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Adrift in a Boat

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Chapter One. The Picnic on the Sands—The Midshipman—Harry Merryweather and David Moreton Caught by the Tide—The Alarm.

Few parts of the shores of old England present more beautiful and romantic scenery than is to be found on the coast of Cornwall. There are deep bays, and bold headlands, and wild rocks, and lofty cliffs, and wooded heights, and bare downs, and yellow sands full of the most minute and delicate shells, so delicate that it is surprising how they could have existed in the rough and boisterous ocean, and been cast up whole from the depths below. In one of those beautiful bays, many years ago, a large party was collected, on a bright afternoon in the early part of autumn. Among the party were persons of all ages, but most of them were young, and all were apparently very busy. Some were engaged in tending a fire over which a pot was boiling, and others were collecting drift-wood thrown up close under the cliff, with which to feed it. Two or three young ladies, under the superintendence of a venerable matron, were spreading a tablecloth, though the sand looked so smooth and clear that it did not seem as if the most dainty of people could have required one. Several were very eager in unpacking sundry hampers and baskets, and in carrying the dishes and plates, and bottles of wine, and the numerous other articles which they contained, to the tablecloth. Two young ladies had volunteered to go with a couple of pails to fetch water from a spring which gushed out of the cliff, cool and fresh, at some distance off, and two young gentlemen had offered to go and, assist them, which was very kind in the young gentlemen, as they certainly before had not thought of troubling themselves about the matter. To be sure the young ladies were very pretty and very agreeable, and it is possible that their companions might not have considered the trouble over-excessive. The youngest members of the party were as busy as the rest, close down to the water collecting the beautiful shells which have been mentioned. The shells were far too small to be picked up singly, and they therefore came provided with sheets of thick letter-paper, into which they swept them from off the sand where they had been left by the previous high tide. A loud shout from a hilarious old gentleman, who had constituted himself director of the entertainment, and who claimed consequently the right of making more noise than anybody else, or indeed than all the rest put together, now summoned them up to the tablecloth, to which at the sound, with no lingering steps, they came, exhibiting their treasures on their arrival to their older friends. The party forthwith began to seat themselves round the ample tablecloth, but they took up a good deal more room than had it been spread on a table. The variety of attitudes they assumed was amusing. The more elderly ladies sat very upright, with their plates on their laps; the younger ones who had gone for the water, and their friends of the same age, managed to assume more graceful attitudes; while the young men who had been to school and college, and had read how the Romans took their meals, stretched themselves out at the feet of the former, leaning on their elbows, and occasionally, when not actually engaged in conveying ham and chicken or pie to their mouths, giving glances at the bright and laughing eyes above them....