Page images
PDF
EPUB

ferers. Accordingly, the poor starving wretches assembled at his door, and were ordered by him to dig a large pit in his tun. They complied with alacrity, and in the evening they were gathered into a barn, the door was locked upon them, and it was explained to them that on the following morning they were to be buried in the pit of their own digging.

"You will see at once," represented Svathi, "that if twenty or thirty of you be put out of your misery, the number of mouths wanting food will be reduced, and there will be more victuals for those who remain."

There certainly was something in what Svathi said; but, unfortunately, the poor wretches did not see it in the same light as he, nor appreciate the force of his argument; and they spent the night howling with despair.

Thorwaldr of Asi, a Christian, who happened to be riding by towards dawn, heard the outcries, and went to the barn to inquire what they signified. When he learned the cause of the distress, he liberated the captives, and bade them follow him to Asi. Before long, Svathi became aware that his birds had flown, and set off in pursuit. However, he was unable to recover them, as Thorwaldr's men were armed. Thus the golden opportunity was lost, and he was obliged to return home, bewailing the failure of his benevolent scheme. As he dashed up to his house, blinded with rage, and regardless of what was before him, the horse fell with him into the pit which his proteges had dug, and he was killed by the fall. He was buried in it next day, along with his horse and hound.''

From Svatha-stathr we obtained a guide to show us across the river; and here I parted with the faithful Jon, paying him twelve dollars for the time he had been with me.

We were a long while traversing the streams of the Herathsvatn, which seemed innumerable. The view from the grassy flats was particularly striking. To the south rose the magnificent Mrelafellshnukr, or the Measuring mountain, with a belt of cloud along its base. To the right lay a mountainous chain, over which passes the Vatnsskarth track, with a few steaming springs at its base. These are situated in such an impassable bog, that after floundering through it for an hour, and being nearly swallowed up, man and horse, in the disgusting red slime, I was obliged to take the word of my guide that they were not worth a visit, and forbear making any further attempts to reach them. We slept the night at Vithimyri, where I visited the church, but found that it contained nothing of importance, except a triptych over the altar, with the Last Supper in the centre; on the left wing, the Crucifixion; and on the right, the Resurrection. The outside of the valves was painted with figures of S. John the Baptist and Moses. In the panels of the pulpit were figures of the evangelists with their symbols, but much disfigured.

* Younger Olaf S. Tryg., chap. 225.

The farmer received us politely. As he was a politician, and as the natives of Iceland were at that time torn into two factions on the important subject of the Grimsey parish, my guide and host sat up a great portion of the night discussing the question with much warmth and volubility, as it happened that they viewed the matter in different lights.

We were awakened next morning by the entrance of breakfast, which consisted of meat in a condition truly revolting. It was in vain that I pared and pared to get at clean portions, the inside was as dirty as the outside; and the old servant-maid, seeing that I did not relish what was set before me, went to the meat-tub, pulled me out a tit-bit, brought it me in her fingers, and after having torn it into three pieces, presented it to me in the dirtiest of dirty hands.

As we were preparing to leave, I noticed a cow, making the most extraordinary motions in her endeavours to progress among the swamps which surrounded the tun.

"What is the matter with that poor creature?" asked I. "She has got a great hamper tied between her hind legs, and can hardly waddle."

"Oh!" said the farmer, "that is only a cow which milks herself. The cattle get into this habit sometimes, when they are short of food; and when once they have taken a fancy to their own milk, a complete circulation is established, and they give up eating. The only cure of which we know is to tie a basket over their udders."

As we rode up Vatnskarth, we met a train of horses laden with stock-fish, tied up on their backs in enormous bundles three times as big as themselves, but of no great weight.

That night we reached Hnausir, and were warmly received by Dr. Skaptason.

We spent Friday with him, and on the morrow started for Mithfjord, or the Middle-frith, in hopes of seeing an Icelandic wedding.

Our road lay over a grey tufted moor, to the valley of Vithidalr, which is commanded by the castle of the old hero, Finnbog. This fort goes by the name of Borgar-virki, and consists of a volcanic crater, its rents patched up with rude walls. In the centre of the castle is a puddle, which was used as a supply of water during a siege.

There is but little art expended on this mountain fortress; it has been raised by Nature, and man has only mended her breaches.

Last winter, a seal came up the stream which flows through the dale; it crossed the mountain separating this valley from Vatnsdalr, and was killed near Grimstunga.

After passing the hill on which stands Finnbog's castle, we descended towards an extensive lake, called Vestrhop, with the hill on the further side lighted up by the sun through a haze of rain. On this sheet of water Grettir used to play goff during the winter, when he was a boy.

In a little depression of the moor, full of purple crane'sbill, lay a strange old man asleep, with his wild pony cropping grass at his side. The fellow had got on an enormous brimmed hat, which curled up behind, and poked down in front. He wore also a cloak with huge erect collars, blue jacket, and his legs, from the knee downwards, were encased in untanned sheep's hide. The sleeper woke with a start as we rode up, and cracked his long whip in our faces; then asked who we were. We satisfied his curiosity, and dismounted to shift saddles.

Whilst Grimr was thus engaged, the man walked up to me and asked if I were an Englishman. I replied in the affirmative.

"Ah, ha!" quoth he, "you ought to respect me; I am the cousin of your queen — of Queen Victoria, ay! and a relation of the Russian Czar, too!"

"Cousin of Queen Victoria!" I echoed.

"That I am," answered he; "quite a near cousin. I am descended in a direct line from Rolf Gangr; he—you know—was the father of William Longsword, who was the father of Richard, who was the father of Robert, who was the father of William the Conqueror, who was the f"

"Thank you," interrupted I; "I am acquainted with the rest of the pedigree."

"I am proud of my cousin," said the old man; "when you go back to England, tell her so. Now look here!" whispered he, drawing me aside—" I have got some horses, which I propose selling to a Scotch merchant; if I can do a little trade in this way, for three or four years running, I shall have made some money, and then, you see"

"Not quite! What shall you do?"

"Why, run over to pay my English cousin a visit; I like keeping up old relationships!"

Up came Grimr, and the man said no more.

We saw a great number of birds floating on the water; among them were several pairs of the Icelandic Duck (Clangula Barrovi,} and the Long-tailed Duck (Anas glacialis). The first of these much resembles the Golden-eyed Duck; the male has a black bill, orange legs and feet, glossy head and neck, shot with green and purple; golden iris; a white beanshaped patch between the eye and bill; breast, chin and belly, snow white, with yellowish tinge towards the rump. The wings and tail are black, the former, when folded, showing a white band along them. The female has a dark brown bill; orange legs and feet, brown head and neck, iris like that of the male, breast, throat and chin grey, speckled yellow; back and wings, dark brown; tail, black above, brown underneath. The length of the male bird is about 19 inches, that of the female, 16£. From its loud cry, it has received the name of Clangula.

The Long-tailed Duck is a very beautiful bird, and is one of the most common of its genus in Iceland. It is seen on almost every lake. The summer plumage of the male consists of black on the head, neck, wings and breast; black scapulars and tertials, edged with chestnut brown; and a white belly. In winter the colours are much more varied. His head is white, tinged with buff; two dark ovals remain on the neck, but otherwise it is white. The scapulars are also white, and so is the belly. In front of him, he wears a little brown apron like a cobbler. His wing coverts and primaries are of a bluish black, and the secondaries of a warm brown. The tertials and short outer tail-feathers become white, but the two long feathers remain black.

The legs and feet of the duck are of a leaden grey. The bill is black, with a gay red patch across it. The nest consists of a depression in the ground, lined with feathers, or else a heap of grass, near the water's edge, and contains sixteen or eighteen greenish-white eggs.

Close to the margin of the lake, floated five pairs of Rednecked Phalaropes, (Ph. hyperboreus.) These beautiful birds are models of connubial affection. The male never leaves the female, except during incubation, when he goes to procure food for her. They stroke each other with their bills, as they rock on the wavelets, showing each other every mark of endearment. If one be shot, the other wheels around its mate in alarm and sorrow, uttering plaintive cries, without for a moment attempting to provide for its own safety.

We turned away from the lake to ascend a wild glen, between dislocated and tumbled rocks, like those described by Scott in the wondrous vale of S. John, which, by moonlight, are transformed to the keep and castle of ancient kings.

We rode helter-skelter over the moor after the Queen's cousin, who was a capital horseman, and would run his pony over rocks as readily as you would dart up and down stairs.

« PreviousContinue »