Page images

It closely resembled a man, but was not gifted with speech. One day when it had an opportunity for escape, it fled to the sea, plunged in, and was never seen again. In 1430, after a violent tempest which broke down the dikes in Holland and flooded the low land, some girls of the town of Edam in West Fruzeland, going in a boat to milk their cows, observed a mermaid in shallow water and embarrassed in the mud. They took it into their boat, and brought it into Edam, dressed it in female attire, and taught it to spin. It fed with them, but never could be taught to speak. It was afterwards brought to Haerlem, where it lived for several years, though still showing a strong inclination for water. Parival relates that it was instructed in its duty to God, and that it made reverences before a crucifix (Délices de Hollande). In 1560, near the island Manar on the west of Ceylon, some fishermen entrapped in their net seven mermen and mermaids, of which several Jesuits and Father Henriques, and Bosquez, physician to the Viceroy of Goa, were witnesses. The physician examined them with a great deal of care, and dissected them. He asserts that the internal and external structure resembled that of human beings. We have another account of a merman seen near the great rock called Diamon, on the coast of Martinique. The persons who saw it gave a precise description of it before a notary; they affirmed that they saw it wipe its hands over its face, and even heard it blow its nose. Another creature of the same species was captured in the Baltic in 1531, and sent as a present to Sigismond, King of Poland, with whom it lived three days, and was seen by all the Court. Another was taken near Rocca de Sintra, as related by Damian Goes. The King of Portugal and the Grandmaster of the order of St. James, are said to have had a suit at law to determine which party the creature belonged to. FAt Lierjanes, near Santander, was born in 1657 Francesco de la Vega, of poor parents, This lad had always a strong predilection for water, and this so greatly irritated his widowed mother that she bade him one day, in wrath, go to sea entirely. Francesco remained quietly at home till he was fifteen, and was then apprenticed to a carpenter at Bilbao. Here he idled his time away for two years, till one day in 1674 he went to bathe with some comrades, but disappeared. Five years after, in 1679, some fishermen at Cadiz were surprised by noticing a figure on the surface of the water, now rocking on the waves, then plunging. Thinking it to be a merman, the fishermen rowed towards it, but he dived and disappeared. Next day several other boats accompanied them to the spot, and the men had the good fortune to see it again. It again eluded their attempt to take it. On the third day the fishermen attracted it by casting pieces of bread into the water; it swam up to these and eat them, gradually nearing the boats, till it was caught in a net. The boatmen conveyed their prize to the Franciscan monastery in Cadiz. The creature was found to be a man, with a few scales on his spine; his nails were gone, his flesh was colourless and flabby, his hair was short and reddish. For two days he remained in the monastery without uttering a word, but one day he distinctly pronounced the name Lierjanes. As this was the only sound he enunciated, it was presumed that it was the name of his native village; and a friar undertook to conduct him home. Inquiries were set on foot, and information of the disappearance of Francesco, five years previously, was obtained at the monastery, and the merman was believed to be Francesco de la Vega. The friar conducted him to the top of the hill above Lierjanes, and then bade his strange comrade lead him the rest of the way. Francesco, without hesitation, walked down to his mother's cottage ; his brothers and mother recognized him at once, but he showed no signs of affection or recollection, staring at them with chill, fishy eyes, and receiving their

* with cold indifference. - nceforth, he resided at home. His habits were still

peculiar; he never spoke, or seemed to have any intellect, though a dull instinct remained. He disliked clothes, and would cast them off if put upon him. He would never tolerate shoes. He eat anything that was put before him without showing any preference for one food over another; and, if his dinner were forgotten, he never asked for any. He seemed to understand simple sentences, but never replied. He was employed in conveying letters as a post-boy, and was most punctual in the discharge of his duties. On one occasion, when the ferry boat was absent, he swam across a large sheet of water between Lierjanes and Santander. Thus he spent nine years at home, and then disappeared. Some fishermen declared afterwards that they had seen a figure like him playing in the bay of Asturias; but he was never again captured. The facts of this singular narrative have been collected and critically examined by the great German writer, Ludwig Tieck, in Der Wassermensch, 1835, and it is almost impossible to escape from the conclusion that they are authentic. I have given them here to show the reader that it is quite possible that there may be a foundation of truth to the worldwide fable of the existence of merfolk. I cannot conclude this digression better than by translating the verses sung by a marmennill, when he was carried back to his favourite element after a brief sojourn on dry land. They are given in the Saga of Half and his knights:

[blocks in formation]

From Skogkottr we could not see the mountains on the farther side of Thingvalla lake, so dense was the o and sand which filled the air. The head of Armannsfell was visible only through a film, and Hengill was blotted completely out of the landscape.

We slept the night in our tent, and intended riding to the

Geysir on the following day. Mr. Briggs, the Yankee, and Martin, were accustomed to doze off with their pipes in their mouths; but, to prevent accidents, these were attached to the main pole of the tent by pack thread, so that as the smokers dropped off, the pipe slid from between their lips and hung in the middle of the tent. I heard each pipe click against the pole before I fell asleep. Next morning we were awakened by Güthmundr stepping over us with a tray of hot coffee and sugar-candy.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Flowers—A Natural Chimney—Extensive Plain—Laugarvatn—An eccentric Bridge—Uthlith—Sleeping in a Church—Position of the Geysir District —Description of the Springs—The Little Geysir—Jack in the Box— Boiling Wells—Strokr—Blue Ponds—Experiments—Great Geysir– Keeping Watch—Magnificent Explosion—Mr. Briggs misses seeing it— Theory of the Geysir.

It was not till afternoon that we left Skogkottr for the Geysir, as some of the horses had escaped, and as the luggage had to be sorted, so that what was superfluous might be sent to Reykjavik under the charge of a guide. The road lies through very picturesque country, better wooded and more grass-grown than any I had seen in the island hitherto. The brightness of the day, the warmth of the sun, the fragrance of the birch, and the brilliancy of the flowers, made our ride most enjoyable. A change had come over the scene since our last visit to Thingvöllum; the mountains had lost much of their snow, the soil was drier, and the coppice was now radiant with the purple Wood Geranium, whose flowers are of every possible hue, from carmine to plum. My little friend the moss Campion was out of flower, and the Dryas had shed her eight cream white petals, and was busy maturing seed in the warm days of July. The Dandelion thrust its showy head out of grass nooks, the Saxifraga hirculus, like a golden star, sprinkled the shaley slopes; Thrift shook its pink tufts among the lava crevices; the sward was dappled with the rosy tassels of the Alpine Catchfly, and the golden cups of the

« PreviousContinue »