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At The Black Rocks.

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At The Black Rocks.

By Reverend Edward A. Rand, about 1890.

Most of the books written by the Reverend Edward Rand have strong Christian overtones designed to help the young lead moral lives where good triumphs over evil and, what is more, the story usually revolves around a lighthouse which he describes in full detail.

This is just the case with "At the Black Rocks" and is set at Shipton on the banks of a river near a sand bar and at the entrance to the sea. It is typically British as you would expect for 1890 but as the small boat is called a "dory"; fish are called "cunners"; and a cold Artic wind blows from Alaska, then the setting for the story this time must be Canada.

We begin with our hero, David Fletcher, aged 15 and fishing on the bank of the river. Ten year old Bartholomew Trafton is rowing down the river to get a doctor for his ailing grandfather. Finally, Dick Pray, also 15 years old, is playing with friends on a make shift raft. Young Bart's boat capsizes and both Dave and Dick attempt to save him. Dave, who throughout the story displays qualities of kindness, level headedness, and common sense, saves the boy, whilst Dick, whose qualities are his own self importance and thoughtless recklessness fails to be of any practical help.

This sets the tone for the rest of the book as Bart then hero worships Dave, and all three become friends. Dave and Dick together with some of Dick's friends, spend a night camping on board a beached and derelict schooner. Again their personal qualities are put to the test when Dick foolishly raises the old anchor on a rising tide and the schooner is swept out to the bar. It is Dave who drops the anchor on the bar and leads the party to the safety of the Black Rocks lighthouse where they spend the night with the keeper, Toby Tolman.

When the escapade is over Dave forms a friendship with the lighthouse keeper and spends the remainder of his holiday as his assistant whilst Timothy Waters, the official assistant, takes his holiday. Dave's sister runs the local Sunday school; Bart attends and we learn of his alcoholic father at sea; his grumpy grandfather and tolerant grandmother; a weird mixture of personalities that makes Bart feel worthless and unloved. In addition, the lighthouse keeper's grand daughter, May, also attends the Sunday school. At this point make a mental note of her name, as she will crop up later on.

More escapades take place with Dick (not Dave who is too good) and others camping on a small island in the river. Sensible Dave yet again saves the day. For the next few chapters we learn, in incredible detail, of the construction of the lighthouse and foghorn, the keeper's duties; visitors to the lighthouse, and of the lighthouse Bible. Here the Reverend Rand exposes his knowledge of lighthouses and gives us a resume of the history of them from the recording of the first lighthouse.

By the time Dave is 18 years old he gets the job of Assistant Lighthouse Keeper full time when Timothy decides that he has had enough. Dick and Bart are also both gainfully employed. Bart's father, Thomas, attends temperance meetings and now a reformed alcoholic has put the demon drink behind him. On a visit to the lighthouse he is recognised by the old keeper as the drunken shipwrecked sailor to whom he once gave shelter many years ago when a schooner was wrecked on the bar and all on board died. Dave proves to be good at his job and at times mans the lighthouse by himself when Toby Tolman has to visit his sick grand daughter May.

Bart's life has changed now he has a loving father and happy grandparents. His life now has a purpose and in an agreement with Dave, every night he looks at the lighthouse through his grand father's telescope. What he does not want to see is an additional lamp hanging from the gallery for he knows that will be a distress signal and he must call a doctor to go to the lighthouse. Every night he is relieved that no signal is shown.

But one night by which time Dave is 21 years old and sprouting a moustache, an emergency occurs. Dave finds old Toby Tolman ill with a fever and lights the emergency signal lantern. Help arrives in the form of Bart and his father Thomas who bring the local doctor. A complete recovery is made but the doctor recommends that Toby must retire.

In parallel with all this excitement a vengeful Timothy Waters is spreading malicious rumours indicating that either Dave or old Toby is selling off lighthouse supplies for personal gain. He even steals the old man's watch. Now at this time it becomes clear why in the previous chapters we are told that Dave and Timothy are identical when seen from the rear and when Timothy was perpetrating a devilish deed he was observed from the rear only, thus increasing the suspicion heaped on Dave.

Matters come to a head when the Lighthouse inspector calls after receiving an anonymous letter about the thefts. Like all good Agatha Christie novels, all are gathered in one room. Toby, who thought he saw Dave from the rear steal his watch; Thomas and Bart, who had also seen the Dave look alike and Timothy Waters who coincidentally was also there. But good always triumphs over evil and truth will out.

Toby recalls that the thief had side whiskers that could be seen from the rear; only Timothy had these. Dave then produced a notebook that he had found outside the lighthouse a few days ago which had the initials T.W and the lighthouse inspector compared the writing in the lighthouse records when Timothy was on duty to the anonymous letter; and all came to the conclusion that the miserable Timothy was the thief. He confessed to all the wrong doings and that Dave was blameless.

The good news is that Dave becomes Principal Lighthouse Keeper with immediate effect upon the retirement of Toby; Thomas no longer goes to sea or drinks alcohol and becomes the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper. Bart can resume his hero worshipping of Dave and becomes Second Assistant Lighthouse Keeper.

The moral is quite clear to see; all those who are hard working, honest and Christian reap the best rewards, with Dave not only getting the well paid position of Lighthouse Keeper but wins the hand of May (remember her; the old Lighthouse keeper's grand daughter) and marries her to live, during shore time, with Toby. As for Dick Pray; he is not a bad boy; he just remains foot loose and fancy free without living a fulfilling life.