Ensign Knightley and Other Stories
A. E. W. Mason
Part 3 out of 5
advance, and then he shouted,
The little flames shot out and crackled among the vines. He saw
gaps in the Prussian ranks, he saw the men waver, surprised at the
proximity of the attack.
"Charge," he shouted, and crashing through the few yards of shelter,
they burst out upon the repli, and across the open space to the
Prussian bayonets. But not one of the number reached the bayonets.
"Fire!" shouted the Prussian officer, in his turn.
The volley flashed out, the smoke cleared away, and showed a little
heap of men silent between the bonfire and the Prussian ranks.
The Prussians loaded again and stood ready, waiting for the main
attack. The morning was just breaking. They stood silent and
motionless till the sky was flooded with light and the hills one after
another came into view, and the files of poplars were seen marching
on the plains. Then the Colonel approached the little heap. A rifle
caught his eye, and he picked it up.
"They are all mad," said he. Forced to the point of the bayonet was a
gaudy little linen tri-colour flag.
THE CROSSED GLOVES.
"Although you have not been near Ronda for five years," said the
Spanish Commandant severely to Dennis Shere, "the face of the country
has not changed. You are certainly the most suitable officer I
can select, since I am told you are well acquainted with the
neighbourhood. You will ride therefore to-day to Olvera and deliver
this sealed letter to the officer commanding the temporary garrison
there. But it is not necessary that it should reach him before eleven
at night, so that you will still have an hour or two before you start
in which you can renew your acquaintanceships, as I can very well
understand you are anxious to do."
Dennis Shere's reluctance, however, was now changed into alacrity. For
the road to Olvera ran past the gates of that white-walled, straggling
residencia where he had planned to spend this first evening that he
was stationed at Ronda. On his way back from his colonel's quarters
he even avoided those squares and streets where he would be likely to
meet with old acquaintances, foreseeing their questions as to why he
was now a Spanish subject and wore the uniform of a captain of Spanish
cavalry and by seven o'clock he was already riding through the Plaza
de Toros upon his mission. There, however, a familiar voice hailed
him, and turning about in his saddle he saw an old padre who had once
gained a small prize for logic at the University of Barcelona, and who
had since made his inferences and deductions an excuse for a great
deal of inquisitiveness. Shere had no option but to stop. He broke in,
however, at once on the inevitable questions as to his uniform with
the statement that he must be at Olvera by eleven.
"Fifteen miles," said the padre. "Does it need four hours and a fresh
horse to journey fifteen miles?"
"But I have friends to visit on the way," and to give convincing
details to an excuse which was plainly disbelieved, Shere added, "Just
this side of Setenil I have friends."
The padre was still dissatisfied. "There is only one house just this
side of Setenil, and Esteban Silvela I saw with my own eyes to-day in
"He may well be home by now, and it is not Esteban whom I go to see."
"Not Esteban," exclaimed the padre. "Then it will be--"
"His sister, the Senora Christina," said Shere with a laugh at his
companion's persistency. "Since the brother and sister live alone, and
it is not the brother, why it will be the sister. You argue still very
The padre stood back a little from Shere and stared. Then he said
slyly, and with the air of one who quotes:
"All women are born tricksters."
"Those were rank words," said Shere composedly.
"Yet they were often spoken when you grew vines in the Ronda Valley."
"Then a crowd of men must know me for a fool. A young man may make a
mistake, padre, and exaggerate a disappointment. Besides, I had not
then seen the senora. Esteban I knew, but she was a child, and known
to me only by name." And then, warmed by the pleasure in his old
friend's face, he said, "I will tell you about it."
They walked on slowly side by side, while Shere, who now that he had
begun to confide was quite swept away, bent over his saddle and told
how after inheriting a modest fortune, after wandering for three years
from city to city, he had at last come to Paris, and there, at a
Carlist conversazione, had heard the familiar name called from a
doorway, and had seen the unfamiliar face appear. Shere described
Christina. She walked with the grace of a deer, as though the floor
beneath her foot had the spring of turf. The blood was bright in her
face; her brown hair shone; she was sweet with youth; the suppleness
of her body showed it and the steadiness of her great clear eyes.
"She passed me," he went on, "and the arrogance of what I used to
think and say came sharp home to me like a pain. I suppose that
I stared--it was an accident, of course--perhaps my face showed
something of my trouble; but just as she was opposite me her fan
slipped through her fingers and clattered on the floor."
The padre was at a loss to understand Shere's embarrassment in
relating so small a matter.
"Well," said he, "you picked up the fan and so--"
"No," interrupted Shere. His embarrassment increased, and he stammered
out awkwardly, "Just for the moment, you see, I began to wonder
whether after all I had not been right before; whether after all
any woman would or could baulk herself of a fraction of any man's
admiration, supposing that it would only cost a trick to extort it.
And while I was wondering she herself stooped, picked up the fan, and
good-humouredly dropped me a curtsey for my lack of manners. Esteban
presented me to her that evening. There followed two magical months in
Paris and a June in London."
"But, Esteban?" said the padre, doubtfully. "I do not understand. I
know something of Esteban Silvela. A lean man of plots and devices. My
friend, do you know that Esteban has not a groat? The Silvela fortunes
and estate came from the mother and went to the daughter. Esteban
is the Senora Christina's steward, and her marriage would alter his
position at the least. Did he not spoil the magic of the months in
Shere laughed aloud in assured confidence.
"No, indeed," said he. "I did not know Esteban was dependent on his
sister, but what difference would her marriage make? Esteban is my
best friend. For instance, you questioned me about my uniform. It is
by Esteban's advice and help that I wear it."
"Indeed!" said the padre, quickly. "Tell me."
"That June, in London, two years ago--it was by the way the last time
I saw the senora--we three dined at the same house. As the ladies rose
from the table I said to Christina quietly, 'I want to speak to you
to-night,' and she answered very simply and quietly, 'With all my
heart.' She was not so quiet, however, but that Esteban overheard her.
He hitched his chair up to mine; I asked him what my chances were, and
whether he would second them? He was most cordial, but he thought with
his Spaniard's pride that I ought--I use my words, not his--in some
way to repair my insufficiency in station and the rest; and he pointed
out this way of the uniform. I could not resist his argument; I did
not speak that night. I took out my papers and became a Spaniard; with
Esteban's help I secured a commission. That was two years ago. I have
not seen her since, nor have I written, but I ride to her to-night
with my two years' silence and my two years' service to prove the
truth of what I say. So you see I have reason to thank Esteban." And
since they were now come to the edge of the town they parted company.
Shere rode smartly down the slope of the hill, the padre stood and
watched him with a feeling of melancholy.
It was not merely that he distrusted Esteban, but he knew Shere, the
cadet of an impoverished family, who had come out from England to a
small estate in the Ronda valley, which had belonged to his house
since the days of the Duke of Wellington in Spain. He knew him for a
man of tempests and extremes, and as he thought of his ardent words
and tones, of his ready acceptance of Esteban's good faith, of his
description of Christina, he fell to wondering whether so sudden and
violent a conversion from passionate cynic to passionate believer
would not lack permanence. There was that little instructive accident
of the dropped fan. Even in the moment of conversion so small a thing
had almost sufficed to dissuade Shere.
Shere, however, was quite untroubled--so untroubled, indeed, that he
even rode slowly that he might not waste the luxury of anticipating
the welcome which his unexpected appearance would surely provoke. He
rode into the groves of almond and walnut trees and out again into a
wild and stony country. It was just growing dusk when he saw ahead
of him the square white walls of the enclosure, and the cluster of
buildings within, glimmering at the foot of a rugged hill. The lights
began to move in the windows as he approached, and then a man suddenly
appeared at his side on the roadway and whistled twice loudly as
though he were calling his dog. Shere rode past the man and through
the open gates into the courtyard. There were three men lounging
there, and they came forward almost as if they had expected Shere. He
gave his horse into their charge and impetuously mounted the flight of
stone steps to the house. A servant in readiness came forward at once
and preceded Shere along a gallery towards a door. Shere's impetuosity
led him to outstep the servant, he opened the door, and so entered the
It was a long, low room with a wainscot of dark walnut, and a single
lamp upon the table gave it shadows rather than light. He had just
time to notice that a girl and a man were bending over the table in
the lamplight, to recognise with a throb of the heart the play of
the light upon the girl's brown hair, to understand that she was
explaining something which she held in her hands, and then Esteban
came quickly to him with a certain air of perplexity and a glance of
inquiry towards the servant. Then he said:--
"Of course, of course, you stopped and came in of your own accord."
"Of my own accord, indeed," said Shere, who was looking at Christina
instead of heeding Esteban's words. His unexpected coming had
certainly not missed its effect, although it was not the effect which
Shere had desired. There was, to be sure, a great deal of astonishment
in her looks, but there was also consternation; and when she spoke it
was in a numbed and absent way.
"You are well? We have not seen you this long while. Two years is it?
More than two years."
"There have been changes," said Esteban. "We have had war and, alas,
"Yes, I was in Cuba," said Shere, and the conversation dragged
on impersonal and dull. Esteban talked continually with a forced
heartiness, Christina barely spoke at all, and then absently. Shere
noticed that she had but lately come in, for she still wore her hat,
and her gloves lay crossed on the table in the light of the lamp; she
moved restlessly about the room, stopping now and then to give an ear
to any chance noise in the courtyard, and to glance alertly at the
door; so that Shere understood that she was expecting another visitor,
and that he himself was in the way. An inopportune intrusion, it
seemed, was the sole outcome of the two years' anticipations, and
utterly discouraged he rose from his chair. On the instant, however,
Esteban signed to Shere to remain, and with a friendly smile himself
made an excuse and left the room.
Christina was now walking up and down one particular seam in the floor
with as much care as if the seam was a tight-rope, and this exercise
she continued. Shere moved over to the table and quite absently played
with the gloves which lay there, disarranging their position, so that
they no longer made a cross.
"You remember that night in London," said he, and Christina stopped
for a second to say simply and without any suggestion that she was
offended, "You should have spoken that night," and then resumed her
"Yes," returned Shere. "But I was always aware that I could not offer
you your match, and I found, I thought, quite suddenly that evening a
way to make my insufficiency less insufficient."
"Less insufficient by a strip of brass upon your shoulder," she
exclaimed passionately. She came and stood opposite to him. "Well,
that strip of brass stops us both. It stops my ears, it must stop your
lips too. Where did we meet first?"
"At a Carlist--" and Shere broke off and took a step towards her.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, "I never thought of it. I imagined you went there
to laugh as I did."
"Does one laugh at one's creed?" she cried violently; and Shere with a
helpless gesture of the hands sat down in a chair. Esteban had fooled
him, and why, the padre had shown Shere that afternoon, Esteban had
fooled him irreparably; it did not need a glance at Christina, as she
stood facing him, to convince him of that. There was no anger against
him, he noticed, in her face, but on the contrary a great friendliness
and pity. But he knew her at that moment. Her looks might soften, but
not her resolve. She was heart-whole a Carlist. Carlism was her creed,
and her creed would be more than a creed, it would be a passion too.
So it was not to persuade her but rather in acknowledgment that he
"And one does not change one's creed?"
"No," she answered, and suggested, but in a doubtful voice, "but one
can put off one's uniform."
Shere stood up. "Neither can one do that," he said simply. "It is
quite true that I sought my commission upon your account. I would just
as readily have become a Carlist had I known. I had no inclination one
way or the other, only a great hope and longing for you. But I have
made the mistake, and I cannot retrieve it. The strip of brass obliges
me to good faith. Already you will understand the uniform has had its
inconvenience. It sent me to Cuba, and set me armed against men almost
of my own blood. There was no escape then; there is no escape now."
Christina moved closer to him. The reticence with which Shere spoke,
and the fact that he made no claim upon her made her voice very
"No," she agreed. "I thought that you would make that answer. And in
my heart I do not think that I should like to have heard from you any
"Thank you," said Shere. He drew out his watch. "I have still some
way to go. I have to reach Olvera by eleven;" and he was aware that
Christina at his side became at once very still, so that even her
breathing was arrested. For her sigh of emotion at the abrupt mention
of parting he was thankful, but it made him keep his eyes turned from
her lest a sight of any distress of hers might lead him to falter from
"You are riding to Olvera?" she asked, after a pause, and in a queer
"Yes. So I must say good-bye," and now he turned to her. But she was
too quick for him to catch a glimpse of her face. She had already
turned from him and was walking towards the door.
"You must also say good-bye to Esteban," said she, as though to gain
time. With her fingers on the door-handle she stopped. "Tell me," she
exclaimed. "It was Esteban who advised the army, who helped you to
your commission? You need not deny it! It was Esteban," she stood
silent, turning over this revelation in her mind. Then she added, "Did
you see Esteban in Ronda this afternoon?"
"No, but I heard that he was there. I must go."
He took up his hat, and turning again towards the door saw that
Christina stood with her back against the panels and her arms
outstretched across them like a barrier.
"You need not fear," he said to reassure her. "I shall not quarrel
with Esteban. He is your brother, and the harm is done. Besides, I do
not know that it is all harm when I look back in the years before I
wore the uniform. In those times it was all one's own dissatisfactions
and trivial dislikes and trivial ambitions. Now I find a repose in
losing them, in becoming a little necessary part of a big machine,
even though it is not the best machine of its kind and works creakily.
I find a dignity in it too."
It was the man of extremes who spoke, and he spoke quite sincerely.
Christina, however, neither answered him nor heard. Her eyes were
fixed with a strange intentness upon him; her breath came and went as
if she had run a race, and in the silence seemed unnaturally audible.
"You carry orders to Olvera?" she said at length. Shere fetched the
sealed letter out of his pocket.
"So I must go, or fail in my duty," said he.
"Give me the letter," said Christina.
Shere stared at her in amazement. The amazement changed to suspicion.
His whole face seemed to narrow and sharpen out of his own likeness
into something foxy and mean.
"I will not," he said, and slowly replaced the letter. "There was a
man in the road," he continued slowly, "who whistled as I passed--a
signal, no doubt. You are Carlist. This is a trap."
"A trap not laid for you," said Christina. "Be sure of that! Until you
spoke of Olvera I did not know."
"No," admitted Shere, "not laid for me to your knowledge, but to
Esteban's. You were surprised at my coming--Esteban only at the manner
of my coming. He asked if I had ridden into the gates of my own accord
I remember. He was in Ronda this afternoon. Very likely it was he who
told my colonel of my knowledge of the neighbourhood. It would suit
his purposes well to present me to you suddenly, not merely as an
enemy, but an active enemy. Yes, I understand that. But," and his
voice hardened again, "even to your knowledge the trap was laid for
the man who carries the letter. You have your share in the trick." He
repeated the word with a sharp laugh, savouring it, dwelling upon it
as upon something long forgotten, and now suddenly remembered. "A
murderous trick, too, it seems! I wonder what would have happened if
I had not turned in at the gates of my own accord. How much farther
should I have ridden towards Olvera, and by what gentle means should I
have been stopped?"
"By nothing more dangerous than a hand upon your bridle and an excuse
that you might do me some small service at Olvera."
"An excuse, a falsity! To be sure," said Shere bitterly. "Yet you
still stand before the door though you know the letter will not be
yours. Is the trick after all so harmless? Is there no one--Esteban,
for instance--in the dark passage outside the door or on the dark road
outside the gates?"
"I will prove to you you are wrong."
Christina dropped her arms to her side, moved altogether from the
door, and rang a bell. "Esteban shall come here; he will see you
outside the gates; he will set you safely on your road to Olvera." She
spoke now quite quietly; all the panic and agitation had gone in
a moment from her face, her manner, and her words. But the very
suddenness of the change in her increased Shere's suspicions. A moment
ago Christina was standing before the door with every nerve astrain,
her face white, and her eyes bewildered with horror. Now she stood
easily by the table with the lighted lamp, speaking easily, playing
easily with the gloves upon the table. Shere watched for the secret of
this sudden change.
A servant answered the bell and was bidden to find Esteban. No look of
significance passed between them; by no gesture was any signal given.
"No harm was intended to any man," Christina continued as soon as
the door again was closed; "I insisted--I mean there was no need to
insist; for I promised to get the letter from the bearer once he had
come into this room."
"How?" Shere asked with a blunt contempt. "By tricks?"
Christina raised her head quickly, stung to a moment's anger; but she
did not answer him, and again her head drooped.
"At all events," she said quietly, "I have not tried to trick you,"
and Shere noticed that she arranged with an absent carelessness the
gloves in the form of a cross beneath the lamp; and at once he felt
that her action contradicted her words. It was merely an instinct at
first. Then he began to reason. Those gloves had been so arranged when
first he entered the room. Christina and Esteban were bending over the
table. Christina was explaining something. Was she explaining that
arrangement of the gloves? Was that arrangement the reason of her
ready acceptance of his refusal to part with his orders? Was it, in a
word, a signal for Esteban--a signal which should tell him whether
or not she had secured the letter? Shere saw a way to answer that
question. He was now filled with distrust of Christina as half an hour
back he had been filled with faith in her; so that he paid no heed
to her apology, or to the passionate and pleading voice in which she
"So much was at stake for us," she said. "It seemed a necessity that
we must have that letter, that no sudden orders must reach Olvera
to-night. For there is some one at Olvera--I must trust you, you see,
though you are our pledged enemy--some one of great consequence to us,
some one we love, some one to whom we look to revive this Spain of
ours. No, it is not our King, but his son--his young and gallant son.
He will be gone to-morrow, but he is at Olvera to-night. And so when
Esteban found out to-day that orders were to be sent to the commandant
there it seemed we had no choice. It seemed those orders must not
reach him, and it seemed therefore--just so that no hurt might be
done, which otherwise would surely have been done, whatever I might
order or forbid--that I must use a woman's way and secure the letter."
"And the bearer?" asked Shere, advancing to the table. "What of him?
He, I suppose, might creep back to Ronda, broken in honour and with a
lie to tell? The best lie he could invent. Or would you have helped
him to the lie?"
Christina shrank away from the table as though she had been struck.
"You had not thought of his plight," continued Shere. "He rides out
from Ronda an honest soldier and returns--what? No more a soldier than
this glove of yours is your hand," and taking up one of the gloves he
held it for a moment, and then tossed it down at a distance from its
fellow. He deliberately turned his back to the table as Christina
"The bearer would be just our pledged enemy--pledged to outwit us, as
we to outwit him. But when you came there was no effort made to outwit
you. Own that at all events? You carry your orders safely, with your
honour safe, though the consequence may be disaster for us, and
disgrace for that we did not prevent you. Own that! You and I, I
suppose, will meet no more. So you might own this that I have used no
tricks with you?"
The appeal coming as an answer to his insult and contempt, and coming
from one whose pride he knew to be a real and dominant quality,
touched Shere against his expectation. He faced Christina on an
impulse to give her the assurance she claimed, but he changed his
"Are you sure of that?" he asked slowly, for he saw that the gloves
while his back was turned had again been crossed. He at all events
was now sure. He was sure that those crossed gloves were a signal for
Esteban, a signal that the letter had not changed hands. "You have
used no tricks with me?" he repeated. "Are you sure of that?"
The handle of the door rattled; Christina quickly crossed towards it.
Shere followed her, but stopped for the fraction of a second at the
table and deliberately and unmistakably placed the gloves in parallel
lines. As the door opened, he was standing between Christina and the
table, blocking it from her view.
It was not she, however, who looked to the table, but Esteban. She
kept her eyes upon her brother, and when he in his turn looked to her
Shere noticed a glance of comprehension swiftly interchanged. So Shere
was confident that he had spoiled this trick of the gloves, and when
he took a polite leave of Christina and followed Esteban from the room
it was not without an air of triumph.
Christina stood without changing her attitude, except that perhaps she
pushed her head a little forward that she might the better hear the
last of her lover's receding steps. When they ceased to sound she ran
quickly to the window, opened it, and leaned out that she might the
better hear his horse's hoofs on the flagged courtyard. She heard
besides Esteban's voice speaking amiably and Shere's making amiable
replies. The sharp hard clatter upon the stones softened into the
duller thud upon the road; the voices became fainter and lost their
character. Then one clear "good-night" rang out loudly, and was
followed by the quick beats of a horse trotting. Christina slowly
closed the window and turned her eyes upon the room. She saw the lamp
upon the table and the gloves in parallel lines beneath it.
Now Shere was so far right in that the gloves were intended as a
signal for Esteban; only owing to that complete revulsion of which the
padre had seen the possibility, Shere had mistaken the signal. The
passionate believer had again become the passionate cynic. He saw the
trick, and setting no trust in the girl who played it, heeding neither
her looks nor words nor the sincerity of her voice, had no doubt that
it was aimed against him; whereas it was aimed to protect him. Shere
had no doubt that the gloves crossed meant that he still had the
sealed letter in his keeping, and therefore he disarranged them. But
in truth the gloves crossed meant that Christina had it, and that the
messenger might go unhindered upon his way.
Christina uttered no cry. She simply did not believe what her eyes
saw. She needed to touch the gloves before she was convinced, and when
she had done that she was at once not sure but that she herself in
touching them had ranged them in these lines. In the end, however,
she understood, not the how or why, but the mere fact. She ran to the
door, along the gallery, down the steps into the courtyard. She met no
one. The house might have been a deserted ruin from its silence.
She crossed the courtyard to the glimmering white walls, and passed
through the gates on to the road. The night was clear; and ahead of
her far away in the middle of the road a lantern shone very red.
Christina ran towards it, and as she approached she saw faces like
miniatures grouped above it. They did not heed her until she was close
upon them, until she had noticed one man holding a riderless horse
apart from the group and another coiling up a stout rope. Then
Esteban, who was holding the lantern, raised his hand to keep her
"There has been an accident," said he. "He fell, and fell awkwardly,
the horse with him."
"An accident," said Christina, and she pointed to the coil of rope. It
was no use for her now to say that she had forbidden violence. Indeed,
at no time, as she told Shere, would it have been of any use. She
pushed through the group to where Dennis Shere lay on the ground, his
face white and shiny and tortured with pain. She knelt down on the
ground and took his head in her hands as though she would raise it on
to her lap, but one man stopped her, saying, "It is his back, senora."
Shere opened his eyes and saw who it was that bent over him, and
Christina, reading their look, was appalled. It was surely impossible
that human eyes could carry so much hate. His lips moved, and she
leaned her ear close to his mouth to catch the words. But it was only
one word he spoke and repeated:--
There was no time to disprove or explain. Christina had but one
argument. She kissed him on the lips.
"This is no trick," she cried, and Esteban, laying a hand upon her
shoulder, said, "He does not hear, nor can his lips answer;" and
Esteban spoke the truth. Shere had not heard, and never would hear, as
"He still has the letter," said Esteban. Christina thrust him back
with her hand and crouched over the dead man, protecting him. In a
little she said, "True, there is the letter." She unbuttoned Shere's
jacket and gently took the letter from his breast. Then she knelt back
and looked at the superscription without speaking. Esteban opened the
door of the lantern and held the flame towards her. "No," said she.
"It had better go to Olvera."
She rode to Olvera that night. They let her go, deceived by her
composure and thinking that she meant to carry it to "the man of great
But Christina's composure meant nothing more than that her mind and
her feelings were numbed. She was conscious of only one conviction,
that Shere must not fail in his duty, since he had staked his honour
upon its fulfilment. And so she rode straight to the commandant's
quarters at Olvera, and telling of an accident to the bearer, handed
him the letter. The commandant read it, and was most politely
distressed that Christina should have put herself to so much trouble,
for the orders merely recalled his contingent to Ronda in the morning.
It was about this time that Christina began to understand precisely
what had happened.
THE SHUTTERED HOUSE.
If ever a man's pleasures jumped with his duties mine did in the year
1744, when, as a clerk in the service of the Royal African Company
of Adventurers, I was despatched to the remote islands of Scilly in
search of certain information which, it was believed, Mr. Robert
Lovyes alone could impart. For even a clerk that sits all day conning
his ledgers may now and again chance upon a record or name which
will tickle his dull fancies with the suggestion of a story. Such a
suggestion I had derived from the circumstances of Mr. Lovyes. He had
passed an adventurous youth, during which he had for eight years
been held to slavery by a negro tribe on the Gambia river; he had
afterwards amassed a considerable fortune, and embarked it in the
ventures of the Company; he had thereupon withdrawn himself to Tresco,
where he had lived for twenty years: so much any man might know
without provocation to his curiosity. The strange feature of Mr.
Lovyes' conduct was revealed to me by the ledgers. For during all
those years he had drawn neither upon his capital nor his interest, so
that his stake in the Company grew larger and larger, with no profit
to himself that any one could discover. It seemed to me, in fact,
clean against nature that a man so rich should so disregard his
wealth; and I busied myself upon the journey with discovering strange
reasons for his seclusion, of which none, I may say, came near the
mark, by so much did the truth exceed them all.
I landed at the harbour of New Grimsey, on Tresco, in the grey
twilight of a September evening; and asking for Mr. Lovyes, was
directed across a little ridge of heather to Dolphin Town, which lies
on the eastward side of Tresco, and looks across Old Grimsey Sound to
the island of St. Helen's. Dolphin Town, you should know, for all its
grand name, boasts but a poor half-score of houses dotted about the
ferns and bracken, with no semblance of order. One of the houses,
however, attracted my notice--first, because it was built in two
storeys, and was, therefore, by a storey taller than the rest; and,
secondly, because all its windows were closely shuttered, and it wore
in that falling light a drooping, melancholy aspect, like a derelict
ship upon the seas. It stood in the middle of this scanty village, and
had a little unkempt garden about it inclosed within a wooden paling.
There was a wicket-gate in the paling, and a rough path from the gate
to the house door, and a few steps to the right of this path a well
was sunk and rigged with a winch and bucket. I was both tired and
thirsty, so I turned into the garden and drew up some water in the
bucket. A narrow track was beaten in the grass between the well and
the house, and I saw with surprise that the stones about the mouth of
the well were splashed and still wet. The house, then, had an inmate.
I looked at it again, but the shutters kept their secret: there was no
glimmer of light visible through any chink. I approached the house,
and from that nearer vantage discovered that the shutters were common
planks fitted into the windows and nailed fast to the woodwork from
without. Growing yet more curious, I marched to the door and knocked,
with an inquiry upon my tongue as to where Mr. Lovyes lived. But the
excuse was not needed; the sound of my blows echoed through the house
in a desolate, solitary fashion, and no step answered them. I knocked
again, and louder. Then I leaned my ear to the panel, and I distinctly
heard the rustling of a woman's dress. I held my breath to hear the
more surely. The sound was repeated, but more faintly, and it was
followed by a noise like the closing of a door. I drew back from the
house, keeping an eye upon the upper storey, for I thought it possible
the woman might reconnoitre me thence. But the windows stared at me
blind, unresponsive. To the right and left lights twinkled in the
scattered dwellings, and I found something very ghostly in the thought
of this woman entombed as it were in the midst of them and moving
alone in the shuttered gloom. The twilight deepened, and suddenly the
gate behind me whined on its hinges. At once I dropped to my full
length on the grass--the gloom was now so thick there was little
fear I should be discovered--and a man went past me to the house.
He walked, so far as I could judge, with a heavy stoop, but was yet
uncommon tall, and he carried a basket upon his arm. He laid the
basket upon the doorstep, and, to my utter disappointment, turned
at once, and so down the path and out at the gate. I heard the gate
rattle once, twice, and then a click as its latch caught. I was
sufficiently curious to desire a nearer view of the basket, and
discovered that it contained food. Then, remembering me that all this
while my own business waited, I continued on my way to Mr. Lovyes'
house. It was a long building of a brownish granite, under Merchant's
Point, at the northern extremity of Old Grimsey Harbour. Mr. Lovyes
was sitting over his walnuts in the cheerless solitude of his
dining-room--a frail old gentleman, older than his years, which I took
to be sixty or thereabouts, and with the air of a man in a decline.
I unfolded my business forthwith, but I had not got far before he
"There is a mistake," he said. "It is doubtless my brother Robert you
are in search of. I am John Lovyes, and was, it is true, captured
with my brother in Africa, but I escaped six years before he did, and
traded no more in those parts. We fled together from the negroes, but
we were pursued. My brother was pierced by an arrow, and I left him,
believing him to be dead."
I had, indeed, heard something of a brother, though I little expected
to find him in Tresco too. He pressed upon me the hospitality of his
house, but my business was with Mr. Robert, and I asked him to direct
me on my path, which he did with some hesitation and reluctance. I had
once more to pass through Dolphin Town, and an impulse prompted me to
take another look at the shuttered house. I found that the basket of
food had been removed, and an empty bucket stood in its place. But
there was still no light visible, and I went on to the dwelling of
Mr. Robert Lovyes. When I came to it, I comprehended his brother's
hesitation. It was a rough, mean little cottage standing on the edge
of the bracken close to the sea--a dwelling fit for the poorest
fisherman, but for no one above that station, and a large open boat
was drawn up on the hard beside it as though the tenant fished for
his bread. I knocked at the door, and a man with a candle in his hand
"Mr. Robert Lovyes?" I asked.
"Yes, I am he." And he led the way into a kitchen, poor and mean as
the outside warranted, but scrupulously clean and bright with a fire.
He led the way, as I say, and I was still more mystified to observe
from his gait, his height, and the stoop of his shoulders that he was
the man whom I had seen carrying the basket through the garden. I had
now an opportunity of noticing his face, wherein I could detect no
resemblance to his brother's. For it was broader and more vigorous,
with a great, white beard valancing it; and whereas Mr. John's hair
was neatly powdered and tied with a ribbon, as a gentleman's should
be, Mr. Robert's, which was of a black colour with a little sprinkling
of grey, hung about his head in a tangled mane. There was but a
two-years difference between the ages of the brothers, but there might
have been a decade. I explained my business, and we sat down to a
supper of fish, freshly caught, which he served himself. And during
supper he gave me the information I was come after. But I lent only
an inattentive ear to his talk. For my knowledge of his wealth, the
picture of him as he sat in his great sea-boots and coarse seaman's
vest, as though it was the most natural garb in the world, and his
easy discourse about those far African rivers, made a veritable jumble
of my mind. To add to it all, there was the mystery of the shuttered
house. More than once I was inclined to question him upon this last
account, but his manner did not promise confidences, and I said
nothing. At last he perceived my inattention.
"I will repeat all this to-morrow," he said grimly. "You are, no
doubt, tired. I cannot, I am afraid, house you, for, as you see, I
have no room; but I have a young friend who happens by good luck to
stay this night on Tresco, and no doubt he will oblige me." Thereupon
he led me to a cottage on the outskirts of Dolphin Town, and of all in
that village nearest to the sea.
"My friend," said he, "is named Ginver Wyeth, and, though he comes
from these parts, he does not live here, being a school-master on the
mainland. His mother has died lately, and he is come on that account."
Mr. Wyeth received me hospitably, but with a certain pedantry of
speech which somewhat surprised me, seeing that his parents were
common fisherfolk. He readily explained the matter, however, over a
pipe, when Mr. Lovyes had left us. "I owe everything to Mrs. Lovyes,"
he said. "She took me when a boy, taught me something herself, and
sent me thereafter, at her own charges, to a school in Falmouth."
"Mrs. Lovyes!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," he continued, and, bending forward, lowered his voice. "You
went up to Merchant's Point, you say? Then you passed Crudge's
Folly--a house of two storeys with a well in the garden."
"Yes, yes!" I said.
"She lives there," said he.
"Behind those shutters!" I cried.
"For twenty years she has lived in the midst of us, and no one has
seen her during all that time. Not even Robert Lovyes. Aye, she has
lived behind the shutters."
There he stopped. I waited, thinking that in a little he would take up
his tale, but he did not, and I had to break the silence.
"I had not heard that Mr. Robert was ever married," I said as
carelessly as I might.
"Nor was he," replied Mr. Wyeth. "Mrs. Lovyes is the wife of John.
The house at Merchant's Point is hers, and there twenty years ago she
His words caught my breath away, so little did I expect them.
"The wife of John Lovyes!" I stammered, "but--" And I told him how I
had seen Robert Lovyes carry his basket up the path.
"Yes," said Wyeth. "Twice a day Robert draws water for her at the
well, and once a day he brings her food. It is in his house, too, that
she lives--Crudge's Folly, that was his name for it, and the name
clings. But, none the less, she is the wife of John;" and with little
more persuasion Mr. Wyeth told me the story.
"It is the story of a sacrifice," he began, "mad or great, as you
please; but, mark you, it achieved its end. As a boy, I witnessed it
from its beginnings. For it was at this very door that Robert Lovyes
rapped when he first landed on Tresco on the night of the seventh of
May twenty-two years ago, and I was here on my holidays at the time. I
had been out that day in my father's lugger to the Poul, which is
the best fishing-ground anywhere near Scilly, and the fog took us, I
remember, at three of the afternoon. So what with that and the wind
failing, it was late when we cast anchor in Grimsey Sound. The night
had fallen in a brown mirk, and so still that the sound of our feet
brushing through the ferns was loud, like the sweep of scythes. We sat
down to supper in this kitchen about nine, my mother, my father, two
men from the boat, and myself, and after supper we gathered about the
fire here and talked. The talk in these parts, however it may begin,
slides insensibly to that one element of which the noise is ever in
our ears; and so in a little here were we chattering of wrecks and
wrecks and wrecks and the bodies of dead men drowned. And then, in the
thick of the talk, came the knock on the door--a light rapping of the
knuckles, such as one hears twenty times a day; but our minds were
so primed with old wives' tales that it fairly shook us all. No one
stirred, and the knocking was repeated.
"Then the latch was lifted, and Robert Lovyes stepped in. His beard
was black then--coal black, like his hair--and his face looked out
from it pale as a ghost and shining wet from the sea. The water
dripped from his clothes and made a puddle about his feet.
"'How often did I knock?' he asked pleasantly. 'Twice, I think. Yes,
"Then he sat down on the settle, very deliberately pulled off his
great sea-boots, and emptied the water out of them.
"'What island is this?' he asked.
"'Tresco!' he exclaimed, in a quick, agitated whisper, as though he
dreaded yet expected to hear the name. 'We were wrecked, then, on the
"'Wrecked?' cried my father; but the man went on pursuing his own
"'I swam to an islet.'
"'It would be Norwithel,' said my father.
"'Yes,' said he, 'it would be Norwithel.' And my mother asked
"'You know these islands?' For his speech was leisurely and delicate,
such as we heard neither from Scillonians nor from the sailors who
visit St. Mary's.
"'Yes,' he answered, his face breaking into a smile of unexpected
softness, 'I know these islands. From Rosevean to Ganilly, from
Peninnis Head to Maiden Bower: I know them well.'"
* * * * *
At this point Mr. Wyeth broke off his story, and crossing to the
window, opened it. "Listen!" he said. I heard as it were the sound of
innumerable voices chattering and murmuring and whispering in some
mysterious language, and at times the voices blended and the murmurs
became a single moan.
"It is the tide making on the Golden Ball," said Mr. Wyeth. "The reef
stretches seawards from St. Helen's island and half way across the
Sound. You may see it at low tide, a ledge level as a paved causeway,
and God help the ship that strikes on it!"
Even while he spoke, from these undertones of sound there swelled
suddenly a great booming like a battery of cannon.
"It is the ledge cracking," said Mr. Wyeth, "and it cracks in the
calmest weather." With that, he closed the window, and, lighting his
pipe, resumed his story.
* * * * *
"It was on that reef that Mr. Robert Lovyes was wrecked. The ship, he
told us, was the schooner _Waking Dawn_, bound from Cardiff to Africa,
and she had run into the fog about half-past three, when they were a
mile short of the Seven Stones. She bumped twice on the reef, and sank
immediately, with, so far as he knew, all her crew.
"'So now,' Robert continued, tapping his belt, 'since I have the means
to pay, I will make bold to ask for a lodging, and for this night I
will hang up here my dripping garments to Neptune.'
"'Me tabula sacer
"I began in the pride of my schooling, for I had learned that verse of
Horace but a week before.
"'This, no doubt, is the Cornish tongue,' he interrupted gravely, 'and
will you please to carry my boots outside?'
"What followed seemed to me then the strangest part of all this
business, though, indeed, our sea-fogs come and go as often as not
with a like abruptness. But the time of this fog's dispersion shocked
the mind as something pitiless and arbitrary. For had the air cleared
an hour before, the _Waking Dawn_ would not have struck. I opened the
door, and it was as though a panel of brilliant white was of a sudden
painted on the floor. Robert Lovyes sprang up from the settle, ran
past me into the open, and stood on the bracken in his stockinged
feet. A little patch of fog still smoked on the shining beach of Tean;
a scarf of it was twisted about the granite bosses of St. Helen's; and
for the rest the moonlight sparkled upon the headlands and was spilled
across miles of placid sea. There was a froth of water upon the Golden
Ball, but no sign of the schooner sunk among its weeds.
"My father, however, and the two boatmen hurried down to the shore,
while I was despatched with the news to Merchant's Point. My mother
asked Mr. Lovyes his name, that I might carry it with me. But he spoke
in a dreamy voice, as though he had not heard her.
"'There were eight of the crew. Four were below, and I doubt if the
four on deck could swim.'
"I ran off on my errand, and, coming back a little later with a bottle
of cordial waters, found Mr. Lovyes still standing in the moonlight.
He seemed not to have moved a finger. I gave him the bottle, with a
message that any who were rescued should be carried to Merchant's
Point forthwith, and that he himself should go down there in the
"'Who taught you Latin?' he asked suddenly.
"'Mrs. Lovyes taught me the rudiments,' I began; and with that he led
me on to talk of her, but with some cunning. For now he would divert
me to another topic and again bring me back to her, so that it all
seemed the vagrancies of a boy's inconsequent chatter.
"Mrs. Lovyes, who was remotely akin to the Lord Proprietor, had come
to Tresco three years before, immediately after her marriage, and, it
was understood, at her husband's wish. I talked of her readily, for,
apart from what I owed to her bounty, she was a woman most sure to
engage the affections of any boy. For one thing she was past her
youth, being thirty years of age, tall, with eyes of the kindliest
grey, and she bore herself in everything with a tender toleration,
like a woman that has suffered much.
"Of the other topics of this conversation there was one which later I
had good reason to remember. We had caught a shark twelve feet long at
the Poul that day, and the shark fairly divided my thoughts with Mrs.
"'You bleed a fish first into the sea,' I explained. 'Then you bait
with a chad's head, and let your line down a couple of fathoms. You
can see your bait quite clearly, and you wait.'
"'No doubt,' said Robert; 'you wait.'
"'In a while,' said I, 'a dim lilac shadow floats through the clear
water, and after a little you catch a glimpse of a forked tail and
waving fins and an evil devil's head. The fish smells at the bait and
sinks again to a lilac shadow--perhaps out of sight; and again it
rises. The shadow becomes a fish, the fish goes circling round your
boat, and it may be a long while before he turns on his back and
rushes at the bait.'
"'And as like as not, he carries the bait and line away."
"'That depends upon how quick you are with the gaff,' said I.' Here
comes my father.'
"My father returned empty-handed. Not one of the crew had been saved.
"'You asked my name,' said Robert Lovyes, turning to my mother. 'It is
Crudge--Jarvis Crudge.' With that he went to his bed, but all night
long I heard him pacing his room.
"The next morning he complained of his long immersion in the sea, and
certainly when he told his story to Mr. and Mrs. Lovyes as they sat
over their breakfast in the parlour at Merchant's Point, he spoke with
such huskiness as I never heard the like of. Mr. Lovyes took little
heed to us, but went on eating his breakfast with only a sour comment
here and there. I noticed, however, that Mrs. Lovyes, who sat over
against us, bent her head forward and once or twice shook it as though
she would unseat some ridiculous conviction. And after the story was
told, she sat with no word of kindness for Mr. Crudge, and, what was
yet more unlike her, no word of pity for the sailors who were lost.
Then she rose and stood, steadying herself with the tips of her
fingers upon the table. Finally she came swiftly across the room and
peered into Mr. Crudge's face.
"'If you need help,' she said, 'I will gladly furnish it. No doubt you
will be anxious to go from Tresco at the earliest. No doubt, no doubt
you will,' she repeated anxiously.
"'Madame,' he said, 'I need no help, being by God's leave a man'--and
he laid some stress upon the 'man,' but not boastfully--rather as
though all _women_ did, or might need help, by the mere circumstance
of their sex--'and as for going hence, why yesterday I was bound for
Africa. I sailed unexpectedly into a fog off Scilly. I was wrecked in
a calm sea on the Golden Ball--I was thrown up on Tresco--no one
on that ship escaped but myself. No sooner was I safe than the fog
"'You will stay?' Mrs. Lovyes interrupted. 'No?'
"'Yes,' said he, 'Jarvis Grudge will stay.'
"And she turned thoughtfully away. But I caught a glimpse of her face
as we went out, and it wore the saddest smile a man could see.
"Mr. Grudge and I walked for a while in silence.
"'And what sort of a name has Mr. John Lovyes in these parts?' he
"'An honest sort,' said I emphatically--'the name of a man who loves
"'Or her money,' he sneered. 'Bah! a surly ill-conditioned dog, I'll
warrant, the curmudgeon!"
"'You are marvellously recovered of your cold,' said I.
"He stopped, and looked across the Sound. Then he said in a soft,
musing voice: 'I once knew just such another clever boy. He was so
clever that men beat him with sticks and put on great sea-boots to
kick him with, so that he lived a miserable life, and was subsequently
hanged in great agony at Tyburn.'
"Mr. Grudge, as he styled himself, stayed with us for a week, during
which time he sailed much with me about these islands; and I made a
discovery. Though he knew these islands so well, he had never visited
them before, and his knowledge was all hearsay. I did not mention my
discovery to him, lest I should meet with another rebuff. But I was
none the less sure of its truth, for he mistook Hanjague for Nornor,
and Priglis Bay for Beady Pool, and made a number of suchlike
mistakes. After a week he hired the cottage in which he now lives,
bought his boat, leased from the steward the patch of ground in
Dolphin Town, and set about building his house. He undertook the work,
I am sure, for pure employment and distraction. He picked up the
granite stones, fitted them together, panelled them, made the floors
from the deck of a brigantine which came ashore on Annet, pegged down
the thatch roof--in a word, he built the house from first to last with
his own hands and he took fifteen months over the business, during
which time he did not exchange a single word with Mrs. Lovyes, nor
anything more than a short 'Good-day' with Mr. John. He worked,
however, with no great regularity. For while now he laboured in a
feverish haste, now he would sit a whole day idle on the headlands;
or, again, he would of a sudden throw down his tools as though the
work overtaxed him, and, leaping into his boat, set all sail and
run with the wind. All that night you might see him sailing in the
moonlight, and he would come home in the flush of the dawn.
"After he had built the house, he furnished it, crossing for that
purpose backwards and forwards between Tresco and St. Mary's. I
remember that one day he brought back with him a large chest, and I
offered to lend him a hand in carrying it. But he hoisted it on his
back and took it no farther than the cottage in which he lived, where
it remained locked with a padlock.
"Towards Christmas-time, then, the house was ready, but to our
surprise he did not move into it. He seemed, indeed, of a sudden, to
have lost all liking for it, and whether it was that he had no longer
any work upon his hands, he took to following Mrs. Lovyes about, but
in a way that was unnoticeable unless you had other reasons to suspect
that his thoughts were following her.
"His conduct in this respect was particularly brought home to me on
Christmas Day. The afternoon was warm and sunny, and I walked over the
hill at Merchant's Point, meaning to bathe in the little sequestered
bay beyond. From the top of the hill I saw Mrs. Lovyes walking along
the strip of beach alone, and as I descended the hill-side, which
is very deep in fern and heather, I came plump upon Jarvis Grudge,
stretched full-length on the ground. He was watching Mrs. Lovyes with
so greedy a concentration of his senses that he did not remark my
approach. I asked him when he meant to enter his new house.
"'I do not know that I ever shall,' he replied.
"'Then why did you build it?' I asked.
"'Because I was a fool!' and then he burst out in a passionate
whisper. 'But a fool I was to stay here, and a fool's trick it was
to build that house!' He shook his fist in its direction. 'Call it
Grudge's Folly, and there's the name for it!' and with that he turned
him again to spying upon Mrs. Lovyes.
"After a while he spoke again, but slowly and with his eyes fixed upon
the figure moving upon the beach.
"'Do you remember the night I came ashore? You had caught a shark that
day, and you told me of it. The great lilac shadow which rises from
the depths and circles about the bait, and sinks again and rises again
and takes--how long?--two years maybe before he snaps it.'
"'But he does not carry it away,' said I, taking his meaning.
"'Sometimes--sometimes," he snarled.
"'That depends on how quick we are with the gaff."
"'You!' he laughed, and taking me by the elbows, he shook me till I
"'I owe Mrs. Lovyes everything,' I said. At that he let me go. The
ferocity of his manner, however, confirmed me in my fears, and, with a
boy's extravagance, I carried from that day a big knife in my belt.
"'The gaff, I suppose,' said Mr. Grudge with a polite smile when
first he remarked it. During the next week, however, he showed more
contentment with his lot, and once I caught him rubbing his hands and
chuckling, like a man well pleased; so that by New Year's Eve I was
wellnigh relieved of my anxiety on Mrs. Lovyes' account.
"On that night, however, I went down to Grudge's cottage, and peeping
through the window on my way to the door, I saw a strange man in the
room. His face was clean-shaven, his hair tied back and powdered; he
was in his shirt-sleeves, with a satin waistcoat, a sword at his side,
and shining buckles to his shoes. Then I saw that the big chest stood
open. I opened the door and entered.
"'Come in!' said the man, and from his voice I knew him to be Mr.
Crudge. He took a candle in his hand and held it above his head.
"'Tell me my name,' he said. His face, shaved of its beard and no
longer hidden by his hair, stood out distinct, unmistakable.
"'Lovyes,' I answered.
"'Good boy,' said he. 'Robert Lovyes, brother to John.'
"'Yet he did not know you,' said I, though, indeed, I could not
"'But she did,' he cried, with a savage exultation. 'At the first
glance, at the first word, she knew me.' Then, quietly, 'My coat is on
the chair beside you.'
"I took it up. 'What do you mean to do?' I asked.
"'It is New Year's Eve,' he said grimly. 'The season of good wishes.
It is only meet that I should wish my brother, who stole my wife, much
happiness for the next twelve months.'
"He took the coat from my hands.
"'You admire the coat? Ah! true, the colour is lilac.' He held it out
at arm's length. Doubtless I had been staring at the coat, but I had
not even given it a thought. 'The lilac shadow!' he went on, with a
sneer. 'Believe me, it is the purest coincidence.' And as he prepared
to slip his arm into the sleeve I flashed the knife out of my belt. He
was too quick for me, however. He flung the coat over my head. I felt
the knife twisted out of my hand; he stumbled over the chair; we both
fell to the ground, and the next thing I know I was running over the
bracken towards Merchant's Point with Robert Lovyes hot upon my heels.
He was of a heavy build, and forty years of age. I had the double
advantage, and I ran till my chest cracked and the stars danced above
me. I clanged at the bell and stumbled into the hall.
"'Mrs. Lovyes!' I choked the name out as she stepped from the parlour.
"'Well?' she asked. 'What is it?'
"'He is following--Robert Lovyes!'
"She sprang rigid, as though I had whipped her across the face. Then,
'I knew it would come to this at the last,' she said; and even as she
spoke Robert Lovyes crossed the threshold.
"'Molly,' he said, and looked at her curiously. She stood singularly
passive, twisting her fingers. 'I hardly know you,' he continued. 'In
the old days you were the wilfullest girl I ever clapped eyes on.'
"'That was thirteen years ago,' she said, with a queer little laugh at
"He took her by the hand and led her into the parlour. I followed.
Neither Mrs. Lovyes nor Robert remarked my presence, and as for John
Lovyes, he rose from his chair as the pair approached him, stretched
out a trembling hand, drew it in, stretched it out again, all without
a word, and his face purple and ridged with the veins.
"'Brother,' said Robert, taking between his fingers half a gold coin,
which was threaded on a chain about Mrs. Lovyes' wrist, 'where is the
fellow to this? I gave it to you on the Gambia river, bidding you
carry it to Molly as a sign that I would return.'
"I saw John's face harden and set at the sound of his brother's voice.
He looked at his wife, and, since she now knew the truth, he took the
"'I gave it to her,' said he, 'as a token of your death; and, by God!
she was worth the lie!'
"The two men faced one another--Robert smoothing his chin, John with
his arms folded, and each as white and ugly with passion as the other.
Robert turned to Mrs. Lovyes, who stood like a stone.
"'You promised to wait,' he said in a constrained voice. 'I escaped
six years after my noble brother.'
"'Six years?' she asked. 'Had you come back then you would have found
"'I could not,' he said. 'A fortune equal to your own--that was what I
promised to myself before I returned to marry you.'
"'And much good it has done you,' said John, and I think that he meant
by the provocation to bring the matter to an immediate issue. 'Pride,
pride!' and he wagged his head. 'Sinful pride!'
"Robert sprang forward with an oath, and then, as though the movement
had awakened her, Mrs. Lovyes stepped in between the two men, with an
arm outstretched on either side to keep them apart.
"'Wait!' she said. 'For what is it that you fight? Not, indeed, for
me. To you, my husband, I will no more belong; to you, my lover, I
cannot. My woman's pride, my woman's honour--those two things are mine
"So she stood casting about for an issue, while the brothers glowered
at one another across her. It was evident that if she left them alone
they would fight, and fight to the death. She turned to Robert.
"'You meant to live on Tresco here at my gates, unknown to me; but you
"'I could not,' he answered. 'In the old days you had spoken so much
of Scilly--every island reminded me--and I saw you every day.'
"I could read the thought passing through her mind. It would not serve
for her to live beside them, visible to them each day. Sooner or later
they would come to grips. And then her face flushed as the notion of
her great sacrifice came to her.
"'I see but the one way,' she said. 'I will go into the house that
you, Robert, have built. Neither you nor John shall see me, but none
the less, I shall live between you, holding you apart, as my hands do
now. I give my life to you so truly that from this night no one shall
see my face. You, John, shall live on here at Merchant's Point.
Robert, you at your cottage, and every day you will bring me food and
water and leave it at my door.'
"The two men fell back shamefaced. They protested they would part and
put the world between them; but she would not trust them. I think,
too, the notion of her sacrifice grew on her as she thought of it. For
women are tenacious of sacrifice even as men are of revenge. And in
the end she had her way. That night Robert Lovyes nailed the boards
across the windows, and brought the door-key back to her; and that
night, twenty years ago, she crossed the threshold. No man has seen
her since. But, none the less, for twenty years she has lived between
the brothers, keeping them apart."
This was the story which Mr. Wyeth told me as we sat over our
pipes, and the next day I set off on my journey back to London. The
conclusion of the affair I witnessed myself. For a year later we
received a letter from Mr. Robert, asking that a large sum of money
should be forwarded to him. Being curious to learn the reason for his
demand, I carried the sum to Tresco myself. Mr. John Lovyes had died a
month before, and I reached the island on Mr. Robert's wedding-day.
I was present at the ceremony. He was now dressed in a manner which
befitted his station--an old man bent and bowed, but still handsome,
and he bore upon his arm a tall woman, grey-haired and very pale, yet
with the traces of great beauty. As the parson laid her hand in her
husband's, I heard her whisper to him, "Dust to Dust."
KEEPER OF THE BISHOP.
For a fortnight out of every six weeks the little white faced man
walked the garrison on St. Mary's Island in a broadcloth frock-coat,
a low waistcoat and a black riband of a tie fastened in a bow; and it
gave him great pleasure to be mistaken for a commercial traveller. But
during the other four weeks he was head-keeper of the lighthouse on
the Bishop's Rock, with thirty years of exemplary service to his
credit. By what circumstances he had been brought to enlist under the
Trinity flag I never knew. But now, at the age of forty-eight he was
entirely occupied with a great horror of the sea and its hunger for
the bodies of men; the frock-coat which he wore during his spells on
shore was a protest against the sea; and he hated not only the sea but
all things that were in the sea, especially rock lighthouses, and of
all rock lighthouses especially the Bishop.
"The Atlantic's as smooth as a ballroom floor," said he. It was a
clear, still day and we were sitting among the gorse on the top of the
garrison, looking down the sea towards the west. Five miles from the
Scillies, the thin column of the Bishop showed like a cord strung
tight in the sky. "But out there all round the lighthouse there are
eddies twisting and twisting, without any noise, and extraordinary
quick, and every other second, now here, now there, you'll notice the
sea dimple, and you'll hear a sound like a man hiccoughing, and all at
once, there's a wicked black whirlpool. The tide runs seven miles an
hour past the Bishop. But in another year I have done with her." To
her Garstin nodded across from St. Mary's to that grey finger post of
the Atlantic. "One more winter, well, very likely during this one more
winter the Bishop will go--on some night when a storm blows from west
or west-nor'west and the Irish coast takes none of its strength."
He was only uttering the current belief of the islands. The first
Bishop lighthouse had been swept away before its building was
finished, and though the second stood, a fog bell weighing no less
than a ton, and fixed ninety feet above the water, had been lifted
from its fittings by a single wave, and tossed like a tennis-ball into
the sea. I asked Garstin whether he had been stationed on the rock at
"People talk of lightships plunging and tugging at their cables," he
returned. "Well, I've tried lightships, and what I say is, ships are
built to plunge and tug at their cables. That's their business. But it
isn't the business of one hundred and twenty upright feet of granite
to quiver and tremble like a steel spring. No, I wasn't on the Bishop
when the bell went. But I was there when a wave climbed up from the
base of the rock and smashed in the glass wall of the lantern, and put
the light out. That was last spring at four o'clock in the morning.
The day was breaking very cold and wild, and one could just see the
waves below, a lashing tumble of grey and white water as far as the
eye could reach. I was in the lantern reading 'It's never too late to
mend.' I had come to where the chaplain knocks down the warder, and I
was thinking how I'd like to have a go at that warder myself, when all
the guns in the world went off together in my ears. And there I was
dripping wet, and fairly sliced with splinters of glass, and the wind
blowing wet in my face, and the lamp out, and a bitter grey light of
morning, as though there never, never had been any sun, and all the
dead men in the sea shouting out for me one hundred feet below," and
Garstin shivered, and rose to his feet. "Well, I have only one more
winter of it."
"And then?" I asked.
"Then I get the North Foreland, and the trippers come out from
Margate, and I live on shore with my wife and--By the way, I wanted to
speak to you about my boy. He's getting up in years. What shall I make
of him? A linen-draper, eh? In the Midlands, what? or something in a
Free Library, handing out Charles Reade's books? He's at home now.
Come and see him!"
In Garstin's quarters, within the coastguard enclosure, I was
introduced to his wife and the lad, Leopold. "What shall we call him?"
Mrs. Garstin had asked, some fifteen years before. "I don't know any
seafaring man by the name of Leopold," Garstin had replied, after a
moment of reflection. So Leopold he was named.
Mrs. Garstin was a buxom, unimaginative woman, but she shared to the
full her husband's horror of the sea. She told me of nights when she
lay alone listening to the moan of the wind overhead, and seeing the
column of the Bishop rock upon its base, and of mornings when she
climbed from the sheltered barracks up the gorse, with her heart
tugging in her breast, certain, certain that this morning, at least,
there would be no Bishop lighthouse visible from the top of the
"It seems a sort of insult to the works of God," said she, in a hushed
voice. "It seems as if it stood up there in God's face and cried, 'You
can't hurt me!'"
"Yes, most presumptuous and provoking," said Garstin; and so they fell
to talking of the boy, who, at all events, should fulfil his
destiny very far inland from the sea. Mrs. Garstin leaned to the
linen-drapery; Garstin inclined to the free library.
"Well, I will come down to the North Foreland," said I, "and you shall
tell me which way it is."
"Yes, if--" said Garstin, and stopped.
"Yes, if--" repeated his wife, with a nod of the head.
"Oh! it won't go this winter," said I.
And it didn't. But, on the other hand, Garstin did not go to the North
Foreland, nor for two years did I hear any more of him. But two years
later I returned to St. Mary's and walked across the beach of the
island to the little graveyard by the sea. A new tablet upon the outer
wall of the church caught and held my eye. I read the inscription and
remained incredulous. For the Bishop still stood. But the letters were
there engraved upon the plate, and as I read them again, the futility
of Garstin's fears was enforced upon me with a singular pathos.
For the Bishop still stood and Garstin had died on the Christmas Eve
of that last year which he was to spend upon rock lighthouses. Of how
he died the tablet gave a hint, but no more than a hint. There were
four words inscribed underneath his name:
"And he was not."
I walked back to Hugh Town, wondering at the tragedy which those four
words half hid and half revealed, and remembering that the tide runs
seven miles an hour past the Bishop, with many eddies and whirlpools.
Almost unconsciously I went up the hill above Hugh Town and came to
the signal station on the top of the garrison. And so occupied was I
with my recollections of Garstin that it did not strike me as strange
that I should find Mrs. Garstin standing now where he had stood and
looking out to the Bishop as he was used to look.
"I had not heard," I said to her.
"No?" she returned simply, and again turned her eyes seawards. It was
late on a midsummer afternoon. The sun hung a foot or so above the
water, a huge ball of dull red fire, and from St. Mary's out to the
horizon's rim the sea stretched a rippling lagoon of the colour of
claret. Over the whole expanse there was but one boat visible, a
lugger, between Sennen and St. Agnes, beating homewards against a
"It was a storm, I suppose," said I. "A storm out of the west?"
"No. There was no wind, but--there was a haze, and it was growing
dark." Mrs. Garstin spoke in a peculiar tone of resignation, with a
yearning glance towards the Bishop as I thought, towards the lugger as
I know. But even then I was sure that those last words: "There was a
haze and it was growing dark," concealed the heart of her distress.
She explained the inscription upon the tablet, while the lugger tacked
towards St. Mary's, and while I gradually began to wonder what still
kept her on the island.
At four o'clock on the afternoon of that Christmas Eve, the lighthouse
on St. Agnes' Island showed its lamps; five minutes later the red
beams struck out from Round Island to the north; but to the west on
the Bishop all was dark. The haze thickened, and night came on; still
there was no flash from the Bishop, and the islands wondered. Half an
hour passed; there was still darkness in the west, and the islands
became alarmed. The Trinity Brethren subsidise a St. Agnes' lugger to
serve the Bishop, and this boat was got ready. At a quarter to five
suddenly the Bishop light shot through the gloom, but immediately
after a shutter was interposed quickly some half-a-dozen times. It was
the signal of distress, and the lugger worked out to the Bishop with
the tide. Of the three keepers there were now only two.
It appeared from their account that Garstin took the middle day watch,
that they themselves were asleep, and that Garstin should have roused
them to light the lamps at a quarter to four. They woke of their own
accord in the dark, and at once believed they had slept into the
night. The clock showed them it was half-past four. They mounted to
the lantern room, and nowhere was there any sign of Garstin. They lit
the lamps. The first thing they saw was the log. It was open and the
last entry was written in Garstin's hand and was timed 3.40 P.M. It
mentioned a ketch reaching northwards. The two men descended the
winding-stairs, and the cold air breathed upon their faces. The brass
door at the foot of the stairs stood open. From that door thirty feet
of gun-metal rungs let in to the outside of the lighthouse lead down
to the set-off, which is a granite rim less than a yard wide, and
unprotected by any rail. They shouted downwards from the doorway,
and received no answer. They descended to the set-off, and again no
Garstin, not even his cap. He was not.
Garstin had entered up the log, had climbed down to the set-off for
five minutes of fresh air, and somehow had slipped, though the wind
was light and the sea whispering. But the whispering sea ran seven
miles an hour past the Bishop.
This was Mrs. Garstin's story and it left me still wondering why she
lived on at St. Mary's. I asked after her son.
"How is Leopold? What is he--a linen-draper?" She shaded her eyes with
her hand and said:
"That's the St. Agnes' lugger from the Bishop, and if we go down to
the pier now we shall meet it."
We walked down to the pier. The first person to step on shore was
Leopold, with the Trinity House buttons on his pilot coat.
"He's the third hand on the Bishop now," said Mrs. Garstin. "You are
surprised?" She sent Leopold into Hugh Town upon an errand, and as we
walked back up the hill she said: "Did you notice a grave underneath
"No," said I.
"I told you there was a mention in the log of a ketch."
"The ketch went ashore on the Crebinachs at half-past four on that
Christmas Eve. One man jumped for the rocks when the ketch struck, and
was drowned. The rest were brought off by the lugger. But one man was
"He drowned because he jumped," said I.
"He drowned because my man hadn't lit the Bishop light," said she,
brushing my sophistry aside. "So I gave my boy in his place."
And now I knew why those words--"There was a haze and it was growing
dark"--held the heart of her distress.
"And if the Bishop goes next winter," she continued, "why, it will
just be a life for a life;" and she choked down a sob as a young voice
hailed us from behind.
But the Bishop still stands in the Atlantic, and Leopold, now the
second hand, explains to the Margate trippers the wonders of the North
THE CRUISE OF THE "WILLING MIND."
The cruise happened before the steam-trawler ousted the smack from the
North Sea. A few newspapers recorded it in half-a-dozen lines of
small print which nobody read. But it became and--though nowadays the
_Willing Mind_ rots from month to month by the quay--remains staple
talk at Gorleston ale-houses on winter nights.
The crew consisted of Weeks, three fairly competent hands, and a
baker's assistant, when the _Willing Mind_ slipped out of Yarmouth.
Alexander Duncan, the photographer from Derby, joined the smack
afterwards under peculiar circumstances. Duncan was a timid person,
but aware of his timidity. He was quite clear that his paramount
business was to be a man; and he was equally clear that he was not
successful in his paramount business. Meanwhile he pretended to be,
hoping that on some miraculous day a sudden test would prove the straw
man he was to have become real flesh and blood. A visit to a surgeon
and the flick of a knife quite shattered that illusion. He went
down to Yarmouth afterwards, fairly disheartened. The test had been
applied, and he had failed.
Now, Weeks was a particular friend of Duncan's. They had chummed
together on Gorleston Quay some years before, perhaps because they
were so dissimilar. Weeks had taught Duncan to sail a boat, and had
once or twice taken him for a short trip on his smack; so that the
first thing that Duncan did on his arrival at Yarmouth was to take the
tram to Gorleston and to make inquiries.
A fisherman lounging against a winch replied to them---
"If Weeks is a friend o' yours I should get used to missin' 'im, as I
tell his wife."
There was at that time an ingenious system by which the skipper might
buy his smack from the owner on the instalment plan--as people buy
their furniture--only with a difference: for people sometimes get
their furniture. The instalments had to be completed within a certain
period. The skipper could do it--he could just do it; but he couldn't
do it without running up one little bill here for stores, and another
little bill there for sail-mending. The owner worked in with the
sail-maker, and just as the skipper was putting out to earn his last
instalment, he would find the bailiffs on board, his cruise would be
delayed, he would be, consequently, behindhand with his instalment and
back would go the smack to the owner with a present of four-fifths of
its price. Weeks had to pay two hundred pounds, and had eight weeks to
earn it in. But he got the straight tip that his sail-maker would stop
him; and getting together any sort of crew he could, he slipped out at
night with half his stores.
"Now the No'th Sea," concluded the fisherman, "in November and
December ain't a bobby's job."
Duncan walked forward to the pier-head. He looked out at a grey
tumbled sky shutting down on a grey tumbled sea. There were flecks of
white cloud in the sky, flecks of white breakers on the sea, and it
was all most dreary. He stood at the end of the jetty, and his great
possibility came out of the grey to him. Weeks was shorthanded.
Cribbed within a few feet of the smack's deck, there would be no
chance for any man to shirk. Duncan acted on the impulse. He bought a
fisherman's outfit at Gorleston, travelled up to London, got a passage
the next morning on a Billingsgate fish-carrier, and that night went
throbbing down the great water street of the Swim, past the green
globes of the Mouse. The four flashes of the Outer Gabbard winked him
good-bye away on the starboard, and at eleven o'clock the next night
far out in the North Sea he saw the little city of lights swinging on
The _Willing Mind's_ boat came aboard the next morning and Captain
Weeks with it, who smiled grimly while Duncan explained how he had
learnt that the smack was shorthanded.
"I can't put you ashore in Denmark," said Weeks knowingly. "There'll
be seven weeks, it's true, for things to blow over; but I'll have to
take you back to Yarmouth. And I can't afford a passenger. If you
come, you come as a hand. I mean to own my smack at the end of this
Duncan climbed after him into the boat. The _Willing Mind_ had now
six for her crew, Weeks; his son Willie, a lad of sixteen; Upton,
the first hand; Deakin, the decky; Rall, the baker's assistant, and
Alexander Duncan. And of these six four were almost competent. Deakin,
it is true, was making his second voyage; but Willie Weeks, though
young, had begun early; and Upton, a man of forty, knew the banks and
currents of the North Sea as well as Weeks.
"It's all right," said the skipper, "if the weather holds." And for
a month the weather did hold, and the catches were good, and Duncan
learned a great deal. He learnt how to keep a night-watch from
midnight till eight in the morning, and then stay on deck till noon;
how to put his tiller up and down when his tiller was a wheel, and how
to vary the order according as his skipper stood to windward or to
lee; he learnt to box a compass and to steer by it; to gauge the
leeway he was making by the angle of his wake and the black line in
the compass; above all, he learnt to love the boat like a live thing,
as a man loves his horse, and to want every scanty inch of brass on
her to shine.
But it was not for this that Duncan had come out to sea. He gazed out
at night across the rippling starlit water, and the smacks nestling
upon it, and asked of his God: "Is this all?" And his God answered
The beginning of it was the sudden looming of ships upon the horizon,
very clear, till they looked like carved toys. The skipper got out his
accounts and totted up his catches, and the prices they had fetched
in Billingsgate Market. Then he went on deck and watched the sun set.
There were no cloud-banks in the west, and he shook his head.
"It'll blow a bit from the east before morning," said he, and he
tapped on the barometer. Then he returned to his accounts and added
them up again. After a little he looked up, and saw the first hand
watching him with comprehension.
"Two or three really good hauls would do the trick," suggested Weeks.
The first hand nodded. "If it was my boat I should chance it to-morrow
before the weather blows up."
Weeks drummed his fists on the table and agreed.
On the morrow the Admiral headed north for the Great Fisher Bank, and
the fleet followed, with the exception of the _Willing Mind_. The
_Willing Mind_ lagged along in the rear without her topsails till
about half-past two in the afternoon, when Captain Weeks became
suddenly alert. He bore away till he was right before the wind,
hoisted every scrap of sail he could carry, rigged out a spinnaker
with his balloon fore-sail, and made a clean run for the coast of
Denmark. Deakin explained the manoeuvre to Duncan. "The old man's
goin' poachin'. He's after soles."
"Keep a look-out, lads!" cried Weeks. "It's not the Danish gun-boat
I'm afraid of; it's the fatherly English cruiser a-turning of us
Darkness, however, found them unmolested. They crossed the three-mile
limit at eight o'clock, and crept close in under the Danish headlands
without a glimmer of light showing.
"I want all hands all night," said Weeks; "and there's a couple of
pounds for him as first see the bogey-man."
"Meaning the Danish gun-boat," explained Deakin.
The trawl was down before nine. The skipper stood by his lead. Upton
took the wheel, and all night they trawled in the shallows, bumping on
the grounds, with a sharp eye for the Danish gun-boat. They hauled in
at twelve and again at three and again at six, and they had just got
their last catch on deck when Duncan saw by the first grey of the
morning a dun-coloured trail of smoke hanging over a projecting knoll.
"There she is!" he cried.
"Yes, that's the gun-boat," answered Weeks. "We can laugh at her with
He put his smack about, and before the gun-boat puffed round the
headland, three miles away, was reaching northwards with his sails
free. He rejoined the fleet that afternoon. "Fifty-two boxes of
soles!" said Weeks. "And every one of them worth two-pound-ten in
Billingsgate Market. This smack's mine!" and he stamped on the deck in
all the pride of ownership. "We'll take a reef in," he added. "There's
a no'th-easterly gale blowin' up and I don't know anything worse in
the No'th Sea. The sea piles in upon you from Newfoundland, piles in
till it strikes the banks. Then it breaks. You were right, Upton;
we'll be lying hove-to in the morning."
They were lying hove-to before the morning. Duncan, tossing about
in his canvas cot, heard the skipper stamping overhead, and in an
interval of the wind caught a snatch of song bawled out in a high
voice. The song was not reassuring, for the two lines which Duncan
caught ran as follows--
You never can tell when your death-bells are ringing,
Your never can know when you're going to die.
Duncan tumbled on to the floor, fell about the cabin as he pulled
on his sea-boots and climbed up the companion. He clung to the
mizzen-runners in a night of extraordinary blackness. To port and to
starboard the lights of the smacks rose on the crests and sank in the
troughs, with such violence they had the air of being tossed up into
the sky and then extinguished in the water; while all round him there
flashed little points of white which suddenly lengthened out into
a horizontal line. There was one quite close to the quarter of the
_Willing Mind_. It stretched about the height of the gaff in a line of
white. The line suddenly descended towards him and became a sheet; and
then a voice bawled, "Water! Jump! Down the companion! Jump!"
There was a scamper of heavy boots, and a roar of water plunging over
the bulwarks, as though so many loads of wood had been dropped on the
deck. Duncan jumped for the cabin. Weeks and the mate jumped the next
second and the water sluiced down after them, put out the fire, and
washed them, choking and wrestling, about on the cabin floor. Weeks
was the first to disentangle himself, and he turned fiercely on
"What were you doing on deck? Upton and I keep the watch to-night. You
stay below, and, by God, I'll see you do it! I have fifty-two boxes of
soles to put aboard the fish-cutter in the morning, and I'm not going
to lose lives before I do that! This smack's mine!"
Captain Weeks was transformed into a savage animal fighting for his
own. All night he and the mate stood on the deck and plunged down the
open companion with a torrent of water to hurry them. All night Duncan
lay in his bunk listening to the bellowing of the wind, the great
thuds of solid green wave on the deck, the horrid rush and roaring of
the seas as they broke loose to leeward from under the smack's keel.
And he listened to something more--the whimpering of the baker's
assistant in the next bunk. "Three inches of deck! What's the use
of it! Lord ha' mercy on me, what's the use of it? No more than an
eggshell! We'll be broken in afore morning, broken in like a man's
skull under a bludgeon.... I'm no sailor, I'm not; I'm a baker. It
isn't right I should die at sea!"
Duncan stopped his ears, and thought of the journey some one would
have to make to the fish-cutter in the morning. There were fifty-two
boxes of soles to be put aboard.
He remembered the waves and the swirl of foam upon their crests and
the wind. Two men would be needed to row the boat, and the boat must
make three trips. The skipper and the first hand had been on deck all
night. There remained four, or rather three, for the baker's assistant
had ceased to count--Willie Weeks, Deakin, and himself, not a great
number to choose from. He felt that he was within an ace of a panic,
and not so far, after all, from that whimperer his neighbour. Two men
to row the boat--two men! His hands clutched at the iron bar of his
hammock; he closed his eyes tight; but the words were thundered out at
him overhead, in the whistle of the wind, and slashed at him by the
water against the planks at his side. He found that his lips were
Duncan was on deck when the morning broke. It broke extraordinarily
slowly, a niggardly filtering of grey, sad light from the under edge
of the sea. The bare topmasts of the smacks showed one after the
other. Duncan watched each boat as it came into view with a keen
suspense. This was a ketch, and that, and that other, for there was
the peak of its reefed mainsail just visible, like a bird's wing, and
at last he saw it--the fish-cutter--lurching and rolling in the very
middle of the fleet, whither she had crept up in the night. He stared
at it; his belly was pinched with fear as a starveling's with
hunger; and yet he was conscious that, in a way, he would have been
disappointed if it had not been there.
"No other smack is shipping its fish," quavered a voice at his elbow.
It was the voice of the baker's assistant.
"But this smack is," replied Weeks, and he set his mouth hard. "And,
what's more, my Willie is taking it aboard. Now, who'll go with
Weeks swung round on Duncan and stared at him. Then he stared out to
sea. Then he stared again at Duncan.
"When I shipped as a hand on the _Willing Mind_, I took all a hand's
"And brought the willing mind," said Weeks with a smile, "Go, then!
Some one must go. Get the boat tackle ready, forward. Here, Willie,
put your life-belt on. You, too, Duncan, though God knows life-belts
won't be of no manner of use; but they'll save your insurance. Steady
with the punt there! If it slips inboard off the rail there will be a
broken back! And, Willie, don't get under the cutter's counter. She'll
come atop of you and smash you like an egg. I'll drop you as close as
I can to windward, and pick you up as close as I can to leeward."
The boat was dropped into the water and loaded up with fish-boxes.
Duncan and Willie Weeks took their places, and the boat slid away into
a furrow. Duncan sat in the boat and rowed. Willie Weeks stood in the
stern, facing him, and rowed and steered.
"Water!" said Willie every now and then, and a wave curled over the
bows and hit Duncan a stunning blow on the back.
"Row," said Willie, and Duncan rowed and rowed. His hands were ice, he
sat in water ice-cold, and his body perspired beneath his oil-skins,
but he rowed. Once, on the crest of a wave, Duncan looked out and saw
below them the deck of a smack, and the crew looking upwards at them
as though they were a horserace. "Row!" said Willie Weeks. Once, too,
at the bottom of a slope down which they had bumped dizzily, Duncan
again looked out, and saw the spar of a mainmast tossing just over the
edge of a grey roller. "Row," said Weeks, and a moment later, "Ship
your oar!" and a rope caught him across the chest.
They were alongside the cutter.
Duncan made fast the rope.
"Push her off!" suddenly cried Willie, and grasped an oar. But he was
too late. The cutter's bulwarks swung down towards him, disappeared
under water, caught the punt fairly beneath the keel and scooped it
clean on to the deck, cargo and crew.
"And this is only the first trip!" said Willie.
The two following trips, however, were made without accident.
"Fifty-two boxes at two-pound-ten," said Weeks, as the boat was swung
inboard. "That's a hundred and four, and ten two's are twenty, and
carry two, and ten fives are fifty, and two carried, and twenties into
that makes twenty-six. One hundred and thirty pounds--this smack's
mine, every rope on her. I tell you what, Duncan: you've done me a
good turn to-day, and I'll do you another. I'll land you at Helsund,
in Denmark, and you can get clear away. All we can do now is to lie
out this gale."
Before the afternoon the air was dark with a swither of foam and spray
blown off the waves in the thickness of a fog. The heavy bows of
the smack beat into the seas with a thud and a hiss--the thud of a
steam-hammer, the hiss of molten iron plunged into water; the waves
raced exultingly up to the bows from windward, and roared angrily away
in a spume of foam from the ship's keel to lee; and the thrumming and
screaming of the storm in the rigging exceeded all that Duncan had
ever imagined. He clung to the stays appalled. This storm was surely
the perfect expression of anger, too persistent for mere fury. There
seemed to be a definite aim of destruction, a deliberate attempt to
wear the boat down, in the steady follow of wave upon wave, and in the
steady volume of the wind.
Captain Weeks, too, had lost all of a sudden all his exhilaration. He
stood moodily by Duncan's side, his mind evidently labouring like
his ship. He told Duncan stories which Duncan would rather not have
listened to, the story of the man who slipped as he stepped from the
deck into the punt, and weighted by his boots, had sunk down and down
and down through the clearest, calmest water without a struggle; the
story of the punt which got its painter under its keel and drowned
three men; the story of the full-rigged ship which got driven across
the seven-fathom part of the Dogger--the part that looks like a man's
leg in the chart--and which was turned upside-down through the bank
breaking. The skipper and the mate got outside and clung to her
bottom, and a steam-cutter tried to get them off, but smashed them
both with her iron counter instead.
"Look!" said Weeks, gloomily pointing his finger. "I don't know why
that breaker didn't hit us. I don't know what we should have done if
it had. I can't think why it didn't hit us! Are you saved?"
Duncan was taken aback, and answered vaguely--"I hope so."
"But you must know," said Weeks, perplexed. The wind made a
theological discussion difficult. Weeks curved his hand into a
trumpet, and bawled into Duncan's ear: "You are either saved or not
saved! It's a thing one knows. You must know if you are saved, if
you've felt the glow and illumination of it." He suddenly broke off
into a shout of triumph: "But I got my fish on board the cutter. The
_Willing Mind's_ the on'y boat that did." Then he relapsed again into
melancholy: "But I'm troubled about the poachin'. The temptation was
great, but it wasn't right; and I'm not sure but what this storm ain't
He was silent for a little, and then cheered up. "I tell you what.
Since we're hove-to, we'll have a prayer-meeting in the cabin to-night
and smooth things over."
The meeting was held after tea, by the light of a smoking
paraffin-lamp with a broken chimney. The crew sat round and smoked,
the companion was open, so that the swish of the water and the man on
deck alike joined in the hymns. Rail, the baker's assistant, who had
once been a steady attendant at Revivalist meetings, led off with a
Moody and Sankey hymn, and the crew followed, bawling at the top pitch
of their lungs, with now and then some suggestion of a tune. The
little stuffy cabin rang with the noise. It burst upwards through the
companion-way, loud and earnest and plaintive, and the winds caught
it and carried it over the water, a thin and appealing cry. After the
hymn Weeks prayed aloud, and extempore and most seriously. He
prayed for each member of the crew by name, one by one, taking the
opportunity to mention in detail each fault which he had had to
complain of, and begging that the offender's chastisement might be
light. Of Duncan he spoke in ambiguous terms.
"O Lord!" he prayed, "a strange gentleman, Mr. Duncan, has come
amongst us. O Lord! we do not know as much about Mr. Duncan as You do,
but still bless him, O Lord!" and so he came to himself.
"O Lord! this smack's mine, this little smack labouring in the North
Sea is mine. Through my poachin' and your lovin' kindness it's mine;
and, O Lord, see that it don't cost me dear!" And the crew solemnly
and fervently said "Amen!"
But the smack was to cost him dear. For in the morning Duncan woke to
find himself alone in the cabin. He thrust his head up the companion,
and saw Weeks with a very grey face standing by the lashed wheel.
"Halloa!" said Duncan. "Where's the binnacle?"
"Overboard," said Weeks.
Duncan looked round the deck.
"Where's Willie and the crew?"
"Overboard," said Weeks. "All except Rail! He's below deck forward and
clean daft. Listen and you'll hear 'im. He's singing hymns for those
in peril on the sea."
Duncan stared in disbelief. The skipper's face drove the disbelief out
"Why didn't you wake me?" he asked.
"What's the use? You want all the sleep you can get, because you an'
me have got to sail my smack into Yarmouth. But I was minded to call
you, lad," he said, with a sort of cry leaping from his throat. "The
wave struck us at about twelve, and it's been mighty lonesome on deck
since with Willie callin' out of the sea. All night he's been callin'
out of the welter of the sea. Funny that I haven't heard Upton or
Deakin, but on'y Willie! All night until daybreak he called, first on
one side of the smack and then on t'other, I don't think I'll tell his
mother that. An' I don't see how I'm to put you on shore in Denmark,
What had happened Duncan put together from the curt utterances of
Captain Weeks and the crazy lamentations of Rail. Weeks had roused all
hands except Duncan to take the last reef in. They were forward by the
mainmast at the time the wave struck them. Weeks himself was on the
boom, threading the reefing-rope through the eye of the sail. He
shouted "Water!" and the water came on board, carrying the three men
aft. Upton was washed over the taffrail. Weeks threw one end of the
rope down, and Rail and Willie caught it and were swept overboard,
dragging Weeks from the boom on to the deck and jamming him against
The captain held on to the rope, setting his feet against the side.
The smack lifted and dropped and tossed, and each movement wrenched
his arms. He could not reach a cleat. Had he moved he would have been
"I can't hold you both!" he cried, and then, setting his teeth and
hardening his heart, he addressed his words to his son: "Willie! I
can't hold you both!" and immediately the weight upon the rope was
less. With each drop of the stern the rope slackened, and Weeks
gathered the slack in. He could now afford to move. He made the rope
fast and hauled the one survivor on deck. He looked at him for a
moment. "Thank God, it's not my son!" he had the courage to say.
"And my heart's broke!" had gasped Rail. "Fair broke." And he had gone
forward and sung hymns.
They saw little more of Rall. He came aft and fetched his meals away;
but he was crazed and made a sort of kennel for himself forward, and
the two men left on the smack had enough upon their hands to hinder
them from waiting on him. The gale showed no sign of abatement; the
fleet was scattered; no glimpse of the sun was visible at any time;
and the compass was somewhere at the bottom of the sea.
"We may be making a bit of headway no'th, or a bit of leeway west,"
said Weeks, "or we may be doing a sternboard. All that I'm sure of
is that you and me are one day going to open Gorleston Harbour. This
smack's cost me too dear for me to lose her now. Lucky there's the
tell-tale compass in the cabin to show us the wind hasn't shifted."
All the energy of the man was concentrated upon this wrestle with the
gale for the ownership of the _Willing Mind_; and he imparted his
energy to his companion. They lived upon deck, wet and starved and
perishing with the cold--the cold of December in the North Sea, when
the spray cuts the face like a whip-cord. They ate by snatches when
they could, which was seldom; and they slept by snatches when they
could, which was even less often. And at the end of the fourth day
there came a blinding fall of snow and sleet, which drifted down
the companion, sheeted the ropes with ice, and hung the yards with
icicles, and which made every inch of brass a searing-iron and every
yard of the deck a danger to the foot.
It was when this storm began to fall that Weeks grasped Duncan
fiercely by the shoulder.
"What is it you did on land?" he cried. "Confess it, man! There may be
some chance for us if you go down on your knees and confess it."
Duncan turned as fiercely upon Weeks. Both men were overstrained with
want of food and sleep.
"I'm not your Jonah--don't fancy it! I did nothing on land!"
"Then what did you come out for?"
"What did you? To fight and wrestle for your ship, eh? Well, I came
out to fight and wrestle for my immortal soul, and let it go at that!"
Weeks turned away, and as he turned, slipped on the frozen deck. A
lurch of the smack sent him sliding into the rudder-chains, where he
lay. Once he tried to rise, and fell back. Duncan hauled himself along
the bulwarks to him.
"Leg broke. Get me down into the cabin. Lucky there's the tell-tale.
We'll get the _Willing Mind_ berthed by the quay, see if we don't."
That was still his one thought, his one belief.
Duncan hitched a rope round Weeks, underneath his arms, and lowered
him as gently as he could down the companion.
"Lift me on to the table so that my head's just beneath the compass!
Right! Now take a turn with the rope underneath the table, or I'll
roll off. Push an oily under my head, and then go for'ard and see if
you can find a fish-box. Take a look that the wheel's fast."
It seemed to Duncan that the last chance was gone. There was just one
inexperienced amateur to change the sails and steer a seventy-ton
ketch across the North Sea into Yarmouth Roads. He said nothing,
however, of his despair to the indomitable man upon the table, and
went forward in search of a fish-box. He split up the sides into rough
splints and came aft with them.
"Thank 'ee, lad," said Weeks. "Just cut my boot away, and fix it up
best you can."
The tossing of the smack made the operation difficult and long. Weeks,
however, never uttered a groan. Only Duncan once looked up, and
said--"Halloa! You've hurt your face too. There's blood on your chin!"
"That's all right!" said Weeks, with an effort. "I reckon I've just
bit through my lip."
Duncan stopped his work.
"You've got a medicine-chest, skipper, with some laudanum in it--?"
"Daren't!" replied Weeks. "There's on'y you and me to work the ship.
Fix up the job quick as you can, and I'll have a drink of Friar's
Balsam afterwards. Seems to me the gale's blowing itself out, and if
on'y the wind holds in the same quarter--" And thereupon he fainted.
Duncan bandaged up the leg, got Weeks round, gave him a drink of
Friar's Balsam, set the teapot within his reach, and went on deck. The
wind was going down; the air was clearer of foam. He tallowed the lead
and heaved it, and brought it down to Weeks. Weeks looked at the sand
stuck on the tallow and tasted it, and seemed pleased.
"This gives me my longitude," said he, "but not my latitude, worse
luck. Still, we'll manage it. You'd better get our dinner now; any odd
thing in the way of biscuits or a bit of cold fish will do, and then I
think we'll be able to run."
After dinner Duncan said: "I'll put her about now."
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