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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XIV. Night Ride by Daylight


A little before eight o’clock that evening, the whole party proceeded on foot from the hotel to the stage office. The porter of the hotel went with them, taking the trunk and some smaller parcels. The coach soon came out in front of the office, the trunk and the parcels were put upon the roof. Mrs. Morelle and Florence took their places inside, while Grimkie and John mounted to the top, and established themselves upon a long cushioned seat, which extended from one side of the coach to the other, directly behind the coachman.

Instead of a rack behind, as in American stage-coaches, there was a sort of box, with a door opening into it, for the mail bags, and seats above, over the back part of the coach. One of these seats is occupied by the man who has care of the mails, and who is called the guard. The other seats are for such passengers as choose to ride there. Grimkie and John, however, chose to ride on the forward seat, so that they could see before them as they rode along.

The coach drove first through the village and stopped at the postoffice to take the mails, where quite a little crowd of men and boys assembled to witness the setting off. The horses were soon in motion again, the coachman cracking his whip with a very smart air, as the wheels ran rapidly over the pavement. From their elevated seat, Grimkie and John could look down with great advantage upon every thing around them. They soon came to the end of the pavement, and then the horses trotted and cantered swiftly along over a hard and smooth road, across the canal I by a beautiful bridge, and then on among green fields, through turnpike gates, and along the walls of gardens, and parks, and pleasure-grounds, while pretty cottages, and porters' lodges, and green hedges, and milestones, and peasant girls, going or returning from milking, and a thousand other such objects as mark the rural scenery of Scotland in a summer evening, glided by them in rapid succession.

In the distance all around them lofty mountains were seen, the summits of some of them covered with snow, and the sun still high in the sky in the northwest, though half concealed by golden clouds, promised to accompany and cheer them on their journey for a long time.

“It is after eight o’clock,” said Grimkie, “and see how high the sun is!”

“Very high,” said John. “I don’t believe the sun will set before ten o’clock.”

“Yes, the sun sets here a little after nine,” said Grimkie.

“How do you know?” asked John.

“I looked in a Glasgow almanac,” replied Grimkie. “The sun sets in Glasgow one or two minutes after nine to night, and here it must be some minutes later, for we are two or three degrees farther north.”

“I don’t see why that is any reason,” said John. “Oh that is very plain,” rejoined Grimkie. “Don’t you see that we are going round over the curvature of the earth toward the north?”

As he said this, Grimkie made a gesture with his hand, pushing it out before him in a manner to denote a motion in advance over the curved surface of a ball.

“Yes,” said John.

“And don’t you see that the sun is going down over the roundness of the earth in -the same direction?”

“Yes,” said John, “almost in the north—in the northrest.”

“Then don't yon perceive,” added Grimkie, “that the farther we go, on the same course that he is going, the longer we can see him?”

“Ah yes,” said John. “And that is the reason why we shall see the sun longer here to-night than they will in Glasgow.”

“Exactly,” said Grimkie.

In the meantime the horses, having been now trotting and galloping for about an hour over the hard and smooth road, were brought up by the coachman somewhat suddenly at the door of an inn in a small village, in order to be changed. The coachman descended from his seat, the postboys led out the fresh horses from the stable of the inn, and the guard took the mail bags which were to be left at that place out of his box, and threw them down into the road.

Grimkie availed himself of this opportunity to inquire after the welfare of his aunt and cousin. He leaned over as far as he could on one side, toward the coach window below, and called out: “Auntie, are you getting along pretty well?” Immediately Florence's head appeared at the window.

“Grimkie,” said she, “where are we?”

“We have stopped to change horses,” said Grimkie.

“Already?” said Florence.

“Yes" said Grimkie. “When the horses go so fast they have to be changed very often. Have you got a good seat?”

“An excellent seat/' said Florence. “I have got a window all to myself.”

“And can you see the country?” asked Grimkie.

“Oh, yes!” said Florence, “I can see it beautifully, I have got one window and mother has got the other.”

“And mother says,” she added, after turning her head a moment, “that you and Johnnie must be careful not to fall off.”

“There is no danger, tell her,” replied Grimkie. “We have good safe seats,with an iron railing at the two ends to keep us in.”

By this time the fresh horses were put in, and the coachman having mounted to his place again, the coach was soon rolling along the road, faster even than before.

Soon after this the sun went down, but the clouds which he left behind him in the western sky, were for a time almost as bright as he himself had been, so that at half past nine there seemed to be no sensible diminution of the light of day. The track of the sun too, in going down, was so oblique to the horizon, that even at halfpast ten his distance below it was very small, and Grimkie and John could see the country all about them, and the time by their watches, and the places through which they were passing, just as well almost as ever.

From half-past ten to eleven there was still very little change. The children were all playing in the streets of the villages that they passed, and groups of men and boys had collected at the doors of the inns where they stopped, as they would have done at half-past seven or eight o'clock in a summer evening in America. Even the hens did not seem to know that it was night, for they were rambling about, and scratching at every unusual appearance on the grounds, as briskly as in any part of the day.

“I don't see how the children know when to go to bed,” said John.

“Or the hens either,” said Grimkie. “A Connecticut rooster I should think would be greatly mystified here. He would not lead his hens off to roost until he saw it growing dark,— and then if he began to crow again as soon as he saw any light, he would not give them any time to sleep at all.”

After eleven o'clock the boys found that at each suoceeding village or hamlet that they came to fewer and fewer people appeared, until at length at twelve, and between twelve and one, the country seemed deserted, and yet the light continued. It was a strange thing, the boys thought, to drive into a village in broad daylight, and to find the streets silent and solitary, and without a person being visible at any door or window; and still more sometimes, when they stopped to change horses, to see that the coachman was obliged to knock upon the stable-door to wake the ostlers up, while by the aspect of the whole scene around, there was nothing that betokened night.

It was not much after midnight when the coach arrived at the Mickle Ferry. The fickle Ferry means the great ferry. It is so called to distinguish it from another smaller one in the neighborhood called the Little Ferry. The Mickle Ferry passes across a narrow part of the Dornoch Firth, as may be seen by the map. The firth is a mile or two wide, at the ferry, and is crossed in a large flat-bottomed sail-boat, sufficient to convey the passengers and their luggage in perfect safety,—but not large enough for the coach.

The coach was accordingly to be left on the hither side of the ferry, another being provided on the farther side, to receive the passengers at the landing and take them on.

The company in the coach, accordingly, on arriving at the margin of the water, descended from the coach and walked down the sloping pier to the boat, and went on board. Mrs. Morelle had felt some apprehension at the idea of crossing a wide ferry in an open boat at midnight, but she found, on arriving at the spot, that there was no occasion for alarm. The boat was very wide, and appeared very steady; and as to midnight,—it might as well have been eight o’clock of a bright summer evening at home. It is true that the sun was entirely below the horizon, but the whole northern sky was brightly illuminated by his beams, and so light was it upon the water, that Grimkie said that if he had a newspaper, he would amuse them during the passage by reading the news.

The boat was wafted very rapidly, but yet with a very smooth and gentle motion, across the water. The passengers landed on the farther side, and the luggage was taken out, and in a few minutes the new coach was seen coming rapidly down the road toward the landing place in order to receive the travellers and convey them onward.

Mrs. Morelle now proposed that the two boys should get inside, but they were extremely desirous to continue upon the top, and as the coachman assured Mrs. Morelle -that the seat was perfectly safe for them, even if they should fall asleep, she consented that they should remain. Besides it was now after one o’clock, and it was growing lighter quite fast. In a little more than an hour, as Grimkie calculated, it would he nearly sunrise.

The country now became very picturesque and wild, the sea being brought continually into full view as the horses trotted swiftly round the curves of the road, following the undulations of the coast. At one place it descended by a winding and zigzag way into an immense ravine a mile or two across. The sides of the ravine were covered with forest, and there was a river and a village at the bottom of it.

After traversing this ravine, the road followed the line of the coast, passing by many great castles, and presenting here and there magnificent views of the sea. Mrs. Morelle and Florence lost some of these views, for they fell asleep; and even John, upon the top, nodded several times, though he insisted, whenever Grimkie asked him about it, that he was not in the least sleepy.

At length, toward noon of Friday, the coach arrived safely at Wick.

The passengers were all very glad to reach the termination of their ride, for though it was a very delightful one, it was long, and the fact that the night was not dark made it seem longer even .than it was. At least, so John thought. He said it seemed like two long days together, without any nignt between.


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