There was a laughing devil in his sneer,
That raised emotions both of rage and fear;
And where his frown of hatred darkly fell,
Hope withering fled — and Mercy sigh’d farewell.
The Corsair, Canto I.
The ling or white fishery is the principal employment of the natives of Zetland, and was formerly that upon which the gentry chiefly depended for their income, and the poor for their subsistence. The fishing season is therefore, like the harvest of an agricultural country, the busiest and most important, as well as the most animating, period of the year.
The fishermen of each district assemble at particular stations, with their boats and crews, and erect upon the shore small huts, composed of shingle and covered with turf, for their temporary lodging, and skeos, or drying-houses, for the fish; so that the lonely beach at once assumes the appearance of an Indian town. The banks to which they repair for the Haaf fishing, are often many miles distant from the station where the fish is dried; so that they are always twenty or thirty hours absent, frequently longer; and under unfavourable circumstances of wind and tide, they remain at sea, with a very small stock of provisions, and in a boat of a construction which seems extremely slender, for two or three days, and are sometimes heard of no more. The departure of the fishers, therefore, on this occupation, has in it a character of danger and of suffering, which renders it dignified, and the anxiety of the females who remain on the beach, watching the departure of the lessening boat, or anxiously looking out for its return, gives pathos to the scene.8
The scene, therefore, was in busy and anxious animation, when the Udaller and his friends appeared on the beach. The various crews of about thirty boats, amounting each to from three to five or six men, were taking leave of their wives and female relatives, and jumping on board their long Norway skiffs, where their lines and tackle lay ready stowed. Magnus was not an idle spectator of the scene; he went from one place to another, enquiring into the state of their provisions for the voyage, and their preparations for the fishing — now and then, with a rough Dutch or Norse oath, abusing them for blockheads, for going to sea with their boats indifferently found, but always ending by ordering from his own stores a gallon of gin, a lispund of meal, or some similar essential addition to their sea-stores. The hardy sailors, on receiving such favours, expressed their thanks in the brief gruff manner which their landlord best approved; but the women were more clamorous in their gratitude, which Magnus was often obliged to silence by cursing all female tongues from Eve’s downwards.
At length all were on board and ready, the sails were hoisted, the signal for departure given, the rowers began to pull, and all started from the shore, in strong emulation to get first to the fishing ground, and to have their lines set before the rest; an exploit to which no little consequence was attached by the boat’s crew who should be happy enough to perform it.
While they were yet within hearing of the shore, they chanted an ancient Norse ditty, appropriate to the occasion, of which Claud Halcro had executed the following literal translation:—
“Farewell, merry maidens, to song, and to laugh,
For the brave lads of Westra are bound to the Haaf;
And we must have labour, and hunger, and pain,
Ere we dance with the maids of Dunrossness again.
“For now, in our trim boats of Noroway deal,
We must dance on the waves, with the porpoise and seal;
The breeze it shall pipe, so it pipe not too high,
And the gull be our songstress whene’er she flits by.
“Sing on, my brave bird, while we follow, like thee,
By bank, shoal, and quicksand, the swarms of the sea;
And when twenty-score fishes are straining our line,
Sing louder, brave bird, for their spoils shall be thine.
“We’ll sing while we bait, and we’ll sing when we haul,
For the deeps of the Haaf have enough for us all:
There is torsk for the gentle, and skate for the carle,
And there’s wealth for bold Magnus, the son of the earl.
“Huzza! my brave comrades, give way for the Haaf,
We shall sooner come back to the dance and the laugh;
For life without mirth is a lamp without oil;
Then, mirth and long life to the bold Magnus Troil!”
The rude words of the song were soon drowned in the ripple of the waves, but the tune continued long to mingle with the sound of wind and sea, and the boats were like so many black specks on the surface of the ocean, diminishing by degrees as they bore far and farther seaward; while the ear could distinguish touches of the human voice, almost drowned amid that of the elements.
The fishermen’s wives looked their last after the parting sails, and were now departing slowly, with downcast and anxious looks, towards the huts in which they were to make arrangements for preparing and drying the fish, with which they hoped to see their husbands and friends return deeply laden. Here and there an old sibyl displayed the superior importance of her experience, by predicting, from the appearance of the atmosphere, that the wind would be fair or foul, while others recommended a vow to the Kirk of St. Ninian’s for the safety of their men and boats, (an ancient Catholic superstition, not yet wholly abolished,) and others, but in a low and timorous tone, regretted to their companions, that Norna of Fitful-head had been suffered to depart in discontent that morning from Burgh-Westra, “and, of all days in the year, that they suld have contrived to give her displeasure on the first day of the white fishing!”
The gentry, guests of Magnus Troil, having whiled away as much time as could be so disposed of, in viewing the little armament set sail, and in conversing with the poor women who had seen their friends embark in it, began now to separate into various groups and parties, which strolled in different directions, as fancy led them, to enjoy what may be called the clair-obscure of a Zetland summer day, which, though without the brilliant sunshine that cheers other countries during the fine season, has a mild and pleasing character of its own, that softens while it saddens landscapes, which, in their own lonely, bare, and monotonous tone, have something in them stern as well as barren.
In one of the loneliest recesses of the coast, where a deep indenture of the rocks gave the tide access to the cavern, or, as it is called, the Helyer, of Swartaster, Minna Troil was walking with Captain Cleveland. They had probably chosen that walk, as being little liable to interruption from others; for, as the force of the tide rendered the place unfit either for fishing or sailing, so it was not the ordinary resort of walkers, on account of its being the supposed habitation of a Mermaid, a race which Norwegian superstition invests with magical, as well as mischievous qualities. Here, therefore, Minna wandered with her lover.
A small spot of milk-white sand, that stretched beneath one of the precipices which walled in the creek on either side, afforded them space for a dry, firm, and pleasant walk of about an hundred yards, terminated at one extremity by a dark stretch of the bay, which, scarce touched by the wind, seemed almost as smooth as glass, and which was seen from between two lofty rocks, the jaws of the creek, or indenture, that approached each other above, as if they wished to meet over the dark tide that separated them. The other end of their promenade was closed by a lofty and almost unscaleable precipice, the abode of hundreds of sea-fowl of different kinds, in the bottom of which the huge helyer, or sea-cave, itself yawned, as if for the purpose of swallowing up the advancing tide, which it seemed to receive into an abyss of immeasurable depth and extent. The entrance to this dismal cavern consisted not in a single arch, as usual, but was divided into two, by a huge pillar of natural rock, which, rising out of the sea, and extending to the top of the cavern, seemed to lend its support to the roof, and thus formed a double portal to the helyer, on which the fishermen and peasants had bestowed the rude name of the Devil’s Nostrils. In this wild scene, lonely and undisturbed but by the clang of the sea-fowl, Cleveland had already met with Minna Troil more than once; for with her it was a favourite walk, as the objects which it presented agreed peculiarly with the love of the wild, the melancholy, and the wonderful. But now the conversation in which she was earnestly engaged, was such as entirely to withdraw her attention, as well as that of her companion, from the scenery around them.
“You cannot deny it,” she said; “you have given way to feelings respecting this young man, which indicate prejudice and violence — the prejudice unmerited, as far as you are concerned at least, and the violence equally imprudent and unjustifiable.”
“I should have thought,” replied Cleveland, “that the service I rendered him yesterday might have freed me from such a charge. I do not talk of my own risk, for I have lived in danger, and love it; it is not every one, however, would have ventured so near the furious animal to save one with whom they had no connexion.”
“It is not every one, indeed, who could have saved him,” answered Minna, gravely; “but every one who has courage and generosity would have attempted it. The giddy-brained Claud Halcro would have done as much as you, had his strength been equal to his courage — my father would have done as much, though having such just cause of resentment against the young man, for his vain and braggart abuse of our hospitality. Do not, therefore, boast of your exploit too much, my good friend, lest you should make me think that it required too great an effort. I know you love not Mordaunt Mertoun, though you exposed your own life to save his.”
“Will you allow nothing, then,” said Cleveland, “for the long misery I was made to endure from the common and prevailing report, that this beardless bird-hunter stood betwixt me and what I on earth coveted most — the affections of Minna Troil?”
He spoke in a tone at once impassioned and insinuating, and his whole language and manner seemed to express a grace and elegance, which formed the most striking contrast with the speech and gesture of the unpolished seaman, which he usually affected or exhibited. But his apology was unsatisfactory to Minna.
“You have known,” she said, “perhaps too soon, and too well, how little you had to fear — if you indeed feared — that Mertoun, or any other, had interest with Minna Troil. — Nay, truce to thanks and protestations; I would accept it as the best proof of gratitude, that you would be reconciled with this youth, or at least avoid every quarrel with him.”
“That we should be friends, Minna, is impossible,” replied Cleveland; “even the love I bear you, the most powerful emotion that my heart ever knew, cannot work that miracle.”
“And why, I pray you?” said Minna; “there have been no evil offences between you, but rather an exchange of mutual services; why can you not be friends? — I have many reasons to wish it.”
“And can you, then, forget the slights which he has cast upon Brenda, and on yourself, and on your father’s house?”
“I can forgive them all,” said Minna; —“can you not say so much, who have in truth received no offence?”
Cleveland looked down, and paused for an instant; then raised his head, and replied, “I might easily deceive you, Minna, and promise you what my soul tells me is an impossibility; but I am forced to use too much deceit with others, and with you I will use none. I cannot be friend to this young man; — there is a natural dislike — an instinctive aversion — something like a principle of repulsion in our mutual nature, which makes us odious to each other. Ask himself — he will tell you he has the same antipathy against me. The obligation he conferred on me was a bridle to my resentment; but I was so galled by the restraint, that I could have gnawed the curb till my lips were bloody.”
“You have worn what you are wont to call your iron mask so long, that your features,” replied Minna, “retain the impression of its rigidity even when it is removed.”
“You do me injustice, Minna,” replied her lover, “and you are angry with me because I deal with you plainly and honestly. Plainly and honestly, however, will I say, that I cannot be Mertoun’s friend, but it shall be his own fault, not mine, if I am ever his enemy. I seek not to injure him; but do not ask me to love him. And of this remain satisfied, that it would be vain even if I could do so; for as sure as I attempted any advances towards his confidence, so sure would I be to awaken his disgust and suspicion. Leave us to the exercise of our natural feelings, which, as they will unquestionably keep us as far separate as possible, are most likely to prevent any possible interference with each other. — Does this satisfy you?”
“It must,” said Minna, “since you tell me there is no remedy. — And now tell me why you looked so grave when you heard of your consort’s arrival — for that it is her I have no doubt — in the port of Kirkwall?”
“I fear,” replied Cleveland, “the consequences of that vessel’s arrival with her crew, as comprehending the ruin of my fondest hopes. I had made some progress in your father’s favour, and, with time, might have made more, when hither come Hawkins and the rest to blight my prospects for ever. I told you on what terms we parted. I then commanded a vessel braver and better found than their own, with a crew who, at my slightest nod, would have faced fiends armed with their own fiery element; but I now stand alone, a single man, destitute of all means to overawe or to restrain them; and they will soon show so plainly the ungovernable license of their habits and dispositions, that ruin to themselves and to me will in all probability be the consequence.”
“Do not fear it,” said Minna; “my father can never be so unjust as to hold you liable for the offences of others.”
“But what will Magnus Troil say to my own demerits, fair Minna?” said Cleveland, smiling.
“My father is a Zetlander, or rather a Norwegian,” said Minna, “one of an oppressed race, who will not care whether you fought against the Spaniards, who are the tyrants of the New World, or against the Dutch and English, who have succeeded to their usurped dominions. His own ancestors supported and exercised the freedom of the seas in those gallant barks, whose pennons were the dread of all Europe.”
“I fear, nevertheless,” said Cleveland, “that the descendant of an ancient Sea-King will scarce acknowledge a fitting acquaintance in a modern rover. I have not disguised from you that I have reason to dread the English laws; and Magnus, though a great enemy to taxes, imposts, scat, wattle, and so forth, has no idea of latitude upon points of a more general character; — he would willingly reeve a rope to the yard-arm for the benefit of an unfortunate buccanier.”
“Do not suppose so,” said Minna; “he himself suffers too much oppression from the tyrannical laws of our proud neighbours of Scotland. I trust he will soon be able to rise in resistance against them. The enemy — such I will call them — are now divided amongst themselves, and every vessel from their coast brings intelligence of fresh commotions — the Highlands against the Lowlands — the Williamites against the Jacobites — the Whigs against the Tories, and, to sum the whole, the kingdom of England against that of Scotland. What is there, as Claud Halcro well hinted, to prevent our availing ourselves of the quarrels of these robbers, to assert the independence of which we are deprived?”
“To hoist the raven standard on the Castle of Scalloway,” said Cleveland, in imitation of her tone and manner, “and proclaim your father Earl Magnus the First!”
“Earl Magnus the Seventh, if it please you,” answered Minna; “for six of his ancestors have worn, or were entitled to wear, the coronet before him. — You laugh at my ardour — but what is there to prevent all this?”
“Nothing will prevent it,” replied Cleveland, “because it will never be attempted — Any thing might prevent it, that is equal in strength to the long-boat of a British man-of-war.”
“You treat us with scorn, sir,” said Minna; “yet yourself should know what a few resolved men may perform.”
“But they must be armed, Minna,” replied Cleveland, “and willing to place their lives upon each desperate adventure. — Think not of such visions. Denmark has been cut down into a second-rate kingdom, incapable of exchanging a single broadside with England; Norway is a starving wilderness; and, in these islands, the love of independence has been suppressed by a long term of subjection, or shows itself but in a few muttered growls over the bowl and bottle. And, were your men as willing warriors as their ancestors, what could the unarmed crews of a few fishing-boats do against the British navy? — Think no more of it, sweet Minna — it is a dream, and I must term it so, though it makes your eye so bright, and your step so noble.”
“It is indeed a dream!” said Minna, looking down, “and it ill becomes a daughter of Hialtland to look or to move like a freewoman — Our eye should be on the ground, and our step slow and reluctant, as that of one who obeys a taskmaster.”
“There are lands,” said Cleveland, “in which the eye may look bright upon groves of the palm and the cocoa, and where the foot may move light as a galley under sail, over fields carpeted with flowers, and savannahs surrounded by aromatic thickets, and where subjection is unknown, except that of the brave to the bravest, and of all to the most beautiful.”
Minna paused a moment ere she spoke, and then answered, “No, Cleveland. My own rude country has charms for me, even desolate as you think it, and depressed as it surely is, which no other land on earth can offer to me. I endeavour in vain to represent to myself those visions of trees, and of groves, which my eye never saw; but my imagination can conceive no sight in nature more sublime than these waves, when agitated by a storm, or more beautiful, than when they come, as they now do, rolling in calm tranquillity to the shore. Not the fairest scene in a foreign land — not the brightest sunbeam that ever shone upon the richest landscape, would win my thoughts for a moment from that lofty rock, misty hill, and wide-rolling ocean. Hialtland is the land of my deceased ancestors, and of my living father; and in Hialtland will I live and die.”
“Then in Hialtland,” answered Cleveland, “will I too live and die. I will not go to Kirkwall — I will not make my existence known to my comrades, from whom it were else hard for me to escape. Your father loves me, Minna; who knows whether long attention, anxious care, might not bring him to receive me into his family? Who would regard the length of a voyage that was certain to terminate in happiness?”
“Dream not of such an issue,” said Minna; “it is impossible. While you live in my father’s house — while you receive his assistance, and share his table, you will find him the generous friend, and the hearty host; but touch him on what concerns his name and family, and the frank-hearted Udaller will start up before you the haughty and proud descendant of a Norwegian Jarl. See you — a moment’s suspicion has fallen on Mordaunt Mertoun, and he has banished from his favour the youth whom he so lately loved as a son. No one must ally with his house that is not of untainted northern descent.”
“And mine may be so, for aught that is known to me upon the subject,” said Cleveland.
“How!” said Minna; “have you any reason to believe yourself of Norse descent?”
“I have told you before,” replied Cleveland, “that my family is totally unknown to me. I spent my earliest days upon a solitary plantation in the little island of Tortuga, under the charge of my father, then a different person from what he afterwards became. We were plundered by the Spaniards, and reduced to such extremity of poverty, that my father, in desperation, and in thirst of revenge, took up arms, and having become chief of a little band, who were in the same circumstances, became a buccanier, as it is called, and cruized against Spain, with various vicissitudes of good and bad fortune, until, while he interfered to check some violence of his companions, he fell by their hands — no uncommon fate among the captains of these rovers. But whence my father came, or what was the place of his birth, I know not, fair Minna, nor have I ever had a curious thought on the subject.”
“He was a Briton, at least, your unfortunate father?” said Minna.
“I have no doubt of it,” said Cleveland; “his name, which I have rendered too formidable to be openly spoken, is an English one; and his acquaintance with the English language, and even with English literature, together with the pains which he took, in better days, to teach me both, plainly spoke him to be an Englishman. If the rude bearing which I display towards others is not the genuine character of my mind and manners, it is to my father, Minna, that I owe any share of better thoughts and principles, which may render me worthy, in some small degree, of your notice and approbation. And yet it sometimes seems to me, that I have two different characters; for I cannot bring myself to believe, that I, who now walk this lone beach with the lovely Minna Troil, and am permitted to speak to her of the passion which I have cherished, have ever been the daring leader of the bold band whose name was as terrible as a tornado.”
“You had not been permitted,” said Minna, “to use that bold language towards the daughter of Magnus Troil, had you not been the brave and undaunted leader, who, with so small means, has made his name so formidable. My heart is like that of a maiden of the ancient days, and is to be won, not by fair words, but by gallant deeds.”
“Alas! that heart,” said Cleveland; “and what is it that I may do — what is it that man can do, to win in it the interest which I desire?”
“Rejoin your friends — pursue your fortunes — leave the rest to destiny,” said Minna. “Should you return, the leader of a gallant fleet, who can tell what may befall?”
“And what shall assure me, that, when I return — if return I ever shall — I may not find Minna Troil a bride or a spouse? — No, Minna, I will not trust to destiny the only object worth attaining, which my stormy voyage in life has yet offered me.”
“Hear me,” said Minna. “I will bind myself to you, if you dare accept such an engagement, by the promise of Odin,9 the most sacred of our northern rites which are yet practised among us, that I will never favour another, until you resign the pretensions which I have given to you. — Will that satisfy you? — for more I cannot — more I will not give.”
“Then with that,” said Cleveland, after a moment’s pause, “I must perforce be satisfied; — but remember, it is yourself that throw me back upon a mode of life which the laws of Britain denounce as criminal, and which the violent passions of the daring men by whom it is pursued, have rendered infamous.”
“But I,” said Minna, “am superior to such prejudices. In warring with England, I see their laws in no other light than as if you were engaged with an enemy, who, in fulness of pride and power, has declared he will give his antagonist no quarter. A brave man will not fight the worse for this; — and, for the manners of your comrades, so that they do not infect your own, why should their evil report attach to you?”
Cleveland gazed at her as she spoke, with a degree of wondering admiration, in which, at the same time, there lurked a smile at her simplicity.
“I could not,” he said, “have believed, that such high courage could have been found united with such ignorance of the world, as the world is now wielded. For my manners, they who best know me will readily allow, that I have done my best, at the risk of my popularity, and of my life itself, to mitigate the ferocity of my mates; but how can you teach humanity to men burning with vengeance against the world by whom they are proscribed, or teach them temperance and moderation in enjoying the pleasures which chance throws in their way, to vary a life which would be otherwise one constant scene of peril and hardship? — But this promise, Minna — this promise, which is all I am to receive in guerdon for my faithful attachment — let me at least lose no time in claiming that.”
“It must not be rendered here, but in Kirkwall. — We must invoke, to witness the engagement, the Spirit which presides over the ancient Circle of Stennis. But perhaps you fear to name the ancient Father of the Slain too, the Severe, the Terrible?”
“Do me the justice to think, lovely Minna, that I am little subject to fear real causes of terror; and for those which are visionary, I have no sympathy whatever.”
“You believe not in them, then?” said Minna, “and are so far better suited to be Brenda’s lover than mine.”
“I will believe,” replied Cleveland, “in whatever you believe. The whole inhabitants of that Valhalla, about which you converse so much with that fiddling, rhyming fool, Claud Halcro — all these shall become living and existing things to my credulity. But, Minna, do not ask me to fear any of them.”
“Fear! no — not to fear them, surely,” replied the maiden; “for, not before Thor or Odin, when they approached in the fulness of their terrors, did the heroes of my dauntless race yield one foot in retreat. Nor do I own them as Deities — a better faith prevents so foul an error. But, in our own conception, they are powerful spirits for good or evil. And when you boast not to fear them, bethink you that you defy an enemy of a kind you have never yet encountered.”
“Not in these northern latitudes,” said the lover, with a smile, “where hitherto I have seen but angels; but I have faced, in my time, the demons of the Equinoctial Line, which we rovers suppose to be as powerful, and as malignant, as those of the North.”
“Have you, then, witnessed those wonders that are beyond the visible world?” said Minna, with some degree of awe.
Cleveland composed his countenance, and replied — “A short while before my father’s death, I came, though then very young, into the command of a sloop, manned with thirty as desperate fellows as ever handled a musket. We cruized for a long while with bad success, taking nothing but wretched small-craft, which were destined to catch turtle, or otherwise loaded with coarse and worthless trumpery. I had much ado to prevent my comrades from avenging upon the crews of those baubling shallops the disappointment which they had occasioned to us. At length, we grew desperate, and made a descent on a village, where we were told we should intercept the mules of a certain Spanish governor, laden with treasure. We succeeded in carrying the place; but while I endeavoured to save the inhabitants from the fury of my followers, the muleteers, with their precious cargo, escaped into the neighbouring woods. This filled up the measure of my unpopularity. My people, who had been long discontented, became openly mutinous. I was deposed from my command in solemn council, and condemned, as having too little luck and too much humanity for the profession I had undertaken, to be marooned,10 as the phrase goes, on one of those little sandy, bushy islets, which are called, in the West Indies, keys, and which are frequented only by turtle and by sea-fowl. Many of them are supposed to be haunted(b)— some by the demons worshipped by the old inhabitants — some by Caciques and others, whom the Spaniards had put to death by torture, to compel them to discover their hidden treasures, and others by the various spectres in which sailors of all nations have implicit faith.11 My place of banishment, called Coffin-key, about two leagues and a half to the south-east of Bermudas, was so infamous as the resort of these supernatural inhabitants, that I believe the wealth of Mexico would not have persuaded the bravest of the scoundrels who put me ashore there, to have spent an hour on the islet alone, even in broad daylight; and when they rowed off, they pulled for the sloop like men that dared not cast their eyes behind them. And there they left me, to subsist as I might, on a speck of unproductive sand, surrounded by the boundless Atlantic, and haunted, as they supposed, by malignant demons.”
“And what was the consequence?” said Minna, eagerly.
“I supported life,” said the adventurer, “at the expense of such sea-fowl, aptly called boobies, as were silly enough to let me approach so near as to knock them down with a stick; and by means of turtle-eggs, when these complaisant birds became better acquainted with the mischievous disposition of the human species, and more shy of course of my advances.”
“And the demons of whom you spoke?”— continued Minna.
“I had my secret apprehensions upon their account,” said Cleveland: “In open daylight, or in absolute darkness, I did not greatly apprehend their approach; but in the misty dawn of the morning, or when evening was about to fall, I saw, for the first week of my abode on the key, many a dim and undefined spectre, now resembling a Spaniard, with his capa wrapped around him, and his huge sombrero, as large as an umbrella, upon his head — now a Dutch sailor, with his rough cap and trunk-hose — and now an Indian Cacique, with his feathery crown and long lance of cane.”
“Did you not approach and address them?” said Minna.
“I always approached them,” replied the seaman; “but — I grieve to disappoint your expectations, my fair friend — whenever I drew near them, the phantom changed into a bush, or a piece of drift-wood, or a wreath of mist, or some such cause of deception, until at last I was taught by experience to cheat myself no longer with such visions, and continued a solitary inhabitant of Coffin-key, as little alarmed by visionary terrors, as I ever was in the great cabin of a stout vessel, with a score of companions around me.”
“You have cheated me into listening to a tale of nothing,” said Minna; “but how long did you continue on the island?”
“Four weeks of wretched existence,” said Cleveland, “when I was relieved by the crew of a vessel which came thither a-turtling. Yet my miserable seclusion was not entirely useless to me; for on that spot of barren sand I found, or rather forged, the iron mask, which has since been my chief security against treason, or mutiny of my followers. It was there I formed the resolution to seem no softer hearted, nor better instructed — no more humane, and no more scrupulous, than those with whom fortune had leagued me. I thought over my former story, and saw that seeming more brave, skilful, and enterprising than others, had gained me command and respect, and that seeming more gently nurtured, and more civilized than they, had made them envy and hate me as a being of another species. I bargained with myself, then, that since I could not lay aside my superiority of intellect and education, I would do my best to disguise, and to sink in the rude seaman, all appearance of better feeling and better accomplishments. I foresaw then what has since happened, that, under the appearance of daring obduracy, I should acquire such a habitual command over my followers, that I might use it for the insurance of discipline, and for relieving the distresses of the wretches who fell under our power. I saw, in short, that to attain authority, I must assume the external semblance, at least, of those over whom it was to be exercised. The tidings of my father’s fate, while it excited me to wrath and to revenge, confirmed the resolution I had adopted. He also had fallen a victim to his superiority of mind, morals, and manners, above those whom he commanded. They were wont to call him the Gentleman; and, unquestionably, they thought he waited some favourable opportunity to reconcile himself, perhaps at their expense, to those existing forms of society his habits seemed best to suit with, and, even therefore, they murdered him. Nature and justice alike called on me for revenge. I was soon at the head of a new body of the adventurers, who are so numerous in those islands. I sought not after those by whom I had been myself marooned, but after the wretches who had betrayed my father; and on them I took a revenge so severe, that it was of itself sufficient to stamp me with the character of that inexorable ferocity which I was desirous to be thought to possess, and which, perhaps, was gradually creeping on my natural disposition in actual earnest. My manner, speech, and conduct, seemed so totally changed, that those who formerly knew me were disposed to ascribe the alteration to my intercourse with the demons who haunted the sands of Coffin-key; nay, there were some superstitious enough to believe, that I had actually formed a league with them.”
“I tremble to hear the rest!” said Minna; “did you not become the monster of courage and cruelty whose character you assumed?”
“If I have escaped being so, it is to you, Minna,” replied Cleveland, “that the wonder must be ascribed. It is true, I have always endeavoured to distinguish myself rather by acts of adventurous valour, than by schemes of revenge or of plunder, and that at length I could save lives by a rude jest, and sometimes, by the excess of the measures which I myself proposed, could induce those under me to intercede in favour of prisoners; so that the seeming severity of my character has better served the cause of humanity, than had I appeared directly devoted to it.”
He ceased, and, as Minna replied not a word, both remained silent for a little space, when Cleveland again resumed the discourse:—
“You are silent,” he said, “Miss Troil, and I have injured myself in your opinion by the frankness with which I have laid my character before you. I may truly say that my natural disposition has been controlled, but not altered, by the untoward circumstances in which I am placed.”
“I am uncertain,” said Minna, after a moment’s consideration, “whether you had been thus candid, had you not known I should soon see your comrades, and discover, from their conversation and their manners, what you would otherwise gladly have concealed.”
“You do me injustice, Minna, cruel injustice. From the instant that you knew me to be a sailor of fortune, an adventurer, a buccanier, or, if you will have the broad word, a PIRATE, what had you to expect less than what I have told you?”
“You speak too truly,” said Minna —“all this I might have anticipated, and I know not how I should have expected it otherwise. But it seemed to me that a war on the cruel and superstitious Spaniards had in it something ennobling — something that refined the fierce employment to which you have just now given its true and dreaded name. I thought that the independent warriors of the Western Ocean, raised up, as it were, to punish the wrongs of so many murdered and plundered tribes must have had something of gallant elevation, like that of the Sons of the North, whose long galleys avenged on so many coasts the oppressions of degenerate Rome. This I thought, and this I dreamed — I grieve that I am awakened and undeceived. Yet I blame you not for the erring of my own fancy. — Farewell; we must now part.”
“Say at least,” said Cleveland, “that you do not hold me in horror for having told you the truth.”
“I must have time for reflection,” said Minna, “time to weigh what you have said, ere I can fully understand my own feelings. Thus much, however, I can say even now, that he who pursues the wicked purpose of plunder, by means of blood and cruelty, and who must veil his remains of natural remorse under an affectation of superior profligacy, is not, and cannot be, the lover whom Minna Troil expected to find in Cleveland; and if she still love him, it must be as a penitent, and not as a hero.”
So saying, she extricated herself from his grasp, (for he still endeavoured to detain her,) making an imperative sign to him to forbear from following her. —“She is gone,” said Cleveland, looking after her; “wild and fanciful as she is, I expected not this. — She startled not at the name of my perilous course of life, yet seems totally unprepared for the evil which must necessarily attend it; and so all the merit I have gained by my resemblance to a Norse Champion, or King of the Sea, is to be lost at once, because a gang of pirates do not prove to be a choir of saints. I would that Rackam, Hawkins, and the rest, had been at the bottom of the Race of Portland — I would the Pentland Frith had swept them to hell rather than to Orkney! I will not, however, quit the chase of this angel for all that these fiends can do. I will — I must to Orkney before the Udaller makes his voyage thither — our meeting might alarm even his blunt understanding, although, thank Heaven, in this wild country, men know the nature of our trade only by hearsay, through our honest friends the Dutch, who take care never to speak very ill of those they make money by. — Well, if fortune would but stand my friend with this beautiful enthusiast, I would pursue her wheel no farther at sea, but set myself down amongst these rocks, as happy as if they were so many groves of bananas and palmettoes.”
With these, and such thoughts, half rolling in his bosom, half expressed in indistinct hints and murmurs, the pirate Cleveland returned to the mansion of Burgh-Westra.
8 Dr. Edmonston, the ingenious author of a View of the Ancient and Present State of the Zetland Islands, has placed this part of the subject in an interesting light. “It is truly painful to witness the anxiety and distress which the wives of these poor men suffer on the approach of a storm. Regardless of fatigue, they leave their homes, and fly to the spot where they expect their husbands to land, or ascend the summit of a rock, to look out for them on the bosom of the deep. Should they get the glimpse of a sail, they watch, with trembling solicitude, its alternate rise and disappearance on the waves; and though often tranquillized by the safe arrival of the objects of their search, yet it sometimes is their lot ‘to hail the bark that never can return.’ Subject to the influence of a variable climate, and engaged on a sea naturally tempestuous, with rapid currents, scarcely a season passes over without the occurrence of some fatal accident or hairbreadth escape.”—View, &c. of the Zetland Islands, vol. i. p. 238. Many interesting particulars respecting the fisheries and agriculture of Zetland, as well as its antiquities, may be found in the work we have quoted.
9 Promise of Odin.
Although the Father of Scandinavian mythology has been as a deity long forgotten in the archipelago, which was once a very small part of his realm, yet even at this day his name continues to be occasionally attested as security for a promise.
It is curious to observe, that the rites with which such attestations are still made in Orkney, correspond to those of the ancient Northmen. It appears from several authorities, that in the Norse ritual, when an oath was imposed, he by whom it was pledged, passed his hand, while pronouncing it, through a massive ring of silver kept for that purpose.44 In like manner, two persons, generally lovers, desirous to take the promise of Odin, which they considered as peculiarly binding, joined hands through a circular hole in a sacrificial stone, which lies in the Orcadian Stonehenge, called the Circle of Stennis, of which we shall speak more hereafter. The ceremony is now confined to the troth-plighting of the lower classes, but at an earlier period may be supposed to have influenced a character like Minna in the higher ranks.
44 See the Eyrbiggia Saga.
10 To maroon a seaman, signified to abandon him on a desolate coast or island — a piece of cruelty often practised by Pirates and Buccaniers.
(b) p. 35. Islands “supposed to be haunted.” In De Quincey’s autobiographical essay his sailor brother, Pink, describes the terrors of those isles. One of them, the noise of a Midnight Axe, is also found in Ceylon, in Mexico, and elsewhere. The Editor may be permitted to refer to the legends collected in his “Custom and Myth.”— A.L.
11 An elder brother, now no more, who was educated in the navy, and had been a midshipman in Rodney’s squadron in the West Indies, used to astonish the author’s boyhood with tales of those haunted islets. On one of them, called, I believe, Coffin-key, the seamen positively refused to pass the night, and came off every evening while they were engaged in completing the watering of the vessel, returning the following sunrise.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13