These two tales were published in "Fifty-two stories of the brave and true for Boys" ed A. H Miles, London: Hutchinson & Co.
William J Clucas Joughin died 1914.
BY CLUCAS JOUGHIN.
HAIRBREADTH escapes from violent death are not uncommon. The falling of an axe from a scaffold, cleaving the air within an inch of a bystander below ; the accidental discharge of a gun, whose muzzle is within a foot of some one's head ; the sudden stoppage of a cantering horse on the very verge of a quarry : these are experiences of every day life. Yet such escapes from an instant severance of soul and body give little or no shock to the nerves, and, too frequently, produce no feelings of devout thanksgiving for the watchful care of Providence. The flash of the gun, the whizz of the falling axe, the shock of the horse as he goes on to his haunches, are instantaneous with the quick conception of your own safety. You realise your danger after you discover you are safe.
There have been instances, however, where the impending danger of imminent death has been prolonged. To stand under a suspended block of " concrete," weighing as many tons as you weigh stones, unable to get out of the way, and knowing that one of the links in the chain of the crane which holds the huge mass in mid air is already condemned by the chief engineer, produces that rapid vibration of the nerves which makes you live a day in three minutes. In such a position the ominous grating and creaking of the chain, strained, perhaps, to its utmost strength, bids a man make that compact with the Deity which secures him a safe passage across the unknown, and a peaceful eternity. The biggest bully here is often the one who screams the loudest, in contradistinction to the calm resolution of the man who trusts in a special Providence.
The adventure which I am about to relate occurred when I was, as near as I can discover, between eleven and twelve years old. At that age I was exceptionally tall and swift by comparison with my contemporaries ; and the exercises of a life spent on a wild sea coast had made us hardy and strong. To spend the greater portion of every summer day barefooted, and but half-dressed, was our greatest delight, while it unconsciously developed, by the greater freedom given to our joints and muscles, an agility akin to that of the goats which we often chased in their own rocky haunts.
The town of Peel, at that time, possessed but few buildings whose architecture rose above the level of a cottage ; to wit, its ancient castle. The old red sandstone houses were built on either side of the paths which once formed the winding tracks from the castle islet to the country in shore. The streets were scarcely wider than the spoor made by the old-time men-at-arms and fishermen. Many of the quaint little houses were thatched, and an old red sandstone house with a thatch roof is a pretty picture. Round, smooth stones from the sea beach formed the pavement of these erratic roadways, and made walking, if free from mud, at once uncomfortable and insecure. The stranger often lost his way in the intricacies of the zigzagging lanes ; but, unlike what he might meet in many places, he never came upon anything worse than a good, stiff, smell of old fish.
In one of these curving and narrow streets, in close proximity to the quay, stood the butcher's shamble of the MacC 's, two strapping fellows of over six feet in height, who could handle a sledge hammer, or a bothersome heifer, as easily as they could turn a herring on their plate.
One stormy autumn day, a fully grown, pure white bull stood outside the long entrance to this shamble, with his nose to the ground. Some animal sagacity, or super-heated action of the brain, doubtless told him of the danger that lay at the end of the dimly lighted passage he was being persuaded to enter.
Cattle intended for the butchers of those days were not fed up to look like the pictures of the beasts exhibited at cattle shows. Oil-cake was not understood in the island at that time, if it was anywhere else, and the teeth of people fed chiefly on fish and oatmeal are not liable to early decay !
He was a fine specimen of an athletic bull, who could, as the sequel will show, take a fence like a hunter.
Island fishermen, accustomed to work on the land in the winter, are well acquainted with the ways of cattle, and, with the assistance of a crowd of these men, the brothers MacC urged the terrified brute, who was unfettered by any rope, through the lobby of the dwelling-house to the slaughter-yard beyond. Here he must have been met by some gruesome sight, for, a moment afterwards, he dashed out into the street with flaring eyes, and with tail erect, and clearing a passage for himself, he rushed down the winding street, headed straight for the beach, and plunged into the stormy sea, paying as little heed to the ground-swells as if they were waves of prairie grass.
Half the entire population of the town quickly collected along the shore to witness the struggles of the bull in the billows, swimming straight away from the shore to the deep sea as if he were the Theroo Ushtha hurrying from the sight of mortal ken.*
It was plain that the animal had gone mad. I stood beside the brothers MacC- and heard them say so, and heard them give up their valuable purchase for lost, as he swam an undeviating course out to sea. But the cold sea water must have chilled his over-heated blood, for, after swimming about half a mile out, he turned and came back in the midst of the breakers, pausing not a second on the beach, but hurrying up for the crowded shore road with snorts of rage and exertion.
* The Theroo Ushtha (literally, Water Bull) was, in the belief of the islanders, a spectre bull, with a human-like face, which roamed along the margins of the curraghs at midnight, and who plunged into the swamp and disappeared on the approach of any person.
In such scenes of terrifying excitement there are often comedies. A little fisherman, not many inches over five feet, who spent the stormy days wildfowling, ran up to meet the bull as he came through the open way from the sea beach to the road along the shore. Before the bull reached the opening, Thomas was seen in a crouching attitude under the sea-wall, peering round the abutment as cautiously as if he were waiting for a bevy of ducks. He had not long to wait. The bull dashed through, and Thomas sprang at him, not with a spear, or drawn sword, but with a mighty grip caught him, not by the horns, but by the tail. There is but one scene which gives a true idea of what followed viz., a dog with a tin kettle to his tail. In thus attempting to stop the career of the mad bull, Thomas had adopted a squat position, and held on with commendable bravery, while he bounded and rebounded, having the same shape as any ordinery teapot, his extended arms answering for the spout of the kettle. The pace of the bull not being appreciably lessened, it became evident to every beholder that he was not even aware that the gallant wildfowler was in attendance.
From the way in front of the bull the bravest made good their escape, but the rear was brought up by hundreds of running boys and men. I put the boys first, because the men were soon winded ; and the first of the boys was one who was known by the sobriquet of " The Deer." As the particular event which followed more closely concerned the Deer than any other, I will relate the circumstances in his own words.
" When the bull came to the end of the shore, he bounded up the head-lands like a wild buffalo, followed now by nearly every man in the town who was not too old, or a cripple. Behind these came women, with divers coloured shawls over their heads. The bull, like a panic-stricken soldier, heeded nothing but his determination to escape death. The hedge which runs down from Mount Morrison summer-house to the edge of the cliff seemed a likely thing to turn him, but he cleared it with the ease of a hound in full chase. As excited by the chase as any hound, I had so far outstripped my fellows as to be within a few feet of the bull when he cleared the hedge. Without pausing to consider the situation, I vaulted over after him.
" When I landed in the field, I was but a few feet behind the bull. I had run like Asahel, the son of Zeruiah (who "was as light of foot as a wild roe" ), in his pursuit of the fleeing Abner, and was now about to pay the same penalty. A few yards brought the bull to the precipitous edge of a quarry, and seeing his danger, he wheeled to the right-about so suddenly that I was nearly impaled upon his horns before I could pull myself up. At that instant many of the best runners were a few yards behind me, and some scores of other boys were tumbling over the hedge like a pack of hounds. There was no time for reflection. There was not the infinitesimal part of a second to consider what to do. Whether I acted from instinct, or from the habit of dodging my pursuers, I cannot say ; but if I had started back to seek safety in another vault over the hedge there would have been a great slaughter of boys that day! It is probable, however, that I had no time to turn back, I was within the volume of hot breath which came from the animal's nostrils, and his horns were lowered to toss me, when I sprang off at a tangent, and sped up the field-the pursuer pursued.
"The field inclined slightly up from the sea coast, and the gateway to it opened on to the high road above. Like the hare which dreads to leap a fence when the hounds are close upon him, I sought refuge in my own speed and an open gap.
"I saw the hedge along the field rapidly become black with masses of human forms. I became conscious of a loud din of voices yelling to me incomprehensible things. I heard the thunder of the hoofs behind me : close-very close behind me. That is all. I thought not of father, or mother, or lifeor death. I felt no fear. I had no trembling of the nerves, or nervous pulsation of the heart. I have since measured the distance I had to run. It was 188 yards up an incline. When I was half the distance I saw that the gate was closed. I remembered that I could vault it with a run.
" The crowd seemed unable, or unwilling, to render any assistance. If Thomas could but catch the bull's tail now! But Thomas had been left on the shore road hors de combat.
" Presently another little man, and singularly enough another Thomas-I think I ought to give his name, it was Colvin- sprang on the gate and held out his hands to catch me when I made the spring he evidently thought I was preparing for. This man plainly risked his life, for the bull was not more than ten feet behind me in all the chase, and a slip, or a loose grip, would have meant that bull, man, and boy would have come crashing into the gate together. It is more than likely, too, that the headlong pace at which I ran would have made it impossible for me to take the gate without shortening my stride, and treading my way a little, and that might have been fatal.
" I think it is fair to say that no athletic festival, of ancient or modern days, ever furnished a more exciting race for the spectators.
"A wild shout announced the success of my race for life as I leapt clear into Tommy's arms, and carried him, or was swung by him, to the road beyond. At the same instant the baffled bull swerved round, and, running through a gap into the next field, still kept up his mad career.
" By this time one of the brothers MacC had arrived with a rifle. Posting himself behind a fence in a line facing the running bull, he fired at a distance of about ten yards, and the bull fell at his feet with the mark of the rifle bullet through his skull.
" The death of the bull was a merciful one, and I went down with the crowd to see him as he lay, the symbol of animal beauty and force, endurance and speed, conquered by in- genuity and a superior intelligence."
BY CLUCAS JOUGHIN.
WHEN the Viking Prince Orry conquered and settled in the island of Man, many of his sailor-warriors married native women, mostly of Celtic origin, and became fishermen and farmers as well as warrior sailors. A descendant of this race was a man named Gundersen. Time had not altogether eliminated the characteristics of the sea- rover, for Gundersen was a man of herculean strength and courage. In height he was not quite six feet, but he was built with a rare combination for activity and power. Above this mere animal force, he possessed a mind of uncommon shrewdness, and had a native sagacity which held the balance of things. He was not the sort of man to be frightened by hobgoblins or bogies.
Gundersen's home was a house he had inherited. As this house stood away inland, with no view of the sea, it was the custom of its owner to spend his evenings with his cousin, Victor Christian-another relic of the Scandinavian dynasty-whose cottage lay down by the sea-shore. Here, in the summer evenings, the men would spend their time in the open air, conversing on ships, the curious things they had seen on their respective voyages, or the topics of peculiar interest to an island day.
The prospect of the Irish sea, stretching away to the western horizon, and covered by countless numbers of sea- gulls, cormorants, gannets, and guillemots, flying, diving, or swimming, gave a colour and a stimulus to all their stories.
In the winter evenings they closed the shutters and piled logs of driftwood on the fire, and sat spinning their yarns to the accompaniment of a soughing wind and the rolling roar of the breakers on the beach.
It was during such a winter's evening, thirty years ago, that the writer, in company with half a dozen other boys, first heard Captain Gundersen relate his adventure with the ghost of Carran's Lane.
" 1 had lingered down here later than usual," said the sturdy mariner, laying aside his pipe, for the more vigorous sons of the old sea-kings were sparing in their use of tobacco. "Even when Victor and I got outside the door we stood awhile to admire the beauty of the night. The sea was calm as a mill pond ; there was not as much wind as would have blown a paper skiff half a yard. I remember remarking to Christian that it seemed as if the Great Fist which holdeth the winds had bid them lie down, like barking dogs sent to their kennels in the bottom of the ocean.
"There was no moon, but the outlines of the castle stood out clear against a bright starlit sky. All the lights of the town houses were out, and as for street lights-well, we had none in those days. Everything, people, gulls, dogs, and cats, were as silent as if they were dead. The stillness of the night was so impressive that we stood and listened to it, until I felt a sense of relief by hearing the ticking of my own watch.
" It would be about half-past one o'clock when I bade Victor good-night and started on my way up through the town. Although there were neither town lights nor moon, the unclouded reflection of multitudes of visible stars made things easily discernible along my route. My way led up through Carran's Lane. You know the place, with its detached houses and high garden walls, its jutting angles and turns made by protruding gables and walls projecting at right angles with the street.
" My thoughts were turned on the conversation of the evening, and I heard only in a semi-conscious way the resonance of my footsteps in the narrow paved way.
" Suddenly, on approaching a house which stood forward into the street, there appeared within my line of sight a tall white figure.
" Like the horse which shies at that which springs suddenly before it, I gave an involuntary start. The figure did not stand immediately in my way, but loomed up within the shadow of a very high garden wall attached to a house which I now recollected to be the place where a ghost had been said to appear at intervals for generations.
" While thoughts and old stories of this ghost were hurrying through my mind unbidden, I was walking firmly forward. I had determined that the manly course was to walk on, and the prudent course not to molest the thing or be too curious about it.
" If you know the lane you will remember that the part of it where the spectre stood is not more than four good paces in width. In passing along, therefore, I came within a few feet of the apparition. I had been resolving what to do if it approached me; but finding, when opposite to it, that it did not move, I stood still and looked at it.
" It stared me full in the face.
" I had recovered from my first shock, and my curiosity asserted itself. I began to scrutinise.
" In the darkness under the wall I could not define the true outline, but the garb was that of a woman loosely draped in white. The proportions were suggestive of an Amazon. Fixing my gaze on where the eyes ought to be, I saw only two large dark spots.
" The solemn stillness of the night intensified the awesome feelings of my situation ; yet by-and-by I grew calm and resolute. How long we stood facing each other I do not know, but I know that all the time I heard nothing but my own breathing. The very air around us seemed to be possessed of some unusual gravity.
"At last I resolved upon a close and critical inspection, and, with this determination, I began to creep cautiously towards the apparition.
" By slow degrees I arrived within arm's length ; and then occurred another long pause, during which the spectre and I stared hard at each other.
" I saw a face, pale and wan, apparently a form enveloped in a shroud, and a head bound in a napkin.
"Neither the ghost nor I spoke a word, and there was no breathing audible but my own.
" I now began to reason within myself thus : if this thing is a spirit-and it certainly appears to be one-there will be no tangible substance that I can touch. I will try and touch it.
" Very slowly I raised my hand, and still more slowly and cautiously began to put it out towards the spirit.
"When the points of my fingers were just about to enter the sphere or space which the ghost occupied, the whole thing glided away with a noiseless, revolving movement, and there arose into the still night air an overpowering odour of the chamber of death-I mean that smell which is peculiar to badly ventilated rooms, or vaults where the dead lie.
"I felt the flesh creep all along my spine, and my hair distinctly bristled up and stood on end.
"Farther along the lane the ghost was again standing under the shadow of the wall, as if to challenge a second encounter, or at least indifferent about it.
" For a minute I did not know how to act. If I ran past helter-skelter the ghost might leap on my back ! and yet I had sufficient nerve left to keep me from turning and retreating down the lane.
"Being now fully persuaded that I was dealing with a supernatural being-a disembodied spirit-I again resolved to walk past without attempting to molest it.
"By some strange infatuation, or spiritual influence, how- ever, I was held spellbound when I again got opposite to its unearthly face.
" I faced about, and then occurred another long spell of silent staring at each other.
" I was never an unconditional believer in ghosts, but
I now felt I was standing in the presence of one. The mistiness of the robe in which it was enveloped, the hollow, dark space which appeared instead of the beautiful structure of the human eye, the phantom movement when eluding my touch, the sepulchral smell-all these, added to the natural dread which the bravest men, and even the most courageous animals, have of meeting with an inhabitant of the spirit world, combined to convince me that I was now standing face to face with the ghost which for so many years had haunted this very lane. And yet, possibly influenced by some magnetic power, I was compelled again to advance nearer to it.
" I approached as before, slowly and cautiously. I stood within a foot of it. I heard no breathing but my own, no sound of the night, nor cheery barking of a dog. The stars alone looked down upon us. The strain on my nerves was becoming intense. Still, so long as I forbore from touching the ghost, it made no movement, but rather seemed to wait, perhaps even wished, to be spoken to.
" I cannot analyse the feelings which came over me just then, for in a moment, with a sudden dash, I sprang at the ghost and clutched it !
"'In the name of God!' I cried, 'what do you want ?' "Then it spoke."
"What did it say?" asked a dozen earnest but subdued voices.
" It said," replied Captain Gundersen, hesitating, " it said, ' Leave me, leave me, Captain Gundersen ! I am only here to frighten Cæsar Battlestick !' "
At this our faces, which had become pale with anxiety, became red and hot with our confusion, and we all burst out laughing.
"The ghost," said Captain Gundersen, "was the living body of a well-known woman, six feet high, and clad in new calico. It was this new calico which, on being whirled around in the calm night air, gave forth that smell which is associated with shrouds and coffins.
" If I had bolted at that smell all the world could not have persuaded me but that the apparition was a supernatural being, and my story would have added proof to the old yarns of the ghost of Carran's Lane.
"Notwithstanding all my conduct in the affair, I suffered a decided reaction of feeling, and gave the young woman a sound rating for her foolhardy exploit. If I had been armed, even with a stick, the same feeling which prompted me to spring at her might have resulted in a blow which would have delivered her ghost from her body in real earnest.
"Yet she was a plucky woman," said the captain, laughing, "and .I may add, by way of postscript, that when telling the story to the girl who became my wife years afterwards, she coolly informed me that she knew all about it, as she was one of the amateur milliners who dressed the woman for her part in that gruesome play."