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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XV. The Prince Consort

Grimkie and John had both been very curious to see how Wick would look, and they watched for the first appearance of it with great interest. It proved to be a small and ancient looking town, built very compactly of gray stone, and situated at the bottom of a small bay which here sets in from the sea. In front of it was a little port formed by two piers built out into the water, and curved in such a manner as to enclose a considerable space of smooth water, with a small opening between the two ends of them, to allow the fishing boats to pass in and out. As usual in such cases there was a light-house on the end of one of these piers.

“The very first thing we will do, Grimkie,” said John, "will be to go down to the piers and see the fishing boats.”

“After breakfast,” said Grimkie.

It was now nearly noon and the party had had no breakfast, excepting some cakes and oranges which Grimkie had brought in his knapsack, and which they ate very early in the morning.

The coach drove rapidly into the town, and stopped at the door of a snug and neat-looking inn, where Grimkie soon engaged rooms and ordered breakfast. The weather was cool, too, and Mrs. Morelle requested the waiter to have a good fire made in their sitting-room. In half an hour the breakfast was ready, and about the same time all the members of the party, having in the meanwhile been occupied, in their several rooms, in making their toilet, were ready to eat it. Of course their appetites were very eager, and as the breakfast was an excellent one, consisting of fresh herring nicely fried, beef-steaks, eggs, hot rolls, toast, coffee with plenty of hot milk and cream, fresh butter, and other such niceties, they all enjoyed the repast exceedingly.

“What a nice thing a really good breakfast is,” said Florence, “when we have waited long enough for it to get completely hungry.”

Pretty soon after breakfast they all went out to take a walk to see the town, and the pier. They first walked along through the principal street, looking into the shops to see if there was anything new or curious in them which it would be well to buy as souvenirs. Then they went down to the water, in order to see the pier. It was rather to please the two hoys that they did this, but still Mrs. Morelle was very willing to go, for she was curious to see what the accommodations were for going on board the steamer in case she should conclude to embark the next morning.

They found that the piers were each very wide. On the inside of the enclosure formed by them was a range of vessels and fishing boats, which were moored to rings, and massive piles, on the margin of the pier, and near them were cranes and other such fixtures used for discharging cargoes. Then came a broad space to land goods upon, and beyond a road for carts and wagons. All this was upon the top of the pier, and on the outside was a high parapet wall to protect the platform and roadway, above described, from the wind and the sea.

Thus in walking along the road-way upon the piers, one could see the fishing boats and vessels within the port, and witness all the operations going on there, but the view seaward was intercepted by the parapet wall.

Mrs. Morelle was well satisfied with the appearance of the port, and with the probable facilities for going on board the steamer, which she supposed would come inside, so as to allow the passengers to go on board by means of a broad plank.

The weather, too, was very fine, and she presumed that the sea was smooth. She had an opportunity soon of ascertaining this point, for on arriving at the end of one of the piers there were steps leading up to a lookout upon the top of the parapet wall, and she asked Grimkie to go up there and look out to sea, and make a report of the appearance of things.

Grimkie did so and reported that the surface of the water was smooth as glass, as far as he could see.

“Then,” said she, “if there is no change before night we will go.

Mrs. Morelle and Florence soon returned to the hotel, but the boys spent most of the afternoon in rambling about the pier, examining the fishing boats, talking with the fishermen, and watching the various operations which were going on in the port. When they went home to tea, Grimkie asked what time the steamer would come the next morning, and the porter informed him that she was due about two o'clock, but that there was some uncertainty in respect to the time of her arrival. He said, however, that she would remain some hours at Wick, and that he would call them an hour before it would be time for them to go on board.

The whole party went to bed in good season, both because they had so little sleep the night before, and also because they were to be called up so early the following morning.

It was about half-past one when the porter knocked at their doors to waken them. It was light enough to dress without candles, and they were all soon ready. When they came down to the door they found the porter there with a barrow. The baggage was put upon the barrow, and the porter set forward, followed by the party of travellers on foot. It was a bright, and pleasant morning, and the air was calm. Mrs. Morelle was greatly pleased by the prospect before her.

After walking through several streets, they came to the pier but Mrs. Morelle looked in vain for the steamer.

“Why, Grimkie!” she exclaimed in surprise, “where is the steamer?”

“She must be out there,” said Grimkie, pointing as he spoke to a column of smoke which was seen rising into the air over and beyond the parapet wall.

“And how are we going to get on board?” asked Mrs. Morelle.

“It must be that we are going in a boat,” said Grimkie, “but you won't mind that, Auntie.”

Mrs. Morelle saw at a glance that it was too late now to retreat, and she had the good sense to go forward boldly, acting upon the excellent principle, that when there is anything disagreeable before us which must be done, it is just as well to do it with a good grace.

Mrs. Morelle found, moreover, as we often do in such cases, that the difficulties which she anticipated disappeared as she approached them. At a certain part of the pier, not far from the entrance, there was a flight of stone steps leading down to the water. The boat which was to take the passengers to the steamer lay at the bottom of these steps. There was a small party of passengers immediately preceding Mrs. Morelle and her company. Seeing them go down at once, Mrs. Morelle followed, and all were soon safe on board the boat, seated in the stern. The trunks and other packages were then handed down and placed in the bows.

After waiting some little time for other passengers who were seen coming along the pier, the boat put off and was rowed easily out through the opening, and there the steamer came into full view. They were soon alongside of it, and without any difficulty ascended to the deck.

It was now nearly sunrise, but everything was very quiet on board the steamer. The children seemed quite inclined to remain on deck to see what would take place, but Mrs. Morelle wished first to go below and find her berth or her stateroom So they all went down.

They descended a short and winding stairway, and at the bottom of it entered the cabin. On each side of the cabin, near the entrance to it, there was a row of three or four staterooms partitioned off, which made the cabin itself in this part, comparatively narrow. It was wide enough, however, for two long tables which stood here, with comfortable cushioned seats on each side of them.

Beyond the staterooms the cabin widened to the whole breadth of the ship, and was terminated toward the stem in a great semicircular sweep, with two tiers of wide and soft sofas, covered with crimson plush. The two tiers were parallel to each other, one above and back of the first, like the seats of an amphitheatre, and almost all the sofas were occupied by passengers, more or less covered with blankets and fast asleep. There were also some sleepers lying upon the sofas near the tables in the narrow part of the cabin. The sleepers seemed all to be men, except that there were one or two whose faces had a feminine expression, and Grimkie could not tell whether they were young women, or very pretty boys.

“Where is the ladies' cabin?” asked Mrs. Morelle, turning to the stewardess, who had met the party at the foot of the stairs and followed them into the cabin.

“Here it is, madam," said the stewardess. “But it is pretty full."

So saying, the stewardess led the way to a passage behind the stairs, and there, pulling aside a certain screen before a door, she disclosed a room in the sides of which were berths, and on the floor sofas, cots, and beds made of cushions, all of which were filled with female sleepers lying in all imaginable attitudes. Mrs. Morelle and Florence turned back immediately. It was evident that there was very little room for them there.

“Is not there any stateroom for us?" asked Mrs. Morelle.

“Oh yes," said the stewardess. And she at once led the way back to the main cabin, and there, opening one of the doors on the side, not far from the entrance, she ushered Mrs. Morelle and Florence into a very nice and bright-looking stateroom.

“Ah!" exclaimed Mrs. Morelle, the moment that she saw the interior of it. speaking in a tone of great satisfaction. “This is exactly what we want. Here is a berth for you and one for me. It is exactly what we want.”

“I suppose there is something extra for the stateroom" she added, turning to the stewardess. “Four shillings each,” said the stewardess. “We will take it,” said Mrs. Morelle. “And as for you, boys, you must find places to sleep on the sofas in the cabin. We can't afford a stateroom for you.”

“We don't want any stateroom, mother,” said John. “I would a great deal rather sleep in the cabin.”

So the boys went to the cabin, and all four of the party were soon in their several berths or upon their sofas sound asleep. The steamer was quiet and still, except the slight jarring sensation produced by the paddles after she began to move through the water, and the passengers all continued to sleep after this for several hours, for although it was near sunrise when Mrs. Morelle and her party came on board, still, in respect to the time for sleeping, it was not much past the middle of the night.

There began to be a movement for getting up in the gentleman's cabin about seven o'clock, and soon after this time Grimkie and John rose and went on deck. There they took out their maps and endeavored by calculation of the distance which they had run, and the bearing of the land which was in sight, to find out where they were.

One of the passengers who saw what they were doing, came and informed them that a certain large island which they were passing was Ronaldsay, one of the Orkneys, and that the land behind it which extended in both directions as far as they could see, was another of the islands, and that the steamer would arrive at Kirkwall in about two hours. They found out the name of the steamer too,—the Prince Consort. She was named thus in honor of Prince Albert, the consort of the queen.

The boys remained on deck watching the land as cape after cape and headland after headland came into view, for an hour more, and then Grimkie sent John down to knock at his mother's stateroom door, and tell her that they were drawing near to Kirkwall.

In about half an hour after receiving this summons, Mrs. Morelle and Florence came upon deck.

The steamer had turned in now among the islands, where the water was sheltered and smooth as in a river, and the views on every side were enchanting. The principal islands were so large that they looked like portions of the main land, and they presented an appearance of verdure and beauty impossible to describe. Great fields of the richest green, separated from each other by hedges neatly trimmed, or by substantial walls, extended in every direction as far as the eye could reach, while elegant villas, and spacious farm-houses, and rows of cottages appearing here and there, diversified the scene. The fields in many cases sloped down smoothly and beautifully to the water's edge. In other places the line of the coast was formed of rocky cliffs with the surf of the sea rolling in at the base of them, and far in the interior lofty mountains were seen marking their dim blue outline upon the sky.

“Well, Grimkie" said Mrs. Morelle, “what do you think of the Orkneys?"

“I don't think much of them,” said Grimkie, with an air of disappointment. “The sea is as smooth, and the country is as beautiful, as any where in England. I don't believe the Norsemen had very hard times after all.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Morelle, “you ought to be here in January, when there is as little day as there is night now.”

The cabin and the deck of the steamer was soon all in a bustle in consequence of the preparations which were made by the Orkney passengers to land. The steamer turned in more and more among the islands, until at last she approached Kirkwall, which was situated, like Wick, at the bottom of a small bay, and had a port formed of two piers for the protection of fishing boats and other small vessels. The steamer came to anchor outside this port. Boats came out to receive the passengers and their luggage. In these boats they were all conveyed within the port, and landed at a small pier sloping down to the water's edge.

Here a number of porters were assembled to take the luggage of the passengers into the town. There were no carriages. A group of islands is not the region in which carriages are likely to be multiplied. Grimkie selected from among the porters one who had an honest face, and giving him the trunk asked him to lead the way to the hotel. The porter went on into a very narrow street—the width of it being barely sufficient for a single carriage—between ancient stone buildings which had more the appearance of prisons than houses—so few were the windows, and so deep were they sunk into the massive walls—and thus they arrived at the hotel.

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