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




Winter in Vinland

The days now passed pleasantly enough, and, although the Vikings feared an attack by the Skrellings, none came. The great forest, back of their log house, stretched into the far distance a solid mass of waving green, from out which sounded the strange caterwaulings of the lynx, the drumming of the red-headed wood-pecker, or the deep grunting of a bull moose. As the fall advanced, there came a restful, quiet and beautiful season known as Indian summer, when a curious haze hung over the winding river, when sometimes scarce a ripple disturbed the surface of that curving stream which flowed through the inland lake into the sea; and when the dried and rustling leaves hung to the trees as if they were pieces of parchment.

Eric and Biarne often fished in the deep waters of the bay, to secure their share of the provisions for the winter which was approaching; and sometimes they chased the black ducks which settled upon the quiet water, on their journey from the far north to the warmer climate of the southern country. They likewise swam in the cold water, paddled far down to the harbor mouth, and explored the numerous islands which lay there, like sentinels watching the ever changing tides of this new-found river.

Then they joined the Vikings in their expeditions into the interior where were the vines which Leif's foster father had discovered. These were now hung with clusters of ripened grapes which were gathered into large bags and were carried to the huts upon the beach. Some of the Norsemen pressed out the juice and made a sweet wine from these purple berries which was much enjoyed by the daring sea voyagers. Traces of the Skrellings were often seen, but it was apparent that their first skirmish with the Norsemen had taught them a lesson, and that they did not care to meet again in battle.

The earth was tracked with the prints of deer and moose. Ruffed grouse, or partridges, often whirred away as the boys trudged through the forest, and, although they would try to shoot them with their arrows, it was very difficult to hit one unless it could be approached when in a tree. Sometimes the unsuspecting birds would sit peering down upon Eric and Biarne, as they walked through the forest, and were apparently so interested in these new kind of animals that they would remain there craning their necks until a stone-tipped arrow from an ashen bow would send them fluttering to the ground. They would be taken home and broiled over the fire for supper, and they were greatly relished by the Vikings, who grew rather tired of fish, and therefore were much pleased to get this addition to their larder.

"But, Eric," said Biarne, one day, "if we could only get a moose!"

"Wait until the winter sets in and the snow falls," said Eric. "I am sure that then we can track one of those monster deer through the forest and can catch him as he flounders through the snow."

"I believe that we can do so," answered Biarne. "It is growing very cold, now, and I feel that winter will soon be here."

The days were getting to be perceptibly shorter. By and by, as Eric lay dreamily gazing up at the stars, one evening the strange "honk! honk!" of a flock of geese sounded from the blue dome above his head. He purposely had stretched his bed outside the log hut in which he usually slept and the guttural notes made him start and sit up. Yes, winter was coming. The geese were flying southward, driven from their breeding grounds in far off Labrador by King Winter with his breath of ice and of snow.

Not long after this, the flakes began to fall, and, in order to keep the cold from the log houses, great roaring fires were built to warm them. The Vikings had been busy cutting wood, so that there was a plentiful supply on hand. This was piled behind their houses and all were quite ready for a hard and bleak winter season. The forest was apparently deserted by the Skrellings.

But there were other denizens of the woods.

One day, as Biarne was busily engaged in sharpening a spear-point, he heard a long and mournful howling from the forest.

"Wolves!" said Eric, who was standing near him. "They say that they have grown very fierce from hunger."

Biarne crept nearer to the fire.

"I believe you," said he. "They must be big fellows, indeed. Certainly they make a mournful enough noise. I am almost frightened."

"Oh, that needn't frighten you," Eric answered. "Come, go with me to-morrow into the forest with old Staumfroid and we will see if we cannot track a moose."

"I would certainly enjoy that," said Biarne, laughing. "We will first make some snow-shoes, so that we can run over the crust."

This did not take very long to do. The Vikings had shot some deer, had dried the hides, and had made long strips of deer skin. With these the boys soon made broad-bodied snow-shoes which would easily hold them up upon the hard crust.

The next day, with old Staumfroid as their companion, they entered the forest and trudged back into the interior, past the wonderful vines of grapes which were now buried deep in a mantle of white. Occasionally they saw the V-shaped print of a deer's foot, where one had wandered through the wood, and occasionally, also, a print like the foot of a dog. A wolf had been by, and sad indeed would be the fate of any unsuspecting deer who would fall in the path of one of these scavengers of the forest.

At last old Staumfroid stopped and pointed at a big track in the snow.

"It is the monarch of the wood," said he. "Biarne, look at this!"

Biarne saw a big, broad foot-print like that of a great ox. A bull moose had passed by.

"Can we get him?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes," answered old Staumfroid, "if you follow my advice."

"What is that?"

"Keep doggedly to his trail! Never give up! He will run a long way, but we can tire him out as the snow is deep. When we get close to him, you must both run in on either side and shoot your arrows into his flanks, while I head him off and attempt to dispatch him with a spear."

"We will do as you say," said both the boys.

Now they settled down to work, and, gliding over the crust, were soon speeding upon the trail of the moose.

On, on they went through the forest, and fresher, ever fresher, became the tracks of the huge animal. On, on, they continued, and finally they saw a great brown mass ahead of them. It was the bull, who, terrified at their approach, was plunging through the deep crust in a desperate effort to escape.

"Now hurry, boys," cried old Staumfroid. "I will head him off."

Suiting the action to the words the Norseman ran swiftly ahead, spear in hand, and, as the bull stopped and glared at him with blood-shot eyes, he hurled his spear at him and struck him full between the antlers.

Meanwhile Biarne and Eric had shot their arrows into his flanks. With a great grunt of pain, the huge animal fell over on his side, while his blood crimsoned the crystal snow.

"Hurrah!" shouted the boys. "Hurrah!"

"Now, boys, we'll take the haunch of the old fellow home, but we must hang up the head and antlers so that the wolves cannot get them."

With his long knife old Staumfroid soon had the haunch cut away, the head was severed from the body and placed far up in the branches of a tree, and, swinging the meat upon his back, the Viking turned his face toward the huts upon the beach.

The boys followed, but they were not alone. As they went forward, a noise made Biarne look behind him. There, in the black forest, were two huge, gray wolves. They snarled and showed their fangs.

In spite of this the boys went forward, But as they came to the cluster of cabins, the wolves were still on their trail. They stopped, howling dismally, as the old Viking, with his two companions, broke from the forest into the clearing where were their huts.

"My, but I'm glad that I am not out in the forest alone," said Biarne, while his teeth chattered.