Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 129.djvu/617

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MRS. THRALE: THE FRIEND OF DR. JOHNSON.

if the furze-covered bank into which Cheam Dene merged, and which in its turn merged into the height on which the higher portion of the town was built, had not partially sheltered the ground on this occasion, no such roused crowd as Pleasance found there could have gathered together, and kept their places and found their voices, in a breathless watch, awaiting the fate of the doomed vessel.

It was hopelessly doomed, and there was little left for the people on the shore to do—unless it were to shout directions in a strange tongue, which the noise of the wind and waves alone would have prevented the shipwrecked men from distinguishing—save to stand and look at the cruel destruction and death that awaited the strange ship and its crew.

The one spot on the whole wide sandy Cheam beach, where no assistance could be rendered to the wrecks, which were not unfrequent there, as all Cheam boatmen well knew, was this Gannet Bay.

The whole of the bay was thick set with jagged rocks, rising like the spears and knives in the pits dug in old-world warfare, to entangle and pierce without mercy the assailants who advanced against the enemy drawn up in line of battle; and with such a sea as this leaping, spouting, and churned into foam around the rocks, granny had spoken the bare truth when she had said that no boat could live five minutes, while the life-boat which the town possessed, and which the townsmen were not slow to use on ordinary occasions, was utterly useless.

Thus it came that the men of Cheam, who, whatever were their faults, were no cowards, and who were peculiarly alive to the danger and the suffering involved in a calamity like the present, stood massed together for protection against the blast, inactive, except in bootless gesticulations or in muttered remarks from the men and groans and sighs from the women. They peered through the wrack at the hazy, vibrating outline of the bare poles and half-submerged deck of the vessel, with the figures still working her until she completed the first stage of her ruin. After rushing on, in spite of closely-reefed sails, staggering through the vortex, and giving one bound greater than any she had yet taken, she remained fixed, and quivering to the accompaniment of involuntary, shrinking, appalled cries from the Cheam crowd.

"She's on the rock; she's strook fast, and no mistake. God A'mighty help them! for the question now is nowt but how long'll her sticks hang together."

But the poor foreigners, in their extremity, knowing nothing of the nature of the coast, were unaware of the impossibility of a rescue. They distinguished through the mist of spray and sand the crowd on the Dene, not so far removed from them even as the crowd descried them, and relinquishing their vain task, clustered about the stern of the vessel. They made an eager appeal to their brethren safe on shore to venture something for their aid. Using one of their few English words, the Norwegians raised a simultaneous shout, loud enough to rise above the turmoil, of "Boat, boat!" where no boat could reach them.

The piteousness of the foreigners' fervent cry, which could meet with no rejoinder, went to the stout hearts of the bystanders, and drew from them deeper groans and more unequivocal expressions of sympathy. "Poor souls, an' we could do summat! But it 'ould be a clean waste on life, and temptation on Providence." "It is your turn the day; it may be ourn the morrer. But we can do nowt; our hands d' be tied." " Leastways our boats 'ould be stove in, and crushed like so many egg-shells afore we could get within arm's length on you," were passed around in short, jerked-out sentences, while men, who were helpless to help, and who could move to no purpose, stirred restlessly to relieve their own pain, and women wrung their hands and began to sob aloud.


From Macmillan's Magazine.

MRS. THRALE: THE FRIEND OF DR. JOHNSON.

IN TWO PARTS.

Part II.—1780-1821.

Such was the little Welshwoman's first reception of her future husband, and her friends and foes remembered it long afterwards. It was not, however, until August 1780, and then at Brighton, that she made Signor Piozzi's acquaintance.

Brighton was dull enough for her that season. Dr. Johnson was in hot, empty London, fining at Sir Joshua's with Mrs. Cholmondeley, busy with his "Lives," and writing letters to Mrs. Thrale. "I stay at home to work," he told her, "and yet do not work diligently; nor can I tell when I shall have done, nor perhaps does anybody but myself wish me to have done; for what can they hope I shall do better? Yet I wish the work was over and I was at liberty. And what would I do if I was

LIVING AGE.
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VOL. XIV.