A Journey to the Interior of the Earth
fire on the hearth filled the chamber. Every moment I noticed a fair-haired and rather
melancholy face peeping out of the rolling volumes of smoke--they were a perfect cluster
of unwashed angels.
My uncle and I treated this little tribe with kindness; and in a very short time we each had
three or four of these brats on our shoulders, as many on our laps, and the rest between
our knees. Those who could speak kept repeating "SAELLVERTU," in every conceivable
tone; those that could not speak made up for that want by shrill cries.
This concert was brought to a close by the announcement of dinner. At that moment our
hunter returned, who had been seeing his horses provided for; that is to say, he had
economically let them loose in the fields, where the poor beasts had to content
themselves with the scanty moss they could pull off the rocks and a few meagre sea
weeds, and the next day they would not fail to come of themselves and resume the
labours of the previous day.
"SAELLVERTU," said Hans.
Then calmly, automatically, and dispassionately he kissed the host, the hostess, and their
This ceremony over, we sat at table, twenty-four in number, and therefore one upon
another. The luckiest had only two urchins upon their knees.
But silence reigned in all this little world at the arrival of the soup, and the national
taciturnity resumed its empire even over the children. The host served out to us a soup
made of lichen and by no means unpleasant, then an immense piece of dried fish floating
in butter rancid with twenty years' keeping, and, therefore, according to Icelandic
gastronomy, much preferable to fresh butter. Along with this, we had 'skye,' a sort of
clotted milk, with biscuits, and a liquid prepared from juniper berries; for beverage we
had a thin milk mixed with water, called in this country 'blanda.' It is not for me to decide
whether this diet is wholesome or not; all I can say is, that I was desperately hungry, and
that at dessert I swallowed to the very last gulp of a thick broth made from buckwheat.
As soon as the meal was over the children disappeared, and their elders gathered round
the peat fire, which also burnt such miscellaneous fuel as briars, cow-dung, and
fishbones. After this little pinch of warmth the different groups retired to their respective
rooms. Our hostess hospitably offered us her assistance in undressing, according to
Icelandic usage; but on our gracefully declining, she insisted no longer, and I was able at
last to curl myself up in my mossy bed.
At five next morning we bade our host farewell, my uncle with difficulty persuading him
to accept a proper remuneration; and Hans signalled the start.
At a hundred yards from Gardar the soil began to change its aspect; it became boggy and
less favourable to progress. On our right the chain of mountains was indefinitely