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- Michael's Crag - 2/19 -
show a stranger in this part of Cornwall, so you'd better make the most of them."
And he took, as if mechanically, the winding path that led down the gap toward the frowning cove in the wall of cliff before them.
Eustace Le Neve was a little surprised at this unexpected course, for he himself would naturally have made rather for the top of the promontory, whence they were certain to obtain a much finer and more extensive view; but he had only arrived at Penmorgan the evening before, so he bowed at once to his companion's more mature experience of Cornish scenery. They threaded their way through the gully, for it was little more--a great water-worn rent in the dark serpentine rocks, with the sea at its lower end--picking their path as they went along huge granite boulders or across fallen stones, till they reached a small beach of firm white sand, on whose even floor the waves were rolling in and curling over magnificently. It was a curious place, Eustace thought, rather dreary than beautiful. On either side rose black cliffs, towering sheer into the air, and shutting out overhead all but a narrow cleft of murky sky. Around, the sea dashed itself in angry white foam against broken stacks and tiny weed-clad skerries. At the end of the first point a solitary islet, just separated from the mainland by a channel of seething water, jutted above into the waves, with hanging tresses of blue and yellow seaweed. Tyrrel pointed to it with one hand. "That's Michael's Crag," he said, laconically. "You've seen it before, no doubt, in half a dozen pictures. It's shaped exactly like St. Michael's Mount in miniature. A marine painter fellow down here's forever taking its portrait."
Le Neve gazed around him with a certain slight shudder of unspoken disapprobation. This place didn't suit his sunny nature. It was even blacker and more dismal than the brown moorland above it. Tyrrel caught the dissatisfaction in his companion's eye before Le Neve had time to frame it in words.
"Well, you don't think much of it?" he said, inquiringly.
"I can't say I do," Le Neve answered, with apologetic frankness. "I suppose South America has spoilt me for this sort of thing. But it's not to my taste. I call it gloomy, without being even impressive."
"Gloomy," Tyrrel answered; "oh, yes, gloomy, certainly. But impressive; well, yes. For myself, I think so. To me, it's all terribly, unspeakably, ineffably impressive. I come here every day, and sit close on the sands, and look out upon the sea by the edge of the breakers. It's the only place on this awful coast one feels perfectly safe in. You can't tumble over here, or...roll anything down to do harm to anybody."
A steep cliff path led up the sheer face of the rock to southward. It was a difficult path, a mere foothold on the ledges; but its difficulty at once attracted the engineer's attention. "Let's go up that way!" he said, waving his hand toward it carelessly. "The view from on top there must be infinitely finer."
"I believe it is," Tyrrel replied, in an unconcerned voice, like one who retails vague hearsay evidence. "I haven't seen it myself since I was a boy of thirteen. I never go along the top of the cliffs on any account."
Le Neve gazed down on him, astonished. "You BELIEVE it is!" he exclaimed, unable to conceal his surprise and wonder. "You never go up there! Why, Walter, how odd of you! I was reading up the Guidebook this morning before breakfast, and it says the walk from this point on the Penmorgan estate to Kynance Cove is the most magnificent bit of wild cliff scenery anywhere in Cornwall."
"So I'm told," Tyrrel answered, unmoved. "And I remember, as a boy, I thought it very fine. But that was long since. I never go by it."
"Why not?" Le Neve cried.
Tyrrel shrugged his shoulders and shook himself impatiently. "I don't know." he answered, in a testy sort of voice. "I don't like the cliff top... It's so dangerous, don't you know? So unsafe. So unstable. The rocks go off so sheer, and stones topple over so easily."
Le Neve laughed a little laugh of half-disguised contempt. He was moving over toward the path up the cliff side as they spoke. "Why, you used to be a first-class climber at school," he said, attempting it, "especially when you were a little chap. I remember you could scramble up trees like a monkey. What fun we had once in the doctor's orchard! And as to the cliffs, you needn't go so near you have to tumble over them. It seems ridiculous for a landowner not to know a bit of scenery on his own estate that's celebrated and talked about all over England."
"I'm not afraid of tumbling over, for myself," Tyrrel answered, a little nettled by his friend's frank tone of amusement. "I don't feel myself so useful to my queen and country that I rate my own life at too high a figure. It's the people below I'm chiefly concerned about. There's always someone wandering and scrambling about these cliffs, don't you see?--fishermen, tourists, geologists. If you let a loose stone go, it may fall upon them and crush them."
The engineer looked back upon him with a somewhat puzzled expression. "Well, that's carrying conscience a point too far," he said, with one strong hand on the rock and one sure foot in the first convenient cranny. "If we're not to climb cliffs for fear of showering down stones on those who stand below, we won't dare to walk or ride or drive or put to sea for fear of running over or colliding against somebody. We shall have to stop all our trains and keep all our steamers in harbor. There's nothing in this world quite free from risk. We've got to take it and lump it. You know the old joke about those dangerous beds--so many people die in them. Won't you break your rule just for once, and come up on top here to see the view with me?"
Tyrrel shook his head firmly. "Not to-day," he answered, with a quiet smile. "Not by that path, at any rate. It's too risky for my taste. The stones are so loose. And it overhangs the road the quarrymen go to the cave by."
Le Neve had now made good his foothold up the first four or five steps. "Well, you've no objection to my going, at any rate?" he said, with a wave of one hand, in his cheerful good-humor. "You don't put a veto on your friends here, do you?"
"Oh, not the least objection," Tyrrel answered, hurriedly, watching him climb, none the less, with nervous interest. "It's...it's a purely personal and individual feeling. Besides," he added, after a pause," I can stop below here, if need be, and warn the quarrymen."
"I'll be back in ten minutes," Le Neve shouted from the cliff.
"No, don't hurry," his host shouted back. "Take your own time, it's safest. Once you get to the top you'd better walk along the whole cliff path to Kynance. They tell me its splendid; the view's so wide; and you can easily get back across the moor by lunch-time. Only, mind about the edge, and whatever you do, let no stones roll over."
"All right," Le Neve made answer, clinging close to a point of rock. "I'll do no damage. It's opening out beautifully on every side now. I can see round the corner to St. Michael's Mount; and the point at the end there must be Tol-Pedn-Penwith."
It was a stiff, hot climb to the top of the cliff; but as soon as he reached it, Eustace Le Neve gazed about him, enchanted at the outlook. He was not in love with Cornwall, as far as he'd seen it yet; and to say the truth, except in a few broken seaward glens, that high and barren inland plateau has little in it to attract or interest anyone, least of all a traveler fresh from the rich luxuriance of South American vegetation. But the view that burst suddenly upon Eustace Le Neve's eye as he gained the summit of that precipitous serpentine bluff fairly took his breath away. It was a rich and varied one. To the north and west loomed headland after headland, walled in by steep crags, and stretching away in purple perspective toward Marazion, St. Michael's Mount, and the Penzance district. To the south and east huge masses of fallen rock lay tossed in wild confusion over Kynance Cove and the neighboring bays, with the bare boss of the Rill and the Rearing Horse in the foreground. Le Neve stood and looked with open eyes of delight. It was the first beautiful view he had seen since he came to Cornwall; but this at least was beautiful, almost enough so to compensate for his first acute disappointment at the barrenness and gloom of the Lizard scenery.
For some minutes he could only stand with open eyes and gaze delighted at the glorious prospect. Cliffs, sea, and rocks all blended with one another in solemn harmony. Even the blackness of the great crags and the scorched air of the brown and water-logged moorland in the rear now ceased to oppress him. They fell into their proper place in one consistent and well-blended picture. But, after awhile, impelled by a desire to look down upon the next little bay beyond--for the coast is indented with endless coves and headlands--the engineer walked on along the top by a coastguard's path that threaded its way, marked by whitened stones, round the points and gullies. As he did so, he happened to notice on the very crest of the ridge that overlooked the rock they called St. Michael's Crag a tall figure of a man silhouetted in dark outline against the pale gray skyline. From the very first moment Eustace Le Neve set eyes upon that striking figure this man exerted upon him some nameless attraction. Even at this distance the engineer could see he had a certain indefinite air of dignity and distinction; and he poised himself lightly on the very edge of the cliff in a way that would no doubt have made Walter Tyrrel shudder with fear and alarm. Yet there was something about that poise quite unearthly and uncanny; the man stood so airily on his high rocky perch that he reminded Le Neve at once of nothing so much as of Giovanni da Bologna's Mercury in the Bargello at Florence; he seemed to spurn the earth as if about to spring from it with a bound; his feet were as if freed from the common bond of gravity.
It was a figure that belonged naturally to the Cornish moorland.
Le Neve advanced along the path till he nearly reached the summit where the man was standing. The point itself was a rugged tor, or little group of bare and weather-worn rocks, overlooking the sea and St. Michael's Crag below it. As the engineer drew near he saw the stranger was not alone. Under shelter of the rocks a girl lay stretched at length on a loose camel's-hair rug; her head was hatless; in her hand she held, half open, a volume of poetry. She looked up as Eustace passed, and he noted at a glance that she was dark and pretty. The Cornish type once more; bright black eyes, glossy brown hair, a rich complexion, a soft and rounded beauty.
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