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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XVII. The Stones of Stennis


Mrs. Morelle and her party remained many days at the Orkney Islands, and during this time they made a number of excursions, some in a carriage and some on foot. The only carriage, however, which they could obtain was a dog-cart, which was anything but a comfortable vehicle for ladies going out upon an excursion for pleasure. Indeed Florence expressed the opinion, that however well adapted it might be for the conveyance of dogs, it was the worst contrived vehicle for human beings that she ever saw. The only redeeming quality which it possessed was that in case it rained one umbrella would cover the whole company—after a fashion.

In this dog-cart they went to visit the Stones of Stennis. The road was most excellent all the way, being macadamized in a most perfect manner, so that it was as smooth as a gravel walk in a gentleman’s park. The country, however, through which it passed, after a few miles from Kirkwall, was an almost boundless expanse of moorland, wild and desolate. After going on for some miles through this dreary country, the carriage left the main road and passed by a sort of cart track through the fields and over a long causeway between two lakes, till it came to the place where the stones were situated.

The stones could be seen for a distance of many miles, standing like so many gigantic posts on a vast plain. When the party came to the spot, they found that each stone was from twelve to twenty feet high, and about five feet wide and one thick. They were of a somewhat irregular form, being evidently slabs taken from the natural strata in the neighborhood, and set up just as they came from the quarry. They were arranged in an immense circle with the remains of an embankment and ditch all around the circumference. The circle was not complete, the stones being wanting in many places. In some cases they had fallen and still remained upon the ground. In other places where it would seem stones must have stood, the fragments had been taken away, it was supposed, after they had fallen, to be used for buildings or walls, by generations that lived in ages subsequent to that in which the stones were set up, but which have still in their turn long, since passed away.

A great many conjectures have been made in respect to these stones, and to the nature of the structure of which they formed a part, but all is uncertainty in respect to them. At the very earliest periods of which there is any account of the country, they stood as they stand now, solitary and in ruin, an inexplicable wonder to all who saw them.

The party went also to Stromness, a town at the western side of the island on which Kirkwall stands, and here, while Mrs. Morelle and Florence remained at the inn, Grimkie and John engaged a sail boat and a man to manage it, and made a cruise of four or five hours along the neighboring shores. There they saw some stupendous cliffs, called the Black Craigs, and great numbers of birds flying about them, and among other 'birds they saw an eagle perched upon a lofty summit-, where he stood silent and solitary, looking far and wide over the sea. Grimkie and John had an excellent view of him through their opera glass.

At one time while the party remained at Kirkwall, they were imprisoned nearly a whole day by a pouring rain. Mrs. Morelle, when she found, as she did after breakfast, that there was no prospect that any of them could gQ out, asked the waiter if they had any books in the hotel relating to the Orkney Islands. The waiter said he would inquire, and pretty soon he came in bringing a number of books of different sizes, some old and some new; some with pictures in them and some without Mrs. Morelle directed that a good fire should be made, and the table cleared, and then placed these books upon the table and said that she was going to have a school.

“We will begin at ten o'clock,” said she. “You can take your seats at the table, or at the windows, or where you please, and for two hours we will all look over these books and see how much we can learn about the Orkneys. Then we will have a luncheon. After luncheon we will each of us take a sheet of paper and a pen and ink and write down the most interesting thing that we have learned.”

This plan was entered into by all the children very cordially. They spent two hours in studying the books and looking at the pictures. Then came the luncheon which consisted of some slices of cold roast mutton very tender and nice, with some flat rolls of bread, sweet fresh butter, strawberry preserves and cold coffee.

After the luncheon all spent an hour in writing, and by that time it had stopped raining. So it was concluded to postpone reading the compositions until the evening.

In the evening they were read. Florence’s was as follows:

“The Poisoned Shirt.

“In former times there was an earl of Orkney, named Hacon. He married a wife and had a son named Paul. After this his wife died, and then he married a princess of Caithness, named Helga.

“Caithness is the northern part of Scotland. It was a kingdom in those days, now it is a county.

“After his second marriage Hacon had another son named Harold.

“Harold and his mother hated Paul because he was the oldest son, and was entitled to the succession, and they did all in their power to supplant him in his father’s affections. They succeeded so far that the old king finally agreed that Paul should not have the whole kingdom, but should share it with Harold. Accordingly, when the old king died the two sons were joined in the government of the islands.

“But they did not agree together at all. Helga was continually maneuvering with her son Harold to gain for him more than his share of the power. At length the two brothers came to open war, and the whole country was desolated by their dreadful fights.

“At last, after becoming weary of this, they agreed to make a treaty, and become reconciled, and as a pledge of the reconciliation, it was agreed that after the ratification of the treaty, each brother should invite the other to a grand feast, about the time of Christmas.

“When it came to Paul's turn to be invited to Harold's feast, Helga, the mother, determined to poison him. Her plan was to make a beautiful embroidered garment for him, as a present, in token of her entire reconciliation to him, and then before giving him the garment to poison it, so that it should kill him when he put it on. She kept this plan a profound secret from all but a sister who was living with her, named Franquart, to whom she confided her design. Franquart aided her in embroidering the garment, and in applying the poison.

At length, on the morning of the feast, Harold, happening to come into his mother's room, saw the beautiful garment lying there, all ready to be given to Paul when he should arrive, and asked what it was. His mother told him that it was a present that she and Franquart had been making for Paul. Harold was much enraged to hear this, and said that he would nut allow of their offering Paul handsomer presents than they made for him. So he seized the garment and declared that he would keep it for himself. His mother and Franquart were dreadfully alarmed. They begged and implored him to put the garment down. But they could not tell him that it was poisoned without betraying their own guilt. In the end Harold went away with the garment, leaving his mother and Franquart, in the utmost distress and terror.

“Harold immediately put on the garment, and he died that very night in great agony.

“The consequence was that Paul regained his whole kingdom, and when he discovered the treachery which Helga and Franquart had attempted to practice upon him, he drove them out of the islands.”

Grimkie’s composition was as follows: .

“The Eagle and the Baby.

“In one of the Orkney Islands named Hoy, where there are a great many high mountains and lofty precipices near the sea, there lived a fisherman named Halco. He had a small hut on the rocks, and a boat. There was a little green spot near his hut where he used to dry his nets, and where his little child, whose name was Halco too, used to lie sometimes, and roll in the grass, and play.

“There are a great many eagles among the rocks of Hoy, and they often carried off the farmers’ lambs, but as Halco had no sheep or lambs he did not pay much attention to the eagles.

“One day when Halco was coming home in his boat, just before he reached the shore he saw a monstrous eagle hovering over his hut, and after wheeling round and round several times in the air, he made a fell swoop toward the ground, and disappeared behind the hut. A moment afterward Halco saw him come up again, and to his amazement and horror he saw that he had little Halco in his claws.

"The eagle rose slowly with the child, and passing directly over Halco’s head soared to a great height, and then sailed away to his nest on the summit of a cliff.

“Halco was almost stupefied by the terrible shock which he had received. He pulled like a madman to get to the shore. When he entered his hut he found his wife in a swoon. He paid no attention to her but seized his gun and rushed out of the hut. He climbed up the mountain side, and after great labor he came near enough to the nest to see the eagle perched upon the edge of it. He crept up a little nearer, and then took aim and fired. The eagle, after balancing and tottering a moment on his perch, fell heavily over, down the face of the cliff, and disappeared. Halco climbed out to the place of the nest, and there he found his little child, safe and sound, and playing with the young eagles.”

“Why, Grimkie!” said John, as soon as Grimkie had finished reading his narrative, “I found a story a little like that, about an eagle ^carrying off a child, but there was not half as much in it as you have told.” .

“I thought I would embellish it a little,” said Grimkie. "I presume it is just as true after I embellished it, as it was before.”

John’s composition was very short. It was as follows :

“The Hole in the Stone,

“In one of the stones of Stennis, is a round hole passing directly through the stone, not far from the edge. Nobody knows what this hole was made for by the people who set up the stone, but for a great many ages past it has been considered sacred for engagements. Whenever two persons wish to make any solemn agreement they go to Stennis and put their hands through this hole, and clasp them together in the center of it and then make the promise. If they do this they consider themselves solemnly hound.

“Lovers used to do this when they engaged themselves to each other. And it is said they do so now sometimes. Grimkie and I wanted to try it, but we could not think of anything to promise each other.”

Instead of a composition Mrs. Morelle wrote a letter to America, giving an account of the journey and voyage to the Orkney Islands. She read this letter to the children after they had finished reading their compositions, and then, though it was yet very light, they all went to bed.


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