The Cruise of the Betsey (2)

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CHAPTER IV.


THERE had been rain during the night; and when I first got on deck, a little after seven, a low stratum of mist, that completely enveloped the Scuir, and truncated both the eminence on which it stands and the opposite height, stretched like a ruler across the flat valley which indents so deeply the middle of the island.  But the fogs melted away as the morning rose, and ere our breakfast was satisfactorily discussed, the last thin wreath had disappeared from around the columned front of the rock-tower of Eigg, and a powerful sun looked down on moist slopes and dank hollows, from which there arose in the calm a hazy vapour, that, while it softened the lower features of the landscape, left the bold outline relieved against a clear sky.  Accompanied by our attendant of the previous day, bearing bag and hammer, we set out a little before eleven for the north-western side of the island, by a road which winds along the central hollow.  My friend showed me as we went, that on the edge of an eminence, on which the traveller journeying westwards catches the last glimpse of the chapel of St Donan, there had once been a rude cross erected, and another rude cross on an eminence on which he catches the last glimpse of the first; and that there had thus been a chain of stations formed from sea to sea, like the sights of a land-surveyor, from one of which a second could be seen, and a third from the second, till, last of all, the emphatically holy point of the island,—the burial place of the old Culdee,—came full in view.  The unsteady devotion, that journeyed, fancy-bound, along the heights, to gloat over a dead man's bones, had its clue to carry it on in a straight line.  Its trail was on the ground; it glided snakelike from cross to cross, in quest of dust; and, without its finger-posts to guide it, would have wandered devious.  It is surely a better devotion that, instead of thus creeping over the earth to a mouldy sepulchre, can at once launch into the sky, secure of finding Him who arose from one.  In less than an hour we were descending on the Bay of Laig, a semicircular indentation of the coast about a mile in length, and, where it opens to the main sea, nearly two miles in breadth; with the noble island of Rum rising high in front, like some vast breakwater; and a meniscus of comparatively level land, walled in behind by a semicircular rampart of continuous precipice, sweeping round its shores.  There are few finer scenes in the Hebrides than that furnished by this island bay and its picturesque accompaniments,—none that break more unexpectedly on the traveller who descends upon it from the east; and rarely has it been seen to greater advantage than on the delicate day, so soft, and yet so sunshiny and clear, on which I paid it my first visit.

    The island of Rum, with its abrupt sea-wall of rock, and its steep-pointed hills, that attain, immediately over the sea, an elevation of more than two thousand feet, loomed bold and high in the offing, some five miles away, but apparently much nearer.  The four tall summits of the island rose clear against the sky, like a group of pyramids; its lower slopes and precipices, variegated and relieved by graceful alternations of light and shadow, and resting on their blue basement of sea, stood out with equal distinctness; but the entire middle space from end to end was hidden in a long horizontal stratum of gray cloud, edged atop with a lacing of silver.  Such was the aspect of the noble breakwater in front.  Fully two-thirds of the semicircular rampart of rock which shuts in the crescent-shaped plain directly opposite lay in deep shadow; but the sun shone softly on the plain itself; brightening up many a dingy cottage, and many a green patch of corn; and the bay below stretched out, sparkling in the light.  There is no part of the island so thickly inhabited as this flat meniscus.  It is composed almost entirely of Oolitic rocks, and bears atop, especially where an ancient oyster-bed of great depth forms the subsoil, a kindly and fertile mould.  The cottages lie in groups; and, save where a few bogs, which it would be no very difficult matter to drain, interpose their rough shag of dark green, and break the continuity, the plain around them waves with corn.  Lying fair, green, and populous within the sweep of its inaccessible rampart of rock, at least twice as lofty as the ramparts of Babylon of old, it reminds one of the suburbs of some ancient city lying embosomed, with all its dwellings and fields, within some roomy crescent of the city wall.  We passed, ere we entered on the level, a steep-sided narrow dell, through which a small stream finds its way from the higher grounds, and which terminates at the upper end in an abrupt precipice, and a lofty but very slim cascade.  "One of the few superstitions that still linger on the island," said my friend the minister, "is associated with that wild hollow.  It is believed that shortly before a death takes place among the inhabitants, a tall withered female may be seen in the twilight, just yonder where the rocks open, washing a shroud in the stream.  John, there, will perhaps tell you how she was spoken to on one occasion, by an over-bold, over-inquisitive islander, curious to know whose shroud she was preparing; and how she more than satisfied his curiosity, by telling him it was his own.  It is a not uninteresting fact," added the minister, "that my poor people, since they have become more earnest about their religion, think very little about ghosts and spectres: their faith in the realities of the unseen world seems to have banished from their minds much of their old belief in its phantoms."

    In the rude fences that separate from each other the little farms in this plain, we find frequent fragments of the oyster-bed, hardened into a tolerably compact limestone.  It is seen to most advantage, however, in some of the deeper cuttings in the fields, where the surrounding matrix exists merely as an incoherent shale; and the shells may be picked out as entire as when they lay, ages before, in the mud, which we still see retaining around them its original colour.  They are small, thin, triangular, much resembling in form some specimens of the Ostrea deltoidea, but greatly less in size.  The nearest resembling shell in Sowerby is the Ostrea acuminata,—an oyster of the clay that underlies the great Oolite of Bath.  Few of the shells exceed an inch and half in length, and the majority fall short of an inch.  What they lack in bulk, however, they make up in number.  They are massed as thickly together, to the depth of several feet, as shells on the heap at the door of a Newhaven fisherman, and extend over many acres.  Where they lie open we can still detect the triangular disc of the hinge, with the single impression of the adductor muscle; and the foliaceous character of the shell remains in most instances as distinct as if it had undergone no mineral change.  I have seen nowhere in Scotland, among the secondary formations, so unequivocal an oyster-bed; nor do such beds seem to be at all common in formations older than the Tertiary in England, though the oyster itself is sufficiently so.  We find Mantell stating, in his recent work ("Medals of Creation"), after first describing an immense oyster-bed of the London Basin, that underlies the city (for what is now London was once an oyster-bed), that in the chalk below, though it contains several species of Ostrea, the shells are diffused promiscuously throughout the general mass.  Leaving, however, these oysters of the Oolite, which never net inclosed nor drag disturbed, though they must have formed the food of many an extinct order of fish,—mayhap reptile,—we pass on in a south-western direction, descending in the geological scale as we go, until we reach the southern side of the Bay of Laig.  And there, far below tidemark, we find a dark-coloured argillaceous shale of the Lias, greatly obscured by boulders of trap,—the only deposit of the Liasic formation in the island.

    A line of trap-hills that rises along the shore seems as if it had strewed half its materials over the beach.  The rugged blocks lie thick as stones in a causeway, down to the line of low ebb,—memorials of a time when the surf dashed against the shattered bases of the trap-hills, now elevated considerably beyond its reach; and we can catch but partial glimpses of the shale below.  Wherever access to it can be had, we find it richly fossiliferous; but its organisms, with the exception of its Belemnites, are very imperfectly preserved.  I dug up from under the trap-blocks some of the common Liasic Ammonites of the north-eastern coast of Scotland, a few of the septa of a large Nautilus, broken pieces of wood, and half-effaced casts of what seems a branched coral; but only minute portions of the shells have been converted into stone; here and there a few chambers in the whorls of an Ammonite or Nautilus, though the outline of the entire organism lies impressed in the shale; and the ligneous and Polyparious fossils we find in a still greater state of decay.  The Belemnite alone, as is common with this robust fossil,—so often the sole survivor of its many contemporaries,—has preserved its structure entire.  I disinterred from the shale good specimens of the Belemnite sulcatus and Belemnite elongatus, and found, detached on the surface of the bed, a fragment of a singularly large Belemnite a full inch and a quarter in diameter, the species of which I could not determine.
 

Ammonite Bivalve

Belemnite  


    Returning by the track we came, we reach the bottom of the bay, which we find much obscured with sand and shingle; and pass northwards along its side, under a range of low sandstone precipices, with interposing grassy slopes, in which the fertile Oolitic meniscus descends to the beach.  The sandstone, white and soft, and occurring in thick beds, much resembles that of the Oolite of Sutherland.  We detect in it few traces of fossils; now and then a carbonaceous marking, and now and then what seems a thin vein of coal, but which proves to be merely the bark of some woody stem, converted into a glossy bituminous lignite, like that of Brora.  But in beds of a blue clay, intercalated with the sandstone, we find fossils in abundance, of a character less obscure.  We spent a full half-hour in picking out shells from the bottom of a long dock-like hollow among the rocks, in which a bed of clay has yielded to the waves, while the strata on either side stand up over it like low wharfs on the opposite sides of a river.  The shells, though exceedingly fragile,—for they partake of the nature of the clayey matrix in which they are embedded,—rise as entire as when they had died among the mud, years, mayhap ages, ere the sandstone had been deposited over them; and we were enabled at once to detect their extreme dissimilarity, as a group, to the shells of the Liasic deposit we had so lately quitted.  We did not find in this bed a single Ammonite, Belemnite, or Nautilus; but chalky Bivalves, resembling our existing Tellina, in vast abundance, mixed with what seem to be a small Buccinum and a minute Trochus, with numerous rather equivocal fragments of a shell resembling an Oiliva.  So thickly do they lie clustered together in this deposit, that in some patches where the sad-coloured argillaceous ground is washed bare by the sea, it seems marbled with them into a light gray tint.  The group more nearly resembles in type a recent one than any I have yet seen in a secondary deposit, except perhaps in the Weald of Moray, where we find in one of the layers a Planorbia scarce distinguishable from those of our ponds and ditches, mingled with a Paludina that seems as nearly modelled after the existing form.  From the absence of the more characteristic shells of the Oolite, I am inclined to deem the deposit one of estuary origin.  Its clays were probably thrown down, like the silts of so many of our rivers, in some shallow bay, where the waters of a descending stream mingled with those of the sea, and where, though shells nearly akin to our existing periwinkles and whelks congregated thickly, the Belemnite, scared by the brackish water, never plied its semi-cartilaginous fins, or the Nautilus or Ammonite hoisted its membranaceous sail.

    We pass on towards the north.  A thick bed of an extremely soft white sandstone presents here, for nearly half a mile together, its front to the waves, and exhibits, under the incessant wear of the surf, many singularly grotesque combinations of form.  The low precipices; undermined at the base, beetle over like the sides of stranded vessels.  One of the projecting promontories we find hollowed through and through by a tall rugged archway; while the outer pier of the arch,—if pier we may term it,—worn to a skeleton, and jutting outwards with a knee-like angle, presents the appearance of a thin ungainly leg and splay foot, advanced, as if in awkward courtesy, to the breakers.  But in a winter or two, judging from its present degree of attenuation, and the yielding nature of its material, which resembles a damaged mass of arrowroot consolidated by lying in the leaky hold of a vessel, its persevering courtesies will be over, and pier and archway must lie in shapeless fragments on the beach.  Wherever the surf has broken into the upper surface of this sandstone bed, and worn it down to nearly the level of the shore, what seem a number of double ramparts, fronting each other, and separated by deep square ditches exactly parallel in the sides, traverse the irregular level in every direction.  The ditches vary in width from one to twelve feet; and the ramparts, rising from three to six feet over them, are perpendicular as the walls of houses, where they front each other, and descend on the opposite sides in irregular slopes.  The iron block, with square groove and projecting ears, that receives the bar of a railway, and connects it with the stone below, represents not inadequately a section of one of these ditches with its ramparts.  They form here the sole remains of dykes of an earthy trap, which, though at one time in a state of such high fusion that they converted the portions of soft sandstone in immediate contact with them into the consistence of quartz rock, have long since mouldered away, leaving but the hollow rectilinear rents which they had occupied, surmounted by the indurated walls which they had baked.  Some of the most curious appearances, however, connected with the sandstone, though they occur chiefly in an upper bed, are exhibited by what seem fields of petrified mushrooms, of a gigantic size, that spread out in some places for hundreds of yards under the high-water level.  These apparent mushrooms stand on thick squat stems, from a foot to eighteen inches in height: the heads are round, like those of toad-stools, and vary from one foot to nearly two yards in diameter.  In some specimens we find two heads joined together in a form resembling a squat figure of eight, of what printers term the Egyptian type, or, to borrow the illustration of M'Culloch, "like the ancient military projectile known by the name of double-headed shot;" in other specimens three heads have coalesced in a trefoil shape, or rather in a shape like that of an ace of clubs divested of the stem.  By much the greater number, however, are spherical.  They are composed of concretionary masses, consolidated, like the walls of the dykes, though under some different process, into a hard siliceous stone, that has resisted those disintegrating influences of the weather and the surf under which the yielding matrix in which they were embedded has worn from around them.  Here and there we find them lying detached on the beach, like huge shot, compared with which the greenstone balls of Mons Meg are but marbles for children to play with; in other cases they project from the mural front of rampart-like precipices, as if they had been showered into them by the ordnance of some besieging battery, and had stuck fast in the mason-work.  Abbotsford has been described as a romance in stone and lime: we have here, on the shores of Laig, what seems a wild but agreeable tale, of the extravagant cast of "Christabel," or the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," fretted into sandstone.  But by far the most curious part of the story remains to be told.

    The hollows and fissures of the lower sandstone bed we find filled with a fine quartzose sand, which, from its pure white colour, and the clearness with which the minute particles reflect the light, reminds one of accumulations of potato-flour drying in the sun.  It is formed almost entirely of disintegrated particles of the soft sandstone; and as we at first find it occurring in mere handfuls, that seem as if they had been detached from the mass during the last few tides, we begin to marvel to what quarter the missing materials of the many hundred cubic yards of rock, ground down along the shore in this bed during the last century or two, have been conveyed away.  As we pass on northwards, however, we see the white sand occurring in much larger quantities,—here heaped up in little bent-covered hillocks above the reach of the tide,—there stretching out in level, ripple-marked wastes into the waves,—yonder rising in flat narrow spits among the shallows.  At length we reach a small, irregularly-formed bay, a few hundred feet across, floored with it from side to side; and see it, on the one hand, descending deep into the sea, that exhibits over its whiteness a lighter tint of green, and, on the other, encroaching on the land, in the form of drifted banks, covered with the plants common to our tracts of sandy downs.  The sandstone bed that has been worn down to form it contains no fossils, save here and there a carbonaceous stem; but in an underlying harder stratum we occasionally find a few shells; and, with a specimen in my hand charged with a group of bivalves resembling the existing conchifera of our sandy beaches, I was turning aside this sand of the Oolite, so curiously reduced to its original state, and marking how nearly the recent shells that lay embedded in it resembled the extinct ones that had lain in it so long before, when I became aware of a peculiar sound that it yielded to the tread, as my companions paced over it.  I struck it obliquely with my foot, where the surface lay dry and incoherent in the sun, and the sound elicited was a shrill sonorous note, somewhat resembling that produced by a waxed thread, when tightened between the teeth and the hand, and tipped by the nail of the forefinger.  I walked over it, striking it obliquely at each step, and with every blow the shrill note was repeated.  My companions joined me; and we performed a concert, in which, if we could boast of but little variety in the tones produced, we might at least challenge all Europe for an instrument of the kind which produced them.  It seemed less wonderful that there should be music in the granite of Memnon, than in the loose Oolitic sand of the Bay of Laig.  As we marched over the drier tracts, an incessant woo, woo, woo, rose from the surface, that might be heard in the calm some twenty or thirty yards away; and we found that where a damp semi-coherent stratum lay at the depth of three or four inches beneath, and all was dry and incoherent above, the tones were loudest and sharpest, and most easily evoked by the foot.  Our discovery,—for I trust I may regard it as such,—adds a third locality to two previously known ones, in which what may be termed the musical sand,—no unmeet counterpart to the "singing water" of the tale,—has now been found.  And as the island of Eigg is considerably more accessible than Jabel Nakous in Arabia Petruæa, or Reg-Rawan in the neighbourhood of Cabul, there must be facilities presented through the discovery which did not exist hitherto, for examining the phenomenon in acoustics which it exhibits,—a phenomenon, it may be added, which some of our greatest masters of the science have confessed their inability to explain.

    Jabel Nakous, or the "Mountain of the Bell," is situated about three miles from the shores of the Gulf of Suez, in that land of wonders which witnessed for forty years the journeyings of the Israelites, and in which the granite peaks of Sinai and Horeb overlook an arid wilderness of rock and sand.  It had been known for many ages by the wild Arab of the desert, that there rose at times from this hill a strange, inexplicable music.  As he leads his camel past in the heat of the day, a sound like the first low tones of an Æolian harp stirs the hot breezeless air.  It swells louder and louder in progressive undulations, till at length the dry baked earth seems to vibrate under foot, and the startled animal snorts and rears, and struggles to break away.  According to the Arabian account of the phenomenon, says Sir David Brewster, in his "Letters on Natural Magic," there is a convent miraculously preserved in the bowels of the hill; and the sounds are said to be those of the "Nakous, a long metallic ruler, suspended horizontally, which the priest strikes with a hammer, for the purpose of assembling the monks to prayer."  There exists a tradition that on one occasion a wandering Greek saw the mountain open, and that, entering by the gap, he descended into the subterranean convent, where he found beautiful gardens and fountains of delicious water, and brought with him to the upper world, on his return, fragments of consecrated bread.  The first European traveller who visited Jabel Nakous, says Sir David, was M. Seetzen, a German.  He journeyed for several hours over arid sands, and under ranges of precipices inscribed by mysterious characters, that tell, haply, of the wanderings of Israel under Moses.  And reaching, about noon, the base of the musical fountain, he found it composed of a white friable sandstone, and presenting on two of its sides sandy declivities.  He watched beside it for an hour and a quarter, and then heard, for the first time, a low undulating sound, somewhat resembling that of a humming top, which rose and fell, and ceased and began, and then ceased again; and in an hour and three quarters after, when in the act of climbing along the declivity, he heard the sound yet louder and more prolonged.  It seemed as if issuing from under his knees, beneath which the sand, disturbed by his efforts, was sliding downwards along the surface of the rock.  Concluding that the sliding sand was the cause of the sounds, not an effect of the vibrations which they occasioned, he climbed to the top of one of the declivities, and, sliding downwards, exerted himself with hands and feet to set the sand in motion.  The effect produced far exceeded his expectations: the incoherent sand rolled under and around in a vast sheet; and so loud was the noise produced, that "the earth seemed to tremble beneath him to such a degree, that he states he should certainly have been afraid if he had been ignorant of the cause."  At the time Sir David Brewster wrote (1832), the only other European who had visited Jabel Nakous was Mr Gray, of University College, Oxford.  This gentleman describes the noises he heard, but which he was unable to trace to their producing cause, as "beginning with a low continuous murmuring sound, which seemed to rise beneath his feet," but "which gradually changed into pulsations as it became louder, so as to resemble the striking of a clock, and became so strong at the end of five minutes as to detach the sand."  The Mountain of the Bell has been since carefully explored by Lieutenant J. Welsted of the Indian navy; and the reader may see it exhibited in a fine lithograph, in his travels, as a vast irregularly-conical mass of broken stone, somewhat resembling one of our Highland cairns, though, of course, on a scale immensely more huge, with a steep angular slope of sand resting in a hollow in one of its sides, and rising to nearly its apex.  "It forms," says Lieutenant Welsted, "one of a ridge of low calcareous hills, at a distance of three and a half miles from the beach, to which a sandy plain, extending with a gentle rise to their base, connects them.  Its height, about four hundred feet, as well as the material of which it is composed,—a light-coloured friable sandstone,—is about the same as the rest of the chain; but an inclined plane of almost impalpable sand rises at an angle of forty degrees with the horizon, and is bounded by a semicircle of rocks, presenting broken, abrupt, and pinnacled forms, and extending to the base of this remarkable hill.  Although their shape and arrangement in some respects may be said to resemble a whispering gallery, yet I determined by experiment that their irregular surface renders them but ill adapted for the production of an echo.  Seated at a rock at the base of the sloping eminence, I directed one of the Bedouins to ascend; and it was not until he had reached some distance that I perceived the sand in motion, rolling down the hill to the depth of a foot.  It did not, however, descend in one continued stream; but, as the Arab scrambled up, it spread out laterally and upwards, until a considerable portion of the surface was in motion.  At their commencement the sounds might be compared to the faint strains of an Æolian harp when its strings first catch the breeze: as the sand became more violently agitated by the increased velocity of the descent, the noise more nearly resembled that produced by drawing the moistened fingers over glass.  As it reached the base, the reverberations attained the loudness of distant thunder, causing the rock on which we were seated to vibrate; and our camels,—animals not easily frightened,—became so alarmed, that it was with difficulty their drivers could restrain them."

    "The hill of Reg-Rawan, or the 'Moving Sand,"' says the late Sir Alexander Burnes, by whom the place was visited in the autumn of 1837, and who has recorded his visit in a brief paper, illustrated by a rude lithographic view, in the "Journal of the Asiatic Society" for 1838, "is about forty miles north of Cabul, towards Hindu-kush, and near the base of the mountains."  It rises to the height of about four hundred feet, in an angle formed by the junction of two ridges of hills; and a sheet of sand, "pure as that of the seashore," and which slopes in an angle of forty degrees, reclines against it from base to summit.  As represented in the lithograph, there projects over the steep sandy slope on each side, as in "the Mountain of the Bell," still steeper barriers of rock; and we are told by Sir Alexander, that though "the mountains here are generally composed of granite or mica, at Reg-Rawan there is sandstone and lime."  The situation of the sand is curious, he adds: it is seen from a great distance; and as there is none other in the neighbourhood, "it might almost be imagined, from its appearance, that the hill had been cut in two, and that the sand had gushed forth as from a sand-bag."  "When set in motion by a body of people who slide down it, a sound is emitted.  On the first trial we distinctly heard two loud hollow sounds, such as would be given by a large drum;"—"there is an echo in the place; and the inhabitants have a belief that the sounds are only heard on Friday, when the saint of Reg-Rawan, who is interred hard by, permits."  The phenomenon, like the resembling one in Arabia, seems to have attracted attention among the inhabitants of the country at an early period; and the notice of an eastern annalist, the Emperor Baber, who flourished late in the fifteenth century, and, like Cæsar, conquered and recorded his conquests, still survives.  He describes it as the Khwaja Reg-Rawan, "a small hill, in which there is a line of sandy ground reaching from the top to the bottom," from which there "issues in the summer season the sound of drums and nagarets."  In connection with the fact that the musical sand of Eigg is composed of a disintegrated sandstone of the Oolite, it is not quite unworthy of notice that sandstone and lime enter into the composition of the hill of Reg-Rawan,—that the district in which the hill is situated is not a sandy one,—and that its slope of sonorous sand seems as if it had issued from its side.  These various circumstances, taken together, lead to the inference that the sand may have originated in the decomposition of the rock beneath.  It is further noticeable, that the Jabel Nakous is composed of a white friable sandstone, resembling that of the white friable bed of the Bay of Laig, and that it belongs to nearly the same geological era.  I owe to the kindness of Dr Wilson of Bombay, two specimens which he picked up in Arabia Petræa, of spines of Cidarites of the mace-formed type so common in the Chalk and Oolite, but so rare in the older formations.  Dr Wilson informs me that they are of frequent occurrence in the desert of Arabia Petræa, where they are termed by the Arabs petrified olives; that nummulites are also abundant in the district; and that the various secondary rocks he examined in his route through it seem to belong to the Cretaceous group.  It appears not improbable, therefore, that all the sonorous sand in the world yet discovered is formed, like that of Eigg, of disintegrated sandstone; and at least two-thirds of it of the disintegrated sandstone of secondary formations, newer than the Lias.  But how it should be at all sonorous, what ever its age or origin, seems yet to be discovered.  There are few substances that appear worse suited than sand to communicate to the atmosphere those vibratory undulations that are the producing causes of sound: the grains, even when sonorous individually, seem, from their inevitable contact with each other, to exist under the influence of that simple law in acoustics which arrests the tones of the ringing glass or struck bell, immediately as they are but touched by some foreign body, such as the hand or finger.  The one grain, ever in contact with several other grains, is a glass or bell on which the hand always rest.  And the difficulty has been felt and acknowledged. Sir John Herschel, in referring to the phenomenon of the Jabel Nakous, in his "Treatise on Sound," in the "Encyclopædia Metropolitana," describes it as to him "utterly inexplicable;" and Sir David Brewster, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in December last, assured me it was not less a puzzle to him than to Sir John.  An eastern traveller, who attributes its production to "a reduplication of impulse setting air in vibration in a focus of echo," means, I suppose, saying nearly the same thing as the two philosophers, and merely conveys his meaning in a less simple style.

    I have not yet procured what I expect to procure soon,—sand enough from the musical bay at Laig to enable me to make its sonorous qualities the subject of experiment at home.  It seems doubtful whether a small quantity set in motion on an artificial slope will serve to evolve the phenomena which have rendered the Mountain of the Bell so famous.  Lieutenant Welsted informs us, that when his Bedouin first set the sand in motion, there was scarce any perceptible sound heard —it was rolling downwards for many yards around him to the depth of a foot, ere the music arose; and it is questionable whether the effect could be elicited with some fifty or sixty pounds weight of the sand of Eigg, on a slope of but at most a few feet, which it took many hundredweight of the sand of Jabel Nakous, and a slope of many yards, to produce.  But in the stillness of a close room, it is just possible that it may.*  I have, however, little doubt, that from small quantities the sounds evoked by the foot on the shore may be reproduced: enough will lie within the reach of experiment to demonstrate the strange difference which exists between this sonorous sand of the Oolite, and the common unsonorous sand of our sea-beaches; and it is certainly worth while examining into the nature and producing causes of a phenomenon so curious in itself, and which has been characterized by one of the most distinguished of living philosophers as "the most celebrated of all the acoustic wonders which the natural world presents to us."  In the forthcoming number of the "North British Review,"—which appears on Monday first,*—the reader will find the sonorous sand of Eigg referred to, in an article the authorship of which will scarce be mistaken.  "We have here," says the writer, after first describing the sounds of Jabel Nakous, and then referring to those of Eigg, "the phenomenon in its simple state, disembarrassed from reflecting rocks, from a hard bed beneath, and from Cracks and cavities that might be supposed to admit the sand; and indicating as its cause, either the accumulated vibrations of the air when struck by the driven sand, or the accumulated sounds occasioned by the mutual impact of the particles of sand against each other.  If a musket-ball passing through the air emits a whistling note, each individual particle of sand must do the same, however faint be the note which it yields; and the accumulation of these infinitesimal vibrations must constitute an audible sound; varying with the number and velocity of the moving particles.  In like manner, if two plates of silex or quartz, which are but large crystals of sand, give out a musical sound when mutually struck, the impact or collision of two minute crystals or particles of sand must do the same, in however inferior a degree; and the union of all these sounds, though singly imperceptible, may constitute the musical notes of the Bell Mountain, or the lesser sounds of the trodden sea-beach at Eigg."

    Here is a vigorous effort made to unlock the difficulty.  I should, however, have mentioned to the philosophic writer,—what I inadvertently failed to do,—that the sounds elicited from the sand of Eigg seem as directly evoked by the slant blow dealt it by the foot, as the sounds similarly evoked from a highly waxed floor, or a board strewed over with ground rosin.  The sharp shrill note follows the stroke, altogether independently of the grains driven into the air.  My omission may serve to show how much safer it is for those minds of the observant order, that serve as hands and eyes to the reflective ones, to prefer incurring the risk of being even tediously minute in their descriptions, to the danger of being inadequately brief in them.  But, alas! for purposes of exact science, rarely are verbal descriptions other than inadequate.  Let us just look, for example, at the various accounts given us of Jubel Nakous.  There are strange sounds heard proceeding from a hill in Arabia, and various travellers set themselves to describe them.  The tones are those of the convent Nakous, says the wild Arab;—there must be a convent buried under the hill.  More like the sounds of a humming top, remarks a phlegmatic German traveller.  Not quite like them, says an English one in an Oxford gown; they resemble rather the striking of a clock.  Nay, listen just a little longer and more carefully, says a second Englishman, with epaulettes on his shoulder: "the sounds at their commencement may be compared to the faint strains of an Æolian harp when its strings first catch the breeze," but anon, as the agitation of the sand increases, they "more nearly resemble those produced by drawing the moistened fingers over glass."  Not at all, exclaims the warlike Zahor Ed-Din Muhammad Baber, twirling his whiskers: "I know a similar hill in the country towards Hindu-kush: it is the sound of drums and nagarets that issues from the sand."  All we really know of this often-described music of the desert, after reading all the descriptions, is, that its tones bear certain analogies to certain other tones,—analogies that seem stronger in one direction to one ear, and stronger in another direction to an ear differently, constituted, but which do not exactly resemble any other sounds in nature.  The strange music of Jubel Nakous, as a combination of tones, is essentially unique.

* March 31, 1845.


 
CHAPTER V.


WE leave behind us the musical sand, and reach the point of the promontory which forms the northern extremity of the Bay of Laig.  Wherever the beach has been swept bare, we see it floored with trap-dykes worn down to the level, but in most places accumulations of huge blocks of various composition cover it up, concealing the nature of the rock beneath.  The long semicircular wall of precipice which, sweeping inwards at the bottom of the bay, leaves to the inhabitants between its base and the beach their fertile meniscus of land, here abuts upon the coast.  We see its dark forehead many hundred feet overhead, and the grassy platform beneath, now narrowed to a mere talus, sweeping upwards to its base from the shore,—steep, broken, lined thick with horizontal pathways, mottled over with ponderous masses of rock.

    Among the blocks that load the beach, and render our onward progress difficult and laborious, we detect occasional fragments of an amygdaloidal basalt, charged with a white zeolite, consisting of crystals so extremely slender, that the balls, with their light fibrous contents, remind us of cotton apples divested of the seeds.  There occur, though more rarely, masses of a hard white sandstone, abounding in vegetable impressions, which, from their sculptured markings, recall to memory the Sigilaria of the Coal Measures.  Here and there, too, we find fragments of a calcareous stone, so largely charged with compressed shells, chiefly bivalves, that it may be regarded as a shell breccia.  There occur, besides, slabs of fibrous limestone, exactly resembling the limestone of the ichthyolite beds of the Lower Old Red; and blocks of a hard gray stone, of silky lustre in the fresh fracture, thickly speckled with carbonaceous markings.  These fragmentary masses,—all of them, at least, except the fibrous limestone, which occurs in mere plank-like bands,—represent distinct beds, of which this part of the island is composed, and which present their edges, like courses of ashlar in a building, in the splendid section that stretches from the tall brow of the precipice to the beach; though in the slopes of the talus, where the lower beds appear in but occasional protrusions and landslips, we find some difficulty in tracing their order of succession.

    Near the base of the slope, where the soil has been undermined and the rock laid bare by the waves, there occur beds of a bituminous black shale,—resembling the dark shales so common in the Coal Measures,—that seem to be of freshwater or estuary origin.  Their fossils, though numerous, are ill preserved; but we detect in them scales and plates of fishes, at least two species of minute bivalves, one of which very much resembles a Cyclas; and in some of the fragments, shells of Cypris lie embedded in considerable abundance.  After all that has been said and written by way of accounting for those alternations of lacustrine with marine remains which are of such frequent occurrence in the various formations, secondary and tertiary, from the Coal Measures downwards, it does seem strange enough that the estuary, or fresh-water lake, should so often in the old geologic periods have changed places with the sea.  It is comparatively easy to conceive that the inner Hebrides should have once existed as a broad ocean-sound, bounded on one or either side by Oolitic islands, from which streams descended, sweeping with them, to the marine depths, productions, animal and vegetable, of the land.  But it is less easy to conceive, that in that sound, the area covered by the ocean one year should have been covered by a fresh-water lake in perhaps the next, and then by the ocean again a few years after.  And yet among the Oolitic deposits of the Hebrides evidence seems to exist that changes of this nature actually took place.  I am not inclined to found much on the apparently fresh-water character of the bituminous shales of Eigg —the embedded fossils are all too obscure to be admitted in evidence: but there can exist no doubt, that fresh-water, or at least estuary formations, do occur among the marine Oolites of the Hebrides.  Sir R. Murchison, one of the most cautious, as he is certainly one of the most distinguished, of living geologists, found in a northern district of Skye, in 1826, a deposit containing Cyclas, Paludina, Neritina,—all shells of unequivocally fresh-water origin,—which must have been formed, he concludes, in either a lake or estuary.  What had been sea at one period had been estuary or lake at another.  In every case, however, in which these intercalated deposits are restricted to single strata of no great thickness, it is perhaps safer to refer their formation to the agency of temporary land-floods, than to that of violent changes of level,—now elevating and now depressing the surface.  There occur, for instance, among the marine Oolites of Brora,—the discovery of Mr Robertson of Inverugie,—two strata containing fresh-water fossils in abundance; but the one stratum is little more than an inch in thickness,—the other little more than a foot; and it seems considerably more probable, that such deposits should have owed their existence to extraordinary land-floods, like those which in 1829 devastated the province of Moray, and covered over whole miles of marine beach with the spoils of land and river, than that a sea-bottom should have been elevated, for their production, into a fresh water lake, and then let down into a sea-bottom again.  We find it recorded in the "Shepherd's Calendar," that after the thaw which followed the great snow-storm of 1794, there were found on a part of the sands of the Solway Frith known as the Beds of Esk, where the tide disgorges much of what is thrown into it by the rivers, "one thousand eight hundred and forty sheep, nine black cattle, three horses, two men, one woman, forty-five dogs, and one hundred and eighty hares, besides a number of meaner animals."  A similar storm in an earlier time, with a soft sea-bottom prepared to receive and retain its spoils, would have formed a fresh-water stratum intercalated in a marine deposit.

    Rounding the promontory, we lose sight of the Bay of Laig, and find the narrow front of the island that now presents itself exhibiting the appearance of a huge bastion.  The green talus slopes upwards, as its basement, for full three hundred feet; and a noble wall of perpendicular rock, that towers over and beyond for at least four hundred feet more, forms the rampart.  Save towards the sea, the view is of but limited extent: we see it restricted, on the landward side, to the bold face of the bastion; and in a narrow and broken dell that runs nearly parallel to the shore for a few hundred yards between the top of the talus and the base of the rampart,—a true covered way,—we see but the rampart alone.  But the dizzy front of black basalt, dark as night, save where a broad belt of light-coloured sandstone traverses it in an angular direction, like a white sash thrown across a funeral robe,—the fantastic peaks and turrets in which the rock terminates atop,—the masses of broken ruins, roughened with moss and lichen, that have fallen from above, and lie scattered at its base,—the extreme loneliness of the place, for we have left behind us every trace of the human family,—and the expanse of solitary sea which it commands,—all conspire to render the scene a profoundly imposing one.  It is one of those scenes in which man feels that he is little, and that nature is great.  There is no precipice in the island in which the puffin so delights to build as among the dark pinnacles overhead, or around which the silence is so frequently broken by the harsh scream of the eagle.  The sun had got far adown the sky ere we had reached the covered way at the base of the rock.  All lay dark below; and the red light atop, half-absorbed by the dingy hues of the stone, shone with a gleam so faint and melancholy, that it served but to deepen the effect of the shadows.

    The puffin, a comparatively rare bird in the inner Hebrides, builds, I was told, in great numbers in the continuous line of precipice which, after sweeping for a full mile round the Bay of Laig, forms the pinnacled rampart here, and then, turning another angle of the island, runs on parallel to the coast for about six miles more.  In former times the puffin furnished the islanders, as in St Kilda, with a staple article of food, in those hungry months of summer in which the stores of the old crop had begun to fail, and the new crop had not yet ripened; and the people of Eigg, taught by their necessities, were bold cragsmen.  But men do not peril life and limb for the mere sake of a meal, save when they cannot help it; and the introduction of the potato has done much to put out the practice of climbing for the bird, except among a few young lads, who find excitement enough in the work to pursue it for its own sake, as an amusement.  I found among the islanders what was said to be a piece of the natural history of the puffin, sufficiently apocryphal to remind one of the famous passage in the history of the barnacle, which traced the lineage of the bird to one of the pedunculated cirripedes, and the lineage of the cirripede to a log of wood.  The puffin feeds its young, say the islanders, on an oily scum of the sea, which renders it such an unwieldy mass of fat, that about the time when it should be beginning to fly, it becomes unable to get out of its hole.  The parent bird, not in the least puzzled, however, treats the case medicinally, and,—like mothers of another two-legged genus, who, when their daughters get over-stout, put them through a course of reducing acids to bring them down,—feeds it on sorrel-leaves for several days together, till, like a boxer under training, it gets thinned to the proper weight, and becomes able not only to get out of its cell, but also to employ its wings.

    We pass through the hollow, and, reaching the farther edge of the bastion, towards the east, see a new range of prospect opening before us.  There is first a long unbroken wall of precipice,—a continuation of the tall rampart overhead,—relieved along its irregular upper line by the blue sky.  We mark the talus widening at its base, and expanding, as on the shores of the Bay of Laig, into an irregular grassy platform, that, sinking midway into a ditch-like hollow, rises again towards the sea, and presents to the waves a perpendicular precipice of red stone.  The sinking sun shone brightly this evening; and the warm hues of the precipice, which bears the name of Ru-Stoir,—the Red Head,—strikingly contrasted with the pale and dark tints of the alternating basalts and sandstones in the taller cliff behind.  The ditch-like hollow, which seems to indicate the line of a fault, cuts off this red headland from all the other rocks of the island, from which it appears to differ as considerably in texture as in hue.  It consists mainly of thick beds of a pale red stone, which M'Culloch regarded as a trap, and which, intercalated with here and there a thin band of shale, and presenting not a few of the mineralogical appearances of what geologists of the school of the late Mr Cunningham term Primary Old Red Sandstone, in some cases has been laid down as a deposit of Old Red proper, abutting in the line of a fault on the neighbouring Oolites and basalts.  In the geological map which I carried with me,—not one of high authority, however,—I found it actually coloured as a patch of this ancient system The Old Red Sandstone is largely developed in the neighbouring island of Rum, in the line of which the Ru-Stoir seems to have a more direct bearing than any of the other deposits of Eigg; and yet the conclusion regarding this red headland merely adds one proof more to the many furnished already, of the inadequacy of mineralogical testimony, when taken in evidence regarding the eras of the geologist.  The hard red beds of Ru-Stoir belong, as I was fortunate enough this evening to ascertain, not to the ages of the Coccosteus and Pterichthys, but to the far later ages of the Plesiosaurus and the fossil crocodile.  I found them associated with more reptilian remains, of a character more unequivocal, than have been yet exhibited by any other deposit in Scotland.

    What first strikes the eye, in approaching the Ru-Stoir from the west, is the columnar character of the stone.  The precipices rise immediately over the sea, in rude colonnades of from thirty to fifty feet in height; single pillars, that have fallen from their places in the line, and exhibit a tenacity rare among the trap-rocks,—for they occur in unbroken lengths of from ten to twelve feet,—lie scattered below; and in several places where the waves have joined issue with the precipices in the line on which the base of the columns rest, and swept away the supporting foundation, the colonnades open into roomy caverns, that resound to the dash of the sea.  Wherever the spray lashes, the pale red hue of the stone prevails, and the angles of the polygonal shafts are rounded; while higher up all is sharp-edged, and the unweathered surface is covered by a gray coat of lichens.  The tenacity of the prostrate columns first drew my attention.  The builder scant of materials would have experienced no difficulty in finding among them sufficient lintels for apertures from eight to twelve feet in width.  I was next struck with the peculiar composition of the stone: it much rather resembles an altered sandstone, in at least the weathered specimens, than a trap, and yet there seemed nothing to indicate that it was an Old Red Sandstone.  Its columnar structure bore evidence to the action of great heat; and its pale red colour was exactly that which the Oolitic sandstones of the island, with their slight ochreous tinge, would assume in a common fire.  And so I set myself to look for fossils.  In the columnar stone itself I expected none, as none occur in vast beds of the unaltered sandstones, out of some one of which I supposed it might possibly have been formed; and none I found: but in a rolled block of altered shale of a much deeper red than the general mass, and much more resembling Old Red Sandstone, I succeeded in detecting several shells, identical with those of the deposit of blue clay described in a former chapter.  There occurred in it the small univalve resembling a Trochus, together with the oblong bivalve, somewhat like a Tellina; and, spread thickly throughout the block, lay fragments of coprolitic matter, and the scales and teeth of fishes.  Night was coming on, and the tide had risen on the beach; but I hammered lustily, and laid open in the dark red shale a vertebral joint, a rib, and a parallelogramical fragment of solid bone, none of which could have belonged to any fish.  It was an interesting moment for the curtain to drop over the promontory of Ru-Stoir: I had thus already found in connection with it well nigh as many reptilian remains as had been found in all Scotland before,—for there could exist no doubt that the bones I laid open were such; and still more interesting discoveries promised to await the coming morning and a less hasty survey.  We found a hospitable meal awaiting us at a picturesque old two-storey house, with, what is rare in the island, a clump of trees beside it, which rises on the northern angle of the Oolitic meniscus; and after our day's s hard work in the fresh sea-air, we did ample justice to the viands.  Dark night had long set in ere we reached our vessel.

    Next day was Saturday; and it behoved my friend the minister,—as scrupulously careful in his pulpit preparations for the islanders of Eigg as if his congregation were an Edinburgh one,—to remain on board, and study his discourse for the morrow.  I found, however, no unmeet companion for my excursion in his trusty mate John Stewart.  John had not very much English, and I had no Gaelic; but we contrived to understand one another wonderfully well; and ere evening I had taught him to be quite as expert in hunting dead crocodiles as myself.  We reached the Ru-Stoir, and set hard to work with hammer and chisel.  The fragments of red shale were strewed thickly along the shore for at least three quarters of a mile;—wherever the red columnar rock appeared, there lay the shale, in water-worn blocks, more or less indurated; but the beach was covered over with shingle and detached masses of rock, and we could nowhere find it in situ.  A winter storm powerful enough to wash the beach bare might do much to assist the explorer.  There is a piece of shore on the eastern coast of Scotland, on which for years together I used to pick up nodular masses of lime containing fish of the Old Red Sandstone; but nowhere in the neighbourhood could I find the ichthyolite bed in which they had originally formed.  The storm of a single night swept the beach; and in the morning the ichthyolites lay revealed in situ under a stratum of shingle which I had a hundred times examined, but which, though scarce a foot in thickness, had concealed from me the ichthyolite bed for five twelvemonths together!

    Wherever the altered shale of Ru-Stoir has been thrown on the beach, and exposed to the influences of the weather, we find it fretted over with minute organisms, mostly the scales, plates, bones, and teeth of fishes.  The organisms, as is frequently the case, seem indestructible, while the hard matrix in which they are embedded has weathered from around them.  Some of the scales present the rhomboidal outline, and closely resemble those of the Lepidotus Minor of the Weald; others approximate in shape to an isosceles triangle.  The teeth are of various forms: some of them, evidently palatal, are mere blunted protuberances glittering with enamel—some of them present the usual slim, thorn-like type common in the teeth of the existing fish of our coasts,—some again are squat and angular, and rest on rectilinear bases, prolonged considerably on each side of the body of the tooth, like the rim of a hat or the flat head of a scupper nail.  Of the occipital plates, some present a smooth enamelled surface, while some are thickly tuberculated,—each tubercle bearing a minute depression in its apex, like a crater on the summit of a rounded hill.  We find reptilian bones in abundance,—a thing new to Scotch geology,—and in a state of keeping peculiarly fine.  They not a little puzzled John Stewart: he could not resist the evidence of his senses: they were bones, he said, real bones,—there could be no doubt of that: there were the joints of a back-bone, with the hole the brain-marrow had passed through; and there were shankbones and ribs, and fishes' teeth; but how, he wondered, had they all got into the very heart of the hard red stones?  He had seen what was called wood, he said, dug out of the side of the Scuir, without being quite certain whether it was wood or no; but there could be no uncertainty here.  I laid open numerous vertebræ of various forms,—some with long spinous processes rising over the body or centrum of the bone,—which I found in every instance, unlike that of the Ichthyosaurus, only moderately concave on the articulating faces; in others the spinous process seemed altogether wanting.  Only two of the number bore any mark of the suture which unites, in most reptiles, the annular process to the centrum; in the others both centrum and process seemed anchylosed, as in quadrupeds, into one bone; and there remained no scar to show that the suture had ever existed.  In some specimens the ribs seem to have been articulated to the sides of the centrum; in others there is a transverse process, but no marks of articulation.  Some of the vertebræ are evidently dorsal, some cervical, one apparently caudal; and almost all agree in showing in front two little eyelets, to which the great descending artery seems to have sent out blood-vessels in pairs.  The more entire ribs I was lucky enough to disinter as in those of crocodileans, double heads; and a part of a fibula, about four inches in length, seems also to belong to this ancient family.  A large proportion of the other bones are evidently Plesiosaurian.  I found the head of the flat humerus so characteristic of the extinct order to which the Plesiosaurus has been assigned, and two digital bones of the paddle, that, from their comparatively slender and slightly curved form, so unlike the digitals of its cogener the Ichthyosaurus, could have belonged evidently to no other reptile.  I observed, too, in the slightly-curved articulations of not a few of the vertebræ, the gentle convexity in the concave centre, which, if not peculiar to the Plesiosaurus, is at least held to distinguish it from most of its contemporaries.  Among the various nondescript organisms of the shale, I laid open a smooth angular bone, hollowed something like a grocer's scoop; a three-pronged caltrop-looking bone, that seems to have formed part of a pelvic arch; another angular bone, much massier than the first, regarding the probable position of which I could not form a conjecture, but which some of my geological friends deem cerebral; an extremely dense bone, imperfect at each end, which presents the appearance of a cylinder slightly flattened; and various curious fragments, which, with what flattened our scotch museums have not acquired,—entire reptilian fossils for the purposes of comparison,—might, I doubt not, be easily assigned to their proper places.  It was in vain that, leaving John to collect the scattered pieces of shale in which the bones occurred, I set myself again and again to discover the bed from which they had been detached.  The tide had fallen; and a range of skerries lay temptingly off, scarce a hundred yards from the water's edge: the shale-beds might be among them, with Plesiosauri and crocodiles stretching entire; and fain would I have swam off to them, as I had done oftener than once elsewhere, with my hammer in my teeth, and with shirt and drawers in my hat; but a tall brown forest of kelp and tangle, in which even a seal might drown, rose thick and perilous round both shore and skerries; a slight swell was felting the long fronds together; and I deemed it better, on the whole, that the discoveries I had already made should be recorded, than that they should be lost to geology, mayhap for a whole age, in the attempt to extend them.

    The water, beautifully transparent, permitted the eye to penetrate into its green depths for many fathoms around, though every object presented, through the agitated surface, an uncertain and fluctuating outline.  I could see, however, the pink-coloured urchin warping himself up, by his many cables, along the steep rock-sides; the green crab stalking along the gravelly bottom; a scull of small rock-cod darting hither and thither among the tangle-roots; and a few large medusæ slowly flapping their continuous fins of gelatine in the opener spaces, a few inches under the surface.  Many carious families had their representatives within the patch of sea which the eye commanded; but the strange creatures that had once inhabited it by thousands, and whose bones still lay sepulchred on its shores, had none.  How strange, that the identical sea heaving around stack and skerry in this remote corner of the Hebrides should have once been thronged by reptile shapes more strange than poet ever imagined,—dragons, gorgons, and chimeras!  Perhaps of all the extinct reptiles, the Plesiosaurus was the most extraordinary.  An English geologist has described it, grotesquely enough, and yet in most happily, as a snake threaded through a tortoise.  And here, on this very spot, must these monstrous dragons have disported and fed; here must they have raised their little reptile heads and long swan-like necks over the surface, to watch an antagonist or select a victim; here must they have warred and wedded, and pursued all the various instincts of their unknown natures.  A strange story, surely, considering it is a true one!  I may mention in the passing, that some of the fragments of the shale in which the remains are embedded have been baked by the intense heat into an exceedingly hard, dark-coloured stone, somewhat resembling basalt.  I must add further, that I by no means determine the rock with sand which we find it associated to be in reality an altered sandstone.  Such is the appearance which it presents where weathered; but its general aspect is that of a porphyritic trap.  Be it what it may, the fact is not at all affected, that the shores, wherever it occurs on this tract of insular coast, are strewed with reptilian remains of the Oolite.
 

Plesiosaurus


    The day passed pleasantly in the work of exploration and discovery; the sun had already declined far in the West; and, bearing with us our better fossils, we set out, on our return, by the opposite route to that along the Bay of Laig, which we had now thrice walked over.  The grassy talus so often mentioned continues to run on the eastern side of the island for about six miles, between the sea and the inaccessible rampart of precipice behind.  It varies in breadth from about two to four hundred yards; the rampart rises over it from three to five hundred feet; and a noble expanse of sea, closed in the distance by a still nobler curtain of blue hills, spreads away from its base: and it was along this grassy talus that homeward road lay.  Let the Edinburgh reader imagine the fine walk under Salisbury Crags lengthened some twenty times,—the line of precipices above heightened some five or six times,—the gravelly slope at the base not much increased in altitude, but developed transversely into a green undulating belt of hilly pasture, with here and there a sunny slope level enough for the plough, and here and there a rough wilderness of detached crags and broken banks; let him further imagine the sea sweeping around the base of this talus, with the nearest opposite land—bold, bare, and undulating atop—some six or eight miles distant; and he will have no very inadequate idea of the peculiar and striking scenery through which, this evening, our homeward route lay.  I have scarce ever walked over a more solitary tract.  The sea shuts it in on the one hand, and the rampart of rocks on the other; there occurs along its entire length no other human dwelling than a lonely summer shieling; for full one-half the way we saw no trace of man; and the wildness of the few cattle which we occasionally startled in the hollows showed us that man was no very frequent visitor among them.  About half an hour before sunset we reached the midway shieling.

    Rarely have I seen a more interesting spot, or one that, from its utter loneliness, so impressed the imagination.  The shieling, a rude low-roofed erection of turf and stone, with a door in the centre some five feet in height or so, but with no window, rose on the grassy slope immediately in front of the vast continuous rampart.  A slim pillar of smoke ascends from the roof, in the calm, faint and blue within the shadow of the precipice, but it caught the sun-light in its ascent, and blushed, ere it melted into the ether, a ruddy brown.  A streamlet came pouring from above in a long white thread, that maintained its continuity unbroken for at least two-thirds of the way; and then, untwisting into a shower of detached drops, that pattered loud and vehemently in a rocky recess, it again gathered itself up into a lively little stream, and, sweeping past the shieling, expanded in front into a circular pond, at which a few milch cows were leisurely slaking their thirst.  The whole grassy talus, with a strip, mayhap a hundred yards wide, of deep green sea, lay within the shadow of the tall rampart; but the red light fell, for many a mile beyond, on the glassy surface; and the distant Cuchullin Rills, so dark at other times, had all their prominent slopes and jutting precipices tipped with bronze; while here and there a mist streak, converted into bright flame, stretched along their peaks, or rested on their sides.  Save the lonely shieling, not a human dwelling was in sight.  An island girl of eighteen, more than merely good-looking, though much embrowned by the sun, had come to the door to see who the unwonted visitors might be, and recognised in John Stewart an old acquaintance.  John informed her in her own language that I was Mr Swanson's sworn friend, and not a Moderate, but one of their own people, and that I had fasted all day, and had come for a drink of milk.  The name of her minister proved a strongly recommendatory one: I have not yet seen the true Celtic interjection of welcome,—the kindly "O o o,"—attempted on paper; but I had a very agreeable specimen of it on this occasion, viva voce.  And as she set herself to prepare for us a rich bowl of mingled milk and cream, John and I entered the shieling.  There was a turf fire at the one end, at which there sat two little girls, engaged in keeping up the blaze under a large pot, but sadly diverted from their work by our entrance; while the other end was occupied by a bed of dry straw, spread on the floor from wall to wall, and fenced off at the foot by a line of stones.  The middle space was occupied by the utensils and produce of the dairy,—flat wooden vessels of milk, a butter churn, and a tub half-filled with curd; while a few cheeses, soft from the press, lay on a shelf above.  The little girls were but occasional visitors, who had come out of a juvenile frolic, to pass the night in the place; but I was informed by John that the shieling had two other inmates, young women, like the one so hospitably engaged in our behalf, who were out at the milking, and that they lived here all alone for several months every year, when the pasturage was at its best, employed in making butter and cheese for their master, worthy Mr M'Donald of Keill.  They must often feel lonely when night has closed darkly over mountain and sea, or in those dreary days of mist and rain so common in the Hebrides, when nought may be seen save the few shapeless crags that stud the nearer hillocks around them, and nought heard save the moaning of the wind in the precipices above, or the measured dash of the wave on the wild beach below.  And yet they would do ill to exchange their solitary life and rude shieling for the village dwellings and gregarious habits of the females who ply their rural labours in bands among the rich fields of the Lowlands, or for the unwholesome back-room and weary task-work of the city seamstress.  The sun-light was fading from the higher hill-tops of Skye and Glenelg, as we bade farewell to the lonely shieling and the hospitable island girl.

    The evening deepened as we hurried southwards along the scarce visible pathway, or paused for a few seconds to examine some shattered block, bulky as a Highland cottage, that had fallen from the precipice above.  Now that the whole landscape lay equally in shadow, one of the more picturesque peculiarities of the continuous rampart came out more strongly as a feature of the scene than when a strip of shade rested along the face of the rock, imparting to it a retiring character, and all was sunshine beyond.  A thick bed of white sandstone, as continuous as the rampart itself; runs nearly horizontally about midway in the precipice for mile after mile, and, standing out in strong contrast with the dark-coloured trap above and below, reminds one of a belt of white hewn work in a basalt house-front, or rather—for there occurs above a second continuous strip, of an olive hue, the colour assumed, on weathering, by a bed of amygdaloid—of a piece of dingy old-fashioned furniture, inlaid with one stringed belt of bleached holly, and another of faded green-wood.  At some of the more accessible points I climbed to the line of white belting, and found it to consist of the same soft quartzy sandstone that in the Bay of Laig furnishes the musical sand.  Lower down there occur, alternating with the trap, beds of shale and of blue clay, but they are lost mostly in the talus. Ill adapted to resist the frosts and rains of winter, their exposed edges have mouldered into a loose soil, now thickly covered over with herbage; and, but for the circumstance that we occasionally find them laid bare by a water-course, we would scarce be aware of their existence at all.  The shale exhibits everywhere, as on the opposite side of the Ru-Stoir, faint impressions of a minute shell resembling a Cyclas, and ill-preserved fragments of fish-scales.  The blue clay I found at one spot where the pathway had cut deep into the hill-side, richly charged with bivalves of the species I had seen so abundant in the resembling clay of the Bay of Laig; but the closing twilight prevented me from ascertaining whether it also contained the characteristic univalves of the deposit, and whether its shells,—for they seem identical with those of the altered shales of the Ru-Stoir,—might not be associated, like these, with reptilian remains.  Night fell fast, and the streaks of mist that had mottled the hills at sunset began to spread gray over the heavens in a continuous curtain; but there was light enough left to show me that the trap became more columnar as we neared our journey's end.  One especial jutting in the rock presented in the gloom the appearance of an ancient portico, with pediment and cornice, such as the traveller sees on the hill-sides of Petræa in front of some old tomb but it may possibly appear less architectural by day.  At length, passing from under the long line of rampart, just as the stars that had begun to twinkle over it were disappearing, one after one, in the thickening vapour, we reached the little bay of Kildonan, and found the boat waiting us on the beach.  My friend the minister, as I entered the cabin, gathered up his notes from the table, and gave orders for the tea-kettle; and I spread out before him—a happy man—an array of fossils new to Scotch Geology.  No one not an enthusiastic geologist or a zealous Roman Catholic can really know how vast an amount of interest may attach to a few old bones. Has the reader ever heard how fossil relics once saved the dwelling of a monk, in a time of great general calamity, when all his other relics proved of no avail whatever?

    Thomas Campbell, when asked for a toast in a society of authors, gave the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte; significantly adding, "he once hung a bookseller."  On a nearly similar principle I would be disposed to propose among geologists a grateful bumper in honour of the revolutionary army that besieged Maestricht.  That city, some seventy-five or eighty years ago, had its zealous naturalist in the person of M. Hoffmann, a diligent excavator in the quarries of St Peter's mountain, long celebrated for its extraordinary fossils.  Geology, as a science, had no existence at the time; but Hoffmann was doing, in a quiet way, all he could to give it a beginning —he was transferring from the rock to his cabinet, shells, and corals, and crustacea, and the teeth and scales of fishes, with now and then the vertebræ, and now and then the limb-bone, of a reptile.  And as he honestly remunerated all the workmen he employed, and did no manner of harm to any one, no one heeded him.  On one eventful morning, however, his friends the quarriers laid bare a most extraordinary fossil,—the occipital plates of an enormous saurian, with jaws four and a half feet long, bristling over with teeth, like chevaux de frise; and after Hoffmann, who got the block in which it lay embedded, out entire, and transferred to his house, had spent week after week in painfully relieving it from the mass, all Maestricht began to speak of it as something really wonderful.  There is a cathedral on St Peter's mountain,—the mountain itself is church-land; and the lazy canon, awakened by the general talk, laid claim to poor Hoffmann's wonderful fossil as his property.  He was lord of the manor, he said, and the mountain and all that it contained belonged to him.  Hoffmann defended his fossil as he best could in an expensive lawsuit; but the judges found the law clean against him; the huge reptile head was declared to be "treasure trove" escheat to the lord of the manor; and Hoffmann, half broken-hearted, with but his labour and the lawyer's bills for his pains, saw it transferred by rude hands from its place in his museum, to the residence of the grasping churchman.  The huge fossil head experienced the fate of Dr Chalmers' two hundred churches.  Hoffmann was a philosopher, however, and he continued to observe and collect as before; but he never found such another fossil; and at length, in the midst of his ingenious labours, the vital energies failed within him, and he broke down and died.  The useless canon lived on.  The French Revolution broke out; the republican army invested Maestricht; the batteries were opened; and shot and shell fell thick on the devoted city.  But in one especial quarter there alighted neither shot nor shell.  All was safe around the canon's house.  Ordinary relics would have availed him nothing in the circumstances,—no, not "the three kings of Cologne," had he possessed the three kings entire, or the jaw-bones of the "eleven thousand virgins;" but there was virtue in the jaw-bones of the Mosasaurus, and safety in their neighbourhood.  The French savans, like all the other savans of Europe, had heard of Hoffmann's fossil, and the French artillery had been directed to play wide of the place where it lay.  Maestricht surrendered; the fossil was found secreted in a vault, and sent away to the Jardin des Plantes at Paris, maugre the canon, to delight there the heart of Cuvier; and the French, generously addressing themselves to the heirs of Hoffmann as its legitimate owners, made over to them a considerable sum of money as its price.  They reversed the finding of the Maestricht judges; and all save the monks of St Peter's have acquiesced in the justice of the decision.

Ichthyosaurus

Holoptychius


 
CHAPTER VI.


I RECKON among my readers a class of non-geologists, who think my geological chapters would be less dull if I left out the geology; and another class of semi-geologists, who say there was decidedly too much geology in my last.  With the present chapter, as there threatens to be an utter lack of science in the earlier half of it, and very little, if any, in the latter half, I trust both classes may be in some degree satisfied.  It will bear reference to but the existing system of things,—assuredly not the last of the consecutive creations,—and to a species of animal that, save in the celebrated Guadaloupe specimens, has not yet been found locked up in stone.  There have been much of violence and suffering in the old immature stages of being,—much, from the era of the Holoptychius, with its sharp murderous teeth and strong armour of bone, down to that of the cannibal Ichthyosaurus, that bears the broken remains of its own kind in its bowels,—much, again, from the times of the crocodile of the Oolite, down to the times of the fossil hyena and gigantic shark of the Tertiary.  Nor, I fear, have matters greatly improved in that latest-born creation in the series, that recognises as its delegated lord the first tenant of earth accountable to his Maker.  But there is a better and a last creation coming, in which man shall re-appear, not to oppress and devour his fellow-men, and in which there shall be no such wrongs perpetrated as it is my present purpose to record,—"new heavens and anew earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."  Well sung the Ayrshire ploughman, when musing on the great truth that the present scene of being "is surely not the last,"—a truth corroborated since his day by the analogies of a new science,—


The poor, oppressed, honest man,
    Had never sure been born,
Had not there been some recompense
    To comfort those that mourn.


    It was Sabbath, but the morning rose like a hypochondriac wrapped up in his night-clothes,—gray in fog, and sad with rain.  The higher grounds of the island lay hid in clouds, far below the level of the central hollow; and our whole prospect from the deck was limited to the nearer slopes, dank, brown, and uninhabited, and to the rough black crags that frown like sentinels over the beach.  Now the rime thickened as the rain pattered more loudly on the deck; and even the nearer stacks and precipices showed as unsolid and spectral in the cloud as moonlight shadows thrown on a ground of vapour; anon it cleared up for a few hundred yards, as the shower lightened; and then there came in view, partially at least, two objects that spoke of man,—a deserted boat-harbour, formed of loosely piled stone, at the upper extremity of a sandy bay; and a roofless dwelling beside it, with two ruinous gables rising over the broken walls.  The entire scene suggested the idea of a land with which man had done for ever;—the vapour-enveloped rocks,—the waste of ebb-uncovered sand,—the deserted harbour,—the ruinous house,—the melancholy rain-fretted tides eddying along the strip of brown tangle in the foreground,—and, dim over all, the thick, slant lines of the beating shower!—I know not that of themselves they would have furnished materials enough for a finished picture in the style of Hogarth's "End of all Things;" but right sure am I that in the hands of Bewick they would have been grouped into a tasteful and poetic vignette.  We set out for church a little after eleven, the minister encased in his ample-skirted storm jacket of oiled canvass, and protected atop by a genuine sou-wester, of which the broad posterior rim sloped half a yard down his back; and I closely wrapped up in my gray maud, which proved, however, a rather indifferent protection against the penetrating powers of a true Hebridean drizzle.  The building in which the congregation meets is a low dingy cottage of turf and stone, situated nearly opposite to the manse windows.  It had been built by my friend, previous to the Disruption, at his own expense, for a Gaelic school, and it now serves as a place of worship for the people.

    We found the congregation already gathered, and that the very bad morning had failed to lessen their numbers.  There were a few of the male parishioners keeping watch at the door, looking wistfully out through the fog and rain for their minister; and at his approach nearly twenty more came issuing from the place,—like carder bees from their nest of dried grass and moss,—to gather round him, and shake him by the hand.  The islanders of Eigg are an active, middle-sized race, with well-developed heads, acute intellects, and singularly warm feelings.  And on this occasion at least there could be no possibility of mistake respecting the feelings with which they regarded their minister.  Rarely have I seen human countenances so eloquently vocal with veneration and love.  The gospel message, which my friend had been the first effectually to bring home to their hearts,—the palpable fact of his sacrifice for the sake of the high principles which he has taught,—his own kindly disposition,—the many services which he has rendered them, for not only has he been the minister, but also the sole medical man, of the Small Isles, and the benefit of his practice they have enjoyed, in every instance, without fee or reward,—his new life of hardship and danger, maintained for their sakes amid sinking health and great privation,—their frequent fears for his safety when stormy nights close over the sea,—and they have seen his little vessel driven from her anchorage, just as the evening has fallen,—all these are circumstances that have concurred in giving him a strong hold on their affections.

    The rude turf-building we found full from end to end, and all a-steam with a particularly wet congregation, some of whom, neither very robust nor young, had travelled in the soaking drizzle from the farther extremities of the island.  And, judging from the serious attention with which they listened to the discourse, they must have deemed it full value for all it cost them.  I have never yet seen a congregation more deeply impressed, or that seemed to follow the preacher more intelligently; and I was quite sure, though ignorant of the language in which my friend addressed them, that he preached to them neither heresy nor nonsense.  There was as little of the reverence of externals in the place as can well be imagined: an uneven earthen floor,—turf-walls on every side, and a turf-roof above,—two little windows of four panes a-piece, adown which the rain-drops were coursing thick and fast,—a pulpit grotesquely rude, that had never employed the bred carpenter,—and a few ranges of seats of undressed deal,—such were the mere materialisms of this lowly church of the people; and yet here, notwithstanding, was the living soul of a Christian community,—understandings convinced of the truth of the gospel, and hearts softened and impressed by its power.

    My friend, at the conclusion of his discourse, gave a brief digest of its contents in English, for the benefit of his one Saxon auditor; and I found, as I had anticipated, that what had so moved the simple islanders was just the old wondrous story, which, though repeated and re-repeated times beyond number, from the days of the apostles till now, continues to be as full of novelty and interest as ever,—"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  The great truths which had affected many of these poor people to tears were exactly those which, during the last eighteen hundred years, have been active in effecting so many moral revolutions in the world, and which must ultimately triumph over all error and all oppression.  On this occasion, as on many others, I had to regret my want of Gaelic.  It was my misfortune to miss being born to this ancient language, by basely a mile of ferry.  I first saw the light on the southern shore of the Frith of Cromarty, where the strait is narrowest, among an old established Lowland community, marked by all the characteristics, physical and mental, of the Lowlanders of the southern districts; whereas, had I been born on the northern shore, I would have been brought up among a Celtic tribe, and Gaelic would have been my earliest language.  Thus distinct was the line between the two races preserved, even after the commencement of the present century.

    In returning to the Betsey during the mid-day interval in the service, we passed the ruinous two-gabled house beside the boat-harbour.  During the incumbency of my friend's predecessor it had been the public-house of the island, and the parish minister was by far its best customer.  He was in the practice of sitting in one of its dingy little rooms, day after day, imbibing whisky and peat-reek; and his favourite boon companion on these occasions was a Roman Catholic tenant who lived on the opposite side of the island, and who, when drinking with the minister, used regularly to fasten his horse beside the door, till at length all the parish came to know that when the horse was standing outside the minister was drinking within.  In course of time, through the natural gravitation operative in such cases, the poor incumbent became utterly scandalous, and was libelled for drunkenness before the General Assembly; but as the island of Eigg lies remote from observation, evidence was difficult to procure; and, had not the infatuated man got senselessly drunk one evening, when in Edinburgh on his trial, and staggered, of all places in the world, into the General Assembly, he would probably have died minister of Eigg.  As the event happened, however, the testimony thus unwittingly furnished in the face of the Court that tried him was deemed conclusive—he was summarily deposed from his office, and my friend succeeded him.  Presbyterianism without the animating life is a poor shrunken thing: it never lies in state when it is dead; for it has no body of fine forms, or trapping of imposing ceremonies, to give it bulk or adornment: without the vitality of evangelism it is nothing; and in this low and abject state my friend found the Presbyterianism of Eigg.  His predecessor had done it only mischief; nor had it been by any means vigorous before.  Rum is one of the four islands of the parish; and all my readers must be familiar with Dr Johnson's celebrated account of the conversion to Protestantism of the people of Rum.  "The inhabitants," says the Doctor, in his "Journey to the Western Islands," "are fifty-eight families, who continued Papists for some time after the laird became a Protestant.  Their adherence to their old religion was strengthened by the countenance of the laird's sister, a zealous Romanist; till one Sunday, as they were going to mass under the conduct of their patroness, Maclean met them on the way, gave one of them a blow on the head with a yellow stick,—I suppose a cane, for which the Earse had no name,—and drove them to the kirk, from which they have never departed.  Since the use of this method of conversion, the inhabitants of Eigg and Canna who continue Papists call the Protestantism of Rum the religion of the yellow stick."  Now, such was the kind of Protestantism that, since the days of Dr Johnson, had also been introduced, I know not by what means, into Eigg.  It had lived on the best possible terms with the Popery of the island; the parish minister had soaked day after day in the public-house with a Roman Catholic boon companion; and when a Papist man married a Protestant woman, the woman, as a matter of course, became Papist also; whereas when it was the man who was a Protestant, and the woman a Papist, the woman remained what she had been.  Roman Catholicism was quite content with terms, actual though not implied, of a kind so decidedly advantageous; and the Roman Catholics used good-humouredly to urge on their neighbours the Protestants, that, as it was palpable they had no religion of any kind, they had better surely come over to them, and have some.  In short, all was harmony between the two Churches.  My friend laboured hard, as a good and honest man ought, to impart to Protestantism in his parish the animating life of the Reformation; and, through the blessing of God, after years of anxious toil, he at length fully succeeded.

    I had got wet, and the day continued bad; and so, instead of returning to the evening sermon, which began at six, I remained alone aboard of the vessel.  The rain ceased in little more than an hour after, and in somewhat more than two hours I got up on deck to see whether the congregation was not dispersing, and if it was not yet time to hang on the kettle for our evening tea.  The unexpected apparition of some one aboard the Free Church yacht startled two ragged boys who were manoeuvring a little boat a stonecast away, under the rocky shores of Eilean Cleaisteil, and who, on catching a glimpse of me, flung themselves below the thwarts for concealment.  An oar dropped into the water; there was a hasty arm and half a head thrust over the gunwale to secure it; and then the urchin to whom they belonged again disappeared.  Meanwhile the boat drifted slowly away: first one little head would appear for a moment over the gunwale, then another, as if reconnoitring the enemy; but I still kept my place on deck; and at length, tired out, the ragged little crew took to their oars, and rowed into a shallow bay at the lower extremity of the glebe, with a cottage, in size and appearance much resembling an ant-hill, peeping out at its inner extremity among some stunted bushes.  I had marked the place before, and had been struck with the peculiarity of the choice that could have fixed on it as a site for a dwelling: it is at once the most inconvenient and picturesque on this side the island.  A semicircular line of columnar precipices, that somewhat resembles an amphitheatre turned outside in,—for the columns that overlook the area are quite as lofty as those which should form the amphitheatre's outer wall,—sweeps round a little bay, flat and sandy at half-tide, but bordered higher up by a dingy, scarce passable beach of columnar fragments that have toppled from above.  Between the beach and the line of columns there is a bosky talus, more thickly covered with brushwood than is at all common in the Hebrides, and scarce more passable than the rough beach at its feet.  And at the bottom of this talus, with its one gable buried in the steep ascent,—for there is scarce a foot-breadth of platform between the slope and the beach,—and with the other gable projected to the tide-line on rugged columnar masses, stands the cottage.  The story of the inmate,—the father of the two ragged boys,—is such a one as Crabbe would have delighted to tell, and as he could have told better than any one else.

    He had been, after a sort, a freebooter in his time, but born an age or two rather late; and the law had proved over strong for him.  On at least one occasion, perhaps oftener,—for his adventures are not all known in Eigg,—he had been in prison for sheep-stealing.  He had the dangerous art of subsisting without the ostensible means, and came to be feared and avoided by his neighbours as a man who lived on them without asking their leave.  With neither character nor a settled way of living, his wits, I am afraid, must have been often whetted by his necessities: he stole lest he should starve.  For some time he had resided in the adjacent island of Muck; but, proving a bad tenant, he had been ejected by the agent of the landlord, I believe a very worthy man, who gave him half a boll of meal to get quietly rid of him, and pulled down his house, when he had left the island, to prevent his return.  Betaking himself, with his boys, to a boat, he set out in quest of some new lodgment.  He made his first attempt or two on the mainland, where he strove to drive a trade in begging, but he was always recognised as the convicted sheep-stealer, and driven back to the shore.  At length, after a miserable term of wandering, he landed in the winter season on Eigg, where he had a grown-up son a miller; and, erecting a wretched shed with some spars and the old sail of a boat placed slantways against the side of a rock, he squatted on the beach, determined, whether he lived or died, to find a home on the island.  The islanders were no strangers to the character of the poor forlorn creature, and kept aloof from him,—none of them, however, so much as his own son; and, for a time, my friend the minister, aware that he had been the pest of every community among which he had lived, stood aloof from him too, in the hope that at length, wearied out, he might seek for himself a lodgment elsewhere.  There came on, however, a dreary night of sleet and rain, accompanied by a fierce storm from the sea; and intelligence reached the manse late in the evening, that the wretched sheep-stealer had been seized by sudden illness, and was dying on the beach.  There could be no room for further hesitation in this case; and my friend the minister gave instant orders that the poor creature should be carried to the manse.  The party, however, which he had sent to remove him found the task impracticable.  The night was pitch dark; and the road, dangerous with precipices, and blocked up with rough masses of rock and stone, they found wholly impassable with so helpless a burden.  And so, administering some cordials to the poor hapless wretch, they had to leave him in the midst of the storm, with the old wet sail lapping about his ears, and the half-frozen rain pouring in upon him in torrents.  He must have passed a miserable night, but it could not have been a whit more miserable than that passed by the minister in the manse.  As the wild blast howled around his comfortable dwelling, and shook the casements as if some hand outside were assaying to open them, or as the rain pattered sharp and thick on the panes, and the measured roar of the surf rose high over every other sound, he could think of only the wretched creature exposed to the fury of a tempest so terrible, as perchance wrestling in his death agony in the darkness beside the breaking wave, or as already stiffening on the shore.  He was early astir next morning, and almost the first person he met was the poor sheep-stealer, looking' more like a ghost than a living man.  The miserable creature had mustered strength enough to crawl up from the beach.  My friend has often met better men with less pleasure.  He found a shelter for the poor outcast; he tended him, prescribed for him, and, on his recovery, gave him leave to build for himself the hovel at the foot of the crags.  The islanders were aware they had got but an indifferent neighbour through the transaction, though none of them, with the exception of the poor creature's son, saw what else their minister could have done in the circumstances.  But the miller could sustain no apology for the arrangement that had given him his vagabond father as a neighbour; and oftener than once the site of the rising hovel became a scene of noisy contention between parent and son.  Some of the islanders informed me that they had seen the son engaged in pulling down the stones of the walls as fast as the father raised them up; and, save for the interference of the minister, the hut, notwithstanding the permission he gave, would scarce have been built.

    On the morning of Monday we unloosed from our moorings, and set out with a light variable breeze for Isle Ornsay, in Skye, where the wife and family of Mr Swanson resided, and from which he had now been absent for a full month.  The island diminished, and assumed its tint of diluting blue, that waxed paler and paler hour after hour, as we left it slowly behind us; and the Scuir, projected boldly from its steep hill-top, resembled a sharp hatchet edge presented to the sky.  "Nowhere," said my friend, "did I so thoroughly realize the Disruption of last year as at this spot.  I had just taken my last leave of the manse; Mrs Swanson had staid a day behind me in charge of a few remaining pieces of furniture, and I was bearing some of the rest, and my little boy Bill, scarce five years of age at the time, in the yacht with me to Skye.  The little fellow had not much liked to part from his mother, and the previous unsettling of all sorts of things in the manse had bred in him thoughts he had not quite words to express.  The further change to the yacht, too, he had deemed far from an agreeable one.  But he had borne up, by way of being very manly; and he seemed rather amused that papa should now have to make his porridge for him, and to put him to bed, and that it was John Stewart, the sailor, who was to be the servant girl.  The passage, however, was tedious and disagreeable; the wind blew a-head, and heart and spirits failing poor Bill, and somewhat sea-sick to boot, he lay down on the floor, and cried bitterly to be taken home.  'Alas, my boy!' I said, 'you have no home now: your father is like the poor sheep-stealer whom you saw on the shore of Eigg.  This view of matters proved in no way consolatory to poor Bill.  He continued his sad wail, 'Home, home, home!' until at length he fairly sobbed him self asleep; and I never, on any other occasion, so felt the desolateness of my condition as when the cry of my boy, 'Home, home, home!'—was ringing in my ears."

    We passed, on the one hand, Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn, two fine arms of the sea that run far into the mainland, and open up noble vistas among the mountains; and, on the other, the long undulating line of Sleat in Skye, with its intermingled patches of woodland and arable on the coast, and its mottled ranges of heath and rock above.  Towards evening we entered the harbour of Isle Ornsay, a quiet well-sheltered bay, with a rocky islet for a breakwater on the one side, and the rudiments of a Highland village, containing a few good houses, on the other.  Half a dozen small vessels were riding at anchor, curtained round, half-mast high, with herring-nets; and a fleet of herring-boats lay moored beside them a little nearer the shore.  There had been tolerable takes for a few nights in the neighbouring sea, but the fish had again disappeared, and the fishermen, whose worn-out tackle gave such evidence of a long-continued run of ill luck, as I had learned to interpret on the east coast, looked gloomy and spiritless, and reported a deficient fishery.  I found Mrs Swanson and her family located in one of the two best houses in the village, with a neat enclosure in front, and a good kitchen garden behind.  The following day I spent in exploring the rocks of the district,—a primary region with regard to organic existence, "without form and void."  From Isle Ornsay to the Point of Sleat, a distance of thirteen miles, gneiss is the prevailing deposit; and in no place in the district are the strata more varied and interesting than in the neighbourhood of Knockhouse, the residence of Mr Elder, which I found pleasingly situated at the bottom of a little open bay, skirted with picturesque knolls partially wooded, that present to the surf precipitous fronts of rock.  One insulated eminence, a gun-shot from the dwelling-house, that presents to the sea two mural fronts of precipice, and sinks in steep grassy slopes on two sides more, bears atop a fine old ruin.  There is a blind-fronted massy keep, wrapped up in a mantle of ivy, perched at the one end, where the precipice sinks steepest; while a more ruinous though much more modern pile of building, perforated by a double row of windows, occupies the rest of the area.  The square keep has lost its genealogy in the mists of the past, but a vague tradition attributes its erection to the Norwegians.  The more modern pile is said to have been built about three centuries ago by a younger son of M'Donald of the Isles; but it is added that, owing to the jealousy of his elder brother, he was not permitted to complete or inhabit it.  I find it characteristic of most Highland traditions, that they contain speeches: they constitute true oral specimens of that earliest and rudest style of historic composition in which dialogue alternates with narrative.  "My wise brother is building a fine house," is the speech preserved in this tradition as that of the elder son: "it is rather a pity for himself that he should be building it on another man's lands."  The remark was repeated to the builder, says the story, and at once arrested the progress of the work.  Mr Elder's boys showed me several minute pieces of brass, somewhat resembling rust-eaten coin, that they had dug out of the walls of the old keep; but the pieces bore no impress of the dye, and seemed mere fragments of metal beaten thin by the hammer.

    The gneiss at Knock is exceedingly various in its composition, and many of its strata the geologist would fail to recognise as gneiss at all.  We find along the precipices its two unequivocal varieties, the schistose and the granitic, passing not unfrequently, the former into a true mica schist, the latter into a pale feldspathose rock, thickly pervaded by needle-like crystals of tremolite, that, from the style of the grouping, and the contrast existing between the dark green of the enclosed mineral, and the pale flesh-colour of the ground, frequently furnishes specimens of great beauty.  In some pieces the tremolite assumes the common fan-like form; in some, the crystals, lying at nearly right angles with each other, present the appearance of ancient characters inlaid in the rock; in some they resemble the footprints of birds in a thin layer of snow; and in one curious specimen picked up by Mr Swanson, in which a dark linear strip is covered transversely by crystals that project thickly from both its sides, the appearance presented is that of a minute stigmaria of the Coal Measures, with the leaves, still bearing their original green colour, bristling thick around it.  Mr Elder showed me, intercalated among the gneiss strata of a little ravine in the neighbourhood of Isle Ornsay, a thin band of a bluish-coloured indurated clay, scarcely distinguishable, in the hand specimen, from a weathered clay-stone, but unequivocally a stratum of the rock.  I have found the same stone existing, in a decomposed state, as a very tenacious clay, among the gneiss strata of the hill of Cromarty; and oftener than once had I amused myself in fashioning it, with tolerable success, into such rude pieces of pottery as are sometimes found in old sepulchral tumuli.  Such are a few of the rocks included in the general gneiss deposit of Sleat.  If we are to hold, with one of the most distinguished of living geologists, that the stratified primary rocks are aqueous deposits altered by heat, to how various a chemistry must they not have been subjected in this district!  In one stratum, so softened that all its particles were disengaged to enter into new combinations, and yet not so softened but that it still maintained its lines of division from the strata above and below, the green tremolite was shooting its crystals into the pale homogeneous mass; while in another stratum the quartz drew its atoms apart in masses that assumed one especial form, the feldspar drew its atoms apart into masses that assumed another and different form, and the glittering mica built up its multitudinous layers between.  Here the unctuous chlorite constructed its soft felt; there the micaceous schist arranged its undulating layers; yonder the dull clay hardened amid the intense heat, but, when all else was changing, retained its structure unchanged. Surely a curious chemistry, and conducted on an enormous scale!

    It had been an essential part of my plan to explore the splendid section of the Lower Oolite furnished by the line of sea-cliffs that, to the north of Portree, rise full seven hundred feet over the beach; and on the morning of Wednesday I set out with this intention from Isle Ornsay, to join the mail gig at Broadford, and pass on to Portree, a journey of rather more than thirty miles.  I soon passed over the gneiss, and entered on a wide deposit, extending from side to side of the island, of what is generally laid down in our geological maps as Old Red Sandstone, but which, in most of its beds, quite as much resembles a quartz rock, and which, unlike any Old Red proper I have ever seen, passes, by insensible gradations, into the gneiss. [1]  Wherever it has been laid bare in flat tables among the heath, we find it bearing those mysterious scratches on a polished surface which we so commonly find associated on the main land with the boulder clay; but here, as in the Hebrides generally, the boulder clay is wanting.  To the tract of Red Sandstone there succeeds a tract of Lias, which, also extending across the island, forms by far the most largely-developed deposit of this formation in Scotland.  It occupies a flat dingy valley, about six miles in length, and that varies from two to four miles in breadth.  The dreary interior is covered with mosses, and studded with inky pools, in which the botanist finds a few rare plants, and which were dimpled, as I passed them this morning, with countless eddies, formed by myriads of small quick glancing trout, that seemed busily engaged in fly-catching.  The rock appears but rarely,—all is moss, marsh, and pool; but in a few localities on the hill-sides, where some stream has cut into the slope, and disintegrated the softer shales, the shepherd finds shells of strange form strewed along the water-courses, or bleaching white among the heath.  The valley,—evidently a dangerous one to the night traveller, from its bogs and its tarns,—is said to be haunted by a spirit peculiar to itself,—a mischievous, eccentric, grotesque creature, not unworthy, from the monstrosity of its form, of being associated with the old monsters of the Lias.  Luidag—for so the goblin is called—has but one leg, terminating, like an ancient satyr's, in a cloven foot; but it is furnished with two arms, bearing hard fists at the end of them, with which it has been known to strike the benighted traveller in the face, or to tumble him over into some dark pool.  The spectre may be seen at the close of evening hopping vigorously among the distant bogs, like a felt ball on its electric platform; and when the mist lies thick in the hollows, an occasional glimpse may be caught of it even by day.  But when I passed the way there was no fog: the light, though softened by a thin film of cloud, fell equally over the heath, revealing hill and hollow; and I was unlucky enough not to see this goblin of the Liasic valley.

    A deep indentation of the coast, which forms the bay of Broadford, corresponds with the hollow of the valley.  It is simply a portion of the valley itself occupied by the sea; and we find the Lias, from its lower to its upper beds, exposed in unbroken series along the beach.  In the middle of the opening lies the green level island of Pabba, altogether composed of this formation, and which, differing, in consequence, both in outline and colour, from every neighbouring island and hill, seems a little bit of flat fertile England, laid down, as if for contrast's sake, amid the wild rough Hebrides.  Of Pabba and its wonders, however, more anon.  I explored a considerable range of shore along the bay; but as I made it the subject of two after explorations ere I mastered its deposits, I shall defer my description till a subsequent chapter.  It was late this evening ere the post-gig arrived from the south, and the night and several hours of the following morning were spent in travelling to Portree.  I know not, however, that I could have seen some of the wildest and most desolate tracts in Skye to greater advantage.  There was light enough to show the bold outlines of the hills,—lofty, abrupt, pyramidal, just such hills, both in form and grouping, as a profile in black showed best; a low blue vapour slept in the calm over the marshes at their feet; the sea, smooth as glass, reflected the dusk twilight gleam in the north, revealing the narrow sounds and deep mountain-girdled lochs along which we passed; gray crags gleamed dimly on the sight; birch-feathered acclivities presented against sea and sky their rough bristly edges; all was vast, dreamy, obscure, like one of Martin's darker pictures: the land of the seer and the spectre could not have been better seen.  Morning broke dim and gray, while we were yet several miles from Portree; and I reached the inn in time to see from my bed-room windows the first rays of the rising sun gleaming on the hill-tops.



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NOTES.

 
1.    Professor Nicol of Aberdeen believes the Red Sandetones of the West Highlands are of Devonian age, and the quartzite and limestone of Lower Carboniferous.—See Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, February 1857.—W. S.

 


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