Page images
PDF
EPUB

nobody would care about reading their books. This was the great art of travel ; it was not exactly lying, but putting on colors to give the picture effect.

“For my part, Zöega," said I, “having no great skill as an artist, and being a very plain, unimaginative man, as you know, I shall confine myself strictly to facts. Perhaps there will be novelty enough in telling the truth to attract attention.”

“The truth is always the best, sir,” replied Zöega, gravely and piously.

“Of course it is, Zöega. This country is sufficiently curious in itself. It does not require the aid of fiction to give it effect. Therefore, should you come across any thing in my narrative which may have escaped your notice, depend upon it I thought it was true—or ought to

[ocr errors]

be.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

“Yes, sir; I know you would never lie like some of these gentlemen.”

“Never! never, Zöega! I scorn a lying traveler above all things on earth.”

But these digressions, however amusing they were at the time, can scarcely be of much interest to the reader.

Even after the lapse of several years the marks around the camping-ground were quite fresh. The sod is of very fine texture, and the grass never grows very rank, so that wherever a trench is cut to let off the rain, it remains, with very little alteration, for a great length of time.

On the principle that a sovereign of the United States ought never to rank himself below a prince of any other country, I selected a spot a little above the campingground of his excellency the Prince Napoleon. By the aid of my guide I soon had the tent pitched. It was a small affair—only an upright pole, a few yards of canvas, and four wooden pins. The whole concern did not weigh twenty pounds, and only covered an area of ground about four feet by six. Zöega then took the horses to a pas

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ture up the valley. I amused myself making a few sketches of the surrounding objects, and thinking how strange it was to be here all alone at the Geysers of Iceland. How many of my friends knew where I was ? Not one, perhaps. And should all the Geysers blow up together and boil me on the spot, what would people generally think of it? Or suppose the ground were to give way and swallow me up, what difference would it make in the price of consols or the temperature of the ocean?

When Zöega came back, he said, if I pleased, we would now go to work and cut sods for the Strokhr. It was a favorable time “to see him heave up.” The way to make him do that was to make him sick. Sods always made him sick. They didn't agree with his stomach. Every gentleman who came here made it a point to stir him up. He was called the Strokhr because he churned things that were thrown down his throat; and Strokhr means churn. I was very anxious to see the perforniance suggested by Zöega, and readily consented to assist him in getting the sods.

The Strokhr lay about a hundred yards from our tent, nearly in a line between the Great and Little Geysers. Externally it presents no very remarkable feature, being nothing more than a hole in the bed of rocks, about five feet in diameter, and slightly funnel-shaped at the orifice. Standing upon the edge, one can see the water boiling up and whirling over about twenty feet below. A hollow, growling noise is heard, varied by an occasional hiss and rush, as if the contents were struggling to get out. It emits hot vapors, and has a slight smell of sulphur; otherwise it maintains rather a peaceful aspect, considering the infernal temper it gets into when disturbed.

Zöega and I worked hard cutting and carrying the sods for nearly half an hour, by which time we had a large pile on the edge of the orifice. Zöega said there was enough. I insisted on getting more. “Let us give him a dose that he won't forget.” “Oh, sir, nobody ever puts more than that in; it is quite enough.” “No; I mean to make him deadly sick. Come on, Zöega.”. And at it we went again, cutting the sod, and carrying it over and piling it up in a great heap by the hole. When we had about a ton all ready, I said to Zöega, “Now, Zöega, fire away, and I'll stand here and see how it works.” Then Zöega pushed it all over, and it went slapping and dashing down into the steaming shaft. For a little while it whirled about, and surged, and boiled, and tumbled over and over in the depths of the churn with a hollow, swashing noise terribly ominous of what was to come. I peeped over the edge to try if I could detect the first symptoms of the approaching eruption. Zöega walked quietly away about twenty steps, saying he preferred not to be too close. There was a sudden growl and a rumble, a terrible plunging about and swashing of the sods below, and fierce, whirling clouds of steam flew up, almost blinding me as they passed.

“Sir,” said Zöega, gravely, “you had better stand away. It comes up very suddenly when it once starts.”

“Don't be afraid, Zöega; I'll keep a sharp look-out for it. You may depend there's not a Geyser in Iceland can catch me when I make a break." .

“Very well, sir; but I'd advise you to be careful.”

Notwithstanding this good counsel, I could not resist the fascination of looking in. There was another tremendous commotion going on a roar, a whirling over of the sods, and clouds of steam flying up. This time I ran back a few steps. But it was a false alarm. Nothing came of it. The heaving mass seemed to be producing the desired effect, however. The Strokhr was evi. dently getting very sick. I looked over once more. All below was a rumbling, tumbling black mass, dashing over and over against the sides of the churn. Soon a threatcning roar not to be mistaken startled me. “Look out, sir !" shouted Zoega; “look out!” Unlike the Frenchman who looked out when he should have looked in, I unconsciously looked in when I should have looked out. With a suddenness that astonished me, up shot the seeth, ing mass almost in my face. One galvanic jump-an involuntary shout of triumph—and I was rolling heels over head on the crust of earth about ten feet off, the hot water and clumps of sod tumbling down about me in every direction. Another scramble brought me to my feet, of which I made such good use that I was forty yards beyond Zöega before I knew distinctly what had happened. The poor fellow came running toward me in great consternation.

“ Are you hurt, sir? I hope you're not hurt !” he cried, in accents of great concern.

“Hurt!" I answered. “Didn't you see me rolling over on the ground laughing at it? Why, Zöega, I never saw any thing so absurd as that in my life; any decent Geyser would have given at least an hour's notice. This miserable little wretch went off half cocked. I was just laughing to think how sick we made him all of a sudden !”

“Oh, that was it, sir! I thought you were badly hurt.”

“Not a bit of it. You never saw a man who had suffered serious bodily injury run and jump with joy, and roll with laughter as I did.”

“No, sir, never, now that I come to think of it.”

Somehow it was always pleasant to talk with Zöega, his simplicity was so refreshing.

The display was really magnificent. An immense dark column shot into the air to the height of sixty or seventy feet, composed of innumerable jets of water and whirling masses of sod. It resembled a thousand fountains joined together, each with a separate source of expulsion. The hissing hot water, blackened by the boiled clay and turf, spurted up in countless revolving circlets, spreading out in every direction and falling in torrents over the earth, which was deluged for fifty feet around with the dark, steaming flood. This, again sweeping into the mouth of the funnel, fell in thick streams into the churn, carrying with it the sods that were scattered within its vor

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

tex, and once more heaved and surged about in the huge caldron below.

The eruption continued for about five minutes without any apparent diminution of force. It then subsided into fitful and convulsive jets, as if making a last effort, and finally disappeared with a deep growl of disappointment. All was now quiet save the gurgling of the murky water as it sought its way back. Zöega said it was not done yet—that this was only a beginning. I took my sketch-book and resolved to seize the next opportunity for a good view of the eruption, taking, in the mean time, a general outline of the locality, including a glimpse of the Langarfjal. Just as I had finished up to the orifice the same angry roar which had first startled me was repeated, and up shot the dark, boiling flood in grander style than ever. This time it was absolutely fearful. There could be no doubt the dose of sods we had tumbled into the stomach of the old gentleman was making him not only dreadfully sick, but furiously angry.

At this moment, as if the elements sympathized in his distress, fierce gusts of wind began to blow down from the Langarfjal. So sudden and violent were they that it was difficult to maintain a foothold in our exposed position; and the tall column of fountains, struck with the full violence of the wind, presented a splendid spectacle of strength and rage-surging, and swaying, and battling to maintain its erect position, and showing in every motion the irresistible power with which it was ejected. Steam, and water, and sods went whirling down into the valley; the very air was darkened with the shriven and scattered currents; and a black deluge fell to the leeward, hundreds of yards beyond the orifice. The weird and barren aspect of the surrounding scenery was never more impressive.

“What do you think of the Strokhr, sir ?” asked Zoega, with some pride. “Is it equal to the Geysers of California ?”

I was rather taken aback at the honest bluntness of

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »