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The King's Own Borderers: A Military Romance - Volume 3

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On the afternoon of a lowering day in the November of 1798, a square-rigged vessel—a brig of some three hundred and fifty tons—was seen in the offing, about twelve miles distant from the bluff, rocky headland of Rohallion, on the western coast of Carrick, beating hard against a head-wind and sea, that were set dead in shore; and, as a long and treacherous reef, locally known as the Partan Craig (Anglicè, Crab-rock), lies off the headland, many fears were loudly expressed by on-lookers, that if she failed to gain even better sea room, ere night-fall, the gale, the waves, and the current might prove too much for her in the end, and the half-sunken reef would finish the catastrophe. Over the craig the angry breakers of the Firth of Clyde were seen to boil and whiten, and the ridgy reef seemed to rise, at times, like a hungry row of shark's teeth, black, sharp, and shining. With royal yards on deck, with topsails lowered upon the caps, her fore and maincourses close-hauled, with a double reef in each, the stranger was seen to lie alternately on the port and starboard tack, braced so close to the wind's eye as a square-rigged craft dared be; but still she made but little way to seaward. From Rohallion there were two persons who watched her struggles with deep interest. "The turn of the tide will strengthen the current, my lady, and bring her close to the craig, after all," said one. "Under God's favour, John Girvan, I hope not!" was the fervent response. "There is an eddy between the craig and the coves of Rohallion as strong as the whirlpool of Corryvreckan itself." "Yes, John; I have seen more than one poor boat, with its crew, perish there, in the herring season." "Look, look, my lady! There is another vessel—a brig, I take her to be—running right into the Firth before the wind." The speakers were Winifred Lady Rohallion and her husband's bailie or factor, who stood together at a window of the castle of Rohallion, which crowns the summit of the headland before mentioned, and from whence, as it is a hundred and fifty feet in height, and rises almost sheer from the water, a spacious view can be obtained of the noble Firth of Clyde, there expanding into a vast ocean, though apparently almost landlocked by the grassy hills and dales of Cunninghame, the princely Isle of Bute (the cradle of the House of Stuart), the blue and rocky peaks of Arran, the grey ridges of Kintyre; and far away, like a blue stripe that bounds the Scottish sea, the dim and distant shores of Ireland. A few heavy rain-drops, precursors of a torrent, plashed on the window-panes, and with a swiftness almost tropical, great masses of cloud came rolling across the darkening sky. Under their lower edges, lurid streaks between the hill-tops marked the approach of sunset, and thunder began to grumble overhead, as it came from the splintered peaks of Arran, to die away among the woody highlands of Carrick. Aware that when the tide turned there would be a tremendous swell, with a sea that would roll far inshore, the fishermen in the little bay near the castled rock were all busily at work, drawing their brown-tarred and sharp-prowed boats far up on the beach, for there was a moaning in the sea and rising wind that foretold a tempestuous night: thus, they as well as the inhabitants of Rohallion Castle were at a loss to understand why the strange brig, instead of running right up the firth in search of safe anchorage under some of the high land, strove to beat to windward. The conclusion therefore come to was, that she was French, or that her crew were ignorant of the river navigation; there were no pilots then, so far down the firth, and when the fishermen spoke among themselves of running down to her assistance or guidance, they muttered of French gun-brigs, of letters of marque, and privateers—shrugged their shoulders, and stood pipe in mouth under the lee of the little rocky pier to watch the event.

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