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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XI. Ben Nevis


Mrs. Morelle was charmed with the appearance of Ben Nevis and its environs when the steamer drew near. The slopes of the mountain seemed to commence almost at the margin of the water, and they rose in solemn grandeur to a vast height, the portions near the summit being covered with great patches of snow. Lower down, the mountain sides were rounded and smooth, and covered with rich green and brown vegetation, which glowed in the setting sun and seemed as soft as the richest velvet. Along the margin of the water were extended the buildings of the town, with vessels of various size lying at anchor near.

The steamer stopped at some distance from the shore, just as Grimkie and John, who had been forward to see about getting out the trunk, came back to see if Mrs. Morelle and Florence were ready. Mrs. Morelle looked alarmed.

“Why, Grimkie!” said she, “are they going to land us in a boat. I thought they would go up to the pier. I am afraid to land in a boat.”

“Then we can go on,” said Grimkie, “to the end of the sail. It is not a great deal farther.”

“But I should like to stop, and see Ben Nevis, too" said Mrs. Morelle hesitating—"if it were not for landing in a boat—going down such a steep and narrow ladder.”

“There can't be any real danger, Auntie,” said Grimkie, "but still we will go on if you prefer. They land by boats at half the places where we stop.”

This was very true, and Mrs. Morelle had taken great interest in watching the progress of such landings, several times during the day. It was very curious to see the boat in such cases come out from the land, and lie upon its oars on the water in the track of the steamer, until the steamer came up, and the paddle-wheels were backed. Then the man standing on the guard would throw a rope to the boat, which would be caught by a man at the bows of it, and immediately made fast, by which means the boat would be drawn on through the water, by the steamer which was not yet entirely at rest.

The boat was soon pulled in under the little step-ladder leading from the deck, which had previously been let down, and then the passengers who were to land would descend, guarded carefully, by strong boatmen reaching up from the boat to the outer side of the ladder, to prevent the possibility of their falling into the water, in case of any misstep.

As. fast as the passengers reached the boat, they stepped over the thwarts and took their seats in the stern. Then the trunks and other parcels of baggage were passed down. Then the boatmen would take the oars again, the rope was cast off, the boat was pushed away, the paddle-wheels recommenced their motion, and the steamer went on, leaving the boat behind to struggle with the waves as best it could, and make its slow way to the shore.

All this had been very interesting to see, as it appeared to the passengers who stood leaning over the bulwarks and looking down upon it from the deck above, but Mrs. Morelle thought that it would not be very agreeable to go through. She was afraid, in the first place, to go down such a steep and narrow ladder, especially when the resting place was so unstable and insecure at the bottom. Then she was still more afraid of the pitching and tossing of the boat, in the surges made by the paddle-wheels when the steamer moved away.

She did not, however, hesitate long, for a moment’s reflection convinced her that these fears were imaginary. There could not possibly be any real danger in the mode of landing adopted, as the ordinary and usual method for such a class of travellers as those on board this steamer. So she banished her fears, and rising from her seat, said that she would go.

By this time the boat had made fast along side the steamer, and the passengers who were to go on shore were going down the ladder. Mrs. Morelle found no difficulty in following them, Florence and John followed her. Grimkie remained at the head of the ladder to the last. When all had descended that were going, the trunks were put down, and then the boat pushed off, and the steamer resumed her voyage.*

The next morning, while at breakfast at the inn at Fort William, Grimkie proposed to his aunt that they should all make an excursion up the mountain.

“Not to the top of it, Auntie,” said he, “but only so far as you find you will like to go. We will get a guide and set off together. We will ride to the foot of the mountain. Then we will begin to walk up. You shall go first and we will follow you, and we will not ask to go any farther than you like. We will go as slowly, and stop to rest as often, as you please; and then when we get high enough for a good view, we can turn about and come back again.”

There could of course be no objection to so exceedingly reasonable a proposal as this, and Mrs. Morelle said at once that she should like to make an excursion up the mountain, on those conditions, very much indeed.

“If I walk slowly,” said she, “I can walk two hours.”

“That will take us up pretty high,” said Grimkie. “It only takes two hours and a half to get to the top. So you and Florence may get ready Auntie, and John and I will go down and see about a carriage and a guide.”

The usual mode would have been for Grimkie to have rung the bell and called for Boots, and so have made the arrangement for the carriage and the guide through him. But there were some preparations that he wished to make secretly, and so he left his aunt and Florence, and went down to the coffee-room of the hotel. He took his seat there at one of the tables, near a window, and asked the waiter to send Boots in to him.

When Boots came, Grimkie told him that they were going a little way up the mountain, and made an arrangement with him to have a dog-cart got ready immediately, to take them as far as they could go in a carriage, and also to engage a guide, and to send the guide in to the coffee-room to see him. In a few minutes the guide came.

He was a nice tidy-looking young man, with a frank and good-humored countenance, and a broad Scotch accent in his speech. Grimkie explained the case to him.

“We are going up the mountain a little way,” said Grimkie. “We want to go as far as we can, but my aunt is not used to climbing mountains much, and so we must go very slowly.”

“Oh, aye,” said the guide, “the slower ye gang, the higher oop y’ell get.”

The guide had had great experience with travelling parties attempting to ascend the mountain, and he had known many ladies to become tired and discouraged before reaching the top, just because they could not be contented to go slowly enough at the beginning.

After some further discussion and consultation, the plan for the excursion was matured in all its details. The guide was to go forward on foot, carrying with him a supply of provisions which Grimkie was to have made ready, and to wait at the end of the carriage road until the party in the carriage should come up. The provisions—which, the waiter at the coffee-room subsequently made ready under Grimkie's directions—consisted of a bottle of coffee, another of milk, a cold roast chicken, some sandwiches, two buttered rolls, a little paper of salt, one plate, one knife, four forks, and a tumbler. All these the waiter packed carefully in two round wooden boxes, and put the boxes in a bag. That was the way he said that the guides liked to have their burdens packed.

The bag thus arranged was to be put into the dog-cart, to be carried in that way as far the cart could go, with a view of being taken by the guide there, and carried by him over his shoulder for the rest of the ascent.

When Grimkie had completed these arrangements he went up to his aunt's room again, and there he found John who had gone up a moment before him, remonstrating in a somewhat urgent manner with Florence against a plan which she entertained of carrying a large guide book up the mountain, to press flowers in.

“You can't carry such a big book as that,” said John. “It's ridiculous. We must have every thing as light as possible, in going up a mountain. Grimkie says so.''

“But this is the only book I have got,” said Florence, “and I must take some book. It is very important for me to get some specimens from Ben Nevis, to carry home for souvenirs.”

“Then you must bring them down in your hand,” said John. “We can't possibly take such a big book as that; can we Grimkie?”

“I will see about that presently" said Grimkie. “Come with me, John. I want you to go somewhere.''

So John laid down the big book and followed Grimkie down stairs. Grimkie led the way into the street.

“Where are you going, Grimkie?” asked John. “I am going to see if I can find a bookseller" said Grimkie. “But you should not contradict a young lady in that short way. That's boyish" “How boyish?” said John.

“Why boys fly in their sisters' faces in that way sometimes, but no gentleman ever does.''

“But Grimkie,” said John, “it is perfectly ridiculous to think of carrying such a big book as that up a high mountain.” .

“That's the very reason why you ought to be more gentle in setting her right,” replied Grimkie. “Do you think a lady likes to have it made to appear to her face that any thing she says or does is ridiculous?”

“Then what shall I do?” asked John.

“You must be more gentle" said Grimkie.

“A lady is like a steamboat; you can’t turn her short about, by a sudden twitch, when she is going wrong. You must bring her round by a sweep—in a grand circle—gently and gracefully. I'll show you how."

By this time the boys arrived at the door of a small bookstore, and Grimkie immediately went in. John followed him. Grimkie asked a young woman who stood behind the counter if she had any blotting paper. She immediately produced half a quire, and Grimkie bought six sheets of it. These sheets he cut in two with a paper knife, and then after folding them, cut them again. He then folded them again, thus bringing them into a snug compass for carrying, that is, as the bookbinders would say, into an octavo form. The paper as it was when he bought it, was in a folio form. After he had cut and folded it the first time, it was in a quarto form, and now after a second folding, by which means each sheet formed eight leaves, it was put into the octavo form. Another folding still, which would have made sixteen leaves to the sheet, would have produced what is called the sixteenmo form.

Grimkie and John immediately returned to the hotel, carrying the paper with them. As soon as they arrived, Grimkie went to his room and took a small portfolio off his table. This portfolio was simply the cover of a blank book Grimkie had used at the Chateau for some of his exercises. When it was full and he had no further occasion to use it, he had cut out the inside neatly, in order to save the cover, which was quite a pretty one, being made of green morocco. He thought it would make a nice portfolio. He had accordingly stocked it with small note papers and envelopes, and had made it serve the purpose of a stationery case, for his travels.

He now took out the note paper and his envelopes from it, and then compared the blotting-paper in its octavo form with the size of the cover. He found that by folding it once more, that is into the sixteenmo form it would fit the cover very well. So he cut it open at the octavo folding, and then after folding it again he slipped it into the cover and went to find Florence.

“Florence,” said he, “how do you think this will do to put your little flowers in up the mountain? It is made of blotting paper, and that is much better than the paper of books to press plants in, for it absorbs the moisture, and so dries the plants quicker, and that makes them preserve their colors better.”

"That will be excellent,” said Florence, taking the book and looking at it with great interest. “But how did you know about that?”

“Our professor of botany at the Chateau" . said Grimkie, “told us that it is better to have a book made of blotting paper. Only this book is not sewed. Could you sew it?''

“I can sew it in a moment/' said Florence.

“Then it will do nicely" said Grimkie. “If you can sew the leaves together so as to make a book of them, then we can slip them into the book cover, and that will be all we shall want.

I can carry it in my pocket. You see you don't want large specimens. The smaller and more delicate they are the better. Our professor told us that.''

“Your professor?" repeated Florence.

“Yes" replied Grimkie; “he lectured us about it". "Young gentlemen" said he "the mode of procedure is very different both in the selection of flowers and in the method of preserving them, according to the object you have in view, whether to procure botanical specimens for purposes of science, or souvenirs and tokens for purposes of sentiment and love."

Grimkie repeated these words in a tone and manner imitative of a lecturer making a discourse before an audience, producing thus a very comical effect, so that both John and Florence laughed outright.

“Oh, Grimkie!'' exclaimed Florence. "I don't believe he said any such things,” added John.

“He verily did,” replied Grimkie. "Young gentlemen,'"said he, "when you have advanced a little farther along the verdant and flowery path of life, you will sometimes have occasion, in your various wanderings, to prepare plants and flowers as tokens of remembrance, or of other sentiments, or as souvenirs of travel. In such cases, gentlemen, select small and delicate specimens—of graceful forms and pretty colors. Press them till they are dry between leaves of blotting paper. If necessary, separate the leaves and stems so as to press and preserve them separately. You can recompose your flower afterward. Examine the specimens from time to time while they are drying, and see that the stems lie in natural and graceful curves, and that the leaves and petals are smooth, and fully extended. Then when they are thoroughly dry, arrange the parts anew, and gum them delicately upon a small piece of white paper, with a suitable inscription beneath, and enclose the paper in a tinted envelope of the right size to contain it,—and then when you present it to the Mary, or the Lucy, or the Ellen, for whom it is intended, she will perceive that you are a young gentleman of taste and skill, as well as of science.”

Grimkie finished this recitation of a portion of the professor's lecture with such an air of mock gravity, that Florence and John both laughed louder than ever.

“Oh, Grimkie!” said John, “did the professor really say that?”

“Yes,” said Grimkie, “and we all clapped him.”

“It seems to me you have pretty funny doings at the Chateau, Grimkie,” said Florence.

“We do sometimes,” said Grimkie. “But hark!” he added, “I thought I heard wheels coming. No they are not coming yet, but we must not waste any more time. We must get ready. The dog-cart will be here very soon.”

“Good!” said John, at the same time cutting a caper, to express his joy.

“But what kind of dogs will they be?” he added, turning to Grimkie. “Will they be Esquimaux dogs?”

“There they come,” said Grimkie; “run to the window and see.”

John supposed that a dog-cart was a cart made to be drawn by dogs. In this idea he was greatly mistaken, a dog-cart being made to carry dogs, and not to be drawn by them. It is quite a curious vehicle, having its origin in the wish of sportsmen to provide some means of transporting their dogs, as well as themselves and their guns, when going into the field, so that the dogs may he fresh and in good condition for their work, when they arrive there.

It is a very handsomely made vehicle, in the form of a cart. The seat is double, there being places for two persons to sit on the front part, facing the horse, and two directly behind them, with their backs against those of the first two. Underneath this double seat is a box or recess, for the dogs. The lid which shuts this box, is behind, and is made to open down in such a manner that when it is opened it is sustained by a support which holds it in nearly a horizontal position, where it forms a foot-board for the two persons riding behind to rest their feet upon.

The children were all very much interested in examining the form and construction of the dogcart when they went down to the door. The coachman took the right hand front seat. Mrs. Morelle took the other front seat. John and Florence and Grimkie took the seat behind, where they were so much crowded at first, that John said he had a great mind to play that he was a pointer or a setter, and crawl into the box below.

After having been shaken together a little while by the jolting of the carriage—for a dogcart moves, even upon a smooth road, with a very jerking and jolting motion—they found themselves quite comfortable, and they had a very amusing ride.

When they reached the end of the carriage-road, they found a guide there ready for them. He took the bag containing the provisions, from the fore part of the dog-cart where the coachman had put it, and threw it over his shoulder, in such a manner that one of the boxes hung down before him, and the other behind. The coachman then took the dog-cart to a farmer's near by, to put up the horse, to wait until the party returned, while the guide, followed by his party, commenced his ascent of the mountain.

The path was very good, although rather rugged and steep, but the country was open, there being in general no trees, but only furze, broom, whinbushes, and other such shrubs as grow upon the Scottish Highlands. Grimkie wished very much that his aunt should ascend to the top of the mountain, but he knew very well that the only hope of her being able to do so, must depend upon their going very slowly at first. John and Florence who both felt very fresh and agile, were eager to press forward, but Grimkie kept them back, stopping continually to gather flowers, and to look back at the prospect. Whenever he found a flat stone with a smooth and clear surface, he persuaded his aunt to sit down, and when she was once seated, he detained her as long as possible, by talking with her, and amusing her mind with the objects around her. Then he would point to the next elevation above, and ask his aunt if she thought she could go up to it; and she would say, “Oh, yes! I am not tired at all yet.”

In this way the party sauntered along for more than three hours, advancing all the time, but in a slow and unconcerned manner, without thought or care, as if they were out for a walk, without any definite plan in respect to the end of the excursion. At last, however, about noon, Mrs. Morelle took out her watch, and expressed surprise to find how late it was, and said that it was time for her to begin to think about going home.

“Look up there, Auntie,” said Grimkie, “where that shepherd is standing with his dog. There must be a grand lookout from there. Let us go up as high as that, and there we will have our luncheon, and then, if you please, we will set out for home."

Mrs. Morelle made no objection to going up to the point which Grimkie had indicated, and they soon attained it. Here they found a spring of water coming out from under a great rock. Grimkie brought some flat stones and made seats for the party in a shady and sheltered place, and then the guide opened the bag and took out the provisions. Mrs. Morelle was quite surprised to see so abundant a supply of provisions coming to view.

“I did not know that we were going to have even a luncheon on the mountain,” said she, “and here you have got enough, almost, for a dinner.”

The party remained at the spring for more than half an hour, and then Mrs. Morelle found herself so much refreshed by the chicken and the sandwiches, and especially by the tumbler of cold coffee which Grimkie mixed for her, that she said she was almost inclined to go on farther; and when the guide told her that an hour more of easy walking would bring her to the very top, she said she had half a mind to try to go there.

“Do you think I could do it, Grimkie?” said she.

Grimkie said it was a great thing for a lady to get to the top of Ben Nevis, but if she felt strong enough to try it, he should like it very much indeed. She might go on for half an hour more at any rate, and then if she felt tired she could turn.

Mra. Morelle determined to follow this suggestion, and the result was, that she persevered until she reached the top.

The wind blew very fresh and cool upon the summit, and the party could not remain there long. While they did remain, however, they were filled with wonder and delight at the extent and sublime magnificence of the view. The mountains lay all around them, clothed with a velvet-like covering of the softest green, and between them lay an endless number and variety of lakes and rivers—all sleeping apparently in the sun—and green fields, and pretty villages, and charming glens, in endless variety.

After remaining upon the mountain for about fifteen minutes, they all set out upon their return. They of course came down the path very easily, and getting into the dog-cart, when they reached the foot of the descent, they were driven very rapidly back to the inn.


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