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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: A Stormy Beginning

Looking Back

Friday May 2 2014

Looking Back: A Stormy Beginning

From the Woman's Guild supplement to Life and Work in 1934, an account of a minister's wife enduring a nightmarish journey while helping to form a new Guild in the Highlands.

A DATE had been fixed for the “Starter” to leave her white manse by the sea, cross the hill 2000 feet high at its back, descend to sea-level again on the other side, and start a Woman’s Guild in the next parish. She was to leave at 3p.m. by Morris Minor and had planned to return per mail steamer the following day.

“Your arrangements are perfect,” said the minister of the budding Guild over the hill. Let this story be a lesson to him to call no man-made arrangements “perfect” in the West Highlands, till they are accomplished facts!

On the appointed day, the Starter pulls up at the minister’s gate in drenching rain. The Morris Minor is dispatched home again over the hill and, in one of its elder brothers, the Starter and the minister set off to the meeting. More rain and heavier, and the head-lights are getting dimmer and dimmer, and the pace slower and slower, but the door of the hall is reached and a cheery expectant crowd is already seated.

The Guild is duly started off – Committee elected, enrolment forms given out, mission boxes distributed – and, with a blessing and “Godspeed,” fairly launched. The elderly Morris is waiting in fiercer and colder torrents of rain, and the Starter and the minister make their way to the house of the new President.

As they enter, the voice of the wireless announcer declares in hollow and ominous tones that stormy weather is blowing up! During the night the Starter is made aware of the truth of his statement by the howling of the wind round the four corners of the house. Next morning she wakes to a snow-covered world, with driving showers of snow and hail at regular intervals.

Twelve noon sees the minister and the Starter off once more in the elderly Morris, the wind-screen thick with driven snow. A good warm up at the booking-office in the station and a warm handshake from the minister, and the Starter is off in the train for the port from which the mail steamer will take her – in an hour – to the ferry-boat which should link her up once more with the Morris Minor and, finally, with the white manse and the waiting minister.

The sea at the port looks decidedly choppy and the wind is rising, but the sun is out and the snow has ceased to fall; so with hopeful heart the Starter steps on board the boat for, as she fondly imagines, the last lap of her journey. The sky gets darker, the sea rougher, the snow begins again, and when the purser comes round for the tickets he asks discouragingly, “Do you expect to land to-night?”

They stand side by side peering through the gathering darkness-“There’s the white manse, but look at these devastating shows of snow and sleet sweeping along the road!” The pier can be seen, a little group of men sheltering in the lee of a boat-house, but no sign of the ferry-boat. The steamer slows down, but as there is no sign of the ferry she gives forth a melancholy wail from her siren and turns out again to sea!

The Starter barely manages to repress an answering melancholy wail, as she turns away, only to find the purser with her case in his hand saying, with kindly cheer, “I have ordered cabin 15 to be got ready for you.”

“Four hours and we’ll be in port, three hours in port; another four hours and I’ll be back again, when surely the storm will have gone down.” Thus she reasons. Little did she realise that only now is the real business of the storm beginning!

We draw a veil over the next nine hours, which drag themselves miserably along. Nine hours which should only have been four! Slap! Thump! As if a ton of coals were being dumped into the hold – an awful shuddering from stem to stern and then the boat stands on its hindmost end, rolls its great carcase from side to side, and descends with a road and splash into the very depths of the ocean. And so on and on in agonising repetition, hour upon hour!

Port at last! And blessed quiet! The Starter (what is left of her) opens a weary eye to find the captain, the purser and the steward in the doorway, peering in with kindly solicitude and encouraging remarks that the storm is “taking off,” and that on the return passage, which is about to begin, the ferryboat may manage to put  out to sea.

“I’ll call you ten minutes before the time,” a hopeful cabin boy says some time during the ghastly night, and duly does so.

The Starter staggers on deck; it is quite deserted and bitterly cold and a heavy sea is still running. A few minutes’ wait and the boy returns – “The ferry is not coming out; we are not going to stop!” So miserable and so cold is the Starter that she does not seem able to care any more about anything, but accepts with resignation the fact that she is, for the second time, passing the white manse which waits for her in vain.

Sleep at last, as the boat continues south, a good breakfast as she turns north again to the point of original departure; and then, firm land once more! The same firm land from which she started out twenty-four ghastly hours before!

Friendly remarks are exchanged with the crew as she re-embarks. The sun is shining on snow-capped autumn-bedecked hills, the sea is blue and all is well! The white manse once more, and, for the third time, shines forth in all its welcoming fairness, and, almost too good to be true, the ferry boat itself is seen tossing and plunging bravely out to meet them.

A friendly, interested crowd to greet her; and in a few minutes the Starter and the minister are off in the Morris. The white manse is reached, and one more adventure is over!

“I suppose it was worth it,” said the minister.

“Why, surely! Have we not started yet another Woman’s Guild?”


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