Page images

Briggs. “Once, when I was in Wales, I was just as unsuccessful in keeping them off. Shall I tell you what I did 2 I was stopping at a little inn, and had not been in bed five minutes, before I became sensible that it was alive. I lit a candle, but the light only served to show me the whole room was swarming. I rang the bell. Up came a servant. ‘Maryl a pot of treacle !' The treacle was produced. I made a ring of it round each leg of a chair, then folded myself up in my rug, and sat complacently on the seat, thinking that I had defeated my inveterate foes at last. But no l they were too clever for me! What do you think they did 2 They crept up the walls, and dropped on me from the ceiling.” We reached the base of the hill at Thorodds-stathr, the farm which had belonged once to Thorbjorn Strong-as-a-bull, the murderer of Grettir's elder brother. It is a neat farm, with a large tân, enclosed within high turf walls, with a gate, a rare sight in Iceland Between this and Reykir is a swamp, in which, according to the Saga, Grettir lost his spear-head. This was found about two hundred years afterwards, and the marsh is called “Spear-swamp” to this day. The farmer of Thorodds-stathr was absent at the ships, so that we had to ride to the next farm before we could obtain a boat in which to row across to the vessels. The object I had in visiting the ships was to procure small change, as I was unprovided with any smaller coin than dollars, and I could get none exchanged at the farms, as the people live by barter, and use money only in occasional transactions. The larger of the vessels belonged to M. Sandhop, a merchant, who, if I remember right, was a Dane by extraction, though he had been born in Iceland. He received us with every civility and insisted on our dining with him. He had come from the I'safjord, and was going to visit two or three other stations, and then sail for England. The hold of his vessel was fitted up like a shop, with counter and desk. Round the sides were ranged sacks of rye meal and coffee, canisters of sugar and snuff, kegs of brandy and rum, suits of secondhand clothes, whips, bridles, saddles, ranges of pottery and hardware. Above the entrance to the lower hold were heaped up fox and swan skins, and bales of wool and eider-down, which had been received from the natives. Unfortunately for Mr. Briggs there was neither camphor nor oil of lavender among the stores. M. Sandhop let us overhaul the ship's medicine-chest, but we could find nothing which would avail us as a specific against “jumpers,” as the Danes designate a disagreeable form of insect life. We then visited the second ship, which belonged to a kind old Dane with white hair, who was bent on showing us hospitality, and was distressed beyond measure at being unable to provide us with what we wanted. Surely Iceland is a glorious field for the operations of Mr. Harper Twelvetrees | On this vessel we found the whole of the upper deck converted into a shop under canvas. A steady traffic was going on, bags of wool were being hoisted up the ship's side from Icelandic boats, and meal, coffee, and brandy barrels were being swung down in exchange. The merchant laughed when we told him of our discomforts, and assured us that he was compelled to swab down his deck, and wash the boards which constituted his counter, every night, so as to purify them from the loathsome creatures, which had been left on board by his customers. The old gentleman brought us into his cabin and insisted on our toasting Denmark with him, in bumpers of raw brandy. On our return to the larger vessel, we found that dinner was ready in the cabin. The merchant and his captain, Mr. Briggs, Grímr, and I sat down to a capital repast of hot roast mutton and black bread. After having lived for so long on curd, stockfish, and occasional junks of cold, semi-putrid mutton, the fresh roast meat was most delicious, and I never enjoyed a dinner so thoroughly as that on board the merchant vessel.

We drank bottle after bottle of foaming Bavarian beer, and glasses of good claret; after which an “Alexandra pudding ” was brought in. This consisted of a very light raisin pudding, floating in egg, brandy, and flour sauce. With this we drank port and champagne, and the meal concluded with a steaming bowl of punch, very hot and strong. “Well! has either of you lost his heart in Iceland 2 ” suddenly asked the merchant. Mr. Briggs dropped his head, and became red as a peony. “Why, what is the matter 2 ” asked M. Sandhop; “there is something in the wind, I can see l’’ “What glorious Jökulls there are in this island,” said my fat friend, making a clumsy attempt to turn the conversation. “Yes! but that is neither here nor there. What do you think of the fair maids of this icy clime 2" Grímr burst out laughing, and looked at my friend. Poor Mr. Briggs' his confusion became terrible. Neither Mr. Briggs nor I answered, but Grímr maliciously told the story of my friend's affaire de cour, to the great amusement of the merchant. “Well!” said M. Sandhop, “you have certainly chosen the prettiest of all Icelandic belles. The lovely Thorney has not only got the most beautiful eyes x “And nose,” interpolated Mr. Briggs. “But she is also as good as she is beautiful; and she is well connected too ! for she is the grand-daughter of an Archdeacon, daughter of a Sysselman, and niece of a Thing-man. I do not know that a more eligible match is to be found in the whole island, but there is a drawback.” “A drawback l’” echoed Mr. Briggs, with a groan. “Yes,” answered the merchant; “though no daughter could behave better to her widowed mother—still there is a drawback!” “Tell me, oh! tell me, what that is l’” pleaded my fat friend, with an expression of agony on his usually cheery countenance.

“I hardly like to mention it,” answered the merchant; “but—she has got the sheep's disease.” " Poor Mr. Briggs collapsed with a moan, and since that moment, he never alluded in my presence to the angelic Thorney. It was late in the evening when we left the merchant-ship, and rowed back to the farm from which we had borrowed the boat. We paid for the hire of it the trifling sum of three marks (1s. 14 d.) Guthmundr, the guide of Mr. Briggs, had been sent on with my friend's baggage horses, to Melr— another Melr, not that from which we had come; but my ponies remained at the farm. Our progress up the fjord was somewhat impeded by the condition of Grímr and Mr. Briggs, who, of course by the merest succession of accidents, repeatedly tumbled off their horses, and nearly came to blows by charging each other with being drunk. Our track led across numerous swampy gills, and deeply rutted streams. Grímr led the way in a series of zigzags, between the fjord and half-way up the hill. This may have been all right, but I put it down at the time to a certain confusion of mind, produced by the merchant's champagne and punch. In two hours we reached Stathr church and parsonage, where every one was asleep: and then began a series of troubles which hindered our journey, so that it was past midnight before we reached Melr in Hrutafjord, which was to be our destination for the night. The crupper of the principal baggage pony broke, and pack and boxes slipped over the brute's head. It was a quarter of an hour before these were again adjusted. A horse ran loose, with only a saddle on his back, and I suggested that his crupper should be brought for the sumpter-pony. Grimr thought otherwise. “This will not happen again l’” said he, and he drove the horse on without one. In five minutes the load was over his head again, causing another delay of a quarter of an hour. Mr. Briggs and I set off after the horse with the spare saddle, but the discordant yells of my friend so alarmed the pony that we could not catch him. Grímr strapped on the pack as before, and would not assist us. At the next hill over went the boxes again; and this actually happened six times, Grímr protesting on every occasion that it would be the last, till Mr. Briggs and I completely lost our temper with him. Will it be believed that on opening one of the boxes at Melr, we found a bran-new crupper that Grimr had put at the top—one which we had brought with usin case of emergencies? Yet Grimr would rather undergo the trouble of saddling and loading the horse six times than use a crupper, simply because it was my proposal that he should. The bed at Melr was so dirty that I preferred sleeping on the floor, with a saddle for my pillow, and relinquishing the bed to my guide. The farmer, next morning, gave us nothing to eat, and charged us exorbitantly; so that I advise all future travellers to shun lodging at Melr. We started early, and wound over a desolate upland tract of stone and mud, following a stream which brawled and tumbled in beautiful falls over the black rock, tearing itself a course and burrowing among crags as hard as iron. At one spot it leaped over a jet black glossy shelf into an inky pool, on the side of which was seated a Sclavonian grebe (Podiceps cornutus) gravely watching the bubbles. It was a handsome bird with rich auburn tufts on its head, red neck, and silvery white breast. The back and forehead, crown and ruff, were of a deep glossy brown, the beak black with a white tip. This grebe builds a large floating nest of rushes and slime, and ties it to a couple of strong reeds. The nest is so strong and so carefully plastered and plugged with clay that not a drop of water can get into it. The bird lays three or four eggs of a pale greenish white colour, one inch and three quarters long by one inch and one quarter in breadth. When the mother leaves her nest, she carefully covers the eggs with reeds *nd twigs, to conceal them from the skuas which are on the

* See page 101.

« PreviousContinue »