A Terrible Coward

George Manville Fenn
A Terrible Coward, by George
Manville Fenn

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Title: A Terrible Coward
Author: George Manville Fenn
Release Date: November 6, 2007 [EBook #23376]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

A Terrible Coward, by George Manville Fenn.

Boom! with a noise like thunder.
Plash! directly after; but the sounds those two words express,
multiplied and squared if you like, till the effect upon the senses is, on
the first hearing, one of dread mingled with awe at the mightiness of
the power of the sea.
For this is not "how the waters come down at Lodore," but how they
come in at Carn Du, a little fishing town on the Cornish coast.
There's a black mass of rock standing out like a buttress just to the west
of the little harbour, running right into the sea, and going down straight
like a wall into the deep clear water at its foot, as if to say to the waves,
"Thus far may you come, and no farther." For hundreds upon hundreds
of years the winds and tides have combined to rid themselves of this
obstacle to their progress, the winds urging the waves that come rolling
in from the vast Atlantic, gathering force as they increase in speed, like
one rushing at a leap; and at last leap they do, upon the great black
mass of shale, tons upon tons in weight, seeming as if they would
sweep it clear away, and rush on in mad ruin to tumble the fishing
luggers together and shatter them like eggs as they lie softly rubbing
together in the harbour.
But no; it is only another of the countless millions of failures on the
part of those Atlantic billows. They leap and fall with a mighty boom
upon that rock, but only to break up with a hissing plash into a mass of
foam, defeated, churned up with froth that runs hissing back, ready to
give way to another wave advancing to the charge.
They have worn the rock smooth, so that it glistens like glass in the
morning sun, for, as if aware of the folly of urging on its regiments of
well-mounted cavalry to come dashing in upon the wild white-maned
sea-horses, or the more sober lines of heavy infantry in uniforms of
green and blue, the sea has for countless ages bombarded Carn Du with
stone-shot in the shape of great boulders. These have ground and
polished off every scrap of seaweed, every barnacle, limpet, and
sea-anemone, leaving the rock all smooth and bare, while the boulders
lie piled to the east in a heap, where the waves that try to take the rock

in flank leap amongst them, and roll them over higher and higher, to
come rumbling down as if they were tiny pebbles instead of rounded
masses of granite and spar-veined stone a quarter, half, and a
hundredweight each.
It was an awful place in a storm--Carn Du. It was there that the great
Austrian full-rigged ship came on, during one black and raging night;
when one minute from the harbour, and off the cliff, the fishermen in
their oilskins could see the lights of a vessel--the next minute, nothing.
There were the remains of a few timbers, though, in the morning--torn,
twisted, gnawed, as it were, into fibres and splintering rags. That was
It was an awful place in a storm, where the spray, broken up into
feathery froth by the battle on the rocks, came flying over the town, and
then away landward, like a fine misty rain; but it was a grand place in a
calm. It has been said that there was always deep water, even at low
tide, at the foot of the Carn, and here for generations had been the
training place of the swimmers of Carn Du, who were famous for their
prowess all round the coast.
It was too much for the boys, but the performance of the big dive was
looked upon as the passing of a lad from boyhood into the manly stage,
upon which he entered through the Shangles Gate, and then swam back,
coming, as it were, of age amidst the shouts of his companions to swim
ashore and land upon the big boulders, where the boys bathed and
learned to swim in the calm weather, gazing
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