Page images
PDF
EPUB

summer, portion after portion of this snow-bed had fallen through, and been swept off by the stream, leaving at intervals, white bridges about twenty feet wide, spanning the gulf. Jón boldly rode over the bridge, and reached the farther side in safety; seeing this, the rest of the horses were driven over by Grimr and me. This was succeeded by a desperate clamber up a crag, slippery with ice. The baggage horses could scarcely get on, and we were obliged to stand by the poor brutes, as they rested on the ledges in the ascent, and support the box which was towards the precipice, clinging on to the rock with one hand, and lifting the box with the other. We allowed the unencumbered ponies, and our own riding horses, to find their own way, being very careful first to tie up the bridles and halters, lest the animals should get them entangled in their legs. On reaching a long steep slant of loose rockfragments, which had to be surmounted, the most heavily laden of the pack-horses seemed inclined to give it up in despair, so Jón dragged at his halter, ascending just before him, whilst Grímr and I put our shoulders to the boxes and relieved him, to a certain extent, of their weight.

On reaching the top, we found that we had a tract of stone-bog, through which to trudge. The stone-bog, as mentioned in my Introduction, is formed by the thawed snow percolating through the crevices of the rock, then freezing and splitting it up, till complete morasses of stone and mud are formed. These are not dangerous, but are very trying, as one sinks in them to the knees, and the angular fragments of stone cut the horses' legs and rend one's own shoes and stockings. After labouring through the bog, we came upon unbroken snow, and paused to take breath.

The view was striking. Looking back, we saw that the vale from which we had come was now filled with white fog, and looked like an extensive winding lake. To our left rose the cone already mentioned, and to our right lay swell and sweep of undinted snow in soft grey shadow, rising in smooth slopes to some curious horns or pyramids, barred black and white, behind which the slanting crescent moon shone golden

in the sky. It was midnight, and the sun was down, but the heavens were still lighted with his rays, which turned their blue to the tenderest ice-green. An eagle (Falco albicilla), perched on a crag, watched our cavalcade, and then plunged down through the mist, disappearing in it like a stone dropped into water. The air was intensely cold, and the line of demarcation between mist and mountain was extraordinarily sharp. The snow was soft, so that we sank to our knees at every step. We were obliged to walk, as the horses had as much to do as they could well manage to pull themselves along. Sometimes the poor brutes refused to advance, and stood up to their bellies with their desponding heads bent to the white surface. Ponies will, at times, make up their minds to go no farther, and then there is no stirring them; they will stand in the same position till they are frozen, and then fall over on their sides to die. Happily none of my train became quite in this condition, though they were very near it, and we had the greatest difficulty in getting the baggage horses to move on. My pony floundered into a hole, and sank over the saddle, so that he could not get out without assistance. The snow is very cavernous in the neighbourhood of protruding rocks, and, as the horses invariably make for the least black speck in the white waste, as a drowning man would strike out for a skerry, the consequence is, that they are continually sinking into holes which are perfectly concealed beneath a smooth surface. We had now a steep incline to overcome; up this we were obliged to crawl in a zigzag course, dislodging masses of snow, which slid down and vanished in the mist below, forming miniature avalanches. As we reached the top, the sun broke over a marquee-shaped mountain opposite, and cut off from us by another lake of fog.

We rested for half an hour on the summit of the pass, lying thoroughly exhausted on the snow, beside our fagged horses, which stood before us in a line rapt in a brown study, without moving a muscle.

The descent was through dense fog, and was so precipitous that we were obliged to leave a considerable space

between each horse, lest one should slip down upon the other.

When we reached the bottom of the mountain we had to pass a torrent, which descended in a noble waterfall, and then rolled angrily away under an arch of snow. This bridge was so rotten, that Jón hesitated for some time whether we could venture upon it, and at last sent over a horse as an experiment. The snow bore, and we drove the baggage pony across; cakes of snow fell off the bridge into the gorge, but the arch remained unbroken, so we all passed without accident. We had taken between five and six hours in crossing this heithi, and had been on our legs for a great part of the time. It was seventeen hours since leaving Akureyri, when we drew up at the door of the archdeacon's farm at Hólar.

The old man received us very kindly. It was morning, and he with his wife and servant were already up, brisk as bees, and ready for a long talk. I was tired out and longed for bed, but hardly liked to get in before them, yet Grímr had just begun the Grimsey story, and that with all his grievances would last an hour at least. I fairly fell asleep with my head on the table, and was roused by Grímr, who recommended me to go to bed.

“But,” said I; "these good people are in the room.”

Oh, don't mind us !” said the priest.

Pray go to bed !” said his wife.

“Do let me pull your breeches off !” volunteered the maid.

I started up at the proposal, fully roused, and, with a flying leap, buried myself under the feather bed, then pulled off coat and waistcoat and curled myself up.

“Don't English people undress more than that when they go to rest ?” asked the priest, who had been watching me gravely.

“He has got his breeches on," said the wife.

“ I'll pull them off, if he likes,” chimed in the maid with alacrity.

“Never, never!” I cried in desperation; “Grímr, save me!"

Poor Ebenezer Henderson, the Bible Society delegate! the Icelanders still have a good laugh over his dismay, when first the ladies of the house insisted on dismantling his legs. This was according to etiquette in his time, though now happily falling into disuse. In his book he tells the story of his wild struggle to preserve his nether garments, but he neglects to mention the compromise which was effected, he coiling himself up in the coverlet, and letting the ladies pull at the strap-buttons. Henderson was a very good fellow, but he had no notion of a joke, and he only mentions the incident to found on it moral and pious reflections. Among themselves it is still a common practice for the women to peel the men after their day's work, but the Icelanders have learned that strangers do not particularly relish this sort of attention, and they now seldom offer it. After

my

first nap, Grímr came to bed; he was to share mine, so a pillow was put at the bottom of the bed for his head to rest upon, whilst his feet lay on the pillow by my head.

“Oh, Grímr !” said I; “ this is dreadfully cramped !”

“Bless you!” he answered; "we sometimes sleep five in a bed of this size, head to foot, lying on one side and not stirring all night long."

It is not pleasant to have a calm dream of home interrupted in the middle of the night by the descent of a cold foot on one's face. Reader! may you never experience it!

235

CHAPTER XIV.

HOLAR.

The Cathedral— Altar Vestments—Triptych-Portraits and Tombs—MSS.

The Ancient Possessions of the Church-Repairs-Flowers-The Skagafjord-Drangey--Birds—Gannet-Puffin—Skua.

Hólar is situated in a noble valley between mountains covered with snow.

The soil is peculiarly fertile, and Hjaltadal is regarded as the garden of the north. There are two houses near the church, one the residence of the archdeacon, the other of a farmer. At the time that I was at Hólar, all hands were engaged in the hay harvest, reaping down the grass with sickles, and raking it into little heaps. Although the tún is considered to produce some of the finest hay in Iceland, I believe that few blades of grass were longer than my fingers. The church, dedicated to S. Mary the Virgin, is a stone building sixty-four feet eight inches long, by twenty-nine feet four inches broad, and twenty-seven feet high. Its plan is a parallelogram, without either constructional tower or chancel. A bell chamber and porch are formed by partitioning off the west end of the church, and the ritual choir is separated from the nave by a screen.

On either side of the building are seven windows: there is no opening at the east end, and the western gable is pierced by two windows, in which are hung the bells. Within the porch lies the largest bell of Hólarcracked. It is said to have tolled of itself when Jón Arnason, the last real bishop of Hólar, suffered martyrdom.

The building was raised in the last century, and is devoid

« PreviousContinue »