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   Chapter 39 THE DESERT ISLAND

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 19145

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The train proceeded slowly along the head of Mount's Bay, the waters of the high tide washing up almost to the sleepers on the line. Armorel let down the window and looked out across the bay-

Where the great vision of the guarded Mount

Looks towards Namancos and Bayona's hold.

'See, Effie!' she cried. 'There is Mount's Bay. There is the Lizard. There is Penzance. And there-oh! there is the Mount itself!'

St. Michael's Mount, always weird and mysterious, rose out of the waters wrapped in a thin white cloud, which the early sun had not yet been able to dissipate. I am told there is a very fine modern house upon the Mount. I prefer not to believe that story. The place should always remain lonely, awful, full of mystery and wonder. There is also said to be a battery with guns upon it. Perhaps. But there are much more wonderful things than these to tell of the rock. Upon its highest point those gallant miners-Captain Caractac and Captain Caerleon, both of Boadicea Wheal-were wont to stand gazing out upon the stretch of waters expecting the white sails and flashing oars of the Ph?nician fleet, come to buy their white and precious tin, with strong wines from Syria and spices from the far East, and purple robes and bronze swords and spearheads, far better than those made by Flint Jack of the Ordnance Department. Hither came white-robed priests with flowing beards and solemn faces-faces supernaturally solemn, till they were alone upon the rock. Then, perhaps, an eyelid trembled. What they did I know not, nor did the people, but it was something truly awful, with majestic rites and ineffable mysteries and mumbo-jumbo of the very noblest. Here St. Michael himself once, in the ages of Faith, condescended to appear. It was to a hermit. Such appearances were the prizes of the profession. Many went a-hermiting in hopes of getting a personal call from a Saint who would otherwise have fought and lived and died quite like the rest of the world. And, indeed, there were so many Cornish Saints-such as St. Buryan, St. Levan, St. Ives, St. Just, St. Keverne, St. Anthony, not to speak of St. Erth, St. Gulval, St. Austell, St. Wenn-all kindly disposed saints, anxious to encourage hermits, and pleased to extend their own sphere of usefulness, that few of these holy men were disappointed.

In the bay the blue water danced lightly in the morning breeze: the low, level sunlight shone upon Penzance on the western side: the fishing-boats, back from the night's cruise, lay at their moorings, their brown sails lowered: the merchantmen and trading craft were crowded in the port: beyond, the white curves chased each other across the water, and showed that, outside, the breeze was fresh and the water lively.

'We are almost at home,' said Armorel. 'There is our steamer lying off the quay-she looks very little, doesn't she? Only a short voyage of forty miles-oh! Effie, I do hope you are a good sailor-and we shall be at Hugh Town.'

'Are we really arrived? I believe I have slept the whole night through,' said Effie, sitting up and pulling herself straight. 'Oh! how lovely!'-as she too looked out of window. 'Have you slept well, Armorel?'

'I don't think I have been asleep much. But I am quite happy, Effie, dear-quite as happy as if I had been sound asleep all night. There are dreams, you know, which come to people in the night when they are awake as well as when they are asleep. I have been dreaming all night long-one dream which lasted all the night-one voice in my ears-one hand in mine. Oh! Effie, I have been quite happy!' She showed her happiness by kissing her companion. 'I am happier than I ever thought to be. Some day, perhaps, I shall be able to tell you why.'

And then the train rolled in to Penzance Station.

It was only half-past seven in the morning. The steamer would not start till half-past ten. The girls sent their luggage on board, and then went to one of the hotels which stand all in a row facing the Esplanade. Here they repaired the ravages of the night, which makes even a beautiful girl like Armorel show like Beauty neglected, and then they took breakfast, and, in due time, went on board.

Now behold! They had left in London a pitiless nor'-easter and a black sky. They found at Penzance a clear blue overhead, light and sunshine, and a glorious north-westerly breeze. That is not, certainly, the quarter whose winds allay the angry waves and soothe the heaving surge. Not at all. It is when the wind is from the north-west that the waves rise highest and heaviest. Then the boat bound to Scilly tosses and rolls like a round cork, yet persistently forces her way westward, diving, ploughing, climbing, slipping, sliding, and rolling, shipping great seas and shaking them off again, always getting ahead somehow. Then those who come forth at the start with elastic step and lofty looks lie low and wish that some friend would prod Father Time with a bradawl and make him run: and those who enjoy the sea, Sir, and are never sick, are fain to put down the pipe with which they proudly started and sink into nothingness. For taking the conceit out of a young man there is nothing better than the voyage from Penzance to Scilly, especially if it be a tripper's voyage-that is, back again the same day.

There is, on the Scilly boat, a cabin, or rather a roofed and walled apartment, within which is the companion to the saloon. Nobody ever goes into the saloon, though it is magnificent with red velvet, but round this roofed space there is a divan or sofa. And here lie the weak and fearful, and all those who give in and oppose no further resistance to the soft influences of ocean. Effie lay here, white of cheek and motionless. She had never been on the sea before, and she had a rough and tumbling day to begin with, and the sea in glory and grandeur-but all was lost and thrown away so far as she was concerned. Armorel stood outside, holding to the ropes with both hands. She was dressed in a waterproof: the spray flew over her: her cheek was wet with it: her eyes were bright with it: the heavy seas dashed over her: she laughed and shook her waterproof: as for wet boots, what Scillonian regardeth them? And the wind-how it blew through and through her! How friendly was its rough welcome! How splendid to be once more on rough water, the boat fighting against a head wind and rolling waves! How glorious to look out once more upon the wild ungoverned waves!

It was not until the boat had rounded the Point and was well out in the open that these things became really enjoyable. Away south stood the Wolf with its tall lighthouse: you could see the white waves boiling and fighting around it and climbing half-way up. Beyond the Wolf a great ocean steamer plunged through the water outward bound. Presently there came flying past them the most beautiful thing ever invented by the wit of man or made by his craft, a three-masted schooner under full sail-all sails spread-not forging slowly along under poverty-stricken stays which proclaim an insufficient crew, but flying over the water under all her canvas. She was a French boat, of Havre.

'There is Scilly, Miss,' said the steward, pointing out to sea.

Yes; low down the land lay, west by north. It looked like a cloud at first. Every moment it grew clearer; but always low down. What one sees at first are the eastern shores of St. Agnes and Gugh, St. Mary's, and the Eastern Islands. They are all massed together, so that the eye cannot distinguish one from the other, but all seem to form continuous land. By degrees they separated. Then one could discover the South Channel and the North Channel. When the tide is high and the weather fair the boat takes the former: at low tide, the latter. To-day the captain chose the South Channel. And now they were so near the land that Armorel could make out Porthellick Bay, and her heart beat, though she was going home to no kith or kin, and to nothing but her familia, her serving folk. Next she made out Giant's Castle, then the Old Town, then Peninnis Head, black and threatening. And now they were so near that every carn and every boulder upon it could be made out clearly: and one could see the water rising and falling at the foot of the rock, and hear it roaring as it was driven into the dark caves and the narrow places where the rocks opened out and made make-believe of a port or haven of refuge. And now Porthcressa Bay, and now the Garrison, and smooth water.

Then Armorel brought out Effie, pale and languid. 'Now, dear, the voyage is over: we are in smooth water, and shall be in port in ten minutes. Look round-it is all over: we are in the Road. And over there-see!-with his twin hills-is my dear old Samson.'

There was a little crowd on the quay waiting to see the boat arrive. All of them-boatmen, fishermen, and flower-farmers' men, to say nothing of those representing the interests of commerce-pressed forward to welcome Armorel. Everybody remembered her, but now she was a grand young lady who had left them a simple child. They shook hands with her and stepped aside. And then Peter came forward, looking no older but certainly no younger, and Armorel shook hands with him too. He had the boat alongside, and in five minutes more the luggage was on board, the mast was up, the sail set, and Armorel was sitting in her old place, the strings in her hand, while Peter held the rope and looked out ahead, shading his eyes with his right hand in the old familiar style.

'It is as if I never left home at all,' said Armorel. 'I sailed like

this with Peter yesterday-and the day before.'

'You've growed,' said Peter, after an inquiring gaze, being for the moment satisfied that there was nothing ahead and that there was no immediate danger of shipwreck on the Nut Rock or Green Island.

'I am five years older,' Armorel replied.

'It's been a rare harvest this year,' he went on. 'I thought we should never come to the end of the daffodils.'

'Now I am at home indeed,' said Armorel, 'when I hear the old, old talk about the flowers. To-morrow, Effie, I will show you our little fields where we grow all the lovely flowers-the anemone and jonquil-the narcissus and the daffodil. This afternoon, when we have had dinner and rested a little, I will take you all round Samson and show you the glories of the place: they are principally views of other islands: but there is a headland and two bays, and there are the Tombs of the Kings-the Ancient Kings of Lyonesse-in one of them Roland Lee'-she blushed and turned away her head-henceforth, she understood, this was a name to be treated with more reverence-'found a golden torque, which you have seen me wear. And oh! my dear-you shall be so happy: the sea-breeze shall fill your soul with music: the sea-birds shall sing to you: the very waves shall lap on the shore in rhyme and rhythm for you: and the sun of Scilly, which is so warm and glowing, but never too warm, shall colour that pale cheek of yours, and fill out that spare form. And oh, Effie! I hope you will not get tired of Samson and of me! We are two maidens living on a desert island: there is nobody to talk to except each other: we shall wander about together as we list. Oh, I am so happy, Effie!-and oh, my dear, I am so hungry!'

The boat ran up over the white sand of the beach. They jumped out, and Armorel, leaving Peter to bring along the trunks by the assistance of the donkey, led the way over the southern hill to Holy Farm.

'Effie,' she said, 'I have been tormented this morning with the fear that everything would look small. I was afraid that my old memories-a child's memories-would seem distorted and exaggerated. Now I am not in the least afraid. Samson has got all his acres still: he looks quite as big and quite as homely as ever he did-the boulders are as huge, the rocks are as steep. I remember every boulder, Effie, and every bush, and every patch of brown fern, and almost every trailing branch of bramble. How glorious it is here! How the sea-breeze sweeps across the hill-it comes all the way from America-across the Atlantic! Effie, I declare you are looking rosier already. I must sing-I must, indeed-I always used to sing!---' She threw up her arms in the old gesture, and sang a loud and clear and joyous burst of song-sang like the lark springing from the ground, because it cannot choose but sing. 'I used to jump, too; but I do not want, somehow, to jump any more. Ah, Effie, I was quite certain there would be some falling-off, but I could not tell in what direction. I can no longer jump. That comes of getting old. To be sure, I did not jump when I took Roland Lee about the islands. Sometimes I sang, but I was ashamed to jump. Here we are upon the top. It is not a mighty Alp, is it?-but it serves. Look round-but only for a moment, because Chessun will have dinner waiting for us, and you are exhausted by your bad passage-you poor thing. This is our way, down the narrow lanes. Here our fields begin: they are each about as big as a dinner-table. See the tall hedges to keep off the north wind: there is a field of narcissus, but there are no more flowers, and the leaves are dying away. This way! Ah! Here we are!'

The house did not look in the least mean, or any smaller than Armorel expected. She became even prouder of it. Where else could one find a row of palms, with great verbena-trees and prickly pear and aloes, not to speak of the creepers over the porch, the gilt figure-head, and the big ship's lantern hung in the porch? Within, the sunlight poured into the low rooms-all of them looking south-and made them bright: in the room where formerly the ancient lady passed her time in the hooded chair-the lady passed away and the chair gone-the cloth was spread for dinner. And in the porch were gathered the serving-folk-Justinian not a day older, Dorcas unchanged, and Chessun thin and worn, almost as old, to look at, as her mother. And as soon as the greetings were over, and the questions asked and answered, and the news told of the harvest and the prices, and the girls had run all over the house, Chessun brought in the dinner.

It is a blessed thing that we must eat, because upon this necessity we have woven so many pretty customs. We eat a welcome home: we eat a godspeed: we eat together because we love each other: we eat to celebrate anything and everything. Above all, upon such an event as the return of one who has long been parted from us we make a little banquet. Thought and pains had been bestowed upon the dinner which Chessun placed upon the table. Dorcas stood by the table, watching the effect of her cares. First there was a chicken roasted, with bread crumbs-a bird blessed with a delicacy of flavour and a tenderness of flesh and a willingness to separate at the joints unknown beyond the shores of Scilly: Dorcas said so, and the girls believed it-Effie, at least, willing to believe that nothing in the world was so good as in this happy realm of Queen Armorel. Dorcas also invited special attention to the home-cured ham, which was, she justly remarked, mild as a peach: the potatoes, served in their skins, were miracles of mealiness-had Armorel met with such potatoes out of Samson? had the young lady, her visitor, ever seen or dreamed of such potatoes? There was spinach grown on the farm, freshly cut, redolent of the earth, fragrant with the sea-breeze. And there was home-made bread, sweet, wholesome, and firm. There was also placed upon the table a Brown George, filled with home-brewed, furnished with a head snow-white, venerable, and benevolent, such a head as not all the breweries of Burton-or even of the whole House of Lords combined-could furnish. Alas! that head smiled in vain upon this degenerate pair. They would not drink the nut-brown, sparkling beer. It was not wasted, however. Peter had it when he brought the pack-ass to the porch laden with the last trunk. Nor did they so much as remove the stopper from the decanter containing a bottle of the famous blackberry wine, the primest cr? of Samson, opened expressly for this dinner. Yet this was not wasted either, for Justinian, who knew a glass of good wine, took it with three successive suppers. Is it beneath the dignity of history to mention pudding? Consider: pudding is festive: pudding contributes largely to the happiness of youth. Armorel and Effie tackled the pudding as only the young and hungry can. And this day, perhaps from the promptings of simple piety, being rejoiced that Armorel was back again; perhaps from some undeveloped touch of poetry in her nature, Chessun placed upon the table that delicacy seldom seen at the tables of the unfortunate Great-who really get so few of the good things-known as Grateful Pudding. You know the ingredients of this delightful dish? More. To mark the day, Chessun actually made it with cream instead of milk!

'To-morrow,' said Armorel, fired with emulation, 'I will show you, Effie, what I can do in the way of puddings and cakes. I always used to make them: and, unless my lightness of hand has left me, I think you will admire my teacakes, if not my puddings. Roland Lee praised them both. But, to be sure, he was so easily pleased. He liked everything on the island. He even liked-oh! Effie!-he liked me.'

'That was truly wonderful, Armorel.'

'Now, Effie, dear, lie down in this chair beside the window. You can look straight out to sea-that is Bishop's Rock, with its lighthouse. Lie down and rest, and I will talk to you about Scilly and Samson and my own people. Or I will play to you if you like. I am glad the new piano has arrived safely.'

'I like to look round this beautiful old room. How strange it is! I have never seen such a room-with things so odd.'

'They are all things from foreign lands, and things cast up by the sea. If you like odd things I will show you, presently, my punch-bowls and the snuff-boxes and watches and things. I did not give all of them to the care of Mr. Jagenal five years ago.'

'It is wonderful: it is lovely: as if one could ever tire of such a place!'

'Lie down, dear, and rest. You have had such a tossing about that you must rest after it, or you may be ill. It promises to be a fine and clear evening. If it is we will go out by-and-by and see the sun set behind the Western Rocks.'

'We are on a desert island,' Effie murmured obediently, lying down and closing her eyes. 'Nobody here but ourselves: we can do exactly what we please: think of it, Armorel! Nobody wants any money, here: nobody jostles his neighbour: nobody tramples upon his friend. It is like a dream of the primitive life.'

'With improvements, dear Effie. My ancestors used to lead the primitive life when Samson was a holy island and the cemetery of the Kings of Lyonesse: they went about barefooted and they were dressed in skins: they fought the wolves and bears, and if they did not kill the creatures, why, the creatures killed them: they were always fighting the nearest tribe. And they sucked the marrow-bones, Effie, think of that! Oh! we have made a wonderful advance in the civilisation of Samson Island.'

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