Page images

tharhöfthi, to the right of which the pale blue of a lake is just visible, and beyond that again, the faint line of Málmey isle. The frith is ten miles from side to side, and, about half way across is the islet Drängey, eighteen miles from the point whence my sketch (p. 246) is taken. This rock starts up from the water-line to the height of 600 feet. North and south of it stand rock-needles, called the Old Man and Old Woman; the former was once a very lofty spire, but it has fallen in some of the volcanic throes of the country. In most parts, the islet springs directly out of the water, but towards the west there is a line of beach along the base of the crags. It is impossible to ascend this isle without a ladder. On reaching the summit, it is found to be covered with grass, and to be as extensive as the tün of Hólar; sheep are brought to the foot of the cliffs and drawn up by ropes, that they may eat off the herbage in autumn and winter. Drängey belonged originally to several proprietors, but these made over their rights to one man, when Grettir was on the island, and eventually it became the property of the bishopric of Hólar, along with all the rights of fishing and fowling around it. Bishop Güthmundr visited the island, and celebrated mass on a rock near the landing-place, called Gwendar-altari; and it is the custom of those who ascend the crag to stand beside it for a few moments, cap in hand, and offer up a prayer, before commencing the perilous ascent. In spring, Drängey is visited by a great number of men who descend the cliffs, slung by hair or leathern ropes, and rifle the nests of the numerous sea-birds which build upon the ledges. They also catch the birds themselves, by floating snares formed of boards and provided with nooses, at the bottom of the rocks. The unsuspecting creatures fly down and perch on the planks, when they are caught by the threads and held till the fowler visits his fleke in the evening. The birds which frequent this island are, the common Guillemot (Uria troile), the Puffin (Mormon fratercula), and gulls and skuas. The Gannet (Sula bassana) is said to breed on Drängey. This fine bird when young is black, sprinkled with white spots, as though snow had fallen on it; but after two years it becomes perfectly white, with the exception of the wing primaries, which remain black. It flies very evenly, and in a direct line, for its rock, when returning after a day's fishing; but it can stop instantly in its course, if it observes a fish in the water below it; then it wheels once or twice, folds its wings, and drops like a stone into the waves, which close over it. Up it comes, a minute after, with its prey firmly held in its strong beak; it flings back its head, and with one gulp, the fish is swallowed. Another bird, which lays upon the shelves of Drängey, is the Razor-bill (Alca torda), called in Icelandic, Alka : the mother bird is said to take her young on her back, and bear them down to the water, then she dives and leaves them to take their first lesson in swimming by themselves. The Puffin (Mormon fratercula) is a pretty, gay little fellow, with his brightly-coloured beak. He is called Lundi in Icelandic, and probably our island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel receives its name from this bird.” He has a glossy black back and cap, black wings, and a ring round the neck, the breast and face are white; his legs and feet are yellowish red, and his beak is painted red, yellow, and blue. The Puffin makes a capital dish, stuffed with raisin pudding, and baked. I tasted it in the Faroe isles when I dined with the Catholic missionary on a Friday. “It is not fish, you know,” said he ; “but it feeds on fish ” On this island breed also the Tern, that most graceful of all sea-birds (Sterna arctica), called by the Icelanders, after its note, Kria, and its sworn enemy the Skua, of which there are four or five varieties in the island: (Lestris Catharractes, L. pomarina, L. parasitica, and the L. thuliaca, concerning which see p. 107.) The Skua is a piratical fellow; he does not fish for himself—not he but he lets the gulls and gannets do that ; and then, when he sees them full fed, he rushes at them, strikes them in the crop with his hooked beak, and makes the frightened birds disgorge their spoils; then the Skua Swerves in the air and catches the half-digested fish before they drop into the sea. They are fierce fellows, and the Drängey fowler has to be cautious how he approaches their haunts, as they will dash down upon him and strike him on the head, or tear his face with their powerful beaks, in a paroxysm of rage, till the blinded or bewildered man lets go the rope by which he is suspended, and is dashed to pieces among the rocks. Drängey was said, in old times, to have been haunted by Trolls, who stretched out their arms from the hollows of the clefts as the fowler swung down, and clutching him, flung him to the bottom ; but it is now believed that these Trolls were nothing more nor less than Skuas. The bird will descend with such velocity, that he has been known to impale himself on a spiked staff which the fowler holds in his hand. He is a sociable bird among his own kith and kin, but never associates with the birds of another family, except for the sake of robbing them. He will follow a boat throughout a day, to catch the fish which are rejected by the fishermen, and he will pursue a flight of gulls with untiring patience, waiting for them to catch the fish, which he intends to secure for his own supper. The common and pomerine Skuas are brown, but the Arctic Skua has a white chin, neck, and breast; the upper part of the head is black, the primaries and tail feathers are also black, the latter very long, about ten inches from the roots; the back, wing, and tail coverts are of a soft brownish grey. The Icelanders call the Skua after his cry, Kjói. The cinereous Eagle (Falco albicilla) fishes in the lakes and fjords of Iceland. He not unfrequently drowns himself, for he will descend with such velocity on a large fish, that he buries his beak and claws in it, and is unable to extricate them. The fish dives, and carries the royal bird along with it to Davy Jones' locker, and his body is sometimes brought up by the fishermen in their nets.

* The rocky islet on the left of my view of Skagasjord is called Lundey, or the Puffin Isle. The word ey remains as a termination in many English names, e. g. Walney, Sheppey, Ramsey, Bardsey, Guernsey, Jersey, &c.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Poor Grettir' hustled from pillar to post, hunted from one retreat to another, he had spent fifteen years of hardship, such as few men have undergone, yet the hatred of his deadly foe, Thorir, had not expended itself. At length, finding that no corner of Iceland was safe, he asked Güthmundr the Wealthy to advise him whither he should flee, to be safe from his pursuers.

* Gretla, chaps. 67, 69–87. I have curtailed the Saga very considerably.


“There is only one spot that I know of where you can be in perfect security.” Grettir replied that he had hitherto found no such spot. Güthmundr continued, “There is an islet in the Skagafjord, hight Drängey, abounding in fish and fowl, and no one can ascend it except by a rope ladder which hangs down on one of the sides. If you can reach that spot, then you may be assured that it is in no man's power to touch you, so long as you are safe and sound and able to guard the ladder.” “I will venture out there,” said Grettir; “yet I am so timorous in the dark, that to save my life, I cannot abide alone.” Güthmundr answered, “Maybe, but I advise you to trust no one but your own self.” Grettir thanked him for his advice, and then hastened to his mother, at Bjarg, in the Middle-frith. The fear of the dark to which he alluded had come on him ever since his wrestle with Glâmr, but had increased considerably of late. No sooner did darkness set in, than the terrible eyes of the vampire seemed to stare at him from the gloom. He slept lightly, starting in his dreams, and waking repeatedly during the night. This was undoubtedly brought on by the unceasing strain on his mind and the excitability of nerves, caused by the hourly peril in which he had been living for so many years. On his arrival at Bjarg his mother greeted him affectionately, and told him that she would indeed be glad if he could remain with her, though she feared it would be too venturesome to do so, as Thorir would certainly discover his retreat before many days had elapsed. The outlaw replied that he would give her no inconvenience: “For,” said he, “I care to take no more trouble about preserving my life. I can bear my solitude no longer.” He then told his mother of Güthmundr's advice, adding, that he would try his best to reach Drängey, but that he must endeavour to secure some trustworthy companion to be with him.

« PreviousContinue »