After a good night's rest, followed by a good breakfast, we went out to inquire the time our boat would leave, and, finding it was not due away until evening, we returned to the hotel and refreshed ourselves with a bath, and then went for a walk to see the town of Aberdeen, which is mostly built of the famous Aberdeen granite. The citizens were quite proud of their Union Street, the main thoroughfare, as well they might be, for though at first sight we thought it had rather a sombre appearance, yet when the sky cleared and the sun shone out on the golden letters that adorned the buildings we altered our opinion, for then we saw the "Granite City" at its best.
We spent the time rambling along the beach, and, as pleasure seekers generally do, passed the day comfortably, looking at anything and everything that came in our way. By no means sea-faring men, having mainly been accustomed to village life, we had some misgivings when we boarded the s.s. St. Magnus at eight o'clock in the evening, and our sensations during the night were such as are common to what the sailors call "land-lubbers." We were fortunate, however, in forming the acquaintance of a lively young Scot, who was also bound for Wick, and who cheered us during the night by giving us copious selections from Scotland's favourite bard, of whom he was greatly enamoured. We heard more of "Rabbie Burns" that night than we had ever heard before, for our friend seemed able to recite his poetry by the yard and to sing some of it also, and he kept us awake by occasionally asking us to join in the choruses. Some of the sentiments of expressed ideals that seem a long time in being realised, and one of his favourite quotations, repeated several times by our friend, dwells in our memory after many years:
For a' that an' a' that
It's coming, yet, for a' that,
That man to man the war-ld o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that
During the night, as the St. Magnus ploughed her way through the foaming billows, we noticed long, shining streaks on the surface of the water, varying in colour from a fiery red to a silvery white, the effect of which, was quite beautiful. Our friend informed us these were caused by the stampede of the shoals of herrings through which we were then passing.
The herring fishery season was now on, and, though we could not distinguish either the fishermen or their boats when we passed near one of their fishing-grounds, we could see the lights they carried dotted all over the sea, and we were apprehensive lest we should collide with some of them, but the course of the St. Magnus had evidently been known and provided for by the fishermen.
We had a long talk with our friend about our journey north, and, as he knew the country well, he was able to give us some useful information and advice. He told us that if we left the boat at Wick and walked to John o' Groat's from there, we should have to walk the same way back, as there was only the one road, and if we wished to avoid going over the same ground twice, he would advise us to remain on the St. Magnus until she reached her destination, Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, and the cost by the boat would be very little more than to Wick. She would only stay a short time at Lerwick, and then we could return in her to Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands. From that place we could walk across the Mainland to Stromness, where we should find a small steamboat which conveyed mails and passengers across the Pentland Firth to Thurso in the north of Scotland, from which point John o' Groat's could easily be reached, and, besides, we might never again have such a favourable opportunity of seeing the fine rock scenery of those northern islands.
We were delighted with his suggestion, and wrote a hurried letter home advising our people there of this addition to our journey, and our friend volunteered to post the letter for us at Wick. It was about six o'clock in the morning when we neared that important fishery town and anchored in the harbour, where we had to stay an hour or two to load and unload cargo. Our friend the Scot had to leave us here, but we could not allow him to depart without some kind of ceremony or other, and as the small boat came in sight that was to carry him ashore, we decided to sing a verse or two of "Auld Lang Syne" from his favourite poet Burns; but my brother could not understand some of the words in one of the verses, so he altered and anglicised them slightly:
An' here's a haund, my trusty friend,
An' gie's a haund o' thine;
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For the sake o' auld lang syne.
Some of the other passengers joined in the singing, but we never realised the full force of this verse until we heard it sung in its original form by a party of Scots, who, when they came to this particular verse, suited the action to the word by suddenly taking hold of each other's hands, thereby forming a cross, and meanwhile beating time to the music. Whether the cross so formed had any religious significance or not, we did not know.
Our friend was a finely built and intelligent young man, and it was with feelings of great regret that we bade him farewell and watched his departure over the great waves, with the rather mournful presentiment that we were being parted from him for ever!
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