Page images
[graphic][merged small]

I stopped on an elevated bank to survey the route before us.

There seemed to be no possible way of getting over. It was all a wild roaring flood plunging madly down among the rocks. While I was thinking what was to be done, Zoega, with a crack of his whip, drove the animals into the water and made a bold dash after them. It then occurred to me that there was a good deal of prudence in the advice given by an Icelandic traveler : “ Never go into a river till your guide has tried it.” Should Zöega be swept down over the cataract, as appeared quite probable, there would be no necessity for me to follow him. I had a genuine regard for the poor fellow, and it would pain me greatly to lose him; but then he was paid so much per day for risking bis life, and how could I help it if he chose to pursue such a perilous career ? Doubtless he had come near being drowned many a time before; he seemed to be used to it. All I could do for him in the present instance would be to break the melancholy intelligence to his wife as tenderly as possible. While thus philosophizing, Zöega plunged in deeper and deeper till he was surrounded by the raging torrent on the very verge of the great fissure. Was it possible he was going to force his horse into it? Surely the man must be crazy.

“Stop, Zöega! stop!” I shouted, at the top of my voice; "you'll be swept over the precipice. There's a great gap

in the river just before you.”
“ All right, sir!” cried Zöega. “Come on, sir !"

Again and again I called to him to stop, but he seemed to lose my voice in the roar of the falling waters. Dashing about after the scattered animals, he whipped them all up to the brink of the precipice, and then quietly walked his own horse across on what looked to me like a streak of foam. The others followed, and in a few minutes they all stood safely on the opposite bank. I thought this was very strange. A remote suspicion flashed across my mind that Zöega was in league with some of those water-spirits which are said to infest the rivers of Ice

land. Wondering what they would say to a live Californian, I plunged in and followed the route taken by my guide. Upon approaching the middle of the river I discovered that what appeared to be a streak of foam was in reality a wooden platform stretched across the chasm and covered by a thin sheet of water. It was pinned down to the rocks at each end, and was well braced with rafters underneath. From this the river derives its name -Brúará, or the Bridge.

The general aspect of the country differed but little from what I have already attempted to describe. Vast deserts of lava, snow-capped mountains in the distance, a few green spots here and there, and no apparent sign of habitation—these were its principal features. Below the falls the scene was peculiarly wild and characteristic. Tremendous masses of lava cast at random amid the roaring waters; great fissures splitting the earth asunder in all directions; every where marks of violent convulsion. In the following sketch I have endeavored to depict some of these salient points. When it is taken into consideration that the wind blew like a hurricane through the craggy ravines; that the rain and spray whirled over, and under, and almost through me; that it was difficult to stand on any elevated spot without danger of being blown over, I hope some allowance will be made for the imperfections of the performance.

About midway between Thingvalla and the Geysers we descended into a beautiful little valley, covered with a fine growth of grass, where we stopped to change horses and refresh ourselves with a lunch. While Zöega busied himself arranging the packs and saddles, our indefatigable little dog Brusa availed himself of the opportunity to give chase to a flock of sheep. Zöega shouted at him as usual, and as usual Brusa only barked the louder and ran the faster. The sheep scattered over the valley, Brusa pursuing all the loose members of the flock with a degree of energy and enthusiasm that would bave done credit to a better cause. Upon the lambs he was

[graphic][merged small]

particularly severe. Many of them must have been stunted in their growth for life by the fright they received; and it was not until he had tumbled half a dozen of them heels over head, and totally dispersed the remainder, that he saw fit to return to head-quarters. The excitement once over, he of course began to consider the consequences, and I must say he looked as mean as it was possible for an intelligent dog to look. Zöega took him by the nape of the neck with a relentless hand, and heaving a profound sigh, addressed a pathetic remonstrance to him in the Icelandic language, giving it weight and emphasis by a sharp cut of his whip after every sentence. This solemn duty performed to his satisfaction, and greatly to Brusa’s satisfaction when it was over, we mounted our horses once more and proceeded on our journey.

A considerable portion of this day's ride was over a rolling country, somewhat resembling the foot-bills in certain parts of California. On the right was an extensive plain, generally barren, but showing occasional green patches; and on the left a rugged range of mountains, not very high, but strongly marked by volcanic signs. We passed several lonely little huts, the occupants of which rarely made their appearance. Sheep, goats, and sometimes horses, dotted the pasture-lands. There was not much vegetation of any kind save patches of grass and brushwood. A species of white moss covered the rocks in places, presenting the appearance of hoar-frost at a short distance.



Upon turning the point of a hill where our trail was a little elevated above the great valley, Zöega called my attention to a column of vapor that seemed to rise ont of the ground about ten miles distant. For all I could judge, it was smoke from some settler's cabin situated in a hollow of the slope.

« PreviousContinue »