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Akureyri, and the farmer was told that he should have his clock by a vessel due in August, just nine months after the good man had given his order.
Once a year the men of Grimsey visit Akureyri to lay in stores for winter, and part with the oil, fish, and feathers they have collected in their lonely isle. In the autumn of 1861, these poor fishermen, after having bartered their wares, and laden their boat, started down the fjord on their return to Grimsey, sixty-five miles distant. As they rowed down the frith, some of the party remembered that they had friends at the little farm of Sauthanes (the Sheep-ness), and, considering that this was their only chance, for a year, of renewing old acquaintance, they persuaded the rest to put ashore. The whole party left the boat and adjourned to the farm, where they sat drinking and talking till midnight, when they thought fit to return to their boat. But, alas! the tide had risen and carried their boat away. Next day it was discovered stranded, keel uppermost, in a creek not far distant. All the stores were at the bottom of the fjord, but the boat was not much injured.
The poor fellows at once returned to Akureyri, where they related their piteous tale; the inhabitants raised a contribution for them, and furnished them again with all that was necessary to support life.
Grimsey is the smallest cure in Iceland; it has its church, that of North-garth, and priest. When Henderson was at Akureyri, he found the Grimsey priest and a mainland priest at loggerheads about a Bible, which the latter had lent to his island brother, and which had never been returned. The mainland pastor sent demands for the restitution of his book by the Grimsey boat when it visited Akureyri, but on its return the following summer, there was neither book nor message from the Grimsey parson. Henderson settled the dispute by presenting two copies to the island, one for the use of the church, the other for the minister himself.
The present priest is such an inveterate drunkard that the islanders kicked him out a few years back, and lived without a pastor, till they found that they could get no other, so they sent a boat to land and brought him back again.
The Grimsey fishermen are said to be a lawless, quarrelsome set, and Very different in temperament from the natives of the mainland.
A considerable amount of driftwood is cast on their shores, and their hearths are supplied with the mahogany of Honduras, the palms of Haiti, and the costly woods from the venerable forests of the Amazon and Orinoco.
The water drunk by these poor fishermen is that which is left by the rain in bogs; this is neither pure nor wholesome, and in order to be made at all palatable, it has to be given a flavour, by an infusion of the juice of scurvy-grass, or the squeezed berries of the samphire.
As there is but little herbage on the islet, only a few cows can be kept, so that milk becomes a luxury. The people suffer severely from scorbutic attacks and leprosy, which carry them off very speedily, unless they are removed to the mainland and supplied with wholesome and nutritious food.
My guide, Grimr, was excitable on the subject of Grimsey, and for the following reason:
After having passed his theological examination, a message reached him from the bishop and governor, telling him that the island parish was without a pastor, as the inhabitants had expelled their ancient priest, and that he was to take the living.
On the receipt of this communication, Grimr caught up his hat, and rushed to the residence of his Excellency.
"Mr. Governor! am I requested or commanded to take this post?"
"Commanded, most certainly!"
"But I decline the cure!"
"You cannot help yourself; take it you must."
"This is quite unexpected. I—the best candidate of the Theological College—to be bundled off at a moment's notice to the smallest living in your gift—to an inhospitable island cut off from the world; to a parish of lepers! This is preposterous!"
"Listen to me," said the Governor. "Grimr Arnason, this is only a first step to a better living."
"Ah ! but out of sight out of mind. When once I am banished to Grimsey, I am forgotten, as a dead man."
"The people of Grimsey are a savage, semi-Christian set, and we wish you to convert them."
"' Evil communications corrupt good manners.' I should deteriorate wofully if I were among the Grimsey folk."
"We have always regarded you as the most religious young man in Reykjavik," said the Governor.
"Mo re's the reason that I should not be sent to the place of torment before my time."
After a pause, Grimr observed—" Besides, I have a strong desire to be married; and if it is once known that I am to be exiled to that hateful rock, not a woman could I get to join her lot with mine."
"Oh, Grimr!" said the Governor; "any girl would marry you!"
"I think, Mr. Governor, that if you banish me to the island, you are bound to provide me with a wife."
"How is that possible ?" asked his Excellency in amazement.
"You have a very charming daughter, who"
Grimr never finished the sentence, and ever after showed an invincible repugnance to setting his foot within the Governor's door.
The end of the matter was, that Grimr disputed the right of the Governor to send him, will he nil he, to Grimsey, and his appeal went before the King of Denmark, who decided that Grimr was in the right, as the law stood; at the same time, he decreed that henceforth all theological candidates should be sent wherever the Governor chose.
The result of this decree was, that more than half the theological candidates withdrew from the college, and no fresh entries have been made. When I left Iceland there were eight livings vacant, and no pastors ready to fill them.
It is certainly only just that those trained free of expense at the college, should enter the ministry or return to government the cost of their education.
I was most hospitably received by Mr. Havsteen, a Danish merchant, who volunteered to lodge me, as there is no inn in the town. My horses were driven up the hill, and turned adrift on the moor, with their feet hobbled. Grimr and I drew our boxes into the merchant's storehouse, and we then made ourselves as presentable as possible before entering the house. Mrs. Havsteen met us, and in the kindest manner welcomed us to Akureyri. Coffee and cakes were brought in, and we were introduced to the young ladies, whose cheerful faces and blooming complexions spoke well for the air of Eyja-fjord. After having shaken hands all round, I sallied forth on a visit to the printer, who lived on the way to the new church. I found his house to be a small wooden cottage, so close and stifling as to be quite insupportable, so that after having purchased a couple of books, I was glad to withdraw. A newspaper, the Northri, appears at intervals from this printer's establishment, edited by Svein Skiilason; but as this gentleman has left Akureyri, the periodical will in all likelihood cease to appear. It contains an epitome of the news of Europe, articles on the topics of the day, local intelligence, letters from correspondents, and advertisements, among which, for a wonder, I did not see a commendatory notice of Holloway's pills.
On my return to the Havsteen's house, I found that an ample supper had been provided, and that the table was covered with delicacies: these consisted of flakes of smoked salmon, slices of garlic-sausage, and ham; hot mutton flavoured with whortleberry jam and potatoes, cold smoked shark's flesh, steaks of whale and seal, good Bavarian beer, Rhenish wine, and corn-brandy clear as crystal. Hungry mortal that I was! I did ample justice to the meal; so too did Grimr, whose tongue was loosed under the influence of the good cheer, and he told the story of his Grimsey grievance in extenso.
There is no grace said before and after meals, but it is the custom as soon as you rise from table to shake hands or kiss all round, saying, "Tak for mad."
I did not retire to my bed till I had taken another stroll on the shore, and looked upon the fjord in all the stillness of an Arctic midnight. The mountains were enveloped in mist; the sea, flowing in, soothingly lapped the shingle and played around a little one-masted English vessel, which had been wrecked and dismantled off the entrance to the frith, and had been towed into the bay to be broken up for building-timber. A considerable number of English smacks visit the north of Iceland for whale and seal oil: they are mere cockle-shells, manned by four or five sailors, without a chart, and calculating their way by the log.
Many have been lost. "Ah, sir," said a skipper; "the storms of these Arctic seas are enough to try the pluck of a man. I assure you I have stood at the wheel when I daren't have looked over my shoulder. If I'd seen the waves as was a rolling upon us, I'd have deserted the helm. Mortal man couldn't have stood the sight." The majority of these English boats come into harbour at Grafsaros or Hofsos, in the Skaga-fjord, where the mad pranks of the sailors have produced a panic among the native farmers. The jolly tars seize on their horses and ride them helter-skelter up hill, down dale, trampling down the tun, mount the backs of the cows and gallop them about, chase the sheep, worry the dogs, court the women, and play practical jokes on the men. The Icelanders can get no redress. Jack laughs at their remonstrances, which are couched in a tongue of which he does not understand a word; and as for their threats! phew! there is only one policeman in all Iceland, and he is at Reykjavik.
Akureyri is famous for possessing the largest tree in Iceland; this is a mountain ash, outside Mr. Havsteen's drawingroom window. It is twenty-six feet high, a straggling fellow without much foliage, overtopping the roof, to which, during the winter, its branches are secured by ropes. Garden-seats are placed at its roots, and, on a warm summer-day, the