« AnteriorContinuar »
the Fitful-head, a stormy cliff which this mysterious being had chosen for her residence.
Review of the Pirate. Her powers of observation were wonderful, and little interrupted by other tones of feeling. The information which she acquired by habits of patient attention, were indelibly rivetted in a naturally powerful memory. She had also a high feeling for the solitary and melan. choly grandeur of the scenes in which she was placed. The ocean, in all its varied forms of sublimity and terrorthe tremendous cliffs that resound to the ceaseless roar of the billows-and the clang of the sea-fowl, had for Minna a charm in almost every state in which the changing seasons exhibited them. With the enthusiastic feelings proper to the romantic race from which her mother descended, the love of natural objects was to her a passion capable of not only occupying, but at times of agitating, her mind. Scenes upon which her sister looked with a sense of tran sient awe or emotion, which vanished on her return from witnessing them, continued long to fill Minna's imagination, not only in solitude, and in the silence of the night, but in the hours of society. So that sometimes when she sat like a beautiful statne, a present member of the domestic circle, her thoughts were far absent, wandering on the wild sea-shore, and amongst the yet wilder mountains of her native isles. And yet, when recalled to couversation, and mingling in it with interest, there were few to whom her friends were more indebted for enhancing its enjoyments; and, although something in her manners claimed deference (notwithstanding her early youth) as well as affection, even her gay, lovely, and amiable sister was not more generally beloved than the more retired and pensive Minna." Vol. I. pp. 42--49.
Mordaunt Mertoun, having associated from his childhood with these interesting young persons, felt the attachment of a brother for them both; and the islanders, not calculating sufficiently on the aristocratical feelings of the Udaller, thought that he would be welcome to which of them he should choose in marriage, as soon as he could find time to determine which he liked best.Our readers must now be introduced to one personage more, who acts a conspicuous part in the his tory; we mean Norna, surnamed of
"Her features were high and well formed, and would have been handsome but for the ravages of time, and the effects of exposure to the severe weather of her country. Age, and perhaps sorrow, had quenched, in some degree, the fire of a dark blue eye; whose hue almost approached to black, and had sprinkled snow on such part of her tresses as had escaped from under her cap, and were dishevelled by the rigour of the storm. Her upper garment, which dropped with water, was of a coarse dark-coloured stuff, called Wadmaral, then much used in the Zetland islands, as also in Iceland and Norway. But as she threw this cloak back from her shoulders, a short jacket, of darkblue velvet, stamped with figures, became visible; and the vest, which corresponded to it, was of crimson colour, and embroidered with tarnished silver. Her girdle was plaited with silver ornaments, cut into the shape of planetary signs: her blue apron was embroidered with similar devices, and covered a petticoat of crimson cloth. Strong thick enduring shoes, of the half-dressed leather of the country, were tied with straps like those of the Roman buskins, over her scarlet stockings. She wore in her belt an ambiguous looking weapon, which might pass for a sacri. ficing knife or dagger, as the imagination of the spectator chose to assign to the wearer the character of a priestess or of a sorceress. In her hand she held a staff, squared on all sides, and engrav. ed with Runic characters and figures, forming one of those portable and perpetual calendars which were used among the ancient natives of Scandinavia, and which, to a superstitious eye, might have passed for a divining rod.
"Such were the appearance, features, and attire of Norna of the Fitful-head, upon whom many of the inhabitants of the island looked with observance, many with fear, and almost all with a sort of veneration. Less pregnant circumstances of suspicion would, in any other part of Scotland, have exposed her to the investigation of those cruel inqui sitors, who were then often invested privy-council, for the purpose of perwith the delegated authority of the secuting, torturing, and finally consigning to the flames, those who were ac
cused of witchcraft or sorcery. But superstitions of this nature pass through two stages ere they become entirely obsolete. Those supposed to be possessed of supernatural powers are venerated in the earlier stages of society. As religion and knowledge increase, they are first held in hatred and horror, and are finally regarded as impostors. Scotland was in the second state: the fear of witchcraft was great, and the hatred against those suspected of it intense. Zetland was as yet a little world by itself, where, among the lower and ruder
classes, so much of the ancient northern superstition remained, as cherished the original veneration for those affecting supernatural knowledge and power over the elements, which made a constituent part of the ancient Scandinavian creed. At least if the natives of Thule admitted that one class of magicians perform ed their feats by their alliance with satan, they devoutly believed that others dealt with spirits of a different and less odious class—the ancient dwarfs, called in Zetland, Trows or Drows, the modern fairies, and so forth.
66 Among those who were supposed to be in league with disembodied spirits, this Norna, descended from, and representative of a family which had long pretended to such gifts, was so eminent, that the name assigned to her, which signifies one of those fatal sisters who weave the web of human fate, had been conferred in honour of her supernatural powers. The name by which she had been actually christened was carefully concealed by herself and her parents; for to the discovery they superstitiously annexed some fatal consequences. In those times, the doubt only occurred whether her supposed powers were acquired by lawful means. In our days, it would have been questioned whether she was an impostor, or whether her imagination was so deeply impressed with the mysteries of her supposed art, that she might be in some degree a believer in her own pretensions to supernatural knowledge. Certain it is, that she performed her part with such undoubting confidence, and such striking diguity of look and action, and evinced, at the same time, such strength of language, and such energy of purpose, that it would have been difficult for the greatest sceptic to have doubted the reality of her enthusiasm, though he might smile at the pretensions to which it gave rise." Vol. I. pp. 118-122.
Among other predictions of this sybil, all of which fall out correctly, she foretels a storm, in which a dismasted vessel, apparently deserted by her crew, is seen drifting before the wind, and at length is dashed to pieces on the rocky coast. One man only emerges from the wreck, clinging to a spar, whose life is saved by the intrepidity of the younger Mertoun. This single survivor proves to be CaptainCleveland, a pirate, who is represented as a young man, bold, handsome, and of a pleasing address. Cleveland soon finds his way to the Udaller's family, where he obtains a firm footing, carousing with the father, and amusing the daughters with nautical adventures. Mordaunt Mertoun, now begins to lose favour at Burgh Westra, in consequence of some reports spread to his disparagement by the Pirate. It had for many years been his custom to be present at an annual festival given by the Udaller, on which and all other occasions, till Cleveland came to the island, he had been the most favoured guest. The appointed day came round as usual; but he was not invited. Irritated at the slight, he caught up
and rushed out of the
house of Jarlshof, in a temper of mind which is described in the following extract.
"Without exactly reflecting upon the route which he pursued, Mordaunt walked briskly on through a country where neither hedge, wall, nor inclosure of any kind, interrupts the steps of the wanderer, until he reached a very solitary spot where, embosomed among steep heathy hills, which sunk suddenly down on the verge of the water, lay one of those small fresh-water lakes which are common in the Zetland isles, whose outlets form the sources of the small brooks and rivulets by which the country is watered, and serve to drive the little mills which manufacture their grain.
"It was a mild summer day; the beams of the sun, as is not uncommon in Zetland, were moderated and shaded by a silvery haze, which filled the atmos
sometimes a little shade of danger connected with them.-But why should I wreak my own vexation on these harmless sea-gulls?" he subjoined after a moment's panse: they have nothing to do with the friends that have forgotten me.-I loved them all so well,-and to be so soon given up for the first stranger whom chance threw on the coast!'
phere, and, destroying the strong con trast of light and shade, gave even to noon the sober livery of the evening twilight. The little lake, not threequarters of a mile in circuit, lay in profound quiet; its surface undimpled, save when one of the numerous waterfowl, which glided on its surface, dived for an instant under it. The depth of the water gave the whole that ceruline tint of bluish green, which occasioned its being called the Green Loch; and at present, it formed so perfect a mirror to the bleak hills by which it was surrounded, and which lay reflected on its bosom, that it was difficult to distinguish the water from the land; nay, in the shadowy uncertainty occasioned by the thin haze, a stranger could scarce have been sensible that a sheet of water lay before him. A scene of more com plete solitude, having all its peculiarities heightened bythe extreme serenity of the weather, the quiet grey composed tone of the atmosphere, and the perfect silence of the elements, could hardly be imagined. The very aquatic birds, who frequented the spot in great num. bers, forbore their usual flight and screams, and floated in profound tranquillity upon the silent water.
"Without taking any determined aim -without having any determined purpose-without almost thinking what he was about, Mordaunt presented his fowling-piece, and fired across the lake. The large swan-shot dimpled its surface like a partial shower of hail: the hills took up the noise of the report, and repeated it again, and again, and again, to all their echoes: the water-fowl took to wing in eddying and confused wheel, answering the echoes with a thousand varying screams, from the deep note of the swabie or swartback, to the querulous cry of the tirracke and kittiewake.
"Mordaunt looked for a moment ou the clamorous crowd with a feeling of resentment, which he felt disposed at the moment to apply to all nature, and all her objects, animate or inanimate, however little concerned with the cause of his internal mortification.
"Ay, ay,' he said, wheel, dive, scream, and clamour as you will, and all because you have seen a strange sight, and heard an unusual sound. There is many a one like you in this round world. But you, at least, shall learn,' he added, as he re-loaded his gun, that strange sights and strange sounds, ay, and strange acquaintances to boot, have
"As he stood resting upon his gun, and abandoning his mind to the course of these unpleasant reflections, his meditations were unexpectedly interrupted' by some one touching his shoulder. He looked around, and saw Norna of the Fitful-head, wrapped in her dark and ample mantle. She had seen him from the brow of the hill, and had descended to the lake, through a small ravine which concealed her, until she came with noiseless step so close to him, that he turned round at her touch." Vol.I. pp. 225–229.
After a severe struggle with his pride and resentment, Mordaunt is persuaded by Norna to present himself as usual at the feast of Burgh Westra; but is coldly received by Magnus Troil and his daughters, whose minds had been poisoned by the artful Cleveland. On the second day of the festival, just when the numerous guests were beginning to experience some degree of ennui after the fatiguing revelry of the preceding evening, an adventure occurred which is described with great spirit, and, like many other parts of the narrative, paints in lively colours the manners of these remote islanders.
"Most of the guests were using their toothpick, some were beginning to talk of what was to be done next, when, with haste in his step, and fire in his eye, Eric Scambester, a harpoon in his hand, came to announce to the company, that there was a whale on shore, or nearly so, at the throat of the voe. Then you might have seen such a joyous, boisterous, and universal bustle, as ouly the love of sport, so deeply implanted in our natures, can possibly inspire. A set of country squires, about to beat for the first woodcocks of the season, were a comparison as petty, in respect to the glee, as in regard to the importance of the object; the battue, upon a strong cover in Ettrick-forest, for the destruction of the foxes; the insurrection of
the sportsmen of the Lennox, when one of the duke's deer gets out from InchMirran; nay, the joyous rally of the fox-chase itself, with all its blithe accompaniments of hound and horn, fall infinitely short of the animation with which the gallant sons of Thule set off to encounter the monster, whom the sea had sent for their amusement at so opportune a conjuncture.
"The multifarious stores of Burgh Westra were rummaged hastily for all sorts of arms, which could be used on such an occasion. Harpoons, swords, pikes, and halberts, fell to the lot of some; others contented themselves with hay-forks, spits, and whatever else could be found that was at once long and sharp. Thus hastily equipped, one di. vision, under the command of Captain Cleveland, hastened to man the beats which lay in the little haven, while the rest of the party hurried by land to the scene of action.
"Poor Triptolemus was interrupted in a plan, which he, too, had formed against the patience of the Zetlanders, and which was to have consisted in a lecture upon the agriculture, and the capabilities of the country, by this sudden hubbub, which put an end at once to Halcro's poetry, and to his no less formidable prose. It may be easily ima. gined, that he took very little interest in the sport which was so suddenly sub, stituted for his lucubrations; and he would not even have deigned to have looked upon the active scene which was about to take place, had he not been stimulated thereunto by the exhortations of Mistress Baby. Pit yoursell forward, man,' said that provident per son, pit yoursell forward-wha kens whar a blessing may light?- they say that a' men share and share equals-aquals in the creature's ulzie, and a pint o't wad be worth siller, to light the cruise, in the lang dark nights that they speak of-pit yoursell forward, mau-there's a graip to ye-faint heart never wan fair lady-wha kens but what when it's fresh, it may eat weel enough, and spare butter?" Vol. II. pp. 70-72.
“The animal, upwards of sixty feet in length, was lying perfectly still, in a deep part of the voe into which it had weltered, and where it seemed to await the return of tide, of which it was probably assured by instinct. A council of experienced harpooners was instantly called, and it was agreed that an effort should be made to noose the tail
of this torpid leviathan, by casting a cable around it, to be made fast by anchors to the shore, and thus to secure against his escape, in case the tide should make before they were able to dispatch him. Three boats were des tined to this delicate piece of service one of which the Udaller himself proposed to command, while Cleveland and Mertoun were to direct the two others. This being decided, they sat down on the strand, waiting with impatience, until the naval part of the foree should arrive in the voe. It was during this interval, that Triptolemus Yellowley, after measuring with his eyes the extraordinary size of the whale, observed, that in his poor mind, 'A wain with six owsen, or with sixty owsen either, if they were the owsen of the country, could not drag siccen a huge creature from the water, where it was now lying, to the sea-beach.'" Vol. II. pp. 75, 76.
"The three boats destined for this perilous service now approached the dark mass, which lay like an islet, in the deepest part of the voe, and suffered them to approach, without shewing any sign of animation. Silently, and with such precaution as the extreme delicacy of the operation required, the intrepid adventurers, after the failure of their first attempt, and the expenditure of considerable time, succeeded in casting a cable around the body of the torpid monster, and in carrying the ends of it ashore, where an hundred hands were instantly employed in securing them. But ere this was accomplised, the tide began to make fast, and the Udaller informed his assistants, that either the fish must be killed, or at least greatly wounded, ere the depth of water on the bar was sufficient to float him; or that he was not unlikely to escape from their joint prowess.
"Wherefore,' said he, we must set to work, and the factor shall have the honour to make the first throw.'
"The valiant Triptolemus caught the word; and it is necessary to say that the patience of the whale, in suffering himself to be noosed without resistance, had abated his terrors, and very much lowered the creature in his opinion. He protested the fish had no more wit, and scarcely more activity, than a black snail; and, influenced by this undue contempt of the adversary, he waited neither for a further signal, nor a better weapon, nor a more suitable position, but, rising in his energy, hurled his
graip with all his force against the unfortunate monster. The boats had not yet retreated from him to the distance necessary to ensure safety, when this injudicious commencement of the war took place.
"Magnus Troil, who had only jested with the factor, and had reserved the launching the first spear against the whale to some much more skilful hand, had just time to exclaim, Mind your selves, lads, or we are all swamped,' when the monster, roused at once from inactivity by the blow of the factor's missile, blew, with a noise resembling the explosion of a steam-engine, a huge shower of water into the air, and at the same time began to lash the waves with its tail in every direction. The boat in which Magnus presided received the shower of brine which the animal spout ed into the air; and the adventurous Triptolemus, who had a full share of the immersion, was so much astonished and terrified by the consequences of his own valorous deed, that he tumbled back wards amongst the feet of the people, who, too busy to attend to him, were actively engaged in getting the boat into shoal water, out of the whale's reach. Here he lay for some minutes, trampled on by the feet of the boatmen, until they lay on their oars to bale, when the Udaller ordered them to pull to shore, and land this spare hand, who had commenced the fishing so inauspiciously.
"While this was doing, the other boats had also pulled off to safer distance, and now, from these as well as from the shore, the unfortunate native of the deep was overwhelmed by all kinds of missiles: harpoons and spears flew against him on all sides; guns were fired, and each various means of annoyance plied which could excite him to exhaust his strength in useless rage. When the animal found that he was locked in by shallows on all sides, and became sensible, at the same time, of the strain of the cable on his body, the convulsive efforts which he made to escape, accompanied with sounds resembling deep and loud groans, would have moved the compassion of all but a practised whale-fisher. The repeated showers which he spouted into the air began now to be mingled with blood, and the waves which surrounded him assumed
the same crimson appearance. Meantime the attempts of the assailants were redoubled; but Mordaunt Mertoun and Cleveland, in particular, exerted them CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 243.
selves to the uttermost, contending who should display most courage in approaching the monster, so tremendous in its agonies, and should inflict the most deep and deadly wound upon its huge bulk.
"The contest seemed at last pretty well over; for although the animal continued from time to time to make frantic exertions for liberty, yet its strength appeared so much exhausted, that, even with assistance of the tide, which had now risen considerably, it was thought it could scarce extricate itself.
"Magnus gave the signal to venture upon the whale more nearly, calling out at the same time, 'Close in, lads; she is not half so mad now-Now, Mr. Factor, look for a winter's oil for the two lamps at Harfra-Pull close in, lads.'
"Ere his orders could be obeyed, the other two boats had anticipated his purpose; and Mordaunt Mertoun, eager to distinguish himself above Cleveland, had, with the whole strength he possessed, plunged a half-pike into the body of the animal. But the leviathan, like a nation whose resources appear totally exhausted by previous losses and calamities, collected his whole remaining force for an effort, which proved at once desperate and successful. The wound last received had probably reached through his external defences of blubber, and attained some very sensitive part of the system; for he roared aloud, as he sent to the sky a mingled sheet of brine and blood, and, snapping the strong cable like a twig, overset Mertoun's boat with a blow of his tail, shot himself, by a mighty effort, over the bar, upon which the tide had now risen considerably, and made out to sea, carrying with him a whole grove of the implements which had been planted in his body, and leaving behind him, on the waters, a dark red trace of his course.
"There goes to sea your cruise of oil, Master Yellowley,' said Magnus, and you must consume mutton suet, or go to bed in the dark.'
"Operam et oleum perdidi,' muttered Triptolemus." Vol. II. pp. 79–84.
This affair gives Cleveland an opportunity of cancelling his obligation to Mordaunt, by risking his life to save his former deliverer. This gentleman ruffian, it seems, had some sentimental scruples about quarrelling with Mertoun, till he had repaid his obligation, which