Sampo - James Baldwin

The Launching

All night long the Minstrel lay open-eyed upon his bed, sleepless and alert. He called to mind all the wisdom words that he had learned from great Wipunen; he repeated them softly, one by one, and his heart swelled with pride when he thought of the power he had gained by listening to the song of wisdom. Then he thought of his neglected boat, lying high upon the shore and waiting for the finishing touches which he was now prepared to give. And when he remembered his object in building it he chuckled to himself, feeling that finally there was nothing to prevent the carrying out of the plans which he had cherished so long and so earnestly. Yes! he would finish the magic vessel, and he would sail forthwith to the Frozen Land and win the Maid of Beauty for his queen!

Very early in the morning he arose. The swallows under the eaves had not yet begun to twitter at the approach of day. The cuckoo was silent in her nest, and the cattle were slumbering in their paddock. Scarcely was there a tinge of yellow in the eastern sky—the day was so young.

The Minstrel rose quietly and stole out of the house very cautiously—so cautiously that the dogs who were sleeping by the doorway were not aroused. Hastily, he made his way to the seashore, the day growing brighter with every step. Impatiently he ran to the secret spot where his magic boat was lying.

"O little ship, so stanch, so strong!" he cried. "You shall no longer lie there unfinished and useless. Soon you shall float on the waves, the South Wind will caress you, the deep sea will welcome you."

He walked slowly around the little vessel, looking at it lovingly from every side. Three times he walked around it, three times he drew a magic circle about it. Then, slowly and in commanding tones, he uttered the three words of power which he had learned at so great cost of time and trouble. Three times he pronounced them, and immediately the three holes were bored, the three bolts were fitted therein, and the three last planks were fastened in their proper places; the hull was finished, the boat was water-tight and seaworthy.

The Minstrel looked at his finished work and was pleased—but he was not yet satisfied. The hull was bare and unadorned, the copper prow was rough and unshapely, the deck was uneven and uninviting. The boat as a whole was not beautiful.

"O little ship," he said, "wherefore are you so crude, so rough, so ill-finished? Do you think that I know only three words of magic? I know a hundred—yes, I have a thousand which I caught as they fell from the tongue of Wipunen, the mighty master. You shall hear some of them and profit by them.

Thereupon he began to sing one of the strange, weird, wonderful songs that he had learned from the Wisdom Keeper; and as he sang, strange changes came over the magic vessel. First, the prow was overlaid with sunbright gold and its forward part was beautifully carved and shaped into the form of a swan with outspread wings. Then the deck was covered with plates of shining silver ornamented with figures of birds and beasts and little fishes. Finally, the broad, well-shaped hull and the gunwales, fore and aft, were painted in bright colors—blue and yellow and scarlet—and the slender mast was coated with snow-white enamel. And now, like a queen clad in her gorgeous robes, the little vessel sat upon the sandy beach and smiled at the morning sun and the rippling waves of the sea. She looked so beautiful, so grand, that the Minstrel clapped his hands and shouted for excess of joy, and the songs and words of the mighty Wipunen fell faster and louder from his lips.

Very earnestly did the Minstrel sing, and gradually his tones became sweeter and lower and more persuasive, like the murmuring of the waters on a peaceful summer morning. The song was of the sea, it seemed to come from the sea. It was as if the waves were calling gently, ever so gently, to the little vessel waiting on the shore:

"Come, come, O magic boat,

Come and on the billows float!

Come to the wrinkled sea and glide

With swiftness o'er its rolling tide."

Soon there was a sound of creaking, rumbling, scraping—a sound not loud, but distinct and growing stronger. Then, gracefully and with dignity, like a princess on her wedding day, the little ship glided across the shelving beach and in another moment was floating lightly, smoothly, nobly upon the water.

The Minstrel, still singing and still reciting his magic spells, had already climbed upon the deck. He now lifted the mast in its place; he hoisted the sails—one red and one blue—and spread them to the winds. Gracefully and proudly, like a great swan on some quiet lake, the little vessel glided away from the shore and was soon moving swiftly along the borders of the boundless sea. Wainamoinen sat down at the stern, and with his long oar guided her northward, never losing sight of the land, never going far from the shore. As the magic boat speeded onward, cutting the waves with its gilded prow and dashing the white spray to left and right, the Minstrel's heart glowed with joy and pride. He lifted up his voice and sang a prayerful song to the mighty powers into whose keeping he had ventured to intrust himself.

"O great Jumala let thy arm

Protect this little ship from harm;

Make its weak captain brave and strong,

And listen to his humble song.

"Sweet South Wind, whispering soft and low,

Come fill these sails and gently blow—

Breathe mildly while the storm winds sleep,

And waft us swiftly o'er the deep.

"O restless Waves, be kind, I pray

To this small craft while on its way;

Drive it along with gentle force,

Let nothing swerve it from its course."

Thus did the Minstrel sing as he sat at the boat's stern and guided it along its watery path. The sea was calm; the waves were sleeping; the winds breathed very softly on the sails of red and blue. The fairy vessel glided onward, steadily, proudly, towards its goal in the distant North.