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bones of the legs and head entire, fit for stuffing. The Icelanders tell many stories of the cunning of this proverbially crafty animal; of course, among the number is that world-wide story of his ridding himself of fleas by retreating slowly into water, letting the vermin crawl first from his tail as that is immersed, then from his body as the water closes over it, till they are all congregated on his nose, when he dips that, and sends the whole company adrift.
Another story told of him is that he walks with erect and nodding brush towards a flock of sea-fowl, which mistake the dancing tail for one of themselves, and only find out their mistake when Reynard turns sharply on one of them and makes a meal of it. Once upon a time, however, the sea-bird got away even after it was in the mouth of the fox; and by this means: "For shame !" exclaimed the bird, "you godless creature, you are going to eat me without even saying grace!" Reynard abashed, folded his paws, turned up his eyes and opened his mouth;—out flew the bird. "Bother!" said the fox; "henceforth I shall only say grace after meals!"
Henderson relates that in the vicinity of the North Cape, where the precipices are almost entirely covered with various species of sea-fowl, the foxes proceed on their predatory expeditions in company; and previous to the commencement of their operations, they hold a kind of mock-fight upon the rocks, in order to determine their relative strength. When this has been fairly ascertained, they advance to the brink of the precipice, and taking each other by the tail, the weakest descends first, while the strongest, forming the last in the row, suspends the whole number till the foremost has reached the nests and eggs. A signal is then given, on which the uppermost fox pulls with all his might, and the rest assist him as well as they can with their feet against the rocks. In this way they proceed from rock to rock, until they have provided themselves with a sufficient supply. Credat Judoeus non ego! This looks much as though poor Henderson had reproduced from schoolboy recollections the famous story of the men of Gotham, who descended in a similar manner to the water's edge from Gotham bridge. The wise men, however, it will be remembereed, got a ducking, for the mayor, who was holding to the parapet, let go for a second that he might spit on his hands.
Olafsen and Povelsen give a wonderful account of the sagacity of the Icelandic mice. These little animals are often obliged to cross rivers to make their distant forages. On their return with the booty to their magazines, they are obliged to repass the stream. This they effect by selecting a flat piece of dried cowdung, on which they heap the berries they have collected; then they push their original boat to the water's edge, launch it, surround the mass of dung with their little heads resting on it and their bodies in the water, and so they paddle across, steering with their tails. Henderson brings forward two eye-witnesses to the truth of this most wonderful story. I found that our guides knew of mice thus crossing lakes and streams, but they had neither of them seen it done themselves.
"I'll tell you what, Padre!" exclaimed Mr. Briggs, when I related to him these anecdotes; "travellers must tell wonderful stories—it is expected of them, it is a duty! and if you are unprovided with them, you had better not write a book. Now, I will tell you a little fact in Arctic zoology, just as authentic as those stories you have just been telling me. It was given me as a fact, and you may believe it if you like. Well! you know that all the bears there are in Iceland came over from Greenland on the ice, don't you?"
"Very well, then," he continued—" two or three years ago—I am not quite certain of the date, a small trading vessel ran on the ice north of the I'safjord, and was deserted by the whole crew. A company of Polar bears coming over from Greenland took up their quarters in the vessel, and, I have no doubt, found themselves very pleasantly accommodated. In spring the ice melted, and the vessel floated off with all the bears on board. There was at that time a succession of northerly gales, so the ship was driven south, passed Rockall, sighted the west coast of Scotland, left the Mull of Cantire in the wake, doubled the Calf of Man, and stood right into Liverpool harbour. The custom-house officers thought her a queer-looking craft, and came alongside in a boat, climbed up the side, saw nobody, and walked to the cabin-stair, when —imagine their dismay!—a procession of Polar bears marched up the ladder with the utmost gravity and composure, headed by an august maternal bear bowed down with years, and in the rear half a dozen cubs, which had been born on the voyage. Fact, Padre!"
We halted to change saddles at a small lake on which were floating several wild-fowl, enjoying the brilliant sunshine and rocking at their ease on the crisp wavelets which flowed before the fresh northerly breeze. They seemed to be perfectly indifferent to our presence, and made no attempt to escape, with the exception of a common scoter (Oidemia nigra), which rowed off at a great rate, and appeared only at ease when in the shade on the farther side of the tarn.
The other birds consisted chiefly of teal and pintails (Anas crecca and Anas acuta). Besides these, a pair of swans floated in a dreamy majesty on the blue water. They were Hooper swans (Cygnus ferus); another species, Bewick's swan (Cygnus Bewickii), breeds in Iceland, but is not common; so that Brehm was unfortunate in naming it Cygnus Islandicus. M. Preyer never saw the bird, and Mr. Fowler doubts its being a native of the island, as the Icelanders whom he questioned were very positive that only one variety frequents their lakes. On the other hand, my friend J. W. B., who has contributed some notes for sportsmen at the end of this volume, shot a specimen, and has the head in his possession at present. Neither M. Preyer nor Mr. Fowler found the little grebe (Podiceps minor) in the island, yet one was shot by J. W. B., who gave the skin to Mr. Briggs. I have a suspicion—I cannot say that it is more than a suspicion— that I saw a red-necked grebe (Podiceps rubricollis) on Myvatn, but I could not get near enough to the bird to thoroughly convince myself.
The Icelanders are tolerably unanimous in their assertion that only one species has been seen in the island, but, as in the case of the swans, their testimony is open to question. The terns again cannot surely be represented by one species alone, and that the Sterna arctica. I am convinced that a naturalist will find other varieties if he looks for them among the islets and along the coast. As I have already mentioned, we shot what I believed at the time to be the common tern (Sterna hirundo), on the Thingvalla heithi, above the AUmen's rift. Mr. Martin, who brought them down with his gun, has written to me in answer to my queries, and given his unhesitating opinion in accordance with mine.
As the day began to decline, we descended into the vale of the Northra, and passed the little farm of Fornihvammr. In one place the track lay over a narrow ridge of rock, not two feet wide, descending to the river on one side, and to a brawling torrent on the other, in abrupt precipices. The pack-horses refused to advance over it, and we found that they were frightened, and could not be driven by blows. Consequently, I rode past them, and taking one by the bridle, walked my little piebald across, hoping that the rest would follow lead. This they did, till they reached the middle, and then they halted, and stood trembling on the ridge. If their feet had slipped, and they had fallen over on the river side, they would have been killed; if they had slipped over on the torrent side, they would have certainly broken their legs; so that it was a moment of anxiety to us all.
Grimr was behind with Guthmundr, and neither of them could pass to the front, so that I was left to do what I could. I pulled at the bridle of the foremost pony, but he would not move a step, neither could he retreat, as there was not room on the ledge for him to turn. I drew off my comforter, and bound it round his eyes, then caressingly urged him to advance. This he did, still trembling violently, and pawing the ground in front, before he planted each foot. So, with much trouble, I got him completely across, and the others followed in his steps.
In the meantime, Mr. Briggs had made a considerable detour, having gone back some way till he found a spot where the hill admitted of being ascended, and the torrent crossed without difficulty.
Before us rose the cone of Baula, a tall grey mass of trachyte about 3,000—3,500 feet high, and so precipitous that snow can never rest on its head or flanks. Near its base is little Baula, a singular crater, containing in the centre of its bowl a sugar-loaf of red cinder, considerably higher than the walls of the crater. The old myth, that at the top of Baula there is an opening to the land of the elves, has been exploded, for it was ascended, two years ago, by some German naturalists.
The mountain is composed of a pyramid of pale grey trachytic columns, three or nine sided, and arranged with the most beautiful regularity. From the top of Baula can be counted thirty-seven lakes, and innumerable chains of snowy mountains.
We stopped the night at Hvammr, a little parsonage planted under a precipice of dark rock. The old priest was an enthusiast on the subject of Icelandic history, and was able to give me some curious information corroborating the statements in some of the Sagas.
He had seen the stones in the Hitara, which mark the spot to which Grettir and Bjorn had swum, and had sounded the stone in the Hvita to which Thangbrand the Christian missionary had attached his ship. The Saga speaks of it as giving out a musical note when struck. It does so still, and is called the Glockustein. It is egg-shaped, of a yellowish tinge, and about six feet high.
The old man showed me a parchment MS. history of his parish, written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, also a MS. volume of Sagas, containing those of Asmund viking, Jasone Bjarta, Thorstein forvitna, Floras oil sonum hans, Dynuse Dramblati, Eirek Artussyni, and Halfdane Eysteinssyni. The church contains little of real interest except a font basin of brass stamped with the Annunciation, and a fine