Our Little Viking Cousin of Long Ago - C. H. Johnston




The Journey Up the River

"Biarne, let us build a canoe!"

Eric had been lying upon some skins in a corner of the hut, dreamily gazing at the ceiling, when the idea suddenly came to him that it would be a splendid opportunity to explore the curving river which ebbed and flowed before their hut. The winter had been a severe one, but it had now almost gone, and the little catkins upon the pussy willows warned them that the spring was near at hand.

"All right, Eric," Biarne answered. "We will strip some of the birch trees, from the forest, and will get old Staumfroid to show us how to make the frame to stretch the bark on. Then we will melt some pitch in order to caulk the seams, so that the water will not get inside, and will also fashion some paddles from pine wood."

It did not take long to get the bark. After this had been peeled away, old Staumfroid showed the boys how to make the frame-work. They labored for two weeks, and, at the end of that time, had fashioned a beautiful little canoe.

Carrying it down to the shore upon their shoulders, they launched their craft upon the waters of the river; then they made the paddles and were all ready for the expedition.

"I think that we should not go too far," said Biarne, as he tried his paddle in the water. "For the Skrellings may be camped up the stream, and I would certainly not like to get into a fight with them."

Eric was quite thoughtful.

"You are quite right," said he. "Although we have seen nothing of them here, there may be plenty of them up the stream. We must take a great quantity of arrows, at any rate, for we may see a moose in the water." Old Staumfroid chuckled.

"I don't believe that you will see any moose at this season," said he.

As he spoke, Eric noticed that he held in his hand a piece of birch-bark upon which he had been writing, and this excited his curiosity.

"What have you been writing?" he asked.

Old Staumfroid smiled. "Boys," he said, "I have been writing a poem, a song of the Vikings. Do you want to hear it?"

"Yes! Yes!" cried both the boys. "Do read it to us, Staumfroid."

The old fellow was delighted at the interest which they showed in his work. So, clearing his throat, he read what he had written, in loud, clear tones.

"The wind is blowing from off the shore,

And our sail has felt its force,

For our bark bounds o'er the crested wave,

Like a wild and restive horse.

Our sharp prow cleaves the billows,

And breaks them into spray,

And they blithely gleam in the sunlight,

As we speed upon our way.


"To our oars we bend with a right good will,

And sorrows leave behind.

Like the white-winged gulls that around us wheel,

We are racing with the wind.

Each day we'll pray to heaven,

Nor shall we pray in vain,

For the gods will watch o'er our steady barks,

And will guide us home again.


"Lord of the waves we are,

Kings of the seething foam,

Warriors bold from the Norseland cold,

Far o'er the sea we roam."

The boys clapped their hands.

"Why, that's fine," said Biarne, laughing. "You certainly know how to write poetry, Staumfroid. I thought that you were only a hunter."

Old Staumfroid chuckled. "Why, boys," said he, "I can write all kinds of good and beautiful things. When you get back from your trip I may have something else for you to hear."

The boys smiled.

"Why, that would be fine," they said in unison.

Now they filled the canoe with what supplies they needed for a few days, and, taking their bows, their spears, and plenty of arrows, they clambered in, and started up the winding river which was afterwards to be known as the river Charles. Waving good-by to the Norsemen, who had gathered on the bank to bid them adieu, they had soon paddled around the bend, and were speeding up the curving stream.

On, on, they went, marveling at the beauty of the country, the wonderful green of the trees, which were just coming into leaf, and the variegated flowers along the bank. They heard the song-sparrows singing in the bushes where the fresh green of spring made a beautiful back-ground for their speckled breasts. They heard the frogs piping in the meadows; the cawing of the crows; and the trill of the little red-capped chipping sparrows.

On, on they paddled, drinking in the clear air, and reveling in the beauty of the landscape. The river twisted and turned in great curves; and, save for the prints of deer in the banks, there was no sign of animate life.

Suddenly they turned a bend and almost ran against the body of a cow moose. She had immersed herself in the water, probably to get away from the flies, and, as the canoe shot close to her, she stumbled up on the bank with a great, bellowing grunt.

Eric was in the stern of the canoe, and sent it ahead with such a shove that it nearly struck the cow as she clambered up on the bank. Biarne slapped her on the tail with his paddle, and she went lumbering away as if stung by a giant hornet. The boys could not help laughing.

They kept on up the stream, the river twisting and turning in graceful curves. As they rounded a great bend, they saw before them the marks of men's footprints in the sandy soil.

"The Skrellings have been here," said Biarne, pointing to the footprints. "We must look out."

A place where the bushes had been torn up, on the bank, the marks of a fire and other prints left by men, showed the boys that certainly a camp of Skrellings had been there. The boys became cautious, and paddled more slowly up the stream.

When night came, they drew their canoe upon the bank, spread their robes beneath it, upon a bed of new-cut hemlock boughs, and, after broiling a fish for their dinner, lay down to rest. They were still half awake when a somber voice in the forest made them both sit up.

"Hoo-hoo-hoo, Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoot!" came from the blackness.

"My, do you suppose that is one of the Skrellings?" whispered Biarne.

No!" Eric answered. "It's a big, brown owl."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly!"

Biarne seemed to be relieved.

"I'm glad to hear it," said he, "for I feared that it was one of the Skrellings giving notice of our whereabouts."

Again came the call, but, in a few moments the hooting seemed to be far away. The owl had moved.

"Hoo-hoo-hoo, Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoot!" came from the far distance.

At this, both of the boys breathed more easily and composed themselves in slumber.