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Sea-tide Sketches. No. III.
tempted to stamp, upon the white sand beneath, which feels unnaturally firm, and level, and silent, whenever you suddenly leave yournoisy and unsteady footing on the gravelly rampart which, borders it;—to revel hour after hour amidst the in-drawing breeze from the ocean, which has, for both the sensation and the imagination, something of elemental purity, and of renovating freshness in it, that is soberly luxurious :—this, then, is the sort of seaside enjoyment which is the perfection of that kind of delight; and with all appliances and means to taste it, I had it, when, as a stripling, I sometimes staid at a little village in the immediate neighbouroood of Hordle Cliff. Let me now endeavour to live over again, one day at least, of that season of buoyant spirits, and well-tuned nerves, and of ravenous but easily-fed curiosity; and if I should, perchance, combine as the occurrences of one day what were belike those of divers, I will not intentionally stray from substantial and intrinsic truth, however I may tread a little awry, where that which is merely formal and non-essential, comes into the woof of my narrative. My wish is, to go again in a day-dream upon one of my old visits to Hurst Castle. The spot where it lies is a little world's end of its own, terminating a wearisome and narrow spot of heaped-up gravel of more than two miles in length; this only road-way to the Castle, has a limitless view of the main ocean on the right hand, while, on the left, the water touches it indeed when the tide is up; but, as it ebbs, a vast expanse of weedy ooze offers itself, spreading out towards the channel, which separates the Isle of Wight from Hampshire.
Well then, I am off for Hurst—a gloriously bright morning—my companions, two boys and a girl of my own age, with an elder sister of hers, of authority enough, from her farther advance towards womanhood, to keep us in check, without any suspicion on our part of her wishing to thwart us—
inconsiderable a one, which has the better fortune of having a name, being called the Start. We landed on the small barren peninsula, which furnishes a site for the fortress, and has an area bearing about as much proportion to the long contracted path, which fastens it on to the mainland, as the crook of a bishop's crosier docs to the taper shaft; and, on the map of Hants, the ichnography of the whole bears no unapt resemblance to the shape of that emblem of prelatical authority. We have landed on no valuable territory; it is a mere waste of brown pebbles, girdled with a belt of pale grey sand. The castle is a fortification of Harry the Eighth's days, though it has been remodelled in our times, and since the date of my visits, by having the centre turned into a martello tower.
It is chiefly remarkable as having been at one time the place of captivity of Charles the First—unluckily the alterations made it necessary to demolish the room he was confined in; so that now the call for local emotion is not so urgently made upon our sympathies. When I was there, however, the dark chamber was in being, and though the shores of the beautiful isle were before the eyes of the royal prisoner, yet was he within such precincts of actual barrenness and desolation, that it must have weighed heavy on his spirits. The rest of the habitable world here may be summed up in saying, there is a public-house, two light-houses (one a recent erection,) and they answer to the high one on the down at the Needles, for the jaws of our channel are of no safe approach —and there is here an anomalous structure or two besides, the relics, I believe, of an abandoned speculation in fish-curing. What then is there for such highly applauded amusement? some one may say. Neverfear— let us work our way over the heaps of loosely-piled shingle, down to the " tip of ocean," and we shall find matters enough to hold us in some sort of occupation. Now look seaward—is not this capacious bay worth gazing upon, with the Needle Rocks for our Pillars of Hercules at the home extremity, and having the far-off, but still dazzling cliffs of Portland, at the other horn of the crescent? Often on this coast have I seen those exquisite lines of Southey verified, often borne witness that they are not extravagant— the marine picture has been as bright
before my eyes as it was before those
•' There was not on that day, a speck to
The azure heaven; the blessed sun alone,
The billows heave ! one glowing green expanse,
Save where along the bending line of shore Such hue is thrown, as when the peacock's
Assumes its proudest tint of amethyst,
If it so happens that the atmosphere does not favour you with all this—or if your fancy is oppressed by the extent and indefiniteness of the whole survey, take some particular objectlook, there is something on the horizon, doubtless, a vessel; watch her approach with the spy-glass, for that implement is to be found in every one's hand.
• • A sail, a sail! a promised prize to hope— Her nation? flag? what says the telescope?"
Much and boyishly did I use to marvel when my eye, by means of the optic tube, caught view of such a far-off object. Peep attentively, do you not now distinctly discern that it is a ihip, shapeless as it is to the naked eye? Well Bow, if you be not a philosopher, or at least ingrained in nautical experience, you will wonder as I used to do—for do you not see, ay, plainly see, that she is half immersed in the waves that heave and toss around her? Her topmasts and sails are alone visible, and were she a mere raft, so little of her lower parts could scarcely be presented to us ; and yet she comes on as gallantly as if all were right—and so it is. Long was it, ere I could quite reconcile myself to this practical exemplification of the earth's rotundity ;%nd I used to think, with the self-congratulating shudder of conscious safety, such as comes over one at the warm tire-side, when sleety wind hisses and hurtles upon the window panes, that at all events I would rather sail in a vessel which might appear on the surface of the water, as well as really fa upon it, for so I was gravely assured that very ship actually was, in spite of all that persuaded me to the contrary. But we will let our new discovered one arrive
at leisure, and she will not apparently use much hurry to overtake us. Meanwhile, what are those great black spots that come and go among the waves? "Porpoises, little master," quoth an old gunner from the Castle, who, in the dreary lack of boon companions in this half isolated place, was glad to tramp about with our little squadron. "Ay," said he, "and I warrant me, they are after a fine shoal of mackarel/'
This was information indeed; and many little, bright eyes kept sharp look-out—many too were the questions upon the point which we put to our self-elected Cicerone, in his formal cut dark blue coat, edged with yellow lace, and whose grey-haired pate was surmounted with a knowing cocked bat, for the glory of that species of head-gear had not then departed, as it now seems to have done, irrecoverably and forever. We learnt from him, that the porpoises would drive in nearer with the state of the tide; and truly, by and by, they came so much into the bay, as that we could discern their shining black gibbous backs, which rose and sunk as they rolled forward—much about with a curve, as I conjecture, like that which the hump of a dromedary must describe, when the animal is deliberately advancing in a long swinging gallop. These sea-swine studded the waves by twos and threes for a few moments, and then grovelled deeper. I sigh to say it, but it has been supposed by naturalists, that these are the dolpliiru of the ancients, which are always represented in an arched posture —and bad enough it is, if all our fine dreams about them are to end in surveying the swart chines of a shoal of porpoises. And yet there are worse competitors, at least as far as name goes; for some men of science aver, that the bottle-nosed whale is the veritable classic dolphin. Powers of tasteful association, what a blow is aimed at you, when we are tied down to think of Arion touching his lyre, as be squatted on the dorsal fin of a bottle-nosed whale! While, however, we have been watching the unwieldy gambols of these ravenous fish, the vessel has come better within view; and, as the channel is so narrow between the island and us, she must give us more and more opportunity of examining her. She turns out to be a Kings ship, a small frigate—end oh how steadily does she cut through the crowding surges—every moment lets us see something more of her—at first, an hour or two ago, she was a speck on the verge of " the low wavering sky,"—then she assumed the appearance of a distant tower—the perspective glass annihilated much of the interspace, and we made out her sails— slowly the hull loomed into view—and now, minute after minute makes each part of her more clear and evident even to the naked eye—we see how stiffly her sails are bent—we can count her port-holes on the hither side, and guess at her rate—we see her pendants and the broad union—some dark moveable spots above and below betray that they are the tars who people her—and anon, as she passes under the walls, we may catch glimpses of the privileged denizens of the quarter-deck, yea, perhaps, make out the commander himself, the dignified viceroy of this moving island. Passive admiration, however, will not do for children, if a long stretch of it be required—we had pockets and baskets which were destined to carry home trophies and proofs of our visit to Hurst. Now, there were two lines of discovery which such searchers for trifles as we youngsters were might profitably pursue. One lies high and dry, and is upon the gravel, where all those things are accumulated which the winter storms fling up out of the reach of the ordinary tides, and which the blast can toss no farther; for here the pebbles begin to be heaped into a series of natural terraces, and the treasures we came hunting for lie at the foot of not quite the lowermost of these. They were not exactly of the value of those which Clarence tells us
"Lie scattered at the bottom of the sea— Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of
pearl, Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels."—
No, ours were of that incidental value which excites no envy, and there were enough for all who thought it worth while to glean them. First, then, we secured some of the boat-shaped cxuuiw of the cuttle-fish, snowy white, and famous among school-boys for scraping into pounce;—next offered themselves, little purse-like things, of which, to this day, I know not whether they be of the animal or vegetable kingdom; their substance is like court stickingplaister; they are square, and bulging,
and hollow, with a string at each corner; and if you open one, you will find nothing good, bad, or indifferent within it; they were a puzzle to me then, and I am content that they should remain so now;—then we gathered up balls of marine growth, exactly like the flowers of the guelder rose; and no wonder we called them sea-foam, since Cowper, speaking of that shrub, says it throws up
"into the gloom Of neighbouring cypress, or more sober
yew, Its silver globes, light as the foaming surf Which the wind severs from the broken
Other valuables here found, were feathers of aquatic fowl, foreign seeds, such as cashew and cocoa-nuts, corks, and all matters buoyant enough to support themselves through a world-wide voyage. The pieces of wood that lay here, had, from immersion in sea-water, and subsequent exposure to wind and sun, acquired an almost sattiny lustre. Shells, of course, were obvious enough, though none of value or great beauty—though, let me except the delicate coat-armour of the sea-urchin, too fragile almost to be found unbroken; and, as the dandies of the days of chivalry had their cuirasses embossed with precious stones, so does it seem as if the echini had theirs studded with pearls. The rest of the rubbish (as some would call it,) consisted of bits of cornelian, and pretty stones, and lucky stones, for such we young things accounted those which had a hole through them. But it is time to go beneath. Now to be a collector on the lower stratum, was a service of a more adventurous cast, for at all times on the margin of the open sea, there is surf. This day, however, the billows came landward most deliberately, and arrived ashore generally in one long line; there they were poured down in a graceful curve every minute, and the body of water was instantly shot forward over the flat sand, where it spread like a fine piece of gauze-work, and then hurried back to be in time for the next race; and the absorption on the sand was so quick, that all was instantaneously dry. This "land debateable" was our field of action, and it was needful to retreat pretty briskly, while the long-extended wave was hanging on the turn, or your ankles ran the risk of a cooling bath—a cala1824.3
mity which each was on the watch to entrap the others into suffering—now by daring them to stay at a mark not always reached by the water—now by distracting some witless one's attention, when he was confessedly on a spot liable to the incursion of the invading enemy—and many a merry laugh chimed in with the dash of the surge, either as it caught a loiterer, or swept off from his stretched-forth fingers the prey he was just going to secure. The chief spoils here to be expected, are sea-weeds in their more recent state. Of the minuter sorts, there is considerable variety, and pretty enough they are in themselves, but I used to put them to a purpose for which they were not well qualified. Many a sheet of letter-paper, and many a sticky bottle of gum-water, did I lavish upon them in days of yore—hours were spent in spreading out and disentangling with a pin their filaments of red, or green, or yellow, or brown—and so far was well enough. But I wanted to aid my graphic talents, and pressed them into the service as trees, which they represented rather vilely, though, to be sure, they were kept in countenance while acting in that character, by the houses, and men, and steeds, which I sketched around them. Of the larger sorts of sea-ware which lay within our ken, all flaccid and dripping, we found some of the consistence of Indian-rubber, having a round flexible stalk, with long evenly cut thongs diverging from it—(and, by a boy, in a passion, I saw it applied as a whip most furiously, but this was not in the present jaunt;) then, too, there was that better known kind, of the breadth of antiquated ribbon, once used for sashes, all puffed and wrinkled at the edges, which inland folks carry off to hang up as a natural hygrometer—and humid enough all last summer (if summer it might be called,) this monitor truly was! Fain would I think that England had usually a more delicious climate, when I was wont to bask on the shore near Hurst—but this remark savours of Smellfungus—and, besides, we have not run through our list of waifs and strays. Here, perhaps, a dead star-fish raised our surprise, more like a botanical than a zoological product—there drifted in a cocoa-nut shell, covered with some fifty barnacles, each something like the neck and bill of a bird; whereupon our old artillery play-mate
Sea-side Sketches. No. III.
39made us gape and listen, while he shook his noddle knowingly, and reported half credulously, that "they do say, that somewhere or other they little creatures turn into birds, though I won't swear as how anybody here has seen such a thing happen." No hatching took place during our notice of them, so we strayed on to a part where there were some rocky fragments or accretions embedded in the sand, on which we saw the sea-anemone, not a flower, although so like one, but a beautiful living creature, which expanded as if it were blossoming, every time the pure wave washed over it;— here, too, were limpets, with their conical shells as tenaciously stuck to the stone, as if they were its own natural excrescences; closely as they adhered, they were not secured against the persevering intrusion of our school-boys' knives, which chiselled them off. Elsewhere the stranded jelly-fish caught the eyes, ay, and the fingers too, of the heedless, for not without reason is it also called the sea-nettle—but what says Poet Crabbe about them, as he is delightfully in his element when he has to write of the sea-shore?
Those living jellies which the flesh inflame. Fierce as a nettle, and from that its name; Some in huge masses, some that you may
bring In the small compass of a lady's ring; Figured by art divine—there's not a gem Wrought by man's art to be compared to them; Soft, brilliant, tender, through the wave they glow, And make the moonbeam brighter where they flow.
Our perambulation has brought us within sight of the public-house again —the Mermaid, I fancy, from a figure head of some defunct ship over the door; but it will bear a question. As the author of Reginald Dalton has incontrovertibly proved, that all great writers bring in somewhere or other the important topic of eating, I shall not shrink it. The air we had been breathing, had by no means been of a kind to wear away the keenness of youthful appetite; indeed, our twists were screwed up tighter than ever. Stop a moment, though; talking of eatables reminds me that you should look down at that solitary plant, for Flora keeps court soberly and sparingly in this Arabia Petrea. That dark-coloured thing among the flints is now accounted a culinary delicacy; it is no other,
40 Seaside Sktlchei. No. III.
indeed, than sea-kail in its native bed, and within the memory of man it was first introduced into our gardens by Curtis, who began the well-known botanical publication. At Hurst, however, long before that time, it was known and used; they bleach it in the rudest manner, merely by piling the shingle over the shoots when discovered. I cannot say that the wild sprouts are quite so tender as the cultivated—still let all due respect be shewn to the parent plant—though the coast of Sussex furnished Curtis with his first seeds. In this local dearth of Flora's bantlings, we ought not, perhaps, to overlook any—we have found an esculent vegetable; now for a flower, and there really is a handsome one indigenous on theshore; here you see is the Horned Poppy with its orange-tawny petals and long stamina, which entitled it to its distinguishing epithet. I hope the Nereids make much of it, and wreath their locks with its blossoms; for really this flower of ocean's marge, would be more becoming amid their hair than dank sea-weed, which painters and poets bestow on them for coronals, but which cannot but have a very slatternly and tattered appearance. Look, moreover, at this shrub, and then we will go in; this is a curiosity, if the tradition be true, which is annexed to its appearance here. It is a Tamarisk, and mine host's garden, you see, has a hedge of them, all growing very flourishingly; they seem to love the arid soil and briny atmosphere. Now it is said of them, that the first plant of the sort which England saw, was brought hither, to this very spot where HurstCastle was afterwards built, and that the importers were warriors returningfrom the Crusades. The trees of themselves are pretty trees enough, but ten times more worth notice, if this romantic report of them be true—I have warrant for it, which, with many good simple readers is decisive and final—I have read it in a printed book! Only think of a Montacute, or an Umfreville, or a De Argentine, half in earnest, half in sport, sticking in a wand which he had gathered in the Holy Land, on the first spot where he landed in his dear England! The twig stands unmolested in this sandy haven—the next spring it begins to sprout—and ere long it displays to the amphibious race, who occasionally came hither, the foliage of eastern climes, nay of Palestine itself.
But our conjectural romance must not make us lose our noonday meal, nor a hearty draught, for the sun has been potent of late. Most part of the regale we brought with us, trusting to the publican for the more ordinary victual to make the table complete, so that a good cold collation, backed by a foaming jug of*ale, stood before us. We invited the old gunner to join in this part, (and that not the worst part,) of the day's enjoyment. A girl of the public-house waited on us, and as she did not froth the veteran's glass of stingo with the dexterity of a true tapster, it drew forth from him a rueful reproach as soon as she was out of hearing, couched in these terms:—" Ah! now, that girl can't even give one a draught of ale as she should. How it makes one miss poor Mary!" Poor Mary I had known ; she was the daughter of the master of the house, and had been dead, by a lamentable accident, about a year or more. As a book, originally belonging to one of my brothers, had, in some sort, contributed to the catastrophe, I drew nearer the old man's knee, and heard with more heed what his kind old heart had to say in praise of her. I think her name was Mary Chiddell. What made my young feelings more especially alive when her fate was de- Elored, was this:—A highly respectale officer, who was intimate with my father's family, was called into garrison at Hurst Castle, and as there were no comfortable apartments for him in the fortress, he lodged at the little inn. Naturally enough he borrowed some books from us to amuse himself with in this dreary state of half-exile. This "Mary the Maid of the Inn," of course, waited on him to keep his room in order—she was at that time engaged to a young carpenter living at Keyhaven, who, no wonder, spent all his spare time and holidays down at Hurst, and their marriage was soon looked forward to.
One Sunday afternoon, it was proposed that herself, her lover, and her brother, should take a sail in a boat up to Yarmouth; and (without leave) she took one of the officer's borrowed books, in order to while away the long afternoon of their voyage—a petty liberty, which she perhaps considered herself half entitled to use, being so great a favourite with their guest for her neatness, readiness, industry, and eternal good-humour; but it was de«