The Story of the Rock, by R.M. Ballantyne.
In this book Ballantyne has brilliantly woven the story of a family that worked on the building of the Eddystone lighthouse, with the story of the actual building. Three successive attempts were made to build a lighthouse on this dangerous rock which lies several miles off the south coast of Devon, and on which so many fine ships making their way up the English Channel to the North Sea ports of Europe had been wrecked.
The first attempt was made in the early years of the eighteenth century, but that lighthouse did not last long. The second was made by Rudyerd, and was very well made and strong, but its upperworks were made of timber, and the whole thing was destroyed by fire, after having shown a light for over a third of a century. There was an amusing episode during the construction of the Rudyerd lighthouse when a French warship took all the construction workers prisoner, and made off with them to France. Luckily Louis, the King of France, heard of this and was quite incensed, ordering the British prisoners to be released and treated as hospitably as possible, while the captain of the warship was to be cast into the prison.
The final construction was by a mathematical instrument maker, of all people, called Smeaton. His lighthouse was even more soundly founded than even Rudyerd's had been, and he used the fact that stone is heavier than timber to add weight to the building, thus rendering it more resistant to the forces of wind and water. It was not only succesful as a lighthouse, but it has lasted to this day, well over two centuries, and has ever since it was completed been a highly-regarded example of the art of lighthouse building.
THE STORY OF THE ROCK, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
WRECK OF WINSTANLEY'S LIGHTHOUSE.
"At mischief again, of course: always at it."
Mrs Potter said this angrily, and with much emphasis, as she seized her son by the arm and dragged him out of a pool of dirty water, into which he had tumbled.
"Always at mischief of one sort or another, he is," continued Mrs Potter, with increasing wrath, "morning, noon, and night—he is; tumblin' about an' smashin' things for ever he does; he'll break my heart at last—he will. There: take that!"
"That," which poor little Tommy was desired to take, was a sounding box on the ear, accompanied by a violent shake of the arm which would have drawn that limb out of its socket if the child's bones and muscles had not been very tightly strung together.
Mrs Potter was a woman of large body and small brain. In respect of reasoning power, she was little better than the wooden cuckoo which came out periodically from the interior of the clock that stood over her own fireplace and announced the hours. She entertained settled convictions on a few subjects, in regard to which she resembled a musical box. If you set her going on any of these, she would harp away until she had played the tune out, and then begin over again; but she never varied. Reasons, however good, or facts, however weighty, were utterly powerless to penetrate her skull: her "settled convictions" were not to be unsettled by any such means. Men might change their minds; philosophers might see fit to alter their opinions; weaklings of both sexes and all ages might trim their sails in accordance with the gales of advancing knowledge, but Mrs Potter—no: never! her colours were nailed to the mast. Like most people who unite a strong will with an empty head, she was "wiser in her own conceit than eleven men that can render a reason:" in brief, she was obstinate.
One of her settled convictions was that her little son Tommy was "as full of mischief as a hegg is full of meat." Another of these convictions was that children of all ages are tough; that it does them good to pull them about in a violent manner, at the risk even of dislocating their joints. It mattered nothing to Mrs Potter that many of her female friends and acquaintances held a different opinion. Some of these friends suggested to her that the hearts of the poor little things were tender, as well as their muscles and bones and sinews; that children were delicate flowers, or rather buds, which required careful tending and gentle nursing. Mrs Potter's reply was invariably, "Fiddlesticks!" she knew better. They were obstinate and self-willed little brats that required constant banging. She knew how to train 'em up, she did; and it was of no manner of use, it wasn't, to talk to her upon that point.
She was right. It was of no use. As well might one have talked to the wooden cuckoo, already referred to, in Mrs Potter's timepiece.
"Come, Martha," said a tall, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced man at her elbow, "don't wop the poor cheeld like that. What has he been doin'—"
Mrs Potter turned to her husband with a half angry, half ashamed glance.
"Just look at 'im, John," she replied, pointing to the small culprit, who stood looking guilty and drenched with muddy water from hands to shoulders and toes to nose. "Look at 'im: see what mischief he's always gittin' into."
John, whose dress bespoke him an artisan, and whose grave earnest face betokened him a kind husband and a loving father, said:—
"Tumblin' into dirty water ain't necessarily mischief. Come, lad, speak up for yourself. How did it happen—"
"I felled into the water when I wos layin' the foundations, faither," replied the boy; pointing to a small pool, in the centre of which lay a pile of bricks.
"What sort o' foundations d'ye mean, boy?"
"The light'ouse on the Eddystun," replied the child, with sparkling eyes.
The man smiled, and looked at his son with interest.
"That's a brave boy," he said, quietly patting the child's head. "Get 'ee into th'ouse, Tommy, an' I'll show 'ee the right way to lay the foundations o' the Eddystun after supper. Come, Martha," he added, as he walked beside his wife to their dwelling near Plymouth Docks, "don't be so hard on the cheeld; it's not mischief that ails him. It's engineerin' that he's hankerin' after. Depend upon it, that if he is spared to grow up he'll be a credit to us."
Mrs Potter, being "of the same opinion still," felt inclined to say "Fiddlesticks!" but she was a good soul, although somewhat highly spiced in the temper, and respected her husband sufficiently to hold her tongue.
"John;" she said, after a short silence, "you're late to-night."
"Yes," answered John, with a sigh. "My work at the docks has come to an end, an' Mr Winstanley has got all the men he requires for the repair of the light'ouse. I saw him just before he went off to the rock to-night, an' I offered to engage, but he said he didn't want me."
"What?" exclaimed Mrs Potter, with sudden indignation: "didn't want you—you who has served 'im, off an' on, at that light'ouse for the last six year an' more while it wor a buildin'! Ah, that's gratitood, that is; that's the way some folk shows wot their consciences is made of; treats you like a pair of old shoes, they does, an' casts you off w'en you're not wanted: hah!"
Mrs Potter entered her dwelling as she spoke, and banged the door violently by way of giving emphasis to her remark.
"Don't be cross, old girl," said John, patting her shoulder: "I hope you won't cast me off like a pair of old shoes when you're tired of me! But, after all, I have no reason to complain. You know I have laid by a good lump of money while I was at work on the Eddystone; besides, we can't expect men to engage us when they don't require us; and if I had got employed, it would not have bin for long, being only a matter of repairs. Mr Winstanley made a strange speech, by the way, as the boat was shoving off with his men. I was standin' close by when a friend o' his came up an' said he thowt the light'ouse was in a bad way an' couldn't last long. Mr Winstanley, who is uncommon sure o' the strength of his work, he replies, says he—'I only wish to be there in the greatest storm that ever blew under the face of heaven, to see what the effect will be.' Them's his very words, an'it did seem to me an awful wish—all the more that the sky looked at the time very like as if dirty weather was brewin' up somewhere."
"I 'ope he may 'ave 'is wish," said Mrs Potter firmly, "an' that the waves may—"
"Martha!" said John, in a solemn voice, holding up his finger, "think what you're sayin'."
"Well, I don't mean no ill; but, but—fetch the kettle, Tommy, d'ye hear? an' let alone the cat's tail, you mischievous little—"
"That's a smart boy," exclaimed John rising and catching the kettle from his son's and, just as he was on the point of tumbling over a stool: "there, now let's all have a jolly supper, and then, Tommy, I'll show you how the real foundation of the Eddystun was laid."
The building to which John Potter referred, and of which he gave a graphic account and made a careful drawing that night, for the benefit of his hopeful son, was the first lighthouse that was built on the wild and almost submerged reef of rocks lying about fourteen miles to the south-west of Plymouth harbour. The highest part of this reef, named the Eddystone, is only a few feet above water at high tide, and as it lies in deep water exposed to the full swell of the ocean, the raging of the sea over it in stormy weather is terrible beyond conception.
Lying as it does in the track of vessels coasting up and down the English Channel, it was, as we may easily believe, a source of terror, as well as of danger, to mariners, until a lighthouse was built upon it.
But a lighthouse was talked of long before any attempt was made to erect one. Important though this object was to the navies of the world, the supposed impossibility of the feat, and the danger apprehended in the mere attempt, deterred any one from undertaking the task until the year 1696, when a country gentleman of Essex, named Henry Winstanley, came forward, and, having obtained the necessary legal powers, began the great work of building on the wave-lashed rock.
Winstanley was an eccentric as well as a bold man. He undoubtedly possessed an ingenious mechanical mind, which displayed itself very much in practical joking. It is said of him that he made a machine, the spring of which was attached to an old slipper, which lay (apparently by chance) on the floor of his bedroom. If a visitor kicked this out of his way, a phantom instantly arose from the floor! He also constructed a chair which seized every one who sat down in it with its arms, and held them fast; and in his garden he had an arbour which went afloat in a neighbouring canal when any one entered it! As might have been expected, Winstanley's lighthouse was a curious affair, not well adapted to withstand the fury of the waves. It was highly ornamented, and resembled a Chinese pagoda much more than a lighthouse. Nevertheless it must be said to the credit of this bold man, that after facing and overcoming, during six years, difficulties and dangers which up to that time had not been heard of, he finished his lighthouse, proved hereby the possibility of that which had been previously deemed impossible, and gave to mankind a noble example of enterprise, daring, and perseverance.
Our friend John Potter had, from the commencement, rendered able assistance in the dangerous work as a stone cutter, and he could not help feeling as if he had been deserted by an old friend that night when the boat went off to the rock without him.
It was in November 1703, when Winstanley expressed the wish that he might experience, in his lighthouse, the greatest storm that ever blew. On the 26th of that month his wish was granted! That night there arose one of the fiercest gales that ever strewed our shores with wrecks and corpses. The day before the storm, there were indications of its approach, so John Potter went down to the shore to look with some anxiety at the lighthouse. There it stood, as the sun went down, like a star on the horizon, glimmering above the waste of foaming water. When the dark pall and the driving sprays of that terrible night hid it from view, John turned his back on the sea and sought the shelter of his humble home.
It was a cheery home though a poor one, for Mrs Potter was a good housewife, despite her sharp temper; and the threatening aspect of the weather had subdued her somewhat.
"You wouldn't like to be a lighthouse-keeper on a night like this, John, would you?" asked Mrs Potter, as she busied herself with supper.
"May be not: but I would be content to take things as they are sent. Anyhow, I mean to apply for the situation, because I like the notion of the quiet life, and the wage will be good as well as sure, which will be a matter of comfort to you, old girl. You often complain, you know, of the uncertainty of my present employment."
"Ay, but I'd rather 'ave that uncertainty than see you run the risk of bein' drownded in a light'ouse," said Mrs Potter, glancing uneasily at the window, which rattled violently as the fury of the gale increased.
"Oh, faither," exclaimed Tommy, pausing with a potato halfway to his mouth, as he listened partly in delight and partly in dread to the turmoil without: "I wish I was a man that I might go with 'ee to live in the light'ouse. Wot fun it would be to hear the gale roarin' out there, an' to see the big waves so close, an' to feel the house shake, and—oh!"
The last syllable expressed partly his inability to say more, and partly his horror at seeing the fire blown almost into the room!
For some time past the smoke had poured down the chimney, but the last burst convinced John Potter that it was high time to extinguish the fire altogether.
This accomplished, he took down an old family Bible from a shelf, and had worship, for he was a man who feared and loved God. Earnestly did he pray, for he had a son in the coasting trade whom he knew to be out upon the raging sea that night, and he did not forget his friends upon the Eddystone Rock.
"Get thee to bed, lass," he said when he had concluded. "I'll sit up an' read the word. My eyes could not close this night."
Poor Mrs Potter meekly obeyed. How strangely the weather had changed her! Even her enemies—and she had many—would have said there was some good in her after all, if they had seen her with a tear trickling down her ruddy cheek as she thought of her sailor boy.
Day broke at last. The gale still raged with an excess of fury that was absolutely appalling. John Potter wrapped himself in a tarpaulin coat and sou'wester preparatory to going out.
"I'll go with 'ee, John," said his wife, touching him on the shoulder.
"You couldn't face it, Martha," said John. "I thowt ye had bin asleep."
"No: I've bin thinkin' of our dear boy. I can face it well enough."
"Come, then: but wrap well up. Let Tommy come too: I see he's gettin' ready."
Presently the three went out. The door almost burst off its hinges when it was opened, and it required John's utmost strength to reclose it.
Numbers of people, chiefly men, were already hurrying to the beach. Clouds of foam and salt spray were whirled madly in the air, and, carried far inland, and slates and cans were dashing on the pavements. Men tried to say to each other that they had never seen such a storm, but the gale caught their voices; away, and seemed to mingle them all up in one prolonged roar. On gaining the beach they could see nothing at first but the heavings of the maddened sea, whose billows mingled their thunders with the wind. Sand, gravel, and spray almost blinded them, but as daylight increased they caught glimpses of the foam above the rock.
"God help us!" said John, solemnly, as he and his wife and child sought shelter under the lee of a wall: "the light'ouse is gone!"
It was too true. The Eddystone lighthouse had been swept completely away, with the unfortunate Winstanley and all his men: not a vestige, save a fragment of chain-cable, remained on the fatal rock to tell that such a building had ever been.
BEGINNING OF RUDYERD'S LIGHTHOUSE.
The terrible gale which swept away the first lighthouse that was built on the Eddystone Rock, gave ample proof of the evils resulting from the want of such a building. Just after the structure fell, a vessel, named the "Winchelsea," homeward bound, approached the dreaded rock. Trusting, doubtless, to the light which had been destroyed so recently, she held on her course, struck, split in two, and went down with every soul on board.
The necessity for building another tower was thus made; as it were, urgently obvious; nevertheless, nearly four years elapsed before any one was found with sufficient courage and capacity to attempt the dangerous and difficult enterprise.
During this period, our friend John Potter, being a steady, able man, found plenty of work at the docks of Plymouth; but he often cast a wistful glance in the direction of "the Rock" and sighed to think of the tower that had perished, and the numerous wrecks that had occurred in consequence; for, not only had some vessels struck on the Rock itself, but others, keeping too far off its dreaded locality, were wrecked on the coast of France. John Potter's sigh, it must be confessed, was also prompted, in part, by the thought that his dreams of a retired and peaceful life as a light-keeper were now destined never to be realised.
Returning home one evening, somewhat wearied, he flung his huge frame into a stout arm chair by the fireside, and exclaimed, "Heigho!"
"Deary me, John, what ails you to-night?" asked the faithful Martha, who was, as of yore, busy with the supper.
"Nothin' partikler, Martha; only I've had a hard day of it, an I'm glad to sit down. Was Isaac Dorkin here to-day?"
"No, 'e wasn't. I wonder you keep company with that man," replied Mrs Potter, testily; "he's for ever quarrelling with 'ee, John."
"No doubt he is, Martha; but we always make it up again; an' it don't do for a man to give up his comrades just because they have sharp words now and then. Why, old girl, you and I are always havin' a spurt o' that sort off and on; yet I don't ever talk of leavin' ye on that account."
To this Martha replied, "Fiddlesticks;" and said that she didn't believe in the friendship of people who were always fighting and making it up again; that for her part she would rather have no friends at all, she wouldn't; and that she had a settled conviction, she had, that Isaac Dorkin would come to a bad end at last.
"I hope not, Martha; but in the meantime he has bin the means of gettin' me some work to do that is quite to my liking."
"What may that be, John?" asked Mrs Potter in surprise.
"I'll tell you when we're at supper," said John with a smile; for he knew from experience that his better half was in a fitter state to swallow unpleasant news when engaged in swallowing her meals than at any other time.
"Where is Tommy?" he added, looking round at the quantity of chips which littered the floor.
"Where is 'e?" repeated Mrs Potter, in a tone of indignation. "Where would you expect 'im to be but after mischief? 'E's at the mod'l, of course; always at it; never at hanythingk else a'most."
"No!" exclaimed John, in affected surprise. "Wasn't he at school to-day?"
"O yes, of course 'e was at school."
"An' did he git his lessons for to-morrow after comin' 'ome?"
"I suppose 'e did."
"Ah then, he does something else sometimes, eh?"
Mrs Potter's reply was interrupted by Tommy himself emerging from a closet, which formed his workshop and in which he was at that time busy with a model of Winstanley's lighthouse, executed from the drawings and descriptions by his father, improved by his own brilliant fancy.
Four years make a marked difference on a boy in the early stage of life. He was now nearly ten, and well grown, both intellectually and physically, for his age.
"Well, Tommy, how d'ee git on wi' the light-'ouse?" asked his father.
"Pretty well, faither: but it seems to me that Mr Winstanley had too many stickin'-out poles, an' curlywurleys, an' things o' that sort about it."
"Listen to that now," said Mrs Potter, with a look of contempt, as they all sat down to supper: "what ever does the boy mean by curlywurleys?"
"You've seed Isaac Dorkin's nose, mother?"
"Of course I 'ave: what then?"
"Well, it goes in at the top and out at the middle and curls up at the end: that's curlywurley," said Tommy, with a grin, as he helped himself to a large potato.
"The boy is right, Martha," said John, laughing, "for a lighthouse should be as round an' as smooth as a ship's bow, with nothin' for wind or water to lay hold on. But now I'll tell 'ee of this noo situation."
Both mother and son looked inquiringly up, but did not speak, being too busy and hungry.
"Well, this is how it came about. I met Isaac Dorkin on my way to the docks this mornin', an' he says to me, says he, 'John, I met a gentleman who is makin' very partikler inquiries about the Eddystone Rock: his name he says is Rudyerd, and he wants to hire a lot o' first-rate men to begin a new—'"
"A noo light'ouse!" exclaimed Mrs Potter, with sudden energy, bringing her fist down on the table with such force that the dishes rattled again. "I know'd it: I did. I've 'ad a settled conviction that if ever they begun to put up another 'ouse on that there rock, you would 'ave your finger in it! And now it'll be the old story over again: out in all weathers, gettin' yer limbs bruised, if yer neck ain't broke; comin' 'ome like a drownded rat, no regular hours or meals! Oh John, John!"
Mrs Potter stopped at this point to recover breath and make up her mind whether to storm or weep. Heaving a deep sigh she did neither, but went on with her supper in sad silence.
"Don't take on like that, duckey," said John, stretching his long arm across the table and patting his wife's shoulder. "It won't be so bad as that comes to, and it will bring steady work, besides lots o' money."
"Go on with the story, faither," said Tommy, through a potato, while his eyes glittered with excitement.
"It ain't a story, lad. However, to make it short I may come to the pint at once. Isaac got engaged himself and mentioned my name to Mr Rudyerd, who took the trouble to ferret me out in the docks and—and in fact engaged me for the work, which is to begin next week."
"Capital!" exclaimed Tommy. "Oh, how I wish I was old enough to go too!"
"Time enough, lad: every dog shall have his day, as the proverb says."
Mrs Potter said nothing, but sighed, and sought comfort in another cup of tea.
Meanwhile John continued his talk in an easy, off hand sort of way, between bite.
"This Mr Rudyerd, you must know (pass the loaf, Tommy: thank 'ee), is a Cornish man—and fine, straightforward, go-ahead fellows them Cornish men are, though I'm not one myself. Ah, you needn't turn up your pretty nose, Mrs Potter; I would rather have bin born in Cornwall than any other county in England, if I'd had my choice. Howsever, that ain't possible now. Well, it seems that Mr Rudyerd is a remarkable sort of man. He came of poor an' dishonest parents, from whom he runned away in his young days, an' got employed by a Plymouth gentleman, who became a true father to him, and got him a good edication in readin', writin', an' mathematics. Ah, Tommy, my son, many a time have I had cause for to regret that nobody gave me a good edication!"
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Mrs Potter, rousing up at this. "You've got edication enough for your station in life, and a deal more than most men in the same trade. You oughtn't for to undervally yourself, John. I'd back you against all your acquaintance in the matter of edication, I would, so don't talk any more nonsense like that."
Mrs Potter concluded by emphatically stabbing a potato with her fork, and beginning to peel it.
John smiled sadly and shook his head, but he was too wise a man to oppose his wife on such a point.
"However, Tommy," he continued, "I'll not let you have the same regrets in after life, my son: God helping me, you shall have a good; edication. Well, as I was sayin', John Rudyerd the runaway boy became Mister Rudyerd the silk-mercer on Ludgate Hill, London, and now he's goin' to build a noo light'ouse on the Eddystun."
"He'd do better to mind his shop," said Mrs Potter.
"He must be a strange man," observed Tommy, "to be both a silk-mercer and an engineer."
Tommy was right: Mr Rudyerd was indeed a strange man, for the lighthouse which he ultimately erected on the Eddystone Rock proved that, although not a professional engineer, and although he never attempted any other great work of the kind, he nevertheless possessed engineering talent of the highest order: a fact which must of course have been known to Captain Lovet, the gentleman who selected him for the arduous undertaking.
The corporation of the Trinity House, who managed the lighthouses on the English coast, had let the right to build on the Eddystone, for a period of 99 years, to this Captain Lovet, who appointed Mr Rudyerd to do the work.
It was a clear calm morning in July 1706 when the boat put off for the first time to "the Rock," with the men and materials for commencing the lighthouse. Our friend John Potter sat at the helm. Opposite to him sat his testy friend, Isaac Dorkin, pulling the stroke oar. Mr Rudyerd and his two assistant engineers sat on either hand, conversing on the subject that filled the thoughts of all. It was a long hard pull, even on a calm day, but stout oars and strong arms soon carried them out to the rock. Being low water at the time, a good deal of it was visible, besides several jagged peaks of the black forbidding ridge of which the Eddystone forms a part.
But calm though it was, the party could plainly see that the work before them would be both difficult and dangerous. A slight swell from the open sea caused a long smooth glassy wave to roll solemnly forward every minute or two, and launch itself in thunder on the weather side, sending its spray right over the rock at times, so that a landing on that side would have been impossible. On the lee side, however, the boat found a sort of temporary harbour. Here they landed, but not altogether without mishap. Isaac Dorkin, who had made himself conspicuous, during the row out, for caustic remarks, and a tendency to contradict, slipped his foot on a piece of seaweed and fell into the water, to the great glee of most of his comrades.
"Ah, then, sarves you right," cried Teddy Maroon, a little Irishman, one of the joiners.
The others laughed, and so did John Potter; but he also stretched out a helping hand and pulled Dorkin out of the sea.
This little incident tended to increase the spirits of the party as they commenced preliminary operations.
The form of the little mass of rock on which they had to build was very unfavourable. Not only was it small—so small that the largest circle which it was possible to draw on it was only twenty-five feet six inches in diameter, but its surface sloped so much as to afford a very insecure foundation for any sort of building, even if the situation had been an unexposed one.
The former builder, Winstanley, had overcome this difficulty by fastening a circle of strong iron posts into the solid rock, but the weight of his building, coupled with the force of the sea, had snapped these, and thus left the structure literally to slide off its foundation. The ends of these iron posts, and a bit of chain firmly imbedded in a cleft of the rock, were all that the new party of builders found remaining of the old lighthouse. Rudyerd determined to guard against a similar catastrophe, by cutting the rock into a succession of flat steps or terraces, so that the weight of his structure should rest perpendicularly on its foundation.
Stormy weather interrupted and delayed him, but he returned with his men again and again to the work, and succeeded in advancing it very considerably during the first year—that is to say, during the few weeks of the summer of that year, in which winds and waves permitted the work to go on.
Many adventures, both ludicrous and thrilling, had these enterprising men while they toiled, by snatches as it were, sometimes almost under water, and always under difficulties; but we are constrained to pass these by, in silence, in order to devote our space to the more important and stirring incidents in the history of this the second lighthouse on the Eddystone,—one of which incidents bade fair to check the progress of the building for an indefinite period of time, and well-nigh brought the career of our hero, John Potter, and his mates to an abrupt close.
A VIOLENT INTERRUPTION.
The incident referred to in our last chapter occurred on the afternoon of a calm summer day. Early that morning, shortly after daybreak, Mr Rudyerd, with his engineers and workmen, put off in the boat to resume operations on the rock after a lapse of nearly a week, during which period rough weather had stopped the work. They landed without difficulty, the calm being so complete that there was only a little sea caused by the heavy swell on the south-west side of the Eddystone Rock, the leeside being as quiet as a pond.
"It's not often we have weather like this sir," observed John Potter to Mr Rudyerd, as the heavily-laden boat approached the landing place.
"True, John; a few weeks like this would enable us almost to complete the courses," replied the engineer. "Easy, lads, easy! If you run her up so fast you'll stave in the planks. Stand by with the fender, Teddy!"
"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the man, springing up and seizing a stuffed canvas ball, which he swung over the gunwale just in time to prevent the boat's side from grazing the rock. "There now: jump out wi' the painter; man alive!" said Teddy, addressing himself to Isaac Dorkin, who was naturally slow in his movements, "you'll go souse between the boat an' the rock av ye don't be smarter nor that."
Dorkin made some grumbling reply as he stepped upon the rock, and fastened the painter to a ring-bolt. His comrades sprang after him, and while some began to heave the tools from the boat, others busied themselves round the base of the column, which had by that time risen to a considerable height. It looked massive enough to bid defiance to wind and waves, however fierce their fury. Some such thought must have passed through Mr Rudyerd's mind just then, for a satisfied smile lighted up his usually grave features as he directed the men to arrange the tackle of the crane, by which the stones were to be removed from the boat to their place on the building. They were all quickly at work; for they knew from experience how suddenly their operations might be cut short by a gale.
In order that the reader may fully understand the details of the event which occurred that afternoon, it is necessary that he should know the nature of the structure, and the height to which, at that time, it had proceeded; and while we are on the subject, we may as well state a few facts connected with the foundation and superstructure, which cannot fail to interest all who take pleasure in contemplating man's efforts to overcome almost insuperable difficulties.
As we have said, the sloping foundation of the building was cut into a series of terraces or steps. There were seven of these. The first operation was the cutting of thirty-six holes in the solid rock, into which iron hold-fasts were securely fixed. The cutting of these holes or sockets was ingeniously managed. First, three small holes were drilled into the rock; and then these were broken into one large hole, which was afterwards smoothed, enlarged, and undercut, so as to be of dovetail form; the size of each being 7 and a half inches broad and 2 and a half inches wide at the top, and an inch broader at the bottom. They were about sixteen inches deep. Thirty-six massive malleable iron hold-fasts were then inserted, and wedged into the places thus prepared for them, besides being filled up with lead, so that no force of any kind could draw them out. The next proceeding was to place beams of solid oak timber, lengthwise, on the first step, thus bringing it level with the second step. Timbers of the same kind were then placed above and across these, bringing the level up to the third step. The next "course" of timbers was again laid, lengthwise, bringing the level to the fourth step, and so on to the seventh, above which two completely circular timber courses were laid, thus making a perfectly flat and solid foundation on which the remainder of the column might rest. The building, therefore, had no tendency to slide, even although it had not been held in its place by the thirty-six hold-fasts before mentioned. In addition to this, the various courses of timber were fastened to the rock and to each other by means of numerous iron cramps and bolts, and wooden trenails.
It was well known to Mr Rudyerd, however, that it was not possible to fit his timbers so perfectly to the rock and to each other as to exclude water altogether; and that if the water should manage to find entrance, it would exert a tremendous lifting power, which, coupled with the weight of the falling billows, would be apt to sweep his foundation away. He resolved, therefore, to counteract this by means of weight; and, in order to do this, he next piled five courses of Cornish moor-stone above the timber courses. The stones were huge blocks, which, when laid and fastened in one solid stratum, weighed 120 tons. They were not laid in cement; but each block was fastened to its fellow by joints and similar to the first. The whole of this fabric was built round a strong central mast or pole, which rose from the rock. The two timber courses above described terminated the "solid" part of the lighthouse. It rose to the height of about fourteen feet from the rock, at the centre of the building.
At this point in the structure; namely, at the top of the "solid," the door was begun on the east side; and a central "well-hole" was left, where the stair leading to the rooms above was ultimately built. The door itself was reached by a strong iron stair of open work, outside, through which the sea could easily wash.
After the solid was completed, other five courses of moor-stone were laid, which weighed about eighty-six tons. It was in these that the door-way and well-hole were made. Two more courses of wood followed, covering the door-head; and on these, four more courses of stone, weighing sixty-seven tons; then several courses of timber, with a floor of oak plank, three inches thick, over all, forming the floor of the first apartment, which was the store-room. This first floor was thirty-three feet above the rock.
The upper part of the column, containing its four rooms, was by no means so strong as the lower part, being composed chiefly of the timber uprights in which the building was encased from top to bottom. These uprights, numbering seventy-one, were massive beams; about a foot broad and nine inches thick at the bottom, and diminishing towards the top. Their seams were caulked like those of a ship, and they gave to the lighthouse when finished the appearance of an elegant fluted column. The top of the column, on which rested the lantern, rose, when finished, to about sixty-three feet above the highest part of the rock.
We have thought proper to give these details in this place, but at the time of which we write, none of the outside timbers had been set up, and the edifice had only reached that point immediately above the "solid," where the doorway and the "well-hole" began. Here a large crane had been fixed, and two of the men were up there working the windlass, by which the heavy blocks of moor-stone were raised to their places.
The signal had been given to hoist one of these, when Isaac Dorkin, who stood beside the stone, suddenly uttered a loud cry, and shouted, "hold on! Ease off up there! Hold o-o-on! D'ye hear?"
"Arrah! howld yer noise, an' I'll hear better," cried Teddy Maroon, looking over the top edge of the lighthouse.
"My thumb's caught i' the chain!" yelled Dorkin. "Ease it off."
"Och! poor thing," exclaimed Teddy, springing back and casting loose the chain. "Are ye aisy now?" he cried, again looking down at his friend.
"All right: hoist away!" shouted Stobbs, another of the men, who could scarce refrain from laughing at the rueful countenance of his comrade as he surveyed his crushed thumb.
Up went the stone, and while it was ascending some of the men brought forward another to follow it.
"There comes the boat," observed Mr Rudyerd to one of his assistant engineers, as he shut up a pocket telescope with which he had been surveying the distant shore. "I find it necessary to leave you to-day, Mr Franks, rather earlier than usual; but that matters little, as things are going smoothly here. See that you keep the men at work as long as possible. If the swell that is beginning to rise should increase, it may compel you to knock off before dark, but I hope it won't."
"It would be well, sir, I think," said Franks, "to make John Potter overseer in place of Williamson; he is a better and steadier man. If you have no objection—"
"None in the least," replied Rudyerd. "I have thought of promoting Potter for some time past. Make the change by all means."
"Please, sir," said Williamson, approaching at that moment, "I've just been at the top of the building an' observed a French schooner bearing down from the south-west."
"Well, what of that?" demanded Rudyerd.
"Why, sir," said Williamson with some hesitation in his manner, "p'raps it's a man-of-war, sir."
"And if it be so, what then?" said Rudyerd with a smile; "you don't suppose they'll fire a broadside at an unfinished lighthouse, do you? or are you afraid they'll take the Eddystone Rock in tow, and carry you into a French port?"
"I don't know, sir," replied Williamson with an offended look; "I only thought that as we are at war with France just now, it was my duty to report what I had seen."
"Quite right, quite right," replied Rudyerd, good-humouredly, "I'll record the fact in our journal. Meanwhile see that the men don't have their attention taken up with it."
By this time the small boat, which the chief engineer had ordered to come off to take him on shore, was alongside the rock. The swell had risen so much that although there was not a breath of wind, the surf was beating violently on the south-west side, and even in the sheltered nook, which was styled by courtesy the harbour, there was sufficient commotion to render care in fending off with the boat-hook necessary. Meanwhile the men wrought like tigers, taking no note of their chief's departure—all, except Williamson, being either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the gradual approach of the French schooner, which drifted slowly towards them with the tide.
Thus work and time went on quietly. Towards the afternoon, Teddy Maroon wiped the perspiration from his heated brow and looked abroad upon the sea, while the large hook of his crane was descending for another stone. An expression of intense earnestness wrinkled his visage as he turned suddenly to Stobbs, his companion at the windlass, and exclaimed:—
"Sure that's a Frenchman over there."
"That's wot it is, Ted, an' no mistake," said Stobbs. "I had a'most forgot about the war and the Mounseers."
"Ah then, it's not goin' to attack us ye are, is it? Never!" exclaimed Teddy in surprise, observing that two boats had been lowered from the schooner's davits into which men were crowding.
The question was answered in a way that could not be misunderstood. A puff of white smoke burst from the vessel's side, and a cannon shot went skipping over the sea close past the lighthouse, at the same time the French flag was run up and the two boats, pushing off, made straight for the rock.
Teddy and his comrade ran down to the foot of the building, where the other men were arming themselves hastily with crowbars and large chips of stone. Marshalling the men together, the assistant engineer, who was a fiery little fellow, explained to them how they ought to act.
"My lads," said he, "the surf has become so strong, by good luck, that it is likely to capsize the enemy's boats before they get here. In which case they'll be comfortably drowned, and we can resume our work; but if they manage to reach the rock, we'll retire behind the lighthouse to keep clear of their musket balls; and, when they attempt to land, rush at 'em, and heave 'em all into the sea. It's like enough that they're more numerous than we, but you all know that one Englishman is a match for three Frenchmen any day."
A general laugh and cheer greeted this address, and then they all took shelter behind the lighthouse. Meanwhile, the two boats drew near. The lightest one was well in advance. On it came, careering on the crest of a large glassy wave. Now was the time for broaching-to and upsetting, but the boat was cleverly handled. It was launched into the "harbour" on a sea of foam.
Most of the Englishmen, on seeing this, ran to oppose the landing.
"Surrender!" shouted an officer with a large moustache, standing up in the bow of the boat.
"Never!" replied Mr Franks, defiantly.
"Hooray!" yelled Teddy Maroon, flourishing his crowbar.
At this the officer gave an order: the Frenchmen raised their muskets, and the Englishmen scampered back to their place of shelter, laughing like school-boys engaged in wild play. Teddy Maroon, whose fertile brain was always devising some novelty or other, ran up to his old post at the windlass, intending to cast a large mass of stone into the boat when it neared the rock, hoping thereby to knock a hole through its bottom; but before he reached his perch, a breaker burst into the harbour and overturned the boat, leaving her crew to struggle towards the rock. Some of them were quickly upon it, grappling with the Englishmen who rushed forward to oppose the landing. Seeing this, Teddy hurled his mass of stone at the head of an unfortunate Frenchman, whom he narrowly missed, and then, uttering a howl, ran down to join in the fray. The French commander, a powerful man, was met knee-deep in the water, by Isaac Dorkin, whom he struck down with the hilt of his sword, and poor Isaac's grumbling career would certainly have come to an end then and there, had not John Potter, who had already hurled two Frenchmen back into the sea, run to the rescue, and, catching his friend by the hair of the head, dragged him on the rock. At that moment Teddy Maroon dashed at the French officer, caught his uplifted sword-arm by the wrist, and pushed him back into the sea just as he was in the act of making a savage cut at John Potter. Before the latter had dragged his mate quite out of danger he was grappled with by another Frenchman, and they fell struggling to the ground, while a third came up behind Teddy with a boat-hook, and almost took him by surprise; but Teddy turned in time, caught the boat-hook in his left hand, and, flattening the Frenchman's nose with his right, tumbled him over and ran to assist in repelling another party of the invaders who were making good their landing at the other side of the rock.
Thus the "skrimmage," as John Potter styled it, became general. Although out-numbered, the Englishmen were getting the best of it, when the second boat plunged into the so-called harbour, and in a few seconds the rock was covered with armed men. Of course the Englishmen were overpowered. Their tools were collected and put into the boat. With some difficulty the first boat was righted. The Englishmen were put into it, with a strong guard of marines, and then the whole party were carried on board the French schooner, which turned out to be a privateer.
Thus were the builders of the Eddystone lighthouse carried off as prisoners of war to France, and their feelings may be gathered from the last remark of Teddy Maroon, who, as the white cliffs of England were fading from his view, exclaimed bitterly, "Och hone! I'll never see owld Ireland no more!"
Note. It may be as well to state, at this point, that the incidents here related, and indeed all the important incidents of our tale, are founded on, we believe, well authenticated facts.
Behold, then, our lighthouse-builders entering a French port; Teddy Maroon looking over the side of the vessel at the pier to which they are drawing near, and grumbling sternly at his sad fate; John Potter beside him, with his arms crossed, his eyes cast down, and his thoughts far away with the opinionated Martha and the ingenious Tommy; Mr Franks and the others standing near; all dismal and silent.
"You not seem for like ver moche to see la belle France," said the French officer with the huge moustache, addressing Teddy.
"It's little Teddy Maroon cares whether he sees Bell France or Betsy France," replied the Irishman, impudently. "No thanks to you aither for givin' me the chance. Sure it's the likes o' you that bring war into disgrace intirely; goin' about the say on yer own hook, plunderin' right an' left. It's pirate, and not privateers, ye should be called, an' it's myself that would string ye all at the yard-arm av I only had me own way."
"Hah!" exclaimed the Frenchman, with a scowl: "but by goot fortune you not have your own vay. Perhaps you change you mind ven you see de inside of French prisons, ha!"
"Perhaps I won't; ha!" cried Teddy, mimicking his captor. "Go away wid yez, an' attind to yer own business."
The Frenchman turned angrily away. In a few seconds more they were alongside the pier, and a gangway was run on board.
The first man who stepped on this gangway was a tall powerful gendarme, with a huge cocked hat, and a long cavalry sabre, the steel scabbard of which clattered magnificently as he stalked along. Now it chanced that this dignified official slipped his foot on the gangway, and, to the horror of all observers, fell into the water.
Impulsiveness was a part of Teddy Maroon's enthusiastic nature. He happened to be gazing in admiration at the gendarme when he fell. In another moment he had plunged overboard after him, caught him by the collar, and held him up.
The gendarme could not swim. In the first agony of fear he threw about his huge limbs, and almost drowned his rescuer.
"Be aisy, won't 'ee!" shouted Ted, holding him at arm's length, and striving to keep out of his grasp. At the same time he dealt him a hearty cuff on the ear.
The words and the action appeared to have a sedative effect on the gendarme, who at once became passive, and in a few minutes the rescuer and the rescued stood dripping on the schooner's deck.
"Thank 'ee, my friend," said the gendarme in English, extending his hand.
"Och, ye're an Irishman!" exclaimed Teddy eagerly, as he grasped the offered hand. "But sure," he added, in an altered tone, dropping the hand and glancing at the man's uniform, "ye must be a poor-spirited craitur to forsake yer native land an' become a mounseer."
"Ireland is not my native land, and I am not an Irishman," said the gendarme, with a smile. "My mother was Irish, but my father was French, and I was born in Paris. It is true that I spent many years in Ireland among my mother's relations, so that I speak your language, but I am more French than Irish."
"Humph! more's the pity," said Teddy. "If there was but wan drop o' me blood Irish an' all the rest o' me French, I'd claim to be an Irishman. If I'd known what ye was I'd have let ye sink, I would. Go along: I don't think much of yez."
"Perhaps not," replied the gendarme, twirling his long moustache with a good-humoured smile; "nevertheless I think a good deal of you, my fine fellow. Farewell, I shall see you again."
"Ye needn't trouble yerself," replied Teddy, flinging off, testily.
It was quite evident that the unfortunate Irishman found it hard to get reconciled to his fate. He could scarcely be civil to his mates in misfortune, and felt a strong disposition to wrench the sword from his captor's hand, cut off his moustached head, and then, in the language of desperate heroes of romance, "sell his life dearly." He refrained, however, and was soon after marched along with his mates to the stronghold of the port, at the door of which the French commander handed them over to the jailor, wishing Teddy all health and happiness, with a broad grin, as he bid him farewell.
Our unfortunates crossed a stone court with walls that appeared to rise into the clouds; then they traversed a dark stone passage, at the end of which stood an open door with a small stone cell beyond. Into this they were desired to walk, and as several bayonet points glittered in the passage behind them, they felt constrained to obey. Then locks were turned, and bars were drawn, and bolts were shot. The heavy heels of the jailer and guard were heard retiring. More locks and bars and bolts were turned and drawn and shot at the farther end of the stone passage, after which all remained still as the grave.
"Och hone!" groaned Teddy, looking round at his companions, as he sat on a stone seat, the picture of despair: "To be kilt is a trifle; to fight is a pleasure; to be hanged is only a little trying to the narves. But to be shut up in a stone box in a furrin land—"
Words failed him here, but another groan told eloquently of the bitterness of the spirit within.
"We must just try to be as cheery as we can, mates," said John Potter. "The Lord can deliver us out o' worse trouble than this if He sees fit."
"Oh, it's all very well for you to talk like that," growled Isaac Dorkin, "but I don't believe the Almighty is goin' to pull down stone walls and iron gates to set us free, an' you know that we haven't a friend in all France to help us."
"I don't know that, Isaac. It certainly seems very unlikely that any one should start up to befriend us here, but with God all things are possible. At the worst, I know that if we are to remain here, it's His will that we should."
"Humph! I wish ye much comfort o' the thought: it doesn't give much to me," remarked Stobbs.
Here, Mr Franks, who had hitherto sat in sad silence, brightened up, and said, "Well, well, lads, don't let us make things worse by disputing. Surely each man is entitled to draw comfort from any source he chooses. For my part, I agree with John Potter, in this at all events,—that we should try to be as cheery as we can, and make the best of it."
"Hear, hear!" exclaimed the others. Acting on this advice, they soon began to feel a little less miserable. They had straw to sleep on, and were allowed very poor fare; but there was a sufficiency of it. The first night passed, and the second day; after which another fit of despair seized some of the party. Then John Potter managed to cheer them up a bit, and as he never went about without a small Testament in his pocket, he was able to lighten the time by reading portions of it aloud. After that they took to relating their "lives and adventures" to each other, and then the inventive spirits among them took to "spinning long-winded yarns." Thus a couple of weeks passed away, during which these unfortunate prisoners of war went through every stage of feeling between hope and despair over and over again.
During one of his despairing moods, Teddy Maroon declared that he had now given up all hope, and that the first chance he got, he would kill himself, for he was quite certain that nobody would ever be able to find out where they were, much less "get them out of that fig."
But Teddy was wrong, as the sequel will show.
Let us leap now, good reader, to the Tuileries,—into the apartments of Louis XIV. From a prison to a palace is an unusual leap, no doubt, though the reverse is by no means uncommon! The old King is pacing his chamber in earnest thought, addressing an occasional remark to his private Secretary. The subject that occupies him is the war, and the name of England is frequently on his lips. The Secretary begs leave to bring a particular letter under the notice of the King. The Secretary speaks in French, of course, but there is a peculiarly rich tone and emphasis in his voice which a son of the Green Isle would unhesitatingly pronounce to be "the brogue."
"Read it," says the King hurriedly: "but first tell me, who writes?"
"A gendarme, sire: a poor relation of mine."
"Ha: an Irishman?"
"No, sire: but his mother was Irish."
"Well, read," says the King.
The Secretary reads: "Dear Terrence, will you do me the favour to bring a matter before the King? The commander of a French privateer has done an act worthy of a buccaneer: he has attacked the men who were re-building the famous Eddystone lighthouse, and carried them prisoners of war into this port. I would not trouble you or the King about this, did I not know his Majesty too well to believe him capable of countenancing such a deed."
"What!" exclaims the King, turning abruptly, with a flush of anger on his countenance, "the Eddystone lighthouse, which so stands as to be of equal service to all nations having occasion to navigate the channel?"
"The same, sire; and the officer who has done this expects to be rewarded."
"Ha: he shall not be disappointed; he shall have his reward," exclaims the King. "Let him be placed in the prison where the English men now lie, to remain there during our pleasure; and set the builders of the Eddystone free. Let them have gifts, and all honourable treatment, to repay them for their temporary distress, and send them home, without delay, in the same vessel which brought them hither. We are indeed at war with England, but not with mankind!"
The commands of kings are, as a rule, promptly obeyed. Even although there were neither railways nor telegraphs in those days, many hours had not elapsed before the tall gendarme stood in the prison-cell where John Potter and his friends were confined. There was a peculiar twinkle in his eye, as he ordered a band of soldiers to act as a guard of honour in conducting the Englishmen to the best hotel in the town, where a sumptuous collation awaited them. Arrived there, the circumstances of their case were explained to them by the chief magistrate, who was in waiting to receive them and present them with certain gifts, by order of Louis XIV.
The fortunate men looked on at all that was done, ate their feast, and received their gifts in speechless amazement, until at length the gendarme (who acted as interpreter, and seemed to experience intense enjoyment at the whole affair) asked if they were ready to embark for England? To which Teddy Maroon replied, by turning to John Potter and saying, "I say, John, just give me a dig in the ribs, will 'ee: a good sharp one. It's of no use at all goin' on draimin' like this. It'll only make it the worse the longer I am o' wakin' up."
John Potter smiled and shook his head; but when he and his friends were conducted by their guard of honour on board of the schooner which had brought them there, and when they saw the moustached commander brought out of his cabin and led ashore in irons, and heard the click of the capstan as the vessel was warped out of harbour, and beheld the tall gendarme take off his cocked hat and wish them "bon voyage" as they passed the head of the pier, they at length became convinced that "it was all true;" and Teddy declared with enthusiastic emphasis, that "the mounseers were not such bad fellows after all!"
"Oh, John, John!" exclaimed Mrs Potter, about thirty hours after that, as she stood gazing in wild delight at a magnificent cashmere shawl which hung on her husband's arm, while Tommy was lost in admiration at the sight of a splendid inlaid ivory work-box, "where ever got 'ee such a helegant shawl?"
"From King Louis, of France, lass," said John, with a peculiar smile.
"Never!" said Mrs Potter, emphatically; and then she gave it forth as one of her settled convictions, that, "Kings wasn't such fools as to go makin' presents like that to poor working men."
However, John Potter, who had only just then presented himself before the eyes of his astonished spouse, stoutly asserted that it was true; and said that if she would set about getting something to eat, for he was uncommonly hungry, and if Tommy would leave off opening his mouth and eyes to such an unnecessary extent, he would tell them all about it. So Mrs Potter was convinced, and, for once, had her "settled convictions" unsettled; and the men returned to their work on the Eddystone; and a man-of-war was sent to cruise in the neighbourhood to guard them from misfortune in the future; and, finally, the Rudyerd lighthouse was completed.
Its total height, from the lowest side to the top of the ball on the lantern, was ninety-two feet, and its greatest diameter twenty-three feet four inches. It took about three years to build, having been commenced in 1706, the first light was put up in 1708, and the whole was completed in 1709.
Teddy Maroon was one of the first keepers, but he soon left to take charge of a lighthouse on the Irish coast. Thereupon John Potter made application for the post. He was successful over many competitors, and at last obtained the darling wish of his heart: he became principal keeper; his surly comrade, Isaac Dorkin, strange to say, obtaining the post of second keeper. Mrs Potter didn't like the change at first, as a matter of course.
"But you'll come to like it, Martha," John would say when they referred to the subject, "'Absence,' you know, 'makes the heart grow fonder.' We'll think all the more of each other when we meet during my spells ashore, at the end of every two months."
Tommy also objected very much at first, but he could not alter his father's intentions; so John Potter went off to the Eddystone rock, and for a long time took charge of the light that cast its friendly beams over the sea every night thereafter, through storm and calm, for upwards of six-and-forty years.
That John's life in the lighthouse was not all that he had hoped for will become apparent in the next chapter.
A TERRIBLE SITUATION.
There were four rooms and a lantern in Rudyerd's lighthouse. The second room was that which was used most by John Potter and his mate Isaac Dorkin: it was the kitchen, dining room, and parlour, all in one. Immediately below it was the store-room, and just above it the dormitory.
The general tenor of the life suited John exactly: he was a quiet-spirited, meditative, religious man; and, although quite willing to face difficulties, dangers, and troubles like a man, when required to do so, he did not see it to be his duty to thrust himself unnecessarily into these circumstances. There were plenty of men, he was wont to say, who loved bustle and excitement, and there were plenty of situations of that sort for them to fill; for his part, he loved peace and quiet; the Eddystone lighthouse offered both, and why should he not take advantage of the opportunity, especially when, by so doing, he would secure a pretty good and regular income for his wife and family.
John gave vent to an opinion which contained deeper truths than, at that time, he thought of. God has given to men their varied powers and inclinations, in order that they may use these powers and follow these inclinations. Working rightly, man is a perfect machine: it is only "the fall" which has twisted all things awry. There is no sin in feeling an intense desire for violent physical action, or in gratifying that desire when we can do so in accordance with the revealed will of God; but there is sin in gratifying it in a wrong way; in committing burglary for instance, or in prize-fighting, or in helping others to fight in a cause with which we have no right to interfere. Again, it is not wrong to desire peace and quiet, and to wish for mental and spiritual and physical repose; but it is decidedly wrong to stand by with your hands in your pockets when an innocent or helpless one is being assaulted by ruffians; to sit quiet and do nothing when your neighbour's house is on fire; to shirk an unpleasant duty and leave some one else to do it; or to lie a-bed when you should be up and at work.
All our powers were given to be used: our inclinations were intended to impel us in certain directions, and God's will and glory were meant to be our guide and aim. So the Scripture teaches, we think, in the parable of the talents, and in the words, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" and, "Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
Our great fault lies in not consulting God's plan of arrangement. How often do we find that, in adopting certain lines of action, men consult only the pecuniary or social advantage; ignoring powers, or want of powers, and violating inclinations; and this even among professing Christians; while, among the unbelieving, God's will and glory are not thought of at all. And yet we wonder that so many well-laid plans miscarry, that so many promising young men and women "come to grief!" Forgetting that "the right man (or woman) in the right place" is an essential element in thorough success.
But, to return to John Potter. His conscience was easy as to his duty in becoming a lightkeeper, and the lighthouse was all that he could wish, or had hoped for. There was no disturbance from without, for the thick walls and solid foundation defied winds or waves to trouble him; save only in the matter of smoke, which often had a strong tendency to traverse the chimney in the wrong direction, but that was not worth mentioning! John found, however, that sin in the person of his mate marred his peace and destroyed his equanimity.
Isaac Dorkin did not find the life so much to his taste as he had expected. He became more grumpy than ever, and quarrelled with his friend on the slightest provocation; insomuch that at last John found it to be his wisest plan to let him alone. Sometimes, in consequence of this pacific resolve, the two men would spend a whole month without uttering a word to each other; the one in the sulks, the other waiting until he should come out of them.
Their duties were light, but regular. During the day they found a sufficiency of quiet occupation in cooking their food, cleaning. The lighting apparatus—which consisted of a framework full of tallow candles,—and in keeping the building clean and orderly. At night they kept watch, each four hours at a time, while the other slept. While watching, John read his Bible and several books which had been given to him by Mr Rudyerd; or, in fine weather, paced round and round the gallery, just outside the lantern, in profound meditation. Dorkin also, during his watches, meditated much; he likewise grumbled a good deal, and smoked continuously. He was not a bad fellow at bottom, however, and sometimes he and Potter got on very amicably. At such seasons John tried to draw his mate into religious talk, but without success. Thus, from day to day and year to year, these two men stuck to their post, until eleven years had passed away.
One day, about the end of that period, John Potter, who, having attained to the age of fifty-two, was getting somewhat grey, though still in full strength and vigour, sat at his chimney corner beside his buxom and still blooming wife. His fireside was a better one than in days of yore,—thanks to Tommy, who had become a flourishing engineer: Mrs Potter's costume was likewise much better in condition and quality than it used to be; thanks, again, to Tommy, who was a grateful and loving son.
"Well, Martha, I've had a pleasant month ashore, lass: I wish that I hadn't to go off on relief to-morrow."
"Why not leave it altogether, then, John? You've no occasion to continue a light-keeper now that you've laid by so much, and Tommy is so well off and able to help us, an' willin' too—God bless him!"
"Amen to that, Martha. I have just bin thinkin' over the matter, and I've made up my mind that this is to be my last trip off to the Rock. I spoke to the superintendent last week, and it's all settled. Who d'ye think is to take my place?"
"I never could guess nothink, John: who?"
"Teddy Maroon: no less."
"What? an' 'im a' older man than yourself?"
"Ah, but it ain't the same Teddy. It's his eldest son, named after himself; an' so like what his father was when I last saw him, that I don't think I'd be able to tell which was which."
"Well, John, I'm glad to 'ear it; an' be sure that ye git 'ome, next relief before the thirty-first of October, for that's Tommy's wedding day, an' you know we fixed it a purpose to suit your time of being at 'ome. A sweet pair they'll make. Nora was born to be a lady: nobody would think but she is one, with 'er pretty winsome ways; and Tommy, who was twenty-five 'is very last birthday, is one of the 'andsomest men in Plymouth. I've a settled conviction, John, that he'll live to be a great man."
"You once had a settled conviction that he would come to a bad end," said Potter, with an arch smile.
"Go along with you, John!" retorted Mrs Potter.
"I'm just going," said John, rising and kissing his wife as he put on his hat; "and you may depend on it that I'll not miss dancing at our Tommy's wedding, if I can help it."
That night saw John Potter at his old post again—snuffing the candles on the Eddystone, and chatting with his old mate Dorkin beside the kitchen fire. One evening towards the end of October, John Potter and Isaac, having "lighted up," sat down to a game of draughts. It was blowing hard outside, and heavy breakers were bursting on the rock and sending thin spray as high as the lantern, but all was peace and comfort inside; even Isaac's grumpy spirit was calmer than usual.
"You seem dull to-night, mate," observed John, as they re-arranged the pieces for another game.
"I don't feel very well," said Dorkin, passing his hand over his brow languidly.
"You'd better turn in, then; an' I'll take half of your watch as well as my own."
"Thank 'ee kindly," said Dorkin in a subdued voice: "I'll take yer advice. Perhaps," he added slowly, "you'll read me a bit out o' the Book."
This was the first time that Isaac had expressed a desire to touch on religious subjects, or to hear the Bible read; and John, you may be sure, was only too glad to comply. After his mate had lain down, he read a small portion; but, observing that he seemed very restless, he closed the Bible and contented himself with quoting the following words of our Lord Jesus: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" and, "The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin." Then in a sentence or two he prayed fervently that the Holy Spirit might apply these words.
John had a suspicion that his mate was on the verge of a serious illness, and he was not wrong. Next day, Dorkin was stricken with a raging fever, and John Potter had not only to nurse him day and night, but to give constant attention to the lantern as well. Fortunately, the day after that the relief boat would be out, so he consoled himself with that thought; but the gale, which had been blowing for some days, increased that night until it blew a perfect hurricane. The sea round the Eddystone became a tremendous whirlpool of foam, and all hope of communication with the shore was cut off. Of course the unfortunate lighthouse-keeper hung out a signal of distress, although he knew full well that it could not be replied to.
Meanwhile a wedding party assembled in Plymouth. The bride was blooming and young; the bridegroom—strong and happy; but there was a shade upon his brow as he approached a stout elderly female, and said, sadly, "I can't tell you, mother, how grieved I am that father is not with us to-day. I would be quite willing to put it off, and so would Nora, for a few days, but there is no appearance of the storm abating; and, indeed, if even it stopped this moment, I don't think the relief-boat could get off in less than a week."
"I know it, Tommy." (It seemed ridiculous to call a strapping, curly-haired, bewhiskered, six-foot man "Tommy"!) "I know it, Tommy; but it ain't of no use puttin' of it off. I've always 'ad a settled conviction that anythink as is put off is as good as given up altogether. No, no, my son; go on with the weddin'."
So the wedding went on, and Nora Vining, a dark-haired Plymouth maiden, became Mrs Thomas Potter; and the breakfast was eaten, and the healths were drunk, and the speeches made, and Mrs Potter, senior, wept profusely (for joy) nearly all the time, into a white cotton handkerchief, which was so large and strong that some of the guests entertained the belief to the end of their lives that the worthy woman had had it manufactured for her own special use on that great occasion.
Meanwhile the father, whose absence was regretted so much, and whose heart would have rejoiced so much to have been there, remained in his lonely dwelling, out among the mad whirlpools in the wildest past of the raging sea. All day, and every day, his signal of distress streamed horizontally in the furious gale, and fishermen stood on the shore and wondered what was wrong, and wished so earnestly that the gale would go down; but no one, not even the boldest among them all, imagined for a moment that a boat could venture to leave the shore, much less encounter the seething billows on the Eddystone. As each night drew on, one by one the lights glimmered out above the rock, until the bright beams of the fully illuminated lantern poured like a flood through the murky air, and then men went home to their firesides, relieved to know that, whatever might be wrong, the keepers were at all events able to attend to their important duties.
Day after day Isaac Dorkin grew worse: he soon became delirious, and, strong though he was, John Potter was scarcely able to hold him down in bed. When the delirium first came on, John chanced to be in the lantern just commencing to light up. When he was about to apply the light, he heard a noise behind him, and, turning hastily round, beheld the flushed face and blazing eyes of his mate rising through the trap door that communicated with the rooms below. Leaving his work, John hastened to his friend, and with some difficulty persuaded him to return to his bed; but no sooner had he got him into it and covered him up, than a new paroxysm came on, and the sick man arose in the strength of his agony and hurled his friend to the other side of the apartment. John sprang up, and grappled with him while he was rushing towards the door. It was an awful struggle that ensued. Both were large and powerful men; the one strong in a resolute purpose to meet boldly a desperate case, the other mad with fever. They swayed to and fro, and fell on and smashed the homely furniture of the place; sometimes the one and sometimes the other prevailing, while both gasped for breath and panted vehemently; suddenly Dorkin sank down exhausted. He appeared to collapse, and John lifted him with difficulty again into his bed; but in a few seconds he attempted to renew the struggle, while the whole building was filled with his terrific cries.
While this was going on, the shades of night had been falling fast, and John Potter remembered that none of the candles had been lit, and that in a few minutes more the rock would be a source of greater danger to shipping than if no lighthouse had been there, because vessels would be making for the light from all quarters of the world, in the full faith of its being kept up! Filled with horror at the thought that perhaps even at that moment vessels might be hurrying on to their doom, he seized a piece of rope that lay at hand, and managed to wind it so firmly round his mate as to render him helpless. Bounding back to the lantern, he quickly lighted it up, but did not feel his heart relieved until he had gazed out at the snowy billows below, and made sure that no vessel was in view. Then he took a long draught of water, wiped his brow, and returned to his friend.
Two days after that Isaac Dorkin died. And now John Potter found himself in a more horrible situation than before. The storm continued: no sooner did one gale abate than another broke out, so as to render approach to the rock impossible; while, day after day, and night after night, the keeper had to pass the dead body of his mate several times in attending to the duties of the lantern. And still the signal of distress continued to fly from the lighthouse, and still the people on shore continued to wonder what was wrong, to long for moderate weather, and to feel relief when they saw the faithful light beam forth each evening at sunset.
At last the corpse began to decay, and John felt that it was necessary to get rid of it, but he dared not venture to throw it into the sea. It was well known that Dorkin had been a quarrelsome man, and he feared that if he could not produce the body when the relief came, he might be deemed a murderer. He therefore let it lie until it became so overpoweringly offensive that the whole building, from foundation to cupola, was filled with the horrible stench. The feelings of the solitary man can neither be conceived nor described. Well was it for John that he had the Word of God in his hand, and the grace of God in his heart during that awful period.
For nearly a month his agony lasted. At last the weather moderated. The boat came off; the "relief" was effected; and poor Dorkin's body, which was in such a condition that it could not be carried on shore, was thrown into the sea. Then John Potter returned home, and left the lighthouse service for ever.
From that time forward it has been the custom to station not fewer than three men at a time on all out-lying lighthouses of the kingdom.
Note. Reader, we have not drawn here on our imagination. This story is founded on unquestionable fact.
THE END OF RUDYERD'S LIGHTHOUSE.
Thirty-Four years passed away, and still Rudyerd's lighthouse stood firm as the rock on which it was founded. True, during that period it had to undergo occasional repairs, because the timber uprights at the base, where exposed to the full violence of the waves, had become weather-worn, and required renewing in part; but this was only equivalent to a ship being overhauled and having some of her planks renewed. The main fabric of the lighthouse remained as sound and steadfast at the end of that long period as it was at the beginning, and it would in all probability have remained on the Eddystone Rock till the present day, had not a foe assailed it, whose nature was very different indeed from that with which it had been built to contend.
The lighthouse was at this time in charge of Teddy Maroon: not the Teddy who had bewailed his fate so disconsolately in the French prison in days gone by, but his youngest son, who was now getting to be an elderly man. We may, however, relieve the mind of the sympathetic reader, by saying that Teddy, senior, was not dead. He was still alive and hearty; though bent nearly double with extreme age; and dwelt on the borders of one of the Irish bogs, at the head of an extensive colony of Maroons.
One night Teddy the younger ascended to the lantern to trim the candles; he snuffed them all round and returned to the kitchen to have a pipe, his two mates being a-bed at the time. No one now knows how the thing happened, but certain it is that Teddy either dropped some of the burning snuff on the floor, or in some other way introduced more light into his lantern that night than it had ever been meant to contain, so that while he and his mates were smoking comfortably below, the lighthouse was smoking quietly, but ominously, above.
On shore, late that night, an elderly gentleman stood looking out of the window of a charmingly situated cottage in the village of Cawsand Bay, near Plymouth, which commanded a magnificent prospect of the channel.
"Father," he said, turning to a very old man seated beside the fire, who, although shrunken and wrinkled and bald, was ruddy in complexion, and evidently in the enjoyment of a green old age, "Father, the lighthouse is beautifully bright to-night; shall I help you to the window to look at it?"
"Yes, Tommy: I'm fond o' the old light. It minds me of days gone by, when you and I were young, Martha."
The old man gave a chuckle as he looked across the hearthstone, where, in a chair similar to his own, sat a very stout and very deaf and very old lady, smoothing the head of her grandchild, a little girl, who was the youngest of a family of ten.
Old Martha did not hear John Potter's remark, but she saw his kindly smile, and nodded her head with much gravity in reply. Martha had grown intellectually slow when she partially lost her hearing, and although she was not sad she had evidently become solemn. An English Dictionary and the Bible were the only books that Martha would look at now. She did not use the former as a help to the understanding of the latter. No one knew why she was so partial to the dictionary; but as she not unfrequently had it on her knee upside down while poring over it, her grandchild, little Nora, took up the idea that she had resolved to devote the latter days of her life to learning to read backwards! Perhaps the fact that the dictionary had once belonged to her son James who was wrecked and drowned on the Norfolk coast, may have had something to do with it.
With the aid of his son's arm and a stick old John managed to hobble to the window.
"It is very bright. Why, Tommy," he exclaimed, with a start, "it's too bright: the lighthouse must be on fire!"
At that moment, "Tommy's" wife, now "fat, fair, and fifty" (or thereabouts), entered the room hurriedly, exclaiming, "Oh, Tom, what can be the matter with the lighthouse, I never saw it so bright before?"
Tom, who had hastily placed his father in a chair, so that he could see the Eddystone, seized his hat, and exclaiming, "I'll go and see, my dear," ran out and proceeded to the shore.
"What's the matter?" cried Mrs Potter in a querulous voice, when little Nora rushed from her side.
Nora, senior, went to her at once, and, bending down, said, in a musical voice that retained much of its clearness and all its former sweetness: "I fear that the lighthouse is on fire, grandma!"
Mrs Potter gazed straight before her with vacant solemnity, and Nora, supposing that she had not heard, repeated the information.
Still Mrs Potter made no reply; but, after a few moments, she turned her eyes on her daughter-in-law with owlish gravity, and said; "I knew it! I said long ago to your father, my dear, I had a settled conviction that that lighthouse would come to a bad end."
It did indeed appear as though old Martha's prophecy were about to come true!
Out at the lighthouse Teddy Maroon, having finished his pipe, went up to the lantern to trim the candles again. He had no sooner opened the hatch of the lantern than a dense cloud of smoke burst out. He shouted to his comrades, one of whom, Henry Hall, was old and not fit for much violent exertion; the other, James Wilkie, was a young man, but a heavy sleeper. They could not be roused as quickly as the occasion demanded. Teddy ran to the store-room for a leathern bucket, but before he could descend to the rock, fill it and re-ascend, the flames had got a firm hold of the cupola. He dashed the water into the lantern just as his horrified comrades appeared.
"Fetch bucketfulls as fast as ye can. Och, be smart, boys, if iver ye was," he shouted, while perspiration streamed down his face. Pulling off his coat, while his mates ran down for water, Teddy dashed wildly into the lantern, and, holding the coat by its arms, laid about him violently, but smoke and fire drove him but almost immediately. The buckets were long of coming, and when they did arrive, their contents were as nothing on the glowing cupola. Then Teddy went out on the balcony and endeavoured to throw the water up, but the height was too great. While he was doing this, Wilkie ran down for more water, but Hall stood gazing upwards, open-mouthed with horror, at the raging flames. At that moment the leaden covering of the roof melted, and rushed down on Hall's head and shoulders. He fell, with a loud shriek. While Teddy tried to drag him down to the room below, he exclaimed that some of the melted lead had gone down his throat! He was terribly burned about the neck, but his comrades had to leave him in his bed while they strove wildly to check the flames. It was all in vain. The wood-work around the lantern, from years of exposure to the heat of twenty-four large candles burning at once, had become like tinder, and the fire became so fierce that the timber courses composing the top of the column soon caught. Then the keepers saw that any further efforts would be useless. The great exertions made to carry up even a few bucketsfull of water soon exhausted their strength, and they were driven from room to room as the fire descended. At last the heat and smoke became so intense that they were driven out of the lighthouse altogether, and sought shelter in a cavern or hollow under the ladder, on the east side of the rock. Fortunately it was low water at the time, and the weather was calm. Had it been otherwise, the rock would have been no place of refuge.
Meanwhile Mr Thomas Potter (our old friend Tommy—now, as we have said an elderly gentleman) went off in a large boat with a crew of stout fishermen from Cawsand Bay, having a smaller boat in tow. When they reached the rock, a terrific spectacle was witnessed. The lighthouse was enveloped in flames nearly to the bottom, for the outside planking, being caulked and covered with pitch, was very inflammable. The top glowed against the dark sky and looked in the midst of the smoke like a fiery meteor. The Eddystone Rock was suffused with a dull red light, as if it were becoming red hot, and the surf round it appeared to hiss against the fire, while in the dark shadow of the cave the three lighthouse keepers were seen cowering in terror,—as they well might, seeing that melted lead and flaming masses of wood and other substances were falling thickly round them.
To get them out of their dangerous position was a matter of extreme difficulty, because, although there was little or no wind, the swell caused a surf on the rock which absolutely forbade the attempt to land. In this emergency they fell upon a plan which seemed to afford some hope of success. They anchored the large boat to the westward, and veered down towards the rock as far as they dared venture. Then three men went into the small boat, which was eased off and sent farther in by means of a rope. When as near as it was possible to approach, a coil of rope was thrown to the rock. It was caught by Teddy Maroon, and although in extreme danger and anxiety, the men in the boat could not help giving vent to a ringing cheer. Teddy at once tied the end of the rope round the waist of old Henry Hall, and half persuaded, half forced him into the surf, through which he was hauled into the boat in safety. Wilkie went next, and Teddy followed. Thus they were rescued, put on board the large boat, and carried on shore; but no sooner did the keel grate on the sand, than Wilkie, who had never spoken a word, and who appeared half stupefied, bounded on shore and ran off at full speed. It is a curious fact, which no one has ever been able to account for, that this man was never more heard of! As it is quite certain that he did not cause the fire, and also that he did his utmost to subdue it, the only conclusion that could be come to was, that the excitement and terror had driven him mad. At all events that was the last of him.
Another curious fact connected with the fire is, that Henry Hall actually did swallow a quantity of melted lead. He lingered for twelve days after the accident, and then died. Afterwards his body was opened, and an oval lump of lead, which weighed upwards of seven ounces, was found in his stomach. This extraordinary fact is authenticated by the credible testimony of a respectable medical man and several eye-witnesses.