The Two Destinies
17. Shetland Hospitality
"GUIDE! Where are we?"
"I can't say for certain."
"Have you lost your way?"
The guide looks slowly all round him, and then looks at me. That is his answer to my
question. And that is enough.
The lost persons are three in number. My traveling companion, myself, and the guide. We
are seated on three Shetland ponies--so small in stature, that we two strangers were at
first literally ashamed to get on their backs. We are surrounded by dripping white mist so
dense that we become invisible to one another at a distance of half a dozen yards. We
know that we are somewhere on the mainland of the Shetland Isles. We see under the feet
of our ponies a mixture of moorland and bog--here, the strip of firm ground that we are
standing on, and there, a few feet off, the strip of watery peat-bog, which is deep enough
to suffocate us if we step into it. Thus far, and no further, our knowledge extends. This
question of the moment is, What are we to do next?
The guide lights his pipe, and reminds me that he warned us against the weather before
we started for our ride. My traveling companion looks at me resignedly, with an
expression of mild reproach. I deserve it. My rashness is to blame for the disastrous
position in which we now find ourselves.
In writing to my mother, I have been careful to report favorably of my health and spirits.
But I have not confessed that I still remember the day when I parted with the one hope
and renounced the one love which made life precious to me. My torpid condition of
mind, at home, has simply given place to a perpetual restlessness, produced by the
excitement of my new life. I must now always be doing something--no matter what, so
long as it diverts me from my own thoughts. Inaction is unendurable; solitude has
become horrible to me. While the other members of the party which has accompanied Sir
James on his voyage of inspection among the lighthouses are content to wait in the harbor
of Lerwick for a favorable change in the weather, I am obstinately bent on leaving the
comfortable shelter of the vessel to explore some inland ruin of prehistoric times, of
which I never heard, and for which I care nothing. The movement is all I want; the ride
will fill the hateful void of time. I go, in defiance of sound advice offered to me on all
sides. The youngest member of our party catches the infection of my recklessness (in
virtue of his youth) and goes with me. And what has come of it? We are blinded by mist;
we are lost on a moor; and the treacherou s peat-bogs are round us in every direction!
What is to be done?
"Just leave it to the pownies," the guide says.