Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 17.

In which There is Another Shipwreck.

Time jogged on very pleasantly to the party assembled at Ravenshoe that Christmas. There were woodcocks and pheasants in the woods; there were hares, snipes, and rabbits on the moor. In the sea there were fish; and many a long excursion they had in the herring-boats — sometimes standing boldly out to sea towards the distant blue island in the main, sometimes crawling lazily along under the lofty shoreless cliffs which towered above their heads from 200 to 1,100 feet high.

It was three days before Christmas-day, and they were returning from fishing along the coast, and were about ten miles or so from home. I say returning, though in fact there was not a breath of wind, and the boat was drifting idly along on the tide. Two handsome simple-looking young men were lolling by the useless tiller; an old man, hale and strong as a lion, with a courteous highbred look about him, was splicing a rope; and a tall, pale, black-haired man was looking steadily seaward, with his hands in his pockets, while Charles and Marston were standing in the bows smoking.

“What a curious, dreamy, dosy, delicious kind of winter you have down here,” said Marston.

“I am very fond of it,” said Charles; “it keeps you in continual hope for the spring that is coming. In the middle of frost and snow and ice one is apt to lose one’s faith in waving boughs and shady pools.”

“I have had such a quiet time with you down here, Charley. I am so pleased with the way in which you are going on. You are quite an altered man. I think we shall both look back to the last few quiet weeks as a happy time.”

“Here the tall dark man, who was looking out to sea, suddenly said —

“Bain and hail, snow and tempest, stormy wind fulfilling His word.”

“Ay, ay,” said the old man; “going to blow tonight, I expect.”

“We shall go home pretty fast, may be.”

“Not us, Master Charles dear,” said the tall man. “We are going to have it from south and by west, and so through west round to north. Before which time there’ll be souls in glory, praise be to God.”

The old man took off his hat reverently.

“There won’t be amuch surf on when we beaches she,” said one of the young men. “It won’t get up afore the wind be full round west for an hour.”

“You’re a spaking like a printed buke, Jan,” said the old man.

“I’m a thinking differently, Master Evans,” said the dark man. “It will chop round very sudden, and be west before we know where we are. I speak with humility to a man who has seen the Lord’s wonders in the deep so many years longer nor me. But I think, under God, I am right.”

“You most in general be right. They as converses with the Lord night and day, day and night, like as you do, knows likely more of his works nor we, as ain’t your gifts.”

“The Lord has vouchsafed me nothing in the way of a vision, about this afternoon, Master Evans.”

“Didn’t ’ee dream never at all last night?” said one of the young men, “Think ’ee now.”

“Nought to bear on wind or weather, Jan. I judges from the glass. It’s a dropping fast.”

Jan would have had more faith in one of Matthew’s dreams, and didn’t seem to think much of the barometer. Meanwhile Marston had whispered Charles —

“Who is Matthews? What sect is he?”

“Oh, he’s a Brianite.”

“What is that?”

“A sort of Ranter, I believe.”

Marston looked up, and saw the two great black eyes under the lofty forehead fixed full upon him. With the instinct of a gentleman, he said at once —

“I was asking Mr. Charles what sect you were of; that was all. He tells me you are a Brianite, and I had never heard of that sect before. I hope you will let me talk to you about your matters of belief some day.”

Matthews took off his hat, and said — That with the Lord’s will he would speak to his honour. “Will your onour bear with a poor fisherman, ignorant of the world’s learning, but who has had matters revealed to him by the Lord in dreams and visions of the night. Peter was only a fisherman, your honour, and, oh, if we could only hear him speak now!”

He paused, and looked again to seaward. Charles had gone again into the bow, and Marston was standing among the men right aft. Suddenly Matthews turned again upon him, and said —

“In the beaching of this here boat tonight, your honour, there may be danger. In such case my place will be alongside of him,” pointing to Charles. “There’d be a many kind hearts aching, if aught happened to him. You stick close to these young men. They’ll see after you, sir.”

“You keep close alongside of we, sir. You hold on of we, sir. We’ll see you all right, sir,” said the two young men.

“But, my dear good souls, I am as good a swimmer as any in England, and as active as a cat. Pray, don’t mind me.” You keep hold of we and run, sir,” said one of the young men, “that’s all you’re a’got to do, sir.”

“I shall most certainly run,” said Marston laughing, “but I decline drowning any one but myself — ”

Charles said at this moment, “Do come here, and look at this.”

It was worth looking at, indeed. They were about a mile from shore, floating about anyhow on an oily mooth sea; for the tide had changed, and they were making no headway. Before them one of the noblest headlands on the coast, an abrupt cone of slate, nigh a thousand feet high, covered almost entirely with grass, sloped suddenly into the water; and in advance of it, but slightly on one side, a rugged mound of black rock, nearly six hundred feet, stood out into the sea, and contrasted its horrid jagged lines with the smooth green of the peak behind. Round its base, dividing it from the glossy sea, ran a delicate line of silver — the surf caused by the ground swell; and in front the whole promontory was dimly mirrored in the quietly heaving ocean.

“What a noble headland,” said Marston; “is that grass on the further peak too steep to walk upon?”

“There’s some one a’walking on it now,” said old Evans. “There’s a woman a’walking on it.”

None could see it but he, except Matthews, who said he couldn’t tell if it was a sheep or no.

Charles got out his glass, and the old man was right. A woman was walking rapidly along the peak, about the third of the way down.

“What a curious place for a woman to be in!” he remarked. “It is almost terrible to look at.”

“I never saw any one there before, save the shepherd,” said the old man.

“It’s a sheep-path,” said one of the young ones. “I have been along there myself. It is the short way round to Coombe.”

Charles would have thought more of the solitary emale figure on that awful precipice, but that their attention was diverted by something else. From the south-westward black flaws of wind began to creep towards them, alternated with long irregular bands of oily calm. Soon the calm bands disappeared, and the wind reached them. Then they had steerage, and in a very short time were roaring out to sea close hauled, with a brisk and ever increasing breeze.

They saw that they would have to fetch a very long .ml make a great offing, in order to reach Ravenshoe at all. The wind was freshening every moment, changing to the west, and the sea was getting up. It took them three hours to open Ravenshoe bay; and, being about five miles from the shore, they could see that already there was an ugly side-sirrf sweeping in, and that the people were busy on the beach, hauling up their boats out of harm’s way.

“How beautifully these craft sail,” said Marston, as they were all hanging on by her weather gunwale, and the green sea was rushing past to leeward, almost under their feet, in sheets of angry foam.

“It is amazing what speed is got out of them on a wind,” said Charles, “but they are dangerous craft:’

“Why so?”

“These lug-sails are so awkward in tacking, you will see.”

They ran considerably past Ravenshoe and about six miles to sea. when the word was given to go about. In an instant the half-deck was lumbered with the heavy ed sails; and, after five minutes of unutterable confusion, she got about. Marston was expecting her to broach to every moment during this long five minutes, but fortune favoured them. They went freer on this tack, for the wind was now north of west, and the brave little craft went nearly before it at her finest pace. The men kept on her as much sail as she could stand, but that was very little; fast as they went, the great seas went faster, as though determined to be at the dreadful rendezvous before the boat. Still the waves rose higher and the wind howled louder. They were nearing the shore rapidly.

Now they began to see, through the mist, the people gathered in a crowd on the shore, densest at one point, but with a few restless stragglers right and left of that point, who kept coming and going. This spot was where they expected to come ashore. They were apparently the last boat out, and all the village was watching them with the deepest anxiety.

They began to hear a sound other than the howling of the wind in the rigging, and the rush of waters around them — a continuous thunder, growing louder each moment as the boat swept onward. The thimder of the surf upon the sand. And, looking forward, they could see just the top of it as it leapt madly up.

It was a nervous moment. They stood ready in their shirts and trousers, for a rush, should it be necessary. And the old man was at the helm. They saw the seas begin to curl. Then they were in the middle of them.

Then the water left them on the sand, and three brave fellows from the shore dashed to hook on the tackles; bnt they were too late. Back with a roar like a hungry lion came the sea; the poor boat broached to, and took the whole force of the deluge on her broadside. In a moment more, blinded and stunned, they were all in the water, trying to stand against the backward rush which took them near midthigh. Old Master Evans was nearest to Marston; he was tottering to fall when Marston got hold of him, and saved him. The two young men got hold of both of them. Then three men from the shore dashed in and got hold of Charles; and then, as the water went down and they dared move their feet, they all ran for their lives. Marston and his party got on to dry land on their feet, but Charles and his assistants were tumbled over and over, and washed up ignominiously covered with sand. Charles, however, soon recovered himself, and, looking round to thank those who had done him this service, found that one of them was William, who, when the gale had come on, had, with that bland indifference to the stud-groom’s personal feelings which we have seen him exhibit before, left his work, and dressed in a Jersey and blue trousers, and come down to lend a hand. He had come in time to help his foster-brother out of the surf.

“I am so very thankful to you,” said Charles to the two others. “I will never forget you. I should have been drowned but for you. William, when I am in trouble I am sure to find you at my elbow.”

“You won’t find me far off, Master Charles,” said William. They ‘didn’t say any more to one another those two. There was no need.

The tall man Matthews had been cast up with a broken head, and, on the whole, seemed rather disappointed at not finding himself in paradise. He had stumbled in leaping out of the boat, and hurt his foot, and had had a hard time of it, poor fellow.

As Charles and William stood watching the poor boat breaking up, and the men venturing their lives to get the nets out of her, a hand was laid on Charles’s shoulder, and, turning round, he faced Cuthbert.

“Oh, Charles, Charles, I thought I had lost you. Come home and let us dry you, and take care of you. William, you have risked your life for one who is very dear to us. God reward you for it! Brother, you are shivering with cold, and you have nothing but your trousers and Jersey on, and your head and feet are bare, and your poor hair is wet and full of sand; let me carry you up, Charles, the stones will cut your feet. Let me carry you, Charles. I used to do it when you were little.”

There was water in Charles’s eyes (the salt water out of his hair, you understand), as he answered:

“I think I can walk, Cuthbert; my feet are as hard as iron.”

“No, but I must carry you,” said Cuthbert. “Get up, brother.”

Charles prepared to comply, and Cuthbert suddenly pulled off his shoes and stockings, and made ready. i Oh, Cuthbert, don’t do that,” said Charles, “You break my heart.”

“Do let me, dear Charles. I seldom ask you a favour. If I didn’t know that it was acceptable to God, do you think I would do it?”

Charles hesitated one moment; but he caught William’s eye, and William’s eye and William’s face said so plainly “ do it,” that Charles hesitated no longer, but got on his brother’s back. Cuthbert ordered William, who was bare-foot, to put on his discarded shoes and stockings, which William did; and then Cuthbert went toiling up the stony path towards the hall with his brother on his back — glorying in his penance.

Is this ridiculous? I cannot say I can see it in this light. I may laugh to scorn the religion which teaches men that, by artificially producing misery and nervous terror, and in that state flying to religion as a comfort and refuge, we in any way glorify God, or benefit ourselves. I can laugh, I say, at a form of religion like this; but I cannot laugh at the men who believe in it, and act up to it. No. I may smoke my pipe, and say that the fool Cuthbert Ravenshoe took off his shoes, and gave them to the groom, and carried a twelve-stone brother for a quarter of a mile barefoot, and what a fool he must be, and so forth. But the sneer is a failure, and the laugh dies away; and I say, “ Well, Cuthbert, if you are a fool, you are a consistent and manly one at all events.”

Let us leave these three toiling up the steep rocky path, and take a glance elsewhere. When the gale had come on, little Mary had left Densil, and, putting on her bonnet, gone down to the beach. She had asked the elder fishermen whether there would be any danger in beaching the boat, and they had said in chorus, “Oh, bless her sweet ladyship’s heart, no. The young men would have the tackles on her and have her up, oh, ever so quick; and so she had been reassured, and walked up and down. But, as the wind came stronger and stronger, and she had seen the last boat taken in half full of water — and as the women kept walking up and down uneasily, with their hands under their aprons — and as she saw many an old eagle eye, shaded by a horny hand, gazing anxiously seaward, at the two brown sails plunging about in the offing — she had lost heart again, and had sat her down on a windlass apart, with a pale face, and a sick heart,

A tall gaunt brown woman came up to her and said,

“My lady musn’t fret. My lady would never do for a fisherman’s wife. Why, my dear tender flesh, there’s a hundred strong arms on the beach now, as would fetch a Ravenshoe out of anywhere a’most. ’Tis a cross surf, Miss Mary; but, Lord love ye, they’ll have the tackles on her afore she’s in it. Don’t ye fret, dear, don’t ye fret.”

But she had set apart and fretted nevertheless; and, hen she saw the brown bows rushing madly through the yellow surf, she had shut her eyes and prayed, and had opened them to see the boat on her beam ends, and a dozen struggling figures in the pitiless water.

Then she had stood up and wrung her hands.

They were safe. She heard that, and she buried her face in her hands, and murmured a prayer of thanksgiving.

Some one stood beside her. It was Marston, bare-headed and barefooted.

“Oh, thank God,” she said.

“We have given you a sad fright.”

“I have been terribly frightened. But you must not stand dripping there. Please, come up, and let me attend you.”

So she got him a pair of shoes, and they went up together. The penance procession had passed on before; and a curious circumstance is this, that, although on ordinary occasions Marston was as lively a talker as need be, on this occasion he was an uncommonly stupid one, as he never said one word all the way up t< i the hall, and then separated from her with a formal little salutation.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44