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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/189

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CHESIL.

during the reign of Elizabeth, those nameless birds as large as hawks, who cut an apple in two, but ate only the pips. You never meet those crows with yellow beaks, called in English Cornish choughs (pyrrocorax in Latin), who mischievously drop burning twigs on thatched roofs; nor that magic bird the fulmar, a wanderer from the Scottish archipelago, dropping from his bill an oil which the islanders used to burn in their lamps. Nor do you ever find in the evening, in the plash of the ebbing tide, that ancient, legendary neitse, with the feet of a hog and the bleat of a calf. The tide no longer throws up the whiskered seal, with its curled ears and sharp jaws, dragging itself along on its nailless paws. On the Portland cliffs, so changed nowadays as to be scarcely recognizable the absence of forests precluded nightingales; and now the falcon, the swan, and the wild goose have fled. The sheep of Portland, nowadays, are fat and have fine wool; the few scattered ewes which nibbled the salt grass there two centuries ago were small and tough, and coarse of fleece, as became Celtic flocks brought there by garlic-eating shepherds who lived to a hundred, and who at the distance of half a mile could pierce a cuirass with their yard-long arrows. Uncultivated land makes coarse wool.

The Chesil of to-day resembles in no particular the Chesil of the past, so much has it been disturbed by man and by those furious winds which disintegrate the very stones. The Isthmus of Portland two hundred years ago was a huge mound of sand, with a vertebrated spine of rock. At present this tongue of land bears a railway, terminating in a pretty cluster of houses, called Chesilton, and there is a Portland station. Railway carriages roll where seals used to crawl.

The child's danger had now assumed a different form. What he had had to fear in the descent of the cliff was