Arthur had behaved as well as he could, but this was too much for him. Dropping the line, he let himself fall backwards over the seat, scrambled forward on hands and knees, rose up, and was getting into the narrow portion of the boat in the bows, when he stepped upon something slippery and fell right upon a living eel, the one Dick had just captured.
"Oh, oh!" yelled Arthur, starting up and bounding back amidships, to fall once more, with his hands upon the huge slimy knot that Josh had just dragged on board.
"A mussy me!" groaned Josh, as he vainly tried to get a stroke at the great eel's head with the axe. "Here, look alive, Will, lad; give him the bat." Dick followed his brother's example and got as far out of the way as he could, while quite an exciting fight went on, if fight it can be called where the offence comes entirely from one side, and the other is winding in and out among legs and seats, fishing-lines and baskets, trying to get away. It was so dark that it was next to impossible to see where the monster was; and though Will struck at it fiercely with the bat, he more often struck the boat than the fish.
Josh, too, made some cuts at it with the axe, but he only missed, and he was afraid to do more for fear he should drive the weapon through the bottom of the boat.
"She's free o' the line now," cried Josh, who was not aware that one chop he had given had divided the stout cord. "Let her go now, Will, lad. She won't get out of the boat."
"All right!" said Will coolly; and Arthur uttered a groan; but just then, to his great relief, Dick spoke out.
"What! are you going to leave that thing crawling about in the boat while we go home?" he said.
"Ay, my lad; she won't hurt."
"Thankye," said Dick. "I'm going overboard then to be towed."
"Hor—hor—hor!" laughed Josh. "Well, all right, my lad, we'll light the lanthorn, and then p'r'aps I can get a cut at her. Where's the matches, Will? Hallo!"
For just then there was a tremendous scuffling in the fore part of the boat, as the great eel forced itself amongst the spare rope and odds and ends of the fishing gear. Then there was a faint gleam seen for a moment on the gunwale, and a splash, and then silence.
"Why, she's gone," cried Josh.
"What! Over the side?" cried Dick.
"Ay, lad, sure enough; and the biggest one we took to-night, and my best conger-hook in her mouth."
Arthur uttered a sigh of relief that was almost a sob, and sitting down very quietly he listened to the talking of his three companions, as the anchor and killick were got up, and the boat was rowed across the starry bay, to reach the landing-place about half an hour before the expected time, Mr Temple being in waiting, and pacing to and fro upon the pier.
"Caught any?" he said.
"Yes, father, lots, but the big one got away," cried Dick.
"How did you get on, Arthur?" said Mr Temple. "Were you very much alarmed?"
Arthur would have honestly said, "Yes;" but before he could speak, Josh exclaimed:
"'Haved hisself like a trump, sir. Him and me got all the big uns; and it's no joke ketching your first conger, as p'r'aps you know."
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
A CORNISH GALE; AND DICK TEMPLE TAKES HIS FIRST LESSON IN WIND.
It can rain in Cornwall, and when it does rain it rains with all its might. The same remark applies to the wind, which blows with all its might sometimes from the west and south-west.
A few days had elapsed since the conger-fishing trip, and it had been arranged with Uncle Abram, who had expressed himself as being highly honoured by a visit from Mr Temple that Josh and Will should be ready with the boat for a long row to three or four of the old mine-shafts and creeks of the bay, where Mr Temple intended making a few investigations, and taking specimens of the different ores.
But when Dick rose, as he thought at daybreak, he found that it was half-past seven, that the rain was streaming down, and that the wind kept striking the side of the house, as it came from over the great Atlantic, with a noise like thunder.
He opened the window, but was glad to shut it again, for the wind snatched it, as it were, from his hand, to send it with a bang against the wall of the house. So shutting it close once more, and giving one of the panes a rub with the towel, he put his nose against it and looked out at the bay.
"Oh, how jolly miserable!" he exclaimed. "Here, Taff, hi! Wake up."
Taff would not wake up, and a second summons had no effect. In fact the nickname Taff had a bad effect upon Arthur Temple, causing a sort of deafness that was only removed by calling him Arthur.
"It rains and it blows, and the sea is one mass of foam. Oh, what waves!"
So impressive were these latter that for some time Dick forgot to dress, but kept watching the huge, dark green banks of water come rolling in and then break upon the shore.
"Here, what a stupid I am!" he said to himself at last; and hastily scrambling on his clothes, he went down-stairs and out on to the cliff, to be almost startled by the heavy thunder of the great billows that came tumbling in, every now and then one of them coming with a tremendous smack upon the pier, when the whole harbour was deluged, the foam and spray flying over the luggers, which were huddled together, as if in alarm, beneath the shelter of the sea wall.
Dick forgot that it was raining heavily, and ran down to the great bed of boulders at the end of the village, where, as the huge waves came in, they drove up the massive stones, which varied in size from that of a man's head to that of a Cheshire cheese, sending them some distance up towards the cliff, and then, as the wave retired, boomble—roomble—doomble, doomble—doom, they rolled back again one over the other, as if mockingly defying the retiring wave to come and do that again.
Here was the secret of how pebbles and shingle and boulders were made, grinding one another smooth as were driven one over the other for hundreds and hundreds of years till they were as smooth as the rock upon which they beat.
This was exciting enough for a time, but, regardless of rain and wind, Dick ran along the cliff to a place he knew, a very shelf in the rock which went down perpendicularly to a deep little cove, in which he felt sure that the sea would be beating hard.
"It's just a hundred feet," he said, "because Josh told me, and I shall be able to see how high a wave can come."
He said this, but only to himself, for as he hurried along the cliff there were moments when he could hardly get his breath for the force of the wind which beat full in his face.
Once or twice he hesitated, wondering whether it was safe to proceed in such a storm.
He laughed at his fears, though, as he stood in shelter for a few moments, and then went on again, to, reach the spot he sought, and find to his great delight that the rock bulged out, so that without danger he could look right down upon the sea; while another discovery he made was, that though he seemed to be standing right facing the wind he was in comparative calm.
It paid for the journey, for as he advanced to the edge he could see low down that the waves were churning up foam which the wind caught as it was finished and sent right up in a cloud of flakes and balls light as air in a regular whirl, to come straight up past him, higher and higher above his head, till the very summit of the cliff was reached, when away it went in a drift landward.
Why was it quite calm where he stood, and yet the full force of the Atlantic gale coming full in his face?
It was a puzzle to Dick Temple. The wind was blowing so hard that it was cutting the foamy tops from the waves, and sweeping all along like a storm of tremendous rain. It seemed to him that he should be blown flat against the rock, and held there spread-eagle fashion; but instead of this it was perfectly calm, and the thought came upon him how grand it would be to stand just where the wind was blowing its hardest, and to see what it felt like to be in the full force of an Atlantic gale.
"I'll climb right up to the very top of the cliff," he said. "I wonder whether the wind ever does blow strong enough to knock anyone down."
But there was too much to fascinate him below for him to drag himself away at once. From where he stood he could see all along below the cliffs where he had been rowed by Josh and Will, and that where, then and afterwards, when his father accompanied them searching for some good mineral vein, the sea had heaved gently, and the waves had curled over and broken sparkling on the rocks, all was now one chaos of wildly foaming and tossing waters. The huge green waves ran rolling in to break with a noise like thunder, and when some huge hill of water came in, rose, curled over, and broke, it was with a tremendous boom, and the spray rushed thirty, forty, and fifty feet up the rock before it poured back.
"I wonder what would happen to a boat if it was down there?" said Dick aloud.
"Just the same as would happen to a walnut-shell if you were to throw it down where five hundred hammers were beating about on a pile of stones such as you use to mend the roads."
"Why, I didn't hear you come, Will," cried Dick eagerly.
"I was going to your place to tell you that we could not go out to-day, of course, and I saw you come out, so I followed."
"And so a boat would not get on very well down there, wouldn't it?"
"Get on!" said Will smiling; "why, it would be smashed up."
"And suppose a ship were to be close in there, Will?"
"She would be beaten up into matchwood, all torn and ragged to pieces."
"But is the sea so strong?"
"Look at it," cried Will, pointing to the leaves, "It is awful sometimes."
"Worse than this?"
"Yes: much," replied Will. "But look here, suppose a great ship came driving round the head here and struck?"
"What do you mean by struck?"
"Driven on the rocks. Do you know what would happen then?"
"Well, she would be wrecked, I suppose," said Dick.
"Yes, the waves would come leaping and thundering over her the same as they do over that piece of rock, and sweeping her decks. Then every great wave that came in would lift her up, and then leave her to come down crash upon the rocks, shaking out her masts and loosening her timbers and planks, and keeping this on till she tumbled all to pieces and the sea was strewed with the bits which kept tossing in and out among the rocks."
"Have you ever seen the sea do this?" said Dick eagerly.
"Yes," replied Will solemnly, "often. It's very awful sometimes to live at the sea-side on a rocky coast."
The two lads stood for a few minutes silently gazing down into the wild waste of tossing foam, and then Dick said slowly:
"I think I should like to see a wreck. I shouldn't like for there to be a wreck; but if there was a wreck I should like to see it."
"I don't think you would again," said Will sadly. "I used to think so when I was quite a little fellow; but when I did see one it all seemed so pitiful to know that there were people on board the ship asking you to come and save them."
"Then why didn't you go and save them?" cried Dick excitedly. "You are all good sailors about here, and have boats. You ought to do something to save the poor things."
"We do," said Will sadly. "I mean our men do when they can."
"Haven't you got a life-boat?"
"There is one at Corntown and another at Penillian Sands; but sometimes before a life-boat can be fetched a ship has gone to pieces."
"And all the people drowned?"
"Yes. Come below here," said Will, leading the way down the cliff.
"Is—is it safe?" said Dick.
"I will not take you where there's any danger," said Will.
Dick hesitated for a few moments, and then followed his companion down a path cut in a rift of the rock where a tiny stream trickled down from far inland.
The mouth of the rift was protected by a pile of rocks, against which the wind beat and the waves thundered, but the path was so sheltered that the lads were able to get nearly down to the shore.
"There are lots of paths like this down the cliff all about the coast," said Will quietly. "They are useful for men to get down to their boats in bad weather."
He pointed to one that was drawn right up on rollers twenty feet above the waves and snugly sheltered from the storm.
"There," said Will the next minute, as he stood holding on behind a rock, with Dick by his side. "We're safe enough here; the wind goes by us, you see, and the waves don't bite here. Now, what do you think of that?"
Dick drew a long breath two or three times over before he could speak, for the scene was awful in its grandeur, and, young as he was, he felt what mere pigmies are men in face of the giants of the elements when Nature is in anger and lets loose her storms upon our shores.
Every minute, from amidst the boiling chaos of waves, one bigger than the rest came slowly from seaward with a strange gliding motion, to raise itself up like some crested serpent and curl over, and then, as it was riven in ten thousand streams and sheets of jagged foam, there was a dull roar as of thunder, the wind shrieked and yelled, and, serpent-like, the broken wave hissed, and seethed, and choked, and gurgled horribly amongst the rocks.
"What do you think of that?" said Will again gravely as he placed his lips close to Dick's ear.
"How awful the sea is!" panted Dick as he seemed more than ever to realise its force.
"Yes," said Will quietly, and there was a sad smile on the boy's lip as he spoke. "But you said a little while ago that our men ought to help the shipwrecked men. Shall we get down that boat and have a row?"
"Row!" cried Dick with a horrified look; "why, it couldn't be done."
"Would you like to see your father and some more men get down that boat and put off to sea?"
"It would be impossible," cried Dick. "She would be tossed over by the waves and everybody drowned."
"Hah! Yes," said Will smiling. "You see now the danger. Many people say that fishermen are cowardly for not doing more, when the case is that they know the danger, and those who talk and write about it don't. It isn't everybody who has seen the sea-coast in a storm. Shall we go up?"
"Yes," panted Dick; "it is too awful to stay here. If a wave were to curl round the corner we should be swept away."
"Yes," said Will, "but the waves will not curl round the corner. They can't come here."
He pointed to the rugged path, for it was hard work to speak and make each other hear; and Dick began nervously to climb back, looking down once or twice at the hungry waves, which seemed ready to leap up at him and tear him from the rocks.
"I say," he cried, "I'm glad Taff isn't here."
Will smiled, for he felt that Arthur would never have ventured down the cliff.
"Now," said Dick, as they reached the shelf path once more, and he felt less nervous, "I want to go up right to the top of the cliff and feel the wind."
"Feel the wind?" cried Will.
"Yes; feel how strong it is. Which is the best way?"
"I'll show you," said Will smiling; and leading the way he walked a little back towards the town and then turned into a rift similar to that by which they had descended to the shore.
"This way," he shouted, for the wind caught them here with tremendous force, and great balls of foam were whirled up over the face of the cliff and then away on the wings of the wind inland.
"What a difference!" cried Dick as soon as they had entered the rift: for there was a perfect lull here, and all seemed comparatively at peace.
"Yes, it is sheltered here," replied Dick; "but wait a few minutes and you will feel the wind again."
"Yes. I want to feel it just as it comes off the sea. I'm going to stand right at the edge. It won't blow me down, will it?"
"No; not there," said Will smiling. "Here we are. Now come and try."
As soon as they emerged from the shelter of the rift and stood upon the storm-swept cliff, Dick had to clap his hand to his head to keep on his hat, for the wind seized it and swept it to the extent of the lanyard by which it was fortunately held, and there it tugged and strained like a queerly-shaped kite.
The wind now was terrific, coming in deafening gusts, and more than once making Dick stagger. In fact if he had set off to run inland it would have almost carried him off his legs.
"Didn't—know—blow—so—hard," he panted, turning his back so that he could breathe more freely, when the wind immediately began to part the boy's hair behind in two or three different ways, but only to alter them directly as if not satisfied with the result.
"Come along," shouted Will. "Let's get to the edge."
Dick turned round, caught at Will's extended hand, and leaning forward, tramped with him step for step towards the edge of the cliff, which went sheer down a couple of hundred feet to the shore.
They had to force their way sturdily along for about a hundred yards with the wind as it came right off the Atlantic shrieking by their ears, and deafening and confusing them. The short wiry grass was all quivering, and it was plain enough to understand why trees found it so hard to grow where they were exposed to the fury of the sea breezes that blew so many months in the year.
Step—step—step by step, the wind seeming really to push them back. Now and then, when it came with its most furious gusts, the lads regularly leaned forward against it as if it were some strange elastic solid; and then, as they nearly reached the edge, it lulled all at once, and right at the verge all was calm.
"Oh, what a pity!" cried Dick, as he stood there panting and regaining his breath; "only to think of it turning so still now that we are here."
"Turning so still!" said Will, laughing; "why, it's blowing harder than ever. Look at the foam-balls."
"Yes; it's blowing there," said Dick; "but it's quite calm here. Never mind; I'll wait. There'll be a regular guster directly."
"No," said Will quietly; "you may stand here all day and you'll hardly feel the wind."
"But why's that?" cried Dick.
"Because we are right at the edge of a tall flat-faced cliff," said Will. "It's generally so."
"But I don't understand it," cried Dick. "It's blowing very hard, and we are not in shelter. Why don't it blow here?"
"Because we are right at the edge of the cliff."
"Don't talk stuff and nonsense, Will," said Dick testily. "How can you be so absurd? Why, that's where the wind would blow hardest."
"No, it isn't," replied Will.
"Now look here," said Dick. "I know that we London chaps are all behind you country fellows over sea-side things—catching fish, and boating, and about winds and tides; but I do know better than you here. The edge of a cliff like this must be the place where the wind blows hardest."
"But you feel for yourself that it doesn't," said Will laughing.
"Not just now," cried Dick, "but it will directly."
"No, it will not."
"But look at the foam flying and the spray going like a storm of rain."
"Yes," said Will, "but not at the edge of the cliff. Look at the grass and wild flowers; they grow longer and better here too. The wind off the sea never blows very hard here."
"Oh, what stuff!" cried Dick; "you're as obstinate as old Taff. It will blow here directly."
"Come along," said Will quietly; and he walked a short distance inland, taking his companion into the full force of the gale once more.
"There!" cried Dick. "I told you so. It has come on to blow again. Let's get back to the edge."
Will made no objection, but walked back quickly with Dick; but before they reached the cliff edge it was nearly calm once more.
"Look at that, now," cried Dick pettishly. "Did you ever see such a stupid, obstinate old wind in your life? It's blowing everywhere but here."
Will smiled so meaningly that Dick turned upon him.
"Why, what do you mean?" he cried.
"I'll try and show you," said Will. "Lie down here. It's quite dry."
Dick threw himself on the short soft turf, and Will pulled out a pocket-book, took the pencil from its loop, and, spreading the book wide, began after a fashion to draw what learned people call a diagram, but which we may more simply speak of as a sketch or figure of what he wished to explain.
It was very roughly done in straight lines, but sufficiently explanatory, especially as Will carefully followed the example of the sign-painter, who wrote underneath his artistic work, "This is a bear."
Will began by drawing a horizontal line, and under it he wrote, "The sea." Then he turned the horizontal line into a right angle by adding to it a perpendicular line, by which he wrote: "The cliff." From the top of that perpendicular he drew another horizontal line, and above that he wrote, "Top of the cliff."
"Now, then," he said, "these little arrows stand for the wind blowing right across the sea till they come to the face of the cliff;" and he drew some horizontal arrows.
"Yes, I see," said Dick, helping with a finger to keep down the fluttering leaves.
"Well; now the wind has got as far as the cliff. It can't go through it, can it?"
"No," said Dick.
"And it can't go down for the sea."
"Of course not."
"It can't go backwards, because the wind is forcing on the wind."
"Yes," said Dick. "Hold still, stupid!" This last to the fluttering leaf.
"Where is the wind to go, then?" asked Will.
"Why, upwards of course," cried Dick.
"To be sure," said Will. "Well, it strikes against the face of the cliff, and that seems to make it so angry like that it rushes straight up to get over the top."
"Of course it does," said Dick; "any stupid could understand that."
"Well," said Will, "the top's like a corner, isn't it?"
"No!" cried Dick; "how can it be?"
"Yes, it is," said Will sturdily; "just like a corner, only lying down instead of standing up."
"Oh! very well; just as you like," cried Dick.
"Now suppose," said Will, "you were running very fast along beside a row of houses like they are at Corntown."
"Very well: what then?"
"And suppose you wanted to run sharp round the edge of the corner, and I was hiding behind it, and you wanted to catch me."
"Well, I should catch you," said Dick.
"No, you would not. You couldn't turn short round, because you were going so fast; and you'd go some distance before you did, and you'd be right beyond me, and you'd make quite a big curve."
"Should I? Well, suppose I should," said Dick, rubbing one ear.
"Well," said Will, making some more arrows up the perpendicular line which represented, the face of the cliff, "that's how the wind does. It goes right up here, and gets some distance before it can stop, and then it curves over and flies right over the land, getting lower as it goes, till it touches the ground once more. There, that's it; and those two dots are you and me."
He drew some more arrows, with Dick looking solemnly on, and the result was that Will's sketch of the wind's action against a cliff was something like the following arrangement of lines and arrows, which illustrate a curious phenomenon of nature, easily noticeable during a gale of wind at the edge of some perpendicular cliff.
Dick felt disposed to dispute his friend's scientific reasoning; but Will showed him by throwing his handkerchief down from the edge of the cliff, when it was caught by the gale before it had gone down a dozen feet, and whisked up above their heads and then away over the land.
A handful of grass was treated the same, and then Dick sent down his own handkerchief, which went down twice as far as Will's before the wind took it and blew it right into a crevice in the face of the cliff, where it stuck fast.
"There's a go," cried Dick. "Oh! I say, how can we get it?"
Will went to the edge of the cliff and looked over before shaking his head.
"We can't get it now," he said. "I'll ask Josh to come with a rope when the wind's gone down, and he'll lower me over."
"What—down there—with a rope?" said Dick, changing colour. "No, don't."
"Why not?" said Will. "That's nothing to going down a mine-shaft."
"Or going down the cliff after eggs as I do sometimes. We have gentlemen here now and then who collect eggs, and I've been down after them often in places where you can't climb."
"But I shouldn't like you to go down for me."
"You might fall," said Dick.
"I shouldn't like to do that," said Will, smiling. Then in a thoughtful, gloomy way—"It wouldn't matter much. I've no one to care about me."
"How can you say that?" cried Dick sharply. "Why, your uncle seemed to think a deal of you."
"He's very kind to me," said Will sadly; "but I've always been an expense to him."
"Then," cried Dick boldly, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"What—for being an expense to him?" said Will wistfully.
"No; because you couldn't help that when you were a little fellow. Now you have grown, and are getting a big one, you ought to think of letting him be an expense to you, and you keep him. That's what I'm going to do as soon as ever I get old enough."
"That's right," said Will, looking at his companion thoughtfully. "I say, is your father going to open a mine down here?"
"I don't know quite for certain," said Dick; "but I think he's going to try and find something fresh, and work that."
"What—some new metal?"
"I don't know," said Dick, "and I don't think he quite knows yet. It all depends upon what he can find good enough."
"I wish I could find something very valuable," said Will thoughtfully—"something that I could show him; and then he might give me work in it, so that I could be independent."
"Well, let's try and find something good. I'll go with you," said Dick.
"Not now. Oh! I say, I must get back; I am so precious hungry."
It was quite time; but they had not far to go, though when Dick did enter the room it was to find his father and Arthur half through their meal.
"Three quarters of an hour late, Dick," said his father. "I waited half an hour for you before I sat down. Where have you been?"
"To look at the sea, father; and up on the cliff to see how the wind blew—how strong, I mean."
"Sit down," said his father rather sternly. "I like punctuality, and would rather know when you are going out."
"Yes, father," said Dick, "I'll try and remember. I'm very sorry."
Mr Temple did not answer, but raised the newspaper he was reading, and this covered his face.
Evidently Arthur thought it covered his ears as well, for he said rather importantly:—
"I was here punctually to the moment."
"Arthur," said his father quietly, "you had better go on with your breakfast, and not talk so much."
Arthur coloured, and the breakfast was eaten during the rest of the time in silence—a state of affairs of which Dick took advantage, for the sea air had a wonderful effect upon his food-assimilating powers, and his performance on this particular morning made his brother leave off to stare.
"My, Dick!" he exclaimed at last as that gentleman made an attack upon a second fried sole, one of several brought in by the trawl-boat on the previous night, "I say, how you are eating!"
"Yes," said Dick, grinning, "I'm a growing boy."
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
UNCLE ABRAM COMES AS AN AMBASSADOR, AND GAINS HIS ENDS.
"I wanted to make our expedition," said Mr Temple, "but it is impossible, of course, to-day in the face of such a storm. What are you boys going to do?"
"Read, papa," said Arthur. "It is too rough to go out."
"And you, Dick?"
"Ask you to lend me your Mackintosh, father. It's too rough to stay in. The sea's grand."
Arthur had already taken up a book, but he now laid it down.
"I don't think it rains, does it?"
"No; only blows," replied Dick; "but when you get where the spray comes off the sea, it's like a shower."
"I think we'll all go," said Mr Temple. "I want to test a few minerals first. Afterwards I should like to go down and have a look at the waves."
It was settled that the boys should wait, and Mr Temple at once lit a spirit-lamp from a strong box of apparatus he had brought down; and, taking out a blow-pipe, he spent some little time melting, or calcining, different pieces of ore and stone that he had collected, one special piece being of white-looking mineral that took Dick's notice a good deal, for it seemed familiar.
"Isn't that the stone you got in the place Will Marion showed to you, father?"
"Yes, my boy," said Mr Temple; "why?"
"Only I thought it was," said Dick. "Is it valuable?"
"I don't know yet. Perhaps."
"If it is valuable, will it do Will any good?"
"I don't know yet about that either, my inquisitive young friend," said Mr Temple.
"I think it ought if it's any good," said Dick after a pause, during which he had been watching his father attentively.
"Do you?" said Mr Temple coldly; and he went on calcining a piece of the soft white stone, and then placing it in a mortar to grind it up fine.
This done, he took the powder out and spread it upon a small glass slab, where he applied a few drops of water to it, and mixed and mixed till he had formed the white powder into a paste that looked like white clay.
"I say, father," said Dick.
"Will would like to see what you are doing with that stuff. May I tell him?"
"No," said Mr Temple, quietly kneading the white paste in his fingers and then examining it with a powerful lens. "I desire that you say no word about anything that you may see me doing. This is private work that to-day unknown to anyone else may be very valuable. Known to all the world, it might prove to be not very valuable, but absolutely worthless. Wait, my boy, and see."
Waiting was always an unpleasant task for Dick Temple. Time never ran half fast enough for him, and to have to wait in what he called, after some one whom he had heard make use of the term, a state of mental anxiety, was something hard to be borne.
Arthur calmly took a book, after glancing in the glass to see if his collar was quite right and his hair properly brushed. He could sit and read in the most placid manner; but Dick seemed to have quicksilver in his toes and fingers. He could not keep still, but was always on the fret to be doing something.
In his eagerness to help he got into trouble three times with his father, his aid being given invariably at the wrong time, and generally resulting in his knocking over some bottle, disturbing a test, or breaking some delicate piece of apparatus.
"I'm very sorry, father, I am indeed," he would say.
"Nobody doubts your sorrow, Dick," cried Mr Temple; "but what I want is less sorrow and more care. You blunder on at everything instead of making a bit of a calculation first so as to see what you are about to do."
"Well, I will, father, I will really. I'll always in future be as careful as—careful as—careful as Taff."
Dick had been looking round the room for an example of care, and this suggested itself.
Mr Temple smiled, and bent down over his minerals so that his boys should not see his face, as he noticed Arthur's ears turn red and a nervous twitch go through him preparatory to his looking up from his book.
"No," said Mr Temple, "I do not wish you to be as careful as Arthur, my boy, or to take anyone else for a model. Be just your own natural self, and do your best to run straight on your journey through life. Don't try to run like others run; it may not always be in a good style."
Arthur's eyes fell upon his book once more, and his ears became of a very deep crimson as he felt injured and touched in his dignity.
"Papa might have said yes, and told Dick to imitate me," thought Arthur; and he went on with his reading, feeling very much ill used.
"Mr Marion would like to speak to you, sir," said the landlord, coming in just then.
"What, Will?" cried Dick eagerly.
"No, Master Richard. I shouldn't have called him Mr Marion," said the landlord, smiling. "It's the old gentleman. May I show him in, sir?"
"Yes, certainly;" and Uncle Abram came in, looking like a Finnan haddock in a glazed hat, for on account of the weather the old man was clothed from head to foot in yellow oilskins, and shone and twinkled with the drops of spray.
"Sarvant, sir," he said, making dabs with his shiny sailor's hat as if to knock the drops off. "Sarvant, young gentleman,"—this was to Arthur, who rose and bowed stiffly—"how do, Master Dick, how do?"
Uncle Abram beamed and shook Dick's hand heartily, seeming loth to loose it again, but he relented and turned to Mr Temple.
"You'll excuse me, sir, for coming when you're busy; but it's to help a neighbour out of a difficulty."
"Subscription?" said Mr Temple.
"Subscription?" said Uncle Abram, dragging a great silk handkerchief from inside his oilskin and wiping the drops of spray from his face. "It was about your lodgings here, sir."
"My lodgings?" said Mr Temple.
"Yes, sir. You see neighbour here didn't like to speak to you 'bout the matter, and I said I would. Fact is, four fish-buyers from London come down here to stay with him every year regular all through the season, and you've got their rooms."
"Oh! I have their rooms?" said Mr Temple.
"That's it, sir, that's it," said Uncle Abram; "and when neighbour let 'em to you he thought you only wanted 'em for a few days."
"And I've been here for a few weeks."
"Toe be sure," said Uncle Abram.
"And he wants me to turn out, eh?" said Mr Temple rather sternly, while Dick's countenance fell.
"Turn out arn't the word, sir," said Uncle Abram. "We don't do that sort o' thing to gentlemen down here in the west countree. Man to man— give and take—do to one another as you'd like one another to do unto you. That's our motter down here, sir. And neighbour he told me his difficulty. 'Nice gentleman, Mr Temple,' he says. 'Master Arthur a bit stiff, but Master Dick—there,' he says, says neighbour, 'you know what Master Dick be.' And I said I did, and I went home and had a chat with my nevvy Will, and then I attacked the missus, and here I be."
"So I see," said Mr Temple rather dryly; "but really, Mr Marion, you haven't explained yourself very clearly."
"I s'pose not," said Uncle Abram in a troubled way. "That's just like me. I never do. Getting old, you see."
"Am I to understand that you are an ambassador from the landlord, and that he wants us to go?"
"Well, something of that sort, sir," replied Uncle Abram, who was very busy wiping drops from his forehead that were not spray.
"When do these fish-buyers come?"
"To-day! Then why did he not speak sooner?"
"Waited like, sir, to see if there might be a change of wind. You might want to go. They mightn't want to come. Things veers about, sir, sometimes."
"I consider it disgraceful," said Mr Temple angrily, rising to touch the bell. "I'll speak to the landlord myself."
"Steady, sir, steady," cried Uncle Abram. "Good neighbour o' mine, you see. Spoke to me 'bout it, and I said yes, and here I be."
"Yes, yes," cried Mr Temple; "but am I to be thrown out without notice just at a time when I want particularly to stay?"
"No, sir, of course not. That's what I keep explaining to you. Neighbour puts the case before me, and I says if the missus is willing nothing would please me better, and here I be."
"But you do not explain matters," said Mr Temple.
"What, not that Mrs Marion and your obedient sarvant to command, Abram Marion, ex Her Majesty's sarvice, would be glad if you'd make shift in our rooms—sittin', best, and two beds?"
"No. You said nothing of the kind."
"Think of that now," said Uncle Abram, smiling broadly. "That's just like me, Master Dick. Gettin' old, you see. But if you could work it round that way, sir, it would be making it pleasant for all parties, and we'd do the best up at the cottage to make you comfortable; and there's my boy Will and our Josh and the boat at your sarvice, and there you are; and neighbour below don't upset his old friends."
"I shall be delighted, Mr Marion, I'm sure," said Mr Temple, holding out his hand, which the old fellow shook heartily, bestowing a solemn wink on Dick at the same time.
"That's a bargain then, sir?" said the old fellow, going to the door, and shouting, "Lan'ord, ahoy!" in a voice of thunder, and then coming back to open the window and yell, "Will, ahoy! Go and tell her as it's settled."
Then he banged to the window, and turned round as the landlord came in smiling and looking greatly relieved.
"Gentleman says it's all right, neighbour," said Uncle Abram.
"Thank ye heartily, neighbour," said the landlord, "and you too, Mr Temple, sir. It's kep' me awake for nights."
The result was that the little party moved bodily to Uncle Abram's that morning, their luggage being conveyed, as soon as possible by Josh and Will; and directly they were in the pleasant sea-side rooms Uncle Abram took Dick round the place to point out various objects about the walls.
"Welcome to 'em as the flowers is to May, my lad," he said with a good many nods and winks; "only wipe 'em dry and put 'em back when done— spy-glass, oilskins, big boots, fishing-lines, nets, and curiosities for a wet day, box o' dominoes for the wet nights. Make yourself at home."
Slap on the back.
This last was a sort of seal to finish the welcome; and then the old man went back to his garden to stand in the rockery, which served as a look-out, and scan the horizon with his glass.
Mr Temple was delighted with the change, for, in spite of the quiet respectability of the Cornish fishermen and their bluff, pleasant ways, a fishing port inn, even in a west-country village, is not always perfect as a place for a sojourn; while Uncle Abram's home was a pattern of neatness, and Aunt Ruth seemed very amiably disposed towards her guests.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
A TERRIBLE TIME AT SEA.
"Isn't it glorious, Taff?" cried Dick as he stood with his brother in their little low-roofed bed-room, whose window overlooked the sea.
"Can't say that I like it," said Arthur languidly. "The place smells horribly of fish."
"Pooh! That isn't fish. It's the sea-weed. It turns limp, and smells because the weather's moist and stormy. There, come on. Father must be ready now, and I want to go down and see the sea."
Uncle Abram came in just as they were about to start, and insisted upon lending a couple of suits of oilskins, which he brought out of a room in the roof, where he kept his stores, as he called them.
"Was Will's," he explained. "He growed out of 'em. Not much to look at, sir," he added apologetically to Mr Temple, "but they'll keep out the water. We like the sea, but we like to keep dry."
Arthur looked horribly disgusted, for his father gladly accepted the hospitable offer, and he had to submit to being buttoned up in the stiff garb that Will had cast off years before, even to the high boots.
Dick scuffled into his with delight, and tied the sou'-wester under his chin, turning the next minute to see his brother, and stamp on the floor with delight.
"Oh! look at Taff, father; he does look such a Guy Fawkes."
Arthur turned upon him fiercely, and it suddenly occurred to Dick that he was in precisely the same costume; but he only laughed the more as, well equipped to meet the storm, they started for the beach.
"It's ridiculous," said Arthur, in tones of disgust, as they walked down towards the harbour under the lee of the houses. "There was no need to put on these wretched stiff things."
Almost as the words left his lips they passed the last house, and—
A large wave struck the shore on a boulder slope and sent a deluge of water across the road, to strike the rock on the other side, and run back like a stream.
Arthur, was sent staggering, and would have fallen but for his father's hand; and all three, but for their shiny garb, would have been soaked from head to foot.
"Oh, here's a game!" cried Dick. "I say, Taff—run—run—here comes another."
They escaped part of the wave, but Dick had his weather ear full, and the sea-water and foam streamed down their backs as they stood in the shelter of a bit of cliff.
"Well, Arthur, what do you say to your oilskins now?" said Mr Temple.
"They're dreadfully stiff, father, and the boots are too large," said Arthur ungraciously. "Hadn't we better get back?"
Poor Arthur repented his words most bitterly as soon as he had spoken them, for there was a hard light going on in the boy's mind. Naturally very conceited, he had had the misfortune to be made the head of a little set at his school—a little set, for they were rather small boys, who looked up to him,—and dressed at him as far as they could, the effect being to make him more conceited still, and think his brother rough and common in his ways.
All this had been pointed out to Mr Temple, who, however, had seen it for himself, and he only said, smiling:
"It will all settle itself. These little spines will get knocked off by contact with the world. Besides which I hope that he will find out for himself the way to grow into a manly man."
Mr Temple was quite right, and Arthur was beginning to discover that, where his brother was met with a genial smile by all whom he encountered, he, who was particular and precise and, as he considered it, gentlemanly in his ways, was either not noticed, or met with merely the coldest reception.
He was learning too that a man—especially an Englishman, whether gentle or simple—born in the lap of luxury, as people call it, or in the humblest cot, must be one who will always keep up the credit of the nation at large by being thoroughly English; and this brings one to the question—while the storm is raging on the Cornish coast, and Arthur Temple is in his glistening oilskins walking stiffly and awkwardly, and wincing beneath his father's look, which said as plainly as look could speak, "If you are afraid you can go back;"—this brings one to the task of stating what one means by being thoroughly English, so let us set down here, something approaching one's ideas of what an English lad should be.
Courageous of course, full of that sturdy determination not to be beaten, and when beaten, so far from being disheartened that he is ready to try again, whether in a fight, a battle with a difficulty, or in any failure.
Honest in his striving for what he knows to be right, and ready to maintain it against all odds, especially of such enemies as banter or ridicule, self-indulgence or selfishness.
That is enough: for so many wonderful little veins will start from those two trunks, that, given a boy who is courageous and honest, or who makes himself so, it would be almost an impossibility for him to turn out a bad, mean, and cowardly man.
And pray don't imagine, you who read this, that by a cowardly man or boy I mean one who is afraid to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves and fight with his fists. I mean quite a different kind of coward—the one who is afraid of himself and lets self rule him, giving up to every indulgence because it goes a little against the grain, and Arthur Temple is walking uncomfortably in his oilskins because they don't look nice. The storm is raging, and he is still smarting under the belief that his father thinks him contemptible and cowardly, physically cowardly. And all the time, though the tears are rising in his eyes, and the wind is deafening him, and the spray beating in his face so that his tears are not seen, he is proving that, under his varnish, he is made of the right stuff. For even as he battled with self in the boat when conger-fishing, he is fighting the good fight again, has set his teeth, and has made a sort of vow that no one shall say he has not as much pluck as his brother Dick.
There is little work done at a fishing village when a storm comes down. Going to sea is impossible, and men don't care to be mending or making nets when at any moment they may have to be helping to haul up a boat into a safer place, or to drag in a spar, or plank, or timber, that has been washed ashore.
Then, too, there is the look-out kept for ships or boats in distress— perhaps to lend a helping hand; if not, to look on with sympathetic eyes and a thankful prayer at heart that they are in safety, as they think of home, and wife, and child.
Mr Temple was not a violent angry man. His punishments to his boys were conveyed in looks, and one look sufficed. When that look had been given there was an end to the matter; and on this occasion, after Arthur had been made to wince, his petulant display of fear was put back in the past.
"Boys," he cried, "I would not like to have missed this scene. How awful and how grand!"
They were standing in the shelter of a pilchard house, one of the long buildings where these silvery, oily relatives of the herring are salted before being pressed in barrels and sent away to the Mediterranean ports by hundreds of tons every year. The building took the brunt of the roaring wind and spray torn from the huge billows that thundered in and raced up the beach, and pounded the rocks, so that the spectators could gaze at the wild chaos of tossing waves, and watch the heaped-up waters as they dashed in like some savage army, whose aim was to tear down the rocky barriers of our isle and sweep all away.
In the harbour lay the luggers, and a good-sized brig, and a steam-tug that had brought it in after missing Corn town; and as the great waves came with a spang upon the stone pier, and leaped over the lanterns, and poured down tons of spray upon their decks, they rocked and groaned as they rubbed together, and in spite of mooring ropes a sharp crack now and then told of damages to be repaired.
The cliff glistened with oilskin-clad men, many of whom bore long, clumsy telescopes, while others in great high boots, and with their sou'-westers tied beneath their chins, walked amongst the foam, a coil of strong rope upon their shoulders, and a boat-hook in hand, ready for anything in the way of flotsam and jetsam that might come ashore.
Already they had drawn up the mast of a lugger with its ropes and blocks, telling tales of some misfortune at sea.
A barrel or two had come ashore; and as Dick watched, he saw one man run out after a wave, catch at something, miss it, and then get hold of a rope, with which he ran ashore.
Directly after they saw another figure leave a companion and run in after a retiring wave, the foam knee-deep, and catch at something else which came slowly.
"Mind, mind!" cried Dick excitedly; "the wave! the wave!"
Arthur gave a gasp and ran right out towards where the figure, fully a hundred yards away, was clinging to something that looked brown against the white foam, and apparently heedless of the fact that a tremendous wave was racing in.
His comrade saw it though and ran to his help, catching hold of the great brown tangle, and then turning with the other to escape.
They hardly did it, for the huge wave curled over just behind them with a boom like thunder, and swept them up towards the shore amidst the foam.
They would have been carried back, but a dozen hands were outstretched and they and their prize were run up out of danger, where, for the next ten minutes, the little party were busy hauling in what proved to be an immense length of pilchard drift-net, with its corks, and buoys, and ropes, which formed a goodly heap when they had done.
Out seaward there was nothing visible but the tossing waves, and it was with a sense of relief that the boys saw that there was no prospect of any wreck beyond that of the fishing-boat that had been dashed to pieces upon some rock.
"Here! hi!" cried Dick, excitedly. "Why, it's Will! Was it you who ran in after that net?" he continued, as the lad came up.
"Yes, Master Dick; Josh helped me," said Will, smiling. "There's two or three hundred fathom."
"But was it not very risky, my lad?" said Mr Temple, shouting like the others, for the noise made by the sea was deafening.
"Risky, sir? Oh! you mean the waves! There were plenty there to lend a hand, and if we'd been caught they'd have thrown us a rope," said Will, simply.
"Some boat has been lost, hasn't there?" cried Dick, excitedly.
"Saint Ives boat, we think," said Will; "and a timber ship has been wrecked somewhere out Lizard way. There'll be a lot of balks and planks come ashore, the men think."
"I say, Will, is it often as bad as this?" said Arthur eagerly.
"Yes, sir, very often," replied Will. "Old Pollard thinks it will be worse to-night. I should go down to yonder house, sir, if I was you; the young gentlemen would be more in shelter, and you could see the wreck wood come in and the men draw it up, better there, for it's nearer to the sea."
"How do you know it will come there?" said Dick hastily.
"The current. Tide washes it up. We always find wreck come about there."
Will hurried away, his mission being to fetch another boat-hook; and taking the hint, Mr Temple and his boys made a dash across the rock and sand to the pilchard-house further east, the wind blowing in a furious squall now, and just as they were half-way, battling against the spray that cut their faces till they tingled, their numbers were diminished one third, though Mr Temple did not know it, and then two thirds.
He had bidden his boys follow him closely, and then with bent head run forward, Dick and Arthur following as fast as their stiff clumsy garb would allow; but just as they were half-way and were caught by the full force of the gale, Arthur, who was last, made a swerve, gave way a little more and a little more, and then was literally carried shoreward by the gale in a staggering run, for he had found it impossible to resist its force.
"Don't it blow!" panted Dick. "Lean your head over towards it, Taff, and then it won't cut your face. Come along."
He spoke loudly, but every word was swept away by the wind; and if sounds do not melt away, his were taken straight over England and the North Sea to Denmark, and then over the Baltic to the Russ's land.
"Here, give me your hand, Taff," he cried directly after, and turning a little more he held out his hand to lend his brother a little help.
Confused and deafened as he was by the storm himself, he burst out into a roar of laughter at the sight of his brother literally running before the wind in the most comically absurd manner, till, finding a dry spot, he flung himself down in the soft sand, sad clung there with all his might while Dick scudded to him and plumped down at his side.
"Here's a game!" he roared into Arthur's ear.
"A game!" faltered the latter; "very—dread—ful—isn't it?"
"No," shouted Dick. "It's all right. Come along. No, no. Turn your back to it."
"The rain cuts so," panted Arthur.
"'Tain't rain; it's spray. Hook hold tight," cried Dick. "Ahoy! Coming!" he shouted, wasting his breath, for it was impossible for Mr Temple to hear. "Here comes father after us. Now then, stoop down and let's do it. Whoo! Knees."
They threw themselves on their knees to avoid being swept away, for just then a sudden puff came with such violence that, as Dick afterwards described the sensation, it was like being pushed with a big ball of india-rubber.
Mr Temple came with the rush of wind, and as he stopped beside his boys he confessed that it was as much as he could do to keep his legs.
It was only for a few moments that the storm had such tremendous force. Then it lulled a little, and taking advantage of the comparative calm, Mr Temple took hold of his boys' hands, and the three with bended heads trotted towards the shelter on ahead.
They had not been long under the lee of the pilchard-house before they saw Will return and stand with Josh and some more of the fishermen just beyond the reach of the waves. Then first one and then another made a rush at what looked at a distance like a piece of wood, tossed here and there by the great billows. Into this they struck the boat-hook, and ran with it shoreward, the piece of wood which looked so small proving to be a deal that was a pretty good weight for two men to carry.
Quite a stack of these were dragged from the waves, some perfectly uninjured, others snapped in two, others again twisted and torn asunder, leaving long ragged threads of fibre, while others again were regularly beaten by the waves and rocks, so that the ends were like bunches of wood gnawed by some monster into shreds.
They went back to dinner and returned towards evening, Uncle Abram giving it as his opinion that the worst of the gale was not over yet, and pointing to the glass that hung in the passage for corroboration.
"Lower than she's been for months," said the old gentleman. "I hope no ship won't get caught in the bay."
"What's that?" cried Mr Temple quickly.
"It's what I hoped would not happen, sir," said the old man, taking off his hat; "a ship in distress, and may—"
He did not finish his sentence aloud, but closed his eyes, and they saw his lips move for a few moments, before, clapping on his hat again, he cried:
"Let's go down to the beach, sir. 'Tisn't likely, but we might be able to do some good. Ah! there she is speaking again."
The hoarse echoing report of a large gun heard plainly above the roar of the storm, and hastily putting on his great yellow oilskin coat, old Uncle Abram led the way towards the shore.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
A BRAVE ACT FOR A DARING MAN MAY BE HEROISM IN A GALLANT BOY.
"There she is, Master Dickard, sir," shouted Josh, as the little party reached the shore down by the pilchard-house, and he pointed out over the foaming sea.
"I can see nothing but mist," said Dick excitedly.
"That's the foam," said Josh; "but I can see her plain—three-master— quite a big ship."
"Will she get into the harbour, Josh?" said Dick, with his lips to the fisherman's ear.
Josh looked at him solemnly and then shook his head.
"One of our luggers couldn't do it, Master Dick, with a wind like this, let alone a big ship."
"What will happen then?" cried Dick excitedly.
"Rocks—go on the Six Pins, I should say. That's where the current'll take her—eh, master?"
Uncle Abram was holding his long telescope against the corner of the pilchard-house, and gazing attentively through it at the distant ship.
"No, Josh, my lad," he said; "there's too much water on the Six Pins even for her. She'll come clear o' them and right on to Black Point."
"And then?" said Mr Temple anxiously.
"We shall do what we can with the rocket-line if the masts hold good for a bit, sir."
"But a boat—a life-boat!"
Uncle Abram shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"Soon as that first gun was heard, sir, there was a man got on a horse and went over the hills to Corntown, where the life-boat lies, and they'll come over as fast as horses can draw the carriage; but it will take them a long time to get over along the rough road, and when they do get her here, where she's to be launched I can't tell."
Mr Temple and his sons looked about the bay at the tremendous breakers that were forming, as it were, a frame of foam. Even the entrance to the harbour was marked by the waves that leaped against the pier.
"I can't see the ship, father," whispered Dick in an awe-stricken voice, as he handed back the glass, whose bottom was dimmed with spray the moment he put it to his eyes.
"There—there," said Will hoarsely, as he pointed out to sea.
"No, I can't see it," said Dick again.
"Can you see the Bird Rock—the Mew Rock, where we caught the conger?" said Will hastily, and with his lips close to Dick's face.
"Then fix your eyes there, and then look straight from there to the old mine-shaft on the hill."
"Yes—yes," cried Dick. "I can see a mast all amongst the spray; and it's coming on this way."
"To destruction," said Mr Temple to himself, as he too now caught sight of the unfortunate vessel driving towards the rocks slowly and surely, and once more the crew drew attention to their peril by firing a signal-gun.
It is one of the most terribly painful positions in which a man can be placed, to see his fellow-creatures slowly drifting into what is almost certain death without being able to stretch out a hand to save.
There was no need to warn the crew of their danger; they knew that but too well, for the great grey rocks were in front of them with the breakers at their feet; and as the excitement increased Will caught Dick's arm.
"They're getting out the rocket-lines," he said, shouting into Dick's ear. "Come and see."
The wind and spray were forgotten, as the men, headed by a couple of coastguard, drew a truck along the sands and through the pools of water towards a spot to the left of where they stood, and just beyond the place where the seine was drawn in and the shark captured. To Dick it seemed as if the men were going away, from the place where they were likely to be of any help to the crew of the ship; but the fishermen knew what they were about, and old Mr Marion, who was as excited as any one present, came up to shout out his opinions.
"She'll come ashore on the Black Fin," he said. "The other side of the buoy. You watch her, and you'll see."
In spite of the driving foam and the salt rain formed by the spray cut from the tops of the waves, the vessel could now be plainly seen labouring and tossing among the great billows which grew heavier and grander the nearer the unfortunate vessel came to the shore, and Dick began to realise now how a ship could be safer a thousand miles from land in the heaviest hurricane than among the breakers upon our rocky coast.
The beating rain and wind then were forgotten as the rocket-cart came up, and Mr Temple and his sons staggered after it, Josh laying hold of one of Dick's arms, Will of the other, while old Marion and Mr Temple were on either side of Arthur, who wondered how the wind could thunder so heavily in his ears.
Dick had a misty sort of idea that a rope would be shot out to the wreck, and that the men would come along it ashore, but how it was to be done he could not tell. Had the storm been twice as heavy, though, he would have gone to see, and he pressed eagerly forward till, with his companions, he was close up to the cart, waiting for the ship to strike.
On she came through the foam, closer and closer, every mast standing, but the sails that had been set torn to rags, that streamed out like tattered pennons, and whipped and beat about the yards. Men on the shore ran here and there and shouted to each other to do impossibilities. Some got under the lee of rocks to use their glasses, but only to close them again and hurry to gain their excited companions, who were standing with coils of rope over their shoulders, and one arm through the ring, shouting again with their hands to their mouths, and one who had a speaking-trumpet roared some unintelligible order through it to the wind that cast it back into his face.
"Will the life-boat come in time?" said Mr Temple to Josh; but the fisherman did not speak nor turn to the questioner: he only shook his head.
All at once every one stood still. The excitement seemed to be at an end. Heads were bent forward, eyes were shaded, and one impulse seemed to have moved the scattered crowd upon the foaming beach, and those who were standing knee-deep amongst the rushing sea-froth that ran up beyond them to the sand.
"Look!" shouted Josh, without turning his head; and he pointed with his sound arm out to sea.
Dick, Arthur, and Mr Temple strained their eyes to catch signs of what the fisherman meant as they saw the vessel rising and falling, and seeming to glide slowly on, till all at once, in the midst of the dense rain of spray, the vessel rose, as it were, to make a leap, and then charged down a hill of waters, stopped short, and seemed to shiver. Then her tall main-mast fell forward, apparently snapped off close to the deck, carrying with it the fore-mast; while the mizen, that had been sloping slightly backward, now leaned over toward the shore.
"Fast on the Black Fin," cried Josh, with his hands to his mouth, and a shiver of horror ran through Dick and his brother as they realised what all this meant.
There was no time lost on the beach now, for in the midst of the crowd the rocket-cart was run down as far as was possible, the tube laid ready, the case with its line placed in position, and then away with a rush, and a stream of dull, almost invisible sparks sped the rocket with its line, whose destination was the far side of the ill-fated ship.
There was a cry from the men who were watching the flight of the line-bearer.
"Short, short!" And as the boys watched with parted lips, and eyes half-blinded with the spray, they saw the line rapidly hauled in and laid ready for another flight.
It took some time, during which those on shore could just make out the crew of the ship clustering about the stern of the vessel and on the mizen-mast.
All was ready at last, and once more a rocket was sent flying with the same result, its flight too short to reach the ship.
"I knowed it—I knowed it!" roared Josh between his hands. "There's only one way."
A little crowd collected about Josh, and for a short space there was hurried gesticulation, and old Marion seemed to be declaiming to the men.
All at once the boys saw Will back out of the crowd with Josh and wave his hand to them, after which every one set off rapidly round the curve of the bay to where the sands ceased and the shore was piled-up rocks, a reef of which ran right out to the vessel, which was fast on an isolated rock at the end.
They were farther from the ship now than before—probably double the distance; but the reef formed a breakwater, and in its lee, though it seemed almost madness, it was just possible that a boat might live.
"They're going to launch a boat and take out a line," shouted old Marion in Mr Temple's ear. "It breaks my heart, Master Temple, but he's light and strong, and a good rower, and Josh won't go alone."
"Is Will going?" cried Dick excitedly.
"Yes—yes," shouted the old man: "there's fellow-creatures' lives at stake; and at such a time a seafaring man can't say no."
What took place seemed to Dick afterwards like the events in some wild dream; but in the midst of the excitement and confusion he saw a small broad-beamed boat run down a pebbly slope, and that a line was coiled in her. Five men, it seemed, jumped into her as she was thrust off, the men wading out as far as they could to give impetus to the craft before they sprang in. Then the cockle-shell of a boat seemed to be lifted right up to the top of a wave, and then to plunge down out of sight; and as Dick watched for her reappearance, and noted that the line was held by the men ashore, as he had noted that there was some one in the stern of the boat who kept paying out that line, he realised that the boy was Will, and it seemed again more than ever to be a dream.
All that followed in the midst of that horrible din of shrieking wind, beating spray, and thundering seemed to be a confused dream, out of which he kept thinking he should wake, as he sheltered his eyes with his hands and tried to see the boat.
But no. Once it had plunged down that hill of foamy wave it had disappeared into a mist of spray and froth; and though two or three times he fancied that he caught sight of the boat climbing some wave between where they stood and the wreck, he could not be sure.
There was confidence, though, on the part of the men who were holding the line.
"He's paying it out right enough, the lad," shouted one of them to Uncle Abram; and as time went on signals were exchanged that told of the safety of those in the boat.
The distance was not great, and the reef of rocks not only formed a shelter, but produced a kind of eddy, which made the passage of the boat somewhat less perilous; but all the same it was a forlorn hope, and many of the fishermen said to themselves that the next time that they saw Will Marion and Josh it would be beaten and bruised by wave and rock, and cast up upon the shore.
But the signals, jerks of the rope, kept coming, and men perched themselves high up among the rocks to watch the progress of the boat with their glasses, but in vain. All they could see was an occasional glimpse of the mizen of the ship, with a dark patch of clustering humanity.
The life-saving gear had meanwhile been carried to the spot whence the boat was started; and there was hope yet that a connection might be made between the vessel and the rocks.
But time went on—time, confused by the roar of wind and wave, and there was no sign. It had seemed utter madness for that boat to be sent forth into such a chaos of waters; but there are things which some men call mad often adventured by the brave fishers of our coast.
All at once Dick started from his father's side to run to Uncle Abram, who had seated himself slowly upon a block of stone about which the foam floated to and fro on a few inches of water. The old man sank down in a way whose action Dick read at once, for the old fellow let his head go down upon his hands, and these rested upon his knees; and as he saw the air of utter dejection, Dick felt that poor Will must have been lost.
It seemed so horrible, so strange, that as Dick reached Abram Marion's side he sank down on his knees beside the old man, caught at his hands, and literally sobbed out:
"Oh! don't say he's drowned; don't say he's drowned."
There was quite a lull as he spoke; and as the old man felt the touch of the boy's clinging hands he laid his own upon his head with a strange far-off look in his eyes.
"I don't say so; I won't say so!" he cried in a hoarse, passionate way. "My brave, true lad! but I oughtn't to have let him go."
A loud cheer from near the water's edge, and a quick, bustling movement among the men; and then down came the storm again, as if it had been taking breath, and the roar was deafening.
But the boat had reached the ship, of course getting under her lee, and her daring little crew had climbed on board. For there was the proof— the life-gear had been attached to the end of the line, and it was being rapidly dragged from the shore out towards the wreck.
A long, anxious time ensued, during which, while the sea end was being secured to the wreck, the shore end of the life-cable, was carried high up to the top of a cluster of rocks that formed the end of the reef, a flat place thirty feet above the level of the sea.
There were drags at that line, which the men at once knew were given by the waves, but they were mostly sharp twitches, which meant that the daring boatmen, headed by Josh, were making it fast high up somewhere in the vessel's mizen; and at last there was an unmistakable signal which meant, "Make fast," and the shore end was hauled tight round a mass of rock.
Then as Dick and his brother stood in the crowd, which had climbed up to the top of the rock, they saw the block that ran upon the cable set in motion by a thin line that was alongside the thick rope, and there was a burst of cheers as the cradle—that basket-like contrivance of the rocket apparatus—started off, dragged by those upon the rock, to cross the seething waves, which kept leaping up at it as if to snatch it down.
Then came a signal—a twitch of the line, and with a cheer the men on the rock hauled the cradle back—cradle indeed, for it seem to contain a new-born life, saved from inevitable death.
It was the pale, wild face of a woman, speechless with dread and exposure, that greeted the men on the rocks as they hauled in the cradle; and in a minute she was lifted out, and almost before the willing hands had lifted the poor woman down from the rock, the cradle was speeding back.
It returned quickly with a man half dead, and he, amidst rousing cheers, was lifted out, and borne to a place where he would find warmth, welcome, and shelter.
Then four more were dragged ashore over the thundering, roaring waves, as the cradle was merrily hauled to and fro.
Then came another man, but not a storm-beaten exhausted seaman. It was the well-known countenance of one of the crew that went out in the boat, and he was full of activity.
"Back with the cradle!" he shouted, "haul away. The ship won't hold together long."
The cradle began to run back over the swinging rope, while the man who had returned said in reply to questions:
"Those were all. The rest of the poor souls had been beaten off, and these couldn't have lasted many minutes longer. You must look alive."
The men waited anxiously for the signal, and then another mate was hauled over the waves, and the cradle sent back, while Dick stood trembling and wanting to ask why Will, who was a boy, had not been sent first.
Then came another, and still it was not Will.
"This time it must be he," thought Dick; but when the cradle arrived once more, it was the face of Josh that saluted them.
"Haul back quick," the latter said. "She was shivering under my feet when I come away."
"And you left that boy to drown!" roared Uncle Abram, catching Josh by the throat.
Josh did not resent it, but said quietly, in a lull of the storm:
"He wouldn't come first. It was like drowning both him and me to stand gashly arguing at a time like that."
And now every eye was staring wildly, and with an intensity that showed how eagerly all watched for the next freight of the cradle.
"It's hard work for the lad," said Josh hoarsely; "and I'd give anything to be at his side. But he'll do it if the ship hangs together long enough. Oh, pull, pull! Haul away, lads, haul!"
"He made me come—he made me come," he cried frantically. "It was keeping the lad back to say I wouldn't go first. I didn't want to, lads, I didn't want to."
"No, no," came in a sympathetic growl, as once more the wind lulled a little and there were symptoms of the gale being nearly over.
Then there was a groan, for Will made no signal.
"Hooray!" came from the men, as there was a sudden snatch, and the rope they were giving out was drawn rapidly. "He's got it, he's—got—"
The man who was joyfully shouting that stopped short as the rope ceased moving, and one, who was trying to use a telescope, shouted:
"The mizen's over!"
"Then she's gone to pieces, lads," cried another.
"No," cried the man with the glass; "part's standing yet."
"Hooray!" came again, as Dick stood clinging to Uncle Abram's arm, the old man having left the stone, and standing close beside the men who hauled the cradle gear.
Short as the distance was, not a glimpse of the ship could be seen, for every wave that broke upon the rock rose in a fountain of spray, to mingle with the blinding drift and mist of foam. But all the time their eyes were strained towards the rock upon which the ship had struck, and along the reef that the venturesome boat's crew had made the shelter which resulted in the saving of some of the poor creatures upon the wreck.
All at once, when a horrible feeling of despair had settled upon all present, there was a sharp twitch given to the line, the signal for it to be hauled, just at a time too when Josh had turned away, giving Dick a piteous look, and then gone to lean his head upon his arm against the rock.
That cheer which came as the rope was twitched seemed to send life and activity back to Josh, who dashed in among the knot of men at the rope.
"Here, let me come," he shouted; "let me have a hand in bringing him ashore. Hurray! Master Dick, hurray! he's saved, he's saved!"
The men hauled as rapidly as was consistent with safety, till the cradle with its occupant was dragged right up on to the rock, where a dozen hands were ready to lift the drooping, insensible figure out, and pour brandy between its lips.
Will opened his eyes at this and stared wildly for a few moments; then a knowledge of his position seemed to come to him, and he smiled and raised one hand.
At that moment there was a shout and the cable of the cradle gear seemed to hang loose, and the sea end to be moving shoreward, while the man with the glass shouted:
"She's gone to pieces, lads; that last wave lifted her, and then she melted right away."
There was no doubt about it, for the cradle gear was floating free, and the men were able to haul it in. The rest of the crew of that unfortunate ship, with twelve passengers beside, were washed ashore with the battered boat that took the line, and fragments of wreck here and there all round the coast for the next ten days or so, long after Will had well recovered from the shock of his adventure. For he had been for long enough beaten about and half drowned by the waves while striving to get the cradle rope clear of a tangle of rigging that had fallen upon it, and threatened to put an end to its further working, till he had run a most perilous risk, climbed over it, hauled the rope from the other side, and had just strength enough left to get into the cradle and give the signal, as a wave came over the doomed ship, and buried him deep beneath tons of water.
He could recollect no more than that he had tried to give the signal to be hauled ashore, and some one had held him up to pour brandy between his teeth.
Yes: there was something else he remembered very well, and that was the way in which Dick held on to him, and how Arthur had shaken hands. He recalled that, and with it especially Mr Temple's manner, for there was a kind, fatherly way in his words and looks as he said to him gently:
"Will Marion, I should have felt very proud if one of my boys had done all this."
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
MR. TEMPLE LEARNS MORE OF WILL MARION'S CHARACTER WRITTEN IN STONES.
"Don't say anything about it, my lad, to Will; he don't like it known," said Uncle Abram one day; "and I wouldn't let out about it to his aunt."
"I won't tell anybody but Taff and my father," said Dick.
Uncle Abram took his pipe out of his mouth and scratched the side of his nose with it very softly, as he looked out through the window, and its climbing-roses, to sea.
Mrs Marion had gone into Corntown marketing; Arthur was up the cliff reading in a snug corner he affected; Mr Temple had gone out alone along the cliff "on an exploring trip," he had said with a smile; and Will was down with Josh at the lugger "overhauling," as Josh called it, which meant running over the nets previous to a visit to the pilchard ground.
Dick was just going to join them when Uncle Abram, who was fumigating his rose-trees and enjoying his pipe at the same time, made him a signal, as he called it, and asked him if he would like to see Will's room.
"Well," said the old man, after a good deal of scratching with the red waxed end of his tobacco pipe.
"I s'pose you're right, Master Richard, sir. I say don't tell Will, because he's so modest like, and don't want people to know; and, I say, don't tell his aunt, because she's so particular like with him, and if she know'd all, she'd think he was neglecting his regular work, and that if he could find time, you see, for doing this sort of thing, he could be doing more to the boats. But I don't see why your brother should not know, and I don't hold with a lad keeping anything from his father."
"And who wants to keep anything from his father?" said Mr Temple, who was just passing the window on his return. "What is it?" he continued, entering the room.
"Oh, nothing, sir; only I was going to show Master Richard here our Will's room, and I was asking him to be a bit secret like for the lad's sake. Mrs Marion, you see, is a—"
"Oh, yes, I understand," said Mr Temple. "May I come too?"
"If you please, sir," said the old man smiling. "It's in your way rather, you see, both of you being a bit fond of chip-chopping stones; not that there's many up there now, for you see his aunt makes the lad clear 'em away now and then. Won't have the litter, she says. But I've got 'em all in a box down in my toolshed, where the boy can have 'em when he likes."
"Let's go and see his room, then," said Mr Temple, smiling.
"'Tarn't much of a place, sir, being a garret," said Uncle Abram apologetically; "but lads as goes to sea has snugger quarters sometimes than our Will's."
He put his pipe back in his mouth—it was out now—and held it steady as he led the way to a door in a corner at the end of the passage, and up a very steep flight of stairs to a little room with sloping ceiling, over the kitchen.
"I had this knocked up for the lad o' purpose," said Uncle Abram proudly. "Made it as like a cabin as I could, meaning him to be sea-going, you understand, sir, only he's drifting away from it like. Why, bless your heart, though, Mr Temple, sir, I never find no fault with him, for there's stuff enough in him, I think, to make a real lord-mayor. There: there's our Will's room."
He stood smiling as the visitors had a good look round the scrupulously clean little cabin-like bed-room with lockers and a swinging shelf of books, and everything arranged with a neatness that was most notable.
"Those are his books, sir. Spends a deal of time over 'em."
"Novels and romances, eh?" said Mr Temple, going to the shelf. "Why, hullo! Fowne's Chemistry, Smyth's Mineralogy, Murchison's Geology. Rather serious reading for him, isn't it?"
"Not it, sir," cried Uncle Abram. "He loves it, sir; and look here," he continued, opening one of the lockers; "as full of specimens as can be. All sorts of stones and bits of ore that he gets from the mines. Ah! that's a new net he's making; small meshed seine to catch sand-eels, sir, for bait. That's a new shrimp-net he made for me. Mixes it up like—reads and makes nets together. Once you've got your fingers to know how to make a net, they'll go on while you read."
"What are these?" said Mr Temple, pointing at a series of rough glass bottles and oil flasks.
"Oh, that's his apparatus he made, sir. Does chemistry with them, and there's a little crucible in my tool-house, where he melts down tin and things sometimes, to see what they're made of. I always encourage him, I do, just. Can't do the boy any harm."
"Harm! no," said Mr Temple quietly, as he glanced through Will's treasures with a good deal of curiosity, spending most of the time over a small glass case which was full of glittering pieces of ore.
"He seems to like the pretty bits best," said Mr Temple; but Uncle Abram shook his head.
"Oh no, sir. Those are what his aunt likes best. She won't have the bits of tin and rough copper ore; says they're rubbish, bless her. She don't know what one bit's worth more than another, only goes by the eye, you see. I've got the rough bits hid away for him when he wants 'em."
Mr Temple seemed unusually thoughtful, so it seemed to Dick, who was delighted with the quaintness of the little attic, and declaring to himself that it was just the place he should like for himself; but he wondered a little bit at his father looking so stern.
"Here, quick!" cried Uncle Abram excitedly; "that's my boy's step coming in back way. I don't want him to see us. Looks like spying on him, poor lad, and I want him to enjoy himself when he isn't at work."
"And quite right too," said Mr Temple quietly, as he followed the old man down the steep stairs, and they had just reached the parlour when there was a knock at the door.
"Beg pardon, sir," said Will, who was flushed with hurrying; "but you said you would like the young gentlemen to have a sail in the trawler."
"Sail in the trawler!" cried Dick, bounding across the room excitedly.
"Yes! Well?" said Mr Temple, smiling.
"She's lying off the harbour, sir. I've seen the master, and he says the young gentlemen are welcome, and there's a fine breeze, sir, and it's a lovely day."
Dick turned a look upon his father, such as a prisoner might turn upon a judge as he waited for him to speak.
"I suppose you would not like to go, Dick?" said Mr Temple dryly. "You would miss your dinner."
"Why, father," cried Dick in a tone of reproach, "I can have a dinner every day."
"And a sail in a trawler only once perhaps in your life. Then be off."
Dick bounded to the door and then stopped.
"May Taff come, father?" he cried.
"If he likes; but perhaps he wouldn't care to go. Make him sea-sick perhaps."
"But he may go, father?"
"Yes. But stop. Take something to eat with you in a basket."
"The master of the smack said if the young gentlemen would come in they could have a bit of dinner on board. We could cook some fish, sir."
"Oh!" cried Dick excitedly.
"Come, this is tempting," said Mr Temple. "I'm half disposed to come too."
"Do, father," cried Dick, catching his hand. "Oh, do come."
"No, my boy, I have some important business on hand. There, go and enjoy yourselves. You're going, Will?" he said quietly.
"Yes, sir, if uncle can spare me, and Josh too."
"That's right; take care of my boys—that is, if your uncle can spare you."
"Oh yes, oh yes! They can go. They don't sail for the pilchard ground till sundown."
Arthur was hunted out of his nest, and as soon as he knew of the object in view he displayed plenty of eagerness. The sight of the cutter-rigged smack lying with her bowsprit pointing to the wind, and her white mainsail flapping and quivering in the breeze, which seemed to send mimic waves chasing each other along it from mast to edge, while the jib lay all of a heap waiting to be hoisted, being one that would have roused the most phlegmatic to a desire to have a cruise, and see some of the wonders of the deep dredged up.
The master of the trawler gave the boys a hearty reception, his bronzed face expanding into a smile as he held Dick's hand in his great hard brown heavy paw.
"So you've come a-trawling, have you, my lad? Well, I'm glad to see you, and you too, sir," he added, shaking hands with Arthur in turn. "Going to stop aboard, lads?" he said in a kind of chant to Will and Josh.
"Ay, we're going to stop," said the latter; so the master of the trawler sent one of his own crew ashore with Uncle Abram's boat, telling the man he could stay.
The next minute the master gave the word, and went to the tiller, a couple of men began to haul up the jib, and then Arthur was clinging frantically to Will.
"Quick! The boat!" he cried. "The ship's going over."
Then he turned from deadly pale to scarlet as he saw Will's smile and look of amusement.
"It's all right, Master Arthur," said the latter; "it's the wind taking hold of the mains'l. She only careens a bit."
"But won't it go over?"
"Over! Oh, no!" said Will; "there's too much ballast. There, you see, now we're beginning to move."
"But ought the boat to go side wise like this?" whispered Arthur. "The deck's all of a slope."
"Oh, yes, that's right enough. When we're on the other tack she'll careen over the other side. The stiffer the breeze and the more sail there is, the more she careens. I've been in a smack when we've been nearly lying down in the water, and it's washed right over the deck."
"There, young gents, she's moving now," said the master, as the gaff was hoisted, and the beautifully-shaped cutter began to rush through the water at a rapid rate, leaving two long lines of foam in an ever-widening wake, while, like some gigantic sword-fish, she ploughed her way through the glittering sea. The sails bellied out tense and stiff, and the wind whistled as it seemed to sweep off the three sails.
There was no doubt about it; either the cutter was moving or the pier and shore. To Arthur it seemed as if the latter had suddenly begun to run away from them, and was dancing up and down with joy because it had found the chance.
"Dick," whispered Arthur, after beckoning his brother to his side, where he was holding on by the weather shrouds.
"Hullo!" cried Dick, laughing. "Oh, I say, Taff, isn't it fun? I can't walk."
"I'm sure it isn't safe," whispered Arthur.
"Eh? What? Not safe?"
"No, I'm sure it isn't. We shall be blown over."
"Oh, never mind," said Dick. "They'll turn her round and blow her up again. I say, Taff; don't be afraid. We sha'n't hurt."
"But if we were to be drowned, Dick, what would papa say?"
"Don't know. He wouldn't like it, though. But we sha'n't be drowned. Look at Will. He'd know if there was any danger, and he's as cool as can be. Come, pluck up. Let go of that rope. You'll soon get used to it."
Arthur turned a ghastly face to him.
"I'm trying to master being frightened, Dick," he said humbly; "but I must go home again; I'm going to be sick."
"Nonsense!" cried Dick, laughing. "There, think about something else. There, look, they're going to use the net."
To Arthur's great delight the speed of the smack was checked, and the busy preparations took up his attention, so that the qualm passed off, and he crept to his brother's side and listened as Josh was explaining the use of the trawl-net, which the men were about to lower over the side.
"There you are, you see," said Josh; "here's your net, just like a night-cap with a wide end and a little end, as we calls the bunt. There's pockets to it as well, only you can't very well see 'em now. When she's hauled up with fish in you'll see 'em better then."
"And what's this big piece of wood?"
"Trawl-beam," said Josh; "thirty-footer, to keep the meshes of the net stretched wide open at the top. Bottom's free so as to drag over the bottom. And them's the trawl-irons, to fit on the end of the beam and skate along the sand and keep all down."
"And the rope's tied to them?" said Dick.
"Rope?" said Josh. "You mean the bridle. That's right, my lad, and down she goes."
Over went the huge, cumbersome apparatus of beam, irons, and net, the weighty irons being so arranged as to take the trawl to the bottom in the right position so that the net with its stout edge rope should scrape over the sand as the cutter sailed.
"There you are," said the master, coming up; "now, then, away we go. There's a fine wind this morning, and we shall get some fish."
"Does the wind make you get the fish?" said Dick.
"To be sure, my lad. If we weren't sailing fast, as soon as the flat-fish felt the net being dragged over 'em they'd give a flip and a flap and be out of the way in no time; but the trawl's drawn over 'em so quickly in a brisk breeze like this that they haven't time to escape. They're in the net before they know where they are, and then they get into the pockets, and it's a case of market for them."
"It's all sand under here, isn't it?" asked Dick.
"You may be sure of that, my lad," said the master laughing. "When you see a smack trawling, it's all sand there, says you. 'Cause why? If it was rocks the trawl would catch and be broken before you knowed where you were. Yes; it's all smooth bottom here."
It was wonderfully interesting to see the great strong beam and the thick net, so different in the make to the filmy cobwebs that were used for seine and drift. This was of stout cord, and its edge of a strong over-bound rope. Of course all was out of sight now, the only thing visible being the bridle-rope, by means of which the trawl was being swiftly dragged astern.
"I hope we shall get a good haul or two," said Will, joining the boys as they stood holding on by the bulwarks, with the great mainsail boom over their heads, everything that looked so small and toy-like from the shore being here big and strong.
"What shall we catch?" said Arthur, making an effort to hide the remains of his discomposure.
"Get, sir?" cried Will smiling. "Oh! all sorts of things. If we're lucky, a turbot or two; soles we are sure to have, and some plaice; perhaps a brill; then there'll be a few dabs and whiting, and maybe a red mullet, and along with them the trawl will bring up a lot of all sorts."
"All sorts?" said Dick.
"Yes, sir. Weevers and blennies, and crabs, with oysters and scallops, and sea-weeds of all kinds—a regular mixture if we go over a part that hasn't been much swept lately."
"Here, I say, when are they going to pull up the net?" said Dick eagerly. "I want to see."
"Oh! not yet awhile," said Will smiling.
"But the fish will get out again."
"Oh no! We're going too fast for that," said Will; "and if there are any fish they'll be in the pockets."
"But has a trawl-net got pockets?" said Arthur curiously.
"Oh yes!" said Dick grinning; "two in its trousers, two in its waistcoat, and one in its jacket."
"Don't you mind what he says, Master Arthur," said Will smiling. "The pockets are on each side of the net, where it is sewed up a little, so that if the fish, when once in, try to swim towards the mouth they go instead into some of those sewed-up corners and get no farther. There, you see now, we're going on the other tack so as to sweep back over nearly the same ground again. There are rocks if we go any farther this way."
As he spoke the course of the smack was altered, and the side that had been so low down that at times it was almost possible to touch the water was high up and the other lower down, and the smack rushed through the water, as it seemed, faster than ever.
"She can sail, can't she, young gentlemen?" said the master. "We call her the Foam, and she can make foam too. Well, are you ready for the haul?"
"Yes. Are you going to begin?" cried Dick excitedly.
"Soon, my lad, soon," said the master. "Have you got a basket?"
Dick shook his head.
"Oh! you'll want a basket, and you must have a bucket of water. There'll be lots of things you'll like to look at that we should pitch overboard again."
"You lend me a basket and a bucket then," said Dick; "you shall have them back."
"Right, my lad. You tell young Will there to get you what you want. We shall have the trawl aboard soon."
It seemed to Dick almost an age, but at last the master turned his brown, good-humoured face to him and gave him a nod. At the same moment he shouted a few short orders, and Dick rushed to take a pull at the rope as he saw Josh and Will stand by.
"No, no, my lad; you and your brother look on," cried the master good-temperedly.
Dick drew back and glanced at Arthur, whose face was as eager as his own. In fact, a great deal of his London indifference had disappeared of late, and the boy had been growing as natural as his brother.
It was a time of intense excitement though for them, and as they watched they saw a windlass turn, and up came the great trawl-irons and the beam, then, dripping and sparkling in the sun, the foot-rope of the trawl-net, and foot after foot emerged with nothing but dripping water.
"Why, they haven't caught a fish," cried Dick in a disappointed tone of voice.
"You wait till the bunt's aboard," growled Josh just then; and the bunt, as the tassel end of the great net night-cap was called, was hauled on board dripping, and containing something splashing, flapping, and full of life.
"There's something for you to look at, my lads," cried the bluff master smiling. "Let out that draw string, Josh."
The whole of the net was now on the deck, the water streaming from it out at the side; and after Josh had unfastened the string which laced up the small end or bunt, the little crew took hold of the net above the pockets, and by giving it a series of shakes sent the whole of its contents out upon the deck. The net was then drawn away, the bunt fastened up, the end thrown over, and the trawl-beam took all down to scrape once more over the sands and scoop-out the soles and other flat-fish that are so fond of scuffling themselves down in the soft oozy sand, flapping their side-fins about till they are half covered, and very often letting the trawl-rope pass right over their backs.
A good many had, however, failed to be successful this time, for there was a great patch of the deck covered with the contents of the net.
"I never saw such a sight in my life," cried Dick; and then he burst into a roar of laughter as his brother tried to pick up a large sole, which seemed to give a spring and a flap, and darted out of his hands.
It was a sight, certainly; and the master good-humouredly let the men stand aside for a while so that the boys might have a good inspection of the haul before clearance was made.
"Overboard with the rubbish, my lads," he said, "then you can see better."
But the rubbish, a great deal of it, was what Dick and his brother would have liked to keep, as much of it consisted of pieces of heavy black wood pierced by teredo and covered with barnacles. There were curious stones, too, and pieces of weed, all of which had to go overboard though, and then, as Dick called it, the fun began.
It was a good haul. And first and foremost there was a magnificent turbot—a huge round fellow, with his white waistcoat, and mouth awry, apparently, though it was normally placed, and the creature's eyes, like those of the rest of the flat-fish, were screwed round to one side of its head.
Then there was a brill, like the turbot's small first cousin, and a young turbot that might have been its son. There were a dozen or so of plaice, large and small, and, flipping and flapping and gasping, some five-and-twenty soles, from fine fat fellows fifteen inches long to little tiny slips that were thrown overboard.
"Some sends that sort to market," said the master smiling. "I throw 'em in again to get fat."
Arthur's adventures with the conger came back to him as he saw one long lithe fish of some four feet eagerly seized and thrust into one of the many stout boxes on the deck; and he said something to his brother.
"No," said Will, who overheard him. "That's a hake."
There were several whitings, many being of very large size, four times that of the familiar tail-biting gentlemen who are curled up among the parsley upon our tables. No less than a dozen ruddy mullet were there too; and the above-named being the good fish of the haul, the residue was left on deck for the boys to examine and save what they pleased.
Will picked out a small brill and a whiting or two, with a good-sized sole that had been left. These were placed in the basket, and then the basket was dipped full of clean water, and the treasures, as Dick called them, were fished out and dropped in.
Among these were a lovely jelly-fish and a couple of beroes, looking like little oblong balls of the purest crystal; some pieces of stone, with curious barnacles adhering; and a quaint-looking, large-headed fish with prickly weapons about its head and back.
Then Arthur added a baby sole, and Dick an infant turbot, which were entangled amongst the sea-weed that had been dredged up; while everywhere the patch of dredgings upon the deck seemed to be alive with creeping and crawling things, examples of the teeming life of the great ocean.
Then came the master to intimate that the deck must be cleared, for they were going to haul the dredge on board again.
"What—so soon?" cried Dick.
"So soon—eh?" said the master. "Why, you've been stirring that up 'bout half an hour."
"Ah! well, we shall have something more to see," said Dick in a reconciled manner; and he carried his basket astern, while the men swept the remains of the haul—such remains as would have given a naturalist a week's amusement—overboard.
Then once more the ponderous trawl was hauled on board, with its flapping and splashing prisoners, which were nearly as abundant as before; but there was no turbot this time.
"Don't matter," said Dick; "here's the sauce."
As he spoke he pointed laughingly to a great lobster which had been out on its travels away from its home amongst the rocks, and had been swept up, to be turned out upon the smack's deck, to crawl about flapping its tail and opening and closing its pincers, held aloft in the most aggressive way.
"Ah!" said the master thoughtfully, "that won't do. We must have gone a little too near the tail of the rocks when we tacked."