Ronald Morton, or the Fire Ships; A Story of the Last Naval War, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is quite a difficult book to get the gist of. It is a tale of inheritance. A family inhabiting a castle in Shetland, a group of islands to the north of Scotland, is also apparently entitled to a title and lands in Spain and elsewhere. But who of the Shetland family is the rightful heir? The Spanish usurpers are well aware that the true heir is in Shetland, and their agent is a priest who appears several times in the book.
Apart from all this there is a background of seamanship and sailing vessels, for the time is just after the Napoleonic War with France. This of course is the setting in which Kingston excels as an author.
You will probably need a pencil and paper when you are working out who Ronald Morton really is, but the story is a fascinating one, and you will enjoy the task. It's about fourteen hours as an audiobook.
RONALD MORTON, OR THE FIRE SHIPS, A STORY OF THE LAST NAVAL WAR, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE SPANISH MAN-OF-WAR OFF SHETLAND—A CALM—THE "SAINT CECILIA" IN DANGER—THE PILOT—BRASSAY SOUND.
"Land! land on the larboard bow!" The cry was uttered in a foreign tongue from the masthead of a corvette of twenty guns, a beautiful long, low, flush-decked craft with dark hull, taunt raking masts, and square yards, which, under all the sails she could carry with a southerly breeze right aft, was gliding rapidly over the now smooth surface of the northern ocean. The haughty flag of old Spain, and the language spoken on board, showed that she belonged to that nation. The crew sat clustered about on the forecastle with their arms folded in a listless, inactive way—some asleep—others smoking cigarillos or playing games of chance between the guns, while a few were disputing on some trivial points with a vehemence which proved the fiery tempers hidden under those calm exteriors. The officers lolled against the bulwarks, sat on the guns, or paced slowly backwards and forwards; but rather more etiquette was kept up on the quarter deck than appeared to be the case among the men forward. The captain walked backwards and forwards with his first lieutenant on the starboard side; they crossed occasionally, and lifted their hands to their eyes to watch the land just sighted as the ship approached and glided by it at the distance of two or three miles. The captain's appearance was in his favour. He was tall and graceful, with the clear olive-complexion, the pointed beard, the thin moustache, and the large pensive eyes, so frequently seen in portraits of high-born Spaniards. Still, though his features were handsome and very intelligent, there was an expression in them not altogether satisfactory. His companion was a short, thick-set man, dark and bearded, with a daring look in his countenance and a firmness in his month which might raise a suspicion that in cases of emergency he would be likely to take the command in the place of his superior.
"That land out there should be of some interest to us, Alvarez," said the captain, pointing to the little conical-shaped islets the ship was passing. "It was there, so history tells us, that one of the grandees of Spain, the great Duke of Medina Sidonia, was wrecked when he sailed in command of that mighty Armada which would have assuredly crushed the power of England had it not been so completely baffled by the wonderful opposition of the elements. Many of his crew after being saved from the fury of the tempest were cruelly murdered by the barbarous inhabitants, and he and a small remnant only escaped to the main island of Shetland, whither we are bound."
"Ah! I have heard say that the people in those parts are little better than cannibals," answered the lieutenant; "we may as well, at all events, keep our guns run out and double-shotted while we lie here, that we may be prepared for them should they attempt to play us any tricks."
"Oh! they are tolerably civilised now, I fancy," answered the captain. "I myself have some Shetland blood in my veins, so I have been told, though it must be tolerably diluted by this time."
"You sir! I thought that in your veins flowed none but the purest of Castilian streams," answered the lieutenant, with a slight sneer in his tone. It was so slight, however, that his captain did not perceive it. "How came that about, Don Hernan?"
"I will tell you," answered the captain: "an ancestor of mine—in our family tree he appears quite a modern one—commanded one of the ships of the holy Armada. She, like that of the Admiral, was driven north, and ultimately wrecked and totally lost on the land we shall soon make to the northward, called Shetland. He and his crew were kindly treated by the chief of the little island on which they were driven. The crew built a chapel to show their gratitude, and having nearly produced a famine in the district, were conveyed home with honour; while he, to prove his, married the old Udaller's daughter, and thinking it likely that his head might be chopped off as a sacrifice to assuage the rage of our pious monarch Philip, settled on the island, and did not return home till towards the end of a long life. His son, who accompanied him, having recovered his ancestral estates, remained in Spain; but he, when advanced in years, in consequence of being implicated in some political plot, fled the country, and naturally took refuge in that of his mother, where he was cordially welcomed. He was afterwards joined by his son, who, curiously enough, married a Shetland lady, and thus, even in the days of my father, who was his grandson, a constant communication was kept up with our Norse connections. I, also, have more than once heard of them since my father's death, and have determined to become more intimately acquainted with my relatives during this northern voyage of ours. But where are we getting to? What with the strong tide, and the favourable breeze, we positively fly by the land. Send for the chart on deck, Alvarez, and let me have a look at its bearings."
The first lieutenant beckoned to a midshipman, who soon returned with a large sea-chart, which the captain spread out on the capstan head.
"Ah! here we have this small rock—Fate Island, I see the natives call it—away to the south-west; and that lofty bluff headland, north by west, now shining so white, as if formed of marble, is Fitfiel Head, or the White Mountain, I see by a note—not an unfit name either; and that high point to the south-east again is Sumburgh Head. What bleak and barren hills appear to the northward again! What a dreadful coast to make during the long nights of winter!" The captain shuddered. "Unless we find the interior more attractive, I shall wonder how my ancestors could have had so much partiality for such a country."
"Summer or winter, in stormy weather it is not a coast a seaman would wish to hug too closely," observed Lieutenant Alvarez; "the crews of the ships of our great Armada found that to their cost. However, there appear to be some good roadsteads, where, should bad weather come on, we may be secure."
"Numbers. See what a curious shape has the mainland," observed the captain, pointing to the chart. "It is fully twenty leagues long, and yet there does not appear to be a point where it is more than a league across from sea to sea. Those voes run up for a league or more, and make it appear like some huge insect. Then what innumerable islands of all shapes and sizes! The people should be amphibious, who live here, to enable them to visit their neighbours: in a southern clime what a delightful spot it might be! but in this hyperborean region, existence must be a penalty."
"As to that, my fancy is for a southern clime," answered the lieutenant, who, by-the-by, did not clearly comprehend all his captain's remarks; "but I suppose as there are some animals, polar bears and arctic foxes, who delight in snow and frost, so there are human beings who are content to live on in this cheerless region."
"Not a bad notion, Alvarez," observed the captain, who continued walking the deck, and talking much in the same strain with his officer. The contrast between the two was very considerable. The captain, Don Hernan Escalante, was a refined, highly-educated man. His knowledge on most matters was extensive, if not profound; he spoke several languages, and among them English, with a fluency few Spaniards attain. Few Spaniards indeed of that day were equally accomplished. His first lieutenant, Pedro Alvarez, was every inch a seaman, and like many seamen despised all who were not so. Again the captain stopped before the chart, and placing his finger on it, observed: "Here I hope we may anchor to-night, opposite the capital, Lerwick. See, there is a long wide sound marked with good anchorage, called Brassay Sound, formed by the mainland and the island of Brassay. I wonder what sort of a city is Lerwick! It of course has theatres, hotels, billiard-rooms, and balls; these northern people are fond of dancing, I have read. We shall have ample amusement with the fair islanders."
"The dances will be something like those of the North American Indians, I suspect," answered the lieutenant, who might have thought that his captain was laughing at him, when he talked of such amusements in a country he believed so barbarous.
The corvette had got close in with Sumburgh Head, when her sails gave several loud flaps against the masts, bulged out, then again collapsed, and she speedily lost all steerage way. The head of the vessel, instead of pointing, as heretofore, towards the north, now began slowly to turn round west, and south, and east, and then, as if some secret power had seized her keel, away she was whirled, now to the westward, and then to the north in the direction of the towering heights of Fitfiel Head.
As the ship lay rocking to and fro under this lofty headland, which they at length arrived at, the sea-birds flew forth in myriads from the ledges and caverns, where, for ages past, in storm and sunshine, in winter and summer, they have roosted undisturbed, wheeling and circling with discordant cries round the stranger, as if to inquire why she had thus come to intrude on their domain. The Spanish seamen, accustomed chiefly to southern climes, gazed with superstitious wonder at the frowning cliff and the screeching birds, and fully believed that those winged denizens of the wild sea-coast were evil spirits sent out by the witches of the country to trick and torment them, and perchance to lead them to destruction.
"Shall we anchor, Alvarez?" asked the captain, anxiously looking around seaward, and then at the frowning height above their heads.
"Anchor!" exclaimed the lieutenant, "as well anchor in the middle of the Bay of Biscay as in the Roust of Sumburgh with such a current as this, even if the depth would allow. We might get the boats out and tow, and perchance, by gaining time, obtain a breeze to carry us free."
"By all means do so," was the answer. The boats were lowered, and their crews were soon lustily tugging at their oars with the head of the corvette to the westward, while long sweeps were got out and run through the ports to impel her yet more rapidly through the water. Suddenly, however, she seemed to be once more seized upon and carried completely out of their control. Her head was to the westward, but she herself was swept away as fast as before to the southward; while so tumbling and breaking was the sea, that it was not without danger of being swamped that the boats were again hoisted in. The crew cast frowning glances towards the shore.
"What are we to do, Alvarez?" asked the captain, not at all liking the condition of his ship.
"Let her drive backwards and forwards till a breeze springs up, I suppose," answered the lieutenant. "Should a westerly gale catch us before we again get to the southward of Sumburgh Head, and should we fail to weather some of those ugly-looking points, I doubt much whether Saint Cecilia herself, after whom our pretty craft is called, could prevent every one of us from sharing the fate which has befallen many a bold seaman before us. However, we'll hope for the best."
"You do not seem to like the prospects of this northern cruise of ours, Alvarez," observed the captain. "You have not been in good humour since we entered the British Channel, and have done nothing but predict disaster."
"Pardon me, captain," answered the lieutenant, "I am not now predicting disaster—though it requires no seer to foretell the fate of the ship, if not of our lives, should certain not unlikely contingencies occur. However, here comes a breeze, I verily believe from the westward too, and if it will but fill our sails for a short half-hour, we may double yon ugly-looking Sumburgh Head, and getting out of the Roust, the tide will carry us along to our anchorage."
The boats being once more lowered, towed the head of the corvette round to the westward, though all the time several hands were bailing to keep them free of the water, which bubbled and tumbled hissing into them over the sides. The breeze which Pedro Alvarez had observed playing on the surface in the distance, at length filled her sails, and stemming the current, she again got into smooth water and the influence of the tide, making to the northward. The wind also drew round to the southward, and all sails being made, the corvette, with her wide spread of canvas, glided on as smoothly and majestically as before, till the island of Mousa, with its Pictie tower, bore west on her larboard beam. A signal was flying for a pilot, and a long, light boat, pulling six oars, was seen coming off from Fladbister, a town—in reality a little fishing village—on the shore. The heads of her crew were visible a long way off, by the bright hues of their long pendant worsted caps. They wore large sheepskin coats, coming down to the knee over their worsted shirts, and high boots of yellow untanned leather. The corvette was about to shorten sail, but they making signals that that was unnecessary, the boat shot alongside, and two of them sprang on board.
"Those fellows would be unpleasant customers if they came as enemies to attack our ship, from the active way in which they leaped up our sides," observed the captain. "They would be as difficult to keep out as wild cats."
One of the two pilots was a man advanced in life, the other was very much younger, and habited in the quaint costume which has been described; his dress, though rough, differed much from the rest, while his easy, unembarrassed manner showed that he was an officer rather than an ordinary seaman. With a brisk step the men came aft, inquiring, as they did so, of the officers if any of them could speak English. They were referred to Don Hernan, who politely returned the salute as they touched their hats to him.
"Well, my men," said he, "will you take charge of the ship, and bring her to an anchor in Brassay Sound to-night?"
"That will we, captain, right gladly," answered the younger of the two, glancing aloft with the eye of a seaman. "She is as pretty a craft as any one has ever seen in these waters, and well worth taking care of. What is her name? where are you from? and whither are you bound, captain? Pardon me for asking, but it is my duty so to do. They are the questions we always put in these waters."
"As to that, of course you are perfectly right," answered the captain. "Her name is the 'Saint Cecilia,' her commander Don Hernan de Escalante, and she carries, as you see, twenty guns. We sailed from Cadiz, and have touched at two or three French ports, and the British port of Plymouth; after visiting Lerwick, we are bound round the north of your island, into the Atlantic again. You see that we have nothing to conceal. The character of this ship is above all suspicion; and you will find, my friend, that you have lost nothing by navigating her in safety wherever we may wish to go."
"Very likely, captain," answered the pilot, looking up into the captain's countenance. "I entertain no doubt about the matter, and if the provost and bailies of Lerwick are satisfied, I am sure that I shall be: keep her as she goes now for the Bard of Brassay. The tide will shoot her into the sound rapidly enough as we draw near it."
When in a short time the corvette was off the Bard or Beard of Brassay, as the ragged-looking southern end of that island is called, a turn of the helm to starboard sent the vessel into the Sound, and up she flew with smooth green heights on either side, here and there a few white buildings showing, and numerous rocks visible, till the pilot warned the captain that it was time to shorten sail. At a word the sailors were seen swarming aloft; studding-sails came in as if by magic, royals and top-gallant sails were handed, topsails clewed up, and with her taunt tapering masts and square yards alone, surrounded by the intricate tracery of their rigging, the beautiful fabric glided up to an anchorage off the town of Lerwick.
"Friend, you brought the ship to an anchor in true seamanlike style," said Captain Don Hernan, touching the young pilot on the shoulder. "You have not been a simple pilot all your life."
"No, indeed, captain," answered the pilot, "I have been afloat since my earliest days in southern seas, as well as engaged in the Greenland fishery. Lately I have been mate of a whaler, and maybe my next voyage I shall have charge of a ship as master. You have hit the right nail on the head—this is the first summer that I ever spent on shore."
"Can I trust you, then, to take charge of the ship round the coast?" asked the captain. "Perhaps, however, you are not well acquainted with that?"
The pilot smiled. "There is not a point or headland, a rock, or shoal, or island, which I have not as clearly mapped down in my memory, as are the hues on yonder chart, and more correctly, too, I doubt not."
"That will do—I will trust you," said Don Hernan. "What is your name, friend, that I may send for you when you are wanted?"
"Rolf Morton," was the answer; "but my home is some way to the northward, on the island of Whalsey. There you have it on your chart. Those who live on it boast that it is the finest of the outlying islands; and well I know that such a castle as we have is not to be found in all Shetland."
"Ah, it is your native place," observed the captain. "You therefore think so highly of it."
"Not exactly, though I remember no other spot of earth before I put eyes on Whalsey. I was, so I have been told, picked up, when a child, from a wreck at sea; and the men I was with called me Rolf Morton, the name which has stuck to me for want of a better. I know nothing more of my history; but I am prating of myself, and shall weary you, captain."
"Far from it, friend; I delight in a little romance," answered the captain. "How comes it, though, that you remained on shore this summer?—but I need not ask—one of your fair islanders, of whom I have heard so much, was your attraction."
"Yes, in truth," said the pilot, laughing; "she has become my wife, though; and as I could not bring myself to quit her, I bethought me I would try to gain my livelihood by turning pilot. Yours is one of the first ships I have taken charge of. There—I have been frank with you, captain, and told you all my history from beginning to end."
"And I thank you for it. I saw at a glance that you were above the ordinary style of a pilot. I wanted to find a man like yourself, who would give me the information I require about the country, the habits and customs of the people. I would wish to win their regard. But you have, I suppose, few good families here?"
Don Hernan well knew that the islander's pride would tempt him to launch out in a full description of all the families of consequence in the group, and that he should thus easily obtain, without apparently seeking for it, all the information of that description which he required.
Morton unsuspectingly answered exactly in the tone for which he was prepared.
"Indeed, captain, you are out of your latitude. We have the Edmonstones of Unst, and the Lord Dundas, and the Mouats, and the Ogilvys, and Scott of Scalloway, and Braces of Sandwick, and also of Symbister; and Spences, and Duncans, and the Nicolson family; baronets of old date, all honourable men, and of ancient lineage; besides many others I have not named, standing equally well in the estimation of the country; and then there is the Lunnasting family of Lunnasting Castle, of which I spoke to you. The owner is Sir Marcus Wardhill, who succeeded to his property by right of his wife, the Lady Margaret Brindister; one of the most ancient of our Shetland families, descended, so it is said, from one of the former chiefs, the Udallers of old. They are very great and important people, at all events when in their own castle, and of course have little communication with a man of my humble rank. Maybe I hear more of them than do others, because my wife's mother was for long the companion of the Lady Margaret, and the nurse to her children. I believe she loved them as her own. Indeed, although but called a nurse in the family, she is nearly akin to the Lady Margaret. But these are matters about which a stranger can have no interest."
"A stranger might not, but I must not be considered in that light," answered the captain. "Strange as it may appear to you, I am connected with that very family of which you are speaking. An ancestress of mine was a Brindister. I must claim relationship with the occupants of Lunnasting. It will, in truth, be pleasant in this remote region to find friends so nearly related to me."
The reserve which the pilot had hitherto maintained seemed to vanish on hearing the assertion made by Don Hernan.
"I have no doubt, captain, that they would have given you a warm northern welcome," he answered. "But Sir Marcus Wardhill himself, and his second daughter, are in the south, travelling, I have heard, among French and Germans, and it is said that they purpose remaining some time in the big city of London, a place among all my wanderings I have never seen."
"The Lady Margaret, of whom you speak, and her elder daughter are there, I hope; or is the castle shut up?" asked Don Hernan.
"The Lady Margaret, as we called her, Lady Wardhill, is dead, but her elder daughter, Miss Hilda Wardhill, lives at Lunnasting, and manages the Shetland estates, they say as well as any man would do."
"Ho, ho! I should like to become acquainted with this talented cousin of mine," said Don Hernan. "Is she handsome as well as clever?"
Thus appealed to, Morton replied with even more hesitation than before. "As to an eye for the look of a ship aloft, or for her build or trim, I'll yield to no man; and maybe I like the faces of some women more than others. This I'll say, sir; it's my belief that there are not many in this world like the Lady Hilda."
"You have probably heard of the Spanish connection of the family."
"Yes, once or twice, maybe," answered Morton; "my wife's mother often speaks of them. In her father's time they constantly corresponded, and exchanged presents—Shetland shawls and stockings for Spanish silks and brocades. It was said that, during his travels, Sir Marcus thought of visiting his connections in Spain."
After some further conversation, the captain observed, "I would pay my respects to the governor or authorities of the town. As you have proved so good a pilot afloat, you shall accompany me as my guide on shore."
LUNNASTING CASTLE—THE STRANGER SHIP—SANDY REDLAND, THE FACTOR—ARCHY EAGLESHAY—MISS WARDHILL'S VISITORS—THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE HEIR.
Lunnasting Castle stood on a high rocky promontory, washed by the ocean on the south and east, and by a voe which ran up some way inland on the west. It was a somewhat extensive building; but though of a castellated style of architecture it was not really a fortress further than the naturally inaccessible nature of the ground on which it stood made it so. It stood on the site, and was formed partly of such materials as time had left of an old castle of the earls or ancient Udal lords of Shetland, and had been very much increased in size, and ornamented, as well as rendered a more commodious habitation by the present owner, Sir Marcus Wardhill. The dwelling-house consisted but of two stories, and standing, as it did, elevated some way above the sea, looked lower than it really was. It was surrounded on the north, east, and west, by a high castellated wall, flanked with towers, which, if not capable of keeping out a mortal enemy, served the purpose for which it was built,— to guard the mansion from the assaults of the wintry blasts of the icy ocean. In front, on the south side, that the inhabitants might enjoy the sea view, and that the warm rays of the sun might be admitted, the wall sunk down to the height of a mere ornamental parapet, the round towers at either end giving it some right to claim the title bestowed on it; especially as on the summit of either tower Sir Marcus had mounted a couple of long six-pounders, capable of considerably annoying any hostile vessel of a size at all likely to venture near that part of a coast so full of dangers that no large ship would willingly approach it. The muzzles of some smaller guns appeared through the embrasure of the parapet wall, which was also flanked by a buttress, or rather a circular outwork at either end at the foot of the towers, where pivot guns were placed, so that the one on the west could fire directly up the voe or gulf, and served to flank the western wall. The two principal front towers were connected with the dwelling-house, and had small chambers in them, one above the other, which had been fitted up as sitting-rooms or dormitories.
In a deep window recess, in the highest chamber of the western tower of Lunnasting Castle, sat Miss Wardhill, Sir Marcus Wardhill's eldest child. Although the window matched in appearance the others in that and the opposite tower, which were mere high, narrow, glazed loop-holes, by an ingenious contrivance a huge stone was made to turn on an iron axle, and by pressing a spring, it slid in sufficiently to allow the inmate of the room to gaze out conveniently on the surrounding scene.
Few scenes, to a romantic temperament, could have been more attractive. The subdued twilight of that northern clime reigned over the face of nature, softening and mellowing all objects, but in no way obscuring them. The light was not so bright as that of the day, and yet it partook in no way of the characteristics of night. It was more like the warm light of the dawn of a summer day in the south, just before the sun rises up from below the horizon in refulgent glory. The water near the land was perfectly smooth, though a breeze could be seen rippling the surface in the offing, the ripple being increased probably by the strong current which nearly at all times sets one way or the other round the islands.
Before the castle, on the right, rose the rocky heights and green swelling undulations of the mainland—the Noup of Nesting Kirkbuster, Brough and Moul of Eswick, while the highlands above Lerwick, and the heights of Brassy and Noss, appeared blue and indistinct in the far distance.
To the east, several green islands, or rather islets, known as Grief Skerries, Rumble, Eastling, and other equally euphonious names, ran out of the dark-blue ocean. The last-named being a mile and a half in length, formed with the main island, along the shore of which it ran parallel, and from which it was little more than a quarter of a mile distant, a sound of some extent, where vessels in all but north-easterly winds could ride safely at anchor. Even in these winds the force of the sea was considerably broken by the small island or holm of Isbuster, which lay in the very centre of the northern entrance.
Looking eastward, and north from the towers of Lunnasting, the view extended nearly up the Sound, and commanded the whole island of Eastling, which perhaps obtained its name from lying east of the chief habitation of the lords of the domain, Eastling being a corruption of Eastlying. Such was the view on which Hilda Wardhill was occasionally turning her gaze, though her eyes were more frequently fixed on the pages of a large volume lying open on a dark oak reading desk fixed in the recess, and so placed that the last rays of that precious sunlight which so soon departs in the long winter season of the North, might fall full upon it. The room was of an octagon shape, with dark oak wainscoting and ceiling; the chairs were of a suitable character, mostly with high upright backs, rudely carved, as were some book-shelves, which occupied two of the sides, while a massive table, supported by sea monsters, or at all events by creatures of fish-like form, stood in the centre; another table of similar character stood against the side of the room with writing materials on it, and there was a sofa of antique form, and two large chests of some dark wood, with brass clasps and plates on the lids and sides, so tarnished however by the sea air, as scarcely to be discerned as brass. A second high narrow window, with a lattice, faced towards the west and north, so that persons standing at it could, by leaning forward, look completely up the voe. Thus, from this turret chamber, a view could be obtained on every side, except on that looking inland, or rather over the island.
On one of the eight sides there was, however, a small door in the panelling, which opened on a spiral staircase leading to the very summit of the tower, where, as has been said, a gun was placed, and whence a complete view was obtained over every portion of the island, extending far away over the sea beyond, to the Out Skerries, a rocky group so called; and the distant shores of the large island of Yell. As the roof could only be reached by passing through the chamber below, it was completely private to the fair occupant as long as she chose to close the ingress to her own room.
Seldom has a more beautiful picture been portrayed to the mind's eye of the most imaginative of painters, than that which Hilda Wardhill presented as she sat at the window of her turret chamber, either leaning over the volume which occupied her attention, or gazing out on the calm ocean, her thoughts evidently still engaged in the subject of her studies.
At length she rose, and was about to close the window, when her eye fell on a vast towering mass of white, gliding slowly from the northward down Eastling Sound. She looked more than once, mistrusting her senses, and inclined to believe that it was some phantom of the deep, described in wild romances, often her study, which she beheld, till another glance assured her, as the object drew nearer that it was a large ship far larger than had ever been known during her recollection to anchor in the Sound. With speed which seemed like magic, the white canvas disappeared, and the tall masts and the yards and the light tracery of the rigging could only dimly be traced against the clear sky.
Whence the stranger had come, or for what object, Hilda could not tell, but still she had a feeling—how communicated she did not inquire—that the event portended some great change in her own fate. Painful forebodings of evil came crowding like mocking phantoms around her. She tried with the exercise of her own strong will to banish them. In vain she strove—the more they seemed to mock her power. She felt as if she could almost have shrieked out in the agony of her mortal struggle, till her proud spirit quailed and trembled with unwonted fears. Again the clock tolled forth a solitary sound, which vibrated strangely on her overwrought nerves, and seemed more sonorous than usual. She pressed her hand upon her brow, then by an effort she seemed by a single gasp to recover herself, and, closing the window, retired to her sleeping chamber in that part of the house in the immediate neighbourhood of her favourite tower.
At an early hour the lady of the castle was on foot. She at once ascended to the summit of her tower, and gazed eagerly up the Sound, half expecting to find that she had been deceived by her imagination on the previous night, and that the ship she had seen was but a creation of the brain. There, however, floated the beautiful fabric, but there was not the slightest movement or sign of life on board. At all events, it seemed improbable that she would soon move from her present position. At length she descended to her boudoir below, where, as usual, her light and frugal meal was brought to her by her own attendant, Nanny Clousta.
Her meal, at which Nanny stood ready to help her to anything she required, being quickly concluded, Miss Wardhill descended to the large hall on the ground-floor, in the centre of the castle. It was a handsome room, with an arched ceiling of dark oak, supported by pillars round the wall. A long table ran down the centre, at one end of which, on a raised platform or dais, she took her seat. Several tenants of the Lunnasting estate came in to make complaints, to beg for the redress of grievances, to report on the state of the farms, or fisheries, or kelp-collecting; to all of which the lady listened with the most perfect attention, making notes in a book placed before her. Two or three were told to wait till she had seen the factor, that she might hear his reports before deciding on their claims. She looked round as if the audience was over; and inquired why Alexander, or Sandy Redland, as he was called, the factor, did not make his appearance, when an old man, leaning on a stick, hobbled into the hall.
"I come for justice, my lady. Oh, hear me, hear me!" he exclaimed; as if before entering the hall he had worked himself up to address her; "I am just auld Archy Eagleshay, and as ye ken weel, my leddie, my only son has long gane been awa to sea, and I've been left to struggle on fra ane year to another, till now that I am grown too weak to toil, and the factor, Sandy Redland, comes down upon me, and makes awfu' threats to distrain and turn me out of my sma' holding if I dinna pay; and pay I canna', that is truth, my leddie. Have mercy, have pity, my leddie. Ye love justice whatever else ye love."
"Justice might induce me to expel you from your holding, if you cannot pay your rent, old man," said Miss Wardhill, in a cold severe tone. "However I will listen to what Sandy Redland, the factor, has to say. Ha! here he comes. You are late Mr Redland, in your attendance. What has kept you?"
The man who entered was a tall, thin person, habited in the grey shepherd's plaid of the north. His features were coarse. He possessed a sharp nose, high cheek bones, and small and grey unpleasantly twinkling eyes. He bowed low, and in a voice which was intended to be soft and insinuating, replied—
"It is no fault o' mine when your orders are na implicitly obeyed, Miss Wardhill; but circumstances militate against the best intentions, as may be clear to you oftentimes, I doubt not. I was delayed by having to make inquiries respecting a strange ship, which anchored, it appears, a few hours back, in the Sound of Eastling, and which, as I opine, is within your leddyship's jurisdiction, I deemed it incumbent on me to ascertain the object of her coming, and the time it might be proposed for her to stay. As she is a foreigner, it struck me that charge might be made for harbour and light dues, and the chances are that it would not be disputed. Ye see, Miss Wardhill, that I have always your honoured father's interests at heart."
The lady gave a glance towards the factor, which bespoke the most perfect contempt—too cold and confirmed to cause much change in her features.
"And what have you learned respecting this stranger ship?" she asked.
"Nathing, my leddie, nathing," answered Sandy, shuddering. "What could I tell but that she might be a pirate or an enemy in disguise, or some ill-doer, and that if I, the factor of Lunnasting, was entrapped on board, I might be retained as a hostage in durance vile, till sic times as a heavy sum might be collected for my ransom."
A gleam flitted across Miss Wardhill's countenance, as she replied: "You estimate yourself somewhat highly, factor. Then, in truth, you know nothing of the ship which has anchored in the Sound?"
"Nathing whatever, my leddie," was the answer. "But I await the return of Jock Busta's boat which I despatched as soon as I reached Whalsey this morning from the mainland."
"Bring me the information as soon as you obtain it," said Miss Wardhill. "In the meantime let me hear what answer you have to make to a complaint old Archy Eagleshay brings against you."
The factor gave a variety of reasons for his conduct, to which she listened without replying, and then called up the old man to her end of the table.
"Go home Archy Eagleshay," she said, in a voice totally different to that in which she had spoken to the factor. "Best quiet in your hut. The old and infirm must be sheltered and fed; of that there is no doubt; but let the evil-doer and idle beware. On them I shall have no mercy. Sandy Redland, mark me: I will have no cruelty or oppression—remember that. The instant you receive information respecting the strange ship, let me know through Nanny Clousta."
There was a cowed look on the countenance of Sandy Redland as he bowed, while his young mistress rose to retire.
Old Archy lifted up his hands, as if about to address her once more, then he turned slowly round. "Ha, ha!" he muttered; "if she had yielded to you, cruel factor, I'd have told her all I know, and made e'en her proud spirit tremble; but she's been good and kind to an auld man, and I'll say nothing."
On leaving the hall, Hilda Wardhill went at once to the turret chamber, and from thence mounted to the platform on the summit of the tower. Her first glance was up the Sound, where lay the stranger ship. The sails were still closely furled; the boats were hoisted up; not a movement of any sort appeared to be taking, place. The only object stirring was a small boat, which just then was gliding rapidly close under the headland on which the castle stood. A single rower sat in it, who managed his oars with the skill which long practice gives. He looked up, and seeing Miss Wardhill, flourished his oar as a salute, which she returned with the slightest possible inclination of her head, and then continued pacing up and down, while he pursued his course till he entered the voe, and reached the castle landing-place, where he was hid from view. Miss Wardhill continued her circumscribed walk backwards and forwards across the top of the tower, now stopping to look up the Sound at the ship, now casting her glance round the horizon, speaking frequently to herself, and more than once sighing deeply, as if there was some weight at her heart of which she longed to be relieved.
She had again stopped, and was looking at the beautiful ship in the distance, when she started on hearing herself addressed—
"Good morrow, cousin Hilda," said the intruder, who had that instant come up from the room below. "Engaged, as I expected, or you would not be a woman, gazing with curiosity at the strange ship in the Sound, wondering whence she came, and all about her."
She turned as he spoke, when he lifted a little gold-laced, three-cornered hat from his head, and saluted her with a profound bow, which might have appeared respectful in the extreme, had he not at the same time indulged in a low chuckling laugh, the usual conclusion, it seemed, of most of his sentences. His manner and appearance were peculiar in the extreme: he was broad and large boned, but thin; and a suit of brown cloth, with huge silver buttons, hung loosely about his body; a wide shirt-frill stuck out in front, and his shirt collars reached up to his ears. His gait was shuffling and shambling; he wore knee-breeches and grey homespun stockings, and his shoes, which were ornamented with silver buckles, were far too large for him, and of course, even had he not had the propensity to do so, would have made him shuffle his feet over the ground, his eyes were unusually large, grey, and staring; and his hair, which was already so grey that its original colour could scarcely be perceived, was cut short, and stood up on end, all over his head like the quills of the porcupine; his forehead was somewhat narrow, but his features were neither plain nor coarse; there was, however, a startled, frightened look about them, and an otherwise painful and indescribable expression, which told too plainly that the ruling power of the intellect had been overthrown, and that the living machine could no longer be altogether held responsible for its acts. Such, in appearance, was Lawrence Brindister: had he been of sane mind, he would have been the lord of Lunnasting and the broad acres of several estates, both on the mainland of Shetland and in the north of Scotland; but as he had, long before coming of age, given undoubted signs of being totally incapable of managing his affairs, his claims had been set aside in favour of his cousin, Margaret Brindister, the next heir, married to Sir Marcus Wardhill. There had been, when Sir Marcus married, three other heirs besides Lawrence, before Margaret Brindister could succeed to the property: the same fever within a few days carried off two of them; and then, and perhaps not till then, a longing desire seized Sir Marcus to obtain the estates. The possessor was an old man—a bachelor. Sir Marcus was not a man—that was well known—who allowed obstacles to stand in his way; in the most unaccountable manner, the next heir, a boy, disappeared: he was supposed, with his nurse, to have fallen over a cliff, or to have been on the beach when a sea came in and swept them both away—either occurrences too likely to happen to allow suspicion justly to rest on any one. A handkerchief of the nurse's, and a plaything of the child's, were found dropped on the road they had taken. Their bodies were searched for in every direction in vain; the old man mourned for the child, of whom he was very fond, and died shortly after. Sir Marcus, too, mourned for the loss of his young kinsman, but instantly commenced a suit which terminated by making poor Lawrence Brindister his ward. There were certain conditions attached, that Lunnasting should be his abode, and that he should be kindly treated and well looked after, and supplied with anything he might in reason require for his amusement: Lawrence himself, so far from opposing, seemed perfectly contented with the arrangement; and while Lady Wardhill, to whom he was much attached, lived, he was always cheerful and good-tempered, though he afterwards exhibited so much extravagance of behaviour that he required to be carefully watched, and his actions more curbed than he liked. He had at first much resented this mode of proceeding with him, but of late years he had become apparently so perfectly harmless, that he was allowed to do exactly as he pleased. Such was the eccentric being who now stood before Miss Wardhill.
"Yes, Lawrence, I have been looking at the ship," she answered, with so peculiar a calmness, that it appeared to be produced by an effort. "You have, I conclude, visited her, and can give me some information about the stranger."
"Ah! that can I, fair cousin," he answered, with his usual painful chuckle. "I have been on board the ship, and introduced myself to her captain, and, what is more, invited him to the castle. He has a right to claim our hospitality, for who, think you, is he?—no other than one of those Spanish cousins we have heard often spoken about by her who lies sleeping in yonder churchyard out there—ah's me!—and others. Nurse Bertha will know all about them; we must get her to tell us before he comes: he will be here soon, though. I told him that he must let me go on ahead, to give due notice of his coming, or he would have arrived, and taken you by surprise. He is a gallant-looking knight; a true don of the old school. But I say, Hilda, don't treat him to the scornful glances you cast at me, or he will not like it."
Miss Wardhill took no notice of the last remark. "Since you have invited these strangers to the castle, whether they are really our relations or not, we must be prepared to receive them. Go, look for Sandy Redland; he has not left the island yet: he must go round and collect an ample store of provisions, that we may not be looked on as niggards in our hospitality, in this island home of ours. Send Bertha Eswick to me; she knows, better than any other person here, what arrangements should be made to do honour to strangers; it is so long since any one came here, that I cannot hope to remember what preparations are required. Go, Lawrence, and do you remember not to bring discredit on the family by any pranks or strange vagaries you may wish to play."
LAWRENCE BRINDISTER VISITS THE SPANISH SHIP—DON HERNAN INVITED TO THE CASTLE—SURLY GRIND, LAWRENCE'S DOG.
The accounts which Don Hernan had received from various quarters while on shore at Lerwick about the inhabitants of Lunnasting Castle had excited his curiosity and interest to the highest pitch. Though fully intending to return shortly to Lerwick, he had an object in suddenly leaving Brassay Sound. He also wished to arrive unexpectedly in the neighbourhood of Lunnasting.
Rolf Morton came at his summons; and understanding the "Saint Cecilia" was shortly to return to Lerwick, not having reason to suspect fraud of any description, he, without hesitation, took the ship on to Eastling Sound. She had not been long at anchor before Lawrence Brindister—who, as was his custom, had been at an early hour of the morning out fishing—espied her, and very soon made his appearance on board. Lawrence walked about the deck admiring the guns and the carved and gilt work with which the ship was adorned; for it was the custom, especially in the Spanish navy, in those days to ornament ships of war far more profusely than at present. At length Don Hernan came on deck. He observed the skiff alongside; and his eye falling on Lawrence, he very naturally at first took him to be some poor fisherman habited in the cast-off finery of a gentleman. Lawrence, however, guessed who he was from his uniform, and, shuffling along the deck, made him one of his profoundest bows, which Don Hernan returned with one in the same style.
As it had not been, impressed on Lawrence's mind that there existed numerous nations speaking different tongues, he at once addressed the Spanish captain in English.
"Your people, good sir, have been very silent: not one has spoken to me since I stepped on board this trim craft of yours; for you have, I conclude, the happiness of being her captain, and you have, I hope, a tongue with which to hold pleasant and profitable converse."
"I command this ship, and I am able to converse in English," answered Don Hernan, wondering who his strange visitor could be. "May I ask in return whom I have the honour of addressing?"
"No less a person than Lawrence Brindister, Lord of Lunnasting Castle and the lands adjacent," answered Lawrence, drawing himself up—"that is to say, who would be, and should be, and ought to be, had not certain traitorous and vile persons, who shall be nameless, interfered with his just rights, and ousted him from his property. But say not a word about that, most noble stranger. 'A guid time is coming—a guid time is coming.' 'The prince shall have his ain again!'"
Don Hernan at once perceived his visitor's state of mind.
"I had thought that Sir Marcus Wardhill was Lord of Lunnasting, though I am aware that, from times immemorial, it has been held by Brindisters, of whom I conclude you are one," remarked the captain.
"Ay, there's the rub," said Lawrence. "You see, most noble captain, I've a difficulty in steering my craft; I never can keep her in good trim. Sometimes she luffs up, and sometimes she falls off; so as to holding a steady course, I find that out of the question. Ah, now I know all about it. I have come, most noble captain, feeling assured that you are of gentle birth and a man of honour, to invite you and your officers to visit Lunnasting Castle. My cousin and I will do our best to receive you as becomes your rank."
Don Hernan, who believed that Miss Wardhill had really sent this strange being to invite him to the castle, replied, in suitable terms, that he should have great happiness in paying his respects to her. He also explained his connection with the Brindister family, and begged Lawrence to say that he hoped to visit Lunnasting in the character of a kinsman.
Lawrence was about to step into his boat when he saw Rolf Morton, who, hearing that a boat was alongside, had just come on deck with the intention of going on shore. He and Rolf were always on very good terms; so, when the latter begged for a cast on shore, he gladly undertook to land him wherever he wished.
"Abreast of the ship will suit me, for in half an hour I can be at home," answered Morton. "Good-bye, Don Hernan; should the wind shift, I will be on board in a trice; or should you want me, send. We have not so many houses in Whalsey that mine cannot be found without difficulty."
Saying this, he was following Lawrence into the skiff, when the latter cried out, "Hold fast! you are stepping on Surly Grind, Morton; he'll not like it, let me tell you. He's apt to treat with scant ceremony those who offend him."
Morton looked down, and saw, coiled away at the bottom of the skiff, where Lawrence had taught him to lie, a huge black dog, with an unusually ferocious expression of countenance, though from his coat he had evidently much of the Newfoundland breed in him, but his face showed that he had also much of that of the mastiff and bloodhound, probably.
"Lie down, Surly Grind, and treat my visitors with respect," said Lawrence; and the dog, which had lifted up his head and begun to growl and snarl, crouched down as before.
"Now, take your seat, man, and I'll show you how a true Shetlander can pull," said Lawrence, taking his place at the oars and giving several rapid strokes.
"But I deem that I have a right to hail from Shetland also, Master Lawrence," answered Morton. "There is no other land owns me, and it is hard for a man to be without a country or a home."
"Ay, true; you have a Shetland look and a Shetland tongue, and I believe that you have a Shetland heart also, Morton. 'The prince shall hae his ain again, his ain again!' That's a curious old Scotch song; it's always running in my head. 'The prince shall hae his ain again!' Well, but, you know, Morton, he didn't get his ain again; so I've heard nurse Bertha say. She's a wise woman, your mother-in-law, and my good cousin, too. Well, well; there are ups and downs in this life. All don't get their ain, that's poz; if they did, another'd be sitting on George's throne; but that's treason, ye ken; and another'd be ruling in Wardhill's room, but that's treason, too; so I'd better be holding my tongue, or all the cats I've got in my bag will be jumping out and playing more pranks than either you or I, or Sir Marcus Wardhill to boot, will be able to stay."
Rolf Morton was too well aware of poor Lawrence's state of mind to listen with much attention to what he said; but his curiosity was sufficiently awakened by some of the remarks he let fall to make him resolve to learn more about the matter from Bertha Eswick as soon as he could meet her.
HILDA'S FIRST MEETING WITH DON HERNAN—HILDA ON BOARD THE CORVETTE—ROLF MORTON PILOTS THE SHIP—CRUISE IN THE "SAINT CECILIA."—HILDA ACCEPTS DON HERNAN.
The heiress of Lunnasting was high-minded, unconscious of evil, confident of her own strength and resolution, and utterly ignorant of the world and of its deceits and wickedness. She had for long lived in one of her own creation, which she fancied was like the real world of other mortals. She met Don Hernan Escalante, and at once clothed him with all the attributes and perfections with which a romantic girl could endow the object of her fancy. He, too, at the moment he entered the hall, and found her seated in courtly style to receive him, was struck by her rare and exquisite beauty. He had never seen any being so lovely, and, man of the world as he thought himself, he at once yielded to the influence of that beauty. She herself was scarcely aware of the power she might have exerted over him, but gave herself up to the full enjoyment of the new sensations she experienced.
Hilda occasionally heard from her father and sister, but not very frequently, and their letters contained little more than an outline of their progress, the names of the places they had visited, and the length of their stay at each. Sir Marcus now and then added a few directions as to the management of the estate, but generally wound up by saying, that as he felt sure everything necessary would be done, he would not interfere with any arrangements she might have seen fit to make. Hitherto all had gone well. Hilda had, by a wonderful exertion of resolution, so successfully combated the dreadful malady which, like some monster bird of prey, hung hovering above her, ready to pounce down and dethrone her intellect from its sway, that few, although in constant communication with her, had any suspicion of the real state of the case. Probably at that time only two people in the world had discovered the unstable character of Hilda's mind, and they themselves were the two most opposite in all respects connected with her—her nurse Bertha and her cousin Lawrence; but while the latter had more than once betrayed his knowledge to her, the former had never by word or look allowed her to suspect that she had an idea of the truth.
The Spanish corvette had been nearly a week at anchor in Eastling Sound, and on each day her captain had appeared at Lunnasting, his visits increasing gradually in length as he found them more and more acceptable. Hilda had at first received him in the great hall, into which, as not only the members of the household, but all visitors, had access, their intercourse was too public and restrained to suit the feelings which were springing up in their hearts.
"Lady, the view from the summit of the tower where I first beheld you must be lovely," said Don Hernan, adding in a lower tone some words which made the colour mantle into Hilda's cheeks. An invitation to visit the tower was the consequence of the remark; but before going there a ramble was taken over the chief part of the castle, to which Don Hernan had not yet been introduced. There was a private entrance to the highest floor of the tower; but as that led through the lady's apartments, they had to descend to mount the more public stair. That was, however, narrow and winding, and somewhat inconvenient; at the foot of it they encountered Lawrence.
"Ah, my brave Don Hernan, so our cousin Hilda is about to show you the secrets of her prison tower," he exclaimed, in a facetious tone. "Take care that she does not shut you up, as enchantresses of old were wont to do their captive knights, and never again set you free. However, to prevent such a catastrophe, I'll accompany you. Let me mount first, and show you the way, or you might chance to knock your head against some of the iron-plated gates, which bar the approach to the summit."
In what direction Don Hernan might just then have wished poor Lawrence, it need not be said. No means of getting rid of him occurred to his mind. Had he been on the top of the tower, he might have felt inclined to throw him over; but as it was, he had to submit to his company with as good a grace as he could command.
"I fear that you may not consider my cousin the best of guides on all occasions; but he can lead the way to the top of our tower as well as a wiser man," said Hilda, observing the Spaniard's look of anger, and at the same time, from maiden bashfulness, not sorry to have Lawrence as an escort. Up they went, therefore, till they reached Hilda's sitting-room.
"This, you see, Don Hernan, is my fair kinswoman's bower—her boudoir, her retiring-room, or whatever else you like to call it—where she sits brooding in silence, watching the stars and the moon sometimes, ye ken, or reading romances and works on philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, and other subjects far too deep for my poor brain," said Lawrence, as he entered the apartment.
Don Hernan glanced round with an eye of curiosity and surprise. "It is indeed a delightful spot for retirement and contemplation," he remarked, turning to Hilda, as he offered her his hand to assist her up the last step of the stair. "I would gladly give up my roving life to inhabit it."
"How strange! for though I love it dearly, I can fancy nothing so delightful as being able to wander here and there to new and far-off lands," answered Hilda, smiling.
Don Hernan whispered a few words, which Lawrence could not hear. "You have now shown me your home on the shore, let me have the opportunity of showing you mine on the water," he added, taking her hand, with an expression which called forth a deep blush on her cheek; yet her hand was not withdrawn. "You can, I doubt not, persuade your cousin and good housekeeper to accompany you, and any other escort you may deem advisable. I will send for our pilot, and we will take a short cruise round some of the neighbouring islets."
Hilda, after a moment's hesitation, consented to the proposal. Lawrence was delighted at the idea of a sail in the big ship.
The summer days of Shetland are few, but they are perfect while they last, and long enough to satisfy the most enthusiastic admirer of out-door amusements. Such was the day Hilda had selected for paying a visit to the corvette. At an early hour the state barge of Lunnasting was in attendance at the landing-place, manned by a sturdy crew of eight of her tenants, whilst Lawrence claimed the privilege of acting as coxswain—a post for which, from his practical knowledge of seamanship, he was perfectly well fitted.
The Spanish captain had wished to send a boat from the corvette, but the offer had been declined, as Hilda knew that it would be considered undignified unless she went in her own. Besides the crew and Lawrence Brindister, her only escort consisted of Bertha Eswick, Nanny Clousta, her own attendant, and her factor, Sandy Redland.
As they got alongside, the crew sprang aloft and manned yards, but instead of cheering they waved their hats above their heads; a salute was at the same moment fired from the guns, and the captain himself descended the side ladder to assist Miss Wardhill on deck. He pressed her hand as he did so, and the glance she gave him showed the pleasure she felt in visiting his ocean home. They said but little, for they already understood each other too well to feel inclined to interchange many words in public. The first lieutenant, Pedro Alvarez, took charge of Bertha Eswick, and one of the junior officers devoted himself to Nanny Clousta, very little caring what was her position in the family. Lawrence, who had constantly been on board the corvette, seemed on intimate terms with every one, while Sandy Redland, the factor, stalked about wondering at the sights he beheld, and not attempting to exchange words with any one. As soon as the last of the party were out of the Lunnasting barge, she was sent back to the castle, with directions to pull off to the ship when a signal should be made; at the same moment the boatswain's shrill whistle was heard, the topsails were let fall, the capstan bars were shipped, and the men tramped round to the sound of fife and fiddle. The wide extending courses next dropped from the brails, the topgallant sails and royals were set, and the ship under all her canvas stood out with the wind on her larboard quarter by the northern passage from Eastling Sound. As she began to move on, Rolf Morton, who had been on the forecastle superintending getting up the anchor, came aft to the wheel to direct her course. He bowed distantly to Hilda, while with affectionate warmth he pressed Bertha Eswick's hand to his lips; Lawrence shook him cordially by his hand, saying as he did so—
"I am glad, cousin, that you have charge of so fine a ship. I hope it will be as profitable as a voyage to Greenland. We are all cousins here, you see, captain—that is to say, all of true Norse blood; and, moreover, are not ashamed of our connections. Here we have Rolf Morton, as pretty a man as you may wish to see, though not Shetland born, as far as we know, married to young Bertha Eswick, daughter to our good cousin Dame Eswick, at present governess, manager, or housekeeper of Lunnasting Castle. Thus, you understand, Rolf Morton is our cousin by marriage; and who would disown him because he is at present but an humble pilot! A finer fellow or a truer seaman does not step, though I say it to his face."
Morton had not listened to these remarks; but Don Hernan had heard sufficient to understand their tenor, and to make him feel that he was not wrong in placing perfect reliance on his pilot's seamanship and knowledge of the coast. Hilda, who had never before been on board a large ship, was delighted with the sight as she gazed upwards on the towering mass of canvas which seemed to rise into the very blue sky itself; then around on the rich carving and gilt work; on the polished brass, of which several of the guns were formed; on the fresh, bright painting, and the various other embellishments of the ship.
Directed by Morton, the "Saint Cecilia" soon glided out through the narrow entrance to the Sound, so close to the black rocks on one side that a good leaper could almost have sprung on shore. The officers turned their eyes now and anon from the rocks, which threatened destruction to their beautiful ship, to the pilot, but his calm, self-confident look assured them that there was no danger, and soon she was rising and falling to the undulations of the open sea, while Whalsey and the other outlying islands blended rapidly into one, and soon could not be distinguished from the main land.
"This is indeed truly enchanting!" exclaimed Hilda. "Though I have frequently been at sea, it has always been on board some slow-sailing trader or packet, where sights and sounds and associations were all unpleasant together. In a ship like this, how delightful to sail round the world! I should never weary of such a life."
"Then share it with me, Hilda," was the natural though unexpected rejoinder of the Spanish captain, spoken in a low voice. "Oh do not raise hopes and thoughts and aspirations, only to hurl them overboard! We rovers of the sea have but little time to give to wooing. Be mine now and for ever."
Hilda's countenance betrayed the agitation, doubt, and astonishment which filled her bosom.
"Dearest lady! I would not thus hurriedly press my suit, but any post may bring me orders to leave the coast, never again to return. Your own words betrayed me into uttering a prayer I might not otherwise have ventured so soon to urge; but now it has been made, do not compel me to retract it."
He stopped a moment to allow his words to take effect. Two or three of his own officers and men only were within hearing, and his calm attitude and manner did not betray the subject of their conversation. Her countenance would have done so to Bertha or Morton, but she turned her head towards the side, apparently watching the ship's course through the water. No one valued her own position more than did Hilda; she had long been taught the importance of keeping her feelings and words under control, from the very reason that she was well aware should she once give them rein they would run wildly off beyond her power. Her thoughts, unhappily, she had never been able to command; and now she found her feelings for this stranger—for stranger he was, though he came in the guise of a kinsman—too powerful for her to conquer. Don Hernan stood gazing into her countenance with as great anxiety, apparently, as if his life hung on her decision. The struggle within her—and a violent one it was—continued till it well-nigh overcame her. She had to hold on to the bulwarks to support herself. Don Hernan began to fear that she would decide against him.
"Speak, Hilda—relieve me from the misery of this suspense!" he exclaimed in a low voice, which could but just reach her ear.
She looked up, and gasped faintly forth—"I am yours, now and for ever."
Don Hernan poured forth, with all the vehemence of a Spaniard, his expressions of gratitude and joy.
"Happily, there exists no impediment to our immediate union," he added. "I have, as you know, a priest of my own faith on board, and he tells me that there exists on your island a chapel built by some of the seamen of the holy Armada under the direction of my ancestor, and that, although decaying, it is still in a sufficient state of preservation to allow the ceremonies of our religion to be performed in it. Under his directions some of my crew shall be employed, with your permission, in restoring it sufficiently to enable our nuptials to take place there, and your own minister shall afterwards perform the marriage ceremony according to the rites of your church. We will deposit the documents with trustworthy persons, so that no one may afterwards cast discredit on my honour, or utter a word against your fair fame."
"You have been thoughtfully careful of my interests and happiness, Don Hernan," answered Hilda. "I feel that both are safe in your hands."
It did not occur to her that Don Hernan must have felt tolerably sure of success, to have made all the arrangements of which he spoke.
Calm and collected as the two lovers believed themselves, many eyes on board had been watching their proceedings. Their conversation was interrupted by Rolf Morton coming aft to the captain and inquiring in what direction he would prefer standing.
It was late in the day before the corvette, on her return, approached the Sound. The wind had got round so much to the northward, that Morton determined on taking the corvette into the Sound by the same narrow passage through which she had passed in the morning. Don Hernan consented to his proposal; but when Pedro Alvarez saw the course that was being steered, he showed every disposition to mutiny.
"Because our captain wishes to suit the convenience of a fair lady, and his own pleasure, he will run the risk of casting away our gallant ship. Why not run for Brassy Sound, which is open before us, with a safe entrance?"
These remarks were made to some of his messmates, who were generally ready to assent to his proposals. However, guided by Morton, the corvette stood on, though even Hilda, who had the most perfect confidence in the pilot, as she saw the fierce, foaming waves dashing high up with a loud roar over the rocks to the very summit of the cliffs, could scarcely persuade herself that the ship was not rushing on destruction. The captain stood by the helmsman's side to repeat the pilot's orders. Now nothing but a wall of rocks and foam appeared before them.
"Steady!" cried Morton, "starboard a little. Steady!" he again cried.
The captain echoed his cry; the passage opened before them; in an instant the ship flew past the rocks; even the oldest sailor breathed more freely when she glided on inside the Sound.
The sails were furled, the anchor was dropped, as she reached the spot from which she had weighed in the morning. The captain insisted on escorting Hilda and her companions on shore.
"In three days, then, at midnight, all will be ready," he whispered, as he parted from her at the castle landing-place.
LAWRENCE'S EXPEDITION—HILDA'S MARRIAGE IN THE OLD CHAPEL—A STORM.
Although the sun during the middle of the Shetland summer scarcely ceases to shine, the inhabitants of these isles, like other mortals, require sleep, and take it at the usual time. Soon after the sea trip Miss Wardhill had taken on board the "Saint Cecilia," Lawrence Brindister was seen one afternoon to descend from his room, booted and spurred, as if for a distant excursion, Hilda, who had her reasons for so doing, watched him anxiously. He stamped about the house, clattering his spurs, and muttering to himself, as was his custom, when anything out of the usual course occupied his mind. At last, going to Surly Grind's kennel, he loosed the dog, and entering his skiff, crossed the voe, as if about to proceed to the mainland. Hilda breathed more freely when he had gone, but seldom had she appeared so distracted, and little at her ease, as she did till the usual hour of closing the castle gates. The keys were brought to her, as was the custom, by David Cheyne, the old butler, or Major Domo. As he made his bow, he cast a hurried glance at her countenance, and on his way down stairs he shook his head, muttering to himself, "This foreign gallant will bring no good to the house of Lunnasting—that I see too well; and the sooner the islands are quit of him and his ship—for all he looks so brave and so bonnie—the better it will be for the young mistress."
Hilda, instead of retiring to rest, went to her tower; there she remained for some time, pacing up and down the room, now glancing out on the wide ocean, now clasping her hands in a manner expressive of doubt and indecision.
"It is too late to retract," she exclaimed, at length; "why should I think of it? What right has my father to complain? He leaves me here without compunction, and am I to await his tardy permission to act, as I have a full right to do, without it? No, that point is settled. Then Bertha suggests that the world will call me unmaidenly, more than indiscreet, and will say that I have been ready to throw myself into the arms of the first stranger I have met; but what care I for this little world of Shetland? I stand on my own rectitude. I shall be far away, and can afford to despise all such insinuations. But the greatest doubt Bertha, in her over-anxious love, has raised up before me, is that regarding Hernan himself. Still I feel sure that he is all that is honourable and noble. He has given me numberless assurances, undoubted, that he is what he represents himself. The proofs he offers are so clear, can I for a moment doubt him? His I have promised to be: his I will be. I should be unworthy of the name of woman were I now to discard him."
Such was the style of argument with which Hilda Wardhill persuaded herself that she was right in the course she had resolved to adopt.
The marriage was duly solemnised according to the terms of the Roman Catholic Church by Father Mendez. Hilda and Don Hernan signed their names on a parchment placed before them, Bertha and Nanny Clousta signing as witnesses, while Rolf Morton stepped forward and added his name.
Two of Don Hernan's officers, Pedro Alvarez and another, signed their names to the document as witnesses; whilst Lawrence protested against the marriage, as being without the consent or knowledge of Hilda's father, and, therefore, according to Shetland law, invalid. This protest he made with an air of dignity wholly different from his usual manner.
The midnight wedding ceremony at the old chapel terminated in a most terrific hurricane, and the new married couple were compelled to take refuge from the storm in the house of Bertha Morton.
ROLF MORTON'S HISTORY—DON HERNAN AND HILDA IN THE MORTON'S HOUSE— MORTON DISPATCHED TO THE CORVETTE.
Bertha Morton had been considered not only one of the prettiest girls in that part of Shetland where she was known, but as good and modest as she was pretty, which is saying much in her favour, where beauty, modesty, and kindness of heart are the characteristics of the people. Her cottage, which was one of the largest in the island, was fitted up with more taste and comfort than was usually found in others, and everything about it bore the marks of competency and good taste. She had but lately married Rolf Morton, who had, a year or two before, been left a small property by his friend and guardian, Captain Andrew Scarsdale. Rolf Morton's own history was somewhat romantic.
Captain Scarsdale, a Shetlander by birth, commanded one of the many Greenland whalers belonging to Hull, Aberdeen, and other northern parts, which touched at Lerwick on their outward and homeward voyages. At length, however, having fallen into ill-health, he was advised to try the effects of a southern clime; and having in his youth made two or three voyages to the South Seas, he was induced to take the command of a South-Sea whaler, which would keep him out three years, or probably more: having no family to bind his affections to England, this was of little consequence.
On his outward voyage, when nearly half way across the Atlantic, he fell in with a raft, on which were three men and a young boy. The men stated that the ship to which they belonged had foundered, and that the boy, whose name they stated was Rolf Morton, belonged to a lady and gentleman among the passengers on board. The rest of the people had perished, and they, with no little exertion, had contrived to save the child.
Captain Scarsdale had, from the first, rather doubted the correctness of their statement, and on his cross-questioning the men separately, his suspicions that there was some mystery in the matter were further confirmed. However, they suspected his object, and he was unable to elicit what he could suppose to be the truth from them. He would have remained altogether in ignorance had not one of them been seized with an illness, and believing himself to be dying, sent for the captain, and made what he asserted to be a full confession of all he knew about the boy.
Captain Scarsdale, who was a cautious man, wrote down all that was told him, and induced the man to sign it. He then instantly sent for the other two men, and telling them what he knew, induced them to confess the truth, and, partly by threats, and partly by persuasions, made them sign the same document. He then carefully locked it up in his chest, and being an upright and kind-hearted man, it was with great satisfaction that he believed he had it in his power to right the wronged.
"Man proposes, God disposes," is a proverb, day after day proved to be true in the lives of every man. The sick seaman recovered, and he and his comrades, after serving some months on board deserted the ship; and although Captain Scarsdale hunted everywhere, he could gain no further tidings of them.
The child thus strangely found became a fine intelligent boy, and attached himself warmly to him. His recollections, faint though they were, all tended to corroborate the account the seamen had given. Captain Scarsdale would have sent home the information he had received, and placed the cause of the boy in proper hands; but the men having disappeared, he was afraid to trust the document to a stranger, with the numberless chances of a long sea voyage, against its ever reaching its destination. Unexpected events, however, kept him out in the South Seas far longer than he had anticipated. He did not object to this, for he had the boy as his companion, and he devoted himself to his education. Young Rolf did not show any great talent, but he gave every promise of becoming a fine, manly, true-hearted sailor, and with that his kind patron was amply satisfied.
At length, just as the ship had nearly completed her cargo of sperm oil, and was about to return home, she was overtaken by a hurricane, and driven on shore and lost; the crew were saved, and so was the captain's chest. Most of Captain Scarsdale's hard-earned gains were swallowed up; and the command of another whaler, whose master had died, being offered him, he gladly accepted it, in the hopes that, by remaining out a few years longer, he should be able to retrieve his fortunes; and what was still nearer his heart, of obtaining the means for, as he told his acquaintance, of establishing young Morton's rights. What he considered those rights to be he wisely told no one.
"No, no," he replied, when asked; "no one but a fool sounds a trumpet before him to give notice of his approach, that the enemy may be prepared to receive him."
Rolf Morton had by this time become all that his friend anticipated; but though well-informed for his age, his knowledge of the world and its ways, it must be owned, was not extensive.
The ship was bound to Liverpool, but being dismasted in a terrific gale, she was driven past the entrance to the Channel, and up the west coast of Ireland. Land was made at last on the starboard bow, and hopes were entertained that she might be brought round so as to enter the Irish Channel by the northern passage. Captain Scarsdale himself lay in his hammock, disabled by a falling spar.
Scarcely an hour had passed after the land was seen before the ship struck. It was ascertained that it was on the extreme point of a reef, and the first mate hoped that by lightening the ship she might beat over it. The captain acquiesced, and every article that could be got at was, as soon as possible, committed to the sea.
"Yes, heave away—heave away everything you can lay your hands on, lads!" was the order. "It will matter but little, I suspect, after all."
Among other things thrown overboard was the captain's chest; the mate saw it just as it reached the foaming sea, too late to save it. He said nothing to the captain: he believed that the ship herself would be lost, but his prognostications proved wrong; the good ship drove over the bank, weathered out the gale, jury-masts were got up, and she not only got into the Irish Channel, but safe up the Mersey, without any help whatever.
Great was the grief of good Captain Scarsdale, when, on recovering from his hurts, he discovered that his chest and its valuable contents had been hove overboard. As has been said, he was a mild-tempered man, so he did not storm and rage, but as the profits of the voyage had been considerable, he resolved to devote them to establishing the claims of the young foundling. He had never told Rolf Morton what those claims were. He knew that they would only tend to unsettle the mind of the boy, and make him less contented with his lot, should he fail to obtain his rights. Rolf had no more notion, therefore, than the world in general, who he was, and he believed the story which had at first been told by the men, that he was the son of a gentleman and lady who had perished on board a ship which had foundered on its way to South America.
As soon as Captain Scarsdale had settled his affairs in Liverpool, he hastened to Edinburgh, where he had a relative, a writer to the "Signet." He laid the boy's case before him.
"My good Andrew, don't waste your money in making the attempt till you have surer grounds to go on than you now have," was the answer. "Possession is nine parts of the law. I have no more doubt than you have as to the claims of this boy; but can you prove them without documents or evidence of any sort? Can you expect to overcome a powerful and unscrupulous opponent? You have perfect trust in Providence, Andrew—so have I, lawyer though I am; and be assured that in God's good time justice will be awarded to all parties concerned."
This was not exactly like legal advice in general; but Andrew Scarsdale at once saw its wisdom, and agreed to abide by it. Proceeding to Aberdeen, he was at once offered the charge of a Greenland whaler. He accepted the offer, taking Rolf Morton with him. He touched at Lerwick both on his outward and homeward voyage. While on shore on the first occasion, he heard that a small property was for sale in the island of Whalsey, nearly the only portion of the whole island which did not belong to the Lunnasting family. He at once authorised the principal legal man in the island to purchase it for him at any cost.
"I have a mind to have it," he observed; "remember my ancestors came from Whalsey, and I should like, perchance, to end my latter days there."
Great was his satisfaction, on his return, to find that the property was his. "That is well," he remarked; "and now, in case of my death, I wish to settle it on my young friend Rolf Morton. You can get the necessary documents drawn up, I hope, before I sail: we seamen learn one piece of wisdom, at all events—the uncertainty of life—however slow we may be to pick up others; and, therefore, when we sail, leave our last will and testament behind us. You'll take care of this for me, and act upon it, should I never return to desire it altered."
The lawyer promised to see his friend's bequest attended to, but many years passed before he was called on to act in the matter. Not only did Captain Scarsdale come back, but with young Rolf Morton as his companion, he took up his abode for several years, during the winter, in a farm-house which he had considerably improved on his newly purchased property; he claimed relationship, which was fully acknowledged, with the Brindister family, and he and Lawrence, who took also very speedily to Rolf, soon became fast friends. He was invited also to become a frequent guest at Lunnasting Castle, though he showed but little inclination to accept the hospitality of its inmates.
Andrew Scarsdale, however, did not give up the sea. Though possessed of a moderate independence he did not wish to lead an idle life, but every summer he sailed to Greenland in command of a whaler, and most years took Rolf with him: wishing at the same time that his young ward should have the advantages of a liberal education, he sent him for two years to Aberdeen, that he might acquire some knowledge in those branches in which he was himself unable to afford him instruction. Rolf made up by perseverance for what he wanted in talent, and thus, with Captain Scarsdale's help, he obtained not only a necessary knowledge of nautical affairs, but as large an amount of general information as most seafaring men of his position at that time possessed. It might have been better if the good captain, who was now advancing in years, had remained at home; but anxious to increase his means for the sake of the object he had nearest at heart, he took a larger share than before in a whaler, and sailed once more, with Rolf in his company, for Greenland. Eager in the pursuit of the oil-giving whale, he proceeded further north than usual, his ship got nipped in the ice, crushed into a thousand fragments, and Rolf Morton, and six of the crew only escaped with their lives.
Sorrowing deeply for the loss of his kind friend and protector, and caring very little for that of his fortune, Rolf at length returned home to find himself the possessor of the small farm and house on Whalsey, and very little else in the world. He was not in the slightest degree cast down, however; he made another voyage to Greenland as mate, and having been very successful, came home and married young Bertha Eswick, to whom he had before sailing engaged himself.
Bertha Morton, like the rest of her countrywomen, accepted her lot, and notwithstanding the fate to which so many others were subjected, she hoped to enjoy years of happiness with her brave, fine-hearted husband. There was not in all Scotland, just then, a blither or happier woman than Bertha Morton. Her husband had told her that he expected to be at home soon after midnight, and she was sitting up to receive him. As the fury of the storm had not broke till some time after she hoped her husband would be safe on shore, she was not particularly anxious about his safety; still, as time wore on, her keen ear became more and more alive to approaching sounds: at length she heard footsteps. Her husband's voice called to her, and in he rushed with her mother and Nanny Clousta, followed by Don Hernan and Hilda. Her astonishment at seeing them was very great, but without losing time in asking unnecessary questions, she set to work to remedy, as far as she had the power, the effects of the pelting rain to which her guests had been exposed. Fresh fuel was added to the already hot peat fire on the hearth, that the foreign captain and her husband might dry their clothes while she retired with her female visitors, that they might change theirs for such as her own ample wardrobe could supply. Her best Sunday gown well became Hilda, for except in height they differed but little in figure; indeed, dressed as they now were, in the same homely garb, there was a remarkable likeness between them. Nanny soon came back to place certain pots and kettles on the fire to prepare supper, which by the time all the party were ready to partake of it, was placed on the table.
Bertha Eswick's position in the family fully entitled her to sit at table with her mistress, and of course her daughter and son-in-law took their seats at their own table, but nothing could induce Nanny so to intrude herself, and she requested that she might be allowed to carry her plate to a large chest at one side of the room where she might eat her food by herself. Morton and Don Hernan could not help glancing a look at each other, as they observed the similarity of feature, but the tranquil, contented look which those of Bertha wore offered a strong contrast to the agitated unsettled expression of Hilda's. Bertha and her mother did their utmost to tranquillise her mind, and by lively conversation to counteract the effect which the strange scene she had just gone through had produced. The beating of the rain and the roaring and howling of the wind were alone sufficient to baffle all their efforts. The storm continued with unabated fury, and gave every sign of being one of those which last for three or four days.
Hilda having expressed her annoyance at the surmises to which her absence would give rise in the castle, Rolf volunteered to go and inform the household that she had taken refuge in his house, and would return as soon as the weather permitted her to do so, while Don Hernan further commissioned him to proceed on along the shore of the Sound to ascertain that the "Saint Cecilia" was in safety, and whether his officers and men had escaped injury, and had returned on board.
"I ought to go myself, Mr Morton, I am well aware of that, but here is my excuse," he observed, pointing to Hilda: "my officers are true Spaniards, and will receive it as a valid one."
"An English officer would consider that his first duty was to look after his ship, whatever else might interfere, and there lies the difference between us," muttered Morton, as facing the pelting rain and furious wind, he took his departure from his comfortable home.
DON HERNAN AND HILDA AT THE CASTLE—THE SPANISH OFFICERS ON SHORE—DON HERNAN ORDERED TO QUIT SHETLAND.
"To my mind it wad ha' been better for one and a' of us, if Miss Hilda had gone and wed with a true, honest-hearted Shetlander, instead of this new-found foreigner, for all his fine clothes, and fine airs, and silk purse; it's few times I have seen the inside of it." This was said by old Davie Cheyne to Nanny Clousta, about two weeks after Hilda and her husband had taken up their abode at the castle. "What Sir Marcus will say about the matter, it makes me tremble to think of. It's my belief he'll be inclined to pull the house down about our ears, or to send us and it flying up into the sky together. I wad ha' thought she might ha' found a young Mouat, or a Gifford, or a Bruce, or Nicolson. There are mony likely lads among them far better than this captain, now; I can no like him better than does Mr Lawrence, and that's a sma' portion indeed."
"You're too hard, Mr Cheyne, on our new master," answered Nanny; "if ye had seen the gold piece he gave me the day we came back to the castle, and the beautiful silver one which he put into my hand only yesterday, with the two pillars on it, you wad no say a' that against him. No, no, Mr Cheyne, he's a fine gentleman, and a right fit husband for our young mistress."
For more than a fortnight Don Hernan had not set his foot on board the "Saint Cecilia." Both officers and crew had, however, begun to complain at being left so long in so uninteresting a spot in perfect inactivity; Don Hernan accordingly ordered the ship back to Brassay Sound under charge of Pedro Alvarez.
Strange as it may seem, the news of Don Hernan's marriage with Miss Wardhill had not yet reached Lerwick. There was at no time any very regular intercourse kept up between the islands, and that which was usual had been interrupted by the bad weather.
Rolf Morton, like a wise man, resolved to keep his knowledge of the matter to himself, and to say nothing, while Father Mendez, the only person belonging to the ship who, from being able to speak English, could have communicated it, was not likely to say a word about the matter, unless he had some object in doing so. Bailie Sanderson of Lerwick was a staunch Presbyterian, and a warm hater of Episcopacy and Popery; and it was a sore struggle in his mind how far he was justified in having any dealings with the only representative of the latter power, who had for many a long year ventured to set foot on the soil of Shetland; in vain he tried to make the purser understand him. Stores for the ship of all sorts were wanted, but no arrangements could be made, and at length Father Mendez was called to their councils. The bailie believed himself so fully guarded against any of the doctrines held by the priest, that he had no fear as to any attempts he might make to change his own opinions; but the truth was, that Father Mendez understood him far better than he understood Father Mendez, who, had he thought it worth his while, would not have made his approaches in a mode the bailie was at all likely to discover till the foundations of his fortress had been sapped and undermined. The priest, however, had not the slightest intention of making an attack on the bailie's religious principles, whatever might have been his mission to those northern regions. There were some who did not fail to assert that he had ulterior views; but he made himself generally so very popular, that the greater number considered him a very well-behaved, harmless, kind gentleman, who was ready to smile at all their amusements, even though he might not partake in them, and was conversable and affable with every one.
For nearly three weeks or more the "Saint Cecilia" remained at Lerwick, and while her officers were busy gaining golden opinions from the people, they spent a good many golden pieces among them.
"And after a' the real goud is the best thing o' the twa," as Bailie Sanderson observed. "The one, unless, maybe, it's the deil's pay, will rest in the purse, or bring something substantial in return, and is muckle like the snow in the spring time; it looks very white and glittering, but quickly vanishes awa."
At length Rolf Morton arrived from Whalsey with an order from Don Hernan to Pedro Alvarez to carry the ship back to Eastling Sound. The corvette was instantly got under weigh, and tide and wind suiting, she stood back towards Lunnasting Castle. The inhabitants of Lerwick saw her departure with no little astonishment, as not a word had been said to lead them to suppose she was going. Some had their misgivings on certain material points. Bailie Sanderson, especially, was very uncomfortable; he had furnished a large amount of stores—far more than any one else had done; but though he had got in his hands several bills, in the shape of long bits of paper, accepted by Don Diogo Ponti, purser of His most Catholic Majesty's ship, the "Saint Cecilia," and by Don Hernan de Escalante, captain of the said ship, he had received very little hard cash, and several of his friends, when they had looked at those strips of paper, and turned and twisted them about, in a variety of ways, with an expression in their countenances which betokened commiseration, hoped that he might, by the mercy of Providence, get the siller for them, but that it would be next a miracle if he did. In a moment all his airy castles and the delightful profits he had anticipated were scattered to the wind, while no one to whom he applied could afford him the slightest consolation.
The most trying time in Hilda's existence had arrived. She had given her heart to Don Hernan, and she had married him; but she had never dared to reflect on the consequences of her doing so. When at length he told her that the last packet from the south had brought him peremptory orders to proceed on his voyage, the news came on her like a sudden thunder-clap. No longer had she the power of acting, as of yore, according to her own untrammelled will. She had discovered that already. What would he determine? To let him go from her, and leave her alone, were worse than death. When might he return? Would he ever come back? What numberless chances might intervene to prevent him. Yet the thought of leaving the castle, placed under her charge, was naturally revolting to her feelings. Her father had intrusted her with his property. Could she betray that trust without meriting his just censure? Yet had she not already done enough to make him discard her altogether?
"Yes, I have," she exclaimed, with some degree of bitterness. "How can I stand the storm of rage, and then the scornful sneers with which he will assail me? Accompany Hernan, I will, come what may of it. If he refuses he shall not leave behind a living bride. Scorn, pity, or anger, would be insufferable, and to all shall I be exposed if I remain."
To such a resolution it might have been expected that a woman of ardent temperament and untrained mind, like Hilda, would have arrived, whatever course of doubt and hesitation she might have first gone through.
Don Hernan returned with a clouded brow from his first visit to his ship. He found Hilda seated in her turret-chamber. He threw himself on a sofa by her side.
"There has been discontent and well-nigh mutiny among my people," he exclaimed in an angry tone. "I might have known that it would have been so; idleness does not suit the fellows—I must take care that they have no more of it; they will have plenty to do in future. Well, Hilda, our happy days here must now come to an end. They have flitted by faster than I could have expected." Hilda gazed in his face, trembling to hear what might follow. He spoke calmly: "Yes, a few short weeks seem not longer than as many hours; and now I fear, dearest, we must part, though it may be but for a short period. I may obtain leave to return with the 'Saint Cecilia,' or you must travel south by a shorter route through England, and thence on to Spain. I cannot shield you, I fear, from some of the inconveniences to which sailors' wives are exposed."
"Leave me! Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Hilda, passionately. "Take me with you. I cannot be parted from you! You tell me you love me: it would be but cruel love to kill me; and I tell you I could not survive our separation. I speak the truth—oh, believe me, Hernan,—I do!"
The Spanish captain looked at her as if he doubted her assertion; but he would indeed have been a sceptic as to the depth of the power of woman's affection had he longer continued to doubt when he saw her beseeching and almost agonised countenance turned on him, waiting for his decision.
"But can you, Hilda, endure all the hardships and dangers we may have to go through?" he asked. "We may be exposed to furious tempests, and perhaps have to fight more than one battle, before we reach a Spanish port."
"Yes, yes, I can endure everything you have to suffer," she answered, taking his hand in one of hers, while she placed the other on his shoulder, and looked up into his face as if she would read his inward soul. "Why should I fear the tempest when you are on board, or the battle, while I can stand by your side? Take me with you, Hernan. Prove me, and I shall not be found wanting."
"Hilda, you are a brave woman—you have conquered my resolution. We will go together," he exclaimed, clasping her to his heart.
The shriek of joy she gave showed the intensity of her anxiety, and how it had been relieved by this announcement.
Still Don Hernan lingered. Was it that he was unwilling to tear himself away from a spot where he had spent some of the brightest moments of his existence? Had he other less ostensible motives for delay?