« AnteriorContinuar »
of things known as the “ truck system,” which is rife at the present hour amongst these industrious people.
Gladly did we turn from these horrors to listen to the story of the Orkney man Einar, who is deservedly regarded as the great benefactor of the Shetlands, inasmuch as to him is attributed the discovery of peat fuel—a substitute for wood or coal. At the present day, when the peat is removed—as we saw the operation performed-in many places the gravel which underlies this deposit is thickly covered with the roots of hazel, willow, and birch trees, proving that this treeless region was once blessed with umbrageous woods. To Einar the people owed their comfortable fires during the long winter season ; in return, the grateful Shetlanders almost deified their benefactor, and to this day he is known as Torf Einar. We heard, too, of the long suffering, patient endurance of the martyr St. Magnus, of the thirteenth century, whose fame is preserved by the church dedicated to him, and the Bay which bears his name.
This little town of Lerwick is as quaint a place to stop at as the traveller will find anywhere. The houses are inconveniently crowded together, some stand on the margin of the water, and the narrow passages which serve as streets are so ill contrived they but add to the
general confusion ; steep flights of stairs, and houses on opposite sides actually joined together above, span the thoroughfares in many places. The hotel is situated in one of these narrow ways, or “entries” as they are called. While we were there, the whole village wore a busy aspect, which may have been unusual ; certainly the cause was not far to seek, for two hundred of the inhabitants, grown weary, perhaps, of the continual privations they were forced to endure during the long winter, had resolved to emigrate, and the town was filled with their friends, who had come in from the country round to wish them God speed on their setting out for better fortunes in the New World.
When the hour for parting came the men did not show unwillingness to leave, but the new accessions to our crew had little time to get their things together, and overstayed their time. We had secured the services of a carpenter and four additional hands, so that our party now numbered seventeen people, and, judging from appearances, we were likely enough to have a pleasant time of it in the north, where there would be plenty of sport; if the formidable array of whaling and sealing weapons, as well as the well appointed armoury, could be any guarantee for our success. We have much serious work to occupy us as well; the many costly scientific instruments plainly indicate this
fact, as they are being stowed away with the care and attention such things so imperatively demand.
The water-tanks we brought with us, capable of holding forty tons, were soon filled ; these receptacles were destined eventually to carry the oil and blubber of such animals as we might be fortunate enough to capture on our way. On the 28th of May we were ready for the sea, but the men seemed evidently anxious to linger as much as possible along shore, and all our efforts to draw them away from such allurements as held them enthralled proved unavailing, until we hit upon a plan which soon brought them to their senses. We declared our intention of sailing at a certain hour, and without waiting to comply with the thousand appeals made to us for further time, we were up and off. Strange what alacrity was shown when they discovered we were in earnest.
There was only one poor fellow amongst them who manifested the slightest trace of jollity in his composition, and he was overcome with drink. From the incoherent scraps of the song he sung, we concluded he came deeply moved from a recent parting scene with some young Shetland lass. We watched him as he made frantic efforts to keep his legs, and heard him endeavour to lilt out a dolorous love ditty at the same time.
One old fellow wearing a crafty look, who appeared very destitute indeed, declared that he had lost two whole days in anxiously looking out for our arrival, that he hoped we would employ him as pilot ; and, after three hours' persistently appealing for the berth, he obtained his object; but, the moment he gained this advantage, he made the fullest use of it by charging an exorbitant price for his services.
Then we got away ; and, instead of going outside, we went through the northern passage. Any one desirous of comprehending the strange scenery of this coast will find curious information in the pages of the poet Drayton, in his “Poly-olbion,” who thus invoked the local genius of the Shetland Archipelago, whom Scandinavian writers, prisco sermone, were wont to name Hialtlandia :
“Go thou before us, still thy circling shores about,
And in this wandering maze help to conduct us out,-
We need hardly, then, dilate upon the run our schooner made through this intricate passage. Fitful Head was rendered strangely weird-looking in the distance by a wreath of white mist wrapped around it like a solid-looking covering. The continual change of scenery, as we bore up against the strong current which flows between the rugged rocks on either hand, made this part of the journey most enjoyable ; at times we passed from a comparatively calm water into a turbulent sea, whose waves broke upon the jagged faces of the cliff with a fury not to be described. The swell caused by all this commotion gave additional anxiety to such of us as were unused to it, and it was not until we had again escaped from a spot where the least shift of wind would, in spite of all our efforts, have driven us upon a lee-shore, that we began to breathe in security. One of the Shetlanders, who hailed from some place close by, informed us of the wreck of a steamer he had witnessed; she was coming here in very thick weather, and suddenly struck these high cliffs ; all on board were lost, except two men who happened to be aloft in the rigging, and who stepped on to the rocks as the vessel went down
- reminding us of the story we had heard of the “Carmelan," of Amsterdam, a rich vessel bound for the East Indies, laden with three millions of guilders, and many chests of coined gold, lost here in 1664, but more to the north-east, at the rocks known as the Outskerries. The wreck of this costly cargo happened on a dark night; the look-out men failed to discover their danger until too late to warn their companions; in this case, also, the mast coming down