Page images
PDF
EPUB

and had it boiled for us, the good people invariably squeezed all the juice from it, and gave us the meat dry and tasteless. Mutton is, however, sometimes stewed in milk, and is thus very palatable. I only tasted roast mutton twice during my journey, and, on both occasions, at large farms, where the kitchens were provided with more than ordinary conveniences. Butter is used when either fresh or sour, though the natives prefer it in the latter state. Whatever care may be taken in salting butter, it is not possible to preserve it good beyond a year, whereas sour butter can be kept for ten or twelve without losing either its goodness or its first acidity. In the old Catholic times, there were large magazines attached to each bishopric, serving as storehouses for sour butter; and in years of scarcity, it was distributed among the poor; but these magazines fell into disuse after the Reformation. This kind of butter is prepared by freeing it from all its milk by repeated churning and washing. When it has been deprived of every trace of milk, it is laid aside; it first becomes mouldy and unsavoury, then loses its yellow colour and becomes white: in six months the butter is sour, and fit for consumption, whereas ordinary butter would become completely rancid. If the sour butter be too old, it loses its acidity and weight, turns rancid, and dries up. If melted in this state, it is found to have lost a very large proportion of its oil. Besides butter, skyr, or curd, is made from milk. The milk is placed in a warm spot near the fire, but not allowed to boil. After it has become lukewarm, rennet is put with it to curdle the milk. It is still left on the hearth till the whey has completely separated from the curd, after which it is strained off and set aside. The curd is much more solid than Devonshire junket, and has a sour taste: Icelandic lichen is sometimes chopped up and put with it, but without improving the flavour. It is eaten out of large bowls, with milk, and is most nutritious. The whey, when left to stand, deposits crystals very much like brown sugar. These are the Icelandic cheese, and are spread on potbröd or kaager; the taste is harsh and acid. The Icelandic esculent lichen in appearance resembles that which grows on old tree stumps or apple branches, it is black and grey and has a most uninviting look before it is prepared. The preparation consists in soaking it for twentyfour hours and then boiling it in milk; it is very glutinous, and has a pleasant grassy taste. The drink of the Icelanders is corn-brandy, butter-milk, and bland, which is milk and water. Whey is used as a beverage, and also for pickling, but if the whey has not properly fermented, the things immersed in it for preservation will spoil, though when it is good, they acquire a pleasant flavour, and will keep for upwards of a year. On Saturday evening, the Yankee and Martin started in a leaky boat belonging to the pastor of Thingvalla, hoping to obtain some wild duck, that we might have a good dinner on Sunday and not be driven again to stone-broth, especially as we wanted our preserved meats for the desert interior of the island, where houses are not to be found, and birds are SC&ICe. In a couple of hours the boat returned half-full of water, with the Yankee pulling, and Martin baling lustily. They had been so far successful, that they had killed three couples of wild duck. Mr. Briggs added to the stock, by shooting some teal, so that our anxiety for the morrow was relieved. There was no service in the church on Sunday, as a sufficient congregation did not muster. We spent the day in rambling over the plain, descending into fissures, picking flowers, and bathing. After dinner, as the sun shone out brightly and warmly, we lay down on a sheltered slope, away from the piercing wind, whilst I told the story of Grettir's outlawry.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

THERE was a man named Thorir, who lived at Garth in Athaldal; he was a mighty Icelandic chief, with numerous retainers and extended influence. He had two sons, fine promising fellows both of them, and, at the time of my story, pretty nearly full-grown men. Thorir had spent the summer in Norway when King Olaf returned from England, and had got into favour with the king, and also with Bishop Sigurth, as may be judged by the fact that Thorir, after having built a ship, asked him to consecrate it, which was a great condescension on the part of Thorir. Thorir left Norway for Iceland; he reached it safely, and then chopped up his boat, as he was tired of the sea; the two beaks of the prow he set up over his hall doors, and they were sure indications of the direction of the wind, for the north wind piped in one, and in the other wailed the south wind. As soon as the news reached Iceland that King Olaf was supreme over the whole of Norway, Thorir considered that there might be a good opening at court for his two sons, so he packed them both off late in the autumn, to pay their respects to the king, and remind him of his old friendship for their father. They landed in the south of Norway, and then, getting a long rowing-boat, they skirted the coast on their way north to Drontheim. Reaching a fine frith, in which there was shelter from the gales which began to bluster violently as the winter drew nigh, the sons of Thorir ran their boat in, and determined on waiting till the storms blew over, in a comfortable hostel, built some way up the shore for the accommodation of travellers. Their days they spent in hunting bears among the mountains, and their nights in merry carousal. It happened that Grettir was on board a merchantman then off the shores of Norway, beating about in the gale seeking safe harbourage. Late one evening the vessel ran up this same fjord and stranded on the side opposite that on which was the hostel. The night was cold and wintry; heavy storms of snow rolled over the country, whitening the mountains and forming drifts behind the rocks. The men from the ship were worn out and numbed with cold, and they knew not on what part of the coast they had stranded. When they reached land, they hurried from the shore to seek a sheltered nook where they might pass the night. It was a wild night ! The moon had been clouded over by piles of grey mist, which rolled through the sky, sending out arms of vapour; haggard and ghastly, she seemed to steal over her course swathed in grave-clothes. Now and then some crags caught a straggling gleam and flashed forth, but directly after were again blotted out; then the fjord caught the light and shone like steel till the shadows turned it to lead. An uncertain light flickered down the mountain side over the pine forests, which raved and bent as the wind poured through them. Suddenly a spark, then a flame, was distinguishable, twinkling among the trees, on the opposite side of the fjord. This was a tantalizing sight for the poor shivering fellows, and they began to wish that some one of their number would swim across and bring over a light. No one, however, offered, and the crew hesitated about pushing the ship off and rowing across, lest they should fall among rocks and injure the vessel. “In the good old times there must have been men who Would have thought nothing of swimming across the frith by night,” said Grettir. “Maybe,” answered some of the party; “but it is of *o odds to us what men have been, if there are none now *P to the mark. Why do you not venture yourself, Grettir 2 You are as strong and plucky as any of the old heroes.

* Gretla, chapters 88, 39, 48.

. See what straits we are put to for want of a little re.”

“There is no great difficulty in procuring a light,” answered the young Icelander; “but I know that I shall get no thanks for my pains.” “Then you must have an uncommonly poor opinion of us,” said the chapmen. “Well,” quoth Grettir, “I will risk it; at the same time, I tell you, I have a presentiment that you will bear me no good-will for what I do.” They pooh-poohed his objections, and assured him that he was the best fellow going. Then Grettir flung his clothes off, and busked him for swimming. He had on him a fur cape and a pair of wadmal breeches; these he hitched up and strapped tightly round his waist with a bark cord. Then catching up an iron pot, he jumped into the sea and swam across. On reaching the farther side, he stood up on the beach, and shook the superfluous water from him; but before long his trowsers froze hard, and the water formed in icicles round the hood of his cape. Grettir ascended through the pine wood towards the light, and on reaching the hostel from whence it proceeded, he walked straight in without speaking to any one, and striding up to the fire, he stooped and began to rake the embers into his iron pot, and to select a blazing brand which he could carry across in his mouth. The hall was full of revellers, and these revellers were the sons of Thorir and their boat's crew. They were already half intoxicated, and on seeing a tall, wild-looking man enter the hall, half-dressed in fur, and bristling with icicles, they concluded at once that they saw a Troll or mountain demon. Whereupon every man caught up the first weapon he could lay hold of, and rushed to the attack. Grettir defended himself as best he could, warding off the blows with the flaming log, and eluding the missiles flung at him. In the scuffle the hot embers on the hearth were scattered over the floor, which was strewn with fresh straw and rushes. In a few moments the hall was filled with flame and smoke,

« PreviousContinue »