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Scenes and Legends of The North of Scotland
Chapter XII

Fu’ mony a schriek that waefu’ nicht
Raise fra the boisterous main,
An* vow’d was mony a bootless vow,
An’ praied war’ praiera vaine.

An’ sair-pyned widows moned forlorn
For mony a wearie daye,
An’ maidens, ance o’ blithsome mood,
Tined heart and dwyned away.—Old Ballad.

The headland which skirts the northern entrance of the Firth is of a bolder character than even the southern one—abrupt, stem, and precipitous as that is. It presents a loftier and more unbroken wall of rock; and where it bounds on the Moray Firth there is a savage magnificence in its cliffs and caves, and in the wild solitude of its beach, which we find nowhere equalled on the shores of the other. It is more exposed, too, in the time of tempest. The waves often rise, during the storms of winter, more than a hundred feet against its precipices, festooning them, even at that height, with wreaths of kelp and tangle; and for miles within the bay, we may hear, at such seasons, the savage uproar that maddens amid its cliffs and caverns coming booming over the lashings of the nearer waves like the roar of artillery. There is a sublimity of desolation on its shores, the effects of a conflict maintained for ages, and on a scale so gigantic. The isolated, spire-like crags that rise along its base, are so drilled and bored by the incessant lashings of the surf, and are ground down to shapes so fantastic, that they seem but the wasted skeletons of their former selves; and we find almost every natural fissure in the solid rock hollowed into an immense cavern, whose very ceiling, though the head turns as we look up to it, owes evidently its comparative smoothness to the action of the waves.

One of the most remarkable of these recesses occupies what we may term the apex of a lofty promontory. The entrance, unlike that of most of the others, is narrow and rugged, though of great height, but it widens within into a shadowy chamber, perplexed, like the nave of a-cathedral, by uncertain cross lights, that come glimmering into it through two lesser openings which perforate the opposite sides of the promontory. It is a strange ghostly-looking place; there is a sort of moonlight greenness in the twilight which forms its noon, and the denser shadows which rest along its sides; a blackness so profound that it mocks the eye, hangs over a lofty passage which leads from it, like a corridor, still deeper into the bowels of the hill; the light falls on a sprinkling of half-buried bones, the remains of animals that, in the depth of winter, have creeped into it for shelter and to die ; and when the winds are up, and the hoarse roar of the waves comes reverberated from its inner recesses, it needs no over-active fancy to people its avenues with the shapes of beings long since departed from every gayer or softer scene, but which still rise uncalled to the imagination in those bycorners of nature which seem dedicated, like this cavern, to the wild, the desolate, and the solitary.

A few hundred yards from where the headland terminates towards the south, there is a little rocky bay, which has been known for ages to the seafaring men of the town as the Gova-Green. It is such a place as we are sometimes made acquainted with in the narratives of disastrous shipwrecks. First, there is a broad semicircular strip of beach, with a wilderness of insulated piles of rock in front; and so steep and continuous is the wall of precipices which rises behind, that, though we may see directly overhead the grassy slopes of the hill, with here and there a few straggling firs, no human foot ever gained the nearer edge. The bay of Cova-Green is a prison to which the sea presents the only outlet; and the numerous caves which open along its sides, like the arches of an amphitheatre, seem but its darker cells. It is in truth a wild impressive place, full of beauty and terror, and with none of the squalidness of the mere dungeon about it. There is a puny littleness in our brick and limp, receptacles of misery and languor, which speaks as audibly of the feebleness of man as of his crimes or his inhumanity; but here all is great and magnificent—and there is much, too, that is pleasing. Many of the higher cliffs which rise beyond the influence of the spray, are tapestried with ivy; we may see the heron watching on the ledges beside her bundle of withered twigs, or the blue hawk darting from her cell; there is life on every side of us—life in even the wild tumbling of the waves, and in the stream of pure water which, rushing from the higher edge of the precipice in a long white cord, gradually untwists itself by the way, and spatters ceaselessly among the stones over the entrance of one of the caves. Nor does the scene want its old story to strengthen its hold on the imagination.

Some time early in the,reign of Queen Anne, a fishing yawl, after vainly labouring for hours to enter the Bay of Cromarty during a strong gale from the west, was forced at nightfall to relinquish the attempt, and take shelter in the Cova-Green. The crew consisted of but two persons—an old fisherman and his son. Both had been thoroughly drenched by the spray, and chilled by the piercing wind, which, accompanied by thick snow-showers, had blown all day through the opening from off the snowy top of Ben-Wevis; and it was with no ordinary satisfaction that, as they opened the bay on their last tack, they saw the red gleam of a fire flickering from one of the caves, and a boat drawn up on the beach.

“It must be some of the Tarbat fishermen,” said the old man, “wind-bound like ourselves; but wiser than us, in having made provision for it. I’ll feel willing enough to share their fare with them for the night.”

“But see,” remarked the younger, “that there be no unwillingness on the other side. I am much mistaken if that be not the boat of my cousins the Macinlas ! Hap what may, however, the night is getting worse, and we have no choice of quarters. Hard up your helm, father, or we shall barely clear the Skerries ;—there now—every nail an anchor !”

He leaped ashore, carrying with him the small hawser attached to the stem, known technically as the swing, which he wound securely round a jutting crag, and then stood for a few seconds until the old man, who moved but heavily along the thwarts, had come up to him. All was comparatively calm under the lee of the precipices; but the wind was roaring fearfully in the woods above, and whistling amid the furze and ivy of the. higher cliffs; and the two boatmen as they entered the cave could see the flakes of a thick snow-shower, that had just begun to descend, circling round and round in the eddy.

The place was occupied by three men—two of them young, and rather ordinary-looking persons; the third, a greyheaded old man, apparently of great muscular strength, though long past his prime, and of a peculiarly sinister cast of countenance. A keg of spirits, which was placed before them, served as a table. There were little drinking-measures of tin on it; and the mask-like, stolid expressions of th6 two younger men, showed that they had been indulging freely. The elder was comparar tively sober. A fire, composed mostly of fragments of wreck and drift wood, threw up its broad cheerful flame towards the roof; but so spacious was the cavern, that, except where here and there a whiter mass of stalactites, or bolder projection of cliff, stood out from the darkness, the light seemed lost in it. A dense body of smoke, which stretched its blue level surface from side to side, and concealed the roof, went rolling onwards like an inverted river. On the entrance of the fishermen, the three boatmen within started to their feet, and one of the younger, laying hold of the little cask, pitched it hurriedly into a dark comer of the cave.

“Ay, ye do well to hide it, Gibbie!” exclaimed the savage-looking old man in a bitter ironical tone, as he recognised the intruders; “here are your good friends, William and Ernest Beth come to see if they cannot rob and maltreat us a second time. Well! they had better try.”

There could not be a more luckless meeting. For years before had the crew of the little fishing-yawl been regarded with the bitterest hatred by the temporary inmates of the cave; nor was old Eachen of Tarbat one of the class whose resentments may be safely slighted. He had passed the first thirty years of his life among the buccaneers of South America; he had been engaged in its latter seasons among the smugglers, who even at this early period infested the eastern coasts of Scotland; and Eachen, of all his associates, whether smugglers or buccaneers, had ever been deemed one of the fiercest and most unscrupulous. On his return from America the country was engaged in one of its long wars with Holland, and William Beth, the elder fisherman, who had served in the English fleet, was lying in a Dutch prison at the time, and a report had gone abroad that he was dead. He had inherited some little property from Ifis father in the neighbouring town—a house and a little field, which in his absence was held by an only sister; who, on the report of his death, was of course regarded as a village heiress, and whose affections, in that character, Eachen of Tarbat had succeeded in engaging. They were married, but the marriage had turned out singularly ill; Eachen was dissipated and selfish, and of a harsh, cruel temper; and it was the fate of his poor wife, after giving birth to two boys, the younger inmates of the cave, to perish in the middle of her days, a care-worn, heartbroken creature. Her brother William had returned from Holland shortly before, and on her death claimed and recovered his property from her husband; and from that hour Eachen of Tarbat had regarded him with the bitterest malice. A second cause of dislike, too, had but lately occurred. Ernest Beth, William’s only son, and one of his cousins, the younger son of Eachen, had both fixed their affections on a lovely young girl, the toast of a neighbouring parish; and Ernest, a handsome and high-spirited young man, had proved the successful lover. On returning with his mistress from a fair, only a few weeks previous to this evening, he had been waylaid and grossly insulted by his two cousins; and the insult he might perhaps have borne for the sake of what they seemed to forget—his relationship to their mother; but there was another whom they also insulted, and that he could not bear; and as they were mean enough to take odds against him on the occasion, he had beaten the two spiritless fellows that did so.

The old fisherman had heard the ominous remark of the savage as if he heard it not. “We have not met for many years, Eachen,” he said—“not since the death of my poor sister, when we parted such ill friends ; but we are shortlived creatures ourselves, surely our anger should be shortlived too. I have come to crave from you a seat by your fire.”

“It was no wish of mine, William Beth,” said Eachen, “that we should ever meet; but there is room enough for us all beside the fire.”

He resumed his seat; the two fishermen took their places fronting him, and for some time neither party exchanged a word.

“This is but a gousty lodging-place,” at length remarked the old fisherman, looking round him; “but I have seen worse, and I wish the folk at hame kent we were half sae snug.”

The remark seemed directed to no one in particular, and there was no reply. In a second attempt he addressed himself to the old man.

“It has vexed me, Eachen,” he said, “that our young folk, were it but for my sister’s sake, should not be on mair friendly terms; an’ we ourselves too—why suld we be enemies?” The old man, without deigning a reply, knit his grey shaggy brows, and looked doggedly at the fire.

“Nay, now,” continued the fisherman, “we are getting auld men now, Eachen, an’ wald better bury our hard thoughts o’ ane anither afore we come to be buried oursels.”

Eachen fixed his keen scrutinizing glance on the speaker, there was a tremulous motion of the upper lip as he withdrew it, and a setting of the teeth ; but the tone of his reply savoured more of sullen indifference than of passion.

“William Beth,” he said, “ye have tricked my boys out o’ the bit property that suld have come to them by their mither; it’s no so long since they barely escaped being murdered by your son. What more want you? But, mayhap, ye think it better that the time should be passed in making boss professions of good-will than employed in clearing off an old score.”

“Ay,” hiccuped out the elder of the two sons, “the houses might come my way then; an’, if Helen Henry were to lose her ae joe, the tither might hae the better chance.”

“Look ye, uncle,” exclaimed the younger fisherman, “your threat might be spared. Our little property was my grandfather’s and of right descended to his only son. As for the affair at the tryst, I dare either of my cousins to say the quarrel was of my seeking. I have no wish to raise my hand against the sons or the husband of my aunt; but if forced to it, you will find that neither my father nor myself are wholly at your mercy.” He rose to his feet as he spoke.

“Whisht, Ernest,” said the old fisherman calmly, “sit down; your uncle maun hae ither thoughts. It is now twenty years, Eachen,” he continued, “since I was called to my sister’s deathbed. You cannot forget what passed there. There had been grief and hunger beside that bed. I’ll no say you were willingly unkind. Few folk are that but when they have some purpose to serve by it, and you could have none; but you laid no restraint on a harsh temper, and none on a craving habit, that forgets everything but itself, and sae my poor sister perished in the middle of her days, a wasted heart-broken thing. I have nae wish to hurt you. We baith passed our youth in a bad school, and I owre aften feel I havena unlearned a’ my own lessons to wonder that you suldna have unlearned a’ yours. But we’re getting old men, Eachen, why suld we die fools? and fools we maun die, if we die enemies.”

“You are likely in the right,” said the stem old man. “But ye were aye a luckier man than me, William—luckier for this warld, I’m sure—maybe luckier for the next. I had aye to seek, and that without finding, the good that came in your gate o’ itsel’. Now that age is coming upon us, ye get a snug rental frae the little house and croft, and I have naething; and ye have character and credit, but wha wald trust me, or wha cares for me? Ye hae been made an elder o’ the kirk, too, I hear, and I am still a reprobate; but we were a’ bom to be just what we are, an’ sae we maun submit. And your son, too, shares in your luck: he has heart and hand, and my whelps have neither; and the girl Henry, that scouts that sot there, likes him; but what wonder of that!—William Beth, we needna quarrel; but for peace’ sake let me alone—we have naething in common, and friends we canna and winna be.” “We had better,” whispered Ernest to his father, “not sleep in the cave to-night.”

But why record the quarrels of this unfortunate evening? An hour or two passed away in disagreeable bickerings, during which the patience of even the old fisherman was well-nigh worn out, and that of Ernest had failed him altogether. And at length they both quitted the cave, boisterous as the night was, and it was now stormier than ever; and heaving off their boat till she rode at the full length of her swing from the shore, they sheltered themselves under the sail. The Macinlas returned next evening to Tarbat; but though the wind moderated during the day, the yawl of William Beth did not enter the Bay of Cromarty. Weeks passed away during which the clergyman of the place corresponded regarding the missing fishermen with all the lower ports of the Firth, but they had disappeared as it seemed for ever; and Eachen Macinla, in the name of his sons, laid claim to their property, and entered a second time into possession of the house and the little field.

Where the northern headland of the Firth sinks into the low sanly tract that nearly fronts the town of Cromarty, there is a nairow grassy terrace raised but a few yards over the level of the beach. It is sheltered behind by a steep undulating bank —for though the rock here and there juts out, it is too rich in vegeiation to be termed a precipice. To the east, the coast retires into a semicircular rocky recess, terminating seawards in a lofty dark-browed precipice, and bristling throughout all its extent vith a countless multitude of crags that at every heave of the vave break the surface into a thousand eddies. Towards the wist, there is a broken and somewhat dreary waste of sand. The ttrrace itself, however, is a sweet little spot, with its grassy slopes that recline towards the sun, partially covered with thickets of wild-rose and honeysuckle, and studded in their season with violets and daisies, and the delicate rock geranium. Toward its eastern extremity, with the bank rising immediately behind, and an open space in front which seemed to have been cultivate at one time as a garden, there stood a picturesque little co^age. It was that of the widow of William Beth. Five yea$ had now elapsed since the disappearance of her son and husband, and the cottage bore the marks of neglect and decay. T^e door and window, bleached white by the sea winds, shook loosly to every breeze; clusters of chickweed luxuriated in the hollies of the thatch, or mantled over the eaves; and a honeysuckle, that had twisted itself round the chimney, lay withering in a tangled mass at the foot of the wall. But the progress of decay was more marked in the widow than in her dwelling. She had had to contend with grief and penury:—a grief not the less undermining in its effects from the circumstance of its being sometimes suspended by hope—a penury so extreme, that every succeeding day seemed as if won by some providential interference from absolute want. And she was now, to all appearance, fast sinking in the struggle. The autumn was well-nigh over; she had been weak and ailing for months before; and she had now become so feeble as to be confined for days together to her bed. But happily, the poor solitary woman had at least one attached friend in the daughter of a farmer of the parish, a young and beautiful girl, who, though naturally of no melancholy temperament, seemed to thrive almost all she enjoyed of pleasure from the society o' the widow.

Autumn we have said was near its close. The weather had given' indications of an early and severe winter; and the widow, whose worn-out and delicate frame was affected by every change of atmosphere, had for a few days been more than usudly indisposed. It was now long past noon, and she had bit just risen. The apartment, however, bore witness that her young friend had paid her the accustomed morning visit; the ire was blazing on a clean, comfortable-looking hearth, and evey little piece of furniture was arranged with the most scrupulous care. Her devotions were hardly over when the well-known tap and light foot of her friend Helen Henry were again head at the door.

“To-morrow, mother,” said Helen, as she took her eat beside her, “is Ernest’s birthday. Is it not strange that.when our minds make pictures of the dead, it is always as hey looked best, and kindliest, and most lifelike? I have "ben seeing Ernest all day long, as when I saw him on his last oirthday.”

"Ah, my bairn!” said the widow, grasping her young friend by the hand, “I see that, sae lang as we continue to meet, our thoughts will be aye running the ae way. I had a strange dream last night, an’ must tell it you. You see yon rock to the east, in the middle o’ the little bay, that now rises through the back draught o’ the sea, like the hulk o’ a ship, an’ is now buried in a mountain o’ foam, I dreamed I was sitting on that rock, in what seemed a bonny simmer’s morning. The sun was glancin’ on the water, an’ I could see the white sand far down at the bottom, wi’ the reflection o’ the little waves aboon running over it in long curls o’ gowd. But there was no way of leaving the rock, for the deep waters were round an’ round me; an’ I saw the tide covering ae wee bittie after anither, till at last the whole was covered. An’ yet I had but little fear, for I remembered that baith Ernest an’ William were in the sea afore me; an’ I had the feeling that I could hae rest nowhere but wi’ them. The water at last closed o’er me, an’ I sank frae aff the rock to the sand at the bottom. But death seemed to have no power given him to hurt me, an’ I walked as light as ever I had done on a gowany brae, through the green depths o’ the sea. I saw the silvery glitter o’ the trout an’ the salmon shining to the sun, far, far aboon me, like white pigeons i’ the lift; and around me there were crimson star-fish, an’ sea-flowers, and long trailing plants that waved in the tide like streamers; an’ at length I came to a steep rock wi’ a little cave like a tomb in it. Here, I said, is the end o’ my journey— William is here, an’ Ernest. An’ as I looked into the cave, I saw there were bones in it, an’ I prepared to take my place beside them. But, as I stooped to enter, some one called on me, an’, on looking up, there was William. ‘ Lillias,’ he said, ‘ it is not night yet, nor is that your bed; you are to sleep, not with me, but, lang after this, with Ernest; haste you home, for he is waiting for you.’ ‘Oh, take me to him!’ I said; an’ then all at once I found mysel’ on the shore dizzied and blinded wi’ the bright sunshine; for at the cave there was a darkness like that o’ a simmer’s gloamin; an’ when I looked up for William, it was Ernest that stood before me, lifelike and handsome as ever; an’ you were beside him.”

The day had been gloomy and lowering, and though there was little wind, a tremendous sea, that as the evening advanced rose higher and higher against the neighbouring precipice, had been rolling ashore since morning. The wind now began to blow in long hollow gusts among the cliffs, and the rain to patter against the widow’s casement.

“It will be a storm from the sea,” she said; “ the scarts an’ gulls hae been flying landward sin’ daybreak, an’ I hae never seen the ground-swell come home heavier against the rocks. Waes me for the puir sailors that maun bide under it a’ !”

“In the long stormy nights,” said her companion, “I cannot sleep for thinking of them; though I have no one to bind me to them now. Only look how the sea rages among the rocks as if it were a thing of life—that last wave rose to the crane’s nest. And look, yonder is a boat rounding the rock with only one man in it. It dances on the surf as if it were a cork, and the little bit sail, so black and wet, seems scarcely bigger than a napkin. Is it not bearing in for the boat-haven below?”

“My poor old eyes,” replied the widow, “are growing dim, an’ surely no wonder; but yet I think I should ken that boatman. Is it no Eachen Macinla o’ Tarbat?”

“Hard-hearted old man!” exclaimed the maiden, “what can be taking him here? Look how his skiff shoots in like an arrow on the long roll o’ the surf!—and now she is high on the beach. How cruel it was of him to rob you of your little property in the very first of your grief! But see, he is so worn out that he can hardly walk over the rough stones. Ah me, he is down !—wretched old man, I must run to his assistance; but no, he has risen again. See, he is coming straight to the house ; and now he is at the door.” In a moment after, Eachen entered the cottage.

“I am perishing, Lillias,” he said, “with cold and hunger, an’ can gang nae farther—surely ye’ll no shut your door on me in a night like this?”

The poor widow had been taught in a far different school. She relinquished to the worn-out boatman her seat by the fire, now hurriedly heaped with fresh fuel, and hastened to set before him the simple viands which her cottage afforded.

As the night darkened, the storm increased. The wind roared among the rocks like the rattling of a thousand carriages over a paved street; and there were times when, after a sudden pause, the blast struck the cottage as if it were a huge missile flung against it, and pressed on its roof and walls till the very floor rocked, and the rafters strained and quivered like the beams of a stranded vessel. There was a ceaseless patter of mingled rain and snow—now lower, now louder; and the fearful thunderings of the waves as they raged among the pointed crags, were mingled with the hoarse roll of the stones along the beach. The old man sat beside the fire fronting the widow and her companion, with his head reclined nearly as low as his knee, and his hands covering his face. There was no attempt at conversation. He seemed to shudder every time the blast yelled along the roof, and as a fiercer gust burst open the door, there was a half-muttered ejaculation.

“Heaven itsel’ hae mercy on them ! for what can man do in a night like this?”

“It is black as pitch!” exclaimed the maiden, who had risen to draw the bolt, “and the drift flees so thick that it feels to the hand like a solid snow-wreath. And, oh, how it lightens! ”

“Heaven-itsel’ hae mercy on them!” again ejaculated the old man. “My two boys,” said he, addressing the widow, “are at the far Firth; an’ how can an open boat live in a night like this !”

There seemed something magical in the communication— something that awakened all the sympathies of the poor bereaved woman ; and she felt she could forgive him every unkindness.

“Waes me!” she exclaimed, “it was in such a night as this, an’ scarcely sae wild, that my Ernest perished.”

The old man groaned and wrung his hands.

In one of the pauses of the hurricane there was a gun heard from the sea, and shortly after a second. “Some puir vessel in distress,” said the widow, “but, alas ! where can succour come frae in sae terrible a night? There is help only in Ane! Waes me ! would we no better light up a blaze on the floor, an’, dearest Helen, draw off the cover frae the window? My puir Ernest has told ine that my light has aften showed him his bearings frae the deadly bed o’ Dunskaith. That last gun,” for a third was now heard booming over the mingled roar of the sea and the wind, “ cam frae the very rock edge. Waes me ! maun they perish, an’ sae near?” Helen hastily lighted a bundle of mire-fir, that threw up its red sputtering blaze halfway to the roof, and dropping the covering, continued to wave it opposite the window. Guns were still heard at measured intervals, but apparently from a safer offing; and the last, as it sounded faintly against the wind, came evidently from the interior of the bay.

“She has escaped,” said the old man; “it’s a feeble hand that canna do good when the heart is willing;—but what has mine been doing a’ life lang?” He looked at the widow and shuddered.

Towards morning the wind fell, and the moon in her last quarter rose red and glaring out of the Firth, lighting the melancholy roll of the waves, and the broad white belt of surf that skirted the shore. The old fisherman left the cottage, and sauntered along the beach. It was heaped with huge wreaths of kelp and tangle, uprooted by the storm, and in the hollow of the rocky bay lay the scattered fragments of a boat. Eachen stooped to pick up a piece of the wreck, in the fearful expectation of finding some known mark by which to recognise it; when the light fell full on the swollen face of a corpse, that seemed staring at him from out a wreath of sea-weed. It was that of his eldest son; and the body of the younger, fearfully gashed and mangled by the rocks, lay a few yards further to the east.

The morning was as pleasant as the night had been boisterous; and, except that the distant hills were covered with snow, and that a heavy swell continued to roll in from the sea, there remained scarce any trace of the recent tempest. Every hollow of the neighbouring hill had its little runnel, formed by the rains of the previous night, that now splashed and glistened to the sun. The bushes round the cottage were well-nigh divested of their leaves ; but their red berries—hips and haws, and the juicy fruit of the honeysuckle—gleamed cheerfully to the light, and a warm steam of vapour, like that of a May morning, rose from the roof and the little mossy platform in front. But the scene seemed to have something more than merely its beauty to recommend it to a young man, drawn apparently to the spot, with many others, by the fate of the two unfortunate fishermen, and who now stood gazing on the rocks, and the hill, and the cottage, as a lover on the features of his mistress. The bodies had been carried to an old storehouse, which may still be seen, a short mile to the west; and the crowds that, during the early part of the morning, had been perambulating the beach, gazing at the wreck, and discussing the various probabilities of the accident, had gradually dispersed. But this solitary individual, whom no one knew, remained behind. He was a tall and somewhat swarthy, though very handsome man, of about seven-and-twenty, with a slight scar on the left cheek; and his dress, which was plain and neat, was distinguished from that of the common seaman by three narrow strips of gold lace on the upper part of one of the sleeves. He had twice stepped towards the cottage door, and twice drawn back, as if influenced by some unaccountable feeling—timidity, perhaps, or bashfulness; and yet the bearing of the man gave little indication of either. But at length, as if he had gathered heart, he raised the latch and went in.

The widow, who had had many visitors that morning, seemed to be scarcely aware of his entrance; she was sitting on a low seat beside the fire, her face covered with her hands, while the tremulous rocking motion of her body showed that she was still brooding over the distresses of the previous night. Her companion, who, without undressing, had thrown herself across the bed, was fast asleep. The stranger seated himself beside the fire, which seemed dying amid its ashes, and, turning sedulously from the light of the window, laid his hand gently on the widow’s shoulder. She started and looked up.

“I have strange news for you,” he said. “ You have long mourned for your husband and your son; but though the old man has been dead for years, your son Ernest is still alive, and is now in the harbour of Cromarty. He is lieutenant of the vessel whose guns you must have heard during the night.”

The poor woman seemed to have lost all power of reply.

“I am a friend of Ernest’s,” continued the stranger, “and have come to prepare you to meet with him. It is now five years since his father and he were blown off to sea by a strong gale from the land. They drove before it for four days, when they were picked up by an armed vessel cruising in the North Sea, and which soon after sailed for the coast of Spanish America. The poor old man sank under the fatigues he had undergone; though Ernest, better able from his youth to endure hardship, was little affected by them. He accompanied us on our Spanish expedition—indeed, he had no choice, for we touched at no British port after meeting with him; and through good fortune, and what his companions call merit, he has risen to be the second man aboard; and has now brought home with him gold enough from the Spaniards to make his old mother comfortable. He saw your light yester evening, and steered by it to the roadstead, blessing you all the way. Tell me, for he anxiously wished me to inquire of you, whether Helen Henry is yet unmarried?”

“It is Ernest—it is Ernest himself!” exclaimed the maiden, as she started from the widow’s bed. In a moment after he had locked her in his arms.

It was ill before evening with old Eachen Macinla. The fatigues of the previous day, the grief and horror of the following night, had prostrated his energies bodily and mental; and he now lay tossing in a waste apartment of the storehouse in the delirium of fever. The bodies of his two sons occupied the floor below. He muttered unceasingly in his ravings, of William and Ernest Beth. They were standing beside him, he said, and every time he attempted to pray for his poor boys and himself, the stem old man laid his cold swollen hand on his lips.

“Why trouble me?” he exclaimed. “Why stare with your white dead eyes on me? Away, old man! the little black shells are sticking in your grey hairs; away to your place! Was it I who raised the wind or the sea?—was it I—was it I? Aha!—no—no—you were asleep—you were fast asleep, and could not see me cut the swing; and, besides, it was only a piece of rope. Keep away—touch me not! I am a freeman, and will plead for my life. Please your honour, I did not murder these two men; I only cut the rope that fastened their boat to the land. Ha! ha! ha! he has ordered them away, and they have both left me unskaithed.” At this moment Ernest Beth entered the apartment, and approached the bed. The miserable old man raised himself on his elbow, and, regarding him with a horrid stare, shrieked out—“ Here is Ernest Beth come for me a second time! ” and, sinking back on the pillow, instantly expired.

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