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I HAD now two guides, for Grimr was helpless, never having been beyond Akureyri. Jón, my new acquisition, was an honest, cheerful fisherman; very reasonable in his terms, as he came with a horse of his own for one dollar per diem. The fellow afforded me much amusement; his legs and arms were in continual vibration, like the wings of a bird, and his body lurched from side to side as he inflicted stripes with his long whip, first on the horse to his right, then on that to his left; yet Jón knew how to keep his seat as well as any man. His calls to the horses were quite original, and differed widely from those in ordinary use. Instead of “Afram, yhol” or “Ahr-r-r!” to urge the horses forward, the former signifying, “Go ahead ' " and the latter, “The dogs are after you!” Jón compressed his lips and trumpeted forth, “Prrmp, promp !”
“Jón ” said I; “a man should never deviate from the customs of his forefathers, nor oppose traditionary uses, without mature consideration, and careful balancing of the matter. For old uses and customs have generally been founded on rational grounds, and, like proverbs, contain a kernel of sound truth.”
“Well, sir! I was Mr. Metcalfe's guide in '60, and that reverend father objected to my repeated “Yhko !” so I was obliged to change my note, and adopt “Promp !’ which has become a second nature to me; I could not shake it off now !” Many of our English country horse-calls may be recognized in this Ultima Thule. The “Bok-a-ooff l’’ of Nottingham, or “Bok'n-waay!” of Yorkshire, East Riding, are forms of the Scandinavian Bug-af, bend aside; the same verb, ath buga, to curve, is preserved in our word bucket, literally a curved receptacle. So, also, the common shout “ Geel Gee uup ! Tzch!” are forms of Gá—walk; and the Northumbrian Heckl is the Icelandic Hoegr! (pronounced Haikir). Jón carried a baby's weaning-bottle in his pocket, and constantly replenished it with water: he could not get on without a drop of something, and when fire-water was unattainable, he contented himself with imbibing ordinary water from this artificial mother. I soon experienced the advantage of having an active fellow like Jón with me ; he drove the horses with spirit, and kept them all day at a trot or canter. Grimr's perverse, “Now we shall go slow,” said invariably, when I urged the horses out of a walk, was now unregarded; we trotted in spite of him. Grímr had picked up a dingy theological acquaintance at Akureyri, a spare young man, who looked as though he had recently emerged from a dust-bin. His hat was wondrously tall and very shabby; his long coat-tails flapped against his calves; his waistcoat–black, too—was buttoned to the chin; his sombre inexpressibles, with leather seat, were very old, and seemed to have been worn by successive generations. He rode his own pony, and joined Grimr for the purpose of accompanying us over the next mountain ridge, so as to hear all the Grimsey story, and the last news from the capital. As the river at the head of the fjord was low, we crossed its seven mouths with ease ; all but the theological candidate, whose horse, falling into a quicksand, flung its rider on his tall hat, which was thereby effectually flattened.
With unruffled gravity, the budding divine picked himself up, and shook the great hat into shape; then, solemnly presenting his coat-tails to Grímr, asked him, with his head over his shoulder, to wring the water out of them. This Grímr did with equal gravity. Jón was a long way ahead, Scrambling up the Scaur (skarth is the Icelandic name for a mountain pass: it is cognate with Scaur), and we had to trot after him, in order to catch him up. After a good pull up the steep mountain side, we got among the clouds, which gathered over all the high lands, as they rolled up the fjord. They parted once at the top, and we obtained a glorious vision of river, dale, and ridge on ridge of snow and rock; then the clouds closed over the scene, and we had to make the best of our way through them, until we descended into the Fnjoská dale, through which whirls a swift deep river. My Indian-rubber stockings were worn through, so that in crossing rivers I was obliged to brave the cold, and pull off shoes and stockings; but on reaching the further bank, my feet became so numbed, that I was often unable to stand. Travellers in Iceland should be provided with fisherman's boots. We rode through a forest, the finest in Iceland, some of the trees being quite twenty feet high. The fresh green of the birch, the fragrance and rustle of leaves, were most exhilarating, and we cantered, singing, over the light sandy soil, without drawing rein, till we reached Häls, where a new church was in course of erection. The priest received us kindly, and gave us coffee and thin pancakes of native wild corn, powdered with cinnamon, and eaten cold. His pretty daughter was greeted affectionately by my guide, as an old acquaintance. The fellow has friends everywhere ! and the Grimsey grievance was gone through in detail, notwithstanding all my entreaties that it might be cut short, as we had a long journey before us. At last the story is done, and we gallop through the Ljósavain skarth, till we reach the “Light water" lake, whose pale flood is full of undissolved snows, brought down from the white-crested mountains on either side. Seven Northern divers on it ! Ducks, grebes, mergansers, in scores; a white gerfalcon watches us from yon pile of stone, a bowshot off. The Icelandic raven flits around us, and runs among the stones in a bold contemptuous manner, flinging us a disdainful croak when we pelt it. No bird is more common in Iceland than the raven (both Corvus corax and Corvus leucophaus); it throngs all wild and desolate spots, and lays its five or six greenish speckled eggs among the mountain gorges and clefts, early in March, a month earlier than other birds. It feeds on anything which it can digest, worms, which abound in the morasses, whortle-berries, eggs, fish, insects, carrion—even dung. It is a source of terror to the young of the sandpiper and plover; it perches on the backs of the sheep, and fills its crop with the ticks abounding in the long wool; it hovers round the breeding-places of the eider-duck, waiting to tap the eggs, and in winter it flutters about the byres, to seize on any refuse which may be flung from the doors. The raven is regarded with much the same superstitious feeling in Iceland as elsewhere. Hrafn siträhärri staung
The ravens are said to hold formal wardmotes in autumn, and to appoint captains and watchers in their respective districts.
It is curious to find in Iceland a version of a world-wide receipt. The natives tell one, that there is a stone of such wondrous power that the possessor can walk invisible, can, at a wish, provide himself with as much stockfish and cornbrandy as he may desire, can raise the dead, cure disease, and break bolts and bars. In order to obtain this prize, one must hardboil one of the green eggs in a raven's nest, then secrete one's self till the mother bird, finding one of her eggs without prospect of being hatched, flies off and brings a black pebble in her beak, with which she touches the boiled egg, and restores it to its former condition. At this moment, she must be shot, and the stone be secured. Albertus Magnus gives a similar receipt in his De Mirab. Mundi (ed. Argent. 1601, page 225). “If you wish to burst chains, go into the wood, and look out for a magpie's nest, where there are young; climb the tree and choke the mouth of the nest with anything you like. As soon as she sees you do this, she flies off for a plant which she lays on the stoppage; this bursts, and the plant falls to the ground under the tree, where you must have a cloth spread for receiving it.” The same story is told in the Talmud, but there, the moorhen takes the place of raven or magpie. According to the Rabbinical story, Schamir is a worm which preserves the stone of Wisdom: Benaiah son of Jehoiada having found a moorhen's nest, laid a plate of glass over the poults. The mother-bird fetched Schamir and snapped the glass. According to another version—“Solomon went to his fountain, where he found the daemon Sackar, whom he had captured by a ruse, and chained down. Solomon pressed his ring to the chains, and Sackar uttered a cry so shrill that the earth quaked. “Quoth Solomon, “Fear not, I shall restore you to liberty, if you will tell me how to burrow noiselessly after minerals and metals.’ “‘I know not how to do so,” answered the Jin ; “but the raven can tell you; place over her eggs a sheet of crystal, and you shall see how the mother will break it.’ “Solomon did so, and the mother brought a stone, and shattered the crystal.
* Cf. also Tháttr Hrómundar halta, chap. 5.