A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part I, Chapter 1." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


PART I: STORIES OF EXPLORERS AND PIONEERS


CHAPTER 1
HOW THE VIKINGS OF OLD SOUGHT AND FOUND NEW LANDS

IN days long long ago there dwelt in Greenland a King named Eric the Red. He was a man mighty in war, and men held him in high honour.

Eric the Red

Now one day to the court of Eric there came Bjarni the son of Heriulf. This Bjarni was a far traveller. He had sailed many times upon the seas, and when he came home he had ever some fresh tale of marvel and adventure to tell. But this time he had a tale to tell more marvellous than any before. For he told how far away across the sea of Greenland, where no man had sailed before, he had found a new, strange land.

Bjarni the Traveller

But when the people asked news of this unknown land Bjarni could tell them little, for he had not set foot upon those far shores. Therefore the people scorned him.

 

"Truly you have little hardihood," they said, "else you had gone ashore, and seen for yourself, and had given us good account of this land."

 

But although Bjarni could tell nought of the new strange land, save that he had seen it, the people thought much about it, and there was great talk about voyages and discoveries, and many longed to sail forth and find again the land which Bjarni the Traveller had seen. But more than any other in that kingdom, Leif the son of Eric the Red, longed to find that land. So Leif went to Eric and said:

Lief longs to sail on unknown seas

"Oh my father, I fain would seek the land which Bjarni the Traveller has seen. Give me gold that I may buy his ship and sail away upon the seas to find it."

 

Then Eric the Red gave his son gold in great plenty. "Go, my son," he said, "buy the ship of Bjarni the Traveller, and sail to the land of which he tells."

 

Then Leif, quickly taking the gold, went to Bjarni and bought his ship.

 

Leif was a tall man, of great strength and noble bearing. He was also a man of wisdom, and just in all things, so that men loved and were ready to obey him.

 

Now therefore many men came to him offering to be his companions in adventure, until soon they were a company of thirty-five men. They were all men tall and of great strength, with fair golden hair and eyes blue as the sea upon which they loved to sail, save only Tyrker the German.

 

Long time this German had lived with Eric the Red and was much beloved by him. Tyrker also loved Leif dearly, for he had known him since he was a child, and was indeed his foster father. So he was eager to go with Leif upon this adventurous voyage. Tyrker was very little and plain. His forehead was high and his eyes small and restless. He wore shabby clothes, and to the blue-eyed, fair-haired giants of the North he seemed indeed a sorry-looking little fellow. But all that mattered little, for he was a clever craftsman, and Leif and his companions were glad to have him go with them.

Tyrker

Then, all things being ready, Leif went to his father and, bending his knee to him, prayed him to be their leader.

 

But Eric the Red shook his head. "Nay, my son," he said, "I am old and stricken in years, and no more able to endure the hardships of the sea."

 

"Yet come, my father," pleaded Leif, "for of a certainty if you do, good luck will go with us."

 

Then Eric looked longingly at the sea. His heart bade him go out upon it once again ere he died. So he yielded to the prayers of his son and, mounting upon his horse, he rode towards the ship.

 

When the sea-farers saw him come they set up a shout of welcome. But when Eric was not far from the ship the horse upon which he was riding stumbled, and he was thrown to the ground. He tried to rise but could not, for his foot was sorely wounded.

 

Seeing that he cried out sadly, "It is not for me to discover new lands; go ye without me."

 

So Eric the Red returned to his home, and Leif went on his way to his ship with his companions.

 

Now they busied themselves and set their dragon-headed vessel in order. And when all was ready they spread their gaily-coloured sails, and sailed out into the unknown sea.

The Vikings set sail

Westward and ever westward they sailed towards the setting of the sun. For many days they sailed yet they saw no land: nought was about them but the restless, tossing waves. But at length one day to their watching eyes there appeared a faint grey line far on the horizon. Then their hearts bounded for joy. They had not sailed in vain, for land was near.

 

"Surely," said Leif, as they drew close to it, "this is the land which Bjarni saw. Let it not be said of us that we passed it by as he did."

They see land 1000 A.D.

So, casting anchor, Leif and his companions launched a boat and went ashore. But it was no fair land to which they had come. Far inland great snow-covered mountains rose, and between them and the sea lay flat and barren rock, where no grass or green thing grew. It seemed to Leif and his companions that there was no good thing in this land.

 

"I will call it Helluland or Stone Land," said Leif.

 

Then he and his companions went back to the ship and put out to sea once more. They came to land again after some time, and again they cast anchor and launched a boat and went ashore. This land was flat. Broad stretches of white sand sloped gently to the sea, and behind the level plain was thickly wooded.

 

"This land," said Leif, "shall also have a name after its nature." So he called it Markland or Woodland.

 

Then again Leif and his companions returned to the ship, and mounting into it they sailed away upon the sea. And now fierce winds arose, and the ship was driven before the blast so that for days these seafarers thought no more of finding new lands, but only of the safety of their ship.

 

But at length the wind fell, and the sun shone forth once more. Then again they saw land, and launching their boat they rowed ashore.

 

To the eyes of these sea-faring men, who for many days had seen only the wild waste of waters, the land seemed passing fair. For the grass was green, and as the sun shone upon it seemed to sparkle with a thousand diamonds. When the men put their hands upon the grass, and touched their mouths with their hands, and drank the dew, it seemed to them that never before had they tasted anything so sweet. So pleasant the land seemed to Leif and his companions that they determined to pass the winter there. They therefore drew their ship up the river which flowed into the sea, and cast anchor.

 

Then they carried their hammocks ashore and set to work to build a house

 

When the house was finished Leif called his companions together and spoke to them.

They build a house

"I will now divide our company into two bands," he said, "so that we may explore the country round about. One half shall stay at home, and the other half shall explore the land. But they who go to explore must not go so far away that they cannot return home at night, nor must they separate from each other, lest they be lost."

 

And as Leif said so it was done. Each day a company set out to explore, and sometimes Leif went with the exploring party, and sometimes he stayed at home. But each day as evening came they all returned to their house, and told what they had seen.

 

At length, however, one day, when those who had gone abroad returned, one of their number was missing, and when the roll was called it was found that it was Tyrker the German who had strayed. Thereat Leif was sorely troubled, for he loved his foster-father dearly. So he spoke sternly to his men, reproaching them for their carelessness in letting Tyrker separate from them, and taking twelve of his men with him he set out at once to search for his foster-father. But they had not gone far when, to their great joy, they saw their lost comrade coming towards them.

 

"Why art thou so late, oh my foster-father?" cried Leif, as he ran to him. "Why hast thou gone astray from the others?"

 

But Tyrker paid little heed to Leif's questions. He was strangely excited, and rolling his eyes wildly he laughed and spoke in German which no one understood. At length, however, he grew calmer and spoke to them in their own language. "I did not go much farther than the others," he said. "But I have found something new. I have found vines and grapes."

Tyrker finds grapes

"Is that indeed true, my foster-father?" said Leif.

 

"Of a certainty it is true," replied Tyrker. "For I was born where vines grow freely."

 

This was great news; and all the men were eager to go and see for themselves the vines which Tyrker had discovered. But it was already late, so they all returned to the house, and waited with what patience they could until morning.

 

Then, as soon as it was day, Tyrker led his companions to the place where he had found the grapes. And when Leif saw them he called the land Vineland because of them. He also decided to load his ship with grapes and wood, and depart homeward. So each day the men gathered grapes and felled trees, until the ship was full. Then they set sail for home.

 

The winds were fair, and with but few adventures they arrived safely at home. There they were received with great rejoicing. Henceforth Leif was called Leif the Lucky, and he lived ever after in great honour and plenty, and the land which he had discovered men called Vineland the Good.

They return home

In due time, however, Eric the Red died, and after that Leif the Lucky sailed no more upon the seas, for his father's kingdom was now his, and he must needs stay at home to rule his land. But Leif's brother Thorvald greatly desired to go to Vineland so that he might explore the country still further.

 

Then when Leif saw his brother's desire he said to him, "If it be thy will, brother, thou mayest go to Vineland in my ship."

 

At that Thorvald rejoiced greatly, and gathering thirty men he set sail, crossed the sea without adventure, and came to the place where Leif had built his house.

Thorvald sets forth

There he and his company remained during the winter. Then in the spring they set forth to explore the coast. After some time they came upon a fair country where there were many trees.

 

When Thorvald saw it he said, "It is so fair a country that I should like to make my home here."

 



THE LANDING OF THE VIKINGS
It seemed to Leif and his companions that there
was no good thing in this land. "I will call it
Helluland or Stone Land," said Leif.


Until this time the Norsemen had seen no inhabitants of the land. But now as they returned to their ship they saw three mounds upon the shore. When the Norsemen came near they saw that these three mounds were three canoes, and under each were three men armed with bows and arrows, who lay in wait to slay them. When the Norsemen saw that, they divided their company and put themselves in battle array. And after a fierce battle they slew the savages, save one who fled to his canoe and so escaped.

 

When the fight was over the Norsemen climbed upon a, high headland and looked round to see if there were signs of any more savages. Below them they saw several mounds which they took to be the houses of the savages, and knew that it behooved them therefore to be on their guard. But they were too weary to go further, and casting themselves down upon the ground where they were they fell into a heavy sleep.

 

Suddenly they were awakened by a great shout, and they seemed to hear a voice cry aloud, "Awake, Thorvald, thou and all thy company, if ye would save your lives. Flee to thy ship with all thy men, and sail with speed from this land."

 

So Thorvald and his companions fled speedily to their ship, and set it in fighting array. Soon a crowd of dark-skinned savages, uttering fearful yells, rushed upon them. They cast their arrows at the Norsemen, and fought fiercely for some time. But seeing that their arrows availed little against the strangers, and that on the other hand many of their braves were slain, they at last fled.

A fight with Red men

Then, the enemy being fled, Thorvald, turning to his men, asked, "Are any of you wounded?"

 

"Nay," they answered, "we are all whole."

 

"That is well," said Thorvald. "As for me, I am wounded in the armpit by an arrow. Here is the shaft. Of a surety it will cause my death. And now I counsel you, turn homeward with all speed. But carry me first to that headland which seemed to me to promise so pleasant a dwelling-place, and lay me there. Thus it shall be seen that I spoke truth when I wished to abide there. And ye shall place a cross at my feet, and another at my head, and call it Cross Ness ever after."

 

So Thorvald died. Then his companions buried him as he had bidden them in the land which had seemed to him so fair. And as he had commanded they set a cross at his feet and another at his head, and called the place Cross Ness. Thus the first white man was laid to rest in Vineland the Good.

Thorvald dies

Then when spring came the Norsemen sailed home to Greenland. And there they told Leif of all the things they had seen and done, and how his brave brother had met his death.

 

Now when Leif's brother Thorstein heard how Thorvald had died he longed to sail to Vineland to bring home his brother's body. So once again Leif's ship was made ready, and with five and twenty tall, strong men Thorstein set forth, taking with him his wife Gudrid.

Thorstein sets forth

But Thorstein never saw Vineland the Good. For storms beset his ship, and after being driven hither and thither for many months, he lost all reckoning, and at last came to land in Greenland once more. And there Thorstein died, and Gudrid went home to Leif.

 

Now there came to Greenland that summer a man of great wealth named Thorfinn. And when he saw Gudrid he loved her and sought her in marriage, and Leif giving his consent to it, Thorfinn and Gudrid were married.

Thorfinn

At this time many people still talked of the voyages to Vineland, and they urged Thorfinn to journey thither and seek to find out more about these strange lands. And more than all the others Gudrid urged him to go. So at length Thorfinn determined to undertake the voyage. But it came to his mind that he would not merely go to Vineland and return home again. He resolved rather to settle there and make it his home.

 

Thorfinn therefore gathered about sixty men, and those who had wives took also their wives with them, together with their cattle and their household goods.

 

Then Thorfinn asked Leif to give him the house which he had built in Vineland. And Leif replied, "I will lend the house to you, but I will not give it."

 

So Thorfinn and Gudrid and all their company sailed out to sea, and without adventures arrived safely at Leif's house in Vineland.

Thorfinn sets forth

There they lived all that winter in great comfort. There was no lack of food either for man or beast, and the cattle they had brought with them roamed at will, and fed upon the wide prairie lands.

 

All winter and spring the Norsemen dwelt in Vineland, and they saw no human beings save themselves. Then one day in early summer they saw a great troop of natives come out of the wood. They were dark and little, and it seemed to the Norsemen very ugly, with great eyes and broad cheeks. The cattle were near, and as the savages appeared the bull began to bellow. And when the savages heard that sound they were afraid and fled. For three whole weeks nothing more was seen of them, after that time however they took courage again and returned. As they approached they made signs to show that they came in peace, and with them they brought huge bales of furs which they wished to barter.

 

The Norsemen, it is true, could not understand the language of the natives, nor could the natives understand the Norsemen; but by signs they made known that they wished to barter their furs for weapons. This, however, Thorfinn forbade. Instead he gave them strips of red cloth which they took very eagerly and bound about their heads. Thorfinn also commanded his men to take milk to the savages. And when they saw it they were eager to buy and drink it. So that it was said many of them carried away their merchandise in their stomachs.

 

Thus the days and months passed. Then one summer day a little son was born to Thorfinn and Gudrid. They called him Snorri, and he was the first white child to be born on the Continent which later men called the New World. Thus three years went past. But the days were not all peaceful. For quarrels arose between the newcomers and the natives, and the savages attacked the Norsemen and killed many of them.

 

Then Thorfinn said he would no longer stay in Vineland, but would return to Greenland. So he and all his company made ready their ship, and sailed out upon the seas, and came at length safely to Greenland.

Thorfinn returns home

Then after a time Thorfinn sailed to Iceland. There he made his home for the rest of his life, the people holding him in high honour. Snorri also, his son who had been born in Vineland, grew to be a man of great renown.

 

Such are some of the old Norse stories of the first finding of America. The country which Leif called Helluland was most likely Labrador, Markland Newfoundland, and Vineland Nova Scotia.

 

Besides these there were many other tales of voyages to Vineland. For after Leif and his brothers many other Vikings of the North sailed, both from Greenland and from Norway, to the fair western lands. Yet although they sailed there so often these old Norsemen had no idea that they had discovered a vast continent. They thought that Vineland was merely an island, and the discovery of it made no stir in Europe. By degrees too the voyages thither ceased. In days of wild warfare at home the Norsemen forgot the fair western land which Leif had discovered. They heard of it only in minstrel tales, and it came to be for them a sort of fairy-land which had no existence save in a poet's dream.

Vineland is forgotten

But now wise men have read these tales with care, and many have come to believe that they are not mere fairy stories. They have come to believe that hundreds of years before Columbus lived the Vikings of the North sailed the western seas and found the land which lay beyond, the land which we now call America.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom