They gathered a strange, even valuable, collection of curiosities in various departments of science; nothing escaped Harry in the shape of plant-life, shells, or geological specimens, and the others followed his example in other lines. A great many rare and beautiful curiosities were brought up on the fishing-line. Tom Holtum came to grief more than once climbing after birds' nests, and Bill Mitchell had to be rescued from drowning again and again in consequence of his ardour in pursuit of wreckage.
There are always mournful trophies of the power of ocean to be found floating around those isles, and our young adventurers were frequently reminded of this by discovering oars, planks, casks, or other flotsam, which had belonged to some lost ship that had disappeared for ever.
I ought to tell you that Thor was not kept a prisoner in his basket all this time. Yaspard knew that the bird would remain by him and the well-known boat when all familiar land-marks were beyond his ken, therefore he was allowed to hop about as he so pleased. Being always well fed and caressed, Thor began to think that a voyage of discovery had something to recommend it on the whole, and was in a very amiable frame of mind all the time. Indeed, so much did he show himself attached to the Osprey and her roving crew, that some of them began to think he would not be inclined to leave them even when they might wish him to do so. For be it known that Yaspard meant to send Thor home before him with a message, and had told Signy to look every day for the coming of the raven.
When they had been out a week, and had led a most delightful Robinson Crusoe life, they found that their provisions were getting near an end; as the Yarl had advised their return about that time, therefore he had not supplied them with more than a week's food. The store had been supplemented by many a fine catch of fish, as well as shell-fish; but the lads were healthy and hungry, and had not spared the ferdimet. They might have landed near some cottages and renewed their supplies, but such a prosaic and ordinary method was scouted by all. Besides, they had agreed to return as advised about that time; so the homeward voyage was begun, not without some regret, but with many a resolution that this should only be the first of many such expeditions.
They sailed steadily onwards all that day without turning once aside, though many a tempting islet lay by their course. When the evening drew near they were well in sight of the Heogue and the hills of Lunda; while, not far away on their lee, rose the cliffs of Burra Isle.
"Suppose we land for the night on Swarta Stack?" said Harry. "It is a good-sized place, and has a first-rate geo where our boat can lie as snug as possible."
"Swarta Stack gets a bad name for mair raisons than ane," Gloy Winwick remarked, as the Osprey made for the island, according to Harry's suggestions.
"Is it haunted?" Gibbie asked.
"I dinna ken aboot that," replied his cousin. "The minister tells us it's a' nonsense aboot haunted places and the like; but it's said that Swarta Stack was an ill place when the folk were no' ower particular o' the way they got pruel frae the sea."
"You mean there were wreckers hereabout?" Yaspard asked, and Gloy answered, "I've heard sae."
"I wish I could meet them. I just wish I could catch a wrecker at his evil work. Wouldn't I pitch into him!" exclaimed the Viking-boy; whereat Harry, laughing, said, "That's all done with now. Wreckers went after the Vikings, didn't they?"
"With the exception of fule-Tammy," retorted Yaspard.
"And yourself," said Tom.
"Maybe they left as bad behind them," Yaspard said quickly. "Men who cheat in trade, who scamp work, evade taxes, rack-rent the poor, are no better than pirates and wreckers."
"Here we are at the Stack," Harry exclaimed. "Look out there with the sail! Captain, mind your helm. There now; you nearly had her aground! I declare we've skimmed over a bau!—we may thank our stars we didn't capsize on it—all through your jabber about wreckers who left this planet a century ago."
They landed on Swarta Stack, and made themselves comfortable for the night not far from the geo where the Osprey was moored. It was too late to explore the Stack that night, so after supper all rolled themselves up in rugs, as had been their wont for a week, and were soon in the mysterious land of dreamless sleep.
 Odds and ends, or plunder.
"GREAT IS THE TROUBLE OF FOOT ILL-TRIPPING."
Our boys woke up early next morning, for a chill wind sweeping over Swarta Stack was as effectual a rouser as the dressing-bell.
When fully awake they looked (as if led by one instinct) to the open sea, for from thence was coming the deep mournful moaning which precedes a storm.
"Mither," said Gloy, "wad say that the sea was sending its warning tae wiz."
"We will certainly pay heed to that warning," answered Yaspard, "as soon as we have had breakfast. Let's look alive, boys, and get our fire up as fast as we can, for there's going to be a gale before night, and we should be at Broch then."
"The Osprey won't take long to run into Burra Wick," said Tom; "and we must make a jolly good breakfast here before returning to civilised life."
"There will be time to inspect the Stack, I hope," Harry remarked. "We must have a full report of this isle that has a bad name, according to Gloy."
They lit their fire, and boiled the last of their potatoes, brewed the last of their tea, and finished the biscuits and ham.
"Not much to carry back," one said, and another added, "I shouldn't like to be left on a skerry now that the ferdimet is all but done."
When breakfast was ended no time was lost in starting for a tour round Swarta Stack, which is a lofty island about a mile long, very picturesque in outline, and surrounded by lesser islands, as well as isolated rocks, which are the terror of all who know them. The lads found a great deal to interest them in the Stack; but their main object was to find the caves which tradition said had been the abode of lawless men in olden times.
There was one large cavern in a cliff easily found and well known; but that was not the Wrecker's Den, for the sea came into it, and in stormy weather filled its vast solitudes with the body and voice of many waters. This cave, however, was supposed to communicate with one inland, as many helyers do, and our boys were determined to discover the hidden abode.
For a long time the search was a vain one; but at last an idea was suggested to Harry, who had halted by a small cairn.
"Boys," he said, "I should not wonder if we are on a wrong tack looking for a natural cave. It is more likely that the wreckers' den was a place dug out of the earth by themselves."
"That was a common dodge long ago," quoth Yaspard; and Tom added, "We got a good illustration of that sort of thing in the old Broch of Burra Isle."
"And you are thinking, Harry," Yaspard exclaimed, "that this cairn may cover some portion of the den—perhaps be the entrance to it?"
Harry nodded, and after a careful inspection of the rougue, remarked, "I think we shall find something here; but we must not come to grief in a ruin, as Garth Halsen did when he dug into the old Broch."
They went to work with a will, and soon removed the cairn and laid bare what was evidently the entrance to a vault of some sort. The mouth of the pit was covered by two enormous stones, and it took a long time to remove these; but so interested were the adventurers in their investigations, that they forgot the warning of the sea and the rising of the wind.
"It is curious," said Harry, peering into the dark pit at their feet, "that there seems no foul air to speak of down there, and yet I don't see any speck of light that would indicate a passage to the outer world."
"Might the way not be curved, or sufficiently blocked to exclude light?" Yaspard suggested; and Harry frankly answered, "Of course. You are wiser than I. Has any one got a match in his pocket?"
Matches were produced, and a piece of paper was lighted; but such a meagre illumination revealed nothing beyond the fact that the vault seemed a large one, and roughly built round with a rude kind of masonry.
Bill was despatched to the boat for candles—which you may remember were part of the "pruel" that Yaspard hid in the chimney; but the impatience of his companions to learn more would not allow them to wait on his return before descending into the chamber. They could see that there was solid ground some seven or eight feet beneath the opening, and Harry swung down, and soon reported himself as standing on a "decently paved floor;" but he was too cautious to explore farther until some light was thrown on the subject. Not so Tom Holtum. He did not see the fun in waiting for candles, and down he jumped beside Harry.
"There's an awful draught here," he exclaimed. "There must be passages and perhaps other rooms knocking around. I vote we explore," and without listening a moment to Harry's warning, Tom made for a part of the vault from whence the current of air proceeded.
"You are extremely foolish, Tom," said Harry.
"You are a timid ca——" Tom began to reply, but was cut short. With an exclamation he suddenly disappeared; and next moment a fall and a groan told, not only Harry but those above ground, that an accident had taken place.
By that time Bill was back with the candles, and Yaspard hastened to join Harry. After him came the others, as fast as they could, and all gathered around Harry, who by that time stood with a lighted candle in his hand over the mouth of a dark hole, peering down and calling, "Tom! old chap." But "Tom! old chap" made no response, and all attempts to hold the light over the opening proved futile, as a current of air rushing upward put it out.
The lads gazed into each other's white, terror-stricken faces with mute fear. The darkness and silence were enough to appal any one; but the courage of our Viking-boy rose to the occasion.
"He must be awfully hurt, poor chap," he said, "and we must do our best to find and help him. What do you suggest, Harry? I'll do anything."
"Some one must be lowered with a rope," answered the wise head of the party.
"That some one is me," was Yaspard's prompt reply. "Get your rope, boys."
They always carried ropes with them. "We can do nothing without a rope," they would say. But the ropes had been dropped, of course, on the turf above, and the emergency which had made all hurry into the vault had caused them to neglect providing for an easy ascent again. The only thing to do was for two to hoist a third on their shoulders so that he could get his hands on the aperture and thus clamber out. Lowrie was chosen as the messenger to the outer world, and Harry said to him when shoving him aloft, "Drop us one rope at once, but fix the other to a boulder and slide down by it. That will give us help in scrambling out of here."
The rope was soon in their hands, and Yaspard, seizing the end, tied it round his waist, while Harry instructed him how to strike a light when lowered, and what signals to make to those above. In breathless excitement they stood around that gruesome hole, and slowly lowered their young leader into its dark and gaping jaws. Lower, lower; and the rope was almost all paid out when a sharp jerk told (as agreed upon) that Yaspard had reached the bottom.
"Not so deep as I feared," Harry whispered with a sigh of relief.
Then there came a sudden flare of light, which showed that Yaspard was trying to illumine the scene; but it was extinguished again directly. Again and again he tried, but evidently in vain. Then came darkness and silence as before. But after a little time of fearful suspense the rope was jerked twice, and Yaspard was hauled up again.
"What of Tom?" Harry asked as soon as Yaspard's head appeared in sight; but Yaspard did not reply until he was standing beside them. Then he said, "He is lying there senseless, but he is alive."
"Oh, your hands!" Bill screamed, and all eyes turned on Yaspard's hands, which were red with blood.
"Tom is badly hurt. I put my hands on his face and chest," explained too surely that horrible sign. "There is no keeping a match or candle alight down there. The wind is rushing through it as if it were a funnel," Yaspard went on, "and I can't think how he is to be got out."
"Bill," said Harry, with the imperious decision which he always assumed in any emergency, where one cool head was worth a score of able undirected hands, "Bill, you run for your life to the boat again. Bring the tar-pot and a stick or two, the potato bag, and a towel, and a can of water; some more rope, if you can find it handy. Gloy, go with him to help carry; and mind, both of you, Tom's life is possibly depending on your speed. Don't forget anything. Keep your wits clear."
The two little chaps were off without a moment's delay, scudding across the Stack, and too engrossed with their errand and its urgency to note the rising storm, which had set the white horses rampant on the deep and driven the sea-birds to the Stack in clamouring crowds.
Meanwhile Harry said, "Undo that rope, Yaspard. I will go down this time. I can probably be of more use to him than you. You can follow with those things when the chaps return. And look you, Lowrie, be canny in lowering him, and in your management of the rope. See that the youngsters are careful; for Yaspard and I will send Tom up first if possible. You know what to do with the tar and sticks, Yaspard?"
"Make a torch?"
"Yes; and we shall want the bag and rope to make a sort of hammock for Tom. Now send me below. But first—your handkerchiefs, boys."
He stuffed the collection of grimy "wipes" (as the lads styled their pocket-handkerchiefs) in his pocket, and was carefully lowered into the dismal cavern where poor Tom lay.
"SWEET SIGHT FOR ME THOU TWAIN TO SIT EYES ON."
"Tom! Tom!" Harry had groped his way to Tom's head, had lifted it on his arm, and felt the warm blood welling from a deep cut on the forehead, "Tom, can you not understand?" he said; but Tom made no reply. He was breathing heavily and quite unconscious.
Dr. Holtum had given the Lunda boys many a useful lesson in ambulance surgery, and no one had benefited more from his teaching than Harry Mitchell. With care, and as much precision as was possible without the aid of sight, he bound Tom's head in bandages formed from the handkerchiefs provided, and had the satisfaction of finding that the wound was staunched and the pulse beating a little stronger before many minutes had passed.
He could not, of course, ascertain what other injuries had been inflicted, but he moved Tom's arms and legs gently, and felt satisfied that their bones had escaped.
The time seemed very long to Harry down there, and to the others waiting above. At last Yaspard could keep silence no longer, so leaning over, he shouted, "Is he—any better? Can't you sing out something to us, Harry?"
"I have been able to do a little, and I think Tom is reviving," was the cheering news Harry sang out in reply.
Tom really was coming round, and the first sign he made was a groan, and then a murmured "Time to get up, did you say?"
"Oh, Tom," Harry cried, bending close to the wounded head on his arm, and shedding some tears that were not an unmanly sign of gladness at hearing Tom's voice once more; "Tom, old chap, I'm as sorry as can be for giving you the rough side of my tongue many a time."
"Eh, what?" faltered Tom. "Is that Harry speaking? Are you there, mother? What's up? I don't quite know; my head feels queer—oh dear!"
He had tried to raise himself as he spoke, and had been checked by agonising pain, which caused him to relapse into insensibility.
"How awful this is! I wish they'd make haste up there," thought Harry. And then he turned, as the Manse boys had always been taught to turn in trials, to Him who is near at all times, a present help in time of trouble.
When Tom revived again, the first thing he heard was Harry Mitchell's voice faltering forth prayers to God for His unfortunate comrade; and I think that the childish antagonism which had so long existed between those two died out just then. But now a great flare of light fell on them, and the noise and talk overhead told that relief was coming.
"What does it all mean, Harry?" Tom asked feebly.
"You fell down here, and Yaspard is coming with a light and things to help you out. Cheer up, Tom; we'll have you out and all right before long."
Yaspard descended with an admirable torch in his hand, and the articles Harry required strapped around him.
Great was our hero's joy to find Tom so much restored; and when they had bathed his face, and made him drink some water, he was able to speak collectedly. "I am hurt about the left shoulder," he said, when they began to examine him, "and my head feels dreadful."
"There is a nasty cut on the brow," said Harry, "and a slight one behind the ear. I won't move the clumsy bandage, though, till we get him up, when it can be made more ship-shape. Now, Tom, you must let us put you in the potatoe-bag and haul you out of this."
They were very deft and tender in their handling, and Tom bit his lips to refrain from groaning over his acute pain; but for all that the job was a tedious and trying one, and when he was lashed into the sack Tom fainted again.
"I must go up with him," said Harry; "those duffers might do some harm."
He tested the rope, and, assured that it would bear a good weight, he put an arm round Tom, and then, catching the rope with his other hand, gave the signal.
Fortunately they had not to be raised very far, and it was accomplished without any misadventure beyond the "skinning" of Harry's hand, which he could not guard without leaving Tom's poor head unprotected.
As soon as Yaspard too was got out of that horrible hole, all haste was made to reach the open air; and in the same manner Tom was lifted from the upper vault and laid upon the sward.
When he came to himself, he was stretched on the grass with Bill's knee for a pillow and Harry's skilful hands ministering to him; and in that moment Tom must have been clearly conscious of all that had taken place, for he murmured with great fervency, "Thank God for the blessed light of day."
Just then a shower of spray came driving over the Stack, and, dashing itself against their faces, called the attention of all to the storm now raging on the sea.
All around Swarta Stack the waves were leaping, white and furious. There could be no leaving the island that day, and no chance of any rescue, even if anybody knew of their position—a very unlikely thing.
"Where can we find shelter for Tom?" was the first thing said, and it was Harry who spoke.
"We must see to our boat," said Yaspard.
They hurriedly piled a few stones together, and laid their jackets on these to make a shelter and couch for Tom; then leaving Harry to look after the patient, the others ran off to secure the Osprey. Fortunately she was a light little boat, and they were able to run her up the beach a bit, where she was safe from being knocked about by the waves. The few remains of ferdimet were removed, with other articles which were required for camping out; and as our adventurers returned to the scene of the catastrophe they asked one another what was to be done if the storm lasted longer than one day.
"We can't starve, with birds about and rabbits as well as sheep on the isle," said Yaspard; "but the storm that could do us no harm may be serious enough for poor Tom. There isn't even a morsel of tea left—only a few piltacks and a slice of cheese."
"There's a couple of eggs and Miss Congreve's box of chocolates left," Bill said. "We'll keep them for Tom; but the sea may run off before night."
Yaspard shook his head. "Not likely. I know the weather-signs. This means to last."
"Just so! Bad boy, bad boy!" screamed Thor from a crag close by. He had remained by the Osprey while the lads were exploring, and would have remained there still; but when she was beached and the "outward and visible signs" of a meal carried away, Thor thought he had better go too, and see what was going to happen next.
"Ah, Thor, my rascal!" Yaspard exclaimed; "I must have had a presentiment of what would happen when I took you with us. Now" (turning to his companions), "I trust he will go when he is bid, in which case we may be helped sooner than we can help ourselves. I wouldn't," he added hastily, "dream of calling for help if it were not for Tom."
Harry looked up anxiously when his companions arrived. "This is a bad job," he said very seriously; "I fear Tom is more hurt than he allows, and he is getting light-headed, too."
"I'll send Thor now—if he'll go," said Yaspard, and Harry's face lit up.
"I had forgotten Thor. Yes, send him if you can."
But Thor was in a sulky and suspicious mood, and would not let his master catch him. There were no alluring morsels left to bribe him with; for the eggs must be kept for Tom, and a chocolate ball Thor despised as well as cheese.
"We must wait till we have to kill a sheep," Gibbie Harrison remarked, after all efforts to catch the raven had failed; "he will come for a bit of red raw flesh, the ugly brute!"
"You needn't call Thor an ugly brute for eating what you kill," retorted Yaspard, "unless you call yourself another of the same."
They all laughed then, and the laugh did them good. It even helped to strengthen Tom, who showed a great amount of pluck and endurance during that trying time. He reproached himself for having brought so much trouble on them all, and tried to bear his pain heroically; but in spite of his own efforts, and the thoughtful attention of his comrades, Tom's state grew rapidly worse, and before evening he was very fevered.
By that time even Yaspard considered the situation most critical for all, and was ready to adopt any and every suggestion that might offer the smallest alleviation of their condition.
The whole party had strongly objected to using the vault as a shelter, but, as the day waned and the storm increased, they decided upon retreating there, seeing that Swarta Stack offered no better refuge.
Anxiety had banished hunger, and no one felt in a mood that evening for slaughter. An egg was whipped up with some sugar still left, and poured down Tom's throat, and later a cup of cocoa was made for him from the contents of Amy's box of comfits. The rest of the lads lay down to sleep supperless—and, for the matter of that, dinnerless also, not having tasted food since early breakfast, except half a cold piltack and a morsel of cheese.
Yaspard and Harry resolved to watch by Tom, whose sleep was fitful and feverish. They had not been able to remove him to the vault, of course, but had built a wall of stones and turf to protect him from the weather; and while the other lads slept quietly enough in the wreckers' den, these two kept guard over their disabled comrade on the exposed ground.
"If the storm does not lin by sunrise," said Yaspard, "we must try and move him to the beach, and get him under shelter of the boat; we can turn her up, you know, and make a cosy place for him. It is so windy and disagreeable here."
Alas! they had not dreamt that the tempest might "turn" the Osprey as easily as they could. At the moment when Yaspard spoke, his bonnie boat was lying among the great rough stones, with a rent in her side that no mere caulking could cure. A fierce gust had caught her and tossed her over as if she were a toy left there for that purpose.
This was discovered when a very sedate procession of boys came down to the beach, carrying Tom on a stretcher made (as Dr. Holtum had shown how) out of their jackets spread between two spars—the spars being passed through the sleeves, and so kept in position.
When the Osprey's condition was ascertained Yaspard said, "I suppose there is nothing left but to try for Thor again."
But Thor was nowhere to be seen then, and though search was made, he could not be discovered. The truth was that Thor, hungry and uncomfortable, had been hovering over Swarta Stack at daybreak in a very discontented state, had recognised some familiar landmarks in a northerly direction, and had decamped for Boden straightway.
"HILD UNDER HELM."
As one after another their resources seemed to fail, the courage of more than one of the lads sank; but there was no daunting Yaspard, and he began to talk of lighting a big tire, or setting up the sail as a signal—of one and all of the devices which castaways use for attracting attention, till Bill cut him short by saying, "We can do all that by-and-by, when the sea falls enough to allow a boat to come here if our signals were seen. It isn't any good just now, for all the people are in their beds, and will be for hours, and while they are sleeping we are starving."
At that moment Pirate came running from the farther side of the Stack carrying a dead rabbit, which he proudly laid at his master's feet. He had been amusing himself almost all the time since the landing with hunting rabbits, and had at last caught one.
"You needn't starve now. See, Bill!" and Yaspard picked up the rabbit; "a fine fat beast, thanks to Pirate. Ah, my dog, if you had Thor's wings you would use them for me, not for yourself, I know."
Harry Mitchell looked admiringly at the noble dog; and when the others moved away to collect wood for a fire (plenty of spars on Swarta Stack) he fell into a reverie with his eyes fastened on Pirate.
Before long a fire was burning and the rabbit was roasting in an oven of mud. The skin was not removed, for those old young campaigners knew the best way to cook meat when the kitchen appliances were beyond reach. While Lowrie watched the roast and Gloy fed the fire, Gibbie went to the shore to secure some shell-fish and Bill went in search of plovers' eggs, for all were agreed that, until absolutely driven to it, they would not kill a sheep.
Yaspard, having set them all thus to work, returned to his place by Tom, who had fallen into a sort of stupor more alarming than even the restlessness and raving of the previous evening.
"In a brown study still, Harry?" the Viking asked, as he sat down and looked sorrowfully at the invalid.
"I have an idea," was Harry's answer. "You see the wind is falling already, and falling fast. It never lasts long at this season. But there is a heavy sea that may not run off for a couple of days. And no one lives on the part of Burra Isle facing Swarta Stack. Any signal we make will not be seen by the folk of Burra Isle, and not likely noticed by any one on Lunda, which is so much farther away. It really wouldn't matter for any of us except Tom; but he must be seen to soon, if his life is to be saved. If he were all right, we could camp here as long as you please; so don't think me impatient or funking."
"No, no! I know that. What is your idea?"
"Your boat can't float, Yaspard, but your dog can swim."
Yaspard sprang to his feet and caught Harry's hands in his joyous excitement. "That will do," he cried. "That will be better than Thor, for I can go with Pirate. I can swim like a fish; and if he sees me try it, he will go too—we could not expect him to fully understand what we wanted if I did not do so. I'll be off as soon as it's possible."
"Burra Isle is three-quarters of a mile from here," answered Harry gravely.
"I'm good for it," was Yaspard's answer; "good for that, and a lot more, in such an emergency as the present."
Harry's face dropped quickly, and he had some difficulty in keeping back the tears, as a swift thought went back to his brother Frank, who had given his life to save another. Just as Yaspard looked had Frank stood, smiling like a hero, when he plunged into Wester-voe to save cripple Bartle. But even that gallant deed had less risk in it than this which Yaspard contemplated, for the distance Frank had to swim was not half as far, and the sea was quite calm.
"It will be a fearful thing to do, Yaspard," Harry said after a pause; "ten chances to one against your reaching the other shore. Yet—I will not say don't—because—I'll try too. Did you ever hear of—what our—Frank did?"
"Yes, I heard. It was remembering what he did made me want to do this for poor Tom."
"Well, old man, we will make a try with Pirate when the weather falls a little more."
"Not you, Harry. Only myself and Pirate. It would never do to leave Tom with those duffers. And besides, poor chaps, they'd be all at sea if we failed and no relief came. With you still here something would be thought of that had sense in it."
Harry was obliged to own the wisdom of Yaspard's words, knowing full well how little Bill was able to take his place as director of affairs.
The Harrisons and Gloy were not to be depended upon for anything beyond willing service and obedience to a guiding head. Yet Harry wished to share Yaspard's responsibility, his peril, and his daring. "Let's cast lots," he suggested.
"No," said the Viking-boy decisively. "This quest is mine. Not another word about it, Harry."
"Mother, mother!" Tom muttered, rolling his head uneasily, and the word reached their ears as they sat by the boat under which he lay.
"You hear?" whispered Yaspard; "think of your mother. If I don't reach land I shall go to my mother, but yours is in the Manse of Lunda, and would break her heart if anything happened to you."
By that time the rabbit was cooked, and some plovers' eggs also roasted, along with a large crab which had been taking an airing before Gloy's gleg vision, and was obliged to yield to fate on the instant. The lads were very hungry, and enjoyed their meal in spite of everything.
When every morsel was demolished, even to the bones, which fell to Pirate's share, the lads gathered in a group beside the boat, and tried to wile away the time with supposing a great many wonderful kinds of rescues which might take place; and it was then that Harry told the others of Yaspard's project.
"You can never do it, sir," Lowrie exclaimed; "I ken weel ye canno', and my faither wad never forgive us if we let you try."
"Tom Holtum's life, or mine, to be risked! My life is my own and God's, to be used by me, with His approval, as my judgment thinks best," was the dignified answer, which silenced Lowrie.
After that they watched the sea, and spoke very little for some hours, until the wind had quite subsided and the waves were less broken. By that time Tom's condition made a desperate attempt more urgent still, and Yaspard rose up saying, "Pirate, old boy, it is time you and I set out. Good-bye, lads; and keep up your hearts, for if I fail the dog won't."
They silently followed him to the low crags where they had so blithely landed. Lowrie meekly stooped and picked up the boots Yaspard took off, and Gibbie was heard to sob, but no one offered the smallest remonstrance; they were in hearing of Tom's broken words and pitiful moans, and each one thought, "I'd do the same thing if I could."
"Take care of my crew, Harry," Yaspard said, giving one glance back; and then they called out, "God preserve you." He smiled. "Thank you! that sounds good; now, Pirate, come!"
He plunged into the surf and struck out manfully; and the dog kept close by him, evidently aware that his young master's life was entrusted to his keeping in a great measure.
His companions watched their progress with burning anxiety, and hope rose high within them as they saw how easily the dog swam; for they were confident that while Pirate floated Yaspard was safe.
Yaspard was not so confident himself after being in the water some time, and he frequently found himself obliged to pause and rest his hands on the dog. They were greatly helped by the tide flowing towards Burra Isle. Indeed, Yaspard would not have started on such a dangerous voyage if he had not calculated that he must receive great assistance from the sea itself. All he had to do was to keep himself afloat and drift with the current; but, as all swimmers know, it is often as trying to do that as to breast an opposing force.
He found infinite comfort in the companionship of his faithful dog, and frequently spoke to him—more for the purpose of encouraging his own heart than because Pirate needed words of cheer.
But that piece of water seemed very broad, and there seemed for ever sounding in our hero's ears the refrain of an old song with which Mam Kirsty used to lull Signy to sleep in her baby days—
"My cradle and my grave is the deep deep sea."
Yet Yaspard was not the least afraid, and only thought, even when those doleful words seemed to ring like a knell through the roar of the waves, "Tom will be saved if I reach the shore, and if I don't, Pirate is sure to land and make his way to a house at once. That will tell as well as any words of mine."
He was very nearly exhausted when at last he found himself in shallow water; so, putting on a desperate spurt, he managed to reach a sandy creek where a landing could be easily made. But as he staggered up from the water, thanking God in his heart, a sudden weakness overpowered him, and he fell senseless on the sand. Pirate had reached land before his master, and was shaking himself vigorously when Yaspard dropped. The wonderful dog-intellect at once divined that something must be very far wrong, and he sniffed around the motionless form, with deep anxiety expressed in every gesture and in the low whining noise he made.
At last, when he found that Yaspard did not stir, Pirate determined upon seeking help without further delay. With a piteous howl he turned from the spot and bounded up the hill, making for the nearest habitation or human being with the unerring instinct of his race.
"HAIL FROM THE MAIN THEN COMEST THOU HOME."
Garth Halsen and his father were strolling over the hill that day. The old Yarl of Broch was always restless during a storm, and never cared to sit in the house when the elements were at war, "for there is sorrow on the sea," he would say at such times; "and I cannot rest when I think some poor souls are fighting for life on the water." As the father and son walked on they saw Pirate, and he saw them, and made at once for them, whining in the most distressful manner.
"What dog is that? Why, I've——"
"It's Yaspard's dog," Garth exclaimed; "and he wants us to go with him. Something has happened, I fear."
They hurried in the direction which Pirate so intelligently indicated, and he soon led them to where our Viking-boy lay.
By that time Yaspard had revived a little, and was sitting up looking around in a dazed state, but the cheery voice of old Halsen soon restored his wits, and he could give an account of what had happened.
"No time to lose, lads," said the Yarl, with all the fire of strong manhood eager to help the forlorn and weak. "We'll carry you over the hill between us, boy, and get out the boats."
They swung Yaspard up on their arms and went over the hill at a good pace, considering the Yarl's age, until they reached a cottage fortunately not far distant. There our hero was left in the care of kindly women, while Mr. Halsen and Garth hastened to the nearest fishing-station and gathered a stout crew.
When Yaspard was reviving under the influence of warm food and a cozy bed, a sixaern with Mr. Halsen as skipper was speeding round the North Ness, and appeared before the longing eyes on Swarta Stack like an angel of deliverance.
"He has done it!" Harry exclaimed. "Yaspard has not met his great-grand-uncle's fate!"
"How do you know?" Lowrie asked. "It may hae been the dog. It's a senseful beast."
"Don't you see they are coming straight as an arrow for the Stack?" answered reflecting Harry. "No doubt in their minds as to where we are. Now Pirate's arrival and demonstrations could only indicate that we were in a strait somewhere among the holmes, but only Yaspard's tongue could tell the identical place where we are."
"Ye're awfully wise!" Lowrie exclaimed with much admiration, which became qualified when Bill remarked, "Some one may have seen our fire, or the sail."
"I don't think so," Harry answered. "I have had my eyes on the hillside over there all the morning, and I'd have seen any person who came there—unless they were by the creek, which is hidden from us by the curves of the North Ness."
"Any person there would not see us," said Bill, "so you must be right. But if Yaspard landed, how is it we did not see him?"
"He would land at the creek, most likely; and the little daal which leads over the hill from the shore dips under the level of the Ness hill, so we could not possibly see him. But we shall know all about it very soon now."
"I'd rather die on Swarta Stack than ken he is in the sea," blubbered Lowrie, whose fears on Yaspard's account had quite unnerved him.
But what a cheer those boys sent up when the sixaern came close, and Harry called out "Is Yaspard safe?" and received for answer a joyous "Yes, yes! he's all right by now."
They shouted and sobbed together, until Tom was recalled from his half-unconscious state to a knowledge that rescue had come, and murmured, "I am so glad for their sakes, poor boys!"
The Yarl had not omitted to bring such nourishment as could be most quickly procured, and as soon as the boat was moored the castaways were quaffing draughts of milk and devouring oatcakes and butter. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet to Tom's lips as that milk, and the gentle voice of Garth Halsen, his cool soft touch, were as good as medicine.
He was carefully conveyed to the boat; the Osprey was safely beached, high and dry, and loaded with stones to prevent her being buffeted by the winds again, until such time as she could be removed; and the boys, with lightened hearts, scrambled into the haaf-boat, carrying with them all their campaigning effects.
"If Yaspard were here," said Harry, "he would wish to stay by his boat until he had made her fit to float us off the Stack again. I don't half like leaving her all by herself, poor old Osprey."
"You and your Viking can return and finish up your voyage of discovery another time," quoth Garth; "but at present you must submit to being taken to Broch in a commonplace manner."
But the Yarl had been watching Tom, as he lay among coats spread on grass in the bottom of the boat, and the kind old man's face had grown more sad and serious every moment.
"I think we must not make for Burra Wick after all," he said. "Much as I'd like to have you at Broch, I believe we ought to take another course. This lad should be in his father's hands with as little delay as possible. So it's Collaster where we will bring up."
And to Collaster they went, after landing Lowrie on the nearest point of Burra Isle, to carry tidings of them to Yaspard, as well as to Gerta Brace, who would certainly be alarmed if her uncle did not put in an appearance that day.
We can imagine the sensation created at the Doctor's house when Tom was carried there, and the story of his misadventure was told. Harry did not tell that it was Tom's own fault which brought about the accident, and it was many a long day before Tom was able to give the full account of it himself. But we must leave him in the care of his loving mother and skilful father, content to know that he recovered eventually, and lived to take a front place in many a wild adventure with his old antipathy Harry, and his new one Yaspard Adiesen.
Bill carried the news to Wester-voe and Fred Garson, while Gloy took his cousin Gibbie to Lunda; and Harry asked to return with the Yarl and Garth to Burra Isle. He wanted above all things to be with Yaspard, and in his company finish up the adventurous expedition after a more satisfactory manner than that of being taken home with the wounded. But Harry did not say a word beyond expressing his eager desire to return and stand by the Viking-boy.
Next morning the haaf-boat returned to Burra Isle, and at the same time Fred despatched messengers (Gibbie being one of them) to Boden to report Yaspard at Broch, "Not much the worse of a ducking, and returning home as soon as possible."
Fred had got the whole story from Bill, and he rightly conjectured that the return of the raven would have raised some anxiety, seeing that Yaspard had told his sister that Thor should bring a message, and Thor should precede the Osprey by only a few hours. Thor bearing no message, and followed by no boat, was indeed an ill omen. Moreover, he had reached home ravenously hungry, and in a very sulky, savage mood, which added to Signy's fears regarding her brother, although Uncle Brues pooh-poohed the little girl's presentiment of evil.
But the arrival of Fred's messenger and Gibbie made a commotion in Boden, we may be sure, and nothing would satisfy either Mr. Adiesen or James Harrison but they must start off and bring home their boys. You may imagine their surprise and disgust to hear, on arriving at Broch, that Yaspard—restored to all his wonted spirit and energy by a good night's rest—had borrowed a boat, and accompanied by Harry and Lowrie, and a clever seaman who knew well how to clamp the broken ribs of a boat, had gone to Swarta Stack to repair and bring home the Osprey.
"The boy is stark mad!" exclaimed Uncle Brues; but the Yarl, whose soul throbbed in sympathy with that of our Viking-boy, made answer, "His head is as straight on his shoulders as need be. That lad is made of the right stuff, and will be heard of in the world some day. You need not be afraid for him."
"I suppose we ought to go and help him?" the scientist said; but Halsen shook his head. "Even I," he said, "felt it would be best, kindest, to let the lads take their own way. They were bent upon bringing back their boat triumphantly, and they'll do it. Let us leave them all the satisfaction and glory that they can get out of their adventures."
And I tell you Yaspard's heart glowed with a good deal of satisfaction when he sailed the Osprey up Burra Wick that afternoon, her flag flaunting from the mast-head as gaily as when she sailed away on her voyage of discovery and peril.
Right heartily the good old Yarl and his guests and son cheered the gallant boy and his comrades, as the boat, a little lob-sided, and considerably scratched and battered, ran along the crags, and came to below Broch. Hearty indeed was the welcome they received, and neither Mr. Adiesen nor Harrison let the boys know that they were there for the purpose of looking after "those roving madcaps."
In truth Uncle Brues was not a little proud of his nephew, and made him repeat the story of his swim with Pirate, which Yaspard did, entirely unconscious of the heroism he had displayed.
"What did you think most about when you were in the water?" Mr. Adiesen asked after a time—his scientific instincts rising above emotion, and prompting him to discover what are the sensations a human being experiences in such exceptional circumstances.
"I thought of Mam Kirsty's old song, 'My cradle and my grave,' chiefly. I had committed my life to God's hand when I started. Just before I landed I thought I saw Signy holding out her hands, as she did when she went adrift. That's about all."
"Well, my dear, I think you must feel that you have had enough of Vikinging for the rest of your life," said the scientist with a smile; but he was not ill-pleased when his nephew answered, "It has only made me long for more! I want now to do real good Viking work. I want to go out and explore the world—the stars, if that were possible—and to fight all the foes of the Red Cross, and to bury all feuds, and win name and fame like a right noble and right valiant Viking."
"You have done so, if you but knew it," quoth Garth; and Harry Mitchell said, "You will do all that, I don't doubt; and I'll follow where your flag leads, old man! I never could stand by the side of a better comrade, and I don't believe I could ever find a finer leader—so there!"
"Thank you, Harry," Yaspard answered simply.
I need not tell you of the home-coming to Moolapund, of Aunt Osla's tears and tea, of Signy's joy, of Thor's profound reflections, finished up with a sage "Just so!"—of all the talk and enjoyment in fighting their battles o'er again.
We can leave our Viking-boy at this happy stage of his career, assured (like the Yarl of Broch) that he was heard of in the world in later days.
* * * * * *
This e-book contains the words "Boden" and "brodhor". In the original book, the "o" in "Boden" and the first "o" in "brodhor" were o-macron.