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A BOY'S ADVENTURES AMONG THE
A TALE OF THE CROMARTY COAST.
It was on a pleasant spring morning that, with my little curious friend beside me, I stood on the beach opposite the eastern promontory, that with its stern granitic wall, bars access for ten days out of every fourteen to the wonders of the Doocot; and saw it stretching provokingly out into the green water. It was hard to be disappointed, and the caves so near. The tide was a low neap, and if we wanted a passage dry-shod, it behoved us to wait for at least a week; but neither of us understood the philosophy of neap-tides at that period. I was quite sure I had got round at low water with my uncles not a great many days before, and we both inferred that if we but succeeded in getting round now, it would be quite a pleasure to wait among the caves inside, until such time as the fall of the tide should lay bare a passage for our return. narrow and broken shelf runs along the promontory, on which, by the assistance of the naked feet, it is just possible to creep. We succeeded in scrambling up to it, and then, crawling outwards on all-fours—the precipice, as we proceeded, beetling more and more formidable from above, and the water becoming greener and deeper below-we reached the outer point of the promontory; and then, doubling the cape on a still narrowing margin-the water, by a reverse process, becoming shallower and less green as we advanced inwards—we
found the ledge terminating just where, after clearing the sea, it overhung the gravelly beach at an elevation of nearly ten feet. Adown we both dropped, proud of our success—up splashed the rattling gravel as we fell, and for at least the whole coming week, though we were unaware of the extent of our good-luck at the time, the marvels of the Doocot Cave might be regarded as solely and exclusively our own. For one short seven days, to borrow emphasis from the phraseology of Carlyle, “they were our own and no other man's.'
The first ten hours were hours of sheer enjoyment. The larger cave proved a mine of marvels ; and we found a great deal additional to wonder at on the slopes beneath the precipices, and along the piece of rocky sea-beach in front. We succeeded in discovering for ourselves by creeping, dwarf-bushes, that told of the blighting influences of the sea-spray, the pale yellow honeysuckle, that we had never seen before save in gardens and shrubberies, and on a deeply-shaded slope that leaned against one of the steeper precipices, we detected the sweet-scented woodroof of the flower-plot and parterre, with its delicate white flowers and pretty verticillate leaves, that become the more odoriferous the more they are crushed. There, too, immediately in the opening of the deeper cave, where a small stream came pattering in detached drops from the overbeetling precipice above, like the first drops of a heavy thundershower, we found the hot, bitter scurvy-grass, with its minute cruciform flowers, which the great Captain Cook used in his voyages ; above all, there were the caves with their pigeons, white, variegated, and blue, and their mysterious and gloomy depths, in which plants hardened into stone, and water became marble.
In a short time we had broken off with our hammers whole pocketfuls of stalactites and petrified moss. There were little pools at the side of the cave, where could see the work of congealation going on, as at the commencement of an October frost, when the cold north wind but barely ruffles the surface of some mountain lochan or sluggish moorland stream, and shews the newly-formed needles of ice glistening from the shores into the water. So rapid was the course of deposition, that there were cases in which the sides of the hollows seemed growing almost in proportion as the water rose in them; the springs, lipping over, deposited their minute crystals on the edges, and the reservoirs deepened and became more capacious as their mounds were built up by this curious masonry. The long telescopic prospect of the sparkling sea, as viewed from the inner extremity of the cavern, while all around was dark as midnight—the sudden gleam of the sea-gull, seen for a moment from the recess, as it flitted past in the sunshine-the black heaving bulk of the grampus, as it threw up its slender jets of spray, and then, turning downwards, displayed its glossy back and vast angular fin; even the pigeons, as they shot whizzing by, one moment scarce visible in the gloom, the next radiant in the light—all acquired a new interest from the peculiarity of the setting in which we saw them. They formed a series of sun-gilt vignettes, framed in jet; and it was long ere we tired of seeing and admiring in them much of the strange and the beautiful. It did seem rather ominous, however, and perhaps somewhat supernatural to boot, that about an hour after noon, the tide, while yet there was a full fathom of water beneath the brow of the promontory, ceased to fall,
and then, after a quarter of an hour's space began actually to creep upwards on the beach. But just hoping that there might be some mistake in the matter, which the evening tide would scarce fail to rectify, we continued to amuse ourselves, and to hope on. Hour after hour passed, lengthening as the shadows lengthened, and yet the tide still rose. The sun had sunk behind the precipices, and all was gloom along their bases, and double gloom in their caves ; but their rugged brows still caught the red glare of evening. The flush rose higher and higher, chased by the shadows; and then, after lingering for a moment on their crests of honeysuckle and juniper, passed away, and the whole became sombre and gray. The sea-gull flapped upwards from where he had floated on the ripple, and hied him slowly away to his lodge in his deep-sea stack; the dusky cormorant flitted past, with heavier and more frequent stroke, to his whitened shelf on the precipice; the pigeons came whizzing downwards from the uplands and the opposite land, and disappeared amid the gloom of their caves ; every creature that had wings made use of them in speeding homewards, but neither my companion nor myself had any, and there was no possibility of getting home without them. We made desperate efforts to scale the precipices, and on two several occasions succeeded in reaching midway shelves among the crags, where the peregrine-falcon and the raven build ; but though we had climbed well enough to render our return a matter of bare possibility, there was no possibility whatever of getting farther up— the cliffs had never been scaled, and they were not destined to be scaled now. And so, as the twilight deepened, and the precarious footing became every moment more doubtful and precarious, we had just to give up in despair. Wouldn't care for myself,' said the
little fellow, my companion, bursting into tears ; 'if it were not for my mother ; but what will my mother say?' Wouldn't care, neither,' said I, with a heavy heart but it's just back-water, and we'll get out at twelve.' We retreated together into one of the shallower and drier caves, and clearing a little spot of its rough stones, and then groping along the rocks for the dry grass, that in the spring season hangs from them in withered tufts, we formed for ourselves a most uncomfortable bed, and lay down in one another's arms. For the last few hours mountainous piles of clouds had been rising, dark and stormy in the sea-mouth, and they had flared portentously in the setting sun, and had worn, with the decline of evening, almost every meteoric tint of anger, from fiery red to a sombre thunderous brown, and from sombre brown to doleful black, and we could now, at least, hear what they portended, though we could no longer
The rising wind began to howl mournfully amid the cliffs, and the sea, hitherto so silent, to beat heavily against the shore, and to boom, like distress-guns, from the recesses of the two deep-sea caves. We could hear, too, the beating rain, now heavier, now lighter, as the gusts swelled or sank; and the intermittent patter of the streamlet over the deeper cave, now driving against the precipices, now descending heavily on the stones.
My companion had only the real evils of the case to deal with, and so, the hardness of our bed and the coldness of the night considered, he slept tolerably well, but I was unlucky enough to have evils greatly worse than the real ones to annoy me. The corpse of a seaman