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My comb and brush were in the window, and, as I knew that these would be tried upon the different heads in rotation, if once any of the throng caught sight of them, I had to stifle all my sense of propriety, jump out of bed, dash through the crowd, and capture my goods. I went through my dressing operations without drawing attention from the eggs, which were still the engrossing topic of conversation. Later in the morning, the men from Möthrudalr gave me information which completely upset my plans. That these plans may be understood, I must enter into some geographical details, which I hope will not exhaust the patience of the reader. The south-east of Iceland is occupied by a vast heap of mountains, shrouded in eternal snows, which discharge themselves by glaciers into the sea, on the south. The extreme length of the mass is 115 miles, the width 60 miles. This huge district of volcano and snow is named Watna, or Klofa Jökull, but the points in its fringe, some of which are of considerable height, go by separate names; of these the most important are, Hofs, Heinabergs, Breithamerks, Oroefa, Skeithar and Skaptár-Jökulls. Some of these have been the foci of most appalling eruptions. The northern fringe is hardly known, as it meets the Odatha Hraun, or “lava of evil deed,” extending, as may be seen on reference to the map, from the Jökulsá in the east to the Skjalfanda-fljót in the west, and northwards as far as Myvatn. Out of this fearful tract rise mountains, standing up almost like islands above a wild black sea; they can be seen, though not reached, and these have caused the devastation of this enormous district. Their names are Herthubreith, and the two Trôlladyngjas. To the west of this lava district lie the sand-deserts of Sprengi and Stori-sandur, quite destitute of vegetation. To the east, again, beyond the Jökulsá river, are dreary wastes, relieved only at long intervals by grass patches. The northern scarp of Watna Jökull has once been skirted by some Danes, but in the attempt they lost a number of their horses, through cold and starvation.
My object in coming so far east was mainly to explore this tract, to ascend the higher points of the northern edge of the Watna Jökull, and endeavour to get a glimpse of the unknown fastnesses of ice and fire beyond. My plan was to push up the Jökulsá to its source near Kverk-fjall, then, if I found grass, to remain there a day and rest the horses, to allow for the ascent of the mountain. After this I intended crossing the spurs of the glacier to the other source of the Jökulsá under Kistufell and Trôlladyngja, where I hoped to find grass again. If, however, there were none sprouting, I should be obliged to give up all prospect of advancing farther; but if I found sufficient for the support of my ponies, I intended making an effort to reach Eyvindarkofaver, a small patch of grass land between Hofs Jökull and Tungnafells Jökull, where I should rest a day to recruit the horses before proceeding south. This would make it a matter of eight or nine days from Möthrudalr to the first inhabited spot. The news which the men from Mothrudalr brought spoiled my plan completely. They said that on account of the coldness of the spring the grass had hardly begun to sprout anywhere along the Jökulsá vale, and that it was quite out of the question expecting to find the least herbage under the roots of the Watna. Upon this, the farmer of Reykjahlith chimed in with his story of the eruption of Skapta, which volcano, being close to Eyvindarkofaver would effectually destroy the grass there; adding, that he expected that something of the kind must have happened, as no caravans had crossed the Sprengisandur this summer from the south. As Eyvindarkofaver is the last spot of grass which is met with in a journey north over the Sprengi-Sandur till Isholl is reached, which is distant twenty-two hours' hard riding, it was evident that caravans coming north, if they found no herbage at Eyvindarkofaver, would turn back without venturing on the desert. Thus, the non-arrival of the caravans showed that something was wrong at the other extremity of the sand desert. It was a bitter disappointment for me to have to postpone the execution of my scheme for another and more propitious summer, but it would have been insanity to have persisted in it ; no guide would have accompanied me, and I should in all probability have lost my life with that of my ponies. I now changed my plans completely, and determined on returning at once to Akureyri, and after visiting Hólar and Mithfjord, to hasten on to the scene of eruption, supposing it to be the Skapta. Without more ado, determined on losing no valuable time, I ordered the horses to be brought round and saddled ; but it was soon discovered that they had run away, having found next to nothing to eat around Reykjahlith, and it was not till evening that they were recovered. We started on our return to Akureyri in rain, and had showers till we reached the Laxá or Salmon river, which flows from Myvatn through a bed of lava, and empties itself into the sea in the Skjalfanda frith. At the farm of Thwerá we remained the night, as I was too knocked up to proceed; the long ride of the preceding day and night, and the short rest, broken by the clamour of the egg-fanciers, had given me a racking headache. The church of Thyerá possesses only one object of interest; this is an exquisite font-bowl, representing a crowned hart in high relief on a low raised background of oak-leaves, symbolizing the panting of the unregenerate soul for the water-brooks of baptism. The rim of the bowl is stamped with grape bunches and intertwining tendrils. A more spirited and vigorous design can hardly be imagined. I bought of the farmer a copy of the Sturlunga Saga, published in 1817–20, which I had been unable to procure in England or Denmark, as it is out of print. This is one of the longest of the historical Sagas of Iceland, and is, in fact, a compilation of Thatir or “Historiettes.” It fills about 950 pages of close printing, Square 8vo. As Grimr was intent on letting every one know that I had seen Dettifoss, my sketch was in constant requisition, for Dettifoss is a mysterious scene of wonder, which has not been visited by a dozen living natives, and of which strange tales are told. On the following morning, as I came to the door, I was surprised to find one of my horses mounted by an elderly Icelander with a long beard, of whom I knew nothing; but supposing him to be an extra guide engaged by Grimr, for a bit of ground over which neither he nor Jón knew the way, I made no remarks, till we came to the Skjalfanda ferry, where he dismounted. I then inquired who he was, and learned that he had arrived at Thyerá on the preceding evening, from a farm near the ferry, and that his horses had run away during the night, and had probably returned home. He had consequently taken one of mine, without asking leave, partly to save himself the trouble of asking, and partly to save me the trouble of granting or refusing permission. At Häls we missed seeing the priest, so that I could not thank him for having advised me to visit Dettifoss, as he was engaged in hearing confessions. People in their holiday attire were awaiting their turn at the door and in the passage. In the church, which is quite new, is an inferior wooden Madonna of the fifteenth century, and undoubtedly of German workmanship. The altar-piece is modern and very poor. A good deal of gilding has been expended on the screen and altar-rails, but without judgment and with no effect. On reaching the Eyja-fjord river, we found that the tide was up, and the estuary so deep, that we should be compelled to make the horses swim. As I had no change of apparel, and had no wish to be drenched, I stripped, and rode through with my clothes under my arm, under the shelter of an indiarubber poncho, to satisfy Grimr's scruples, as he was dreadfully afraid lest the ladies of Akureyri should be promenading on the opposite bank. The poncho was, however, inconvenient, as it floated out, and nearly blinded my swimming horse. The river is a mile and a half wide at this point, branching into seven mouths, with grassy holms between them. We passed without danger, as the current was slight, but the sensation of cold water gurgling between one's self and the saddle and then rising to the waist was anything but agreeable. I fortunately kept my clothes perfectly dry, but my collection of dried flowers, which I had forgotten to remove from my saddle-bag, was soaked, and the flowers were completely spoiled, as the colour was washed out of them, and the paper was so sodden that they mildewed between the sheets. I met with the same kind reception at Akureyri as before, every one vying with the other in showing me courtesy. I bought here some MSS. of considerable interest from a native who was reduced to great poverty, and only parted reluctantly with the volumes. “These Sagas,” said he, “are our joy; without them our long winters would be blanks. You may have these books, but, believe me, it is prava necessitas alone which forces me to part with them.” As he spoke, the tears came into his eyes, poor fellow ! The volumes I purchased were, 1st, a copy of the Sigurgarthar Saga Sigurgartharsonar, in 8vo, bound in vellum, and written about the end of last century; 2nd, a folio in calf, written in 1713–15, containing :1. Wölsunga Saga. 2. Ragnar Loðbrókar Saga; both together occupying 60 pages. 8. AEnea ok Trojumanna Saga, with an account of S. Oswald, and with the history brought down to the end of the reign of K. Athelstan; 32 pages. 4. Raisubok Bollings, with appendix; 62 pages. 5. Bärings Saga fagra; this Saga relates the history of a certain Bäring, son of Walter, Duke of Holstein, and grandson of the Grand Duke of Saxony. It exists in MS. on vellum at Copenhagen, one of the copies being supposed to be of the fourteenth century. The Saga is a translation from a lost German romance, half history perhaps, but mostly fable, probably made by order of King Hakon Hakon's son. It has never been printed and published. 16 pages. 6. Saga af Ambrosio ok Rosamunda; fabulous; 10 pages. 7. Saga af Remund ok Melucinoe; fabulous; 5 pages. 8. Skjolldunga Saga; a restoration of the Saga from which Saxo Grammaticus compiled his history; 4 pages. 9. Saga af Drauma Jóni; unpublished. 10. Saga af Hakoni Harekssyni; 4 pages; historical. This is followed by a list of Icelandic Sagas. 11. Saga af Ulfari Sterka; fabulous; 10 pages. 12. Saga af Illuga Grybarfostra; mythical; 5 pages.