The Flagellant of Farthing Rock
Dour Sanders McCoul was the spirit of Farthing Rock incarnate. He had no mercy, even for his son —and least of all for himself.
J. H. GREENE
THE oily, tarry schooner was approaching an island. The cabin reeked of spilt kerosene, habitant tobacco; was infested with maritime bugs and cockroaches. I had come on deck to breathe the clean air of the Atlantic, to be washed by spindrift from the long rollers twisted into whirlpools by the islands and the rocks below the islands.
My business was buying the hooked rugs of the fishwives. Up and down the coast I had gathered piles of those patterned floor pictures, woven by women in icebound winters, pictures of flowers they had never seen, patterns they could have imagined only from the writhing flames in their fireplaces, the curling smoke from their chimneys, the spume laced combers curling round obstinate headlands, over treacherous reefs. The few samples I had sent to Montreal and Toronto had created a vogue: I purposed staying late into the winter.
There was no one on deck save the man at the wheel, squatting on his seat over the rudder-head, his back bent over his circle of spokes.
“Farthing Rock?” I asked, as the solid and harsh outlines like a developing photograph, emerged from the mists.
He barely nodded, keeping his dour eyes on his course. These men are the only sailors left.
They know the sea as a live antagonist, to be humored, to be coaxed, to be dallied with, as well as fought and defied.
I knew none aboard; they appeared a gloomy, distrustful lot, unable to slack up with a stranger. I had met this distance before; strangers suggest the government, regulations, taxes, police, interference. But I knew I could bridge it; I was trading, and I had my violin to help the trade.
Farthing Rock was rising from the sea, a peak of black rock with red splashes, a coal with fire still in it. I saw no houses, the wind blew to the island, where those shattered surfs must have broken in constant thunders, but no sound reached me. Those huge waves rose, broke and fell as silently as waves on a screen.
Farthing Rock silently holding against the sea and the sky caught at my throat. I wanted to salute it, to cheer it.
A cluster of pale houses appeared on its side, the tickle opened to the most pitiful of harbors, the piles of the stage were like grave-stones, the few figures motionless.
They were of the shockheaded race of the other islands —yellow-haired, b 1 u e -e y e d, cheery enough round firesides when the women sang Gaelic songs and knotted their rugs.
I wondered how these adventuring people could stay on this rock forever besieged by the sea, when warmer, easier lands were crying for people, and the sea which had brought them here was open to take them away.
T AND my belongings were put I ashore. I climbed the wet, fobt-worn, stone steps to the village. The square-built redhead that ran the wine shop did not even lift his lazy elbows at my request for a room. Some of the cottages might take me, he could not. An appeal to the silent men round the bar evoked only blank stares, surly headshakes.
“Ye might try Sanders McCoul,” said the red-head, “take the starboard turn, bear aloft up t’ roo-ad. Ye’ll find him by his window or his lass in her galley.”
I thanked him and went out.
As I shut the door, the voices within rose, with laughter and the clinking of glasses. My departure was a release to some boisterous jocularity. Outside boys were gathered, bare-footed, bare-headed ragamuffins. They did not offer to carry my grip, especially my violin, as in the other islands.
I passed a trim cottage, and determined to try it before going further aloft up that narrow road, that, with twists and turns, slants and descents, was as giddy as a companionway in a gale. The crone who peeped through an inch of doorway, took one look at me from boot to head and shut the door in my face. The boys laughed. I was not welcome to Farthing Rock.
I was angry, I had come to these people to do them a good turn, to create an industry that would help them over poor fishing. So I grabbed my grip and my violin, left the cottages to climb to the summit of the island, the boys trailing me as -if they were stalking something wild.
The path led by the edge of the cliff. I could hear the rhythmic thunder of the waves below. The air was clamorous with gulls, wet with spray. The island was outspread at my feet, a somber yet ardent patch of brown, contoured by white surf on the wide map of the sea.
The McCoul cottage was the crow’s nest of the island, unsheltered save for a few spruce, a low crag or two, and close to the cliff’s edge. Sparse flowers grew in the niches of the rocks, potatoes on a small patch of soil that must have been carried to that height by hand. Again I wondered, what manner of man selected that bleak spot to build?
I thought I had better knock at the back door; life in these latitudes is apt to huddle round galley stoves.
Round the corner leaped a dog, of shaggy, degenerate breed. He began snapping at me. These dogs howl andbitebutneverbark; they have been known to devour babies. I heard the boys calling.
I was certain they were urging the dog to attack me. I picked up a stone. I was indignant enough to pelt the boys, the whole village, with fragments of their Farthing Rock. The dog slunk away with a yelp as the stone rebounded from his side.
A girl came from the cottage.
“Excuse me,” I said, “will you call off your dog? I merely want to ask if you will take a lodger.” Her hair was golden, her complexion sunned and weathered, washed by rains and fogs to a cor aline pink.
The dog taking advantage of my eyes being off him, got his teeth into the handle of my violin case, narrowly missing my fingers. I had to kick the brute.
“I’m sorry to trouble you, but I must live somewhere and I have been recommended to you—”
“Us wants no soldiers here, mon.”
The voice might have come from the jaws of the dog, so like a bark it was. A man appeared in the doorway, set on the sill as if built there, with a bushy beard of faded yellow, eyes like flint, a massive head braced by the taut cords of his neck.
“No soldier wi’ me. Ye’ll nit no recruits on Farthing Rock. Us ships no uniforms, no blue putties, no kilties here.”
I understood my chilly reception on the island. My khaki* breeches and shirt and riding boots did suggest the army. I explained I was making no demand for quarters, that I had nothing to do with the military or the government. The man was still distrustful but the girl brightened.
“Sure you can stay wi’ we, zur,” she said, trying to take my grip.
The man kept glowering as though I were an abomination, till his eyes lit on my violin case; then something like a smile moved his thick whiskers and he held out his enormous hand.
“Come in, zur, I thought ye was a soldier.”
His grip was firm but soft with the fluid strength of those that work in water; the dog sniffed round my boots as friendly as his master, the boys dropped their stones. I was made welcome to Farthing Rock.
THE girl showed me a' room with neatly-curtained windows over-looking the headlands beyond the cottage. She was anxious to atone for my reception, asked me if I liked cakes for breakfast, if I took “sweetness” in my tea. When I told her my business she showed me some rugs of her hooking.
“Maybe ye’ll play for we after supper?” she asked. “Certainly. As much as you’ll stand.”
“But I’ll ask yer, zur, not to play marches, or anything like the skirl o’ the pipes. Father don’t believe in them.” “Does he mind dance music?”
“Oh, no, zur. Us had dancing till Leish Duckworth took his fiddle to sea and his vessel was lost wi’ all hands. He shouldn’t. Fiddles are unlucky ’board ship.”
This was new to me. I now understood the glumness of the men on the schooner.
When I came downstairs I saw a big open bible and a pair of heavily rimmed spectacles carefully set on the page. Jessie had further reassured me that her father did not think dancing sinful, because David had danced before the ark. I concluded I had come to board with one of those fanatics of fierce winters and long nights, w^hose ardors and endurances are the outcrops of inner despairs, who can fight the sea and the cold because of their tempests within..
It was an hour to supper, so I came out to look at the village. The boys were waiting, all sheepish grins.
“So you thought I was a soldier and hounded the dog on me?” I said.
“Yes, zur, us thought you be going to fight wi’ Sanders,” said one lad.
The little troop kept step with me along the cliff. It seemed I had robbed them of a show.
“Sanders said he’d throw the next soldier down t’ Gap yander, into t’ sea,” said another, his bare toes clinging to a rock over a two hundred feet of fall.
I looked down that ghastly Gap, at eagle-nosed crags, black chasms belching white washes, rocks disappearing under green waters and emerging shinging and pouring. “What makes you hate soldiers so?” I asked.
“Dunno, zur, but us does. Sanders says us has to.”
“I don’t hate ’em, zur,” said another boy.
“You got to,” screamed the first.
The two clinched, and were rolling over each other down the slope to the edge of the cliff. I tried to part them. They seemed blind w ith contest, each lifted leg over leg as they approached that precipitous drop.
“Leave ’em be, zur,” cried another of the boys. “Sanders says boys can fight.”
“Butthey will fall; they will be smashed and drowned,” I cried.
Already the bare feet of the interlocking youngsters were over the abyss when the under one for the moment looked up and grinned.
“No fear, zur. He can’t throw me off. My father once had a fight wi’ his uncle on an ice pan. Both was drowned, near, zur. But father went under on top. So, see—•”
With a quick twist the under boy became the upper and rolled himself and his antagonist safely up and away from that horrible edge.
I took the road down to the village, and now I was greeted from the cottages. The crone who had shut the door on me smiled; the news had traveled that I had been taken in by Sanders McCoul.
But the boys had hounded the dog on me, I had been sent to McCoul out of the same malice, so I was determined to have it out w ith the red-head in the wine shop, Doug. Macalister, by the name-board over his doorway. Doug, was apologetic and unabashed.
“You see it was the war, zur. Sanders won’t have soldiers on Farthing Rock. He came back a changed man. Hating war and uniforms. Got a medaí, he did. and his picture in the St. John paper. Governor shook hands wi’ him. But Sanders threw/ the medal overboard and knocked down any man that called him Sergeant.”
“Wasn’t Sanders too old to go to the war?”
“Not the last w ar. The Boer war. The war they sang ‘The Absent-minded Beggar’ to get the lads to go. Sanders was all for recruiting in that war. Said the song was wrong because it said nothing about fishermen. Fishermen had to show they could fight too.”
I wanted to ask more, but questions are unwelcome on all frontiers. I w ould have to wrait to find out why this soured veteran of an old and forgotten wrar could be so admired and obeyed.
I heard voices and looked out to see Sanders McCoul marching down the road. It was a march, a parade, the boys surrounded him, keeping an awed but friendly distance, timing their footsteps to his, looking up at him as boys do to a hero. He austerely acknowledged his neighbors at doors and windows, though his eyes were set in an absent stare. There was rapt aloofness about him.
I thought of an old and atrocious picture I had once seen
of Moses descending from Sinai with the tablets of the law. He only needed the robes; the worshipping boys, the reverential fisher folk, the pinnacles of Farthing Rock fitted him to the picture.
“I’m sorry I was so unneighborly, zur,” he said to me, “ye will drink wi’ me? Doug, some toddy. Boys, this is my new lodger just come aboard. He has a fiddle, and us will have dancing up t’ hoose.”
I began to correct my impression of him, he was more like a Highland chieftain. But not till the September gales did I touch the heart of the mystery of Sanders McCoul.
SUMMER passed; I had secured many fine rugs. I had traded on other islands, but Sanders always brought me back to Farthing Rock, living as he did in two worlds.
He would sit by the fire of evenings, his big boot-tops lifting to my music, even beaming at Jessie dancing with her Aleck, taking children on his knee, but all the while pawing and spelling out his texts, his lips moving to tremendous words, his soul in some other place, some other time.
One evening in early September our company had been small. I had not played much, the boys and girls preferring to listen to me tell of the cities and lands to the south, of people who had never seen the sea, of grass more than an inch high, of harbors larger than Farthing Rock.
When they had gone Jessie drew up to the fire. She wanted to hear more about houses that were higher than schooners and icebergs, houses that were loaded to the hatches—as I had to translate to her—with clothes, with'food other than fish, where most of the folk lived ashore taking money over a counter, like Doug. Macalister.
"There must be a lot of fish there,” she said wistfully, “I wish I could see that harbor.”
I could not help looking my pity at this splendid girl. She could dream of lands of sunshine and perpetual flowers, the dreams were in her rugs, distance was always outside her windows. Why w'as she anchored to one horizon and this pin-prick of land called Farthing Rock? Sanders rose and laid aside his glasses.
“Better turn in, lass,” he said.
It was Sanders who generally had to be roused from his eternities. He spoke now with his old bark. She looked doubtfully at him, bade us good-night and went up the steep stairway. Sanders was raking the ashes, drawing the spark fender round the fire, doing chores that were usually Jessie’s. I was about to climb to my cabin when he stepped betweeen me and the door of the stairs.
“A word wi’ yer, ye be unsettling my lass wi’ yer talk.” He was as I had first met him, head back, jaws tight, Farthing Rock incarnate.
“If ye want Jessie, ye’ll have to fight Aleck for her. I allow fighting for a lass. And ye’ll have to stay on Farthing Rock. Farthing Rock is the best harbor in t’ world.”
The wind was high and rising, the cottage shook with the gusts, but the slow certain words of Sanders silenced the gathering tumult of wind and waters. They were wrords from the lips of a man who had never lied, to whom words were of facts that had happened or of promises to be fulfilled, words that were things as stubborn as the rock that bred him.
He was mighty enough to hurl me through the walls, and it was as difficult to explain my interest in Jessie to him as to make her see Montreal. My glib fluency was the debased verbiage of Canadian cities, the words that sent men to war. I could not attain to his sincerity even when I told him facts, that I had a wife of my own, that I loved her, and wanted none other.
It was like apologizing to an earthquake, trying to tell those sea-sweeping eyes one could be tender w ithout plotting to possess.
“Us is all creatures of sin. Trample the sairpent under yer heel. Don’t let the devil hold yer wheel. Lash him below. Keep him off yer deck. Don’t let him be yer lookout. He’ll cry ‘Yon’s the tickle’ when there’s a reef for your bottom. I know, I’ve been in every harbor in the world, with their red lights on their headlands, red lights at the doors of their women. We have no lights here, red or white, fixed or flashing. Glory be, it’s His mercy. He alius liked fishermen. No lights on our headlands, but the one Light the winds cannot put out or the seas drown—” In another second I would have fallen on my knees; his glare created guilt. I had sailed with men like Sanders. I had been taken round headlands, saved from reef’and ice, steered to harbor through the thick and howling dark, by eyes like his, by intuitions like his. Farthing Rock had a faith that moved and mastered the mountains of the sea.
He turned from me suddenly. I escaped upstairs, bruised by his personality, saturated by his spirit. The winds at my window, the surf below cried he w as theirs, a leashed hurricane, a banked tide. I decided I would not stay the winter; I could not stand winter and Sanders McCoul.
I tried to smoke and read awhile, when I became aware of a tapping. A. loose shingle, I thought, a torn strip, pebbles thrown against the boards, but the sound was too
persistent, too regular to be chance. Sanders had prepared me to believe the impassioned materiality of winds and waters were not inanimate. I was in the mood to hear Valkyries shrieking in the wind.
Then I became certain the sound came from within. I wmnt to the door to face Jessie, wide-eyed, with her fingers to her lips.
“Ye’ll excuse me, zur,” she whispered, “it’s about father. Do ye mind if I shut the door? He would throw you and me off the rocks if he heard me in your room.”
Still under the spell of her father, I listened. The girl had all his appalling certainty; what Sanders would do was as sure as the turn of the tides.
“Father’s queer again. He can’t abide nor’easters. Ye see, zur, brother was drowned, and to-morrow is the day.”
She was flushed a little, but her eyes met mine. They were sea-searching like her father’s, but they induced no sense of sin. She was so simple, so freshly elemental that doubts were blasphemies. Maybe women like these, the wives and mothers of Farthing Rock, were the reason why the men could nayigate without charts and lighthouses. These people perhaps had retained an instinct we had lost, that guides the gulls and enables them to breast gusts that rip sails to ribbons.
“Drowned? Fishing?” I asked.
“Yes. zur—no, zur.”
Outside was confusion, turmoil, motion gone mad. Surf pounded, pounded, pounded. Surely the island was dragging at its anchorage, spray pelted like hard steel rain, the cottage and we were being washed, battered, drained into the sea.
Jessie was confused, her speech had tripped, she was terrified, but no storm could do this.
“How then?” I asked.
Her arms clasped across her magnificent bosom, holding in something that threatened to fly away. I was cruel, I wanted to know what that was, the savagery of the sea was pounding in my veins. I was savage because I wanted to be tender.
“Why should your father be queer? What’s a drowning to you? What’s a better harbor than the bottom of the sea?”
I was tearing the nursling from, her arms, prying at the secret on her lips, the evasion that sullied her eyes because Farthing Rock was holding back the seas, holding to its anchorage, riding out the storm..
“Father—father drowned him.”
She left me before I could speak, before I could ask her pardon; the horror was too sudden, too like a drowning.
I did not sleep, I listened to the all night plunge of weighty waters, the drag of undertow. I thought of Sanders till the morning came. I looked out, rain clouds bellied close to my windows like mainsails, the waters were white as far as I could see.
TT WA.S impossible to live in that household any longer.
After breakfast, a mere mechanical interlude, I fought my way down to the village to make arrangements to leave Farthing Rock when the storm should blow out. The descent was a fight, with gusts, eddied, waves of wind that ballooned my oil-coat up under my arms till I feared I would be lifted from the cliff, till I had to cling with toes, hands and knees. Below was a white welter thrashing the headlands.
On the road, fishermen passed, careening on sea legs, planting their boots for a purchase, for the land was a reeling deck. Faces, women’s faces, old, young, families of children peered from, windows. I prayed none of their men would be out on that sea.
The prayer was involuntary; it surprised me to find the old formula on my lips. It could not have come to me anywhere else, I, the police-guarded,walled-in man of the cities, a semi-intellectual who ate his breakfast haddie without thinking of the men who caught the haddie, would have scorned prayer; here with these aching-eyed women, and knowing that their men would be out in that sea, that no sea could keep them ashore, I prayed. 1 wanted to go in and comfort them, I wanted to go back and help Jessie with her queer father. If she had come to my room now the barriers between man and woman would have been forgotten; I would have dared to take her in my arms as children huddle under a lee. I did not want to leave Farthing Rock, I wanted to stay and take the part of its people against the sea.
I was blown into the wine shop. I had to hold the door lest it should be torn from my hands. But I did not ask wb.at vessels would be going south. I took Doug, aside and begged him to tell me all about Sanders and the son that he drowned.
“Ye have heard, then?” he said.
But Doug had to attend to his customers and I had to wait.
The place was full. I sat at a table to the rear. All greeted me, but none would intrude till I asked for company.
“Ye heard how the boy was killed by hjs father, in a fight in the punt?” continued Doug, when he returned to me. “Glad you know it at last, zur, and you living wi’
them. Folks don’t talk about it, but I alius said you’d learn. No matter since you ain’t government.”
I led him on to details.
“The boy wanted to go to the war, the last war. A recruiting officer came here. Alan wanted to ship with the Blue Putties. Sanders said he’d drown him before he’d let him go, and he did, out yander, in their punt in a fog. And Sanders ain’t been able to forget.
“Sanders could not abide soldiering after South Africa; used to sit where you be preaching again it. Used to be a preacher on a sealer cos he could read the Book. Just a hand like the rest, only better than most. First on the ice, first to kill, last inboard. Grand man he was, wonderful fighter, used to go out with the boys looking for fights on the other islands when there was none in harbor t’ home. But after he come back, no more fighting he says, and he’d lay us a crack if we did.”
“Except boys?” I said, recalling the ragamuffins at the Gap.
“Oh, kids? Yes. I mean fighting that leads to bad blood and killing. All right, we let him preach. Sanders said the Lord was wi’ us, and the vessels come home decks under, holds full, nobody lost. Then came the last war. All the'boys wanted to go but Sanders went on preaching. We old ’uns told him to stow it till the war was over. Yer can’t haul to windward on sermons. Them submarines was after our vessels and we was nervous on Farthing Rock. But Sanders went on preaching and the boys wanted to throw him into the sea. ’Course they couldn’t. Us wouldn’t let the recruiters touch him neither. All they did was break his windows.
“But one day, thick weather it was, black fogs, Alan and his father were out in their punt. Schooners and other punts all round. Wind dropped and they could hear Sanders preaching and Alan cussing back. Quite near it sounded, you know how every sound comes aboard in a fog. Folks said they could hear fighting, splashing, and Sanders calling to Alan. Next the punt comes out o’ the fog up to the Lovely Liz. Nobody in it but Sanders. ‘I’ve lost Alan,’ he says to Cap’n Ben Davis of the Lovely Liz, ‘and I can’t find his body.’ ”
“That’s right, zur, I was on the Lovely Liz, I heerd him,” said a voice from the bar.
“And I was in the Snowbird, I heerd ’uns fighting wonderful clear,” added another.
Doug, had become louder and dramatic, drawing all hands away from the bar to listen, to add their testimony.
“But how did you know Sanders drowned him?” I asked. “Did Sanders confess?”
“Never said nothing, zur,” said the man who had been on the Lovely Liz.
“Then how did you know?”
“Us knowed, zur,” said Doug.
The others nodded solemnly; their nods and words were as packed with conviction as the words of Sanders. “What happened to him? Was he tried for the murder?” “No, zur, and he ain’t going to be,” cried Doug, his squat little figure full of defiance. “Sanders seed the Light. I lost my boy in France. I’d sooner his bones was in the sea.”
“And mine come back blind,” cried another.
There were growls of agreement from the rest. They confronted me as if I were a police officer, they dared me to arrest or even accuse Sanders McCoul.
I understood. Farthing Rock was part of the world’s heart, Farthing Rock would have no more war; the sea was war enough. Sanders McCoul was the preacher of a finer future.
I wanted to ask more questions, to find out what Jessie meant by her father being queer, when a big wind filled the room with cold and wet, and a shouting man in the doorway turned all hands.
“T’ Dolly Varden trying to make t’ harbor!”
QUICK as the rest I was out and down to the stage. I made out the peak of a close-reefed jib, heading for the tickle with barely a point to spare in the wind, bows buffetted by great seas, clawing away from snarling reefs.
The wind in our ears, the spindrift in sheets cutting our faces, the tumultuous cauldron beyond cried madness to that vessel.
I saw Aleck and others running along the cliffs with a line. Close under a wall crouched women, some screaming directions to the men on the cliffs, other with wet, blown, unshawled heads, staring numbly at the storm, the women of the men on the Dolly Varden.
I climbed the hill for a better view; the breath was blown back in my throat. I ran into something alive that clung to me. It was Jessie.
“Father’s gone down the Gap. He’s queer, wonderful queer,” she screamed close to my face.
“What do you mean?” I screamed back at her.
“Down t’ Gap. He alius goes the day Alan was drowned. Us will have to haul him up. Father will fight. Get a crew and a rope; get Aleck.”
“Aleck’s trying to get a line to the Dolly Varden; she’s driving on the rocks.”
“A wreck? Don’t call him. There’s ten on the Dolly Varden. Us will get father. Come, zur.”
She was able to stand erect. I thought of the Winged Victory. I soon found she was towing me; she could take that slippery path with speed and certainty. She could beat up against that wind better than the Dolly Varden.
We made the cottage, passed it, and came to the opening jaws of the Gap. To-day it was a wet throat, with spouting geysers, dripping ledges, roaring caverns filled and emptied, belchings and bellowings, slavering and rabid with foam.
She pointed down the jaws.
“How do you know he is down there? What is he doing? Why does he go?”
“He wants the Lord to take him and the Lord won’t. Talk to him, zur; you’re a preacher yourself. If you only had your fiddle—”
THE winds were threatening to strip her as canvas it blown from a mast. I bade her stay and I slid down the gravel.
I dropped from rock to rock, clinging, slipping, falling till my feet happened on ledges. I reached the bottom of the cliff; before me a bowlder fringed with spume was a shield. The chasm between was dark, deep, a swirling suction of trapped waters. I leaped, and landed face down on the bowlder, clinging under an arch of foam. As the waters fell I heard a voice from below.
I climbed to the edge. Below was a gravelled beach in a hollow under the cliffs. Waist deep in the receding waters, his back to the rock, his fingers clutching in the crevices, Sanders McCoul was shouting his repentance to the sea.
“Out of the depths, O Lord, out of the depths. Lord, will ye no take the willing sacrifice? Lord, Lord—”
I called to him, he did not hear or heed; his face was, uplifted, he was almost singing.
The waters drewjrat. I saw his feet were rooted, he was sunk to the knees in the gravel. I took a chance and leaped down to the beach. I caught at his nearer hand, shouting to him to climb the bowlder before the next wave broke. He did not turn his head, did not drop his wild stare to sea, did not stop his ranting, and the waters were massing for return. White curling water lips were lifting at the outer rocks.
I tugged at his hand; it was bedded in the rock, it was harder than the rock, when the sea caught me, flung me down, battered me against the cliff, into the gravel, till my hands, feeling for something to grip, caught the pillars of Sanders’ boots morticed in the beach. I held my breath. I clung against the terrific draw of the undertow.
When my head was clear, I heard the rattle of drawn pebbles and Sanders still shouting for the seas to take him. They could not, any more than they could Farthing Rock.
“Am I not worthy, Lord? Am I not fit for your Hell? Lord, I pray you for my damnation!”
He was singing, he was ecstatic, he was younger, handsome with the happiness of immolation, self-stretched on the cross of his choosing. ■
I had barely time to climb the bowlder before the next wave came in, rising to his neck, veiling him with spray, drowning his rhapsody.
Breathless, unnerved, I reached Jessie. She had crawled down to meet me. I was angry and disgusted, I was brutal, I heard myself shouting my verdict on her father, that flagellant of the seas, unable to endure his sin, seeking his death, but wanting it given to him.
“Don’t worry about him. He is enjoying himself/” Bellowings came from above, hoarse voices calling; the angle of sky between the cliffs was filled with brown faces, beckoning hands, waving caps. The voices were cheering, and a man in strange clothes took sure-footed leaps down the crags.
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Continued from page 14
“Alan!” cried Jessie.
The serge-clad sailor man clasped her. Men and women poured down the rocks after him, clamoring above the winds, telling and re-telling how Alan had swum to a schooner, Alan had fought in the war, Alan had come home in the Dolly Varden. Alan had brought her in, for Alan knew the way to the tickle better than any.
Farthing Rock clustered around the young sailor-soldier; pointing to the rainbow ribbon on his serge, the gash on his cheek, shouting its pride, its joy. They were deaf to the sea, heedless of the wind, lost in oblivious seconds of triumph. Gusts of rain lashed them, sprays spouted over them, their footholds slipped and landslides threw them together in heaps, but they stood, they shouted, they cheered.
Alan’s voice cut in. “Where’s father?”
Jessie pointed down the Gap.
“Every year, every time there’s a fog, every time there’s a breeze-up, he goes down there. He’s wonderful sorry.”
“Sorry? What’s the sense of that?” answered Alan.
Alan dropped down. All followed who could. I was below and reached the top of the bowlder first after him.
I saw Alan in the gravel, drawing Sanders from his hold on the rock, shouting into the entranced rapt face of the old man.
“Father, it’s me, Alan, alive!”
The next wave was splashing the outer rocks. Men crowding behind me were shouting to both to hold. Calls for a line went up the cliffs.'
I saw Sanders McCoul let go of the rock, clutch Alan and let him go in dazed bewilderment, and then clutch him again with a cry.
He held his son closely, he felt him with those iron fingers that had held to Farth-
ing Rock. He touched the rainbow ribbon on Alan’s coat.
“Soldier, soldier, you will not!” he roared.
Sanders could not let go of the rock he had built in his bosom. There were to be no more soldiers. Alan would drown before he would let him go to war; Alan must drown now.
The wave broke. Sanders walked out to meet it, clutching his son by the throat, driving him back, down, and under the sea. The cross of Sanders was empty when the waters fell, the two were out in the undertow, fighting in the turmoil of incoming and outgoing waves, one trying to save and the other to drown.
The next wave brought them in, a dark spot, now heads, now boots, but a long cable of men, arms linked in arms, reached from the bowlder and caught them from the undertow. They were lashed together as if one flesh, they had to be pulled apart, to be carried up the cliff.
I stayed a week longer in Farthing Rock. Alan was fitting a sealer, Jessie preparing to marry Aleck, but Sanders ■ was failing.
He became suddenly and unnaturally old. He would still read his texts, but often slept over them, often broke off to advise Alan about his vessel, Aleck about the.cottage he was building.
I bade Jessie good-bye at the door of htr crows’-nest cottage. Sanders was sleeping. The day was clear and shining.
“I’m afraid he’s going, zur,” she said; “soon as us is married he’ll go. Must have hurt himself down t’ Gap that day.”
I understood what had happened to Sanders. The narrow had been washed from his creed, he had nothing left to fight, he could no longer hate himself. He preferred his damnation.