Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

undergone since the time of the first Director--good
taste has finally arrested it.

I happened to be particularly interested in the above
important question; for up to that moment I had always
been haunted by a horrid paragraph I had met with somewhere
in an Icelandic book of travels, to the effect that it
was the practice of Icelandic women, from early childhood,
to flatten down their bosoms as much as possible. This
fact, for the honour of the island, I am now in a position
to deny; and I here declare that, as far as I had the
indiscretion to observe, those maligned ladies appeared
to me as buxom in form as any rosy English girl I have
ever seen.


It was nearly nine o'clock before we adjourned from the
"Reine Hortense," to the ball. Already, for some time
past, boats full of gay dresses had been passing under
the corvette's stern on their way to the "Artemise,"
looking like flower-beds that had put to sea,--though
they certainly could no longer be called a parterre;--and
by the time we ourselves mounted her lofty sides, a
mingled stream of music, light, and silver laughter, was
pouring out of every port-hole.  The ball-room was very
prettily arranged. The upper deck had been closed in with
a lofty roof of canvas, from which hung suspended glittering
lustres, formed by bayonets with their points collected
into an inverted pyramid, and the butt-ends serving as
sockets for the tapers. Every wall was gay with flags,--the
frigate's frowning armament all hid or turned to ladies'
uses: 82 pounders became sofas--boarding-pikes,
balustrades--pistols, candlesticks--the brass carronades
set on end, pillarwise, their brawling mouths stopped
with nose-gays; while portraits of the Emperor and the
Empress, busts, colours draped with Parisian cunning,
gave to the scene an appearance of festivity that looked
quite fairy-like in so sombre a region. As for our gallant
host, I never saw such spirits; he is a fine old grey-headed
blow-hard of fifty odd, talking English like a native,
and combining the frank open-hearted cordiality of a
sailor with that graceful winning gaiety peculiar to
Frenchmen. I never saw anything more perfect than the
kind, almost fatherly, courtesy with which he welcomed
each blooming bevy of maidens that trooped up his ship's
side. About two o'clock we had supper on the main-deck.
I had the honour of taking down Miss Thora, of Bessestad;
and somehow--this time, I no longer found myself wandering
back in search of the pale face of the old-world Thora,
being, I suppose, sufficiently occupied by the soft,
gentle eyes of the one beside me. With the other young
ladies I did not make much acquaintance, as I experienced
a difficulty in finding befitting remarks on the occasion
of being presented to them. Once or twice, indeed, I
hazarded, through their fathers, some little complimentary
observations in Latin; but I cannot say that I found that
language lend itself readily to the gallantries of the
ball-room. After supper dancing recommenced, and the
hilarity of the evening reached its highest pitch when
half a dozen sailors, dressed in turbans made of flags
(one of them a lady with the face of the tragic muse),
came forward and danced the cancan, with a gravity and
decorum that would have greatly edified what Gavarni
calls "la pudeur municipale."

At 3 o'clock A.M. I returned on board the schooner, and
we are all now very busy in making final preparations
for departure. Fitz is rearranging his apothecary's shop.
Sigurdr is writing letters. The last strains of music
have ceased on board the "Artemise"; the sun is already
high in the heavens; the flower beds are returning on
shore,--a little draggled perhaps, as if just pelted by
a thunder-storm; the "Reine Hortense" has got her steam
up and the real, serious part of our voyage is about to
begin.

I feel that my description has not half done justice to
the wonders of this interesting island; but I can refer
you to your friend Sir Henry Holland for further details;
he paid a visit to Iceland in 1810, with Sir G. Mackenzie,
and made himself thoroughly acquainted with its historical
and scientific associations.

CONCLUDING ACT.

SCENE. R. Y. S: "Foam": astern of the "Reine Hortense"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE.

VOICE OF FRENCH CAPTAIN, COMMANDING "R.H."
LORD D.
DOCTOR.
WILSON.

VOICE OF THE FRENCH CAPTAIN.--"Nous partons."

LORD D--.--"All ready, Sir!"

WILSON TO DOCTOR (sotto voce).--"Sir!"

DOCTOR.--"Eh?"

WILSON.--"Do you know, Sir?"

DOCTOR.--"What?"

WILSON.--"Oh, nothing, Sir;--only we're going to the
hicy regions, Sir, ain't we? Well, I've just seen that
ere brig as is come from there, Sir, and they say there's
a precious lot of ice this year! (Pause.) Do you know,
Sir, the skipper showed me the bows of his vessel, Sir?
She's got seven feet of solid timber in her for'ard:
WE'VE only two inches, Sir!"

(DIVES BELOW.)

VOICE OF FRENCH CAPTAIN (WITH A SLIGHT ACCENT).--"Are
you ready?"

Lord D--.-"Ay, ay, Sir! Up anchor!"


LETTER VIII.

START FROM REYKJAVIK--SNAEFELL--THE LADY OF FRODA-A
BERSERK TRAGEDY--THE CHAMPION OF BREIDAVIK--ONUNDER
FIORD--THE LAST NIGHT--CROSSING THE ARCTIC CIRCLE--FETE
ON BOARD THE "REINE HORTENSE"--LE PERE ARCTIQUE-WE FALL
IN WITH THE ICE--THE "SAXON" DISAPPEARS--MIST--A PARTING
IN A LONELY SPOT--JAN MAYEN--MOUNT BEERENBERG--AN
UNPLEASANT POSITION--SHIFT OF WIND AND EXTRICATION--"TO
NORROWAY OVER THE FAEM"--A NASTY COAST--HAMMERFEST.

Hammerfest, July.

Back in Europe again,--within reach of posts! The glad
sun shining, the soft winds blowing, and roses on the
cabin table,--as if the region of fog and ice we have
just fled forth from were indeed the dream-land these
summer sights would make it seem. I cannot tell you how
gay and joyous it all appears to us, fresh from a climate
that would not have been unworthy of Dante's Inferno.
And yet--had it been twice as bad, what we have seen
would have more than repaid us, though it has been no
child's play to get to see it.

But I must begin where I left off in my last letter,--just,
I think, as we were getting under way, to be towed by
the "Reine Hortense" out of Reykjavik Harbour. Having
been up all night,--as soon as we were well clear of the
land, and that it was evident the towing business was
doing well--I turned in for a few hours. When I came on
deck again we had crossed the Faxe Fiord on our way north,
and were sweeping round the base of Snaefell--an extinct
volcano which rises from the sea in an icy cone to the
height of 5,000 feet, and grimly looks across to Greenland.
The day was beautiful; the mountain's summit beamed down
upon us in unclouded splendour, and everything seemed to
promise an uninterrupted view of the west coast of Iceland,
along whose rugged cliffs few mariners have ever sailed.
Indeed, until within these last few years, the passage,
I believe, was altogether impracticable, in consequence
of the continuous fields of ice which used to drift down
the narrow channel between the frozen continent and the
northern extremity of the island. Lately, some great
change seems to have taken place in the lie of the
Greenland ice; and during the summer-time you can pass
through, though late in the year a solid belt binds the
two shores together.

But in a historical and scientific point of view, the
whole country lying about the basanite roots of Snaefell
is most interesting. At the feet of its southern slopes
are to be seen wonderful ranges of columnar basalt,
prismatic caverns, ancient craters, and specimens of
almost every formation that can result from the agency
of subterranean fires; while each glen, and bay, and
headland, in the neighbourhood, teems with traditionary
lore. On the north-western side of the mountain stretches
the famous Eyrbiggja district, the most classic ground
in Iceland, with the towns, or rather farmsteads, of
Froda, Helgafell, and Biarnarhaf.

This last place was the scene of one of the most curious
and characteristic Sagas to be found in the whole catalogue
of Icelandic chronicles.

In the days when the same Jarl Hakon I have already
mentioned lorded it over Norway, an Icelander of the name
of Vermund, who had come to pay his court to the lord of
Lade, took a violent wish to engage in his own service
a couple of gigantic Berserks, [Footnote: Berserk, i.e.,
bare sark. The berserks seem to have been a description
of athletes, who were in the habit of stimulating their
nervous energies by the use of some intoxicating drug,
which rendered them capable of feats of extraordinary
strength and daring. The Berserker gang must have been
something very like the Malay custom of running a muck.
Their moments of excitement were followed by periods of
great exhaustion.] named Halli and Leikner, whom the Jarl
had retained about his person,--fancying that two champions
of such great strength and prowess would much acid to
his consequence on returning home. In vain.  the Jarl
warned him that personages of that description were wont
to give trouble and become unruly,--nothing would serve
but he must needs carry them away with him; nay, if they
would but come, they might ask as wages any boon which
might be in his power to grant. The bargain accordingly
was made; but, on arriving in Iceland, the first thing
Halli took it into his head to require was a wife, who
should be rich, nobly born, and beautiful. As such a
request was difficult to comply with, Vermund, who was
noted for being a man of gentle disposition, determined
to turn his troublesome retainers over to his brother,
Arngrim Styr, i.e., the Stirring or Tumultuous One,--as
being a likelier man than himself to know how to keep
them in order.

Arngrim happened to have a beautiful daughter, named
Asdisa, with whom the inflammable Berserk of course fell
in love. Not daring openly to refuse him, Arngrim told
his would-be son-in-law, that before complying with his
suit, he must consult his friends, and posted off to
Helgafell, where dwelt the Pagan Pontiff Snorre. The
result of this conference was an agreement on the part'
of Styr to give his daughter to the Berserk, provided he

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com