Yet it was a dreary summer for the hermit’s daughter, and it grew all the drearier and more lonesome when the long, fresh days began to shorten, and the sea was more seldom still and the wind more often high. All the time, the old man grew slowly worse. He sat continually in his cell; and though Osla would not acknowledge her fears even to herself, she knew that death could not be far away. Yet he lingered through the winter storms, and the end came upon a February evening. All the afternoon the hermit had lain with shut eyes, never speaking a word or giving a sign. It fell wet and gusty at night, and Osla, bending over the couch, could hear nothing but the wind and the roost she knew so well.
At length he raised his head and asked,—
“Are we alone, Osla?”
“There is no one here but me, father.”
“Listen then,” he said. “I have that on my mind that you must hear before I die. My end is close at hand. I seem to have been long asleep, and now I know that this wakefulness you see is but the clearness of a man before he dies.”
He took her hand as he spoke, and she tried to stifle a sob.
“Not so,” she said, while the tears rose so fast that she could only dimly see his face; “you are better, far better, to-night.”
“I am death-doomed, Osla. Thord the Tall shall die in his bed to-night, an old and worthless wreck. Once I had little thought of such a death; and even now, though I die a Christian man, and my hope is in Christ Jesus, and St. Andaman the holy, I would like well to hear the clash of swords around me. But the doom of a man is fated from his birth.”
His daughter was silent, and the old Viking, seeming to gather strength as he talked, went on in a strong, clear voice.
“I have heavy sins at my door. I have burned, I have slain in battle, I have pillaged towns and devastated corn-lands. May the Lord have mercy on my soul!
“He shall have mercy, Osla! I am saved, and the heathen I slew are lost for ever. For the souls of the Christians who fell by this hand I have done penance and given great gifts, and to-night these things shall be remembered. To-night we part, Osla.”
She held his great hand in both of hers, and pressed it against her lips, and in a broken voice she said,—
“No, not to-night, not to-night.”
“Ay, to-night,” he said. “But before we part you must hear of one deed that haunts me even now, though they were but heathens whom I slew.”
“The burning at Laxafiord?” she whispered.
“Who has not heard of that burning?” he cried. “The flames leapt higher than the pine trees, the women shrieked—I hear them now!” He paused, and she pressed his hand the tighter.
“Father!” she said softly, “father!” But he paid no heed to her, for his mind had begun to wander, and he talked wildly to himself.
“Death-doomed I am. Have mercy upon my soul! ......Ay, the wind blows, a stormy day for fishing, and the flames are leaping—I see them leap! St. Ringan save me!......A Christian man, I tell thee...... spare not, spare not! Smite them to the last man!”
Then he fell silent, and she laid her free hand upon his brow, while outside the wind eddied and sang mournfully round the cell. At last his mind cleared again, and he spoke coherently though very feebly.