The Devil’s Arch

The coast round here has been carved by the sea and the wind, fer thousands of years. What we’ve been left with is some’at what’s rough and strong, yes and cruel. Soft rocks, like soft folk are long gone. ‘ard and rough that’s what we’ve become. We’ve had to, to survive. There’s none of your fancy foods ‘ere, only what we can take from the sea. An’ it doesn’t give us nothing, we ‘as to take it.
The Devil’s Arch, is a big thing for us. There’s an on-shore current ‘as brings many a poor ship to ‘er doom. ‘Specially in the winter time when the winds are up and the clouds are down. Many a ship ‘as foundered on the arch. We keeps a close watch on that part o’ the coast, to try an save what seamen as we can.
That night were a bad night. A bad night for us but a worse one for the sailor boys on that barque as got blow’d too close inshore. The wind were whipping the sea into such a frenzy as I’ve not seen these thirty years. Waves a crashin’ an’ comin’ right o’er the tops of the arch like they was alive, and trying’ to climb up on the shore, to grab a good Christian man an’ drag ‘im back into the depths. I never seen the likes of it before, an’ truth be told, I don’t want to see it never again.
Me an’ Tommy Boyle were watching’ the sea, from Wreckers’ Point. Maybe ‘alf a mile from the arch. On the cliff top, we could see down to the arch easy enough on a clear day. That night were as black as the depths of ‘ell itself. The sea were mebbe a ‘hundred feet below us. An’ still the spray were thrown in our faces stinging’ like we was being pelted with ice. It were as close to the sea as I wanted to get that night. As close as I dared get, without a good reason. Shelterin’ from the wind be’ind that stone wall up there. It were a real vicious wind, slicin’ through yer meat like a knife an’ diggin’ in to yer bones it were. We took it in turns to go out an’ take a look see.
It were Tommy ‘as spotted it. “Looks like a ship comin’ in ‘ard,” he said. “I can see the lights on ‘er main mast.” I went out with ‘im to take a look and sure enough, I could see it too. Tossin’ an’ turnin’ an’ a swingin’ left an’ right. Up an’ down like a mad thing it were. It were too dark to see any sailors on board. There might not ‘ave been any for all I could see. I could just catch sight o’ the lights. Where it was, I could tell there weren’t no ‘ope for ‘er. Too close in and with the wind from the west she weren’t never goin’ to come about an’ get off them rocks.
Tommy went down to the cliff’s edge, I think ‘e were going to the arch. I went back to the village to get the men out. It takes every man we’ve got, to do anything on the Devil’s Arch. Ropes and men, aye and Farmer Pillins ‘orse as well. It’s about a mile or a mile an’ ‘alf to Becker’s Bluff an’ it took me a while to get everybody up an’ out. But when I ‘ad we all went ‘ell for leather down to the arch.
I were ‘oping as mebbe we’d save some o’ them poor souls on board. Aye, there’d be some wreckage as we could share. But that were only fair, after we’d pulled what sailor boys ashore as we could. Weren’t it?
Tommy were right by the arch. Soakin’ wet from the spray and lookin’ out at the ship. I couldn’t see a soul on board. It were pitch black and w’out our lanterns we’d not even ‘ave seen the pathway. The ship had floundered, right on the point. ‘Alf the ship, the stern were swingin’ round in front o’ the arch. I could just see the lights on the mizzen mast and the other part, the prow, were stuck inside the arch. There weren’t no lights on the fore mast, but still one on the main. ‘Er back must ’a bin broke to be like that. There weren’t no ‘ope for any ship in that state. An’ ‘specially not with the sea like that.
She were takin’ a fearful poundin’. Every wave swamped ‘er more. The sound o’ the wind screamin’ an’ the waves smashing’ were awful to ‘ear. An’ ever an’ agin you’d ‘ear the sound o’ the plankin’ smash. The mizen mast didn’t last long after we were there an’ it smashed down into the sea with a sound like a canon firing’.
I swear to God, sir, on my mother’s life. There were no souls left alive on that ship when I got there. Not a one, God rest ‘em. There were nothin’ we could do to save ‘em. It were too late. All we could do were try an’ get the cargo ashore. An’ that’s what we did.