Shetland Fireside Tales
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Captain Tom Yunson was an experienced seaman, but on that night his ship, the "Ocean Spray," encountered a raging storm and drifted helplessly in it. The captain had even sighted the bold rugged promontory of Sumburgh Head close to the sheltered bay of Levenwick, when the storm broke on him. A few hours more, and he would have reached the haven of safety; but his ship was gored to death by the pointed rocks of Sloga Head and beaten to splinters by the mighty waves.
Next morning the gale moderated slightly, and men were soon astir to see that their boats were safe, and if any wrecks had been thrown on the shore during the night. Then came a wild and thrilling cry, borne on the wings of the blast
"A ship! a ship! on the scarf skerries."
As eager groups were watching in breathless suspense the tremendous waves as they rolled over the skerry, and sometimes almost burying the dark hull of the vessel in their seething foam.
The hermit Olla got the news after others, but came running at his utmost speed and reached the beach in safety, his eyes flashing. "There are survivors on the wreck over there, and soon they must perish! The flood tide is advancing; not a moment is to be lost!"
"O, Mr Ollison," exclaimed old Yacob (who was amongst the crowd), as he rushed forward and grasped the hermit's hand, "what can men do in the face of a sea like this?"
"I will help them," cried Olla, "or perish in the attempt." With this, he divested himself of his clothing, all to his shirt and trousers; and taking the kerchief from his neck, bound it round his head, thereby closely concealing his flowing locks within its folds. He next grasped the end of a rope that lay coiled at his feet, and tying it securely round his waist, again addressed the crowd.
"My fellows," he said, "obey the instructions I now give you. Mark that I will wait till I see a wave that will overwhelm the ill-fated vessel and sweep her from the rock. Then, as that wave rolls back, I will dive through the wave that follows it and swim to the survivors, if they can be saved. They are now clinging to the bowsprit. When I reach the floating spar, I will raise my arm as a signal, if the survivors are still on it. Then draw the rope quickly to land, waiting till the highest wave approaches, so that the spar may be carried on its crest to the top of the beach; then let some of your strongest men be ready, with ropes around their waists, to save us from being drawn back again by the receding wave.'
"We will do all you say," said the others, but the old man said to him, "No mortal man can face this awful sea."
Now a mighty wave rolled ashore, and sent its floating foam to the highest elevation of the beach, and then fell back with a voice of thunder. Swiftly the hermit followed, drawing the rope after him; and as the next wave, like a wall of emerald, rose high over his head, he was seen to throw his arms around a fragment of rock which projected like a pillar from the beach.
They cried, "He is lost! and there the ship is gone at last!" broke from hundreds of voices. That same moment the hermit's rope was drawn quickly from the shore. And just as the wave broke and poured itself down in one mighty cataract of green, streaked with broken foam, people ashore could see him like a dark speck on the snowy bosom of the waters. Only an expert swimmer could do what he was doing. He struggled hard to reach the floating spar, which had parted from the vessel as he predicted it would.
"There, he has it!" broke wildly from the crowd on the shore, as he was seen grasping the spar with the two survivors on it. He attached the rope to it, raised his arm as a signal, and the rope was quickly drawn in by strong arms, as a mighty swelling wave follows. A piercing cry broke from the beach, as the spar with its living freight rose high on the broken wave, and then rushed onwards and upwards to where twenty arms were ready to receive it. Three human forms, apparently lifeless, were secured to the spar by ropes. Now strong men grasped it, standing deep among the roaring flood, and snatched the persons before they were swept into the wild sea again.
"The hermit, a sailor, and a woman are saved!" broke in wild acclamation from a thousand voices. The three were carried away to get dry clothes, warm blankets and a blazing fire warm them, but the captain and the women were unconscious.
When Captain Yunson had regained consciousness, and was able to speak to those around him, the surprised villagers of Trosswick got to know who Lelah was.
And Lelah, recovering in another house, asked faintly, ""Where am I?"
"You are in your own native land, my bonnie lady," replied the woman in whose charge she was.
"What is the name of this place, and is the captain or any of the crew are saved?"
"Yes, the captain is saved," replied the woman, "but the crew is lost."
"Thank you," faintly replied Lelah, as she again closed her eyes.
"How is the captain, and has he been able to see his wife yet?" asked the hermit anxiously of Yacob when stood by his bedside.
The old man had not recognised his own son yet. As he stood by the bedside the thought that his friend the hermit was so very near his long-lost Lelah, and for the sake of his faltering health had better get better before he got to know about her, was overwhelming, but bearable.
Three evenings later, Lelah leaning on the arm of Captain Yunson, directed her steps to old Yacob's dwelling., where Olla lay in bed. She looked pale and anxious.
The hermit took Lelah's hand gently in his, gazed for a moment in her face, and then exclaimed, "Lelah!" and they were instantly locked in each other's arms. Olla now led Lelah to a seat on the settle by the fireside, soothing her with words of fond affection, and trying to suppress, as far as he could, his own emotion. The captain also stepped forward, and taking Peggy's withered hand in his, and looking enquiringly into her face, said, "Don't you know me?" adding, "Mother, can't you recognize your own son?"
"Son!" shrieked the old woman and fainted a little. Old Yacob also threw his arms round his son's neck while the latter supported his mother in his arms until she came to herself.
Lelah's father and mother arrived. Tears of joy fell fast while they pressed her to their bosoms. Then the company sat around old Yacob's humble festive board. After some time a horse was ready to carry Lelah to her father's house. The happy company therefore broke up, and the hermit returned to his hut on the Ness, to make some arrangements.
Two short weeks passed. Then one December morning, he and Lelah were going to be married. The wedding company was about to walk in procession to the manse of Skelaburg. The bride wore a pure white silk dress. The bridegroom wore and elegant dress, and polished manners . . .
Eager and smiling groups crowded at every cottage-door to gaze at the procession as it passed and the Bride's March was played.
As soon as the wedding ceremony was over the procession again formed, and all went to the house of the bride's father, where the company halted on the green to witness the ceremony of breaking the bride's-cake. Whole quarters of pork hams were served up in large wooden Norway plates, scrubbed and polished for the occasion. On groaning tables rose towers of scones.
At ten o'clock a fiddler started to play. Faster and faster the fiddler's elbow flew as the merry bow trembled on any string and thrilled out some foot-inspiring strain, and faster and faster the dancers tripped on after oat-cakes, pancakes, and the drinks that were served.
"Now, come and have a bite, and then you can dance again, "said the bride's father.
Soon after Yacob cried, "Dance, Peggy, dance," cried Yacob, his honest face radiant with smiles.
"Dance, Yacob, dance!" screamed Peggy and flung herself right and left. She was unusually happy after their son had come back after years at sea.
The bride and bridegroom now retired, leaving the rest of the company to continue the merriment until the cock crowed.
At nine o'clock the company gathered for breakfast, and at ten o'clock the dancing was resumed, and so continued for three days and nights, with intervals of playing football and the like on the green.
On the fourth day, the young men continued the marriage festivities and rejoicings for another day and night; and this they did at their own expense, as an expression of their goodwill toward the newly married couple.
A happy future was before Olla and Lelah at last. After remaining a few days with his father-in-law, the laird of Noss [an isle east of Lerwich] - no longer "the hermit" - was accompanied by his wife and Captain Yunson to Lerwick. They had in mind to sail by the first vessel leaving for Holland, for it was Lelah's earnest desire to visit without delay her kind benefactresses there and to tell them what had happened to her since she suddenly left them.
At Lerwick they found a vessel lying wind-bound for Holland. Three days of a fair wind brought them in sight of the Dutch coast; and after three more days they arrived at the house of the widow. There they were received with unbounded joy and entertained heartily for many days in the middle of a brilliant assembly, and parted again with many regrets.
When they came back to Shetland again, the laird of Noss and his happy wife went to their future home in Bressay. Olla did not forget his helpers. Those who had helped him recover, were put in possession of farms on his property.
Old Yacob's declining years were made happy, and this happiness increased as Peggy's failing strength tended to bring about a change for the better in her walk and conversation.
The laird also sought out some distant relations of Bill Ericson's, and bestowed on them many marks of his favour.
During future years the Laird of Noss and his happy wife made an annual journey to Dunrossness, visiting the old retreat on the Ness, the trysting-place by the shore, and other scenes of their youths. They also got a baby to sing lullabies to.
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