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Shetland Fireside Tales
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  1. Happy to Learn and Mother's Death
  2. Lelah Is Gone
  3. A Sea-robber Guardian
  4. Eight Years Waiting

5. Happy to Learn and Mother's Death

Next day old Yacob faithfully kept his appointment with Olla. As old Yacob lifted the wooden latch of his door, Olla rose to meet him, and, shaking him cordially by the hand, said, "How are you, my friend?"

"O, we've had an awful storm since I saw you last."

"I did not hear it," said Olla, "was it during the night?"

"Yes, there was a north-western storm in my house - the old wife is afraid the neighbours take her profit for something shady - Mr Ollison, what is your opinion of witchcraft?"

"My friend," replied the hermit, "a man born blind might say that the sun does not shine if he does not see its light or feel the warmth of the sunshine on his skin. Such a man can hold one of two positions in this great question. If he says, 'I believe there is sunshine or spiritual power in the world, but I do not believe in witchcraft,' to such a man I say, "Your present view includes some contradiction. Further, if none of us knows what sunshine is doing, or a spirit can do, how idle it is to attempt to square our beliefs with our experience, when that experience really teaches us nothing."

"Well," interrupted the old man, "you left off where you and your woman were sitting down a pretty moonlight night and wondering about the stars."

"Yes," replied Olla, "I left off there. I soon became a teacher, although too young for such an office, and strove by close attention and a full knowledge of what I taught, to make up for what I wanted in years and experience. The result was that I gave great satisfaction to all connected with the school; and as time went on the number of my scholars increased as well as my income. I can truly say at this time I enjoyed unalloyed happiness. Esteemed by all who knew me, successful in everything I undertook, I would have been happy even in that enjoyment that the gratification of a noble ambition gives, but my highest source of happiness was the pure and ardent affection I felt for my Lelah, and that soft sweet response which my love met with in her own bosom.

"She left the school about the same time as I did, as her father, though a well-to-do fisherman, could not afford to spare his children from work longer than they were able fairly to read, write, and count. When our attachment became known to the family (though we managed to conceal it for nearly two years from the time I first saw her), her parents seemed highly pleased, and I met with a cordial welcome whenever I chose to call, which I did as often as I could make a reasonable excuse for doing so. When seated by the fireside on a winter evening, entertaining and astonishing the old man with my great stores of knowledge, how happy I felt to be so near my Lelah; and how can I describe her at this time when her ripened charms were just in the full glory of womanhood? Her merry laugh, so rich and full of the most exuberant mirth, was music in my enraptured ear. How it thrilled my soul with a fullness of inexpressible delight! That voice . . . I can bear this no longer." The hermit covered his face with his hands, and groaned in an agony of grief.

When he recovered, he resumed telling:

"My days and years during this happy period of my life glided on like a placid stream winding its way through a flowery land. Sunshine was ever on my path, and hope beckoned me on with fascinating smiles. I knew no care until my dear mother was suddenly taken from me, and her gentle voice was hushed in the silence of the grave.

"I had noticed some weeks before her last illness that her step was less elastic, and one day she told me:

"I am ill, my dear," she said in a soft whisper, and added, "I fear, dear boy, I shall never get better anymore.'

"How can I live without you?" I asked. How can I come home, and not find you to welcome me?"

She told: "You are the true and undisputed heir of your grandfather's property. It was made to you by will shortly after you were born; and this is the reason you were named Ollison, after your grandfather, and not your father's name, because this was your grandfather's wish, and we complied with it. At present your property is in good hands, and therefore put the knowledge of it from your thoughts."

With these words and a smile she died.

How great a change! But gradually the natural buoyancy of my spirits returned. Well, my friend," concluded Olla, "we have all our trials. You just have to bear yours with patience, as you see I am bearing mine."

"That's true, Mr Ollison," rejoined the old man.

"Now come and share my meal," said Olla, and placed before the old man some dried fish and potatoes which had been cooked in a pot over the fire. After the meal Olla resumed his tale.

6. Lelah Is Gone

"Just about a year after the death of my mother," continued the hermit, ''on a lovely moonlight evening, I met my Lelah at our favourite trysting place by the seashore. The stars twinkled softly in a cloudless firmament, and the gurgling waves sang a sweet lullaby at our feet. We sat down on a rock, but had not been seated there many minutes when we heard a moaning sound from one of the creeks about a hundred yards from the spot where we rested. Supposing it to be a wounded seal, I asked Lelah to wait until I found the cause of this strange sound. I kissed her and tripped lightly over the shelving rock, hearing her voice calling after me, 'Take care of yourself, Olla, dear.'

But when I was making my way to where the groaning came from, I was caught as if by invisible hands and pulled under the water so long that I lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, the moon had long since passed the zenith. Like a bright angel surrounded by darkness, my Lelah seemed to stand before me, and in joy I stretched out my arms to receive her, but she eluded my grasp. I sprang to my feet, and cried, 'Lelah! where are you?"

Next time I woke up, I was at home and too weak to speak; but with kind friends are around me.

I had been found by two young men who descended the rock. I lay stretched unconscious where I had fallen; but Lelah could not be found! No trace of her body was ever found.

"My opinion came to be that supernatural hands took Lelah from me, and held me under the water till she was carried beyond my reach."

His old friend interrupted him a while, and told something about Old Sandy Bairnson of Stottrigirt. Old Sandy and another man went away to Norway to buy a new boat.

"Yes, yes," said Olla in reply to what he heard, "I had regained consciousness, and my aunt nursed me with a mother's love, but I felt alone after losing Lelah. I sought to be alone with my grief, and at that time there lived in this cottage an old and venerable hermit. I asked to live with him, telling my heart was cold and dead to life.

"'Well, my son,' said the solitary said, ' since you are so minded, welcome to share my humble abode and frugal meal."

"For two years this hermit was my only companion. After two years the old man died, and left me sole possessor of this cottage, and of the cultivated patches of ground that surround it.

"Here I have been near the spot where Lelah and I met for the last time. I have been on the outlook for here all the time."

Olla paused.

"Oh dear Mr Ollison, "I had a dream not long ago, and a wonderful dream too. I do not know all that it means, yet I'm sure of this, that something is going to happen near this place, and that good will come out of it both for you and me. But now I think I must leave you, unless my old wife blows a hurricane this time. Goodbye for now."

"Farewell, my good friend," exclaimed Olla as he pressed the old man's hand.

7. A Sea-robber Guardian

On that evening when Lelah Halcro and her lover met for the last time at their trysting-place near the "banks" of Trosswickness, a boat might have been seen approaching from the south. In the stern of the boat was seated a man of somewhat bulky proportions, enveloped in a cloak, and wearing on his head a low-crowned hat, slouched over his eyes. In his right hand he grasped the tiller of the boat, making her turn sharply to every bend in the irregular outline of the shore.

The steersman of this boat was the smuggler Jack Smith, the smuggler and sea-robber. On that calm night he thought that his boat had reached a stack or isolated rock, when he noticed a young man and woman there. The robber jumped ashore and disappeared among the fallen rocks around.

Lying in ambush, he groaned so that the young man came along. The robber got rid of him as told before. Olla struggled in vain for freedom; he was exhausted by loss of blood from wounds caused by the sharp pointed rock beneath him.

At the same time the boat noiselessly glided from her hiding-place behind the rock. When she called to Olla, a rough sailor on the boat heard her and quickly caught hold of her.

When the captain came back, he exclaimed, "Here's my pretty bird at last. She isn't hurt, I hope; is she?" No, she had only fainted, said the sailor.

They the sea-robbers rowed a couple of miles out to sea, where their mother ship was waiting. On board Lelah had woken up.

"Don't you know me, Lelah?" asked the captain, "your old schoolmate, Jack Smith, that fought for you like a Turk, and loved you as his life; and here we are now all right, tight, and happy, on board the gallant "Buccaneer," bound for Holland. It is a jolly country, and a lady I'll make you there. So cheer up; what could you wish more?"

"Wretch, fiend, and murderer!" Lelah exclaimed, and fixed her flashing eyes on the man who stood before her, adding "Monster" too.

"Well, I suppose Olla is dead," he said after a pause, "if nobody found him. If so, then what are we to do?"

"Well, well, captain," replied the sailor that was with him, "I did not like at all that catching business when you first spoke of it; and now you see what's come of it. But if you keep away from this girl, she is overboard or through the cabin windows before you can say "Jack Robinson;" and then I guess we shall have two ghosts on our conscience for the rest of our lives. Let the girl have the cabin all to herself, and guard the cabin window well."

Then the sailor said to Lelah, "No harm shall come to you while I am mate of this ship. The captain has promised that he will not trouble you, and you are to have this cabin all to yourself until we get to Holland.

Lelah asked him after a pause, "Who are you?"

"I am Bill Ericson, mate of this vessel," he replied, "and it was I that carried you on board from the boat; for you are so like my own pretty Polly now resting in the churchyard. I love you for her sake, God help me!"

The first glance at the lovely face and form of Lelah Halcro awakened in the bosom of Bill Ericson such emotions as he could not hide. He kept his word and took special precautions to protect her from intrusion, by allowing her to lock the cabin door on the inside, opening it only when he gave the password of his own name.

During the passage, few words were exchanged. He had told Lelah that he knew a widow in Holland, and she would probably agree to be Lelah's protector and guardian beyond the captain's reach or knowledge.

And later, when Bill arrived with his fair companion at the house of the widow, he introduced Lelah to her, and privately informed the widow that his captain had probably killed her sweetheart, and now wanted her help to force her to marry him.

But I want you to keep and protect this poor child, and I will pay you myself. Not that she can ever be my sweetheart; but I kind of love her still."

The widow at once sympathized with Lelah and promised to help her for free.

Bill rushed to the other room, where Lelah was regaining her strength, and said, "Lelah, it is now all square! This noble lady is your safeguard, and under her roof no one can harm you. So goodbye, I shall come and see you again next voyage."

Now the widow's daughter, Gretchen, entered. She was a lovely rosy girl, smiling and blushing. She was led by her mother to Lelah, and introduced as "my own Gretchen, your sister," and then turning to Gretchen, she said, "This lady is going to stay with us."

Gretchen agreed to love her as a sister, and Sailor Bill arose to take his departure and rejoin his captain and vessel. However, the "Buccaneer" and all on board were lost in a fearful hurricane that she encountered when off the Doggerbank. Also beneath that wave ended the bold and lawless Smuggler Jack.

It was not until many years later that Lelah came to know of the sad and ultimate fate of Bill. Then she mourned him as a brother; and her already wounded heart bled afresh. The widow surmised that Lilah's lover was no longer alive, and therefore, to return to her native land would only be to open up the wound afresh in her heart.

Gretchen had just finished her education, and perceiving that Lelah, though several years older than herself, was deficient in everything, at once undertook, as a pleasing duty and labour of love, to instruct her adopted sister; and this she did with a zeal and earnestness which soon produced the most gratifying results.

Lelah proved a very apt scholar, and her progress pleased and surprised her kind friends. She soon learned to speak German fluently. She also made great progress in music anddrawing, and she was fully occupied. It was only when she retired to rest and laid her head on her pillow that she could indulge in tears. Thus, years rolled on, and the wound in the heart of Lelah did not heal at all.

8. Eight Years Waiting

Eight long years had come and gone. Lelah was still the adopted daughter of the widow, and the loved sister of Gretchen; but when Gretchen was engaged to be married to a wealthy Dutch merchant, her walks with Lelah were not quite so frequent. Then Lelah would think of her murdered lover, and the thought that even were she to go back now it must make her heart bleed afresh – but was Olla really dead? Might he not still be alive?

On a beautiful evening walk in autumn, she sang of her own country when someone in a boat nearby heard her. He was dressed like an English captain. The moment he saw her he raised his hat, and signalled his rowers to stop the boat.

"Pardon me, gentle lady, but I wish to speak to you. You know a song about my own country."

"Where do you come from, may I ask?" said Lelah.

"Shetland is my native country, and Trosswick and Sumburgh, which you mentioned in your song, are spots which gladdened my youthful eyes, and are still dear to my heart."

"Great heaven!" exclaimed Lelah.

"My name is Tom Yunson, and my father's name is Yacob, and he is still alive in the village of Trosswick, for one of my men has come from that quarter not long ago."

Lelah's excitement had now become insupportable, and she felt her strength giving way; but asked anyway, "Does your sailor know any one of the name of Olla Ollison there?"

"Yes," replied the captain; "There is such a man still alive and well. And he goes often to the sea-shore, and sits there alone."

The captain led Lelah to a rustic seat close by. There she told him her name and where she came from.

"Are you really Lelah Halcro? Now I understand it all. You were carried off by that scoundrel Jack Smith in the 'Buccaneer;' buy all will be well yet; you will find your sweetheart alive and well, and my ship is at your service. If you come with me, you shall have my cabin to yourself, and everything I can do to make you comfortable, and only a three days' run to Sumburgh Head."

Lelah had to gather her thoughts in the matter. "All right, my lady," replied the captain; "we will lie hidden down there by the clump of willow till you make up your mind, and will be here at the time you appoint."

"I will return in half an hour," she replied. The pang of leaving her dear friends without seeing them shot through her heart like an arrow. Should she yet go back and tell them all, and ask permission to go with these strangers? But again, they might oppose the idea, and here was her chance.

"It's now or never!" she said to herself; "but I will write and explain all, and leave it in the bower here." Then she hastily wrote them a little note about what she was up to, and that she expected to return soon and seek their forgiveness for leaving the way she did, addressed it, and fixed it securely on the seat. Then she hurried to the boat. I was waiting for her at the appointed place.


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