[from Hall Caine The Deemster]
"THERE'S GOLD ON THE CUSHAGS YET"
THEN there came a breath of wind. At first it was soft as an angel's whisper. It grew stronger and ruffled the sea. Every man lifted his eyes and looked at his mates. Each was struggling with a painful idea that perhaps he was the victim of a delusion of the sense. But the chill breath of the wind was indeed among them.
"Isn't it beginning to puff up from the sou'-west ? " asked Crennell in an uncertain whisper. At that old Quilleash jumped to his feet. The idea of the supernatural had gone from him. " Now for the sheets and to make sail," he cried, and spat the quid.
One after one the men got up and bustled about. Their limbs were well-nigh frozen stiff. All was stir and animation in an instant. Pulling at the ropes, the men had begun to laugh, yes, with their husky, grating, feardrowned voices, even to laugh through their grisly beards. A gruesome sense of the ludicrous had taken hold of them. It was the swift reaction from solemn thoughts. When the boat felt her canvas she shook herself like a sea-bird trying her wings, then shot off at full flight.
"Bear a hand there. Lay on, man alive. Why, you're going about like a brewing-pan, old fellow. Pull, boy, pull. What are your arms for, eh?" Old Quilleash's eyes, which had been dim with tears a moment ago, glistened with grisly mischief. "Who hasn't heard that a Mansman's arms are three legs?" he said, with a hungry grin. How the men laughed 1 What humour there was now in the haggard old saw 1
" Where are you for, Billy? " cried Corkell. "Peel, boy, Peel, d- it, Peel," shouted Quilleash.
"Hurroo ! Bould fellow ! Ha, ha, he, he !"
"Hurroo ! There's gold on the cushags yet."
How they worked ! In two minutes the mast was stepped, the mainsail and mizzen were up, and they filled away and stood out. From the shores of death they had sailed somehow into the waters of life, and hope was theirs once more.
They began to talk of what had caused the wind. "It was the blessed St. Patrick," said Corkell. St. Patrick was the patron saint of that sea, and Corkell was more than half a Catholic, his mother being a fishwife from Kinsale.
" St. Patrick be -," cried Ned Teare, with a scornful laugh; and they got to words, and at length almost to blows.
Old Quilleash was at the tiller. " Drop it," he shouted ; " we're in the down stream for Contrary, and we'll be in harbour in ten minutes."
" God A'mighty ! it's running a ten-knots tide," said Teare.
In less than ten minutes they were sailing under the castle islet up to the wooden pier, having been eighteen hours on the water.
Not a man of the four had given a thought to Dan, whether he wished to go back to the island, or to make a foreign port where his name and his crime would be unknown. Only the lad Davy bad hung about him where he sat by the hatches. Dan's pale face was firm and resolute, and the dream of a smile was on his hard-drawn lips. But his despair had grown into courage, and he knew no fear at all.
The sun was down, the darkness was gather. ing, and through the day mist the dew fog was rising as the fishing-boat put to under the lee of a lantern newly lighted, that was stuck out from the end of the pier on a pole. The quay was almost deserted. Only the old harbour-master was there, singing out, as by duty bound, his lusty oaths at their lumber. ings. Never before did the old grumbler's strident voice sound so musical as now, and even his manifest ill-temper was sweet to-night, for it seemed to tell the men that thus far they were not suspected.
The men went their way together, and Dan went off alone. He took the straightest course home. Seven long miles over a desolate road he tramped in the darkness, and never a star came out, and the moon, which was in its last quarter, struggling behind a rack of cloud, lightened the sky sometimes, but did not appear. As he passed through Michael he noticed, though his mind was preoccupied and his perception obscure, that the street was more than usually silent, and that few lights burned behind the window blinds.
Even the low porch of the "Three Legs " when Dan came to it was deserted, and hardly the sound of voice came from within the little pot-house. Only in a vague way did these impressions communicate themselves to Dan's.stunned intelligence as he plodded along, but hardly had he passed out of the street when he realised the cause of the desolation. A great glow came from a spot in front of him, as of many lanterns and torches burning together, and though in his bewilderment he had not noticed it before, the lights lit all the air about them. In the midst of these lights there came and went out of the darkness the figures of a great company of people, sometimes bright with the glare on their faces, sometimes black with the deep shadow of the torchlight.
Obscure as his ideas were, Dan comprehended everything in an instant, and, chilled as he was to the heart's core by the terrors of the last night and day, his very bones seemed now to grow cold within him.
It was a funeral by torchlight, and these maimed rites were, by an ancient usage, long disused, but here revived, the only burial of one whose death had been doubtful, or whose body had washed ashore on the same day.
The people were gathered on the side of the churchyard near to the highroad, between the road and the church. Dan crept up to the opposite side, leapt the low cobble wall, and placed himself under the shadow of the vestry by the chancel. He was then standing beneath the window he had leapt out of in his effort to escape the Bishop on that Christmas Eve long ago of his boyish freak at the Oiel Verree.
About an open vault three or four mourners were standing, and, a little apart from them, a smoking and flickering torch cast its light on their faces. There was the Bishop, with his snowy head bare and deeply bowed, and there by his elbow was Jarvis Kerruish in his cloak and beaver, with arms folded under his chin. And walking to and fro, from side to side, with a quick, nervous step, breaking out into alternate shrill cries and harsh commands to four men who had descended into the vault, was the little restless figure of the Deemster. Behind these and about them was the close company of the people, with the light coming and going on their faces, a deep low murmur, as of many whispers together, rising out of their midst.
Dan shook from head to foot. His heart seemed to stand still. He knew on what business the mourners were met ; they were there to bury Ewan. He felt an impulse to scream, and then another impulse to turn and fly. But he could not utter the least cry, and, -quivering in every limb, he could not stir. Standing there in silence, he clung to the stone wall with trembling fingers.
The body had been lowered to its last home, and the short obsequies began. The service for the dead was not read, but the Bishop d stretched out his hands above the open vault and prayed. Dan heard the words, but it was as if he heard the voice only. They beat on his dazed, closed mind as a sea-gull, blown by the wind, beats against a window on a stormy night. While the Bishop prayed in broken accents, the deep thick boom of the sea came up from the distant shore between the low-breathed murmurs of the people.
Dan dropped to his knees, breathless and trembling. He tried to pray, too, but no prayer would come. His mind was beaten, and his soul was barren. His father's faltering voice ceased, and then a half-stifled moan burst from his own lips. In the silence the moan seemed to fall on every ear, and the quick ear of the Deemster was instantly arrested. "Who's that?" he cried, and twisted about.
But all was still once more, and then the people began to sing. It was a strange sight and a strange sound: the torches, the hard furrowed faces in the flickering light, the white-headed Bishop, the restless Deemster, and the voices ringing out in the night over the open grave. And from where he knelt Dan lifted his eyes, and by the light of the torches he saw the clock in the church tower; the hands still stood at five.
He rose to his feet and turned away. His step fell softly on the grass of the churchyard. At one instant he thought that there were footsteps behind him. He stopped, and stretched his arms half-fearfully towards the sound. There was nothing. After he had leapt the cobble wall he was conscious that he had stopped again, and was listening as though to learn if he had been observed.