What do the Gunliffes initially believe to be the cause of their son's accident in "Malachi's Cove" by Anthony Trollope?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bartholomew "Barty" Gunliffe is the only son of  Farmer Gunliffe and his wife, some of the only characters in "Malachi's Cove" by Anthony Trollope. They live near the village of Tintagel, very near the cliffs of the sea. As farmers, the Gunliffes need fertilizer for their crops, and the closest thing they can get is the special seaweed which washes up in the cove closest to their property.

Unfortunately for Barty, who is the designated seaweed-gatherer for his family, someone else has rather commandeered that exact spot to collect the valuable seaweed. It is something which cannot be found anywhere else in such abundance. Her name is Mally, and her grandfather is Malachi.

Twenty-year-old Mally would stand on the slippery rocks closest to the water and haul in the valuable seaweed with a great hook.

The long, soft, salt-bedewed trailing masses of the weed, could be gathered there when they could not be found elsewhere for miles along the coast. The task of getting the weed from the breakers was often difficult and dangerous--so difficult that much of it was left to be carried away by the next incoming tide. 

Barty and Mally eventually come to an understanding and manage to work together to gather the seaweed in the place known as Malachi's Cove. The land belongs to her grandfather, and she has even gone to court to ensure that no one can encroach on the land. At first she sees Barty as nothing but another interloper who wants to steal what belongs to her grandfather.

Eventually, however, Barty promises only to gather the precious commodity from those spots which are inaccessible to Mally because she is not as tall or strong as he is. Mally will gather from her usual spot, and all will be well.

One day there is a storm, and Barty gets in trouble because he is precariously perched on the rocks during the raging storm.

The white-curling waves were cresting and breaking themselves with violence, and the wind was howling among the caverns and abutments of the cliff.

Barty is precariously perched during this storm, and Mally is in an equally precarious position but has much more experience both with the task and her position. They both work through the storm and they engage in a kind of competition in which neither will give in or give up.

Suddenly Mally notices that Barty has fallen into the swirling and dangerous water, and she risks her own life to safe him in an arduous, draining effort. He is alive, but barely. Her grandfather warns her that the Gunliffes are probably going to accuse her of killing their son, but Mally insists that she has to go tell Barty's parents what has happened to their son.

As predicted, the Gunliffes refuse to believe Mally when she tells them the truth, and they accuse her of murdering their son. Mally's grandfather was right, and the Gunliffes assumed his accident was caused by Mally in an attempt to murder Barty, presumably for gathering seaweed in Malachi's Cove.

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