The faces of the Sons of the Vikings grew very serious as they started out on this dangerous expedition. There was more than one of them who would not have objected to remaining at home, but who feared to incur the charge of cowardice if he opposed the wishes of the rest. Wolf-in-the-Temple walked at the head of the column, as they hastened with stealthy tread out of the saeter inclosure, and steered their course toward the dense pine forest, the tops of which were visible toward the east, where the mountain sloped toward the valley. He carried his fowling-piece, loaded with shot, in his right hand, and a powder-horn and other equipments for the chase were flung across his shoulder. Erling the Lop-Sided was similarly armed, and Ironbeard, glorying in a real sword, unsheathed it every minute and let it flash in the sun. It was a great consolation to the rest of the Vikings to see these formidable weapons; for they were not wise enough to know that grown-up bears are not killed with shot, and that a fowling-piece is a good deal more dangerous than no weapon at all, in the hands of an inexperienced hunter.
The sun, who had exchanged his flaming robe de nuit for the rosy colors of morning, was now shooting his bright shafts of light across the mountain plain, and cheering the hearts of the Sons of the Vikings. The air was fresh and cool; and it seemed a luxury to breathe it. It entered the lungs in a pure, vivifying stream like an elixir of life, and sent the blood dancing through the veins. It was impossible to mope in such air; and Ironbeard interpreted the general mood when he struck up the tune:
"We wander with joy on the far mountain path, We follow the star that will guide us;"
but before he had finished the third verse, it occurred to the chief that they were bear-hunters, and that it was very unsportsmanlike behavior to sing on the chase. For all that they were all very jolly, throbbing with excitement at the thought of the adventures which they were about to encounter; and concealing a latent spark of fear under an excess of bravado. At the end of an hour's march they had reached the pine forest; and as they were all ravenously hungry they sat down upon the stones, where a clear mountain brook ran down the slope, and unpacked their provisions. Wolf-in-the-Temple had just helped himself, in old Norse fashion, to a slice of smoked ham, having slashed a piece off at random with his knife, when Erling the Lop-Sided observed that that ham had a very curious odor. Everyone had to test its smell; and they all agreed that it did have a singular flavor, though its taste was irreproachable.
"It smells like a menagerie," said the Skull-Splitter, as he handed it to Thore the Hound.
"But the bread and the biscuit smell just the same," said Thore the Hound; "in fact, it is the air that smells like a menagerie."
"Boys," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, "do you see that track in the mud?"
"Yes; it is the track of a barefooted man," suggested the innocent Skull-Splitter.