Stooping low in the doorway, Estein entered the abode of Andreas the hermit. Lit only by a small window and the gleam of a driftwood fire, the rude apartment was dusky and dim; yet there seemed nothing there that should make the sea-king pause at the threshold. Was it but a smoke wreath that he saw, and did the wind rise with a sudden gust out of the stillness of the evening? It seemed to him a face that appeared and then vanished, and a far-off voice that whispered a warning in his ear.
“Be not dismayed at our poverty; there is no worse foeman within,” said Osla, with a touch of raillery, as he stood for a moment irresolute.
Estein made no answer, but stepped quickly into the room. Had he indeed heard a voice from beyond the grave, or was it but the fancy of a wounded head? The impression lingered so vividly that he stood in a reverie, and the words of his hosts fell unheeded on his ears. He knew the face, he had heard the voice of old, but in the kaleidoscope of memory he could see no name to fit them, no incident wherewith they might be linked.
He was aroused by the voice of Osla.
“Let us give him food and drink quickly, father. He is faint, and hears us not.”
The tumultuous stir of battle was forgotten as they brought him supper and gently bound his wounds. A kettle sang a drowsy song and seemed to lay a languid spell upon him, and, as in a dream, he heard the hermit offer up an evening prayer. The petitions, eloquent and brief in his northern tongue, rose above the throbbing of the roost outside, and died away into a prayerful silence; and then, in the pleasant nicker of the firelight, they parted till the morrow.
Estein and the hermit stepped out into the cool night.
“They who visit the Holy Isle must rest content with hard pillows,” said Andreas. “Here in this cell you will find a blanket and a couch of stone. May Christ be with you through the night;” and as he spoke he turned into his own bare apartment.
Estein looked upward at the stars shining as calmly on him here as on the sea-king who lately paced his long ship’s deck; he listened for a moment to the roost rising higher and moaning more uneasily; and then above both he saw a pair of dark blue eyes, and heard a voice with just a touch of raillery in it. As he bent his head and entered his cell, he smiled to himself at the pleasantness of the vision.
The island spell.
The Holy Isle was bathed in morning sunshine, shadows of light clouds chased each other over the hills across the sound, and out beyond the headlands the blue sea glimmered restfully.
On a bank of turf sloping to the rocks Estein sat with Osla, drinking in the freshness of the air. She had milked their solitary cow, baked cakes enough for the day’s fare, and now, her simple housekeeping over, she was free to entertain her guest.