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In the meantime, Mr. Briggs had made a considerable détour, having gone back some way till he found a spot where the hill admitted of being ascended, and the torrent crossed without difficulty. Before us rose the cone of Baula, a tall grey mass of trachyte about 3,000–3,500 feet high, and so precipitous that snow can never rest on its head or flanks. Near its base is little Baula, a singular crater, containing in the centre of its bowl a sugar-loaf of red cinder, considerably higher than the walls of the crater. The old myth, that at the top of Baula there is an opening to the land of the elves, has been exploded, for it was ascended, two years ago, by some German naturalists. The mountain is composed of a pyramid of pale grey trachytic columns, three or nine sided, and arranged with the most beautiful regularity. From the top of Baula can be counted thirty-seven lakes, and innumerable chains of snowy mountains. We stopped the night at Hvammr, a little parsonage planted under a precipice of dark rock. The old priest was an enthusiast on the subject of Icelandic history, and was able to give me some curious information corroborating the statements in some of the Sagas. He had seen the stones in the Hitará, which mark the spot to which Grettir and Björn had swum, and had sounded the stone in the Hvitá to which Thangbrand the Christian missionary had attached his ship. The Saga speaks of it as giving out a musical note when struck. It does so still, and is called the Glöckustein. It is egg-shaped, of a yellowish tinge, and about six feet high. The old man showed me a parchment MS. history of his parish, written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, also a MS. volume of Sagas, containing those of Asmund Viking, Jasone Bjarta, Thorstein forwitna, Florus oll sonum hans, Dynuse Drambláti, Eirek Artussyni, and Halfdane Eysteinssyni. The church contains little of real interest except a font basin of brass stamped with the Annunciation, and a fine brass chandelier. On the altar are two triple candlesticks. In the churchyard are stone staves over the tombs, and one forms the top of a stable door adjoining the house. This bears an inscription which I could not decipher, as the stone was much overgrown with the turf, of which the walls are composed.
On the following morning, Mr. Briggs and I were lying in bed, laughing and talking, when Grimr came in, with the news that two of my horses had run away.
“Then go after them l’” said I.
“Ah!” said he, “ of what use is that ? You would lose guide as well as horses then. When once the horses make up their minds to run, they will sometimes go for a week without stopping. There was once a man from the Skagafjord came to our house at Reykjavík, and left his horse standing outside our door, whilst he spoke to my father within. The pony started off, and next day was seen passing Thingvellir; then it ran through Kaldidalr, and twelve men who were making up the way marks on the side of Ok, tried ineffectually to stop it. The horse ran on till it reached its home, and that was six days after it had left Reykjavík.” Grímr had always got a dismal story on his lips, when one Was at all inclined to be cheerful, so I took this anecdote at what it was worth, and waited patiently for two hours, till the horses were recovered.
The priest would take no money for our lodging; so I presented him with the Illustrated London News Almanack, and his wife with a pretty necklace, to which was suspended a cross of Cornish diamonds. The almanack for 1862 contained chromo-lithographs of our English farm-stock; and as there are neither pigs nor donkies in Iceland, the representations of these animals roused the interest of the old people. “What is that ?” asked the priest's wife, pointing to a pollard willow in one of the pictures. “That,” said Grimr, “is a forest tree.” “Tree l’exclaimed the old lady; “how wonderfully trees must grow in southern climes | Why, it is twice my height, and as thick round as my waist. Trees must be fine things, indeed, if they grow as big as that l” Our road lay over the Grjótháls, or “Stony neck,” from which we obtained a magnificent view of Baula, starting up in its strange isolation, out of an elevated plateau above the Northrár-dale. From the other side of the ridge, we beheld one of the most enchanting landscapes I have ever seen. The sun was out in all its noontide glory. Below us lay a wooded plain, spangled with pools and streams of water, and stretching to the Borgarfjord, which flashed in the sun, like a mirror. Far away to the south lay the purple chain of Skarths-heithi, crested with snow; to the left rose Ok Jökull, above a range of low brown hills. We descended to the plain and rode for an hour through a coppice of brightly glistening birch, among which darted the redwing (Turdus iliacus), and the white wagtail (Motacilla alba). The soil was sandy, and sprinkled with the orange Alpine cinquefoil (Potentilla aurea). Passing North-tunga, we were involved in bogs, and had to scramble up an almost precipitous hill to escape from them. Presently Grimr exclaimed—“We have lost the track l’’ Ten minutes afterwards I found it, but Grimr kept resolutely from it, as I, and Inot he, had been its discoverer.
Up to this time the pack-horses had held me in sovereign contempt, and would not advance a step when I shouted to them to go on. It is tedious work driving a troop of horses in Iceland, unless one has a man to every three, for, instead of continuing in the track, the wretched creatures separate, and stand quietly cropping the grass a hundred yards apart. The driver has to ride from one to the other, shouting and cracking his whip. As soon as one horse is urged on, it advances half a dozen steps and then stops till the rest of the troop have been whipped, and the driver returns to it again. It often takes an hour to get over a couple of miles, and the trouble and worry are incessant. With my little switch, I used to ride after some quietly grazing pony, uttering shouts like a fiend. The animal would look round at me with indifference, crop a mouthful, look again, take another mouthful, and, as soon as I came within reach, would saunter off, with perfect nonchalance. Now, however, I made myself redoubted, having buckled a leathern strap, a yard and a half long, to the end of my whip; and with this I dealt such frightful blows that the ponies fled like the wind before me. As we rode over a long rolling hill, the sun was at our backs, and threw our shadows before us. The appearance of my shadow, running over the pasture on which the ponies were grazing, was now sufficient to strike a panic into their hearts, and send them on at a gallop. Two or three times we disturbed families of ptarmigan, the mothers starting up between the legs of our horses and running away with a terrified cluck, whilst their numerous progeny darted hither and thither in the wildest alarm. I dismounted once and caught a fledgling, a droll little ball of yellowish grey down. The poor chick remained perfectly tranquil in my hand, its tiny heart beating very fast, and its little head turning right and left in search of its mother. Presently I heard a harsh croak close by, which was immediately followed by a feeble “Cheep !” from my captive and a struggle to be free. On looking down, I found that the