A Loose End and Other Stories

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
Language: English
Published: 1 month ago
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Chapter I.

ne September morning, many years ago, when the Channel Islands seemed further off than they do now, and for some of them communication with the outer world hardly existed, some two hours after the sun had risen out of the sea, and while the grass and the low-growing bushes were still fresh with the morning dew, a young girl tripped lightly along the ridge of a headland which formed the south side of a cove on the coast of one of the smaller islands in the group. The ridge ascended gradually till it reached a point on which stood a ruined building, that was said to have been once a mill, and from which on the right-hand side the path began to descend to a narrow landing-place in the cove. The girl stood still for a moment when she reached the highest point, and shading her eyes looked out to sea. On the opposite side of the cove a huge rock, formed into an island by a narrow shaft of water, which in the strife of ages had cleared its way between it and the rocky coast, frowned dark and solemn in the shadow, its steep and clear-cut sides giving it a character of power and imperturbability that crowned it a king among islands. The sea beyond was glittering in the morning sun, but there was deep purple shadow in the cove, and under the rocks of the projecting headlands, which in fantastic succession on either side threw out their weird arms into the sea; while just around the edge of the shore, where the water was shallow over rocks and weed, was a girdle of lightest, loveliest green. Guernsey, idealized in the morning mist, lay like a dream on the horizon. Here and there a fishing-boat, whose sail flashed orange when the sun touched it, was tossing on the waves; nearer in a boat with furled sail was cautiously making for the narrow passage—the Devil's Drift, as the fishermen called it—between the island and the mainland, a passage only traversed with oars, the oarsmen facing forwards; while the two occupants of another were just taking down their sail preparatory to rowing direct for the landing-place.

The moment the girl caught sight of this last boat she began rapidly to descend the 300 feet of cliff which separated her from the cove below. The path began in easy zig-zags, which, however, got gradually steeper, and the last thirty feet of the descent consisted of a sheer face of rock, in which were fixed two or three iron stanchions with a rope running from one to the other to serve as a handrail; and the climber must depend for other assistance on the natural irregularities of the rock, which provided here and there an insecure foothold. The girl, however, sprang down the dangerous path, without the slightest hesitation, though her skilful balance and dexterity of hand and foot showed that her security was the result of practice.

By the time she had reached the narrow strip of beach, one of the few and difficult landing-places which the island offered, the two fishermen were already out of the boat, which they were mooring to an iron ring fastened in the rock....