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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Eight.
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Chapter Eight.
Visit to Plymouth—Bitter disappointment—Miss Rundle’s account of Charley—Voyage to Shetland—Wrecked again—Fall among friends—Near death’s door—Happy encounter—Description of Shetland—My residence there—Married—Summoned southward.

I did not think that I should ever have got tired of living at Southsea with my kind aunt and fine hearty old uncle, but I had been so accustomed to a roving life and active employment, that in a little time I began to consider that I ought to be looking out for something to do. What to do was the question. I had a fancy for staying on shore after having been knocked about at sea for so many years, and setting up in some business.

“What, have you forgotten Margaret Troall?” said my aunt to me one day.

The chord was struck. “No, indeed, I have not,” said I; “I’ll go and find her, and bring her back to you as my wife if she will have me.”

I had given all my money to my uncle to have put safe in a bank for me. The next day I drew thirty pounds of it, and shipped myself aboard a smack bound for Plymouth.

Strange as it may seem, all the time I had been on shore I had never once thought of my oath and its consequence, but scarcely had I got to sea than the recollection of it came back, and I fully expected that some accident would happen to me before I reached my destination. It did not, however. I landed in safety, and walked immediately up to the house where I hoped to find the old lady and her niece. How strange it seemed! I never felt in such a way before in my life. A child might have knocked me down. I got to the house. How well I knew it! I looked in, as I had done before, at the parlour window. I fully expected to see the old lady sitting in her arm-chair and knitting, as I had when I was last there. My heart jumped up right into my throat, and then down it went I don’t know where. There was no old lady there; but there were three little children, fat, chubby, merry things, tumbling about head over heels on the floor, and shouting and shrieking with laughter, while a young woman sat on a low chair knitting and encouraging them in their gambols, while she rocked a cradle with her foot. “All sorts of strange thoughts came into my head. Who can she be, I wonder? Can it be?” I said. I looked at her very hard, but the glass was thick and dirty, and I could not make out her features. With a trembling hand I knocked at the door. A servant girl, after a little delay, opened it.

“Does Mrs Sandon live here?” I asked.

“No, she doesn’t,” was the short answer.

“Can you tell me where she lives?” I said.

“No; she does not live anywhere, she’s dead,” said the girl, who seemed determined not to throw a word away.

“Dead!” said I. “Dead! just like Granny,” I muttered, scarcely knowing what I was saying. The girl was going to slam the door in my face. “Can you tell me, my good girl, who that lady is in the parlour?” said I, stopping her.

“Yes, that’s Mrs Jones,” was the answer.

I was no wiser than before. “Can you tell me what her maiden name was?” said I, in a low, trembling voice.

“Missus never was a maid-servant; she was always a lady, as she is now,” answered the girl, with a toss of her head, again attempting to slam to the door.

“Stop, stop!” I exclaimed, in an agitated manner. “Can you tell me whether she was Mrs Sandon’s niece?”

“She’d nothing to do with Mrs Sandon that I knows on,” said the girl; “you’re asking a lot of questions. You wouldn’t, if master was at home.”

I was fairly beaten. Just then I heard a footstep behind me, and on looking round, who should I see but Miss Rundle, tripping along the pavement up to her own door, looking as brisk and young as ever.

“Oh, Miss Rundle, I’m so glad to see you!” I exclaimed, forgetting all the proprieties, and running after her. “Can you tell me anything about my kind friends who lived in our old house, and where I met you last at tea?” I thought she would have shrieked out when she saw me—she looked so astonished.

“Why, who are you? where did you come from? What do you want? Why, I thought you were dead. You are not alive, are you?”

“I hope so, Miss Rundle. I fancy I am. I’ve done nothing to kill me lately, and I know that I was alive a short time ago,” I answered, laughing in spite of my agitation.

“Well, if you are sure that you are alive, come in here and sit down and tell me all about it,” said the little old lady, opening the door of her house with a latch-key which she drew from her pocket, and pointing to the parlour, which she signed to me to enter.

I took off my hat and sat down, wondering what strange news I was to hear. She presently made her appearance, having laid aside her walking dress. I felt myself completely at home in a moment, she looked so exactly as she had done when I last saw her on that delightful evening I spent at Plymouth, and I so well remembered her in the days of my boyhood.

“Well, Willand, I am glad to see you,” said she in a kinder tone than usual. “A young man whom you know, and whose name I would rather not repeat,—indeed I do not like thinking about him,—told us that you were dead—drowned or killed somehow or other at sea. Perhaps he had his own selfish ends to serve, or perhaps he believed it; we will hope for the best.”

“Who do you mean! What do you speak of, Miss Rundle?” I exclaimed, in a voice full of agitation.

“I speak of that false deceiver, that bad, heartless fellow, Charles Iffley,” she answered, in a tone which showed her strong dislike to my former friend. “Do you know, some time after you were here he returned from sea, and came up here to visit me, and talked of old times and old friendships, and how I had known his poor mother and his friends, till I was quite taken with him; and then he presented me with a stuffed parrot and two little pets of Java sparrows he called them (which certainly were very merry and hopped about gaily in their cage), and a dried snake, which he told me was a great curiosity; and he used to drop in to tea nearly every evening, and certainly he used to talk very pleasantly. However, it is not always the talkers that are the best doers or the best people. Then he began to inquire about the ladies next door, and I invited them in to meet him, and he made himself still more agreeable than ever. This went on for some time, till I saw that he admired Miss Margaret, old Mrs Sandon’s niece; however, as he had plenty of money, that was no business of mine. I must say that by this time I did not think so well of him as at first. Many things he said were very incorrect, and the snake he gave me began to be so disagreeable that I was obliged to throw it away, and my maid told me that she was certain the sparrows were no great things, so we examined them carefully, and there could be no doubt about it, they were merely common English sparrows painted. When he came in and was waiting for me sometimes (for he used to watch when I was out on purpose), he used to give them a touch up, and tell me that he had been washing them and restoring their plumage, and in that way he kept up the deception so long. An old gentleman, a friend of mine, who used to be fond of poking about and looking into old curiosity shops, happened to call, and I showed him the parrot which Charles Iffley told me had come from some part of Africa or South America round Cape Horn, only that it had died before he could give it to me. When my friend saw the stuffed parrot, he turned it about and examined it, and then showing me a ticket fastened to its claw, told me that he knew the old Jew’s shop where that bad fellow had bought it, and to a certainty that he had not given more than a shilling for it. All this was very provoking, and made me begin to think very differently of him to what I had done at first. I did fancy that he might have had some regard for an old friend.” And the old lady drew herself up and uttered a gentle sigh. “Such a dream was soon blown to the winds,” she continued. “I found that he was constantly going and calling at Mrs Sandon’s, and very often he did not look in on me at all. It did not seem to me, however, that Margaret liked him, though I think her aunt thought well of him, and encouraged him to come to the house. He had never spoken of you, I found, till one day I mentioned your name, when he said, ‘Ah, poor fellow! he was a great friend of mine. I first got him a ship, and helped to make a sailor of him. I was very sorry to lose him.’

“‘How lose him?’ asked Miss Margaret gently. Then he told them how you had been sent away in a boat expedition in Teneriffe, to cut out some prizes, and that the boat you were in had been knocked to pieces, and that you had been either killed by the shot of the enemy or drowned, and that nothing since had been heard of you.”

“I cannot blame Charley, then,” said I to Miss Rundle. “I have no doubt that he fully believed the statement he made. Had I not succeeded in getting on board another vessel, I should have been drowned, and we have never met since. But what occurred after this?—go on.”

“You shall hear. When he saw that Miss Margaret took some interest in you, he began to talk of you in a disparaging way, as a poor sort of a fellow, easily led, and that you had all sorts of strange fancies, which he said he supposed had come to you with the northern blood which flowed in your veins, and then he spoke in no complimentary way of Scotland and the Orkney and Shetland people. He said he forgot to which you belonged. I saw the colour come into Miss Margaret’s cheeks. ‘I belong to Shetland myself,’ said she. ‘It is a country I love dearly.’ On this, the young man began to apologise, and said that he was speaking without consideration; that he had known one bad Orkney man, and that was all, whereas he had known hundreds of bad Englishmen, and he hoped Miss Margaret would pardon him. She bowed, but said nothing. He did his best to make amends for what he had said, and certainly if attention would have won a woman, he would have won her. I could not help seeing that was his aim. However, his behaviour to me had not made me wish to give him any help. And, do you know, I found that he had been speaking in a very disrespectful way of me. I cannot repeat the names he called me. It showed me clearly what he was, and, though I did not like to interfere, still I only hoped he would not succeed in winning that sweet girl.”

“Did he succeed, though?” I exclaimed, in a voice choking with agitation. “Oh! tell me, Miss Rundle.”

“You shall hear,” answered the old lady, who was not to be hurried with her narrative. “Of course, having won the good opinion of the aunt was a great point in his favour. So he used to continue to go to the house as often as ever. He took the aunt all sorts of pretty presents, though he did not venture to offer them to Margaret. At last, however, he seemed to think that the time was come when he must try his chance. So he walked in and found Margaret in the room alone, and he told her, in an off-hand sort of way, that he loved her, and that, if she would marry him, he would give up the sea and live on shore, and make her comfortable and happy for the rest of her days.”

“Did she accept him? did she marry him?” I exclaimed, interrupting the old lady.

“You shall hear, Mr Wetherholm,” she answered quietly. “What woman does not feel flattered by receiving a proposal of marriage from a fine-looking, free-spoken young man. I’m sure I should.” And she put her hand mechanically before her face to hide the gentle blush which the thought conjured up on her cheek. “She thanked him, but entreated him not to persist in his offers. Then she frankly told him that one she had loved had died at sea; that her heart was buried with him in his ocean grave; and that she could not marry a man she did not love. She was very firm, and Charles Iffley could not help seeing that he had very little chance of success. She told me this shortly afterwards. He, it seems, did not give up his attempt to win her. Somehow or other, he had taken it into his head that she was speaking of you, though he was puzzled to know how you had won her heart. He returned several times to the house, but his chief occupation seems to have been in abusing you. This made poor Miss Margaret fancy that you all the time were alive, and that he knew it; and this, of course, made her still less inclined towards him. The less way he made in her affections, the more bitter he became against you, till at last she had to tell him that his conversation was disagreeable, and that he must never come to the house again. He still did come to the door several times, but the maid told him that he must not come in, and that she would scream out murder if he attempted it. Soon after this, poor old Mrs Sandon fell ill and died, and poor Miss Margaret was left alone without any one to assist her or protect her. I asked her to come and live with me till she could make arrangements what to do. She had friends in Shetland, though that is a long way off, and I could not think what help they could afford her. They wrote back begging that she would come to them, and that she should be like their daughter, and they would be parents to her. Well, against my advice, she resolved to set off, and away she went. She kindly wrote to me once, to tell me of her safe arrival, and she thoughtfully paid the postage, which was just like her, and very right. You shall see her letter, for I do not think she would object to my showing it to you.”

I thanked Miss Rundle very much for the account she had given me, but I could with difficulty reply to her for thinking what I would do. All sorts of ideas crowded into my mind. I scarcely, however, recollected Charley Iffley and his behaviour. My thoughts flew off to Shetland, and to Margaret Troall. Miss Rundle gave me her letter. I read it over and over again. I made a note of the place from which she dated it. Miss Rundle saw me, and asked me if I was going to write to her.

“No; I intend to go to Shetland,” I answered promptly. “I have made up my mind to that. After all you have told me, I shall not rest happy till I have seen her. Perhaps I shall take up my abode there altogether. My father’s family come from Shetland, and if I could get Aunt Bretta to come up there also, we might all be very happy.”

I was much pleased by the kind way in which Miss Rundle seemed to sympathise with me, and entered into all my views and plans, though she herself had no personal interest in them. She told me, in course of conversation, that she had not since seen Charles Iffley, but that she believed he belonged to some man-of-war or other, at the time of which she had been speaking, and that she understood he was still in the service.

My plan once formed, I lost no time in putting it into execution. That very evening I found a smack sailing for Portsmouth, and took my passage by her. On reaching Southsea, and telling my aunt all that had occurred, she very much approved of my plans, and encouraged me to set off at once for Shetland. She sent all sorts of messages to old friends, and to the children of old friends; for, as she remarked with a sigh, it was too probable that many of the parents would have been called away from the world.

Drawing a further supply of money from the bank, I went up to London by the coach next morning. I won’t stop to describe how I was bothered and confused in London, and how heartily I wished myself out of it. I found my way to London Bridge, and, after making many inquiries, I reached a place where there were several Leith smacks moored together. One was going to sail the next tide. I joyfully stepped aboard of her, and still more happy was I to find myself clear of the Thames and out at sea. We were just a week making the passage, which was very well, considering that we had a foul wind for some hours and had to bring up in Yarmouth Roads. From Leith I got on by another vessel to Aberdeen. In that port I found a regular trader which sailed once a month to Lerwick, in Shetland. She was a smack, but not equal in size to the craft in which I had come down from London to Leith.

We had been out about three days when very heavy thick weather came on, and a south-westerly gale sprung up, which came sweeping through the passage between Orkney and Shetland, kicking up a terrific sea. The smack behaved very well, but at last all that could be done was to set a try-sail and to heave her to, and away we drifted we knew not where. I had never before been in the North Seas, so I was not accustomed to such dark gloomy weather—not but what it is bad enough in the English Channel now and then—still it does not often last so long as it does up in the north.

Day after day the clouds hung down over our heads, and the wind howled, and the dark green seas kept leaping up around, as if eager to draw us down under their angry foaming bosoms. We had a hard matter to cook our provisions, and no very easy one to eat them raw or cooked. Suddenly the wind shifted and blew as strongly as ever from the eastward, and then from the northward, and then got back again into the old quarter, and the master confessed that, for the life of him he could not tell where he had drifted to.

“On which side of Shetland are we, do you think?” said I.

“I only hope that we are still to the eastward, but at all events I believe we are well away to the northward of the islands.”

“I hope so,” I answered. “But look, captain, what huge and unbroken seas come rolling in from the west; if we are not to the northward, it is my opinion that we have got the islands under our lee, and if this gale is to continue, I would rather have them anywhere else than there.”

“So would I, young man; but I have made this trip pretty often, and I don’t think that I can be so far out in my calculation,” was the answer.

All I could say was that I hoped that I was wrong and he was right, as, whichever was the case, there was nothing we could do till the weather moderated. On we drove. I did not like the look of things. When night came on I did not turn in, but sat down below out of the cold, ready to spring on deck in a moment. I had fastened my money in a belt round my waist, and kept my shoes ready to kick off, and my jacket loose to throw easily aside. I was certain that the vessel would be wrecked. I felt no fear for my own life, though I remembered my rash oath and what had occurred so often before, and the gloomy weather had indeed increased the conviction that I was under a sort of curse, and that I should have no rest till it was fulfilled. I am just saying what I then thought. I cannot even now be surprised at the idea gaining such powerful possession of my mind, while everything that had happened to me had tended to strengthen it.

Night came on. Pitchy darkness surrounded the storm-driven little smack. The cry of “Breakers! breakers!” and piercing shrieks made me spring on deck. At that moment the vessel struck. The foaming seas came hissing and roaring up after her. We were among a dark mass of rocks; no fabric formed by human hands could have withstood the violence of those terrific waves. I held on to the last moment, while the huge foaming seas washed over my head, almost drowning me, as I clung to the wreck. Then I felt the deck quiver and shake, and the stout beams and timbers were wrenched and torn asunder under my feet, and I was hurled onward among the broken fragments by a roaring sea, which must have well-nigh completed the destruction of the craft. I lost all consciousness.

My last thought had been that at length the angry sea was about to claim me as a victim. There was a hissing, roaring sound in my ears; I felt myself tossed to and fro, knocked and battered, but I made no attempt, that I am aware of, to save myself. At length I opened my eyes. It was daylight. Some men were bending over me.

I heard a voice say, “Here is one who seems to have still some life in him.” And another person came and took my hand, and after waiting a minute, said, “Yes, carry him up to the house.” And I was put on a litter and borne up a steep path among some cliffs; and then across a high, wild down till I reached a substantial, strongly-built stone house. The movement of the litter had a very good effect on me, so that by the time I reached the house, my chest was relieved from the salt water I had swallowed, and my senses had completely returned. I was therefore saved the ceremony, very common in those days, by which a good many people were killed, of hanging nearly drowned men up by the heels, under the idea that the water would more quickly run out of their mouths. I was carried into a large boarded room, out of which several others opened. In one of those there was a bed. After my wet clothes had been taken off me I was placed in bed, carefully wrapped up in blankets, and directly after some warm drink was brought me.

I remember struggling somewhat when I found my money-belt being removed, and trying to possess myself of it.

“Never fear, young man; it will be all safe,” said a voice. “We are not wreckers, and we no longer fancy that you will work us harm because we help to save your life.”

This satisfied me. I knew that there were honest people as well as rogues in the world, but I had often met with honest ones, so I hoped that I had now fallen among such. One thing, at all events, was very evident, they seemed anxious to save my life. After this I fell into a sound sleep.

It was nine o’clock in the evening when I awoke; but the summer days are very long in those regions, and even then the evening sun was shining into the window. A stout, white-haired, kindly-looking old gentleman came in to see me with a younger man, whom I took to be his son, and a servant girl brought in a tray with some tea, and some barley scones, hot and buttered. I thought that I had never tasted anything nicer in my life.

“I hope you are better now after your sleep, young man,” said the old gentleman. “If fever can be kept off, I think you will do well; but we have sent for the doctor to look at your hurts. There are two or three other people who want his aid.”

“What, only two or three escaped out of all those on board the smack?” said I.

“It is a mercy that any one came on shore alive; and you will say so when you see the place in day-time,” said the younger man.

“We won’t speak about it at present,” said the old gentleman. “The less he talks or hears others talk, the better just now. We bid you good-night. Sleep again, if you can; some one will look in on you to see how you are going on, now and then.”

With these words my hospitable friends left me once more to myself.

I suspected, indeed, that I should be better for a doctor’s care, for I felt that I had been bruised and battered dreadfully; my head had been bandaged, and when I tried to stir I found all my limbs sore and stiff,—indeed, it was not without great pain that I could move either an arm or a leg. I slept through most of the night. When I did awake, I began to wonder where I had got to, for the old gentleman had remained in the room so short a time, that I had not been able to ask any questions.

I had little doubt that I had been cast away on the coast of Shetland, but whether on the northern or southern end I could not tell, any more than I could who was my kind host.

The next day the doctor arrived. He had ridden over from Lerwick, with only the rest of half-an-hour for his steed, he said; so I knew that I must be at some distance from that town, and yet on the big island called the mainland. He dressed my wounds and bruises, and told me that one or two of my ribs were broken, but that I might consider myself fortunate that matters were no worse; and remarked that he had no doubt I had lived a prudent, careful life, as I was perfectly free from all signs of fever, which would not otherwise have been the case; and then giving me some bottles of medicine to take, he left me to look after his other patients. He spent two or three days in the house, for the islands are generally so healthy that there was not much demand for his services elsewhere.

One of my poor shipmates died, I was told, from his hurts. I rapidly got better. Besides the old gentleman and his son and the doctor, an old lady looked in now and then to see me. She was a very neat, pretty old woman, so cheerful and cheery, always having something pleasant to say, so that she contributed much to raise my spirits. I will say that I was most thankful for all the mercies which had been shown me, and for my preservation from so great a danger.

At last I was pronounced well enough and strong enough to get up and appear in public. A barber, who was going his rounds, came in, and shaved me and cut my hair, and my head and face were all to rights, so that I looked as well as ever, only my ribs hurt me a little, and my limbs felt somewhat stiff.

The old gentleman came to my room when I was ready. “Take my arm,” said he kindly; “you will find it rather strange walking at first, and your knees will shake a little.”

I could not refuse his kind offer, though I thought that I could have walked very well by myself. He led me into the large hall, and there, seated by a window at the further end, looking out on the sea, I observed two young women. One was dressed in black, the other in some sober colour or other. They were both at the moment bending down over their knitting, and talking in a low voice to each other, so that they did not observe our entrance.

We had got three-quarters of the way across the room, and the old gentleman was giving me a chair to sit down on, when the noise it made over the floor caused them to look up. There sat one I had so long thought of, whom I had come to search for, Margaret Troall.

She looked at me in a strange, bewildered way, still she knew me, and yet she could not believe her senses. She tried to rise from her chair to come towards me, but something seemed to keep her back. She drew her breath quickly, as if she would have wished to have spoken, but could not. I felt that I ought to speak first.

“They told you I was dead, Miss Margaret,” said I, and I know my voice trembled very much, and I know that had I not leant on the chair I should have fallen. “They were mistaken; I went to Plymouth only lately, and found you were no longer there; and when I discovered that you had gone north, I came here to seek you.”

She recovered herself while I was speaking, and rising from her seat, came up and gave me her hand. I do not say that there was anything very extraordinary in the action, but I know that it made me very happy. Her friends at first looked very much astonished; but a few words served to explain matters, and then they were doubly glad that they had had the opportunity of being of so much service to an old friend of their young relative.

I found that the name of my host, the uncle of Miss Troall, was David Angus, and that the place where the smack had been wrecked was in Saint Magnus Bay, in the parish of North Morven. My friends were the holders of one of the largest farms in the district, and lived in a very comfortable, though what people in the south would call a rough way. I am not going to talk of all that passed between Margaret and me. I should not have believed that she had thought so much of me as she had done, it seemed; but our first meeting had been under peculiar circumstances. She had seen me mourning deeply for a lost relative, and she had discovered thus that I had a tender heart, so I may venture to say, and now my coming all the way north to look for her showed her that she had made no little impression on it.

Well, all that has passed and gone. I got every day better and better, and was soon able to walk out with her along the tops of the high cliffs, and to visit the wild scenes to be found especially in that part of the island. I especially remember one place we visited, called the Navis Grind. It is a gap in the cliffs formed by the whole force of the western ocean rolling against them during a succession of heavy gales, age after age, till vast fragments of the rock have been forced in for hundreds of yards over the downs, and now lie like the fragments of some ruined city scattered over the plain. We delighted in returning to those scenes of wild grandeur, because they contrasted so strongly with our own quiet happiness.

This was only the second time in my life that I had enjoyed what might be properly called idleness. The first was during my short stay with Aunt Bretta, and then I confess that I often did at times feel weary from not knowing what to do with myself. Now I never felt anything like weariness, I was too happy to spend the greater part of the day in the society of Margaret. Sometimes I used to walk by myself over the downs by the edge of the cliffs, and at others visit the different parts of his farm with my host, and assist him to look after his cattle and horses and sheep, which were scattered far and wide over the peninsula.

I have scarcely mentioned his daughter Minna. She was a fair-haired, smiling, good-natured lassie, who was contented with her lot, because she had sense enough to discover that it was a very happy one.

There was one person, however, who would, I soon with some pain discovered, have been better pleased had I not come to the islands. That was John Angus, my host’s son. He did not treat me uncivilly or unkindly, but I saw that it cost him an effort to be as cordial as the rest of his family. He was a good-natured, frank, kind-hearted man, whom under other circumstances I should have hoped to have made my friend. I cannot but think, too, that in time he would have won Margaret’s regard, and he was certainly a man to have made any woman happy.

In two weeks or so I was Margaret’s acknowledged suitor, or rather, I may say, her affianced husband. I was so happy that I thought sorrow could never again come near me. Now Margaret herself reminded me that I was a Shetlander,—indeed, as I was born at sea, no other people would claim me,—and that I ought to try and find out some of my family. I talked the subject over with Mr Angus. He remembered many of them, but when he came to consider, every one of my near relations were gone. Some cousins of my father’s were the nearest remaining, and then there were several of Aunt Bretta’s old friends, the companions of her youth whom she wished me to see. John Angus volunteered to accompany me, and he provided two strong, shaggy little ponies for our journey.

We started away one morning soon after daybreak over the wild tracks, the only substitute for roads through the islands in those days, and crossed into the chief part of the mainland by a causeway so narrow that I could have thrown a biscuit across it. On one side of us was Rowe Sound, and on the other Hagraseter Voe, a long, narrow voe running out of Yell Sound. It would be difficult to describe the wild, and often beautiful scenery through which we passed. Long, deep voes, full of inlets and indentations, with high heathery hills on either side, was the most characteristic feature, and quiet, little inland lochs, with wildfowl resting on their bosoms, was another, and then high rocky cliffs, the habitation of innumerable sea-birds, and hundreds of green islands and rocks scattered about on every side on the surface of the blue ocean.

John Angus did his best to point out to me the various points of interest we passed. Among the most curious were the Pictie towers, little round edifices built with rough stone, beautifully put together, with passages inside winding up to the top without steps. They were built by a race who inhabited those islands long before the time of which history gives any account. Whence they came, or how they departed, no one knows. Every hamlet throughout Shetland is called a toun. The cottages composing them are very far from attractive-looking edifices, generally built of mud, of one storey, and thatched; with a midden on one side of the door, and a pool of a very doubtful colour and contents on the other. The insides were often large and clean, and tidy enough, and in such I found many of my aunt’s friends residing.

Wherever I went, I was hospitably received, and I delivered my messages, and rode on. I cannot say that my cousins appeared very highly delighted at seeing me, which was natural enough, considering that till I made my appearance, and announced myself, they had never heard there was such a person in existence. However, Aunt Bretta was remembered by all her contemporaries with affection. I should have enjoyed my visits more had I not been anxious to return to Hillswick.

We were altogether five days away, and in that period, sometimes by means of boats, and sometimes on the backs of ponies, and at others on our own feet, we visited the greater portion of the islands. I often felt that had I been born among them, I should never have desired to leave their quiet shores, and more than once contemplated the probability of spending the remainder of my days there. I spoke my mind on the subject to John Angus.

“Do, Weatherhelm, do,” he answered; “we shall be glad to have you among us: but you’ve heard the old notion we islanders have, that he who is saved from drowning by any one of us is certain to work us ill?”

“I’ve heard of the idea not only as held by the people of Shetland, but by those of many other countries,” I answered. “Like many other ideas, to my mind, it is not only false, but wrong and wicked. Depend upon it, the idea was invented by those who wanted an excuse for killing the unfortunate people wrecked on their coast in order to obtain their property.”

“That may be,” said Angus; “still, for my part, I cannot help believing that it is in some respects true. However, sometimes a man may work another harm without intending it. But come along, put your nag into a trot, we have a good many miles of this heavy peat land to get over before we reach home.”

It was not till some time afterwards that I knew what John Angus meant by his remarks. He volunteered to take the ponies round to the stable, while I went into the house. It was worth going away for a few days for the pleasure of being received as I was by Margaret. I thought her looking more sweet and lovely than ever. As I said before, I am not going to repeat all that occurred between us. The day was fixed for our marriage, and friends from far and near were invited to it. They came, some by water and others on ponies; the women on pack-saddles, with their head-gear in baskets hung over their arms. Mr Angus had told me that he hoped, since I was to become his nephew, that I would live on with him and help him in his croft, as there was work enough both for me and his son. John, indeed, had a mind to go and see something of the world, and was proposing a trip to Aberdeen, if not to Edinburgh, before the winter. He would be away, at all events, during the winter, so that my services would be of great value.

This proposal exactly suited my wishes. I was certain that Margaret would be happy with her friends, and I should find plenty of the sort of employment which suited me. I should be out of doors during all the hours of daylight, and I knew that I should be handy in the various occupations in which the family passed their time during the long evenings of winter. Well, then, Margaret and I were married, and the guests who had welcomed me back as a countryman to Shetland, took their departure, and we all settled down into a very regular, happy state of existence. John Angus went away to Scotland, and I took his place as his father’s assistant. The winter came round pretty quickly, and though we had fogs and damp sometimes, I did not find the weather nearly so cold as I expected. Even in mid-winter, with a south-westerly wind, it was always quite warm; but when the wind shifted round and came out of the north-east or east, it was cold enough. Still there was very little ice, and not often much snow. As I have often remarked when wandering over the globe, every country has its advantages, and those far northern islands have theirs. They have their long days in summer, and bright skies, and fragrant wild-flowers, and fine wild scenery, and, thanks to the hot waters of the Gulf Stream which wash their shores, a tolerably temperate climate all the year round. The winter passed rapidly away. I could often scarcely believe in my happiness, after all the hardships and dangers I had undergone, and I am afraid that I was not sufficiently grateful for it. One thing I felt, that Margaret did not repent the choice she had made. Though I had had rather more education than generally falls to the lot of those of my class, I knew that I was but a rough, untutored seaman, and so I did my utmost to be tender and gentle to my wife, and to study how I best could please her in everything. I did not forget my old friend Miss Rundle,—my wife and I wrote her a long letter between us, fall of all sorts of fun; we also took good care to pay the postage. Of course, also, we wrote to Aunt Bretta. She sent back a letter in return, hoping that we would soon come south to see her. We expected John Angus in the spring, but he did not return. He wrote instead, to say that he had got some employment in the south, which suited him for the present, and that he was very happy.

A whole year passed away. During the second winter, I thought that my wife, who had been so long accustomed to the soft air of Devonshire, was suffering from the long continuance of damp fogs. While I was balancing in my mind whether I ought not to take her south, I received another letter from Aunt Bretta. She told me that she was quite sickening to see me and my wife, and that my uncle hoped to be able to find some employment on shore which would suit my taste. When I laid the proposal before my wife, she at once acceded to it. “I am afraid,” said she, “that as long as we remain here, we keep poor John away from his family. If we go south, he will return home.” David Angus, and the old lady, and our kind-hearted cousin, were most unwilling to part with us, but we had written to Aunt Bretta to say that we were coming, and we could not again change our plans. About the middle of June we sailed in a smack bound direct for Leith, and once more I found myself on salt water.


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