The Combes of The Far West

   “Far, far from hence
The Adriatic breaks in a warm bay
Among the green Illyrian hills, and there
The sunshine in the happy glens is fair,
And by the sea and in the brakes
The grass is cool, the sea-side air
Buoyant and fresh, the mountain flowers
More virginal and sweet than ours.”
   —Matthew Arnold.

And even such are those delightful glens, which cut the high table-land of the confines of Devon and Cornwall, and opening each through its gorge of down and rock, towards the boundless Western Ocean. Each is like the other, and each is like no other English scenery. Each has its upright walls, inland of rich oak-wood, nearer the sea of dark green furze, then of smooth turf, then of weird black cliffs which range out right and left far into the deep sea, in castles, spires, and wings of jagged iron-stone. Each has its narrow strip of fertile meadow, its crystal trout stream winding across and across from one hill- foot to the other; its gray stone mill, with the water sparkling and humming round the dripping wheel; its dark, rock pools above the tide mark, where the salmon-trout gather in from their Atlantic wanderings, after each autumn flood: its ridge of blown sand, bright with golden trefoil and crimson lady’s finger; its gray bank of polished pebbles, down which the stream rattles toward the sea below. Each has its black field of jagged shark’s-tooth rock which paves the cove from side to side, streaked with here and there a pink line of shell sand, and laced with white foam from the eternal surge, stretching in parallel lines out to the westward, in strata set upright on edge, or tilted towards each other at strange angles by primeval earthquakes;—such is the “mouth”—as those coves are called; and such the jaw of teeth which they display, one rasp of which would grind abroad the timbers of the stoutest ship. To landward, all richness, softness, and peace; to seaward, a waste and howling wilderness of rock and roller, barren to the fisherman, and hopeless to the shipwrecked mariner.

In only one of these “mouths” is a landing for boats, made possible by a long sea-wall of rock, which protects it from the rollers of the Atlantic; and that mouth is Marsland, the abode of the White Witch, Lucy Passmore; whither, as Sir Richard Grenville rightly judged, the Jesuits were gone. But before the Jesuits came, two other persons were standing on that lonely beach, under the bright October moon, namely, Rose Salterne and the White Witch herself; for Rose, fevered with curiosity and superstition, and allured by the very wildness and possible danger of the spell, had kept her appointment; and, a few minutes before midnight, stood on the gray shingle beach with her counsellor.

“You be safe enough here to-night, miss. My old man is snoring sound abed, and there’s no other soul ever sets foot here o’ nights, except it be the mermaids now and then. Goodness, Father, where’s our boat? It ought to be up here on the pebbles.”

Rose pointed to a strip of sand some forty yards nearer the sea, where the boat lay.

“Oh, the lazy old villain! he’s been round the rocks after pollock this evening, and never taken the trouble to hale the boat up. I’ll trounce him for it when I get home. I only hope he’s made her fast where she is, that’s all! He’s more plague to me than ever my money will be. O deary me!”

And the goodwife bustled down toward the boat, with Rose behind her.

“Iss, ’tis fast, sure enough: and the oars aboard too! Well, I never! Oh, the lazy thief, to leave they here to be stole! I’ll just sit in the boat, dear, and watch mun, while you go down to the say; for you must be all alone to yourself, you know, or you’ll see nothing. There’s the looking-glass; now go, and dip your head three times, and mind you don’t look to land or sea before you’ve said the words, and looked upon the glass. Now, be quick, it’s just upon midnight.”

And she coiled herself up in the boat, while Rose went faltering down the strip of sand, some twenty yards farther, and there slipping off her clothes, stood shivering and trembling for a moment before she entered the sea.

She was between two walls of rock: that on her left hand, some twenty feet high, hid her in deepest shade; that on her right, though much lower, took the whole blaze of the midnight moon. Great festoons of live and purple sea-weed hung from it, shading dark cracks and crevices, fit haunts for all the goblins of the sea.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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