Read CHAPTER XLV of The Land of Thor , free online book, by J. Ross Browne, on


My English friends were so well provided with funds and equipments that they found it impossible to get ready. They had patent tents, sheets, bedsteads, mattresses, and medicine-boxes. They had guns, too, in handsome gun-cases; and compasses, and chronometers, and pocket editions of the poets. They had portable kitchens packed in tin boxes, which they emptied out, but never could get in again, comprising a general assortment of pots, pans, kettles, skillets, frying-pans, knives and forks, and pepper-castors. They had demijohns of brandy and kegs of Port wine; baskets of bottled porter and a dozen of Champagne; vinegar by the gallon and French mustard in patent pots; likewise collodium for healing bruises, and musquito-nets for keeping out snakes. They had improved oil-lamps to assist the daylight which prevails in this latitude during the twenty-four hours, and shaving apparatus and nail-brushes, and cold cream for cracked lips, and dentifrice for the teeth, and patent preparations for the removal of dandruff from the hair; likewise lint and splints for mending broken legs. One of them carried a theodolite for drawing inaccessible mountains within a reasonable distance; another a photographic apparatus for taking likenesses of the natives and securing fac-similes of the wild beasts; while a third was provided with a brass thief-defender for running under doors and keeping them shut against persons of evil character. They had bags, boxes, and bales of crackers, preserved meats, vegetables, and pickles; jellies and sweet-cake; concentrated coffee, and a small apparatus for the manufacture of ice-cream. In addition to all these, they had patent overcoats and undercoats, patent hats and patent boots, gum-elastic bed-covers, and portable gutta-percha floors for tents; ropes, cords, horse-shoes, bits, saddles and bridles, bags of oats, fancy packs for horses, and locomotive pegs for hanging guns on, besides many other articles commonly deemed useful in foreign countries by gentlemen of the British Islands who go abroad to rough it. This was roughing it with a vengeance! It would surely be rough work for me, an uncivilized Californian, to travel in Iceland or any other country under such a dreadful complication of conveniences.

When all these things were unpacked and scattered over the beds and floors of the hotel, nothing could excel the enthusiasm of the whole party including myself, for I really had seen nothing in the course of my travels half so amusing. As an old stager in the camping business, I was repeatedly appealed to for advice and assistance, which of course I gave with the natural politeness belonging to all Californians, suggesting many additions. Warming-pans for the sheets, pads of eider-down to wear on the saddles, and bathing-tubs to sit in after a hard ride, would, I thought, be an improvement; but as such things were difficult to be had in Reykjavik, the hope of obtaining them was abandoned after some consideration. “In fact,” said they, “we are merely roughing it, and, by Jove, a fellow must put up with some inconveniences in a country like this!”

To carry all these burdens, which, when tied up in packs, occupied an extra room, required exactly eighteen horses, inclusive of the riders, and to bargain for eighteen horses was no small job. The last I saw of the Englishmen they were standing in the street surrounded by a large portion of the population of Reykjavik, who had every possible variety of horses to sell horses shaggy and horses shaved, horses small and horses smaller, into the mouths of which the sagacious travelers were intently peering in search of teeth occasionally punching the poor creatures on the ribs, probing their backs, pulling them up by the legs, or tickling them under the tail to ascertain if they kicked.

At the appointed hour, 6 A.M., Zoega was ready at the door of the hotel with his shaggy cavalcade, which surely was the most extraordinary spectacle I had ever witnessed. The horned horses of Africa would have been commonplace objects in comparison with these remarkable animals destined to carry me to the Geysers of Iceland. Each one of them looked at me through a stack of mane containing hair enough to have stuffed half a dozen chairs; and as for their tails, they hung about the poor creatures like huge bunches of wool. Some of them were piebald and had white eyes others had no eyes at all. Seeing me look at them rather apprehensively, Zoega remarked,

“Oh, sir, you needn’t be afraid. They are perfectly gentle!”

“Don’t they bite?” said I.

“Oh no, sir, not at all.”

“Nor kick?”

“No, sir, never.”

“Nor lie down on the way?”

“No, sir, not at all.”

“Answer me one more question, Zoega, and I’m done.” [This I said with great earnestness.] “Do these horses ever eat cats or porcupines, or swallow heavy brooms with crooked handles?”

“Oh no, sir!” answered my guide, with a look of some surprise; “they are too well trained for that.”

“Then I suppose they subsist on train-oil as well as codfish?”

“Yes, sir, when they can get it. They are very fond of oil.”

I thought to myself, No wonder they are so poor and small. Horses addicted to the use of oil must expect to be of light construction. But it was time to be off.

A cup of excellent coffee and a few biscuit were amply sufficient to prepare me for the journey. Our pack-horse carried two boxes and a small tent all we required. Before starting Zoega performed the Icelandic ceremony of tying the horses in a row, each one’s head to the tail of the horse in front. This, he said, was the general practice. If it were not done they would scatter outside of town, and it would probably take two hours to catch them again. I had some fear that if one of the number should tumble over a precipice he would carry several of his comrades with him, or their heads and tails.