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

THE ENGLISH SPORTS IN TROUBLE.

Our ride back to Thingvalla was over the same trail which we had traveled on the preceding day, with the exception of a short cut to the right of the Tintron rock. We made very good speed, and reached the Parsonage early in the afternoon.

During our absence a young Englishman had arrived from the North, where he had been living for a year. I found him in the travelers’ room, surrounded by a confused medley of boxes, bags, books, and Icelandic curiosities, which he was endeavoring to reduce to some kind of order. Had I not been told he was an Englishman I should never have suspected it, either from his appearance or manner. When I entered the room he stood up and looked at me, and I must say, without intending him the slightest disrespect, that he was the most extraordinary looking man I ever saw in all my life, not excepting a tattooed African chief that I once met at Zanzibar. Whether he was young or old it was impossible to say he might be twenty-five or just as likely fifty. Dirty and discolored with travel, his face was generally dark, though it was somewhat relieved by spots of yellow. His features were regular, and of almost feminine softness; his eyes were dark brown; and his hair, which was nearly black, hung down over his shoulders in lank straight locks, sunburnt or frostbitten at the ends. On his head he wore a tall, conical green wool hat, with a broad brim, and a brown band tied in a true lover’s knot at one side. The remainder of his costume consisted of a black cloth roundabout, threadbare and dirty; a pair of black casimere pantaloons, very tight about the legs and burst open in several places; and a pair of moccasins on his feet, adorned with beads and patches of red flannel. If he wore a shirt it was not conspicuous for whiteness, for I failed to discover it. When he saw that a stranger stood before him, he looked quite overwhelmed with astonishment, and gasped out some inarticulate words, consisting principally of Icelandic interjections.

“How do you do, sir?” said I, in the usual California style. “I’m glad to meet an Englishman in this wild country!”

“Ye’ow-w-w!” (a prolonged exclamation.)

“Just arrived, sir?”

“Nay-y-y!” (a prolonged negative.)

“You speak English, I believe, sir?”

“Oh-h-h! Ya-a-a-s. Are you an Englishman?”

“No, sir. An American, from California.”

“De-e-e-a-r-r m-e-e!”

Here there was a pause, for I really did not know what to make of the man. He looked at the ceiling, and at the floor, and out of the window, and started a remark several times, but always stopped before he got under way, or lost it in a prolonged “Oh-o-o-a!” Again and again he attempted to speak, never getting beyond a word or two. It seemed as if some new idea were continually crossing his mind and depriving him of his breath: he labored under a chronic astonishment. At first I supposed it might be the natural result of a year’s absence in the interior of Iceland, but subsequent acquaintance with him satisfied me that it was constitutional. He was astonished all the way from Reykjavik to Scotland. When it rained he opened his eyes as if they would burst; looked up in the sky, and cried “Oh-h-h!” When it blew he tumbled into his berth, covered himself up in the blankets, peeped out in the most profound amazement, and ejaculated “Ah-h-h! Oh-h-h! Hay-y-y! Ye’ow-w-w!” When the weather was fine he came up on deck, peered over the bulwarks, up at the rigging, down into the engine-room, and was perfectly astounded at each object, exclaiming alternately “Oh-h-o-o-a-a-h!” “Ah-ha!” “H-a-y!” and “Ye’ow-w-w-w!” At Thingvalla his main food was curds and black bread, yet he had an abundance of the best provisions. He was a thorough Icelandic scholar, and spoke the language with ease and grace, only when interrupted by the novel ideas that so often struck him in the head. With all his oddity, he was a gentleman by birth and education, and was very amiable in his disposition. He had evidently spent much of his life over books; his knowledge of the world scarcely equaled that of a child. From all that I could gather of his winter’s experiences in North Iceland, the climate was not very severe, except at occasional intervals when there was a press of ice-fields along the coast. The mean temperature was quite moderate. He suffered no inconvenience at all from the weather. At times it was very pleasant. He had the misfortune to break his leg in climbing over some lava-bergs, which crippled him for some weeks, but he was now getting all right again. This account of his experiences, which I obtained from him during the evening, took many divergences into the “Ohs!” and “Ahs!” and was really both instructive and entertaining. When he came to the breaking of his leg, I expressed my astonishment at the equanimity with which he bore it, which so astonished him, when he came to think of it in that light, that he cried “Oh-h-a-a! ya-a-s! It was very bad!” as if he had entirely forgotten how bad it was, and now made a new and most singular discovery.

As there was only the one small room we had to sleep at pretty close quarters, the Englishman on the sofa and I in the bed, which for some reason was awarded to me by the good pastor. Having no preference, I offered to exchange; but this only astonished my eccentric neighbor, and set him off into a labyrinth of interjections. Our heads were placed pretty close together, and it was some time before I could settle myself to sleep, owing to a variety of peculiar sounds he made in whispering to himself. He seemed to be telling himself some interminable story from one of the Sagas. Several times I dozed off, and was awakened by some extraordinary ejaculation.

“I beg your pardon,” said I, at length, rising up, and looking in the face of my neighbor, who was lying on his back, with his eyes wide open, “I beg your pardon, sir; did you speak to me?”

“Oh-h-h-a!” shouted the Englishman, jumping up as if touched with a streak of electricity. “Dear me! ha oh-o-o! How very odd!”

“Sir?”

“Eh?”

“Good-night, sir!” I said, and lay down again. The Englishman also composed himself to rest, but presently rose up, and looking over at me, exclaimed “Oh-o-o-ah!”

This was all. Then we both composed ourselves to sleep. Tired as I was after my ride from the Geysers and the bad night I had passed there, it was no wonder I soon lost all consciousness of the proximity of my eccentric room-mate, and the probability is I would have gotten well through the night but for another singular and unexpected interruption.

“Hello! What the devil! Who’s here? By Jove, this is jolly! I say! Where the dooce is our American friend? Down, Bowser! Down! Blawst the dog! Ho! ho! Look there, Tompkins! I say! Here’s a go!”

There was a tramping of feet, a knocking about of loose things in the room, and a chorus of familiar voices in the adjoining passage. It is needless to say that the party of sporting Englishmen had arrived from Reykjavik.

“Oh-h-a! Ye-o-w!” exclaimed my room-mate, starting up, and gazing wildly at the lively young gentleman with the dog. “Oh-o-o! How very odd!”

The jolly sportsman looked at the apparition in perfect amazement. Both stared at each other for a moment, as if such an extraordinary sight had never been witnessed on either side before.

“By Jove! this is jolly!” muttered the lively gentleman, turning on his heel and walking out; “a devilish rum-looking chap, that!”

“Oh-o-o-o!” was all my astonished room-mate said, after which he turned over and composed himself to sleep. I had purposely refrained from manifesting any symptoms of wakefulness, well-knowing that there would be no farther rest that night if I once discovered myself to the traveling party.

At a seasonable hour in the morning, however, I got up, and looked about in search of my fellow-passengers, whom I really liked, and in whose progress I felt a considerable interest. They were camped close by the church, under the lee of the front door. Two canvas tents covered what was left of them. A general wreck of equipments lay scattered all around broken poles, boxes, tinware, etc. It was plain enough they had encountered incredible hardships.

The usual greetings over, I inquired how they had enjoyed the trip from Reykjavik. In reply they gave me a detailed and melancholy history of their experiences. Riley’s Narrative of Shipwreck, and subsequent hardships on the coast of Africa, was nothing to it. Of the twenty-five horses with which they left Reykjavik only thirteen were sound of wind, and of these more than half were afflicted with raw backs. The pack-animals, eighteen in number, were every one lame. Then the packs were badly done up, and broke to pieces on the way. Sometimes the ropes cut the horses’ backs, and sometimes the horses lay down on the road, and tried to travel with their feet in the air. Incredible difficulty was experienced in making twelve miles the first day. It rained all the time. The bread was soaked; the tea destroyed; the sugar melted; and the Champagne baskets smashed. When the packs were taken off it was discovered that some of them wore quite empty, and the contents, consisting originally of hair-brushes, flea-powder, lip-salve, and cold-cream, were strewn along the road probably all the way from Reykjavik. The cot-fixtures were swelled and wouldn’t fit; the tea-kettle was jammed into a cocked-hat; the tent-pins were lost, and the hatchet nowhere to be found. It was a perfect series of jams, smashes, and scatterings. Even the sheets were filled with mud, and wholly unfit for use until they could be washed and done up. One horse lay down on the portable kitchen, and flattened it into a general pancake; another attempted to take an impression of his own body on the photographic apparatus, and reduced it (the apparatus) to fragments; another, wishing perhaps to see his face as others saw him, raked off the looking-glasses against a point of lava, and walked on them; and, lastly, one stupid beast contrived in some way to get his nose into a mustard-case which had fallen from a pack in front, and, snuffing up the mustard, got his nostrils burnt and went perfectly crazy, kicking, plunging, and charging at all the other horses till he drove them all as crazy as himself, whereby a prodigious amount of damage was done. In short, it was a series of disasters from beginning to end; and here they were now but two days’ journey from Reykjavik (I had made the whole distance easily in seven hours), and, by Jove, there was no telling how much longer it would be possible to keep the guide. They had already quarreled with him several times, and threatened to discharge him. He was a stupid dunce, and a rascal and a cheat into the bargain. On the whole, it was a “rum” sort of a country to travel in. No game, no roads, no shops, no accommodations for man or beast! And who ever saw such houses for people to live in? Mere sheep-pens! Disgustingly filthy! A beastly set of ragamuffins! By Jove, sir, if it wasn’t for the name of the thing, a fellow might as well be in the infernal regions at once! In truth, I must acknowledge that the interior of an Icelandic hut does not present a very attractive spectacle to a stranger.

I deeply sympathized with my friends, and urged them to leave the remainder of their baggage. If there was any medicine left, a dose of quinine all around might do them good and prevent any ill effects from the rain; but, on the whole, I thought they would get along better with less baggage.

“Less baggage!” cried all together. “Why, hang it, our baggage is scattered along the trail clear back to Reykjavik! It has been growing less ever since we started. By the time we reach the Geysers it is questionable if we’ll have as much as a fine-tooth comb left!”

“Then,” said I, “you can travel. Sell a dozen of your horses on the way, and you’ll be rid of another trouble!”

“Sell them; they wouldn’t bring a farthing. They’re not worth a groat.”

“Then turn them loose.”

“That’s a jolly idea,” said the lively sportsman; “how the deuce are we to travel without pack-horses?”

“Oh, nothing easier. You don’t need pack-horses when you have no packs.”

“By Jove, there’s something in that!” said the jolly gentleman. “Our American friend ought to know. He’s seen the elephant before.”

This proposition gave rise to an animated discussion, during which I wished them a prosperous tour, and took my leave. Of their subsequent career I have heard nothing, save that they arrived safely in England, and published various letters in the newspapers giving glowing accounts of their Icelandic experience.

Nothing of importance occurred on the way back to Reykjavik. I arrived there early in the afternoon safe and sound, and greatly benefited by the trip. Like the beatings received by Brusa, the experience was delightful when it was over. I paid off my excellent guide Geir Zoega, and made him a present of the few articles that remained from the expedition. It is a great pleasure to be able to recommend a guide heartily and conscientiously. A worthier man than Geir Zoega does not exist, and I hereby certify that he afforded me entire satisfaction. No traveler who desires an honest, intelligent, and conscientious guide can do better than secure his services. Long life and happiness to you, Geir Zoega! May your shadow never be less; and may your invaluable little dog Brusa live to profit by your wise counsel and judicious administration of the rod.