''Between Sea And Sky'' Short Story By Hjalmar H. Boyesen

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Between Sea And Sky Short Story By Hjalmar H. Boyesen
  • Story Name : Between Sea and Sky
  • Author Name : Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen (1848–1895)
  • Author Country : Norway
  • Published Year : 1887
  • Story Type : Short Story

"Iceland is the most beautiful land the sun doth shine upon," said Sigurd Sigurdson to his two sons.

"How can you know that, Father," asked Thoralf, the elder of the two boys, "when you have never been anywhere else?"

"I know it in my heart," said Sigurd devoutly.

"It is, after all, a matter of taste," observed the son. "I think, if I were hard pressed, I might be induced to put up with some other country."

"You ought to blush with shame," his father rejoined warmly. "You do not deserve the name of an Icelander when you fail to see how you have been blessed by having been born in such a beautiful country."

"I wish it were less beautiful and had more things to eat in it," muttered Thoralf. "Salted codfish, I have no doubt, is good for the soul, but it rests very heavily on the stomach, especially when you eat it three times a day."

"You ought to thank God that you have codfish and are not a naked savage on some South Sea island who feeds like an animal on the herbs of the earth."

"But I like codfish much better than smoked puffin," remarked Jens, the younger brother, who was carving a pipe bowl. "I always get seasick after eating smoked puffin." "It tastes like cod liver oil."

Sigurd smiled, and, patting the younger boy on the head, he entered the cottage.

"You shouldn't talk so badly to Father, Thoralf," said Jens with superior dignity, for his father's caress made him proud and happy. "Father works so hard, and he does not like to see anyone discontented."

"That is just it," replied the elder brother; "he works so hard and yet barely manages to keep the wolf from the door." That is what makes me impatient with the country. "If he worked so hard in any other country, he would live in abundance, and in America he would become a rich man."

This conversation took place one day, late in the autumn, outside of a fisherman's cottage on the northwestern coast of Iceland. The wind was blowing a gale down from the very ice-engirdled pole, and it required a very genial temper to keep one from getting blue. The ocean, which was but a few hundred feet away, roared like an angry beast and shook its white mane of spray, flinging it up against the black clouds. With every fresh gust of wind, a shower of salt water would fly hissing through the air and whirl about the chimney-top, which was white on the windward side from dried deposits of brine. On the turf-thatched roof, big pieces of driftwood, weighted down with stones, were laid lengthwise and crosswise, and along the walls, fishing nets were hung in festoons from wooden pegs. Even the low door was draped, as with decorative intent, with the folds of a great drag-net, the clumsy cork-floats of which often dashed into the faces of those who attempted to enter. Under a driftwood shed that projected from the northern wall was seen a pile of peat, cut into square blocks, and a quantity of the same useful material might be observed down at the beach, in a boat that the boys had been unloading when the storm blew up. Trees no longer grow on the island, except for the crippled and twisted dwarf birch, which creeps along the ground like a snake and, if it ever dares lift its head, rarely grows more than four or six feet high. In the olden time, which is described in the so-called sagas of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Iceland had very considerable forests of birch and probably also of pine. But they were cut down, and the climate has gradually been growing colder, until now even the hardiest tree, if it is induced to strike root in a sheltered place, never reaches maturity. The Icelanders therefore burn peat and use driftwood for building their houses, which is carried to them by the Gulf Stream from Cuba and the other well-wooded islands along the Mexican Gulf.

"If it keeps blowing like this," said Thoralf, fixing his weather eye on the black horizon, "we won't be able to go a-fishing, and Mother says the larder is very nearly empty."

"I wish it would blow down an Englishman or something on us," remarked the younger brother; "Englishmen always have such lots of money, and they are willing to pay for everything they look at."

"While you are wishing, why don't you wish for an American?" Americans have mountains and mountains of money, and they don't mind a bit what they do with it. "That's the reason I should like to be an American."

"Yes, let us wish for an American or two to make us comfortable for the winter." But I am afraid it is too late in the season to expect foreigners.

The two boys chatted together in this manner, each working on some piece of wood carving that he expected to sell to some foreign traveler. Thoralf was sixteen years old, tall from his growth, but round-shouldered from being forced to work when he was too young. He was a rather handsome lad, though his features were square and weather-beaten, and he looked prematurely old. Jens, the younger boy, was fourteen years old and was his mother's darling. Even up at the North Pole, mothers love their children tenderly, and sometimes they love one a little more than another; that is, of course, the merest wee bit of a fraction of a trifle more. Icelandic mothers are so constituted that when one child is a little weaker and sicklier than the rest and thus seems to be more in need of petting, they are apt to love their little weakling above all their other children and to lavish the tenderest care upon that one. It was because little Jens had such a narrow chest and looked so small and slender by comparison with his robust brother that his mother always singled him out for favours and caresses.

All night long, the storm danced wildly about the cottage, rattling the windows, shaking the walls, and making fierce assaults upon the door as if it meant to burst in. It sometimes bellowed hoarsely down the chimney and whirled the ashes on the hearth through the room like a grey snowdrift. The fire had been put out, of course, but the dancing ashes kept up a fitful patter, like that of a pelting rainstorm, against the walls; they even penetrated into the sleeping alcoves and powdered the heads of their occupants. For in Iceland, it is only well-to-do people who can afford to have separate sleeping rooms; ordinary folk sleep in little closed alcoves along the walls of the sitting room; masters and servants, parents and children, guests and wayfarers all retire at night into square little holes in the walls, where they undress behind sliding trapdoors that may be opened again when the lights have been put out and the supply of air threatens to become exhausted. It was in a little closet of this sort that Thoralf and Jens were lying, listening to the roar of the storm. Thoralf dozed off occasionally and tried gently to extricate himself from his frightened brother's embrace, but Jens lay with wide-open eyes, staring into the dark, and now and then sliding the trapdoor aside and peeping out, until a blinding shower of ashes would again compel him to slip his head under the sheepskin coverlet. When at last he summoned the courage to peep out, he could not help shuddering. It was terribly cheerless and desolate. And all the time, his father's words kept ringing ironically in his ears: "Iceland is the most beautiful land the sun doth shine upon." For the first time in his life, he began to question whether his father might not possibly be mistaken or, perhaps, blinded by his love for his country. But the boy immediately repented of this doubt and, as if to convince himself in spite of everything, kept repeating the patriotic motto to himself until he fell asleep.

It was still pitch black in the room when he was awakened by his father, who stood stooping over him.

"Sleep on, child," said Sigurd; "it was your brother I wanted to wake up, not you."

"What is the matter, Father?" "What has happened?" cried Jens, rising up in bed. and rubbing the ashes from the corners of his eyes.

"We are snowed up," said the father quietly. "It is already nine o'clock, I should judge, or thereabouts, but not a ray of light comes through the windows." I want Thoralf to help me open the door.

Thoralf was by this time awake and finished his primitive toilet with much dispatch. The darkness, the dampness, and the unopened window shutters impressed him ominously. He felt as if some calamity had happened or was about to happen. Sigurd lit a piece of driftwood and stuck it into a crevice in the wall. The storm seemed to have ceased; a strange, tomb-like silence prevailed both without and within. On the low hearth lay a small snowdrift, which sparkled with a starlike glitter in the light.

"Bring the snowshovels, Thoralf," said Sigurd. "Be quick; lose no time."

"They are in the shed outside," answered Thoralf.

"That is very unlucky," said the father; "now we shall have to use our fists."

The door opened outward, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that father and son succeeded in pushing it ajar. The storm had driven the snow with such force against it that their efforts seemed scarcely to make any impression upon the dense white wall that rose up before them.

"This is of no earthly use, Father," said the boy; "it is a day's work at the very least." "Let me rather try the chimney."

"But you might get stuck in the snow and die," the father worriedly objected.

"Weeds don't perish so easily," said Thoralf.

"Stand up on the hearth, Father, and I'll climb up on your shoulders," the boy insisted.

Sigurd reluctantly agreed to his son's request, crawling up his father's back and quickly planting his feet on the paternal shoulders.He pulled his knitted woollen cap over his eyes and ears so as to protect them from the drizzling soot that descended in intermittent showers. Then, groping with his toes for a little projection of the wall, he gained a securer foothold, and, pushing boldly on, he soon thrust his sooty head through the snow crust. A chorus as loud as a thousand howling wolves burst upon his bewildered senses; the storm raged, shrieked, roared, and nearly swept him off his feet. Its stinging breath pricked his cheek like a whiplash.

"Give me my sheepskin coat," he cried down into the cottage; "the wind chills me to the bone."

The sheepskin coat was handed to him on the end of a pole, and seated upon the edge of the chimney, he pulled it on and buttoned it securely. Then he rolled up the edges of his cap in front and cautiously exposed his eyes and the tip of his nose. It was not a pleasant experiment, but one dictated by necessity. As far as he could see, the world was white with snow, which the storm whirled madly around and swept now earthward and now heavenward. Great funnel-shaped columns of snow danced up the hillsides and vanished against the black horizon. The prospect before the boy was by no means inviting, but he had been accustomed to battling with dangers since his earliest childhood, and he was not easily dismayed. With much deliberation, he climbed over the edge of the chimney and rolled down the slope of the roof in the direction of the shed. He might have rolled a great deal farther if he had not taken the precaution to roll against the wind. When he had made sure that he was in the right place, he checked himself by spreading his legs and arms; then, judging by the outline of the snow where the door of the shed was, he crept along the edge of the roof on the leeward side. He looked more like a small polar bear than a boy, covered as he was with snow from head to foot. He was prepared for a laborious descent, and raising himself up, he jumped with all his might, hoping that his weight would carry him a couple of feet down. To his utmost amazement, he accomplished considerably more. The snow yielded under his feet as if it had been eiderdown, and he tumbled head-long into a white cave right at the entrance to the shed. The storm, while it packed the snow on the windward side, had naturally scattered it very loosely on the leeward, which left a considerable space unfilled under the projecting eaves.

Thoralf picked himself up and entered the shed without difficulty. He gathered a large bundle of peat and placed it in a basket with straps that could be carried on the back.With a snow shovel, he then proceeded to dig a tunnel to the nearest window. This was not a very hard task, as the distance was not great. The window was opened, and the basket of peat, a couple of shovels, and two pairs of socks (to be used in case of emergency) were handed in. Thoralf himself, who was hungry as a wolf, made haste to avail himself of the same entrance. And it occurred to him as a happy afterthought that he might have saved himself much trouble if he had selected the window instead of the chimney when he sallied forth on his expedition. He had erroneously taken it for granted that the snow would be packed as hard everywhere as it was at the front door. The mother, who had been spending this exciting half-hour keeping little Jens warm, now lit a fire and made coffee, and Thoralf needed no coaxing to do justice to his breakfast, even though it had, like everything else in Iceland, a flavour of salted fish.

Five days had passed, and still the storm raged with unabated fury. Access to the ocean was cut off, and, with it, access to food. Already the last handful of flour had been made into bread, and of the dried cod that hung in rows under the ceiling, only one small and skinny specimen remained. The father and the mother sat with mournful faces at the hearth, the former reading in his hymnbook, the latter stroking the hair of her youngest boy. Thoralf, who was carving at his everlasting pipe bowl (a corpulent and short-legged Turk with an enormous mustache), looked up suddenly from his work and glanced questioningly at his father.

"Father," he said abruptly, "how would you like to starve to death?"

"God will preserve us from that, my son," answered the father devoutly.

"Not unless we try to preserve ourselves," retorted the boy earnestly. "We can't tell how long this storm is going to last, and it is better for us to start out in search of food now, while we are yet strong, than to wait until later, when, as likely as not, we shall be weakened by hunger."

"But what would you have me do, Thoralf?" asked the father sadly. "To venture out on the ocean in this weather would be certain death."

"True; but we can reach the Pope's Nose on our skees, and there we might snare or shoot some auks and gulls." "Though I am not partial to that kind of diet myself, it is always preferable to starvation."

"Wait, my son, wait," said Sigurd earnestly. "We have food enough for today, and by tomorrow the storm will have ceased, and we may go fishing without endangering our lives."

"As you wish, Father," the son replied, a trifle hurt at his father's unresponsive manner, "but if you will take a look out of the chimney, you will find that it looks black enough to storm for another week."

The father, instead of accepting this suggestion, went quietly to his bookcase, took out a copy of Livy in Latin, and sat down to read. He occasionally looked up a word in the lexicon (which he had borrowed from Reykjavik's public library), but he read with apparent fluency and pleasure.Though he was a fisherman, he was also a scholar, and during the long winter evenings, he taught himself Latin and even a smattering of Greek. In Iceland, the people have to spend their evenings at home, and especially since their millennial celebration in 1876, when American scholars presented the people with a large library, books are their unfailing resource. In the case of Sigurd Sigurdson, however, books had become a kind of dissipation, and he had to be weaned gradually of his predilection for Homer and Livy. His eldest son, in particular, saw Latin and Greek as a vicious indulgence that no man with a family could afford. Many a day when Sigurd ought to have been out in his boat casting his nets, he staid at home reading. And this, in Thoralf's opinion, was the chief reason why they would always remain poor and run the risk of starvation whenever a stretch of bad weather prevented them from going to sea.

The next morning—the sixth since the breaking of the storm—Thoralf climbed up to his post of observation on the chimney top and saw, to his dismay, that his prediction was correct. It had ceased snowing, but the wind was blowing as fiercely as ever, and the cold was intense.

"Will you follow me, Father, or will you not?" he asked, when he had accomplished his descent into the room. "Our last fish is now eaten, and our last loaf of bread will soon follow suit."

"I will go with you, my son," answered Sigurd, putting down his daughter reluctantly. He had just been reading for the hundredth time about the expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome, and his blood was aglow with sympathy and enthusiasm.

"Here is your coat, Sigurd," said his wife, holding up the great sheepskin garment and assisting him in putting it on.

"And here are your skees and your mittens and your cap," cried Thoralf, eager to seize the moment when his father was in the mood for action.

Muffled up like Eskimos to their very eyes, armed with bows and arrows and long poles with nooses of horsehair at the ends, they sallied forth on their skees. The wind blew straight into their faces, forcing their breaths down their throats and compelling them to tack in zigzag lines like ships in a gale. The promontory called "The Pope's Nose" was about a mile distant, but in spite of their knowledge of the land, they went twice astray and had to lie down in the snow, every now and then, so as to draw breath and warm the exposed portions of their faces. At the end of nearly two hours, they found themselves at their destination, but to their unutterable astonishment, the ocean seemed to have vanished, and as far as their eyes could reach, a vast field of packed ice loomed up against the sky in fantastic bastions, turrets, and spires. The storm had driven down this enormous arctic wilderness from the frozen precincts of the pole, and now they were blockaded on all sides and cut off from all intercourse with humanity.

"We are lost, Thoralf," muttered his father, after having gazed for some time in speechless despair at the towering icebergs; "we might just as well have remained at home."

"The wind, which has blown the ice down upon us, can blow it away again too," replied the son with forced cheerfulness.

"I see no living thing here," said Sigurd, spying anxiously to the seaward.

"Nor do I," rejoined Thoralf, "but if we hunt, we shall." "I have brought a rope, and I am going to pay a little visit to those auks and gulls that must be hiding in the sheltered nooks of the rocks."

"Are you mad, boy?" cried the father in alarm. "I will never permit it!"

"There is no help for it, Father," said the boy resolutely. "Here, you take hold of one end of the rope; the other I will secure about my waist." "Now, get a good, strong hold, and brace your feet against the rock there."

Sigurd, after some remonstrance, yielded, as was his wont, to his son's resolution and courage. Stepping off his skees, which he stuck endwise into the snow, and burrowing his feet down until they reached the solid rock, he tied the rope around his waist and twisted it about his hands, and at last, with a quaking heart, he gave the signal for the perilous enterprise. The promontory, which rose abruptly to a height of two or three hundred feet above sea level, featured a jagged wall with nooks and crevices glazed with frozen snow on the windward side but black and partly bare on the leeward.

"Now let go!" shouted Thoralf, "and stop when I give a slight pull at the rope."

"All right," replied his father.

And slowly, slowly, hovering in mid-air, now yielding to an irresistible impulse of dread, now brave, cautious, and confident, Thoralf descended the cliff, which no human foot had ever trod before. He held in his hand the pole with the horse-hair noose, and over his shoulder hung a foxskin hunting bag. With alert, wide-open eyes, he spied on him, exploring every nook and cranny of the rock and thrusting his pole into the holes where he suspected the birds might have taken refuge. Sometimes a gust of wind would have flung him violently against the jagged wall if he had not, by means of his pole, warded off the collision. At last he caught sight of a bare ledge, where he might gain a secure foothold; for the rope cut him terribly about the waist and made him anxious to relieve the strain, if only for a moment. He gave the signal to his father, and with the aid of his pole, he swung himself over to the projecting ledge. It was uncomfortably narrow, and, what was worse, the remnants of a dozen owls' nests had made the place extremely slippery. Nevertheless, he seated himself, allowing his feet to dangle, and gazed out upon the vast ocean, which in its icy grandeur looked like a forest of shining towers and minarets. It struck him for the first time in his life that perhaps his father was right in his belief that Iceland was the fairest land the sun doth shine upon, but he could not help reflecting that it was a very unprofitable kind of beauty. The storm whistled and howled overhead, but under the lee of the sheltering rock it blew only in fitful gusts with intermissions of comparative calm. He knew that in fair weather this was the haunt of innumerable seabirds, and he concluded that even now they could not be far away. He pulled up his legs and crept carefully on hands and feet along the slippery ledge, peering intently into every nook and crevice. His eyes, which had been half-blinded by the glare of the snow, gradually recovered their power of vision. There! What was that? Something seemed to move on the ledge below. Yes, there was a long line of auks, some standing upright as soldiers, as if determined to fight it out; others huddled together in clusters, comically sad. Quite a number lay dead at the base of the rock, whether from starvation or as the victims of fierce fights for the possession of the sheltered ledges. Thoralf, delighted at the sight of anything eatable (even though it was poor eating), gently lowered the end of his pole, slipped the noose about the neck of a large, military-looking fellow, and, with a quick pull, swung him out over the ice-field. The owl gave a few ineffectual flaps with his useless wings and expired. His execution apparently elicited no comment from his family, because his comrades never uttered a sound or moved an inch, except to take possession of the space he had vacated. Number two met his fate with the same listless resignation, and numbers three, four, and five were likewise removed in the same quiet manner, without impressing their neighbours with the fact that their turn might come next. The birds were half-benumbed with hunger, and their usually alert senses were drowsy and stupefied. Nevertheless, number six, when it felt the noose around its neck, raised a hubbub that suddenly aroused the whole colony, and, with a chorus of wild screams, the birds flung themselves down the cliffs or, in their bewilderment, dashed headlong down upon the ice, where they lay half stunned or helplessly sprawling. So through all the caves and hiding places of the promontory, the commotion spread, and the noise of screams and confused chatter mingled with the storm and filled the vault of the sky. In an instant, a large flock of gulls took to the air and circled the daring intruder who had disturbed their wintry peace with resentful shrieks. The wind whirled them about, but they still held their own and almost brushed their wings against his face while he struck out at them with his pole. He had no intention of catching them, but, by chance, a huge burgomaster gull got its foot into the noose. It made an ineffectual attempt to disentangle itself, then, with piercing screams, flapped its great wings, beating the air desperately. Thoralf, having packed three birds into his hunting bag, tied the three others together by the legs and flung them across his shoulders. Then, gradually trusting his weight to the rope, he slid off the rock and was about to give his father the signal to hoist him up. But, greatly to his astonishment, his living captive, by the power of its mighty wings, pulling at the end of the pole, swung him considerably farther into space than he had calculated. He would have liked to let go both the gull and the pole, but he perceived instantly that if he did, he would, by the mere force of his weight, be flung back against the rocky wall. He did not dare take that risk, as the blow might be hard enough to stun him. A strange, tingling sensation shot through his nerves, and the blood throbbed with a surging sound in his ears. He was suspended in mid-air, over a terrifying chasm—and a hundred feet below was the jagged ice field with its sharp, fiercely shining steeples! With a powerful effort of will, he collected his senses, clenched his teeth, and strove to think clearly. The gull whirled wildly eastward and westward, and he swayed with its every motion like a living pendulum between sea and sky. He began to grow dizzy, but again his powerful will came to his rescue, and he gazed resolutely up against the brow of the precipice and down upon the projecting ledges below, in order to accustom his eye and his mind to the sight. He succeeded in pulling on the rope with great effort and expected to be lifted upward by his father's strong arms. But to his amazement, there was no response to his signal. He repeated it once, twice, and three times; there was a slight tugging at the rope but no upward movement. Then the brave lad's heart stood still, and his courage well-nigh failed him.

"Father!" he cried, with a hoarse voice of despair; "why don't you pull me up?"

His cry was lost in the roar of the wind, and there was no answer. Taking hold once more of the rope with one hand, he considered the possibility of climbing, but the miserable gull, seeming every moment to redouble its efforts at escape, deprived him of the use of his hands unless he chose to dash out his brains by collision with the rock. Something like a husky, choked scream seemed to float down from above, and staring again upward, he saw his father's head projecting over the brink of the precipice.

"The rope will break!" screamed Sigurd. "I have tied it to the rock."

Thoralf instantly took in the situation. The rope had frayed against the sharp edge of the cliff due to the swinging motion caused by both the wind and his fight with the gull, and his chances of survival, he reasoned, were now not worth a sixpence. Curiously enough, his agitation suddenly left him, and a great calm came over him. He seemed to stand face to face with eternity, and as nothing else that he could do was of any avail, he could at least steel his heart to meet death like a man and an Icelander.

"I am trying to get hold of the rope below the place where it is frayed," he heard his father shout during a momentary lull in the storm.

"Don't try," answered the boy; "you can't do it alone." Rather, let me down on the lower ledge and let me sit there until you can go and get someone to help you."

His father, accustomed to taking his son's advice, reluctantly lowered him ten or twenty feet until he was on a level with the shelving ledge below, which was wider than the one upon which he had first gained foothold. But—oh, the misery of it!—the ledge did not project far enough! He could not reach it with his feet! The rope, of which only a few strands remained, might break at any moment, and he dared not think what would be the result! He had scarcely had time to consider anything when a brilliant device shot through his brain. With a sudden thrust, he flung away the pole, and the impetus of his weight sent him inward with such force that he landed securely upon the broad shelf of rock.

The gull, surprised by the sudden weight of the pole, made a somersault, strove to rise again, and tumbled, with the pole still hanging from its leg, down upon the ice-field.

It was well that Thoralf was warmly clad, or he could never have endured the terrible hours while he sat through the long afternoon, hearing the moaning and shrieking of the wind and seeing the darkness close about him. The storm was chilling him with its fierce breath. One of the birds he tied about his throat as a sort of scarf, using the feet and neck for making the knot, and the dense, downy feathers sent a glow of comfort through him, in spite of his consciousness that every hour might be his last. If he could only keep awake through the night, the chances were that he would survive to greet the morning. He hit upon an ingenious plan for accomplishing this purpose. He opened the bill of the auk, which warmed his neck, cut off the lower mandible, and placed the upper one (which was as sharp as a knife) so that it would inevitably cut his chin in case he should nod. He leaned against the rock and thought of his mother and the warm, comfortable chimney corner at home. The wind probably resented this thought, for it suddenly sent a biting gust right into Thoralf's face, and he buried his nose in the downy breast of the auks until the pain had subsided. The darkness had now settled upon sea and land; only here and there, white steeples loomed out of the gloom. Thoralf, simply to occupy his thoughts, began to count them. But all of a sudden, one of the steeples seemed to move, then another—and another.

The boy feared that the long strain of excitement was depriving him of his reason. The wind, too, after a few wild arctic howls, acquired a warmer breath and a gentler sound. It could not be possible that he was dreaming. In that case, he would soon be dead. Perhaps he was dead already and was drifting through this strange, icy vista to a better world. All these imaginings flitted through his mind and were again dismissed as improbable. He scratched his face with the foot of an auk in order to convince himself that he was really awake. Yes, there could be no doubt about it; he was wide awake. Accordingly, he once more fixed his eyes upon the ghostly steeples and towers, and—it sent cold shudders down his back—they were still moving. Then there came a fusillade of heavy artillery, followed by a salvo of lighter musketry; then came a fierce grinding, cracking, and creaking sound, as if the whole ocean were made of glass and were breaking to pieces. "What if the ice is breaking up?" Thoralf wondered. In an instant, the explanation of the whole spectral panorama was clear as day. The wind had veered to the south-east, and the whole enormous ice floe was being driven out to sea. For several hours—he could not tell how many—he sat watching this superb spectacle by the pale light of the aurora borealis, which toward midnight began to flicker across the sky and illuminate the northern horizon. He found the sight so interesting that, for a while, he forgot to be sleepy. But toward morning, when the aurora began to fade and the clouds began to cover the east, a terrible weariness was irresistibly stealing over him. He could see glimpses of the black water beneath him, and the shining spires of ice were vanishing in the dusk, drifting rapidly away upon the arctic currents, bringing death and disaster to ships and crews that might happen to cross their paths.

It was terrible how slowly the hours crept along! It seemed to Thoralf as if a week had passed since his father left him. He pinched himself in order to keep awake, but it was of no use; his eyelids would slowly droop and his head would incline—horrors! What was that? Oh, he had forgotten; it was the sharp mandible of the auk that cut his chin. He put his hand up to it and felt something warm and clammy on his fingers. He was bleeding. It took Thoralf several minutes to stop the bleeding. The wound was deeper than he had bargained for, but it occupied him and kept him awake, which was of vital importance.

At last, after a long and desperate struggle with drowsiness, he saw the dawn break faintly in the east. It was a mere feeble promise of light, a remote suggestion that there was such a thing as day. But to the boy, worn out by the terrible strain of death and danger staring him in the face, it was a glorious assurance that rescue was at hand. The tears came into his eyes—not tears of weakness, but tears of gratitude that the terrible trial had been endured. Gradually, the light spread like a pale, greyish veil over the eastern sky, and the ocean caught faint reflections of the presence of the unseen sun. The wind was mild, and thousands of birds that had been imprisoned by the ice in the crevices of the rocks whirled triumphantly into the air and plunged with wild screams into the tide below. It was difficult to imagine where they had all gone, because the air seemed alive with them, and the cliffs teemed with them, and they fought, shrieked, and chattered like a famished mob. It was due to this unearthly tumult that Thoralf did not hear the voice that called to him from the top of the cliff. His senses were half-dazed by the noise and by the sudden relief from the excitement of the night. Then two voices floated down to him, followed by a chorus. He tried to look up, but the beetling brow of the rock prevented him from seeing anything but a stout rope, which was dangling in mid-air and slowly approaching him. With all the power of his lungs, he responded to the call, and there came a wild cheer from above—a cheer full of triumph and joy. He recognised the voices of Hunding's sons, who lived on the other side of the promontory, and he knew that even without their father, they were strong enough to pull up a man three times his weight. The difficulty now was only getting a hold of the rope, which hung too far out for his hands to reach it.

"Shake the rope hard," he called up, and immediately the rope was shaken into serpentine undulations, and after a few vain efforts, he succeeded in catching hold of the knot. Securing the rope around his waist and giving the signal for the ascent took but a moment's work. They hauled hard, Hunding's sons, because he rose up along the black walls—up—up—up—with no uncertain motion. At last, when he was at the very brink of the precipice, he saw his father's pale and anxious face leaning out over the abyss. But there was another face too! Who could it be? It was a woman's face. It was his mother's. Somebody swung him out into space; a strange, delicious dizziness came over him; his eyes were blinded with tears; he did not know where he was. He only knew that he was inexpressibly happy. There came a tremendous cheer from somewhere—for Icelanders know how to cheer—but it penetrated but faintly through his bewildered senses. Something cold touched his forehead; it seemed to be snow. Then warm drops fell, which were tears. He opened his eyes. He was in his mother's arms. Little Jens was crying over him and kissing him. His father and Hunding's sons were standing with folded arms, gazing joyously at him.

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