Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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"Well, my 42nd cousin Frank here would like to go to sea also. Could you do with the three of us?"

"Yes. You must be prepared to rough it a bit, and we'll be rather cramped for room, but we shall manage. Eh, mate?"

"I'm sure we shall, and this young gentleman must take his fiddle."

"And I'll take the bagpipes," said Duncan, laughing.

"Hurrah!" cried the mate. "Won't we astonish the king of the Cannibal Islands? Eh?"

It was Frank's turn to cry "Hurrah!"

"But," he added, "will there be real live cannibals, sir?"

"Certainly. What good would dead ones be?"

"And is there a chance of being caught and killed and eaten, and all the like of that?"

"Ay, though it isn't pleasant to look forward to. Only mind this: I may tell you for your comfort that although, after being knocked on the head with a nullah, your Highland cousin would be trussed at once and hung up in front of a clear fire until done to a turn, you yourself would be kept alive for weeks. Penned up, you know, like a chicken."

"But why?"

"Oh, they always do that with London boys, because they are generally too lean for decent cooking, and need too much basting. You would be penned up and fattened with rice and bananas."

"Humph!" said Frank, and after a pause of thoughtfulness, "Well, I suppose there is some consolation in being kept alive a bit; but bother it all, I don't half like the idea of being a side dish."

The weather was more favourable during this voyage, and though bitterly cold, all the boys took plenty of exercise on the quarter-deck, and so kept warm. So, too, did the old minister, who was really a jolly fellow, and did not preach at them nor dilate on the follies of youth. Moreover, this son of the Auld Kirk enjoyed a hearty glass of toddy before turning in.

Leith at last!

And yonder, waiting anxiously on the quay, was Laird M'Vayne himself.

His broad smile grew broader when his boys waved their hands to him, and soon they were united once again.

CHAPTER IV. – WILD SPORTS ON MOORLAND AND ICE

Pretty little Flora M'Vayne was half afraid of the London boy at first. The violin won her heart, however, and before retiring for the night, when shaking hands with Frank, she nodded seriously as she told him:

"I'm not sure I sha'n't love you soon; Viking likes you, so you must be good."

Well, Frank was an impressionable boy, and he was very much struck by the child's innocent ways and beauty.

"I'm not sure," he said in reply, "that we won't be sweethearts before I leave. How would you like that?"

She shook her head. "No, no," she said, "you are very nice, but you are only an English boy. Good-night!"

"Good-night!"

I do not think that any two boys were ever more glad to find themselves back once more, safely under the parental roof-tree, than Duncan and Conal. They had made many friends in London, it is true, and spent many a happy evening therein, and these they could look back to with pleasure and with a sigh; but the city and town itself, with all its strange ways, the ignorance of its lower classes, its murdered twangy English, its filth and its festering iniquities-they positively shuddered when they thought of.

God seemed nowhere in London.

Here in this wild and beautiful land He appeared to be everywhere.

The pure and virgin snow that clad the moors and mountains was a carpet on which angels might tread; the tiny budlets already appearing on the trees were scattered there by His own hand; yea, and the very wind that sighed and moaned through the forest was the breath of heaven.

And when the sun had gone down behind the waves of the western ocean did not

 
"The moon take up the wondrous tale
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeat the story of her birth,
While all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn
Confirm the story as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole".
 

Yes, in wild and silent lands, God seems very near. It was in a country like this that the immortal poet Lord Byron wrote much of his best poetry. And no bolder song did he ever pen than Loch-na-garr. Near here many of his ancestors-the Gordons-were laid to rest after the fatal field of Culloden. In one verse he says-

 
"Ill-starred, though brave, did no vision foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?
Ah! were ye then destined to die at Culloden,
Though victory crown'd not your fall with applause.
Still were ye happy in death's earthly slumbers,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar,
The pibroch resounds to the piper's loud numbers
Your deeds to the echoes of wild Loch-na-garr."
 

No wonder that, wandering amidst such soul-enthralling scenery, arrayed in the tartan of his clan, or thinking of the happy days of his boyhood, years and years afterwards he said as he sighed-

 
"England, thy beauties are tame and domestic
To one who has roam'd on the mountains afar!
Oh! for the crags that are wild and majestic,
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch-na-garr."
 

But Frank Trelawney was a guest at Glenvoie, and, imbued with that spirit of hospitality for which Highlanders are so famous, the boys M'Vayne would have bitten their tongue through and through rather than say one disparaging word about England.

Nor was there any need, for tame and domestic though its scenery is, the whole history of the country, even before the Union, teems with deeds of derring-do, done by her brave sons, on many and many a blood-drenched field of battle.

As for Frank himself, he seemed not only to settle down to his life in the wilds in less than a week, but to become quite enthusiastic over "Scotland's hills and Scotland's dells"; and he was not slow in reminding his 42nd cousins that he too had a drop of real Highland blood in his veins.

"We'll soon make a man of you, dear boy," said the Laird one evening. "Now, myself, and my lads, with Vike and a setter, are going after the white hares to-morrow, and if you think yourself strong enough, we shall take you."

"Oh, I feel strong enough now for anything," replied Frank laughing.

"Mind it is terribly hard work; but there is a little snow on the ground, and we'll be able to track the hares easily."

"I don't think that Frank should go, Ronald," put in Mrs. M'Vayne; "the boy is far indeed from hardy, and it may exhaust him quite. You'll stay at home with me, won't you, Frank?"

"Yes, aunt, if you bid me, but-" He hesitated.

"Oh!" cried Duncan, "that 'but' turns the scale, mother. Don't you ask him to stay, mother. All Englishmen have pluck if they haven't all strength. So Frank is coming."

The morning was very bright and beautiful, with just a slight "scriffen" of snow on the ground, and the sun rose over the eastern hills in a blue-gray haze, like a ball of crimson fire, and intimated his intention of shining all day long.

Duncan and Conal were up betimes, and had got everything in readiness long before Frank came down.

A sturdy keeper would carry the bags and the luncheon they should partake of on the hill.

But the young Englishman was full of life and go. After a hearty breakfast they started; Flora standing in the porch waving her hand to them, but with tears of sorrow in her eyes because she too was not allowed to go.

Viking was daft with joy, feathering round and round in wide circles, and now and then turning Dash, the Gordon setter, over on his back in the snow.

They passed the forest, now leafless and bare, and taking to the right, the ground soon began to rise.

The sheep under the charge of a plaided shepherd and his dog, were busy scratching away the snow to feed on grass and succulent mosses-a cold kind of breakfast, to say the least of it.

The ground rose and rose.

The dogs were kept well to heel, for indeed their services were but little needed.

Ha! here are hare-tracks!

"Take the front, Frank," said the laird; "you are the guest, and must have the first blood."

Frank's heart beat high with excitement, and he carried the gun low with a finger on the trigger.

"Hurrah! there she tips!"

Bang! and a white hare that had essayed crossing from one broom-bush to another, was tumbled; then off darted Viking and brought her in.

"Capital shot!" said Duncan. "Now we'll spread, and it will be every one for himself, and Viking and Dash for us all."

They lay out in skirmishing order, and marched on and up.

But soon they had to force their way through heather that came up even to the laird's and the tall keeper's waists, and all but buried little Frank.

He held his gun aloft, however, and struggled bravely on.

In about a quarter of an hour they had emerged, and the boys were shaking the snow from their kilts.

On and up. Why, it was always on and up.

They marched all that forenoon, sometimes around rocky spurs and paps of the mountains, sometimes along bare and barren glens, sometimes along the edges of fearful precipices, where a single slip or false step would have meant a terrible accident.

By the time they had reached the cliffy shelter of a very high hill, they had bagged eight white hares in all.

And now it was noon, and though the frost was fairly hard, the exercise had warmed their life-blood, and they felt no cold.

Hunger, though? Ah! yes, but that could speedily be appeased.

Plaids were spread on the ground, and down they all sat, the dogs not far off, and I'm sure that the keeper, sturdy chiel though he was, felt glad to be lightened of his load.

What a jolly meal that was to be sure! With her own lady fingers the laird's wife had made that splendid pie. Pie for five and almost enough for fifty. But then, of course, there were the honest dogs to be considered, and they easily disposed of all that was left.

Bread-that is, real oatcakes-cheese, and butter followed.

The boys washed all down with a flagon of milk, but in the interests of truth, I must add that the laird and his keeper had a modest glass or two of Highland whisky.

And now, after yarning for about half an hour, sport was resumed.

Farther up the hillsides they still went, and so on and on for two whole hours.

It had been a grand day, but as the sun was now declining towards the blue blue ocean, the laird called a halt.

"I think, boys," he said, "we've done enough, and as we are nearly ten miles from home we had better be retracing our steps. Donald has as many hares as he can carry. Haven't you, Donald?"

"Och! well, it's nothing," was the reply. "And it's all down-hill now you'll mind, sir."

"Yes. Well, lead the way, Donald."

Donald did.

For one of the party, and that was Frank, the journey was a terrible one. On the upward march there was all the excitement of the sport to keep him up. But now he had no such stimulant to stir his English blood.

When still three miles from Glenvoie mansion-house, Duncan observed that he was very pale and limped most painfully. In fact the poor boy's ankles were swollen, and his toes felt like whitlows; but although so tired that he could hardly carry his gun, that indomitable English courage of his kept him from complaining.

He confessed, however, feeling just a little tired, so the laird poured a small quantity of whisky into a measure, mixed it with snow, and made him swallow it.

After this he felt better.

When they arrived at the top of the very lower-most and lost hill, the house being but half a mile distant, they sat down for a short time to rest and gaze across the sea.

The sun's lower limb had just touched the wester-most wave, and red and fiery gleamed his beams 'twixt horizon and shore. It was a beautiful sight.

Many flocks of rooks were winging their way northwards to the shelter of the great forest, and now and then a string of wild ducks were seen in full flight towards the tall reeds that bordered an ice-bound lake.

Slowly sank the sun, the waves seemed to wash up across its blood-red surface, and gradually, so gradually, engulfed the whole.

 
"And the sun's last rosy rays did fade
Into twilight soft and dim."
 

Frank Trelawney was indeed glad when he found himself once more in his own room. The man brought water, and with Highland courtesy insisted on bathing his feet.

He next hurried away for a cup of delicious coffee, after swallowing which Frank felt like a giant refreshed, and soon went down into the drawing-room.

He was still pale, however, for the terrible fatigue had temporarily affected the heart.

Little Flora was not slow to note this.

"Oh, cousin," she said, "how white and tired-looking you are! You shouldn't have gone. You're only a poor little English boy, you know."

Frank liked the child's sympathy, but he certainly did not feel flattered by the last sentence.

"That's all," he mustered courage to say. "I'm only a poor Cockney lad, and I think, Flora, I've had enough white-hare shooting to last me for a very long time. When next your father and brothers go after game of this sort, I'll stay at home and make love to you."

Frank, however, was as well as could be next day, and after a cold bath went hungrily down to breakfast.

The day was as still and bright as ever, and it was to be spent upon the loch.

Curling-which might be called a kind of gigantic game of billiards on the ice-was to be engaged in. A party was coming from a neighbouring parish, and a strong club was to meet them.

At this most splendid "roaring" game there is no class distinction; lord and laird, parson and peasant, all play side by side, all are equal, and all feed together, ay, and partake of Highland usquebaugh together also.

Well, the laird's party were victorious, and all were invited up to Glenvoie house, to partake of an excellent dinner, laid out in the barn.

But the barn was beautifully clean, and along its wall, among evergreens, was placed many a bright cluster of candles.

The silver and crystal sparkled on the snow-white table-cloth, and that huge joint of hot corn-beef and carrots-the curlers' dinner par excellence-was partaken of with great gusto.

Bread and cheese and whisky followed this, then the minister returned thanks, and this was followed by more whisky, with song after song.

 
"Roof and rafters a' did dirl."
 

It was not till near to the "wee short 'oor ayont the twal" that the party broke up, and all departed for their distant homes, on horseback or in traps.

Did I say "all departed"? What an awkward thing it is to be possessed of a conscience! I have one which, whenever I deviate in the slightest degree from the straight lines of truth, brings me up with a round turn.

Well, all did not depart, for the corn-beef-let us say-had flown to the legs and to the heads of half a dozen jolly fellows at least, and they determined that they wouldn't go home till morning.

So they had some more toddy, sang "Auld Lang Syne", and then retreating to the rear of the barn, curled up amongst the straw and were soon fast asleep.

So ended the great curling match of Glenvoie.

CHAPTER V. – A HIGHLAND BLIZZARD – THE LOST SHEEP AND SHEPHERD

It must not be supposed for a single moment that although the boys M'Vayne liked fun and adventure in their own wild land, just as you or I or any other boys do, reader, their education was neglected. Quite the reverse, in fact. For at the time our tale commences, both had just returned from the High School of Edinburgh, where they had studied with honour, and carried off many prizes.

One of Duncan's pet studies had been and still was-navigation. Not only of a theoretical kind, but thoroughly practical.

He had long since made up his mind to become a sailor, and he had left no stone unturned to learn the noble art of seamanship.

For this purpose he had prevailed upon his father to let him take several cruises in a barque plying between Leith and Hull. So earnest was Duncan, and so willing was both skipper and mate of this craft to teach him, that in a very short time he was not only up to every rope and stay, but could take both the latitude and longitude as well as could be desired.

He did all he could to put his brother up to the ropes also.

They were very fond of each other, these two lads, and it was the earnest desire of both that they should not be parted.

Well, all the stories they read were of the "ocean wild and wide", and all the poetry they loved had the sound of the sea in it.

Such poetry and such tales Duncan would often read to his brother and winsome wee Florie sitting high on a hilltop, perhaps, on some fine summer's day with the great Atlantic spreading away and away from the shore beneath them to the distant horizon.

Dibdin's splendid and racy songs, redolent as they are of the brine and the breeze, were great favourites.

But I do think there is a thread of romance in the life of every sailor. Nay, more, I believe that it is this very romance that first induces young fellows to tempt the billows, although they are but little likely to find a life on the ocean wave quite all that their fancy painted. Talking personally, I am of opinion that it was Tom Cringle's Log that first gave me an idea of going to sea. Well, I do not regret it.

Byron's Corsair was a great favourite with the boys. Indeed, I rather think that they both would have liked to become corsairs or dashing pirates. And little Flora would gladly have gone with them.

"Heigho!" she sighed one day when Duncan had closed the book. "Heigho! I wish I had been a boy. I think it was very foolish of the Good Man to make me a girl, when he knew well enough I wanted to be a boy."

The poor child did not know how irreverent was such talk.

Honest Vike used to lie by Duncan's side while he was reading, with one huge heavy paw placed over the boy's knee.

But it must have been monotonous for him; and often his head fell on the extended foot, and he went off to sleep outright.

No sooner was the reading ended, however, than Vike awoke, as full of life as a spring-born kitten. Then his game began. He used to loosen a huge boulder and send it rolling down the hill. As it gained force, it split up into twenty pieces or more, and bombarded everything it came across. Vike just stood and barked. But once, when a flying piece of the boulder killed a hare, the noble Newfoundland dashed down the hill at tremendous speed, and seized his quarry.

He came slowly up with it, and laid it solemnly down at Duncan's feet.

This was all very well; but one day, when the boys and Flora sat down about half-way up a hill, Viking, tired of the reading, found his way to the hilltop, and, as usual, loosened a boulder, and started it.

Thump, thump, rattle, rattle, rush! Fully a dozen great stones came down on our heroes in a cloud of dust, and with the force of an avalanche. The danger was certainly great, but it was all over before they could fully realize it.

Duncan hastily drew his whistle, and at its call the innocent dog instantly ceased working at another boulder he was busily engaged loosening, and came galloping down the hill.

Poor fellow! I dare say he deserved a scolding, but so full of life and happiness was he, that Duncan had not the heart to speak harshly to him. Only care was taken after this that Vike never got higher up the hill than the reading party.

Frank had been nearly three weeks at Glenvoie, before he became initiated into the mysteries of a real Highland snow-storm. Many of my readers have doubtless been out in such a blizzard, but the majority have not, and can have but little idea of the fierceness and danger of it.

The morning of the 10th of February, 18-, was mild and beautiful. Both Duncan and his brother had been early astir, and had taken their bath long before sunrise.

They went downstairs on tiptoe, as they had no desire to awake their guest.

"English boys need a lot of sleep," said Conal. "They're not like you or me, Duncan."

"N-no," said his brother; "but I could have done with another hour myself to-day. But we are Scotsmen, and must show an example. Noblesse oblige. Well," he added, "we'll have time to run up the hill anyhow, and see the sun rise."

So off they went, Vike making all the rocks and braes resound with his barking.

It was, indeed, a glorious and beautiful morning, and from their elevated situation they could see all the wild and romantic country on every side of them, for daylight was already broadening in the east. To the west the gray Atlantic ocean, the horizon buried in mist, away to the south woods and forests. Forests to the north also, while behind them hills on hills successive rose.

But the eastern sky was already aglow with clouds of crimson fire and gold. What artist could paint, what poet describe, such glory?

Then low towards a wood shines forth a brighter, more fiery gleam than all, and even at this distance the boys can see the branches, aye, and even the twigs, of the trees silhouetted against it.

And that is the sun itself struggling up behind the radiant clouds.

They stayed but little longer, for by this time breakfast would be ready, and Frank himself getting up.

After this meal was discussed, as a light breeze, sufficient to ripple the stream, had sprung up, the young folks determined to go fishing.

They took luncheon with them, and spent the whole forenoon on the banks of the bonnie wimpling burn.

But so well engaged were they that they did not at first observe that the sky was becoming rapidly overcast, and that the wind had begun to wail and moan in the trees of the adjoining forest. It had turned terribly cold too.



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