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The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success, a fiction by Horatio Alger

The Smuggler's Trap

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_ Hubert had accompanied his father on a visit to his uncle, who lived in a fine old country mansion, on the shore of Caermarthen Bay.

In front of the house spread a long beach, which terminated in precipitous cliffs and rocky ledges. On the afternoon of the day following his arrival, he declared his intention of exploring the beach.

"Don't get caught in 'The Smuggler's Trap,'" said his uncle, as he mentioned his plan.

"'The Smuggler's Trap?'"

"Yes. It's at the end of the beach where you see the cliffs. It's a hollow cave, which you can only walk at very low tide. You'd better not go in there."

"Oh, never fear," said Hubert carelessly, and in a few minutes he was wandering over the beach, and after walking about two miles reached the end of the beach at the base of the great cliffs.

The precipice towered frowningly overhead, its base all worn and furrowed by the furious surges that for ages had dashed against it. All around lay a chaos of huge boulders covered with seaweed. The tide was now at the lowest ebb. The surf here was moderate, for the seaweed on the rocks interfered with the swell of the waters, and the waves broke outside at some distance.

Between the base of the precipice and the edge of the water there was a space left dry by the ebb tide about two yards in width; and Hubert walked forward over the space thus uncovered to see what lay before him.

He soon found himself in a place which seemed like a fissure rent in a mountain side, by some extraordinary convulsion of nature. All around rose black, precipitous cliffs. On the side nearest was the precipice by whose base he had passed; while over opposite was a gigantic wall of dark rock, Which extended far out into the sea. Huge waves thundered at its feet and dashed their spray far upward into the air. The space was about fifty yards across.

The fissure extended back for about two hundred yards, and there terminated in a sharp angle formed by the abrupt walls of the cliffs which enclosed it. All around there were caverns worn into the base of the precipices by the action of the sea.

The floor of this place was gravelly, but near the water it was strewn with large boulders. Further in there were no boulders and it was easy to walk about.

At the furthest extremity there was a flat rock that seemed to have fallen from the cliff above in some former age. The cliffs around were about two hundred feet in height. They were perfectly bare, and intensely black. On their storm-riven summits not a sign of verdure appeared. Everything had the aspect of gloom, which was heightened by the mournful monotone of the sea waves as they dashed against the rock.

After the first feeling of awe had passed, Hubert ran forward, leaping from rock to rock, till he came to where the beach or floor of the fissure was gravelly. Over this he walked and hastened to the caverns, looking into them one after another.

Then he busied himself by searching among the pebbles for curious stones and shells. He found here numerous specimens of the rarest and finest treasures of the sea--shells of a delicacy of tint and perfection of outline; seaweeds of new and exquisite forms with rich hues which he had hitherto believed impossible.

In the hollows of the rocks, where the water yet lay in pools, he found little minnows; and delicate jelly fish, with their long slender fibers; and sea anemones; and sea urchins with their spires extended; and star-fish moving about with their innumerable creepers. It was a new world, a world which had thus far been only visible to him in the aquarium, and now as it stood before him he forgot all else.

He did not feel the wind as it blew in fresh from the sea--the dread "sou'wester," the terror of fishermen. He did not notice the waves that rolled in more furiously from without, and were now beginning to break in wrath upon the rocky ledges and boulders. He did not see that the water had crept on nearer to the cliff, and that a white line of foam now lay on that narrow belt of beach which he had traversed at the foot of the cliff.

Suddenly a sound burst upon his ears that roused him, and sent all the blood back to his heart. It was his own name, called out in a voice of anguish and almost of despair by his father.

He sprang to his feet, started forward and rushed with the speed of the wind to the place by which he had entered the enclosure. But a barrier lay before him. The rolling waves were there, rushing in over the rocks, dashing against the cliff, tossing their white and quivering spray exulting in the air.

At once Hubert knew his danger.

He was caught in the "Smuggler's Trap," and the full meaning of his uncle's warning flashed upon his mind as in his terror he shrieked back to his father.

Then there was silence for a time

While Hubert had been in the "Trap," his father and uncle had been walking along the beach, and the former heard for the first time the nature and danger of the "Smuggler's Trap." He was at once filled with anxiety about his son, and had hurried to the place to call him back, when to his horror he found that the tide had already covered the only way by which the dangerous place might be approached.

No sooner had he heard Hubert's answering cry than he rushed forward to try and save him. But the next moment a great wave came rolling in and dashed him upon the cliff. Terribly bruised, he clung to the cliff till the surf fell back, and then ran on again.

He slipped over a rock and fell, but instantly regaining his feet he advanced further, and in his haste fell into a hollow which was filled with water.

Before he could emerge another wave was upon him. This one beat him down, and it was only by clinging to the seaweed that he escaped being sucked back by the retreating surge. Bold and frenzied though he was, he had to start back from the fury of such an assault as this. He rushed backward and waited.

His eyes searched wildly around. He noticed that the surf grew more violent every moment, and every moment took away hope. But he would not yield.

Once more he rushed forward. The waves rolled in, but he grasped the rocks and withstood the surf, and still advanced. Another followed. He bowed before it, and clinging to the rocks as before came forth triumphant.

Already he was nearly halfway. He sprang upon a rock that rose above the level of the seething flood, and stood for a moment panting and gasping. But now a great wave came rolling in upon him. He fell on his knees and clung to the seaweed.

The wave struck. It hurled him from the rock. He rolled over and over. Blinded, bruised and half drowned, he felt himself dashed against the cliff. He threw his arms wildly about, but found nothing which he could seize. The retreating wave sucked him back. But a rock stayed him. This he grasped and was saved.

Then, hastily scrambling to his feet, he staggered back to the place from which he had started. Before he could get back another wave threw him down, and this time he might have been drowned had not his brother plunged in and dragged him out.

Of all this Hubert had seen nothing, and known nothing. He waited for some time in silence, and then called. There was no answer. He called again and again. But at that time his father was struggling with the waves and did not hear him. At last, after what seemed an interminable time, he heard once more his father's voice. He shouted back.

"Don't be afraid!" cried the voice. "I'll get you out. Wait."

And then there were no more voices.

It was about two o'clock when Hubert had entered the gorge. It was after three when his father had roused him, and made his vain effort to save him. Hubert was now left alone with the rising tide, whose waters rolled forward with fearful rapidity. The beach inside was nearly level and he saw that in an hour or so it would be covered with the waters. He tried to trust to his father's promise, but the precious moments passed and he began to look with terror upon the increasing storm; for every moment the wind grew fiercer, and the surf rolled in with ever increasing impetuosity.

He looked all around for a place of refuge, and saw nothing except the rock which arose at the extremity of the place, at the foot of the overhanging cliffs. It was about five feet high, and was the only place that afforded anything like safety.

Up this he clambered, and from this he could survey the scene, but only to perceive the full extent of his danger. For the tide rushed in more and more swiftly, the surf grew higher and higher and he saw plainly that before long the water would reach the summit of the rock, and that even before then the surf in its violence would sweep him away.

The moments passed slowly. Minutes seemed in his suspense to be transformed to hours. The sky was overspread now with black clouds; and the gloom increased. At length the waves rolled in until they covered all the beach in front, and began to dash against the rock on which he had taken refuge.

The precious moments passed. Higher and higher grew the waters. They came rolling into the cave, urged on by the fury of the billows outside, and heaping themselves up as they were compressed into this narrow gorge. They dashed up around the rock. The spray was tossed in his face. Already he felt their inexorable grasp. Death seemed so near that hope left him. He fell upon his knees with his hands clasped, and his white face upturned. Just then a great wave rolled up and flung itself over the rock, and over his knees as he knelt, and over his hands as he clasped them in prayer. A few more moments and all would be over.

As hope left a calmness came--the calmness that is born of despair. Face to face with death, he had tasted the bitterness of death, but now he flung aside the agony of his fear and rose to his feet, and his soul prepared itself for the end. Just then, in the midst of the uproar of wind and wave, there came a sudden sound, which roused to quick, feverish throbs the young lad's heart. It was a voice--and sounded just above him:


He looked up.

There far above him, in the gloom, he saw faces projecting over the edge of the cliff. The cry came again; he recognized the voice of his father.

For a moment Hubert could not speak. Hope returned. He threw up his arms wildly, and cried:

"Make haste! Oh, make haste!"

A rope was made fast about Hubert's father, and he was let down over the edge of the cliff. He would allow no other than himself to undertake this journey.

He had hurried away and gathered a number of fishermen, whose stout arms and sinewy hands now held the rope by which he descended to save his son.

It was a perilous journey. The wind blew and the rope swayed more and more as it was let down, and sometimes he was dashed against the rocky sides of the precipice; but still he descended, and at last stood on the rock and clasped his son in his arms.

But there was no time to lose. Hubert mounted on his father's shoulders, holding the rope while his father bound his boy close to him. Then the word was given, and they were slowly pulled up.

They reached the summit in safety, and as they reached it those who looked down through the gloom saw the white foam of the surf as it boiled in fury over the rock where Hubert had been standing.

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