These were the chief incidents of the winter, though there were many others of less consequence that served to keep the boys in a delightful state of excitement. They enjoyed the war keenly, though they pretended to themselves that they were being ill-used and suffered terrible hardships. They grumbled at their duties, brought complaints against their officers to the general, and did, in fact, all the things that real soldiers would have been likely to do under similar circumstances.
When the spring is late in Norway, and the heat comes with a sudden rush, the mountain streams plunge with a tremendous noise down into the valleys, and the air is filled far and near with the boom and roar of rushing waters. The glaciers groan, and send their milk-white torrents down toward the ocean. The snow-patches in the forest glens look gray and soiled, and the pines perspire a delicious resinous odor which cheers the soul with the conviction that spring has come.
But the peasant looks anxiously at the sun and the river at such times, for he knows that there is danger of inundation. The lumber, which the spring floods set afloat in enormous quantities, is carried by the rivers to the cities by the sea; there it is sorted according to the mark it bears, showing the proprietor, and exported to foreign countries.
In order to prevent log-jams, which are often attended with terrible disasters, men are stationed night and day at the narrows of the rivers. The boys, to whom all excitement is welcome, are apt to congregate in large numbers at such places, assisting or annoying the watchers, riding on the logs, or teasing the girls who stand up on the hillside, admiring the daring feats of the lumbermen.
It was on such a spring day, when the air was pungent with the smell of sprouting birch and pine, that General Viggo and his trusty army had betaken themselves to the cataract to share in the sport. They were armed with their bows, as usual, knowing that they were always liable to be surprised by their vigilant enemy. Nor were they in this instance disappointed, for Halvor Reitan, with fifty or sixty followers, was presently visible on the east side, and it was a foregone conclusion that if they met there would be a battle.
The river, to be sure, separated them, but the logs were at times so densely packed that it was possible for a daring lad to run far out into the river, shoot his arrow and return to shore, leaping from log to log. The Reitan party was the first to begin this sport, and an arrow hit General Viggo's hat before he gave orders to repel the assault.
Cool and dignified as he was, he could not consent to skip and jump on the slippery logs, particularly as he had no experience in this difficult exercise, while the enemy apparently had much. Paying no heed to the jeers of the lumbermen, who supposed he was afraid, he drew his troops up in line and addressed them as follows:
"Soldiers: You have on many previous occasions given me proof of your fidelity to duty and your brave and fearless spirit. I know that I can, now as always, trust you to shed glory upon our arms, and to maintain our noble fame and honorable traditions.