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Icelandic & American legend of Lief Ericson & Eric the Red, & the voyages to Massachusetts Bay.
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Vinland the Good
by Nevil Shute
Copyright 1946Nevile Shute Norway.
This edition published by Reading Essentials.
Some years ago I came upon the historical story of the discovery of America by Leif Ericsson in a.d. 1003. I think this is one of the most fascinating adventures in history. This was no grandiose expedition of great people setting out in pomp and dignity from all the splendour of a Spanish royal court. This was a journey by the common man, a farmer, seeking to get a load of lumber to build cowhouses and discovering America on the side. I prefer that sort of story myself.
I put a very little of it into a novel which was published in 1939. During the war years the story stayed in my mind as one of the best I knew; I told it many times in wardrooms and in messes, and many times I kicked myself for only having written a small part of it. At the end of 1944 I was demobilized, and filled in time while waiting to go out to Burma on another job by writing the whole story out in full. I did not want to write it as another novel on the same subject, so I wrote it as the treatment for a film. That is the story in this book.
All the historical characters that I have named were real people, and their actions were substantially as I have described them. I have deviated from history in one very small particular at the extreme end of the story; the student may have fun in finding out this liberty. Apart from that, the story is as true a representation of what happened as any novelist can be expected to produce.
I could not have written it without great help from Mr. Edward F. Gray, both in person and through his book Leif Eriksson. I have also used The Norse Discoverers of America by Gaythorne-Hardy, In Northern Mists by Nansen, The Viking Age by Du Chaillu, The Vikings of Britain by D. P. Capper, and The Voyages of the Norsemen to America by Hovgaard. To all these authors I tender my thanks for much that has amused and interested me, but especially to Mr. Gray whose book constitutes the most modern research into this old story.
(The story opens with a scene in the masters’ common room of an English public school. TheHeadmasteris talking to two of his senior assistant masters; they are between sixty and seventy years old. There are several other masters in the room; all are elderly because the time is immediately after the European war, and the young masters have not yet returned from service. These elderly masters should be serious types; they must not be farcical.)
(The room should be a high, bare room, sparsely furnished with little more than a long table and a few hard chairs. There should be a picture of the Colosseum and several group photographs of the staff in bygone years upon the walls.)
HEADMASTERNow about this period of American History for the Lower Fifth. It won’t do them much good to know about the History of the United States, but there seems to be a demand for it from the parents, and we must move with the times. I should like one of you to take that on.
FIRST ASST. MASTERWhich period had you in mind?
HEADMASTERMonday, ten to eleven.
SECOND A. M.(Quickly) But that’s when they do their Greek Testament! Surely you aren’t going to give the History of the United States precedence over the Greek Testament?
HEADMASTERHow stupid of me. Well, it will have to be Thursday between three and four. We could start them off to-day.
SECOND A. M.(Ponderously) I’m afraid it’s hardly in my line. I know nothing about America, except that their police force seems to be remarkably inefficient. Keystone Police, I think they call them.
FIRST A. M.I take the Upper Fourth for grammar in that period. If we’ve got to teach them all this modern nonsense you’ll have to find someone else. Isn’t anybody joining us this term at all?
HEADMASTERWell, there’s Callender—he’s coming back to-day. I had a telegram. We might try him with it. After all, it isn’t very important.
FIRST A. M.Young Callender, who went off to the war in 1939?
HEADMASTERThat’s the one.
SECOND A. M.I don’t remember him. What was he like?
HEADMASTERHe’s in this group. (Turns to a framed group of masters as in 1939, and points out an undeveloped, weedy young man to them.) That’s Callender.
SECOND A. M.I don’t know that I think much of him. Could he keep his form in order?
FIRST A. M.After six years in the Army he may have learned to manage a few boys. Anyway, he’s six years older now. Wasn’t History one of his subjects, by the way?
HEADMASTERNow you mention it, I think it was.
SECOND A. M.Was he a good scholar?
FIRST A. M.Good enough to take this nonsense off our shoulders.
HEADMASTERHe took a Second at Oxford, but he was always very eccentric. (The others nod with understanding.) I remember when he put the Lower Sixth to writing an account of Mae West taking tea with the Archbishop of Canterbury, in Greek Iambics. I had to speak to him quite sharply about that.
(Major Callenderis driving in to the school grounds in a very old taxi driven by a very old man. Callenderis a vigorous man of about twenty-seven, sunburnt, with a slightly whimsical expression. He is dressed in very new civilian clothes but his luggage is all service—bedding roll, kitbag, etc.; he carries a service waterproof with the major’s crown still on the epaulette. He sits upright on the edge of the seat, looking keenly and enthusiastically at the familiar school grounds—mown lawns, tall elm trees, etc. The taxi draws up at the Headmaster’s house, andCallendergets out.)
(This is a well-furnished, comfortable room, lined with bookcases. There is a bust of Plato, and a large picture of the Acropolis. TheHeadmasteris seated at his desk. A very old Butler opens the door.)
BUTLERMajor Callender is here, sir.
HEADMASTERMajor . . . Oh, of course. Show him in.
(He gets up from his desk to greetCallender, who comes in to the room enthusiastically.)
HEADMASTERMy dear boy, it’s a very great pleasure to see you here again, after all these years.
CALLENDERI’m terribly sorry to arrive so late, sir. There was some bloody muck up—(TheHeadmasterwinces.)—about my demobilization, and I didn’t leave Palestine till Monday, and then there was a balls about my transport. But I managed to cadge a lift in a Beaufighter that was going down to Cairo, and there I said I had despatches for the War Office—you’ve got to say something, you know—and I got a ride in a Dakota. We put down at Athens and Rome and got in yesterday morning. I got myself some civvy clothes and came straight here.
HEADMASTER(Glancing at the print of the Acropolis) Athens—Palestine. I have always wanted to pay a visit to the Holy Land.
CALLENDER(Frankly) I wouldn’t go there if I were you—it’s a stinking bloody place. Nothing but a pack of lousy Jews and Arabs slitting each other’s throats. I’m damn glad to be out of it.
HEADMASTER(Studying him thoughtfully) Sit down, my boy, and tell me all about yourself. What have you been doing all these years? (They light cigarettes from a silver box upon the desk.)
CALLENDERWell, I was an Ack-Ack gunner in the Battle of Britain, and then they sent me to Libya. I was in Tobruk all the siege. When we got relieved they kept me there, so that I got captured with the second Tobruk party. I was in a prisoners of war camp near Pisa for fourteen months, but I walked out of that when the Italians signed their Armistice. Five weeks after that I managed to get down and join up with our party at Anzio.
HEADMASTERBut do you mean that you were wandering about behind the German lines?
CALLENDERThat’s right. It was bloody good fun.
HEADMASTERBut could you talk Italian?
CALLENDERI can now. Anyway, after that I turned over to the Parachute crowd. We dropped near Oustrehem the night before the Normandy show opened and managed to hold on until the Pongos got to us; that was a good party. Then I got in to another one that wasn’t quite so hot, at Arnhem. I got taken prisoner when we had to pack up, but I got away. It’s pretty easy to do that in the first few hours, you know.
HEADMASTER(Faintly) I suppose it is.
CALLENDERWell, after that they sent me out to Palestine, and here I am.
HEADMASTERDo you know, that’s a very wonderful story of adventure.
CALLENDERIs it? I suppose it might look like that to you. It’s six wasted bloody years to me. When you’re in the Army you’ve just got to do your best with the next thing that turns up, and chance it. Thank God it’s all over.
HEADMASTERDo you think that after all this roving about you’ll be able to settle down to our quiet life here, and our rather humdrum affairs? They are very important to us, you know. I have known the most bitter feuds arise among the staff over a minor alteration in the timetable, or the allocation of an hour to chemistry.
CALLENDERDon’t worry about that. All the time that I’ve been roving about, as you call it, I’ve been thinking of this place, and wanting to get back here to the dear old school. All through, when everything has been thoroughly raw and stinking, I’ve thought that I’d be coming back here one day, if I didn’t buy it first. It’s—it’s quiet here, and dignified, and serene.
HEADMASTERYou felt like that about it?
CALLENDERIt’s meant a great deal to me, while I’ve been in the Army, having something like this to look forward to.
HEADMASTERI’m glad of that. You don’t think that it will prove to be too gentle a life for you now?
CALLENDERNo. I’ve been offered a lot of jobs in the last few months, but I turned them all down because I wanted to come back here.
HEADMASTERWhat sort of jobs?
CALLENDERCommercial things. The best of them was a chap who wanted me to start a Continental selling agency for an electric razor—absolutely cracking job, half the cost of the American ones and a better article. He offered fifteen hundred a year and commission—live in Paris. But I turned it down. I wanted to come back here.
HEADMASTER(A little uncertainly) Well, money isn’t everything.
CALLENDERDamn right, it’s not.
HEADMASTERWell now, as you know, term started yesterday. I take it that you’ve come prepared to start work at once?
CALLENDERAny time you say, sir. The sooner the better. I shall be a bit rusty on some subjects, I’m afraid, but I expect I’ll get by.
HEADMASTERWell, I was thinking that we might break you in gently. History was your special subject, so far as I remember. How would you like to concentrate on teaching History for this first term? I could arrange for you to take the Upper Fourth, and the Upper and Lower Fifth, and the Remove, and the Lower Sixth—all in History. And perhaps Latin for the Third Form, the very little boys.
CALLENDER(Gratefully) That’s awfully kind of you, sir. That would give me time to get settled down and mug up all the subjects I’ve forgotten.
HEADMASTERYou’re fairly sure about your History, are you?
CALLENDEROh, yes. I read a lot when I was in the prison camp in Italy. I was allowed to use a library in Pisa that had some good stuff in it.
HEADMASTERSplendid. The Lower Fifth are starting on the History of the United States this term. You could start them off on that this afternoon, if you feel up to it at such short notice.
CALLENDERThat’s all right by me. Just general, introductory stuff, I suppose?
HEADMASTERThat’s it—just a general introduction to the subject for this first lesson. We can plan a detailed syllabus to-morrow.
(Outside the school bell begins to toll, and there is the sound of shuffling boys’ feet. TheHeadmasterandCallenderleave the study and walk through typical outdoor school scenes to the classroom block and upstairs to a classroom, passing through and mingling with the crowds of boys. All through these short scenes the bell is tolling. In the classroom the boys settle at their desks. They are about sixteen years of age, typical English schoolboys, interested in the sight of a new master and resolved to make his life a burden if they can get away with it. TheHeadmasterandCallendermount the dais and face them; the boys become quiet, and the bell stops.)
HEADMASTERPay attention to me, please. This is Mr.—er—Major Callender, who has joined the staff this term. None of you will remember him, but he is not a stranger to the school. He was with us for a year before the war, and now he has come back to us again after six years of military duty to take up his peacetime avocations. I am sure you will all join with me in giving him a hearty welcome. And—(a little threateningly)—I am sure that you will do everything you can to make things easy for him.
(There is a pause. TheBoysgrin furtively at one another, giving the impression that they intend to do nothing of the sort.)
—Well now, Major Callender is going to start you off this afternoon on the History of the United States. As you all know, the United States is a very great country. Not only is it big in size, but it is big in—er—big in—well, as I was saying, it’s a very great country. I am sure you will all realize that it is fitting that we should know something of the history of our greatest ally. I shall leave you with Mr. Callender.
(He goes out. There is a vacant classroom next door, and between the two rooms there is a communicating door. TheHeadmastergoes into the vacant room and gently opens the communicating door a crack, in order that he may listen to the lesson unobserved. He sits down at a desk.)
CALLENDERWell now, I’m going to tell you something about the United States, our greatest ally, as the Headmaster said.
BOY ONE(A grave, serious type) Sir, wasn’t Russia our greatest ally? The population of Russia is much larger than the United States.
(There are grins around the form at this opening gambit.)
CALLENDERWell—they both fought very well.
BOY ONEThe Russians started fighting first, sir. And they’re bigger.
BOY TWODon’t pay any attention to him, sir—none of the other masters do. He’s all wet.
BOY THREENone of them fought as long as we did, did they, sir?
CALLENDERIt’s about time you learned something about the United States. They fought by making things for us in their factories and sending them to us on Lend-Lease, long before they came into the war. At that time that was what we needed most. We hadn’t got enough guns and tanks and aeroplanes to arm the fighting men we had. We didn’t want any more men, at that stage of the war.
BOY THREE(Innocently) What is Lend-Lease, sir?
CALLENDERLend-Lease? Why, that was an arrangement that we made with the United States . . . (He realizes that he has been steered onto a side track, and stops.) Remind me to tell you about Lend-Lease on the last day of term. This afternoon I’m going to tell you about the history of the United States.
BOY FOUR(A big, athletic type, more adult than the rest) Please, sir, may I leave the room?
(There are furtive smiles around the class.)
CALLENDERYou’ve only just come in.
BOY FOURI’m not very well, sir.
CALLENDER(Eyeing him grimly) I’m glad to hear it.
BOY FOURMay I go, sir?
BOY FOUR(Very much aggrieved) Sir, I shall have an accident.
(There are open titters in the class.)
CALLENDERYou’ll have another one if you don’t shut up.
(TheBoysitting next toBoy Fourmoves ostentatiously away from him.)
—Now for our history of the United States. I think we’d better start at the beginning. Can anybody tell me who first discovered America?
BOY THREE(In a bored tone) Christopher Columbus.
CALLENDERWrong. Anybody else got any ideas?
BOY ONEJohn Cabot discovered America, sir. Christopher Columbus went to the West Indies.
CALLENDERRight, up to a point. John Cabot did discover North America, but he wasn’t the first. We’ll come back to him presently.
BOY TWOSir, was John Cabot a black man?
CALLENDERNo, of course he wasn’t. He was born in Genoa, but he lived most of his early life in Venice till he came to England.
BOY TWO(Innocently) Most Americans are black, aren’t they?
CALLENDEROf course they’re not. Only a very small percentage are black, the descendants of the freed slaves in the south.
BOY TWOThose are the better-class Americans, aren’t they, sir? Better than the white ones?
CALLENDERWhy, no. Whatever put that idea into your head?
BOY TWOWell, sir, we had them in the Camp, up on the Heath. There were some white Americans to start with; then they went away and the black ones came, and there were many more of them. Everybody in the village said the black ones were much nicer. They were so quiet and helpful, sir, and they never got drunk.
BOY THREEThat’s right, sir. They were quite black, all over. They drove trucks awfully well.
CALLENDERWell, those were the descendants of the Negro slaves. We shall get to those about half term. But now I want to know if any of you can tell me who was the first discoverer of America, the very first that we have any record of?
(The class are not interested; there is a dead, bored silence. ABoyflips a wad of paper at anotherBoyacross the room with a bit of elastic between two fingers;Callendersees this, and is annoyed.)
CALLENDER(Irritably) Well, America was first discovered by a bloody fool called Bjarni, about the year one thousand and two.
(He turns to the blackboard and writes,bjarni a.d. 1002. The class shows a flicker of interest.)
BOY FOUR(Curiously) Sir, why was he a bloody fool?
(In the next room, behind the door, the corners of theHeadmaster’smouth droop; he does not approve of this conversation at all.)
CALLENDERHe saw it, but he didn’t land—and there were other reasons, too. I’ll tell you about him in a minute. Now, does anybody know who first explored the United States—the first that we have any record of?
—Well, it was first explored by two young Scots, about the year one thousand and three, in the summer. They were a young man and a young woman, Haki and Haekia, born at Aberdeen or Inverness on the east coast of Scotland. I rather think they went there for their honeymoon.
(The class is now definitely interested.Callender
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