If the sea was smooth, while the smith often stood at work knee-deep in water, the tide rose by imperceptible degrees, first cooling the exterior of the fireplace, or hearth, and then quietly blackening and extinguishing the fire from below. The writer has frequently been amused at the perplexing anxiety of the blacksmith when coaxing his fire and endeavouring to avert the effects of the rising tide.

[Friday, 21st Aug.]

Everything connected with the forge being now completed, the artificers found no want of sharp tools, and the work went forward with great alacrity and spirit. It was also alleged that the rock had a more habitable appearance from the volumes of smoke which ascended from the smith's shop and the busy noise of his anvil, the operations of the masons, the movements of the boats, and shipping at a distance--all contributed to give life and activity to the scene. This noise and traffic had, however, the effect of almost completely banishing the herd of seals which had hitherto frequented the rock as a resting-place during the period of low water. The rock seemed to be peculiarly adapted to their habits, for, excepting two or three days at neap-tides, a part of it always dries at low water--at least, during the summer season--and as there was good fishing-ground in the neighbourhood, without a human being to disturb or molest them, it had become a very favourite residence of these amphibious animals, the writer having occasionally counted from fifty to sixty playing about the rock at a time. But when they came to be disturbed every tide, and their seclusion was broken in upon by the kindling of great fires, together with the beating of hammers and picks during low water, after hovering about for a time, they changed their place, and seldom more than one or two were to be seen about the rock upon the more detached outlayers which dry partially, whence they seemed to look with that sort of curiosity which is observable in these animals when following a boat.

[Saturday, 22nd Aug.]

Hitherto the artificers had remained on board the Smeaton, which was made fast to one of the mooring buoys at a distance only of about a quarter of a mile from the rock, and, of course, a very great conveniency to the work. Being so near, the seamen could never be mistaken as to the progress of the tide, or state of the sea upon the rock, nor could the boats be much at a loss to pull on board of the vessel during fog, or even in very rough weather; as she could be cast loose from her moorings at pleasure, and brought to the lee side of the rock. But the Smeaton being only about forty register tons, her accommodations were extremely limited. It may, therefore, be easily imagined that an addition of twenty-four persons to her own crew must have rendered the situation of those on board rather uncomfortable. The only place for the men's hammocks on board being in the hold, they were unavoidably much crowded: and if the weather had required the hatches to be fastened down, so great a number of men could not possibly have been accommodated. To add to this evil, the co-boose or cooking- place being upon deck, it would not have been possible to have cooked for so large a company in the event of bad weather.

The stock of water was now getting short, and some necessaries being also wanted for the floating light, the Smeaton was despatched for Arbroath; and the writer, with the artificers at the same time shifted their quarters from her to the floating light.

Although the rock barely made its appearance at this period of the tides till eight o'clock, yet, having now a full mile to row from the floating light to the rock, instead of about a quarter of a mile from the moorings of the Smeaton, it was necessary to be earlier astir, and to form different arrangements; breakfast was accordingly served up at seven o'clock this morning. From the excessive motion of the floating light, the writer had looked forward rather with anxiety to the removal of the workmen to this ship.

Records of a Family of Engineers Page 37

Robert Louis Stevenson

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book