In the early summer of 1860 I went upon a visit to a distant
relative of mine, who lived in one of the Shetland Islands. It was
early summer with myself then: I was a medical student with life all
before melife and hope, and joy and sorrow as well. I went north with
the intention of working hard, and took quite a small library with me;
there was nothing in the shape of study I did not mean to do, and to
drive at: botany, the flora of the Ultima Thule, its
fauna and geology, too, to say nothing of chemistry and
therapeutics. So much for good intentions, butI may as well confess
it as notI never once opened my huge box of books during the five
months I lived at R, and if I studied at all it was from the book
of Nature, which is open to every one who cares to con its pages.
The steamboat landed me at Lerwick, and I completed my journeywith
my boxesnext day in an open boat.
It was a very cold morning, with a grey, cold, choppy sea on, the
spray from which dashed over the boat, wetting me thoroughly, and
making me feel pinched, blear-eyed, and miserable. I even envied the
seals I saw cosily asleep in dry, sandy caves, at the foot of the black
and beetling rocks.
How very fantastic those rocks were, but cheerlessso cheerless!
Even the sea birds that circled around them seemed screaming a dirge.
An opening in a wall of rock took us at length into a long, winding
fiord, or arm of the sea, with green bare fields on every side, and
wild, weird-like sheep that gazed on us for a moment, then bleated and
fled. Right at the end of this rock stood my friend's house,
comfortable and solid-looking, but unsheltered by a single tree.
I sha'n't stay long here, I said to myself, as I landed.
An hour or two afterwards I had changed my mind entirely. I was
seated in a charmingly and cosily-furnished drawing-room upstairs. The
windows looked out to and away across the broad Atlantic. How strange
it was; for the loch that had led me to the front of the house, and the
waters of which rippled up to the very lawn, was part of the German
Ocean, and here at the back, and not a stone's throw distant, was the
Atlantic! Its great, green, dark billows rolled up and broke into foam
against the black breastwork of cliffs beneath us; the immense depth of
its waves could be judged of by keeping the eye fixed upon the tall,
steeple-like rocks which shot up here and there through the water a
little way out to sea: at one moment these would appear like lofty
spires, and next they would be almost entirely swallowed up.
Beside the fire, in an easy chair, sat my grey-haired old relation
and host, and, not far off, his wife. Hospitable, warm-hearted, and
genial both of them were. If marriages really are made in heaven, I
could not help thinking theirs must have been, so much did they seem
each other's counterpart.
Presently Cousin Maggie entered, smiling to me as she did so; her
left hand lingered fondly for a moment on her father's grey locks, then
she sat down unbidden to the piano. My own face was partially shaded by
the window curtain, so that I could study that of my fair cousin as she
played without appearing rude. Was she beautiful? that was the question
I asked myself, and was trying hard to answer. Every feature of her
face was faultless, her mouth and ears were small, she had a wealth of
rich, deep auburn hair, and eyes that seemed to have borrowed the
noonday tints of a summer sea, so bright, so blue were they. But was
she beautiful? I could not answer the question then.
On the strength of my blood relationship, distant though it was, for
we were really only third or fourth cousins, I was made a member of
this family from the first, and Maggie treated me as a brother. I was
not entirely pleased with the latter arrangement, because many days had
not passed ere I concluded it would be a pleasant pastime for me to
make love to Cousin Maggie. But weeks went by, and my love-making was
still postponed; it became a sine die kind of a probability.
Maggie was constantly with me when out of doorsmy companion in all my
fishing and shooting trips. But she carried not only a rod but even a
rifle herself, she could give me lessons in casting the flyand did;
she often shot dead the seals that I had merely wounded, and her
prowess in rowing astonished me, and her daring in venturing so far to
sea in our broad, open boat often made me tremble for our safety.
A frequent visitor for the first two months of my stay at Rwas a
young and well-to-do farmer and fisher, who came in his boat from a
neighbouring island, always accompanied by his sister, and they usually
stayed a day or two. I was not long in perceiving that this Mr.
Thorforth was very fond of my cousin; the state of her feelings towards
him it was some time before I could fathom, but the revelation came at
last, and quite unexpectedly.
There was an old ruin some distance from the house, where, one
lovely moonlight night, I happened to be seated alone. I was not long
alone, however; from a window I could see my cousin and Thorforth
coming towards the place, and, thinking to surprise them, I drew back
under the shadow of a portion of the wall. But I was not to be an actor
in that scene, though it was one I shall never forget. I could not see
his face, but hers, on which the moonbeams fell, was pained,
half-frightened, impatient. He was telling her he loved her and asking
her to love him in return. She stopped him at last.
What she said need not be told. In a few moments he was gone, and
she was standing where he left her, following him with pitying eyes as
he walked hurriedly away.
Next day Magnus Thorforth said goodbye and left: even his sister
looked sad. She must have known it all. I never saw them again.
One day, about a month after this, Maggie and I were together in a
cave close by the oceana favourite haunt of ours on hot forenoons.
Our boat was drawn up close by, the day was bright, and the sea calm,
its tiny wavelets making drowsy, dreamy music on the yellow sands.
She had been reading aloud, and I was gazing at her face.
I begin to think you are beautiful, I said.
She looked down at me where I lay with those innocent eyes of hers,
that always looked into mine as frankly as a child's would.
I'm not sure, I continued, that I sha'n't commence making love to
you, and perhaps I might marry you. What would you think of that?
Love! she laughed, as musically as a sea-nymphlove? Love
betwixt a cousin and a cousin? Preposterous!
I daresay, I said, pretending to pout, you wouldn't marry me
because I'm poor.
Poor! she repeated, looking very firm and earnest now; if the man
I loved were poor, I'd carry a creel for himI'd gather shells for his
sake; but I don't love anybody and don't mean to. Come.
So that was the beginning and end of my love-making for Cousin
And Maggie had said she never meant to love any one. Well, we never
can tell what may be in our immediate future.
Hardly had we left the cave that day, and put off from the shore,
ere cat's-paws began to ruffle the water. They came in from the west,
and before we had got half-way to the distant headland a steady breeze
was blowing. We had hoisted our sail, and were running before it with
the speed of a gull on the wing.
Once round the point, we had a beam wind till we entered the fiord,
then we had to beat to windward all the way home, by which time it was
blowing quite a gale.
It went round more to the north about sunset, and then, for the
first time, we noticed a yacht of small dimensions on the distant
horizon. Her intention appeared to be that of rounding the island, and
probably anchoring on the lee side of it. She was in an ugly position,
however, and we all watched her anxiously till nightfall hid her from
I retired early, but sleep was out of the question, for the wind
raged and howled around the house like wild wolves. About twelve
o'clock the sound of a gun fell on my ears. I could not be mistaken,
for the window rattled in sharp response.
I sprang from my couch and began to dress, and immediately after my
aged relative entered the room. He looked younger and taller than I had
seen him, but very serious.
The yacht is on the Ba, he said, solemnly.
[Footnote 2: Ba means a sunken rock.]
They were words to me of fearful significance. The yacht, I knew,
must soon break up, and nothing could save the crew.
I quickly followed my relative into the back drawing-room, where
Maggie was with her mother. We gazed out into the night, out and across
the sea. At the same moment, out there on the terrible Ba, a blue light
sprang up, revealing the yacht and even its people on board. She was
leaning well over to one side, her masts gone, and the spray dashing
Come! cried Maggie, there is no time to lose. We can guide their
boat to the cave. Come, cousin!
I felt dazed, thunderstruck. Was I to take active part in a forlorn
hope? Was Maggiehow beautiful and daring she looked now!to assume
the rôle of a modern Grace Darling? So it appeared.
The events of that night come back to my memory now as if they had
happened but yesterday. It is a page in my past life that can never be
We pulled out of the fiord, Maggie and I, and up under lee of the
island; then, on rounding the point, we encountered the whole force of
the sea and wind. There was a glimmering light on the wrecked yacht,
and for that we rowed, or rather were borne along on the gale. No boat,
save a Shetland skiff, could have been trusted in such a sea.
As we neared the Ba, steadying herself by leaning on my shoulder,
Maggie stood half up and waved the lantern, and it was answered from
the wreck. Next moment it seemed to me we were on the lee side, and
Maggie herself hailed the shipwrecked people.
We cannot come nearer! she cried; lower your boat and follow our
Take the tiller now, she continued, addressing me, and steer for
the light you see on the cliff. Keep her well up, though, or all will
We waitedand that with difficultyfor a few minutes, till we saw
by the starlight that the yacht's boat was lowered, then away we went.
The light on the cliff-top moved slowly down the wind. I kept the
boat's head a point or two above it, and on she dashed. The rocks
loomed black and high as we neared them, the waves breaking in terrible
Suddenly the light was lowered over the cliff down to the very
Steady, now! cried my brave cousin, and next moment we were round
a point and into smooth water, with the yacht's boat close beside us.
The place was partly cave, partly noss. We beached our boats,
and here we remained all night, and were all rescued next morning by a
The yacht's people were the captain, his wife, and one boythe
whole crew Norwegians, Brinster by name.
My story is nearly done. What need to tell of the gratitude of those
Maggie's heroism had saved from a watery grave!
But it came to pass that when, a few months afterwards, a beautiful
new yacht came round to the fiord to take those shipwrecked mariners
away, Cousin Maggie went with them on a visit.
It came to pass also that when I paid my very next visit to Rin
the following summer, I found living at my relative's house a Major
Brinster and a Mrs. Brinster.
And Mrs. Brinster was my Cousin Maggie, and Major Brinster was my
Cousin Maggie's fate.