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   Chapter 1 CALLED AFTER THAT WORK WHICH HE HAD TO DO.

Viking Boys By Jessie Margaret Edmondston Saxby Characters: 9255

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"How I wish I had lived hundreds of years ago, when the Vikings lived; it must have been prime!"

He was a Shetland boy of fifteen who so spoke, and he was addressing his young sister of eleven. They were sitting on a low crag by the shore, dangling their feet over the water, which flowed clear and bright within a short distance of their toes. They were looking out upon a grand stretch of ocean studded with islands of fantastic shape, among which numerous boats were threading their way. It was a fair summer afternoon, and the fishing boats were returning from the far haaf[1] laden with spoil. It had not required a great stretch of imagination to carry Yaspard Adiesen's thoughts from the scene before him to the olden days, when his native Isles were the haunts of Vikinger, whose ships were for ever winging their way over those waters bearing the spoils of many a stormy fight.

"Yes," the boy went on; "what glorious fun it must have been in those days; such fighting and sailing and discovering new places; such heaps of adventures of all sorts. Oh, how grand it must have been!"

"I suppose it was," answered Signy; "but then these people long ago did not have all the nice things we have-books, you know, and-and everything!"

"Oh, tuts! They had Scalds to sing their history-much nicer than your musty books."

"Perhaps!" said the girl. She loved books with a mighty love, but she adored her brother, and what he said she accepted, whether it commended itself to her judgment or not.

"There is no 'perhaps' about it, Signy," he retorted a little sharply. "It is fact-so there! It must have been far more jolly in Shetland then than it is now. Everything so tame and commonplace: mail-day once a week, sermon every Sunday, custom-house officers about, chimney-pot hats and tea! Bah!" Yaspard caught up a pebble and flung it to skim over the water as a relief to his feelings, which received a little additional comfort from Signy's next words.

"Hats are certainly very ugly, especially when they are tied on with strings, as Uncle Brüs wears his; and when a sermon lasts an hour it is tiresome. Yes, and the custom-house people and the revenue cutter are horrid-though the cutter is very pretty, and the officers look rather nice in uniform. But it is very nice to get letters, Yaspard; and tea is nice. Why, what on earth would Mam Kirsty and Aunt Osla do without tea?" and Signy laughed as she looked up in her brother's face.

He was not unreasonable, and admitted the comfort of the cup which cheers and a weekly mail-bag. He even allowed that the sloop which looked after her Majesty's dues was a tidy little craft, and that a kirk and Sunday service were advantages of no ordinary kind. "But," having admitted so much, he said, "why couldn't we have all that, and still be Vikings? why not live like heroes? why not roam the seas, and fight and discover and bring home spoil, and wear picturesque garments, as well as go to church and drink tea?"

"Well, people do," answered Signy. "There is always somebody going exploring and getting into the most terrible scrapes. And don't you often say that the British people are true sons of the Norsemen, and prove it by the way they are always sending out more and more ships, and bringing home more and more riches. As for the fighting-oh dear! There was Waterloo not so very very long ago; and the papers say, you know, that we are going to fight the Russians very soon. There's always plenty of fighting-if that's what makes a Viking."

"Oh, bother! girls don't understand," Yaspard muttered; and then there was a long silence, which was broken at last by the lad clapping his hands together and shouting, "Hurrah! I've got an idea! a splendid idea! The very thing!" He sprang to his feet and tossed back his golden-brown curls, and stood like a young Apollo all aglow with life and ardour.

"You always look so beautiful, Yaspard, when you have an idea!" said the worshipping little sister, gazing her admiration of the handsome lad, who was the hero of all her dreams.

He laughed. He was accustomed to her homage-if the truth be told, he took it as his right.

"Never mind about my beauty at present, but come along, for I must set my idea to work at once. I wonder I never thought of it before."

"Ah, do wait a very little longer, brodhor," the girl begged. When coaxing or caressing him, she always used the old form of the word, which signified the dearest relationship she knew. They were orphans, and "brother" was Signy's nearest as well as dearest friend alive. He never could resist the soft tone and word, so answered-

"Why do you want to stay here?"

"I have been watching Loki fish, and it is so funny; I want to see when he will be satisfied. He has been at it for hours."

Loki was a pet cormorant, and Yaspard had taught him to seek food for himself in the voe. The affectionate bird, though allowed such licence, never failed to return to Boden when hunger was satisfied; and at all times he would come at once to his master's call.

Yaspard stood for a minute looking at the bird as it swam about, every now and then taking a sudden leap and "header" after some unwary sillack. There were shoals of small cod-fish in the voe, and Loki had no difficulty in filling his most capacious maw. His mode of fishing was certainly comical, but Yaspard was not so interested in the matter as Signy, therefore his eyes were soon roving again to the islets and boats.

Presently his attention became riveted on a smart skiff rounding the headlands in a manner which proved that she was managed by skilful hands. As the boat drew nearer, rising lightly on the waves, Yaspard said, "Yes, it's the Laulie. What splendid sea-boys those lads of Lunda are! They are always off somewhere; always having some grand fun on the water. They are making for Havnholme now, and I expect they mean to stay there all night. Oh, bother feuds and family fights! I wish I were with them."

"They must be nice boys," said Signy. "It does seem very sad that you can't have them for chums. I can't see why our grandfathers' quarrels and Uncle Brüs's grumpiness should hinder you from being friends with the only boys of our rank within reach of Boden."

"It is a horrible nuisance. But never mind! I'll make the family feud work into my idea, sure as can be! There, Signy; there goes Loki with five dozen sillacks in his maw, so let's go too."

The cormorant had had enough. He began to flap along the surface of the sea until it was possible for him to rise in steady flight. Then he floated high overhead and took a straight course for the Ha' of Boden.

Yaspard caught up Signy in his arms; and as he swung along towards home he chanted-

"As with his wings aslant

Sails the fierce cormorant

Seeking some rocky haunt,

With his prey laden;

So toward the open main,

Beating to sea again,

Through the wild hurricane

Bore I the maiden."

When he finished the verse he put his sister down. "There," he exclaimed; "there is a small hint at a part of my new idea."

"What is your idea, Yaspard?"

But Yaspard laughed and shook his head. "I can't tell you yet. It isn't shaped at all yet, but by-and-by you shall hear all about it, and help with it too, Mootie;[2] only, mind, it's a secret. You must not tell a soul."

"I never tell any of your secrets," Signy answered, with gentle reproach in her tone; and her brother answered promptly, "No, you never tell on me, that is true-though you sometimes let things out by mistake. But you are a trump all the same, Signy; you are; and as good as a boy. I sometimes wish you were a boy. But if you were you'd plague me. Small boys always do plague their big brothers-but you never plague me. Never!"

She squeezed his hand tight and was perfectly happy while they walked on, and Yaspard whistled "the Hardy Norseman."

After executing a few bars he said, "I am going across the voe, and you must not mind if I do not take you with me. I want to have a long talk with the Harrison boys. But if you come down to the noost[3] when I return, I'll take you for a little sail."

"I'll be there, brodhor," said Signy. She was always "there" when Yaspard required or requested.

They walked along the shore until they reached a quay of very modest pretensions, where a small boat was lying ready for use. Their home was not many yards from the beach, and was situated on a green sloping point of land almost surrounded by the waters of Boden voe.

Yaspard jumped into the boat, hauled up the sail, shoved off, and was soon speeding across the mile of water, which was the broadest bit of that winding picturesque fiord.

Signy stood a minute to watch him. She would have stood longer, but out of the house bounced a big dog, barking and evidently greatly excited over something.

"Well, Pirate, what is the matter with you?" the girl asked, as the dog rushed up to her. For answer Pirate caught her skirt gently in his mouth, and indicated as plainly as if he had expressed himself in choicest English that he desired her presence indoors.

So indoors Signy went without more ado.

[1] "Haaf," deep-sea fishing.

[2] "Mootie," little one.

[3] "Noost," boat-shelter.

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