Copyright
M. A Wyllie.

Norway and its fjords online

. (page 21 of 23)
Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 21 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


received from the family of Njal, at last works on
Sigmund, an Easterling, who is staying in the house, to
sing songs mocking the beardless carle, as she calls him,
for Njal has no beard. He is reported to be throwing
dung over his land, and Hallgerda asks why he does
not cast some over his beard. To Njal's sons she gives
the name of dung-beardlings.

The song is soon repeated by gossips to Bergthora,



282 THE BEARDLESS CARLE

the wife of Njal, and when her sons come into their
supper, she speaks, " Gifts have been given you, father
and sons, and ye will be no true men unless ye repay
them somehow/"'

" What gifts are these ? " asks Skarphedinn.

" You, my sons,"" says Bergthora, " have got one gift
between you all. You are called ' dung-beardlings,' but
my husband is the ' beardless carle/ "

" Ours is no woman"'s nature," says Skarphedinn, " that
we should fly into a rage at every little thing ! '*''

"And yet Gunnar was wroth for your sakes," says
she, " and he is thought to be good-tempered. But if
ye do not take vengeance for this wrong, ye will avenge
no shame. "■"*

" The carline, our mother, thinks this fine sport,"*^ says
Skarphedinn, and smiled scornfully as he spoke ; but
still the sweat burst out upon his brow and red flecks
came over his cheeks (his ashen pale cheeks) such as
was not his wont.

Grim was silent, and bit his lip. Helgi made no sign,
and he said never a word. Hanskuld went off" with
Bergthora.

She came into the room again, and fretted and fumed
much.

Njal spoke, and said, " ' Slow and sure,"* says the proverb,
mistress ; and so it is with many things, though they
try men''s tempers. There are always two sides to a story,
even when revenge is taken."

But at even, when Njal was come into his bed, he
heard that an axe came against the panel, and rang
loudly. And there was another shut bed, and there
the shields were hung up ; and he sees that they
are away. He said, " Who have taken down our
shields.?"



BERGTHORA'S AVENGERS 283

" Thy sons went out with them," says Bergthora.

Njal pulled his shoes on his feet and went out at once,
and round to the other side of the house, and seeing
that they are taking their course right up the slope, he
said, " Whither away, Skarphedinn ? "

" To look after thy sheep," he answers,

" You would not then be armed," said Njal, " if
you meant that, and your errand must be something
else."

Then Skarphedinn said, " We shall fish for salmon,
father."

"'Twould be well, then, if it turned out so that the
prey does not get away from you."

They went their way, but Njal went to his bed, and
he said to Bergthora, " Thy sons were out of doors,
all of them with arms, and now thou must have egged
them on to something ! "

" I will give them my heartfelt thanks," said Bergthora,
" if they tell me the slaying of Sigmund."

Now Njal's sons went up to Fleetlith, and were that
night under the lith, and when the day began they
came near to Lithend. That same morning Sigmund
and Skiolld rose up and meant to go to the stud-horses ;
they had bridles with them, and caught the horses that
were in the farmyard, and rode away on them. They
found the horses between two brooks. Skarphedinn
caught sight of them, for Sigmund was in bright
clothing.

Skarphedinn said, " See you now the red elf yonder,
lads.?"

They looked that way and said they saw him.

Skarphedinn spoke again. " Thou, Hanskuld, shall
have nothing to do with it, for thou wilt often be sent
out alone without due need. But I mean Sigmund for



284 SIGMUND

myself ; methinks that is like a man ; but Grim and Helgi
shall try to slay Skiolld."

Hanskuld sat him down, but they went till they came
up to them. Skarphedinn said to Sigmund, "Take thy
weapons and defend thyself; that is more needful now
than to make mocking songs on me and my brothers."

Sigmund took up his weapons ; but Skarphedinn
waited the while. Skiolld turned against Grim and
Helgi, and they fell hotly to fight. Sigmund had a helm
on his head, and a shield at his side, and was girt with
a sword. His spear was in his hand. Now he turns
against Skarphedinn and thrusts at once at him with his
spear, and the thrust came on his shield. Skarphedinn
dashes the spearhaft in two, and lifts up his axe, and
hews at Sigmund, and cleaves his shield down to below
the handle. Sigmund drew his sword and cut at
Skarphedinn, and the sword cut into his shield, so that
it stuck fast. Skarphedinn gave the shield such a quick
twist that Sigmund let go his sword. Then Skarphedinn
hews at Sigmund with his axe the " Ogress of War."
Sigmund had on a corselet. The axe came on his
shoulder. Skarphedinn cleft the shoulder-blade right
through, and at the same time pulled the axe towards
him. Sigmund fell down upon his knees, but sprang up
again at once.

" Thou hast lifted low to me already," says
Skarphedinn ; " but still thou shalt fall upon thy
mother's bosom ere we two part."

" 111 is that, then," says Sigmund.

Skarphedinn gave him a blow on the helm, and after
that dealt Sigmund his death-blow. Grim cut off
Skiolld's foot at the ankle-joint; but Helgi thrust
him through with his spear, and he got his death there
and then. Skarphedinn saw Hallgerda's shepherd, just



SKARPHEDINN SINGS A MOCKING SONG 285

as he had hewn off Sigmund's head. He handed the
head to the shepherd, and bade him bear it to Hallgerda,
and said she would know whether that head had made
jeering songs about them, and with that he sang a
mocking song on Hallgerda.



CHAPTER XV

SPITZBERGEN

IT would be in vain to attempt to convey in words an
adequate idea of the beauty of the land-locked bay
in which we found ourselves, after the two long days at
sea. This arctic summer with its life of four months'
continual daylight like some eastern fairy tale, set in a
solitude in which all impressions become lasting. The
weird spike-headed mountain-tops are dimly seen through
the mists that slowly loose asunder, discovering peak
after peak clothed with ice fronds to their summits.
Each being hollowed out on the northern side, the basin
thus made becomes filled with snow. The mountains
follow one behind the other a succession of great
solidified Maves.

The sparkling east glacier is some three miles wide.
The highest points of the mountains being thrust through
its surface like islands in a sea of ice ; range after range
rolling on, all of the same formation. Every now and
then a report is heard echoing over the bay, as huge
pieces of ice break off and fall into the water, leaving
a patch of the purest gi-een and blue on the wall-like
face, the detached portions floating away in weird
graceful shapes. On the south, the flower-strewn beach
leads up to steep hills of shale, divided by a stream from
the big moraine, pushed in front of the Fox glacier.
Towards the west, Bell Mount and the placid waters of



SPITZBERGEN 287

Bell Sound sparkle and scintillate in the cold, bright
sunlight. The air like that of Switzerland in winter is
rarefied and keen.

Spitzbergen, this snow-clad cluster of islands, lost in
the solitudes of the Arctic Ocean, is 400 miles away from
the most northern point of Norway. It was nevertheless
well known for at least four centuries to whalers and
seal hunters. It is interesting to the whole of Europe,
on account of the scientific expeditions for which it has
been selected as a base for attempts to reach the North
Pole. Here it was that Parry started in 1827 on the
sledge journey which brought him to within 480 miles
of the Pole ; this the starting-point, too, of the investiga-
tions which led Charles Martins to his brilliant generalisa-
tions of the Flora, present and past, of the earth.

Spitzbergen really consists of six large and a great
number of smaller islands. The biggest. West Spitz-
bergen, is shaped like a wedge pointing to the south,
and is deeply indented by long branching fjords. If
those who take an interest in charts will look, they will
find that high mountains some 4560 feet above the sea
on the Horn Sound cover its southern parts, while a wide
plateau, covered by a thick ice-sheet, occupies the north.
Several fjords, Horn Sound, Bell Sound, Ice Fjord (15
miles wide and 80 long), the double fjords of King's Bay
and Cross Bay on the west, and the Liefde, Wiide, and
Lomune Bays on the north, penetrate the island.

One of the ramifications of Dickson Bay, in the
beautiful Ice Fjord, nearly reaches the head of the West
Fjord in Wiide Bay, almost dividing the island. A long
narrow island, called Prince Charlie''s Foreland, with
peaks rising to nearly 5000 feet high, runs parallel to
a portion of the west coast of West Spitzbergen, from
which it is separated by the barred channel of the



288 THE LIFE-GIVING GULF STREAM

Foreland Sound. The broad Stor Fjord, or Wybe Jansz
water, separates the main island from the others to the
east, namely. Edge Island and Barents. A few bare
peaks protrude above the snow and ice with which the
mountains are covered.

On the north-east of Spitzbergen lies the Island of
North Eastland, round which on the eastern and southern
side runs a dotted line, showing that this inhospitable
part of No Man's Land has never been explored. The last
name to the north is Cape Leigh Smith, and on the south
Cape Mohn. This island appears like a large plateau
covered by an ice sheet 2000 to 3000 feet in thickness.
This slowly moves towards the east and discharges into
the sea by a huge ice wall some 150 miles long, forming
the broadest glacier known.

It makes one think what a woeful place Northern
Europe would be without the Gulf Stream. Up here
after washing the shores of Norway and sending a branch
to the east, the life-giving Gulf Stream flows to the
western shores of Spitzbergen, leaving an open passage
which permits the whaler to approach the coast even
■under the most unfavourable conditions of ice in the
Arctic regions. Driftwood brought from lower latitudes,
glass-floats of Norwegian fishermen, and even the large
seeds of the Eutada gigalohium carried by the Gulf
Stream from the Gulf of Mexico, are found at the northern
extremity of Spitzbergen. Spring comes in June, and by
the end of the month the thermometer has ceased to sink
below the freezing point at night. July, August, and
September are the best months. In September, autumn
sets in on shore, though the whalers continue cruising
until the end of the month, and even reach the highest
latitudes. Then all is dark, and the glacier goddess
resumes her sway.



THE PHANTOM SHIP 289

On the 8th July started the steamship He de France,
the passengers embarking at Dunkerque for a "croisiere
dans le monde polaire." The cover of the itinerary was
decorated with a white bear holding a placard describing
the most exciting events that might be expected during
the voyage of thirty days. In the background were
prowling bears stalking the roasting meats with out-
stretched paws, and lolling tongues ; behind glimmered
the glacier peaks. There were varied hunts. The prey
was to consist of whales, reindeer, "au lagopede des
Neiges," " aux petits echassiers et aux gi'ands palimpedes
de Tocean boreal." Eider, bernache goose, arctic petrels,
pigeons, cormorants, the scarce blue fox, and great seals
of the ice-pack.

" Chasseresses ou non," the ladies were specially invited
to take this cruise, for only on board this lie de France
would it be possible to make a voyage to Spitzbergen
and the ice-pack with the amount of comfort that they
very legitimately claimed. A very interesting cruise it
must have been, and delightful too, to have Professor
Nordenskjold as director of the scientific part of the
voyage.

Wherever the Vectis steamed, the He de France had
just left. Her name in giant letters of white was painted
on the cliffs of the Naero Fjord. In Recherche Bay we
inquired of the sailors on board the whalers. Had the
He de France been there ? Had the passengers shot any
bears ? " Yes," was the answer to the first question ;
" No," to the second. Had they caught any foxes ?
" No." It was not the season for either the one or
the other.

We landed and scaled the loose side of the moraine of
the Fox Glacier. Nearing the top we were soon over-
looking the long stretch of a partly melted surface of
19



290 THE HARDY HUNTER

sodden brown half-frozen ice, seamed by great cracks
which extended in all directions over the surface, a
perfect picture of a desolation where foot of man has never
trod. Something glittered among the stones : the brass
head of a new cartridge, a real trace of the phantom
ship and its hardy hunters. Had this particular sports-
man sat there long in his thick cloak with its pointed
hood ? Had he been well armed ? Was he alone ? Did
he, as I did, feel a little afraid and constantly look over
his shoulder, expecting the bear, that might be hungry
even in summer when during this perpetual day it is
so difficult to remember how long ago the dinner had
been, and how soon breakfast might be due ? Yes, here
was one cartridge, and a little farther on another, with
the mystic words, " Cartouche pour poudres au bois
pyroseyle sans long feu Ste Fse des munitions, Paris."
I have my trophy in company of many scraps of Jurassic
stone, mosses, flowers, and slips of whalebone, to which
I have since added a short cutting from a Norwegian
newspaper : —

" The great tourist steamer Isle de France has returned
to Tromso from Spitzbergen. Outside Red Bay, on the
northern corner of the island, the steamer ran aground
on a hidden shoal at a rate of twelve miles an hour.
After twenty-four hours' waiting, a little Norwegian
steamer Express arrived, and was despatched with a
message to the Dutch cruiser Frieslaml, which was lying
in Widje Bay. Friesland arrived next day, and succeeded
in drawing the steamer off the shoal. The passengers
showed their gratitude by a collection on board, which
brought in 13,000 francs for distribution among the
Friesland' s crew."

Yes, certainly, these passengers had braved all risks !

The carcasses of whales denuded of their blubber,



%




■■ i



u




H.M.S. CALLIPSO 291

and all that can be made use of, lie stranded at the edge
of the tide, emitting a horrible, choking smell. Lucky
is the man or woman who has cigarettes or tobacco to
smoke, or chocolate to eat, anything to palliate the
offensive odour.

Up the slope are the graves of the unfortunate fellows
who have died on the whalers, and lie buried on this in-
hospitable coast. There are two lank, worn wood crosses,
renewed by the men of H.M.S. CalUpso in 1895. The
scant moss and debris of grey loose planks lie about
amongst big scattered stones, as if the forces of nature,
or perhaps more likely the polar bears, had tried to
disturb the resting-place of these poor bones.

From a short distance away the land looks barren, as
though no flowers existed, but a few steps up the grey
pebble beach the foot sinks into a springy moss that
covers the foreshore in rings some five feet across. In
winter the snow lies in innumerable mounds, which on
the approach of summer naturally first melt round the
rim, where flowers immediately spring up. The central
portion of the snow mound not melting till late in the
summer season, leaves behind a bare, barren, circular
patch, bleached and grey like the ashes of a dead fire.
These barren circles enclosed by the polar vegetation
looked on as a whole have a most peculiar effect, and one
to be seen nowhere else.

During a walk of a few hours some twenty different
species of plants were collected by one of the passengers,
all blooming and making the most of their short summer.
The prettiest, I think, was Dryas actopetala, with its
cream-coloured fleshy leaves and brilliant yellow centre,
which strewed the shore plentifully. Every here and
there small stunted tufts of yellow or white Iceland
poppies grew. Great cushions of saxifraga, thickly starred



292 FAMINE BREAD

with crimson blossom, produced a purple tint visible
from a long way off. Others of the same family had pale
pink petals, deep crimson centre, and large corolla. There
were more of the same tribe common to similar situations,
flowers nearly sessile grew on low dense tufts of radical
leaves ; also saxifraga five to six inches in height, sturdy
with thick stems and greenish flowers in a compact
spike, in company of a little delicate white flower with
petals like our English milk-wort. The leaves of the
latter are a pale green, and very close together, and
the flower has an exceedingly sweet smell. Silene acantis
and Moss campion were abundant, also Oxyria reni-
fermis.

The bard who sang of " hanging his harp on a willow
tree" would have been nonplussed could he have seen
these little polar mites. The only tree in Spitzbergen
is a willow. It is not more than two inches high, with
but a few tiny leaves. On the higher slopes, 1500 feet
above the sea, the poppies Luziila hyperhorea and Stellaria
Edwards'd are occasionally met with. Mosses, mostly
European acquaintances, cover all places where peat has
accumulated. The slopes of the crags and the blocks of
stone on the beach are sometimes entirely covered with
a luxuriant moss and lichen vegetation, among the last
being the so-called " famine bread," Umb'ilicaria arctica,
which has maintained the life of so many arctic travellers.

Flowering plants are represented by as many as
ninety-six species, of which eighty-one grew in Green-
land, and sixty-nine in Scandinavia ; forty-three species
are Alpine cosmopolites, and have been met with on the
Himalayas. According to Mr. Naathorst's researches
in 1882, the flora of Spitzbergen is composed as follows : —
" Rosacese, 7 species ; Saxifrageae, 10 ; Salix, 2 ; Com-
positae, 5 ; Seraphulariaceae, 2 ; Ericacea, 2 ; Gramineae,



THE FOX AND EAST GLACIERS 293

23 ; Cyperaceae, 12 ; Juucaceae, 6 ; Filices (Fern), 2 ;
Lycopodiaceae, 1.

"The whole of this flora immigrated during the
post-glacial period, which was warmer than the present.
Although thus limited in number, the flora is suggestive
in its distribution. The vegetation of the south has a
decidedly Lappish or European Alpine character, while
that of the north coast is decidedly American, and re-
calls that of Melville Island. Many flowering plants
which are common in north-west Spitzbergen are absent
from the east coast, where the cold current is inimical to
both flora and fauna ; but, on the other hand, one moss
{Poltia hyperharea) and one lichen {Usnea melascautJid)
are found there which are of American origin, and grow
both in North America and on the Cordilleras."

Our stay in Recherche Bay was a most opportune
moment for seeing and hearing all about the whale
flshery. The Veci'is had let go her anchor in the centre
of the bay, in the best possible position for seeing the
beauties of the Fox and East Glaciei's. The towering
Jurassic mountains rose all round. Some way ahead lay
four sailing whalers, with their attendant small steamers,
each with a crow's nest at the top of the foremast, and a
harpoon gun in the bow. The crews of larger vessels
were all hard at work, cutting up the whales that lay
alongside. Other fish were moored astern, awaiting their
turn ; poor blown-out things ! they looked like clincher-
built boats turned bottom up. Thousands of birds were
settling on them and screaming all round. It was possible
to borrow a small boat from the ship in the cause of art,
to make a tour of the whalers and gather information.

At first sight it was all horrible, and the smell till well
to windward, terrible. The men in the first ship were
just stripping off* the blanket-pieces, one end of which



294 CUTTING UP WHALES

was hooked on to a rope which was hauled gently up to
the yardarm ; the men dexterously and very neatly cut
off the long strips of blubber with very sharp slightly-
curved knives on long wooden handles. The whole
surface of the whale was so horrid and slippery that the
men had continually to rub their hands in, and sprinkle
sand on the carcass to enable them to stand. It did not
take more than fifteen minutes to strip one side of the
whale, and the whole was then slowly turned by a line
passed under the body and a hook put through the skin
of the belly and then parbuckled by the winch.

All the time the fulmar flew round screaming and
settling, tearing at the flesh and disputing the proprietor-
ship of the poor dead mammal with the workers. The
crimson water round the ship was covered by thousands
of these fluttering, fighting petrels. They stretched
away astern in the tide as thick as they could pack, so
gorged and heavy that they fluttered along the surface
of the water for yards without being able to rise. To
my mind the birds made a horrible exhibition of them-
selves, and quite did away with the delightful fascination
the ordinary herring gull is wont to inspire.

Yarrell, in his book of British birds, gives much
interesting information about the fulmar petrel. He
writes that it is only a winter visitor to the more
southern parts of our own coast, but is a herald of polar
regions, meeting the ships, as, indeed, it did ours on
approaching Spitzbergen. Here its colonies cover the
cliff's in company of the glacous gull. The fulmar breeds
on the face of the highest precipices, but only on such as
are furnished with small grassy shelves. It makes a
mere shallow excavation in the turf, lined with dried
grass, in which the bird deposits a single egg of a pure
white colour. The young of the bird are thickly covered



FULMAR PETREL 295

with long white down, are very clamorous when handled,
and in their excitement vomit a quantity of clear oil.
The old birds have the same nasty habit, which one
might imagine would greatly disconcert an amateur
sportsman, more especially as the oil, which is of a clear
amber colour, does not smell nice. The bird, its young,
and even the rock which it frequents, have a peculiar and
a very disagreeable odour. Fulmar oil is one of the most
valuable productions of St. Kilda.

The fulmar from afar scents the whaler, and joins
the ship immediately on passing the Shetland Islands,
and accompanies it through the trackless ocean to the
highest accessible latitudes. It keeps an eager eye for
the smallest particle of fatty substance, and when carrion
is scarce, these vulture-like gulls follow the living whale,
and often by their peculiar motions, hovering at the
surface of the water, point out its direction to the
fishermen. Luckily they cannot make much impression
on the whale till man or some more powerful animal
tears away the blubber. This bird has a cruel bill,
shaped like that of a parrot. The young birds have
white heads and brownish coloured backs and wings,
very like the colour of the young swan. The older birds
change to pure white head and breast and grey back,
the same colour as our ordinary grey gull. I have spoken
here of the fulmar at such length owing to the fact that
all on board our ship were so interested and rather
horrified at the goings on of these voracious birds, and
I am sure that Spitzbergen will ever be associated in our
minds with the fulmar.

We pulled away past the steamer to a barque of about
700 tons, astern of which were four carcasses of whales.
The harpoon was still sticking in the flesh of one of them,
and from it a stream of blood oozed, staining the water



296 A WHALER

crimson. Here again the fulmar fought and jostled,
snapping in the greasy mixture. As we approached the
ladder, we noticed that the whole of the waterline of the
barque was thickly coated with a layer of grease. The
steps were also covered, and the hand-rope felt almost
like a tallow-dip. The decks were black and all the
poop lumbered with oil barrels. Just abaft the mast
were the great cauldrons into which a strange engine, not
unlike a mud-dredger in shape, poured a continuous
stream of blubber, cut into lumps about a foot square.
A hot, greasy smell pervaded everything. Just at this
moment the gory carcass of a whale, from which the
head, tail, fins, and every scrap of fat had been cut, was
cast adrift, and floated away, the centre of a screaming
cloud of fulmar.

The forecastle of the barque was piled up high with the
relics of the poor dismembered monster. Jaw-bones,
fins, and great strips of blubber, some ten to fifteen feet
long, were being sorted, and carved into squares. Three
men in overalls dragged them hither and thither with
iron hooks, stamping and sliding over the elastic and
slippery surface of the pile. The squares of fat were
flung down into the waist, where the aforesaid engine


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23

Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 21 of 23)