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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 195, 18 November 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A BOLD STRUGGLE FOR LIFE. It was an awful night. A storm was blowing from the south-west with a violence not often experienced on the Cornish coast, where gales from that quarter are so frequent. The sea and the wind seemed to vie with each other in noise, breaking against the steep rocks with a rush and a roar that roused: the people from their dreams, and made them rise and look out of their windows at the dark, driving clouds hurrying across the sky—now showing the: stars twinkling balinly ,fs :! |i66ve,; then-hiding them from 5 bf the watchers, whose thoughts would be of the vessels tossing about on the heaving water, liable at any moment to be engulfed or be dashed to pieces on some cruel rock.
...thought -that dark night'of her brave sailor boy,' who might never return to her, as she lay sleepless, listening to the shaking windows and rattling tiles, while the wind seemed ever and anon to recede into the distance, before returning with a far away rumble at first, gradually growing louder, _ till the gust broke against the hotse .pi ore fury than before.
Not far from the shore more than one ship trembled and shook as the waves broke against her sides, and masts were snapped off as easily as a dead twig from a tree. Guns of distress came booming on the wind, but there was no lifeboat there, even if men had been found courageous enough to venture out in such a sea. There was a little ; crowd; assembled Ott the narrow ] strip "of sand called by the village, people the beach, looking out to sea, and listening to the frequent distress signals;]but unable anythingi i 1 ! • One small trading vessel, which had been anchored some distance out, had broken from her moorings, and now, deprived of her masts, tossed hither and thither, a mere wreck. She had now sprung a leak, and was filling slowly but surely..... s The boats . had been lowered,; /blit; ;hajd" filled? injmediately The few men remaining on the wreck continued to work at the pumps, but in a mechanical, hopeless way, for a while; and then, as wave after wave broke over her, and it was evident they could dd no good, they gave up. A larger wave than usual swept two of them away, and two more only saved themselves by clinging to the bulkheads. As the water receded these two .looked-at- each other with pale, rigid faces, and then, actuated by the same impulse, grasped hands. One of them was a mere lad of nineteen,, or so, tall, well-built, and active.
“ Good-by, Jack,”' said the older man —a dry, weather-beaten old sailor. “ It’s all over with us, I’m afraid. Another wave like that ’ere—here it comes.”
In another minute they were washed from where they clung, the old man disappearing almost directly, to rise no more; the younger, seizing a spar which: floated .bear him' arid, throwing one arm over, endeavoring with all his might to swim away from the ship, lest he should be sucked down when it sank. But his efforts were vain; in such a sea it was impossible to make way in any direction ;. so he gave up, arid ' clasping the spar with both arms, waited to see what would become of him.
“ I wonder,” he thought, “ how I can hold on, if I don’t go down with the ship ?”
The wind howled and whistled over him, while amid that and the roaring of the water he seemed to hear every now and then the wild shriek of some drowning man, though he could not tell/whether it was fancy or awful reality. The water was over him completely at intervals, blinding him, almost stunning him for the time ; but he did not entirely lose consciousness, and managed to retain his hold. Fortunately, he was tossed further from the sinking vessel; and when, at last, he began to disappear, he was quite out of reach of the vessel.
What a long,Uong time it seemed to him that the storm and darkness lasted, and he was dashed hither and thither by the pitiless water,: holding on desperately to the piece of wood, his only chance for life. But at last he became that r the, darkness ; was giving' place'- tcf-twilight,- at the same time that his cramped arms began to refuse their office, and he felt he could cling no longer, that it would be better to give up and sink at once than go on with the struggle. He felt the spar slipping from him, made a futile attempt to grasp it again, and recollected no more, till he opened his eyes to the broad daylight, without an idea of where he was or what had happened. He was lying on a small strip of shingle, the wayes breaking only a few yards from him ; on the other side a steep cliff, towering above him almost perpendicularly for seventy or eighty feet. By degrees his memory returned, and sitting up, he looked around. The storm had in a great measure abated, though/.the sea was still very 5 rough, with white lines of foam showing themselves as far out as the eye could reach... Jack Harrison staggered to his feet, arid then, feeling weak and giddy, sat down on a large boulder, and tried to take in his situation.> 'Close to him was a cave in the side of the cliff, and something in its aspect seemed familiar to him. The long wall of rock was concave just where he was; so that, although the shingle was exposed in this one place, both to his right and left-thb ! waves dashed themselves against the cliffs'! In a few minutes he saw it all. This place was well known to him, for he had often rowed round it when a boy, it being not far from the village where he was born; and he remembered at the same time that it was all covered, that even the top of the cave was covered at high water;' Tt'fvas 'evident' that the ebbing tide had left him there; and that now it was flowing again, and would soon be upon him. He had escaped with his life only, to undergo the agony of fighting with the waves again in broad daylight. There, some two or three yards above his head, was the mark left by the water. He looked up in the hope of seeing some place where he could climb to, and be out of the reach of the approaching waves ; but the cliff showed smooth and almost unbroken, without any foothold anywhere, He looked into the cave, but
it was evident that the high tide filled it completely. The water came nearer each minute, creeping up slowly and surely, till at length it touched his feet, when the young sailor sank on his knees in dispair, feeling that there was no hope—not the faintest—of being saved. Far out on the heaving bosom of the ocean, the white sails of a schooner were to be seen, but two far off to see if he signalled; and nearer several dark objects rose and fell, the remains of some vessel which had been dashed to pieces against the rocks. The clouds were breaking, and the sun, showing itself, turned the white crested waves into glittering silver, too bright to look upon, while the deep blue of the sky, showing in places, was mirrored there. Jack looked up, but he did not see the brightness of the earth in contrast to the horrors of the night. What he saw was a bare little room, with lattice window, through which a sunbeam stole, to fall on the head of an old, old, woman, with snow-white hair, whose wrinkled hands were clasped before her worn out 1 face, the tears trickling between her fingers. The vision fled. He clung to the block of stone, and looked round in horror as a large wave rolled up and broke upon him, drenching him. He started up wildly. “God help me,” he cried hoarsely, “ for my poor mother’s sake !’’ And then, climbing on the slippery boulder, on which he had hard work to retain his foothold, so as to be for the present out of the reach of the water, he took one more survey of the cliff side. Only one place seemed to offer the faintest chance —a slight projection of rock, high up, and at a little distance, which the rising tide now cut off from him. It was just above high water mark; but even could he attain it, he could get no farther, for above the cliff rose smoothly, without any irregularities that could be taken advantage of by a climber. Supposing he gained it, he thought, could he manage to retain so precarious a position through the long hours before the tide would be out again ? He knew that during low tide it would be possible by wading to get around the angle of the cliff to the right, and that once done he would be safe.
But for the present it was enough to ■consider how he should reach that point which had before seemed so impracticable. The water touched his feet again, elevated as he was from his first position; but he planted his feet firmly, seeing that his best chance was in remaining where he was for the present. He must stop there as long as the water would allow him to keep his balance, and then swing for the point He would not be far below it then, and might be able to scramble up. Once the thought of trying to swim round the angle of the rocks, when he would not be so far fromjthe shore; but the idea was quickly abandoned, for he was cramped and stiff yet from his long immersion in the night, and to attempt to swim any distance in such a state would be like committing suicide. No; that little projecting point was his only hope of life, and on it he fixed his eyes anxiously, noting how the water surely crept a little nearer to it. Very slowly, though; it seemed to him to take twice as long in gaining an inch as it had done before he resolved on his step, and his impatience grew more and more excessive as the difficulty of keeping his feet became greater. But as he set his teeth, and placed his hand firmlyagainst the side of the cliff, he saw a wave rolling toward him. The last one hrd washed over his feet, but this one—could he keep his position? Nearer it came, and in less time than it takes to tell it, he was struggling in the water. At any moment he might be dashed against the cliff sides. He placed himself on his back, and determined to float as long as he could, tossed here and there at the mercy of the waves, with the momentary expectation of being, dashed to pieces. He opened his eyes after a few minutes, and looked up. There, a few feet above Bis head, was the point of rock tantalizing him by its nearness, and yet out of his reach.
He had given himself for lost, when the next wave, swelling up ■under him, lifted him up, and he managed to clutch, first a bunch of seaweed that hung from the rock, and the point itself. : One last effort, the exertion of all his remaining strength, and he was perched above the reach of the water, bruised, panting, and exhausted. He was sprinkled and half blinded occasionally by the spray, but he was safe for the present, though he might only have lengthened his existence by an hour or two. Now that the excitement of immediate danger was over, he became aware that he was frightfully thirsty, and that he had nbt tasted food since the evening before. It was now about noon, as he could tell by the position of the sun, which fell upon him with scorching power, and made him giddy, so that he had hard work to keep from falling back into the water. However, now that he had escaped with life so far, he was determined to make a hard fight for it, and with this resolve he drew himself more securely on to to the rock, and waited. (To be concluded to-morcow.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 195, 18 November 1880
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