There were signs of a change in the weather as we left Wick, and the St. Magnus rolled considerably; but occasionally we had a good view of the precipitous rocks that lined the coast, many of them having been christened by the sailors after the objects they represented, as seen from the sea. The most prominent of these was a double-headed peak in Caithness, which formed a remarkably perfect resemblance to the breasts of a female giant with nipples complete, and this they had named the "Maiden's Paps." Then there was the "Old Man of Hoy," and other rocks that stood near the entrance to that terrible torrent of the sea, the Pentland Firth; but, owing to the rolling of our ship, we were not in a fit state either of mind or body to take much interest in them, and we were very glad when we reached the shelter of the Orkney Islands and entered the fine harbour of Kirkwall. Here we had to stay for a short time, so we went ashore and obtained a substantial lunch at the Temperance Hotel near the old cathedral, wrote a few letters, and at 3 p.m. rejoined the St. Magnus.
The sea had been quite rough enough previously, but it soon became evident that it had been smooth compared with what followed, and during the coming night we wished many times that our feet were once more on terra firma. The rain descended, the wind increased in violence, and the waves rolled high and broke over the ship, and we were no longer allowed to occupy our favourite position on the upper deck, but had to descend a stage lower. We were saturated with water from head to foot in spite of our overalls, and we were also very sick, and, to add to our misery, we could hear, above the noise of the wind and waves, the fearful groaning of some poor woman who, a sailor told us, had been suddenly taken ill, and it was doubtful if she could recover.
He carried a fish in his hand which he had caught as it was washed on deck, and he invited us to come and see the place where he had to sleep. A dismal place it was too, flooded with water, and not a dry thing for him to put on. We could not help feeling sorry that these sailors had such hardships to undergo; but he seemed to take it as a matter of course, and appeared to be more interested in the fish he carried than in the storm that was then raging. We were obliged to keep on the move to prevent our taking cold, and we realised that we were in a dark, dismal, and dangerous position, and thought of the words of a well-known song and how appropriate they were to that occasion:
"O Pilot! 'tis a fearful night,
There's danger on the deep;
I'll come and pace the deck with thee,
I do not dare to sleep."
"Go down!" the Pilot cried, "go down!
This is no place for thee;
Fear not! but trust in Providence,
Wherever thou may'st be."
The storm continued for hours, and, as it gradually abated, our feelings became calmer, our fears subsided, and we again ventured on the upper deck. The night had been very dark hitherto, but we could now see the occasional glimmering of a light a long distance ahead, which proved to be that of a lighthouse, and presently we could distinguish the bold outlines of the Shetland Islands.
As we entered Bressay Sound, however, a beautiful transformation scene suddenly appeared, for the clouds vanished as if by magic, and the last quarter of the moon, surrounded by a host of stars, shone out brilliantly in the clear sky. It was a glorious sight, for we had never seen these heavenly bodies in such a clear atmosphere before, and it was hard to realise that they were so far away from us. We could appreciate the feelings of a little boy of our acquaintance, who, when carried outside the house one fine night by his father to see the moon, exclaimed in an ecstasy of delight: "Oh, reach it, daddy! - reach it!" and it certainly looked as if we could have reached it then, so very near did it appear to us.
It was two o'clock on Sunday morning, September 10th, when we reached Lerwick, the most northerly town in Her Majesty's British Dominions, and we appealed to a respectable-looking passenger who was being rowed ashore with us in the boat as to where we could obtain good lodgings. He kindly volunteered to accompany us to a house at which he had himself stayed before taking up his permanent residence as a tradesman in the town and which he could thoroughly recommend. Lerwick seemed a weird-looking place in the moonlight, and we turned many corners on our way to our lodgings, and were beginning to wonder how we should find our way out again, when our companion stopped suddenly before a private boarding-house, the door of which was at once opened by the mistress. We thanked the gentleman for his kind introduction, and as we entered the house the lady explained that it was her custom to wait up for the arrival of the St. Magnus. We found the fire burning and the kettle boiling, and the cup that cheers was soon on the table with the usual accompaniments, which were quickly disposed of. We were then ushered to our apartments - a bedroom and sitting or dining-room combined, clean and comfortable, but everything seemed to be moving like the ship we had just left. Once in bed, however, we were soon claimed by the God of Slumber, sleep, and dreams - our old friend Morpheus.
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