[From Mannin #6, 1914]
In the Spring of this year the writer was shown an account of an
adventure in which he was concerned many years ago. This it appears
had been published in a little series of True Stories of Brave Deeds,
designed for children and edited by Mr. W. T. Stead. The account was
compiled from newspaper reports of the day and was but a bald
narrative of the accident itself.
It seemed to the author that if, as an example of courage and self-devotion or for any other reason, it were desirable that the story should be made public, it ought to be amore complete and a better account than that which he had read. Hence the following:
THIS is to tell of two lads in their later teens who sought to
take young ravens from their nest, but met with a sad mishap We will
call them Olaf and Phinlo. These were not their real names,
which do not matter for the purpose of our story. Active and eager, with the fearlessness of healthy youth, the sea was their friend and the rocky coast a familiar way. There was no cave or crevice in the rocks for miles around that was unknown to them. Each had his boat; one broad of beam and strongly built expressly for this coast, the other a slighter skiff and narrow which would go into any of the caves when tide and weather would allow.
All along the coast, as well as inland, were mine levels which at this time had been long unworked. Leadmines, iron mines, and copper mines, all had been made strong; it might have been the painter of a small boat, and in any event seemed a desirable thing to have; so it was coiled tightly round his body as being the easiest way to carry it. They thought it would be a good plan to tie a stocking to the end of this, and dangle it in front of the nest, till, by the help of the wind or the motion of their hands, it would swing within reach of one of the young birds; and when the bird clawed the stocking it could be drawn out of the nest, if not to the top of the cliff. The tide was still well out, and poking among the big boulders, they presently espied a great ball of rusty iron which proved to be a strong chain, perhaps, as they thought, left at one time by miners. Natural curiosity made them try to unravel this, and after hammering it with large stones and getting the outer coil free, it was not difficult to unravel the entire chain. Then, by measuring it against the length of their outstretched arms, they judged that it would be about five fathoms; it was perfectly sound and very strong.
They now had a good look at the face of the cliff. Coarse shingle
formed a bank against the foot of it. but, on the north and on the
south, a steeply-sloping rock stretched seawards, leaving a passage
between them of three or four yards; at a little distance another big
rock rose up in front of this passage. It could be seen how far the
water reached at ordinary high tides when, they judged, it would be
about six feet at the rock, rapidly deepening seawards. The cliff
itself was perpendicular at this point; there were cracks in it, and
a narrow ledge crossed at an angle a few yards below the cave; but,
though the summit could be reached from the rocks at either side, it
was manifestly impossible to get to the nest from below without
ladders of some kind. They noticed a hollow at the top, directly
above the cave, but, even from this, their rope would be much too
short to reach it; by fastening it to the chain, however, they would
certainly have length enough.
The day was calm and beautifully clear, the hot sun shone upon the beach, as seated on the boulders our two lads enjoyed their lunch and discussed the best mode of attack. There was no point from which they could see into the nest, but they had made certain that the young birds had not yet flown as there was no sign of them after search made all along the shore, nor were the old birds to be seen as they would have been had their young been around. Olaf's father' a keen and active sportsman in his day, had been told of the intended expedition and had expressly asked that no great risks should be run, as young ravens were not worth that; they both intended loyally to abide by this request, and not to attempt themselves to get to the nest but to draw the birds out of it with their rope and chain. They wondered where exactly the peregrines would nest this year; it could not be in a more difficult place, and they felt that they, at all events would be worthy of some risk, if, however, they succeeded in dragging out the ravens, they agreed that they might try the same trick later with the falcons.
The days are long when we are young! Over an hour had been spent in unravelling the chain and hunting about the shore; at last it was noticed that the tide was coming in, and, the time had come for making the upward climb. Having folded the chain so as to bring it to a convenient length, each took an end over his shoulder and they began the steep though not difficult journey to the top. This was warm work and took some time; gradually they made their way to the sheltered recess above the cave, which now afforded grateful shade. The grassy platform, approached from either side by steep but easy tracks, evidently served as a snug retreat for sheep in stormy weather; at one corner, snagged but very strong plant of ivy had secured a firm foothold and netted the rocks with innumerable arms, It seemed as if this might have been provided on purpose, so well would it serve as a stake from which to hang their chain.
Here they rested and lying at full length on the cool grass, stretched over as far as they were able; but, for the first few feet, the cliff at this point had a less steep slope, the line of which prevented them from seeing within two or three feet of its lower face, as they judged from what was visible of the rocks below. The sea had now come up, so, whatever was to be done this was the time to do it. Then Olaf began to secure the end of the chain to the great ivy stem, and they paid it out with the rope firmly attached to its other end, feeling sure that it must reach be]ow the cave; they hauled till they were satisfied that the ivy would bear any strain they were likely to put upon it. In the excitement of the moment they entirely forgot their original design and the wise counsel not to risk their necks for ravens; had one remembered he would have reminded the other. It came into Phinlo's mind that Olaf would want to go down but he felt that if there were any danger it was for him to take the greater risk
In youth much may be forgiven, and, if at this stage, so close upon their prey, with the way made so unexpectedly easy to reach it, they did not stop to think or coldly calculate the difficulties and the danger, who will find fault with them? Phinlo declared that he was going down, and stripped off his jacket and waistcoat for the purpose. Then after the few steps of the first rough slope, he sat down and took off his boots, since toes as well as fingers would be wanted to cling to the face of the rock. Keeping one hand on the chain in case of need and moving slightly towards the north, he clung like a limpet to the rock, working slowly downwards, till he found himself above the further corner of the cave. At one point, though he had foothold and handhold, he realised by the feel of the chain that the rock was overhanging; he thought that he would have to avoid pinching his fingers on the way coming up, but, it seemed very slight-and did not otherwise trouble him. At the point now reached there was again a slight slope seawards, and, holding the chain with both hands, he was able to sit down and to look what lay before him. He had come to the end of the chain, and called out to his friend where he was and what had happened. Olaf warned him to be careful, and went to make sure once more that the chain was fast and that the ivy would bear his weight. Phinlo looked down upon the sea; he felt sure that if by evil chance he should fall it would receive him in its cool and buoyant clasp. He had never made a dive so high but the possibility of it was rather pleasing than alarming. Then he looked at the corner of the cave, which was sufficiently rough for him to cling to, and though he must alight on its floor very close to the edge, he would have the rope to steady him. The thought passed through his mind to fasten the rope under his arms, but he felt that that would be more dangerous than helpful, as, if he slipped, he would fall with a jerk which if it did not cut him in two, would probably so press on his lungs as to take his breath away, leaving him to dangle in the air with strained arms; but without the rope he would have a clear fall right into the sea. A story came into his mind from one of Ballantyne's delightful books for boys : deep down, a Tale of the Cornish Mines, where a man had climbed down just such a cliff to get at a nest, and having done so, had let go the rope which had helped him. There it hung beyond his reach and he had no means to make it swing towards him, so, not caring to spend the night there, he finally made a spring and being unable to cling to the rope, fell into the sea. When after a laborious climb, his friend, who had said he could not do it, had got down, he found him comfortably seated on a rock, and was met by the greeting - 'And you could not do that !' Phinlo thought that if it came to the worst he would have the miner's luck and nothing more than a plunge into the water.
Holding the rope in his left hand, he gripped the rock and felt for a foothold. As soon as ever his full weight rested
for a moment on his foot, the rock at that point crumbled away and all he could do was to cling to the rope. But the overhang
of the cliff had been greater than he thought and instead of sliding gently into the cave, he was swung quite clear of it,
the thin rope slipping like an icicle through his hands. Flying past, he caught sight of the four young ravens stretching
out their necks, and gaping with wide-open beaks; then, raising his head, he saw his friend gazing down at him, and looking
into his eyes, feeling only for his evident distress at his utter powerlessness to help, he wanted to tell him that it was
'all right;' the thought passing through his mind as though in words that were spoken, Poor Olaf ! 'Then, nothing was visible
and all appeared blue, passing into black, and no thought came to him, nor did he know the instant when the rope passed
out of his hands, his arms still stretching upwards. Yet it could have been but a moment when, his body slightly twisting
round, his foot caught on the projecting ledge which they had seen from below. So great was the impact that not only did
it stay his fall, but it caused him to bound upwards, turning a half-summersault and continuing head foremost, with hands
now stretched forwards, the body kept perfectly rigid, in the best position and just at the angle for a high dive. There
was no consciousness of pain at the abrupt stop, but he was again able for a moment to see clearly, and now perceived that
he was directly over the water. Though he had expected this, there had been a possibility of doubt for he remembered the
narrowness of the channel, so that now the sensation was that of relief and of exhilaration at the swift rush through the
air. Once gain, far more quickly than the words can be uttered,all became blue, and passed into midnight darkness and the
absence of all sensation, till he struck the water, delightful in its coolness and seething freshness and in the sparkling
green light after the dense blackness of theshadows. Again, as though the actual words had been said, the thought flashed
through his mind, 'The sea,' as joyously he skimmed over the quickly-shelving beach in a splendid dive. He felt a slight
shock when his knee banged against a sunken rock, and this brought to mind the great rock guarding the entrance to the passage;
though loth to check the long glide through the cool waters, the thought came as in an articulate sentence, 'It is time
for me to go up.' With that he rose to the surface and turned to swim the few yards back, knowing exactly where it would
be best to land, and the most convenient place from which afterwards to getaway. This was on the northern side of the passage
and it was only at the moment of landing, that, attempting to place some weight on his right foot, he found it was severely
painful, and remembered how he had bounded off the ledge. There was no difficulty, however, in scrambling out of the water,
and he found a comfortable place on the rock where he could await the coming of his friend. Presently he heard him calling
him by name ,_'Phinlo! Phinlo! are you there?' and answered back 'All right.' Olaf came to his side and asked if he were
hurt.He said he feared his ankle was badly sprained and did not know how he was to get up the cliff. Then Olaf looked at
the ankle and did what he could to make him more comfortable. 'You will be getting cold,' he said.'I will go up for your
clothes, and when there will take off the chain.' 'What matter the chain?' said the other.'Oh, yes,' said Olaf, ' we cannot
leave it there, I will throw it down, and be back with you very soon.' Then he took off his own jacket and laid it over
Phinlo to keep him warm, and rolling up the waistcoat, he made it into a pillow for his head; first, to make it more easy,
taking his watch out of his pocket where it would form a hard knob; this he laid by his side on the rock. Then again they
spoke of getting away-whether it should be by boat or by climbing. 'Oh, we shall manage somehow,' said Olaf cheerfully,
and a ridiculous rhyme came into Phinlo's head-
What must be must, man is but dust-
If he cannot get crumb he must eat crust.
This made them both laugh, and Olaf went upon his way, saying he would not be long.
Fhinlo's eyes closed. How long he lay like that it is impossible to say, but he was awakened by the coldspray splashing on the now inflamed ankle. The tide was still flowing and with an effort he moved a little higher up. In doing so he caught sight of the watch and saw that it was five o'clock, but, as he had not noticed the hour when Olaf left him, he did not know for how long or how short a time he had been away. He lay still, thinking every now and then that he could hear him coming. Then he thought he heard the sound of oars and the murmuring of voices in the distance, but it was only the sea. And now his teeth began to chatter. At last he thought he must move if only to get some warmth into him. He turned over; this made him dizzy, but after a short rest he began to put on the coat and waistcoat, and already felt better, but he could not keep his teeth from chattering loudly. This annoyed him and again he thought he must move somehow. Even if Olaf came round by boat it would not matter, as he would not be able to get far, and would have his help in getting back. He forgot the watch, which it appears was to prove somewhat of a mystery afterwards, and began to creep slowly, inch by inch, up the face of the rock; this was fairly smooth and not difficult to climb; then came the steeper face of the cliff, with soft ground instead of the hard rock, on which to rest his knees and elbows. The stiffness wore off but it took a very long time to climb. Near the top it grew less steep, and, as there was no longer anything for his hands to reach up to, he was forced to crawl along the ground. Then he came to a wall, and unless he could find a gap in it he felt that he was done. With the help of the wall, however, he was able to stand up again. Only two small fields lay between him and the road; a little way off were cottages, and, lower down, a farmhouse. Finally. he managed tos cramble to the top, but to get down was another matter; tt being a dry stone wall, the danger was that in the attempt he might pull the stones down on the top of him. Looking around, he saw a man in the distance, walking across a field, and called and waved to him; but it was now growing dusk and he was not sure whether he had been noticed; the man passed out of sight, and for along time no one appeared. With great care be got down from the wall and began to crawl through the gorse, when four young men came to his assistance. He sent two of them to look out for his friend, who would be coming round in a boat; the other two carried him to a neat little cottage by the roadside, where he was most kindly received and attended to by the good Mrs. Mylechraine.
It had not yet occurred to him as even possible that his friend could have come to any harm; he thought that he would be looking for him, and felt sure that he would find him without much difficulty. At last he was persuaded to go to bed, and the next morning was told what had happened.
It would seem that Olaf, in his eager haste to help, had tried to return by a short cut across a corner of the cliff. Where he fell there was, alas, no sea to receive him. The men had not told Phinlo, but they had found him at once, and brought him up to the neighbouring farm. The doctor said that death had been instantaneous.
So, in the fullness and the pride of youth, did Olaf lay down his life for his friend; and, in the doing of a deed of loving-kindness, by an act of courage carried to a degree of rashness only by his unselfish longing to hasten to his aid, his bright spirit passed in a moment of time into the boundless ocean of love eternal.
P. M. C. K Glen Aldyn,