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teen days, when the people's law-givers — the governor, the
bishop, the speaker, and the sheriffs — met the people's delegates and some portion of the people themselves at the ancient Mount of Laws in the valley of Thingvellir, for the reading of the old statutes and the promulgation of the new ones, for the trial of felons and the settlement of claims, for the making of love and the making of quarrels, for wrestling and horse-fighting, for the practice of arms and the breaking of heads. Count Trollop was in Iceland at this celebration of the ancient festival, and he was induced by Jorgen to give it the light of his countenance. The Governor's company set out on half-a-hundred of the native ponies, and his daughter rode between himself and the Count. During that ride of six or seven long Danish miles, Jorgen settled the terms of the intended transfer to his own complete contentment. The Count acquiesced, and the daughter did not rebel.
The lonely valley was reached, the tents were pitched, the Bishop hallowed the assembly with solemn ceremonies, and the business of Althing began. Three days the work went on, and Rachel wearied of it; but on the fourth the wrestling was started, and her father sent for her to sit with him on the Mount and to present at the end of the contest the silver-buckled belt to the champion of all Iceland. She obeyed the summons with indifference, and took her seat beside the Judge, with the Count standing at her side. In the space below there was a crowd of men and boys, women and children, gathered about the ring. One wrestler was throwing every one that came before him. His name was Patriksen, and he was supposed to be descended from the Irish, who settled ages ago on the Westmann Islands. His success became monotonous; at every fresh bout his self-confidence grew more insufferable, and the girl's eyes wandered from the spectacle to the spectators. From that instant her indifference fell away.
By the outskirts of the crowd, on one of the lower mounds of the Mount of Laws, a man sat with his head in his hand and his elbow on his knee. His head was bare, and from his hairy breast his woollen shirt was thrown back by reason of the heat. He was a magnificent creature — young, stalwart, fair-haired, broad-chested, with limbs like the beech tree, and muscles like
its great, gnarled round heads. His coat, a sort of sailor's jacket, was coarse and torn; his stockings, reaching to his knees, were cut and brown. He did not seem to heed the wrestling, and there rested upon him the idle air of the lusty Icelander -- the languor of the tired animal. Only when, at the close of a bout, a cheer rose, and a way was made through the crowd for the exit of the vanquished man, did he lift up his great slow eyes - — gray as those of a seal, and as calm and lusterless.
The wrestling came to an end. Patriksen justified his Irish blood, and was proclaimed the winner, and stepped up to the foot of the Mount, that the daughter of the Governor might buckle about him the champion's belt. The girl went through her function listlessly, her eyes wandering to where the fairhaired giant sat apart. Then the Westmann islander called for drink that he might treat the losing men; and having drunk himself, he began to swagger afresh, saying that they might find him the strongest and lustiest man that day at Thingvellir, and he would bargain to throw him over his back. As he spoke he strutted by the bottom of the Mount, and the man who sat there lifted his head and looked at him. Something in the glance arrested Patriksen, and he stopped.
“This seems to be a lump of a lad,” he said. “Let us see what we can do with him."
And at that he threw his long arms about the stalwart fellow, squared his broad hips before him, thrust down his head into his breast until his red neck was as thick as a bullock's, and threw all the strength of his body into his arms that he might lift the man out of his seat. But he moved him not an inch. With feet that held the earth like the hoofs of an ox, the young man sat unmoved.
Then those who had followed at the islander's heels for the liquor he was spending first stared in wonderment at his failure, and next laughed in derision of his bragging, and shouted to know why, before it was too late, the young man had not taken a bout at the wrestling, for that he who could hold his seat so must be the strongest-limbed man between the fells and the sea. Hearing this Patriksen tossed his head in anger, and said it was not yet too late, that if he took home the champion's belt it should be no rue-bargain to master or man from sea to sea, and, buckled though it was, it should be his who could take it from its place.
At that word the young fellow rose, and then it was seen that his right arm was useless, being broken between the elbow and the wrist, and bound with a kerchief above the wound. Nothing
а. loath for this infirmity, he threw his other arm about the waist of the islander, and the two men closed for a fall. Patriksen had the first grip, and he swung to it, thinking straightway to lay his adversary by the heels; but the young man held his feet, and then, pushing one leg between the legs of the islander, planting the other knee into his stomach, thrusting his head beneath his chin, he knuckled his left hand under the islander's rib, pulled towards him, pushed from him, threw the weight of his body forward, and like a green withe Patriksen doubled backwards with a groan. Then at a rush of the islander's kinsmen, and a cry that his back would be broken, the young man loosed his grip, and Patriksen rolled from him to the earth, as a clod rolls from the plowshare.
All this time Jorgen's daughter had craned her neck to look over the heads of the people, and when the tussle was at an end, her face, which had been strained to the point of anguish, relaxed to smiles, and she turned to her father and asked if the champion's belt should not be his who had overcome the champion. But Jorgen answered no — that the contest was over, and judgment made, and he who would take the champion's belt must come to the next Althing and earn it. Then the girl unlocked her necklace of coral and silver spangles, beckoned the young man to her, bound the necklace about his broken arm close up by the shoulder, and asked him his name.
“Stephen," he answered.
The Westmann islander had rolled to his legs by this time, and now he came shambling up, with the belt in his hand and his sullen eyes on the ground.
“Keep it,” he said, and flung the belt at the girl's feet, between her and his adversary. Then he strode away through the throng,
with curses on his white lips and the veins of his squat forehead swollen and dark.
It was midnight before the crowds had broken up and straggled back to their tents, but the sun of this northern land was still half above the horizon, and its dull red glow was on the waters of the lake that lay to the west of the valley. In the dim light of an hour later, when the hills of Thingvellir slept under the cloudshadow that was their only night, Stephen Orry stood with the Governor's daughter by the door of the Thingvellir parsonage, for Jorgen's company were the parson's guests. He held out the champion's belt to her and said, “Take it back, for if I keep it the man and his kinsmen will follow me all the days of my life.”
She answered him that it was his, for he had won it, and until it was taken from him he must hold it, and if he stood in peril from the kinsmen of any man let him remember that it was she, daughter of the Governor himself, who had given it. The air was hushed in that still hour, not a twig or a blade rustling over the serried face of that desolate land as far as the wooded rifts that stood under the snowy dome of the Armannfells. As she spoke there was a sharp noise near at hand, and he started; but she rallied him on his fears, and laughed that one who had felled the blustering champion of that day should tremble at a noise in the night.
There was a wild outcry in Thingvellir the next morning. Patriksen, the Westmann islander, had been murdered. There was a rush of the people to the place where his body had been found. It lay like a rag across the dike that ran between the parsonage and the church. On the dead man's face was the look that all had seen there when last night he flung down the belt between his adversary and the Governor's daughter, crying, “Keep it.” But his sullen eyes were glazed, and stared up without the quivering of a lid through the rosy sunlight; the dark veins on his brow were now purple, and when they lifted him they saw that his back was broken.
Then there was a gathering at the foot of the Mount, with the priest for judge, and nine men of those who had slept in the tents nearest to the body for inquest. Nothing was discovered. No one had heard a sound throughout the night. There was no
charge to lay before the law-givers at Althing. The kinsmen of the dead man cast dark looks at Stephen Orry, but he gave never a sign. Next day the strong man was laid under the shallow turf of the church garth. His little life's swaggering was swaggered out; he must sleep on till the resurrection without one brag more.
The Governor's daughter did not leave the guest room of the parsonage from the night of the wrestling onwards to the end of the Althing holiday, and then, the last ceremonies done, the tents struck and the ponies saddled, she took her place between Jorgen and the Count for the return journey home. Twenty paces behind her the fair-haired Stephen Orry rode on his shaggy pony, which was gaunt and peaky and bearded as a goat, and five paces behind him rode the brother of the dead man Patriksen. Amid five hundred men and women, and eight hundred horses saddled for riding or packed with burdens, these three had set their faces towards the little wooden capital.
July passed into August, and the day was near that had been appointed by Jorgen Jorgensen for the marriage of his daughter to the Count Trollop. At the girl's request the marriage was postponed. The second day came nigh; again the girl excused herself, and again the marriage was put off. A third time the appointed day approached, and a third time the girl asked for delay. But Jorgen's iron will was to be tampered with no longer. The time was near when the Minister must return to Copenhagen, and that was reason enough why the thing in hand should be despatched. The marriage must be delayed no longer.
But then the Count betrayed reluctance. Rumor had pestered him with reports that vexed his pride. He dropped hints of them to the Governor. “Strange," said he, “that a woman should prefer the stink of the fulmar to the perfumes of civilization.” Jorgen fired up at the sneer. His daughter was his daughter, and he was Governor-General of the island. What low-born churl would dare to lift his eyes to the child of Jorgen Jorgensen ?
The Count had his answer pat. He had made inquiries. The man's name was Stephen Orry. He came from Stappen under Snaefell, and was known there for a wastrel. On the poor glory of his village vogue as an athlete, he idled his days in