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The Namarskarth. — Volcanic Steam-Clouds. — An Appalling Scene. — A Hint to Poets. — Odors of Brimstone. — The Mud Plain. — A Strange Bright Landscape. — Mud-Caldrons. — Slime-Pools. — A Steaming Labyrinth. — Another Whistle. — More of the Gretla,-"Grettir and the Vampire."
ON the morning of the 3d we rode off to the Namarskarth at eight o'clock, and reached the entrance to the gorge at about ten. Passing through, we ere long came out to one of the strangest and most appalling spectacles which we had thus far witnessed. Vast volumes of steam were rolling up, and drifting in mighty whorls high over the enclosing jokuls. Amid these we got glimpses of a dark mud-plain, walled in by lava fields. The steam-clouds seemed to gush mainly from this mud-flat; though the whole basin, up to the very tops of the mountains, was steaming steadily, depositing sulphur. The rocks about the mud, up to the very mountain-tops, were of a frightful primrose tint; and, seen through the whirling vapors, seemed like embers in a very grate. A curious brightness hovered over the landscape, which the shadowy volumes sweeping athwart the sun seemed scarcely to darken. Beneath this volcanic panorama, a low, deep, drumming sound, accompanied by an ominous jar of the earth, tells of the furious agencies at work. If any of our modern poets should find it desirable to portray the entrance to the bad place, I would respectfully recommend that they assist imagination by a visit to the Namarskarth. I am quite sure, that, well described, it would go far ahead, in point of hellishness, of any thing to be found in Dante. There is a certain diabolical aspect about this locality I have never yet seen surpassed. A strong odor of sulphur, and several other gases, moderately assist the fancy. Kit remarked, that if he had been out walking of a fine afternoon alone, and had come out upon this plain, he should have immediately made tracks for a less suspicious quarter of the country, without stopping to conduct an investigation as to natural causes.
After a great to-do, we at length got our horses as far as a clump of willows, which seemed strangely at home in this rather unpromising region. Here we made them fast, and left them in a snorting fright, while we pushed on out upon the plain. Quite a hedge of crane's-bill and other weeds has sprung up on the warm borders of this steamy tract. These cease, however, at a short distance out; and, on laying the back of my hand down to the soft clay, I found that it was much too hot for comfort. Indeed, a very genial warmth kept rising in our faces; and our feet were soon "hot as pepper." Not many days after, we made the discovery that the boots worn on this occasion would tear like brown paper. At the surface the clay seemed tolerably hard, and even tough; but it sank alarmingly under us in many places, especially when we stood near together. Going on, we began to get among a legion of little slobbering mud-pools, swelling up in bell-shaped bubbles, out of which puffed whiffs of steam and stinking gases. About all these were filmy rings of slime of ghastly bluish, saffron, and even greenish tints. Presently Raed, who had ventured on ahead, called to us. We stole cautiously forward. He was standing on the edge of a big caldron of boiling, spattering mud and slime, which stewed and simmered and hissed and groaned in a manner altogether horrible, — hellish. The caldron itself was, for a guess, twenty feet in diameter, and sunk four or five feet below the level of the surrounding plain. Portions of its banks were continuously crumbling. Even as we stood looking over, a part of the earth under our feet caved in. Kit, who stood nearest, came near going with it; and was only saved by a smart spring and our rescuing hands After that, we judiciously kept back from the brink. As we ventured farther on among the bewildering steam-clouds, a noise as of an earthquake-rumble began to be heard from beneath the plain. Spurts of steam were streaming up all about. Another large caldron was strumming and humming in a constant tremble, with jets of ink-black water spouting up to the height of six or eight feet, before which the loose clay-banks crumbled, and melted like lard. As we stood watching this, a shrill steam-whistle burst out on a sudden. Kit at once started toward the sound; and the rest of us followed, stepping very cautiously among the seething puddles and scalding steam jets. Ere long we came out upon the verge of another caldron of what looked to be very black molasses, boiling with a queer plop-plop, plop-plop; while every few seconds a dome-shaped mud-bubble would burst with a spiteful thut, sending the hot spatters in all directions. On the farther edge of this slime-boiler, at a point where a shoot of small stones and pumice had rattled down the bank, a stiff little spurt of steam was darting out with amazing force: this was the whistle.
Turning to the right, we wended our way slowly back out of this steamy labyrinth, and, after passing numerous other caldrons and slime-pools, at length found ourselves at no great distance from where we had come on.
After a lunch, Wash and Kit went on again to make a sketch of the caldron, where the whistle was still heard screaming.
Raed and I climbed up among the rocks to get a better view of the strange landscape. What impressed me most, after the eye had grown a little accustomed to the curious scene, was the strange, unnatural medley of sounds, which, commingled, and utterly incomparable, came wafted up with the steam-clouds.
We set out on our return at a little after four, and arrived at Reykjalith at about six.
We were agreed in rating the scene at the Namarskarth more impressive than the geysers. Taken together, it leaves a far more vivid impression on the fancy.
The farmer was hoarse and roopy from a cold that evening: he could not read to us. We were not a little disappointed; for we had come to grow interested in the sturdy Grettir, whom the farmer plainly loved as his own son.
"I wonder whether the cherry-cheeked lass can read?" Raed queried.
Havisteen thought it likely. "All the children are taught to read at home," he said.
"Let's ask her to read to us," Kit proposed.
Young Havisteen thought this a rather hard question for him to ask; but finally went out to the kitchen. We waited the result with some curiosity. After along while, he came back accompanied by the son of the farmer. Indridi — that was the girl's name — could not, by any manner of means, be prevailed upon to favor us with a reading; but Biarni had consented. We felt a little patronizingly toward Biarni, he seemed so much embarrassed; but he read well, clearly and fluently. The farmer was too indisposed to come in. Indridi and her mother joined us after a while. Our reading and note-taking went on swimmingly for some hours, disturbed a little at one time by the shameless Wash, who, not having the fear of the old farmer before his eyes this evening, waxed noisy in his odious attentions to the rosy Indridi. But he waked a reproof from an unexpected source. The old lady did not like to have a saga-reading thus disturbed. She turned upon them suddenly with a sharp word and a still sharper look. After that they were whist enough. Didn't that gratify Kit!
This evening Biarni read about —
GRETTIR AND THE VAMPIRE.
In the beginning of the eleventh century, there stood, a little way up this valley (the Vale of Shadows), a small farm, occupied by a worthy bonder named Thorhall and his wife. The farmer was not exactly a chieftain; but he was well enough connected to be considered respectable. To back up his gentility, he possessed numerous flocks of sheep, and a goodly drove of oxen. Thorhall would have been a happy man but for one circumstance, — his sheep-walks were haunted.
Not a herdsman would remain with him. He bribed, threatened, entreated, all to no purpose. One shepherd after another left his service; and things came to such a pass, that he determined on asking advice at the next annual council. Thorhall saddled his horses, adjusted his packs, provided himself with hobbles, cracked his long Icelandic whip, and cantered along this identical road; and, in less time than we have taken over it, he reached Thingvellir.
Skapti, Thorodd's son, was lawgiver at that time; and as every one considered him a man of the utmost prudence, and able to give the best advice, our friend from the Vale of Shadows made straight for his booth.
"An awkward predicament, certainly, to have large droves of sheep, and no one to look after them," said Skapti, nibbling the nail of his thumb, and shaking his. wise head, — a head as stuffed with law as a ptarmigan's crop is stuffed with blueberries. "Now, I'll tell you what: as you have asked my advice, I will help you to a shepherd; a character in his way; a man of dull intellect, to be sure, but strong as a bull."
"I do not care about his wits, so long as he can look after sheep," answered Thorhall.
"You may rely on his being able to do that" said Skapti. "He is a stout, plucky fellow; a Swede from Sylgadale, if yon know where that is."
Towards the break-up of the council, — "Thing" they call it in Iceland, — two grayish-white horses belonging to Thorhall slipped their hobbles, and strayed: so the goodman had to hunt after them himself, which shows how short of servants he was. He crossed Sletha-Asi; thence he bent his way to Armanns-fell; and, just by the Priests'-wood, he met a strange-looking man, driving before him a horse laden with fagots. Die fellow was tall and stalwart. His face involuntarily attracted Thorhall's attention: for the eyes, of an ashen gray, were large and staring; the powerful jaw was furnished with very white protruding teeth; and around the low forehead hung bunches of coarse, wolf-gray hair.
"Pray, what is your name, my man?" asked the farmer, pulling up.
"Glámr, an please you," replied the wood-cutter. Thorhall stared; then, with a preliminary cough, he asked how Glámr liked fagot-picking.
"Not much," was the answer: "I prefer shepherd life."
"Will you come with me?" asked Thorhall. "Skapti has handed you over to me, and I want a shepherd this winter uncommonly."
"If I serve you, it is on the understanding that I come or go as pleases me. I tell you, I'm a bit truculent if things do not go just to my thinking."
"I shall not object to this," answered the bonder. "So I may count on your services?"
"Wait a moment. You have not told me whether there be any drawback."
"I must acknowledge that there is one," said Thorhall: "in fact, the sheep-walks have got a bad name for bogies."
"Pshaw! I'm not the man to be scared at shadows," laughed Glámr: "so here's my hand to it. I'll be with you at the beginning of the winter night."
Well, after this they parted; and presently the farmer found his ponies. Having thanked Skapti for his advice and assistance, he got his horses together, and trotted home.
Summer, and then autumn, passed; but not a word about the new shepherd reached the Valley of Shadows. The winter-storms began to bluster up the glen, driving the flying snow-flakes, and massing them in white drifts at every winding of the vale. Ice formed in the shallows of the river; and the streams, which in summer trickled down the ribbed scarps, were now transmuted into icicles.
One gusty night, a violent blow at the door startled all in the farm: in another moment, Glámr, tall as a troll, stood in the hall, glowering out of his wild eyes, his gray hair matted with frost, his teeth rattling and snapping with cold, his face blood-red in the glare of the fire which smoldered in the centre of the hall.
Thorhall jumped up and greeted him warmly; but the housewife was too frightened to be very cordial.
Weeks passed, and the new shepherd was daily on the moors with his flock. His loud and deep-toned voice was often borne down on the blast as he shouted to the sheep, driving them into the fold. His presence always produced gloom; and, if he spoke, it sent a thrill through the women, who openly proclaimed their aversion for him.
There was a church near the byre; but Glámr never crossed the threshold: he hated psalmody, which shows what a bad man he was.
On the vigil of the Nativity Glámr rose early, and shouted for meat. "Meat!" exclaimed the housewife: "no man calling himself a Christian touches flesh to-day. To-morrow is the holy Christmas Day, and this is a fast."
"All superstition!" roared Glámr. "As far as I can see, men are no better now than they were in the bonny heathen time. Now bring me meat, and make no more ado about it"
"You may be quite certain," protested the goodwife, "if church rule be not kept, ill luck will follow." Glámr ground his teeth, and clinched his hands. "Meat! I will have meat, or" — In fear and trembling the poor woman obeyed.
The day was raw and windy: masses of gray vapor rolled up from the Arctic Ocean, and hung in piles about the mountain-tops. Now and then a scud of frozen fog, composed of minute spiculæ of ice, swept along the glen, covering bar and beam with feathery boar-frost. As the day declined, snow began to fall in large flakes like the down of the eider-duck. One moment there was a lull in the wind; and then the deep-toned shout of Glámr, high up the moor-slopes, was heard distinctly by the congregation assembling for the first vespers of Christmas Day. Darkness came on, deep as that in the rayless abysses of Surtshellir; and still the snow fell thicker. The lights from the church-windows sent a yellow haze far out into the night, and every flake burned golden as it swept within the ray. The bell in the lich-gate clanged for even-song, and the wind puffed the sound far up the glen: perhaps it reached the herdsman's ears. Hark! some one caught a distant shout or shriek: which it was he could not tell; for the wind muttered and mumbled about the church-eaves, and then, with a fierce whistle, scudded over the graveyard fence.
Glámr had not returned when the service was over. Thorhall suggested a search; but no man would accompany him. And no wonder: it was not a night for a dog to be out in; besides, the tracks were a foot deep in snow. The family sat up all night, waiting, listening, trembling; but no Glámr came home.
Dawn broke at last, wan and blear in the south. The clouds hung down like great sheets, full of snow, almost to bursting.
A party was soon formed to search for the missing man. A sharp scramble brought them to high land; and the ridge between the two rivers which join in Vatnsdalr was thoroughly examined. Here and there were found the scattered sheep, shuddering under an icicled rock, or half buried in a snow-drift. No trace yet of the keeper. A dead ewe lay at the bottom of a crag: it had staggered over it in the gloom, and had been dashed to pieces.
Presently the whole party were called together about a trampled spot in the heithi, where evidently a death-struggle had taken place; for earth and stone were tossed about, and the snow was blotched with large splashes of blood. A gory track led up the mountain, and the farm-servants were following it, when a cry, almost of agony, from one of the lads, made them turn.
In looking behind a rock, the boy had come upon the corpse of the shepherd: it was livid, and swollen to the size of a bullock. It lay on its back, with the arms extended. The snow had been scrabbled up by the puffed hands in the death-agony; and the staring, glassy eyes gazed oat of the ashen-gray, upturned face, into the vaporous canopy overhead. From the purple lips lolled the tongue, which in the last throes had been bitten through by the horrid white fangs; and a discolored stream which had flowed from it was now an icicle.
With trouble the dead man was raised on a litter, and carried to a gill-edge; but beyond this he could not be borne. His weight waxed more and more. The bearers toiled beneath their burden; their foreheads became beaded with sweat: though strong men, they were crashed to the ground. Consequently, the corpse was left at the ravine-head, and the men returned to the farm. Next day their efforts to lift Glámr's bloated carcass, and remove it to consecrated ground, were unavailing. On the third day a priest accompanied them; but the body was nowhere to be found. Another expedition, without the priest, was made; and on this occasion the corpse was found: so a cairn was raised over it on the spot.
Two nights after this, one of the thralls, who had gone after the cows, burst into the stofa with a face black and scared. He staggered to a seat, and fainted. On recovering his senses, in a broken voice he assured all who crowded about him that he had seen Glámr walking past him as he left the door of the stable. On the following evening a house-boy was found in a fit under the tún wall, and he remained an idiot to his dying-day. Some of the women next saw a face, which, though blown out and discolored, they recognized as that of Glámr, looking in upon them through a window of the dairy. In the twilight Thorhall himself met the dead man, who stood and glowered at him, but made no attempt to injure his master. The haunting did not end there. Nightly a heavy tread was heard around the house, and a hand feeling along the walls, sometimes thrust in at the windows; at others clutching at the wood-work, and breaking it to splinters. However, when the spring came round, the disturbances lessened, and, as the sun obtained full power, ceased altogether.
That summer a vessel from Norway dropped anchor in Hunavater. Thorhall visited it, and found on board a man named Thorgaut, who was in search of work.
"What do you say to being my shepherd?" asked the bonder.
"I should much like the office," answered Thorgaut. "I am as strong as two ordinary men, and a handy fellow to boot."
"I will not engage you without forewarning you of the terrible things you may have to encounter during the winter night."
"Pray, what may they be?"
"Ghosts and hobgoblins," answered the farmer: "a fine dance they lead me, I can promise you."
"I fear them not," answered Thorgaut. "I shall be with you at cattle-slaughtering time."
At the appointed season the man came, and soon established himself as a favorite in the household. He romped with the children, chucked the maidens under the chin, helped his fellow-servants, did odd jobs for his master, gratified the housewife by admiring her skyer, and was just as much liked as his predecessor had been detested. He was a devil-may-care fellow too, and made no bones of his contempt for the ghost, expressing hopes of meeting him face to face; which made his master look grave, and his mistress shudderingly cross herself As the winter came on, strange sights and sounds began to alarm the folk. But these never frightened Thorgaut: he slept too soundly at night to hear the tread of feet about the door, and was too short-sighted to catch glimpses of a grizzly monster striding up and down in the twilight before its cairn.
At last Christmas Eve came round, and Thorgaut went out as usual with his sheep.
"Have a care, man!" urged the bonder: "go not near to the gill-head, where Glámr lies."
"Tut, tut! fear not for me. I shall be back by vespers."
"God grant it!" sighed the housewife; " but 'tis a whist day, to be sure!"
Twilight came on. A feeble light hung over the south. Far off in southern lands it was still day; but here the darkness gathered in apace, and men came from Vatnsdalr for even-song to herald in the night when Christ was born. Christmas Eve! How different in Saxon England! There the great ashen fagot is rolled along the hall with torch and taper; the mummers dance with their merry jingling bells; the boar's-head with gilded tusks, "bedecked with holly and rosemary," is brought in by the steward to a flourish of trumpets.
How different, too, where the Varanger cluster round the imperial throne in the mighty church of the Eternal Wisdom at this very hour! Outside, the air is soft from breathing over the Bosphorus, which flashes tremulously beneath the stars. The orange and laurel leaves in the palace-gardens are still exhaling fragrance in the hush of the Christmas night.
But it is different here. The wind is piercing as a two-edged sword. Blocks of ice clash and grind along the coast of the Hunaflöi, and the lake-waters are congealed to stone. Aloft the aurora flames crimson, flinging long streamers to the zenith, and then suddenly dissolving into a sea of pale-green light. The natives are waiting around the church-door; but no Thorgaut has returned.
They find him next morning lying across Glámr's cairn, with his spine, his leg and arm bones, shattered. He is conveyed to the churchyard, and a cross is set up at his head. He sleeps till the resurrection peacefully.
Not so Glámr: he becomes more furious than ever. No one will remain with Thorhall now except an old cowherd who has always served the family, and who had long ago dandled his present master on his knee.
"All the cattle will be lost if I leave," said the carle: "it shall never be told of me that I deserted Thorhall from fear of a spectre."
Matters rapidly grew worse. Outbuildings were broken into of a night, and their wood-work was rent and shattered; the house-door was violently shaken, and great pieces of it were torn away; the gables of the house were also pulled furiously to and fro.
One morning, before dawn, the old man went to the stable. An hour later his mistress rose, and, taking her milking-cans, followed him. As she reached the door of the stable, a terrible sound from within — the bellowing of the cattle, mingled with the deep bell-notes of an unearthly voice — sent her back shrieking to the house Thorhall leaped out of bed, caught up a weapon, and hastened to the cow-house. On opening the door, he found the cattle goring each other. Slung across the stone which separated the stalls was something. Thorhall stepped up to it, felt it, looked close: it was the cowherd, perfectly dead, — his feet on one side of the slab, his head on the other, and his spine snapped in twain.
The bonder now moved with his family to Tunga: it was too venturesome living during the midwinter night at the haunted farm; and it was not till the sun had returned as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and had dispelled night with its phantoms, that he came back to the Vale of Shadows. In the mean time, his little girl's health had given way under the repeated alarms of the winter; she became paler every day: with the autumn flowers she faded, and was laid beneath the mould of the churchyard in time for the first snows to spread a virgin pall over her small grave.
At this time Grettir — of whom I have so often spoken — was in Iceland; and, as the hauntings of this vale were matters of gossip throughout the district, he heard of them, and resolved on visiting the scene. So Grettir busked himself for a cold ride, mounted his horse, and, in due course of time, drew rein at the door of Thorhall's farm, with the request that he might be accommodated there for the night.
"Ahem!" coughed the bonder: "perhaps you are not aware" —
"I am perfectly aware of all. I want to catch sight of the troll."
"But your horse is sure to be killed."
"I will risk it. Glámr I must meet: so there's an end of it."
"I am delighted to see you," spoke the bonder: "at the same time, should mischief befall you, don't lay the blame at my door."
"Never fear, man."
So they shook hands. The horse was put into the strongest stable. Thorhall made Grettir as good cheer as he was able; and then, as the visitor was sleepy, all retired to rest.
The night passed quietly enough, and no sounds indicated the presence of a restless spirit. The horse, moreover, was found next morning in good condition, enjoying his hay.
"This is unexpected!" exclaimed the bonder gleefully. "Now, where's the saddle? we'll clap it on; and then good-by, and a merry journey to you."
"Good-by!" echoed Grettir. "I am going to stay here another night."
"You had better be advised," urged Thorhall. "If misfortune should overtake you, I know that all your kinsmen would visit it on my head."
"I have made up my mind to stop," said Grettir; and he looked so dogged, that Thorhall opposed him no more.
All was quiet next night: not a sound roused Grettir from his slumber. Next morning he went with the farmer to the stable. The strong wooden door was shivered and driven in. They stepped across it. Grettir called to his horse; but there was no responsive whinny.
"I am afraid" — began Thorhall. Grettir leaped in, and found the poor brute dead, and with its neck broken.
"Now," said Thorhall quickly, "I've got a capital horse — a skewbald — down by Tunga. I shall not be many moments in fetching it. Your saddle is here, I think; and then you will just have time to reach" —
"I stay here another night," interrupted Grettir.
"I implore you to depart," said Thorhall.
"My horse is slain."
"But I shall provide you with another."
"Friend," answered Grettir, turning so sharply round that the farmer jumped back, half frightened, "no man ever did me an injury without ruing it. Now, your demon-herdsman has been the death of my horse. He must be taught a lesson."
"Would that he were!" groaned Thorhall; "but mortal must not face him. Go in peace, and receive compensation from me for what has happened."
"I must revenge my horse."
"An obstinate man must have his own way. But, if you will run your head against a stone wall, don't be angry because you get a broken pate."
Night came on. Grettir ate a hearty supper, and was right jovial. Not so Thorhall, who had his misgivings. At bedtime the latter crept into his crib, which, in the manner of old Icelandic beds, opened out of the hall as berths do out of a cabin. Grettir, however, determined on remaining up: so he flung himself on a bench, with his feet against the posts of the high seat, and his back against Thorhall's crib; then he wrapped one lappet of his fur coat round his feet, the other about his head, keeping the neck-opening in front of his face, so that he could look through into the hall.
There was a fire burning on the hearth, — a smouldering heap of red embers. Every now and then a twig flared up and crackled, giving Grettir glimpses of the rafters, as he lay with his eyes wandering among the mysteries of the smoke-blackened roof. The wind whistled softly overhead. The clear-story windows, covered with the amnion of sheep, admitted now and then a sickly yellow glare from the full moon, which, however, shot a beam of pure silver through the smoke-hole in the roof. A dog without began to howl: the cat, which had long been sitting demurely watching the fire, stood up with raised back and bristling tail, then darted behind some chests in a corner. The hall-door was in a sad plight. It had been so riven by the vampire, that it was made firm by wattles only; and the moon glinted athwart the crevices. Soothingly the river prattled over its shingly bed is it swept round the knoll on which stood the farm. Grettir heard the breathing of the sleeping women in the adjoining chamber, and the sigh of the housewife as she turned in her bed.
Click, click! It is only the frozen turf on the roof cracking with the intense cold. The wind lulls completely. The night is very still without.
Hark! a heavy tread, beneath which the snow crackles. Every footfall goes straight to Grettir's heart. A crash on the turf overhead! By all the saints in paradise, the vampire is treading on the roof!
For one moment the chimney-gap is completely darkened; the monster is looking down it; the flash of the red ash is reflected in the two lustreless eyes. Then the moon glances sweetly in once more, and the heavy tramp of Glámr is audibly moving towards the farther end of the hall. A third — he has leaped down! Grettir feels the board at his back quivering; for Thorhall is awake, and is trembling in his bed. The steps pass round to the back of the house, and then the snapping of wood shows that the creature is destroying some of the outhouse-doors. He tires of this, apparently; for his footfall comes clear towards the main entrance to the hall. The moon is veiled behind a watery cloud; and, by the uncertain glimmer, Grettir fancies that he sees two dark hands thrust in above the door. His apprehensions are verified; for, with a loud snap, a long strip of panel breaks, and light is admitted. Snap, snap! another portion gives way, and the gap becomes larger. Then the wattles flip out of their laces; and a dark arm rips them out in bunches, and flings them away. There is a cross-beam to the door, holding a bolt, which slides into a stone groove. Against the gray light Grettir sees a huge black figure heaving itself over the bar. Crack! that has given way, and the rest of the door falls in shivers to the earth.
"O God!" exclaimed the bonder.
Stealthily the dead man creeps on, feeling at the beams as he comes; then he stands in the hall, with the firelight on him. A fearful sight! — the tall figure distended with the corruption of the grave; the nose fallen off; the wandering, vacant eyes, with the glaze of death on them; the sallow flesh patched with green masses of decay: the wolf-gray hair and beard have grown in the tomb, and hang matted about the shoulders and breast; the nails too — they have grown. It is a sickening sight, — a thing to shudder at, not to see.
Motionless, with no nerve quivering now, Thorhall and Grettir held their breath.
Glámr's lifeless glance strayed round the chamber: it rested on the shaggy bundle by the high seat. Cautiously he stepped towards it. Grettir felt him groping about the lower lappet, and pulling at it. The cloak did not give way. Another jerk: Grettir kept his feet firmly pressed against the posts, so that the rug was not pulled off. The vampire seemed puzzled: he plucked at the upper flap, and tugged. Grettir held to the bench and bed-board, so that he was not moved himself: but the cloak was rent in twain; and the corpse staggered back, holding half in its hands, and gazing wonderingly at it. Before it had done examining the shred, Grettir started to his feet, bowed his body, flung his arms about the carcass, and, driving his bead into the chest, strove to bend it backward, and snap the spine. A vain attempt! The cold hands came down on Grettir's arms with diabolical force, riving them from their hold. Grettir clasped them about the body again; then the arms closed round him, and began dragging him along. The brave man clung by his feet to benches and posts; but the strength of the vampire was greater. Posts gave way: benches were heaved from their places; and the wrestlers at each moment neared the door. Sharply writhing loose, Grettir flung his hands round a roof-beam. He was dragged from his feet; the numbing arms clinched him about the waist, and tore at him, every tendon in his breast was strained; the strain under his shoulders became excruciating; the muscles stood out in knots. Still he held on: his fingers were bloodless; the pulses of his temples throbbed in jerks; the breath came in a whistle through his rigid nostrils. All the while, too, the long nails of the dead man cut into his side, and Grettir could feel them piercing like knives between his ribs. Ah! his hands gave way; and the monster bore him reeling towards the porch, crashing over the broken fragments of the door. Hard as the battle had gone with him in-doors, Grettir knew that it would go worse outside: so he gathered up all his remaining strength for one final, desperate struggle.
I told you that the door had shut with a swivel into a groove: this groove was in a stone which formed the door jamb on one side; and there was a similar block on the other, into which the hinges had been driven. As the wrestlers neared the opening, Grettir planted both his feet against the stone-posts, holding Glámr by the middle. He had the advantage now. The dead man writhed in his arms, drove his talons into Grettir's back, and tore up great ribbons of flesh; but the stone-jambs held firm.
"Now," thought Grettir, "I can break his back;" and thrusting his head under the chin, so that the grizzly beard covered his eyes, he forced the face from him, and the. back was bent as a hazel-rod. "If I can but hold on!" thought Grettir: and he tried to shout for Thorhall; but his voice was muffled in the hair of the corpse.
Crack! One or both of the door-posts gave way. Down crashed the gable-trees, ripping beams and rafters from their beds; frozen clods of turf rattled from the roof, and thumped into the snow. Glámr fell on his back, and Grettir staggered down on top of him. The moon was at her full: large white clouds chased each other across the sky; and, as they swept before her disk, she looked through them like a pale saint in tribulation, with a brown halo round her. The snow-cap of Jorundarfell, however, glowed like a planet: then her white mountain-ridge was kindled; the light ran down the hillside; the bright disk started out of the veil, and flashed at this moment full on the vampire's face. Grettir's strength was failing him; his hands quivered in the snow; and he knew that he could not support himself from dropping flat on the dead man's face, eye to eye, lip to lip, nose to where the nose had been. The eyes of the corpse were fixed on him, lit with the cold glare of the moon. His head swam as his heart sent a hot stream through his brain. Then a voice from the gray lips said, —
"Thou hast acted madly in seeking to match thyself with me. Now learn that henceforth ill luck shall constantly attend thee; that thy strength shall never exceed what it now is; and that by night these eyes of mine shall stare at thee through the darkness till thy dying-day, so that for very horror thou shalt not endure to be alone."
Grettir at this moment noticed that his dirk had slipped from its sheath during the fall, and that it now lay conveniently near his hand. The giddiness which had oppressed him passed away: he clutched at the sword-haft, and with a blow severed the vampire's throat; then, kneeling on the breast, he hacked till the head came off.
Thorhall came out now, his face blanched with terror: but, when he saw how the fray had terminated, he assisted Grettir gleefully to roll the corpse on top of a pile of fagots which had been collected for winter fuel. Fire was applied; and soon, far down Vatnsdalr, the flames of the pyre startled people, and made them wonder what new horror was being enacted in the Vale of Shadow.
Next day the charred bones were conveyed to the cairn and there buried.