EVERYDAY LIFE ON THE BELL ROCK, AND
OLD MEMORIES RECALLED.
The sun shone brightly over the sea
next morning; so brightly and powerfully that it seemed
to break up and disperse by force the great storm-clouds
which hung about the sky, like the fragments of an
army of black bullies who had done their worst and
The storm was over; at least, the
wind had moderated down to a fresh, invigorating breeze.
The white crests of the billows were few and far
between, and the wild turmoil of waters had given place
to a grand procession of giant waves, that thundered
on the Bell Rock Lighthouse, at once with more dignity
and more force than the raging seas of the previous
It was the sun that awoke Ruby, by
shining in at one of the small windows of the library,
in which he slept. Of course it did not shine
in his face, because of the relative positions of the
library and the sun, the first being just below the
lantern, and the second just above the horizon, so
that the rays struck upwards, and shone with dazzling
brilliancy on the dome-shaped ceiling. This was
the second time of wakening for Ruby that night, since
he lay down to rest. The first wakening was
occasioned by the winding up of the machinery which
kept the lights in motion, and the chain of which,
with a ponderous weight attached to it, passed through
a wooden pilaster close to his ear, causing such a
sudden and hideous din that the sleeper, not having
been warned of it, sprang like a Jack-in-the-box out
of bed into the middle of the room, where he first
stared vacantly around him like an unusually surprised
owl, and then, guessing the cause of the noise, smiled
pitifully, as though to say, “Poor fellow, you’re
easily frightened,” and tumbled back into bed,
where he fell asleep again instantly.
On the second time of wakening Ruby
rose to a sitting posture, yawned, looked about him,
yawned again, wondered what o’clock it was, and
No sound could be heard save the intermittent
roar of the magnificent breakers that beat on the
Bell Rock. His couch was too low to permit of
his seeing anything but sky out of his windows, three
of which, about two feet square, lighted the room.
He therefore jumped up, and, while pulling on his
garments, looked towards the east, where the sun greeted
and almost blinded him. Turning to the north
window, a bright smile lit up his countenance, and
“A blessing rest on you” escaped audibly
from his lips, as he kissed his hand towards the cliffs
of Forfarshire, which were seen like a faint blue
line on the far-off horizon, with the town of Arbroath
just rising above the morning mists.
He gazed out at this north window,
and thought over all the scenes that had passed between
him and Minnie from the time they first met, down to
the day when they last parted. One of the sweetest
of the mental pictures that he painted that morning
with unwonted facility, was that of Minnie sitting
at his mother’s feet, comforting her with the
words of the Bible.
At length he turned with a sigh to
resume his toilette. Looking out at the southern
window, he observed that the rocks were beginning to
be uncovered, and that the “rails”, or
iron pathway that led to the foot of the entrance-door
ladder, were high enough out of the water to be walked
upon. He therefore hastened to descend.
We know not what appearance the library
presented at the time when Ruby Brand slept in it;
but we can tell, from personal experience, that, at
the present day, it is a most comfortable and elegant
apartment. The other rooms of the lighthouse,
although thoroughly substantial in their furniture
and fittings, are quite plain and devoid of ornament,
but the library, or “stranger’s room”,
as it is sometimes called, being the guest-chamber,
is fitted up in a style worthy of a lady’s boudoir,
with a Turkey carpet, handsome chairs, and an elaborately
carved oak table, supported appropriately by a centre
stem of three twining dolphins. The dome of
the ceiling is painted to represent stucco panelling,
and the partition which cuts off the small segment
of this circular room that is devoted to passage and
staircase, is of panelled oak. The thickness
of this partition is just sufficient to contain the
bookcase; also a cleverly contrived bedstead, which
can be folded up during the day out of sight.
There is also a small cupboard of oak, which serves
the double purpose of affording shelf accommodation
and concealing the iron smoke-pipe which rises from
the kitchen, and, passing through the several storeys,
projects a few feet above the lantern. The centre
window is ornamented with marble sides and top, and
above it stands a marble bust of Robert Stevenson,
the engineer of the building, with a marble slab below
bearing testimony to the skill and energy with which
he had planned and executed the work.
If not precisely what we have described
it to be at the present time, the library must have
been somewhat similar on that morning when our hero
issued from it and descended to the rock.
The first stair landed him at the
entrance to the sleeping-berths. He looked into
one, and observed Forsyth’s head and arms lying
in the bed, in that peculiarly negligent style that
betokens deep and sweet repose. Dumsby’s
rest was equally sound in the next berth. This
fact did not require proof by ocular demonstration;
his nose announced it sonorously over the whole building.
Passing to the kitchen, immediately
below, Ruby found his old messmate, Jamie Dove, busy
in the preparation of breakfast.
“Ha! Ruby, good mornin’;
you keep up your early habits, I see. Can’t
shake yer paw, lad, ’cause I’m up to the
elbows in grease, not to speak o’ sutt an’
“When did you learn to cook, Jamie?” said
“When I came here. You
see we’ve all got to take it turn and turn about,
and it’s wonderful how soon a feller gets used
to it. I’m rather fond of it, d’ye
know? We haven’t overmuch to work on in
the way o’ variety, to be sure, but what we
have there’s lots of it, an’ it gives
us occasion to exercise our wits to invent somethin’
new. It’s wonderful what can be done with
fresh beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, flour, tea,
bread, mustard, sugar, pepper, an’ the like,
if ye’ve got a talent that way.”
“You’ve got it all off by heart, I see,”
“True, boy, but it’s not
so easy to get it all off yer stomach sometimes.
What with confinement and want of exercise we was
troubled with indigestion at first, but we’re
used to it now, and I have acquired quite a fancy
for cooking. No doubt you’ll hear Forsyth
and Joe say that I’ve half-pisoned them four
or five times, but that’s all envy; besides,
a feller can’t learn a trade without doin’
a little damage to somebody or something at first.
Did you ever taste blackbird pie?”
“No,” replied Ruby, “never.”
“Then you shall taste one to-day, for we caught
fifty birds last week.”
“Caught fifty birds?”
“Ay, but I’ll tell ye
about it some other time. Be off just now, and
get as much exercise out o’ the rock as ye can
The smith resumed his work as he said this, and Ruby
He found the sea still roaring over
the rock, but the rails were so far uncovered that
he could venture on them, yet he had to keep a sharp
lookout, for, whenever a larger breaker than usual
struck the rock, the gush of foaming water that flew
over it was so great that a spurt or two would sometimes
break up between the iron bars, and any one of these
spurts would have sufficed to give him a thorough wetting.
In a short time, however, the sea
went back and left the rails free. Soon after
that Ruby was joined by Forsyth and Dumsby, who had
come down for their morning promenade.
They had to walk in single file while
taking exercise, as the tramway was not wide enough
for two, and the rock, even when fully uncovered,
did not afford sufficient level space for comfortable
walking, although at low water (as the reader already
knows) it afforded fully a hundred yards of scrambling
ground, if not more.
They had not walked more than a few
minutes when they were joined by Jamie Dove, who announced
breakfast, and proceeded to take two or three turns
by way of cooling himself. Thereafter the party
returned to the kitchen, where they sat down to as
good a meal as any reasonable man could desire.
There was cold boiled beef the
remains of yesterday’s dinner and
a bit of broiled cod, a native of the Bell Rock, caught
from the doorway at high water the day before.
There was tea also, and toast buttered
toast, hot out of the oven.
Dove was peculiarly good at what may
be styled toast-cooking. Indeed, all the lightkeepers
were equally good. The bread was cut an inch
thick, and butter was laid on as plasterers spread
plaster with a trowel. There was no scraping
off a bit here to put it on there; no digging out
pieces from little caverns in the bread with the point
of the knife; no repetition of the work to spread
it thinner, and, above all, no omitting of corners
and edges; no, the smallest conceivable
fly could not have found the minutest atom of dry
footing on a Bell Rock slice of toast, from its centre
to its circumference. Dove had a liberal heart,
and he laid on the butter with a liberal hand.
Fair play and no favour was his motto, quarter-inch
thick was his gauge, railway speed his practice.
The consequence was that the toast floated, as it
were, down the throats of the men, and compensated
to some extent for the want of milk in the tea.
“Now, boys, sit in,” cried Dove, seizing
“We have not much variety,”
observed Dumsby to Ruby, in an apologetic tone.
“Variety!” exclaimed Forsyth,
“what d’ye call that?” pointing to
“Well, that is a hextra
morsel, I admit,” returned Joe; “but we
don’t get that every day; ‘owsever, wot
there is is good, an’ there’s plenty of
it, so let’s fall to.”
Forsyth said grace, and then they
all “fell to”, with appetites peculiar
to that isolated and breezy spot, where the wind blows
so fresh from the open sea that the nostrils inhale
culinary odours, and the palates seize culinary products,
with unusual relish.
There was something singularly unfeminine
in the manner in which the duties of the table were
performed by these stalwart guardians of the Rock.
We are accustomed to see such duties performed by
the tender hands of woman, or, it may be, by the expert
fingers of trained landsmen; but in places where woman
may not or can not act with propriety, as
on shipboard, or in sea-girt towers, men
go through such feminine work in a way that does credit
to their versatility, also to the strength
of culinary materials and implements.
The way in which Jamie Dove and his
comrades knocked about the pans, teapots, cups and
saucers, etcetera, without smashing them, would have
astonished, as well as gratified, the hearts of the
fraternity of tinsmiths and earthenware manufacturers.
We have said that everything in the
lighthouse was substantial and very strong.
All the woodwork was oak, the floors and walls of solid
stone, hence, when Dove, who had no nerves
or physical feelings, proceeded with his cooking,
the noise he caused was tremendous. A man used
to woman’s gentle ways would, on seeing him poke
the fire, have expected that the poker would certainly
penetrate not only the coals, but the back of the
grate also, and perchance make its appearance at the
outside of the building itself, through stones, joggles,
dovetails, trenails, pozzolano mortar, and all the
strong materials that have withstood the fury of winds
and waves for the last half-century!
Dove treated the other furniture in
like manner; not that he treated it ill, we
would not have the reader imagine this for a moment.
He was not reckless of the household goods.
He was merely indifferent as to the row he made in
But it was when the cooking was over,
and the table had to be spread, that the thing culminated.
Under the impulse of lightheartedness, caused by
the feeling that his labours for the time were nearly
ended, and that his reward was about to be reaped,
he went about with irresistible energy, like the proverbial
bull in a china shop, without reaching that creature’s
destructive point. It was then that a beaming
smile overspread his countenance, and he raged about
the kitchen with Vulcan-like joviality. He pulled
out the table from the wall to the centre of the apartment,
with a swing that produced a prolonged crash.
Up went its two leaves with two minor crashes.
Down went the four plates and the cups and saucers,
with such violence and rapidity that they all seemed
to be dancing on the board together. The beef
all but went over the side of its dish by reason of
the shock of its sudden stoppage on touching the table,
and the pile of toast was only saved from scatteration
by the strength of the material, so to speak, with
which its successive layers were cemented.
When the knives, forks, and spoons
came to be laid down, the storm seemed to lull, because
these were comparatively light implements, so that
this period which in shore-going life is
usually found to be the exasperating one was
actually a season of relief. But it was always
followed by a terrible squall of scraping wooden legs
and clanking human feet when the camp-stools were
set, and the men came in and sat down to the meal.
The pouring out of the tea, however,
was the point that would have called forth the admiration
of the world had the world seen it.
What a contrast between the miserable, sickly, slow-dribbling
silver and other teapots of the land, and this great
teapot of the sea! The Bell Rock teapot had
no sham, no humbug about it. It was a big, bold-looking
one, of true Britannia metal, with vast internal capacity
and a gaping mouth.
Dove seized it in his strong hand
as he would have grasped his biggest fore-hammer.
Before you could wink, a sluice seemed to burst open;
a torrent of rich brown tea spouted at your cup, and
it was full the saucer too, perhaps in
But why dwell on these luxurious scenes?
Reader, you can never know them from experience unless
you go to visit the Bell Rock; we will therefore cease
to tantalise you.
During breakfast it was discussed
whether or not the signal-ball should be hoisted.
The signal-ball was fixed to a short
staff on the summit of the lighthouse, and the rule
was that it should be hoisted at a fixed hour every
morning when all was well, and kept up until
an answering signal should be made from a signal-tower
in Arbroath where the keepers’ families dwelt,
and where each keeper in succession spent a fortnight
with his family, after a spell of six weeks on the
rock. It was the duty of the keeper on shore
to watch for the hoisting of the ball (the “All’s
well” signal) each morning on the lighthouse,
and to reply to it with a similar ball on the signal-tower.
If, on any occasion, the hour for
signalling should pass without the ball on the lighthouse
being shown, then it was understood that something
was wrong, and the attending boat of the establishment
was sent off at once to ascertain the cause, and afford
relief if necessary. The keeping down of the
ball was, however, an event of rare occurrence, so
that when it did take place the poor wives of the men
on the rock were usually thrown into a state of much
perturbation and anxiety, each naturally supposing
that her husband must be seriously ill, or have met
with a bad accident.
It was therefore natural that there
should be some hesitation about keeping down the ball
merely for the purpose of getting a boat off to send
“You see,” said Forsyth,
“the day after to-morrow the `relief boat’
is due, and it may be as well just to wait for that,
Ruby, and then you can go ashore with your friend
Jamie Dove, for it’s his turn this time.”
“Ay, lad, just make up your
mind to stay another day,” said the smith; “as
they don’t know you’re here they can’t
be wearyin’ for you, and I’ll take ye
an’ introduce you to my little wife, that I fell
in with on the cliffs of Arbroath not long after ye
was kidnapped. Besides, Ruby, it’ll do
ye good to feed like a fighting cock out here another
day. Have another cup o’ tea?”
“An’ a junk o’ beef?” said
“An’ a slice o’ toast?” said
Ruby accepted all these offers, and
soon afterwards the four friends descended to the
rock, to take as much exercise as they could on its
limited surface, during the brief period of low water
that still remained to them.
It may easily be imagined that this
ramble was an interesting one, and was prolonged until
the tide drove them into their tower of refuge.
Every rock, every hollow, called up endless reminiscences
of the busy building seasons. Ruby went over
it all step by step with somewhat of the feelings
that influence a man when he revisits the scene of
There was the spot where the forge had stood.
“D’ye mind it, lad?”
said Dove. “There are the holes where the
hearth was fixed, and there’s the rock where
you vaulted over the bellows when ye took that splendid
dive after the fair-haired lassie into the pool yonder.”
“Mind it? Ay, I should think so!”
Then there were the holes where the
great beams of the beacon had been fixed, and the
iron bats, most of which latter were still left in
the rock, and some of which may be seen there at the
present day. There was also the pool into which
poor Selkirk had tumbled with the vegetables on the
day of the first dinner on the rock, and that other
pool into which Forsyth had plunged after the mermaids;
and, not least interesting among the spots of note,
there was the ledge, now named the “Last Hope”,
on which Mr Stevenson and his men had stood on the
day when the boat had been carried away, and they
had expected, but were mercifully preserved from,
a terrible tragedy.
After they had talked much on all
these things, and long before they were tired of it,
the sea drove them to the rails; gradually, as it rose
higher, it drove them into the lighthouse, and then
each man went to his work Jamie Dove to
his kitchen, in order to clean up and prepare dinner,
and the other two to the lantern, to scour and polish
the reflectors, refill and trim the lamps, and, generally,
to put everything in order for the coming night.
Ruby divided his time between the
kitchen and lantern, lending a hand in each, but,
we fear, interrupting the work more than he advanced
That day it fell calm, and the sun shone brightly.
“We’ll have fog to-night,”
observed Dumsby to Brand, pausing in the operation
of polishing a reflector, in which his fat face was
mirrored with the most indescribable and dreadful
“D’ye think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”
remarked Forsyth, looking from his elevated position
to the seaward horizon, “I can see it coming
“I say, what smell is that?” exclaimed
“Somethink burnin’,” said Dumsby,
“Why, what can it be?”
murmured Forsyth, looking round and likewise sniffing.
“Hallo! Joe, look out; you’re on
Joe started, clapped his hand behind
him, and grasped his inexpressibles, which were smouldering
warmly. Ruby assisted, and the fire was soon
put out, amidst much laughter.
“’Ang them reflectors!”
said Joe, seating himself, and breathing hard after
his alarm and exertions; “it’s the third
time they’ve set me ablaze.”
“The reflectors, Joe?” said Ruby.
“Ay, don’t ye see?
They’ve nat’rally got a focus, an’
w’en I ’appen to be standin’ on
a sunny day in front of ’em, contemplatin’
the face o’ natur’, as it wor, through
the lantern panes, if I gits into the focus by haccident,
d’ye see, it just acts like a burnin’-glass.”
Ruby could scarcely believe this,
but after testing the truth of the statement by actual
experiment he could no longer doubt it.
Presently a light breeze sprang up,
rolling the fog before it, and then dying away, leaving
the lighthouse enshrouded.
During fog there is more danger to
shipping than at any other time. In the daytime,
in ordinary weather, rocks and lighthouses can be seen.
At night, lights can be seen, but during fog nothing
can be seen until danger may be too near to be avoided.
The two great fog-bells of the lighthouse were therefore
set a-going, and they rang out their slow deep-toned
peal all that day and all that night, as the bell of
the Abbot of Aberbrothoc is said to have done in days
That night Ruby was astonished, and
then he was stunned! First, as to his astonishment.
While he was seated by the kitchen fire chatting with
his friend the smith, sometime between nine o’clock
and midnight, Dumsby summoned him to the lantern to
“help in catching to-morrow’s dinner!”
Dove laughed at the summons, and they all went up.
The first thing that caught Ruby’s
eye at one of the window panes was the round visage
of an owl, staring in with its two large eyes as if
it had gone mad with amazement, and holding on to
the iron frame with its claws. Presently its
claws lost hold, and it fell off into outer darkness.
“What think ye o’ that for a beauty?”
Ruby’s eyes, being set free
from the fascination of the owl’s stare, now
made him aware of the fact that hundreds of birds of
all kinds crows, magpies, sparrows, tomtits,
owls, larks, mavises, blackbirds, etcetera, etcetera were
fluttering round the lantern outside, apparently bent
on ascertaining the nature of the wonderful light
“Ah! poor things,” said
Forsyth, in answer to Ruby’s look of wonder,
“they often visit us in foggy weather.
I suppose they get out to sea in the fog and can’t
find their way back to land, and then some of them
chance to cross our light and take refuge on it.”
“Now I’ll go out and get
to-morrow’s dinner,” said Dumsby.
He went out accordingly, and, walking round the balcony
that encircled the base of the lantern, was seen to
put his hand up and quietly take down and wring the
necks of such birds as he deemed suitable for his purpose.
It seemed a cruel act to Ruby, but when he came to
think of it he felt that, as they were to be stewed
at any rate, the more quickly they were killed the
He observed that the birds kept fluttering
about, alighting for a few moments and flying off
again, all the time that Dumsby was at work, yet Dumsby
never failed to seize his prey.
Presently the man came in with a small
basket full of game. “Now, Ruby,”
said he, “I’ll bet a sixpence that you
don’t catch a bird within five minutes.”
“I don’t bet such large
sums usually, but I’ll try,” said Ruby,
He tried and failed. Just as
the five minutes were expiring, however, the owl happened
to alight before his nose, so he “nabbed”
it, and carried it in triumphantly.
“That ain’t a bird,” said
“It’s not a fish,”
retorted Ruby; “but how is it that you caught
them so easily, and I found it so difficult?”
“Because, lad, you must do it
at the right time. You watch w’en the
focus of a revolvin’ light is comin’ full
in a bird’s face. The moment it does so
’e’s dazzled, and you grab ’im.
If you grab too soon or too late, ’e’s
away. That’s ‘ow it is, and they’re
capital heatin’, as you’ll find.”
Thus much for Ruby’s astonishment.
Now for his being stunned.
Late that night the fog cleared away,
and the bells were stopped. After a long chat
with his friends, Ruby mounted to the library and went
to bed. Later still the fog returned, and the
bells were again set a-going. Both of them being
within a few feet of Ruby’s head, they awakened
him with a bang that caused him to feel as if the room
in which he lay were a bell and his own head the tongue
At first the sound was solemnising,
then it was saddening. After a time it became
exasperating, and then maddening. He tried to
sleep, but he only tossed. He tried to meditate,
but he only wandered not “in dreams”,
however. He tried to laugh, but the laugh degenerated
into a growl. Then he sighed, and the sigh ended
in a groan. Finally, he got up and walked up
and down the floor till his legs were cold, when he
turned into bed again, very tired, and fell asleep,
but not to rest to dream.
He dreamt that he was at the forge
again, and that he and Dove were trying to smash their
anvils with the sledge-hammers bang and
bang about. But the anvil would not break.
At last he grew desperate, hit the horn off, and
then, with another terrific blow, smashed the whole
affair to atoms!
This startled him a little, and he
awoke sufficiently to become aware of the fog-bells.
Again he dreamed. Minnie was
his theme now, but, strange to say, he felt little
or no tenderness towards her. She was beset by
a hundred ruffians in pea-jackets and sou’westers.
Something stirred him to madness. He rushed
at the foe, and began to hit out at them right and
left. The hitting was slow, but sure regular
as clock-work. First the right, then the left,
and at each blow a seaman’s nose was driven into
his head, and a seaman’s body lay flat on the
ground. At length they were all floored but
one the last and the biggest. Ruby
threw all his remaining strength into one crashing
blow, drove his fist right through his antagonist’s
body, and awoke with a start to find his knuckles
“Hang these bells!” he
exclaimed, starting up and gazing round him in despair.
Then he fell back on his pillow in despair, and went
to sleep in despair.
Once more he dreamed. He was
going to church now, dressed in a suit of the finest
broadcloth, with Minnie on his arm, clothed in pure
white, emblematic, it struck him, of her pure gentle
spirit. Friends were with him, all gaily attired,
and very happy, but unaccountably silent. Perhaps
it was the noise of the wedding-bells that rendered
their voices inaudible. He was struck by the
solemnity as well as the pertinacity of these wedding-bells
as he entered the church. He was puzzled too,
being a Presbyterian, why he was to be married in
church, but being a man of liberal mind, he made no
objection to it.
They all assembled in front of the
pulpit, into which the clergyman, a very reverend
but determined man, mounted with a prayer book in his
hand. Ruby was puzzled again. He had not
supposed that the pulpit was the proper place, but
modestly attributed this to his ignorance.
“Stop those bells!” said
the clergyman, with stern solemnity; but they went
“Stop them, I say!” he roared in a voice
The sexton, pulling the ropes in the
middle of the church, paid no attention.
Exasperated beyond endurance, the
clergyman hurled the prayer book at the sexton’s
head, and felled him! Still the bells went on
of their own accord.
I say,” he yelled fiercely, and, hitting the
pulpit with his fist, he split it from top to bottom.
Minnie cried “Shame!”
at this, and from that moment the bells ceased.
Whether it was that the fog-bells
ceased at that time, or that Minnie’s voice
charmed Ruby’s thoughts away, we cannot tell,
but certain it is that the severely tried youth became
entirely oblivious of everything. The marriage-party
vanished with the bells; Minnie, alas, faded away
also; finally, the roar of the sea round the Bell Rock,
the rock itself, its lighthouse and its inmates, and
all connected with it, faded from the sleeper’s
“Like the baseless fabric of a vision
Left not a wrack behind.”