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Four Orkney chiefs, that yesterday
Four are they, who wearily
Dumbly strain they for the shore,
Ronald of the Perfect Hand
As though 'twould shoot it through the ocean.
“Some spirit,” exclaimed Duth Maruno, “must pursue us, and stubbornly urge the boat out of its way, or we must have arrived by this time at Inistore.”* Ronald took him at his word, and turning hastily round, thought he saw an armed figure behind the stern. His anger rose with his despair; and with all his strength he dashed his arm at the moveless and airy shape. At that instant a fierce blast of wind half turned the boat round. The chieftains called out to Ronald to set his whole heart at the rudder; but the wind beat back their voices, like young birds into the nest, and no answer followed it. The boat seemed less and less manageable, and at last to be totally left to themselves. In the intervals of the wind they again called out to Ronald, but still received no answer. One of them crept forward, and felt for him through the blinding wet and darkness. His place was void. “It was a ghost,” said they, “which came to fetch him to the spirits of his fathers. Ronald of the Perfect Hand is gone, and we shall follow him as we did in the fight. Hark! the wind is louder and louder: it is louder and manyvoiced. Is it his voice which has roused up the others ? Is he calling up.n us, as he did in the battle, when his followers shouted after his call !” . . ; It was the rocks of an isle beyond Inistore, which made that multitudinous roaring of the wind. The chieftains found that they were not destined to perish in the mid-ocean; but it was fortunate for them that the wind did not set in directly upon the island, or they would have been dashed to pieces upon the rocks. With great difficulty they stemmed their way obliquely; and at length were thrown violently to shore, bruised, wounded, and half inanimate. They remained on this desolate island two days, during the first of which the storm subsided. On the third, they were taken away by a boat of seal-hunters. The chiefs, on their arrival at home, related how Ronald of the Perfect Hand had been summoned away by a loud-voiced spirit, and disappeared. Great was the mourning in Inistore for the Perfect Hand; for the Hand that with equal skill could throw the javelin and traverse the harp; could build the sudden hut of the hunter; and bind up the glad locks of the maiden tired in the dance. Therefore was he called the Perfect Hand ; and therefore with great mourning was he mourned : yet with none half as great as by his love, his betrothed bride Moilena; by her of the Beautiful Voice; who had latterly begun to be called the Perfect Voice, because she was to be matched with him of the Perfect Hand. Perfect Hand and Perfect Voice were they called; but the Hand was now gone, and the Voice sang brokenly for tears. A dreary winter was it though a victorious, to the people of Inistore. Their swords had conquered in Lochlin; but most of the hands that wielded them had never come back. Their warm pressure was felt no more. The last which they had given their friends was now to serve them all their lives. “Never, with all my yearning,” said Moilena, “shall I look upon his again, as I have looked upon it a hundred times, when nobody suspected. Never.” And she turned from the sight of the destructive ocean, which seemed as interminable as her thoughts. But winter had now passed away. The tears of the sky at least were dried up. The sun looked out kindly again; and the spring had scarcely re-appeared, when Inistore had a proud and gladder day, from the arrival of the young prince of Lochlin with his bride. It was a bitter one to Moilena, for the prince came to thank Ronald for sparing his life in the war, and had brought his lady to thank him too. They thanked Moilena instead; and, proud in the midst of her unhappiness, of being the representative of the Perfect Hand, she lavished hundreds of smiles upon them from her pale face. But she wept in secret. She could not bear this new addition to the store of noble and kind memories respecting her Ronald. He had spared the bridegroom for his bride. He had hoped to come back to his own. She looked over to the north ; and thought that her home was as much there as in Inistore. Meantime, Ronald was not drowned. A Scandinavian boat, bound for an island called the Island of the Circle, had picked him up. The crew, which consisted chiefly of priests, were going thither to propitiate the deities, on account of the late defeat of their countrymen. They recognised the victorious chieftain, who on coming to his senses freely confessed who he was. Instantly they raised a chorus, which rose sternly through the tempest. “We carry,” said they, “an acceptable present to the gods. Odin, stay thy hand from the slaughter of the obscure. Thor, put down the mallet with which thou beatest, like red hail, on the skulls of thine enemies. Ye other feasters in Valhalla, set down the skulls full of mead, and pledge a health out of a new and noble one to the King of Gods and Men, that the twilight of heaven may come late. We bring an acceptable present : we bring Ronard of the Perfect Hand.” Thus they sang in the boat, labouring all the while with the winds and waves, but surer now than ever of reaching the shore. And they did so by the first light of the morning. When they came to the circle of sacred stones, from which the island took its name, they placed their late conqueror by the largest, and kindled a fire in the middle. The warm smoke rose thickly against the cold white morning. “Let me be offered up to your gods,” said Ronald, “like a man, by the
* The old name for the Orkneys.
sword; and not like food, by the fire.” “We know all,” answered the priests: “be thou silent.” “Treat not him,” said Ronald, “who spared your prince, unworthily. If he must be sacrificed, let him die as your prince would have died by this hand.” Still they answered nothing but “We know all : be thou silent.” Ronald could not help witnessing these preparations for a new and unexpected death with an emotion of terror; but disdain and despair were uppermost. Once, and but once, his cheek turned deadly pale in thinking of Moilena. He shifted his posture resolutely, and thought of the spirits of the dead whom he was about to join. The priests then encircled the fire and the stone at which he stood, with another devoting song; and Ronald looked earnestly at the ruddy flames, which gave to his body, as in mockery, a kindly warmth. The priests, however, did not lay hands on him. They respected the sparer of their prince so far as not to touch him themselves; they left him to be despatched by the supernatural beings, whom they confidently expected to come down for that purpose as soon as they had retired. Ronald, whose faith was of another description, saw their departure with joy; but it was damped the next minute. What was he to do in winter-time on an island, inhabited only by the fowls and other creatures of the northern sea, and never touched at but for a purpose hostile to his hopes : For he now recollected, that this was the island he had so often heard of, as the chief seat of the Scandinavian religion ; whose traditions had so influenced countries of a different faith, that it was believed in Scotland as well as the continent, that no human being could live there many hours. Spirits, it was thought appeared in terrible superhuman shapes, like the bloody idols which the priests worshipped, and carried the stranger off. The warrior of Inistore had soon too much reason to know the extent of this belief. He was not without fear himself, but disdained to yield to any circumstances without a struggle. He refreshed himself with some snow-water; and after climbing the highest part of the island to look for a boat in vain (nothing was to be seen but the waves tumbling on all sides after the storm), he set about preparing a habitation. He saw at a little distance, on a slope, the mouth of a rocky cave. This he destined for his shelter at night; and looking round for a defence for the door, as he knew not whether bears might not be among the inhabitants, he cast his eyes upon the thinnest of the stones which stood upright about the fire. The heart of the warrior, though of a different faith, misgave him as he thought of appropriating this mystical stone, carved full of strange figures; but half in courage, and half in the despair of fear, he suddenly twisted it from its place. No one appeared. The fire altered not. The noise of the fowl and other creatures was no louder on the shore. Ronald smiled at his fears, and knew the undiminished vigour of the Perfect Hand. He found the cavern already fitted for shelter; doubtless by the Scandinavian priests. He had bitter reason to know how well it sheltered him ; for day after day he hoped in
vain that some boat from Inistore would
venture upon the island. a distance, but they never came.
He beheld sails at He piled stone upon stone, joined old pieces of boats together, and made flags of the sea-weed ; but all in vain. The vessels, he thought, came nearer, but mone so near as to be of use ; and a new and sickly kind of impatience cut across the stout heart of Ronald, and set it beating. He knew not whether it was with the cold or with misery, but his frame would shake for an hour together, when he lay down on his dried weeds and feathers to rest. He remembered the happy sleeps that used to follow upon toil; and he looked with double activity for the eggs and shell-fish on which he sustained himself, and smote double the number of seals, half in the very exercise of his anger: and then he would fall dead asleep with fatigue. - In this way he bore up against the violences of the winter season, which had now passed. The sun looked out with a melancholy smile upon the moss and the poor grass, chequered here and there with flowers almost as poor. There was the buttercup, struggling from a dirty white into a yellow ; and a faint-coloured poppy, neither the good nor the ill of which was then known ; and here and there by the thorny underwood a shrinking violet. The lark alone seemed cheerful, and startled the ear of the desolate chieftain with its climbing triumph in the air. Ronald looked up. His fancy had been made wild and wilful by strange habits and sickened blood ; and he thought impatiently, that if he were up there like the lark, he might see his friends and his love in Inistore. Being naturally, however, of a gentle as well as courageous disposition, the Perfect Hand found the advantage as well as the necessity of turning his violent impulses into noble matter for patience. He had heard of the dreadful bodily sufferings which the Scandinavian heroes underwent from their enemies with triumphant songs. He knew that no such sufferings which were fugitive, could equal the agonies of a
| daily martyrdom of mind ; and he cultivated
a certain humane pride of patience, in order to bear them. His only hope of being delivered from the island now depended on the Scandinavian priests; but it was a moot point whether they would respect him for surviving, or kill him on that very account, out of a mixture of personal
and superstitious resentment. He thought his death the more likely; but this, at least, was a termination to the dreary prospect of a solitude for life; and partly out of that hope, and partly from a courageous patience, he cultivated as many pleasant thoughts and objects about him as he could. He adorned his cavern with shells and feathers; he made himself a cap and cloak of the latter, and boots and a vest of seal-skin, girding it about with the glossy sea-weed; he cleared away a circle before the cavern, planted it with the best grass, and heaped about it the mossiest stones : he strung some bones of a fish with sinews, and fitting a shell beneath it, the Perfect Hand drew forth the first gentle music that had been heard in that wild island. He touched it one day in the midst of a flock of seals, who were basking in the sun ; they turned their heads towards the sound; he thought he saw in their mild faces a human expression ; and from that day forth no seal was ever slain by the Perfect Hand. He spared even the huge and cloudy visaged-walrusses, in whose societies he beheld a dull resemblance to the gentler affections; and his new intimacy with these possessors of the place was completed by one of the former animals, who having been rescued by him from a contest with a larger one, followed him about, as well as its half-formed and dragging legs would allow, with the officious attachment of a dog. But the summer was gone, and no one had appeared. The new thoughts and deeper insight into things, which solitude and sorrowful necessity had produced, together with a diminution of his activity, had not tended to strengthen him against the approach of winter: and autumn came upon him like the melancholy twilight of the year. He had now no hope of seeing even the finishers of his existence before the spring. The rising winds among the rocks, and the noise of the whales blowing up their spouts of water, till the caverns thundered with their echoes, seemed to be like heralds of the stern season which was to close him in against approach. He had tried one day to move the stone at the mouth of his habitation a little further in, and found his strength fail him. He laid himself half reclining on the ground, full of such melancholy thoughts as half bewildered him. Things, by turns, appeared a fierce dream, and a fiercer reality. He was leaning and looking on the ground, and idly twisting his long hair, when his eyes fell upon the hand that held it. It was livid and emaciated. He opened and shut it, opened and shut it again, turned it round, and looked at its ribbed thinness and laid-open machinery; many thoughts came upon him, some which he understood not, and some which he recognised but too well ; and a turbid violence seemed rising at his heart, when the seal, his companion, drew migh, and began licking that weak memorial of the Perfect Hand. A shower of selfpitying tears fell upon the seal's face and the hand together. On a sudden he heard a voice. It was a deep and loud one, and distinctly called out “Ronald !” He looked up, gasping with wonder. Three times it called out, as if with peremptory command, and three times the rocks and caverns echoed the word with a dim sullenness. Recollecting himself, he would have risen and answered ; but the sudden change of sen: sations had done what all his sufferings had not been able to do, and he found himself unable either to rise or to speak. The voice called again and again ; but it was now more distant, and Ronald's heart sickened as he heard it retreating. His strength seemed to fail him in proportion as it became necessary. Suddenly the voice came back again. It advances. Other voices are heard, all advancing. In a short time, figures come hastily down the slope by the side of his cavern, looking over into the area before it as they descend. They enter. They are before him and about him. Some of them, in a Scandinavian habit, prostrate themselves at his feet, and address him in an unknown language. But these are sent away by another, who remains with none but two youths. Ronald has risen a little, and leans his back against the rock. One of the youths puts his arm between his neck and the rock, and half kneels beside him, turning his face away and weeping. “I am no god, nor a favourite of gods, as these people supposed me,” said Ronald, looking up at the chief who was speaking to the other youth : “if thou wilt despatch me then, do so. I only pray thee to let the death be fit for a warrior, such as I once was.” The chief appeared agitated. “Speak not ill of the gods, Ronald,” said he, “although thou wert blindly brought up. A warrior like thee must be a favourite of heaven. I come to prove it to thee. Dost thou not know me? I come to give thee life for life.” Ronald looked more steadfastly. It was the Scandinavian prince whom he had spared, because of his bride, in battle. He smiled, and lifted up his hand to him, which was intercepted and kissed by the youth who held his arm round his neck. “Who are these fair youths " said Ronald, half turning his head to look in his supporter's face. “This is the bride I spoke of,” answered the prince, “who insisted on sharing this voyage with me, and put on this dress to be the bolder in it.” “And who is the other " The other, with dried eyes, looked smiling into his, and intercepted the answer also. “Who,” said the sweetest voice in the world, “can it be, but one f" With a quick and almost fierce tone, Ronald cried out aloud, “I know the voice;” and he would have fallen flat on the earth, if they had not all three supported him. It was a mild return to Inistore, Ronald gathering strength all the way, at the eyes and
voice of Moilena, and the hands of all three. Their discovery of him was easily explained. The crews of the vessels, who had been afraid to come nearer, had repeatedly seen a figure on the island making signs. The Scandinavian priests related how they had left Ronald there; but insisted that no human being conld live upon it, and that some god wished to manifest himself to his faithful worshippers. The heart of Moilena was quick to guess the truth. The prince proposed to accompany the priests. His bride and the destined bride of his saviour went with him, and returned as you heard ; and from that day forth many were the songs in Inistore, upon the fortunes of the Perfect Hand and the kindness of the Perfect Voice. Nor were those forgotten who forgot not others.
XXVIII.—A CHAPTER ON HATS.
We know not what will be thought of our taste in so important a matter, but we must confess we are not fond of a new hat. There is a certain insolence about it : it seems to value itself upon its finished appearance, and to presume upon our liking before we are acquainted with it. In the first place, it comes home more like a marmot or some other living creature, than a manufacture. It is boxed up, and wrapt in silver paper, and brought delicately. It is as sleek as a lap-dog. Then we are to take it out as nicely, and people are to wonder how we shall look in it. Maria twitches one this way, and Sophia that, and Caroline that, and Catharine t'other. We have the difficult task, all the while, of looking easy, till the approving votes are pronounced; our only resource (which is also difficult) being to say good things to all four; or to clap the hat upon each of their heads, and see what pretty milkwomen they make. At last the approving votes are pronounced; and (provided it is fine) we may go forth. But how uneasy the sensation about the head How unlike the old hat, to which we had become used, and which must now make way for this fop of a stranger! We might do what we liked with the former. Dust, rain, a gale of wind, a fall, a squeeze,_ nothing affected it. It was a true friend, a friend for all weathers. Its appearance only was against it: in everything else it was the better for wear. Dut if the roads or the streets are too dry, the new hat is afraid of getting dusty: if there is wind, and it is not tight, it may be blown off into the dirt: we may have to scramble after it through dust or mud; just reaching it with our fingers, only to see it blown away again. And if rain comes on 1 Oh ye gallant apprentices, who have issued forth on a Sunday morning, with Jane or Susan, careless either of storms at night-fall, or toils and scoldings next day! Ye, who have re
ceived your new hat and boots but an hour before ye set out; and then issue forth triumphantly, the charmer by your side She, with arm in yours, and handkerchief in hand, blushing, or eating gingerbread, trips on : ye, admiring, trudge: we ask ye, whether love itself has prevented ye from feeling a certain fearful consciousness of that crowning glory, the new and glossy hat, when the first drops of rain announce the coming of a shower Ah, hasten, while yet it is of use to haste; ere yet the spotty horror fixes on the nap ! Out with the protecting handkerchief, which, tied round the hat, and flowing off in a corner behind,
a suburb comet! Trust not the tempting yawn of stable-yard or gate-way, or the impossible notion of a coach: The rain will continue ; and alas ! ye are not so rich as in the morning. Hasten l or think of a new hat's becoming a rain-spout ! Think of its well-built crown, its graceful and well-measured fit, the curved-up elegance of its rim, its shadowing gentility when seen in front, its arching grace over the ear when beheld sideways . Think of it also the next day ! How altered, how dejected
How changed from him, That life of measure and that soul of rim '
Think of the paper-like change of its consistence; of its limp sadness—its confused and flattened nap, and of that polished and perfect circle, which neither brush nor hot iron shall restore 1 We have here spoken of the beauties of a new hat; but abstractedly considered, they are very problematical. Fashion makes beauty for a time. Our ancestors found a grace in the cocked hats now confined to beadles, Chelsea pensioners, and coachmen. They would have laughed at our chimney-tops with a border: though upon the whole we do think them the more graceful of the two. The best modern covering for the head was the imitation of the broad Spanish hat in use about thirty years back, when Mr. Stothard made his designs for the Norelist's Magazine. But in proportion as society has been put into a bustle, our hats seem to have narrowed their dimensions: the flaps were clipped off more and more till they became a rim ; and now the rim has contracted to a mere nothing ; so that what with our close heads and our tight succinct mode of dress, we look as if we were intended for nothing but to dart backwards
shall gleam through the thickening night like
and forwards on matters of business, with as
sunshine ; and then the hat is too narrow to shade us: no great evil, it is true! but we must have our pique out against the knave, and turn him to the only account in our power: —we must write upon him. For every other purpose, we hold him as naught. The only place a new hat can be carried into with safety, is a church ; for there is plenty of room there. There also takes place its only union of the ornamental with the useful, if so it is to be called : we allude to the preparatory ejaculation whispered into it by the genteel worshipper, before he turns round and makes a bow to Mr. and Mrs. Jones and the Miss Thompsons. There is a formula for this occasion; and doubtless it is often used, to say nothing of extempore effusions: but there are wicked imaginations, who suspect that instead of devouter whisperings, the communer with his lining sometimes ejaculates no more than Swallow, St. James's-street; or, Augarde and Spain, Hatters, No. 51, Oxford-street, London : — after which he draws up his head with infinite gravity and preparation, and makes the gentle recognitions aforesaid. But wherever there is a crowd, the new hat is worse than useless. It is a pity that the general retrenchment of people's finances did away with the flat opera hat, which was a very sensible thing. The round one is only in the way. The matting over the floor of the Opera does not hinder it from getting dusty; not to mention its chance of a kick from the inconsiderate. But from the pit of the other theatres, you may bring it away covered with sawdust, or rubbed up all the wrong way of the nap, or monstrously squeezed into a shapeless lump. The least thing to be expected in a pressure, is a great poke in its side like a sunken cheek. Boating is a mortal enemy to new hats. A shower has you fast in a common boat; or a sail-line, or an inexperienced oar, may knock the hat off; and then fancy it tilting over the water with the tide, soaked all the while beyond redemption, and escaping from the tips of your
outstretched fingers, while you ought all to be
pulling the contrary way home. But of all wrong boxes for a new hat, avoid a mail-coach. If you keep it on, you will begin nodding perhaps at midnight, and then it goes jamming against the side of the coach, to the equal misery of its nap and your own. If you take it off, where is its refuge : Will the clergyman take the least heed of it, who is snoring comfortably in one corner in his nightcap : Or will the farmer, jolting about inexorably Or the regular traveller, who in his fur-cap and infinite knowledge of highway conveniences, has already beheld it with contempt Or the old market-woman, whom it is in vain to request to be tender Or the young damsel, who wonders how you can think of sleeping in such a thing In the morning you suddenly miss your hat, and ask after it