On descending to the shore, I learned the whole story. As Mr. Wyse was pacing the deck, his attention was suddenly attracted by a white speck in the water, swimming across from Prince Charles's Foreland,—the long island which lies over against English Bay. When first observed, the creature, whatever it might be, was about a mile and a half off,—the width of the channel between the island and the main being about five miles. Some said it was a bird, others a whale, and the cook suggested a mermaid. When the fact was ascertained that it was a BONA FIDE bear, a gun was fired as a signal for us to return; but it was evident that unless at once intercepted, Bruin would get ashore. Mr. Wyse, therefore, very properly determined to make sure of him. This was a matter of no difficulty: the poor beast showed very little fight. His first impulse was to swim away from the boat; and even after he had been wounded, he only turned round once or twice upon his pursuers. The honour of having given him his death wound rests between the steward and Mr. Wyse; both contend for it. The evidence is conflicting, as at least half-a-dozen mortal wounds were found in the animal's body; each maybe considered to have had a share in his death. Mr. Grant rests his claim principally upon the fact of his having put two bullets in my new rifle— which must have greatly improved the bore of that instrument. On the strength of this precaution, he now wears as an ornament about his person one of the bullets extracted from the gizzard of our prize.
All this time, Wilson was at the tent, busily occupied in taking photographs. As soon as the bear was observed, a signal was made to him from the ship, to warn him of the visitor he might shortly expect on shore. Naturally concluding that the bear would in all probability make for the tent as soon as he reached land, it became a subject of consideration with him what course he should pursue. Weapons he had none, unless the chemicals he was using might be so regarded. Should he try the influence of chloroform on his enemy; or launch the whole photographic apparatus at his grisly head, and take to his heels? Thought is rapid, but the bear's progress seemed equally expeditious; it was necessary to arrive at some speedy conclusion. To fly—was to desert his post and leave the camp in possession of the spoiler; life and honour were equally dear to him. Suddenly a bright idea struck him.
At the time the goat had been disembarked to take her pleasure on TERRA FIRMA, our crow's-nest barrel had been landed with her. At this moment it was standing unoccupied by the side of the tent. By creeping into it, and turning its mouth downward on the ground, Wilson perceived that he should convert it into a tower of strength for himself against the enemy, while its legitimate occupant, becoming at once a victim to the bear's voracity, would probably prevent the monster from investigating too curiously its contents. It was quite a pity that the interposition of the boats prevented his putting this ingenious plan into execution. He had been regularly done out of a situation, in which the most poignant agony of mind and dreary anticipations would have been absolutely required of him. He pictured the scene to himself; he lying fermenting in the barrel, like a curious vintage; the bear sniffing querulously round it, perhaps cracking it like a cocoa-nut, or extracting him like a periwinkle! Of these chances he had been deprived by the interference of the crew. Friends are often injudiciously meddling.
Although I felt a little vexation that one of us should not have had the honour of slaying the bear in single combat, which would certainly have been for the benefit of his skin, the unexpected luck of having got one at all, made us quite forget our personal disappointment. As for my people, they were beside themselves with delight. To have killed a polar bear was a great thing, but to eat him would be a greater. If artistically dealt with, his carcase would probably cut up into a supply of fresh meat for many days. One of the hands appened to be a butcher. Whenever I wanted anything a little out of the way to be done on board, I was sure to find that it happened to be the specialite of some one of the ship's company. In the course of a few hours, the late bear was converted into a row of the most tempting morsels of beef, hung about the rigging. Instead of in flags, the ship was dressed in joints. In the meantime it so happened that the fox, having stolen a piece of offal, was in a few minutes afterwards seized with convulsions. I had already given orders that the bear's liver should be thrown overboard, as being, if not poisonous, at all events very unwholesome. The seizure of the fox, coupled with this injunction, brought about a complete revolution in the men's minds, with regard to the delicacies they had been so daintily preparing for themselves. Silently, one by one, the pieces were untied and thrown into the sea: I do not think a mouthful of bear was eaten on board the "Foam." I never heard whether it was in consequence of any prognostics of Wilson's that this act of self-denial was put into practice. I observed, however, that for some days after the slaughter and dismemberment of the bear, my ship's company presented an unaccountably sleek appearance. As for the steward, his head and whiskers seemed carved out of black marble: a varnished boot would not have looked half so bright: I could have seen to shave myself in his black hair. I conclude, therefore, that the ingenious cook must, at all events, have succeeded in manufacturing a supply of genuine bear's grease, of which they had largely availed themselves.
The bagging of the bear had so gloriously crowned our visit to Spitzbergen, that our disappointment about the deer was no longer thought of; it was therefore with light hearts, and most complete satisfaction, that we prepared for departure.
Maid Marian had already carved on a flat stone an inscription, in Roman letters, recording the visit of the "Foam" to English Bay, and a cairn having been erected to receive it, the tablet was solemnly lifted to its resting-place. Underneath I placed a tin box, containing a memorandum similar to that left at Jan Mayen, as well as a printed dinner invitation from Lady —, which I happened to have on board. Having planted a boat's flag beside the rude monument, and brought on board with us a load of driftwood, to serve hereafter as Christmas yule-logs, we bade an eternal adieu to the silent hills around us; and weighing anchor, stood out to sea. For some hours a lack of wind still left us hanging about the shore, in the midst of a grave society of seals; but soon after, a gentle breeze sprang up in the south, and about three o'clock on Friday, the 11th of August, we again found ourselves spanking along before a six-knot breeze, over the pale green sea.
In considering the course on which I should take the vessel home, it appeared to me that in all probability we should have been much less pestered by the ice on our way to Spitzbergen, if, instead of hugging the easterly ice, we had kept more away to the westward; I determined therefore—as soon as we got clear of the land—to stand right over to the Greenland shore, on a due west course, and not to attempt to make any southing, until we should have struck the Greenland ice. The length of our tether in that direction being ascertained, we could then judge of the width of the channel down which we were to beat, for it was still blowing pretty fresh from the southward.
Up to the evening of the day on which we quitted English Bay, the weather had been most beautiful; calm, sunshiny, dry, and pleasant. Within a few hours of our getting under weigh, a great change had taken place, and by midnight it had become as foggy and disagreeable as ever. The sea was pretty clear. During the few days we had been on shore, the northerly current had brushed away the great angular field of ice which had lain off the shore, in a northwest direction; so that instead of being obliged to run up very nearly to the 80th parallel, in order to round it, we were enabled to sail to the westward at once. During the course of the night, we came upon one or two wandering patches of drift ice, but so loosely packed that we had no difficulty in pushing through them. About four o'clock in the morning, a long line of close ice was reported right a-head, stretching south as far as the eye could reach. We had come about eighty miles since leaving Spitzbergen. The usual boundary of the Greenland ice in summer runs, according to Scoresby, along the second parallel of west longitude. This we had already crossed, so that it was to be presumed the barricade we saw before us was a frontier of the fixed ice. In accordance, therefore, with my predetermined plan, we now began working to the southward, and the result fully justified my expectations.
The sea became comparatively clear, as far as could be seen from the deck of the vessel, although small vagrant patches of ice that we came up with occasionally—as well as the temperature of the air and the sea—continued to indicate the proximity of larger bodies on either side of us.
It was a curious sensation with which we had gradually learnt to contemplate this inseparable companion: it had become a part of our daily existence, an element, a thing without which the general aspect of the universe would be irregular and incomplete. It was the first thing we thought of in the morning, the last thing we spoke of at night. It glittered and grinned maliciously at us in the sunshine; it winked mysteriously through the stifling fog; it stretched itself like a prostrate giant, with huge, portentous shoulders and shadowy limbs, right across our course; or danced gleefully in broken groups in the little schooner's wake. There was no getting rid of it, or forgetting it, and if at night we sometimes returned in dreams to the green summer world—to the fervent harvest fields of England, and heard "the murmurs of innumerous bees," or the song of larks on thymy uplands—thump! bump! splash! gra-a-ate!—came the sudden reminder of our friend on the starboard bow; and then sometimes a scurry on deck, and a general "scrimmage" of the whole society, in endeavours to prevent more serious collisions. Moreover, I could not say, with your old French friend, that "Familiar'ty breeds despise." The more we saw of it, the less we liked it; its cold presence sent a chilly sense of discouragement to the heart, and I had daily to struggle with an ardent desire to throw a boot at Wilson's head, every time his sepulchral voice announced the "Ice ALL ROUND!"
It was not until the 14th of August, five days after quitting Spitzbergen, that we lost sight of it altogether. From that moment the temperature of the sea steadily rose, and we felt that we were sailing back again into the pleasant summer.
A sad event which occurred soon after, in some measure marred our enjoyment of the change. Ever since she had left Hammerfest, it had become too evident that a sea-going life did not agree with the goat. Even the run on shore at Spitzbergen had not sufficed to repair her shattered constitution, and the bad weather we had had ever since completed its ruin. It was certain that the butcher was the only doctor who could now cure her. In spite, therefore, of the distress it occasioned Maid Marian, I was compelled to issue orders for her execution. Sigurdr was the only person who regarded the TRAGICAL event with indifference, nay, almost with delight. Ever since we had commenced sailing in a southerly direction, we had been obliged to beat, but during the last four-and-twenty hours the wind kept dodging us every time we tacked, as a nervous pedestrian sets to you sometimes on a narrow trottoir. This spell of ill-luck the Icelander heathenishly thought would only be removed by a sacrifice to Rhin, the goddess of the sea, in which light he trusted she would look upon the goat's body when it came to be thrown overboard.
Whether the change which followed upon the consignment of her remains to the deep really resulted from such an influence, I am not prepared to say. The weather immediately thereafter certainly DID change. First the wind dropped altogether, but though the calm lasted several hours, the sea strangely enough appeared to become all the rougher, tossing and tumbling restlessly UP AND DOWN—(not over and over as in a gale)—like a sick man on a fever bed; the impulse to the waves seeming to proceed from all four quarters of the world at once. Then, like jurymen with a verdict of death upon their lips, the heavy, ominous clouds slowly passed into the north-west.
A dead stillness followed—a breathless pause—until, at some mysterious signal, the solemn voice of the storm hurtled over the deep. Luckily we were quite ready for it; the gale came from the right quarter, and the fiercer it blew the better. For the next three days and three nights it was a scurry over the sea such as I never had before; nine or ten knots an hour was the very least we ever went, and 240 miles was the average distance we made every four-and-twenty hours.
Anything grander and more exciting than the sight of the sea under these circumstances you cannot imagine. The vessel herself remains very steady; when you are below you scarcely know you are not in port. But on raising your head above the companion the first sight which meets your eye is an upright wall of black water, towering, you hardly know how many feet, into the air over the stern. Like a lion walking on its hind legs, it comes straight at you, roaring and shaking its white mane with fury-it overtakes the vessel—the upright shiny face curves inwards—the white mane seems to hang above your very head; but ere it topples over, the nimble little ship has already slipped from underneath. You hear the disappointed jaws of the sea-monster snap angrily together,—the schooner disdainfully kicks up her heel—and raging and bubbling up on either side the quarter, the unpausing wave sweeps on, and you see its round back far ahead, gradually swelling upwards, as it gathers strength and volume for a new effort.
We had now got considerably to the southward of North Cape. We had already seen several ships, and you would hardly imagine with what childish delight my people hailed these symptoms of having again reached more "Christian latitudes," as they called them.
I had always intended, ever since my conversation with Mr. T. about the Malstrom, to have called in at Loffoden Islands on our way south, and ascertain for myself the real truth about this famous vortex. To have blotted such a bugbear out of the map of Europe, if its existence really was a myth, would at all events have rendered our cruise not altogether fruitless. But, since leaving Spitzbergen, we had never once seen the sun, and to attempt to make so dangerous a coast in a gale of wind and a thick mist, with no more certain knowledge of the ship's position than our dead reckoning afforded, was out of the question, so about one o'clock in the morning, the weather giving no signs of improvement, the course I had shaped in the direction of the island was altered, and we stood away again to the southward. This manoeuvre was not unobserved by Wilson, but he mistook its meaning. Having, I suppose, overheard us talking at dinner about the Malstrom, he now concluded the supreme hour had arrived. He did not exactly comprehend the terms we used, but had gathered that the spot was one fraught with danger. Concluding from the change made in the vessel's course that we were proceeding towards the dreadful locality, he gave himself up to despair, and lay tossing in his hammock in sleepless anxiety. At last the load of his forebodings was greater than he could bear, he gets up, steals into the Doctor's cabin, wakes him up, and standing over him—as the messenger of ill tidings once stood over Priam—whispers, "SIR!" "What is it?" says Fitz, thinking, perhaps, some one was ill. "Do you know where we are going?" "Why, to Throndhjem," answered Fitz. "We were going to Throndhjem," rejoins Wilson, "but we ain't now—the vessel's course was altered two hours ago. Oh, Sir! we are going to Whirlpool-to WHIRL-RL-POOO-L! Sir!" in a quaver of consternation,—and so glides back to bed like a phantom, leaving the Doctor utterly unable to divine the occasion of his visit.
The whole of the next day the gale continued. We had now sailed back into night; it became therefore a question how far it would be advisable to carry on during the ensuing hours of darkness, considering how uncertain we were as to our real position. As I think I have already described to you, the west coast of Norway is very dangerous; a continuous sheet of sunken rocks lies out along its entire edge for eight or ten miles to sea. There are no lighthouses to warn the mariner off; and if we were wrong in our reckoning, as we might very well be, it was possible we might stumble on the land sooner than we expected. I knew the proper course would be to lie to quietly until we could take an observation; but time was so valuable, and I was so fearful you would be getting anxious. The night was pretty clear. High mountains, such as we were expecting to make, would be seen, even at night, several miles off. According to our log we were still 150 miles off the land, and, however inaccurate our calculation might be, the error could not be of such magnitude as that amounted to. To throw away so fair a wind seemed such a pity, especially as it might be days before the sun appeared; we had already been at sea about a fortnight without a sight of him, and his appearance at all during the summer is not an act DE RIGUEUR in this part of the world; we might spend yet another fortnight in lying to, and then after all have to poke our way blindfold to the coast; at all events it would be soon enough to lie to the next night. Such were the considerations, which—after an anxious consultation with Mr. Wyse in the cabin, and much fingering of the charts,—determined me to carry on during the night.
Nevertheless, I confess I was very uneasy, Though I went to bed and fell asleep—for at sea nothing prevents that process—my slumbers were constantly agitated by the most vivid dreams that I ever remember to have had. Dreams of an arrival in England, and your coming down to meet us, and all the pleasure I had in recounting our adventures to you; then suddenly your face seemed to fade away beneath a veil of angry grey surge that broke over low, sharp-pointed rocks; and the next moment there resounded over the ship that cry which has been the preface to so many a disaster—the ring of which, none who have ever heard it are likely to forget—"Breakers ahead!"
In a moment I was on deck, dressed—for it is always best to dress,—and there, sure enough, right ahead, about a mile and a half off, through the mist, which had come on very thick, I could distinguish the upward shooting fluff of seas shattering against rocks. No land was to be seen, but the line of breakers every instant became more evident; at the pace we were going, in seven or eight minutes we should be upon them. Now, thought I to myself, we shall see whether a stout heart beats beneath the silk tartan! The result covered that brilliant garment with glory and salt water. To tack was impossible, we could only wear,—and to wear in such a sea was no very pleasant operation. But the little ship seemed to know what she was about, as well as any of us: up went the helm, round came the schooner into the trough of the sea,—high over her quarter toppled an enormous sea, built up of I know not how many tons of water, and hung over the deck,—by some unaccountable wriggle, an instant ere it thundered down she had twisted her stern on one side, and the waves passed underneath. In another minute her head was to the sea, the mainsail was eased over, and all danger was past.
What was now to be done? That the land we had seen was the coast of Norway I could not believe. Wrong as our dead reckoning evidently was, it could not be so wrong as that. Yet only one other supposition was possible, viz., that we had not come so far south as we imagined, and that we had stumbled upon Roost—a little rocky island that lies about twenty miles to the southward of the Loffoden Islands. Whether this conjecture was correct or not, did not much matter; to go straight away to sea, and lie to until we could get an observation, was the only thing to be done. Away then we went, struggling against a tremendous sea for a good nine hours, until we judged ourselves to be seventy or eighty miles from where we had sighted the breakers,—when we lay to, not in the best of tempers. The next morning, not only was it blowing as hard as ever, but all chance of getting a sight that day seemed also out of the question. I could have eaten my head with impatience. However, as it is best never to throw a chance away, about half-past eleven o'clock, though the sky resembled an even sheet of lead, I got my sextant ready, and told Mr. Wyse to do the same.
Now, out of tenderness for your feminine ignorance I must state, that in order to take an observation, it is necessary to get a sight of the sun at a particular moment of the day: this moment is noon. When, therefore, twelve o'clock came, and one could not so much as guess in what quarter of the heavens he might be lying perdu, you may suppose I almost despaired. Ten minutes passed. It was evident we were doomed to remain, kicking our heels for another four-and-twenty hours where we were. No!—yes!—no! By Phoebus! there he is! A faint spongy spot of brightness gleamed through the grey roof overhead. The indistinct outline grew a little clearer; one-half of him, though still behind a cloud, hardened into a sharp edge. Up went the sextant. "52.43!" (or whatever it was) I shouted to Mr. Wyse. "52.41, my Lord!" cried he, in return; there was only the discrepancy of a mile between us. We had got the altitude; the sun might go to bed for good and all now, we did not care,—we knew our position to an inch. There had been an error of something like forty miles in our dead reckoning, in consequence—as I afterwards found—of a current that sets to the northward, along the west coast of Norway, with a velocity varying from one to three miles an hour. The island upon which we had so nearly run WAS Roost. We were still nearly 200 miles from our port. "Turn the hands up! Make sail!" and away we went again in the same course as before, at the rate of ten knots an hour.
"The girls at home have got hold of the tow-rope, I think, my Lord," said Mr. Wyse, as we bounded along over the thundering seas.
By three o'clock next day we were up with Vigten, and now a very nasty piece of navigation began. In order to make the northern entrance of the Throndhjem Fiord, you have first to find your way into what is called the Froh Havet,—a kind of oblong basin about sixteen miles long, formed by a ledge of low rocks running parallel with the mainland, at a distance of ten miles to seaward. Though the space between this outer boundary and the coast is so wide, in consequence of the network of sunken rocks which stuffs it up, the passage by which a vessel can enter is very narrow, and the only landmark to enable you to find the channel is the head one of the string of outer islets. As this rock is about the size of a dining-table, perfectly flat, and rising only a few feet above the level of the sea, to attempt to make it is like looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. It was already beginning to grow very late and dark by the time we had come up with the spot where it ought to have been, but not a vestige of such a thing had turned up. Should we not sight it in a quarter of an hour, we must go to sea again, and lie to for the night,—a very unpleasant alternative for any one so impatient as I was to reach a port. Just as I was going to give the order, Fitz—who was certainly the Lynceus of the ship's company—espied its black back just peeping up above the tumbling water on our starboard bow. We had hit it off to a yard!
In another half-hour we were stealing down in quiet water towards the entrance of the fiord. All this time not a rag of a pilot had appeared, and it was without any such functionary that the schooner swept up next morning between the wooded, grain-laden slopes of the beautiful loch, to Throndhjem—the capital of the ancient sea-kings of Norway.
THRONDHJEM—HARALD HAARFAGER—KING HACON'S LAST BATTLE— OLAF TRYGGVESSON—THE "LONG SERPENT"—ST. OLAVE—THORMOD THE SCALD—THE JARL OF LADE—THE CATHEDRAL—HARALD HARDRADA—THE BATTLE OF STANFORD BRIDGE—A NORSE BALI —ODIN—AND HIS PALADINS.
Off Munkholm, Aug. 27, 1856.
Throndhjem (pronounced Tronyem) looked very pretty and picturesque, with its red-roofed wooden houses sparkling in the sunshine, its many windows filled with flowers, its bright fiord covered with vessels gaily dressed in flags, in honour of the Crown Prince's first visit to the ancient capital of the Norwegian realm. Tall, pretentious warehouses crowded down to the water's edge, like bullies at a public show elbowing to the foremost rank, orderly streets stretched in quiet rows at right angles with each other, and pretty villas with green cinctures sloped away towards the hills. In the midst rose the king's palace, the largest wooden edifice in Europe, while the old grey cathedral—stately and grand, in spite of the slow destruction of the elements, the mutilations of man's hands, or his yet more degrading rough-cast and stucco reparations—still towered above the perishable wooden buildings at his feet, with the solemn pride which befits the shrine of a royal saint.
I cannot tell you with what eagerness I drank in all the features of this lovely scene; at least, such features as Time can hardly alter—the glancing river, from whence the city's ancient name of Nidaros, or "mouth of the Nid," is derived,—the rocky island of Munkholm, the bluff of Lade,—the land-locked fiord and its pleasant hills, beyond whose grey stony ridges I knew must lie the fatal battle-field of Sticklestad. Every spot to me was full of interest,—but an interest noways connected with the neat green villas, the rectangular streets, and the obtrusive warehouses. These signs of a modern humdrum prosperity seemed to melt away before my eyes as I gazed from the schooner's deck, and the accessories of an elder time came to furnish the landscape,—the clumsy merchantmen lazily swaying with the tide, darkened into armed galleys with their rows of glittering shields,—the snug, bourgeois-looking town shrank into the quaint proportions of the huddled ancient Nidaros,—and the old marauding days, with their shadowy line of grand old pirate kings, rose up with welcome vividness before my mind.
What picture shall I try to conjure from the past, to live in your fancy, as it does in mine?
Let the setting be these very hills,—flooded by this same cold, steely sunshine. In the midst stands a stalwart form, in quaint but regal attire. Hot blood deepens the colour of his sun-bronzed cheek; an iron purpose gleams in his earnest eyes, like the flash of a drawn sword; a circlet of gold binds the massive brow, and from beneath it stream to below his waist thick masses of hair, of that dusky red which glows like the heart of a furnace in the sunlight, but deepens earth-brown in the shadow. By his side stands a fair woman; her demure and heavy-lidded eyes are seldom lifted from the earth, which yet they seem to scorn, but the king's eyes rest on her, and many looks are turned towards him. A multitude is present, moved by one great event, swayed by a thousand passions,—some with garrulous throats full of base adulation and an unworthy joy,—some pale, self-scorning, with averted looks, and hands that twitch instinctively at their idle daggers, then drop hopeless, harmless at their sides.
The king is Harald Haarfager, "of the fair hair," the woman is proud and beautiful Gyda, whose former scorn for him, in the days when he was nothing but the petty chief of a few barren mountains, provoked that strange wild vow of his, "That he would never clip or comb his locks till he could woo her as sole king of Norway."
Among the crowd are those who have bartered, for ease, and wealth, and empty titles born of the king's breath—their ancient Udal rights, their Bonder privileges; others have sunk their proud hearts to bear the yoke of the stronger hand, yet gaze with yearning looks on the misty horizon that opens between the hills. A dark speck mars that shadowy line. Thought follows across the space. It is a ship. Its sides are long, and black, and low; but high in front rises the prow, fashioned into the semblance of a gigantic golden dragon, against whose gleaming breast the divided waters angrily flash and gurgle. Along the top sides of the deck are hung a row of shining shields, in alternate breadths of red and white, like the variegated scales of a sea-monster, whilst its gilded tail curls aft over the head of the steersman. From either flank projects a bank of some thirty oars, that look, as they smite the ocean with even beat, like the legs on which the reptile crawls over its surface. One stately mast of pine serves to carry a square sail made of cloth, brilliant with stripes of red, white, and blue.
And who are they who navigate this strange, barbaric vessel?—why leave they the sheltering fiords of their beloved Norway? They are the noblest hearts of that noble land—freemen, who value freedom,—who have abandoned all rather than call Harald master, and now seek a new home even among the desolate crags of Iceland, rather than submit to the tyranny of a usurper.
"Rorb—ober Gud! wenn nur bie Geelen gluben!"
Another picture, and a sadder story; but the scene is now a wide dun moor, on the slope of a seaward hill; the autumn evening is closing in, but a shadow darker than that of evening broods over the desolate plain,—the shadow of DEATH. Groups of armed men, with stern sorrow in their looks, are standing round a rude couch, hastily formed of fir branches. An old man lies there—dying. His ear is dulled even to the shout of victory; the mists of an endless night are gathering in his eyes; but there is passion yet in the quivering lip, and triumph on the high-resolved brow; and the gesture of his hand has kingly power still. Let me tell his saga, like the bards of that old time.
HACON'S LAST BATTLE.
All was over: day was ending As the foeman turned and fled. Gloomy red Glowed the angry sun descending; While round Hacon's dying bed, Tears and songs of triumph blending, Told how fast the conqueror bled
"Raise me," said the King. We raised him— Not to ease his desperate pain; That were vain! "Strong our foe was—but we faced him Show me that red field again." Then, with reverent hands, we placed him High above the bloody plain.
Silent gazed he; mute we waited, Kneeling round-a faithful few, Staunch and true,— Whilst above, with thunder freighted, Wild the boisterous north wind blew, And the carrion-bird, unsated, On slant wing around us flew.
Sudden, on our startled hearing, Came the low-breathed, stern command— "Lo! ye stand? Linger not, the night is nearing; Bear me downwards to the strand, Where my ships are idly steering Off and on, in sight of land."
Every whispered word obeying, Swift we bore him down the steep, O'er the deep, Up the tall ship's side, low swaying To the storm-wind's powerful sweep, And—his dead companions laying Round him,—we had time to weep.
But the King said—"Peace! bring hither Spoil and weapons—battle-strown, Make no moan; Leave me and my dead together, Light my torch, and then—begone." But we murmured, each to other, "Can we leave him thus alone?"
Angrily the King replieth; Flash the awful eyes again, With disdain— "Call him not alone who lieth Low amidst such noble slain; Call him not alone who dieth Side by side with gallant men."
Slowly, sadly, we departed: Reached again that desolate shore, Nevermore Trod by him, the brave true-hearted— Dying in that dark ship's core! Sadder keel from land ne'er parted, Nobler freight none ever bore!
There we lingered, seaward gazing, Watching o'er that living tomb, Through the gloom— Gloom! which awful light is chasing— Blood-red flames the surge illume! Lo! King Hacon's ship is blazing; 'Tis the hero's self-sought doom.
Right before the wild wind driving, Madly plunging—stung by fire— No help nigh her— Lo! the ship has ceased her striving! Mount the red flames higher—higher! Till—on ocean's verge arriving, Sudden sinks the Viking's pyre— Hacon's gone!
Let me call one more heroic phantom from Norway's romantic past.
A kingly presence, stately and tall; his shield held high above his head—a broken sword in his right hand. Olaf Tryggvesson! Founder of Nidaros;—that cold Northern Sea has rolled for many centuries above your noble head, and yet not chilled the battle heat upon your brow, nor staunched the blood that trickles down your iron glove, from hidden, untold wounds, which the tender hand of Thyri shall never heal!
To such ardent souls it is indeed given "to live for ever" (the for ever of this world); for is it not "Life" to keep a hold on OUR affections, when their own passions are at rest,—to influence our actions (however indirectly)—when action is at an end for them? Who shall say how much of modern heroism may owe its laurels to that first throb of fiery sympathy which young hearts feel at the relation of deeds such as Olaf Tryggvesson's?
The forms of those old Greeks and Romans whom we are taught to reverence, may project taller shadows on the world's stage; but though the scene be narrow here, and light be wanting, the interest is not less intense, nor are the passions less awful that inspired these ruder dramas.
There is an individuality in the Icelandic historian's description of King Olaf that wins one's interest—at first as in an acquaintance—and rivets it at last as in a personal friend. The old Chronicle lingers with such loving minuteness over his attaching qualities, his social, generous nature, his gaiety and "frolicsomeness;" even his finical taste in dress, and his evident proneness to fall too hastily in love, have a value in the portrait, as contrasting with the gloomy colours in which the story sinks at last. The warm, impulsive spirit speaks in every action of his life, from the hour when—a young child, in exile—he strikes his axe into the skull of his foster-father's murderer, to the last grand scene near Svalderoe. You trace it in his absorbing grief for the death of Geyra, the wife of his youth; the saga says, "he had no pleasure in Vinland after it," and then naively observes, "he therefore provided himself with war-ships, and went a-plundering," one of his first achievements being to go and pull down London Bridge. This peculiar kind of "distraction" (as the French call it) seems to have had the desired effect, as is evident in the romantic incident of his second marriage, when the Irish Princess Gyda chooses him—apparently an obscure stranger—to be her husband, out of a hundred wealthy and well-born aspirants to her hand. But neither Gyda's love, nor the rude splendours of her father's court, can make Olaf forgetful of his claims upon the throne of Norway—the inheritance of his father; and when that object of his just ambition is attained, and he is proclaimed King by general election of the Bonders, as his ancestor Harald Haarfager had been, his character deepens in earnestness as the sphere of his duties is enlarged. All the energies of his ardent nature are put forth in the endeavour to convert his subjects to the true Faith. As he himself expresses it, "he would bring it to this,—that all Norway should be Christian or die!" In the same spirit he meets his heretic and rebellious subjects at the Thing of Lade, and boldly replies, when they require him to sacrifice to the false gods, "If I turn with you to offer sacrifice, then shall it be the greatest sacrifice that can be made; I will not offer slaves, nor malefactors to your gods,—I will sacrifice men;—and they shall be the noblest men among you!" It was soon after this that he despatched the exemplary Thangbrand to Iceland.
With a front not less determined does he face his country's foes. The king of Sweden, and Svend "of the forked beard," king of Denmark, have combined against him. With them is joined the Norse jarl, Eric, the son of Hacon. Olaf Tryggvesson is sailing homewards with a fleet of seventy ships,—himself commanding the famous "Long Serpent," the largest ship built in Norway. His enemies are lying in wait for him behind the islands.
Nothing can be more dramatic than the description of the sailing of this gallant fleet—(piloted by the treacherous Earl Sigwald)—within sight of the ambushed Danes and Swedes, who watch from their hiding-place the beautiful procession of hostile vessels, mistaking each in turn for the "Long Serpent," and as often undeceived by a new and yet more stately apparition. She appears at length, her dragon prow glittering in the sunshine, all canvas spread, her sides bristling with armed men; "and when they saw her, none spoke, all knew it to be indeed the 'Serpent,'—and they went to their ships to arm for the fight." As soon as Olaf and his forces had been enticed into the narrow passage, the united fleets of the three allies pour out of the Sound; his people beg Olaf to hold on his way and not risk battle with such a superior force; but the King replied, high on the quarter-deck where he stood, "Strike the sails! I never fled from battle: let God dispose of my life, but flight I will never take!" He then orders the warhorns to sound, for all his ships to close up to each other. "Then," says Ulf the Red, captain of the forecastle, "if the 'Long Serpent' is to lie so much a-head of the other vessels, we shall have hot work of it here on the forecastle."
The King replies, "I did not think I had a forecastle man afraid, as well as red." [Footnote: There is a play on these two words in the Icelandic, "Raudau oc Ragan."]
Says Ulf, "Defend thou the quarter-deck, as I shall the forecastle."
The King had a bow in his hands; he laid an arrow on the string, and made as if he aimed at Ulf.
Ulf said, "Shoot another way, King, where it is more needful,—my work is thy gain."
Then the King asks, "Who is the chief of the force right opposite to us?" He is answered, "Svend of Denmark, with his army."
Olaf replies, "We are not afraid of these soft Danes! Who are the troops on the right?"
They answer, "Olaf of Sweden, and his forces."
"Better it were," replies the King, "for these Swedes to be sitting at home, killing their sacrifices, than venturing under the weapons of the 'Long Serpent.' But who owns the large ships on the larboard side of the Danes?"
"That is Jarl Eric, son of Hacon," say they.
The King says, "He has reason for meeting us; we may expect hard blows from these men; they are Norsemen like ourselves."
The fierce conflict raged for many hours. It went hard with the "soft Danes," and idolatrous Swedes, as Olaf had foreseen: after a short struggle they turn and fly. But Jarl Eric in his large ship the "Iron Beard" is more than a match for Olafs lighter vessels. One by one their decks are deluged with blood, their brave defenders swept into the sea; one by one they are cut adrift and sent loose with the tide. And now at last the "Iron Beard" lies side by side with the "Long Serpent," and it is indeed "hot work" both on forecastle and quarter-deck.
"Einar Tambarskelvar, one of the sharpest of bowmen, stood by the mast, and shot with his bow." His arrow hits the tiller-end, just over the Earl's head, and buries itself up to the shaft in the wood. "Who shot that bolt?" says the Jarl. Another flies between his hand and side, and enters the stuffing of the chief's stool. Then said the Jarl to a man named Fin, "Shoot that tall archer by the mast!" Fin shoots; the arrow hits the middle of Einar's bow as he is in the act of drawing it, and the bow is split in two.
"What is that," cried King Olaf, "that broke with such a noise?"
"NORWAY, King, from thy hands!" cried Einar.
"No! not so much as that," says the King; "take my bow, and shoot,"—flinging the bow to him.
Einar took the bow, and drew it over the head of the arrow. "Too weak, too weak," said he, "for the bow of a mighty King!" and throwing the bow aside, "he took sword and buckler, and fought valiantly."
But Olaf's hour is come. Many slain lie around him, many that have fallen by his hand, more that have fallen at his side. The thinned ranks on board the "Iron Beard" are constantly replenished by fresh combatants from other vessels, even by the Swedes and soft Danes, now "strong, upon the stronger side,"—while Olaf, cut off from succour, stands almost alone upon the "Serpent's" deck, made slippery by his people's blood. The jarl had laid out boats to intercept all who might escape from the ship; but escape is not in the King's thoughts. He casts one look around him, glances at his sword—broken like Einar's bow—draws a deep breath, and, holding his shield above his head, springs overboard. A shout—a rush! who shall first grasp that noble prisoner? Back, slaves! the shield that has brought him scathless through a hundred fights, shall yet shelter him from dishonour.
Countless hands are stretched to snatch him back to worthless life, but the shield alone floats on the swirl of the wave;—King Olaf has sunk beneath it.
Perhaps you have already had enough of my Saga lore; but with that grey cathedral full in sight, I cannot but dedicate a few lines to another Olaf, king and warrior like the last, but to whom after times have accorded a yet higher title.
Saint Olaf's—Saint Olave, as we call him—early history savours little of the odour of sanctity, but has rather that "ancient and fish-like smell" which characterised the doings of the Vikings, his ancestors. But those were days when honour rather than disgrace attached to the ideas of booty and plunder, especially in an enemy's country; it was a "spoiling of the Egyptians" sanctioned by custom, and even permitted by the Church, which did not disdain occasionally to share in the profits of a successful cruise, when presented in the decent form of silver candlesticks and other ecclesiastical gauds. As to the ancient historian, he mentions these matters as a thing of course. "Here the King landed, burnt, and ravaged;" "there the Jarl gained much booty;" "this summer, they took a cruise in the Baltic, to gather property," etc., much as a modern biographer would speak of a gentleman's successful railroad speculations, his taking shares in a coal mine, or coming into a "nice little thing in the Long Annuities." Nevertheless, there is something significant of his future vocation, in a speech which Olaf makes to his assembled friends and relations, imparting to them his design of endeavouring to regain possession of the throne: "I and my men have nothing for our support save what we captured in war, FOR WHICH WE HAVE HAZARDED BOTH LIFE AND SOUL; for many an innocent man have we deprived of his property, and some of their lives, and foreigners are now sitting in the possessions of my fathers." One sees here a faint glimmer of the Saint's nimbus, over the helmet of the Viking, a dawning perception of the "rights of property," which, no doubt, must have startled his hearers into the most ardent conservative zeal for the good old marauding customs.
But though years elapsed, and fortunes changed, before this dim light of the early Church became that scorching and devouring flame which, later, spread terror and confusion among the haunts of the still lingering ancient gods, an earnest sense of duty seems to have been ever present with him. If it cannot be denied that he shared the errors of other proselytizing monarchs, and put down Paganism with a stern and bloody hand, no merely personal injury ever weighed with him. How grand is his reply to those who advise him to ravage with fire and sword the rebellious district of Throndhjem, as he had formerly punished numbers of his subjects who had rejected Christianity:—"We had then GOD'S honour to defend; but this treason against their sovereign is a much less grievous crime; it is more in my power to spare those who have dealt ill with me, than those whom God hated." The same hard measure which he meted to others he applied to his own actions: witness that curiously characteristic scene, when, sitting in his high seat, at table, lost in thought, he begins unconsciously to cut splinters from a piece of fir-wood which he held in his hand. The table servant, seeing what the King was about, says to him, (mark the respectful periphrasis!) "IT IS MONDAY, SIRE, TO-MORROW." The King looks at him, and it came into his mind what he was doing on a Sunday. He sweeps up the shavings he had made, sets fire to them, and lets them burn on his naked hand; "showing thereby that he would hold fast by God's law, and not trespass without punishment."
But whatever human weaknesses may have mingled with the pure ore of this noble character, whatever barbarities may have stained his career, they are forgotten in the pathetic close of his martial story.
His subjects,—alienated by the sternness with which he administers his own severely religious laws, or corrupted by the bribes of Canute, king of Denmark and England, are fallen from their allegiance. The brave, single-hearted monarch is marching against the rebellious Bonders, at the head of a handful of foreign troops, and such as remained faithful among his own people. On the eve of that last battle, on which he stakes throne and life, he intrusts a large sum of money to a Bonder, to be laid out "on churches, priests, and alms-men, as gifts for the souls of such as may fall in battle AGAINST HIMSELF,"—strong in the conviction of the righteousness of his cause, and the assured salvation of such as upheld it.
He makes a glorious end. Forsaken by many whom he had loved and served,—yet forgiving and excusing them; rejecting the aid of all who denied that holy Faith which had become the absorbing interest of his life,—but surrounded by a faithful few, who share his fate; "in the lost battle, borne down by the flying"—he falls, transpierced by many wounds, and the last words on his fervent lips are prayer to God. [Footnote: The exact date of the battle of Sticklestad is known: an eclipse of the sun occurred while it was going on.]
Surely there was a gallant saint and soldier. Yet he was not the only one who bore himself nobly on that day. Here is another episode of that same fatal fight.
A certain Thormod is one of the Scalds (or Poets) in King Olaf's army. The night before the battle he sings a spirited song at the King's request, who gives him a gold ring from his finger in token of his approval. Thormod thanks him for the gift, and says, "It is my prayer, Sire, that we shall never part, either in life or death." When the King receives his death-wound Thormod is near him,—but, wounded himself, and so weak and weary that in a desperate onslaught by the King's men,—nicknamed "Dag's storm,"—HE ONLY STOOD BY HIS COMRADE IN THE RANKS, ALTHOUGH HE COULD DO NOTHING.
The noise of the battle has ceased; the King is lying dead where he fell. The very man who had dealt him his death-wound has laid the body straight out on the ground, and spread a cloak over it. "And when he wiped the blood from the face it was very beautiful, and there was red in the cheeks, as if he only slept."
Thormod, who had received a second wound as he stood in the ranks—(an arrow in his side, which he breaks off at the shaft),—wanders away towards a large barn, where other wounded men have taken refuge. Entering with his drawn sword in his hand, he meets one of the Bonders coming out, who says, "It is very bad there, with howling and screaming; and a great shame it is, that brisk young fellows cannot bear their wounds. The King's men may have done bravely to-day, but truly they bear their wounds ill."
Thormod asks what his name is, and if he was in the battle. Kimbe was his name, and he had been "with the Bonders, which was the best side." "And hast thou been in the battle too?" asks he of Thormod.
Thormod replies, "I was with them that had the best."
"Art thou wounded?" says Kimbe.
"Not much to signify," says Thormod.
Kimbe sees the gold ring, and says, "Thou art a King's man: give me thy gold ring, and I will hide thee."
Thormod replies, "Take the ring if thou canst get it; I HAVE LOST THAT WHICH IS MORE WORTH."
Kimbe stretches out his hand to seize the ring; but Thormod, swinging his sword, cuts off his hand; "and it is related, that Kimbe behaved no better under his wound than those he had just been blaming."
Thormod then enters the house where the wounded men are lying, and seats himself in silence by the door.
As the people go in and out, one of them casts a look at Thormod, and says, "Why art thou so dead pale? Art thou wounded?" He answers carelessly, with a half-jesting rhyme; then rises and stands awhile by the fire. A woman, who is attending on those who are hurt, bids him "go out, and bring in firewood from the door." He returns with the wood, and the girl then looking him in the face, says, "Dreadfully pale is this man;" and asks to see his wounds. She examines his wound in his side, and feels that the iron of the arrow is still there; she then takes a pair of tongs and tries to pull it out, "but it sat too fast, and as the wound was swelled, little of it stood out to lay hold of." Thormod bids her "cut deep enough to reach the iron, and then to give him the tongs, and let him pull." She did as he bade. He takes the ring from his hand, and gives it to the girl, saying, "It is a good man's gift! King Olaf gave it to me this morning." Then Thormod took the tongs and pulled the iron out. The arrow-head was barbed, and on it there hung some morsels of flesh. When he saw that he said, "THE KING HAS FED US WELL! I am fat, even at the heart-roots!" And so saying, he leant back, and died. [Footnote: When a man was wounded in the abdomen, it was the habit of the Norse leeches to give him an onion to eat; by this means they learnt whether the weapon had perforated the viscera.]
Stout, faithful heart! if they gave you no place in your master's stately tomb, there is room for you by his side in heaven!
I have at last received—I need not say how joyfully—two letters from you; one addressed to Hammerfest. I had begun to think that some Norwegian warlock had bewitched the post-bags, in the approved old ballad fashion, to prevent their rendering up my dues; for when the packet of letters addressed to the "Foam" was brought on board, immediately after our arrival, I alone got nothing. From Sigurdr and the Doctor to the cabin-boy, every face was beaming over "news from home!" while I was left to walk the deck, with my hands in my pockets, pretending not to care. But the spell is broken now, and I retract my evil thoughts of the warlock and you.
Yesterday, we made an excursion as far as Lade, saw a waterfall, which is one of the lions of this neighbourhood (but a very mitigated lion, which "roars you as soft as any sucking dove"), and returned in the evening to attend a ball given to celebrate the visit of the Crown Prince.
At Lade, I confess I could think of nothing but "the great Jarl" Hacon, the counsellor, and maker of kings, king himself in all but the name, for he ruled over the western sea-board of Norway, while Olaf Tryggvesson was yet a wanderer and exile. He is certainly one of the most picturesque figures of these Norwegian dramas; what with his rude wit, his personal bravery, and that hereditary beauty of his race for which he was conspicuous above the rest. His very errors, great as they were, have a dash and prestige about them, which in that rude time must have dazzled men's eyes, and especially WOMEN'S, as his story proves. It was his sudden passion for the beautiful Gudrun Lyrgia (the "Sun of Lunde," as she was called), which precipitated the avenging fate which years of heart-burnings and discontent among his subjects had been preparing. Gudrun's husband incites the Bonders to throw off the yoke of the licentious despot,—Olaf Tryggvesson is proclaimed king,—and the "great Jarl of Lade" is now a fugitive in the land he so lately ruled, accompanied by a single thrall, named Karker.
In this extremity, Jarl Hacon applies for aid to Thora of Rimmol, a lady whom he had once dearly loved; she is faithful in adversity to the friend of happier days, and conceals the Jarl and his companion in a hole dug for this purpose, in the swine-stye, and covered over with wood and litter; as the only spot likely to elude the hot search of his enemies. Olaf and the Bonders seek for him in Thora's house, but in vain; and finally, Olaf, standing on the very stone against which the swine-stye is built, promises wealth and honours to him who shall bring him the Jarl of Lade's head. The scene which follows is related by the Icelandic historian with Dante's tragic power.
There was a little daylight in their hiding-place, and the Jarl and Karker both hear the words of Olaf.
"Why art thou so pale?" says the Jarl," and now again as black as earth? Thou dost not mean to betray me?"
"By no means," said Karker.
"We were born on the same night," said the Jarl, "and the time will not be long between our deaths."
When night came, the Jarl kept himself awake,—but Karker slept;—a troubled sleep. The Jarl awoke him, and asked of what he was dreaming. He answered, "I was at Lade, and Olaf was laying a gold ring about my neck."
The Jarl said, "It will be a RED ring about thy neck, if he catches thee: from me thou shalt enjoy all that is good,—therefore, betray me not!"
Then they both kept themselves awake; "THE ONE, AS IT WERE, WATCHING UPON THE OTHER." But towards day, the Jarl dropped asleep, and in his unquiet slumber he drew his heels under him, and raised his neck as if going to rise, "and shrieked fearfully." On this, Karker, "dreadfully alarmed," drew a knife from his belt, stuck it into the Jarl's throat, and cut off his head. Late in the day he came to Lade, brought the Jarl's head to Olaf, and told his story.
It is a comfort to know that "the red ring" was laid round the traitor's neck: Olaf caused him to be beheaded.
What a picture that is, in the swine-stye, those two haggard faces, travel-stained and worn with want of rest, watching each other with hot, sleepless eyes through the half darkness, and how true to nature is the nightmare of the miserable Jarl!
It was on my return from Lade, that I found your letters; and that I might enjoy them without interruption, I carried them off to the churchyard—(such a beautiful place!)—to read in peace and quiet. The churchyard was NOT "populous with young men, striving to be alone," as Tom Hood describes it to have been in a certain sentimental parish; so I enjoyed the seclusion I anticipated.
I was much struck by the loving care and ornament bestowed on the graves; some were literally loaded with flowers, and even those which bore the date of a long past sorrow had each its own blooming crown, or fresh nosegay. These good Throndhjemers must have much of what the French call la religion des souvenirs, a religion in which we English (as a nation) are singularly deficient. I suppose no people in Europe are so little addicted to the keeping of sentimental anniversaries as we are; I make an exception with regard to our living friends' birthdays, which we are ever tenderly ready to cultivate, when called on; turtle, venison, and champagne, being pleasant investments for the affections. But time and business do not admit of a faithful adherence to more sombre reminiscences; a busy gentleman "on 'Change" cannot conveniently shut himself up, on his "lost Araminta's natal-day," nor will a railroad committee allow of his running down by the 10.25 A.M., to shed a tear over that neat tablet in the new Willow-cum-Hatband Cemetery. He is necessarily content to regret his Araminta in the gross, and to omit the petty details of a too pedantic sorrow.
The fact is, we are an eminently practical people, and are easily taught to accept "the irrevocable," if not without regret, at least with a philosophy which repudiates all superfluous methods of showing it. DECENT is the usual and appropriate term applied to our churchyard solemnities, and we are not only "content to dwell in decencies for ever," but to die, and be buried in them.
The cathedral loses a little of its poetical physiognomy on a near approach. Modern restoration has done something to spoil the outside, and modern refinement a good deal to degrade the interior with pews and partitions; but it is a very fine building, and worthy of its metropolitan dignity. I am told that the very church built by Magnus the Good,—son of Saint Olave—over his father's remains, and finished by his uncle Harald Hardrada, is, or rather was, included in the walls of the cathedral; and though successive catastrophes by fire have perhaps left but little of the original building standing, I like to think that some of these huge stones were lifted to their place under the eyes of Harald The Stern. It was on the eve of his last fatal expedition against our own Harold of England that the shrine of St. Olave was opened by the king, who, having clipped the hair and nails of the dead saint (most probably as relics, efficacious for the protection of himself and followers), then locked the shrine, and threw the keys into the Nid. Its secrets from that day were respected until the profane hands of Lutheran Danes carried it bodily away, with all the gold and silver chalices, and jewelled pyxes, which, by kingly gifts and piratical offerings, had accumulated for centuries in its treasury.
He must have been a fine, resolute fellow, that Harald the Stern, although, in spite of much church-building and a certain amount of Pagan-persecuting, his character did not in any way emulate that of his saintly brother. The early part of his history reads like a fairy tale, and is a favourite subject for Scald songs; more especially his romantic adventures in the East,—
"Well worthy of the golden prime Of good Haroun Alraschid."
where Saracens flee like chaff upon the wind before him, and impregnable Sicilian castles fall into his power by impossible feats of arms, or incredible stratagems. A Greek empress, "the mature Zoe," as Gibbon calls her, falls in love with him, and her husband, Constantine Monomachus, puts him in prison; but Saint Olaf still protects his mauvais sujet of a brother, and inspires "a lady of distinction" with the successful idea of helping Harald out of his inaccessible tower by the prosaic expedient of a ladder of ropes. A boom, however, across the harbour's mouth still prevents the escape of his vessel. The Sea-king is not to be so easily baffled. Moving all his ballast, arms, and men, into the afterpart of the ship, until her stem slants up out of the sea, he rows straight at the iron chain. The ship leaps almost half-way over. The weight being then immediately transferred to the fore-part, she slips down into the water on the other side,—having topped the fence like an Irish hunter. A second galley breaks her back in the attempt. After some questionable acts of vengeance on the Greek court, Harald and his bold Vaeringers go fighting and plundering their way through the Bosphorus and Black Sea back to Novogorod, where the first part of the romance terminates, as it should, by his marriage with the object of his secret attachment, Elisof, the daughter of the Russian king.
Hardrada's story darkens towards the end, as most of the tales of that stirring time are apt to do. His death on English ground is so striking, that you must have patience with one other short Saga; it will give you the battle of Stanford Bridge from the Norse point of view.
The expedition against Harold of England commences ill; dreams and omens affright the fleet; one man dreams he sees a raven sitting on the stern of each vessel; another sees the fair English coast;
"But glancing shields Hide the green fields;"
and other fearful phenomena mar the beautiful vision. Harald himself dreams that he is back again at Nidaros, and that his brother Olaf meets him with a prophecy of ruin and death. The bold Norsemen are not to be daunted by these auguries, and their first successes on the English coast seem to justify their persistence. But on a certain beautiful Monday in September (A.D. 1066, according to the Saxon Chronicle), part of his army being encamped at Stanford Bridge, "Hardrada, HAVING TAKEN BREAKFAST, ordered the trumpets to sound for going on shore;" but he left half his force behind, to guard the ships: and his men, anticipating no resistance from the castle, which had already surrendered, "went on shore (the weather being hot), with only their helmets, shields, and spears, and girt with swords; some had bows and arrows,—and all were very merry." On nearing the castle, they see "a cloud of dust as from horses' feet, and under it shining shields and bright armour." English Harold's army is before them. Hardrada sends back to his ship for succour, and sets up his banner, "Land Ravager," undismayed by the inequality of his force, and their comparatively unarmed condition. The men on each side are drawn up in battle array, and the two kings in presence; each gazes eagerly to discover his noble foe among the multitude. Harald Hardrada's black horse stumbles and falls; "the King got up in haste, and said, 'A fall is lucky for a traveller.'"
The English King said to the Northmen who were with him, "Do you know the stout man who fell from his horse, with the blue kirtle, and beautiful helmet?"
"That is the Norwegian King," said they.
English Harold replied, "A great man, and of stately appearance is he; but I think his luck has left him."
And now twenty gallant English knights ride out of their ranks to parley with the Northmen. One advances beyond the rest and asks if Earl Toste, the brother of English Harold (who has banded with his enemy against him), is with the army.
The Earl himself proudly answers, "It is not to be denied that you will find him here."
The Saxon says, "Thy brother, Harold, sends his salutation, and offers thee the third part of his kingdom, if thou wilt be reconciled and submit to him."
The Earl replies, at the suggestion of the Norse King, "What will my brother the King give to Harald Hardrada for his trouble?"
"He will give him," says the Knight, "SEVEN FEET OF ENGLISH GROUND, OR AS MUCH MORE AS HE MAY BE TALLER THAN OTHER MEN."
"Then," says the Earl, "let the English King, my brother, make ready for battle, for it never shall be said that Earl Toste broke faith with his friends when they came with him to fight west here in England."
When the knights rode off, King Harald Hardrada asked the Earl, "Who was the man who spoke so well?"
The Earl replied, "That knight was Harold of England."
The stern Norwegian King regrets that his enemy had escaped from his hands, owing to his ignorance of this fact; but even in his first burst of disappointment, the noble Norse nature speaks in generous admiration of his foe, saying to the people about him, "That was but a little man, yet he sat firmly in his stirrups."
The fierce, but unequal combat is soon at an end, and when tardy succour arrives from the ships, Harald Hardrada is lying on his face, with the deadly arrow in his throat, never to see Nidaros again. Seven feet of English earth, and no more, has the strong arm and fiery spirit conquered.
But enough of these gallant fellows; I must carry you off to a much pleasanter scene of action. After a very agreeable dinner with Mr. K—, who has been most kind to us, we adjourned to the ball. The room was large and well lighted—plenty of pretty faces adorned it;—the floor was smooth, and the scrape of the fiddles had a festive accent so extremely inspiriting, that I besought Mr. K— to present me to one of the fair personages whose tiny feet were already tapping the floor with impatience at their own inactivity.
I was led up in due form to a very pretty lady, and heard my own name, followed by a singular sound purporting to be that of my charming partner, Madame Hghelghghagllaghem. For the pronunciation of this polysyllabic cognomen, I can only give you a few plain instructions; commence it with a slight cough, continue with a gurgling in the throat, and finish with the first convulsive movement of a sneeze, imparting to the whole operation a delicate nasal twang. If the result is not something approaching to the sound required, you must relinquish all hope of achieving it, as I did. Luckily, my business was to dance, and not to apostrophize the lady; and accordingly, when the waltz struck up, I hastened to claim, in the dumbest show, the honour of her hand. Although my dancing qualifications have rather rusted during the last two or three years, I remembered that the time was not so very far distant when even the fair Mademoiselle E— had graciously pronounced me to be a very tolerable waltzer, "for an Englishman," and I led my partner to the circle already formed with the "air capable" which the object of such praise is entitled to assume. There was a certain languid rhythm in the air they were playing which rather offended my ears, but I suspected nothing until, observing the few couples who had already descended into the arena, I became aware that they were twirling about with all the antiquated grace of "la valse a trois temps." Of course my partner would be no exception to the general rule! nobody had ever danced anything else at Throndhjem from the days of Odin downwards; and I had never so much as attempted it. What was to be done? I could not explain the state of the case to Madame Hghelghghagllaghem; she could not understand English, nor I speak Norse. My brain reeled with anxiety to find some solution of the difficulty, or some excuse for rushing from her presence. What if I were taken with a sudden bleeding at the nose, or had an apoplectic fit on the spot? Either case would necessitate my being carried decently out, and consigned to oblivion, which would have been a comfort under the circumstances. There was nothing for it but the courage of despair; so, casting reflection to the winds and my arm round her waist, I suddenly whisked her off her legs, and dashed madly down the room, "a deux temps." At the first perception that something unusual was going on, she gave such an eldritch scream, that the whole society suddenly came to a standstill. I thought it best to assume an aspect of innocent composure and conscious rectitude; which had its effect, for though the lady began with a certain degree of hysterical animation to describe her wrongs, she finished with a hearty laugh, in which the company cordially joined, and I delicately chimed in. For the rest of the dance she seemed to resign herself to her fate, and floated through space, under my guidance, with all the ABANDON of Francesca di Rimini, in Scheffer's famous picture.
The Crown Prince is a tall, fine-looking person; he was very gracious, and asked many questions about my voyage.
At night there was a general illumination, to which the "Foam" contributed some blue lights.
We got under way early this morning, and without a pilot—as we had entered—made our way out to sea again. I left Throndhjem with regret, not for its own sake, for in spite of balls and illuminations I should think the pleasures of a stay there would not be deliriously exciting; but this whole district is so intimately associated in my mind with all the brilliant episodes of ancient Norwegian History, that I feel as if I were taking leave of all those noble Haralds, and Olafs, and Hacons, among whom I have been living in such pleasant intimacy for some time past.
While we are dropping down the coast, I may as well employ the time in giving you a rapid sketch of the commencement of this fine Norse people, though the story "remonte jusqu'a la nuit des temps," and has something of the vague magnificence of your own M'Donnell genealogy, ending a long list of great potentates, with "somebody, who was the son of somebody else, who was the son of Scotha, who was the daughter of Pharaoh!"
In bygone ages, beyond the Scythian plains and the fens of the Tanais, in that land of the morning, to which neither Grecian letters nor Roman arms had ever penetrated, there was a great city called Asgaard. Of its founder, of its history, we know nothing; but looming through the mists of antiquity we can discern an heroic figure, whose superior attainments won for him the lordship of his own generation, and divine honours from those that succeeded. Whether moved by an irresistible impulse, or impelled by more powerful neighbours, it is impossible to say; but certain it is that at some period, not perhaps very long before the Christian era, under the guidance of this personage, a sun-nurtured people moved across the face of Europe, in a north-westerly direction, and after leaving settlements along the southern shores of the Baltic, finally established themselves in the forests and valleys of what has come to be called the Scandinavian Peninsula. That children of the South should have sought out so inclement a habitation may excite surprise; but it must always be remembered that they were, probably, a comparatively scanty congregation, and that the unoccupied valleys of Norway and Sweden, teeming with fish and game, and rich in iron, were a preferable region to lands only to be colonised after they had been conquered.
Thus, under the leadership of Odin and his twelve Paladins, —to whom a grateful posterity afterwards conceded thrones in the halls of their chief's Valhalla,—the new emigrants spread themselves along the margin of the out-ocean, and round about the gloomy fiords, and up and down the deep valleys that fall away at right angles from the backbone, or keel, as the seafaring population soon learnt to call the flat, snow-capped ridge that runs down the centre of Norway.
Amid the rude but not ungenial influences of its bracing climate, was gradually fostered that gallant race which was destined to give an imperial dynasty to Russia, a nobility to England, and conquerors to every sea-board in Europe.
Upon the occupation of their new home, the ascendency of that mysterious hero, under whose auspices the settlement was conducted, appears to have remained more firmly established than ever, not only over the mass of the people, but also over the twelve subordinate chiefs who accompanied him; there never seems to have been the slightest attempt to question his authority, and, though afterwards themselves elevated into an order of celestial beings, every tradition which has descended is careful to maintain his human and divine supremacy. Through the obscurity, the exaggeration, and the ridiculous fables, with which his real existence has been overloaded, we can still see that this man evidently possessed a genius as superior to his contemporaries, as has ever given to any child of man the ascendency over his generation. In the simple language of the old chronicler, we are told, "that his countenance was so beautiful that, when sitting among his friends, the spirits of all were exhilarated by it; that when he spoke, all were persuaded; that when he went forth to meet his enemies, none could withstand him." Though subsequently made a god by the superstitious people he had benefited, his death seems to have been noble and religious. He summoned his friends around his pillow, intimated a belief in the immortality of his soul, and his hope that hereafter they should meet again in Paradise. "Then," we are told, "began the belief in Odin, and their calling upon him."
On the settlement of the country, the land was divided and subdivided into lots—some as small as fifty acres—and each proprietor held his share—as their descendants do to this day—by udal right; that is, not as a fief of the Crown, or of any superior lord, but in absolute, inalienable possession, by the same udal right as the kings wore their crowns, to be transmitted, under the same title, to their descendants unto all generations.
These landed proprietors were called the Bonders, and formed the chief strength of the realm. It was they, their friends and servants, or thralls, who constituted the army. Without their consent the king could do nothing. On stated occasions they met together, in solemn assembly, or Thing, (i.e. Parliament,) as it was called, for the transaction of public business, the administration of justice, the allotment of the scatt, or taxes.
Without a solemn induction at the Ore or Great Thing, even the most legitimately-descended sovereign could not mount the throne, and to that august assembly an appeal might ever lie against his authority.
To these Things, and to the Norse invasion that implanted them, and not to the Wittenagemotts of the Latinised Saxons, must be referred the existence of those Parliaments which are the boast of Englishmen.
Noiselessly and gradually did a belief in liberty, and an unconquerable love of independence, grow up among that simple people. No feudal despots oppressed the unprotected, for all were noble and udal born; no standing armies enabled the Crown to set popular opinion at defiance, for the swords of the Bonders sufficed to guard the realm; no military barons usurped an illegitimate authority, for the nature of the soil forbade the erection of feudal fortresses. Over the rest of Europe despotism rose up rank under the tutelage of a corrupt religion; while, year after year, amid the savage scenery of its Scandinavian nursery, that great race was maturing whose genial heartiness was destined to invigorate the sickly civilization of the Saxon with inexhaustible energy, and preserve to the world, even in the nineteenth century, one glorious example of a free European people.
COPENHAGEN—BERGEN—THE BLACK DEATH—SIGURDR—HOMEWARDS.
Copenhagen, Sept. 12th, 1856.
Our adventures since the date of my last letter have not been of an exciting character. We had fine weather and prosperous winds down the coast, and stayed a day at Christiansund, and another at Bergen. But though the novelty of the cruise had ceased since our arrival in lower latitudes, there was always a certain raciness and oddity in the incidents of our coasting voyage; such as—waking in the morning, and finding the schooner brought up under the lee of a wooden house, or—riding out a foul wind with your hawser rove through an iron ring in the sheer side of a mountain,—which took from the comparative flatness of daily life on board.
Perhaps the queerest incident was a visit paid us at Christiansund. As I was walking the deck I saw a boat coming off, with a gentleman on board; she was soon alongside the schooner, and as I was gazing down on this individual, and wondering what he wanted, I saw him suddenly lift his feet lightly over the gunwale and plunge them into the water, boots and all. After cooling his heels in this way for a minute or so, he laid hold of the side ropes and gracefully swung himself on deck. Upon this, Sigurdr, who always acted interpreter on such occasions, advanced towards him, and a colloquy followed, which terminated rather abruptly in Sigurdr walking aft, and the web-footed stranger ducking down into his boat again. It was not till some hours later that the indignant Sigurdr explained the meaning of the visit. Although not a naval character, this gentleman certainly came into the category of men "who do business in great waters," his BUSINESS being to negotiate a loan; in short, to ask me to lend him 100 pounds. There must have been something very innocent and confiding in "the cut of our jib" to encourage his boarding us on such an errand; or perhaps it was the old marauding, toll-taking spirit coming out strong in him: the politer influences of the nineteenth century toning down the ancient Viking into a sort of a cross between Paul Jones and Jeremy Diddler. The seas which his ancestors once swept with their galleys, he now sweeps with his telescope, and with as keen an eye to the MAIN chance as any of his predecessors displayed. The feet-washing ceremony was evidently a propitiatory homage to the purity of my quarter-deck.
Bergen, with its pale-faced houses grouped on the brink of the fiord, like invalids at a German Spa, though picturesque in its way, with a cathedral of its own, and plenty of churches, looked rather tame and spiritless after the warmer colouring of Throndhjem; moreover it wanted novelty to me, as I called in there two years ago on my return from the Baltic. It was on that occasion that I became possessed of my ever-to-be-lamented infant Walrus.
No one, personally unacquainted with that "most delicate monster," can have any idea of his attaching qualities. I own that his figure was not strictly symmetrical, that he had a roll in his gait, suggestive of heavy seas, that he would not have looked well in your boudoir; but he never seemed out of place on my quarter-deck, and every man on board loved him as a brother. With what a languid grace he would wallow and roll in the water, when we chucked him overboard; and paddle and splash, and make himself thoroughly cool and comfortable, and then come and "beg to be taken up," like a fat baby, and allow the rope to be slipped round his extensive waist, and come up—sleek and dripping—among us again with a contented grunt, as much as to say, "Well, after all, there's no place like HOME!" How he would compose himself to placid slumber in every possible inconvenient place, with his head on the binnacle (especially when careful steering was a matter of moment), or across the companion entrance, or the cabin skylight, or on the shaggy back of "Sailor," the Newfoundland, who positively abhorred him. But how touching it was to see him waddle up and down the deck after Mr. Wyse, whom he evidently regarded in a maternal point of view—begging for milk with the most expressive snorts and grunts, and embarrassing my good-natured master by demonstrative appeals to his fostering offices!
I shall never forget Mr. Wyse's countenance that day in Ullapool Bay, when he tried to command his feelings sufficiently to acquaint me with the creature's death, which he announced in this graphic sentence, "Ah, my Lord!—the poor thing!—TOES UP AT LAST!"
Bergen is not as neat and orderly in its architectural arrangements as Drontheim; a great part of the city is a confused network of narrow streets and alleys, much resembling, I should think, its early inconveniences, in the days of Olaf Kyrre. This close and stifling system of street building must have ensured fatal odds against the chances of life in some of those world-devastating plagues that characterised past ages. Bergen was, in fact, nearly depopulated by that terrible pestilence which, in 1349, ravaged the North of Europe, and whose memory is still preserved under the name of "The Black Death."
I have been tempted to enclose you a sort of ballad, which was composed while looking on the very scene of this disastrous event; its only merit consists in its local inspiration, and in its conveying a true relation of the manner in which the plague entered the doomed city.
THE BLACK DEATH OF BERGEN.
What can ail the Bergen Burghers That they leave their stoups of wine? Flinging up the hill like jagers, At the hour they're wont to dine! See, the shifting groups are fringing Rock and ridge with gay attire, Bright as Northern streamers tinging Peak and crag with fitful fire!
Towards the cliff their steps are bending, Westward turns their eager gaze, Whence a stately ship ascending, Slowly cleaves the golden haze. Landward floats the apparition— "Is it, CAN it be the same?" Frantic cries of recognition Shout a long-lost vessel's name!
Years ago had she departed— Castled poop and gilded stern; Weeping women, broken-hearted, Long had waited her return. When the midnight sun wheeled downwards, But to kiss the ocean's verge— When the noonday sun, a moment Peeped above the Wintry surge,
Childless mothers, orphaned daughters, From the seaward-facing crag, Vainly searched the vacant waters For that unreturning flag! But, suspense and tears are ended, Lo! it floats upon the breeze! Ne'er from eager hearts ascended Thankful prayers as warm as these.
See the good ship proudly rounding That last point that blocks the view; "Strange! no answering cheer resounding From the long home-parted crew!" Past the harbour's stony gateway, Onwards borne by sucking tides, Tho' the light wind faileth—straightway Into port she safely glides.
Swift, as by good angels carried, Right and left the news has spread. Wives long widowed-yet scarce married— Brides that never hoped to wed, From a hundred pathways meeting Crowd along the narrow quay, Maddened by the hope of meeting Those long counted cast away.
Soon a crowd of small boats flutter O'er the intervening space, Bearing hearts too full to utter Thoughts that flush the eager face! See young Eric foremost gaining— (For a father's love athirst!) Every nerve and muscle straining, But to touch the dear hand FIRST.
In the ship's green shadow rocking Lies his little boat at last, Wherefore is the warm heart knocking At his side, so loud and fast? "What strange aspect is she wearing, Vessel once so taut and trim? Shout!—MY heart has lost its daring; Comrades, search!—MY eyes are dim."
Sad the search, and fearful finding! On the deck lay parched and dry Men—who in some burning, blinding Clime—had laid them down to die! Hands—prayer—clenched—that would not sever, Eyes that stared against the sun, Sights that haunt the soul for ever, Poisoning life—till life is done!
Strength from fear doth Eric gather, Wide the cabin door he threw— Lo! the face of his dead father, Stern and still, confronts his view! Stately as in life he bore him, Seated—motionless and grand, On the blotted page before him Lingers still the livid hand!
What sad entry was he making, When the death-stroke fell at last? "Is it then God's will, in taking All, that I am left the last? I have closed the cabin doorway, That I may not see them die:— Would our bones might rest in Norway,— 'Neath our own cool Northern sky!"
Then the ghastly log-book told them How-in some accursed clime, Where the breathless land-swell rolled them, For an endless age of time— Sudden broke the plague among them, 'Neath that sullen Tropic sun; As if fiery scorpions stung them— Died they raving, one by one!
—Told the vain and painful striving, By shot-weighted shrouds to hide (Last fond care), from those surviving, What good comrade last had died; Yet the ghastly things kept showing, Waist deep in the unquiet grave— To each other gravely bowing On the slow swing of the wave!
Eric's boat is near the landing— From that dark ship bring they aught? In the stern sheets ONE is standing, Though their eyes perceive him not; But a curdling horror creepeth Thro' their veins, with icy darts, And each hurried oar-stroke keepeth Time with their o'er-labouring hearts!
Heavy seems their boat returning, Weighted with a world of care! Oh, ye blind ones—none discerning WHAT the spectral freight ye bear. Glad they hear the sea-beach grating Harsh beneath the small boat's stem— Forth they leap, for no man waiting— But the BLACK DEATH LANDS WITH THEM.
Viewless—soundless—stalks the spectre Thro' the city chill and pale, Which like bride, this morn, had decked her For the advent of that sail. Oft by Bergen women, mourning, Shall the dismal tale be told, Of that lost ship home returning, With "THE BLACK DEATH" in her hold!
I would gladly dwell on the pleasures of my second visit to Christiansund, which has a charm of its own, independent of its interest as the spot from whence we really "start for home." But though strange lands, and unknown or indifferent people, are legitimate subjects for travellers' tales, our FRIENDS and their pleasant homes are NOT; so I shall keep all I have to say of gratitude to our excellent and hospitable Consul, Mr. Morch, and of admiration for his charming wife, until I can tell you viva voce how much I wish that you also knew them.
And now, though fairly off from Norway, and on our homeward way, it was a tedious business—what with fogs, calms, and headwinds—working towards Copenhagen. We rounded the Scaw in a thick mist, saw the remains of four ships that had run aground upon it, and were nearly run into ourselves by a clumsy merchantman, whom we had the relief of being able to abuse in our native vernacular, and the most racy sea-slang.
Those five last days were certainly the only tedious period of the whole cruise. I suppose there is something magnetic in the soil of one's own country, which may account for that impatient desire to see it again, which always grows, as the distance from it diminishes; if so, London clay,—and its superstratum of foul, greasy, gas-discoloured mud—began about this time to exercise a tender influence upon me, which has been increasing every hour since: it is just possible that the thoughts of seeing you again may have some share in the matter.
Somebody (I think Fuller) says somewhere, that "every one with whom you converse, and every place wherein you tarry awhile, giveth somewhat to you, and taketh somewhat away, either for evil or for good;" a startling consideration for circumnavigators, and such like restless spirits, but a comfortable thought, in some respects, for voyagers to Polar regions, as (except seals and bears) few things could suffer evil from us there; though for our own parts, there were solemn and wholesome influences enough "to be taken away" from those icy solitudes, if one were but ready and willing to "stow" them.
To-morrow I leave Copenhagen, and my good Sigurdr, whose companionship has been a constant source of enjoyment, both to Fitz and myself, during the whole voyage; I trust that I leave with him a friendly remembrance of our too short connexion, and pleasant thoughts of the strange places and things we have seen together; as I take away with me a most affectionate memory of his frank and kindly nature, his ready sympathy, and his imperturbable good humour. From the day on which I shipped him—an entire stranger—until this eve of our separation—as friends, through scenes of occasional discomfort, and circumstances which might sometimes have tried both temper and spirits—shut up as we were for four months in the necessarily close communion of life on board a vessel of eighty tons,—there has never been the shadow of a cloud between us; henceforth, the words "an Icelander" can convey no cold or ungenial associations to my ears, and however much my imagination has hitherto delighted in the past history of that singular island, its Present will always claim a deeper and warmer interest from me, for Sigurdr's sake.
To-morrow Fitz and I start for Hamburg, and very soon after—at least as soon as railroad and steamer can bring me—I look for the joy of seeing your face again.
By the time this reaches Portsmouth, the "Foam" will have perfomed a voyage of six thousand miles.
I have had a most happy time of it, but I fear my amusement will have cost you many a weary hour of anxiety and suspense.