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Hero Tales of the Far North by Jacob A. Riis

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New York, 1921

[Illustration: FREDERIKSBORG]





When a man knocks at Uncle Sam's gate, craving admission to his
house, we ask him how much money he brings, lest he become a
hindrance instead of a help. If now we were to ask what he brings,
not only in his pocket, but in his mind and in his heart, this
stranger, what ideals he owns, what company he kept in the country
he left that shaped his hopes and ambitions,--might it not, if the
answer were right, be a help to a better mutual understanding
between host and guest? For the _Mayflower_ did not hold all who in
this world have battled for freedom of home, of hope, and of
conscience. The struggle is bigger than that. Every land has its
George Washington, its Kosciusko, its William Tell, its Garibaldi,
its Kossuth, if there is but one that has a Joan d'Arc. What we want
to know of the man is: were its heroes his?

This book is an attempt to ask and to answer that question for my
own people, in a very small and simple way, it is true, but perhaps
abler pens with more leisure than mine may follow the trail it has
blazed. I should like to see some Swede write of the heroes of his
noble, chivalrous people, whom lack of space has made me slight
here, though I count them with my own. I should like to hear the
epic of United Italy, of proud and freedom-loving Hungary, the
swan-song of unhappy Poland, chanted to young America again and
again, to help us all understand that we are kin in the things that
really count, and help us pull together as we must if we are to make
the most of our common country.

These were my--our--heroes, then. Every lad of Northern blood, whose
heart is in the right place, loves them. And he need make no excuses
for any of them. Nor has he need of bartering them for the great of
his new home; they go very well together. It is partly for his sake
I have set their stories down here. All too quickly he lets go his
grip on them, on the new shore. Let him keep them and cherish them
with the memories of the motherland. The immigrant America wants and
needs is he who brings the best of the old home to the new, not he
who threw it overboard on the voyage. In the great melting-pot it
will tell its story for the good of us all.

To those who wonder that I have left the Saga era of the North
untouched, I would say that I have preferred to deal here only with
downright historic figures. For valuable aid rendered in insuring
accuracy I am indebted to the services of Dr. P.A. Rydberg, Dr. J.
Emile Blomen, Gustaf V. Lindner, and Professor Joakim Reinhard. My
thanks are due likewise to many friends, Danes by birth like myself,
who have helped me with the illustrations.

J. A. R.
June, 1910.




The Eighteenth Century broke upon a noisy family quarrel in the
north of Europe. Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, the royal hotspur of
all history, and Frederik of Denmark had fallen out. Like their
people, they were first cousins, and therefore all the more bent on
settling the old question which was the better man. After the
fashion of the lion and the unicorn, they fought "all about the
town," and, indeed, about every town that came in their way, now
this and now that side having the best of it. On the sea, which was
the more important because neither Swedes nor Danes could reach
their fighting ground or keep up their armaments without command of
the waterways, the victory rested finally with the Danes. And this
was due almost wholly to one extraordinary figure, the like of which
is scarce to be found in the annals of warfare, Peder Tordenskjold.
Rising in ten brief years from the humblest place before the mast,
a half-grown lad, to the rank of admiral, ennobled by his King and
the idol of two nations, only to be assassinated on the "field of
honor" at thirty, he seems the very incarnation of the stormy times
of the Eleven Years' War, with which his sun rose and set; for the
year in which peace was made also saw his death.

Peder Jansen Wessel was born on October 28, 1690, in the city of
Trondhjem, Norway, which country in those days was united with
Denmark under one king. His father was an alderman with eighteen
children. Peder was the tenth of twelve wild boys. It is related
that the father in sheer desperation once let make for him a pair of
leathern breeches which he would not be able to tear. But the lad,
not to be beaten so easily, sat on a grind-stone and had one of his
school-fellows turn it till the seat was worn thin, a piece of
bravado that probably cost him dear, for doubtless the exasperated
father's stick found the attenuated spot.

Since he would have none of the school, his father had him
apprenticed out to a tailor with the injunction not to spare the
rod. But sitting cross-legged on a tailor's stool did not suit the
lad, and he took it out of his master by snowballing him thoroughly
one winter's day. Next a barber undertook to teach him his trade;
but Peder ran away and was drifting about the streets when the King
came to Norway. The boy saw the splendid uniforms and heard the
story of the beautiful capital by the Oeresund, with its palaces and
great fighting ships. When the King departed, he was missing, and
for a while there was peace in Trondhjem.

Down in Copenhagen the homeless lad was found wandering about by the
King's chaplain, who, being himself a Norwegian, took him home and
made him a household page. But the boy's wanderings had led him to
the navy-yard, where he saw mid-shipmen of his own size at drill,
and he could think of nothing else. When he should have been waiting
at table he was down among the ships. For him there was ever but one
way to any goal, the straight cut, and at fifteen he wrote to the
King asking to be appointed a midshipman. "I am wearing away my life
as a servant," he wrote. "I want to give it, and my blood, to the
service of your Majesty, and I will serve you with all my might
while I live!"

The navy had need of that kind of recruits, and the King saw to it
that he was apprenticed at once. And that was the beginning of his
strangely romantic career.

Three years he sailed before the mast and learned seamanship, while
Charles was baiting the Muscovite and the North was resting on its
arms. Then came Pultava and the Swedish King's crushing defeat. The
storm-centre was transferred to the North again, and the war on the
sea opened with a splendid deed, fit to appeal to any ardent young
heart. At the battle in the Bay of Kjoege, the _Dannebrog_, commanded
by Ivar Hvitfeldt, caught fire, and by its position exposed the
Danish fleet to great danger. Hvitfeldt could do one of two things:
save his own life and his men's by letting his ship drift before the
wind and by his escape risking the rest of the fleet and losing the
battle, or stay where he was to meet certain death. He chose the
latter, anchored his vessel securely, and fought on until the ship
was burned down to the water's edge and blew up with him and his
five hundred men. Ivar Hvitfeldt's name is forever immortal in the
history of his country. A few years ago they raised the wreck of the
_Dannebrog_, fitly called after the Danish flag, and made of its
guns a monument that stands on Langelinie, the beautiful shore road
of Copenhagen.

Fired by such deeds, young Wessel implored the King, before he had
yet worn out his first midshipman's jacket, to give him command of a
frigate. He compromised on a small privateer, the _Ormen_, but with
it he did such execution in Swedish waters and earned such renown as
a dauntless sailor and a bold scout whose information about the
enemy was always first and best, that before spring they gave him a
frigate with eighteen guns and the emphatic warning "not to engage
any enemy when he was not clearly the stronger." He immediately
brought in a Swedish cruiser, the _Alabama_ of those days, that had
been the terror of the sea. In a naval battle in the Baltic soon
after, he engaged with his little frigate two of the enemy's
line-of-battle ships that were trying to get away, and only when a
third came to help them did he retreat, so battered that he had to
seek port to make repairs. Accused of violating his orders, his
answer was prompt: "I promised your Majesty to do my best, and I
did." King Frederik IV, himself a young and spirited man, made him a
captain, jumping him over fifty odd older lieutenants, and gave him
leave to war on the enemy as he saw fit.

The immediate result was that the Governor of Goeteborg, the enemy's
chief seaport in the North Sea, put a price on his head. Captain
Wessel heard of it and sent word into town that he was outside--to
come and take him; but to hurry, for time was short. While waiting
for a reply, he fell in with two Swedish men-of-war having in tow a
Danish prize. That was not to be borne, and though they together
mounted ninety-four guns to his eighteen, he fell upon them like a
thunderbolt. They beat him off, but he returned for their prize.
That time they nearly sank him with three broad-sides. However, he
ran for the Norwegian coast and saved his ship. In his report of
this affair he excuses himself for running away with the reflection
that allowing himself to be sunk "would not rightly have benefited
his Majesty's service."

However, the opportunity came to him swiftly of "rightly
benefiting" the King's service. After the battle of Kolberger Heide,
that had gone against the Swedes, he found them beaching their ships
under cover of the night to prevent their falling into the hands of
the victors. Wessel halted them with the threat that every man Jack
in the fleet should be made to walk the plank, saved the ships, and
took their admiral prisoner to his chief. When others slept, Wessel
was abroad with his swift sailer. If wind and sea went against him,
he knew how to turn his mishap to account. Driven in under the
hostile shore once, he took the opportunity, as was his wont, to get
the lay of the land and of the enemy. He learned quickly that in the
harbor of Wesensoe, not far away, a Swedish cutter was lying with a
Danish prize. She carried eight guns and had a crew of thirty-six
men; but though he had at the moment only eighteen sailors in his
boat, he crept up the coast at once, slipped quietly in after
sundown, and took ship and prize with a rush, killing and throwing
overboard such as resisted. In Sweden mothers hushed their crying
children with his dreaded name; on the sea they came near to
thinking him a troll, so sudden and unexpected were his onsets. But
there was no witchcraft about it. He sailed swiftly because he was a
skilled sailor and because he missed no opportunity to have the
bottom of his ship scraped and greased. And when on board, pistol
and cutlass hung loose; for it was a time of war with a brave and
relentless foe.

His reconnoitring expeditions he always headed himself, and
sometimes he went alone. Thus, when getting ready to take Marstrand,
a fortified seaport of great importance to Charles, he went ashore
disguised as a fisherman and peddled fish through the town, even in
the very castle itself, where he took notice, along with the
position of the guns and the strength of the garrison, of the fact
that the commandant had two pretty daughters. He was a sailor, sure
enough. Once when ashore on such an expedition, he was surprised by
a company of dragoons. His men escaped, but the dragoons cut off his
way to the shore. As they rode at him, reaching out for his sword,
he suddenly dashed among them, cut one down, and, diving through the
surf, swam out to the boat, his sword between his teeth. Their
bullets churned up the sea all about him, but he was not hit. He
seemed to bear a charmed life; in all his fights he was wounded but
once. That was in the attack on the strongly fortified port of
Stroemstad, in which he was repulsed with a loss of 96 killed and 246
wounded, while the Swedish loss footed up over 1500, a fight which
led straight to the most astonishing chapter in his whole career, of
which more anon.

All Denmark and Norway presently rang with the stories of his
exploits. They were always of the kind to appeal to the imagination,
for in truth he was a very knight errant of the sea who fought for
the love of it as well as of the flag, ardent patriot that he was. A
brave and chivalrous foe he loved next to a loyal friend. Cowardice
he loathed. Once when ordered to follow a retreating enemy with his
frigate _Hvide Oernen_ (the White Eagle) of thirty guns, he hugged
him so close that in the darkness he ran his ship into the great
Swedish man-of-war _Oesel_ of sixty-four guns. The chance was too
good to let pass. Seeing that the _Oesel's_ lower gun-ports were
closed, and reasoning from this that she had been struck in the
water-line and badly damaged, he was for boarding her at once, but
his men refused to follow him. In the delay the _Oesel_ backed away.
Captain Wessel gave chase, pelted her with shot, and called to her
captain, whose name was _Soestjerna_ (sea-star), to stop.

"Running away from a frigate, are you? Shame on you, coward and
poltroon! Stay and fight like a man for your King and your flag!"

Seeing him edge yet farther away, he shouted in utter exasperation,
"Your name shall be dog-star forever, not sea-star, if you don't

"But all this," he wrote sadly to the King, "with much more which
was worse, had no effect."

However, on his way back to join the fleet he ran across a convoy of
ten merchant vessels, guarded by three of the enemy's line-of-battle
ships. He made a feint at passing, but, suddenly turning, swooped
down upon the biggest trader, ran out his boats, made fast, and
towed it away from under the very noses of its protectors. It meant
prize-money for his men, but their captain did not forget their
craven conduct of the night, which had made him lose a bigger
prize, and with the money they got a sound flogging.

The account of the duel between his first frigate, _Loevendahl's
Galley_, of eighteen guns, and a Swede of twenty-eight guns reads
like the doings of the old vikings, and indeed both commanders were
likely descended straight from those arch fighters. Wessel certainly
was. The other captain was an English officer, Bactman by name, who
was on the way to deliver his ship, that had been bought in England,
to the Swedes. They met in the North Sea and fell to fighting by
noon of one day. The afternoon of the next saw them at it yet. Twice
the crew of the Swedish frigate had thrown down their arms, refusing
to fight any more. Vainly the vessel had tried to get away; the Dane
hung to it like a leech. In the afternoon of the second day Wessel
was informed that his powder had given out. He had a boat sent out
with a herald, who presented to Captain Bactman his regrets that he
had to quit for lack of powder, but would he come aboard and shake

The Briton declined. Meanwhile the ships had drifted close enough to
speak through the trumpet, and Captain Wessel shouted over from his
quarter-deck that "if he could lend him a little powder, they might
still go on." Captain Bactman smilingly shook his head, and then the
two drank to one another's health, each on his own quarter-deck, and
parted friends, while their crews manned what was left of the yards
and cheered each other wildly.

Wessel's enemies, of whom he had many, especially among the
nobility, who looked upon him as a vulgar upstart, used this
incident to bring him before a court-martial. It was unpatriotic,
they declared, and they demanded that he be degraded and fined. His
defence, which with all the records of his career are in the Navy
Department at Copenhagen, was brief but to the point. It is summed
up in the retort to his accusers that "they themselves should be
rebuked, and severely, for failing to understand that an officer in
the King's service should be promoted instead of censured for doing
his plain duty," and that there was nothing in the articles of war
commanding him to treat an honorable foe otherwise than with honor.

It must be admitted that he gave his critics no lack of cause. His
enterprises were often enough of a hair-raising kind, and he had
scant patience with censure. Thus once, when harassed by an
Admiralty order purposely issued to annoy him, he wrote back: "The
biggest fool can see that to obey would defeat all my plans. I shall
not do it. It may suit folk who love loafing about shore, but to an
honest man such talk is disgusting, let alone that the thing can't
be done." He was at that time twenty-six years old, and in charge of
the whole North Sea fleet. No wonder he had enemies.

However, the King was his friend. He made him a nobleman, and gave
him the name Tordenskjold. It means "thunder shield."

"Then, by the powers," he swore when he was told, "I shall thunder
in the ears of the Swedes so that the King shall hear of it!" And he
kept his word.

Charles had determined to take Denmark with one fell blow. He had an
army assembled in Skaane to cross the sound, which was frozen over
solid. All was ready for the invasion in January 1716. The people
throughout Sweden had assembled in the churches to pray for the
success of the King's arms, and he was there himself to lead; but
in the early morning hours a strong east wind broke up the ice, and
the campaign ended before it was begun. Charles then turned on
Norway, and laid siege to the city of Frederikshald, which, with its
strong fort, Frederiksteen, was the key to that country. A Danish
fleet lay in the Skagerak, blocking his way of reenforcements by
sea. Tordenskjold, with his frigate, _Hvide Oernen_, and six smaller
ships (the frigate _Vindhunden_ of sixteen guns, and five vessels of
light draught, two of which were heavily armed), was doing scouting
duty for the Admiral when he learned that the entire Swedish fleet
of forty-four ships that was intended to aid in the operations
against Frederikshald lay in the harbor of Dynekilen waiting its
chance to slip out. It was so well shielded there that its commander
sent word to the King to rest easy; nothing could happen to him. He
would join him presently.

Tordenskjold saw that if he could capture or destroy this fleet
Norway was saved; the siege must perforce be abandoned. And Norway
was his native land, which he loved with his whole fervid soul. But
no time was to be lost. He could not go back to ask for permission,
and one may shrewdly guess that he did not want to, for it would
certainly have been refused. He heard that the Swedish officers,
secure in their stronghold, were to attend a wedding on shore the
next day. His instructions from the Admiralty were: in an emergency
always to hold a council of war, and to abide by its decision. At
daybreak he ran his ship alongside _Vindhunden_, her companion
frigate, and called to the captain:

"The Swedish officers are bidden to a wedding, and they have
forgotten us. What do you say--shall we go unasked?"

Captain Grip was game. "Good enough!" he shouted back. "The wind is
fair, and we have all day. I am ready."

That was the council of war and its decision. Tordenskjold gave the
signal to clear for action, and sailed in at the head of his handful
of ships.

The inlet to the harbor of Dynekilen is narrow and crooked, winding
between reefs and rocky steeps quite two miles, and only in spots
more than four hundred feet wide. Halfway in was a strong battery.
Tordenskjold's fleet was received with a tremendous fire from all
the Swedish ships, from the battery, and from an army of four
thousand soldiers lying along shore. The Danish ships made no reply.
They sailed up grimly silent till they reached a place wide enough
to let them wear round, broadside on. Then their guns spoke. Three
hours the battle raged before the Swedish fire began to slacken. As
soon as he noticed it, Tordenskjold slipped into the inner harbor
under cover of the heavy pall of smoke, and before the Swedes
suspected their presence they found his ships alongside. Broadside
after broadside crashed into them, and in terror they fled, soldiers
and sailors alike. While they ran Tordenskjold swooped down upon the
half-way battery, seized it, and spiked its guns. The fight was won.

But the heaviest part was left--the towing out of the captured
ships. All the afternoon Tordenskjold led the work in person,
pulling on ropes, cheering on his men. The Swedes, returning gamely
to the fight, showered them with bullets from shore. One of the
abandoned vessels caught fire. Lieutenant Toender, of Tordenskjold's
staff, a veteran with a wooden leg, boarded it just as the
quartermaster ran up yelling that the ship was full of powder and
was going to blow up. He tried to jump overboard, but the lieutenant
seized him by the collar and, stumping along, made him lead the way
to the magazine. A fuse had been laid to an open keg of powder, and
the fire was sputtering within an inch of it when Lieutenant Toender
plucked it out, smothered it between thumb and forefinger, and threw
it through the nearest port-hole. There were two hundred barrels of
powder in the ship.

Tordenskjold had kept his word to the King. Not as much as a yawl of
the Dynekilen fleet was left to the enemy. He had sunk or burned
thirteen and captured thirty-one ships with his seven, and all the
piled-up munitions of war were in his hands. King Charles gave up
the siege, marched his army out of Norway, and the country was
saved. The victory cost Tordenskjold but nineteen killed and
fifty-seven wounded. On his own ship six men were killed and twenty

Of infinite variety was this sea-fighter. After a victory like this,
one hears of him in the next breath gratifying a passing whim of
the King, who wanted to know what the Swedish people thought of
their Government after Charles's long wars that are said to have
cost their country a million men. Tordenskjold overheard it, had
himself rowed across to Sweden, picked up there a wedding party,
bridegroom, minister, guests, and all, including the captain of the
shore watch who was among them, and returned in time for the palace
dinner with his catch. King Frederik was entertaining Czar Peter the
Great, who had been boasting of the unhesitating loyalty of his men
which his Danish host could not match. He now had the tables turned
upon him. It is recorded that the King sent the party back with
royal gifts for the bride. One would be glad to add that
Tordenskjold sent back, too, the silver pitcher and the parlor clock
his men took on their visit. But he didn't. They were still in
Copenhagen a hundred years later, and may be they are yet. It was
not like his usual gallantry toward the fair sex. But perhaps he
didn't know anything about it.

Then we find him, after an unsuccessful attack on Goeteborg that cost
many lives, sending in his adjutant to congratulate the Swedish
commandant on their "gallant encounter" the day before, and
exchanging presents with him in token of mutual regard. And before
one can turn the page he is discovered swooping down upon Marstrand,
taking town and fleet anchored there, and the castle itself with its
whole garrison, all with two hundred men, swelled by stratagem into
an army of thousands. We are told that an officer sent out from the
castle to parley, issuing forth from a generous dinner, beheld the
besieging army drawn up in street after street, always two hundred
men around every corner, as he made his way through the town,
piloted by Tordenskjold himself, who was careful to take him the
longest way, while the men took the short cut to the next block. The
man returned home with the message that the town was full of them
and that resistance was useless. The ruse smacks of Peder Wessel's
boyish fight with a much bigger fellow who had beaten him once by
gripping his long hair, and so getting his head in chancery. But
Peder had taken notice. Next time he came to the encounter with hair
cut short and his whole head smeared with soft-soap, and that time
he won.

The most extraordinary of all his adventures befell when, after the
attack on Stroemstad, he was hastening home to Copenhagen. Crossing
the Kattegat in a little smack that carried but two three-pound
guns, he was chased and overtaken by a Swedish frigate of sixteen
guns and a crew of sixty men. Tordenskjold had but twenty-one, and
eight of them were servants and non-combatants. They were dreadfully
frightened, and tradition has it that one of them wept when he saw
the Swede coming on. Her captain called upon him to surrender, but
the answer was flung back:

"I am Tordenskjold! Come and take me, if you can."

With that came a tiny broadside that did brisk execution on the
frigate. Tordenskjold had hauled both his guns over on the "fighting
side" of his vessel. There ensued a battle such as Homer would have
loved to sing. Both sides banged away for all they were worth. In
the midst of the din and smoke Tordenskjold used his musket with
cool skill; his servants loaded while he fired. At every shot a man
fell on the frigate.

Word was brought that there was no more round shot. He bade them
twist up his pewter dinner service and fire that, which they did.
The Swede tried vainly to board. Tordenskjold manoeuvred his smack
with such skill that they could not hook on. Seeing this, Captain
Lind, commander of the frigate, called to him to desist from the
useless struggle; he would be honored to carry such a prisoner into
Goeteborg. Back came the taunt:

"Neither you nor any other Swede shall ever carry me there!" And
with that he shot the captain down.[1]

[Footnote 1: He was not mortally wounded, and Tordenskjold took him
prisoner later at the capture of Marstrand.]

When his men saw him fall, they were seized with panic and made off
as quickly as they could, while Tordenskjold's crew, of whom only
fourteen were left, beat their drums and blew trumpets in frantic
defiance. Their captain was for following the Swede and boarding
her, but he couldn't. Sails, rigging, and masts were shot to pieces.
Perhaps the terror of the Swedes was increased by the sight of
Tordenskjold's tame bear making faces at them behind his master. It
went with him everywhere till that day, and came out of the fight
unscathed. But during the night the crew ran the vessel on the
Swedish shore, whence Tordenskjold himself reached Denmark in an
open boat which he had to keep bailing all night, for the boat was
shot full of holes, and though he and his companions stuffed their
spare clothing into them it leaked badly. The enemy got the smack,
after all, and the bear, which, being a Norwegian, proved so
untractable on Swedish soil that, sad to relate, in the end they cut
him up and ate him.

King Charles, himself a knightly soul and an admirer of a gallant
enemy, gave orders to have all Tordenskjold's belongings sent back
to him, but he did not live to see the order carried out. He was
found dead in the rifle-pits before Frederiksteen on December 11,
1718, shot through the head. It was Tordenskjold himself who brought
the all-important news to King Frederik in the night of December
28,--they were not the days of telegraphs and fast steamers,--and
when the King, who had been roused out of bed to receive him, could
not trust his ears, he said with characteristic audacity, "I wish it
were as true that your Majesty had made me a schoutbynacht,"--the
rank next below admiral. And so he took the step next to the last on
the ladder of his ambition.

Within seven months he took Marstrand. It is part of the record of
that astonishing performance that when the unhappy Commandant
hesitated as the hour of evacuation came, not sure that he had done
right in capitulating, Tordenskjold walked up to the fort with a
hundred men, half his force, banged on the gate, went in alone and
up to the Commandant's window, thundering out:

"What are you waiting for? Don't you know time is up?"

In terror and haste, Colonel Dankwardt moved his Hessians out, and
Tordenskjold marched his handful of men in. When he brought the King
the keys of Marstrand, Frederik made him an admiral.

It was while blockading the port of Goeteborg in the last year of the
war that he met and made a friend of Lord Carteret, the English
Ambassador to Denmark, and fell in love with the picture of a young
Englishwoman, Miss Norris, a lady of great beauty and wealth, who,
Lord Carteret told him, was an ardent admirer of his. It was this
love which indirectly sent him to his death. Lord Carteret had given
him a picture of her, and as soon as peace was made he started for
England; but he never reached that country. The remnant of the
Swedish fleet lay in the roadstead at Goeteborg, under the guns of
the two forts, New and Old Elfsborg. While Tordenskjold was away at
Marstrand, the enemy sallied forth and snapped up seven of the
smaller vessels of his blockading fleet. The news made him furious.
He sent in, demanding them back at once, "or I will come after
them." He had already made one ineffectual attempt to take New
Elfsborg that cost him dear. In Goeteborg they knew the strength of
his fleet and laughed at his threat. But it was never safe to laugh
at Tordenskjold. The first dark night he stole in with ten armed
boats, seized the shore batteries of the old fort, and spiked their
guns before a shot was fired. The rising moon saw his men in
possession of the ships lying at anchor. With their blue-lined coats
turned inside out so that they might pass for Swedish uniforms, they
surprised the watch in the guard-house and made them all prisoners.
Now that there was no longer reason for caution, they raised a
racket that woke the sleeping town up in a fright. The commander of
the other fort sent out a boat to ascertain the cause. It met the
Admiral's and challenged it, "Who goes there?"

"Tordenskjold," was the reply, "come to teach you to keep awake."

It proved impossible to warp the ships out. Only one of the seven
lost ones was recovered; all the rest were set on fire. By the light
of the mighty bonfire Tordenskjold rowed out with his men, hauling
the recovered ship right under the guns of the forts, the Danish
flag flying at the bow of his boat. He had not lost a single man. A
cannon-ball swept away all the oars on one side of his boat, but no
one was hurt.

At Marstrand they had been up all night listening to the cannonading
and the crash upon crash as the big ships blew up. They knew that
Tordenskjold was abroad with his men. In the morning, when they were
all in church, he walked in and sat down by his chief, the old
Admiral Judicher, who was a slow-going, cautious man. He whispered
anxiously, "What news?" but Tordenskjold only shrugged his shoulders
with unmoved face. It is not likely that either the old Admiral or
the congregation heard much of that sermon, if indeed they heard any
of it. But when it was over, they saw from the walls of the town
the Danish ships at anchor and heard the story of the last of
Tordenskjold's exploits. It fitly capped the climax of his life.
Sweden's entire force on the North Sea, with the exception of five
small galleys, had either been captured, sunk, or burned by him.

The King would not let Tordenskjold go when peace was made, but he
had his way in the end. To his undoing he consented to take with him
abroad a young scalawag, the son of his landlord, who had more money
than brains. In Hamburg the young man fell in with a gambler, a
Swedish colonel by name of Stahl, who fleeced him of all he had and
much more besides. When Tordenskjold heard of it and met the Colonel
in another man's house, he caned him soundly and threw him out in
the street. For this he was challenged, but refused to fight a

"Friends," particularly one Colonel Muennichhausen, who volunteered
to be his second, talked him over, and also persuaded him to give up
the pistol, with which he was an expert. The duel was fought at the
Village of Gledinge, over the line from Hanover, on the morning of
November 12, 1720. Tordenskjold was roused from sleep at five, and,
after saying his prayers, a duty he never on any account omitted, he
started for the place appointed. His old body-servant vainly pleaded
with his master to take his stout blade instead of the flimsy parade
sword the Admiral carried. Muennichhausen advised against it; it
would be too heavy, he said. Stahl's weapon was a long fighting
rapier, and to this the treacherous second made no objection. Almost
at the first thrust he ran the Admiral through. The seconds held his
servant while Stahl jumped on his horse and galloped away.
Tordenskjold breathed out his dauntless soul in the arms of his
faithful servant and friend.

His body lies in a black marble sarcophagus in the "Navy Church" at
Copenhagen. The Danish and Norwegian peoples have never ceased to
mourn their idol. He was a sailor with a sailor's faults. But he
loved truth, honor, and courage in foe and friend alike. Like many
seafaring men, he was deeply religious, with the unquestioning faith
of a child. There is a letter in existence written by him to his
father when the latter was on his death-bed that bears witness to
this. He thanks him with filial affection for all his care, and says
naively that he would rather have his prayers than fall heir to
twenty thousand daler. His pictures show a stocky, broad-shouldered
youth with frank blue eyes, full lips, and an eagle nose. His deep,
sonorous voice used to be heard, in his midshipman days, above the
whole congregation in the Navy Church. In after years it called
louder still to Denmark's foes. When things were at their worst in
storm or battle, he was wont to shout to his men, "Hi, _now_ we are
having a fine time!" and his battle-cry has passed into the
language. By it, in desperate straits demanding stout hearts, one
may know the Dane after his own heart, the real Dane, the world
over. Among his own Tordenskjold is still and always will be "the
Admiral of Norway's fleet."


When in the fall of 1909 the statement was flashed around the world
that the North Pole had at last been reached, a name long unfamiliar
ran from mouth to mouth with that of the man who claimed to be its
discoverer. Dr. Cook was coming to Copenhagen, the daily despatches
read, on the Danish Government steamer _Hans Egede_. A shipload of
reporters kept an anxious lookout from the Skaw for the vessel so
suddenly become famous, but few who through their telescopes made
out the name at last upon the prow of the ship gave it another
thought in the eager welcome to the man it brought back from the
perils of the Farthest North. Yet the name of that vessel stood for
something of more real account to humanity than the attainment of a
goal that had been the mystery of the ages. No such welcome awaited
the explorer Hans Egede, who a hundred and seventy-two years before
sailed homeward over that very route, a broken, saddened man, and
all he brought was the ashes of his best-beloved that they might
rest in her native soil. No gold medal was struck for him; the
people did not greet him with loud acclaim. The King and his court
paid scant attention to him, and he was allowed to live his last
days in poverty. Yet a greater honor is his than ever fell to a
discoverer: the simple natives of Greenland long reckoned the time
from his coming among them. To them he was in their ice-bound home
what Father Damien was to the stricken lepers in the South seas, and
Dr. Grenfell is to the fishermen of Labrador.

Hans Poulsen Egede, the apostle of Greenland, was a Norwegian of
Danish descent. He was born in the Northlands, in the parish of
Trondenaes, on January 31, 1686. His grandfather and his father
before him had been clergymen in Denmark, the former in the town of
West Egede, whence the name. Graduated in a single year from the
University of Copenhagen, "at which," his teachers bore witness, "no
one need wonder who knows the man," he became at twenty-two pastor
of a parish up in the Lofoden Islands, where the fabled maelstrom
churns. Eleven years he preached to the poor fisherfolk on Sunday,
and on week-days helped his parishioners rebuild the old church.
When it was finished and the bishop came to consecrate it, he chided
Egede because the altar was too fine; it must have cost more than
they could afford.

"It did not cost anything," was his reply. "I made it myself."

No wonder his fame went far. When the church bell of Vaagen called,
boats carrying Sunday-clad fishermen were seen making for the island
from every point of the compass. Great crowds flocked to his church;
great enough to arouse the jealousy of neighboring preachers who
were not so popular, and they made it so unpleasant that his wife at
last tired of it. They little dreamed that they were industriously
paving the way for his greater work and for his undying fame.

The sea that surges against that rockbound coast ever called its
people out in quest of adventure. Some who went nine hundred years
ago found a land in the far Northwest barred by great icebergs; but
once inside the barrier, they saw deep fjords like their own at
home, to which the mountains sloped down, covered with a wealth of
lovely flowers. On green meadows antlered deer were grazing, the
salmon leaped in brawling brooks, and birds called for their mates
in the barrens. Above it all towered snow-covered peaks. They saw
only the summer day; they did not know how brief it was, and how
long the winter night, and they called the country Greenland. They
built their homes there, and other settlers came. They were hardy
men, bred in a harsh climate, and they stayed. They built churches
and had their priests and bishops, for Norway was Christian by that
time. And they prospered after their fashion. They even paid Peter's
Pence to Rome. There is a record that their contribution, being in
kind, namely, walrus teeth, was sold in 1386 by the Pope's agent to
a merchant in Flanders for twelve livres, fourteen sous. They kept
up communication with their kin across the seas until the Black
Death swept through the Old World in the Fourteenth Century; Norway,
when it was gone, was like a vast tomb. Two-thirds of its people lay
dead. Those who were left had enough to do at home; and Greenland
was forgotten.

The seasons passed, and the savages, with whom the colonists had
carried on a running feud, came out of the frozen North and
overwhelmed them. Dim traditions that were whispered among the
natives for centuries told of that last fight. It was the Ragnarok
of the Northmen. Not one was left to tell the tale. Long years
after, when fishing vessels landed on that desolate coast, they
found a strange and hostile people in possession. No one had ever
dared to settle there since.

This last Egede knew, but little more. He believed that there were
still settlements on the inaccessible east coast of Greenland where
descendants of the old Northmen lived, cut off from all the world,
sunk into ignorance and godlessness,--men and women who had once
known the true light,--and his heart yearned to go to their rescue.
Waking and dreaming, he thought of nothing else. The lamp in his
quiet study shone out over the sea at night when his people were
long asleep. Their pastor was poring over old manuscripts and the
logs of whalers that had touched upon Greenland. From Bergen he
gathered the testimony of many sailors. None of them had ever seen
traces of, or heard of, the old Northmen.

To his bishop went Egede with his burden. Ever it rang in his ears:
"God has chosen you to bring them back to the light." The bishop
listened and was interested. Yes, that was the land from which
seafarers in a former king's time had brought home golden sand.
There might be more. It couldn't be far from Cuba and Hispaniola,
those golden coasts. If one were to go equipped for trading, no
doubt a fine stroke of business might be done. Thus the Right
Reverend Bishop Krog of Trondhjem, and Egede went home,

At home his friends scouted him, said he was going mad to think of
giving up his living on such a fool's chase. His wife implored him
to stay, and with a heavy heart Egede was about to abandon his
purpose when his jealous neighbor, whose parishioners had been going
to hear Egede preach, stirred up such trouble that his wife was glad
to go. She even urged him to, and he took her at her word. They
moved to Bergen, and from that port they sailed on May 3, 1721, on
the ship _Haabet_ (the Hope), with another and smaller vessel as
convoy, forty-six souls all told, bound for the unknown North. The
Danish King had made Egede missionary to the Greenlanders on a
salary of three hundred daler a year, the same amount which Egede
himself contributed of his scant store toward the equipment. The
bishop's plan had prevailed; the mission was to be carried by the
expected commerce, and upon that was to be built a permanent

Early in June they sighted land, but the way to it was barred by
impassable ice. A whole month they sailed to and fro, trying vainly
for a passage. At last they found an opening and slipped through,
only to find themselves shut in, with towering icebergs closing
around them. As they looked fearfully out over the rail, their
convoy signalled that she had struck, and the captain of _Haabet_
cried out that all was lost. In the tumult of terror that succeeded,
Egede alone remained calm. Praying for succor where there seemed to
be none, he remembered the One Hundred and Seventh Psalm: "He
brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake
their bands in sunder." And the morning dawned clear, the ice was
moving and their prison widening. On July 3, _Haabet_ cleared the
last ice-reef, and the shore lay open before them.

The Eskimos came out in their kayaks, and the boldest climbed aboard
the ship. In one boat sat an old man who refused the invitation. He
paddled about the vessel, mumbling darkly in a strange tongue. He
was an Angekok, one of the native medicine-men of whom presently
Egede was to know much more. As he stood upon the deck and looked at
these strangers for whose salvation he had risked all, his heart
fell. They were not the stalwart Northmen he had looked for, and
their jargon had no homelike sound. But a great wave of pity swept
over him, and the prayer that rose to his lips was for strength to
be their friend and their guide to the light.

Not at once did the way open for the coveted friendship with the
Eskimos. While they thought the strangers came only to trade they
were hospitable enough, but when they saw them build, clearly intent
on staying, they made signs that they had better go. They pointed to
the sun that sank lower toward the horizon every day, and shivered
as if from extreme cold, and they showed their visitors the
icebergs and the snow, making them understand that it would cover
the house by and by. When it all availed nothing and the winter came
on, they retired into their huts and cut the acquaintance of the
white men. They were afraid that they had come to take revenge for
the harm done their people in the olden time. There was nothing for
it, then, but that Egede must go to them, and this he did.

They seized their spears when they saw him coming, but he made signs
that he was their friend. When he had nothing else to give them, he
let them cut the buttons from his coat. Throughout the fifteen years
he spent in Greenland Egede never wore furs, as did the natives. The
black robe he thought more seemly for a clergyman, to his great
discomfort. He tells in his diary and in his letters that often when
he returned from his winter travels it could stand alone when he
took it off, being frozen stiff. After a while he got upon
neighborly terms with the Eskimos; but, if anything, the discomfort
was greater. They housed him at night in their huts, where the filth
and the stench were unendurable. They showed their special regard
by first licking off the piece of seal they put before him, and if
he rejected it they were hurt. Their housekeeping, of which he got
an inside view, was embarrassing in its simplicity. The dish-washing
was done by the dogs licking the kettles clean. Often, after a night
or two in a hut that held half a dozen families, he was compelled to
change his clothes to the skin in an open boat or out on the snow.
But the alternative was to sleep out in a cold that sometimes froze
his pillow to the bed and the tea-cup to the table even in his own
home. Above all, he must learn their language.

It proved a difficult task, for the Eskimo tongue was both very
simple and very complex. In all the things pertaining to their daily
life it was exceedingly complex. For instance, to catch one kind of
fish was expressed by one word, to catch another kind in quite
different terms. They had one word for catching a young seal,
another for catching an old one. When it came to matters of moral
and spiritual import, the language was poor to desperation. Egede's
instruction began when he caught the word "kine"--what is it? And
from that time on he learned every day; but the pronunciation was as
varied as the workaday vocabulary, and it was an unending task.

It proceeded with many interruptions from the Angekoks, who tried
more than once to bewitch him, but finally gave it up, convinced
that he was a great medicine-man himself, and therefore
invulnerable. But before that they tried to foment a regular mutiny,
the colony being by that time well under way, and Egede had to
arrest and punish the leaders. The natives naturally clung to them,
and when Egede had mastered their language and tried to make clear
that the Angekoks deceived them when they pretended to go to the
other world for advice, they demurred. "Did you ever see them go?"
he asked. "Well, have you seen this God of yours of whom you speak
so much?" was their reply. When Egede spoke of spiritual gifts, they
asked for good health and blubber: "Our Angekoks give us that."
Hell-fire was much in theological evidence in those days, but among
the Eskimos it was a failure as a deterrent. They listened to the
account of it eagerly and liked the prospect. When at length they
became convinced that Egede knew more than their Angekoks, they came
to him with the request that he would abolish winter. Very likely
they thought that one who had such knowledge of the hot place ought
to have influence enough with the keeper of it to obtain this favor.

It was not an easy task, from any point of view, to which he had put
his hands. As that first winter wore away there were gloomy days and
nights, and they were not brightened when, with the return of the
sun, no ship arrived from Denmark. The Dutch traders came, and
opened their eyes wide when they found Egede and his household safe
and even on friendly terms with the Eskimos. Pelesse--the natives
called the missionary that, as the nearest they could come to the
Danish _praest_ (priest)--Pelesse was not there after blubber, they
told the Dutchmen, but to teach them about heaven and of "Him up
there," who had made them and wanted them home with Him again. So he
had not worked altogether in vain. But the brief summer passed, and
still no relief ship. The crew of _Haabet_ clamored to go home, and
Egede had at last to give a reluctant promise that if no ship came
in two weeks, he would break up. His wife alone refused to take a
hand in packing. The ship was coming, she insisted, and at the last
moment it did come. A boat arriving after dark brought the first
word of it. The people ashore heard voices speaking in Danish, and
flew to Egede, who had gone to bed, with the news. The ship brought
good cheer. The Government was well disposed. Trading and preaching
were to go on together, as planned. Joyfully then they built a
bigger and a better house, and called their colony Godthaab (Good

The work was now fairly under way. Of the energy and the hardships
it entailed, even we in our day that have heard so much of Arctic
exploration can have but a faint conception. Shut in on the coast of
eternal ice and silence,--silence, save when in summer the Arctic
rivers were alive, and crash after crash announced that the glaciers
coming down from the inland mountains were "casting their calves,"
the great icebergs, upon the ocean,--the colonists counted the days
from the one when that year's ship was lost to sight till the
returning spring brought the next one, their only communication with
their far-off home. In summer the days were sometimes burning hot,
but the nights always bitterly cold. In winter, says Egede, hot
water spilled on the table froze as it ran, and the meat they cooked
was often frozen at the bone when set on the table. Summer and
winter Egede was on his travels between Sundays, sometimes in the
trader's boat, more often the only white man with one or two Eskimo
companions, seeking out the people. When night surprised him with no
native hut in sight, he pulled the boat on some desert shore and,
commending his soul to God, slept under it. Once he and his son
found an empty hut, and slept there in the darkness. Not until day
came again did they know that they had made their bed on the frozen
bodies of dead men who had once been the occupants of the house, and
had died they never knew how. Peril was everywhere. Again and again
his little craft was wrecked. Once the house blew down over their
heads in one of the dreadful winter storms that ravage those high
latitudes. Often he had to sit on the rail of his boat, and let his
numbed feet hang into the sea to restore feeling in them. On land he
sometimes waded waist-deep in snow, climbed mountains and slid down
into valleys, having but the haziest notion of where he would land.
At home his brave wife sat alone, praying for his safety and
listening to every sound that might herald his return. Tremble and
doubt they did, Egede owns, but they never flinched. Their work was
before them, and neither thought of turning back.

The Eskimos soon came to know that Egede was their friend. When his
boat entered a fjord where they were fishing, and his rowers shouted
out that the good priest had come who had news of God, they dropped
their work and flocked out to meet him. Then he spoke to a floating
congregation, simply as if they were children, and, as with Him
whose message he bore, "the people heard him gladly." They took him
to their sick, and asked him to breathe upon them, which he did to
humor them, until he found out that it was an Angekok practice,
whereupon he refused. Once, after he had spoken of the raising of
Lazarus from the dead, they took him to a new-made grave and asked
him, too, to bring back their dead. They brought him a blind man to
be healed. Egede looked upon them in sorrowful pity. "I can do
nothing," he said; "but if he believes in Jesus, He has the power
and can do it."

"I do believe," shouted the blind man: "let Him heal me." It
occurred to Egede, perhaps as a mere effort at cleanliness, to wash
his eyes in cognac, and he sent him away with words of comfort. He
did not see his patient again for thirteen years. Then he was in a
crowd of Eskimos who came to Godthaab. The man saw as well as Egede.

"Do you remember?" he said, "you washed my eyes with sharp water,
and the Son of God in whom I believed, He made me to see."

Children the Eskimos were in their idolatry, and children they
remained as Christians. By Egede's prayers they set great store.
"You ask for us," they told him. "God does not hear us; He does not
understand Eskimo." Of God they spoke as "Him up there." They
believed that the souls of the dead went up on the rainbow, and,
reaching the moon that night, rested there in the moon's house, on a
bench covered with the white skins of young polar bears. There they
danced and played games, and the northern lights were the young
people playing ball. Afterward they lived in houses on the shore of
a big lake overshadowed by a snow mountain. When the waters ran over
the edge of the lake, it rained on earth. When the "moon was dark,"
it was down on earth catching seal for a living. Thunder was caused
by two old women shaking a dried sealskin between them; the
lightning came when they turned the white side out. The "Big Nail"
we have heard of as the Eskimos' Pole, was a high-pointed mountain
in the Farthest North on which the sky rested and turned around with
the sun, moon, and stars. Up there the stars were much bigger.
Orion's Belt was so near that you had to carry a whip to drive him

The women were slaves. An Eskimo might have as many wives as he saw
fit; they were his, and it was nobody's business. But adultery was
unknown. The seventh commandment in Egede's translation came to
read, "One wife alone you shall have and love." The birth of a girl
was greeted with wailing. When grown, she was often wooed by
violence. If she fled from her admirer, he cut her feet when he
overtook her, so that she could run no more. The old women were
denounced as witches who drove the seals away, and were murdered. An
Eskimo who was going on a reindeer hunt, and found his aged mother a
burden, took her away and laid her in an open grave. Returning on
the third day, he heard her groaning yet, and smothered her with a
big stone. He tried to justify himself to Egede by saying that "she
died hard, and it was a pity not to speed her." Yet they buried a
dog's head with a child, so that the dog, being clever, could run
ahead and guide the little one's steps to heaven.

They could count no further than five; at a stretch they might get
to twenty, on their fingers and toes, but there they stopped.
However, they were not without resources. It was the day of long
Sunday services, and the Eskimos were a restless people. When the
sermon dragged, they would go up to Egede and make him measure on
their arms how much longer the talk was going to be. Then they
tramped back to their seats and sat listening with great attention,
all the time moving one hand down the arm, checking off the
preacher's progress. If they got to the finger-tips before he
stopped, they would shake their heads sourly and go back for a
remeasurement. No wonder Egede put his chief hope in the children,
whom he gathered about him in flocks.

For all that, the natives loved him. There came a day that brought
this message from the North: "Say to the speaker to come to us to
live, for the other strangers who come here can only talk to us of
blubber, blubber, blubber, and we also would hear of the great
Creator." Egede went as far as he could, but was compelled by ice
and storms to turn back after weeks of incredible hardships. The
disappointment was the more severe to him because he had never quite
given up his hope of finding remnants of the ancient Norse
settlements. The fact that the old records spoke of a West Bygd
(settlement) and an East Bygd had misled many into believing that
the desolate east coast had once been colonized. Not until our own
day was this shown to be an error, when Danish explorers searched
that coast for a hundred miles and found no other trace of
civilization than a beer bottle left behind by the explorer

Egede's hope had been that Greenland might be once more colonized by
Christian people. When the Danish Government, after some years, sent
up a handful of soldiers, with a major who took the title of
governor, to give the settlement official character as a trading
station, they sent with them twenty unofficial "Christians," ten men
out of the penitentiary and as many lewd and drunken women from the
treadmill, who were married by lot before setting sail, to give the
thing a halfway decent look. They were good enough for the Eskimos,
they seem to have thought at Copenhagen. There followed a terrible
winter, during which mutiny and murder were threatened. "It is a
pity," writes the missionary, "that while we sleep secure among the
heathen savages, with so-called Christian people our lives are not
safe." As a matter of fact they were not, for the soldiers joined in
the mutiny against Egede as the cause of their having to live in
such a place, and had not sickness and death smitten the
malcontents, neither he nor the governor would have come safe
through the winter. On the Eskimos this view of the supposed fruits
of Christian teaching made its own impression. After seeing a woman
scourged on shipboard for misbehavior, they came innocently enough
to Egede and suggested that some of their best Angekoks be sent down
to Denmark to teach the people to be sober and decent.

There came a breathing spell after ten years of labor in what had
often enough seemed to him the spiritual as well as physical
ice-barrens of the North, when Egede surveyed a prosperous mission,
with trade established, a hundred and fifty children christened and
schooled, and many of their elders asking to be baptized. In the
midst of his rejoicing the summer's ship brought word from Denmark
that the King was dead, and orders from his successor to abandon the
station. Egede might stay with provisions for one year, if there was
enough left over after fitting out the ship; but after that he would
receive no further help.

When the Eskimos heard the news, they brought their little children
to the mission. "These will not let you go," they said; and he
stayed. His wife, whom hardship and privation and the lonely waiting
for her husband in the long winter nights had at last broken down,
refused to leave him, though she sadly needed the care of a
physician. A few of the sailors were persuaded to stay another year.
"So now," Egede wrote in his diary when, on July 31, 1731, he had
seen the ship sail away with all his hopes, "I am left alone with my
wife and three children, ten sailors and eight Eskimos, girls and
boys who have been with us from the start. God let me live to see
the blessed day that brings good news once more from home." His
prayer was heard. The next summer brought word that the mission was
to be continued, partly because Egede had strained every nerve to
send home much blubber and many skins. But it was as a glimpse of
the sun from behind dark clouds. His greatest trials trod hard upon
the good news.

To rouse interest in the mission Egede had sent home young Eskimos
from time to time. Three of these died of smallpox in Denmark. The
fourth came home and brought the contagion, all unknown, to his
people. It was the summer fishing season, when the natives travel
much and far, and wherever he went they flocked about him to hear of
the "Great Lord's land," where the houses were so tall that one
could not shoot an arrow over them, and to ask a multitude of
questions: Was the King very big? Had he caught many whales? Was he
strong and a great Angekok? and much more of the same kind. In a
week the disease broke out among the children at the mission, and
soon word came from islands and fjords where the Eskimos were
fishing, of death and misery unspeakable. It was virgin soil for the
plague, and it was terribly virulent, striking down young and old in
every tent and hut. More than two thousand natives, one-fourth of
the whole population, died that summer. Of two hundred families near
the mission only thirty were left alive. A cry of terror and anguish
rose throughout the settlements. No one knew what to do. In vain did
Egede implore them to keep their sick apart. In fever delirium they
ran out in the ice-fields or threw themselves into the sea. A wild
panic seized the survivors, and they fled to the farthest tribes,
carrying the seeds of death with them wherever they went. Whole
villages perished, and their dead lay unburied. Utter desolation
settled like a pall over the unhappy land.

Through it all a single ray of hope shone. The faith that Egede had
preached all those years, and the life he had lived with them, bore
their fruit. They had struck deeper than he thought. They crowded to
him, all that could, as their one friend. Dying mothers held their
suckling babes up to him and died content. In a deserted island camp
a half-grown girl was found alone with three little children. Their
father was dead. When he knew that for him and the baby there was no
help, he went to a cave and, covering himself and the child with
skins, lay down to die. His parting words to his daughter were,
"Before you have eaten the two seals and the fish I have laid away
for you, Pelesse will come, no doubt, and take you home. For he
loves you and will take care of you." At the mission every nook and
cranny was filled with the sick and the dying. Egede and his wife
nursed them day and night. Childlike, when death approached, they
tried to put on their best clothes, or even to have new ones made,
that they might please God by coming into His presence looking fine.
When Egede had closed their eyes, he carried the dead in his arms to
the vestibule, where in the morning the men who dug the graves found
them. At the sight of his suffering the scoffers were dumb. What his
preaching had not done to win them over, his sorrows did. They were
at last one.

That dreadful year left Egede a broken man. In his dark moments he
reproached himself with having brought only misery to those he had
come to help and serve. One thorn which one would think he might
have been spared rankled deep in it all. Some missionaries of a
dissenting sect--Egede was Lutheran--had come with the smallpox ship
to set up an establishment of their own. At their head was a man
full of misdirected zeal and quite devoid of common-sense, who
engaged Egede in a wordy dispute about justification by faith and
condemned him and his work unsparingly. He had grave doubts whether
he was in truth a "converted man." It came to an end when they
themselves fell ill, and Egede and his wife had the last word, after
their own fashion. They nursed the warlike brethren through their
illness with loving ministrations and gave them back to life, let us
hope, wiser and better men.

At Christmas, 1735, Egede's faithful wife, Gertrude, closed her
eyes. She had gone out with him from home and kin to a hard and
heathen land, and she had been his loyal helpmeet in all his trials.
Now it was all over. That winter scurvy laid him upon a bed of pain
and, lying there, his heart turned to the old home. His son had come
from Copenhagen to help, happily yet while his mother lived. To him
he would give over the work. In Denmark he could do more for it than
in Greenland, now he was alone. On July 29, 1736, he preached for
the last time to his people and baptized a little Eskimo to whom
they gave his name, Hans. The following week he sailed for home,
carrying, as all his earthly wealth, his beloved dead and his
motherless children.

The Eskimos gathered on the shore and wept as the ship bore their
friend away. They never saw him again. He lived in Denmark eighteen
years, training young men to teach the Eskimos. They gave him the
title of bishop, but so little to live on that he was forced in his
last days to move from Copenhagen to a country town, to make both
ends meet. His grave was forgotten by the generation that came after
him. No one knows now where it is; but in ice-girt Greenland, where
the northern lights on wintry nights flash to the natives their
message from the souls that have gone home, his memory will live
when that of the North Pole seeker whom the world applauds is long
forgotten. Hans Egede was their great man, their hero. He was
more,--he was their friend.


A great and wise woman had, after ages of war and bloodshed, united
the crowns of the three Scandinavian kingdoms upon one head. In the
strong city of Kalmar, around which the tide of battle had ever
raged hottest, the union was declared in the closing days of the
Thirteenth Century. Norwegian, Swede, and Dane were thenceforth to
stand together, to the end of time; so they resolved. It was all a
vain dream. Queen Margaret was not cold in her grave before the
kingdoms fell apart. Norway clung to Denmark, but Sweden went her
own way. In the wars of two generations the Danish kings won back
the Swedish crown and lost it, again and again, until in 1520 King
Christian II clutched it for the last time, at the head of a
conquering army. He celebrated his victory with a general amnesty,
and bade the Swedish nobles to a great feast, held at the capital in

Christian is one of the unsolved riddles of history. Ablest but
unhappiest of all his house, he was an instinctive democrat,
sincerely solicitous for the welfare of the plain people, but
incredibly cruel and faithless when the dark mood seized him. The
coronation feast ended with the wholesale butchery of the
unsuspecting nobles. Hundreds were beheaded in the public square;
for days it was filled with the slain. It is small comfort that the
wicked priest who egged the King on to the dreadful deed was himself
burned at the stake by the master he had betrayed. The Stockholm
Massacre drowned the Kalmar Union in its torrents of blood.
Retribution came swiftly. Above the peal of the Christmas bells rose
the clash and clangor of armed hosts pouring forth from the mountain
fastnesses to avenge the foul treachery. They were led by Gustav[1]
Eriksson Vasa, a young noble upon whose head Christian had set a

[Footnote 1: The older spelling of this name is followed here in
preference to the more modern Gustaf. Gustav Vasa himself wrote his
name so.]

The Vasas were among the oldest and best of the great Swedish
families. It was said of them that they ever loved a friend, hated
a foe, and never forgot. Gustav was born in the castle of
Lindholmen, when the news that the world had grown suddenly big by
the discovery of lands beyond the unknown seas was still ringing
through Europe, on May 12, 1496. He was brought up in the home of
his kinsman, the Swedish patriot Sten Sture, and early showed the
fruits of his training. "See what I will do," he boasted in school
when he was thirteen, "I will go to Dalecarlia, rouse the people,
and give the Jutes (Danes) a black eye." Master Ivar, his Danish
teacher, gave him a whaling for that. White with anger, the boy
drove his dirk through the book, nailing it to the desk, and stalked
out of the room. Master Ivar's eyes followed the slim figure in the
scarlet cloak, and he sighed wearily "_nobilium nati nolunt aliquid
pati_,--the children of the great will put up with nothing."

Hardly yet of age, he served under the banner of Sten Sture against
King Christian, and was one of six hostages sent to the King when he
asked an interview of the Swedish leader. But Christian stayed away
from the meeting and carried the hostages off to Denmark against his
plighted faith. There Gustav was held prisoner a year. All that
winter rumors of great armaments against Sweden filled the land. He
heard the young bloods from the court prate about bending the stiff
necks in the country across the Sound, and watched them throw dice
for Swedish castles and Swedish women,--part of the loot when his
fatherland should be laid under the yoke. Ready to burst with anger
and grief, he sat silent at their boasts. In the spring he escaped,
disguised as a cattle-herder, and made his way to Luebeck, where he
found refuge in the house of the wealthy merchant Kort Koenig.

They soon heard in Denmark where he was, and the King sent letters
demanding his surrender; but the burghers of the Hanse town hated
Christian with cause, and would not give him up. Then came Gustav's
warder who had gone bail for him in sixteen hundred gulden, and
pleaded for his prisoner.

"I am not a prisoner," was Gustav's retort, "I am a hostage, for
whom the Danish king pledged his oath and faith. If any one can
prove that I was taken captive in a fight or for just cause, let him
stand forth. Ambushed was I, and betrayed." The Luebeck men thought
of the plots King Christian was forever hatching against them. Now,
if he succeeded in getting Sweden under his heel, their turn would
come next. Better, they said, send this Gustav home to his own
country, perchance he might keep the King busy there; by which they
showed their good sense. His ex-keeper was packed off back home, and
Gustav reached Sweden, sole passenger on a little coast-trader, on
May 31, 1520. A stone marks the spot where he landed, near Kalmar;
for then struck the hour of Sweden's freedom.

But not yet for many weary months did the people hear its summons.
Swedish manhood was at its lowest ebb. Stockholm was held by the
widow of Sten Sture with a half-famished garrison. In Kalmar another
woman, Anna Bjelke, commanded, but her men murmured, and the fall of
the fortress was imminent. When Gustav Vasa, who had slipped in
unseen, exhorted them to stand fast, they would have mobbed him. He
left as he had come, the day before the surrender. Travelling by
night, he made his way inland, finding everywhere fear and distrust.
The King had promised that if they would obey him "they should
never want for herring and salt," so they told Gustav, and when he
tried to put heart into them and rouse their patriotism, they took
up bows and arrows and bade him be gone. Indeed, there were not
wanting those who shot at him. Like a hunted deer he fled from
hamlet to hamlet. Such friends as he had left advised him to throw
himself upon the King's mercy; told him of the amnesty proclaimed.
But Gustav's thoughts dwelt grimly among the Northern mountaineers
whom as a boy he had bragged he would set against the tyrant.
Insensibly he shaped his course toward their country.

He was with his brother-in-law, Joachim Brahe, when the King's
message bidding him to the coronation came. Gustav begged him not to
go, but Brahe's wife and children were within Christian's reach, and
he did not dare stay away. When he left, the fugitive hid in his
ancestral home at Raefsnaes on lake Maelar. There one of Brahe's men
brought him news of the massacre in which his master and Gustav's
father had perished. His mother, grandmother, and sisters were
dragged away to perish in Danish dungeons. On Gustav's head the King
had set a price, and spies were even then on his track.

Gustav's mind was made up. What was there now to wait for? Clad as a
peasant, he started for Dalecarlia with a single servant to keep him
company, but before he reached the mines the man stole all his money
and ran away. He had to work now to live, and hired out to Anders
Persson, the farmer of Rankhyttan. He had not been there many days
when one of the women saw an embroidered sleeve stick out under his
coat and told her master that the new hand was not what he pretended
to be. The farmer called him aside, and Gustav told him frankly who
he was. Anders Persson kept his secret, but advised him not to stay
long in any one place lest his enemies get wind of him. He slipped
away as soon as it was dark, nearly lost his life by breaking
through the ice, but reached Ornaes on the other side of Lake Runn,
half dead with cold and exposure. He knew that another Persson who
had been with him in the war lived there, and found his house.
Arendt Persson was a rascal. He received him kindly, but when he
slept harnessed his horse and went to Mans Nilsson, a neighbor,
with the news: the King's reward would make them both rich, if he
would help him seize the outlawed man.

Mans Nilsson held with the Danes, but he was no traitor, and he
showed the fellow the door. He went next to the King's sheriff; he
would be bound to help. To be sure, he would claim the lion's share
of the blood-money, but something was better than nothing. The
sheriff came soon enough with a score of armed men. But Arendt
Persson had not reckoned with his honest wife. She guessed his
errand and let Gustav down from the window to the rear gate, where
she had a sleigh and team in waiting. When the sheriff's posse
surrounded the house, Gustav was well on his way to Master Jon, the
parson of Svaerdsjoe, who was his friend. Tradition has it that while
Christian was King, the brave little woman never dared show her face
in the house again.

Master Jon was all right, but news of the man-hunt had run through
the country, and when the parson's housekeeper one day saw him hold
the wash-bowl for his guest she wanted to know why he was so polite
to a common clod. Master Jon told her that it was none of her
business, but that night he piloted his friend across the lake to
Isala, where Sven Elfsson lived, a gamekeeper who knew the country
and could be trusted. The good parson was hardly out of sight on his
way back when the sheriff's men came looking for Gustav. It did not
occur to them that the yokel who stood warming himself by the stove
might be the man they were after. But the gamekeeper's wife was
quick to see his peril. She was baking bread and had just put the
loaves into the oven with a long-handled spade. "Here, you lummox!"
she cried, and whacked him soundly over the back with it, "what are
ye standing there gaping at? Did ye never see folks afore? Get back
to your work in the barn." And Gustav, taking the hint, slunk out of
the room.

For three days after that he lay hidden under a fallen tree in the
snow and bitter cold; but even there he was not safe, and the
gamekeeper took him deeper into the forest, where a big spruce grew
on a hill in the middle of a frozen swamp. There no one would seek
him till he could make a shift to get him out of the country. The
hill is still there; the people call it the King's Hill, and not
after King Christian, either. But in those long nights when Gustav
Vasa listened to the hungry wolves howling in the woods and nosing
about his retreat, it was hardly kingly conceits his mind brooded
over. His father and kinsmen were murdered; his mother and sister in
the pitiless grasp of the tyrant who was hunting him to his death;
he, the last of his race, alone and forsaken by his own. Bitter
sorrow filled his soul at the plight of his country that had fallen
so low. But the hope of the young years came to the rescue: all was
not lost yet. And in the morning came Sven, the gamekeeper, with a
load of straw, at the bottom of which he hid him. So no one would be
the wiser.

It was well he did it, for half-way to the next town some prowling
soldiers overtook them, and just to make sure that there was nothing
in the straw, prodded the load with their spears. Nothing stirred,
and they went on their way. But a spear had gashed Gustav's leg, and
presently blood began to drip in the snow. Sven had his wits about
him. He got down, and cut the fetlock of one of the beasts with his
jack-knife so that it bled and no one need ask questions. When they
got to Marnaes, Gustav was weak from the loss of blood, but a
friendly surgeon was found to bind up his wounds.

Farther and farther north he fled, keeping to the deep woods in the
day, until he reached Raettwik. Feeling safer there, he spoke to the
people coming from church one Sunday and implored them to shake off
the Danish yoke. But they only shook their heads. He was a stranger
among them, and they would talk it over with their neighbors. Not
yet were his wanderings over. To Mora he went next, where Parson
Jakob hid him in a lonely farm-house. Evil chance led the spies
direct to his hiding-place, and once more it was the housewife whose
quick wit saved him. Dame Margit was brewing the Yule beer when she
saw them coming. In a trice she had Gustav in the cellar and rolled
the brewing vat over the trap-door. Then they might search as they
saw fit; there was nothing there. The first blood was spilled for
Gustav Vasa while he was at Mora, and it was a Dane who did it. He
was the kind that liked to see fair play; when an under-sheriff came
looking for the hunted man there, the Dane waylaid and killed him.

Christmas morning, when Master Jakob had preached his sermon in the
church, Gustav spoke to the congregation out in the snow-covered
churchyard. A gravestone was his pulpit. Eloquent always, his
sorrows and wrongs and the memory of the hard months lent wings to
his words. His speech lives yet in Dalecarlia, for now he was among
its mountains.

"It is good to see this great meeting," he said, "but when I think
of our fatherland I am filled with grief. At what peril I am here
with you, you know who see me hounded as a wild beast day by day,
hour by hour. But our beloved country is more to me than life. How
long must we be thralls, we who were born to freedom? Those of you
who are old remember what persecution Swedish men and women have
suffered from the Danish kings. The young have heard the story of it
and have learned from they were little children to hate and resist
such rule. These tyrants have laid waste our land and sucked its
marrow, until nothing remains for us but empty houses and lean
fields. Our very lives are not safe." He called upon them to rise
and drive the invaders out. If they wanted a leader, he was ready.

His words stirred the mountaineers deeply. Cries of anger were
heard in the crowd; it was not the first time they had taken up arms
in the cause of freedom. But when they talked it over, the older
heads prevailed; there had not been time enough to hear both sides.
They told him that they would not desert the King; he must expect
nothing of them.

Broken-hearted and desperate, Gustav Vasa turned toward the
Norwegian frontier. He would leave the country for which there was
no hope. While the table in the poorest home groaned with Yuletide
cheer, Sweden's coming king hid under an old bridge, outcast and
starving, till it was safe to leave. Then he took up his weary
journey alone. The winter cold had grown harder as the days grew
shorter. Famished wolves dogged his steps, but he outran them on his
snow-shoes. By night he slept in some wayside shelter, such as they
build for travellers in that desolate country, or in the brush. The
snow grew deeper, and the landscape wilder, as he went. For days he
had gone without food, when he saw the sun set behind the lofty
range that was to bar him out of home and hope forever. Even there
was no abiding place for him. What thoughts of his vanished dream,
perchance of the distant lands across the seas where the tyrant's
hand could not reach him, were in his mind, who knows, as he bent
his strength to the last and hardest stage of his journey? He was
almost there, when he heard shouts behind him and turned to sell his
life dear. Two men on skis were calling to him. They were unarmed,
and he waited to let them come up.

Their story was soon told. They had come to call him back. After he
left, an old soldier whom they knew in Mora had come from the south
and told them worse things than even Gustav knew. It was all true
about the Stockholm murder; worse, the King was having gallows set
up in every county to hang all those on who said him nay; a heavy
tax was laid upon the peasants, and whoever did not pay was to have
a hand or foot cut off; they could still follow the plow. And now
they had sent away the one man who could lead against the Danes,
with the forests full of outlawed men who would have enlisted under
him as soon as ever the cry was raised! While the men of Dalecarlia
were debating the news among themselves orders came from the
bailiff at Westeras that the tax was to be paid forthwith. That
night runners were sent on the trail of Gustav to tell him to come
back; they were ready.

When he came, it was as if a mighty storm swept through the
mountains. The people rose in a body. Every day whole parishes threw
off their allegiance to King Christian. Sunday after Sunday Gustav
spoke to the people at their meeting-houses, and they raised their
spears and swore to follow him to death. Two months after the murder
in Stockholm an army of thousands that swelled like an avalanche was
marching south, and province after province joined in the rebellion.
King Christian's host met them at Brunbaeck in April. One of its
leaders asked the country folk what kind of men the Dalecarlians
were, and when he was told that they drank water and ate bread made
of bark, he cried out, "Such a people the devil himself couldn't
whip; let us get out." But his advice was not taken and the Danish
army was wiped out. Gustav halted long enough to drill his men and
give them time to temper their arrows and spears, then he fell upon
Westeras and beat the Danes there. The peasant mob scattered too
soon to loot the town, and the King's men came back with a sudden
rush. Only Gustav's valor and presence of mind saved the day that
had been won once from being lost again.

When it was seen that the Danes were not invincible, the whole
country rose, took the scattered castles, and put their defenders to
the sword. Gustav bore the rising on his shoulders from first to
last. He was everywhere, ordering and leading. His fiery eloquence
won over the timorous; his irresistible advance swept every obstacle
aside. In May he took Upsala; by midsummer he was besieging
Stockholm itself. Most of the other cities were in his hands. The
Hanse towns had found out what this Gustav could do at home. They
sang his praise, but as for backing him with their purse, that was
another matter. They refused to lend Gustav two siege-guns when he
lay before Stockholm, though he offered to pledge a castle for each.
He had no money. Happily his enemy, Christian, was even worse off.
Neither pledges nor promises could get him the money he needed. His
chief men were fighting among themselves and made peace only to turn
upon him. Within a year after the Swedish people had chosen Gustav
Vasa to be Regent at the Diet of Vadstena, Christian went into exile
and, when he tried to get his kingdom back, into prison, where he
languished the rest of his life. He fully deserved his fate. Yet he
meant well and had done some good things in his day. Had he been
able to rule himself, he might have ruled others with better
success. Schoolboys remember with gratitude that he forbade teachers
to "spank their pupils overmuch and without judgment, as was their

At the Diet of Vadstena the people had offered Gustav the crown, but
he put it from him. Scarce eight months had passed since he hid
under the bridge, hunted and starving. When Stockholm had fallen
after a siege of two years and all Sweden was free, the people met
(1523) and made him King, whether or no. He still objected, but gave
in at last and was crowned.

Popular favor is fickle. Hard times came that were not made easier
by Gustav's determination to fill the royal coffers, and the very
Dalecarlians who had put him in the high seat rose against him and
served notice that if things did not mend they would have none of
him. Gustav made sure that they had no backing elsewhere, then went
up and persuaded them to be good by cutting off the heads of their
leaders, who both happened to be priests: one was even a bishop. He
had been taught in a school that always found an axe ready to hand.
Let those who lament the savagery of modern warfare consider what
happened then to a Danish fleet that tried to bring relief to
hard-pressed Stockholm. It was beaten in a fight in which six
hundred men were taken prisoners. They were all, say the accounts,
"tied hand and foot and flung overboard amid the beating of drums
and blowing of trumpets to drown their cries." The clergy fared
little better than the laymen in that age, but then it was their own
fault. In plotting and scrapping they were abreast of the worst and
took the consequences.

They were the days of the Reformation, and Gustav would not have
been human had he failed to see a way out of his money troubles by
confiscating church property. He had pawned the country's trade to
the merchants of Luebeck and there was nothing else left. Naturally
the church opposed him. The King took the bull by the horns. He
called a meeting and told the people that he was sick of it all. He
had encouraged the Reformation for their good; now, if they did not
stand by him, they might choose between him and his enemies. The
oldest priest arose at that and said that the church's property was
sacred. The King asked if the rest of them thought the same way.
Only one voice was raised, and to say yes.

"Then," said Gustav, "I don't want to be your King any more. If it
does not rain, you blame me; if the sun does not shine, you do the
same. It is always so. All of you want to be masters. After all my
trouble and labor for you, you would as lief see my head split with
an axe, though none of you dare lay hold of the handle. Give me back
what I have spent in your service and I will go away and never come
back." And go he did, to his castle, with half a dozen of his
nearest friends.

They sat and looked at one another when he was gone, and then
priests and nobles fell to arguing among themselves, all talking at
once. The plain people, the burghers and the peasants, listened
awhile, but when they got no farther, let them know that if they
couldn't settle it, they, the people, would, and in a way that would
give them little joy. The upshot of it all was that messengers were
sent to bring the King back. He made them go three times, and when
he came at last, it was as absolute master. In the ordering of the
kingdom that was made there, he became the head of the church as
well as of the state. Gustav's pen was as sharp as his tongue. When
Hans Brask, the oldest prelate in the land, who had stood stoutly by
the old regime, left the country and refused to come back, he wrote
to him: "As long as you might milk and shear your sheep, you staid
by them. When God spake and said you were to feed them, not to shear
and slaughter them, you ran away. Every honest man can judge if you
have done well." Hard words to a good old man; but there were plenty
of others who deserved them. That was the end of the hierarchy in

But not of the unruly peasants who had tasted the joys of
king-making. How kindly they took to the Reformation at the outset
one can judge from the demand of some of them that the King should
"burn or otherwise kill such as ate meat on Friday." They rose
again and again, and would listen only to the argument of force.
When the Luebeckers pressed hard for the payment of old debts, and
the treasury was empty as usual, King Gustav hit upon a new kind of
revenue. He demanded of every church in the land that it give up its
biggest bell to the funds. It was the last straw. The Dalecarlians
rose against what they deemed sacrilege, under the leadership of
Mans Nilsson and Anders Persson of Rankhyttan, the very men who had
befriended Gustav in his need, and the insurrection spread. The "War
of the Bells" was settled with the sword, and the peasants gave in.
But Gustav came of a stock that "never forgot." Two years later,
when his hands were free at home, he suddenly invaded Dalecarlia
with a powerful army, determined to "pull those weeds up by the
roots." He summoned the peasants to Thing, made a ring around them
of armed men, and gave them their choice:

"Submit now for good and all," he said, "or I will spoil the land so
that cock shall not crow nor hound bark in it again forever!"

The frightened peasants fell on their knees and begged for mercy.
He made them give up their leaders, including his former friends,
and they were all put to the sword. After that there was peace in

Gustav Vasa's long reign ended in 1560. Like his enemy, Christian
II, he was a strange mixture of contradictions. He was brave in
battle, wise in council, pious, if not a saint, clean, and merciful
when mercy fitted into his plans. His enemies called him a greedy,
suspicious despot. Greedy he was. More than eleven thousand farms
were confiscated by the crown during his reign, and he left four
thousand farms and a great fortune to his children as his personal
share. But historians have called him "the great housekeeper" who
found waste and loss and left an ordered household. He gave all for
Sweden, and all he had was at her call. It was share and share
alike, in his view. Despotic he could be, too. _L'etat c'est moi_
might have been said by him. But he did not exploit the state; he
built it. He fashioned Sweden out of a bunch of quarrelsome
provincial governments into a hereditary monarchy, as the best
way--indeed, the only way then--of giving it strength and
stability. He was suspicious because everybody had betrayed him, or
had tried to. With all that, his steady purpose was to raise and
enlighten his people and make them keep the peace, if he had to
adopt the Irishman's plan of keeping it himself with an axe. He was
the father of a line of great warriors. Gustav Adolf was his

Bent under the burden of years, he bade his people good-by at the
Diet of Stockholm, a few weeks before his death. His old eloquence
rings unimpaired in the farewell. He thanked God, who had chosen him
as His tool to set Sweden free from thralldom. Almost might he liken
himself to King David, whom God from a shepherd had made the leader
of his people. No such hope was in his heart when, forty years
before, he hid in the woods from a bloodthirsty enemy. For what he
had done wrong as king, he asked the people's pardon; it was not
done on purpose. He knew well that many thought him a hard ruler,
but the time would come when they would gladly dig him up from his
grave if they only could. And with that he went out, bowing deeply
to the Diet, the tears streaming down his face.

They saw him no more; but on his tomb the Swedish people, forgetting
all else, have written that he was the "Father of his Country."


A welcome change awaits the traveller who, having shaken off the
chill of the German Dreadnaughts at Kiel, crosses the Baltic to the
Danish Islands--a change from the dread portents of war to smiling
peace. There can be nothing more pastoral and restful than the
Seeland landscape as framed in a car window; yet he misses its chief
charm whom its folk-lore escapes--the countless legends that cling
to field and forest from days long gone. The guide-book gives scarce
a hint of them; but turn from its page and they meet you at every
step, hail you from every homestead, every copse. Nor is their story
always of peace. Here was Knud Lavard slain by his envious kinsman
for the crown, and a miraculous spring gushed forth where he fell.
Of the church they built for the pilgrims who sought it from afar
they will show you the site, but the spring dried up with the simple
old faith. Yonder, under the roof of Ringsted church, lie Denmark's
greatest dead. Not half an hour from the ferry landing at Korsoer,
your train labors past a hill crowned by a venerable cross, Holy
Anders' Hill. So saintly was that masterful priest that he was wont,
when he prayed, to hang his hat and gloves on a sunbeam as on a
hook. And woe to the land if his cross be disturbed, for then, the
peasant will tell you, the cattle die of plague and the crops fail.
A little further on, just beyond Soroe, a village church rears twin
towers above the wheat-field where the skylark soars and sings to
its nesting mate. For seven hundred years the story of that church
and its builder has been told at Danish firesides, and the time will
never come when it is forgotten.

Fjenneslev is the name of the village, and Asker Ryg[1] ruled there
in the Twelfth Century, when the king summoned his men to the war.
Bidding good-by to his wife, Sir Asker tells her to build a new
church while he is away, for the old, "with wall of clay,
straw-thatched and grim," is in ruins. And let it be worthy of the

"The roof let make of tiling red;
Of stone thou build the wall;"

and then he whispers in her ear:

"Hear thou, my Lady Inge,
Of women thou art the flower;
An' thou bearest to me a son so bold,
Set on the church a tower."

[Footnote 1: Pronounce Reeg.]

Should the child be a girl, he tells her to build only a spire, for
"modesty beseemeth a woman." Well for Sir Asker that he did not live
in our day of clamoring suffragists. He would have "views" without
doubt. But no such things troubled him while he battled in foreign
lands all summer. It was autumn when he returned and saw from afar
the swell behind which lay Fjenneslev and home. Impatiently he
spurred his horse to the brow of the hill, for no news had come of
Lady Inge those many months. The bard tells us what he saw there:

"It was the good Sir Asker Ryg;
Right merrily laughed he,
When from that green and swelling hill
Two towers did he see."

Two sons lay at the Lady Inge's breast, and all was well.

"The first one of the brothers two
They called him Esbern Snare.[2]
He grew as strong as a savage bear
And fleeter than any hare.

"The second him called they Absalon,
A bishop he at home.
He used his trusty Danish sword
As the Pope his staff at Rome."

[Footnote 2: Pronounce Snare, with a as in are. In the Danish hare
rhymes with snare, so pronounced.]

Absalon and Esbern were not twins, as tradition has it. They were
better than that. They became the great heroes of their day, and the
years have not dimmed their renown. And Absalon reached far beyond
the boundaries of little Denmark to every people that speaks the
English tongue. For it was he who, as archbishop of the North,
"strictly and earnestly" charged his friend and clerk Saxo to gather
the Danish chronicles while yet it was time, because, says Saxo, in
the preface of his monumental work, "he could no longer abide that
his fatherland, which he always honored and magnified with especial
zeal, should be without a record of the great deeds of the fathers."
And from the record Saxo wrote we have our Hamlet.

It was when they had grown great and famous that Sir Asker and his
wife built the church in thanksgiving for their boys, not when they
were born, and the way that came to light was good and wholesome.
They were about to rebuild the church, on which there had been no
towers at all since they crumbled in the middle ages, and had
decided to put on only one; for the sour critics, who are never
content in writing a people's history unless they can divest it of
all its flesh and make it sit in its bones, as it were, sneered at
the tradition and called it an old woman's tale. But they did not
shout quite so loud when, in peeling off the whitewash of the
Reformation, the mason's hammer brought forth mural paintings that
grew and grew until there stood the whole story to read on the wall,
with Sir Asker himself and the Lady Inge, clad in garments of the
Twelfth Century, bringing to the Virgin the church with the twin
towers. So the folk-lore was not so far out after all, and the
church was rebuilt with two towers, as it should be.

Under its eaves, whether of straw or tile, the two boys played their
childish games, and before long there came to join in them another
of their own age, young Valdemar, whose father, the very Knud Lavard
mentioned above, had been foully murdered a while before. It was a
time, says Saxo, in which "he must be of stout heart and strong head
who dared aspire to Denmark's crown. For in less than a hundred
years more than sixteen of her kings and their kin were either slain
without cause by their own subjects, or otherwise met a sudden
death." Sir Asker and the murdered Knud had been foster brothers,
and throughout the bloody years that followed, he and his brothers,
sons of the powerful Skjalm Hvide,[3] espoused his cause in good and
evil days, while they saw to it that no harm came to the young
prince under their roof.

[Footnote 3: Pronounced Veethe.]

The three boys, as they grew up, were bred to the stern duties of
fighting men, as was the custom of their class. Absalon, indeed, was
destined for the church; but in a country so recently won from the
old war gods, it was the church militant yet, and he wielded spear
and sword with the best of them. When, at eighteen, they sent him to
France to be taught, he did not for his theological studies neglect
the instruction of his boyhood. There he became the disciple and
friend of the Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, more powerful then than
prince or Pope, and when the abbot preached the second great
crusade, promising eternal salvation to those who took up arms
against the unbelievers, whether to wrest from them the Holy
Sepulchre or to plant the cross among the wild heathen on the
Baltic, his heart burned hot within him. It was a long way to the
Holy Land, but with the Baltic robbers his people had a grievous
score to settle. Their yells had sounded in his boyish ears as they
ravished the shores of his fatherland, penetrating with murder and
pillage almost to his peaceful home. And so, while he lent a
diligent ear to the teachings of the church, earning the name of the
"most learned clerk" in the cloister of Ste. Genevieve in Paris,
daily he laid the breviary aside and took up sword and lance,
learning the arts of modern warfare with the graces of chivalry. In
the old way of fighting, man to man, the men of the North had been
the equals of any, if not their betters; but against the new methods
of warfare their prowess availed little. Absalon, the monk, kept his
body strong while soul and mind matured. When nothing more
adventurous befell, he chopped down trees for the cloister hearths.
But oftener the clash of arms echoed in the quiet halls, or the
peaceful brethren crossed themselves as they watched him break an
unruly horse in the cloister fen. Saxo tells us that he swam easily
in full armor, and in more than one campaign in later years saved
drowning comrades who were not so well taught.

The while he watched rising all about some of the finest churches in
Christendom. It was the era of cathedral building in Europe. The
Romanesque style of architecture had reached its highest development
in the very France where he spent his young manhood's years, and the
Gothic, with its stamp of massive strength, was beginning to
displace its gentler curve. Ten years of such an environment, in a
land teeming with historic traditions, rounded out the man who set
his face toward home, bent on redeeming his people from the unjust
reproach of being mere "barbarians of the North."

It was a stricken Denmark to which he came back. Three claimants
were fighting for the crown. The land was laid waste by sea-rovers,
who saw their chance to raid defenceless homes while the men able to
bear arms were following the rival kings. The people had lost hope.
Just when Absalon returned, peace was made between the claimants.
Knud, Svend, and Valdemar, his foster brother of old, divided up the
country between them. They swore a dear oath to keep the pact, but
for all that "the three kingdoms did not last three days." The
treacherous Svend waited only for a chance to murder both his
rivals, and it came quickly, when he and Valdemar were the guests of
Knud at Roskilde. They had eaten and drunk together and were
gathered in the "Storstue," the big room of the house, when Knud saw
Svend whispering aside with his men. With a sudden foreboding of
evil, he threw his arms about Valdemar's shoulders and kissed him.
The young King, who was playing chess with one of his men, looked up
in surprise and asked what it meant. Just then Svend left the hall,
and his henchmen fell upon the two with drawn swords. Knud was cut
down at once, his head cleft in twain. Valdemar upset the table with
the candles and, wrapping his cloak about his arm to ward off the
blows that showered upon him, knocked his assailants right and left
and escaped, badly wounded.

Absalon came into the room as Knud fell and, thinking it was
Valdemar, caught him in his arms and took his wounded head in his
lap. Sitting there in utter sorrow and despair, heedless of the
tumult that raged in the darkness around him, he felt the King's
garment and knew that the man who was breathing his last in his arms
was not his friend. He laid the lifeless body down gently and left
the hall. The murderers barred his way, but he brushed their swords
and spears aside and strode forth unharmed. Valdemar had found a
horse and made for Fjenneslev, twenty miles away, with all speed,
and there Absalon met him and his brother Esbern in the morning.

King Svend sought him high and low to finish his dastardly work,
while on Thing he wailed loudly before the people that Valdemar and
Knud had tried to kill him, showing in proof of it his cloak, which
he had rent with his own sword. But Valdemar's friends were wide
awake. Esbern flew through the island on his fleet horse in
Valdemar's clothes, leading his pursuers a merry dance, and when
the young King's wound was healed, he found him a boat and ferried
him across to the mainland, where the people flocked to his
standard. When Svend would have followed, it was the Lady Inge who
scuttled his ship by night and gave her foster son the start he
needed. There followed a short and sharp struggle that ended on
Grathe Heath with the utter rout of Svend's forces. He himself was
killed, and Valdemar at last was King of all Denmark.

From that time the three friends were inseparable as in the old days
when they played about the fields of Fjenneslev. Absalon was the
keeper of the King's conscience who was not afraid to tell him the
truth when he needed to hear it. And where they were Esbern was
found, never wavering in his loyalty to either. Within a year
Absalon was made bishop of Roskilde, the chief See of Denmark. Saxo
innocently discovers to us King Valdemar's little ruse to have his
friend chosen. He was yet a very young man, scarce turned thirty,
and had not been considered at all for the vacancy. There were three
candidates, all of powerful families, and, according to
ecclesiastical law, the brethren of the chapter were the electors.
The King went to their meeting and addressed them in person. Nothing
was farther from him, he said, than to wish to interfere with their
proper rights. Each must do as his conscience dictated, unhindered.
And with that he laid on the table _four_ books with blank leaves
and bade them write down their names in them, each for his own
choice, to get the matter right on the record. The brethren thanked
him kindly and all voted "nicely together" for Absalon. So three of
the books were wasted. But presently Saxo found good use for them.

For now had come the bishop's chance of putting in practice the
great abbot's precepts. "Pray and fight" was the motto he had
written into the Knights Templars' rule, and Absalon had made it his
own. Of what use was it to build up the church at home, when any day
might see it raided by its enemies who were always watching their
chance outside? The Danish waters swarmed with pirates, the very
pagans against whom Abbot Bernard had preached his crusade. Of them
all the Wends were the worst, as they were the most powerful of the
Slav tribes that still resisted the efforts of their neighbors, the
Christian Germans, to dislodge them from their old home on the
Baltic. They lived in the island of Ruegen, fairly in sight of the
Danish shores. Every favoring wind blew them across the sea in
shoals to burn and ravage. The Danes, once the terror of the seas,
had given over roving when they accepted the White Christ in
exchange for Thor and his hammer, and now, when they would be at
peace, they were in turn beset by this relentless enemy, who burned
their homes and their crops and dragged the peaceful husbandman away
to make him a thrall or offer him up as a sacrifice to heathen
idols. More than a third of all Denmark lay waste under their
ferocious assault. Here was the blow to be struck if the country was
to have peace and the church prosperity.

The chance to strike came speedily. Absalon had been bishop only a
few months when, on the evening before Palm Sunday, word was brought
that the enemy had landed, twenty-four ship-crews strong, and were
burning and murdering as usual. Absalon marshalled his eighteen
house-carles and such of the country-folk as he could, and fell
upon the Wends, routing them utterly. A bare handful escaped, the
rest were killed, while the bishop lost but a single man. He said
mass next morning, red-handed it is true, but one may well believe
that for all that his Easter message reached hearts filled with a
new, glad hope for their homes and for the country. That was a
bishop they could understand. So the first blow Absalon struck for
his people was at home. But he did not long wait for the enemy to
come to him. Half his long and stirring life he lived on the seas,
seeking them there. Saxo mentions, in speaking of his return from
one of his cruises, that he had then been nine months on shipboard.
And in a way he was shepherding his flock there, if it was with a
scourge; for, many years before, a Danish king had punished the
Wends in their own home and laid their lands under the See of
Roskilde, though little good it did them or any one else then. But
when Absalon had got his grip, there were days when he baptized as
many as a thousand of them into the true faith.

He was not altogether alone in the stand he took. Here and there,
from very necessity, the people had organized to resist the
invaders, but as no one could tell where they would strike next,
they were not often successful, and fear and discouragement sat
heavy on the land. From his own city of Roskilde a little fleet of
swift sailers under the bold Wedeman had for years waged relentless
war upon the freebooters and had taken four times the number of
their own ships. Their crews were organized into a brotherhood with
vows like an order of fighting monks. Before setting out on a cruise
they were shriven and absolved. Their vows bound them to unceasing
vigilance, to live on the plainest of fare, to sleep on their arms,
ready for instant attack, and to the rescue of Christians, wherever
they were found in captivity. The Roskilde guild became the strong
core of the King's armaments in his score of campaigns against the

Perhaps it was not strange that Valdemar should be of two minds
about venturing to attack so formidable an enemy in his own house.
The nation was cowed and slow to move. In fact, from the first
expedition, that started with 250 vessels, only seven returned with
the standard, keeping up a running fight all the way across the
Baltic with pursuing Wends. The rest had basely deserted. On the
way over, the King, listening to their doubts and fears, turned back
himself once, but Absalon, who always led in the attack and was the
last on the homeward run, overtook him and gave him the talking to
be deserved. Saxo, who was very likely there and heard, for there is
little doubt that he accompanied his master on many of the campaigns
he so vividly describes, gives us a verbatim report of the lecture:

"What wonder," said the bishop, "if the words stick in our throats
and are nigh to stifling us, when such grievous dole is ours! Grieve
we must, indeed, to find in you such a turncoat that naught but
dishonor can come of it. You follow where you should lead, and those
you should rule over, you make your peers. There is nothing to stop
us but our own craven souls, hunt as we may for excuses. Is it with
such laurel you would bind your crown? with such high deed you would
consecrate your reign?"

The King was hard hit, and showed it, but he walked away without a
word. In the night a furious storm swept the sea and kept the fleet
in shelter four whole days, during which Valdemar's anger had time
to cool. He owned then that Absalon was right, and the friends shook
hands. The King gave order to make sail as soon as the gale abated.
If there was still a small doubt in Absalon's mind as he turned, on
taking leave, and asked, "What now, if we must turn back once more?"
Valdemar set it at rest:

"Then you write me from Wendland," he laughed, "and tell me how
things are there."

If little glory or gain came to the Danes from this first
expedition, at least they landed in the enemy's country and made
reprisal for past tort. The spirit of the people rose and shamed
them for their cowardice. When the King's summons went round again,
as it did speedily, there were few laggards. Attacked at home, the
Wends lost much of the terror they had inspired. Before many moons,
the chronicle records, the Danes cut their spear-shafts short, that
they might the more handily get at the foe. Scarce a year passed
that did not see one or more of these crusades. Absalon preached
them all, and his ship was ever first in landing. In battle he and
the King fought shoulder to shoulder. In the spring of 1169, he had
at last his wish: the heathen idols were destroyed and their temples

The holy city of the Wends, Arcona, stood on a steep cliff,
inaccessible save from the west, where a wall a hundred feet high
defended it. While the sacred banner Stanitza waved over it the
Danes might burn and kill, but the power of Svantevit was unbroken.
Svantevit was the god of gods in whose presence his own priests
dared not so much as breathe. When they had to, they must go to the
door and breathe in the open, a good enough plan if Saxo's disgust
at the filth of the Wendish homes was justified. Svantevit was a
horrid monster with four heads, and girt about with a huge sword. Up
till then the Christian arms had always been stayed at his door, but
this time the King laid siege to Arcona, determined to make an end
of him. Some of the youngsters in his army, making a mock assault
upon the strong walls, discovered an accidental hollow under the
great tower over which the Stanitza flew and, seizing upon a load of
straw that was handy, stuffed it in and set it on fire. It was done
in a frolic, but when the tower caught fire and was burned and the
holy standard fell, Absalon was quick to see his advantage, and got
the King to order a general assault. The besieged Wends, having no
water, tried to put out the fire with milk, but, says the chronicle,
"it only fed the flames." They fought desperately till, between fire
and foe, they were seized with panic and, calling loudly upon
Absalon in their extremity, offered to give up their city. The army
clamored for the revenge that was at last within their grasp, and
the King hesitated; but Absalon met the uproar firmly, reminding
them that they had crossed the seas to convert the heathen, not to
sack their towns.

The city was allowed to surrender and the people were spared, but
Svantevit and his temple were destroyed. A great crowd of his
followers had gathered to see him crush his enemies at the last, and
Absalon cautioned the men who cut the idol down to be careful that
he did not fall on them and so seem to justify their hopes. "He fell
with so great a noise that it was a wonder," says Saxo, naively;
"and in the same moment the fiend ran out of the temple in a black
shape with such speed that no eye could follow him or see where he
went." Svantevit was dragged out of the town and chopped into bits.
That night he fed the fires of the camp. So fickle is popular favor
that when the crowd saw that nothing happened, they spurned the god
loudly before whom they had grovelled in the dust till then.

When they heard of Arcona's fall in the royal city of Karents, they
hastened with offers of surrender, and Absalon went there with a
single ship's crew to take possession. They were met by 6000 armed
Wends, who guarded the narrow approach to the city. In single file
they walked between the ranks of the enemy, who stood with inverted
spears, watching them in sullen silence. His men feared a trap, but
Absalon strode ahead unmoved. Coming to the temple of their local
god, Rygievit, he attacked him with his axe and bade his guard fall
to, which they did. Saxo has left us a unique description of this
idol that stood behind purple hangings, fashioned of oak "in every
evil and revolting shape. The swallows had made their nests in his
mouths and throats" (there were seven in so many faces) "and filled
him up with all manner of stinking uncleanness. Truly, for such god
was such sacrifice fit." He had a sword for every one of his seven
faces, buckled about his ample waist, but for all that he went the
way of the others, and even had to put up with the indignity of the
Christian priests standing upon him while he was being dragged out.
That seems to have helped cure his followers of their faith in him.

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