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FROM HNAUSIR TO EYJA FJORD.
A Tract of Slag Cones—An Icelandic Doctor—Part from my Friends—-Gilja —Conversion of Iceland—Svinavatn—Icelandic Churches—A miserable Lodging—Slang—Harlequin Duck—Ford the Blanda—Vatnsskarth— Vithimyri — Purchase a Horse — Ford the Heradsvatn — Mikliboer — Oxnadals Heithi—Stcinstathr—A Caravan—Strange Merchandise—The Princess Alexandra—A Death.
Nothing could be kinder than the reception I met with at Hnausir from Mr. Skaptason, surgeon and apothecary, a nephew of the excellent Reykjavik doctor, Hjaltalin.
His farm is perhaps the largest and richest in the north, and the house is certainly the best built in Iceland. .Grimr's admiration of it was excessive, he evidently regarded it quite as a palace, and the doctor himself was deservedly proud of his house, which, comparatively speaking, was clean and comfortable. The tune is very large and productive; it lies on a flat between the river and a small lake, full of teal, wild-duck, and pintails, and a mile north of a large sheet of water thronged with swans. On the west of the river is a most singular district, a mile square, covered with countless sand and slag heaps devoid of vegetation, generally yellow and speckled with reddened stones. These heaps are perfectly symmetrical cones, and are alike regular in formation whether they are three or fifty feet high. On the level between their bases, a little grass sprouts, but not a blade on the hills themselves. Some are capped with large stones, and, as a general rule, the smaller stones are nearest the base and the larger blocks crown the apex. These mounds have been thrown up by an earthquake. Drs. Preyer and Zirkel remark that similar heaps were raised in Chili during the earthquake on the 20th November, 1822.
On Vatnsdals-fjall, immediately above Hnausir on the east, are found large masses of petrified wood susceptible of a bright polish.
The apothek of Mr. Skaptason little resembles an English doctor's laboratory, as there were none of its neat phials and carefully labelled bottles: instead of these the room was blocked up with brown jars of purges, pills and confections, barrels of gums, bundles of simples, old green wine-bottles filled with mixtures, jam-pots containing ointments and salves, kegs of boluses, besides shelves of German, Latin, and Danish medical treatises of the last century and the beginning of the present. The good doctor has a loft above the kitchen, in which his patients are stowed; apparently the kitchen smoke ascends to the infirmary and thence escapes through a hole in the roof. The place was in a cloud of the acrid, pungent fumes of sheep's-dung and peat, before each meal; so that I was always made aware of the approach of a repast by the coughing, sneezing, and grunting of the diseased population abovestairs.
Mr. Briggs, Martin, and the Yankee were accommodated with a den in a labyrinth of chambers downstairs; and as there were more sick in the house than the loft would contain, the compartments round my friends' beds were occupied by patients. My companions' cabin was lighted by a window, which consisted of a single pane, hermetically sealed into the walls, and was only ventilated through the roof of the sick loft and the tunnel communicating through the kitchen with the yard. My apartment was infinitely more commodious; it adjoined the sitting-room, but, as it was also the passage between it and the kitchen, the servant-girls were traversing it all the morning whilst I was in bed, or undergoing the process of becoming presentable, and this, considering my innate modesty, was sufficiently harrowing to the feelings.
On the evening of July 1st, Grimr and I parted from our friends, as they proposed spending some time in Vatnsdalr, shooting and fishing. We left behind us every thing that we could possibly spare, and rode to Svinavatn, where we intended sleeping. We passed an inconsiderable hot spring at a farm called Reykr, below a singular conical mountain, and traversing the bogs which surrounded the beautiful Swine-lake, reached the little church of Svinavatn at ten o'clock.
The wind had been piercingly cold all day, rolling up from the Arctic Ocean without any break. Gilja, with its pretty brawling stream, dancing and foaming through a chasm, had stirred my heart with real emotion. It had been the home of that Thorwald, who was the first to introduce Christianity into his native land, and who, I believe, is the original of Fouque's hero in the exquisite romance, " Thiodolf, the Icelander." Many a time, doubtless, had the boy scrambled up that gill, leaping its rocks, and plunging into its vitriol-green pools, till the time came for him to travel. His tenderness of heart had amused, as well as gained the love of all who met him while he was still heathen; in viking expeditions he had freed his captives, and with his prize-money had ransomed prisoners. Whilst abroad he was converted to the true faith, and, full of zeal, he persuaded a certain Saxon bishop, Fredrick, to accompany him to his native isle. The first winter was spent at Gilja, in converting Thorwald's parents; after which, a mission tour was undertaken, but with poor results, the bishop preaching in his own tongue, and Thorwald interpreting what he said. The young man incurred the anger of his companion, by killing a person who had made some insulting verses on them, likening the bishop to an old woman, and Thorwald to her baby; and finally the two parted company. Fredrick and Thorwald, dissatisfied with the progress that was made, deserted Iceland, and the youth is believed to have visited Constantinople, and died in a monastery. This mission bore fruits, though they were not visible at first; it unsettled the minds of the heathen, it gave them ideas which were new to them, it inspired doubts in their minds as to the truth of their ancestral faith, and prepared the way for the missions of Thangbrand and Gissur the white, and the general conversion of the island.
We rode from Hnausir to Svinavatn at an amble, breaking into an occasional trot. This increase in speed was hailed by Grirur with an exultant shout of, "Now we are going like dee-vils!" If this pace was diabolical, what must he have thought of the rate at which we scoured the country beyond Akureyri! Svinavatn church is interesting, as it contains a curious diptych with mediaeval figures in four compartments, painted on a gold ground, in the style of the fifteenth century; the subjects are—
First, in the top compartment on the right,—The Annunciation.
Second, below this,—The Nativity.
Third, on the left,—The Resurrection.
Fourth, on the left below,—The Last Judgment.
An Icelandic church is both externally and internally much like a barn; its plan is a parallelogram, with its eastern and western faces occupied by wooden gables surmounted by weathercocks; the sides are flanked with walls of turf, so thick as to resemble aisles. The roof is made of wood covered with turf, on which grass and buttercups grow in profusion, and are most attractive to the ponies. On one occasion little "Bottle-brush," my favourite riding pony, walked from me, whilst I was sketching, and proceeded to escalade the church; I had to bring it down by the bridle when the creature was half-way up to the roof-tree. These grass-grown roofs afford a valuable hint to the natives that the land would produce threefold if properly drained.
The church bells are usually suspended in the lychgate, which gives access to the graveyard. The yard is surrounded by a high turf wall, covered with a profusion of grass; indeed, the soil is ready enough to produce herbage if relieved of the chilling influence of the water, which turns all grass-land into cold morass.
The church is the general receptacle of the farmers' clothes, saddles, and wool, which are stowed among the rafters. Bibles, sermon-books, and hymnals, are also stacked, out of the damp, along the cross-beams.
The nave is filled with open benches, but the Thing-man, or M.P., has a pew opposite the pulpit, in an Athal-kirkja, or Mother-church. The pulpit is modern, and is usually adorned with coarse paintings of apostles, evangelists, or Icelandic imaginings of tropical flowers. The screen extends to the rafters, and is painted; it is a lattice or palisade, more or less carved and coloured; within it, a seat runs round the four sides of the choir, interrupted only by the altar-rails and the rood-screen door. On this the men sit during service, whilst the women are accommodated in the nave. Hanging from a nail in the chancel is a large brass pan, something like an alms-dish, only deeper: this is the font. These basins are often exceedingly handsome, and are of German or Danish workmanship. That of Svinavatn represents Adam and Eve, on either side of the tree, in a garden of lilies and roses. Curled round the tree is the serpent, with a crowned female face, and long hair. Around the bowl is the motto, in old German,—" Ich bart geluk alzeit" (" I bear luck always ! ") repeated five times.
A lantern without glass, frequently painted and gilt, is also hung in most chancels, or stands beside the richly-coloured box, serving as aumbry. When there is no such box, the altars are made to open, and disclose a shelf on which stand the Eucharistic vessels, together with the case of wafers for communion, each wafer stamped with a crucifix and SS. Mary and John. Below the shelf are heaped the vestments of priest and altar, the former consisting of alb and chasuble, the latter of frontal. These, with exception, of course, of the alb, are of various colours. The chasuble has a gold cross on the back, and is of a debased shape. The altars are of wood, not movable, nor at all resembling the tables which