« PreviousContinue »
patch of about two acres, below a sand-hill, in a bend of the H6hna-kvisl. Kvisl is the Icelandic for a feeder to a large river. It was a satisfaction to see the water flowing north, and to know that we had broken the neck of the heithi.
We rested our horses for half an hour. Grimr unstrapped my fishing stockings from behind his saddle, and shook out of one of them kaager, and from the other, a cold leg of mutton.
After having satisfied myself, I was making for the sandhill with the intention of searching for fossil freshwater shells, which are to be found in the sand formations between the trap beds, when Grimr called me back, urging the necessity of our not losing more time, as we should get no supper, if we arrived late at Grimstunga.
Near Holma-kvisl the road for Vithidalr branches off to the left. The mountains dividing that vale from Vatnsdalr rose in greater majesty before us as we proceeded, but unfortunately, their heads were shrouded in mist.
"In six hours," said Grim, "we shall be at the head of Yatnsdalr. It shall rain before we arrive."
THE VAMPIRE'S GRAVE.
Barren Wilderness—A Cairn—The Valley of Shadows: a Saga—A magnificent Gorge—Waterfalls—The Vatnsdalr—Arrival at Grimstiinga.
Towards seven o'clock we reached perhaps the most repulsive portion of the heithi; scarce a blade of grass was visible. The land, for the most part, was a tract of mud and stone, with only here and there a patch of grey moss, covering though not disguising the hideous nakedness of the desert.
A pile of trachyte blocks indicated a road, which otherwise would have been undistinguishable, as no attempt had been made to clear the stones from the track; and it was only where these stones gave place to black mud, that by its kneaded filth we could ascertain that horses passed that way.
Mr. Briggs, Grimr, and I had ridden in silence for more than an hour, our spirits depressed by the revolting scene and by the dull quilt of cloud obscuring the sun; when suddenly Grimr drew rein, and pointing to a cairn distant about a quarter of a mile from the path, said in a solemn voice— "There is Glamr's grave!"
Had there been any exhilarating object within sight, my guide would have been the last man to point it out. Much to his discontent I turned my horse's head and rode over the rocks to the spot.
The tumulus rises in a bend of the stream, and is composed entirely of stones gathered from the patch of ground around it, which consequently is free from them, and able to produce a scanty crop of grass. The cairn may be fifteen feet high, and is bell-shaped: to the north, a coating of hoary moss has spread itself over it, and choked the interstices with its felty roots. A small tarn to the east, with cat-ice about the rim, is fed by patches of dirty snow, which seems hardly inclined to thaw this summer.
As I stand by the cairn, the wind soughs up from the north, lashing the viscous pool into ripples, rustling among the reeds, humming with a strange mournful note through the crevices of the dead man's home, then rolls onward, to furrow the snows on Eiriks jokull. A falcon wheeling overhead, with a harsh scream swerves in the blast, his wings flicker, and he soars aloft, to appear, but as a speck, against the whirling vapours. Not a plover nor curlew to be seen or heard. I draw my cloak closer about me, and pull my hood farther over my head. My companions shout, and, nothing loth to rejoin them, I spring upon my pony, and scramble back to the road.
"Pray, Padre, what have you to say about this Glamr, whose grave is in such an accursed spot?"
"You shall hear, but if you get the blue devils by listening to my story, blame your own inquisitiveness."
"If they come on," replied Mr. Briggs, "I have a sovereign remedy; the blue devils shall be expelled by ardent spirits."
So I began the story of —
NEAR our halting place to-night, opens a glen, which, from its overhanging crags and generally sombre aspect, has, from time immemorial, been hight the Vale of Shadows. To-morrow we shall visit it.
* Oretla, chaps. 82 — 35. I give this story as a specimen of a very remarkable form of Icelandic superstition. It is Bo horrible, that I forewarn all those who have weak nerves, to skip it.
In the beginning of the eleventh century, there stood, a little way up this valley, a small farm, occupied by a worthy bonder, named Thorhall, and his wife. The farmer was not exactly a chieftain, but he was well enough connected to be considered respectable: to back up his gentility, he possessed numerous flocks of sheep, and a goodly drove of oxen. Thorhall would have been a happy man, but for one circumstance —his sheepwalks were haunted.
Not a herdsman would remain with him; he bribed, threatened, entreated, all to no purpose; one shepherd after another left his service; and things came to such a pass, that he determined on asking advice at the next annual council. Thorhall saddled his horses, adjusted his packs, provided himself with hobbles, cracked his long Icelandic whip, and cantered along this identical road; and in less time than we have taken over it, he reached Thingvellir.
Skapti Thorodd's son was lawgiver at that time, and, as every one considered him a man of the utmost prudence and able to give the best advice, our friend from the Vale of Shadows made straight for his booth.
"An awkward predicament certainly,—to have large droves of sheep, and no one to look after them," said Skapti, nibbling the nail of his thumb, and shaking his wise head,—a head as stuffed with law, as a ptarmigan's crop is stuffed with blaeberries. "Now, I'll tell you what—as you have asked my advice, I will help you to a shepherd; a character in his way, a man of dull intellect, to be sure, but strong as a bull."
"I do not care about his wits, so long as he can look after sheep," answered Thorhall.
"You may rely on his being able to do that," said Skapti. "He is a stout, plucky follow; a Swede from Sylgsdale, if you know where that is."
Towards the break-up of the council, " Thing" they call it in Iceland, two greyish-white horses belonging to Thorhall slipped their hobbies, and strayed; so the good man had to hunt after them himself, which shows how short of servants he was. He crossed Sletha-asi—you remember the place, Mr. Briggs; I made a sketch of Siilur from it, and close by is the Grettis-tak—well, thence he bent his way to Armanns-fell, and just by the Priest's-wood he met a strange-looking man driving before him a horse laden with faggots. The fellow was tall and stalwart: his face involuntarily attracted Thorhall's attention, for the eyes of an ashen grey were large and staring, the powerful jaw was furnished with very white protruding teeth, and around the low forehead hung bunches of coarse wolf-grey hair.
"Pray what is your name, my man?" asked the farmer, pulling up.
"Glamr, an please you!" replied the wood-cutter.
Thorhall stared; then, with a preliminary cough, he asked how Glamr liked faggot-picking.
"Not much," was the answer; "I prefer shepherd life."
"Will you come with me?" asked Thorhall; "Skapti has handed you over to me, and I want a shepherd this winter uncommonly."
"If I serve you it is on the understanding that I come or go as pleases me. I tell you I'm a bit truculent if things do not go just to my thinking."
"I shall not object to this," answered the bonder; "so I may count on your services!"
"Wait a moment! You have not told me whether there be any drawback."
"I must acknowledge that there is one," said Thorhall; "in fact, the sheepwalks have got a bad name for bogies."
"Pshaw! I'm not the. man to be scared at shadows," laughed Glamr; "so here's my hand to it; I'll be with you at the beginning of the winter night."
Well! after this, they parted, and presently the farmer found his ponies. Having thanked Skapti for his advice and assistance, he got his horses together and trotted home.
Summer, and then autumn, passed, but not a word about the new shepherd reached the Valley of Shadows. The winter storms began to bluster up the glen, driving the flying snowflakes and massing them in white drifts at every winding of the vale. Ice formed in the shallows of the river, and the streams,