Chapter VI. A stable for the horse
Gilliatt was sufficiently familiar with marine rocks to grapple in earnest with the Douvres. Before all, as we have just said, it was necessary to find a safe shelter for the barge.
The double row of reefs, which stretched in a sinuous form behind the Douvres, connected itself here and there with other rocks, and suggested the existence of blind passages and hollows opening out into the straggling way, and joining again to the principal defile like branches to a trunk.
The lower part of these rocks was covered with kelp, the upper part with lichens. The uniform level of the seaweed marked the line of the water at the height of the tide, and the limit of the sea in calm weather. The points which the water had not touched presented those silver and golden hues communicated to marine granite by the white and yellow lichen.
A crust of conoidical shells covered the rock at certain points, the dry rot of the granite.
At other points in the retreating angles, where fine sand had accumulated, ribbed on its surface rather by the wind than by the waves, appeared tufts of blue thistles.
In the indentations, sheltered from the winds, could be traced the little perforations made by the sea-urchin. This shelly mass of prickles, which moves about a living ball, by rolling on its spines, and the armour of which is composed of ten thousand pieces, artistically adjusted and welded together – the sea-urchin, which is popularly called, for some unknown reason, “Aristotle’s lantern,” wears away the granite with his five teeth, and lodges himself in the hole. It is in such holes that the samphire gatherers find them. They cut them in halves and eat them raw, like an oyster. Some steep their bread in the soft flesh. Hence its other name, “Sea-egg.”
The tips of the further reefs, left out of the water by the receding tide, extended close under the escarpment of “The Man” to a sort of creek, enclosed nearly on all sides by rocky walls. Here was evidently a possible harbourage. It had the form of a horse-shoe, and opened only on one side to the east wind, which is the least violent of all winds in that sea labyrinth. The water was shut in there, and almost motionless. The shelter seemed comparatively safe. Gilliatt, moreover, had not much choice.[Pg 197]
If he wished to take advantage of the low water, it was important to make haste.
The weather continued to be fine and calm. The insolent sea was for a while in a gentle mood.
Gilliatt descended, put on his shoes again, unmoored the cable, re-embarked, and pushed out into the water. He used the oars, coasting the side of the rock.
Having reached “The Man Rock,” he examined the entrance to the little creek.
A fixed, wavy line in the motionless sea, a sort of wrinkle, imperceptible to any eye but that of a sailor, marked the channel.
Gilliatt studied for a moment its lineament, almost indistinct under the water; then he held off a little in order to veer at ease, and steer well into channel; and suddenly with a stroke of the oars he entered the little bay.
The anchorage appeared to be excellent.
The sloop would be protected there against almost any of the contingencies of the season.
The most formidable reefs have quiet nooks of this sort. The ports which are thus found among the breakers are like the hospitality of the fierce Bedouin – friendly and sure.
Gilliatt placed the sloop as near as he could to “The Man,” but still far enough to escape grazing the rock; and he cast his two anchors.
That done, he crossed his arms, and reflected on his position.
The sloop was sheltered. Here was one problem solved. But another remained. Where could he now shelter himself?
He had the choice of two places: the sloop itself, with its corner of cabin, which was scarcely habitable, and the summit of “The Man Rock,” which was not difficult to scale.
From one or other of these refuges it was possible at low water, by jumping from rock to rock, to gain the passage between the Douvres where the Durande was fixed, almost without wetting the feet.
But low water lasts but a short while, and all the rest of the time he would be cut off either from his shelter or from the wreck by more than two hundred fathoms. Swimming among breakers is difficult at all times; if there is the least commotion in the sea it is impossible.
He was driven to give up the idea of shelter in the sloop or on “The Man.”
The summits of the lower ones disappeared twice a day beneath the rising tide.
The summits of the higher ones were constantly swept by the flakes of foam, and promised nothing but an inhospitable drenching.
No choice remained but the wreck itself.
Was it possible to seek refuge there?
Gilliatt hoped it might be.