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The Story of the White-Rock Cove


  Produced by Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe, Mary Meehan and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team at file was made using scans of public domain works inthe International Children's Digital Library.)


  With Illustrations.


















  The Story of the White-Rock Cove--"_to be written down all from the verybeginning_"--is urgently required by certain youthful petitioners, whoseimportunity is hard to resist; and the request is sealed by a rosy pairof lips from the little face nestling at my side, in a manner thatadmits of no denial.

  * * * * *

  "_From the beginning_;"--that very beginning carries me back to my ownold school-room, in the dear home at Braycombe, when, as a little boybetween nine and ten years old, I sat there doing my lessons.

  It was on a Thursday morning, and, consequently, I was my mother'spupil. For whereas my tutor, a certain Mr. Glengelly, from our nearesttown of Elmworth, used to come over on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridaysfor the carrying forward of my education; my studies were, on the otherdays of the week, which I consequently liked much better, conductedunder the gentle superintendence of my mother.

  On this particular morning I was working with energy at a rule-of-threesum, being engaged in a sort of exciting race with the clock, of whichthe result was still doubtful. When, however, the little click, whichmeant, as I well knew, five minutes to twelve, sounded, I had attainedmy quotient in plain figures; a few moments more, and the process of_fours into, twelves into, twenties into_, had been accomplished;and just as the clock struck twelve I was able to hand up my slatetriumphantly with my task completed.

  "A drawn game, mamma!" I exclaimed, "between me and the clock;" andthen with eager eyes I followed hers, as she rapidly ran over thefigures which had cost me so much trouble, and from time to timerelieved my mind by a quiet commentary: "Quite right so far;--Nomistakes yet;--You have worked it out well."

  Frisk, the intelligent, the affectionate, the well-beloved companion ofmy sports, and the recipient of many of my confidences, woke up from hisnap, stretched himself, came and placed his fore-paws upon my knees,and, looking up in my face, spoke as plainly as if endowed with thecapacity of expressing himself in human language, to this effect:--"I'mvery glad you have finished your lessons; and glad, too, that I was ableto sleep on a mat in the window, where the warm sunshine has made meextremely comfortable. But now your lessons are done, I hope you'll loseno time, but come out to play at once. I'm ready when you are."

  And Frisk's tail wagged faster and faster when my mother's inspection ofmy sum was concluded, so that I could not help thinking he must haveunderstood her when she said,--"There are no mistakes, Willie; you havebeen a good, industrious little boy this morning; you may go out to playwith a light heart."

  I did not need twice telling, but very soon put away all my books andmaps, and the slate, with its right side carefully turned down, that itmight not get rubbed, wiped the pens, placed my copy-book in the drawer,and presented myself for that final kiss with which my mother was wontto terminate our proceedings, and which was on this occasion accompaniedby the remonstrance that I was getting quite too big a boy for suchnonsense.

  Then at a bound I disappeared through the window, which opened on thelawn, and let off my pent-up steam in the circumnavigation of thegarden, with Frisk barking at my heels; clearing the geranium-bed with aflying leap, and taking the low wire-fence by the shrubbery twice over,to the humiliation of my canine companion, who had to dip under where Iwent over.

  The conclusion of these performances brought me once again in front ofthe school-room window, where my mother stood beckoning to me. She hadmy straw hat with its sailor's blue ribbons in one hand, and a slice ofseed-cake in the other.

  "Here, Willie," she said, "put on your hat, for the sun is hot althoughthere is a fresh breeze; and--but perhaps I may have been mistaken--Ithought perhaps some people of my acquaintance were fond of seed-cakefor luncheon."

  "No indeed, dear mamma," I made answer speedily, "you are not at allmistaken: some people--that is, Frisk and I--do like it very much; don'twe Frisk, old fellow?"

  "And now," continued my mother,--who must certainly have forgotten atthe moment her opinion expressed just five minutes before as to thepropriety of kisses, for, smoothing back my hair, she stooped down topress her lips upon my forehead before putting my hat on,--"and now youare to take your troublesome self off for a long hour, indeed, almost anhour and a half: away with you to your play."

  "May I take my troublesome self to old George's, mamma?" I petitioned.

  "If you like," she answered; "only be careful in going down theZig-zag; I don't want to find you a little heap of broken bones at thebottom of the cliff."

  I confess myself to being entirely incapable of conveying on paper to myyoung readers the charms, the manifold delights, of that Zig-zag walk,which was our shortest way down to the lodge.

  You started from the garden, then through the shrubbery, and from theshrubbery by a little wire gate you entered the natural wood whichclothed the upper part of our hill-side. The path descended rapidly fromthis point, being very steep in parts, and emerging every here and thereso as to command an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Braycombe Bay,which on this bright summer morning was all dancing and sparkling in thesunshine. Lower down, the wood gave place to rock and turf, until youreached the top of the shingle which the path skirted for a littledistance; and, finally, crossing an undulating meadow, you gained thelodge, the abode of my friend old George, mentioned above.

  It was not its picturesque beauty alone which endeared the Zig-zag walkto me, although, child that I was, I feel sure the loveliness of theouter world had the effect, unconsciously to myself, of brightening mylittle inner world; but over and above all this must be ranked my keenenjoyment of a scramble, and of the sense of difficulty and dangerattendant upon certain steep parts of the descent. It was one of mygreat amusements to be trusted occasionally to guide my parents'visitors down by this path, for the sake of the view, whilst theircarriages would be sent the long way by the drive to meet them at thelodge. There were precipitous places, where even grave and statelygrown-up people would give up walking and take to running; and thenagain little perilous points, where ladies especially would utter faintcries of fright, and would require gentle persuasion to induce them tostep down from stone to stone; whilst I, fearless from long practice,would triumphantly perform the feat two or three times, to show that Iwas not in the least afraid, devising, moreover, short cuts for myselfeven steeper than those of the recognized path.

  I question whether the birth-day which conferred on me the privilege ofgoing alone up and down the Zig-zag was the greatest boon to myself orto my nurse; the exertion involved in scaling the hill-side being to thefull as wearisome to her as it was enchanting to myself. Theemancipation, however, came early in my career, since my friend, oldGe
orge, by my father's consent, assumed a sort of out-of-door charge ofme at a period when most little boys are exclusively under nurserydiscipline. For my father reposed the utmost confidence in the old man'sprinciples, and did not hesitate to let me be for hours under his care,saying, often in my hearing, that he would rather have me out on thewater learning from him how to manage the boats, or climbing the rocksand exploring the caves under his safe guardianship, than learning froma woman only how to keep _off_ the rocks and avoid tumbling into thewater. He was an old seaman, united by strong ties of friendship andgratitude to our family. In earlier years he had served on board thesame ship in which my father had been a young midshipman; and on oneoccasion, when my father fell overboard, at a time when the vessel wasat full speed, had thrown himself into the water, and held my father'shead up when he was too exhausted to swim, until the boat put out forthe rescue had time to come up and save both lives, which the delay hadplaced in great peril. When, some years later, on my grandfather'sdeath, my father came to live at Braycombe, he insisted upon Groves, whowas just about to be pensioned off through some failure in health,coming to settle with his wife at the lodge, promising him the charge ofour boats, so that he might have a taste of his old occupation. Hisdaughter-in-law, widow of his only son, who had been drowned, obtainedthe situation of schoolmistress, and lived near to the old couple withRalph, _her_ only son, a lad some few years my senior, who was employedabout the place under his grandfather's supervision, and helped inrowing when we went out upon the water.

  A friendship firm and tender had grown up between myself and the oldseaman, I accepting him as a grown-up play-fellow, and revealing to himin detail all the many plans continually suggesting themselves to myfertile imagination, and finding in him an ever ready sympathy, and,when possible, active co-operation in my schemes.

  From which digression, explanatory of the relationship subsistingbetween old George--as he had taught me from infancy to call him, _Mr.Groves_, as he was more properly designated by the neighbourhood--andmyself, I must return to the bright June morning upon which, after myusual fashion, I descended the Zig-zag, running, scrambling, sliding,with Frisk scampering and capering at my side, making wild snaps atpieces of cake which I broke off for him from time to time, and held upas high as I could reach, that he might have to jump for them.

  We were not long in gaining the lodge, which, by the carriage drive, wasnearly three-quarters of a mile from the house. I produced a series ofknocks upon the door, like those of a London postman, though, as oldGeorge was wont to remark,--

  "What's the use, Master Willie, of knocking like that; you never stop tohear me say 'Come in,' but just burst open the door and drive in like agust of wind promiscuous." But, in self-defence, I must explain that mydefective manners in this particular were entirely due to my old friendhimself, who, from earliest infancy, had trained me in all manner ofimpertinent familiarities. It was traditional that I cried to go to himwhilst I was still in arms; that I made attacks of an aggravatedcharacter upon his brass buttons before I could walk alone; and I couldjust remember experiments upon his white beard, as trying doubtless tohim as they were interesting to myself, conducted with philosophicaldetermination on my part, in order to ascertain whether it came off bypulling or not! In all of which proceedings my friend greatly encouragedme, so that the blame of my failure in the laws of etiquette lay at hisdoor.

  Only Mrs. Groves was in the cottage when I rushed in eagerly upon themorning in question. She was busy in culinary mysteries, but assured meher master would be soon in, and, in the meantime, I was to make myselfat home; which I did at once.

  "And your dear ma, how's she?" inquired the good lady presently,settling a cover on a saucepan in a decisive manner, and sitting downduring a pause in her operations. "I saw her drive by yesterday; andSusan told me she'd been at the school. A blessed time children have ofit these days, going to school; it's very different to what it was in mytime."

  "Then you didn't go to school?" I asked, being privately of opinion thatshe was rather fortunate as a child.

  "Oh yes, sir, I went to school, but not like the schooling children hasnow-a-days, with a high-born lady like your ma going herself to seethem;--our old dame, she teached us all she knew--to read, and mark, andlearn,--"

  "And inwardly digest?" I suggested, as Mrs. Groves hesitated in herenumeration of accomplishments.

  But there was not time to satisfy me concerning this branch of hereducation, for old George appearing at the moment, I flew to meet him,and we strolled down to the water's edge together.

  "I've been longing to see you," I exclaimed. "It's about Aleck, mycousin Aleck, I wanted to tell you. He's coming, and uncle and auntGordon, on Thursday week; that's only just a fortnight, you know."

  Aleck was my only boy cousin, and ever since there had been a notion ofhis coming to Braycombe, I had been thinking and dreaming of himincessantly. My aunt Gordon had been in very delicate health, and thedoctors ordered foreign air and constant change for the summer months,and a winter in some warm climate. There had been some hesitation as tohow my cousin, their only child, should be disposed of. He was not verystrong, and school life, it was feared, might be too great an ordeal foranother year; so my parents had written, offering that he should spendthat time at Braycombe, and share my tutor's instructions. The decisiveanswer from my uncle had only just arrived, and I was in a tumult of joyand excitement that it was in favour of my cousin's coming to stay withus, and that the actual day of our visitors' arrival had been fixed.

  George listened with every appearance of interest to my communication.

  "I'm glad your cousin's coming, Master Willie, as you're pleased," hesaid.

  "But aren't you glad, too, for your own sake?" I asked. "It will be sonice having him to play with us."

  "Oh, I'll be pleased to see him, never fear for that," responded George."I knew his father when he was but a little fellow like yourself."

  "Mamma calls me her _big_ boy," I threw in, disapprovingly. "But what doyou think Aleck will be like?"

  "Well, sir, I should expect very much such another young craft asyourself; or, now I come to think of it, perhaps a year older or so."

  "Not a year," I replied; "ten months and a half. I asked mamma hisbirth-day. Do you think he'll be as tall as me? because papa and mammasay I'm tall for my age."

  "His father stood six feet one the day he came of age. I daresay his sonwill take after him," said George.

  "And be as tall as that?" I inquired, feeling rather anxious, untilreassured, at the transformation of my cousin in prospect into a younggiant.

  I suppose that few children had ever seen less of other children than Ihad up to this time. There were but three gentlemen's houses in ourneighbourhood: the Rectory, where lived the elderly clergyman and hiswife, who had never had a family; the Elms, a country seat, where SirJohn and Lady Cosington and two grown-up daughters resided; andWillowbank, another country place, occupied by a young married couple,with one little baby. Elmworth, our nearest town, was seven miles off;and this distance almost entirely precluded intercourse with any of thefamilies there.

  In consequence of this, I had been completely without companions of myown age up to this time. In books I had read much of children'samusements with their companions; and although the perfect happiness ofmy own home left nothing really to be wished for, if ever a wish _did_occur to me for anything I had not, it was for a play-fellow andcompanion somewhere about my own age; and now, when this wish of minewas really on the eve of being realized, I was filled with vague dreamsand anticipations of all the delight which it was to bring to me. WhenGeorge and I had mutually agreed that my cousin Aleck--allowing for thedifference of age--might be reasonably expected to be somewhat tallerthan myself, we sat down on the beach, and began to discuss certainplans of mine for giving him a suitable welcome.

  Dim ideas, the result of "Illustrated London News'" pictures, werefloating in my mind--bouquets, triumphal arches, addresses, and soforth--even although I wound up
by saying--

  "Of course, not like that exactly; only something--something rathergrand."


  Old George, however, kindly and wisely pulled my schemes down, and laidthem affectionately in the dust:--

  "You see, Master Willie, anything written, even in your best hand,wouldn't come up to what you will say in the first five minutes by wordof mouth; and then the school banners, though very suitable for afeast--and I'm sure my Susan would be right pleased to look them up foryou--would be no ways suitable. '_A merry Christmas and happy NewYear_,' or, '_Braycombe Schools, founded 1830_,' would look odd-likeflying in the avenue at this time of year. And though I'd be glad to doanything to give you pleasure, I'd rather be opening the gate to youruncle and aunt and cousin, as they drive up, than firing off a gun,which might disturb their nerves, not to say frighten the horses."

  All of which was perfectly unanswerable. But as old George put on hisspectacles in conclusion, I knew he meant to consider the subject withattention; and I therefore remained quietly at his side, sending flatstones skimming along the water, or throwing in a stick for Frisk tofetch out again, until, as I expected, he signified to me that he hadthought of what would do.

  He said that the light arch which supported the central lamp over thegate might be very easily decked with evergreens for the occasion, andthe word _welcome_, traced in flowers, put up so as to appear verypretty with the green background; whilst the flag-staff at the top ofthe hill, just by the shrubbery, should display all the flags that ourestablishment could boast of.

  Groves' scheme, though not quite so extensive as those which had floatedthrough my childish imagination, was sufficiently attractive to be verywelcome; and I eagerly insisted upon our immediately returning to thelodge, where George took certain measurements of the arch whichimpressed me wonderfully with a sense of his superiority, and wisdom.

  By which time Mrs. Groves looked out to say that her husband's dinnerwould be spoiled by waiting, or eaten by the dog, "which there was nodriving off." And I, thus reminded of the time, settled the difficultyabout Frisk by taking him up bodily in my arms, and, hurrying off,reached home only just in time to get ready for dinner before the gongsounded.