| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
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.
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.
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
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
 longed to find that land. So Leif went to Eric and said:
"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
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.
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
"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.
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
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.
THE LANDING OF THE VIKINGS
"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 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
When the house was finished Leif called his companions together
and spoke to them.
"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."
"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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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
a cross at my feet, and another at my head, and call it Cross Ness
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.
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.
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
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.
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
 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
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.
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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