The Sea-Cave

The dull loneness, the black shade,
That these hanging vaults have made:
The strange music of the waves
Beating on these hollow caves - Wither
He set me down in one corner, where was some loose dry silver-sand upon the floor, which others had perhaps used for a resting-place before. "Thou must lie here for a month or two, lad," he said; "'tis a mean bed, but I have known many worse, and will get straw tomorrow if I can, to better it."

I had eaten nothing all day, nor had Elzevir, yet I felt no hunger, only a giddiness and burning thirst like that which came upon me when I was shut in the Mohune vault. So 'twas very music to me to hear a pat and splash of water dropping from the roof into a little pool upon the floor, and Elzevir made a cup out of my hat and gave a full drink of it that was icy-cool and more delicious than any smuggled wine of France.

And after that I knew little that happened for ten days or more, for fever had hold of me, and as I learnt afterwards, I talked wild and could scarce be restrained from jumping up and loosing the bindings that Elzevir had put upon my leg. And all that time he nursed me as tenderly as any mother could her child, and never left the cave except when he was forced to seek food. But after the fever passed it left me very thin, as I could see from hands and arms, and weaker than a baby; and I used to lie the whole day, not thinking much, nor troubling about anything, but eating what was given me and drawing a quiet pleasure from the knowledge that strength was gradually returning. Elzevir had found a battered sea- chest up on Peveril Point, and from the side of it made splints to set my leg - using his own shirt for bandages. The sand-bed too was made me soft and easy with some armfuls of straw, and in one corner of the cave was a little pile of driftwood and an iron cooking-pot. And all these things had Elzevir got by foraging of nights, using great care that none should see him, and taking only what would not be much missed or thought about; but soon he contrived to give Ratsey word of where we were, and after that the sexton fended for us. There were none even of the landers knew what was become of us, save only Ratsey; and he never came down the quarry, but would leave what he brought in one of the ruined cottages a half-mile from the shaft. And all the while there was strict search being made for us, and mounted Excise-men scouring the country; for though at first the Posse took back Maskew's dead body and said we must have fallen over the cliff for there was nothing to be found of us, yet afterwards a farm-boy brought a tale of how he had come suddenly on men lurking under a wall, and how one had a bloody foot and leg, and how the other sprung upon him and after a fierce struggle wrenched his master's rook-piece from his hands, rifled his pocket of a powder-horn, and made off with them like a hare towards Corfe. And as to Maskew, some of the soldiers said that Elzevir had shot him, and others that he died by misadventure, being killed by a stray bullet of one of his own men on the hill-top; but for all that they put a head-price on Elzevir of #50, and #20 for me, so we had reason to lie close. It must have been Maskew that listened that night at the door when Elzevir told me the hour at which the cargo was to be run; for the Posse had been ordered to be at Hoar Head at four in the morning. So all the gang would have been taken had it not been for the Gulder making earlier, and the soldiers being delayed by tippling at the Lobster.

All this Elzevir learnt from Ratsey and told me to pass the time, though in truth I had as lief not heard it, for 'tis no pleasant thing to see one's head wrote down so low as #20. And what I wanted most to know, namely how Grace fared and how she took the bad news of her father's death, I could not hear, for Elzevir said nothing, and I was shy to ask him.

Now when I came entirely to myself and was able to take stock of things, I found that the place in which I lay was a cave some eight yards square and three in height, whose straight-cut walls showed that men had once hewed stone therefrom. On one side was that passage through which we had come in, and on the other opened a sort of door which gave on to a stone ledge eight fathoms above high- water mark. For the cave was cut out just inside that iron cliff-face which lies between St Alban's Head and Swanage. But the cliffs here are different from those on the other side of the Head, being neither so high as Hoar Head nor of chalk, but standing for the most part only an hundred or an hundred and fifty feet above the sea, and showing towards it a stern face of solid rock. But though they rise not so high above the water, they go down a long way below it; so that there is fifty fathom right up to the cliff,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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