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A Boating Adventure At Parkhurst Post by :Dealmaker Category :Short Stories Author :Talbot Baines Reed Date :May 2011 Read :3488

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A Boating Adventure At Parkhurst

Once, and once only, did I play truant from Parkhurst, and that transgression was attended with consequences so tragical that to this day its memory is as vivid and impressive as if the event I am about to record had happened only last week, instead of a quarter of a century ago.

I shall recall it in the hope of deterring my readers from following my foolish example--or at least of warning them of the terrible results which may ensue from a thoughtless act of wrong-doing.

I have already mentioned that Parkhurst stood some two or three miles above the point at which the River Colven flows into the sea. From the school-house we could often catch the hum of the waves breaking lazily along the shore of Colveston Bay; or, if the wind blew hard from the sea, it carried with it the roar of the breakers on the bar mouth, and the distant thunder of the surf on the stony beach.

Of course, our walks and rambles constantly took the direction of the shores of this bay; and though, perhaps, a schoolboy is more readily impressed with other matters than the beauties of nature, I can remember even now the once familiar view from Raven Cliff as if my eyes still rested upon it.

I can see, on a hot summer afternoon, the great curve of that beautiful bay, bounded at either extremity by headlands, bathed in soft blue haze. I can see the cliffs and chines and sands basking, like myself, in the sun. On my right, the jagged outline of a ruined sea-girt castle stands out like a sentinel betwixt is land and water. On my left I can detect the fishermen's white cottages crouching beneath the crags. I can see the long golden strip of strand beyond; and, farther still, across the wide estuary of the Wraythe, the line of shadowy cliffs that extend like a rugged wall out to the dim promontory of Shargle Head.

Above all, I can see again the sea, bluer even than the blue sky overhead; and as it tumbles languidly in from the horizon, fringing the amphitheatre of the bay with its edge of sparkling white, my ears can catch the murmur of its solemn music as they heard it in those days long gone by.

Well I remember, too, the same bay and the same sea; but oh, how changed!

Far as the eye could reach the great white waves charged towards the land, one upon another, furious and headlong; below us they thundered and lashed and rushed back upon their fellows, till we who watched could not hear so much as our own voices. In the distance they leapt savagely at the base of the now lowering headlands, and fought madly over the hidden rocks and sands. They sent their sleet and foam-flakes before them, blinding us where we stood on the cliff-top; they seethed and boiled in the hollows of the rocks, and over the river bar they dashed and plunged till far up the stream their fury scarcely spent itself.

At such times no ship or boat ventured willingly into Colveston Bay; or if it did, it rarely, if ever, left it again.

But such times were rare--very rare with us. Indeed, I had been months at Parkhurst before I witnessed a real storm, and months again before I saw another. So that my acquaintance with the bay was almost altogether connected with its milder aspects, and as such it appeared both fascinating and tempting.

It was on a beautiful August holiday morning that four of us were lounging lazily in a boat down at the bar mouth, looking out into the bay and watching the progress of a little fishing smack, which was skipping lightly over the bright waves in the direction of Shargle Head. Her sails gleamed in the sunlight, and she herself skimmed so lightly across the waters, and bounded so merrily through their sparkling ripples, that she seemed more like a fairy craft than a real yacht of boards and canvas. "I'd give a good deal to be in her!" exclaimed Hall, one of our party, a sea captain's son, to whom on all nautical matters we accorded the amplest deference. "So would I," said Hutton. "How jolly she looks!"

"Ever so much more fun than knocking about on this stupid old river," chimed in I.

"I say, you fellows," cried Hall, struck by a sudden idea, "why shouldn't we have a little cruise in the bay? It would be glorious a day like this!"

"I'm not sure old Rogers," (that was the disrespectful way in which, I regret to say, we were wont to designate Dr Rogers, our head master) "would like it," I said; "he's got some notion into his head about currents and tides, and that makes him fidgety."

"Currents and fiddlesticks!" broke in Hall, with a laugh; "what does _he_ know about them? I tell you, a day like this, with a good sailing breeze, and four of us to row, in case it dropped, there'd be no more difficulty in going over there and back than there would in rowing from here back to Parkhurst."

"How long would it take to get to Shargle?" inquired Hutton.

"Why, only two hours, and perhaps less. The wind's exactly right for going and coming back too. We can be back by four easily, and that allows us an hour or two to land there."

It certainly was tempting; the day was perfection, and Colveston Bay had never looked more fascinating. The headlands stood out so distinctly in the clear air that it was hard to imagine Shargle Head was five miles distant from where we sat.

When the proposition had first been made I had felt a passing uncomfortableness as to the lawfulness of such an expedition without the distinct sanction of the head master; but the more I gazed on the bay, and the more Hall talked in his enthusiastic manner of the delights of a cruise, and the longer I watched the fairy-like progress of the little white-sailed fishing-boat, the less I thought of anything but the pleasure which the scheme offered.

So when Hall said, "Shall we go, boys? What do you say?" I for one replied, "All serene."

All this while one of our party had been silent, watching the fishing- boat, but taking no part in our discussion. He was Charlie Archer, a new boy at Parkhurst, and some years our junior. But from the first I had taken a remarkable fancy to this clever, good-humoured, plucky boy, who henceforth had become my frequent companion, and with me the companion of the others who now composed our party. He now looked up and said, greatly to our surprise--

"I say, I don't want to go!"

"Why not?" we all asked.

"Oh, it doesn't matter," he replied, in evident confusion. "I don't want to spoil your fun, you know, but I'd rather not go myself."

"Why, what on earth's the matter with you, Charlie?" I asked. "I thought you were always ready for an adventure."

"I'd rather not go, please," he repeated. "You can put me ashore."

"Why not?" again inquired Hall, this time testily. He never liked Charlie quite as much as Hutton and I did, and was evidently displeased to have him now putting forward objections to a proposition of his own making. "Why not?"

"Because--because," began the boy hesitatingly--"because I don't want to go."

Hall became angry. Like most boys not sure of the honesty of their own motives, he disliked to have it suggested that what he was urging was wrong. He therefore replied, with a taunt keener than any persuasion--

"Poor little milksop, I suppose he's afraid of getting drowned, or of doing something his mamma, or his grandmamma, or somebody wouldn't like their little pet to do. We'd better put him ashore, boys; and mind his precious little boots don't get wet while we're about it!"

It was a cruel blow, and struck home at Archer's one weak point.

Plucky and adventurous as he was, the one thing he could not endure was to be laughed at. And his face flushed, and his lips quivered, as he heard Hall's brutal speech, and marked the smile with which, I am ashamed to say, we received it.

"I'm _not_ afraid," he exclaimed.

"Then why don't you want to go?"

He was silent for some time. A struggle was evidently going on in his mind. But the sneer on Hall's face determined him.

"I do want to go. I've changed my mind!"

"That's the style," said Hutton, patting him on the back. "I knew you were one of the right sort."

Hall, too, condescended to approve of his decision, and at once began to busy himself with preparations for our immediate start.

I, however, was by no means comfortable at what had taken place. It was plain to see Charlie had yielded against his better judgment, and that with whatever alacrity he might now throw himself into the scheme, his mind was not easy. Had I been less selfishly inclined towards my own pleasure, I should have sided with him in his desire not to engage in a questionable proceeding; but, alas! my wishes in this case had ruled my conscience. Still, I made one feeble effort on Archer's behalf.

"Hall," whispered I, as I stooped with him to disengage the ropes at the bottom of the boat, "what's the use of taking Charlie when he doesn't want to go? We may as well put him ashore if he'd sooner not go."

"Archer," said Hall, looking up from his ropes, "did you say you wanted to go, or not?"

The question was accompanied by a look which made it hard for the boy to reply anything but--

"I want to go."

"And it's your own free will, eh?"


So ended my weak effort. If only I had been more determined to do right; if, alas! I had imagined a thousandth part of what that day was to bring forth, I would have set Archer ashore, whether he would or not, even if to do so had cost me my life.

But this is anticipating.

For half an hour we were busy getting our boat trim for her voyage. She was a somewhat old craft, in which for many years past we had been wont to cruise down the seaward reaches of the Colven, carrying one lug-sail, and with thwarts for two pairs of oars. She was steady on her keel, and, as far as we had been able to judge, sound in every respect, and a good sailor. Certainly, on a day like this, a cockleshell would have had nothing to fear, and we were half sorry we had not a lighter boat than the one we were in to take us across to Shargle.

Hall, who assumed the command from the first, impressed us not a little by the businesslike way in which he set to work to get everything ship- shape before starting. He knew clearly the use of each rope and pulley; he knew precisely the necessary amount of ballast to be taken, and the proper place for stowing it; he discoursed learnedly on knots and hitches, and aroused our sympathy by his laments on the absence of a bowsprit and foresail. Hutton was sent ashore to buy provisions. Charlie was set to baling out the boat. I occupied myself with mopping the seats, and generally "swabbing her up," as Hall called it, so that in due time we were ready to sail, well provisioned and well equipped, on our eventful voyage.

Up went the sail; we watched it first flap wildly, and then swell proudly in the wind as the sheet rope was drawn in, and Hall's hand put round the helm. Then, after a little coquetting, as if she were loth to act as desired without coaxing, she rose lightly to the rippling waves, and glided forward on her way.

"Adams," said Hall, "you'd better make yourself snug up in the bows; Hutton, sit where you are, and be ready to help me with the sail when we tack. Charlie, old boy, come down astern, beside me; sit a little farther over, Hutton. Now she's trim."

Trim she was, and a strange feeling of exhilaration filled my breast as we now darted forward before the steady breeze, dancing over the waves with a merry splash, tossing them to either side of our prow, and listening to them as they gurgled musically under our keel.

"There's Neil!" cried Charlie, as we passed the coastguards' boathouse, "spying at us through the telescope."

"Let him spy," laughed Hall; "I dare say he'd like to be coming too. It's slow work for those fellows, always hanging about doing nothing."

"What's he waving about?" inquired I from the bows, for we could see that the sailor had put down his glass, and was apparently trying to catch our attention by his gesticulations.

Hall looked attentively for a moment, and then said--

"Oh, I see, he's pointing up at the flagstaff to show us the wind's in the north-east. I suppose he thinks no one knows that but himself."

"Let's see," said Hutton, "we are going north-west, aren't we?"

"Yes, so we shall be able to make use of the wind both ways, with a little tacking."

"He's shouting something now," said Charlie, with his eyes still on Neil.

"Oh, he's an old woman," said Hall, laughing; "he's always wanting to tell you this and that, as if no one knew anything about sailing but himself." And he took off his hat and waved it ceremoniously to the old sailor, who continued shouting and beckoning all the while, though without avail, for the only words that came to us across the water were "fresh" and "afternoon," and we were not much enlightened by them.

"I'm afraid he's fresh in the morning," laughed Hutton.

A short sail brought us to the bar mouth, over which, as the tide was in and the sea quiet, we passed without difficulty, although Hall had bade us have the oars ready in case of emergency, should it be necessary to lower our sail in crossing. But of this there was no need, and in a minute we were at last in the bay, and fairly at sea.

"Do you see Parkhurst over the trees there, you fellows?" cried Charlie, pointing behind us. "I never saw the place from the bay before."

"Nor I," I answered; "it looks better here than from any other side."

We were all proud of the old school-house, and fully impressed with its superiority over any other building of the kind in the kingdom.

The view in the bay was extremely beautiful, Shargle Head stood out opposite us, distinct and grand, towering up from the water, and sweeping back to join the moorland hills behind. On our left, close beside the bar mouth, rose Raven Cliff, where we so often had been wont to lie and look out on this very bay; and one by one we recognised the familiar spots from our new point of view, and agreed that from no side does a grand coast look so grand as from the sea.

Our boat scudded along merrily, Hall keeping her a steady course, well up to the wind. After a few lessons we got to know our respective duties (so we thought) with all the regularity of a trained ship's crew. With the wind as it was, right across our course, we had not much need to tack; but when the order to "stand by" did arrive, we prided ourselves that we knew how to act.

Hall let go the sheet, and Hutton lowered the sail, Charlie put round the helm, and I in the bows was ready to aid the others in shifting the canvas to the other side of the mast and hauling up the sail again. Then Hall resumed charge of the helm and drew in the sheet, Charlie and Hutton "trimmed" over to the other side of the boat, and once again our little craft darted forward.

We were all in exuberant spirits that lovely summer morning; even Charlie seemed to have forgotten his uneasiness at first starting, for he was now the life and soul of our party.

He told us wonderful stories about this very bay, gathered from some of his favourite histories. How, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when the proud vessels of Spain were driven partly by tempest, partly by the pursuit of our admiral, headlong along: this very coast, one of them had got into Colveston Bay, and there been driven ashore at the base of Raven Cliff, not one man of all her crew surviving that awful wreck. And he repeated one after another the legends connected with Druce Castle, whose ruined turrets we could discern away behind us, and of all the coves and crags and caves as we passed them, till, in our imagination, the bay became alive once more with ships and battle, and we seemed to watch the gleam of armour on the castle walls, and the glare of beacons on the headlands, and to hear the thunder of cannon from the beach; when presently Hall's cheery call to "stand by" wakened us into a sudden recollection of our present circumstances. And then what songs we sang! what famous sea stories Hall told us! how Hutton made us roar with his recitations! how the time seemed to fly, and the boat too, and we in it, until at last we found the Great Shargle towering over our heads, and knew we had all but reached our destination.

Hall looked at his watch.

"That was a good run, boys," said he; "not quite two hours--an uncommonly good run for an old tub like this. Now where shall we land?"

"I vote we land on Welkin Island," said Charlie.

Welkin Island was separate about three-quarters of a mile from the mainland, famous for its caves and shells.

"All serene," said Hall, putting the boat about; "stand by."

So we made our last tack, and very soon were close up at the island. After some cruising we selected an eligible creek for landing, into which Hall ran our boat as neatly as the most experienced helmsman in Her Majesty's Navy.

Then we landed, and dragging ashore our hamper of provisions, picnicked at the edge of the rocks, with the water on three sides of us, with Shargle Head across the narrow channel rising majestically above us, and the great amphitheatre of the bay extended like a picture beyond.

Need I say what a jovial repast it was; what appetites we had, what zest our situation lent to our meal, how each vied with each in merriment! But Charlie was the blithest of us all.

Then we wandered over that wonderful island. We waded into the caves, and climbed to the cliff tops; we filled our pockets with shells, we bathed, we aimed stones into the sea, we raced along the strand, we cut our names in a row on the highest point of the island, in commemoration of our expedition, and there they remain to this day.

"I say, I hope it's not going to rain," said Hutton, looking up at the clouds, which had for some time been obscuring the sun.

"Who cares if it does?" shouted Charlie. "Hullo, there goes my roof!" cried he, as a sudden gust of wind lifted his hat from his head, and sent it skimming down the rocks.

"I think it's time we started home," said Hall hurriedly.

There was something in the uneasy look of his face as he said this which made me uncomfortable.

So we turned to embark once more in our boat.

We could not conceal from ourselves, as we made our way to the creek where we had left her moored, that the weather, which had thus far been so propitious to our expedition, was not holding out as we could have wished. The wind, which had been little more than a steady breeze during the morning, now met us in frequent gusts, which made us raise our hands to our hats. A few ugly-looking black clouds on the horizon had come up and obscured the sun, threatening not only to shut out his rays, but to break over the bay in a heavy downpour of rain. Even on the half-sheltered side of the island where we were, the water, which had hitherto moved only in ripples, now began to heave restlessly in waves, which curled over as they met the breeze, and covered the sea with little white breakers. There was an uncanny sort of moan about the wind as it swept down the hollows of the rocks, and even the seagulls, as they skimmed past us on the surface of the now sombre water, seemed uncomfortable.

However, the sea was not rough, and though the sun happened to be hidden from us, we could see it shining brightly away in the direction of Parkhurst. The wind, too, though stronger than it had been in the morning, was still not violent, and we had little doubt of making as quick, if not a quicker passage back than we had already made.

So, although in our secret hearts each one of us would perhaps have preferred the weather of the earlier part of the day to have continued, we did not let our uneasiness appear to our fellows, or allow it to interfere with our show of good spirits.

"I tell you what," said Charlie, laughing, as we came down to our boat, "it would be a real spree to have a little rough water going back, just for the fun of seeing old Hutton seasick."

"I shall be very pleased to give you some amusement," replied Hutton; "and perhaps Adams will assist, for I saw him looking anxiously over the bows once or twice as we were coming."

"So did I," said Charlie; "he must have seen a ghost in the water, for he looked awfully pale."

"Shut up, you fellows," cried I, who was notoriously a bad sailor, and easily disturbed by a rough sea; "perhaps we shall all--"

"I say," called out Hall from the boat, where he was busy tying up a reef in our sail, "I wish you fellows would lend a hand here, instead of standing and chaffing there."

We obeyed with alacrity, and very soon had our boat ready for starting.

"Now, Adams and Hutton, take the oars, will you? and pull her out of this creek: we had better not hoist our sail till we are clear of these rocks."

As we emerged from our little harbour the boat "lumped" heavily over the waves that broke upon the rocks, and we had a hard pull to get her clear of these and turn her with her stern to Shargle.

"Now stand by," shouted Hall.

We shipped our oars, and in a moment the sail, shortened by one reef, was hauled up, and the boat began to scud swiftly forward.

"You'll have to sit right over, you two," said Hall to Hutton and me, "to keep her trim. Look sharp about it!"

As he spoke a gust took the sail, and caused the boat to heel over far on to her side. She righted herself in an instant, however, and on we went, flying through the water.

"How do you feel, Adams?" called out Charlie mischievously, from his end of the boat.

"Pleasant motion, isn't it?" put in Hutton, laughing.

"Look here, you fellows," said Hall abruptly, "stop fooling now, and look after the boat."

"Why, what's the row?" said Hutton, struck with his unusually serious tone. "It's all right, isn't it?"

"It's all right," said Hall curtly, "if you'll only attend to the sailing."

Our merriment died away on our lips, for it was plain to be seen Hall was in no jesting humour.

Then several things struck us which we had not previously noticed. One was that the wind had shifted farther north, and was blowing hard right into the bay, gathering strength every minute. Hall, we noticed, was sailing as close as possible up to it, thus making our course far wider than that which had brought us in the morning.

"Why are you steering out like that?" I ventured to ask.

"Because if I didn't-- Look out!" he exclaimed, as a sudden gust caught the boat, making her stagger and reel like a drunken man. In an instant he had released the sheet rope, and the sail flapped with a tremendous noise about the mast. It was but an instant, however, and then we saw him coolly tighten the cord again, and put back the helm to its former course. After that I did not care to repeat my question.

Reader, have you ever found yourself at sea in an open boat, a mile or so from land, in a gathering storm; with the wind in your teeth and the sea rising ominously under your keel; with the black clouds mustering overhead, and the distant coastline whitening with breakers? Have you marked the headlands change from white to solemn purple? Have you listened to that strange hiss upon the water, and that moaning in the wind? Have you known your boat to fly through the waves without making way, and noted anxiously by some landmark that she is rather drifting back with the current, instead of, as it seems, tearing before the wind?

If so, you can imagine our feelings that afternoon.

It was useless to pretend things were not as bad as they looked; it was useless not to admit to ourselves we were fairly in for it now, and must brave it out as best we could; it was useless to maintain we had not been foolish, wickedly foolish, in starting on so venturesome an expedition; it was useless to deny that it would have been better had we remained at Shargle, or returned to Parkhurst by land.

We were in for it now.

The one thing which gave us confidence was Hall's coolness, now that the danger was unmistakable. He neither allowed himself to get flurried nor alarmed, but sat with closed lips watching the sail--one hand on the tiller and the other grasping the sheet, ready to let it go at a moment's notice.

As for us, we wished we could do anything more active than sit still and trim the boat. But even that was some use, and so we remained, watching anxiously the clouds as they rolled down the sides of the hills and half obscured Shargle Head from our view.

Presently, however, Hall said--

"Get the oars out, will you? we haven't made any way for an hour."

No way for an hour! Had we then been all that time plunging through the waves for nothing? With what grim earnestness we set to work to row through this unyielding current!

But to no effect--or scarcely any. The little white cottage on Shargle, which we looked round at so anxiously from time to time, to ascertain what progress had been made, remained always in the same position, and after twenty minutes' desperate pulling it seemed as if the total distance gained had been scarcely half a dozen yards.

It was disheartening work, still more so as the sea was rising every minute, and the rain had already begun to fall.

"We're in for a gale," said Hall, as a wave broke over the side, drenching Hutton and me, and half-filling the bottom of the boat with water. "Look sharp, Charlie, and bale out that before the next comes."

Charlie set to work with a will, and for a time we rowed steadily on, without saying a word.

"What's the time?" I asked presently of Hall, as I saw him take out his watch.

"Five," said he.

It was an hour after the time we had expected to be back at Parkhurst, and we were not yet clear of Shargle. The same thought evidently crossed the minds of the other three, for they all glanced in the direction of Raven Cliff, now scarcely visible through the heavy rain.

"I wish we were safe home," muttered Hutton, the most dispirited of our crew. "What fools we were to come!"

We said nothing, but pulled away doggedly at the oars.

Now it really seemed as if we were making some progress out of that wretched current, for the white cottage on the cliff appeared farther astern than it had done since we began to row, and we were beginning to congratulate ourselves on our success, when Hall, who had for some time been anxiously watching the shore, cried out--

"For goodness' sake pull hard, you fellows! we are drifting in fast. Here, Charlie, take the helm, and keep her the way she is, while I get down the sail. It's no use now. Mind your heads, but don't stop rowing," he shouted to us, as he let down the sail suddenly, and lowered the mast. "Keep her head out, Charlie, whatever you do. Let go that rope beside you. That's right. Now take hold of that end of the mast and slip it under the seat."

So saying he managed to get down the mast and stow it away without impeding either the rowing or the steering, and immediately the advantage of the step was manifest in the steadier motion of the boat, although we groaned inwardly at the thought of having now all the distance to row. At least I groaned inwardly. Hutton was hardly as reserved.

"I tell you what," he said to me, stopping rowing, "I don't know what you and the other fellows intend to do, but I can't row any more. I've been at it an hour together."

"What are we to do, then?" inquired I.

"Why shouldn't Hall take a turn? He's been doing nothing."

"He's been steering," replied I, "and he's the only fellow who knows how, and Charlie's not strong enough to row."

"Well, all I can say is, I don't mean to row any longer."

All this had been said in an undertone to me, but now Hall cried out--

"What are you shopping for, Hutton? Pull away, man, or we shall never get out of this."

"Pull away yourself!" said Hutton sulkily. "I've had enough of it. You brought us here, you'd better take us back!"

Hall's face at that moment was a study. I fancy if this had been a ship and he the skipper, he would not have hesitated an instant how to deal with this unexpected contingency. But now he did hesitate. It was bitter enough punishment to him to be there exposed to all the dangers of a sudden storm, with the safety, and perhaps the life, not only of himself, but of us whom he had induced to accompany him, on his hands; but to have one of those comrades turn against him in the moment of peril was more than he had looked for.

"I'll take an oar," said Charlie, before there was time to say anything.

"No," said Hall, starting up; "take the helm, Charlie. And you," added he, to Hutton, "give me your oar and get up into the bows."

The voice in which this was spoken, and the look of scorn which accompanied it, fairly cowed Hutton, who got up like a lamb and crawled into the bows, leaving Hall and me to row.

"Keep her straight to the waves, whatever you do! it's all up if she gets broadside on!" said the former to Charlie.

And so for another half-hour we laboured in silence; then almost suddenly the daylight faded, and darkness fell over the bay.

I rowed on doggedly in a half-dream. Stories of shipwrecks and castaways crowded in on my mind; I found myself wondering how and when this struggle would end. Then my mind flew back to Parkhurst, and I tried to imagine what they must think there of our absence. Had they missed us yet? Should I ever be back in the familiar house, or--but I dared not think of that. Then I tried to pray, and the sins of my boyhood came up before my mind as I did so in terrible array, so that I vowed, if but my life might be spared, I would begin a new and better life from that time forward. Then, by a strange impulse, my eyes rested on Charlie, as he sat there quietly holding the tiller in his hands and gazing out ahead into the darkness. What was it that filled me with foreboding and terror as I looked at the boy? The scene of the morning recurred to my mind, and my halfhearted effort to prevent him from accompanying us. Selfish wretch that I had been! what would I not now give to have been resolute then? If anything were to happen to Charlie, how could I ever forgive myself?

"I think we've made some way," he cried out cheerily. "Not much," said Hall gloomily; "that light there is just under Shargle Head."

"Had we better keep on as we are?" I asked. "I don't see what else is to be done. If we let her go before the wind, we shall get right on to the rocks."

"You've a lot to answer for," growled Hutton from where he lay, half- stupid with terror, in the bows.

Hall said nothing, but dashed his oar vehemently into the water and continued rowing.

"I wonder if that light is anywhere near Parkhurst?" presently asked Archer. "Do you see?"

We looked, and saw it; and then almost instantly it vanished. At the same time we lost sight of the lights on Shargle Head, and the rain came down in torrents. "A mist!" exclaimed Hall, in tones of horror. Well indeed might he and we feel despair at this last extinguisher of our hopes. With no landmark to steer by, with wind and sea dead in our teeth, with the waves breaking in over our sides, and one useless mutineer in our midst, we felt that our fate was fairly sealed. Even Hall for a moment showed signs of alarm, and we heard him mutter to himself, "God help us now!" Next moment a huge wave came broadside on to us and emptied itself into our boat, half filling us with water. In the sudden shock my oar was dashed from my hand and carried away overboard!

"Never mind," said Hall hurriedly, "it would have been no use; put her round, Charlie, quick--here, give me the tiller!"

In a moment the boat swung round to the wind (not, however, before she had shipped another sea), and then we felt we were simply flying towards the fatal rocks.

"Bale out, all of you!" shouted Hall; and we obeyed, including even Hutton, who seemed at last, in very desperation, to be awakening to a sense of his duty.

The next few minutes seemed like an age. As we knelt in our half- flooded boat scooping up the water there in our hats, or whatever would serve for the purpose, we could hear ahead of us the angry roar of breakers, and knew every moment was bringing us nearer to our doom.

By one impulse we abandoned our useless occupation. What was the use of baling out a boat that must inevitably in a few minutes be dashed to pieces on the rocks? Hutton crawled back into the bows, and Charlie and I sat where we were on the seat and waited.

I could not fail, even in such a situation, to notice and admire Hall's self-possession and coolness. Desperate as our case was, he kept a steady hand on the helm, and strained his eyes into the mist ahead, never abating for a moment either his vigilance or his courage. But every now and then I could see his eyes turn for a moment to Charlie, and his face twitch as they did so, with a look of pain which I was at no loss to understand.

"How far are we from the rocks?" asked Charlie.

"I can't say; a quarter of an hour, perhaps."

"Whereabouts are we?" I asked.

"When the lights went out we were opposite Raven Cliff," replied Hall.

We were silent for another minute; then Hall took out his watch.

"Eight o'clock," said he.

"They'll be at prayers at Parkhurst," said Charlie; and in the silence that followed, need I say that we too joined as we had never done before in the evening prayers of our schoolfellows?

"Charlie, old boy," said Hall, presently, "come and sit beside me, will you?"

Poor Hall! had it been only _his_ own life that was at stake, he would never have flinched a muscle; but as he put his arm round the boy whom he had led into danger he groaned pitiably.

"I wonder if Neil's out looking for us," Hutton said from the bows.

"Not much use," said Hall. "If only this mist would lift!"

But it did not lift. For another five minutes we tore through the waves, which as we neared the shore became wilder and rougher. Our boat, half full of water, staggered at every shock, and more than once we believed her last plunge had been taken.

On either side of us, for the little distance we could see through the mist, there was nothing but white foam and surging billows; behind us rushed the towering waves, overtaking us one by one, tossing us aloft and dashing us down, till every board of our boat creaked and groaned. Above us the rain poured in torrents, dashing on to our bare heads, and blinding us whenever we turned our faces back.

Then Hall cried out, "Listen! those must be breakers behind us!"

Assuredly they were! On either side we could hear the deafening thunder of the surf as it dashed over the rocks.

"Then, thank God!" exclaimed Hall, "we must have got in between two reefs; perhaps we shall go aground on the sand!"

The next two minutes are past description. Hutton crawled down beside me where I sat, and I could feel his hand on my arm, but I had no eyes except for Charlie, who sat pale and motionless with Hall's arm round him.

"Now!" shouted Hall, abandoning the tiller, and tightening his hold on the boy.

There was a roar and a rush behind us, our boat swooped up with the wave, and hung for a moment trembling on its crest, then it fell, and in an instant we were in the water.

Hutton was beside me as the rush back of that huge wave swept us off our feet. I seized him by the arm, and next moment we were struggling to keep our heads up. Then came another monster, and lifted us like straws, flinging us before it on to the strand, and then rolling and foaming over us as we staggered to our feet.

Hutton, half stunned, had been swept from my hold, but mercifully was still within reach. Clutching him by the hair, I dragged him with all my might towards the land, before the returning wave should once more sweep us back into the sea. By a merciful Providence, a solitary piece of rock was at hand to aid us; and clinging to this we managed to support that terrific rush, and with the next wave stagger on to solid ground.

But what of Charlie? Leaving my senseless companion, I rushed wildly back to the water's edge, and called, shouted, and even waded back into the merciless surf. But no answer: no sign. Who shall describe the anguish of the next half-hour? I was conscious of lights and voices; I had dim visions of people hurrying; I felt something poured down my throat, and some one was trying to lift me from where I sat. But no! I would not leave that spot till I knew what had become of Charlie, and in my almost madness I shrieked the boy's name till it sounded even above the roaring waves.

Presently the lights moved all to one spot, and the people near me moved too. Weak as I was, I sprang to my feet and followed.

Good heavens! what did I see? Two sailors, half naked, stooped over something that lay on the sand between them, What, who was it? I cried; and the crowd made way for me as I fought my way to the place.

Two figures lay there; the smaller locked in the arms of his protector! But dead or living? Oh, if I could but hear some voice say they were not dead! Another person was kneeling over them beside me. Even in that moment of confusion and terror I could recognise his voice as that of the Parkhurst doctor.

"Look after this one here," he said; "he has a broken arm. Carry up the little fellow to the cottage."

Then I knew Charlie was dead!

It was weeks before I was sufficiently recovered in body or mind to hear more than I knew. Then the doctor told me:--

"Hall is getting better. He broke his arm in two places, trying to shield the boy from the rocks. He will not speak about it himself, and no one dares mention Archer's name to him. There was neither bruise nor scratch on the little fellow's body, which shows how heroically the other must have tried to save him."

I soon recovered, but Hall was ill for many weeks--ill as much from distress of mind as from the injuries he had received. He and I are firm friends to this day; and whenever we meet, we speak often of little Charlie Archer. Hall is a sea captain now, and commands his own vessel in distant seas; but though he has been through many a peril and many a storm since, I can confidently say he never showed himself a better sailor than he did the night we sailed back from the Shargle.

(The end)
Talbot Baines Reed's short story: A Boating Adventure At Parkhurst

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