Page images
PDF
EPUB

The first tune was that of Luther's “Ein fester Burg;” considerably altered. The second struck me, notwithstanding the intolerable way in which it was executed, as being peculiarly beautiful. It is not, I believe, a genuine Icelandic melody, having been imported from Denmark, where it was originally composed.

[merged small][graphic]

Half-an-hour later the Yankee and Martin arrived with their guides and the baggage, and took up their quarters at the farm of Haukagil, a mile north of Grimstúnga.

They had not been remarkably successful in their sport, having caught no trout, but shot a few birds, among which were a red-breasted diver (Colymbus Septentrionalis), and a Scaup (Fuligula marila).

Haukagil is a spot of historic interest, as it was the scene of a struggle between the first Christian missionary and some Berserkirs; it was also the home of Olaf, one of his first converts to the true faith.

The farm is prettily situated on the scarp of a hill, facing the east, and has an extensive tün, very green, but more than half morass. The door of the house is curious, being of carved oak, with the Austrian eagle in medallions, and a border of grapes surrounding the panels. There are traces of vermilion and blue on the wood, which show that the door must have been originally painted. The farmer was a remarkably fine man, with long hair flowing over his shoulders; he was well built and muscular; he was dressed neatly in a short jacket and blue breeches, with his legs, from the knee downwards, encased in a wrap of sheep's hide bound round with leather thongs; and his feet were shod with the usual Icelandic shoes of undressed sheepskin.

On Monday morning I rode down the valley on my way to Hnausir, where we purposed spending the night, as we bore letters of introduction to the proprietor of the farm.

The Vatnsdalr is hemmed in between mountains, with their flanks like iron walls, on the right hand and on the left, and their tops enveloped in cloud, so that I had no opportunity of seeing them. Over the wall-like sides shot torrents in superb cascades, from snows wrapped in vapour, falling from one to two thousand feet without a break. We remarked especially one fall on the eastern side of the valley, where the stream leaped out of a grey cloud into a singular black groove, scooped out of the mountain side, and reached the base in a heavy shower.

Grimr and I paid a visit to the parsonage of Underfell, but found that Quilp was absent. We were, however, received by his seven sons and buxom wife, who showed us a volume of MSS., which her husband had borrowed from a farmer in Langadal. It contained the Saga of Erik red, the Atli Saga, several of the sagas relating to the bishops, and, finally, the Draplangar Sonar Saga.

The sketch of Vatnsdalr in Plate W. was taken from the door of the parsonage, and represents the church, which is a fair specimen of Icelandic ecclesiastical architecture. In the distance on the left is the smoke from Ingimund's farm Höf, the smoke on the right proceeds from the byre of his murderer, which is now the richer farm of the two. After having finished my drawing, I bade farewell to Quilp's wife and seven sons, and rode to Helgavatn, celebrated for its opals. I had no time now to look for them, but had to press on to Hnausir. We crossed the river at its last ford, and rode up to the door of Hnausir farm.

CHAPTER IX.

FROM HNAUSIR TO EYJA FJORD.

A Tract of Slag Cones—An Icelandic Doctor—Part from my Friends—Giljá —Conversion of Iceland—Svínavatn—Icelandic Churches—A miserable Lodging—Slang—Harlequin Duck—Ford the Blandá—Vatnsskarth— Withimyri — Purchase a Horse — Ford the Heradsvatn — Mikliboer — Oxnadals Heithi—Steinstathr—A Caravan—Strange Merchandise—The Princess Alexandra—A Death.

NoTHING could be kinder than the reception I met with at Hnausir from Mr. Skaptason, surgeon and apothecary, a nephew of the excellent Reykjavik doctor, Hjaltalin. His farm is perhaps the largest and richest in the north, and the house is certainly the best built in Iceland. Grimr's admiration of it was excessive, he evidently regarded it quite as a palace, and the doctor himself was deservedly proud of his house, which, comparatively speaking, was clean and comfortable. The tün is very large and productive; it lies on a flat between the river and a small lake, full of teal, wild-duck, and pintails, and a mile north of a large sheet of water thronged with swans. On the west of the river is a most singular district, a mile square, covered with countless sand and slag heaps devoid of vegetation, generally yellow and speckled with reddened stones. These heaps are perfectly symmetrical cones, and are alike regular in formation whether they are three or fifty feet high. On the level between their bases, a little grass sprouts, but not a blade on the hills themselves. Some are capped with large stones, and, as a general rule, the smaller stones are nearest the base and the larger blocks crown the apex. These mounds have been thrown up by an earthquake. Drs. Preyer and Zirkel remark that similar heaps were raised in Chili during the earthquake on the 20th November, 1822. On Watnsdals-fjall, immediately above Hnausir on the east, are found large masses of petrified wood susceptible of a bright polish. The apothék of Mr. Skaptason little resembles an English doctor's laboratory, as there were none of its neat phials and carefully labelled bottles: instead of these the room was blocked up with brown jars of purges, pills and confections, barrels of gums, bundles of simples, old green wine-bottles filled with mixtures, jam-pots containing ointments and Salves, kegs of boluses, besides shelves of German, Latin, and Danish medical treatises of the last century and the beginning of the present. The good doctor has a loft above the kitchen, in which his patients are stowed; apparently the kitchen smoke ascends to the infirmary and thence escapes through a hole in the roof. The place was in a cloud of the acrid, pungent fumes of sheep's-dung and peat, before each meal; so that I was always made aware of the approach of a repast by the coughing, sneezing, and grunting of the diseased population abovestairs. Mr. Briggs, Martin, and the Yankee were accommodated with a den in a labyrinth of chambers downstairs; and as there were more sick in the house than the loft would contain, the compartments round my friends' beds were occupied by patients. My companions' cabin was lighted by a window, which consisted of a single pane, hermetically sealed into the walls, and was only ventilated through the roof of the sick loft and the tunnel communicating through the kitchen with the yard. My apartment was infinitely more commodious; it adjoined the sitting-room, but, as it was also the passage between it and the kitchen, the servant-girls were traversing it all the morning

« PreviousContinue »