Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Black Venn
CHAPTER I. NATURAL.
The superb curve of the cliffs, east of the little borough town of Lyme Regis, describes an arc of about 30 miles in length terminating in the Bill of Portland. Some of these cliffs are 700 or 800 feet high. Their charmingly varied hues, commencing with the dark blue of the lias at Lyme Regis, broken by slips of verdure, and clefts producing deep shadows, succeeded by the oolitic yellow or orange crests of Shorncliff and Golden Cap, whose sides bear little copses of dark fir, interspersed with purple heather and golden gorse, reflect themselves in a calm sea with the brilliancy of the rainbow, giving an Italian effect to the scenery.
As our eye follows the curve of coast beyond, we notice the red cliffs which mark the situation of Bridport and the fishing village of Burton; and, subdued and harmonised by distance, the still receding heights beyond Abbotsbury fade away into an indefinite greenish blue, and terminate in the white rock of Portland, which lifts itself as a pale shadow in the far atmosphere.
We must add to our picture the bright blue waters of the Bay: these, sheltered from the east and north, and open only to the more genial influences (tempestuous though they sometimes be), of the south and west breezes, spread their wide expanse towards the bosom of the broad Atlantic unbroken by any intervening land; and whether tossed into wavelets flecked with innumerable white crests, or still and glassy with a mother-of-pearl iridescence on their surface, add the charm of incessant change to the exquisite colouring.
Standing on the verdant summit of Black Venn, one of the heights I have been describing, between Lyme and Charmouth, in the calm soft light of a summer sunset, a spectator, versed in the local records of the neighbourhood, finds an additional interest in the recollection that the sea and landscape, on which the eye now rests in admiration, presented the identical appearance in hue and outline to the Northern Sea Kings when, ten centuries ago, our Saxon progenitors watched from these heights the robber fleets, sweeping, beneath their bases, towards the adjacent village of Charmouth, and landing their fierce warriors with the raven standard unfurled, to ravage the interior with fire and sword.
Possessed of still greater interest is the reflection that at a much more remote epoch, while the earth was yet a desolate wilderness and man was as yet uncreated to inhabit, cultivate, and subdue, beneath and over these very cliffs, and amid the surrounding ooze, there swarmed countless multitudes of monstrous forms; giants in magnitude, and of great muscular development, endued with the most fearful powers of destruction and rapacity; creatures whose very analogy is in some cases scarcely traceable at the present day, but who then held undisputed sway over that dreary region, the theatre of their internecine war, and ultimately their sepulchre.
The stony skeletons of these monsters, daily disinterred by the pickaxe of the workman, or the hammer of the geologist, attest the unquestionable facts of their animal organisation, even to minute details, details which have enabled us to establish conclusions respecting the condition of the world which they inhabited, as accurate as if we had ourselves been then in existence, with every faculty for observation and personal investigation. A series of inferences, the result of a train of masterly reasoning, supports these conclusions, and stamps with authenticity a very wonderful chapter in our readings from the book of Nature, of the goodness and superintending power of the Almighty Creator.
CHAPTER II. SUPERNATURAL.
But the glimmer of the revolving light on the distant Isle of Portland, and the brighter sparkle of the town lamps in the valley remind us of the necessity for our homeward journey, and we therefore commence our descent. The road we are taking towards the town from the hill on the Charmouth side is beautifully diversified; and the dark pine wood, which at some little distance borders it upon our right, calls up a reminiscence of so strange a character, that I think it worth presenting to the reader.
About six years ago I was coming to Lyme Regis by this very road from Charmouth, where I had been engaged until a late hour on professional business. It might have been about eleven o’clock as I reached the gap known by the name of the Devil’s Bellows, a few hundred yards beyond which, is the crown of the hill overlooking a long strip of the undulating and winding road towards Lyme. Below this part of the road is the cliff called “Black Venn.” The night was a bright summer moonlight, almost as clear as day.
From this point the road, with all its turns and hollows, can be seen for the distance of nearly half a mile; and the dark woods on the right which border it to some distance, and out of which it seems to take its rise, rendered its yellow line still more conspicuous by the contrast on such a night.
I had scarcely reached this point when I was startled by a loud but distant scream, or rather a succession of screams, of a peculiarly wild and wailing character.
As nearly as I could judge, the sounds came from the pine wood at the extremity of the road. I stopped to listen, and strained my eyes in the direction from which the screams appeared to come; and there,—just where the road emerges from the darkness of the wood, I distinctly saw something white, gleaming and glancing in the moonlight, and evidently in ceaseless and violent motion. My first idea was that two persons, clothed in white, were struggling, as if engaged in a contest for life and death: but after gazing for a minute or two, I became aware that the figure or figures, whichever it might be, had subsided into one, and that one was rapidly moving towards me!