The Devon Boys, a Tale of the North Shore, by George Manville Fenn.
As per the title, the story revolves round the cliffs of the north shore of Devon, in South West England. It is 1752. There are three local teenage boys, who are all boarders at the nearby Barnstaple Grammar School. It is the summer holidays. Bob Chowne is the son of a local doctor, and is a bit cross in his manner; Bigley Uggleston is the son of a local fisherman (or smuggler), and is a very pleasant-mannered boy; while Sep Duncan, the "I" of the story, is the son of Arthur John Duncan, a naval officer, who has just bought an extensive stretch of the cliffs.
The boys decide to move a rock from the top of the cliff, to the bottom. They use explosives, and there is exposed a rich vein of galena, a lead and silver ore, so Sep's father begins a mine, which does very well.
The boys get up to various daring escapades, which generally end up in near-disaster, from which they are rescued by various turns of fortune, including being rescued from way out at sea by a Frenchman, a smuggler of course, who is in league with Bigley's father.
There is a French attack on the coast, but they were definitely looking for the twenty boxes of silver bullion Sep's father has amassed. Luckily they don't get away with it. NH
THE DEVON BOYS, A TALE OF THE NORTH SHORE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
SELF AND FRIENDS.
Bigley Uggleston always said that it was in 1753, because he vowed that was the hot year when we had gone home for the midsummer holidays from Barnstaple Grammar-school.
Bob Chowne stuck out, as he always would when he knew he was wrong, that it was in 1755, and when I asked him why he put it then, he held up his left hand with his fingers and thumb spread out, which was always his way, and then pointing with the first finger of his right, he said:
"It was in 1755, because that was the year when the French war broke out."
Then he pushed down his thumb, and went on:
"And because that was the year we had a bonfire in June, because Doctor Stacey was married for the third time, and we burned all the birches."
Then he pushed down his first finger.
"And because that was the year we had an extra week's holiday."
Down went his second finger.
"And because that was the year the Spanish galleon was wrecked on Jagger Rock."
Down went the third finger.
"And because that was the year your father bought the whole of Slatey Gap."
Down went the fourth finger, so that his open hand had become a clenched fist held up, and then in his regular old pugnacious way he looked round the room as if he wanted to hit somebody as he snarled out:
"Now, who says I'm wrong?"
I could have said so, but what's the use of quarrelling with a fellow who can't help being obstinate. It was in his nature, and no end of times I've known that when my old school-fellow was snaggy and nasty and quarrelsome with me, he'd have fought like a Trojan on my side against half the school.
But that fourth finger of Bob Chowne's settled it as to the time, for it was not in 1755 but in 1752, for there's the date on the old parchment, which sets forth how the whole of the Gap from the foreshore right up the little river for five hundred yards inland, and the whole of the steep cliff slope and precipice, each side, to the very top, was conveyed to my father, Arthur John Duncan, of Oak Cottage, Wistabay, lieutenant and commander in the Royal Navy of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Second.
It doesn't matter in the least when it was, only I may as well say when, any more than it does that everybody who knew my father, including Doctor Chowne of Ripplemouth, said he must be mad to go and buy, at the sale of Squire Allworth's estate, a wild chasm of a place, all slaty rock and limestone crag and rift and hollow, with a patch of scraggy oak-trees here, some furze and heath there, and barely enough grass to feed half a dozen sheep, and that, even if it was cheap, because no one else would buy it, he was throwing good money away.
But I didn't think so that hot midsummer afternoon when I was back home, and had set out to explore the place as I had never explored it before.
That was not saying much, for I pretty well knew the spot by heart, but it was my father's now—"ours."
We three boys had ridden home together the day before, sitting on our boxes in Teggley Grey's cart, for he was the carrier from Ripplemouth to Barnstaple.
I say we rode, though it wasn't much of a ride, for every now and then the red-faced old boy used to draw the corner of his lips nearly out to his ears, and show us how many yellow stumps of teeth he had left, as he stopped his great bony horse, to say:
"I'm sure you young chaps don't want my poor old horse to pull you up a hill like this."
Of course we jumped down and walked up the hill, and as it was nearly all hill from Barnstaple to our homes we were always jumping down, and walked quite half of the twenty miles.
Old Teggley must begin about it too, as he sat with his chin nearly down upon his knees, whisking the flies away from his horse's ears with his whip.
"We'm bit puzzled, Mas' Sep Duncan, what your father bought that place for?"
"It's all for bounce," said Bob Chowne, "so as to be Bigley Uggleston's landlord. Look out, Big, or Sep 'll send you and your father packing, and you'll have to take the lugger somewhere else."
"I don't care," said Bigley. "It don't matter to me."
All in good time we got to the Gap Valley, where there was our Sam waiting with the donkey-cart to take mine and Bigley's boxes, and Bob Chowne went on to Ripplemouth, after promising to join us next day for a grand hunt over the new place.
The next day came, and with it Bob Chowne from Ripplemouth and Bigley Uggleston from the Gap; and we three boys set off over the cliff path for a regular good roam, with the sun beating down on our backs, the grasshoppers fizzling in amongst the grass and ferns, the gulls squealing below us as they flew from rock to rock, and, far overhead now, a hawk wheeling over the brink of the cliff, or a sea-eagle rising from one of the topmost crags to seek another where there were no boys.
Now I've got so much to tell you of my old life out there on the wild North Devon coast, that I hardly know where to begin; but I think I ought, before I go any farther, just to tell you a little more about who I was, and add a little about my two school-fellows, who, being very near neighbours, were also my companions when I was at home.
Bob Chowne was the son of an old friend of my father—"captain" Duncan, as people called him, and lived at Ripplemouth, three or four miles away. The people always called him Chowne, which they had shortened from Champernowne, and we boys at school often substituted Chow for Bob, because we said he was such a disagreeable chap.
I do not see the logic of the change even now, but the nickname was given and it stuck. I must own, though, that he was anything but an amiable fellow, and I used to wonder whether it was because his father, the doctor, gave him too much physic; but it couldn't have been that, for Bob always used to say that if he was ill his father would send him out without any breakfast to swallow the sea air upon the cliffs, and that always made him well.
Bigley Uggleston, my other companion, on the contrary, was about the best-tempered fellow that ever lived. He was the son of old Jonas Uggleston, who lived at the big cottage down in the Gap, on one side of the little stream. Jonas was supposed to be a fisherman, and he certainly used to fish, but he carried on other business as well with his lugger—business which enabled him to send his son to the grammar-school, where he was one of the best-dressed of the boys, and had about as much pocket-money as Bob and I put together, but we always spent it for him and he never seemed to mind.
I have said that he was an amiable fellow, and he had this peculiarity, that if you looked at him you always began to laugh, and then his broad face broke up into a smile, as if he was pleased because you laughed at him, and tease, worry, or do what you liked, he never seemed to mind.
I never saw another boy like him, and I used to wonder why Bob Chowne and I should be a couple of ordinary robust boys of fourteen, while he was five feet ten, broad-shouldered, with a good deal of dark downy whisker and moustache, and looked quite a man.
Sometimes Bob and I used to discuss the matter in private, and came to the conclusion that as Bigley was six months older than we were, we should be like him in stature when another six months had passed; but we very soon had to give up that idea, and so it remained that our school-fellow had the aspect of a grown man, but what Bob called his works were just upon a level with our own, for, except in appearance, he was not manly in the slightest degree.
I believe the sheep began all the creepy paths in our part of the country—not sheep such as you generally see about farms, or down to market, but our little handsome sheep with curly horns that feed along the sides of the cliffs in all sorts of dangerous places where a false step would send them headlong six or seven hundred feet, perhaps a thousand, down to the sea. For we have cliff slopes in places as high as that, where the edge of the moor seems to have been chopped right off, and if you are up there you can gaze down at the waves foaming over the rocks, and if you looked right out over the sea, there away to the north was Taffyland, as we boys called it, with the long rugged Welsh coast stretching right and left, sometimes dim and hazy, and sometimes standing out blue and clear with the mountains rising up in the distance fold behind fold.
I say I think the sheep used to make the cliff paths to begin with, for they don't feed up or feed down, but always go along sidewise, unless they want to get lower, and then they make a zigzag, so far one way and so far another, backwards and forwards, down the slope till they come to where it goes straight down to the sea with a raw edge at the top, and the cliff-face, which keeps crumbling away, in some places lavender and blue where it is slate, and in others all kinds of tints, as red and grey, where it's limestone or grit.
In the course of time the sheep leave a regular lot of tracks like tiny shelves up the side of the sloping cliffs, and the lowest of these gets taken by the people who are going along the coast, and is trampled down more and more, till it grows into a regular footpath, such as we were going along this hot midsummer day.
Part of our way lay close to the edge of the cliff, where it was about four hundred feet straight down, but a dense wood of oak-trees grew there, and their trunks formed a regular fence and screen between us and the edge, so that the pathway was quite safe, though it would not have troubled us much if it had not been, being used to the place; but in a short time we were through the wood, and out on the open cliff—from shade to sunshine.
I ought not to leave that wood, though, without saying something about it, for just there the trees grew very curiously. Of course you know what an oak-tree is, and how it grows up tall and rugged and strong, but our oak-trees didn't grow like that. You've seen horses out in a field on a stormy day, I suppose, when the wind blows, and the rain beats. If they have no trees, hedges, or wall to get under, they always turn their backs to the wind, and you can see their tails and manes streaming out and blown all over them.
Well there's no shelter out there on our coast, only in the caves, and the oak-trees there do just the same as the horses, for they seem to turn their backs to the wind; and their boughs look as if they are being blown close down to the side of the cliff slope and spread out ready to spring up again as soon as the wind has passed. But they don't, for they stop in that way growing close down and all on one side, and they very seldom get at all big.
That was a capital path as soon as we were out of the wood, running up and down the slope sometimes four, sometimes six or seven hundred feet above the sea, just as it happened, and with the steep cliff above us jagged with great masses of rock that looked as if they were always ready to fall rolling and crashing till they got to the broken edge, when they would leap right down into the sea. Sometimes they did, but only when a thaw came after a severe frost. There was none of that sort of thing though at midsummer, and the overhanging rocks did not trouble us as we scampered along in the bright elastic air, feeling as if we were so happy that we must do something mischievous.
The path was no use to us, it was too smooth and plain and safe, so we went down to the very edge of the precipice, and looked over at the beautiful clear sea, hundreds of feet below, and made plans to go prawning in the rock pools, crabbing when the tide was out, and to get Bigley's father to lend us the boat and trammel net, to set some calm night and catch all we could.
"Think he'll lend it to us, Bigley?" asked Bob.
"I don't know. I'm afraid he won't."
"Why not?" I said. "He did last holidays."
"Yes," said Bigley; "but your father hadn't got the Gap then, and made him cross, for he said he was going to buy it, only your father bought it over his head."
"But had he got the money?" I said.
"Oh, yes. He's got lots of money, though he never spends any hardly."
"He makes it all smuggling," said Bob. "He'll be hung some day, or shot by some of the king's sailors."
Bigley turned on him quickly, but he did not say a word; and just then a stone-chat's nest took his attention. After that we had to go round the end of a combe, as they call the valleys our way, and there we stopped by the waterfall which came splashing down forming pool after pool in the sunny rocks.
It was not to be expected that three boys fresh from school could pass that falling stream without leaping from rock to rock, and penetrating a hundred yards inland, to see if we could find a dipper's nest, for one of the little cock-tailed blackbirds gave us a glimpse of his white collar as he dropped upon a stone, and then walked into a pool, in whose clear depths we could see him scudding about after the insects at the bottom, and seeming to fly through the water as he beat his little rounded wings using them as a fish does fins.
The nest was too cleverly hidden for us to find, so, tiring of the little stream, and knowing that there was one waiting for us in the Gap where we could capture trout, we went on along the cliff path, gossiping as boys will, till we reached the great buttress of rock that formed one side of the entrance to the little ravine, and there perched ourselves upon the great fragments of rock to look down at where the little stream came rushing and sparkling from the inland hills till it nearly reached the sea at the mouth of the Gap, and then came to a sudden end.
It looked curious, but it was a familiar object to us, who thought nothing of the way in which the sea had rolled up a bank of boulders and large pebbles right across the little river, forming a broad path when the tide was down, and as the little river reached it the bright clear stream ended, for its waters sank down through the pebbles and passed invisibly for the next thirty or forty yards beneath the beach and into the sea.
But when the tide was up this pebble ridge formed a bar, over which there was just room for Uggleston's lugger to pass at high-water; and there it was now in the little river, kept from turning down on its side by a couple of props, while the water rippled about its keel.
From where we were perched it looked no bigger than a row-boat, and the house that formed our school-fellow's home—a long, low, stone-built place thatched with reeds—seemed as if it had been built for dolls, while the fisherman's cottage on the other side, where an old sailor friend lived, was apparently about as big as a box.
The scene was beautiful, but to us boys its beauty lay in what it offered us in the way of amusement.
We were not long in deciding upon a ride down one of the clatter streams—a ride that, though it is very bad for the breeches and worse for the boots, while it sometimes interferes with the skin of the knuckles, and may result in injury to the nose, is thoroughly enjoyable and full of excitement while it lasts.
You don't know what a clatter stream is? Then I'll tell you.
Every here and there, where the slate cliffs run down in steep slopes to the valleys, you can see from the very top to the bottom, that is to say on a slope of some nine hundred feet, what look like little streams that are perhaps a foot wide at the top and ten or a dozen at the bottom where they open out. These are not streams of water, though in wet weather the water does trickle down through them, and makes them its bed, but streams of flat, rounded-edge pieces of slate and shale that have been split off the face of the rock and fallen, to go slowly gliding down one over the other, perhaps taking years in their journey. Some of the pieces are as small as the scraps put in the bottom of a flower-pot, others are as large as house slates and tiles, perhaps larger; but as they go grinding over one another they are tolerably smooth, and form a capital arrangement for a slide.
This thing determined upon we each selected a good broad piece big enough to sit or kneel on, and then began the laborious ascent, which, I may at once tell you, is the drawback to the enjoyment, for, though the coming down is delightful, the drag up the steep precipitous slope, with feet frequently slipping, is so toilsome a task that two or three slides down used to be always considered what Dr Stacey at Barnstaple School called quantum sufficit.
As a matter of course we were soon tired, but we managed three, starting from right up at the top, and close after one another, with the stones beneath us rattling, and sometimes gliding down swiftly, sometimes coming to a standstill; but if it was the foremost, those behind generally started him again.
In this case Bob went first, I followed, and Bigley came last, and though we two stuck more than once, he never did, his weight overcoming the friction of the stones to such an extent that, towards the last, he charged down upon us and we all rolled over together into a heap.
We tried again, but the fall had made Bob disagreeable. I don't think he was much hurt, but he pretended to be, and said that Bigley had done it on purpose.
It was of no use for Bigley to protest. Once Bob had made up his mind to a thing he would not give in, so after about half a slide down we stopped short without being driven on again by our companion, and the game was voted a bore.
"'Tisn't as if there were a couple of sailors at the top with a capstan, to haul you up again when you've slid down," said Bob.
"Ah, I wish there were!" cried Bigley, "I get so tired."
"No rope would pull you up; you're too heavy," sneered Bob. "Never mind, Sep, let's do something else. The clatter streams ain't half so slippery as they used to be. I s'pose we may do something else here though it is your father's place?"
"Don't be so disagreeable," I cried.
"Who's disagreeable?" he retorted. "I didn't make the stones stick and old Bigley come down squelch on us, did I?"
"Oh, if you want to quarrel, Bob, we may as well go home," I said.
"There, just hark at him, Big! Quarrel! Just as if I wanted to quarrel. There, I shall go."
"No, no, don't go, Bob," I cried.
"No, no, don't go, Bob," chimed in Big. "It's holidays now, and we can get up a row when we're at school."
The force of this, and its being waste of time now the long-expected holidays had come, made an impression on Bob, who sat down and began sending rounded pieces of slate skimming through the air towards the little stream.
"Didn't I tell you I didn't want to quarrel," he grumbled out. "I ain't so fond of—there, you chaps couldn't do that."
"Ha! Ha! Couldn't we?" I cried, as a stone he threw went plash into the stream, and I jerked a piece of slate so far that it went right over.
This made Bob jump up, and, as there was plenty of ammunition, the old contention was forgotten in the new, Bigley Uggleston joining in and helping us throw stones till we grew tired, when we looked round for something fresh to do.
"Let's climb right to the top of Bogle's Beacon," I said, as my eyes lit upon the highest crags at our side of the ravine.
"Oh, what's the good?" said Bigley. "It'll make us so hot."
"Get out, you great lazy fellow," cried Bob, whose lips had been apart to oppose my plan; but as soon as Bigley took the other side he was all eagerness to go.
"Oh, all right then," said Bigley. "I don't mind. If you're going I shall come too; but wait a minute."
As he spoke he set off at a trot down the slope, and as we two threw ourselves down to watch him, we saw him run on and on till he reached the smuggler's cottage, and go round to the long low slate-roofed shed where his father kept his odds and ends of boat gear, and then he dived in out of sight.
"What's he gone for?" said Bob.
"Dunno," I said lazily as I turned over on my chest and kicked the loose slates with my toes. "Yes, I do."
"No, you don't," said Bob sourly.
"Yes, I do; he's gone to get a bit of rope. Don't you remember when we climbed up last year we didn't get quite to the top, and you said that if we'd had a bit of rope to throw over the big stone, one of us might have held the end while the other climbed up?"
"No, I don't remember, and don't believe I ever said so."
"Why, that you did, Bob. What's the good of contradicting?"
"What's that to you, Sep Duncan?" he retorted. "You arn't everybody. I shall contradict if I like."
"But you did say so."
"You did. Now, just you wait till old Big comes and see if he don't say so too."
"Yah! He'd say anything. What does he know about it?"
"Well, here he comes," I said.
"Let him come; I don't care."
"And he has got a coil of rope over his shoulder."
"Well, what do I care? Any fool might get a ring of rope over his shoulder."
"Yes, but what for?"
"Oh, I dunno; don't bother!" said Bob surlily.
Meanwhile Bigley Uggleston was coming along at a lumbering trot, and as soon as he was within hearing I shouted to him:
"What are you going to do with that rope?" And now for the first time I noticed that he was carrying a long iron bar balanced in his right hand.
Big did not answer, but came panting on.
"There, I told you so!" cried Bob; "didn't I say so?"
"I don't care if you did," I retorted; and just then our companion panted up to us and threw himself down, breathless with his exertions.
"What did you fetch the rope for?" I cried eagerly.
"To"—puff—"throw it over"—puff—"the big stone"—puff—"up atop, same"—puff—"as Bob Chowne said"—puff—"last year."
"There!" I cried triumphantly, turning on Bob.
I was sorry I had spoken directly after, for Bob tightened his lips and half shut his eyes as he rose slowly to his feet, thrust his hands in his pockets, and began to move off.
"Here, what are you going to do?" I cried.
"What for? Where's the use o' stopping? You keep on trying to pick a quarrel with a fellow."
"Why, I don't, Bob. I say, don't go. We're just going to have no end of fun."
"Yes," cried Big; "and I've brought one of my father's net bars to drive in the rock and fasten the rope to, and then no one need hold it."
"No, I sha'n't stop," grumbled Bob sourly. "Where's the use o' stopping with chaps as always want to quarrel?"
"I don't want to quarrel," I said.
"And I'm sure I don't," said Big. "I hate it."
"More don't I," growled Bob. "It's Sep Duncan; he's always trying to have a row with somebody."
"Here, come on," cried Big. "I've got the rope and the bar."
"No," said Bob, sticking his hands farther into his pockets and sidling off; "I'm going home."
"Oh, I say, don't spoil our fun, Bob," I cried.
"'Taint me; it's you," he said. "I sha'n't stay."
"Oh, if it's me I'm very sorry," I said, "I didn't mean to be disagreeable."
"Oh, well, if you're sorry and didn't mean to be disagreeable I'll stay," he said. "Only don't you do it again."
"Say you won't," whispered Big.
"Well, I won't do it again," I cried, though I felt all the time as if I wanted to laugh outright.
"Then I sha'n't say any more about it," said Bob, relenting all at once. "I say, Big, is that rope strong?"
"Strong enough to hold all of us," he replied. "Here, come along. It'll soon be dinner-time. I'm getting hungry now."
"Why, you're always hungry, Big," cried Bob as we began to climb the steep slope diagonally.
"Yes, I am," he assented. "I do eat such a lot, and then I always feel as if I wanted to eat a lot more."
It was a stiff climb over the loose slates and in and out among the rough masses of stone that projected every here and there; but the air grew fresher and cooler as we made our way from sheep-track to sheep-track, where the little brown butterflies kept darting up in our path; and as we stopped again and again, it was to get a wider view of the sail-dotted sea all rippling and sparkling like silver in the sun, while as we climbed higher still we began to get glimpses of the high hills along the coast to the west, and the great moor into which the Gap seemed to run like a rugged trough.
At last after many halts we reached the piled-up mass of rocks known as the Beacon—a huge heap of moss-grown grey fragments that stood on the very crest of the ridge.
It was a favourite place with us, and many an expedition had been made here to sit under the shelter of the great lump of rock that crowned the heap, a mass about fifteen feet high, and as many long and broad, the whole forming just such a cube as you find in the sugar basin, and whose sides were so perpendicular that we had never reached the top.
But this time, provided with rope, and, by Bigley Uggleston's forethought, with the iron bar, the ascent seemed easy, and we set about it at once.
Big soon found a place on the shoulder of our little mountain where blocks of a ton-weight and less lay around, some of them so weakened and overhanging that they looked as if a touch would send them thundering down into the gorge.
Between two of these Big drove in the long iron bar, the rope was thrown right over the rock, one end tied securely to the bar, the other held by Bigley on the other side, the great heavy fellow hanging on to it, and the question arose as to whether Bob or I was to make the first attempt.
I wanted to go, but I felt that if I did, Bob would be affronted, so I gave way and let him lead, giving him a hoist or two as he seized the rope, and climbed, and scratched, and kicked, and got up half-way and then slid down again.
"Here, Big," he shouted, "what's the good of bringing such a stupid little thin rope? It's no good."
"Can't you get up?" cried Big.
"No, nor anyone else. It's no use. Let's get back."
"No, no; let me try," I cried eagerly.
"Don't I tell you it's of no use," he said angrily. "Here, I'll go again and show you. Hold on tight, Big."
"Yes, I'm holding," came from deep down in Bigley's chest, and Bob made another attempt, scrambling up over my back and on to my shoulders, and ending in his struggles by giving me so severe a kick on the head that I leaped away, leaving him hanging by his hands, so that when he relaxed his hold he came down in a sitting position, with so hard a bump upon the stones that he seemed to bounce up again in a fit of fury to begin stamping about with rage and pain.
"Oh—oh—oh!" he gasped. "You did that on purpose."
"Oh, I say, you do make me laugh," spluttered out Bigley, who held on tightly to the rope to keep it strained.
"Yes, I'll make you laugh," cried Bob, flying at him and punching away, while Bigley held on by the rope, and the more Bob punched the more he laughed.
"Oh, I say, don't," he panted. "You hurt."
"I mean to hurt," cried Bob. "You and Sep Duncan got that up between you, and he did it to make you laugh."
"I didn't say you kicked me on the ear on purpose," I grumbled. "Oh, I say, Bob, your boot-toe is hard."
"Wish it had been ten times harder," he snarled.
"Oh, never mind," said Bigley, "I'm getting tired of holding the rope. Why don't you climb up? Make haste!"
"I'm going home," grumbled Bob. "If I had known you were two such fellows I wouldn't have come."
"Here, you get up, Sep," cried Bigley. "I'll stand close up to the rock, and you can climb up me, and then lay hold of the rope."
"No, no," I whispered; "it would only make Bob savage."
"Never mind; he'll come round again. He won't go—he's only pretending."
I glanced at our school-fellow, who was slowly shuffling away some twenty or thirty yards down the slope, and limping as he went as if one leg was very painful.
"Here, Bob!" I cried, "come and have another try."
He did not turn his head, and I shouted to him again.
"Here, Bob, mate, come and have another try."
He paid no heed; but while I was speaking Bigley placed himself close to the great rock, reaching up as high as he could, and holding on by the rope with outstretched arms.
"Now, then, are you ready?" he cried.
The opportunity was too tempting to be resisted, and making a run and a jump, I sprang upon his broad back, climbed up to his shoulders, got hold of the rope, and steadied myself as I drew myself into a standing position, and then reaching up the rope as high as I could, I managed to get my toes on first one projection, then upon another, and in a few seconds was right at the top.
Bigley burst into a hoarse cheer, and began to jump about and wave his cap, with the effect of making Bob stop short and turn, and then come hurrying back more angry than ever.
"There: you are a pair of sneaks," he cried. "What did you go and do that for?"
"I helped him," said Bigley. "Hoo—rayah!"
"Yes, and I'll pay you for it," he snarled; but Bigley was too much excited to notice what he said; and, taking hold of the rope again, he planted himself against the rock to turn his great body into a ladder.
"Go on up, Bob, and then you two chaps can pull me up to you."
The temptation was too great for Bob, who began to climb directly, and had nearly reached where I stood, when I bent down and held out my hand.
"Catch hold, Bob!" I cried, "and I'll help you."
"I can get up by myself, thank you," he cried very haughtily, and he loosed his hold with one hand to strike mine aside.
It was a foolish act, for if I had not snatched at him he would have gone backwards, but this time he clung to me tightly, and the next minute was by my side.
"Oh, it's easy enough," he said, forgetting directly the ugly fall he had escaped.
"Here, now, you two lay hold of the rope and pull me up!" shouted Bigley. "I want to come too."
We took hold of the rope and tightened it, and there was a severe course of tugging for a few minutes before we slackened our efforts, and sat down and laughed, for we might as well have tried to drag up any of the ton-weight stones as Bigley.
"Oh, I say," he cried; "you don't half pull. I want to come up."
"Then you must climb as we pull," I said, and in obedience to my advice he fastened the rope round his waist, and tried to climb as we hauled, with the result that after a few minutes' scuffling and rasping on the rock poor Bigley was sitting down rubbing himself softly, and looking up at us with a very doleful expression of countenance.
"You can't get up, Big; you're too heavy," cried Bob, who was now in the best of tempers. "Here, let's look round, Sep."
That did not take long, for there were only a few square feet of surface to traverse. We were up at the top, and could see a long way round; but then so we could fifteen or twenty feet below, and at the end of five minutes we both were of the same way of thinking—that the principal satisfaction in getting up to the summit of a rock or mountain was in being able to say that you had mastered a difficulty.
Bob thoroughly expressed my feelings when, after amusing himself for a few minutes by throwing dry cushions of moss down at Bigley, he exclaimed:
"Well, what's the good of stopping here? Come on down again!"
"I'm ready," I said, "only I wish old Big had come up too."
"I don't," said Bob; "what's the good of wishing. I'm not going to make my hands sore with tugging. He had no business to grow so fat."
"I should like to come up," cried Bigley dolefully.
"Ah, well, you can't!" shouted back Bob. "Serves you right pretending to be a man when you're only a boy."
"I can't help it," replied Bigley with a sigh.
"Let's have one more try to have him up," I cried.
"Sha'n't. What's the good? I don't see any fun in trying to do what you can't."
"Never mind: old Big will like it," I said. "Come on."
Bob reluctantly took hold of the rope, and after giving a bit of advice to our companion, he made another desperate struggle while we pulled, but the only result was that we all grew exceedingly hot and sticky, and as Bigley stood below, red-faced and panting with his efforts, Bob put an end to the project by sliding down the rope to his side, so there was nothing left for me to do but to follow.
This I did, but not till I had had a good long look round from my high perch at the deeply-cut ravine with its rugged piled-up masses of cliff, and tiny river, to which it seemed to me I was now the heir.
A GUNPOWDER PLOT.
We three boys sat down at the edge of the steepest side of the crags after this to rest, and think what we should do next, and to help our plans we amused ourselves by pitching pieces of loose stone down as far as we could.
Then the rope was dragged over the Beacon rock and coiled up, while I tugged and wriggled the iron bar to and fro till I could get it free.
"Let's go down to the shore now, and see if we can find some crabs," I said. "The tide's getting very low."
"What's the good?" said Bob picking up the iron bar, and chipping this stone and loosening that. "I say, why don't some of those stones rock? They ought to."
He began to wander aimlessly about for a few minutes, and then, finding a piece that must have been about a hundredweight, he began to prise it about using the iron bar as a lever, and to such good effect that he soon had it close to the edge.
"Look here, lads," he cried, "here's a game! I'm going to send this rolling down."
We joined him directly, for there seemed to be a prospect of some amusement in seeing the heavy rugged mass go rolling down here, making a leap down the perpendicular parts there, and coming to an anchor somewhere many hundred feet below where we were perched.
For there was not even a sheep in sight, the side of the valley below us being a rugged mass of desolation, only redeemed by patches of whortleberry and purple heath with the taller growing heather.
"Over with it, Bob," cried Bigley; "shall I help?"
"No, no, you needn't help neither," said Bob. "I'm going to do it all myself scientifically, as Doctor Stacey calls it. This bar's a fulcrum."
"No, no," I said; "that isn't right."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Bigley.
"Then what is it, please, Mr Clever? Doctor Stacey said bars were fulcrums, and you put the end under a big stone, and then put a little one down for a lever—just so, and then you pressed down the end of the bar—so, and then—"
"Oh! Look at it," cried Bigley.
For Bob had been suiting the action to the word, and before he realised what he was doing the effect of the lever was to lift the side of the big stone, so that it remained poised for a few moments and then fell over, gliding slowly for a few feet, and then gathering velocity it made a leap right into a heap of debris which it scattered, and then another leap and another, followed by roll, rush, and rumble, till, always gathering velocity, amidst the rush and rattle of stones, it made one final bound of a couple of hundred feet at least, and fell far below us on a projecting mass of rock, to be shivered to atoms, while the sound came echoing up, and then seemed to run away down the valley and out to sea.
No one spoke for a few moments, for the feeling upon us was one of awe.
"I say, that was fine!" cried Bob at last. "Let's do another. You don't mind, do you, Sep?"
"N-no," I said, "I don't think it does any harm."
I spoke hesitatingly, as I could not help wondering what my father would have said had he been there.
"Come along," cried Bob, who was intensely excited now, "let's send a big one down."
His eagerness was contagious, and we followed him up a little along the edge of the steep cliff to find a bigger piece; but, though we could find plenty of small ones, which we sent bounding down by the help of the iron lever with more or less satisfactory results, the heavy masses all seemed to have portions so wedged or buried in the live rock that our puny efforts were without avail.
"I tell you what," said Bigley at last, "I know!"
"What do you know?" cried Bob with a sneer, for somehow, though he could easily have taken us one under each arm, Bigley used to be terribly pecked by both.
For answer Bigley pointed up at the ragged comb-like ridge above us.
"Well, what are you doing that for?" cried Bob.
"Let's send down the big boulder."
We looked up at the great stone which we had long ago dubbed the Boulder, because it was so much like one of the well-rolled pieces on the shore, and there it lay a hundred feet beyond us, looking as if a touch would send it thundering down.
"Hooray!" cried Bob. "Why, I say, Sep, he isn't half such a stupid as you said he was."
"I didn't say he was stupid," I cried indignantly.
"Oh, yes, you did!" said Bob with a grin; "but never mind now. Come on, lads. I say, it's steeper there, and as soon as it comes down it will make such a rush."
"Can't hurt anything, can it?" I said dubiously.
"Yes; it'll hurt you if you stand underneath," said Bob grinning. "Come along. What can it hurt? Why, it wouldn't even hurt a sheep if there was one there. My! Wouldn't he scuttle away if he heard it coming."
Bob was right, there was nothing to harm, and the displacement of a big stone in what was quite a wilderness of rough fragments would not even be noticed. So up we climbed, and in a few minutes were well on the ridge grouped on one side of the big boulder.
"Now, then," Bob cried; "you are strongest, old Big, and you shall help her. Look here; I'll get the bar under, and Sep and I will hoist. Then you put your shoulder under this corner and heave, and over she goes."
"Bravo, skipper!" I said, for he gave his orders so cleverly and concisely that the task seemed quite easy.
"Wait a moment," he cried. "I haven't got the bar quite right. That's it. My! Won't it go!"
"Pah! Tah! Tah! Tah!" rang out over our heads just like a mocking laugh, as a couple of jackdaws flew past, their dark shadows seeming to brush us softly as they swept by.
"Now, then, Big. Don't stand gaping after those old powder-pates. Now: are you ready?"
"Yes, I'm ready," cried Bigley.
"And you, Sep? Come and catch hold of the bar. Now, then, altogether. Heave up, Big. Down with it, Sep. Altogether. Hooray! And over she goes."
But over she did not go, for the great mass of stone did not budge an inch.
"Here, let's shift the bar, lads," cried Bob. "I haven't got it quite right."
He altered the position of the lever, thrusting in a piece of stone close under the rock so as to form a fulcrum, and then once more being quite ready he moistened his hands.
"Get your shoulder well under it, Big; shove down well, Sep, and we shall have such a roarer."
"Wait a moment," I said.
"Let's make sure there's nobody below."
"Oh! There's nobody," cried Bob; though he joined me in looking carefully down into the gorge; but there was nothing visible but a bird or two below, and a great hawk circling round and round high above us in the sunny air, as if watching to see what we were about.
"Oh! There's no one below, and not likely to be," cried Bob. "Now, then, my jolly sailor boys, heave ho. One—two—three, and over she goes."
No she didn't.
We pressed down at the lever, and Bigley heaved and grunted like an old pig grubbing up roots, but the grey mass of stone did not even move.
"Oh! You are a fellow, Big!" cried Bob, stopping to wipe his forehead. "You didn't half shove."
"That I did!" cried Bigley, rising up and straightening himself. "I heaved up till something went crack, and I don't know whether it's buttons, or stitches, or braces. Braces," he added, after feeling himself about. "Oh! Here's a bother, it's torn the buckle right off!"
"Never mind the buckle, lad. Let's send this stone over. I want to see it go; don't you, Sep?"
"Of course I do," I said. "Now, then, all together once more. Shove the bar in here, Bob."
"Oh, it's of no use to shove it there," he replied. "No; here's the place. Ah! Now we've got it."
"Shall I come there and help with the bar?" cried Bigley.
"No, you sha'n't come there and help with the bar," sneered Bob. "There ain't hardly room for us two to work, and you'd want a great bar half a mile long all to yourself. Only wish I was as strong as you, an' I'd just pop that stone over in half a minute."
"Would you?" said Big, staring at him sadly. "I can't."
"No, because you don't half try."
"Oh, don't I? Now you both heave again, and this time we'll do it."
"All right," cried Bob excitedly. "Now, then, all together, heave ho, my lads, heave ho! And this does it. One—two—three—and—"
"Oh, look at that!" cried Bigley, straightening himself again. "There now, did you ever see such a chap?" cried Bob, stamping with rage; "just as she was going over, and it only wanted about half a pound to do it, he leaves off."
"Well, how would you like your other brace buckle to get torn up by the roots?" said Bigley reproachfully.
"Brace buckles! Why, your brace buckles are always coming off," said Bob. "I wouldn't be such a great lumbering chap as you are for all Devonshire and part o' Wales."
"I can't help it," said Bigley sadly, as he tried to repair damages, and failing that, secured his clothing by tying his braces tightly round his waist. "I didn't want to grow so big all at once. Everybody laughs at me for it."
"Nobody minds your being big," cried Bob, "if you would only be useful. Your braces are always breaking."
"I'm very sorry, Bob, old chap."
"What's the good of being sorry now?" replied Bob. "You've spoiled all the fun. It's no use stopping if you chaps won't help."
"Why, we did help, Bob," I said, "and the stone didn't move a bit. It's too heavy."
"It did move, I tell you. If you want to quarrel you'd better say so, and I'll be off home. I don't want to fight."
"More do I, Bob," I replied; "but it didn't really move. Did it, Big?"
"If you say it didn't, Big, I'll give you a crack right in the eye," cried Bob fiercely, as he doubled his fist.
Bigley's mouth was opened to speak, but Bob was so energetic and fierce that it remained like a round O, and the great fellow looked so comical that I burst out into a fit of laughter which set Bob laughing too, and this made Big stare at us both in a puzzled way; but by degrees he caught the mood of the moment and laughed too, and the cloud that overhung our expedition drifted away.
"Well," said Bob at last in a disappointed tone, "I s'pose we may as well go down on the beach crabbing, for we can't move that stone."
"I know how we could move it," cried Bigley suddenly.
"Tchah! How?" I said.
"Same as my father moved the great rock out there in the cove. There was a big lump there that was always dangerous for the lugger when she was coming in."
"Well, what then?" said Bob contemptuously.
"Why," continued Big eagerly, "he waited till the spring tides and the water was terribly low, and then he put a lot of gunpowder in a hole under it and laid a train, and smeared a piece of rag with powder, and nicked the flint and steel till the rag caught fire, and then he ran away."
"Well?" I said.
"Well, then the rag sparked and spit fire till the train began to run, and then the train set light to the powder, and there was a big bom boom."
"A big what?" we both cried.
"A big bom boom," said Bigley.
"Why, you didn't say anything about a big bom boom being there before," cried Bob. "I don't believe there is such a thing."
"Now, how you do go on!" cried Bigley. "You know what I mean—a big bang when the powder went off."
"Then why don't you call things by their right name?" said Bob. "A bang's a bang and nothing else."
"Well, the powder went bang and knocked the big rock right off the place where it stood."
"What! Up in the air?" I said.
"Up in the air? No; over into the deep water, where it sank to the bottom."
"Well, you don't suppose we're such old stupids as to think it floated, do you?" cried Bob.
"No, of course not, but that's what it did."
"I don't believe it," said Bob stubbornly.
"You don't believe it?" I said, while poor Bigley stood staring at the last speaker.
"No. If that had been true old Big would have been bouncing about it at school, and told us that story, as he always does everything he knows, nine hundred thousand times, till we were all tired of hearing it."
"But I'd forgotten all about it till just now," pleaded Bigley.
"Ah, well," said Bob, who was sitting on the big stone swinging his legs to and fro, "I don't believe it, and if I did, what then?"
"Why, I thought," said Bigley eagerly, "if we were to put some powder under that stone, and make a train, and strew some wet powder on a piece of rag—"
"And light it, and make it fizzle, and then run away," cried Bob, mimicking Bigley's speech.
"Yes," cried the latter eagerly, "it would topple it over right down into the glen."
"There's an old stupid for you," said Bob, looking at me. Then turning to Bigley he said sharply, "Why, I haven't got my pockets full of powder, have I?"
"N-no," stammered Bigley, who was taken aback by his fierce way.
"And powder don't grow in the furze pops, does it?"
"N-no," faltered Bigley; "but—"
"Here, Sep Duncan," cried Bob, "go and see if any of the rabbits have got any in their holes. There, get out! I shall go home. What's the good of fooling about here?"
"But father's got lots of gunpowder in the shed," cried Bigley.
"Eh?" said Bob starting.
"I could go and get a handful. He'd give it me if he was at home, and he wouldn't mind my fetching some."
"Wouldn't he?" cried Bob, whose sour looks changed to eagerness. "Hooray, then! Cut off and bring your handkerchief full, and we'll send the stone sky-high."
"All right," said Bigley eagerly.
"And bring a flint and steel."
"Yes: anything else?"
"No, that'll do."
"But, I say," I ventured to put in, "wouldn't it be dangerous?"
"Dangerous! Ha, ha, ha! Hark at him, Big. Here's Miss Duncan very much afraid that the powder might go off and pop him. Oh, here's a game!"
"I'm not afraid," I said; "only I shouldn't like to do anything dangerous."
"Well, who's going to, stupid?" said Bob importantly. "Think I don't know what powder is. There, cut off, Big, and see how soon you can get back. We'll make a hole for the charge, same as they do in the quarry, and have it ready by the time you come. Run."
Bigley wanted no further telling, but started off at full speed diagonally down the slope, while Bob, who was all animation and good temper again, seized the iron bar, and began to look out for a suitable place for the charge.
"Hadn't we better wait and see if he can get the powder?" I ventured to say.
"Not we," said Bob. "He'll be sure to get it, and then—oh, I say, Sep, it will be a game!"
Once more I began to feel misgivings as to whether it would be such a game; but I said nothing, only looked on sometimes at Bob, who, in imitation of what he had seen at the quarries, or the places where they blasted out shelves in the cliff-side for houses to be built, was busy driving in a hole right under the big rock by means of the bar, and sometimes at where Bigley was shuffling and sliding down the side of the Gap till he disappeared behind the shed.
"If he gets the powder I wouldn't put much in," I said.
"Because it may be dangerous."
"There, get out! Just as if I didn't know what I'm doing. I've watched the quarry-men lots of times."
"Will it split the rock?" I asked.
"All depends how you put your charge," said Bob very sagely. "I'm going to make it lift the rock, and drop it down over the side, and then away it'll go and sweep a lot of those big bits with it, just as if they were skittles, and they'll all go down like a big clatter stream to the bottom."
"Here's a better place here," I said, crawling down on the opposite side of the rock.
"No, it ain't," said Bob in his opiniated manner, and without looking. "It ain't half so good. This is the place. Now go and look, and see if old Big's coming back."
I rose up again, and shading my eyes looked down to the cottage, beyond which the sea was glittering in the sun.
"No," I said; "not yet. Yes, he is: here he comes."
"Has he got it?" cried Bob.
"I don't know," I replied, "he's so far-off; but he has got something. He's waving his handkerchief."
"Here, hi! Stop! Don't do that!" cried Bob, jumping up and throwing his arms about. "You'll spill all the powder. There's an old stupid. He don't take any notice."
"Why, how can he at all that distance away? You couldn't make him hear if he was only a quarter as far."
Bob did not reply, but sat down watching, and I did the same, while poor old Bigley came panting and toiling up the slope in the hot sun.
"Oh, isn't he jolly slow," cried Bob. "I wish I'd gone myself. It'll take him all day."
"You'd have lain down and gone to sleep before you were half-way up the hill," I said maliciously, and Bob tightened his lips.
"Go on," he said sourly. "I know what you want. You want to fall out, but I sha'n't. I hate a fellow who always wants to get up a fight. I came here to-day to see if we couldn't have a bit of fun, so I sha'n't quarrel. Oh, I say, what a while he is! He's just like old Teggley Grey's horse, only he ain't so quick."
Poor old Bigley wasn't quick, certainly, for it was hot, and hard climbing to where we were perched. To have come straight up was next to impossible: the only way was to come sidewise, getting a little higher as you walked along; and toiling industriously at his task, Bigley at last reached the foot of the piled-up mass where we were waiting.
"Oh, I say, come up. Be quick. What a while you have been!" said Bob. "Got it?"
"Oh, it's all very well to talk," panted Bigley wiping his forehead, "sitting down there so quietly. It's hot."
"Never mind about it's being so hot," cried Bob. "Have you got it?"
"Did you ever hear such a chap?" cried Bob. "The powder."
"Why, of course I have. Didn't I go on purpose to get it?"
We both thought that the intention was not always followed by the deed, but we said nothing in our anxiety to get the material for our experiment; and as Bigley had come to a halt, we had to go down about a hundred feet to help him climb up the rest of the way, when he drew out a pint tin can full of powder, the flint and steel, and a piece of rag, which he had taken the precaution to damp in the stream and then wring out before starting back.
We set to work at once making the damp rag into a fuse by rubbing it well with the coarse-grained gunpowder, and then, it being decided that we could not do better than leave the powder in the tin canister, whose opening answered admirably for the insertion of the rag fuse, Bob set to work to enlarge the hole he had made till it was big enough to admit the charge.
Then with great care the end of the rag was thrust into the powder, and held there with a piece of slaty chip, sufficient length of the rag being left to reach out beyond the side of the stone.
Next Bob took the tin and thrust it into its place far under the rock, and the only remaining thing to do was to light the fuse and get well out of the way.
"Who's going to nick the steel?" I said.
"Well," said Bob coolly, "as I've done nearly all the rest of the work you may as well do that."
I felt a moment's hesitation, nothing more, and taking the flint, steel, and tinder-box, with a brimstone match, I went down on my knees beside the stone, where the piece of rag lay out ready, and after a great deal of nicking I made one of the sparks I struck fall into the tinder-box, and, after the customary amount of blowing, produced enough glow to ignite the tip of the brimstone-dipped match, which by careful shading fluttered and burned with a blue flame nearly invisible in the noontide light.
It was an extremely risky proceeding, for we had dropped some of the powder in among the short dry moss and stones, and then, too, the rag was drying fast, and it was quite within the range of possibilities that when I lit one end it might communicate too rapidly with the powder in the canister, and the explosion would take place before I could get out of the way.
But Bob Chowne and Bigley were standing only a couple of yards behind me, ready to dodge behind some of the great rocks on the comb of the ridge, and I believe that in those days I possessed so much of the Spartan fortitude which pervaded our school, that I would sooner have been blown up than show fear. So I sheltered my match, bending lower and lower, till I could bring it to a level with the powder-smeared rag, which caught at once, and began to sparkle and scintillate, sending up a thin blue flame at the same time.
That was enough, and throwing the match away, I began to back towards the lookers-on, but hearing a scuffling noise among the stones, I looked round to see that they were both running.
"Come on!" shouted Bob. "Look sharp, Sep!"
As they had begun to run it seemed to be no shame for me to do the same, so I darted after them, and found them just on the other side of the ridge, lying down behind some of the great rocks.
"That's right," cried Bob. "Creep close; nothing can hurt us here. Are you sure you left the thing burning?"
"Quite," I said. "It must be off directly."
I don't know whether Bigley was aware of the fact, but he crept close between two rocks and behaved just as an ostrich is said to do, for he stuck his head right in and then seemed to consider that he was quite safe.
Suddenly, as we were listening impatiently for the explosion, an idea occurred to me.
"I say," I said, "what's the good of all this? We sha'n't see the stone go down."
Bob started up in a sitting position, and gave Bigley a tremendous slap which made him follow suit.
"Why, you are a chap!" he said as the idea came home to him too. "Why didn't you say so sooner?"
"I didn't think of it," I replied.
"Oh!" exclaimed Big dolefully, "what was the use of me taking all that trouble about the powder. I'm hot yet with climbing."
"It's all Sep Duncan's fault," cried Bob. "I never did see such a chap as he is. Well, what's to be done now?"
"Let's go on the top again and see it go," cried Big.
"Oh, no," I said, "it wouldn't be safe till the powder's gone off."
"You mean it wouldn't have been safe if I'd done what you wanted," cried Bob triumphantly. "I say, Big, he wanted me to put the powder under the stone on the other side, so that when it went off it would have blown the stone over this side instead of down into the Gap, only I wouldn't."
"Well, it does seem a pity after taking all that trouble," cried Bigley dolefully. "I say, isn't it time it started?"
"Yes," said Bob in his sour way. "I don't believe old Sep lighted the rag."
"That I'm sure I did, and it was smoking fast when I came away."
"Ran away, you mean, you coward!"
"Ho—ho—ho!" laughed Bigley.
"What are you laughing at, stupid?" said Bob.
"At you. Didn't you say to me, 'come on, Big, let's run for it now. It's all alight.'"
"Well, I thought it was then, old clever-shakes. Don't you be so precious ready with your tongue."
"Here, don't make all this bother," I said pettishly. "I did light the rag, and it has gone out again. Never mind, I can soon get another light."
"Let's wait a minute first," said Bob cautiously.
It was good advice, and we did wait I suppose quite a minute, but to us it seemed more than five, and considering now that it was quite safe, I jumped up and we went back to the ridge, looking eagerly towards the place where the stone hung over the Gap, but it was hidden from us by the great blocks we had run round, or else probably we might have seen what we smelt—the thin blue stream of smoke that curled up from beneath the great block.
As it was, our noses and not our eyes saved us, for I being in front, and just about to pass on to the open edge of the Gap, stopped suddenly and said:
"I can smell burning. Can't you?"
"I can smell the tinder," said Bob. "Go on and—"
He did not finish his speech, for the earth shook beneath our feet, and we saw a flash and a great puff of smoke, and quite a hurricane of bits of slate and stone and earth came flying by our ears, turning us into statues for the moment. Then I bounded forward, followed by my companions, to stand beneath a broad canopy of smoke that floated inland, and just in time to see the great stone go rumbling and bounding down the precipitous place like a pebble, gathering force moment by moment, till it seemed to glance from a stone and make one tremendous leap of quite a couple of hundred feet right into a clump of rugged masses of rock half-way down the precipice, and these it scattered and drove before it in one great avalanche of debris down and down and down till the bottom was reached, and what had increased into quite a little landslip settled into its new home with a sullen roar.
WE DINE WITH A SMUGGLER.
We three boys stood gazing down at our work with a feeling closely akin to awe, staring at the rushing stone cataract which kept throwing off masses of grey foam which were great pieces of rock bouncing and leaping and bounding down as if delighted at being set free to move after being fixed to the earth since who could say when? No one spoke, no one moved till all was still below, and then, while I was wondering what my father would say, Bigley Uggleston suddenly made us start by tossing up his cap and shouting "Hooray!"
This roused Bob, who began to smile.
"I thought that would move it," he said coolly. "Why, what's the matter with you, Sep? Here, Big, look at him; he's quite white. Here's a game! He's frightened."
"No, I'm not," I said stoutly. "I was only thinking about what my father will say when he sees what we've done."
"Get out! Hark at him. One can't come down to the Gap now without old Sep Duncan dinning it into your ears about his father, and what he'll say, and all to show how proud he is, just because an old chap has bought a bit of land down by the sea. Why, what harm have we done?"
"Torn all that ragged place down the bottom of the cliff," I said dolefully. "It wasn't like that before."
"And what of it? Who's to know but what the stone tumbled down by itself? Nobody heard."
We looked guiltily round, but the Gap was perfectly solemn and silent, the only thing suggesting life after the two cottages and the lugger being the vessels out at sea between us and the Welsh coast.
"But it seems such a pity!" I said ruefully. "I didn't think the stone would make so much of a mark coming down."
"There he goes again!" sneered Bob. "Afraid of spoiling his father's estate. Oh, arn't we proud of two sides of a hole and a water-gully!"
I had some reason for my remarks, for as I looked down there below us, where the great mass had struck so heavily, there appeared to be a smooth grey patch as if the surface had been scraped away.
"Hi! Look, look!" cried Bigley. "See the rabbits!" We looked, and could see at least a dozen little fellows that had been scared out of their holes, scuttling about among the stones, their white cottony tails showing quite plainly in the clear air. But these soon disappeared, and the others yielding to my desire to go down and see what mischief had really been done by the fall, we all began to slip and slide and stumble down the precipitous place, keeping as nearly as we could in the course taken by the stone, till we came upon the bare-looking spot.
It was just as it had struck me; the great rock we had sent down had started a number more, and they had literally scraped off all the loose surface pieces and earth, and scoured the valley slope for a space of about three yards wide and fifty feet in depth down to the ancient rock. Below this the valley grew less steep, and the stone slide had had less force, beginning after a time to leave fragments behind, so that the place seemed little changed, except here half-way up the slope.
"Tchah!" exclaimed Bob; "nobody will notice this, and if they saw it from down below they wouldn't take the trouble to climb up."
His words seemed full of truth, for it seemed to me that nothing but the sheep and rabbits was likely to come rambling and climbing up here; so, feeling more at my ease, I began to look about with the eyes of curiosity to see if there was anything to be found.
My companions followed my example, and we examined the places that had been scoured bare, to see that they were very much like the cliffs down by the shore, being evidently of the slate common there, a coarse grey slate, stained with markings of lavender and scarlet pink, which, where it was freshly fractured, glistened in the sun like some portions of a wood-pigeon's breast.
There was nothing else to see, and my companions went on climbing down, while I lingered for a few minutes picking up a bit of broken stone here and another there, to throw them away again, all but one bit which looked dark and shiny, something like a bit of Welsh coal, only it wasn't coal, and that I put in my pocket.
"Come on!" shouted Bob; "we're going down to the shore."
I hurried after them, and we went lower and lower till we reached the little river, which ran glistening and rippling over the stones.
We had no tackle but our hands, and so the little trout that revelled in the clear water escaped that day; but we were obliged to stop at every swirling pool where the water grew deep and dark, to have a good stare at the little speckled beauties, and lay plots against their happiness.
These pauses took up a good deal of time, so that it was about one o'clock when we reached Uggleston's cottage, and, as it happened, just as its tenant was coming up from his boat, having just landed from some expedition along the coast.
He was not alone, for old Binnacle Bill, as we called him, was behind, carrying the oars and the mast with the little sail twisted round, so as to put them in Uggleston's lean-to shed.
As we drew nearer I began to wonder what sort of a reception we were going to receive from old Jonas Uggleston; and it struck me very forcibly then, how strange it seemed that he should be the father of my school-fellow, who was always well dressed, that is as school-boys are, while he was just like an ordinary fisherman of the coast, with rough flannel trousers rolled up, big fisherman's boots, blue worsted shirt, and an otter-skin cap, from beneath which his grisly hair stuck out in an untended mass, while his beard, that was more grisly still, half covered his dark-brown face.
He was a stern, fierce-looking man, with large dark eyes that seemed to ferret out everything one was thinking about, and as he came up he looked at us all searchingly in turn.
"Hallo, father! Been along the coast?" cried Bigley, striding up to him; and there was just a faint kind of smile on Jonas Uggleston's face as his son shook hands and then took his arm in a way that seemed to come like a surprise to me, for it seemed so curious that my school-fellow Bigley could like that fierce, common-looking man.
"Hallo, Big!" growled old Jonas grimly, "keeping your holidays then. Who've you got here? Oh! It's you, young Chowne, is it? Ah! I was coming over to see your father 'bout my foot as I got twisted 'tween two bits o' rock—jumping; but it's got better now. Home from school?"
"Yes, sir; we came home yesterday," said Bob, staring hard at old Uggleston's mahogany hands.
"And who's this, eh? Oh, young Cap'n Duncan, eh?" continued the old fellow, turning to me as if he were not sure. "So you've come home from school, eh?"
"Yes, sir," I said; "I came with them yesterday."
"Well, I know that, don't I?" he said sharply. "Think folk as don't go to school don't know nothing, eh?"
"Oh, no, sir," I said apologetically.
"'Cause they do, you know. And so we must buy the Gap, must we, and get to be landlords, must we, and want to turn parties as has lived here twenty or thirty years or more out of their houses and homes, must we? Now, look ye here, young gent, what I've got to say is—Bah! What a fool I am," he cried, smiting his open left hand with his fist. "What am I talking about? 'Tar'n't his fault."
I was standing aghast and wishing myself a long way off, when his whole manner changed and he patted me on the shoulder.
"'Tar'n't your fault, my lad, 'tar'n't your fault. So you've come home for the holidays, eh?"
"Hah! Bigley, my big babby, often talks about you when he writes to me, lad. You're mates, eh?"
"Oh, yes," I said, finding his tone roughly kind now. "We sleep in the same room."
"Hah, yes! Well, and what have you chaps been about?"
"Oh, climbing about, and down by the stream, father," put in Bigley quickly.
"And you ar'n't hungry a bit, eh, lads? Well, I am," he said, without waiting for us to speak. "Let's go in and see what Mother Bonnet has got for us."
I was for hanging back, and so was Bob, who was jealous of the extra notice taken of me; but old Jonas Uggleston took hold of us both by the shoulders and marched us before him as if we were prisoners, and regularly pushed us in at the low door and into the low rustic-looking room, with its floor formed of big rough slabs of slate, and its whitewashed walls hung with all kinds of fishing gear and odds and ends, that looked very much as if they had come from different wrecks, so out of keeping were they with the plain, homely room, smelling strangely of sea-weed with a dash of fish.
"And I thought there'd be something ready to eat," said old Jonas. "That's right, Big, put some chairs to the table, and come to an anchor all of you."
He smiled grimly as he thrust both Bob and me into chairs and then turned to his son.
"Take the big pitcher, boy, and fill it from the cider barrel. It's in the back place yonder. Good cider won't hurt boys. It's only like drinking apples 'stead o' chewing of 'em. I'm going to dip my hands. Back directly."
He nodded and left the room with his son, leaving Bob and me staring at each other across the table.
"Don't it seem rum," he whispered, "having no table-cloth?"
I said it did, but then the table was beautifully clean, and so were the silver table-spoons, and the silver mug at the end where old Jonas sat. While, to make the table thoroughly attractive to us hungry boys, who had been walking all the morning, there was a good-sized cold salmon on a big dish; a great piece of cold ham; a large round loaf that looked as if it had been baked in a basin, and a plate of butter and a dish of thick yellow cream.
These substantial things had a good effect upon Bob Chowne, whose face began to look smooth and pleasant, and who showed his satisfaction farther by kicking me under the table, for he was afraid to make any more remarks, because we could hear Jonas Uggleston, in some place at the back, blowing and splashing as if he were washing himself in a bucket; and of this last there was no doubt, for we heard the handle rattle, then a loud splash, as if he had thrown the dirty water out of the window, and the bucket set down and the handle rattling again.
This made Bob kick me again painfully, and he grinned and his eyes seemed to say, "No jug and basin, and no washstand."
Just then Bigley came in with a great brown jug of cider, smiling all over his face.
"I say, I am glad father has asked you to stop," he said. "We'll get him to let us have the boat after dinner."
Just then old Jonas came in without his otter-skin cap, combing the thick grisly fringe round his head, the top of which was quite bare; and directly after from another door—for there were doors nearly everywhere, because Jonas Uggleston had built the cottage very small at first and then kept on adding rooms, and kitchens, and wash-house with stores—Mother Bonnet came in, an elderly plump woman, who always put me in mind of a cider apple when it was ripe.
Mother Bonnet was Binnacle Bill's wife, and lived at the cottage on the other side of the stream, but she came and "did for" Master Uggleston, as she called it; that is to say, she cooked and kept the house clean; and she bore in hand a dish of hot new potatoes, which were very scarce things with us and a deal thought of by some people for a treat.
She nodded to us all in turn, and was going away again, when Jonas shouted "Winegar," and Mother Bonnet hurriedly produced a big black bottle from a corner cupboard, and placed it upon the table.
That was about as rough a dinner as Bob Chowne and I had ever sat down to, but how delicious it was!
"'Live last night," said Jonas, digging great pieces of the salmon off with a silver spoon, and supplying our plates.
"You catch him, father?" said Bigley.
"Yes, Big. Weir."
"Weir," I thought to myself. "Weir? What does he mean by weir?"
"Eat away, my lads," cried Jonas Uggleston. "Big: have off some bread."
"When did you finish the weir, father?" said Bigley, with his mouth full, in spite of all Dr Stacey had said.
"Seccun April, boy. You can work it a bit, now you're down."
Bigley looked at us with eager eyes, but we were too busy to pay much attention, though I was anxious to see a weir that would catch salmon, and ready to ask questions as soon as the dinner was done.
"Pour out the cider, lad. It's a fresh cask, and it's good. I bought some at Squire Allworth's sale."
Bigley began to pour out for us, old Jonas having pushed his silver mug to my side, while he took a brown one from a shelf for his and Bob's use; and I was feeling sorry that he should have given me the silver mug, because Bob would not like it, when, just as old Jonas mentioned Squire Allworth's sale, his face changed again, and I saw his scowl as he looked at me.
"He's thinking about my father buying the Gap," I said to myself; but forgot it all directly, for the fierce look passed away as the old man lifted his cup.
"Taste it, boys, and it'll make you think of being in the sunshine in an orchard, with the sun ripening the apples. Now then: salmon getting bony. Who'll have some ham?"
We all would, and we were quite ready afterwards to attack and finish off a pot of raspberry jam which Mother Bonnet brought in with a smile; and the raspberry jam, the beautiful butter and bread, and the cream worked such an effect upon Bob Chowne that he exclaimed suddenly:
"Oh, don't I wish Dr Stacey would give us dinners like this!"
Old Jonas uttered a hoarse harsh laugh, which made me feel uncomfortable, for he did not look as if he were laughing, but as if he were in a very severe and angry fit with somebody.
"There," he said, when we had quite done, "be off, boys, now. I'm going to be busy."
"Yes, father," said Big. "May we have the boat and go out for a sail?"
Old Jonas turned sharply round on him, and looked as if he were going to knock his son down, so fierce was his aspect.
"No!" he roared.
"No, father?" faltered Bigley.
"No!" said old Jonas, not quite so fiercely. "Do you think I want to spend all next week on the look-out to find you chaps when you're washed ashore—drowned?"
"Oh, father! Just as if it was likely!"
"Haw, haw!" laughed old Jonas, and it did not seem like a laugh, but as if he were calling his son bad names. "You can manage a boat all of you, can't you, and row and reef and steer? Get out. Books is in your way, and writin', and sums, not boats."
"Hold your tongue. I don't want to lose my boat, and I don't want to lose you. May be useful some day. Doctor wants his boy too, teach him to make physic; and I ar'n't no spite again' young Duncan here, so I dunno as I partic'lar wants him throw'd up on the beach with his pockets full o' shrimps; so, No. Now be off. Go and look at the weir."
A SEA-SIDE WEIR.
"It's of no good," said Bigley, as we tramped down over the rough sand and pebbles. "When he says 'no' he means it. We could have managed the boat all right. I say, I'll get him some day to let Binnacle Bill take us, and we'll buy some twisty Bristol for him, and make him spin yarns."
"But where's the weir?" I said, as we were getting close down to where the sea was breaking, and where the fresh-water of the little river came bubbling up from among the boulders after its dive down below, and was now mingling with the salt water of the sea.
"Where's the weir?" cried Bigley. "Why, this is it."
"This?" said Bob, "why it's only a lot of hurdles." So it appeared at first sight, but it was ingeniously contrived all the same for its purpose; and in accordance with the habits of the salmon and other fish that are fond of coming up with the tide to get into fresh-water, and run up the different rivers and streams.
It was a very simple affair, and looked to be exactly what Bob had said—a lot of old hurdles. But it was strongly made all the same, and consisted of a couple of rows of stout stakes driven down into the beach, just after the fashion of the figure on the opposite page, with one row towards the sea, and the other running up beside where the stream water bubbled up and towards the shore. In and out of these stakes rough oak boughs were woven so closely, that from the bottom to about four feet up, though the water would run through easily enough, there was no room for a decent-sized fish to go through, while down at the bottom all this was strengthened by being banked up with stones inside and out, and all carefully laid and wedged in together, and cemented with lime.
Now when the tide was up all these posts and hurdles were covered with water, and as the fish swam up to meet the fresh stream, a great many would sometimes be over the ground inclosed by the weir, searching about for food washed down by the stream, or for the little shrimps and other water creatures that hung about the hurdles, which were a favourite place too with mussels, which cling to such wood-work by thousands. Now though they are easily frightened it does not seem as if fish have much brain, for sometimes they stopped swimming about inside these hurdles till the tide had run down as low as the tops of the posts, and then, feeling it was time for them to be off with the tide, they'd start to swim off, but only to find themselves shut in.
Sometimes it would be a shoal of grey mullet, sometimes a salmon or two that had tried to get up the stream, and could not get by the pebble bar; and there they would be swimming about, not feeling their danger till it was too late.
First of all they would try to get through the hurdles, and there they would keep on trying till some wise one amongst them thought that by swimming round the ends at A or B they would reach the open sea.
Sometimes they would do this and escape. They all follow one another like sheep in a flock; but generally they do not try to get round the ends till it is too late, for while there is still plenty of water at C there is very little at B and none at all at A, and the consequence is that the fish are left splashing when the tide goes out, in a few little shallow pools, where there is nothing to do but scoop them out with a bit of a net.
The tide was getting well down, and the hurdles were nearly all bare, but there was too much water for us to see whether there were any fish left, and so we stood on first one big boulder, and then upon another, as they were left dry, every now and then making a bold leap on to a rock, to stand there surrounded by water, and now and then obliged to jump back to avoid a wetting.
But at last the hurdles and stones at the sea end of the weir were completely left by the tide, so that we could walk down, and then, as the water shallowed more and more in the triangular inclosure, we looked out eagerly for fish.
"There they are—lots of 'em!" cried Bob excitedly, for he was too much interested to be disagreeable and say unpleasant things.
"Oh, those are only little ones," cried Bigley, as the little silvery fry kept flashing out of the surface. "They'll all go out through the holes. You'll see none of them will be left."
And so it proved; for as the water in the inclosure sank lower and lower the small fry were seen no more, but a swirl here and there showed that one, if not more, good-sized fish were left, and in the anticipation of a good catch we hopped about from stone to stone, and clambered along the hurdles.
"Hooray!" shouted Bob, who was now in a high state of delight, "isn't this better than learning our jolly old hic—haec—hoc, eh, Sep?"
"I should think so."
There was a shout and a splash and we two roared with laughter, for Bigley had just then made a jump to gain a stone standing clear of the falling water, when, not allowing for the slippery sea-weed that grew upon it in a patch, his feet glided over the smooth stone and he came down in a sitting position in the water, which flew out in spray on all sides.
"Here! Hi! Net!—net!" shouted Bob. "Come on, Sep, here's such a big one—a Bigley big one. It's a shark, I know it is. Look at his teeth!"
"It's all very well to laugh," said Bigley, getting up and standing knee-deep in the water to squeeze the moisture out of the upper part of his clothes, "but how would you like it?"
"Ever so," cried Bob; "I'm as hot as hot. Mind how you go near him, Sep, he'll bite. Oh, don't I wish I had a boat-hook, I'd fetch him out."
"I don't care. It's only sea-water. I don't mind," grumbled Bigley wading about in the pool. "I say, boys, here's a salmon and a whole lot of mullet."
"Where, where?" cried Bob, and, without a moment's hesitation he jumped in and waded towards Bigley.
"There! Can't you see 'em? There they go!" cried Bigley pointing.
"Why, out yonder! They're lying there quiet now amongst the stones."
"Oh, won't I give it you for this, old Big!" cried Bob. "There are no fish there at all. You gammoned me to make me come in and get my legs wet like yours are. Never mind, I'll serve you out."
"Why, there are some fish," cried Bigley indignantly.
"Don't you believe him, Sep," said Bob. "It's all nonsense."
"Yes, there are," I said from where I had climbed over the deepest part by clinging to the hurdles, "I can see them."
"Oh no, you can't, my lad. You'd like me to come splashing through the water there for you to laugh at me, but it won't do. There isn't a single fish in the place, only old Bigley—old Babby as his father calls him. I say, Sep, what a game! Did you ever see such a babby?"
"Don't do that," said Bigley sharply.
"Don't do what?—splash you?" cried Bob. "There—and there."
He suited the action to the word, and scooping up the water, he sent it flying over our tall schoolmate.
"You know what I mean," said Bigley, speaking in a low angry tone such as I had never before heard from him.
"Why, what do you mean?" cried Bob offensively. "Do you want me to thrash you?"
"I want you to leave my father alone, and what he says to me," said Bigley sharply. "I don't mind your making fun of me. I don't mind what you call me; but that's his name he has always used since I was a little baby, and you've no business to say it."
"Ha—ha—ha!" laughed Bob, "here's a game. Do you hear, Sep! He says he was once a little baby. I don't believe it. Ha—ha—ha!"
Bigley did not take any notice, and I did not join in the laugh, so Bob made a movement as if he were going to wade out of the pool, and his lips parted to say something disagreeable. I knew as well as could be that he was going to say that he should go home if we were about to turn like that; but his legs were wet, and the walk home was long, and not pleasant to take alone. And then there were the fish in the pool to catch, and in spite of his expressions of unbelief he knew that there must be some. So he altered his mind, and changed his tone.
"I didn't want to upset you, Big, old matey," he said. "I didn't, did I, Sep Duncan? Here, what's the good of quarrelling when it's holidays? There, I won't call you so any more."
Bigley's face cleared in a moment, and with a couple of splashes he was at Bob's side with one hand extended, and the other upon his school-fellow's shoulder.
"It's all right," he said quickly. "Shake hands, and let's get the fish. There, I'll go for the prawn net and a basket."
He ran splashing out of the water, and up over the boulders towards the cottage, leaving me and Bob together.
"I wouldn't be as big as he is," said Bob, "and I wouldn't have such a nasty temper for thousands of pounds. Here, what are you grinning at?"
"At you." For there was something so comic in his speech, coming as it did from the most ill-tempered boy in the school—Dr Stacey had often said so, and Bob proved it every day of his life—that I burst into a hearty laugh.
Bob stood knee-deep in the water staring hard at me. For the first few moments he looked furious; then he seemed to grow sulky, and then in a low surly voice he said:
"I say, Sep, it isn't true, is it?"
"Isn't what true?"
"About the—about what old stay-sail said?"
"About you being disagreeable?"
"Yes. It isn't true, is it?"
"I don't believe it," he said impetuously. "I'm as good-tempered a chap as anybody, only people turn disagreeable with me. Well, you are a pretty mate to turn against me like that."
"I don't turn against you, Bob, and I don't mind your being disagreeable," I said; "but you asked me, and I told you the truth."
Bob stood quite still and thoughtful, as if he were watching the fishes, and he began to whistle softly a very miserable old tune that the shepherds sang out on the moor—one which always suggested winter to me and driving rain and cold bleak winds.
"Look here!" I said, for the water was draining away fast out of the pool now, the stones that banked up the bottom of the woven hurdle-work being visible here and there.
But Bob did not move. He stood there with his hands deep in his pockets and the water up to his knees still, the part where he was being deeper, and he kept on whistling softly to himself.
"Why can't you look, Bob?" I said. "You can see the fishes quite plain."
"I don't want to see 'em," he replied sulkily. "When are you going home?"
"Oh, not forever so long; not till tea-time. Here comes Big!"
Bob did not look round, but his ears seemed to twitch as the sound of our schoolmates' heavy tread came over the stones, for he lumbered along at a trot with a big maund, as we called the baskets there, in one hand, a great landing-net in the other. But as Bigley came to the edge of the pool Bob waded out and said in a low quiet voice:
"Shall I carry the basket?"
We both stared, for in an ordinary way Bob would have shouted, "Here, give us hold of the net," and snatched at it or anything else in his desire to take the lead.
"No, no," cried Bigley, though. "You two chaps are visitors. You have the first go, Bob, and then let Sep Duncan try. But it's no use yet."
He was quite right; there was too much room for the fish to dart about, and so we stood here, and crept there, to watch them as they glided about among the swaying sea-weed, all brown and olive-green, and full of bladder-like pods to hold them up in the water. Sometimes there was a rush, and a swirl in the pool. At another time we could catch sight of the silvery side of some fish as it turned over and glided through the shoal. Then for a few minutes all would be perfectly still and calm—so still that it was hard to imagine that there was a fish left in the place.
And all the time the tide kept on retiring, and the water in the pool lowering, till all at once there was a tremendous rush, a great silvery fish flashed out into the air, and then fell flat upon its side, making the drops fly sparkling in the sun.
"Salmon," cried Bigley, "and a big one."
"Well, let's catch him, then," cried Bob excitedly, the gloomy feeling forgotten now in the excitement of the scene.
"Go on!" cried Bigley, handing him the net, and armed therewith Bob began to wade about, hunting the salmon from side to side of the pool, under my directions, for being high up on the dry, I could see the fish far better than those who were wading.
But it was all labour in vain. Twice over Bob touched the salmon, but it was too quick for him, and flung itself over the net splashing him from head to foot, but only encouraging him to make fresh exertions.
"Here, you come and try!" he cried at last. "You're not tired. Do you hear? You come and try, Sep Duncan. They're the slipperiest fishes I ever saw."
I shook my head. I was dry, and meant to keep so now, and said so.
"It's of no use to try," said Bigley, "not till the water's nearly gone. You can't catch 'em."
"Why, you knew that all along!" I cried.
"To be sure I did; but you wouldn't have believed me if I'd said so. Let's wait. In half an hour it will be all right, and we can get the lot."
So we waited impatiently, wading and creeping from stone to stone, and trying to count the fish in the weir pool; but not very successfully, for some we counted over and over again, and others were like the little pig in the herd, they would not stand still to be counted.
All at once it seemed as if a big retiring wave left room for nearly all the water left to run out, and though another wave came and drove some back, the next one took it away, leaving room for the weir to drain, and with a shout of triumph we charged down now at the luckless fish, which were splashing about in about six inches of water among the sea-weed and stones.
I forgot all about not meaning to get wet, for I was in over my boot-tops directly. But what did it matter out there in the warm sunshine and by the sea!
It was rare sport for us, though it was death to the fishes. But the weir was contrived to obtain a regular food supply, and we thought of nothing but catching the prisoners and transferring them to the basket.
Bob was pretty successful with the net, but he only caught the mullet. The honour of capturing the eleven-pound salmon, for such it proved to be, was reserved for Bigley and me, as I managed to drive the beautiful silvery creature right up on to the stones, and there Bigley pounced upon it, and bore it flapping and beating its tail to the basket.
As we worked, the remainder of the water sank away, leaving only a pool of an inch or so deep, and from which Bob fished three small mullet, the total caught being eleven, the largest five pounds, and the salmon eleven, the same number of pounds as there were mullet.
We bore our capture up to the cottage in triumph, where old Jonas presented me and Bob with a fine mullet a piece, the salmon and the rest being despatched at once by Binnacle Bill to Ripplemouth for sale.
It was now getting so near tea-time that we set off for home, it being understood that Bigley was to come with us as far as my home, where we were all to have tea, after which he was to set off one way, and I was to go the other; that is to say, walking part of the way home with Bob.
This I did; but when we set off I could not help feeling how much pleasanter it would have been to have gone with Bigley, for I did not anticipate any very pleasant walk. And I was right; for, whether it was the new bread, or the strength of our milk and water, I don't know—all I do know is, that Bob was as sour as he could be, and insisted upon my carrying his mullet, because he said I should have nothing to carry going home.
I STARTLE MY FATHER.
My father was first up next morning, and had been out for an hour before I went down the garden to join him, and found him walking the quarter-deck.
You must not think by these words that he was on board a ship. Nothing of the kind. He called by that name a flat place at the bottom of the garden just at the edge of the cliff, where there was a low stone wall built to keep anyone from falling over a couple of hundred feet perpendicular to the rocks and beach below.
This was my father's favourite place, where he used to spend hours with his spy-glass, and along the edge of the wall, all carefully mounted, were six small brass cannon, which came out of a sloop that was wrecked below in the bay, and which my father bought for the price of old metal when the ship was broken up and sold.
I used to think sometimes that he ought to have called the place the battery, but he settled on the quarter-deck, and the quarter-deck it remained.
Always once a year on his birthday he would load and fire all the cannons, and it was quite a sight; for he used to call himself the crew and load them and prime them, and then send me in for the poker, which had all the time been getting red-hot in the kitchen.
Then he used to take the poker from me, and I used to stop my ears. But as soon as I stopped my ears, he used to frown and say, "Take out the tompions, you young swab!"
So I used to take out the tompions—I mean my fingers—and screw up my face and look on while with quite a grand air my father, who was a fine handsome man, with a fresh colour and curly grey hair, used to stand up very erect, give the poker a flourish through the air, and bring the end down upon a touch-hole.
Then bang! There would be a tremendous roar, and the rocks would echo as the white smoke floated upwards.
A quarter of a minute more and bang would go another gun, and so on for the whole six, every one of them kicking hard and leaping back some distance on to the shingle.
When all were fired, my father used to push them on their little carriages all back into their places; then he used to "bend," as he called it, the white ensign on to the halyards, and run it up to the head of a rigged mast which stood at the corner, and close to the edge of the cliff, and after this shake hands with himself, left hand with right, and wish himself many happy returns of the day.
It was not his birthday that one on which I ran down the garden to join him; but there he was by his guns, busy with his spy-glass sweeping, as he called it, the Bristol Channel and talking to himself about the different craft.
"Hallo, Sep, my boy!" he said; "here's a morning for a holiday landsman—or boy. Well, I didn't see much of you yesterday."
"No, father," I said; "I was out all day with Doctor Chowne's boy and young Uggleston."
"Rather a queer companion for you, my boy, eh? Uggleston is a sad smuggler, they say; but let's see, his boy goes to your school?"
"Yes, father, and he's such a good fellow. We went to his house down in the Gap, and had dinner, and Mr Uggleston was very civil to me, all but—"
"Well, speak out, Sep. All but what?"
"He spoke once, father, as if he did not like your having bought the Gap."
"Hah! Very likely; but then you see, Sep, I did not consider myself bound to ask everybody's permission when I was at the sale, much more Mr Jonas Uggleston's, so there's an end of that."
"He seemed to think he would have to turn out and go, father," I said, looking at him rather wistfully, for it appeared to me as if it would be a great pity if old Uggleston and Bigley did have to turn out, because we were such friends.