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Excursion to the Orkney Islands
Chapter XVIII. The Embarkation

After remaining for some time in the islands, and making many excursions, sometimes by land and sometimes by water, in one of which. Grimkie and John went out in one of the fishing boats, and had an excellent time fishing, the party began to look forward with some interest to the time for setting out on their return. The question arose how they should return. John was very eager to go by the mail boat across the Pentland Firth, instead of returning by the steamer, as they came.

The steamer made the trip only once a week. It started from Edinburgh, touched at Aberdeen and at Wick, then, after going to Kirkwall in the Orkneys, proceeded to the Shetland Islands, sixty miles or more farther north. Then returning by the same way, she went back to Edinburgh. This voyage, with the necessary detentions at the different ports, occupied six days, so that there was no opportunity of returning to Scotland by the Prince Consort, except once a week.

It was necessary to send the mail to the Orkneys, however, every day, and John had found out that a special service had been organized for this purpose over the islands toward the south by some sort of mail-cart, and thence across the Pentland Firth, at the narrowest place, to the coast of Scotland, in a sail boat. Thence by coach or mail-cart to Wick, and so south toward England.

There were three reasons why John wished to go by this route. First, he wished to see what sort of travelling riding in a mail cart would be. Next he had a great desire to see the Pentland Firth, and to cross it in a sail boat. He had heard wonderful accounts of this famous channel, of the furious tides and currents that swept through it, producing whirlpools, and boiling surges, and roaring breakers of the most wonderful character, and he was very curious to see them. Then, lastly, by this route he had hoped to go and see John O’ Groat’s house.

John O’Groat's house, the name of which has become so famous all the world over, stands, or rather stood, upon the very extremity of Scotland, toward the northeast, and as the opposite corner of the island toward the southwest, is called Land's End, there arose the expression from the Land's End to John O'Groat's, to denote the whole territory of Great Britain.

But inasmuch as the British territory extended to the southwest to several islands the most remote of which in that direction is Jersey, and as it also includes on the north the Shetland Islands, the most northern point of which is called Ska, the expression would more fully comprehend all that is intended, if instead of being “from Land's End to John O’Groat's,” it was “from Jersey to Ska.”

The story of John O'Groat is, that he had six relatives or friends who when they came to see him quarreled in respect to which should take precedence in going out at the door, and in order to settle the question, he built a six-sided house, with a door in each side, and made a six sided table within, with a side toward each door, so that each of his guests might have a seat of honor, and seem to be first in going out when the feast was over.

John O'Groat's house is now nothing but a name, as all traces of the building, if any such ever existed, have long since disappeared. Nothing marks the spot but a little green mound, which tradition says is the one which the building formerly occupied.

It was found on inquiry, that John’s plan for returning to Scotland, was wholly impracticable. It was very inconvenient and very expensive, for a single individual to go by the mail route, over the islands and across the firth, but for a party as large as Mrs. Morelle's, it was impossible. There was no alternative but to take the steamer.

“We must take the steamer, too, whatever the weather is,” said Mrs. Morelle, “unless we are willing to remain here another whole week, with the chance of finding worse weather still at the end of it.”

In fact, however, when the morning arrived for expecting the Prince Consort on her return from Shetland, the weather proved to be very fine. The steamer was expected to come into port at eight o’clock, and to remain there several hours.

“So that you need be in no hurry,” said the porter, who gave Grimkie this information. “You can take your breakfast quietly, and then go on board at your leisure. The steamer will not sail before eleven or twelve.”

“Why does she remain here so long?” asked Grimkie.

“It takes some time to get the cattle on board,” said the porter. “You see they have to take them all out in boats, and then get them on board.”

“Cattle!” exclaimed John. “Do the cattle go a sailing in the steamboat?”

“Oh yes,” said the porter, smiling, “great numbers of them. There’s no other way to get the cattle, and sheep, and other animals, that are raised on these islands to market. They can't get to England by land, and so the steamer takes them. That is the main business of the steamer in fact.”

As soon as Grimkie and John heard this they were both eager to go on board the steamer as soon as possible after she came into port, as they were extremely desirous of witnessing the operation of getting cattle and horses up to her deck from a boat out in the middle of the harbor.

“In the first place,” said John, “I don't see how they'll get them into the boats, and then when they get the boats to the side of the steamer, I can't imagine how they are going to make them go up such a steep and narrow ladder.”

John had seen no other mode of ascending and descending to the deck of the steamer, from boats alongside, but by the step-ladder used by the passengers, and he did not think of there being any other mode.

Grimkie, with Mrs. Morelle’s consent, ordered breakfast at half past seven, and he told the porter that they should wish to go on board as soon as the steamer came in. Mrs. Morelle had no objection to this, for they knew that the steamer being in harbor, would be at rest, and though they expected to have to wait on board for several hours they thought that they should be likely to find more to amuse them there during that time than at the hotel, where they had become entirely familiar with every thing that was to be seen.

Grimkie and John also took pains to have every thing packed and ready before the breakfast came upon the table, so that they might be all prepared to go on board immediately after breakfast, in case the steamer should arrive so soon. It was not, however, till about nine o’clock that the porter came to call them.

There are no cabs or hackney coaches of any kind in the Orkneys, and so every body walks to the landing when they are going on board the steamer. When the time arrived the porter came for the trunk, and steadying the trunk on his shoulder with one hand, and carrying the night valise in the other, he led the way out through the court of the hotel. As soon as they entered the street, Mrs. Morelie and Florence were both alarmed at the sight of a monstrous bull, which a man was leading before them, and which was followed by a troop of men and boys.

“Let us go slowly,” said she, “till that bull gets out of the way.”

“I verily believe he is going on board the steamer,” said Grimkie.

“No,” said John; “It can't be. They might possibly get him into a boat and row him out there, but if they think that they can get such a fellow as that up that little narrow black step-ladder, they will find themselves very much mistaken I can tell them. I know more about bulls than that, myself.”

Mrs. Morelle did not gain much advantage by keeping back and walking slowly, for when at length she reached the landing place, she found the bull standing there surrounded by people. There were also some curious-looking boxes there, of the form of stalls for cattle, but Mrs. Morelle did not stop to look at them, being in haste to go past the bull and get into the boat. She effected this object safely. A number of other passengers went on board the boat at the same time. Their luggage was also put in, and then the boatmen pushed off, and rowed out to the steamer.

Mrs. Morelle and Florence, who were beginning to be somewhat accustomed to going on board a steamer from a boat, found no difficulty in going up the step-ladder, however difficult such a feat might be expected to prove for a bull. As for the boys, they liked much better embarking in this way than to walk over a plank from a pier. As soon as they were all on board they went below to choose a stateroom for the two ladies. Mrs. Morelle offered also to take a stateroom for the boys, but they preferred to be in the cabin they said, so as to see and hear what was going on.

As soon as the stateroom was chosen they all went up to the deck again, and after Grimkie and John had found seats for Mrs. Morelle and Florence, where they could see all around, and especially on the side toward the little port, where sail boats and fishing boats were continually coming and going, John took the opera glass, and began to watch the boats as they came in succession out from the opening between the two piers, which formed the entrance to the port, in order to see when the bull came, if he could.

After scrutinizing a number of boats? which proved to be only fishing boats going out to sea, or passage boats belonging to private individuals going away to some of the other islands, John saw a very broad and heavy boat coming propelled by oars. After gazing at it a moment with great attention through his glass, he exclaimed, in a very excited manner,

“Yes, Grimkie! he is coming! Here he is! I can see his horns!”

Then after a moment's pause he added,

“There are a great many of them, bulls and oxen, or something. I can see a great many horns. Look! Grimkie. Look!"

So saying, he gave Grimkie the glass, and by the time Grimkie had got the boat into the field of view it had come so much nearer that he could see very plainly that it was very large and that it had a sort of floor in the bottom of it which was completely filled with oxen and cows. The animals stood together as close as they could be packed, and Grimkie could just see their heads and necks above the gunwales of the boat.

“I don’t understand how they got them into that boat" said John, “and we will see pretty soon how they make out in driving them up this little stair."

“They won't drive them up there," said Grimkie. “That is the gangway for the passengers. They won't take them into this part of the steamer at alL"

“Where will they take them in then?” asked John.

"Forward,” said Grimkie.

“Then let us go forward and see,” said John.

“Very well,” said Grimkie. “This is the way.”

There was a broad bridge extending across from one paddle-wheel to the other, at some distance above the main deck, and a walk, with railings on each side, extending fore and aft from this bridge to the quarter deck where Mrs. Morelle and Florence were sitting. The boys went along the walk to the bridge, and there, as they looked down upon the forward deck, an extraordinary spectacle met their view. The space was divided into pens, made by small iron posts set up in the deck, and strong bars connecting them, and these pens were filled with animals of all kinds, cows, sheep, horses, ponies, oxen, and even pigs. These animals had all been taken on board at Shetland, the produce of the farms there, which the farmers were sending to market.

Among all these animals those which most attracted the attention of the boys, were the Shetland ponies. They stood together in a pen by themselves. They were of various sizes, and although they all had the general form and appearance of the horse, some of them were very small. There was one that John said would be too small even for him.

These ponies were going to England to be sold there to gentlemen who were willing to buy them for their boys, to ride about upon over the smooth gravel roads made in their parks and pleasure-grounds. Such ponies are used too by ladies to drive over the same kind of roads in a small and light open chaise, called a pony-chaise.

Before the boys had satisfied themselves with looking at the ponies, their attention was suddenly called away by the arrival of the boatload of cows, which now came up alongside of the steamer at a place where an opening had been made in the bulwarks for the purpose of taking them in. They immediately went over to that side of the steamer, and looked down from their elevated position upon the bridge, to watch the mode of proceeding for getting the cattle on board.

Just beneath them was an iron crane with a small steam engine attached to it, by which it was worked. The whole was upon a small round iron platform, which moved upon a pivot in the deck, in such a manner that the platform could turn in any direction, carrying with it crane engine, and all. There was a boy upon this platform who governed its motions by two polished iron handles which were connected with the different steam pipes. The boy received his orders from the men who had the management of the cattle, pulling and pushing his handles in different ways, according as they called out, Lower! Hoist! Stop! Turn!

There were two men in the boat with the cattle, crowding their way about among them, without paying the least attention either to their horns or their heels. The people from the deck threw down two broad bands, made of canvas or sail cloth, to these men. The men took one of the bands and passed it under one the cows, between her fore legs and her hind legs, and then brought the edges together over her back. In the meantime the boy had been called upon to “lower,” and he turned his handles in such a way as to swing the top of the crane out over the boat and to lower the chain, which had a hook in the end of it, until the men in the boat could reach it and hook it into certain rings in the upper edges of the canvas over the cow’s back.

The order was then given to the boy to “hoist,” and immediately afterward the little steam engine began rapidly to wind up the chain whereupon the poor cow found herself suddenly lifted off from her feet, and rising rapidly into the air, her legs hanging down in the most awkward and helpless condition imaginable. As soon as she was raised fairly above the level of the deck, the men waiting there seized her by the head and horns and swung her in on board, and then the boy lowered her until her feet touched the planks, when she immediately began to spring and scramble to get away. At the same time instant the broad belt by which she had been lifted was dropped, and fell upon the deck and the cow was free. The men led her away by means of a short cord fastened to one of her horns, and put her in a pen with the other cattle.

By this process the cows were all hoisted out of the boat and landed upon the steamer, in a rapid and unceremonious manner. While one cow was coming up, the men in the boat were placing the second hand under another one, so as to be ready to hook the chain to her, the moment it came down, and thus not a moment was lost. The words Lower, Hoist, Stop, Turn, followed each other in very rapid succession, and the little piston-rod of the engine plied its strokes in the nimblest possible manner, as cow after cow came up, until at length the boat was wholly cleared.

By the time that the first boat was empty another one came. This second one contained the bull, but instead of being free as the cows had been, he was secured fast in one of the moveable stalls which Mrs. Morelle had seen at the landing The stall was a narrow box, just wide enough for the bull to stand in it. It had a floor, two sides, two ends, but no top. Instead of a top, there were two irons passing over from one side to the other, above, giving the box the appearance of a monstrous oblong pail with two bails to it. When the chain was lowered the hooks were attached to these two bails, and the box, bull and all, was run up rapidly to the deck, and placed there in a secure position among the piers.

As fast as the remaining cattle were brought up, new pens were made upon the deck, and when at length the pens were all full, the hatches were opened, and a great many cows, after being hoisted up from the boat and swung round over the hatchways, were lowered down into the hold, to some dark and dismal region there, which the boys could not see.

Besides the cows and a load of oxen, there was a boat full of sheep that came on board, and also one of pigs. The pigs were hoisted two at a time, each of them having a hand passed round him, arid the hook taking hold of the rings of each hand. The pigs made a frightful outcry at being hoisted in this manner,

There were a great many boxes containing fish, and packages of wool, and bags of grain, and other such things, the produce of the islands, that were also taken on board. The work of getting all the cargo in, and on board, occupied several hours, and it was near noon before the steamer was ready to sail.

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