In the North Sea, there is a great rock called Inchcape Rock. It is twelve miles from any land and is covered most of the time with water.
Many boats and ships have been wrecked on that rock; for it is so near the top of the water that no vessel can sail over it without striking it.
More than a hundred years ago there lived not far away from a kindhearted man who was called the Abbot of Aber-brothock.
“It is a pity,” he said, “that so many brave sailors should lose their lives on that hidden rock.”
So the abbot caused a buoy to be fastened to the rock. The buoy floated back and forth in the shallow water. A strong chain kept it from floating away.
On the top of the buoy, the abbot placed a bell; and when the waves dashed against it, the bell would ring out loud and clear.
Sailors, now, we’re no longer afraid to cross the sea at that place. When they heard the bell ringing, they knew just where the rock was, and they steered their vessels around it.
“God bless the good Abbot of Aber-brothock!” they all said.
One calm summer day, a ship with a black flag happened to sail not far from the Inch-cape Rock. The ship belonged to a sea-robber called Ralph the Rover, and she was a terror to all honest people both on sea and shore.
There was but little wind that day, and the sea was as smooth as glass. The ship stood almost still; there was hardly a breath of air to fill her sails.
Ralph the Rover was walking on the deck. He looked out upon the glassy sea. He saw the buoy floating above the Inchcape Rock. It looked like a big black speck upon the water. But the bell was not ringing that day. There were no waves to set it in motion.
“Boys!” cried Ralph the Rover; “put out the boat, and row me to the Inchcape Rock. We will play a trick on the old abbot.”
The boat was lowered. Strong arms soon rowed it to the Inchcape Rock. Then the robber, with a heavy ax, broke the chain that held the buoy.
He cut the fastenings of the bell. It fell into the water. There was a gurgling sound as it sank out of sight.
“The next one that comes this way will not bless the abbot,” said Ralph the Rover.
Soon a breeze sprang up, and the black ship sailed away. The sea robber laughed as he looked back and saw that there was nothing to mark the place of the hidden rock.
For many days, Ralph the Rover scoured the seas, and many were the ships that he plundered. At last, he chanced to sail back toward the place from which he had started.
The wind had blown hard all day. The waves rolled high. The ship was moving swiftly. But in the evening the wind died away, and a thick fog came on.
Ralph the Rover walked the deck. He could not see where the ship was going. “If the fog would only clear away!” he said.
“I thought I heard the roar of breakers,” said the pilot. “We must be near the shore.”
“I cannot tell,” said Ralph the Rover; “but I think we are not far from the Inchcape Rock. I wish we could hear the good abbot’s bell.”
The next moment there was a great crash. “It is the Inchcape Rock!” the sailors cried, as the ship gave a lurch to one side, and began to sink.
“Oh, what a wretch am I!” cried Ralph the Rover. “This is what comes of the joke that I played on the good abbot!”
What was it that he heard as the waves rushed over him? Was it the abbot’s bell, ringing for him far down at the bottom of the sea?