ulf was not by birth a Northman. Yet a rover by nature was he, and chief of all things that he most desired was to explore strange lands, and especially what lay beyond where the sky dipped downward and seemed to meet the sea. Ships came from thence, now and then; ships had gone thence, as he knew, and some had never come back, but perhaps were sailing still from land to land, through the great unknown.
For weeks his ship sailed onward, over a lonely ocean. Now and then the misty fountain sprung upward from the waves where a whale was "blowing," with gulls hovering in the air above his glistening black back. There were more gulls then than now, and more whales also, and often the men would finger their lances wistfully and look with inquiring eyes at their youthful captain. At another time they would not have looked in vain; indeed, in after days Ulf became somewhat famous even among the men of the fjords for the number of whales he brought in. But now his soul was elsewhere. Even the problem of getting back did not trouble him in the least.
Yet it was one thing to start out a-voyaging, sure of bringing up somewhere if you only went far enough. It is quite another thing to be equally sure of finding the way homeward over the trackless sea, without a landmark from horizon to horizon to steer by for weeks and weeks. What seems a sixth sense is given to some of us—the sense of "direction," which the passenger pigeon has and which enables it to fly straight back to its nest, though set free hundreds of miles from home. When of old a young man had that faculty, the chances were that he would become a famous pilot; and sometimes he might be charged with witchcraft as a penalty for knowing too much! Ulf, a son of the trackless Forest, had that sixth sense.
One morning the dawn-light revealed a black spot on the low horizon. A speck that grew larger, with twinkling, fin-like flashes along each side, and in due time it proved to be a galley like their own bearing down straight for them. Nobody stopped to ask any questions. That was not sea-style then. But just as naturally as two men now in a lonely journey would shake hands on meeting, these two captains slipped their arms through their shield-handles, sheered alongside just beyond oar- tip, and exchanged cards in the shape of a couple of whistling javelins.
Up from their benches sprang the rowers. Twang! sung their war-bows the song of the cord, and the air was full of hissing whispers of Death as their shafts hurtled past. Round and round the two galleys circled in a strange dance, each steersman striving to bring his craft bows on, so as to ram and crush the other, while they lurched in the cross-seas, and rolled till they dipped in tons of water over the rail.
Up sprang the stranger on his prow; tall and broad-shouldered was he, with a torrent of ruddy hair floating in the wind. As Ulf turned to give an order to bale out the inrushing water, up rose a brawny arm, and a great spear flashed down from the high bow of the enemy and struck fairly between his shoulders. So sharp was the blow, so sudden, that Ulf pitched forward on one knee for just half a breath. But the spear fell clanging to the deck. The ruddy warrior stood looking at it with eyes of amazement. His own spear, that never before had failed! A flash of light leaped back like a lightning stroke; back to its master whistled the brand, for, ere he rose, Ulf snatched it up and as he rose he hurled it—straight through the unguarded arm of the stranger.
The shout rang sternly across the water and echoed back and forth from sail to sail. The shouting hushed. Only the creak of the swaying yard, the hoarse swash of the water, the panting of deep breathing broke the silence, then once more from the lofty prow came the commanding voice.
"Who and whence art thou?"
"A son of the Forest am I," answered the other. "Ulf is my name, Ulf the Silent my title, Jarl Sigurd my father by adoption. The sea is my home; from over sea I came, and over sea am I going."
"What dwarfs made that armour?" demanded the other, holding a cloth to his wounded limb.
"Ten dwarfs welded it, ten dwarfs tempered it, and the same ten guard the wearer. Thou best shouldst know what five of them can do," and Ulf smiled grimly as he held up his hand with outspread fingers.
"Now it is thy turn. Who art thou?"
"Leif is my name," said the other, "and Eric the Red is my father. To the West have I been sailing, searching for a land with lumber for ship-building. Now am I homebound. Come thou with me and thou shalt be as my brother; for a good spearman art thou as ever sailed the seas; and afterward we will sail together."
"I like it well," said Ulf, frankly, "and homeward will I go with thee"—for that was sea-politeness then. So they set a new course by the stars that night and before Leif's arm had ceased to tingle they saw the black walls of rock that guarded the entrance to his haven.
Many a night in after years Ulf lay awake and watched the stars, thinking the while of his visit to Greenland and of all that came of it. A mighty man of his hands was Leif. In sheer strength no two in both ships were his match in a close wrestle. None could strike a keener blow. Yet was he hugely delighted when, one afternoon in friendly fray, Ulf again and again slipped within his guard and with a lithe writhe of his slender form twined a bear's hug around his bulky friend and dashed him earthward. And to give Ulf one spear's length advantage in a hot scurry across country was never to come up with him again.
"Thou art the man of men I long have hunted for!" Leif cried. "Let your ship rest for a season;—or, better, let your longest-headed seaman captain it for a voyage, trading, and come thou with me. Far to the southward and westward lie rich timber lands. Where, we know not, yet storm-driven ships have seen them. These I mean to find, and for such a distant quest one ship is better than two."
So sunnily looked down the great man at the slighter one, so joyous at the thought of that voyage into the mists of the southern seas that Ulf—rover to the marrow—held out his hand in silence, and the compact was made.
It did not take long to provision the craft, or to arrange other matters. Soon they were surging once more across apparently boundless seas. Three times they came to lands unknown to them, yet not the country of great trees talked of by old sailors around the winter fires. At last it loomed up in reality above the horizon, covered with timber enough to build a great city,—more than ever was seen close at hand by Northmen before. And right lustily swung the axes among them for days and weeks, until even the keenest trader among them all was contented with his share of wealth that was to come to him when once back in Greenland. There were not lacking signs, either, that savage neighbours might be unpleasant neighbours, as more than one stone- headed arrow had whistled past, heralded by the first war-whoop that ever was heard by ears of white men.
So, like a careful captain, Leif got his dried fish, his smoked deer- meat, his water casks, and his lumber by degrees all on board; he lit the watch fires as usual at sundown; but by moonrise, with the early tide he and his men slipped quietly out of their stockaded camp and into their vessel, and silently drifted out to sea before the warm land-wind that still was faintly blowing. And late that night a savage war party called at the camp with spear and torch, to find it only an empty shell, to their huge disappointment.
Other captains, less wise, came after Leif in their timber-hunting, and not all came safely home again. Perhaps the good fortune that still followed the guardian of the Iron Star had something to do with Leif and Ulf's fair voyaging in this, the first time that a part of the Star ever came to the shores of America. If so, then indeed its power must have lived long after Ulf had said farewell and swept onward in his own ship toward Norway once again; for by all his friends the tall captain was called "Leif the Lucky."
And even now, in the entrance to a beautiful park in a great city of that land where he went timber-cutting a thousand years before that city—Boston—was ever heard of, there, high in air, as though still standing on the prow of his ship, looms up a brave figure in bronze. A closeknit, flexible shirt of mail guards his form. One hand rests upon his hip, holding his curved war-horn. The other shades the eyes;—for, even in this statue of him, Leif Ericsson is still the crosser of far seas, the finder of strange lands, the sleepless watcher forever gazing from beneath his shadowed brows into the golden west.
HOW THE STAR HELPED ULF THE SILENT TO WIN A GREAT NAME.
Back at the fjord, what happened to Edith Fairhair while Ulf was on the ocean? Apparently nothing worth recording. Yet something had happened, so silently, so stealthily that no one gave the matter a thought. What was it? Why, Edith Fairhair had grown up!
She was now a tall maiden, straight as a poplar tree. Hers was now the hand to rule in her sweet lady-mother's place when work bore heavily on the shoulders now weary with many years. She it was who now directed the household thralls and saw that their tasks were well done. Did they not understand their business? Then hers was the hand to show them how, be it spinning, weaving, milking, washing, sweeping, dusting, or any other household art.
In the kitchen it seemed to the servants that all the pots and kettles were bewitched when young Edith stood before them, for the water never refused to boil nor the wood to burn, nor the roast to cook thoroughly and tender. And she had so deft a way of first thinking out what new things would be likely to go well together, and then mixing things that no one ever thought of mixing before, which yet turned into the most delightful dishfuls, that the sea-kings who dined with Sigurd jestingly declared that but one thing prevented some one's making war on him in hope of capturing Edith for himself, and that was the surety that if he won he then would have to fight all the others!
But one morning the sun had just begun glinting past the pines, and had turned all the dewdrops into dancing jewels, as Edith stepped to the door and flung it open to admit the fresh morning air. As it swung she found herself face to face with a browned, bright-eyed young man, clad in mail that rippled in the sunlight radiance.
And down the slope were moving forms about a longship, rusty and weedy from long voyaging, now drawn up high on the beach for a long rest. In the clear air their voices were blithe as they shouted orders and tossed to earth the bales of costly furs, or handed down with more respect some small yet valuable parcel, doubtless containing gems or gold; while over the waters of the vik the gulls were wheeling, screaming, calling, as it seemed to Edith,
"Ulf! our Ulf is home again!"
Then the sun lifted itself clear of the shadowing pines and flooded the fjord with glory, and in Edith's face he seemed to have flashed a colour of sunrise rose.
"For rest and new plans have I come," said Ulf, presently. "Seas have I crossed, and new lands have I seen, and wealth have I won while trading; but a name is not won in ways like these."
To him, indeed, that name of honour still seemed as far beyond the horizon as ever it had been. Yet, for some reason, Edith thought differently. So did Jarl Sigurd when, now seated on the "high-seat" with other visiting captains, Ulf told of his search for timber lands and briefly gave an idea of what he had brought home.
"Almost thou art man-grown, Ulf," he said, significantly. "Not quite, as yet. But almost. A little more, perhaps another voyage—"
Ulf's face flushed scarlet, and into his eyes leaped a joyous light. Yet he said only,
"The son of a jarl needs a larger measure, else will men say, 'good as a dagger, but short for a sword.'"
And the grim war-captains around, who knew the difference, nodded assent and said the word was wise. Yet thought they none the less of the youth because he felt that a renowned father made all the harder work needful in the son.
But all day long, and for various other days, the dark little smithy was alight again, and merrily the clink of anvil rang. Little by little new plans were forming. A new strip of rings had to be let into that mail, for Ulf had grown larger. He had grown in other ways as well, and could see far into the needs for the future. So to his arms he had added a spearhead with a point like a needle. And now he took from an almost forgotten hiding-place a toy of his younger days.
You would hardly know the use at first glance. Just two jawbones of some large animal, white and polished. But look closer at them. The outer side of the curve has been filed flat. There are holes drilled in the bone through which are rove leather strips. If with those strips the bones were laced to the bottom of your shoes, now—
"Skates!" you cry; and skates they were. Not keen enough perhaps to give a good honest stroke, yet speedy enough when used rightly in "roller-skate" fashion, and just as easy to get a fall with as any other kind. Ulf's nose tingled as he looked at them. It seemed to remember at least one bump.
Then Ulf fell to hammering again at his bits of steel, and presently those flat surfaces of bone were shod with something harder, with keen cutting edges of corners that would never slip, no matter how glassy the ice beneath.
Jarl Sigurd laughed when he heard of it and said that Ulf was still quite a boy. Edith was amazed, although that winter she took much pleasure in a pair of skates which were wondrous keen. But that was still in the future; meanwhile, Ulf said nothing, only smiled, and when he next sailed away he took his new toys with him.
* * * * *
Far up in the Arctic Circle, where the nights are six months long, day was fairly begun. That means, it had progressed till five or six weeks of our days might have been carved out of it, and the sun stood quite high above the horizon. It was so warm that the ice had begun to melt, and one great floe of it, ever so many miles wide, broke off from the rest and began to drift slowly southward. What made it break off was this:—here and there in the smooth plain great icebergs were frozen, huge mountains of ice, every one of them. The wind was blowing south, and each berg stood there like a great white sail. Underneath there was a current flowing southward; and every berg was many times larger under water than it was above, as you can see for yourself by dropping a piece of ice into a waterpail and measuring the difference. So the river of water flowing through the Arctic Ocean was pushing, pushing, and the wind above was pushing, pushing, until at last there came a thunderous crack, and the whole concern began drifting, drifting down to the warmer seas.
But where did the bergs come from? That, too, is very curious. Among the mountains in the far north, just as in Switzerland, there are great rivers of ice, called glaciers. They look like rivers frozen clear to the bottom, and the weight of the ice is forever pressing it downward toward the sea, sliding, squeezing, crushing itself into strange forms, and moving a few inches or a few feet or yards per year. Very slow progress, you will say. But then, it is enough. By and by a great mass of it will be shoved so far into the sea that it will break off, a whole mountain of it, and go wallowing away with perhaps twenty cart-loads of sand and gravel and great stones scooped up from the bottom into its crevices, or frozen fast to the ice. By-and-by that berg will drift down as far as Newfoundland, where it will meet the warm water of the Gulf Stream as it hurries northward. The ice will melt, the sand and stones will go silting downward, and by just so much the bottom of the ocean will be a little nearer to the surface. Already there are great banks of such deposits, many miles across, where a ship can anchor, although out of sight of land; and they are great places to go fishing on. More codfish and halibut are caught in such places than anywhere else.
Meanwhile the floe was drifting,—the one we started to write about. Right in the heart of it there was a round hole in the ice. A fat brown seal had made it when the ice was not so thick; and he kept it open, so that when the whole ocean was frozen he still could have a place to breathe through. There were other places now, but still he liked to come back home to this one. The snow had blown into the hole and formed a hard crust across it, which kept the colder air out; and after our seal had tired of fishing and felt air-thirsty, he would swim quickly to the place and blow warm breaths against the crust till a little airhole was melted right through it, which was quite enough for him. Just now the seal was not at home.
Close to the snow-buried hole lay a great yellowish-white heap, too yellow to be ice, too white to be noticed as different from any other hummock of ice. For hours it had crouched there utterly motionless, save now and then the silent quiver of a small ear hidden in the fur. All day it would stay if need be, patient as death and as sure—the great white polar bear, with claws like hooks of iron, and looked at with respect by Northmen, who gave scant respect to anything else on earth.