Her husband had remained in Orkney only until he had laid her and the child to rest, when, gathering the few remnants of his property that remained to him from the wreck of his ship, he took a passage in a vessel that happened to touch at Kirkwall for repairs, and with the sailor who had been saved with him he set sail for Denmark. My uncle Mansie said that this Mr. Quendale had promised to my father and others that he would be back again in Pomona in a few months, but since that time he had never been heard of.
Now it happened that on the fifth day after the wreck of the Undine (for such was the vessel's name) my father was taking his small boat round to Borwick, a little hamlet two miles south of Skaill Bay. On passing the place where the vessel struck, now calm and peaceful after the storm, he shortened sail and rowed inshore. A little distance up the face of the red cliff, above the high-water mark, and hidden by a projecting rock, there was a "scurro," or fissure, which opened into a large cavern. He had discovered this cavern when he was a boy, on some bird-nesting expedition; and now, scarcely knowing why he did so—except, perhaps, for the passing thought that some of the wreckage had been washed into it by the high waves—he climbed up from his boat and entered the cave. To his astonishment he found there a half-starved man, who had been on board the Undine at the time of the disaster. Having found the cave in his endeavours to scale the cliff, this unfortunate man had contrived to live there during the five long days and nights since the wreck by subsisting on shellfish, seaweed, and a few sea-birds' eggs.
What surprised my father more than all, however, was that the man had as a companion a helpless little child. Someone on the ship had placed the infant in an empty packing case, which had drifted into the cave. The pilot conveyed the two waifs ashore and took them up to Crua Breck.
The man thus rescued by my father was Carver Kinlay; the little child was Thora.
All that I could learn from my uncle and old Colin concerning Carver, further than this, was that he was a native of the north of Scotland, and that he and his family were passengers on the Danish ship, which was to have put in at the haven of Wick, in Caithness. Careless where he settled down, however, when cast upon the shores of Pomona, he had taken root here, like a weed in a flower garden. He seemed to have had a store of money in the big chest which he claimed from among the wreckage, and circumstances enabled him to purchase the little farm of Crua Breck, together with a fishing boat. The fishing, and a previous knowledge of the Orkney channels, had given him some experience of local navigation; and it was upon the strength of this experience that, having built his pilot boat, he intended to start in opposition to my father.
The greater part of what Mansie and Colin said, as they sat in the comfortable kitchen of Lyndardy, was entirely new to me. I felt a strange pleasure in hearing now, for the first time, that Thora Kinlay owed her life, in some sort, to my own father. When he carried the little girl up to the farm, with a seaman's jacket covering her from the cold—for the women and children had all been in their beds when the ship struck—she was at once claimed by Mrs. Kinlay. They named her Thora, after Mrs. Quendale, who had shown some kindness to her during the voyage, by reason of a resemblance that existed between the two children—Mrs. Quendale's own child and the child of Mrs. Kinlay—both of whom were of a like age.
The story of the wreck of the Undine gave me many matters to ponder over. But the one practical thing that I learnt was this existence of a cave in the North Gaulton cliffs. I had not known that there was such a cave at that spot, although, indeed, I prided myself upon my knowledge of the whole coastline from Rora to Birsay. I accordingly determined to explore the cliff at some future time.
Chapter XIX. Tom Kinlay's Bargain.
I must not omit to mention that Willie Hercus and Robbie Rosson duly delivered up to Mr. Drever their shares of Jarl Haffling's treasure. The dominie was, I believed, already in communication with the proper authorities concerning the claims that would be imposed according to what he called the law of treasure trove. But there were many delays in coming to an agreement, owing, as I understood, to official indifference and to the difficulty of determining the value of the relics, which Mr. Drever contended were worth more than their mere weight in silver. Meanwhile, the schoolmaster, anxious to keep the collection, as he said, intacto, for preservation in some museum, still held possession of the antiquities, and was nightly burning much oil in his absorbed study of them.
Since Tom Kinlay had left the school Mr. Drever had not seen him. But, betimes, a message was sent by Thora to intimate to Tom that we others had given our parts of the viking's treasure into his charge, and advising that Tom should send in the remainder without delay. But Tom, who now owed no direct duty to the dominie, resolutely refused to give up his share of the treasure.
On a windy Saturday morning—a week after the death of my poor dog—I was loitering about the quays in the port, when I was attracted towards a little crowd that had gathered round an old capstan. The crowd consisted of several sailors and fishermen, with a sprinkling of townsfolk, who were evidently much interested in something that was going on in their midst.
I walked towards them and elbowed my way in beside old Davie Flett, the skipper of a coasting schooner, with whom I was slightly acquainted.
"What's all the stir, Mr. Flett?" I asked.
"Och, it's just an auld Jew doing some business," he replied; and I pressed my way further into the crowd.
In the middle of the group there was a withered little man, bent with age, with a long ragged beard and a nose like the beak of a hawk. He wore a great black coat that was very shiny and reached almost down to his ankles; and in his skinny fingers he held what I soon recognized as the large red stone that Tom Kinlay had found at Skaill. Tom himself was standing near the old Jew, and bargaining with him for all the treasure that had fallen to his share.
The Jew had made some offer for the gem when I came up, and Kinlay was deliberating whilst listening to the advice of the fishermen.
"Take his offer, lad," advised Jack Munroe.
"Ay, take it, Tommy," added another. "Ye'll mebbe never hae anither such chance again."
"Nay, dinna be a fule," said Jim London. "The auld swindler kens the thing's worth mair than he offers. Gar him gie ye anither ten shillings."
"No, no," protested the Jew, speaking in broken English. "I not want ze ting. Wot use I make of it?"
He was about to hand it back to Tom.
"Well, well," he continued, again examining the gem. "If you not satisfy, den I gif you six shilling more; wot you say, eh? Dat make ten pound and six shilling, English. It not worth one penny more, I tell you."
"Mike it ten guineas," urged Kinlay.
"What! ten guineas? Himmel, mine child, you make me ruined!" exclaimed the Jew.
"Give the lad the ten guineas and be done with it, Isaac," said a young seaman who appeared to know him. "You'll get your own price in Amsterdam."
"Well, ten guineas I will gif—two hundred and ten shilling!"
And the old Jew slowly counted out the money from a dirty canvas bag that he took from his belt. I saw his little black eyes glitter as he dropped the sparkling gem into the bag and buttoned up his coat, before handing over the money.
Kinlay pocketed the sovereigns, and then looked round the crowd of faces about him with an air of extreme satisfaction. At the same time old Isaac turned to a Dutch sailor who was addressing him in their own language. By the fox-like look in the Jew's eyes I understood that he, on his part, was not really discontented with the bargain he had closed.
But Tom had evidently not disposed of all his valuables, for, just as Isaac was slipping away, he held him by the sleeve and showed him a handful of the viking's coins and rings, whereupon the old Hebrew renewed his bartering, with the result that Tom disposed of all his remaining store for the sum of two additional pounds.
The crowd was breaking up, and the Jew again slipping away, when I called out to him, thinking I would tell him that there were some more of these things in Stromness, and believing for the moment that Mr. Drever might have some wish to deal with so generous a purchaser. Isaac could at least tell him what the treasure was worth, I reflected.
"Will ye buy any more o' these things?" I asked, when he came to my side.
"Well, I want nossing more, mine young friend," he replied. "I haf make a very bad bargain already. But what have you? Any more of dose pretty tings?" and he indicated the gem that he had bought from Kinlay.
I thought at once of my magic stone that was suspended at my neck under my guernsey. I produced it, though of course I did not mean to let him have it at any price.
"Is this worth anything?" I asked.
But I had no sooner brought it forth than I felt a tugging at my sleeve. I turned round and saw old Davie Flett frowning at me meaningly.
"Don't have anything to do wi' the auld thief!" he whispered, dragging me aside. "Come away, lad, an' let me tell ye something."
But the Jew was already examining my little black stone, and asking me to take the cord that held it off my neck. He scratched its smooth surface with his long finger nails, and then took out an old knife from his pocket and was proceeding to insert the blade under the gold ring that encircled the stone. I snatched my precious talisman from him, and replaced it under the collar of my knitted shirt. The Jew looked surprised; but without heeding him I turned away with Captain Flett, who walked with me some distance from the dispersing crowd.
When we were alone beside one of the sheds he said:
"It's all right now, Ericson, my lad. I wanted but to save ye frae makin' a fule o' yersel, like Carver Kinlay's lad."
"Why," I said, "Kinlay has made a very good bargain, has he not?"
"Simpleton!" said the skipper. "Ye didna hear what yon Dutch sailor said to the auld Jew, eh?"
"I heard, captain, but of course I didna understand," I said.
"Weel, my lad, I understood," said he. "The Dutchman asked him what kind o' gem it was he had gotten frae the boy.
"'It's a ruby,' said the Jew.
"'Oho!'said the Dutchman. 'It's a rare big one, though. How muckle might ye be expectin' to get for it across the water—a couple o' hundred?'
"Then the auld Jew gave the Dutchman a wink, and said, 'Maybe a thousand dollars, mynheer.'
"So ye see, Ericson, if the auld swindler could count upon gettin', let us say, two hundred pounds English for the stone over in Amsterdam, ye can hardly say that young Kinlay got a big price for't, can ye?"
I was astounded at this information. Such unfairness appeared to my boyish mind as criminal in the extreme. But a wider knowledge of the world has since taught me that in commercial transactions things are not always bought and sold at their proper value.
I thanked my skipper friend, while telling him that I had myself had no intention of dealing with the merchant.
Scarcely had I left Mr. Flett two minutes before I heard someone walking hurriedly behind me. I was quickly overtaken by old Isaac and Tom Kinlay.
"Ericson," said Tom with a friendly tone in his voice, as though we had never quarrelled. "Let the old man hae a sight o' that thing ye've got round yer neck, will ye?"
I put my hands in my trousers pockets, and made no reply.
"I gif you tree shilling for it," said the Jew.
"Keep your dirty money, sir," I said, turning on my heel.
Then, as though he did not wish Kinlay to overhear his offer, he followed me, taking me by the sleeve:
"Ah! mine friend," he said coaxingly, "I see you know wot it is. Very well, den, I gif you a sovereign."
"A sovereign!" I exclaimed aloud.
And Kinlay, who had now come up to us, opened his eyes in surprise.
"Take the money, man," he urged.
"Nay, nay," I said. "If you like to give the value of two hundred pounds in exchange for ten guineas, I am certainly not so green. Besides, ye ken weel enough that those things were not rightly yours. Mr. Drever has told you that."
He did not appear to notice the latter part of what I said.
"Two hundred pounds!" he exclaimed, looking from me to the Jew. "Two hundred pounds! What d'ye mean?"
"I mean," I said calmly, "that you have been swindled. It's a ruby stone ye hae sold him, a ruby worth two hundred pounds."
I will not soon forget the expression that came into Tom's eyes when he heard this. It was a look first of incredulity, as though he supposed I was simply playing upon him. Then it changed to a look of defeat as he realized how much he had been cheated by the crafty old Jew. He turned round to vent his indignation upon Isaac, swearing and uttering threats of vengeance.
"Ye auld long-nosed deevil!" he exclaimed. "Ye heathen swindler! Gie me back the stone!"
But Isaac had already slipped away from the spot like a startled trout. We saw his long coattails disappear round the corner of an alley that led down to the harbour. Kinlay followed him, still swearing and threatening, and got down to the quay just in time to see the old Jew jump into a boat that had been waiting for him. The boat belonged to a Dutch brig that was putting out to sea, and when old Isaac got aboard, the anchor was already at the cat head and the sails were bellying in the wind.
Frustrated in his revenge upon the Jew, Kinlay now turned upon me his indignation. He accused me of willingly allowing him to sell the ruby below its value. I simply told him that it was no business of mine, and quietly asked him where he had got the gem.
"But I needna ask you that," I added, "for I well ken where you got it."
"Where did I get it?" he inquired, his face turning as red as the ruby itself.
"You got it from the old viking's helmet," I replied, "for I saw you put the thing in your pocket, though you did deny that you had it that day over at Skaill. But ye'll see what Mr. Drever will say to your selling what didna rightly belong to you."
"I carena that for Mr. Drever," he said, snapping his fingers. "Nor for you neither, ye young sneak."
At this he turned from me without further words. But I think there was more malice against me in his heart than he allowed to appear on the surface. This incident, and my advantage over him, had at least the effect of increasing the enmity between us.
Chapter XX. The Opposition Boat.
The little haven of Stromness was ever a quiet place, but never did it seem so quiet as during the calm which succeeded the storm of the past week, especially as that calm came on a Sunday, that quietest of all days in the North. Even the twittering of the sparrows on the quaint housetops seemed less noisy than usual, and the women who stood in groups in the narrow street, with their clean mutch caps, their crimson hubbie jackets and coarse blue gowns, suppressed their voices almost into whispers as they talked of the growing quarrel between my father and his new rival, Carver Kinlay. The solemn stillness of the June Sabbath was everywhere apparent. The healthy scent of the peat smoke, mingled with a certain fishy odour, permeated the little town, while the cool, fresh smell of the seaweed, and the sweet perfume of the Dutch clover, came from the shores of the bay. The few men who were in port lounged about in sight of the sea, looking lazily outward at the anchored ships.
On the little jetty at the Anchor Close my father sat on an upturned herring creel, smoking his pipe, and watching a flock of sea mews floating gracefully on the green water. Occasionally these birds would rise in the sunny air with long outstretched wings, and give utterance to cries not unlike the mewing of kittens. Some wind-bound vessels lay at anchor in their own reflections, keel to keel, with gay colours streaming from their mastheads. I had never before seen the bay looking so still and beautiful. But from the outer shores of the Ness came the prolonged murmur of the Atlantic waves, falling upon the ear like an everlasting sigh.
I was seated in the stern of the Curlew, as the boat lay against the pier upon which my father sat smoking. Looking over her side down into the clear water, I could see the small fish dart about like flashes of silver light in the emerald depths, where the many-coloured seaweeds swayed softly to and fro with the motion of the tide; while far below, on their sandy bed, the bright shells, the sea urchins, and the green mossy stones gleamed like brilliant gems. And the low swish of the tide against the stone pier made a pleasant, sleepy sound.
Sometimes, as I sat there dreamily, my eyes would wander across the smooth blue water to the distant hills, following the steady, swooping flight of an eagle. Nearer at hand, the flight of a flock of sea larks along the links of the shore would attract my attention, while once I heard the splash of a solan goose diving in the bay, and saw the spray rise in a glittering column high above the water.
Suddenly my dreamy meditations were interrupted. Hurried footsteps sounded in the silent street, and looking up the passage of the Anchor Close I saw a company of men quickly passing. Among them were Carver Kinlay and his son Tom.
I told my father who they were, at which he expressed much wonder, and tried to assign a cause for their hurrying. But soon our questioning was fully answered by the unexpected appearance of my sister Jessie.
"Father!" said she, very much out of breath, for she had walked very quickly from Lyndardy, where she had been staying during the whole of that past week.
"Well, lass?" said my father, looking round at the girl's agitated face. "What have you seen that you look so scared?"
"I've seen from the cliffs," gasped Jessie. "I've seen the Lydia makin' for Stromness. She has surely put back, for her masts are away, and her bulwarks are wrecked."
"The Lydia! What, Captain Gordon's ship? Ay, lass, but ye're telling me a strange thing. You'd better gang and tell Mansie to get the men out. There'll be a race wi' the new pilot, I'm thinking."
And he knocked the ashes from his pipe, and came down into the boat to get her ready.
Jessie, however, had no need to go and tell the crew to get ready, for she had hardly turned away when my uncle Mansie and the men hurried down the jetty and sprang into the Curlew.
The day was so fine and bright that my heart yearned for a sail in the boat, and I was about to ask my father if I might go out with him, when he forestalled me by ordering me to be seated among the ropes in the bow.
The quietude of the Sabbath was now changed to bustle and excitement. The oars and rowlocks were put in place, the sail made ready for hoisting, and soon all was trim and ready to start.
My father's pilot boat, the Curlew, was strongly built and of great breadth of beam. It was of a pattern and rig peculiar to the Orkneys, much after the fashion of a whaling boat, and called a "sixter," from having a crew of six men. It was propelled by either sail or oars, as either was most convenient, but the Orcadian boatmen never employed the oars when the sail could be used.
The boat's crew was a picked one, and seldom could six finer men be seen together. The skipper, my father, was himself a picture of manly strength, handsome and agile. His father and grandfather had been pilots; the latter, indeed, had been the chief pilot of Stromness in the year 1780, when Captain Cook's ships, the Discovery and the Resolution, lay in the harbour on their return from the South Seas.
My father's shipmates, as he called them, were also fine stalwart men, each of them competent to take the skipper's place, but each willing to sacrifice anything for Sandy Ericson. My uncle Mansie was mate, and sat forward in the bow. The stroke oar was usually taken by Tom Hercus, a man of singular daring. Willie Slater was an old whaler, who could stand any hardships with perfect indifference. Then there was Jock Eunson, a good-humoured Orphir man, who, on many a dark night, had kept his mates merry as they beat about in the outer sea in search of ships; and Ringan Storlsen, of Finstown, who had been at school with my father, and with whom he had had many an adventure.
"Hurry along, my lads; there's Kinlay started," said my father, seating himself in the stern sheets.
With that the ropes were cast off and the sail hoisted. Then the boat was pushed off from the pier, and as she caught the light breeze she glided slowly into the bay among the sailing shadows of the summer clouds.
When we were out in the deep water I looked along the line of the shore for the opposition boat; but I found she was already further out than ourselves, looking like a pleasure yacht, with her newly painted hull and clean white canvas—a contrast to the dingy brown sail and the scratched and worn hull of the Curlew.
My uncle Mansie, who sat quite near to me, told me that the new boat was called the St. Magnus—after the patron saint of Orkney—and I noticed that he spoke very lightly of her as a sailer. I asked him if he did not think she would beat us in this race; but he assured me there was no fear of it, for that though Kinlay had the start of us, yet he had not the advantage of a well trained and disciplined crew, and his ropes were too new to run free.
There was little chance of a race, however, in the calm bay, and my uncle, not wishing Kinlay to see that we were taking any interest in his movements, drew my attention away from the St. Magnus by asking me some questions about my viking's stone. He said that, now I had made a start in coming out in the boat, I might stand a better chance of proving the virtue of my talisman, more especially if I should be bold enough to come out on some dark, stormy night, when there would be some danger. Then some of the other men, hearing us, asked me to show them the magic stone, and it went round the whole company for inspection.
By the time they had all had a good look at it, and I had hung it round my neck again, we had got full into the breeze of the outer bay. My father, who held the tiller, managed to get to the weather side of the St. Magnus, and when we reached the Ness point, where a number of people had already gathered from the town to watch the expected race, the two boats were bow to bow.
Beyond the point we brought up at the same moment as the St. Magnus, and steered westward on the starboard tack, with a southwesterly breeze swelling our sails. The Curlew now bent over to leeward, our bow plunging into the waves, dashing them aside and sending the foam surging in a long track far astern. With a strong outrunning current in our favour we sped through the channel between Stromness and Graemsay, the St. Magnus being now to windward of us and several lengths behind.
Tom Kinlay was sitting on the weather gunwale near his father, who was steering. It was easy to see that they were all suppressing their excitement in the race; yet their craft was brought bravely along in our track, and there was still a chance of their reaching the ship before us. The result depended upon good steering, and upon the readiness of each crew to lower sail at the right moment.
From watching the St. Magnus I turned my attention to the approaching barque, which, by her green-painted hull, I soon enough recognized as the Lydia. She was struggling slowly onward against the rapids of Hoy Sound, with the wind on her starboard quarter, and as we got nearer her I could see the extent of the damage she had sustained in the late storm. She had lost her fore and main topgallant masts, and her port bulwarks were stove in. The quarter boat was missing and her jolly boat was gone.
She came along at the rate of about two knots, under close-reefed topsails, storm trysails, and spanker. We could hear Captain Gordon's voice directing the working of the ship, and once I saw him on the quarterdeck, leaning over the rail to watch us. His head was bandaged as if from some accident. On the forecastle deck the mate and some men stood watching our approach, with ropes ready to throw out to us.
I became inwardly excited when the moment came that was to determine everything; and even my father was a little pale as he steered us steadily towards the lee side of the Lydia. We came within a hundred yards of her when he cried out, "Lower away!" and I heard the same order given on the St. Magnus.
Down came our sail in quick obedience, and at the same time oars were put out to prevent the strong stream and the way we had on us from sweeping us past the vessel.
The Lydia was now in a most dangerous part of the channel, where the rapid tide was met by the equally rapid stream of Burra Sound from the south side of Graemsay island. They formed a wide, swift current of broken water, which swirled and eddied about with a rough irregular motion. As our boat passed the bowsprit of the Lydia, my father turned her head towards the ship, and my uncle Mansie was alert and ready to catch the coil of rope that was at that moment thrown down to us from the barque's forecastle.
I think the rope was awkwardly thrown, or the man throwing it had miscalculated the rate at which we were driving past. Howbeit, the rope fell across our stern, beyond Mansie's reach. Leaving the tiller my father seized it with the intention of passing it forward to my uncle, holding the coil in one hand and the line in the other. As he rose from his seat, however, the rope was by some stupid mistake suddenly made secure on board the ship instead of being paid out, and my father was instantly jerked into the sea.
"Let go the rope!" Tom Hercus shouted to my father.
But the seaman in charge of the line on the ship's deck, taking the order as meant for himself, cast off the rope, the end of which dropped overboard before the error was discovered. Thus the rope my father held was fastened neither to the ship nor to the boat. He was a powerful swimmer, but he soon became entangled in the coil of rope in such a manner that the more he struggled to free himself the worse became the tangle, so that his very efforts to swim made his position more difficult than if he had remained still.
This could all be seen from the Lydia, and ropes and life buoys, which he failed to catch, were thrown to him as he rose for a moment to the surface and finally disappeared.
Now this unhappy incident threw us all into such confusion and consternation aboard the Curlew, dividing our men's attention between attempting to reach the drowning skipper and endeavouring to secure another rope thrown from the ship, that all control of the boat was lost. The Curlew was capsized by the treacherous current, and we were all engulfed without a moment's warning.
An awful exclamation of "Oh, God!" was the last thing I heard as I sank below the waves, and then the water rushed into my open mouth, and I felt my cap torn from my head. Down, down I sank, struggling, yet with my eyes open, while the water became dark around me and I was drawn along by the whirling undercurrent.
I raised my hands above my head and tried to regain the surface and get breath; but it was many moments before my eyes were gladdened at seeing the water grow greener and brighter. Then I could see the sunlight above me glancing and dancing in the surrounding water; then at last I felt that my hands had reached the surface, my head rose up into the open air, where I gasped and got breath. I swam about for a little, thinking only of keeping myself above water, but when I got my full breath again and found that I could keep afloat without great effort, I looked around me and remembered what had happened.
There was the ship, the Lydia, lying athwart the channel, ten fathoms or so away from me, and I could see the St. Magnus beating down towards me. I looked for my father and my uncle Mansie and the other men, but could see none of them anywhere. Probably my own lightness, and the fact that I was not, like them, encumbered with heavy sea boots, had aided me in coming up to the surface before them. But I could not have helped them, even had they stood in need of such help as mine, and I knew that they were all good swimmers, so I turned round on my breast with the current and continued swimming towards the Curlew, which now floated, bottom up, to the seaward side of me.
The St. Magnus very soon came within hail, drifting with the rapid stream. The men were at the oars, though they only used them to steady the boat and hold her back.
Just as they were abreast of me the man at the bow cried out, "There's old Slater! Port your helm!" and the boat's head was turned away from my direction, for they had not seen me.
As she slewed round, however, Tom Kinlay. who sat at the stern, caught sight of me swimming close under the boat's side. So near to him was I, indeed, that by stretching out his arm he might have caught my upraised hand. Our eyes met, and a smile of triumph played about his lips. The boat was rowed away from me without his uttering a word or once attempting to save me.
I kept steadily on my way, swimming towards the Curlew, nor did I once look round again for the St. Magnus.
The upturned boat was floating outward with the stream, and it took me a very long time and a strong swim, that tired my arms more than I can say, before I could be sure that I was shortening the distance that separated me from this one refuge. But at last the boat got into a whirling eddy that turned her round and round, and so kept her back until I was within a fathom of her. Yet even this short distance seemed more than I could now swim, for, with my clothes on and my jacket buttoned over me, my arms were not free enough to let me swim with any ease, and I began to despair and to flounder about in such eagerness to reach the boat, that I sank twice under the waves and got my mouth filled with the briny water.
In my growing fear, however, I thought of the viking's stone that hung under my waistcoat. Surely now was a time to test its power, I thought, and the thought gave me courage. Renewing my efforts, I at length reached the boat and grasped the rudder. But the rudder came away in my hand, having been displaced in the capsizing of the boat. This, however, aided me in keeping afloat till I was enabled to reach the boat again and cling to the keel.
Now was I in comparative safety, for I did not doubt that Carver Kinlay would see me and bear down to rescue me.
When, after many failures, I managed to climb up the side of the boat and get astride of her keel, I began to feel sick with the sea water I had swallowed and weak after my long swim. Then my head grew dizzy, a mist came over my eyes, and I fainted away.
Chapter XXI. The Rescue.
When I returned to consciousness the warm sunlight was slanting down upon me. I opened my eyes and saw the snowy clouds floating in the blue sky. I thought I had but fallen asleep in the stern of the Curlew as she lay against the jetty on that Sabbath afternoon.
I felt the boat rising and falling gently on the tide. All was quiet, except for the swishing of the water against the planks of the boat.
I tried to speak:
"Father," I said, thinking he was there on the jetty smoking.
Then I felt a hand laid gently on my breast and a shadow crossed between me and the sun.
"He is waking!" said a voice that sounded as sweet as the song of the skylark to my ears: "Halcro! Halcro!"
A soft hand raised my head, and then I saw, looking down into my eyes, a beautiful face, framed in a mass of waving hair that the sunlight had turned into brightest gold. It was the face of Thora Kinlay.
How Thora came to be there, leaning over me, I could not tell. My mind was in a strange confusion, and I remembered nothing of what I had gone through. But soon I heard another voice speaking to me. It was the voice of my sister Jessie.
"Halcro! Halcro!" it murmured.
"Where am I?" I asked; for I could not understand how I came to be lying in the bottom of a little sailing boat with my limbs all aching and trembling.
And Jessie and Thora were at my side—Jessie steering, and Thora holding the rope of the little lug sail. How did it all come about?
Then Jessie, bidding me lie still, told me in a few words how she and Thora had watched the race between the Curlew and the St. Magnus, standing on the high ground of the Ness point. They had seen the accident, and had immediately put out together in a little boat that was lying on the beach. They had rescued me from the upturned Curlew, where I lay in a faint, and were now making for the Lydia.
"Have they saved father?" I asked.
But the girls did not know. They had not seen anyone picked up by the St. Magnus.
"Where is Carver's boat now?" I inquired; and feeling my strength return to me somewhat, I raised myself up and sat on the seat at the stern beside my sister, while Thora went forward to the mast to be in readiness to lower the sail.
We were now, as I could see, only a few fathoms distant from the Lydia, which was lying athwart the stream, thus breaking the force of the current, and making it possible for us to draw up alongside. The St. Magnus was already there, having, as I afterwards found, given up the search for the unfortunate crew of the Curlew. Carver Kinlay was aboard on the quarterdeck engaged in an altercation with the skipper, who stood at the gangway.
"Heave us a rope, captain!" cried out Jessie; and Thora caught the line that was thrown down, while I helped her to draw our boat to the ship's side.
My clothes were still very wet in spite of the warm sun; but, with some difficulty, I got up the barque's side and joined Captain Gordon at the gangway.
"Have any of our men been saved?" I asked. "My father, is he—?"
But I saw by the skipper's downcast face that the worst had happened. I turned to Kinlay:
"Did you not pick up any of them?" I inquired.
"It was no use," said he sullenly. "We could save none of them."
"You might very well have done so if you'd been more prompt," said Captain Gordon. "I saw two of the poor men above water when you turned to come back."
"Why did ye not send out a boat yerself, then?" said Kinlay.
"Because I have none, except the lifeboat there. We lost the others in the storm. But it was little use my thinking of launching a heavy lifeboat when you were afloat there at hand."
"Well, well, it couldn't be helped," said Kinlay. "It was their own fault they were capsized, and there's no use talking. Put your helm to starboard, skipper, and let's get you into port."
"Is this man a pilot, Ericson?" asked Captain Gordon, turning to me.
"No," I said; "I believe he has not yet taken out his license. He started piloting two days since in opposition to my father."
Kinlay scowled almost savagely at me for saying this. But I knew very well that he was not a fully qualified pilot, whatever he might become, now that my father was drowned. He lost much of his swaggering manner, however, and was very quiet when Captain Gordon ordered him off the ship.
"Since that is so, then," said the captain, "you may leave this ship, and young Ericson will take us into the harbour. The lad may have no more claim to pilot us than yourself, but I doubt not he is quite as capable."
Kinlay walked across the quarterdeck at this dismissal, but as he put one leg over the gangway to get down to his boat, he said in a hoarse voice, and with a sly leer in his dark eye:
"I say, skipper, if ye're examined by the authorities, just say you gave every assistance—that ye hove ropes over—d'ye see? It's a very lamentable thing. But it was their own faults, their own faults."
"What d'ye mean?" said the captain. "I did heave ropes over, and I need tell no lies about it. I gave more assistance than you did, ye blackguard."
"Oh, very well, very well! I thought I'd just put you on your guard, d'ye see, in case you're examined."
And so saying, Kinlay disappeared over the rail, and was soon sailing away, taking Thora with him.
My sister Jessie had come aboard while Carver and the captain were altercating. She came up to the captain and in great distress asked him if he was sure no more could be done to find our father and the other men; at which he expressed his belief that it was impossible to do anything further. I must add that this was also my own impression, for I well knew that as the poor fellows had been unable to keep afloat until Kinlay came up to them, nothing could now save them from that terrible current.
But already we could see that there were several boats out looking for the men. They could do more than we, for in the meantime the Lydia was herself running into some danger, drifting outward with the current.
I spent no time in expressions of regret or lamentation over the calamity that had befallen the men of the Curlew; but, feeling that it was in some measure my duty to undertake the work my father had set out to perform, I told Captain Gordon the best course to take to cheat the tide, and gave him such advice as only a person acquainted with Hoy Sound could possibly give. Under these directions the barque was guided through the easiest channels into the smooth water inside the Holms, where the anchor was dropped and the vessel secured.
Captain Gordon, who had been very kind to me during all this time, procured me a can of hot coffee to send away my chill. He then threw a warm pea jacket over my trembling shoulders, and came ashore with us in the small boat that Jessie and Thora had taken the use of. He also accompanied us to our home to break the sad news to our mother—a mission in which he showed a fine tenderness and sympathy of heart.
Chapter XXII. After The Accident.
The sad catastrophe in Hoy Sound cast a gloom over the little town of Stromness, where the unfortunate men had been held in great respect. By the fishers and sailors of the island Sandy Ericson had been regarded as a sort of chief. When any ship touched at the port it was his genial face that was first seen, and when they passed on their long voyages to distant lands it was he who gave the last word of farewell. Among the women he had been esteemed as an oracle, to whom they went for comfort in stormy weather when in doubt as to the fate of lovers or husbands at the fishing; and even the young children had learned to know his heavy stride, and to run into the street when he approached, that they might cling to his great, gentle hand and hear his kind, cheery voice.
The accident had been seen by a large number of women who had gathered on the Lookout Hill, where they were wont to assemble in rough weather when watching for the return of the fishing smacks. When the Curlew was seen to capsize a loud shriek rent the air, for all knew that to be cast into that dreadful tideway meant almost certain death. The impulse of my sister Jessie and Thora to put out in a small boat that lay at the water's edge, on the possible chance of saving some of us, was, therefore, looked upon as a mad freak. But when the two girls were seen to rescue me from the upturned boat, they were praised for their promptitude.
My own rescue, however, was much marvelled at. I had been known as a good swimmer; but that was not extraordinary in a place where swimming and cliff climbing were learnt before the alphabet. What was wondered at was that I had managed to keep afloat and swim so far when all the men had perished. When it was whispered about, therefore, that I was in possession of a magic stone which had the power of protecting me from the dangers of the deep, the credulous people readily grasped at the explanation of supernatural assistance, and thenceforth I was distinguished amongst them as one over whom Providence had cast a miraculous garment to protect me, as Earl Ewan was protected in the olden time.
But if by the people of Stromness generally the calamity was lamented over, how much keener was the grief of those who had been bereft of husbands, fathers, brothers! All the men of the Curlew were married and had families, with the exception of my uncle Mansie. But in Mansie's death my mother had to mourn the loss of a brother in addition to the loss of her husband.
In our house in the Anchor Close, where the crew had so often sat in readiness to put out the boat, all was now hushed, and the busy life of my mother and Jessie was suddenly checked and deprived of all hope, their domestic duties robbed of all meaning. My mother wandered about the house in melancholy, or sat before the fire expressing her woe in long-drawn sighs. Very often she walked down the jetty and looked out across the breezy bay, as though she expected to see the Curlew coming in, and then she would return with tears filling her eyes, and take up her knitting to hide her grief in work, forgetting for the moment that the stockings she was making were for him who would never, never wear them.
As for myself, my life seemed empty of ambition, now that the Curlew was sunk and my father and the men had gone. I had learnt to hope that I might be a pilot some day; but where were my prospects now? That I must go out to some work was evident, but what was to be the nature of that work was left to more mature consideration, or to some happy chance or opportunity. In the meantime I was to remain away from school.
There was no lack of sympathy for us on the part of our neighbours for many days after the accident. Mr. Moir, the minister, was among the first who called, bringing much comfort to my poor widowed mother; the schoolmaster also came, with great sorrow on his face, and many a good word he spoke of my father; while Captain Gordon visited us again and again so long as his ship lay in port.
Chapter XXIII. Gray's Inn.
About midway along the crooked, narrow street of Stromness stood the one house of entertainment of the port—Gray's Inn—where the wind-bound sailors and idle fishermen usually regaled themselves and spun yarns. The host, Oliver Gray, who was himself a retired seaman, had sought to attract his customers by hanging out over his front door a sign which was calculated to win the good opinion of all seafaring folk. It was a representation of a clipper in full sail on a raw green sea. Oliver took great pride in this picture, and it was commonly believed that he had had a hand in the painting of it. When it was praised he was profuse in his acknowledgments; but if a critical captain asked him how it was that, though the ship was sailing before the wind, yet her colours were all flying aft, or inquired whether it was grass or cabbages she sailed upon, Oliver was less eager to claim any artistic ability, and hurried the critic into the house lest he should also discover that the shrouds had been omitted by the painter.
Gray's Inn was not an ordinary public house, and beyond the signboard announcement that "Spiritis and aile is retailed here" there was little to indicate its commercial character. The parlour was a large room with a window at each end—one facing the street, the other being so situated that the seamen sitting at the large centre table could look out at their ships riding at anchor across the bay. There was no counter or bar, and the liquor was brought "ben" by Oliver or his sonsie wife.
One Saturday morning I had to go there to see old David Flett about a boat that Captain Gordon wanted to buy from him. I found him at the inn before me, sitting there with a goodly company of Stromness men and skippers, whose ships were, like the Lydia, undergoing repairs or waiting for fair winds.
When I went in he was talking with a skipper whom he was evidently well acquainted with. This was Captain Wemyss of The Duncans, outward bound for Bombay. Wemyss had been lying in the harbour for over a week, and now that fair weather had come, and the wind was veering round to a favourable quarter, he was contemplating weighing anchor. His vessel was a full-rigged ship, the largest in the bay; and all the other skippers seemed to pay him a degree of respect equal to the size of his ship. They looked upon him with such deference, indeed, that not one of them would think of heaving anchor until he led the way.
In the mornings, when they turned out, they never looked at the sky or the direction of the wind; they instinctively turned to The Duncans, and if the Blue Peter was not at her fore peak they made arrangements for spending still another day among the Orkneys.
What in Wemyss tended to call forth a good deal of respect was that he seldom mixed with the other captains, but condescended to take only a single glass with a select few. I noticed that he preferred the company of Bailie Duke, or of Lloyd's agent, and other magnates of the town.
Flett received me with a friendly welcome when I went into the inn, ordering a cup of coffee for me, and bidding me sit beside him until Captain Gordon should join us. He spoke of me to Captain Wemyss, and at that the whole company present fell to talking of the accident in the Sound. They were in the midst of a discussion as to the cause of the disaster when Captain Gordon entered, accompanied by Bailie Duke.
Gordon was somewhat of a stranger to them all, so Captain Wemyss gave the names of the others, including Lloyd's agent, Captain Miller of the Albatross, and Captain Abernethy of the brig Enterprise, the last of whom, I may tell you, was the officer my father had described to Gordon as knowing so little of navigation that he had, after cruising out of sight of land for some months, mistaken the Mainland of Orkney for one of the West Indian Islands.
Bailie Duke, whose happy face wore a constant smile, and whose bright eyes seemed ever to be asking questions, took his seat in the armchair, and passing his snuffbox round the company, very soon took the lead in the conversation. He was the chief magistrate of the town, but he did not assume any undue dignity on that account. Indeed, his long life among the simple fisher folk of Stromness, and his business connection with ships—for the bailie was a shipping agent—had given him a sympathy with all persons connected with the sea which quite overrode his dignity as a magistrate. He could talk of ships as learnedly as any of the captains, and of every vessel that had been in the harbour for the last twenty years he could tell the name and history whenever he saw her again. As for his knowledge of freights, duty, stability, and the ordinary affairs of shipping, he was the one man in Stromness whose word was taken above all others.
When Bailie Duke was comfortably settled in his easy chair, and there was a lull in the noise of conversation, he turned to Captain Gordon and asked him to tell the company how he had come by the hurt in his head, and what sort of a time he had had in the recent storm.
"Well, ye see," said Gordon, taking a glance round his hearers' faces, "it was a most unlucky affair from the first. I was warned before I left Stromness that my masts were too high, and in addition to the fear of losing them I was troubled by my men declaring that the ship was bewitched. We were overrun with mice, d'ye see. Well, I got a cat, a wild-like animal, from old Grace Drever here. Young Ericson brought the beast aboard, but what became of it I cannot exactly tell, for no man could find it, though we could often hear its wild squealing at night.
"From the moment Pilot Ericson left us outside the Sound we encountered misfortune. We reached Cape Wrath after a struggle against contrary winds, and off the Butt of Lewis we lay to for two days. The men swore that the cat down the hold was possessed of some evil demon, and that we would never make any progress on the voyage unless we turned back and took the animal home. Well, we beat about until we sighted St. Kilda, where wet weather came on, and a gale from the west sprang up. We made no headway, and the island lay like an impassable rock on our beam for three days. The sea came rolling on from the west—great snow-topped mountains of waves—and the spray and the cutting sleet were hard to stand against. One night we shipped a heavy sea, which carried away our port bulwarks and stanchions and sent me into the lee scuppers, where I was stunned by a blow on the head. The same sea smashed the jolly boat.
"I was insensible for a couple of days, and when I crept on deck again I found the other boat had been stove in. The fore and main topgallant masts were gone. I was standing on the quarterdeck, when, just at midnight, I was startled by a most unearthly caterwauling, as though all the furies in the infernal regions had broken loose. I looked in the direction it came from, and, behold! there stood the cat like a frightful apparition. He seemed four times his original size, and his eyes were like two gleaming fires. Even now I am not sure if it was the flesh-and-blood Baudrons or his ghost come to explain the mystery of his disappearance, and vent his displeasure at me for having taken him from his comfortable home. As I looked at the goblin cat my head reeled and I fell on the deck.
"Next morning all was calm and bright; but we were disabled, and it was necessary to put back for repairs. You may think what you like, mates, but as sure as we're here, it was nothing but the cat that brought on the gale and gave me my ill luck; the worst calamity of all being the loss of the pilot and his crew."
"Ay," said Bailie Duke, "but the cat had nothing to do with the loss of the pilots. Nobody can be blamed for that but Carver Kinlay."
"No," added Oliver Gray, "a greater rascal than Carver never set foot in Orkney, nor a braver man than Ericson."
"Well," said Captain Wemyss, "this Kinlay may do as he likes, but I for one will have no business with him."
"Nor I neither," said Captains Johnson and Miller at once.
"He's no proper pilot," said Gray, "and has no right to run a boat."
"I'm afraid, gentlemen," put in Lloyd's agent with a tone of authority, "you're a wee bit too late in bringing forward your objections, for I'm informed that Kinlay has already taken out all necessary papers, and is now a duly certified pilot."
"What!" exclaimed Abernethy. "I'd sooner employ young Ericson here than Kinlay; I'm sure the lad kens more about the coast."
"I'd trust that lad to take my ship through any channel in Orkney," added Captain Gordon. "He brought us through on Sunday, and I never saw a pilot—except his father—handle a ship with greater skill."
Mr. Gordon was speaking thus in my praise, when who should walk into the inn but Carver Kinlay himself.
Carver had on a new suit of clothes of blue cloth, and his high boots, reaching above the knees, were newly polished with oil. At his waist he wore a leather belt from which was suspended a long sheath knife. He walked in with a jaunty air of self importance, but with a slightly unsteady gait, which showed how he had been celebrating his appointment. He approached Captain Wemyss, and addressed him.
"Ye'll be weighing anchor on Monday morning, captain, I suppose? What time shall I come aboard?"
"I never asked you to come aboard my ship, my man," said Captain Wemyss. "What is it you want?"
"Why, d'ye not know I'm the pilot?"
Captain Abernethy interrupted him, and drew him round by the shoulder to face the company, saying:
"You'd not be the pilot if you hadna gotten the post by your crafty, sneaking, murderous villainy, Carver Kinlay. What business had you putting out to the Lydia on Sunday?"
"What business is that of yours?" was the response.
"Every one has business in a case like this," said Abernethy, "and I'll wager a thousand pounds if you hadn't gone out the accident wouldn't have happened. It was nothing else than the fear that you'd get aboard before them that made the men think of boarding the barque in such a hurry, and so far out. I knew the men well, poor fellows, and they were all decent men and good pilots, every one of them."
While Abernethy was saying this, Kinlay was venting a torrent of oaths and words in disparagement of my father and his men.
"You villain! you rascal!" continued the skipper, "if you say another word against Sandy Ericson I'll pitch you out at the window!"
At the same time Bailie Duke stepped forward and said:
"Now just hold your filthy tongue, Kinlay. You've been trying for years to do what you've done now. You've gotten your wish; what more do you want?"
The bailie succeeded in quieting him, and Carver slunk off to a corner of the room. The company, after this interruption, dispersed, leaving only Captain Gordon, Kinlay, Captain Miller, and myself.
No further words had been exchanged before a stalwart fisherman entered. I immediately recognized Jack Paterson. Jack was, as I have before said, a powerful man. He came in with a firm resolution in his step, and looked around the room. We watched him closely, for there was something strange in his look.
On seeing Kinlay he walked straight up to him, laid a big hand on his shoulder—the hand that wanted a finger—and, without a word, dragged him to the middle of the room. Kinlay turned quickly round, and putting his hand on his sheath knife drew the weapon. Without hesitation Paterson stepped forward and dealt a tremendous blow with his fist on Carver's nose.
"Ye ken what that's for—I needna tell ye," said Paterson; and Kinlay reeled over and fell upon the floor, while Jack Paterson walked quietly into the street.
The explanation of this swift chastisement was this. There had that morning been a small indignation meeting of Stromness fishermen. They were all determined that Kinlay should see they had no sympathy with him, and the purpose of the meeting was to determine what form of vengeance they should employ.
Their method was simply that which Jack Paterson had carried out, in boldly confronting Kinlay with closed fists; and when Jack's fellow fishermen heard what he had done their revenge was satisfied, and they returned to their daily duties with accustomed quietude, only agreeing in this, that thereafter Carver Kinlay was to be recognized as the common enemy of all true Orkney men; that he was not to be molested, but that none was to give him help in any way soever.
Chapter XXIV. Carver Kinlay's Success.
The Lydia was laid up for about a fortnight. A slight delay in completing her repairs was occasioned by the want of timber—a scarce commodity in Orkney, where there are no trees—but suitable material was procured from a homeward-bound ship. Captain Gordon never, in my hearing, referred directly to my sister Jessie's caution about the barque's masts; but I noticed that the new masts were made shorter and stouter than those that had suffered in the storm. There was also some difficulty in procuring new boats for the ship; but Captain Flett at last found a jolly boat, and one morning early I took it out to the Lydia.
When I went below I found Mr. Gordon sitting over his breakfast with Marshall, his first mate. I remained talking with them for some time, when we were interrupted by one of the ship's boys, who came down with a note to the skipper.
Captain Gordon read it with some show of consternation.
"What can be the meaning of that, Marshall?" he asked, handing the piece of paper across the table to the mate.
"Why, captain, I suppose you've been getting into some scrape ashore," said Marshall.
"Scrape! I've been in no scrape," said Gordon, "unless, indeed, it be the accident last Sunday week."
And he handed the note to me, asking if I could throw any light upon it.
The note was from Bailie Duke, and it ran as follows:
"Be in readiness. An officer from Kirkwall will be on board of you in a little with a summons.—Yours, &c., H. Duke."
I had hardly finished reading it when a noise as of someone boarding was heard on deck, and presently Captain Miller of the Albatross came rushing down the cabin stairs. He was evidently newly out of his bunk for his face was unwashed, his hair uncombed, and his large overcoat was roughly thrown over his sleeping clothes.
"What the mischief does this mean?" he exclaimed throwing a note on the table the facsimile of that which was puzzling Captain Gordon.
The two skippers were forming surmises, and were at last consoling themselves that it was some playful trick of the bailie's, when Marshall whispered through the skylight that a boat with seven men in it was pulling towards the ship.
"Show them down if they come aboard, then," ordered Gordon.
And Captain Miller rushed into the pantry to hide, dreading something serious; for he had let it out to us that he had been "on the spree" the night before, and was not the quietest of the company of which he had been a member. He locked the pantry door as he heard footsteps on the companion ladder.
Two men entered the cabin. One was a big seafaring man with a weatherbeaten face. The very appearance of his companion betrayed the fact that he was the "officer from Kirkwall."
"Beautiful morning this!" observed the big man, addressing Captain Gordon. Then after a pause he added: "We have just come, captain, to ask the favour of your company with us to Kirkwall. The officer here has a summons for you, I believe, and also one for Captain Miller of the Albatross, who is not at present on his ship."
Here a deep groan came from the direction of the pantry.
"A summons!" echoed Gordon. "What—why—what d'ye mean? What have I been doing?"
"Oh! my dear sir," returned the officer from Kirkwall, "you do not seem to understand the nature of the thing. You have done nothing at all, my dear sir. We only want you to come to Kirkwall as a witness in the case of assault—'Kinlay versus Paterson'—to be tried today at Kirkwall."
"Oh! then, if that's all, I'm here," said Captain Miller, coming in from the pantry and adjusting his coat.
"That is," said the man with the weatherbeaten face, supplementing the officer's explanation—"that is the case of the broken nose, captain. Now, we—that is, Mr. Watt and myself—have nothing to do with it, really and truly; but the matter is just this, we are anxious to clear off Jack Paterson, who is in our boat alongside with us—"
Here the speaker was interrupted by the appearance of Captain Abernethy.
"Come on, Gordon, old boy!" said he; "come along. I'm going to pay all expenses, every penny of them. I'm willing to sport a thousand pounds to clear Jack Paterson. Only to think of that scurvy rascal Kinlay bringing up Jack, and him with a wife and a whole crew of young children. Shall we allow it? No; not if I can help it. Come along!"
Abernethy was generous, certainly. He had lately, as I heard, fallen heir to the sum of five hundred pounds sterling, and his willingness to "sport" his thousands on every important occasion was one of his chief characteristics at this period.
"But how far is this place Kirkwall?" asked Captain Gordon. "How long will it take us to get there?"
"How far! Oh! only a matter of a few hours' sail," said Abernethy. "I've got my pinnace out, and we'll have a fine jaunt. Come along!"
"No. I've to see old Flett this morning to pay him some money. Besides, we're too many for the pinnace. Can we not go by road?"
And Captain Gordon looked to me for an answer.
"You can get Oliver Gray's pony and gig," I replied. "It's about fourteen miles by road."
"Will you come with me, then, Halcro?" he asked.
"Certainly; I'll be very glad. I know the way well."
The two other skippers, with Mr. Watt and the rest, then made arrangements for their boating party, intending to sail round to Scapa, and thence walk across the little peninsula to Kirkwall.
When Mr. Gordon had brushed himself up a bit, we went ashore together and found out Davie Flett, whose business occupied very little of the captain's time, and soon we were at the door of Oliver Gray's inn watching his Shetland pony being harnessed into the gig.
"Now, Halcro, are you going to drive? Up you get," said Mr. Gordon.
"Surely you dinna expect me to drive, Captain Gordon!" I exclaimed. "Why, I never held a pair of reins in my life!"
"All right, my lad! get over to larboard there, and I'll see what we can do. You can be pilot and give your orders, and I'll take the helm.
"Come along, Sheltie; off we go!"
The weather was very fine, the roads in good condition, and the pony fresh, so that we looked for a very pleasant drive to the capital. We drove along the north road by Hamla Voe and past the green cornfields of Cairston, and then over the hill until the great loch of Stenness stretched before us, reflecting on its surface the dappled, woolly clouds.
When we reached the Bridge of Waithe and turned westward, I asked my companion to slacken pace, for I had seen on the white road in advance of us two figures that were familiar to me.
"Who are they, Halcro?" Mr. Gordon inquired; "two of your school friends, eh?"
"Yes," I replied. "The lassie walking on the grass with the bare feet and carrying a green bag is Hilda Paterson—Jack Paterson's daughter."
"Ay! Jack Paterson's girl, eh? Well, and the other one with the pretty hair, walking along here like a stately young princess, who is she?"
We were already close to the two girls, however, and I hesitated to reply. He drew the reins, and I saw him regarding the elder girl with great interest.
She raised her blue eyes as we stopped—eyes as blue and clear as the sky itself. Her fair hair hung in waves about her shoulders, and as her rosy lips were parted to say, "Good morning, Halcro!" they revealed a row of white and regular teeth.
"Good morning, Thora!" I said in reply to the greeting she had given.
"I hope your foot is mending," said she very gently.
"Yes," said I; and Captain Gordon turned to me as though he wondered at my sudden shyness.
Thora looked down at a daisy growing at her feet in the green turf, seeming to seek inspiration from its golden heart. Then she raised her eyes to me again and said softly—oh, so softly:
"I'm real glad, Halcro, that ye werena drowned when the Curlew was wrecked."
I was about to thank her for the part she had taken in my rescue when Captain Gordon interrupted. Said he:
"If that sinner, Carver Kinlay, had had his own way Halcro would have been drowned like the rest."
Thora's cheeks grew crimson.
"It is my father you speak of, sir," she said very bravely; "and I hope what ye say isna true."
"Your father! Carver Kinlay your father!" exclaimed the skipper incredulously. "Really, I beg your pardon, my girl."
But already there was a tear in Thora's eye, and she turned to join Hilda Paterson, who had gone on in advance. And the two girls walked onward to school.
"Well!" ejaculated the captain as he whipped up pony, "well, I should never have believed it!"
"Believed what, Mr. Gordon?" I asked.
"Why, that such a sweet young girl as that was the daughter of that villainous Carver Kinlay."
"Ay! Thora's a bonnie lassie," I observed, with more feeling than I meant the words to convey; "and she's as good as bonnie."
"My lad, thank Heaven that your lucky stone and your splendid swimming saved you from that dreadful Sound of Hoy."
"I would rather they had saved my father, Mr. Gordon."
"I've no doubt you would, Halcro; but I was thinking of something else. I was thinking that when you grow older, and when little Thora—as you name her—is a woman—"
"Tuts! Mr. Gordon," said I, guessing what he would be at. "The Kinlays and the Ericsons will never be friends."
Thereafter Captain Gordon became very quiet and thoughtful, and when again he spoke it was about my own sister Jessie. He asked me many a question concerning her; and if I turned from the subject to point out some object in the scenery that I thought would interest him, he was sure to lead me back in some way to talk of Jessie.
We had now passed by the standing stones of Stenness, which my companion showed but little interest in, saying they were nothing compared with the Druid circle of Stonehenge, in England; and our way then lay along a straight uninteresting road past Finstown, and by the southern shores of the Bay of Firth, where the green holms of Damsay and Grimbister lay like floating gardens on the calm water. Soon the great red cathedral of St. Magnus loomed in sight above the antique houses of Kirkwall; and after our drive of fourteen miles we entered the old town and pulled up at the courthouse, where we met Abernethy and Miller and the rest who had been of the boating party.
I took the pony and gig to the Falcon Inn, and left them there until the trial should be over. I was alone the rest of the morning, for such an important trial as that of "Kinlay versus Paterson" must be conducted in private, and only those who appeared as witnesses or in other capacities connected with the case were permitted to be present.
But the time was not spent wearily, for I knew the town of Kirkwall very well, and there were many folks anxious to hear from me the full particulars of the fatality in Hoy Sound. Amongst these was old Colin Lothian, whose wanderings had brought him to Kirkwall. The old man sat with me on a stone seat in the shadow of the cathedral, and talked long of the accident and of my own blighted prospects, and at length of the trial that was now going on in the courthouse.
I mentioned Thora, and said we had met her on the road in company with Hilda Paterson. Colin was fond of Thora, and talked of her with affection, notwithstanding his hatred of her father.
"Ay, there again, there again, you see," said he. "What cares the lass though her father brings up Jack Paterson? It doesna make a bawbee's difference in Thora's liking for Jack's lass. Ah there's good in Thora. She's a right good girl, my lad, and I warrant she would do anything for them that are good wi' her."
As we sat there Captain Gordon joined us sooner than I expected, and I asked him how they had settled the case.
"Oh!" said he, "the trial hasn't begun yet; the humbug of a sheriff clerk has sent us away till three o'clock."
"What like a man is the sheriff's clerk, sir?" asked Lothian.
"I can't tell you that, my man, for we never saw him," replied the skipper. "He has a clerk, who has also a clerk, and this last one is the only one we saw. Why, the Governor of Jamaica has not so many functionaries."
Until three o'clock Captain Gordon went about the town with me—to the cathedral, where he examined the old Norman arches, the dim old epitaphs, and other relics of antiquity contained within these ancient temple walls. There were many other sights of curious interest to the captain about Kirkwall; for here were the decayed palaces of earls, the halls of old sea kings, and thick-walled mansions of the lordly times—many of them degraded into hostelries and shops, but all of them showing something of the glories of old Orcadia. Thus we passed the time until three o'clock.
In the evening, when I joined the Stromness party, I found Captain Abernethy exclaiming in indignant terms against the result of the trial.
"I knew how it would go," he said; "but still I wanted just to show them what was what, ye see. Of course, it was as well they went through all the due forms. But only to think of Kinlay getting off so cleanly! I don't mind paying the fine, Jack—it has got you off going to jail—but, hang it, I don't like paying Kinlay's expenses."
Kinlay had gained the case. Jack Paterson was fined fifteen shillings and costs, or a fortnight in Kirkwall jail. Abernethy had paid the fine on the spot. Carver, therefore, was throughout successful.
Not only had he gained in the assault case, but in the matter of the piloting he was equally fortunate. He was permitted to carry on his business in the St. Magnus, and notices were posted up forthwith on the quays at Stromness to inform the inhabitants that Carver Kinlay of Crua Breck, in the parish of Sandwick, was a duly certified pilot of Pomona.
Chapter XXV. A Family Removal.
I was one evening walking over the heathery braes of Lyndardy, in the direction of Stromness, with my sister Jessie. The soft breeze from across the sea played with her brown hair, which was bound by the silken snood usually worn by the Orkney girls. A scarlet bootie shawl covered her shoulders. In her hand she carried a basket filled with kitchen vegetables from the farm.
As we walked our attention was directed to a number of fishing boats putting out to sea, and to the slow and mournful song of the fishermen as they set out, with the creaking of their long oars keeping time to the music of their voices. Then the red mainsails were hoisted to catch the light breeze blowing over from the region of the setting sun, and we stood and watched the boats.
But presently, as I looked further down the hillside where we were, I saw the figure of a man leaning upon a low stone wall. He was looking across to the wild headland of Hoy, where the red beetling cliffs reflected the sunlight.
"Jessie," I said, "is that Captain Gordon standing down there?"
Jessie turned her eyes in the direction I pointed, and her cheeks were flushed with the red light that fell upon them.
"Oh, Halcro!" she exclaimed, "I've forgotten to bring the butter. We must go back to the farm."
"Never mind, Jessie; I'll run back for it," I said, though I would have been glad to see the captain again.
She, however, made no objection, but let me go back to Lyndardy, while she continued her way towards Stromness.
I had been gone something like a half hour, and as I was returning, walking briskly over the heathery braes and skipping across the rippling burns, down the hillside in front of me I saw Jessie standing with Captain Gordon, and his arm was round her waist. I stopped suddenly, wondering if I should proceed further and interrupt them. And now I understood how it was that Jessie had forgotten the butter, and how she had so calmly agreed to my going back to the farm. I seemed also to understand how it was that Captain Gordon had spoken so much about my sister during our drive to Kirkwall. And with these explanations in my mind I took my way homeward by a roundabout path along the cliffs, and so passed unobserved, reaching Stromness just in time to see Jessie and the captain parting at the end of the town.
On the following day the Lydia set sail. It pained us to see the vessel taken out of port by Carver Kinlay; but when she had rounded the Ness, Jessie and I went up to the head of the cliffs and watched the white sails over the sea, until they became a mere speck on the far horizon. Then, as we were coming back, and I remarked the tears in Jessie's eyes, I learned what I had already partly guessed—that Captain Gordon had asked my sister to be his wife.
Hard was the struggle that we had at home, after the first weeks of mourning and grief that followed the loss of my father and uncle. We had now no regular source of income, beyond the few shillings every week that my mother and sister earned by the straw-plaiting industry. This was work that was common in Orkney at that time; but the English hat manufacturers, for whom the straw was plaited, were not always liberal in their payments, nor prompt; and it was only by very hard work that these few shillings could be earned.
My father had been thrifty, and had saved some little money; but when we came to calculate the full measure of our resources, we discovered that several alterations would have to be made in our mode of living. Not the least important of these changes was the necessity of an early removal to Lyndardy.
Lyndardy farm had been leased conjointly by my father and my uncle Mansie; and when there was no occasion for them to be out in the boat, the two men were in the habit of working together in the fields, as most of our neighbours worked. It was from Lyndardy that we were supplied with all our oatmeal, our eggs, cheese, butter, and vegetables. Fresh fish we could always procure in abundance from the sea and the lochs, and I was able sometimes to add to the general stock of provisions by the aid of my gun. The feathers and oil from the wild sea fowl I shot were sold or bartered for other commodities; and the wool of the few sheep we kept, and the flax we grew, were helpful in supplying us with clothing and other necessaries.
It was not long after my father had "gone before" that we removed from the old house in the Anchor Close.
Much of our familiar furniture was sold. My boat, too, was disposed of. Many a heart pang it cost us to leave the home at the waterside, but we all took kindly to the new life at the farm and its various duties. Jessie soon became skilled in the work of attending to the cows; and as for myself, I readily learned how to mend a gate, to dig potatoes, to look after the sheep, and even to follow the plough. Thus I busied myself until, in after-time, I was able to take to the sea.
When the warm weather came round, the boys and girls of Andrew Drever's school were dismissed for their holidays. Sometimes, when I saw some of them passing along the cliffs with their climbing ropes over their arms, I confess I felt some twinge of regret that I was no longer a schoolboy, and that my duties on the farm no longer permitted me to join in the pleasures of a bird-catching expedition. My fowling piece was now hung up in the barn, and few were my opportunities of taking it down. What sport it would have afforded me had I been still a schoolboy!
On a certain fine morning, soon after the holidays commenced, I was very busily employed at the work of helping in our sheep shearing—not that I myself ventured to handle the shears; my part in the business was simply to carry the wool into the loft, and to assist in bringing out the sheep from the pens as the shearers required them. My mother, who had been born and brought up on Lyndardy farm, was, however, an expert hand at sheep-shearing, and I believe there was no other woman in the whole parish of Stromness who could do the work with such speed and neatness.
I was admiring the skill with which she stripped a sheep of its fleece, and standing near her at the same time, with a black-faced ewe between my knees, ready to pass the animal to her when she was ready for it. Letting the shorn ewe escape, she stood up and looked over the moorland in the direction of Stromness.
"Hullo! here's some stranger coming up the brae," she said, shading her eyes with her hand. "Who in the world can it be, Halcro? Surely it's not the dominie?"
But the dominie it was. He came up to where we were at work, and sat upon a heathery knoll near my mother, with whom he engaged in some ordinary gossip.
"But," said he, after a while, "it was Halcro himself that I came up to see."
"Me!" I said. "What can ye want to see me about, Mr. Drever?"
"To tell you that I'm to gang to Edinburgh," he replied.
"To Edinburgh!" I exclaimed, wondering what his mission could be.
"Ay, Halcro, I'm to be there for a few weeks, partly on pleasure and partly on business, concerning our auld friend Jarl Haffling. The museum folk there are anxious to have the viking's treasure, and I hae gotten permission to deal wi' them in the matter. I dinna ken what money they will gie me for the things; but, ye see, whatever it be, Halcro, a third part of it will come to Hercus and Rosson and yersel', to be divided among ye. Do ye agree to that? Will ye trust me to transact the business for ye?"
"Oh, certainly, sir. But surely it's ower muckle trouble to put you to?" I said.
"Trouble! Dinna think o' trouble, lad. Why, these auld coins and things hae been mair pleasure to me than I can tell; for, look ye, all the time I hae had the keeping o' them, I hae been studying them; and—and, Halcro, I hae even written a little book about Jarl Haffling's grave, and I shouldna be surprised though that book be printed. Think o' that, lad! A book written by your ain dominie printed! Nay, nay, Halcro, dinna speak o' trouble."
"And what is being done about Tom Kinlay, sir?" I asked.
"Weel, as to that, ye see, the lad has broken the law by appropriating his part o' the treasure, and selling it. I can do nothing mysel', beyond stating the nature o' his offence. The law must tak' the matter into its own hands. Beyond a doubt it will do so; and ye'll see, Halcro, that it was far better for you and the other two lads to put the viking's treasure into my hands, instead o' makin' fools o' yersels as Tom Kinlay has done."
"I am sure, sir, I am perfectly satisfied," I said. "And now, Mr. Drever, I suppose you will wish me to give up my magic stone? Must it go to Edinburgh with the rest?"
"The talisman? Weel, I hadna thought that. Ye see, it isna worth muckle. No, I think ye needna send it now. But keep it wi' care, dinna lose it, just in case it is wanted. Of course I hae written about it in the book, and it may be claimed; but keep it for the present, Halcro."
The schoolmaster left me to continue my work, and three days afterwards I heard that he had started for Edinburgh in a trading sloop that plied between Kirkwall and Leith.
He was absent in Scotland for nearly two months, and when he returned I received a message from him asking me to bring Willie Hercus and Robbie Rosson down to the schoolhouse on a particular evening. He welcomed us with much affection, and during tea he related to us many of his experiences in Edinburgh.
But his chief reason for having us with him on that evening was, as he said, to give us an account of his stewardship in regard to the viking's treasure. He had had several interviews with the authorities of the Antiquarian Museum, with whom he had finally left the curiosities, receiving in return a due share of money to be delivered in equal portions to the three of us.
I believe that the Jarl Haffling's treasures may be seen to this day in the Antiquarian Museum of Edinburgh; but I have seen only the catalogue, in which the curiosities are enumerated and described as having been found by some boys playing on the shore of Skaill Bay, Orkney. Be that as it may, the money brought back by Mr. Drever—which was greatly in excess of our expectations, and allowed to each of us a share much larger than Tom Kinlay had received from old Isaac—came as a great help not only to my mother, but also to the widow of Tom Hercus, to say nothing of Mrs. Rosson, whose rent had fallen so far in arrear that she had been threatened with an eviction from her cottage, and was only saved by this timely assistance.
Chapter XXVI. A Subterranean Adventure.
It was little that I saw of my old school companions now that I had become a farm worker and spent my days in the fields. Sometimes, indeed, when I was tending my nibbling flock on the hillside, or driving them over to the distant pasture land by the margin of the loch of Harray, where the grass grew sweetest, I would chance to see Thora Kinlay on her way from Crua Breck to Stromness, and occasionally she would come to Lyndardy to see my sister Jessie. These were the summer days; but when the harvest season came round, and our crop of oats had to be gathered in, and, later still, our turnips stored away for the winter, I was then always busy with my work, and very seldom had opportunity of speaking with Thora, or of even seeing her from a distance.
And yet I had often a wish to be near her, and to show her what kindness or sympathy a lad can show to a girl whom he believes to have but little happiness in life. For the treatment that Thora received at her home was becoming day by day more severe.
With Tom she of course had no pursuits in common; he treated her with harshness, and as much as possible she avoided him. Even Mrs. Kinlay seemed to regard her with very scant affection, and as the girl grew in years her position at the farm became that of a servant rather than of a daughter. As for Carver Kinlay himself, he seldom spoke a gentle word to body or beast, and Thora had no exception from his severity. His continued ill treatment of her was, however, the more difficult to endure, since from simple abuse it often extended to actual brutality. She could never understand why her father and mother were so unkind to her, and to hear a few words of sympathy was always comforting.
One day late in the autumn I was tending our sheep on the banks above the cliffs of Gaulton, lying on the soft green turf with my hands under my chin, looking dreamily across the sea towards the blue outline of hills on the Scotch coast. I had just finished reading the last pages of Robinson Crusoe, and the book had fallen from my hand. Like my sheep, I was languid with the heat of the noonday sun, and the sight of the ships and the whirling seagulls was refreshing to me. The sound of the waves down below on the rocks was soothing.
Presently something dropped lightly on the grass before my eyes. It was a sprig of sweetbrier. I turned lazily and saw Thora standing by my side. Without speaking a word she sat down, and together we looked out upon the blue sea.
We remained silent for several moments without greeting each other. But at last I said:
"I was thinking maybe you'd be coming across to see me, Thora, one o' these bonnie days, now that we never meet at the school. It was good o' ye to come."
She turned to me with a smile, but I saw that her eyes were moistened with tears.
"What has gone wrong, Thora?" I continued. "Has Carver been ill using you again?"
"Yes, he's aye using me ill," she said, sobbing and wiping her eyes. "I was in the garden just now, nipping some dead leaves from the briar bush, when he came in at the gate. He never likes to see me among my flowers, and when he found me there he got into a passion, and walked over the beds, and kicked the plants about with his sea boots. Then he ordered me away into the house, and said that if I wanted work to do, I might go and clean out the stable. I told him that was a man's work, not a lassie's; and at that he took up a stick, and struck me with it across the back."
And here she sobbed again.
I did not speak, but I felt my blood run hot in indignation against Carver Kinlay. I would have liked to thrash him.
"If I were a lad like you, Halcro," she continued, "it's not long I would bide at Crua Breck. I would run away to sea. But what can a helpless lassie do? Nobody has a good word to say for my father since the Curlew was lost, and—I canna help it—I hae just as great an ill will at him as anybody else has."
"They say that it was all through Carver that my father was drowned," I said.
"Tell me, Halcro, what was the quarrel between your father and mine? What way did it come about?"
"Well, I canna tell ye the ins and outs o' it all, but my father had some secret about Carver, and Carver was aye afraid o' him. You see, Thora, folks say that when a man saves another from the sea, there's sure to be a quarrel between them. And my father saved Carver Kinlay—not, perhaps, from the sea, but he saved his life."
"How was that, Halcro?"
"It was when you were a bairn, Thora. A ship was wrecked here on the Gaulton rocks, and all your family were aboard. Your mother and Tom were picked up by the Curlew, but Carver and you werena found for some days after the wreck. My father found you both in a cave, down in the cliff, and if it hadna been for him, I suppose you wouldna be here now, Thora, to say that Carver had beaten you."
"That's a strange thing you're telling me, Halcro. I never heard of it before. And what ship was it that was wrecked?"
"The Undine! I've seen that name on a box at Crua Breck that father keeps his money in. But tell me all about it. Did Captain Ericson tell you about the wreck?"
"No. I only heard of it a week before he was drowned. It was Colin Lothian and my uncle Mansie that told it me. Auld Colin kens all about it, and more than he told to me."
"Colin is a good old man, Halcro. When next I see him I will ask him to tell me what it was that he kept from you. Colin would keep nothing from me, I believe."
"Maybe not. But listen, and I will give you the story as I heard it."
Thora lay down on the grass, with her hands under her chin, and I proceeded to tell her of the wreck of the Undine.
"Thank you, Halcro!" she said when I finished. "That is all very new to me. I remember nothing of being in that cave. How cold I must have been! But Carver was good to me then. I can almost forgive him for trampling over my flowers."
Then, after a pause, she asked: "Have you ever been in that cave, Halcro? Where is it?"
"I've not been in it," I said; "but I ken whereabout it is. Come and I will show you."
And then I took her out to an abutting point of the headland, and indicated the position of the cavern behind a great rock that hid its entrance, a few feet above the high-tide mark.
"Halcro, d'you think we could get down there and see the cave?" she asked. "Where are your climbing ropes?"
"We can manage it, I think, if you'll try it with me, Thora," I said.
"Ay will I try it. Do you think I'm afraid?" said she.
Now, this adventure that Thora proposed was no small one, for the North Gaulton cliffs are amongst the wildest and most rugged in all Pomona, and they are very steep and dangerous to the climber. Yet Thora was a cool-headed girl, strong of foot and wrist, and very adventurous. I remember on one occasion, when several of us were bird nesting together on the Black Craigs, she happened to get stranded on a corner of rock, and could not either return or get round the projecting point. I was watching her, and saw that she had the wrong foot foremost. Her position was extremely dangerous, for one false move would have sent her headlong to a frightful death. But, holding on with one hand, she coolly took a piece of oatcake from her pocket, and munched it. Then with a dexterous movement she changed her position, got safely round the point, and went onward.
"Why, Thora, were you not feared for yoursel?" I asked, when I got near her again.
"If I'd been feared, Halcro, I wouldna be here now," she quietly replied.
"I daresay that; but what made ye think of eatin' the bannock when ye were in such danger?"
And, said she, "Weel, I just thought I was needing it."
But with all Thora's daring I was too sensible of the dangers of the Gaulton Craigs to allow her to make the descent of an unfamiliar precipice without climbing ropes, and when we had determined to explore the cave, I ran home for my lines and an old piece of tar rope to use as a torch in case we should require a light.
Thora was anxious about my sheep possibly straying in my absence, but I had a certain confidence in my flock, and assured her that as I had never known them to stray, there was little danger of them doing so now, especially as I had no dog to drive them over the banks. We accordingly left the sheep grazing or sleeping contentedly on the open braes, and proceeded on our adventure.
One end of the rope was firmly secured round a jut of rock, so that the other extremity, when it was thrown over the brink, would fall as near as possible to the mouth of the cavern. I went down some distance to see that all was right and easy, and then we made the descent together.
Neither of us made much use of the rope, but it was there for Thora to take hold of if she should find that she could not get secure hold on the jags of rock for her feet and hands; and I kept close to her to aid her if need were. A stranger in Orkney might have marvelled to see us, a lad and lass, climbing with such ease about the face of a precipice of nearly two hundred feet in height above the turbulent sea; but the thing was simple enough to our practised hands and feet, and the regular layers and shelves of the old red sandstone afforded for the most part secure resting places.
As we got further down, the disturbed sea birds fluttered and screamed around our heads, the boldest even offering to peck at our hands, but fearing to do so for all the clatter they made about it.
Once a great gray brent goose, with black head and staring eyes, approached Thora with a loud, harsh cry, and flapped its wide, outstretched wings against her. Thora took hold of the rope tightly with both hands, and placing her feet on a narrow ledge of rock, looked round and uttered a shrill, "Tr-r-r-r," frightening the bird away.
When we got safely down to within a couple of fathoms of the surface of the clear water, we left the rope and made our way along a strip of flaggy gneiss, until we reached an immense boulder which had been detached from the main cliff. This great rock lay before the cavern in a way that, as we found, not only hid the entrance from view, but also—except, I suppose, in very stormy weather—prevented the sea from flowing in. I crept behind this barrier, holding Thora's hand, and we were soon at the mouth of the cave.
A slanting ray of sunshine found its way within, illumining the great vaulted roof and the dripping stalactites, that looked like giant icicles hanging above us. We were able to walk or scramble over the rocks and shingle for a considerable distance.
When we passed into a part of the grotto where the darkness deepened, however, Thora began to show signs of timidity. She spoke of having heard about many an Orcadian who, in attempting to reach the innermost recesses of such caverns, had been taken possession of by the evil spirits that were commonly believed to inhabit these places; and the strangely-echoing sounds we heard were exaggerated in her imagination, and became to her as the weird voices of kelpies and water nymphs.
I endeavoured to allay her fears as I proceeded to strike a light, and reminded her of the magic stone that I had hanging at my neck; but still she was reluctant to go further.
"Take you the stone yourself then, Thora, if you're afraid," I said, as I took the cord from my neck. "It will keep you from danger." And I looped the cord over her head.
Now Thora had an implicit faith in the virtues of that little stone, and when she felt it resting on her throat her fears were at once conquered.
It took some trouble to light our torch, but with the help of some wool from my cap as tinder I set to work with flint and steel, and at last we got the tar rope in a blaze. Thora took the torch in hand and picked her way over the rocky floor, exploring every nook and cranny of the cave. So rapidly did she skip from stone to stone and climb over the intervening boulders, that I frequently found it difficult to keep up with her.
We tried to find some traces of the wreck of the Undine, or of anyone having lived there, but we found nothing beyond a great heap of oyster shells that had been thrown into one corner. But Carver Kinlay might very well have existed comfortably in this immense place, for, besides the dried fish that he was said to have found among the wreckage, there was a fine bed of oysters within easy reach of the entrance to the cave, and these shellfish are good enough eating, I believe. How he managed to keep Thora alive for so long without other food was, however, a thing I could with difficulty understand, unless she fed upon the sea-birds' eggs. Thora, herself, remembered nothing of having been in the cave before, but she was very anxious to reach its furthest limits, and, trusting to me to follow her, she went fearlessly onward.
Sometimes she would stoop to lift a stone, and would throw it in front of her to discover if there was a clear passage, for the light burned but dimly. Once when she did so the stone fell upon something that gave a peculiar hollow sound, as though some wooden box or barrel had been struck.
I took little notice of this, for I was at the moment groping my way into a side chamber of the cave. I was feeling my way back towards the torch, when Thora called me to her as though she had made some new discovery. But as I hurried in the direction whence her voice sounded, I was startled by a loud and piercing scream which filled the cavern and re-echoed through the empty corridors. For a moment I fancied it was the shrieking of some monster inhabitant of the cave and was about to beat a retreat when I heard my name called again.
"Halcro! Halcro! Help! help!"
And then the whole place was in utter darkness, and I heard nothing but the dying echoes, and a strange purling of running water.
I made my way as speedily as I could to where I had last seen the lighted torch, and as I got further and further into the cave, the sound of running water grew more distinct, until I heard it just at my feet. It was not the singing ripple of a shallow rivulet, but the sonorous sound of a deep stream that, so far as I could make out, ran athwart the cavern. I went down on my knees and put my hand in the water to feel which direction it took, for I did not now doubt that my companion had fallen in, and was even now struggling somewhere in the dark water that was rushing past me.
My first impulse was to throw myself into the stream and swim about until I found her, but this I considered would be vain, and I tried to first find where she was by getting her if possible to answer me. I called her several times by name, at the same time following, as well as I could in the darkness, the direction taken by the current. Oh, how I wished we had brought two torches instead of only the one that was now lost!
As I crawled about from rock to rock, guiding myself by the indistinct sounds I heard, I blamed myself for not having listened to Thora's words of expressed fear at the opening of the cave. That she had the viking's stone in her possession was a matter of small comfort to me when I seriously reflected upon the extreme danger of the situation, and I feared that, in spite of the supernatural aid, she might even now be drowned, and that I would never again see her fair face in life.
But I was determined not to leave the cave until I had found her, and, accordingly, I continued the search with growing consternation.
No response came to my constant cries of "Thora! Thora!" and I wandered hither and thither in the difficult darkness for what appeared to me fully an hour's time. I became hopeless, and even thought of trying to find my own way out of the cavern, that I might summon help from Crua Breck. But still I was urged by some inward feeling to go onward yet a little further.
Passing at length round an abutting angle of ragged wall, I entered what appeared to be the extreme chamber of the cavern; and here my eyes were for a moment dazzled by the appearance of a bright though thin beam of golden sunlight, which shone from the west through a narrow fissure in the rock, and glittered upon the unruffled surface of a large and deep pool of water. With renewed hope I again called Thora; but not far from where I was standing the water curled in a cascade over its rocky bed, so to continue its subterranean course into the sea, and the noise it made in falling rendered my voice inaudible. The sight of that dark water gliding smoothly to the edge of rock, and there tumbling over into greater depths, seemed to tell me only too plainly what Thora's fate had been.