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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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and his brother would CUT a road through the lava rocks
of Biarnarhaf. Halli and Leikner immediately set about
executing this prodigious task; while the scornful Asdisa,
arrayed in her most splendid attire, came sweeping past
in silence, as if to mock their toil.  The poetical
reproaches addressed to the young lady on this occasion
by her sturdy admirer and his mate are still extant.  In
the meantime, the other servants of the crafty Arngrim
had constructed a subterranean bath, so contrived that
at a moment's notice it could be flooded with boiling
water.  Their task at last concluded, the two Berserks
returned home to claim their reward; but Arngrim Styr,
as if in the exuberance of his affection, proposed that
they should first refresh themselves in the new bath. No
sooner had they descended into it, than Arngrim shut down
the trap-door, and having ordered a newly-stripped
bullock's hide to be stretched before the entrance, gave
the signal for the boiling water to be turned on. Fearful
were the struggles of the scalded giants: Halli, indeed,
succeeded in bursting up the door; but his foot slipped
on the bloody bull's hide, and Amgrim stabbed him to the
heart. His brother was then easily forced back into the
seething water.

The effusion composed by the Tumultuous One on the occasion
of this exploit is also extant, and does not yield in
poetical merit to those which I have already mentioned
as having emanated from his victims.

As soon as the Pontiff Snorre heard of the result of
Arngrim Styr's stratagem, he came over and married the
Lady Asdisa. Traces of the road made by the unhappy
champions can yet be detected at Biarnarhaf, and tradition
still identifies the grave of the Berserks.

Connected with this same Pontiff Snorre is another of
those mysterious notices of a great land in the western
ocean which we find in the ancient chronicles, so interwoven
with narrative we know to be true, as to make it impossible
not to attach a certain amount of credit to them. This
particular story is the more interesting as its denouement,
abruptly left in the blankest mystery by one Saga, is
incidentally revealed to us in the course of another,
relating to events with which the first had no connection.
[Footnote: From internal evidence it is certain that the
chronicle which contains these Sagas must have been
written about the beginning of the thirteenth century.]

It seems that Snorre had a beautiful sister, named Thured
of Froda, with whom a certain gallant gentleman--called
Bjorn, the son of Astrand--fell head and ears in love.
Unfortunately, a rich rival appears in the field; and
though she had given her heart to Bjorn, Snorre--who, we
have already seen, was a prudent man--insisted upon her
giving her hand to his rival. Disgusted by such treatment,
Bjorn sails away to the coasts of the Baltic, and joins
a famous company of sea-rovers, called the Jomsburg
Vikings. In this worthy society he so distinguishes
himself by his valour and daring that he obtains the
title of the Champion of Breidavik. After many doughty
deeds, done by sea and land, he at last returns, loaded
with wealth and honours, to his native country.

In the summer-time of the year 999, soon after his arrival,
was held a great fair at Froda, whither all the merchants,
"clad in coloured garments," congregated from the adjacent
country. Thither came also Bjorn's old love, the Lady of
Froda; "and Bjorn went up and spoke to her, and it was
thought likely their talk would last long, since they
for such a length of time had not seen each other." But
to this renewal of old acquaintance both the lady's
husband and her brother very much objected; and "it seemed
to Snorre that it would be a good plan to kill Bjorn."
So, about the time of hay-making, off he rides, with
some retainers, to his victim's home, having fully
instructed one of them how to deal the first blow.  Bjorn
was in the home-field (tun), mending his sledge, when
the cavalcade appeared in sight; and, guessing what motive
had inspired the visit, went straight up to Snorre, who
rode in front, "in a blue cloak," and held the knife with
which he had been working in such a position as to be
able to stab the Pontiff to the heart, should his followers
attempt to lift their hands against himself. Comprehending
the position of affairs, Snorre's friends kept quiet.
"Bjorn then asked the news." Snorre confesses that he
had intended to kill him; but adds, "Thou tookest such
a lucky grip of me at our meeting, that thou must have
peace this time, however it may have been determined
before." The conversation is concluded by an agreement
on the part of Bjorn to leave the country, as he feels
it impossible to abstain from paying visits to Thured as
long as he remains in the neighbourhood.  Having manned
a ship, Bjorn put to sea in the summer-time "When they
sailed away, a north-east wind was blowing, which wind
lasted long during that summer; but of this ship was
nothing heard since this long time." And so we conclude
it is all over with the poor Champion of Breidavik! Not
a bit of it. He turns up, thirty years afterwards, safe
and sound, in the uttermost parts of the earth.

In the year 1029, a certain Icelander, named Gudlief,
undertakes a voyage to Limerick, in Ireland. On his return
home, he is driven out of his course by north-east winds,
Heaven knows where. After drifting for many days to the
westward, he at last falls in with land. On approaching
the beach, a great crowd of people came down to meet the
strangers, apparently with no friendly intentions. Shortly
afterwards, a tall and venerable chieftain makes his
appearance, and, to Gudlief's great astonishment, addresses
him in Icelandic. Having entertained the weary mariners
very honourably, and supplied them with provisions, the
old man bids them speed back to Iceland, as it would be
unsafe for them to remain where they were. His own name
he refused to tell; but having learnt that Gudlief comes
from the neighbourhood of Snaefell, he puts into his
hands a sword and a ring. The ring is to be given to
Thured of Froda; the sword to her son Kjartan. When
Gudlief asks by whom he is to say the gifts are sent,
the ancient chieftain answers, "Say they come from one
who was a better friend of the Lady of Froda than of her
brother Snorre of Helgafell." Wherefore it is conjectured
that this man was Bjorn, the son of Astrand, Champion of
Breidavik.

After this, Madam, I hope I shall never hear you depreciate
the constancy of men. Thured had better have married
Bjorn after all!

I forgot to mention that when Gudlief landed on the
strange coast, it seemed to him that the inhabitants
spoke Irish. Now, there are many antiquaries inclined to
believe in the former existence of an Irish colony to
the southward of the Vinland of the Northmen. Scattered
through the Sagas are several notices of a distant country
in the West, which is called Ireland ed Mekla--Great
Ireland, or the White Man's land. When Pizarro penetrated
into the heart of Mexico, a tradition already existed of
the previous arrival of white men from the East. Among
the Shawnasee Indians a story is still preserved of
Florida having been once inhabited by white men, who used
iron instruments. In 1658, Sir Erland the Priest had in
his possession a chart, even then thought ancient, of
"The Land of the White Men, or Hibernia Major, situated
opposite Vinland the Good," and Gaelic philologists
pretend to trace a remarkable affinity between many of
the American-Indian dialects and the ancient Celtic.

But to return to the "Foam." After passing the cape, away
we went across the spacious Brieda Fiord, at the rate of
nine or ten knots an hour, reeling and bounding at the
heels of the steamer, which seemed scarcely to feel how
uneven was the surface across which we were speeding.
Down dropped Snaefell beneath the sea, and dim before
us, clad in evening haze, rose the shadowy steeps of
Bardestrand.  The north-west division of Iceland consists
of one huge peninsula, spread out upon the sea like a
human hand, the fingers just reaching over the Arctic
circle; while up between them run the gloomy fiords,
sometimes to the length of twenty, thirty, and even forty
miles. Anything more grand and mysterious than the
appearance of their solemn portals, as we passed across
from bluff to bluff, it is impossible to conceive. Each
might have served as a separate entrance to some poet's
hell--so drear and fatal seemed the vista one's eye just
caught receding between the endless ranks of precipice
and pyramid.

There is something, moreover, particularly mystical in
the effect of the grey, dreamy atmosphere of an arctic
night, through whose uncertain medium mountain and headland
loom as impalpable as the frontiers of a demon world,
and as I kept gazing at the glimmering peaks, and monstrous
crags, and shattered stratifications, heaped up along
the coast in cyclopean disorder, I understood how natural
it was that the Scandinavian mythology, of whose mysteries
the Icelanders were ever the natural guardians and
interpreters, should have assumed that broad, massive
simplicity which is its most beautiful characteristic.
Amid the rugged features of such a country the refinements
of Paganism would have been dwarfed into insignificance.
How out of place would seem a Jove with his beard in
ringlets--a trim Apollo--a sleek Bacchus--an ambrosial
Venus--a slim Diana, and all their attendant groups of
Oreads and Cupids--amid the ocean mists, and icebound
torrents, the flame-scarred mountains, and four months'
night--of a land which the opposing forces of heat and
cold have selected for a battle-field!

The undeveloped reasoning faculty is prone to attach an
undue value and meaning to the forms of things, and the
infancy of a nation's mind is always more ready to worship
the MANIFESTATIONS of a Power, than to look beyond them
for a cause. Was it not natural then that these northerns,
dwelling in daily communion with this grand Nature, should
fancy they could perceive a mysterious and independent
energy in her operations, and at last come to confound

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