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I was fain to eat what was given me; indeed, I became less and less particular every day whilst travelling. Some kaager or rye-cake, about the thickness and taste of the wood of which bandboxes are made, and dirt flavoured with butter, rather than butter itself, completed a meal which was washed down with glasses of corn-brandy, the taste of which very much resembles spirits of wine out of a castor-oil bottle. The district about Svinavatn teems with wild-fowl. Kittiwakes and sand-pipers, teal, phalaropes, and snow-buntings abound. Ptarmigan poults, hardly fledged, started up under our horses' hoofs, and the mothers with a sad cry ran among the willow-tops for shelter. A dozen red-throated divers (Colymbus septentrionalis), in a batch, sailed away from the lakehead, but a magnificent harlequin garrot (Anas histrionica), as though conscious that we were unarmed, floated unmoved within stone's throw of where we were halting. This goodly bird is not uncommon in the Icelandic lakes and rivers, frequenting the latter during the day, and retiring for the night to still water, where it may rest from incessant swimming against stream. In its summer plumage it is a beautiful object. Patched with white and black, the latter of purplish metallic lustre, its colours are blended into the most beautiful harmony by cool greys and rich chestnut reds. The farmer from whom I had bought my horse guided us across a ford in the Blandā. Grimr was glad to avail himself of his knowledge, as the ford was continually altering, and on a previous summer he had himself nearly lost his life in venturing across without a guide, reckoning on his remembrance of the spot where he had crossed the year before. The farmer's dog, when we reached the river, gave a jump and seated itself comfortably en croupe, a position which it retained during the passage. We had a pleasant scamper to Blöndudalshlith, a new church gaudily painted, the doors and shutters vermilion, with diamonds of blue and yellow in the centres. The walls inside were red striped with blue, and the screen was one mass of yellow and blue bulls'-eyes on a scarlet ground. The only
object of interest in the church is a brass chandelier in the nave, which has been ignominiously ejected from the chancel to make room for a frightful glass chandelier of ball-room type. The Vatns-skarth, our next pass, began with a sharp scramble. The wind cut us to the bone, and blew a storm of snow in our faces. My stockings had been soaked in crossing the Blandá, and they nearly froze on my feet. We skirted a lake with a farm beside it, near the top of the pass: a most wintry spot for any poor souls to inhabit ! and then in the teeth of the snow-storm descended along a wild mountain
torrent to the farm and church of Withimyri, or “the extensive swamps.” My feet and hands were so effectually numbed that I was obliged to beg permission to warm them at the miserable offal embers in the kitchen. As I thawed, the desire came upon me to sketch; and I drew the interior of the apartment, to the amusement and surprise of some unkempt and unwashen urchins who crawled by dozens in and out of the cavities in the house, like so many maggots. The lopsided door represented in the woodcut, is so low that one has to bend double to pass through it; this opens out of the dark tunnel leading from the main entrance to the house. The rafters are not sufficiently elevated to allow of one's traversing the kitchen without ducking at every second step, and, as light is only admitted through the hole which serves as chimney, the kitchen is so gloomy that one stumbles repeatedly over pots and pans, or even over babies, wriggling and sprawling on the earthen floor. The farmer was absent, but his man showed me a volume of MS. Rimur, founded on the Fostbroethra Saga, and composed by the great-grandfather of the present farmer. Grímr and the young man were soon in an animated conversation on the subject of the absent farmer's merits. “There is one thing for which I don't like him, and only one,” quoth the man; “and that is, the way in which he uses my horse. I have a very nice chestnut, and master comes to me day after day, and says: “Lend me your horse, will you?' He is short of horses himself, and I can't refuse; so I have to pay for the keep of the horse, whilst my master has the use of it.” “I’d spite him, if I were you,” said Grimr; “I'd sell the horse.” “Ay! but horses are plentiful about here, and no one will buy it.” “What do you want for it? The gentleman whom I am guiding is not exactly in want of a horse” (I was so very much, though), “but I might persuade him to buy it, if it were cheap.” “Oh! I don't want much for it,” answered the young man. “I shall only sell it, just for the sake of aggravating my master. Faith ! I shall like to see his face when he returns and finds the horse gone.” “Come!” said Grimr; “suppose you say eleven speciedollars (2l. 10s.)”
“Be it so,” answered the fellow. And they kissed on the bargain.
I purchased the horse at this price, and it was my best— a beautifully made creature. I should have been tempted to bring him with me to England, had not his former proprietor chosen to mark him by slitting his ears into ribands, which danced and quivered in the most ludicrous manner, when the animal was in motion.
A curious old gentleman assisted at the purchase, who had no hair on head or chin, neither eyebrows nor lashes. He was the butt of numerous jokes, which he received with the greatest good-nature. I quite won his favour by remarking that he brought the great beardless Njal up before my mind'seye, a compliment he repaid with a hug and kiss, which I would gladly have dispensed with.
Below the farm by the river's side are flats, covered with short grass, over which we had a good scamper, till we reached the ford. The river Heradsvatn must be as wide as the Thames at London Bridge, and it is swift as an arrow, so that the passage is dangerous. The horses could hardly keep their feet against the violence of the fierce cold water, which surged up to the saddle, and foamed over their backs. In keeping the eye on the reeling eddies, one is apt to become giddy and lose one's seat. As a remedy, Grímr called to me repeatedly, “Look to the shore l’” A good maxim through life, surely, to keep the eye fixed on the shore of the true country, among the troublous waves of this mortal life. After crossing the river, we had bogs to toil through, till we reached Mikliboer (the great farm). A bog in Iceland is a formidable affair; it rolls and quakes underfoot as though one were riding over an air cushion. The surface is matted with long grass, and the ponies, with wondrous instinct, select the right places for planting their feet; they Snuff the soil, with head to the ground, till they have ascertained where there is safe footing, and neither persuasion nor blows will make them tread where their instinct tells them there is danger.
In traversing these bogs, one must give the horses their heads. When they come to a red glistening patch or streak, they will leap, but should they consider the ground on the opposite side to be doubtful, they will track the seam up till they find a place where they can overstep it. This causes great delay on a journey, especially as considerable detours have to be made before the direct track can be regained. I have known my baggage-pony run half a mile up the hill-side to the source of a morass which spread as it descended, before rejoining my caravan, the horses of which, being less heavily weighted, had tripped over swamps which would have engulphed the sumpter pony. In the church of Mikliboer, is an old German wood engraving of the Dürer school, in bad condition. Near the church lives the probst, or archdeacon, a good, hospitable man, one who smokes, too, a rare accomplishment for Iceland. He had, Grimr told me, the satisfaction of having reclaimed a brother priest from drunkenness by the bribe of a cow, and emboldened by this success, he had just presented his daughter to another tippler, in hopes of restoring him to a right mind. The archdeacon is one of the only ministers who wears any distinctive clerical attire : he had on a black suit and a white neckcloth. The finest scenery that I had as yet passed through, was that of the Öxnadals heithi, which I crossed next day. After following the Heradsvatn for a short while, till we passed the prettily situated church and parsonage of Silfrastathir, we branched to the left through a noble valley, the Northrár-dalr, with strange terraced mountains on either side. We were detained for an hour in the midst of a swamp by the packSaddle getting out of order. Our course then lay up a gorge of Alpine magnificence, out of which branched glens—mere rifts in the almost perpendicular mountain scarps, giving glimpses of pyramidal snow-covered mountains of most perfect symmetry, cushions of snow alternating with steps of basalt, to the summit. The Plate opposite represents one of these peeps, and the double pyramid in the Frontispiece stands