Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XVIII

Goyle Bay

While all the world was at cross-purposes thus — Mr. Jellicorse uneasy at some rumors he had heard; Captain Carroway splitting his poor heel with indignation at the craftiness of free-traders; Farmer Anerley vexed at being put upon by people, without any daughter to console him, or catch shrimps; Master Mordacks pursuing a noble game, strictly above-board, as usual; Robin Lyth troubled in his largest principles of revolt against revenue by a nasty little pain that kept going to his heart, with an emptiness there, as for another heart; and last, and perhaps of all most important, the rector perpetually pining for his game of chess, and utterly discontented with the frigid embraces of analysis — where was the best, and most simple, and least selfish of the whole lot, Mary Anerley?

Mary was in as good a place as even she was worthy of. A place not by any means so snug and favored by nature as Anerley Farm, but pretty well sheltered by large trees of a strong and hardy order. And the comfortable ways of good old folk, who needed no labor to live by spread a happy leisure and a gentle ease upon everything under their roof-tree. Here was no necessity for getting up until the sun encouraged it; and the time for going to bed depended upon the time of sleepiness. Old Johnny Popplewell, as everybody called him, without any protest on his part, had made a good pocket by the tanning business, and having no children to bring up to it, and only his wife to depend upon him, had sold the good-will, the yard, and the stock as soon as he had turned his sixtieth year. “I have worked hard all my life,” he said, “and I mean to rest for the rest of it.”

At first he was heartily miserable, and wandered about with a vacant look, having only himself to look after. And he tried to find a hole in his bargain with the man who enjoyed all the smells he was accustomed to, and might even be heard through a gap in the fence rating the men as old Johnny used to do, at the same time of day, and for the same neglect, and almost in the self-same words which the old owner used, but stronger. Instead of being happy, Master Popplewell lost more flesh in a month than he used to lay on in the most prosperous year; and he owed it to his wife, no doubt, as generally happens, that he was not speedily gathered to the bosom of the hospitable Simon of Joppa. For Mrs. Popplewell said, “Go away; Johnny, go away from this village; smell new smells, and never see a hide without a walking thing inside of it. Sea-weed smells almost as nice as tan; though of course it is not so wholesome.” The tanner obeyed, and bought a snug little place about ten miles from the old premises, which he called, at the suggestion of the parson, “Byrsa Cottage.”

Here was Mary, as blithe as a lark, and as petted as a robin-redbreast, by no means pining, or even hankering, for any other robin. She was not the girl to give her heart before it was even asked for; and hitherto she had regarded the smuggler with pity more than admiration. For in many points she was like her father, whom she loved foremost of the world; and Master Anerley was a law-abiding man, like every other true Englishman. Her uncle Popplewell was also such, but exerted his principles less strictly. Moreover, he was greatly under influence of wife, which happens more freely to a man without children, the which are a source of contradiction. And Mistress Popplewell was a most thorough and conscientious free-trader.

Now Mary was from childhood so accustomed to the sea, and the relish of salt breezes, and the racy dance of little waves that crowd on one another, and the tidal delivery of delightful rubbish, that to fail of seeing the many works and plays and constant variance of her never wearying or weary friend was more than she could long put up with. She called upon Lord Keppel almost every day, having brought him from home for the good of his health, to gird up his loins, or rather get his belly girths on, and come along the sands with her, and dig into new places. But he, though delighted for a while with Byrsa stable, and the social charms of Master Popplewell’s old cob, and a rick of fine tan-colored clover hay and bean haulm, when the novelty of these delights was passed, he pined for his home, and the split in his crib, and the knot of hard wood he had polished with his neck, and even the little dog that snapped at him. He did not care for retired people — as he said to the cob every evening — he liked to see farm-work going on, or at any rate to hear all about it, and to listen to horses who had worked hard, and could scarcely speak, for chewing, about the great quantity they had turned of earth, and how they had answered very bad words with a bow. In short, to put it in the mildest terms, Lord Keppel was giving himself great airs, unworthy of his age, ungrateful to a degree, and ungraceful, as the cob said repeatedly; considering how he was fed, and bedded, and not a thing left undone for him. But his arrogance soon had to pay its own costs.

For, away to the right of Byrsa Cottage, as you look down the hollow of the ground toward the sea, a ridge of high scrubby land runs up to a forefront of bold cliff, indented with a dark and narrow bay. “Goyle Bay,” as it is called, or sometimes “Basin Bay,” is a lonely and rugged place, and even dangerous for unwary visitors. For at low spring tides a deep hollow is left dry, rather more than a quarter of a mile across, strewn with kelp and oozy stones, among which may often be found pretty shells, weeds richly tinted and of subtle workmanship, stars, and flowers, and love-knots of the sea, and sometimes carnelians and crystals. But anybody making a collection here should be able to keep one eye upward and one down, or else in his pocket to have two things — a good watch and a trusty tide-table.

John and Deborah Popplewell were accustomed to water in small supplies, such as that of a well, or a road-side pond, or their own old noble tan-pits; but to understand the sea it was too late in life, though it pleased them, and gave them fine appetites now to go down when it was perfectly calm, and a sailor assured them that the tide was mild. But even at such seasons they preferred to keep their distance, and called out frequently to one another. They looked upon their niece, from all she told them, as a creature almost amphibious; but still they were often uneasy about her, and would gladly have kept her well inland. She, however, laughed at any such idea; and their discipline was to let her have her own way. But now a thing happened which proved forever how much better old heads are than young ones.

For Mary, being tired of the quiet places, and the strands where she knew every pebble, resolved to explore Goyle Bay at last, and she chose the worst possible time for it. The weather had been very fine and gentle, and the sea delightfully plausible, without a wave — tide after tide — bigger than the furrow of a two-horse plough; and the maid began to believe at last that there never were any storms just here. She had heard of the pretty things in Goyle Bay, which was difficult of access from the land, but she resolved to take opportunity of tide, and thus circumvent the position; she would rather have done it afoot, but her uncle and aunt made a point of her riding to the shore, regarding the pony as a safe companion, and sure refuge from the waves. And so, upon the morning of St. Michael, she compelled Lord Keppel, with an adverse mind, to turn a headland they had never turned before.

The tide was far out and ebbing still, but the wind had shifted, and was blowing from the east rather stiffly, and with increasing force. Mary knew that the strong equinoctial tides were running at their height; but she had timed her visit carefully, as she thought, with no less than an hour and a half to spare. And even without any thought of tide, she was bound to be back in less time than that, for her uncle had been most particular to warn her to be home without fail at one o’clock, when the sacred goose, to which he always paid his duties, would be on the table. And if anything marred his serenity of mind, it was to have dinner kept waiting.

Without any misgivings, she rode into Basin Bay, keeping within the black barrier of rocks, outside of which wet sands were shining. She saw that these rocks, like the bar of a river, crossed the inlet of the cove; but she had not been told of their peculiar frame and upshot, which made them so treacherous a rampart. At the mouth of the bay they formed a level crescent, as even as a set of good teeth, against the sea, with a slope of sand running up to their outer front, but a deep and long pit inside of them. This pit drained itself very nearly dry when the sea went away from it, through some stony tubes which only worked one way, by the closure of their mouths when the tide returned; so that the volume of the deep sometimes, with tide and wind behind it, leaped over the brim into the pit, with tenfold the roar, a thousandfold the power, and scarcely less than the speed, of a lion.

Mary Anerley thought what a lovely place it was, so deep and secluded from anybody’s sight, and full of bright wet colors. Her pony refused, with his usual wisdom, to be dragged to the bottom of the hole, but she made him come further down than he thought just, and pegged him by the bridle there. He looked at her sadly, and with half a mind to expostulate more forcibly, but getting no glimpse of the sea where he stood, he thought it as well to put up with it; and presently he snorted out a tribe of little creatures, which puzzled him and took up his attention.

Meanwhile Mary was not only puzzled, but delighted beyond description. She never yet had come upon such treasures of the sea, and she scarcely knew what to lay hands upon first. She wanted the weeds of such wonderful forms, and colors yet more exquisite, and she wanted the shells of such delicate fabric that fairies must have made them, and a thousand other little things that had no names; and then she seemed most of all to want the pebbles. For the light came through them in stripes and patterns, and many of them looked like downright jewels. She had brought a great bag of strong canvas, luckily, and with both hands she set to to fill it.

So busy was the girl with the vast delight of sanguine acquisition — this for her father, and that for her mother, and so much for everybody she could think of — that time had no time to be counted at all, but flew by with feathers unheeded. The mutter of the sea became a roar, and the breeze waxed into a heavy gale, and spray began to sputter through the air like suds; but Mary saw the rampart of the rocks before her, and thought that she could easily get back around the point. And her taste began continually to grow more choice, so that she spent as much time in discarding the rubbish which at first she had prized so highly as she did in collecting the real rarities, which she was learning to distinguish. But unluckily the sea made no allowance for all this.

For just as Mary, with her bag quite full, was stooping with a long stretch to get something more — a thing that perhaps was the very best of all, and therefore had got into a corner — there fell upon her back quite a solid lump of wave, as a horse gets the bottom of the bucket cast at him. This made her look up, not a minute too soon; and even then she was not at all aware of danger, but took it for a notice to be moving. And she thought more of shaking that saltwater from her dress than of running away from the rest of it.

But as soon as she began to look about in earnest, sweeping back her salted hair, she saw enough of peril to turn pale the roses and strike away the smile upon her very busy face. She was standing several yards below the level of the sea, and great surges were hurrying to swallow her. The hollow of the rocks received the first billow with a thump and a slush, and a rush of pointed hillocks in a fury to find their way back again, which failing, they spread into a long white pool, taking Mary above her pretty ankles. “Don’t you think to frighten me,” said Mary; “I know all your ways, and I mean to take my time.”

But even before she had finished her words, a great black wall (doubled over at the top with whiteness, that seemed to race along it like a fringe) hung above the rampart, and leaped over, casting at Mary such a volley that she fell. This quenched her last audacity, although she was not hurt; and jumping up nimbly, she made all haste through the rising water toward her pony. But as she would not forsake her bag, and the rocks became more and more slippery, towering higher and higher surges crashed in over the barrier, and swelled the yeasty turmoil which began to fill the basin; while a scurry of foam flew like pellets from the rampart, blinding even the very best young eyes.

Mary began to lose some of her presence of mind and familiar approval of the sea. She could swim pretty well, from her frequent bathing; but swimming would be of little service here, if once the great rollers came over the bar, which they threatened to do every moment. And when at length she fought her way to the poor old pony, her danger and distress were multiplied. Lord Keppel was in a state of abject fear; despair was knocking at his fine old heart; he was up to his knees in the loathsome brine already, and being so twisted up by his own exertions that to budge another inch was beyond him, he did what a horse is apt to do in such condition — he consoled himself with fatalism. He meant to expire; but before he did so he determined to make his mistress feel what she had done. Therefore, with a sad nudge of white old nose, he drew her attention to his last expression, sighed as plainly as a man could sigh, and fixed upon her meek eyes, telling volumes.

“I know, I know that it is all my fault,” cried Mary, with the brine almost smothering her tears, as she flung her arms around his neck; “but I never will do it again, my darling. And I never will run away and let you drown. Oh, if I only had a knife! I can not even cast your bridle off; the tongue has stuck fast, and my hands are cramped. But, Keppel, I will stay, and be drowned with you.”

This resolve was quite unworthy of Mary’s common-sense; for how could her being drowned with Keppel help him? However, the mere conception showed a spirit of lofty order; though the body might object to be ordered under. Without any thought of all that, she stood, resolute, tearful, and thoroughly wet through, while she hunted in her pocket for a penknife.

The nature of all knives is, not to be found; and Mary’s knife was loyal to its kind. Then she tugged at her pony, and pulled out his bit, and labored again at the obstinate strap; but nothing could be done with it. Keppel must be drowned, and he did not seem to care, but to think that the object of his birth was that. If the stupid little fellow would have only stepped forward, the hands of his mistress, though cramped and benumbed, might perhaps have unbuckled his stiff and sodden reins, or even undone their tangle; on the other hand, if he would have jerked with all his might, something or other must have given way; but stir he would not from one fatuous position, which kept all his head-gear on the strain, but could not snap it. Mary even struck him with her heavy bag of stones, to make him do something; but he only looked reproachful.

“Was there ever such a stupid?” the poor girl cried, with the water rising almost to her waist, and the inner waves beginning to dash over her, while the outer billows threatened to rush in and crush them both. “But I will not abuse you any more, poor Keppel. What will dear father say? Oh, what will he think of it?”

Then she burst into a fit of sobs, and leaned against the pony, to support her from a rushing wave which took her breath away, and she thought that she would never try to look up any more, but shut her eyes to all the rest of it. But suddenly she heard a loud shout and a splash, and found herself caught up and carried like an infant.

“Lie still. Never mind the pony: what is he? I will go for him afterward. You first, you first of all the world, my Mary.”

She tried to speak, but not a word would come; and that was all the better. She was carried quick as might be through a whirl of tossing waters, and gently laid upon a pile of kelp; and then Robin Lyth said, “You are quite safe here, for at least another hour. I will go and get your pony.”

“No, no; you will be knocked to pieces,” she cried; for the pony, in the drift and scud, could scarcely be seen but for his helpless struggles. But the young man was half way toward him while she spoke, and she knelt upon the kelp, and clasped her hands.

Now Robin was at home in a matter such as this. He had landed many kegs in a sea as strong or stronger, and he knew how to deal with the horses in a surf. There still was a break of almost a fathom in the level of the inner and the outer waves, for the basin was so large that it could not fill at once; and so long as this lasted, every roller must comb over at the entrance, and mainly spend itself. “At least five minutes to spare,” he shouted back, “and there is no such thing as any danger.” But the girl did not believe him.

Rapidly and skillfully he made his way, meeting the larger waves sideways, and rising at their onset; until he was obliged to swim at last where the little horse was swimming desperately. The leather, still jammed in some crevice at the bottom, was jerking his poor chin downward; his eyes were screwed up like a new-born kitten’s, and his dainty nose looked like a jelly-fish. He thought how sad it was that he should ever die like this, after all the good works of his life — the people he had carried, and the chaise that he had drawn, and all his kindness to mankind. Then he turned his head away to receive the stroke of grace, which the next wave would administer.

No! He was free. He could turn his honest tail on the sea, which he always had detested so; he could toss up his nose and blow the filthy salt out, and sputter back his scorn, while he made off for his life. So intent was he on this that he never looked twice to make out who his benefactor was, but gave him just a taste of his hind-foot on the elbow, in the scuffle of his hurry to be round about and off. “Such is gratitude!” the smuggler cried; but a clot of salt-water flipped into his mouth, and closed all cynical outlet. Bearing up against the waves, he stowed his long knife away, and then struck off for the shore with might and main.

Here Mary ran into the water to meet him, shivering as she was with fright and cold, and stretched out both hands to him as he waded forth; and he took them and clasped them, quite as if he needed help. Lord Keppel stood afar off, recovering his breath, and scarcely dared to look askance at the execrable sea.

“How cold you are!” Robin Lyth exclaimed. “You must not stay a moment. No talking, if you please — though I love your voice so. You are not safe yet. You can not get back round the point. See the waves dashing up against it! You must climb the cliff, and that is no easy job for a lady, in the best of weather. In a couple of hours the tide will be over the whole of this beach a fathom deep. There is no boat nearer than Filey; and a boat could scarcely live over that bar. You must climb the cliff, and begin at once, before you get any colder.”

“Then is my poor pony to be drowned, after all? If he is, he had better have been drowned at once.”

The smuggler looked at her with a smile, which meant, “Your gratitude is about the same as his;” but he answered, to assure her, though by no means sure himself:

“There is time enough for him; he shall not be drowned. But you must be got out of danger first. When you are off my mind, I will fetch up pony. Now you must follow me step by step, carefully and steadily. I would carry you up if I could; but even a giant could scarcely do that, in a stiff gale of wind, and with the crag so wet.”

Mary looked up with a shiver of dismay. She was brave and nimble generally, but now so wet and cold, and the steep cliff looked so slippery, that she said: “It is useless; I can never get up there. Captain Lyth, save yourself, and leave me.”

“That would be a pretty thing to do!” he replied; “and where should I be afterward? I am not at the end of my devices yet. I have got a very snug little crane up there. It was here we ran our last lot, and beat the brave lieutenant so. But unluckily I have no cave just here. None of my lads are about here now, or we would make short work of it. But I could hoist you very well, if you would let me.”

“I would never think of such a thing. To come up like a keg! Captain Lyth, you must know that I never would be so disgraced.”

“Well, I was afraid that you might take it so, though I can not see why it should be any harm. We often hoist the last man so.”

“It is different with me,” said Mary. “It may be no harm; but I could not have it.”

The free-trader looked at her bright eyes and color, and admired her spirit, which his words had roused.

“I pray your forgiveness, Miss Anerley,” he said; “I meant no harm. I was thinking of your life. But you look now as if you could do anything almost.”

“Yes, I am warm again. I have no fear. I will not go up like a keg, but like myself. I can do it without help from anybody.”

“Only please to take care not to cut your little hands,” said Robin, as he began the climb; for he saw that her spirit was up to do it.

“My hands are not little; and I will cut them if I choose. Please not even to look back at me. I am not in the least afraid of anything.”

The cliff was not of the soft and friable stuff to be found at Bridlington, but of hard and slippery sandstone, with bulky ribs oversaling here and there, and threatening to cast the climber back. At such spots nicks for the feet had been cut, or broken with a hammer, but scarcely wider than a stirrup-iron, and far less inviting. To surmount these was quite impossible except by a process of crawling; and Mary, with her heart in her mouth, repented of her rash contempt for the crane sling. Luckily the height was not very great, or, tired as she was, she must have given way; for her bodily warmth had waned again in the strong wind buffeting the cliff. Otherwise the wind had helped her greatly by keeping her from swaying outward; but her courage began to fail at last, and very near the top she called for help. A short piece of lanyard was thrown to her at once, and Robin Lyth landed her on the bluff, panting, breathless, and blushing again.

“Well done!” he cried, gazing as she turned her face away. “Young ladies may teach even sailors to climb. Not every sailor could get up this cliff. Now back to Master Popplewell’s as fast as you can run, and your aunt will know what to do with you.”

“You seem well acquainted with my family affairs,” said Mary, who could not help smiling. “Pray how did you even know where I am staying?”

“Little birds tell me everything, especially about the best, and most gentle, and beautiful of all birds.”

The maiden was inclined to be vexed; but remembering how much he had done, and how little gratitude she had shown, she forgave him, and asked him to come to the cottage.

“I will bring up the little horse. Have no fear,” he replied. “I will not come up at all unless I bring him. But it may take two or three hours.”

With no more than a wave of his hat, he set off, as if the coast-riders were after him, by the path along the cliffs toward Filey, for he knew that Lord Keppel must be hoisted by the crane, and he could not manage it without another man, and the tide would wait for none of them. Upon the next headland he found one of his men, for the smugglers maintained a much sharper look-out than did the forces of his Majesty, because they were paid much better; and returning, they managed to strap Lord Keppel, and hoist him like a big bale of contraband goods. For their crane had been left in a brambled hole, and they very soon rigged it out again. The little horse kicked pretty freely in the air, not perceiving his own welfare; but a cross-beam and pulley kept him well out from the cliff, and they swung him in over handsomely, and landed him well up on the sward within the brink. Then they gave him three cheers for his great adventure, which he scarcely seemed to appreciate.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31