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After leaving the byre, we wound round the north side of a small lake, and became so involved in bogs, that it was with great difficulty we got the pack-horses safely through; and, on reaching the Sandy banks of a little river which fed the farm, they lay down one after another and rolled, snapping ropes and girths, Smashing bottles, and severely trying the Icelandic boxes. After the damage was repaired to the best of our abilities, we ascended the heithi, or moor. High land which can be traversed by horses is called a heithi. It is either without vegetation or covered with moss, lichen, Dryas octopetala, and Silene acaulis. These heithies, being exposed to the action of snow-water, are much torn and mangled, the rock being, in many places, quite polished by the streams from the thawed snows, as they slide over them. Mr. Chambers, in passing this same tract of moor from a different direction, saw similar polishings, and at once put them down to glacial action, and the furrows caused by the little rills to the striae of glacial grooving. I believe him to be mistaken, for the following reasons: the rock is not smoothed except where the streams flow over it, and a slight node of rock three inches high is quite sufficient to divert the striae and alter the direction of the polished surface. A considerable removal of earth had taken place this spring, and I observed no marks of glacial smoothing on the rock upon which the soil had rested; it was ribbed and curdled like ordinary lava. These heithies are very awkward things to cross, as the ground is thoroughly broken up. Level turf is excessively rare in Iceland, and is only to be found on low river-flats which cannot be furrowed by the snow; elsewhere, the ground is covered with broken lumps of turf and refuse moss. The moor abounded in whimbrel and golden plover. My companions shot as many as we could carry, besides ptarmigan in their summer plumage, and snipe. Terns with their jaunty, black caps, snowy breasts, coral legs and beak, skimmed and wavered about us, uttering their strange grating
cry. We killed four, but were obliged to throw them away,
horseback, who at once fell into conversation with Grimr;
and presently let out that he had got a fine pony for sale.
* I set these down at the time, without hesitation, as the common tern (Sterna hirundo, Lin.) But I see that M. Preyer asserts that the only species found in Iceland is the Arctic tern. Mr. Fowler assures me that he neve" saw the common tern during the three months that he was in the island. I deeply regret that I did not preserve the skins. The description given above is that entered at the time in my journal, with the dead birds before me.
that famous rift, to see which, Lord Dufferin says, it is worth going the whole world over. The scene from the edge was most striking. Below us, in the dim light which pierced the cloud canopy, we could See a great plain, bounded by mountains; the air was perfectly still below, and a column of white smoke rose far off under the mountain roots, where charcoal-burners had kindled their fires. The foundations of the eternal hills were lost in the deepest blue black shadow. The rocky edge on which we stood was 100 feet in abrupt precipice, and from the other side of the rift the ground dipped rapidly to the plain. To our right was the lake, cold and still, one grey island rising out of it. Suddenly the edge of the cloud veil was lifted, and a pale white gush of light ran along the plain, showing us the little church of Thingvalla, the Hill of Laws, the seamed face of the land, and the dusky foliage of the birchwood beyond the region of the rifts. Then we descended the rocky stair in the Almannagjá, cantered along its turfy bottom, broke through the wall on the other side, and after crossing the river Oxerá, rode up to the parsonage and dismounted at the churchyard gate. The rain began to patter down, and we longed to get under shelter, and fill our hungry stomachs, for we had eaten nothing all day except the oyster-catcher for breakfast. But the priest declined to receive us, as his house was full; and he apologized for not being able to give us any food, as his supplies were exhausted, and he had not yet been to Reykjavik for more. However, he consented to our birds being cooked in his kitchen, and he pointed us out a spot in the churchyard by an old upright stone, on which is the neasure mark of a true ell, where we were to pitch our tents. Güthmundr and Magnús started with the horses to the place where they were to feed; the Yankee took Martin off With him, to give him a lesson in carving, and Grimr, with his pipe in his mouth, conversed with a native who was lounging Ilear. Mr. Briggs and I spread out the tent.
“Well,” exclaimed the former, suddenly looking up; “Grímr, are you not going to help us 2 ” My guide understood and spoke English, so he replied— “I cannot, I am busy here.” “Yes! busy doing nothing ! Come and help to get the tent up.” “You have no right to order me. I have done my work as guide.” “You have done nothing all day but smoke and grumble,” retorted Mr. Briggs, getting very wroth. Grimr reddened, and walked off with his friend. Mr. Briggs followed him—“I insist on your helping us to put up the tents.” “It is of no use more than two doing it; and there are you and Mr. Baring-Gould to do it.” “You are an idle, good-for-nothing fellow,” burst forth my indignant friend. Grímr turned to his comrade, and called him to witness the fact that he had been insulted, as he intended demanding legal satisfaction on his return to Reykjavík. I now ran up and quieted the angry men as well as I could, and sent Grímr to fetch some of the boxes; this he consented to do, but, in fact, he brought nothing but a rug and a pack-saddle, and then Sauntered off to rejoin his friend. I was put in a somewhat difficult position; if I dismissed Grimr, I should find no other guide, and a great amount of time would be lost. I determined accordingly on humouring him and letting him have his own way, a plan which succeeded, for I believe that a more upright and trustworthy fellow is not to be found anywhere; but he was very obstinate, and had the disinclination for hard work which characterizes his race. Mr. Briggs and I erected the two tents ourselves, brought the boxes under cover, made the bed, and slung my hammock, as I had no fancy for another night on the hard ground. By this time the birds were ready, and were brought to us in a saucepan, and placed on the church steps, where we eat them with biscuits, and then, after a stiff glass of hot toddy, turned into our beds for the night.