THE OLD ROCKS
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
"KEEP yer eyes off them hussies." With this admoni-
tion old Captain MacEagh hustled his son Ian down to the waterfront as quickly as he was able.
“This is the most heathen port down north, and as if that weren’t bad enough, here I find ye in the wickedest streets of a devil’s half acre that ’ud make Sodom
and Gommorah blush, and shame the very devil himself.” Such accusation brought no shame to gay MacNairs. What matter how old age with passion spent might rant against her; was she not for youth the lurid light of a northern ocean? MacNairs boasted thirty-one wharves, and thirty-one rum shops to boot, a rum shop at the head of each wharf. Fights were so frequent that if you stopped to watch them all you would never get your day’s work done. Because of this bellicose atmosphere MacNairs was known as the “Battle Ground in the East,” where the feuds of the fishing fleets were settled. For the roaring town there was only one attraction beyond her fights; the pride of her upper streets, of her Tracadie women famous wherever sailor men are known. Red Alec Campbell never missed anything in that direction. But to-night some strange preoccupation caused him to pass the charmers by. Pretty Raymond, walking with an added lure in her motion, failed to attract his roving eye. Whereupon she stamped her little foot and stood pouting on the windy corner. As she paused thus, Red Alec suddenly faced about, gazing down upon a forest of masts tapering against a sunset sky. At that twilight hour, he saw the beauty of the ships, and though not apparent he beheld
nevertheless the nearer beauty of the girl.
But he seemed to have eyes only for the sea, and vexed at being thus slighted, the loitering lass moved on. As she vanished Red Alec was not above inquiring:
“Who’s the little bit o’ fluff just passing round the corner?”
“That’s Raymond, Queen of the Tracadie Girls.”
“Where does she hang out?”
“She’s a singer up at the ‘Starboard Light,’ place on top of the hill with the flags painted on the front and the green lantern over the door. You’ll see—”
“I know the place,” broke in the other, starting off with quick impatience.
A few hours later when the upper streets were awakening to night time melody, Red Alec strode casually into the music room of the Starboard Light.
The room was occupied by a group of mariners, including Ronald Donn of the Judique fleet, who gave his brother highlander a Gaelic greeting. Raymond at the piano favored the stranger with ía stealthy smile, then turning to her music, began to sing a popular highland ballad.
“Knee deep she waded in the pool—
The Banshee robed in green—She sang yon song the whole night long,
And washed his linen clean;
The linen that would wrap the dead She beetled on a stone,
She stood with dripping hands blood red
Low singing all alone—
His linen robes are pure and white,
For Fergus More must die to-night.”
RED ALEC did not wait for the second verse. He left as suddenly as he had entered, while suggestive winks and glances passed among his fellow mariners.
The singer sang on to the end, then looked around inquiringly for the stranger.
“Where’s he gone?”
“Into the ball room. That song was too much for him.”
“Why, who is he anyway?”
“Who is he? It’s funny you don’t know him. That’s Red Alec Campbell, the Hell Driver from Judique. No wonder he couldn’t listen to your song, he’s the man who’s doomed to die.”
The first note of a fiddler’s jig issuing its summons emptied the music room of all save Ronald Donn. Raymond sank down beside him. But her mind was all on the other Highlander of tragic fate.
“Tell me, do you know this lad they call Red Alec?” “Sure. I ought to ken the lovely devil. He’s one of our ain of Judique.”
“Is he with your fishing fleet?”
“Sometimes, but not for long. Fishing is too tame for the likes o’ him, mostly he’s running booze frae the Treaty Ports, or dodging His Majesty’s cruisers.”
“Well, what makes them say he’s going to die?”
“Why, so he is. He’s due to take the Banshee out this Saturday night, for a run to St. Pierre.”
“Is that the bad luck schooner Mr. Maclehose just built?”
“That’s her, same one as was sprawled out and took twenty-one men, Heaven rest ’em, to their graves on the Western Ground. She’s a proper witch, gone bad, and gone bad for good. Ye can’t trust her now no more than a wicked woman who’s had a taste o’ blood.
“Mr. Maclehose ought to a’ kenned better than to gie her sic a name. But nothing ever phases him, and when the Dundee towed her in bottom up, he just had her righted, and run onto the ways, an’ made over good as new. Then, like the daredevil that he is, he had the name Banshee painted in gold again upon her counter.
“They towed her up to Judique Harbour, to fetch another crew. But that crew never came.
“The first night she was lying off the Inner Island, old Jean of the Mist, who has the second sight, was wakened by voices sounding round the Banshee, then she heard the dogs barking in Stella Maris churchyard, and every time
a dog barked that was a sure sign a man was drowned.
“Next day when the seer had told what she had seen, ye couldna’ get no man nor lad in Judique Parish, to ship aboard that schooner not for all the gold that Maclehose
could offer. So the Chief had her towed back to MacNairs, and she has been lying here ever since, until this verra December
morn, Red Alec, who’s always in league wi’ the Devil, makes some dicker wi’ Maclehose, and put his drunken foreign crew aboard the Banshee. And now they are outbound wi’ that evil witch.
“But it’ll be Red Alec’s last voyage, not because of only gossip, but because Jean o’ the Mist has seen it— it’ll be another case of a new boat and the Old Rocks.”
A TROUBLED look stole over Raymond’s pretty face. But she was quick to hide her feelings.
“All right, Ronald Donn, you may take me in for a dance.”
Sweeping across the sanded floor the singer had eyes for only one. Yes, there he was; seated apart at a little table, gazing upon the dancers, with that same distracted air, so interesting and yet so tantalizing to the curious sex. With his chair tilted back, his thumbs in the armpits of his vest, his countenance serene, Red Alec looked like anything but a man marked for death. Now and again he gave a quick imperious toss to his head, a slight outward sign of some inward volcano.
The more Raymond regarded this Lovely Devil, the more her interest was aroused. Every time she swept past in the dance, her eyes were searching his.
In spite of herself she was carried away by that imperious, tossing head. Before the evening was far spent a most expressive pair of eyes were sending flashes to Red Alec, declaring boldly, “I am yours.” These infatuated flashes were keenly scrutinized by one Ace Bolee, the
Gorilla, King of the Hairleggers, who esteemed Raymond to be his own.
The Hairleggers were a gang of adventurous jail bifds, who joined the fishing fleets in order to escape more strenuous labor, breaking rock ashore. These ocean gangsters possessed an unsavory reputation.
The King of the Hairleggers, incensed by the intercepted flashes, dispatched one of his minions to tell Red Alec to quit.
“Our skip says ye gotta keep yer lamps off his gel, if ye don’t we’ll give yer yours.”
The Campbell spoke no word, but a long sinewy hand reached out under the table and grasped the fleshy part of the gangster’s leg. Red Alec, as a feat of strength, often pinched his thumb clean thro’ a deck of cards, and now with equal ease he pinched away a piece of the gangster’s quivering flesh. The victim fled precipitately with a howl.
A MOMENT later Ace Bolee himself sat at the table opposite Red Alec, glaring across at his new rival. As the Gorilla took his place, Raymond felt a flutter, but one contemptuous toss of the Campbell’s head was reassuring.
“Ye don’t know me, do ye?”
“Nay, I dinna ken ye, nor ony o’ yer lice.”
“Down this way, ye Judique pigs have got all the pride of all the world. But there ain’t no pride left when ye’re turned to a corp washed stiff and cold on a black lee shore. I know ye. Fer all yer airs ye’re goin’ to git yours, Mister.”
“Of course I will. I was born to be drownded in the sea, like all the rest of my folks down North, and when I go it’ll be fighting, not squealing like ye and your rats.”
“That’s all right, just wait till youse guys comes into East River some time wid a load o’ fish. We’ll be waiting fer ye, an’ there’ll be a nice mess o’ Judique stiffs laid out on the marble slabs when we’re finished wid yez.”
“Ye dinna need to wait till we get to East River. Right here in MacNairs we can accommodate ye. Whenever Judique is on the floor, all ye need ta do is to say ‘Peek-a-Boo,’ and yer coffin’ll be hanging on the collar beams.”
The Gorilla burst into an ugly laugh. “Laugh in a dance hall if ye please. But ye’ll no laugh on the Sunnyside wharves when the Hielan’ Fleet is in. No more will ye laugh when ye buck into a giant’s gale
just ’round o’ Glasgow Head. Fer longshore fighten, or fer deep sea racin’, Judique is ready fer all the Hairleggers this side o’ Hell. An’ what are ye abuttin' into my table for anyway?”
“I’ve come to tell ye to keep yer lamps off my gel.” “Aye, that’s your lay, is it? Well, these here wimmen that won’t be held do give us the time o’ it now, don’t they? And who’s yer lady onyway?”
At the Highlander’s banter, the Gorilla grew incoherent. He began to finger a long sailor’s sheath knife on his hip.
“It’s knives, hey!” said Red Alec, rising suddenly, and kicking the stools away from his feet. “Well, come on then, me brave one, and we’ll send ye home in ribbons.” Ace Bolee was a good judge of how far to go in quarrelling with Judique. He readily dropped his hand from his hip, while the other just as readily sank back into his seat, pulling his chair closer, at which the Gorilla was careful to keep the calves of his legs out of range.
“That’s your lass yonder, is it?” said Red Alec, with a nod toward Raymond, the first sign of recognition which he had given her, which the girl was quick to notice.
“Yes, that’s my gel.”
“Well, if she’s yours, why don’t you hold her?”
“I’ll hold her; don’t ye worry.”
“Dinna see ony sight o’ yer holding her tonight. If I couldna nail a skirt to me no better than that, I’d quit.”
Ace Bolee spat with affected disconcern. “All right, ye can rave away for to-night, I’ll let ye go it. I know ye, fer all yer bluff, ye ain’t no better now than if ye was already stinking on some windy shore. Ye’re Red Alec Campbell, the fool who’s going to sail the Banshee straight to Hell.
When you’re a bloody drownded corp, I’ll still be kicking my heels in the sunshine, and dancing with Tracadie wimmen. So I should worry what you sez.
“When I was in Sing Sing, they used to give the guys in the death cells extra rations, and since ye’re on your way to drownin’ I’ll let ye go it just fer to-night.”
T ATERAce Bolee was sorry for his ' generous offer. It was the Midnight Dance. The dance in which lovers and sweethearts coupled. This dance he had come to regard as his with Little Raymond by divine right.
With eager eyes he dodged in and out among the rrowd in search of his anticipated Queen. But she was his no longer. Coming down to the far end of the sanded floor, he was just in time to see Red Alec leading the lady of his choice out onto the balcony.
The Gorilla stalked behind the door, grey with rage, grasping with burning fingers for his sheath knife.
“Why the Hell didn’t I stick ’im at the table?” he muttered.
Outside in the cool night wind a Tracadie girl shuddered beside the man who was doomed to die.
“Why do you tremble, little one?”
Red Alec bent and listened. From afar there came the thunder of the Northern Sea. Murder behind, waves of death before, but what was that to him? Up went the haughty head with its old contemptuous fling.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Afraid of what, little one?”
“Oh, I don’t know, but I’ve heard the men say things to-night that made me jumpy, and then when I hear that roar it makes me frightened. Aren’t you afraid?”
“I’m afeared o’ neither God, Man, nor Saint Michael.” “Oh, but you shouldn’t talk that way, because it makes me tremble just to hear you say such awful things.”
“What!” Red Alec was startled. It was surprising to him to be chided for blasphemy by a “Little bit of fluff.” “I never expected anyone to mind my talking straight at the Starboard Light. This balcony ain’t a confessional, is it?”
Little Raymond was stepping along at his side, her arm clasping his. She did not speak, but the Campbell was struck by something plaintive in the eyes that searched his own. The complete helplessness and trustfulness of the little girl beside him suddenly disarmed the man of his accustomed debonair.
AS THEY paused and listened again to the distant roar of the sea, Red Alec felt strangely awakened within him the sense of guardian and protector, all because of the trustfulness imparted by a girlish arm that clasped his own.
“A man could not be a man, if he laughed at the trust of such a little one,” he thought to himself, as they resumed their walking, the flippancy of a moment before vanished.
“What makes you seem so glum all of a sudden? Why don’t you talk?”
“You knocked all talking galley west.”
“Well, I don’t know why I should have asked you not to speak the way you did; none of us are saints up here. With the most of us it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you do. But after all that Ronald Donn told me to-night about your being the man who was doomed to die, and then to come out here in the dark alone with you,
and hear that awful roaring of the sea, it made me terrified. That’s why I couldn’t bear to hear you speak those awful words. If you speak that way, it feels as if something dreadful is sure to happen to you.”
“What if it does?”
“Well, I don’t want to see you go away and not come back.”
“I always said, little one, I didn’t care when I went away, but first thing you know you’ll be making me afraid with all this kind of talk. Aye, this is a bad line for the skipper who’s just about to take the Banshee out to sea. I don’t know why, but something strange has got me by the heart tonight. If I let myself go, I could almost be again like I was when I was a scared and trembling lad.”
“Well, let’s play that we’re a little boy
A Fiction Feast
^ LOAT over this, and smack your lips in prospect: Rex Beach,
Arthur Stringer, Rudyard Kipling and Royal Brown. All these writers, and many others, will have short stories and fiction articles in the next issue of MacLean s—October fifteenth.
and a little girl again, as we used to be, just for to-night.” “Not on your life, if I got playing at that I’d meet some old time witches that would be sure to come and haunt me when I’m fighting tooth and nail at sea against some giant’s might.”
“But don’t you believe in our good Saint Michael, the guardian and patron saint of the sea?” There was an anxious sob in Little Raymond’s voice as she uttered this query.
“Of course, I do, down underneath. We all, as we get older, talk and bluster. I’m one o’ the black sheep o’ Judique. My name is Anathema to Father Donald. But I’ll tell ye truly, little one, for all me blundering I canna begin to unlearn what I first heard as a bairn at me mother’s side within the high white walls of Stella Maris. Yea, I believe in good Saint Michael, but dinna ye tell the secret.”
“Oh, I’ll keep your secret. But I’m so glad you’ve told me, because I’ve got something here to give you, that will bring you back to me, in spite of the Old Rocks.” The girl withdrew her arm, and unfastening the neck of her gown, drew forth from her warm breast a beautiful pectoral cross, with two cross bars.
“This is the Cross of Clan Ranald, that once belonged to the Fair Bishops. It was blessed by them, and it will bring you safely through the water.”
With sudden trembling, and visible emotion hardly attributable to him, Red Alec unbuttoned his homespun shirt, and bending over the girl placed the Cross upon his chest, and clasped the necklace by which it was suspended. When she had finished she raised her lips and kissed him—not the kiss of passion, but the kiss of childhood’s trust and faith.
For a few minutes longer they continued to walk together in silence. At last Red Alec seemed to shake himself out of a stupor.
“I must be going, little one.”
“What, so soon?”
“I can’t ask you to dance with me to-night.”
“No, not after what we have just spoken. But when I’ve brought back your charm, over the Bad Rocks, then, will you dance with me?”
“Yes, and when will that be?”
“The midnight dance at the New Year’s Ball.”
'T'HINGS went wrong on that voyage from the very start. On Friday evening Red Alec boarded his illluck ship. As ho came over the side it was a cold drizzly December twilight, with promise of wind and storm.
Many a curious watcher on the shore stood gazing at the Banshee, conjecturing on her fate. To-morrow a crowd would be there to see her sail, to watch until she vanished, a winter’s offering for the hungry sea.
On the morrow the crowds were there, gossiping in high
excitement, shaking dubious heads, searching with questioning eyes, the place where the fated vessel had been moored. But lo, she was there no longer! She had gone, gone long before the grey and howling dawn. In the mystery of her departure the prophets read another certain proof of doom.
On Friday evening in the channel, between the Inner Island and the mainland, a large fleet of fishermen and coasters had assembled in anticipation of storm.
The Banshee had run in from MacNairs late in the afternoon. As all the best anchoring grounds were occupied, she was obliged to take a berth, not far from the long sand bar which extended nearly two thirds of the distance across the Southern end, leaving a comparatively narrow outlet between there and the sand-spits of the Mainland.
When she came to anchor toward dusk it was raw and breezy wdth a sharp choppy sea running. About nine o’clock that night the wind backed to north-northeast, and began to pipe in good earnest, with occasional flurries of snow.
Red Alec, walking his poop, sniffed the rising storm with apprehension. Finally, as the blow increased, he roared; “Turn out all hands and let go the second anchor.”
“All hands,” were called again at midnight, to pay out more cable. When the watch turned out at midnight it was intensely dark. The air was filled with snow and sleet, and the gale had increased almost to a hurricane, while the tide had risen to an unprecedented height.
“My God! What a night!” exclaimed the skipper. “If anyone slipped their moorings here, they’d be in the belly o’ Hell afore they kenned where they was.”
Hardly had this exclamation escaped, before the gang paying out the cable descried a coaster driving directly down upon them, broadside to the wind. Shouting the alarm, the crew made every effort to sheer off from the impending menace, but were only partly successful. The coaster struck the Banshee on the port bow, her starboard anchor, hung at the cathead, caught the other over her port cable.
“Holy Mother, save us!” yelled Little Roary. “Both vessels are onto our anchors. Will she hold? No! No! There she goes,” and down they went under the bow of the Royal Stuart, broadside on, while the coaster lying against her port side pounded away at the helpless Banshee, as she rose and fell with the heavy seas.
“Looks as if we’ll be ground up between the two of ’em, or all of us ’ll be driven in a pile on the bar.”
The bar referred to was not more than three-hundred fathoms to leeward, over which the seas were breaking masthead high.
Fortunately, the Royal Stuart's anchors held on, giving the middle vessel time to extricate herself.
Red Alec, jumping on board the Royal Siuart, requested Ronald Donn to pay out more cable, so that he would drop aft. This done, Red Alec swung head to the wind, and paid out on his own cables, dropping down between the other two and astern of them, where he held on thinking it would be safe.
But in this he was disappointed, for in a moment there came a startling cry.
“Our starboard cable has been cut by that swine, Ronald Donn.”
The first thing was to rig the stock of the spare anchor. This job was just completed, when the mate shrieked out in dismay:
“We’re all adrift, they’ve cut our other cable.”
Was the Banshee doomed to die right there in sight of the lights of home? Even the stoutest heart trembled at the prospect. But not a moment could be lost, for the foaming roaring breakers were directly to leeward.
Luckily, the helpless vessel fell off with her head to the eastward.
Instantly Red Alec determined to run out of the crowded harbour, through the darkness of the night, intensified by the blinding snow, rendering the attempt to pass between the southern bar extremely hazardous. It was a choice however between that hazard and certain ruin on the lee shore.
Running aft to the wheel, Red Alec shouted:
“Bear a hand on the fores’l. Lively now and git it on
The foresail was soon up, about as high as if singlereefed. The skipper righted the wheel, the sail filled, and the Banshee started off racing through the inky blackness of the crowded port.
“Hard up, keep her up,” shouted the lookout. Up went the wheel, the vessel swinging quickly off, until a light was dimly seen on the weather bow, and the cry of “Steady So,” assured the skipper that they were heading right.
The next instant they went tearing by the stern of one
of the fishing fleet, only just clearing her main boom. “Some close shaving,” yelled a deck hand.
“Aye, aye,” agreed a Highland shipmate. “But dinna ye forget who’s takin her out. He’s a skilly man at the wheel, is yon Red Alec. They can talk o’ ill luck for this vessel, but there’s nae ill luck can touch the likes o’ him.” The words were suddenly cut short by a voice of warning.
“Luff, luff,” and theBans/iee went sweeping by the last of the line, almost scraping the end of the other’s bowsprit with her rigging.
THIS was the outside. Having kept a mental calculation of the distance run, Red Alec judged, soon after passing the last, that he was far enough to keep off and run out of the channel.
Five minutes from the time that his cables were cut they were safe in the open sea.
At the wheel, with eyes blazing, Red Alec expressed himself to theBanshee as a mad rider to a restless mare.
“Ye may have tasted blood afore, ye pretty wench, but ye’ve got a hand upon yer wheel at last that’ll spoil yer tricks and break yer wildness.
“None of yer hussies’ways fer us. When the gulls can’t 1'ly to winnard, that’s when we’ll take ye out wi’ a bone in yer teeth. Ye gave us the devil’s own start to-night. But, by the leapin’ lightning, before we’re thro’, we’ll break ye, and bring ye back to
port like some old crippled hag.”
The way that Red Alec handled the Banshee through the Strait of Canso would have brought consternation to any other crew. But his own never felt safer than when their skipper started to fight the sea jn earnest.
With utmost bravado he piled on the canvas, and every time he jibed, it was with a sudden viciousness that nigh cracked the sticks out of his vessel.
“Leave it to Red Alec to tone her down,” laughed the mate, the others in gay accord.
L it tie Roary, the cook, was the only one who could not respond to the intoxicating moment. At the end of one of the skipper’s wild and crazy outbursts, he broke in:
“I’ll say, Red Alec, ye’re the greatest shiphandler that ever came frae Judique. There’s none could ever show ye the look o’ their heels at sea. There’s none could brave a storm more bold than ye. But for aye that, you’re only one weak man, and this time I dinna ken what’ll come o’ our uncanny voyage. It’s an uncanny day, an uncanny ship, and now, God save us, we’re awa’ with an uncanny start. Wae’s me,
I’m afeared, as Jean of the Mist has said, that it’ll be a new boat and the Old Rocks.”
This lament of Little Roary brought to the crew new dread. But Red Alec would suffer no such decline of morale.
“Be damned to ye,
Little Roary, fer your auld wimmen notions.
In all our smuggling days we never made a luckier start.”
As Chedabucto Bay opened out before them, the skipper bellowed,
“Git the stays’! on her.”
Soon the Banshee was carving her way in living fire through the black and wildering night.
Every man aboard that smuggling ship worshipped speed as a goddess. This then was the appeal that could not be withstood.
ALL the rest of that outward voyage seemed to prove - Red Alec’s word of a lucky start. In remarkably short time the vessel which disappeared so mysteriously from the Harbour of Judique was sighted riding on the edge of a gale off the loom of Galantry Head. Shortly after, she berthed safely in the Harbour of St. Pierre.
In the French treaty port, the smuggling schooner loaded by night, at the wharf of the leading wholesale liquor dealer. The cargo included twenty-five casks of Demerara rum, ten hogsheads of port wine, forty-eight cases of champagne, ten casks of Jamaica rum, one thousand boxes of Havana cigars, one thousand pounds of smoking tobacco in caddies, one thousand pounds of French cut tobacco.
For these luxuries Red Alec paid in gold $4.444. On this order the Canadian import duty would be $7,556, making the cargo worth $11,090 landed at the smuggling station on the Outer Island of Judique.
The bulk of this profit, if realized, would be due to Charles Maclehose, owner of the ship. Red Alec, a Highlander, turned to smuggling mainly for the love of adventure. Maclehose, a Lowland Scot, participated mainly for the love of gold.
While they were still loading, one of Maclehose’s scouts arrived with the warning that a Secret Service Agent had spotted the Banshee and guessed her mission, which meant a cable message to the Government cruiser at Sydney.
On account of this information Red Alec put to sea that very night. Although the storm signals were flying, he pushed his nose out beyond the guardian capes, and boldly faced the bitter ocean.
Head winds, boarding seas, driving blizzards, and biting cold were the portion of the Banshee as she beat across the Gulf. Time and again the skipper was forced ;o drive his crew to sheer exhaustion, fighting with ice mallets against the tons and tons of ice that sheeted over ill, until they threatened to founder.
“One consolation in this devil’s weather,” said the nate, “is that it will keep the Government cruiser hugging safety.”
After two weeks of buffeting, the skipper was anxiously looking to pick up Wolf Point. He knew by dead reckoning that they must be somewhere off that section of the Cape Breton coast. All that afternoon they looked in vain for land. After nightfall it began to snow, and soon the air was full of soft feathery flakes which effectively shut out from view every object at greater distance than a hundred fathoms.
All hands were called to pound the ice off cable and
running gear, since it was of highest importance to have everything ready for anchoring or taking in sail at a minute’s notice.
As the night wore on the wind rose to a proper south-east gale, with an accompanying blizzard. One of the most dangerous positions for a mariner is to be caught on a lee shore in winter, with an easterly gale of blinding snow.
“This is no time to be poking round the land,” mutteied the skipper. For safety’s sake he shifted his course to the northward, and let the Banshee run before the storm.
Scudding before the wind under trysail and jib, they were swept up beyond St. Paul’s Island. By the following morning the gale had blown itself out, and Red Alec was overjoyed to make his landfall. There, about five miles to the southward, lay Cape North. Beating up into the lee of the land it fell dead calm, and they were forced to anchor.
Cape North, which loomed before them, was the extremest w’arder of a continent—the end of a mountain range, rising sheer a thousand feet above the surge.
The defiant skipper always felt a certain kinship for that sentinel cape standing undaunted against the polar night, and the howlings of a polar ocean.
But Little Roary dreaded this spot as a bound beyond the utmost suzerainty of God. Gazing at the granite bastion that towered above, the little piper was filled with dire misgiving.
“Ochan, and it’s a wae night that brought us to anchor off this fell coast. I seem to see yon Cape raised like a giant’s fist that’s fain to strike.” “Aye, never ye fear, she kens her ain, we o’ the Hielan’ Hills are her kith and kin. Did ye
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ever hear o’ a man o’ our ilk that was harmed along these shores? Na.na, she kens her ain.” —
“Well, for me, I wouldna trust ony ship in sic a place. These are the seas that God forgot. It’s a dead man’s ocean, and a dead man’s shore. Dinna ye mistake it, skipper, frae the night we was blowed out o’ Judique Harbour we was doomed for an uncanny voyage.”
Red Alec laughed contemptuously and went below, where all hands were mugging up with Demerara rum. He would have joined them in a glorious carouse but the pressure of a charm upon his breast restrained him.
Now and again the skipper took a turn on deck. Gazing at the towering shadowy cape, he found there a fascination as a bird in a serpent’s eye.
The last breath from the south east had died out, and they lay becalmed, except for an occasional catspaw, which came from all points of the compass.
By noon there were indications of another storm which gave uneasiness. Although it continued calm during the early part of the afternoon, the barometer fell rapidly, foretelling of an approaching gale. Out of respect for these indications, Red Alec let go his second anchor.
A PECULIARITY of the North Bay in I ithe months of December and January is its sudden reversion of weather. The wind will blow south east, fall calm, and in a short time there will come a gale out out of the north west. It is a characteristic of this north west gale that it leaps forth unexpectedly, like a roaring lion.
While the darkness of the night was still falling, the sleeping ocean began to show its hate. Long, black, snarling seas appeared, foam-flecked with ominous threatening, as the advance guard of a hurricane.
“We’re in for it,” muttered Red Alec grimly. “But it’s too late now, we can only trust our anchors and wait.”
Ere long a full blown north west hurricane came howling out of the winter’s night.
Only Red Alec, the mate, and Little Roary were sober. But there was nothing they could do.
“Will the cable hold?”
“Yes, it will hold,” declared the mate. "That cable was made by Dennis More. When he forged it in the smithy at MacNairs, he said, ‘some day these links will hold a father for his bairn,’ that’s why he forged it well. That’s why right now I believe it will not break.”
The cable forged in faith held on. But as the hurricane increased something happened, that shook the drunkest heart —the anchor began to drag.
“Christ’s cross be o’er us, our time has come!” yelled Little Roary.
Through the blackness of the howling night, the Banshee answered to the call of the storm.
“What’s before? Where are we drifting?”
“Dinna ken, but we’re bound fer the Auld Rocks.”
Red Alec had been continually rubbing clothes with Death. Formerly in such desperate straits he soaked himself with strong liquor, and by the supernatural power derived therefrom came through alive and kicking.
But this time the daredevil skipper stood strangely silent, muttering to himself, and clutching something at his breast.
A spirit of hopelessness settled down upon the crew. The very sobriety of the captain chilled their hearts. Where was the blustering hell-roaring Red Alec, who laughed at danger, and knew no fear? Yes, his time had come. The hand of fate at last had stricken terror even in his heart.
Like a bride of the sea prepared for her dance with death, the Banshee dragged her anchor, and floated on.
Somewhere through the roaring night there came faintly the sound of a bell. The sound of that muffled bell reminded Red Alec that it was New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow would bring the midnight dance and the New Year’s Ball. Never for a moment did he doubt that he would be there to keep his tryst with Little Raymond. How would it happen? What would he do? Such questions never crossed his mind. He knew at last the
Banshee was doomed. He knew at last he was a helpless one in the hands of Good Saint Michael. Clutching now and again the Clan Ranald Cross, he faced the unknown fate with steadfast eye.
Red Alec, the mate, and Little Roary were standing on the poop together, when there in the wildering night the Banshee found the Old Rocks that were waiting for her.
Without slightest warning her stern suddenly ran across a ledge of shelving granite, while the dragging anchors held her momentarily pounding in spume and spray.
Quicker than thought, the three standing aft climbed over the taff-rail and leaped upon the shelving ledge. Others of the drunken crew started after, but the moment of grace had gone.
THE schooner was lifted on a soaring comber swinging broadside to the granite wall, smashing and pounding her ribs to splinters. As the sea backed and fell, the Banshee, with a broken spine, wallowed helplessly, like a murdered corpse upon the wave. Then, as though some unseen hand were reaching upward, her bow leaped forth and with a sudden dive she vanished.
On that thundering ledge, Red Alec guessed, and guessed rightly, that they were prisoners at the base of grim Cape North—beneath, a howling hungry ocean; towering a thousand feet above, a mountain wall of granite. Ocean and bastion rock alike with the spirit of the North were remorseless and relentless.
The three survivors crawled in upon the ledge to escape from the crashing seas. But Red Alec did not tarry. While the other two were crouching and shuddering with fear, he watched his chance between the seas, rushed across the narrow ledge, and started to grapple his way up the shelving side.
There was no time for his companions to question, and they also set themselves to follow.
The next crashing wave found all three high enough to be reached only by the lighter spray. But even that light spray upon their backs in such precarious eerie fell with the touch of grisly terror.
Below them the howling grey wolves of the deep; above, a black insuperable cliff. Any man might well write off his life in such predicament. Right there and then the two faint-hearted followers would have abandoned the struggle.
“No one could live below, no one could climb above, we might as well a gone down with the ship,” wailed Little Roary.
But the next instant the redoubtable Alec had crawled across another ledge, and leaning over gave his mates a hand.
From there a sheep trail ran up with sharp incline. In single file crawling on hands and knees they worked along the precipitate ascent, until another sheer bluff rose before.
“Might as well have been drownded already,” croaked the complainer. “We can’t go down, and we can’t go up, not even God could save us on sic a dreesome rock.”
For the first time, the skipper asserted
“Shut up wi’ yer puling, Little Roary, ye go to mass on Sabbaths, don’t ye?
“All right, thank the God ye worship n the mass that He has brought yer feet rp from that hell that’s baying beneath. Pray to Him to help ye; then, if ye’ve jot any sand in yer gizzard, help yourself.” ,
“I didna think that the likes o ye would be taking Father Donald’s job,” was the piper’s answer. But no more complaining word escaped him.
A PERPENDICULAR wall towered above them to dizzy heights. Surely they could go no further. But no, already Red Alec had begun to climb by the help of every niche and crevice. It seemed only a place for wheeling sea birds. But Red Alec and Little Roary were Highlanders in the truest sense of the word. From boyhood both had been scaling cliffs and mountains. Now, like spiders on a web, each hung to the sheer face of the cliff, with the sea a hundred feet beneath.
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The third survivor, the mate, had come nigh the end of his scaling capacity. He was only a sailor. A sailor will go aloft anywhere, so long as he has a rope or yard to grip to. Take away that support and he is lost.
The unfortunate mate possessed none of the Highlanders’ skill at mountaineering. But he was game to the end; Like some old viking he regarded his fate impassively. When the others had drawn themselves far above, he bit off a quid of tobacco, and manfully committed himself to the sheer ascent.
After striving upward for twenty feet, the mate made his one and fatal error. It is a principle of scaling always to keep two hands and one foot, or one foot and two hands clinging to the surface, by this means the climber always maintains three points of suspension. Red Alec and Little Roary knew this by instinct. Ignoring the same, the mate essayed to haul himself up sailor fashion. But his support was inadequate.
He had gripped an apparently solid projection, which began to give and come away, then with a crack it broke off completely, and the clinging mate went plunging outward, while his death-cry horrified his companions on the dizzy wall above.
The realization of the tragedy just below brought a sickish dread to the remaining twain. With toes digging into a fissure of broken rock, Red Alec paused, his heart pounding against his ear drums, while a sudden tremor smote his limbs with palsy. Now was the time for prayer. His blue lips moved, but no words came. Weakly the fingers of his free hand closed upon the Clan Ranald Cross.
“Perhaps she will be remembering the Old Rocks, and saying the good words for me.”
That thought brought reassurance, and he started again on the scaling ascent.
Gasping and panting, Little Roary came struggling at his heels. No words were passed. Every last breath was husbanded for the searching struggle.
It seemed like walking sneer up the side of a house. At first glance there appeared no slightest aid to progress. But with unerring touch Red Alec felt out each scar, and fissure, cleft and crevasse, testing cautiously and climbing always with the steady sureness of a mountain goat.
HERE, an overhanging cliff opposed him. With the speed of a snail, he worked his way around the under side, and gradually over. Then a moment’s wait to give a hand to Little Roary, and he was off again.
His dulled senses had lost all reckoning. It seemed as though he had been through endless night toiling over that insuperable bastion.
For the hundredth time he put out his hand to give a boost to his weaker shipmate. Little Roary, who had expended his utmost breath, staggered and collapsed. Only the skipper’s presence prevented him from plunging after the mate into a sailor’s grave.
Red Alec hauled the unconscious man into a cleft of safety, then stood above him, panting and spent.
“I’d like to lay there beside ye forever,” he muttered wearily, pausing for a breather.
‘But the coming on of dawn brought to mind a steadfast purpose—this was New Year’s morning. There remained no further time to pause or rest. Beyond the top of grim Cape North was a longer journey.
The final fifty feet Red Alec negotiated in a burst of preternatural speed. At last, with heart and lungs aching from the unheard of strain, he scrambled across the crest, and sprawled out helplessly upon the snow.
Jem MacLean, the light-keeper, returning from the light to his home, encountered what he thought was a dead man in the driving snow. As he bent over, Red Alec lifted himself upon his elbow.
“Where did ye come from, Skipper?” “Up frae below. I was piled on Cape North last night in the Banshee.”
“What’s that? Ye don’t tell ye come up over the side 0’ Cape North!”
exclaimed Jem MacLean, aghast. “Sure, no living being could ever come up
“Yea, that’s where I come from.” “Well, nae wonder yer nigh dead.” “Aye, I’m all right, Jem, all I’m needing is a hand to yer fireside, and a swig of good hot rum.”
Later, after he had directed the rescue of Little Roary, Red Alec called on Jem MacLean for yet another tot of rum.
“Make her good and able, Jem, fer me journey isna ended. I’ve a tryst to keep this verra night.”
THE New Year’s Ball was on in Gay MacNair’s. All were abandoned to joyous delight.
All except Little Raymond, who seemed to listen between the shriek of bagpipes and the note of fiddles. Even Ace Bolee was struck by her distracted air. But Ace was supremely happy, he had her, that was enough.
That very afternoon the revenue agent gave out how the Banshee had cleared from St. Pierre, and had not been sighted since. It was conceded that the smuggling schooner had foundered in the hurricane. This was the news which set the King of the Hairleggers in such high heart.
Came the time for the midnight dance. Youth and ardour rushed and jostled. Ace Bolee had been promised this dance with Little Raymond, if someone else did not come. Ace knew that someone else would never come. With the confidence of possession, he ranged himself beside the Tracadie Queen.
“My dance, ain’t it?”
“Oh yes, but please do wait!”
“Wait! Ain’t I been waitin’ all this night?”
“But I’m sure I hear a footstep.”
Both paused and listened. From without there came only the loud high piping of the wind.
“Ye thinks ye heard a footstep. Well, there ain’t no footstep, so come on, kid, this dance is mine.”
In spite of herself, and almost in tears, Little Raymond was dragged onto the sanded floor, and swallowed up in a whirling reel.
The belated skipper of the Banshee arrived at the flood tide of the Midnight Dance. Through the card room he strode, and straight onto the roaring floor.
“I ken that she’ll be waiting here for me,” he muttered.
For a moment Red Alec was blinded by the giddy lights, and the flash of wild tempestuous petticoats. Then through the whirl his eye caught the giant form of the Gorilla, the Tracadie Queen folded in his arms.
Red Alec stood like a man who had suddenly aged; mumbling feebly to himself.
“I thought she’d wait. I thought she’d wait. But no, they’re all the same, there’s none of them that ye can trust.” With his dream so swiftly shattered, what was it that he had fought for through the seas and over the rocks?
The shock of all that he had passed through overcame him, and he staggered to a seat.
What was left? Whither now could
As if in answer to that query, faintly from far away there came the chimes of Stella Maris. Instinctively his hand reached out again to clasp the Clan Ranald Cross. He knew where he would go.
Rising slowly he started for the door. Just then a shrill scream, a voice that searched him, that enthralled him! He turned to see a lovely figure burst away from her dancing partner, and dart toward him.
Yes, something more remained.