The lost, the castaway on
Or rocks of ocean, where no human aid
Can reach them more.
The mountains of Hoy, the
highest of the Orkney Islands, rise abruptly out of the ocean to an
elevation of fifteen hundred feet, and terminate on one side in a cliff,
sheer and stupendous, as if the mountain had been cut down through the
middle, and the severed portion of it' buried in the sea. Immediately on
the landward side of this precipice lies a soft green valley, embosomed
among huge black cliffs, where the sound of the human voice, or the
report of a gun, is reverberated among the rocks, where it gradually
dies away into faint and fainter echoes.
The hills are intersected by deep and dreary glens, where the hum of the
world is never heard, and the only voices of life are the bleat of the
lamb and the shriek of the eagle ;-even the sounds of inanimate nature
are of the most doleful kind; The breeze watts not on its wings the
whisper of the woodland ; for there are no trees in the island, and the
roar of the torrent-stream and the seas eternal moan for ever sadden
these solitudes of the world.
The ascent of the mountains is in some parts almost perpendicular, and
in all exceedingly steep; but the admirer of nature in her grandest and
most striking aspects will be amply compensated for his toil, upon
reaching their summits, by the magnificent prospect which they afford.
Towards the north and east, the vast expanse of ocean, and the islands,
with their dark heath-clad hills, their green vales, and gigantic
cliffs, expand below as far as the eye can reach. The view towards the
south is bounded by the lofty mountains of Scarabin and Morven, and by
the wild hills of Strathnaver and Cape Wrath, stretching towards the
west. In the direction of the latter, and far away in mid-ocean, may be
seen, during clear weather, a barren rock, called Sule Skerry, which
superstition in former days had peopled with mermaids and monsters of
the deep. This solitary spot had been long known to the Orcadians as the
haunt of seafowl and seals, and was the scene of their frequent shooting
excursions, though such perilous adventures have been long since
abandoned. It is associated in my mind with a wild tale, which I have
heard in my youth, though I am uncertain whether or not the
circumstances which it narrates are yet in the memory of living men.
On the opposite side of the mountainous island of which I speak, and
divided from it by a frith of several miles in breadth, lie the flat
serpentine shores of the principal island or mainland, where, upon a
gentle slope, at a short distance from the sea-beach, may still be
traced the site of a cottage, once the dwelling of a humble couple of
the name of Waters, belonging to that class of small proprietors which
forms the connecting link betwixt the gentry and the peasantry.
Their only child Helen, at the time to which my narrative refers, was
just budding into womanhood; and though uninitiated into what would now
be considered the indispensable requisites of female education, was yet
not altogether unaccomplished for the simple times in which she lived;
and, though a child of nature, had a grace beyond the reach of art,
untaught and unteachable. There was a softness and delicacy in her whole
demeanour, never looked for and seldom found in the humble sphere of
life to which she belonged. Yet her beauty did not startle or surprise,
but stole over the heart almost insensibly, like the gentle fall of the
summer evenings of her own native isles, and, like that, produced in the
beholder an emotion almost allied to sadness.
Such a being was not likely to be appreciated by the rude and
commonplace minds by whom she was surrounded, and with whom a rosy cheek
and a laughing eye constitute the beau-ideal of woman; but she
awakened a world of romance in one young heart, with which her own
gentle bosom shared the feelings she inspired.
Henry Graham, the lover of Helen Waters, was the son of a small
proprietor in the neighbourhood ; and being of the same humble rank with
herself, and, though not rich, removed from poverty, their views were
undisturbed by the dotage of avarice or the fears of want, and the
smiles of approving friends seemed to await their approaching union.
The days of courtship were drawing towards a close, and the period of
their marriage was at last condescended upon by the bride. Among the
middling and lower classes of society in the Orkneys, it is customary
for the bridegroom to invite the wedding-guests in person; for which
purpose, a few days previous to the marriage, young Graham, accompanied
by his friend, took a boat and proceeded to the island of Hoy, to
request the attendance of a family residing there; which done, on the
following day they joined a party of young men upon a shooting excursion
to Rackwick, a village romantically situated on the opposite side of the
island. They left the house of their friends on a bright, calm, autumnal
morning, and began to traverse the wild and savage glens which intersect
the hills, where their progress might be guessed at by the reports of
their guns, which gradually became faint and fainter among the
mountains, and at last died away altogether in the distance.
That night and the following day passed, and they did not return to the
house of their friends; but the weather being extremely fine, it was
supposed they had extended their excursion to the opposite coast of
Caithness, or to some of the neighbouring islands, so that their absence
created no alarm whatever.
The same conjectures also quieted the anxieties of the bride, until the
morning previous to that of the marriage, when her alarm could no longer
be suppressed. A boat was manned in all haste, and dispatched to Hoy in
quest of them, but did not return during that day nor the succeeding
The morning of the wedding-day dawned at last, bright and beautiful, but
still no intelligence arrived of the bridegroom and his party; and the
hope which lingered to the last, that they would still make their
appearance in time, had prevented the invitations from being postponed,
so that the marriage party began to assemble about midday.
While the friends were all in amazement, and the bride in a most
pitiable state, a boat was seen crossing from Hoy, and hope once more
began to revive; but, upon landing her passengers, they turned out to be
the members of the family invited from that island, whose surprise at
finding how matters stood was equal to that of the other friends.
Meantime all parties united in their endeavours to cheer the poor bride
; for which purpose it was agreed that the company should remain, and
that the festivities should go on,an arrangement to which the guests
the more willingly consented, from a lingering hope that the absentees
would still make their appearance, and partly with a view to divert in
some measure the intense and painful attention of the bride from the
untoward circumstance; while she, on the other hand, from feelings of
hospitality, exerted herself, though with a heavy heart, to make her
guests as comfortable as possible; and, by the very endeavour to put on
an appearance of tranquillity, acquired so much of the reality as to
prevent her from sinking altogether under the weight of her fears.
Meantime the day advanced, the festivities went on, and the glass began
to circulate so freely, that the absence of the principal actor of the
scene was so far forgotten, that at length the music struck up, and
dancing commenced with all the animation which that exercise inspires
among the natives of Scotland.
Things were going on in this way, when, towards night, and during one of
the pauses of the dance, a loud rap was heard at the door, and a gleam
of hope was seen to lighten every face, when there entered, not the
bridegroom and his party, but a wandering lunatic, named Annie Fae, well
known and not a little feared in all that countryside. Her garments were
little else than a collection of fantastic and party-coloured rags,
bound close around her waist with a girdle of straw, and her head had no
other covering than the dark tangled locks that hung, snake-like, over
her wild and weather-beaten face, from which peered forth her small,
deep-sunk eyes, gleaming with the baleful light of insanity.
Before the surprise and dismay excited by her sudden and unwelcome
appearance had subsided, she addressed the company in the following wild
and incoherent manner:
"Hech, sirs, but heres a merry meeting indeed,a fine company, by my
faith; plenty o gude meat and drink here, and nae expense spared! Aweel,
its no a' lost neither; this blithe bridal will mak a braw burial, and
the same feast will do for baith. But whats the folk a' glowering at?
Ise warrant now yere cursing Annie Fae for spoiling your sport. But ye
ken I maun just say my say, and that being done, Ill no detain you
langer, but jog on my journey; only I wad just hint, that, for decencys
sake, ye suld stop that fine fiddling and dancing; for ye may weel
believe that thae kind o things gie nae great pleasure to the dead I
Having thus delivered herself, she made a low curtsey, and brushed out
of the house, leaving the company in that state of painful excitement
which, in such circumstances, even the ravings of a poor deranged
wanderer could not fail to produce.
In this state we, too, will leave them for the present, and proceed with
the party who set off on the preceding day in search of the bridegroom
and his friends. The latter were traced to Rackwick; but there no
intelligence could be gained, except that, some days previous, a boat,
having on board several sportsmen, had been seen putting off from the
shore, and sailing away in the direction of Sule Skerry.
The weather continuing fine, the searching party hired a large boat, and
proceeded to that remote and solitary rock, upon which, as they neared
it, they could discover nothing, except swarms of seals, which
immediately began to flounder towards the water-edge. Upon landing, a
large flock of sea-fowl arose from the centre of the rock with a
deafening scream; and upon approaching the spot, they beheld, with dumb
amazement and horror, the dead bodies of the party of whom they had come
in search, but so mangled and disfigured by the seals and sea-fowl, that
they could barely be recognised.
It appeared that these unfortunates, upon landing, had forgot their guns
in the boat, which had slipt from her fastenings, and left them upon the
rock, where they had at last perished of cold and hunger.
Fancy can but feebly conceive, and still less can words describe, the
feelings with which the lost men must have beheld their bark drifting
away over the face of the waters, and found themselves abandoned in the
vast solitude of the ocean. Their sensations must have resembled his who
wakens in the grave from a death-like trance, to find himself buried
With what agony must they have gazed upon the distant sails, gliding
away over the deep, but keeping far aloof from the rock of desolation,
and have heard the shrieks which they sent over the flood, in the vain
hope of their reaching some distant ship, mocked by l the doleful scream
of the sea-fowl! How must their horrors have been aggravated by the
far-off view of their native hills, lifting their lonely peaks above the
wave, and awakening the dreadful consciousness that they were still
within the grasp of humanity, yet no arm stretched forth to save them;
while the sun was riding high in the heavens, and the sea basking in his
beams below, and nature looking with reckless smiles upon their dying
As soon as the stupor of horror and amazement had subsided, the party
placed the dead bodies in their boat, and, crowding all sail, stood for
the Orkneys. They landed at night upon the beach, immediately below the
house where the wedding guests were assembled ; and there, while they
were debating in what manner to proceed, were overheard by the insane
wanderer, the result of whose visit has already been described.
She had scarcely left the house, when a low sound of voices was heard
approaching. An exclamation of joy broke from the bride. She rushed out
of the house with outstretched arms to embrace her lover, and the next
moment, with a fearful shriek, fell upon his corpse! With that shriek
reason and memory passed away for ever. She was carried to bed
delirious, and died towards morning. The bridal was changed into a
burial, and Helen Waters and her lover slept in the same grave.