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We start for the Geysers. An Amazing Cavalcade. Desolate Scenery. "Vaer-thu-sael!" A Kissing Incident. More Snuff. "Hurr-r-r-r, Hurr-r-r-r!" A Bog. Kit comes to Grief. An Icelandic Tremendal Wash on the Subject of Geology. Lava Cliffs. The Almannajau A Black Chasm. The Oxeara Cataract. We encamp in the Chasm. Small Fuel. Coffee. A Sleep-Walker.
WE were early astir next morning. One hundred pounds of ship-biscuit were brought up from our stores, fifty pounds of cheese, ten of sugar, five of coffee roasted and ground, and two pounds of tea, with salt, pepper, &c. We also took a quantity of macaroni, and several tin cases of preserved meat for soups. Then there were compass, great-coats, one of our rifles, and a shot-gun, fish-hooks for Icelandic trout and char, and a portfolio with sheets of drawing paper and pencils for sketching; for, during the winter, Wash and Kit had taken lessons in pencil-drawing.
By eight o'clock we had got through breakfast and had our luggage stowed in the boat. It was let down, and we took our places.
"Good luck, boys!" cried Capt. Mazard. "Success and pleasure attend ye!"
"Wish you were going with us!" exclaimed Raed.
"Never mind: I shall contrive to amuse myself. I may call on the governor's daughter. What say to that, my boy?"
"Ahem! Well, I hope you will take care of my interests there," replied Raed.
"That I will; also of my own. She's a very fine young lady. I shall try to make myself agreeable. Good-by!"
"Raed, the captain's rather got the advantage of you just now," laughed Kit as we pulled in toward the shore.
"Oh! I'm not afraid of the captain," said Raed.
Smith and Bonney rowed us up to the jetty. Three fishermen were hired to take our luggage up to the hotel, where we found Halgrim, with his nags "all saddled, all bridled, all ready" for a start.
Tourists have often complained justly, I have no doubt of the stupidity and invincible laziness of Icelandic guides; but it is due young Arnarson to say that he was an exception to this rule. Raed thought he was as prompt and stirring as an average Yankee youth, who, in his opinion, combines all the excellences of all known races, provided, always, he hails from Massachusetts; and the nearer Boston, the better. My cousin Wash is precisely of the same opinion. Kit, who comes from Northern Maine, holds rather broader views. I can get along with Kit very well; but for a fellow having the misfortune to be born in Georgia to fraternize with a couple of native Bostonians requires patience. Why, a fellow can't even express a sound opinion, unless he will acknowledge that he got it from Edward Everett or Charles Sumner, particularly the latter; but, if they don't change their minds about Sumner within the next five years, I am no prophet. That man has been kept in office, and flattered with public applause, till he really thinks he's a demi-god. It is a consolation to us Southerners, who have heard him fulminate so long, to know that all recorded demigods have ultimately come to grief. Sooner or later, these wonderful beings have uniformly developed a weak spot which floors them.
Halgrim was ready; so also was a little greasy-looking Dane, with a bill of eighty-seven rix-dollars for saddles and wooden boxes with locks for our provisions. These boxes are hooked on to the pack-saddles, on either side. While we were settling the bill, and effecting an exchange of another hundred dollars with the broker, Halgrim adjusted our luggage, and tied the five pack-horses with the six extra saddle-horses in line, the nose of one to the tail of the one next ahead this was to prevent them from straying. Eleven of these absurd shaggy ponies in a line made about the queerest sight imaginable. To start this cavalcade without breaking the line seemed a rather nice job. Halgrim accomplished it, however. We then mounted our saddled ponies, and started off at a lope, our fed almost touching the ground. In any American city, I fancy we should have created a sensation. Once on a gallop, very little could be seen of the eleven forward ponies, save a wildly-drifting mass of hair, flying manes, and irrepressible tails streaming up high over the rout. The most distressful grunts resounded all along the line, accompanied by loud puffings and an occasional squeal, which, with the sharp bookerty-book of their iron-shod feet on the hard lava pebbles, made a din altogether ludicrous and ridiculous. Add to this our guide, with broad-brimmed, bell-crowned hat, closing up behind the animals, and brandishing a long whip, with loud shouts of "Afram-yho!" ("Go 'long!") and "Hur-r-r-r-r, hur-r-r-r-r, hur-r-r-r-r!" (equivalent to our "Hi, hi, hi!") and the reader will have a picture which he can complete by imagining our party in full career behind, putting on the whip; for each of us had been provided with a riding-whip with our saddles. On we went, full tilt, (and plague take the hind one!) past the governor's house, past the tall windmill, and out of town, with half a dozen curs yelping after us.
The sun was high up in the heavens: indeed, it had not been down at all that night. Weymouth, who had had the watch from midnight till one o'clock, told us, that, at half-past twelve, fully a third of the sun's disk bad been visible over the white peaks to the northward, and that it had soon come into plain sight above them. But the air was chill, for all that. Fifteen or twenty miles to the eastward, a ridge of snow-clad peaks gave the country a wintry aspect, despite the bright sunlight. Every thing was so silent too, so still and voiceless, that a strange feeling of loneness crept over us as we scampered along. No song-birds enlivened the June morning with their carollings. There were no trees, no shrubbery beside the way, and very little grass. A couple of miles out of town, the road had dwindled to a mere trail. No fences nor walls enclosed it. The whole country about was a common, a bleak, black lava desert, uncultivated and barren, with here and there a dull dark pond, stagnant within its sedgy shores. The gusts of chill wind from the icy jokuls gave a shivery coloring to the desolate landscape. We had not expected to see any thing like tropical or even temperate scenery in Iceland; yet I must confess to some disappointment in this my first view of the country. It was more cheerless and dreary than I had fancied it would be. Knowing that the island boasted a hardy, honest peasantry, I had thought to find snug little cottages, surrounded by walled fields and green meadows. Alas for this ideal picture! The cottages are mere huts, cobblestone walls with turf roofs. The fields are sterile and rough enough to appall even a New-Hampshire farmer. Barren moors, covered with rough fragments of lava; bleak valleys, filled with cold morasses; dun-colored jokuls, with black foot-hills rising to snowy peaks; rapid rivers, foaming amid sharp black bowlders; fearful cracks and yawning chasms in the vast lava-beds which have been poured out over the country; hot springs and steaming pools, these are the features of Iceland scenery. Heaps of stones rudely piled up enable the traveller to keep the trail. Up hill and down hill, onward, we went, Halgrim cracking his whip, and shouting. It was marvellous how well the ponies made their way at such a pace and over so rough a road. For an hour or two, our chief business was holding on by the mane and keeping up. Conversation was nowhere. All at once, the leading pony bolted from the trail off between two crags to the left; the second and third followed him; but the fourth, either from better discipline, or .being under too great momentum, forged ahead. Snap went the halter or the pony's trail! Forward went the hinder eight in good order; but the three leaders galloped off at a great rate, and, disappearing among the cocks, came out on the moor beyond, and ran like deer toward the top of a long ridge half a mile off. A shout of dismay arose from the whole party. All the bread was packed in the boxes on the back of the first pony: the second bore all the cheese and sugar. To see our supplies vanishing in this way was demoralizing.
How far the vicious little beasts would have ran, or where they would eventually have halted with the bread and cheese, nobody knows. Fortunately for us, the hind one was the swiftest of the three. In the race up the side-hill, he so far outran the forward two as to whirl them both round. This manuvre brought them all three to a standstill; and while they were squealing, biting, and kicking each other, in their attempts to get loose, Halgrim headed them on one side; and, Kit and Weymouth riding up on the other, the runaways were secured, and driven back. The rest of us, meanwhile, had overtaken and halted the other eight. The three bolters were tied on behind, and the train proceeded.
About eight miles out of Reykjavik we met a pack-train of seven ponies, tied together like our own, laden with wool. It was attended by an old man with a very long white beard, and a boy of thirteen or fourteen.
"Voer-thu-sl!" cried the old man as he came off opposite us, "voer-thu-sl!" ("May you be blessed!")
"Voer-thu-sl!" responded Halgrim reverently; and, dismounting, he fell on the old gentleman's neck, and kissed him with a vast show of affection. The boy, a dirty chunk of a fellow, was then embraced and kissed in much the same way. They talked for some minutes. Snuff was then taken from the old man's horn; and, after another embrace, we rode on.
"Was that your father, Halgrim?" Kit asked.
"No, sirs! no father," replied the young Icelander in some surprise.
We had thought it must be his father.
"Is he your uncle, or some old friend?" Wash inquired.
"Oh! I have him once before seen," remarked Halgrim
"Do you always kiss your acquaintances like that, Halgrim?" Raed asked.
"We our friends always kiss," was the grave reply. "Gracious! What would they think of such a custom as that at Boston?" Wash exclaimed.
"Do you kiss the girls the skλn jumfrus in the same way, Halgrim?" Kit inquired.
"Yas, sirs; we the girls always kiss," was the demure reply.
"Why, that must be pretty rich, Halgrim!"
"How about the old women?" exclaimed Weymouth. But the guide did not reply directly; and, seeing that he did not like this last question, Raed changed the subject.
At ten o'clock we halted to change our saddles to the fresh horses, and let them all breathe for a quarter of an hour.
Shortly after we came to a narrow bog, through which the ponies floundered heavily, throwing the mud and water about to such an extent as to thoroughly bespatter every thing. There were numerous sloughs of inky water and mire, into which the shaggy little nags plunged up to their backs. Nothing save the tightness of the pack-boxes saved the bread and cheese this time. Halgrim lashed the forward animals through with encouraging shouts of "Gδ, Gδ, Gδ!" ("Go it!")
Then came our turn. Starting a rod or two back from the edge, we whipped up and went at it with a rush, spatter-spludge. Weymouth and Raed got across all right; Wash and I also succeeded in getting out pretty muddy, spitting vigorously to get the nasty water out of our mouths; but poor Kit was less fortunate, as a great splashing and outcry announced. Kit is a fellow who doesn't like to be the last man anywhere: but Fate was against him this time; for, in sheering to the left to get past Wash and I, he got his pony out of his depth, and came to an awkward pause, half buried in the mud, and dank, grassy tussocks.
"Say, Kit! what are you up to there?" shouted Raed.
"Oh! I thought I'd let him stop and drink," said Kit.
"Wouldn't let him drink too much," laughed Wash. "He's settling fast."
"So I perceive," replies Kit quite coolly, drawing his legs up out of the muddy stirrups. Then, standing up on the saddle, he leaped to a tussock, thence to another, and so out to the bank. How to get the horse out was a problem.
"What say to that, Halgrim?" Raed asked.
Halgrim looked dubious. The pony was some twenty or thirty yards from the firm ground, and nearly even with his back in the mire, which shook alarmingly as he plunged and floundered about.
"A genuine 'quaking bog,"' muttered Raed, "such as they have in Ireland and Newfoundland."
"In Brazil they call such shaking masses tremendals, I've read," said Wash.
"One tremendous, trembling tremendal!" cried Kit. "How am I going to get my nag out of it? Can anybody suggest anything?"
"Might twitch him out," said Raed, "if we had a rope."
"There's the guy-ropes of the tent!" exclaimed Wash.
"Just the thing."
Halgrim at once unpacked them, and we tied them together. Halgrim and Kit then pulled up their pant-legs, and, keeping on the tussocks, worked out, and made one end of the rope fast to the saddle. The Icelanders then took the pony encouragingly by the bridle, and the rest of us, getting as good a foothold as possible among the tussocks and on the shore, straightened the rope. "Hurr-r-r-r, Hurr-r-r-r!" shouted the guide. The pony sprang for life. We all surged at the rope, and, getting a start, bad the wretched little brute out all standing. He trembled and shook as if he had acquired that motion of the bog. He was a singular-looking beast before he had gone through the slough; but now he was quite irresistible. All his vast luxuriance of hair was now loaded and dripping with mud; and, to relieve himself, he began a series of shakes, which kept everybody at proper distance. Kit managed to get the saddle off, and, after scraping it, put it on his second pony to give this one time to dry. We remounted; and thus ended our first adventure in the bogs of old Iceland. It had been a dirty scrape.
These Icelandic morasses are quite destitute of brush or bushes. A kind of long grass, springing up during the short summer, and matting down upon the mud during the winter, collects, in time, often in such quantities as to enable one to cross on it dry-shod. Many of the bogs are covered by huge tussocks, as large as a barrel standing upright, in countless numbers. One can sometimes cross on these tufts by jumping from one to another.
A little after noon we halted an hour for bread and cheese, and to let the horses graze on the side of a damp hill which offered a sparse growth of grass. One farm-hut, or byre as Halgrim called it, was in sight a quarter of a mile to the right. We, did not go out to it. Milk and coffee of good quality can always be had of the cottagers, it is said, if one can stomach the filth and foul odors which pervade the huts.
We went on, and toward four o'clock began to ascend steadily toward the summit of a long lava-ridge forming the flank of a plateau of higher ground than the moors of our morning ride. A great deal of loose lava lay about, angular, black fragments, and sharp, bristly ledges, which were fearfully suggestive of broken heads as we rode over them at a gallop. An hour later we turned in between two almost perpendicular cliffs, which towered for sixty or a hundred feet above the trail, with scarcely space for two to ride abreast between them. These cliffs are black as soot, with knife-like edges, and angles such as one only sees in a volcanic region. Passing between these rocks, we descended into a long, narrow defile, walled in on either side by sheer black precipices towering to the very clouds. The entrance had a very sombre seeming.
"What place is this, Halgrim?" Kit asked.
"The Almannajau, sirs." (Pronounced, All-mannahgee-ow).
"What, the famous old Almannajau, where the ancient Iceland senate used to assemble to pass laws and try cases?" demanded Raed.
"Well, I declare! But it is a wonderful place, a terrible place! Here's where the grim old lawgivers used to come in the days when Iceland was a free republic, eight hundred years ago. Iceland was one of the lights of the world then. Time has been when these old rocks have witnessed some of the sternest scenes of history. Yet where, now, are the multitudes that used to throng this hoary chasm? Gone back to the dust; and as for their souls, I wonder if these lava-ledges are any the warmer for them, or the wiser for having echoed to their stern decrees?"
Nobody being able to answer Raed's apostrophe in any thing like a philosophical manner, we turned our attention to the truly remarkable scenery which the rift presents. For the first two or three hundred yards the trail descends, till it strikes the bed of the rift, or jau as the Icelanders call it, which is an immense chasm in a lava-field several miles in length. The lava must have been already cooled, or nearly so, at the time the rent occurred. Nothing less than an earthquake could have torn open this long crack. On the left side of the chasm the lava-wall rises perpendicularly for seventy-five or a hundred feet, presenting an inky-black precipice. The right side is not so high, nor yet so regular, though forming a clearly-defined parallel wall. The bed of the crack was thirty and thirty-three paces wide, differing not much from this measurement for more than a mile.
"This looks decidedly volcanic," remarked Kit. "Nothing but file could have left such marks as these."
"But what split this awful chasm in the cooled lava?" said Wash. "It seems impossible that even an earthquake could have given so mighty a throe."
"Judging from present appearances, this country has been in the way of getting mighty throes, hot and heavy ones," observed Kit. "Something must have split when all this vast lava-field through which this jau runs was thrown out of the earth."
"It is thought that this lava-bed was vomited from the crater of the Skjaldbreid Jokul yonder," Raed remarked; "but it seems hardly possible that so vast a quantity could have run from one crater. Why, here are billions of tons piled up here a hundred feet high. It is more likely to have gushed up through some rent in the earth under us. All Iceland is but a vast hollow crater, or a collection of craters, thrust up out of the ocean."
"Somewhere down in the earth beneath, there must be enormous empty caverns where this lava came out," Wash reflected. "Just think of it! if all this island has risen like a bubble, in the crust of the earth, must there not be a corresponding cavity down under it?"
"Not necessarily," contended Kit. "If the entire inside, or core, of the earth, is a lake of lava, the outer crust probably sinks down whenever any great amount of lava is thrown up to the surface."
"But I don't believe the inside of the earth is a lake of lava," argued Wash; "I never did: neither does Lyell, nor the best scientists of this century. I think the earth has been made up of tiny bits of shooting-stars, meteors, and serolites, collected into one grand mass during the long ages of the past: I've thought so ever since we saw that big meteor on Mount Katandin and had that talk about them. The earth is nothing more nor less than a collection of meteoric matter, drawn together, and likewise held together, by the force of gravitation. This process of collection is still going on. Every second, meteors come whirling down like snowflakes. The earth is growing at the rate of a hundred thousand pounds every day; and that, too, at a very moderate calculation, as we saw when we figured on it that morning. I keep that one fact always before me. That's the keynote to my philosophy. I don't believe there's a spark of fire down at the centre of the earth."
"How do you account for these volcanoes, then?" Kit inquired.
"These volcanoes," exclaimed Wash, with the confidence of a full-grown professor, "these volcanoes are so many ulcers on the earth's skin, caused by the seawater finding its way down through crevices and rifts among the rocks. They are due to the chemical action of marine waters on rocks at the depth of a mile or so beneath the surface. The rendings and convulsions which attend irruptions are due more to steam than any other agent, the steam of this sea-water."
"Well, I'm free to admit that this is too big a question for me," laughed Kit. "Still I think the earth bears evidence of having been in a hotter fire than sea-water and rocks could have kindled. Some time in the past, there must have been hot times. All our granite mountains show it."
"I have no doubt that there have been times when there were more volcanoes than there are at present," rejoined Wash. "Perhaps, too, they were larger and more powerful; but I shall still hold to my opinion, that the earth is but a collection of meteors, and that whatever heat and fire there is beneath the surface is the result of chemical action of one element, or substance, on another."
As we rode on up the chasm, the walls on either side echoing to our talk, the roar of failing waters began to be heard.
"Is there a cataract ahead, Halgrim?" Raed asked. But Halgrim was at fault with the word "cataract" He shook his head.
"River? is there a river up there?" Raed modified, pointing along the rift.
"Yas, sirs; the Oxeara: it falls over the jau."
A few hundred yards farther on we came into view of it, a strong, bold torrent, sweeping over the main wall down into the chasm at a single plunge with a loud roar. The volume was sufficient to make the earth tremble perceptibly; and a slight mist curled up. For fifty rods below the fall, the stream runs in a continuous rapid adown the bed of the rift; then, leaping through a gap in the opposite wall, passes out into a large lake, of which we had had glimpses several times during the last two hours. Raed pointed toward it, and turned inquiringly to the guide.
"Vatn," said he. "Thing-valla-vatn."
"This word vatn means 'lake,' I believe," Kit remarked.
"And valla means 'valley,' " said Wash. "I know so much Icelandic."
"Well, thing, or althing, was what they used to call their parliament," finished Raed. "So here we have it all translated, the parliament valley lake."
"Thing is a rather droll name for a legislative body, rather indefinite, according to our ideas of the word," observed Wash. "Althing means 'everything,' I suppose: queerer still. In like manner, I presume, almannajau means 'all men's chasm,' or the chasm where everybody assembled."
"These old Norse words are quite like many of our own familiar words," Raed remarked. "Nearly all of our best, shortest, and most common words are plainly descended to us from the mouths of the Northmen; though our long words are from the Latin."
"That one fact shows the onesidedness of our method of education," exclaimed Kit. "They keep us studying Latin all the best part of our school-days; but who ever heard of a boy being set to study these Northern languages, which are the source and fountain of all the best and most sensible part of our language?"
On coming up where the Oxeara falls into the jau, we had halted.
"How much farther are we going to-day?" Wash asked "It's six o'clock now. I want some supper. Let's camp here. There's water, and I noticed grass all along the bed of the rift. We can turn the horses out to graze."
"Camp here, Halgrim?" Raed demanded.
"We to the pastor's house can go," said the guide. "It is not a mile. He will be glad us to see."
"Query, does he mean an Icelandic mile?" Kit said.
"No matter," replied Raed. "We don't want to go to any pastor's house. I had far rather sleep under our tent than in one of those wretched byres such as we have seen by the way; and I dare say the pastor's house will not be much better. We have got bread and cheese and pressed meat enough; and, if we can contrive to make coffee, we are all right."
"Haven't seen a stick of wood big enough to burn today," Kit said. "Don't believe we can get a fire."
"There's a shrub-birch about as big as a high-bush cranberry," Wash remarked, pointing down the bank of the torrent; "and there's some twigs washed high up on the rocks."
Raed jumped off his pony.
"As well here as anywhere," he said. "Going to camp, Halgrim. Take off the pack-saddles. Turn the ponies out. Weymouth, get out the tent: I will help you pitch it"
While they were doing this, Wash and I went off along the rocks to pick up drift-twigs for fuel.
Kit got the hatchet and cut down the shrub-birch, and clipped it into fagots. Altogether we succeeded in gathering up perhaps a bushel of twigs, none of them over an inch in diameter. Halgrim brought a handful of dry grass. Matches were struck; and, with the aid of a bit of old newspaper, a fire was kindled between two fragments of lava. The coffee-pot was then filled from the Oxeara, and, with a generous dip of the fragrant brown bean of Java, was set over the fire on the stones.
It was not without a great deal of patient coaxing that we made it boil. This want of any thing like adequate feel is a serious drawback to travellers in Iceland. We saw scarcely a shrub over six feet high. The largest tree on the island is an ash at Akureyri, twenty-six feet high. Formerly there are said to have been extensive fir-forests. These have been gradually used up for fuel; and, the severity of the climate increasing each century, they have now ceased to grow altogether. We saw scarcely any thing save low birch shrubbery.
Sitting on our saddles and pack-boxes, each with his pint dipper of sweet, black coffee in one hand, and a hard-biscuit in the other, our party presented a highly-picturesque appearance, no doubt, the white tent in startling contrast with the black lava-blocks about it; the foaming cataract, with its sullen plunge, and steady, solemn roar; and, over all, the shimmering, never-setting sun streaming across the awful parapets of the jau. Sugar and bread, cheese and bread, meat and bread: we had all the variations which the rather limited number of our provisions would admit of; and, after all, another dipper of coffee. If coffee is really injurious, as many persons contend, I marvel we did not die of it during those weeks in Iceland. We used to drink from a pint to a quart apiece of it twice a day; strong, too, as we could get it from a dipperful of the ground coffee per mess.
Supper over, we sat talking for nearly an hour, talking of this strange land, and the impressions it gave us. Before us rose the Skjaldbreid Jokul, its summit dazzling white in the sunlight, its black base girt abut with dead lavas. Not a tree grows on its gloomy flans. The green of forests nowhere relieves the landscape blackness. It is this absence of forests which gives such constant impressions of desolation.
"Weymouth, what do you think of Iceland?" Kit demanded.
"Well, sir, it's about the smuttiest, iciest, sootiest-looking place I ever dreamed of. Looks as if it had been burnt over one year, and froze over the next, right along ever since it was" here Weymouth hesitated for want of the right term.
"Ever since it was what?" queried Kit.
"Why hatched," finished Weymouth in some confusion.
"Oh! that's not the way islands are produced, Weymouth," laughed Raed. "You don't mean hatched. Why, don't you know, Weymouth, that the earth is nothing but a big yeast-pot? Islands rise like doughy bubbles on its surface."
Weymouth looked a little puzzled, and was clearly not without suspicion that he was being imposed on.
Shortly after, we dispersed to pick up more twigs for our morning fire. We did this over night in order to have them to lie on while we slept. Each of us got a small armful. Wash and Raed found a couple more birch-shrubs. We all gathered what dry grass we could find. Carrying it into our tent, we spread our rubber-blankets over it, and, with our saddles for pillows, lay down to sleep. It was not very cold; and yet, though the sun shone brightly, it was far from warm. With our wool blankets wrapped snugly about our thick woollen suits, we were just comfortable, six in the tent.
Once, ere we went to sleep, we all distinctly felt and heard a deep rumbling sound like the slight shock of an earthquake. I dare say there was nothing very remarkable in this circumstance, when we reflect that the restless Hecla is not more than twenty-five miles distant from the jau, and that, within a radius of thirty miles, not less than a dozen craters open down to the fire-caldrons which rage at no great depth beneath. Indeed, the general feeling in Iceland is one of insecurity as to matters underground. I don't know how native Icelanders regard the situation; but a kind of expectant, powder-millish feeling clung to us constantly.
Along in the night, I call it night, though the sun shone all through it, Kit waked me. He was sitting up, looking about the tent.
"Where, for pity sake, is Wash?" he whispered. "Wash?" said I. "Isn't he here?"
"No: he's gone. I believe he went out a long time ago too. Something roused me; then I went to sleep again. He's gone off sure," looking round to his empty berth.
"You don't suppose he's gone on one of his sleep-walks?" I said, Wash's noctambulistic infirmity suddenly occurring to me.
"I'm afraid of it!" Kit exclaimed.
We both got up without disturbing the rest, and, pushing back the flap of the tent, stepped out. The sun was behind the lofty wall of the jau: its heavy shadow now fell along the bed of the rift. We looked hastily in all directions. There were the horses, some of them still feeding others lying down. Wash was nowhere in sight.
"Bet my pony he's gone on a regular tramp!" Kit muttered. "If he doesn't break his neck over these Lava ledges, or get drowned in the river, I shall be thankful for it."
We ran out to where the stream pours over the cliff then, mounting amid the sharp rocks, followed down the rapid. It was a terrible place for boots: the lavas present every sort of cutting, tearing edge, point, and angle. But, working along with great care and hazard, we came finally to where the torrent whisks out of the jau through the lower wall. The noise of the mad cataract drowned our voices, and showered us with spray and damp. It seemed impossible that he could have gone any farther in this direction; for, at the point where the stream rashes through the wall, the crags rise almost perpendicularly for twenty or thirty feet on both sides.
"I guess he went back along the jau!" shouted Kit. "I don't believe he came this way."
We were turning back, when the rattling of a bit of lava down the rocks made us pause suddenly. There was Wash scrambling down the side of the jau above us, a side too steep, we thought, to be scaled; and he had the rifle in his hands too.
"Heavens!" Kit exclaimed under his breath. "He'll tumble! But don't speak; don't say a word. If we wake him, he will surely break his head."
We crouched down among the bowlders, and watched him. He was jabbering and muttering to himself, something about a troll. (He had been asking Halgrim about trolls.) "That sly, wicked troll! that green-eyed troll!" He'd "have him;" he'd "bore him faith a slug!"
Down he came, scrubbing and scrambling over the rough lavas, clinging and holding on like a ferret.
"You don't suppose he would fire at us, do you?" Kit whispered.
There was no knowing. He might take us for trolls as likely as not. I advised to keep quiet. He would have to pass us if he kept on toward the camp. We could lay hold of him when he came near us, and take the gun away before he would have time to shoot. He was not long getting down. Such a hurry as he seemed to be in would have been quite amusing, had we not felt so anxious for his safety. Gaining the bottom, near where we were, he started to run, looking neither to right nor left. In an instant we jumped up from behind our rock, and had the somnambulist by the collar. He was still scolding, and stared at us with unwinking, expressionless eyes.
"Wash, Wash!" Kit cried, shaking him violently. He suddenly waked, letting the rifle drop, and lurching heavily against me.
"What what is the matter?" he ejaculated, rubbing his brows.
"What's up, anyhow?" getting a little more waked up.
"Well, that's what we want to know," said Kit. "What in the world are you doing out here with a gun in your hands? cocked too, as I'm a sinner!" picking it up.
"Where are we?" was the only reply Wash could make; and so confused and tired out was he, that it was with no little difficulty that we got him back over the ledges and bowlders to where the tent had been pitched. He had not the slightest idea where or how far he had been, or what he had gone after. We told him some things he had said about the troll; but he knew nothing of it.
Raed and Weymouth were awake, wondering what had become of us. Wash had clearly been wading into the river; for his pants were wet clean to his body, and his boots were full of water. At no place along the jau were the banks of the Oxeara otherwise than ledgy and precipitous. This fact, as also the dangerous position he was in when we first espied him, led us to conclude that he had had a rather adventuresome time of it. A single misstep, either in the water or on the lava-crag, and he must have been swept to destruction.
"Look here, old fellow!" Kit exclaimed a little grimly when we had spoken of these perils. "If this is the way you are going to carry on nights, we'll just tie one of the guy-ropes round your ankle hereafter, my boy: we'll have you anchored before you go to sleep. I don't see how you ever got down into the rapids like that without getting drowned; for the life of me, I don't!"
"Old Scratch always takes care of his own children," Wash laughed, looking a little foolish as the true character of his exploit became apparent to him.
"Well, you won't go troll-hunting again without my snowing it," repeated Kit. "I'll have a halter on you, my boy"
I may add that Kit was as good as his word in this. Every night after that, while we were camping out in Iceland, Kit would tie either one of the ropes, or the rein of his bridle, into the strap of Wash's boot, and fasten the other end either to his own boot-strap, or to his saddle when using it for a pillow.
Halgrim had not waked; but as it was now past three o'clock, with the sun high in the north-east, we decided to get breakfast and go on. A fire was built, and coffee prepared, the same as on the preceding evening. The young Icelander was considerably surprised when we called him to breakfast.
"You must ought to wake up me to build the fire, sirs," he remonstrated.
On saddling the horses, two were missing; and Halgrim had to go back nearly to the entrance of the rift fully a mile before he overtook them. This hindered us somewhat; and it was not till after seven that we started onward.