Cormorant Crag, a Tale of the Smuggling Days, by George Manville Fenn.
In this excellent book of smuggling life on the south coast of England, dating about 1830, from some of the passing comments made by the author, we read of the adventures of two boys living on a small off-shore island. One is the son of the local doctor, the other the son of the squire, or owner of the land round about. The boys are friendly with an old fisherman called Daygo. It is thought that he is of Spanish descent, from the Armada, but despite his name and appearance, he denies it. He likes taking the boys out fishing, but feeds then a load of yarns about the safety of a particular part of the cliffs, saying that vessels getting too close to it have been known to disappear. This is actually quite true in a way because there is a huge cave, quite big enough to accommodate a small vessel.
The boys borrow Daygo's boat, without his leave, and explore the forbidden cave. Of course they discover all the recently smuggled goods. But a few days later they are in there, having discovered another way in by land, and are captured by the smugglers, who are French, and kidnapped. After that there are all sorts of exciting and perilous situations, and it looks likely that the boys will not come out of it alive.
But they do, of course! A good read. NH _____________
CORMORANT CRAG, A TALE OF THE SMUGGLING DAYS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
A HOME AT SEA.
"Here, you, Vince!" cried Doctor Burnet, pausing in his surgery with a bottle in each hand—one large and the other small, the latter about to be filled for the benefit of a patient who believed himself to be very ill and felt aggrieved when his medical adviser told him that he would be quite well if he did not eat so much.
The boy walked up to the surgery door at the end of the long, low granite house.
"Upon my word!" cried the Doctor; "it's lucky we have nobody here to see you. No one would ever take you for a gentleman's son."
"Why not, father?"
"Why not, sir! Look at your trousers and your boots."
Vincent Burnet looked down, and then up in his father's face.
"Trousers a bit tight across the knee," he said deprecatingly. "The cloth gave way."
"And were your boots too tight at the toes, sir? Look at them."
"They always wear out there," said Vincent; and he once more looked down, beyond the great tear across the right knee of his trousers, to his boots, whose toes seemed each to have developed a wide mouth, within which appeared something which looked like a great grey tongue.
"I don't think this pair were very good leather, father," he said apologetically.
"Good leather, sir! You'd wear them out it they were cast iron.—Ah, my dear!"
A pleasant, soft face appeared at the door, and looked anxiously from father to son.
"Is anything the matter, Robert?"
"Matter? Look at this fellow's clothes and boots!"
"Oh, Vince, my dear, how you have torn your trousers again!"
"Torn them again!—the boy's a regular scarecrow!" cried the Doctor. "I will not pay for good things for him to go cliff-climbing and wading and burrowing in caves.—Here: what are you going to do?"
"Take him indoors to sew up that slit."
"No!" cried the Doctor, filling up the bottle; and then, making a small cork squeak as he screwed it in, "Take your scissors and cut the legs off four inches above the knees."
"Robert!" cried Mrs Burnet, in a tone of protest.
"And look here, Vince: you can give up wearing shoes and stockings; they are for civilised beings, not for young savages."
"My dear Robert, you are not in earnest?"
"Ah, but I am. Let him chip and tear his skin: that will grow up again: clothes will not."
"All right, father; I shan't mind," said the boy, smiling. "Save taking shoes and stockings off for wading."
"Vincent, my dear!" cried his mother, "how absurd! You would look nice the next time Michael Ladelle came for you."
"He'd do the same, mother. He always imitates me."
"Yes; you're a nice pair," said the Doctor. "I never saw such young savages."
"You're too hard upon them, Robert," said Mrs Burnet, laying her arm on her son's shoulder. "It does not matter out in this wild place, where there is no one to see him but the fishing people; and see what a healthy, natural life it is for them."
"Healthy! natural!" cried the Doctor sharply. "So you want to see him grow up into a sort of Peter the Wild Boy, madam?"
"No," said Mrs Burnet, exchanging an affectionate glance with her sun-tanned son. "Peter the Wild Boy did not have a college tutor to teach him the classics, did he, Vince?"
"No, mother; he must have been a lucky fellow," said the boy, laughing.
"For shame, Vincent!" cried Mrs Burnet, shaking her head at the boy reprovingly. "You do not mean that."
"I believe he does," said the Doctor angrily. "I won't have any more of it. He neglects his studies shamefully."
"No, no, indeed, dear," cried Mrs Burnet. "You don't know how hard he works."
"Oh yes, I do: at egging, climbing, fishing, and swimming. I'll have no more of it; he shall go over to some big school in Germany, where they'll bring him to his senses."
"I do everything Mr Deane sets me to do, father," said the boy; "and I do try hard."
"Yes—to break your neck or drown yourself. Look here, sir, when are you going to pay me my bill?"
"Your bill, father? I don't know what you mean."
"Surgical attendance in mending your broken leg. That's been owing two years."
"When my ship comes in, father," cried Vince, laughing.
"But, I say, don't send me to a big school, father. I like being here so much."
"Yes: to waste the golden moments of boyhood, sir."
"But I don't, father," cried Vince. "I really do work hard at everything Mr Deane sets me, and get it all done before I go out. He never finds fault."
"Bah! You're getting too big to think of going out to play with Mike Ladelle."
"But you said, father, that you liked to see a fellow work hard at play as well as study, and that 'all work and no play made Jack a dull boy.'"
"Jack!" cried the Doctor, with his face wrinkling up, as he tried to look very severe. "Yes Jack. But you're not Jack: he was some common fisherman's or miner's boy, not the son of a medical man—a gentleman. There, go and dress that wound in his trousers, my dear."
"And you won't send me off to school, father? I do like private study at home so much better!"
"Humph! I don't know whether you're aware of it, sir, but you've got a very foolish, indulgent father, who is spoiling you."
"No, he did not know that," said Mrs Burnet, smiling, as she looked from one to the other proudly. "And it is not true, is it, Vince?"
"No, mother, not a bit of it," cried the boy.
"And I feel sure that father will not send you away if you try hard to master all your lessons with Mr Deane."
"Well, it isn't your father who is spoiling you now, Vince," said the Doctor. "There: I'll give you another six months' trial; and, here— which way are you going?"
"Round by the south cliff to look for Mike Ladelle."
"Ah, I daresay he's shut up in his father's study hard at work!"
"No, father; I've been up to the house, and they said he had gone out."
"There, go and get mended; and you may as well leave this medicine for me at James Carnach's. It will be ready for you by the time your mother has done."
"Yes, father—I'll come," cried the boy; and he hurried out of the surgery.
"Ah!" said the Doctor, "you undo all my work by your foolish indulgence."
Mrs Burnet smiled.
"I should be very miserable," she said, "if I could feel that all you say is true."
"But see what a reckless young rascal he grows."
"No, I cannot see that, dear," replied Mrs Burnet. "He is a thorough, natural boy, and I am glad to find him so fond of outdoor life."
"And not of his studies?"
"He works very hard at them, dear; and I'm sure you want to see him grow up manly."
"And not a weak, effeminate lad, always reading books over the fire."
"Let him go on as he is, dear," said Mrs Burnet gently; "and show him that you take an interest in his sports."
"Spoil him more still?"
"No: encourage him in his love of natural history."
"And making the place untidy with his messing about. I say: by the way, have you been at that bottle of acid?"
"I? No, dear."
"Then he has, for some of his sham experiments."
"Coming, my dear," cried Mrs Burnet, in answer to the call; and she hurried into the house, leaving the Doctor to write out the directions upon a label, so that Jemmy Carnach—fisherman when the sea was calm, and farmer when it was rough—might not make a mistake when he received his bottle of medicine, and take it all at once, though it would not have hurt him if he had.
"Nice boy!" muttered the Doctor, as he made a noose in a piece of twine and carefully tied the label to the bottle; "but I wish the young plague had been a girl."
At that moment Vince was standing with one foot upon a stool, so that the knee of his trousers was within easy reach of his mother's busy fingers, while the bright needle flashed in and out, and the long slit was gradually being reduced in extent.
"Mind, mother! don't sew it to the skin," he said laughingly; and then, bending down, he waited his opportunity, and softly kissed the glossy hair close to his lips.
"I say, mother," he whispered, "don't have me sent away. Father doesn't mean it, does he?"
"I don't think so, my dear; but he wants to see you try hard to grow into a manly, sensible lad."
"Well, that's what I am trying to do."
Mrs Burnet took hold of her son's none too clean hand, turned it over, and held up the knuckles, which seemed to have been cracked across, but were nearly healed.
"Well, I couldn't help that, mother," protested the boy. "You wouldn't have had me stand still and let young Carnach knock Mike Ladelle about without helping him?"
"I don't like fighting, Vince," said Mrs Burnet, with a sigh; "it seems to me brutal."
"Well, so it is, mother, when it's a big, strong fellow ill-using a small one. But it can't be brutal for a little one to stick up for himself and thrash the big coward, can it?"
"That is a question upon which I cannot pretend to decide, Vince. You had better ask your father."
"Oh, no! I shan't say anything about it," replied the boy, giving his short shock-brown hair a rub. "I don't like talking about it. Nearly done?"
"Yes, I am fastening off the thread."
There was a snip given directly after by a pair of scissors; Vince gave his leg a shake to send the trouser down in its place, and then stooped and kissed the sweet, placid face so close to his.
"There," he cried; "don't you tell me I didn't pay you for mending the tear."
"Ready, Vince?" said the Doctor, entering with the bottle neatly done up in white paper.
"Mind, sir! don't break it."
"No, father: all right."
The next minute Vince was trotting sharply down the road towards the rough moorland, which he had to partly traverse before turning down a narrow track to the cliff edge, where, in a gap, half a dozen fishermen's cottages were built, sheltered from the strong south-west wind.
"You will not send him away, Robert?" said Mrs Burnet.
"Humph! Well, no," said the Doctor, wrinkling up his brow; "it would seem so dull if he were gone."
"TWO FOR A PAIR."
"Who are you calling Cinder?"
"Who are you calling Spoon?"
"You. Well, Ladle then, if you don't like Spoon."
"And you have it Scorcher if you like, old Burnet."
"Burnet's a better name than Ladelle."
"Oh, is it! I don't know so much about that, Vincey. And it isn't pronounced as if it was going into a soup tureen. You know that well enough. It's a fine old French name."
"Of course I know your finicking way of calling it Lah Delle; but, if you're English, it's Ladle. Ha, ha, ha! Ladle for frog soup, Frenchy."
"You won't be happy till I've punched your head, Vince Burnet."
"Shan't I? All right, then: make me happy," said Vince to another sun-browned lad whom he had just encountered among the furze and heather—all gold and purple in the sunny islet where they dwelt—and in the most matter-of-fact way he took off his jacket; and then began a more difficult task, which made him appear like some peculiar animal struggling out of its skin: for he proceeded to drag off the tight blue worsted jersey shirt he wore, and, as it was very elastic, it clung to his back and shoulders as he pulled it over his head, and, of course, rendered him for the moment helpless—a fact of which his companion was quite ready to take advantage.
"Want to fight, do you?" he cried: "you shall have it then," and, grinning with delight, he sprang upon the other's back, nipping him with his knees, and beginning to slap and pummel him heartily.
Vince Burnet made a desperate effort to get free, but the combination of his assailant's knees and the jersey effectively imprisoned him, and, though he heaved and tossed and jerked himself, he could not dislodge the lad, who clung to him like Sinbad's old man of the sea, till he fell half exhausted in a thick bed of heather, where he was kept down to suffer a kind of roulade of thumps, delivered very heartily upon his back as if it were a drum.
"Murder! murder!" cried Vince, in smothered tones, with the jersey over his head.
"Yes, I'll give you murder! I'll give you physic! How do you like that, and that, and that, Doctor?"
Each question was followed by a peculiar double knock on back or ribs.
"Don't like it at all, Mike. Oh, I say, do leave off!"
"Shan't. Don't get such a chance every day. I'll roast your ribs for you, my lad."
"No, no: I give in. I'm done."
"Ah! that sounds as if you didn't feel sure. As your father says to me when I'm sick, I must give you another dose."
"No, no, don't, please," cried Vince: "you hurt."
"Of course I do. I mean it. How many times have you hurt me?"
"But it's cowardly to give it to a fellow smothered up like I am."
"'Tisn't cowardly: it's the true art of war. Get your enemy up in a corner where he can't help himself, and then pound him like that, and that."
"Yes, it is 'Oh!' I never felt any one with such hard, bony ribs before; Jemmy Carnach is soft compared to you."
"I say, you're killing me!"
"Am I? Like to be killed?"
"No. Oh! I say, Mike, don't, there's a good fellow! Let me get up."
"Are you licked?"
"Will you hit me if I let you get up?"
"No, you coward."
"Oh! I say, don't!"
"Am I a coward, then?"
"Now am I a coward?"
"No, no. You're the bravest, best fellow that ever lived."
"Then you own you're beaten?"
"Oh yes, thoroughly. I say, Mike, I can hardly breathe. Honour bright!"
"Say, you own you're licked, then."
"Yes. Own I'm licked, and—Ah-h-ah!"
Vince gave a final heave, and with such good effect that his assailant was thrown, and by the time he had recovered himself Vince's red face was reappearing from the blue jersey, which the boy had tugged down into its normal position.
"Oh! won't I serve you out for this some day, Mikey!" he cried, as the other stood on his guard, laughing at him.
"You said you were beaten."
"Yes, for to-day; but I can't afford to let you knock me about like this. I say, you did hurt."
"Nonsense! I could have hit twice as hard as that. Pull your jersey over your head again, and I'll show you."
"Likely! Never mind, old chap," said Vince, giving himself a shake; "I'll save it up for you. Phew! you have made me hot."
"Do you good," said Mike, imitating his companion by throwing himself down at full length upon the elastic heath, to lie gazing at the brilliant blue sea, stretching far away to where a patch of amethyst here and there on the horizon told of other islands, bathed in the glowing sunshine.
The land ended a hundred yards from where the two lads lay as suddenly as if it had been cut sharply off, and went down perpendicularly some two hundred and fifty feet to where the transparent waves broke softly, with hardly a sound, amongst the weedy rocks, all golden-brown with fucus, or running quietly over the yellow sand, but which, in a storm, came thundering in, like huge banks of water, to smite the face of the cliff, fall back and fret, and churn up the weed into balls of froth, which flew up, and were carried by the wind right across the island.
"Where's old Deane?" said Vince suddenly.
"Taken a book to go and sit on the rock shelf and read Plutarch. I say, what a lot he does know!"
"No wonder," said Vince, who was parting the heather and peering down beneath: "he's always reading. I wish he was fonder of coming out in a boat and fishing or sailing."
"So do I," said Mike. "We'd make him do the rowing. Makes us work hard enough."
"I don't see why he shouldn't help us," continued Vince. "Father says a man ought to look after his body as well as his brains, so as always to be healthy and strong."
"Why did he say that?" said Mike sharply.
"Because it was right," said Vince. "My father's always right."
"No, he isn't. He didn't know what was the matter with my dad."
"What are you grinning at?"
"What you said. He knew well enough, only he wouldn't say because he did not want to offend your father."
"What do you mean?"
"That he always sat indoors, and didn't take enough exercise."
"Pish! The Doctor did not know," said Mike sharply, and colouring a little; "and I don't believe he wants people to be well."
"Hi! Look here!" cried Vince excitedly. "Lizard!"
A little green reptile, looking like a miniature crocodile, disturbed by the lad's investigating hands, darted out from beneath the heath into the sunshine; and Mike snatched off his cap, and dabbed it over the little fugitive with so true an aim that as he held the cap down about three inches of the wiry tail remained outside.
"Got him!" cried Mike triumphantly.
"Well, don't hurt it."
"Who's going to hurt it!"
"You are. Suppose a Brobdig-what-you-may-call-him banged a great cap down over you—it would hurt, wouldn't it?"
"Not if I lay still; and there wouldn't be a bit of tail sticking out if he did," said Mike laughing.—"I'm not going to hurt you, old chap, but to take you home and put you in the conservatory to catch and eat the flies and blight. Come along."
"Where are you going to put him?"
"In my pocket till I go home. Look here: I'll put my finger on his tail and hold him while you lift my cap; then I can catch him with my other hand."
"Mind he don't bite."
"Go along! He can't bite to hurt. Ready?"
"Yes," said Vince, stretching out his hand. "Better let him go."
"Yes, because you don't want him. I do. Now, no games."
"Up with the cap, then."
Vince lifted the cap, and burst out laughing, for it was like some conjuring trick—the lizard was gone.
"Why, you never caught it!" he said.
"Yes, I did: you saw its tail. I've got it under my hand now."
"You've dropped it," cried Vince. "Lift up."
Mike raised his hand, and there, sure enough, was the lizard's tail, writhing like a worm, and apparently as full of life as its late owner, but, not being endowed with feet, unable to escape.
"Poor little wretch!" said Vince; "how horrid! But he has got away."
"Without his tail!"
"Yes; but that will soon grow again."
"Why, of course it will: just as a crab's or lobster's claw does."
"Hullo, young gentlemen!" said a gruff voice, and a thick-set, elderly man stopped short to look down upon them, his grim, deeply-lined brown face twisted up into a smile as he took off an old sealskin cap and began to softly polish his bald head, which was surrounded by a thick hedge of shaggy grey hair, but paused for a moment to give one spot a rub with his great rough, gnarled knuckles. His hands were enormous, and looked as if they had grown into the form most suitable for grasping a pair of oars to tug a boat against a heavy sea.
His dress was exceedingly simple, consisting of a coarsely-knitted blue jersey shirt that might have been the great-grandfather of the one Vince wore; and a pair of trousers, of a kind of drab drugget, so thick that they would certainly have stood up by themselves, and so cut that they came nearly up to the man's armpits, and covered his back and chest, while the braces he wore were short in the extreme. To finish the description of an individual who played a very important part in the lives of the two island boys, he had on a heavy pair of fisherman's boots, which might have been drawn up over his knees, but now hung clumsily about his ankles, like those of smugglers in a penny picture, as he stood looking down grimly, and slowly resettled his sealskin cap upon his head.
"What are you two a-doing of?" he asked. "Nothing," said Mike shortly.
"And what brings you round here?"
"I've been taking Jemmy Carnach a bottle of physic; and we came round," cried Vince. "Why?"
"Taking Jemmy Carnach a bottle of physic," said the old fellow, with a low, curious laugh, which sounded as if an accident had happened to the works of a wooden clock. "He's mighty fond o' making himself doctor's bills. I'd ha' cured him if he'd come to me."
"What would you have given him, Daygo?"
"Give him?" said the man, rubbing his great brown eagle-beak nose with a finger that would have grated nutmeg easily: "I'd ha' give him a mug o' water out of a tar tub, and a lotion o' rope's end, and made him dance for half an hour. He'd ha' been 'quite well thank ye' to-morrow morning."
"Ay, that's what's the matter with him, young gentleman. A man who can't ketch lobsters and sell 'em like a Christian, but must take 'em home, and byle 'em, and then sit and eat till you can see his eyes standing out of his head like the fish he wolfs, desarves to be ill. Well, I must be off and see what luck I've had."
"Come on, Mike," cried Vince, springing up—an order which his companion obeyed with alacrity.
The old fellow frowned and stared.
"And where may you be going?" he asked.
"Along with you," said Vince promptly.
"You said you were going out to look at your lobster-pots and nets, didn't you?"
"Nay, ne'er a word like it," growled the man.
"Yes, you did," cried Mike. "You said you were going to see what luck you'd had."
"Ay, so I did; but that might mean masheroons or taters growing, or rabbit in a trap aside the cliff."
"Yes," said Vince, laughing merrily; "or a bit of timber, or a sea chest, or a tub washed up among the rocks, mightn't it, Mike? Only fancy old Joe Daygo going mushrooming!"
"You're a nice sarcy one as ever I see," said the man, with another of his wooden-wheel laughs. "I like masheroons as well as any man."
"Yes, but you don't go hunting for them," said Vince; "and you never grow potatoes; and as for setting a trap for a rabbit—not you."
"You're fine and cunning, youngster," said the man, with a grim look; and his keen, clear eyes gazed searchingly at the lad from under his shaggy brows.
"Sit on the cliff with your old glass," said Vince, "when you're not fishing or selling your lobsters and crabs. He don't eat them himself, does he, Mike?"
"No. My father says he makes more of his fish than any one, or he wouldn't be the richest man on the island."
The old man scowled darkly.
"Oh! Sir Francis said that, did he?"
"Yes, I heard him," cried Vince; "and my father said you couldn't help being well off, for your place was your own, and it didn't cost you anything to live, so you couldn't help saving."
A great hand came down clap on the lad's shoulder, and it seemed for the moment as if he were wearing an epaulette made out of a crab, while the gripping effect was similar, for the boy winced.
"I say, gently, please: my shoulder isn't made of wood."
"No, I won't hurt you, boy," growled the old fellow; "but your father's a man as talks sense, and I won't forget it. I'll be took bad some day, and give him a job, just to be neighbourly."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Vince.
"What's the matter?" growled the old man, frowning.
"You talking of having father if you were ill. Why, you'd be obliged to."
"Nay. If I were bad I dessay I should get better if I curled up and went to sleep."
"Send for me, Joe Daygo," cried Mike merrily, "and I'll bring Vince Burnet. We'll give you a mug of water out of a tar-barrel, and make you dance with the rope's end."
"Nay, nay, nay! don't you try to be funny, young Ladle."
"Ladelle!" shouted the boy angrily.
"Oh, very well, boy. Only don't you try to be funny: young doctor here's best at that."
All the same, though, the great heavy fellow broke into another fit of wooden chuckling, nodded to both, and turned to go, but back on the track by which he had come.
Vince gave Mike a merry look, and they sprang after him, and the man faced round.
"We're coming out with you, Joe Daygo."
"Nay; I don't want no boys along o' me."
"Oh yes, you do," said Vince. "I say—do take us, and we'll row all the time."
"I don't want no one to row me. I've got my sail."
"All right, then; we'll manage the sail, and you can steer."
"Nay; I don't want to be capsized."
"Who's going to capsize you? I say, do take us."
The man scowled at them both, and filed his sharp, aquiline nose with a rough finger as if hesitating; then, swinging himself round, he strode off in his great boots, which crushed down heather and furze like a pair of mine stamps. But he uttered the words which sent a thrill through the boys' hearts—and those words were:
A DAY AT SEA.
Daygo's big boots crushed something beside the heather and little tufts of fine golden gorse; for as they went along a slope the sweet aromatic scent of wild thyme floated to the boys' nostrils; and the bees, startled from their quest for honey, darted to right and left, with a low, humming noise, which was the treble, in Nature's music, to the soft, low bass which came in a deep whisper from over the cliff to the right. And as the boys drew in long, deep draughts of the pure, fresh air which bathed their island home, their eyes were full of that happy light which spoke volumes of how they were in the full tide of true enjoyment of life in their brightest days.
They could not have expressed what they felt—perhaps they were unconscious of the fact: that knowledge was only to come later on, in the lookings-back of maturity; but they knew that the moor about them seemed beautiful, and there was a keen enjoyment of everything upon which their eyes rested, whether it was the purple and golden-green slope, or the wondrous lights upon the ever-changing sea.
"Hi! look! There goes a mag," cried Mike, as one of the brilliantly plumed birds rose suddenly from among some grey crags, and went off in its peculiar flight, the white of its breast of the purest, and the sun glancing from the purple, gold and green upon its wings and lengthy tail.
"Hooray!—another—and another—and another!" cried Vince, who the next moment passed from the enjoyment of the beautiful in nature to the grotesque; for he covered his lips with one hand to smother a laugh, and pointed with the other to a huge square patch of drugget laboriously stitched upon the back of the solid-looking trousers to strengthen them for sitting upon the thwart of a boat, a rock, or a bush of furze, which, when so guarded against, makes a pleasantly elastic seat.
But Vince's companion did not find it so easy to control his mirth; for, as he gazed at the gigantic trousers in motion along the slope, their appearance seemed so comic, in conjunction with Vince's mirthful face, that he burst into a hearty laugh.
Vince gave him a heavy punch in the ribs, which was intended to mean: "Now you've done it: he won't let us come!"
But old Daygo did not look round; he only shook his head and shouted:
"Won't do, young Ladle—Ladelle: you're thinking about the tar water, but you can't be so funny as he."
The boys exchanged glances, but did not try to explain; neither speaking till, to their surprise, the man turned suddenly to his right, and made for a huge buttress which ran out some fifty feet from the rugged edge of the cliff and ended in a soft patch of sheep-nibbled, velvet grass, upon which lay, partly buried, a couple of long iron guns, while the remains of a breastwork of stone guarded the edge of the cliff.
"I say! where are you going?" cried Vince.
"Eh? Here," said the man, sitting down astride of one of the old cannon. "Think I was going to pitch you off?"
"No," said Vince coolly, as he went close to the edge and looked down at the deeply-coloured purple, almost black, water at the foot of the cliff, where there was not an inch of strand. "Wouldn't much matter if you did: it's awfully deep there, and no rocks. I could swim."
"Swim? Wheer?" said the man sharply. "No man could swim far there. T'reble currents and deep holes, where the tide runs into and sucks you down if it don't take you out to sea. Nobody's safe there."
"Might go all right in a boat," said Vince, still gazing down, attracted by the place, where he had often watched before, and noted how the cormorants, shags, and rock-doves flew in and out, disappearing beneath his feet—for the great buttress overhung the sea, and its face could only be seen by those who sailed by.
"Nay, nay; no one goes in a boat along here, boy. There, I'm going to fill my pipe and light it, and then we'll go. Which o' you's got a sun-glass?"
"I have," said Vince quickly.
"Let's have it, then: save me nicking about with my flint and steel."
The rough black pipe was filled, and the convex lens held so that the sun's rays were brought to a focus on the tobacco, which dried rapidly, crisped up, and soon began to smoke, when a few draws ignited the whole surface, and the man began to puff slowly and regularly as he handed back the glass.
"It's nothing a boy could do," he said, with one of his fierce, grim looks, "so don't you two get a-glowering at a pipe like that."
"Get out!" said Vince quickly. "I wasn't thinking about that. I was wondering who first found out that you could get fire from the sun."
"Some chap as had a spy-glass," said the old fellow, "and unscrewed the bottom same as I do when I wants a light. Might ha' fired one o' these here with a glass if you put a bit o' tinder in the touch-hole."
"Yes," said Vince, "if the French had come."
"Tchah!" ejaculated the man contemptuously: "all fools who put the guns about the island! No Frenchies couldn't ha' come and landed here. Wants some one as knows every rock to sail a small boat, let alone a ship o' war. All gone to pieces on the rocks if they'd tried."
"Same as the old Spaniards did with the Armada," said Vince.
"Spannles! Did they come?"
"To be sure they did, and got wrecked and beaten and sunk, and all sorts."
"Sarve 'em right for being such fools as to come without a man aboard as knowed the rocks and currents and tides. Dessay I could ha' showed 'em; on'y there's nowhere for 'em to harbour."
"You'd better not try, if ever they want to come again," cried Vince, with animation. "Father says you are a Spaniard."
"Me?" cried the man, starting. "Not me. I'm English, flesh and bone."
"No: father says Spanish."
"Your father knows something about salts and senny," growled the old fellow, "but I know more about Joe Daygo o' the Crag than any man going. English right down to my boots."
"No: Spanish descent, father says," persisted Vince. "He says he goes by your face and your name."
"What does he mean?" said the man fiercely. "Good a face as his'n!"
"And principally by your nose. He says it's a regular Spanish one."
"He don't know what he's talking about," growled the old man, rubbing the feature in question. "How can it be Spanish when all the rest of me's English?"
"It's the shape," continued Vince; while Mike lay on his back, listened, and stared up at the grey gulls which went sailing round between him and the vividly blue sky. "He says there isn't another nose in the island a bit like it."
"Tell him he'd better leave my nose alone. But he is right there: there arn't a nose like it—they're all round or stunted, or turn t'other way up."
"Then he says your name Daygo's only a corruption of Diego, which is Spanish for James."
"Yah! It's Daygo—Joe Daygo—and not James at all. He's thinking about Jemmy Carnach."
"And he says he feels sure your people came over with the Spanish Armada, and you're descended from some sailor, named Diego, who was wrecked."
"You tell your father to mix his physic," grumbled the man sourly.—"Here, are you two going to stop here talking all day?"
"No," cried Mike, springing up, his example being followed by Vince, who was riding on the breech of the other gun.
"Then come on," growled the man, who made off now at a tremendous rate. Away over furze, and up and down over sunny slopes, where the fallow-chats rose, showing their white tail coverts; in and out among bare patches of granite, which rose above the great clumps of gorse; and still on, till all before them was sea. Then he began to rapidly descend a gully, where everything that was green was left behind, and they were between two vast walls of rock, almost shut-in by a natural breakwater stretching across, half covered by the sea and sand. Below them, in a natural pool, lay a boat which might have been built and launched to sail upon the tiny dock of stone; for there was apparently no communication with the sea, so well was it shut off from where, as the bare and worn masses of grey rock showed, the waves must come thundering in when the west wind blew.
Old Daygo went clumping down in his heavy boots, and the boys followed, soon to reach where stones as big as cheeses lay in a long slope, whither they had been hurled by the storms, and were rolled over till they were smooth and roughly round as the pebbles in a stream. Next they had to mount a great barrier, which now hid the boat, and then descended to its side, where it lay in the pool, only about twice as big as itself, but which proved now to be the widening out of a huge crack in the granite rocks, and zigzagged along to the sea, full of clear water at all times, and forming a sheltered canal to the tiny dock.
"Some on 'em 'd like to have that bit o' harbour," said the man, with a grin which showed his great white teeth; "but it's mine, and always will be. Jump in."
The boys obeyed, and the man fetched a boat-hook with a very sharp, keen point, from where it hung, in company with some well-tarred ropes, nets, and other fishing-gear, in a sheltered nook amongst the rocks, and then joined them, and began to push the boat along the narrow waterway.
At the first wave sent rippling outward by the movement of the boat, there was a rush and splash a dozen yards in front, as a shoal of good-sized fish darted seaward, some in their hurry leaping right out of the water, to fall in again with a plunge, which scared the rest in their flight.
The boys sprang up excitedly, and Daygo nodded.
"Ay," he said, "if we'd knowed they was there, we might ha' crep along the rocks and dropped a net acrost, and then caught the lot."
"Mullet, weren't they?" said Vince.
"Yes: grey ones," said Mike, shading his eyes, and following the wave made by the retiring shoal.
"Ay—grey mullet, come up to see if there was anything to eat. Smelt where I'd been cleaning fish and throwing it into the water."
The boat went on after the shoal of fish, in and out along the great jagged rift leading seaward, their way seeming to be barred by a towering pyramid of rock partly detached from the main island, while the sides of the fault grew higher and higher till they closed in overhead, forming a roughly-arched tunnel, nearly dark; but as soon as they were well in, the light shining through the end and displaying a framed picture of lustrous sea glittering in the sunlight, of which enough was reflected to show that the sides of the tunnel-like cavern were dotted with limpets, and the soft, knob-shaped, contracted forms of sea anemones that, below the surface, would have displayed tentacles of every tint, studded, as it were, with gems.
The roof a few feet above their heads echoed, and every word spoken went whispering along, while the iron point and hook of the implement old Daygo used gave forth a loud, hollow, sounding click as it was struck upon side or roof from time to time.
"I say," cried Vince suddenly, "we never tried for a conger along here, Mike."
"No good," growled Daygo.
"Why?" said Vince, argumentatively. "Looks just the place for them: it's dark and deep."
"Ay, so it is, boy; and I daresay there arn't so many of they mullet gone back to sea as come up the hole."
"Then there are congers here?"
"Ay, big uns, too; but the bottom's all covered with rocks, and there's holes all along for the eels to run in, and when you hook 'em they twist in, and you only lose your line."
He gave the boat a vigorous shove, and it glided out into the light once more, a hundred yards from the cliff, but with the rugged pyramid of granite through which they had passed towering up behind them, and its many shelves dotted with sea-birds lazily sunning themselves and stretching out their wings to dry.
A few flew up, uttering peculiar cries, as the boat darted out of the dark arch beneath them; but, for the most part, they merely looked down and took no further notice—the boat and its little crew being too familiar an object to excite their fear, especially as its occupants did not land, and the egg-time was at an end.
"Now, then, up with the mast, lads!" said the old man; and cleverly enough the boys stepped the little spar by thrusting its end through a hole in the forward thwart and down into a socket fixed in the inner part of the keel. Then the stays were hooked on, hauled taut, and up went the little lug-sail smartly enough, the patch of brown tanned canvas filling at once, and sending the boat gliding gently along over the rocks which showed clearly deep down through the crystal sea.
"Soon know how to manage a boat yourselves," said the old man grimly, as he thrust an oar over the stern and used it to steer.
"Manage a boat ourselves!" cried Mike. "I should think we could—eh, Vince?"
"Should think you could!" said the old man laughing. "Ah! you think you could, but you can't. Why, I hardly know how yet, after trying for fifty year. Wants some larning, boys, when tide's low, and the rocks are bobbing up and down ready to make holes in the bottom. Don't you two be too sure, and don't you never go along here far without me."
The boys said nothing; but they felt the truth of the man's words as he steered them in and out among the jagged masses of granite, around which the glassy currents glided, now covering them from sight, now leaving bare their weed-hung, broken-out fangs; while on their left, as they steered north toward a huge projection, which ran right out on the far side of a little bay, the perpendicular cliffs rose up grey and grand, defended by buttresses formed by masses that had fallen, and pierced every here and there by caverns, into which the water ran and rushed with strange, hollow, whispering noises and slaps and gurglings, as if there were peculiar creatures far up in the darkness resenting being disturbed.
Every now and then the sea, as it heaved and sank, laid bare some rounded mass covered with long, hanging sea-weed, which parted on the top and hung down on either side, giving the stone the appearance of some strange, long-haired sea monster, which had just thrust its head above the surface to gaze at the boat, and once this was so near that Mike shrank from it as it peered over the thwart, the boat almost grating against the side.
"Wasn't that too close?" said Vince quickly.
"Nay," said the old man quietly: "if you didn't go close to that rock, you'd go on the sharp rock to starboard. There's only just room to pass."
A minute later, as the two lads, were gazing in at the gloomy portals of a water-floored cave, in and out of which birds were flying, a dexterous turn of the oar sent the boat quickly round, head to wind, the sail flapped over their heads, and Vince seized the boat-hook without being told, and, reaching over the side, hooked towards him a couple of good-sized pieces of blackened cork, through which a rope had been passed and knotted to prevent its return.
This rope Mike seized, hauled upon it, drawing the boat along, till it was right over something heavy, which, on being dragged to the surface, proved to be a great beehive-shaped, cage-like basket, weighted with stones, and provided with a funnel-like entrance at the top.
"Nothing!" cried Mike; and the lobster-pot was allowed to sink back into the deep water among the rocks as soon as it had been examined to see if it contained bait.
Then there was another short run, and a fresh examination of one of these trap-like creels, with better success; for a good-sized lobster was found to be inside, and, after two or three attempts, Vince seized it across the back, and drew it out as it flicked its tail sharply, and vainly sought to take hold of its aggressor with its formidable, pincer-armed claws.
Old Daygo hooked the lobster towards him with the toe of his boot, clapped it between his knees, and cleverly tied its claws with pieces of spun yarn before dropping the captive into a locker in the stern, half full of water, which was admitted through holes in the side.
A couple more lobster-pots were tried, without success, as the boat glided along by the side of the great granite cliffs, where the many black cormorants, which made the shelves and points their home, gave ample reason for the solitary island, far out among the rushing waters of the fierce currents, to be named Cormorant Crag by all who sailed that way, and avoided as the most dangerous rock-bound place off the coast.
Then came a change, the boat being steered to a channel which ran between a mighty mass of piled-up granite and the cliffs. This gap was about forty yards wide, and the pent-up waters rushed through, eddying and rippling, and taking the boat along at a rapid rate. But Daygo steered close enough in to enable him to throw the little grapnel in the bottom of the boat on to the rocks nearest the cliffs. The iron caught at once, the line was checked and fastened, and the boat, swung now in the swift race close to a little keg, from which ran a row of corks, anchored in a calmer place across the tide.
"Down with the lug!" growled the old man. His crew lowered the sail quickly, and stowed it out of their way, for the chief feature of the little trip was close at hand. Old Daygo went forward now, shaking his head at the boys' progress of hauling in the trawl-net line themselves.
"Ay," he said; "you can take out the fish if there be any." And he methodically dragged the net, which had been stretched like so many walls of meshes overnight right across the swift waters of the tide, having been down long enough for the ebb and flow both to pass through it, with the consequence that, if fish had passed that way, they would have been pocketed or become netted among the meshes from either side. But a good deal of the net was dragged into the boat before the glittering scales of a fish were seen.
"Red mullet!" cried Vince, as he pounced upon two small ones, looking as if clothed in mother-o'-pearl, speckled and stained with scarlet.
These were taken out and thrown into the locker, with the result that the lobster flipped its tail and splashed about furiously. But by this time there was a golden gleam in the net drawn aboard; taking his turn, Mike dragged out a grotesque-looking, big-headed John Dory, all golden-green upon its sides, and bearing the two dark marks, as if a giant finger and thumb had been imprinted upon it. This, too, with its great eyes staring, and wide mouth gaping feebly, was thrown into the locker.
Then old Daygo began to growl and mutter: for the meshes showed the heads only of a fine pair of red mullet, the whole of the bodies having been eaten away; and a minute later up came the cause, in the shape of a long, grey, eely-looking fish, which writhed and struggled violently to get free, but only entangled itself the more tightly.
"Nay, nay! let me come," cried the old man, as he saw the boys whip out their knives. "I don't want my net cut to pieces; I'll do it myself."
He threw the portion of the net containing the captive on one side in the bottom of the boat, and hauled in the rest, which contained nothing but a sickly green, mottled-looking wrasse of about a couple of pounds weight. Then the lines, cords, and anchors were got on board, and, leaving the boat to drift with the sharp current which carried it onward, the old man drew a long, sharp-pointed knife from its sheath, and cautiously turned over portions of the net.
"Oh, murder!" said Mike.
"Well, how many poor fish has it murdered?" said Vince. "Mind it don't pike you, Joe!" he shouted.
"I'm a-goin' to, my lad; and you mind, too, when you ketches one. They'll drive their pike at times right through a thick leather boot; and the place don't heal kindly afterward. Ha! now I've got you," he muttered, as, getting one foot well down over the keen spine with which the fish was armed, and which it was striking to right and left, he held down the head, and, carefully avoiding the threads of the net, stabbed it first right through, and then dexterously divided the backbone just at its junction with the skull, before, with the fish writhing feebly, he gradually shook it clear of the net, and stood looking viciously down at his captive.
"Won't eat no more mullet right up to the head, will he, lads?"
"No; he has had his last meal," replied Vince, turning the fish over and displaying its ugly mouth. "Now, if it was six feet long instead of four, you'd call it a shark."
"Nay, I shouldn't; and he would be a dog-fish still. Well, he's eat a many in his time. Now his time's come, and something'll eat him. Hyste the sail."
The dog-fish—a very large one of its kind—was thrown overboard, the sail hoisted, and the boat began to glide onward toward the semicircular bay into which they were drifting, with the huge, massive promontory straight ahead. Then the oar was pressed down, and the boat began to curve round.
"Hi! stop! Don't go back yet!" cried Vince.
"Eh? Why not? No more lobster-pots down."
"I want to sail across the bay, and get round by the Scraw."
"What!" cried the old man, looking at him fiercely. "You want to go there? Well!"
He turned his eyes upon Mike, who encountered the fierce gaze, and said, coolly enough:
"Well, all right; I want to go too. I've only seen the place at a distance."
"Ay, and that's all you will ever see on it, 'less you get wings like one o' they shags," said the old man, pointing solemnly at a great black bird sunning itself upon an outlying rock. "They've seen it, p'r'aps; and you may go and lie off, if you're keerful, and see it with a spy-glass."
"And climb along to the edge of the cliff, and look over?" said Vince.
"What!" cried Daygo, with a look of horror. "Nay, don't you never try to do that, lad; you'd be sure to fall, and down you'd go into the sea, where it's all by ling and whizzing and whirling round. You'd be sucked down at once among the rocks, and never come up again. Ah! it's a horful place in there for 'bout quarter of a mile. I've knowed boats— big uns, too—sailed by people as knowed no better, gone too near, and then it's all over with 'em. They gets sucked in, and away they go. You never hear of 'em again—not so much as a plank ever comes out!"
"What becomes of them, then?" said Vince, looking at the rugged old fellow curiously.
"Chawed up," was the laconic reply, as the old fellow shaded his brow, and gazed long and anxiously beyond the headland they were leaving on their left.
"But I want to see what it's like," said Mike.
"Ay, and so has lots o' lads, and men, too, afore you, youngster," said the old man solemnly; "and want's had to be their master. It arn't to be done."
"Well, look here," continued Mike, for Vince sat very thoughtfully looking from one to the other as if he had something on his mind: "steer as close in as it's safe, and let's have a look, then."
"Do what?" roared the old man fiercely.
"Steer as close in as it's safe," repeated Mike. "We want to go, don't we, Vince?"
The lad nodded.
"Don't I tell you it's not safe nowhere? It's my belief, boys, as there's some'at 'orrid about that there place. I don't say as there is, mind you; but I can't help thinking as there's things below as lays hold o' the keel of a boat and runs it into the curren' as soon as you goes anywhere near—and then it's all over with you, for you never get back. Your boat's rooshed round and round as soon as you get clost in, and she's washed up again the rocks all in shivers, and down they goes, just as if you tied a little 'baccy-box at the end of a string, and turned it round and round, and kep' hitting it again the stones."
"Oh! I don't believe about your things under water doing that," said Mike—"only currents and cross currents: do you, Cinder?"
Vince did not answer, but sat gazing beyond the great headland, looking very thoughtful.
"Ah, my lad! it's all very well for you to talk," said the old man solemnly; "but you don't know what there is in the wast deep, nor I don't neither. I've heerd orful noises come up from out of the Scraw when the wind's been blowing ashore, and the roarings and moanings and groanings as come up over the cliffs have been t'reble."
"Yes, but it isn't blowing now," said Mike: "take us in a bit, just round the point."
"Nay," said the old man, shaking his head; "I won't say I won't, a-cause I could never face your fathers and mothers again, for I should never have the chance. I'm getting an old 'un now, and it wouldn't matter so much about me, though I have made up my mind to live to 'bout a hunderd. I'm a-thinking about you two lads, as is only sixteen or so."
"Vince is only fifteen," said Mike quickly, as if snatching at the chance of proving his seniority.
"On'y fifteen!" cried the old man. "Think o' that now—on'y fifteen and you sixteen, which means as you've both got 'bout seventy or eighty years more to live if you behave yourselves."
"Oh, gently!" cried Mike; but Vince did not speak.
"And do you think I'm a-going to cut your young lives short all that much? Nay. My name's Joe Daygo, and I'm English, and I won't do that. If I'd been what you two young fellows said—a Spannle—it might be different, but it arn't. There—let's get back; and one on you can have the lobster, and t'other the Dory and mullet."
"Then you won't take us round by the Scraw?"
"Right, my lad; I won't."
"Then I tell you what: Vince Burnet and I'll get a boat, and have a look for ourselves. You're not afraid of things catching hold of the keel, are you, Cinder?"
"No," said the lad quietly, "I don't think I am."
"Well, I've warned you both; so don't you blame me if you don't come back," growled the old man.
"Why, how can we if we don't come back?" cried Mike merrily.
The old man shook his head, and sat gazing straight before him from under his shaggy brows, steering carefully, as the boat now had to make zigzag tacks among the rocks which dotted the surface away from the cliffs. Then, in answer to a question from his companion, Vince shook off his fit of thoughtfulness, and sat chatting about the various objects they saw, principally about the caves they passed, some of which were low, arched places, excavated by the sea, whose entrances now stood out clear, now were covered by a wave which came back foaming from the compressed air it had shut-in. Then the conversation turned upon the birds, familiar enough to them, but always fresh and new. All along the face of these vast cliffs, and upon the outlying rocks, was a grand place for the study of sea-fowl. They were quite unmolested, save at nesting-time, and then interfered with but little. This was one of their strongholds, and, as the boat glided along back, the two lads set themselves to see how many kinds they passed. There were the two kinds of cormorant, both long, blackish-green birds, the one distinctive from the other by the clear white, egg-shaped marks on its sides close to the tail; rows of little sea-parrots, as they are familiarly called—the puffins, with their triangular bills; the terns, with their swallow-like flight; and gulls innumerable—black-headed, black-backed, the common grey, and the beautiful, delicately-plumaged kittiwakes, sailing round and round in the most effortless way, as if all they needed to do were to balance themselves upon widespread wing, and then go onward wherever they willed.
There was plenty to see and hear round Cormorant Crag as the boat sailed on over the crystal water, till the archway was reached in the pyramid of granite, when down went the sail, and the boat was thrust onward by means of the hitcher, the tide having risen so high that in places the boys had to bend down. Then once more they were in the long, canal-like zigzag, and soon after in the dock, where they loyally helped the old man carry up and spread the trammel net to dry, and turned to go.
"Here! stop a minute, youngsters," cried Daygo.
"Arn't got your bit o' fish."
"Oh, I don't want to take it, Joe," said Vince. "You've had bad luck to-day."
"Never you mind about that, my lad. I get lots o' fish, and I'm dead on some hammaneggs to-night. I said you two was to have that fish and lobster; so which is it to be? Who says lobster?"
Nobody said lobster, and the boys laughed.
"Well, if you two won't speak out like men, I must do it myself. Am I to divide the take, or are you?"
"You give us what you like, Joe," said Vince, who made up his mind to ask his mother for a pot of jam as a return present, knowing as he did that the old man had a sweet tooth.
"Right, then; I will," cried Daygo, rolling up his jersey sleeve, and thrusting a massive arm into the locker, out of which he drew the fish, the boat's stem having been lifted so that the water had run out. "There, look here: Doctor Burnet said as lobsters were undo-gestible things, so you'd better take that there one home with you, Ladle. You take the fish, Squire Burnet; your mar likes 'em fresh, as I well know."
Mike took the lobster; and the old fellow took a little willow creel from where it was wedged in a granite crevice, laid some sea-weed at the bottom, and then packed in the fish.
"Thankye, Daygo," said Mike. "Shall I pay you for it?"
"If you wants to be bad friends, lad," said the old man gruffly.
"Much obliged, Joe," said Vince. "My mother will be so pleased!"
"Ah! and you're a lucky one to have such a mother," growled the great fellow. "Wish I had."
This brought a roar of laughter from the lads, and Daygo looked fiercely from one to the other; then the bearing of his remark began to dawn upon him, and his countenance relaxed into a grim smile.
"Ah! I didn't see," he grumbled out. "Yes, I do look a nice sorter youngster to have a mother to wash my face, don't I? But here, I say," he continued sternly, "you two didn't mean it about getting a boat and trying to see the Scraw, did you?"
"Yes, to be sure," said Mike sharply.
"Then look here!" cried the old man, bringing his great doubled fist down into his left palm, with the result that there was a loud crack as of a mallet falling upon a board; "I've give you both fair warning, and you'd better take it. You don't know what may come to you if you try it. I tell you, once for all, that you can't get to see it from the sea, and you can't get to see it from the shore. Nobody never has, and nobody never can, and come back 'llve, as that there Johnny Dor'."
"I don't believe any one's had the pluck to try," said Mike stoutly.
"Ah! you're a unbelievin' young rip," growled Daygo fiercely. "But lookye here: you don't want to upset my lady your mother, Ladle, and you don't—"
"Look here, Joe Daygo, if you call me Ladle again I'll kick you!" cried Mike hotly.
"Nay, don't, lad—not yet, till you've practysed a bit on the rocks, 'cause you might hurten your toes. Look here, young Physic: you don't want to go and break your poor mother's heart, do you?"
"Of course not," said Vince.
"Then don't you go, my lad—don't you go. There—better be off, both on you. Weather's hot, and fish won't keep. Tell 'em to put some salt in the pot with that lobster, Ladle; and you'd better have your fish cooked to-night, Doctor."
Vince turned round and nodded; but the ladle was sticking in Mike's throat, and he stalked on without making a sign.
Daygo stood watching till the lads had climbed up out of his sight, and then he went and sat down on a block of granite, and began to rasp his nose on both sides with his rough, fishy finger, as if engaged in sharpening the edge of a feature which was sharp enough as it was; and as he rasped, he looked straight before him at the great rugged cliff. But he was not thinking of it in the least; his thoughts were half a mile away, at the most precipitous part of the coast—a spot avoided by shore-goer and seaman alike, from the ill name it bore, and the dangers said to attend those who ventured to go near, either climbing or in a boat.
"Nay," he said at last; "they won't go now."
CINDER HAS DISCOVERY ON THE BRAIN.
"What are you thinking about, Cinder?" said Mike one day, when they were out together, after a long, hard morning's work up at the Ladelles, over algebra and Latin, with the tutor who was resident at the Mount, the Doctor sharing, however, in the cost. "You seem to have been so moony and stupid lately."
"Have I?" said Vince starting.
"Yes, always going into brown studies. I know: you can't recollect that problem in Euclid."
"What, the forty-seventh? Why, that's the one I recollect best. Guess!"
"What you were thinking about?"
"Give it up," said Mike.
"What about it? That it's guarded by water goblins and sea serpents and things, as old Joe calls them?"
"No," said Vince quietly: "I've been thinking about it ever since we were out with him that day in the boat."
"Well, and what do you think?" said Mike, who while he talked was trying how far he could jerk the flat pieces of oyster-shell, of which there were plenty near, off the cliff; but with all his skill—and he could throw far—they seemed, in the immensity around, as if they dropped close to the cliff foot.
"I think, as I thought that day, that old Joe doesn't want us to go there."
Mike was about to throw another shell, but he faced round at this with his curiosity roused.
"Ah! that's what I want to know; and I can't think of any reason why he shouldn't want us to go there. It seems so queer."
"Yes, it does seem queer," assented Mike.
"Of course the fishermen believe in all kinds of old women's tales about ghosts and goblins, and ill-wishing and that sort of nonsense, just as the women do about old Mother Remming's being a witch; but old Joe always seemed to me to be such a hard, solid old chap, who would laugh at a story about the fairies coming in the night and drying any one's cow."
"Well, I always thought something of that sort; but what he says must be right about the horrible currents among the rocks."
"Yes; there are fierce currents, I suppose, at some times of the tide."
"Well, that means it's dangerous."
"Of course it is, sometimes; but I'm not going to believe all he said."
"Nobody's ever been there."
"Oh yes, that's right," said Mike. "I've often heard the men talk about what an awful place it was, and say they wouldn't go on any account."
"And did that scare you?"
"Well, I don't think it did, because I always felt afterwards that I should like to climb somewhere along there till I could look over down to the sea. But of course you couldn't do it."
"I don't know," said Vince; "I should like to try."
"But after what old Joe Daygo said, you couldn't go there in a boat."
"Then how is it that old Joe himself can go?"
Mike dropped down on the cliff turf beside his companion and stared at him. "He never did go!"
"Yes, he did, for I was up on the Gull Cliff one day watching the birds, and I saw Joe go creeping round underneath in the boat, and sail across the bay, and then about the great point right in towards the Scraw."
"You mean it, Cinder?"
"It wasn't fancy?"
"No; I'm sure."
"Then there is some reason why he doesn't want us there. I say!"
"Let's go and see."
"You'd be afraid."
"No; I wouldn't if you wouldn't."
"I'll go if you will."
"Then we will. But how? Boat?"
"No; I say let's have a rope and try if we can't climb round by the cliff. It will be a jolly good adventure, and I keep feeling more and more as if I wanted to know what it all means."
"Then we will, and I'm ready to begin whenever you are. Why, we may find a valley of gold."
"Or get a bad tumble."
"We'll risk that."
"Then let's set to and make our plans."
The boys ceased speaking, and became very thoughtful; and, as if to sharpen their ideas, each took out his knife—a long-hafted jack knife such as a sailor uses, fastened by a lanyard to his waist. There was rather a rivalry between them as to which had the biggest, longest-bladed and sharpest knife—a point that was never decided; and the blades had rather a hard time of it, for they were constantly being opened and whetted so as to maintain a razor edge.
But, probably from not being expert, these razor-like edges were not maintained, and this was partly due to the selection of the sharpener upon which they were whetted. The sole of a boot is no doubt suitable, but not when it contains nails, which was the case with those worn by the lads. The rail of a gate is harmless, while a smooth piece of slate makes a moderately good enough soft hone. But when it comes to rubbing a blade upon a piece of gneiss, quartz crystal, or granite, the result is most unsatisfactory, the edge of the knife being prone to look like a very bad imitation of a miniature saw.
From force of habit each lad on opening his knife looked round for something upon which to give his knife a whet; but up there on the soft turf of a cliff slope whetstones were scarce. Down below on the wave-washed strand boulders and pebbles were plentiful enough, and in addition there was the rock; but from where they were it was a good quarter of a mile to the nearest place where a descent could be safely made. But the next moment Mike found an oyster-shell, upon which he began diligently to rub his blade; while, failing this, Vince pulled his foot across his knee, vigorously stropped his knife on the sole of his boot, and gave a finishing touch to the edge by passing it to and fro upon the palm of his hand.
This done, each looked out for something to cut, where there was for some distance round nothing but grass. This Vince began to shave off gently, with Mike watching him for a few moments; but the pursuit seemed to him too trivial, and, after wrinkling up his forehead for a few moments as if perplexed, an idea struck him, and he began to score the soft turf in regular lines, as if it were a loin of pork, but with this difference, that when he had made about a dozen strokes he commenced cutting between the marks, and sloping his blade so that he carved out the turf, leaving a series of ridges and furrows as he went on.
This was on his part an ingenious enough way of using the blade, out on an island cliff on a glorious sunny day; but at the end of a minute it became as monotonous as it was purposeless, and Vince shut his knife with a snap, after carefully wiping the blade; while Mike, who had been blunting the point of his by bringing it in contact with the granite, which, where they were, only lay three or four inches beneath the velvet turf, followed suit, after seeing that his knife point would need a good grinding before he could consider it to be in a satisfactory state.
"Well," said Mike, after they had looked at each other for a few moments, "how are we going to make our plans?"
"I dunno," replied Vince. "Yes, I do. You can't make plans here. Let's go and see what the place is like."
"No; that's wrong," said Mike, wrinkling his forehead again. "A general always makes his plans of how he'll attack a country before he starts, and takes what is necessary with him."
"Yes, but then he has maps of the country, and knows what he will want. We have no maps; but we've got the country, so I say let's go and see first—reconnoitre."
"Very well," said Mike, rising slowly.
"Don't seem very ready," said Vince. "Not scared about it, are you?"
"No, I don't think so," replied Mike thoughtfully; "only doesn't it seem rather—rather queer to go to a place that is strange, and where you don't know what there may be?"
"Of course it does," said Vince frankly; "and I am just a little like that. I suppose it's what the men here all feel, and it keeps them away."
"Yes, that's it," said Mike eagerly.
"But then, you know, they believe lots of things that we laugh at. There isn't a man or boy here in Crag would go and sit in the churchyard on a dark night."
"Well, you wouldn't either," said Mike.
"No, I suppose not," said Vince thoughtfully. "I don't think I believe in ghosts—I'm sure I don't; and I know that if I saw anything I should feel it was some one trying to frighten us. But I shouldn't like to go and sit in a churchyard in the dark, because—because—"
"You'd be afraid," said Mike, with a laugh.
"Yes, I should be afraid, but not as you mean," said the lad. "I should feel that it was doing a mocking, boasting sort of thing toward the dead people who were all lying asleep there."
"Dead," interposed Mike.
"No: father says asleep—quietly asleep, after being in pain and sickness, or being tired out from growing very old."
Mike looked at him curiously, and they were both silent for a few moments, till Mike said quickly:—
"I say, though, don't it seem queer to you that we've been here all our lives, and grown as old as we are, without ever going to the top of the cliff here and looking down into the Scraw?"
"Yes, that's just what I've been thinking ever since old Joe talked to us as he did. But I don't know that it is queer."
"Well, I do," said Mike: "it's very queer."
"No, it isn't. Ever since we can remember everybody has said that you can't get there, because nobody could climb up; and then while we were little we always heard people talk almost in a whisper about it, as if it were something that oughtn't to be named; and so of course we didn't think for ourselves, and took all they said as being right. But you know there may be whirlpools and holes and black caverns and sharp rocks, and I dare say there are regular monsters of congers down in the deep places that have never been disturbed."
"No, I don't think there would be sharks. They live out in the open sea more, where it's not so rough."
"I say, how big have we ever seen a conger?"
"Why, that one Carnach brought in and said he'd had a terrible fight with: don't you remember?"
"Yes, I remember; he caught it on a dark thunderstormy day, and said when he hooked it first, baiting with a pilchard, it came so easy that he thought it was a little one, and swam up every time he slackened his line till he got it close to the top. But when he went to hook it in with his gaff he fell back over the thwart, because as soon as it saw him it opened its mouth and came over the gunwale with a rush, and hunted him round the boat till he hit it over the head with his little axe."
"Yes, I remember," said Vince, taking up the narrative; "and then he said they had a terrible fight, for it twisted its tail round his leg and struck at him, getting hold of his tarpaulin coat with its teeth and holding on till he got the blade of the axe into the cut he had made and sawed away till he got through the backbone. Oh yes, we heard him tell the story lots of times about how strong it was, and how it bruised his leg where it hit him with its tail, and how he was beginning to feel that, in spite of its head being nearly off, it seemed as if it would finish him, when all at once it dropped down in the bottom of the boat and only just heaved about. I used to believe it all, but he always puts more and more to it whenever he tells the tale. I don't believe it now."
"But it was a monster."
"Yes: two inches short of seven feet long, and as big round as a cod-fish; and I don't see why there mayn't be some twice as big in the Scraw. But I'm not going to believe in there being anything else, Mike; and we're going to see."
"Nothing horrid living in the caves?"
"Bogies and mermen and Goblin Jacks? No: stuff!"
"But up the cliff: you don't think there's anything there that makes it so that you can't go? I mean—"
"Dragons like father has in that old Latin book about Switzerland?"
"Yes; you've got pictures of them,—horrid things with wings, that lived in the mountains and passes."
"All gammon!" cried Vince. "People used to believe in all kinds of nonsense—magicians, and fiery serpents and dragons, and things that we laugh about now. There, one can't help feeling a bit shrinky, after all we've heard and been frightened with by people ever since we were little bits of chaps; but I mean to go. There's nothing worse about the Scraw than there is about other dangerous places."
"Ah! you say so now because it's broad daylight and the sun shines, but you'd talk differently if it was dark as pitch."
"Shouldn't go if it was dark as pitch, because we shouldn't know where we were going. I say, you're not going to turn tail?"
"No," said Mike, "I'll go with you; but one can't help feeling a bit shrinky. I'm ready: come on."
"Let's seem as if we were not going, then," said Vince.
"We shan't see anybody if we go round by the Dolmen," said Mike. "There isn't a cottage after you pass the one on the Crusy common."
"And nobody lives in that now."
"Why?" said Mike quickly. "Think they saw anything? It's nearest to the Scraw Cliff."
"See anything? No. But they used to feel—the wind. Why, it's the highest part of Crag Island! Come along."
"One minute," said Mike. "You said you thought old Joe didn't want us to go there."
"Yes," said Vince.
"Well, wasn't it because in his rough, surly way he likes us, and didn't want us to get hurt?"
"Perhaps!" said Vince laconically.
"Well, there couldn't be any other reason."
"Yes, there could. It might be a splendid place for fishing, and for ormers and queens and oysters, and he don't want any one else to find it out."
"Yes, it might be that," said Mike; and he set his teeth and looked as if he were going upon some desperate venture from which he might never return alive.
Vince looked a little uneasy too, but there was determination plainly written on his countenance as the two lads, after a glance round to see if they were observed, made off together; over the stony cliff.
WHILE THE RAVEN CROAKED.
It was getting well on in the afternoon, but they had hours of daylight before them for their task. To reach the spot would have been a trifle if they had possessed the wings of the grey gull which floated softly overhead as if watching them. A few minutes would have sufficed; for, as the boys had often laughingly said when at home in the centre of the island, where Sir Francis Ladelle's sheltered manor-house stood, near the Doctor's long granite cottage among the scattered dwellings of the fisher-farmers of the place, they could not have walked two miles in any direction without tumbling into the sea. But to reach the mighty cliffs overhanging the Scraw was not an easy task.
The way they chose was along the eastern side of the island, close to the sea, where from north point to south point the place was inaccessible, there being only three places practicable for a landing, and these lying on the west and south. There the mighty storm-waves had battered the granite crags for centuries, undermining them in soft veins till huge masses had fallen again and again, making openings which had been enlarged till there was one long cove; the fissure where they had taken boat with old Daygo; and another spot farther to the south.
The lads had not gone far before they curved suddenly to their left, and struggled through one of the patches of woodland that beautified the island. This was of oak trees and ilex, dwarfed by their position, tortured into every form of gnarled elbow and crookedness by the sea wind, and seldom visited save by the boys, who knew it as a famous spot for rabbits.
It was hard work getting through this dwarf-oak scrub, but they struggled on, descending now into a steep ravine quite in the uninhabited part of the island, and feeling that they might talk and shout as they pleased—for they were not likely to be heard. But they were very quiet, and when hawk or magpie was started, or an old nest seen, they instinctively called each other's attention to it in a whisper.
After a time they were clear of the sombre wood, and had to commence another fight in the hollow of the slope they had to climb, for here the brambles and furze grew in their greatest luxuriance, and had woven so sturdy a hedge that it was next to impossible to get through.
Perseverance, and a brave indifference to thorns, carried them along; and at the end of half an hour they were at the bottom of a gigantic precipice of tumbled-together masses of granite, suggesting that they were at the beginning of the huge promontory which jutted out into the sea, and round which Daygo had refused to take them; the beautiful little rounded bay which they had skirted being to their right; and forward toward the north, and lying away to their left, being the situation of the unknown region always spoken of with bated breath, and called The Scraw.
The lads stopped now, hot, panting and scratched, to stand gazing upward.
"Tired?" said Mike.
"Yes. No," replied Vince. "Come on."
But Mike did not move. He stood looking before him at the rugged masses of granite, grey with lichen and surrounded by brambles, reaching up and up like a gigantic sloping wall that had fallen in ruins.
Vince had begun to climb, and had mounted a few feet, but not hearing his companion following, he turned back to look.
"Why don't you come on?" he cried.
"I was thinking that we can never get up there."
"Not if you stand still at the bottom," said Vince, laughing; and his cheery way acted upon Mike's spirits directly, for he began to follow. It was strange, though, that the laugh which had raised the spirits of one depressed those of the other; for Vince felt as if it was wrong to laugh there in that wild solitude, and he started violently as something rushed from beneath his feet and bounded off to their right.
"Only a rabbit," said Mike, recovering from his own start. "But I say, Cinder, I never thought that there could be such a wild place as this in the island. Oh! what's that?"
They were climbing slowly towards a tall ragged pinnacle of granite, which rose up some ten or fifteen feet by itself, when all at once a great black bird hopped into sight, looking gigantic against the sky, gazed down in a one-sided way, and began to utter a series of hoarse croaks, which sounded like the barkings of a dog.
"Only a raven," said Vince quickly. "Why, I say, Mike, this must be where that pair we have seen build every year! We must find the nest, and get a young one or two to bring up."
"Doesn't look as if he'd let us," said Mike, peering round with his eyes for a stone that he could pick up and hurl at the bird. But, though stone was in plenty, it was in masses that might be calculated by hundredweights and tons.
They climbed on slowly, one helping the other over the hardest bits; the faults and rifts between the blocks of granite, which in places were as regular as if they had been built up, afforded them foothold; but their way took them to the left, by the raven, which gave another bark or two, hopped from the stony pinnacle upon which it had remained perched, spread its wings, and, after a few flaps to right and then to left, rose to the broken ridge above their heads, hovered for a moment, and then, half closing its wings, dived down out of sight.
"Pretty close to the top," cried Vince breathlessly; and he paused to wipe his streaming face before making a fresh start, bearing more and more to the left, and finding how solitary a spot they had reached—one so wild that it seemed as if it had never been trodden by the foot of man.
They both paused again when not many feet from the summit of the slope, their climb having been made so much longer by its laborious nature; and as they stopped, the action of both was the same: they gazed about them nervously, startled by the utter loneliness and desolation of the spot, which might have been far away in some Eastern desert, instead of close to the cliffs and commons about which they had played for years.
Granite blocks and boulders everywhere, save that in places there was a patch of white heather, ling, or golden starry ragwort; and in spite of their determination the desire was strong upon them to turn and hurry back. But for either to have proposed this would have been equivalent to showing the white feather; and for fear that Vince should for a moment fancy that he was ready to shirk the task, Mike said roughly, "Come on," and continued the climbing, reaching the top first, and stretching out his hand, which was grasped by Vince, who pulled himself up and sank down by his companion's side to gaze in wonder from the rugged ridge they had won.
It was not like the edge of a cliff, but a thorough ridge, steep as the roof of an old-fashioned house, down to where, some fifty feet below them, the slope ended and the precipice began.
It was rugged enough, but as far as they could see to right or left there was no way out: they were hemmed in by huge weathered blocks of granite and the sea. There was the way back, of course; but the desire upon both now was to go forward, for the curiosity which had been growing fast ever since they started was now culminating, and they were eager to penetrate the mystery of the place.
"What are we going to do next?" said Mike. "See if we can't get down to the shore, of course;" and Vince seated himself between two rugged, tempest-worn points of rock, and had a long, searching look beyond the edge of the precipice below him.
First he swept the high barrier of detached rock which stretched before him two hundred yards or so distant, and apparently shutting in a nearly circular pool; for he and his companion were at the head of a deep indentation, the stern granite cliffs curving out to right and left, and seeming to touch the rocky barrier, which swarmed with birds on every shelf and ledge, large patches looking perfectly white.
"Seems like a lake," said Mike suddenly, just as Vince was thinking the same thing.
"Yes, but it can't be," said Vince. "Look down there to the left, how the tide's rushing in. Looks as if a boat couldn't live in it a moment."
"And if the tide rushes in boiling like that, there must be a way out. Think there's a great hole right through under the island?"
"No; it looks deep and still there at the other end of the rocks, and— yes, you can see from here if you stand up. Why, Ladle, old chap, it is running."
Vince had risen, taken hold of one of the jagged pieces of rock, stepped on to a point, and was gazing down to his left at the pent-in sea, which was rushing through a narrow opening between two towering rocks, foaming, boiling, and with the waves leaping over each other, as if forced out by some gigantic power, but evidently hidden from the side of the sea by the great barrier stretched before them.
"I can't see anything," said Mike.
"Climb up a bit. Here—up above me."
Mike began to climb the rugged granite, and had just reached a position from whence he could stretch over and see the exit of the pent-in currents which glided round the little cove or bay, one strongly resembling the water-filled crater of some extinct volcano, when his left foot slipped from the little projection upon which he stood, and, in spite of the frantic snatch he made to save himself, he fell heavily upon Vince, driving him outward, while he himself dropped within the ridge, and for the moment it seemed as if Vince was to be sent rolling down the steep slope and over the edge of the precipice.
But the boy instinctively threw out his hands to clutch at anything to stop his downward progress, and his right came in contact with Mike's leg, gripping the trouser desperately, and the next moment he was hanging at the full extent of his arm upon the slope, his back against the rock, staring outward over the barrier at the sea, while Mike was also on his back, but head downward, with his knees bent over the strait ridge upon which they had so lately been standing.
For quite a minute they lay motionless, too much unnerved by the shock to attempt to alter their positions; while Vince felt that if the cloth by which he held so desperately gave way, nothing could save him, and he must go down headlong to the unseen dangers below.
There was another danger, too, for which he waited with his heart beating painfully. At any moment he felt that he might drag his companion over to destruction, and the thought flashed through his brain, ought he to leave go?
This idea stirred him to action, and he made a vain effort to find rest for his heels; but they only glided over the rock, try how he would to find one of the little shelf-like openings formed between the blocks, which often lay like huge courses of quarried stone.
Then, as he hung there breathing heavily, he found his voice:
"Mike!" he shouted; and the answer came in a smothered tone from the other slope of the steep ridge.
"Can you help me?"
"No: can't move; if I do you'll pull me over."
There was a terrible silence for what seemed to be minutes, but they were moments of the briefest, before Vince spoke again.
"Can you hold on?"
Silence, broken by a peculiar rustling, and then Mike said: "I think so. I've got my hand wedged in a crack; but I can't hold on long with my head down like this. Look sharp! Climb up."
"Look sharp—climb up!" muttered Vince, as, raising his left hand, which had been holding on to a projection in the rock at his side, he reached up, and, trying desperately, he managed to get hold of the doubled-over fold at the bottom of his companion's trouser, cramping his fingers over it, and getting a second good hold.
It does not seem much to read, but it took a good deal of his force out of him, and he lay still, panting.
"Pray look sharp," came from the other side.
"Yes. Hold on," cried Vince, as a horrible sensation began creeping through him, which he felt was preparatory to losing his nerve and falling: "I'm going to turn over."
"No, no—don't," came faintly. "I can't hold on."
"You must!" shouted Vince fiercely. "Now!"
Clutching desperately at the frail cloth, he gave himself a violent wrench and rolled himself right over upon his face, searching quickly with his toes for some support, and feeling them glide over the surface again and again, till a peculiar sensation of blindness began to attack him. Then a thrill of satisfaction ran through his nerves, for one boot toe glided into the fault between two blocks, and the tension upon his muscles was at once relieved.
"I can't help it," came faintly to his ears. "You're dragging me over. Help! help!"
Croak! came in a hoarse, barking note, and the great raven floated across them not a dozen feet above their heads.
"All right!" cried Vince. "I can manage now." And he felt about with his other foot, found a projection, and having now two resting-places for his feet, one higher than the other, he cautiously drew himself up, inch by inch, till his chin was level with his hands, when, taking a deep, long breath, he forced his toe well against the rock, trusting to a slight projection; and, calling to Mike to try and hold on, he made a quick snatch with one hand at the lad's leg a foot higher, but failed to get a good grasp, his hand gliding down the leg, and Mike uttered a wild cry.
For a moment Vince felt that he must fall, but in his desperation his teeth closed on the cloth beneath him, checking his downward progress; and as his feet scraped over the rock in his efforts to find fresh hold, he found his cliff-climbing had borne its fruits by hardening the muscles of his arms. How he hardly knew, he managed to get hand over hand upon Mike's leg, till he drew himself above the ridge, and in his last effort he fell over, dragging his companion with him, so that they rolled together down the inner slope twenty or thirty feet, till a block checked their progress.
Just then, as they lay scratched and panting, there was a darkening of the air, the soft whishing of wings, and the raven dropped on the big pinnacle close at hand, to utter its hoarse, barking croak as it gazed wickedly at them with first one and then the other eye.
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Mike, in a peculiarly hysterical tone; "wouldn't you like it? But not this time, old fellow. Oh, don't I wish I had a stone!"
The same memory had come to both, as they lay breathless and exhausted, of seeing this bird or one of its relatives rise from below the cliff edge one day as they approached; and, looking down, they saw upon a ledge, where it had fallen, a dead lamb, upon which the great ill-omened bird had been making a meal.
"Hurt?" said Vince at last, as he sat up and examined his clothes for tears.
"Hurt! why, of course I am. I gave my head such a whack against one of the stones.—Are you?"
"No," said Vince, making an effort to laugh at the danger from which he had escaped. "I say, though, your trousers are made of better cloth than mine."
"Trousers!" said Mike sourly: "you've nearly torn the flesh off my bones. You did get hold of a bit of skin with your teeth, only I flinched and got it away. I say, though—"
"Well? What?" said Vince; for the other stopped. "That's the way down to the Scraw; but you needn't have been in such a hurry to go."
Vince shuddered in spite of his self-control. "I wonder," he said softly, "whether it's deep water underneath or rocks?"
"I don't know that it matters," was the reply. "If it had been water you couldn't have swum in such a whirlpool as it seems to be. So you might just as well have been killed on the rocks. But oh! I say Cinder, don't talk about it."
The boy's face grew convulsed, and he looked so horrified that Vince cried eagerly—
"Here, I say, don't take it like that. It was not so bad as we thought. It wouldn't have happened if you'd held tight instead of blundering on to me."
"Let's talk about something else," said Mike, trying to master his feelings.
"All right. About that cove. You see the water comes rushing in at one side and goes out at the other, and I daresay when the tide turns it goes the other way. I should like to get right down to it, so as to see the water close to."