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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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to look about with great anxiety for the cook; and you
may fancy our delight at seeing that functionary in the
very act of dishing up dinner on a neighbouring hillock.
Sent forward at an early hour, under the chaperonage of
a guide, he had arrived about two hours before us, and
seizing with a general's eye the key of the position, at
once turned an idle babbling little Geysir into a
camp-kettle, dug a bake-house in the hot soft clay, and
improvising a kitchen-range at a neighbouring vent, had
made himself completely master of the situation. It was
about one o'clock in the morning when we sat down to
dinner, and as light as day.

As the baggage-train with our tents and beds had not yet
arrived, we fully appreciated our luck in being treated
to so dry a night; and having eaten everything we could
lay hands on, were sat quietly down to chess, and coffee
brewed in Geysir water; when suddenly it seemed as if
beneath our very feet a quantity of subterraneous cannon
were going off; the whole earth shook, and Sigurdr,
starting to his feet, upset the chess-board (I was just
beginning to get the best of the game), and flung off
full speed towards the great basin.  By the time we
reached its brim, however, the noise had ceased, and all
we could see was a slight movement in the centre, as if
an angel had passed by and troubled the water.  Irritated
at this false alarm, we determined to revenge ourselves
by going and tormenting the Strokr. Strokr--or the
churn--you must know, is an unfortunate Geysir, with so
little command over his temper and his stomach, that you
can get a rise out of him whenever you like. All that is
necessary is to collect a quantity of sods, and throw
them down his funnel. As he has no basin to protect him
from these liberties, you can approach to the very edge
of the pipe, about five feet in diameter, and look down
at the boiling water which is perpetually seething at
the bottom. In a few minutes the dose of turf you have
just administered begins to disagree with him; he works
himself up into an awful passion--tormented by the qualms
of incipient sickness, he groans and hisses, and boils
up, and spits at you with malicious vehemence, until at
last, with a roar of mingled pain and rage, he throws up
into the air a column of water forty feet high, which
carries with it all the sods that have been chucked in,
and scatters them scalded and half-digested at your feet.
So irritated has the poor thing's stomach become by the
discipline it has undergone, that even long after all
the foreign matter has been thrown off, it goes on retching
and sputtering, until at last nature is exhausted, when,
sobbing and sighing to itself, it sinks back into the
bottom of its den.

Put into the highest spirits by the success of this
performance, we turned away to examine the remaining
springs. I do not know, however, that any of the rest
are worthy of particular mention. They all resemble in
character the two I have described, the only difference
being that they are infinitely smaller, and of much less
power and importance.  One other remarkable formation in
the neighbourhood must not be passed unnoticed. Imagine
a large irregular opening in the surface of the soft
white clay, filled to the very brim with scalding water,
perfectly still, and of as bright a blue as that of the
Grotto Azzuro at Capri, through whose transparent depths
you can see down into the mouth of a vast subaqueous
cavern, which runs, Heaven knows how far, in a horizontal
direction beneath your feet. Its walls and varied cavities
really looked as if they were built of the purest lupis
lazuli--and so thin seemed the crust that roofed it in,
we almost fancied it might break through, and tumble us
all into the fearful beautiful bath.

Having by this time taken a pretty good look at the
principal features of our new domain, I wrapped myself
up in a cloak and went to sleep; leaving orders that I
should not be called until after the tent had arrived,
and our beds were ready. Sigurdr followed my example,
but the Doctor went out shooting.

As our principal object in coming so far was to see an
eruption of the Great Geysir, it was of course necessary
we should wait his pleasure; in fact, our movements
entirely depended upon his. For the next two or three
days, therefore, like pilgrims round some ancient shrine,
we patiently kept watch; but he scarcely deigned to
vouchsafe us the slightest manifestation of his latent
energies. Two or three times the cannonading we had heard
immediately after our arrival recommenced,--and once an
eruption to the height of about ten feet occurred; but
so brief was its duration, that by the time we were on
the spot, although the tent was not eighty yards distant,
all was over. As after every effort of the fountain the
water in the basin mysteriously ebbs back into the funnel,
this performance, though unsatisfactory in itself, gave
us an opportunity of approaching the mouth of the pipe,
and looking down into its scalded gullet.  In an hour
afterwards, the basin was brimful as ever.

Tethered down by our curiosity to a particular spot for
an indefinite period, we had to while away the hours as
best we could. We played chess, collected specimens,
photographed the encampment, the guides, the ponies, and
one or two astonished natives. Every now and then we went
out shooting over the neighbouring flats, and once I
ventured on a longer expedition among the mountains to
our left.  The views I got were beautiful,--ridge rising
beyond ridge in eternal silence, like gigantic ocean
waves, whose tumult has been suddenly frozen into
stone;--but the dread of the Geysir going off during my
absence made me almost too fidgety to enjoy them. The
weather luckily remained beautiful, with the exception
of one little spell of rain, which came to make us all
the more grateful for the sunshine,--and we fed like
princes. Independently of the game, duck, plover, ptarmigan,
and bittern, with which our own guns supplied us, a young
lamb was always in the larder,--not to mention reindeer
tongues, skier,--a kind of sour curds, excellent when
well made,--milk, cheese whose taste and nature baffles
description, biscuit and bread, sent us as a free gift
by the lady of a neighbouring farm. In fact, so noble is
Icelandic hospitality, that I really believe there was
nothing within fifty miles round we might not have obtained
for the asking, had we desired it. As for Fitz, he became
quite the enfant gate of a neighbouring family.

Having unluckily caught cold, instead of sleeping in the
tent, he determined to seek shelter under a solid roof-tree,
and, conducted by our guide Olaf, set off on his pony at
bed-time in search of a habitation. The next morning he
reappeared so unusually radiant that I could not help
inquiring what good fortune had in the meantime befallen
him: upon which he gave me such an account of his last
night's reception at the farm, that I was almost tempted
to bundle tent and beds down the throat of our irritable
friend Strokr, and throw myself for the future upon the
hospitality of the inhabitants. It is true, I had read
in Van Troil of something of the kind, but until now I
never fully believed it. The Doctor shall tell his own

"No sooner," said he, "had I presented myself at the
door, and made known my errand, than I was immediately
welcomed by the whole family, and triumphantly inducted
into the guest quarters: everything the house could
produce was set before me, and the whole society stood
by to see that I enjoyed myself. As I had but just dined
an additional repast was no longer essential to my
happiness; but all explanation was useless, and I did my
best to give them satisfaction. Immediately on rising
from the table, the young lady of the house--(old Van
Troil says it is either the mother or the daughter of
the house, if she be grown up, who performs this
office)--proposed by signs to conduct me to my apartment;
taking in one hand a large plate of skier, and in the
other a bottle of brandy, she led the way through a
passage built of turf and stones to the place where I
was to sleep. Having watched her deposit--not without
misgivings, for I knew it was expected both should be
disposed of before morning--the skier by my bedside, and
the brandy-bottle under the pillow, I was preparing to
make her a polite bow, and to wish her a very good night,
when she advanced towards me, and with a winning grace
difcult to resist, insisted upon helping me off with my
coat, and then,--proceeding to extremities,--with my
shoes and stockings. At this most critical part of the
proceedings, I naturally imagined her share of the
performance would conclude, and that I should at last be
restored to that privacy which at such seasons is generally
considered appropriate.  Not a bit of it. Before I knew
where I was, I found myself sitting in a chair, in my
shirt, trouserless, while my fair tire-woman was engaged
in neatly folding up the ravished garments on a neighbouring
chair. She then in the most simple manner in the world,
helped me into bed, tucked me up, and having said a
quantity of pretty things in Icelandic, gave me a hearty
kiss and departed. If," he added, "you see anything
remarkable in my appearance, it is probably because--

   'This very morn I've felt the sweet surprise
    Of unexpected lips on sealed eyes;'"

by which he poetically intimated the pleasing ceremony
which had awaked him to the duties of the day. I think
it needless to subjoin that the Doctor's cold did not
get better as long as we remained in the neighbourhood,
and that, had it not been for the daily increasing fire
of his looks, I should have begun to be alarmed at so
protracted an indisposition.

We had now been keeping watch for three days over the
Geysir, in languid expectation of the eruption which was
to set us free. All the morning of the fourth day I had
been playing chess with Sigurdr; Fitzgerald was
photographing, Wilson was in the act of announcing
luncheon, when a cry from the guides made us start to
our feet, and with one common impulse rush towards the

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