Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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BOOK I
IN SCOTTISH WILDS AND LONDON STREETS

CHAPTER I. – HOPE TOLD A FLATTERING TALE

Had you been in the beautiful and wild forest of Glenvoie on that bright and blue-skied September morning-on one of its hills, let us say-and heard the music of those two boys' voices swelling up towards you, nothing that I know of could have prevented you from joining in. So joyous, so full of hope were they withal, that the very tune itself, to say nothing of the words, would have sent sorrow right straight away from your heart, if there had been any to send.

 
"Cheer, boys, cheer, no more of idle sorrow,
Courage, true hearts, shall bear us on our way;
Hope flies before, and points the bright to-morrow,
Let us forget the dangers of to-day."
 

There was a pause just here, and from your elevated situation on that rocky pap, looking down, you would have rested your eyes on one of the prettiest rolling woodland scenes in all broad Scotland.

It was a great waving ocean of foliage, and the sunset of autumn was over it all, lying here and there in patches of crimson, brown, and yellow, which the solemn black of pine-trees, and the funereal green of dark spruces only served to intensify.

Flap-flap-flap! huge wood-pigeons arise in the air and go sailing over the woods. They are frightened, as well they may be, for a moment afterwards two guns ring out almost simultaneously, and so still is the air that you can hear the dull thud of fallen game.

"Hurrah, Conal! Why, that was a splendid shot! I saw you take aim."

"No, Duncan, no; the bird is yours. You fired first."

"Only at random, brother. But come, let us look at him. What a splendid creature! Do you know, Conal, I could almost cry for having killed him."

"Oh! so could I, Duncan, for that matter, but the capercailzie11
  The letter "z" not pronounced in Scotch.


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is game, mind, and won't father be pleased. Why do they call it a wild turkey?"

"Because it isn't a turkey. That is quite sufficient reason for a gamekeeper. The capercailzie is the biggest grouse there is, you know, and sometimes weighs very many pounds."

"And didn't we find the nest of one in a spruce tree last spring."

"Ay, and six eggs that we didn't touch; and I've never put any faith again in that ignoramus of a book, that would have us believe the birds always build on the bare ground."

"Written by an Englishman, no doubt, Duncan, who had never placed a foot on our native heath. But now let us get back to breakfast.

I wonder where our little sister Flora is."

"I heard her gun about ten minutes ago; she can't be far off. Besides Viking is with her, so she is safe enough. Give the curlew's scream and she'll soon appear."

 
"Like the wild scream of the curlew,
From crag to crag the signal flew."
 

Duncan threw down his gun beside the dead game, and, placing his fingers in his mouth, gave a perfect imitation of this strange bird's cry:

"Who-o-o-eet, who-o-o-eet (these in long-drawn notes, then quicker and quicker), who-eet, who-eet, wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet, who-ee!"

The boys did not have long to wait for an answer. For Duncan, the elder, who was about sixteen, with a stalwart well-knit frame, and even a budding moustachelet, had hardly finished, when far down in a dark spruce thicket sounded the barking of a dog, which could only belong to one of a very large breed.

He entered the glade in which the brothers stood not many seconds after. He entered with a joyous bound and bark, his great shaggy coat, black as the raven's wing, afloat on his shoulders and back; his white teeth flashing; and a yard or two, more or less, of a red ribbon of a tongue hanging out of his mouth.

Need I say he was a noble Newfoundland.

He stopped short and looked at the 'cailzie, then snuffed at it, and immediately after licked his master's cheek. To do so he had to put a paw on each of Duncan's shoulders, and his weight nearly bore him to the ground.

But see, here comes little Flora herself-she is only twelve; her brothers are both dressed in the kilt of hill tartan, and Flora's frock is but a short one, showing to advantage a pair of batten legs encased in galligaskins; fair hair, streaming like a shower of gold over her shoulders; blue eyes, and a lively very pretty face. But across that independent wee nose of hers is quite a bridge of freckles, which extends half-way across her cheeks.

Now a child of her tender years would, in many parts of England, be treated quite as a child. It was quite the reverse at Glenvoie. Flora was in reality a little model of wisdom, and many a bit of good advice she gave her brothers-not that they bothered taking it, though both loved her dearly.

Flora carried a little gun-a present from her father, who was very proud of her exploits and worldly wisdom, and across her shoulders was slung a bag, which appeared to be well filled.

"Hillo, Siss!" cried Duncan. "Any cheer?"

"Oh, yes, three wild pigeons! But what a lovely great wild turkey! I'm sure, Duncan, it was a pity to kill him!"

"Sport, Sissie, sport!" said Duncan.

Yet as he looked at the splendidly plumaged bird which his gun had laid low in death, he smothered a sigh. He half repented now having killed the 'cailzie.

Homeward next, for all were hungry, and in the old-fashioned hall of the house of Glenvoie breakfast would be waiting for them. Through the forest dark and deep, across a wide and clear brown stream by stepping-stones, a stream that in England would be called a river, then on to a broad heathy moorland, with here and there a cottage and little croft.

Poor enough these were in all conscience, but they afforded meal and milk to the owners and their children. Chubby-cheeked hardy little chaps these were. They ran to gate or doorway to greet our young heroes with cheers shrill and many, and Flora smiled her sweetest on them. Neither stockings nor shoes nor caps had they, winter or summer, and when they grew up many of them would join the army, and be first in every bayonet charge where tartans would wave and bonnets nod.

Laird M'Vayne himself came to the porch to meet his children. These were all he had, and their mother was an invalid.

An excellent specimen of the Highland laird was this Chief M'Vayne. As sturdy and strong in limb as a Hercules, broad in shoulder, and though sixty years and over, as straight as an arrow. His was a fearless face, but handsome withal, and he never looked better than when he smiled. Smiling was natural to him, and came straight from the heart, lighting up his whole face as morning sunshine lights the sea.

"Better late than never, boys. What ho! a capercailzie!"

Then he placed his hand so kindly on Duncan's shoulder.

"It was a good shot, I can see," he said, "and now we won't kill any more of these splendid birds. I want the woods to swarm with them."

"No, father," said Duncan, "this is the last, and I shall send to Glasgow for eyes, and stuff and set him up myself."

Then the Laird hoisted Flora, gun, game-bag and all, right on top of his broad left shoulder and carried her inside, while Viking, enjoying the fun, made house and "hallan" ring with his gladsome barking.

Ever see or partake of a real Highland breakfast, reader? A pleasure you have before you, I trust. And had you been at Glenvoie House on this particular morning, the very sight of that meal would have given you an appetite, while partaking of it would have made you feel a man.

That was real porridge to begin with, a little lake of butter in the centre of each plate and creamy milk to flank it. Different indeed from the clammy, saltless saucers of poultice Englishmen shiver over of a morning at hotels, making themselves believe they are partaking of Scotia's own own dish.

All did justice to the porridge, and Viking had a double allowance. There was beautiful mountain trout to follow, cold game, and fresh herrings with potatoes. Marmalade and honey with real oat-cakes finished the banquet.

About this time, gazing across the lawn from the great window, Duncan could see the runner bringing the post-bag. Runner he might well be called. He had come twenty miles that morning with the mails, trotting all the way.

Duncan threw open the window, and with a smile and order for postie to go round to the kitchen for a "piece" and a "drink", he received the bag.

The arrival of the runner was always one of the chief events of the day, for the Laird "let" his shootings every season, and had friends in every part of the kingdom.

So had the boys.

"Ah!" said their father, opening a letter which he had reserved to the last. "Here is one from our distant relative, Colonel Trelawney."

"Oh! do read it out," cried Flora impulsively.

Her father obeyed, as all dutiful fathers do when they receive a command from juvenile daughters.

"Maida Vale, London.

"My dear 42nd cousin, – I think that is about our relationship. Well, I was never good at counting kin, so we must let it stand at that. Heigho! That is my 42nd sigh since breakfast time, and it isn't the luncheon hour yet. But I couldn't quite tell you what I am sighing for; I think it must be for the Highland moors around you, on which I enjoyed so glorious a time in August. Heigho! (43rd). Your hills must still be clad in the crimson and purple glory of heath and heather whence scattered coveys or whirring wings spring skywards (Poetry!).

"Well now, I've got something to propose. Since his poor mother died, my boy Frank-fifteen next birthday, you know-has not seemed to thrive well. He is a capital scholar, and is of a very inventive turn of mind. He delights in the country, and when he and I bike away down into the greenery of fields and woods he always looks better and happier. But at home he has nothing to look at that is natural-a few misshapen trees only, a shaven lawn, evergreens, and twittering sparrows.

"He is lively enough, and plays the fiddle charmingly. He is only a London lad after all, and his pale face bears witness to the fact.

"Well, cousin, fair exchange is no robbery. Send me your two boys up here to spend the winter, and then I'll send the whole three down to you to put in the spring and summer. Expected results? Is that what you ask, cousin mine? Well, they are these. A little insight into London life will assist in toning down the fiery Highland exuberance of your brave lads, and will help to make them young men of the world. While a spell among your Highland hills shall put more life-blood into my boy, and make him stronger, braver, and heartier."

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Duncan. "He is going to civilize us, is he, daddy dear? We'll have to wear frock-coats, long hats and long faces, and carry umbrellas. What do you think of that, Conal?"

"Why," said Conal disdainfully, "umbrellas are only for old wives and Sassenachs. The plaid for me."

"And me!"

"Well, but listen," said the Laird laughing.

"Your boys," says the colonel, "must come to us dressed in their hill-tartan kilts, and have dress tartans to wear at evening parties. The English are fond of chaffing the Scot, but, mind you, they love him all the same, and can quite appreciate all the deeds of derring-do he accomplishes on the field of battle, as well as his long-business-headedness on the Stock Exchange. Heigho! (sigh the 44th), had I been a Scot I'd have been a richer man to-day instead of having to maintain a constant fight to keep the wolf from the door. But you, dear cousin, must be fairly wealthy."

It was Laird M'Vayne's turn to sigh now, for alas! he was far indeed from rich, and, young as they were, both his boys knew it. And between you and me and the binnacle, reader, the lads used to pray every night, that Heaven might enable them when they came to man's estate, or even before, to do something for the parents who had been so good to them.

"Well," the letter ran on, "I sha'n't say any more, only you will let the laddies (that is Scotch, isn't it?) come, won't you, cousin? and if we can only find out the time of the boat's arrival, Frank and I shall be at the dock waiting for them."

"Hurrah!" cried Duncan,

"Hurrah!" cried Conal.

"And you won't be sorry to leave me and the old home, will you?" said M'Vayne.

"Oh, indeed, indeed we will, daddy," cried Duncan, "and we'll think about you all and pray for you too, every day and night. Won't we, Conal?"

"Of course we will."

Then the younger lad went and threw his arms round his father's neck, leaned his cheek against his breast, in truly Celtic fashion, and there were tears in his eyes.

"Besides," said Duncan, "the change will do us such a heap of good, and by all we read London must be the grandest place in the whole wide world."

"Streets paved with gold, eh? Houses tiled with sheets of solid silver that glitter daily in the noonday sun. No poverty, no vice, no crime in London. Is that your notion of London, my son?"

"Well," replied Duncan laughing, "it may not be quite so bright as all that, daddy, but I am sure of one thing."

"Yes?"

"If the streets are not paved with gold, nor the houses tiled with silver, there is money to be made in the city by any honest business Scot who cares to work and wants to win."

"Bravo, Duncan!

 
"In the lexicon of youth which fate reserves
For a bright manhood, there is no such word as Fail."
 

For the next two or three weeks, although the boys with their plucky little sister went every day either to the hill or woods to shoot, or to the burn to fish, there was very little talked about except the coming excursion to the great city of London.

Mrs. M'Vayne was at present confined to her room, and, being nervous, the thought of losing her boys even for a short four or five months made her heart feel sad indeed, and it took them all their time to reassure her.

"No, no, lads," she would cry almost petulantly; "I cannot be happy until I see you in the glen once more, safe and sound!"

Two weeks passed-oh, ever so quickly-away, and the last week was to be devoted wholly and solely to the packing of trunks, a very pleasurable and hopeful employment indeed.

Duncan was facile princeps at this work, and he kept a note-book always near, so that whenever he thought about anything he might need, he wrote it down-just as if it had not been possible to get every article he might require in great London, from a needle to an anchor.

Only, as he told his brother Conal, "It is far better to be sure than sorry."

Well, the last day-the last sad day-came round at last and farewells had to be said on both sides.

Mrs. M'Vayne kept up as well as she could, and so did the boys. Noblesse oblige, you know, for although their father was but a Highland laird, and poor at that, he was connected by blood with the chiefs of the best clans in Scotland.

Poor honest Viking had watched the packing with the very greatest of interest, and so sad did he appear that Duncan and Conal made up their minds to take him with them. And when they told him so, there really was not a much happier dog in all the British islands. For Viking was wise beyond compare, and there was very little, indeed, that he did not understand.

But Florie's grief at the loss of her brothers was beyond control, and she made no attempt to hide her tears.

Yes, the laird himself journeyed with his boys as far as Leith, and saw them safe on board.

When the good ship steamed away at last, he waved them a silent adieu, then turned and walked quickly away.

CHAPTER II. – HURRAH FOR "MERRIE ENGLAND"!

Neither Duncan nor Conal was a bad sailor, for, their father's estate being near the western sea, many a long summer's day they spent in open boats, and they sometimes went out with the herring-fishers and were heard of no more for clays.

But this was to be a voyage of more than ordinary rigours, for, as bad luck would have it, a gale of wind arose, with tremendous seas, soon after they passed Berwick.

The waves made a clean breach over the unfortunate ship, and at midnight, when the storm was at its worst, the boys were suddenly awakened by the strange rolling motion of the steamer, and they knew at once that some terrible accident had happened.

The engines had stopped, for the shaft was broken; and high over the roaring of the terrible wind they could hear the captain shouting:

"All hands on deck!"

"Hands make sail!"

It was but little sail she could carry, indeed, and that only fore-and-afters, jib and stay-sails.

The boys had a cabin all to themselves, and the companionship of honest Viking, the Newfoundland. The poor dog did not know what to make of his situation. If he thought at all, and no doubt dogs do think, he must have wondered why his masters should have forsaken their beautiful home, their wanderings over the hills still clad in crimson heather, or through the forests deep and dark, for a life like this; but to the lower animals the ways of mankind are inscrutable, just as those of a higher power are to us. We are gods to the pets we cherish, and they are content to believe in and trust us, never doubting that all is for the best. Alas! we ourselves hardly put the same trust in the good God who made us, and cares for us, as our innocent dogs do in those who own them.

"Well, Conal," said Duncan, "this is, indeed, a wild night. I wonder if we are going to Davie Jones's locker, as sailors call it?"

"I don't think so. The captain is a long-headed fellow. I guess he knows what he is up to."

"I shall light the candles anyhow. I don't like to lie awake in the dark. Do you?"

"Not much. If I was to be drowned I think I would like it to come off in good daylight."

After a scramble, during which he was pitched three times on the deck, once right on top of the dog, Duncan succeeded in lighting the candles.

These were hung in gimbals, so that the motion of the ship did not affect them.

It was more cheerful now; so, having little desire to go to sleep, knowing that the ship must really be in danger, they lay and talked to each other. Talked of home, of course, but more about the great and wondrous city of London, which, if God spared the ship, they soon should see.

Presently a bigger wave than any that had come before it struck the ship, and seemed to heel her over right on her beam-ends, so that Duncan almost tumbled out of his berth.

A deep silence followed, broken only by the rush of water into the boys' cabin.

Viking sprang right into Conal's berth, and crouched, shaking and quivering in terror, at his feet.

There was half a foot of water on the cabin deck.

The worst seemed to be over, however, for presently sail was got on her, and though the wind continued to rave and howl through the rigging, she was on a more even keel and much steadier.

Presently the captain himself had a peep into the lads' state-room.

He had a bronzed but cheerful face, and was clad in oil-skins from his sou'-wester hat to his boots.

"Not afraid, are you, boys? No? Well, that's right. We have broken down, and it will be many days before we get into London; but we'll manage all right, and I think the wind is just a little easier already."

"So we won't go to Davie Jones's to-night, will we, captain?"

"Not if I know it, lad. Now, my advice is this: go to sleep, and-er-well, there can be no harm if you say your prayers before you do drop off."

The boys took his advice, and were soon fast in the arms of Morpheus. So, too, was honest Viking. He was one of those dogs who know when they are well off, so he preferred remaining in Conal's bunk to descending to the wet deck again. To show his sympathy, he gave the boy one of his huge paws to hold, and so hand-in-hand they fell asleep.

The wind was still blowing when they sat down to breakfast with the captain and first mate, for there was not another passenger on board save themselves. The old saying, "The more the merrier", does not apply to coasting steamers in early winter. The fewer the easier-that is more truthful.

The gale was a gale no longer, but a steady breeze. The ship was given a good offing, for the wind blew from the north-east, and to be too close to a lee shore is at all times dangerous.

But how very snug and cosy the saloon looked, when they were all gathered around the brightly-burning stove that night.

The skipper could tell many a good story, and the first mate also could spin a yarn or two, for they had both been far away at sea in distant climes, and both hoped to get ocean-going ships again.

So there they sat and chatted-ship-master and man, with their tumblers of hot grog on the top of the stove-till six bells in the middle watch.

Then the boys and Viking retired.

"I say, Conal," said Duncan that evening, just before turning in, "I think I should like to be a sailor."

"Well," replied Conal, "I should like to visit far-away countries, where hardly anybody had ever been before, and try to make some money just to be able to help father in his difficulties."

"Poor father, yes. Well, young fellows have made money before now."

"Ay," said Conal, who was wise beyond his years; "but, brother, they had a nest-egg to begin with. Now, we have nothing."

"Nonsense, Conal; we have clear heads, we have a good education, and we have a pair of willing hands each. That makes a good outfit, Conal, and many a one has conquered fate with far less."



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