Castaways on a desolate rock, four men and a girl face the elemental struggle for survival
BEN AMES WILLIAMS
The story: In Boston. Robin Date, a girl artist, meets Will McPhail, an irresponsible student from Montreal, who says he intends to marry her eventually but meanwhile is going to a temporary job in Carutda. where lives his older brother, Angus, a thrifty Scotsman who dislikes women.
Sketching in Gaspi a few n ecks later. Robin decides to visit Will at a new putpicood toten on the St. Lawrence River called Moose Bay. En route she meets a man named Jenkins who says he's going to iMbrador in his own boat and would appreciate company. An embarrassing situation is relieved by a Government fish-hatchery man whom she soon realizes is Will McPhail's dour brother. Angus. Angus also otvns a boat, and he tells Robin that he means to stop at Moose Bay for his brother. Will, who will join him on a cruise. Robin thereupon decides not to visit Will because her visit would deter him from joining Angus.
While her steamer is tied up at Moose Bay. Robin joins other passengers in taking a swim off the deck. A crane, working on the dock, suddenly falls into the water, the cranesman is drotvned, and Robin is lunritied to learn that he is Will McPhail.
Angus, believing that Robin caused his brother's death by distracting his attention, conceives a biller enmity for her : but when she leaves the boat and stops at the toron hotel. Mr. Jenkins tries again to ingratiate himself.
Desiring to allay Angus’ bitterness totea rd her. Robin goes aboard his boat to await his return. She hides in the stateroom when Jenkins comes aboard, falls aslr*p. and irakés up lehtn the boat is proceeding toward labrador. Angus resents her presence and tells her he'll put her off at the nearest port where she can board a steamer. With him on the boat are Romeo, a French cook who tries to make love to Robin, and Pat Uonohoe, a sailor. After listening to her story. Angus tells Robin he’s sorry he accused her of being responsible for the death of his brother Will.
.1 Government plane circles high overhead and a police vessel patrols the shore line. Jenkins' boat appears and then disappears.
Jenkins, gun in hand, suddenly confronts Angus and Robin in the cabin of Angus' boat. He explains that the police are after him because he's an alcohol runner, and he must seize Angus’ boat to reach a schooner which is waiting for him. With Romeo, he captures Donohoe, imprisons Angus and Robin in the cabin and sets sail for the Newfoundland coast. Romeo attacks Robin and the tatter is trying to defend herself when there is a terrific crash. The girl and Romeo are thrown off their feet as realer pours through a great hole in the bow.
MCPHAIL’S boat sank about two minutes after she struck. She had run at full speed squarely into a ledge that was too steep to allow her to slide up on it out of water, but that still sloped enough to hold her till her stern filled and pulled her off and down. The ledge was some forty yards from the shingle beach at the foot of the cliffs, with deep water outside: but inside
it. the wafer was shoal. Romeo was first to reach the beach. The shock of the collision threw him and Robin backward, and Robin's weight coming down on his stomach knocked his wind out. He made queer hollow sounds, trying to catch his breath, fighting to sit up. He threw her off him. and Robin beat at him blindly with the knife, and he squealed like a caught rat and bolted up through the pilothouse to the deck.
When the boat struck, Angus was on his feet in the cabin aft. facing Jenkins’ pistol. The shock threw' him against the cabin bulkhead; and it hurled Mr. Jenkins headlong into the engine room. Angus scrambled to his feet and came at a run. jumping over Jenkins, to Robin. By the time he reached her, water was pouring in through the shattered bow. Jenkins, without a sound, darted past them and scrambled up into the pilothouse and disappeared.
Angus dragged Robin to her feet and shouted. “All right?“ She stammered something, and he turned to free Pat. Pat's arms were fast to the steel uprights of the ladder: and Angus wrenched desperately at the knotted cords till Robin thrust the knife at him.
“Here, take this!" she screamed, ashamed of her own voice so shrill and high. Angus slashed at Pat's bonds, and the lights went out. and under their feet the inclination of the deck increased as the boat settled by the stern. Angus shouted some triumphant word, and then he ar.d Pat pushed Robin up into the pilothouse. When she came out on the deck already steeply sloping aft. sleet stung her cheek, and the wind was cold Pat and Angus helped her forward along the slippery turtle deck: and they saw the ledge solid and black under the bow. and Pat jumped down and turned to reach up for her. She was still holding that cake of chocolate. To free her hands, she pulled up her sweater and stuffed the chocolate inside her flannel shirt
Then Angus swung her down into Pat's arms; and the roar of surf was all about them, and the wind blew cold and thin, and Angus shouted something about freeing the small boat lashed in chocks on top of the cabin, and disappeared back along the deck. The sleet in her face blinded her and Pat bellowed warninglv:
“Come away, sorr ! She’s going !”
Robin wondered stupidly who was going where. Then the cruiser slid an inch backward off the ledge, and six inches, and a yard. Robin screamed, and Angus appeared above them on the high bow and jumped down and fell on his hands and knees on the ledge at her feet, and she caught at him to keep him from the water. The cruiser slid away from them off the ledge; she was a white blur in the black night for a moment. Then she slid under and was gone.
rT'HEY were left to face rain and bitter wind. The ledge on which they stood was a foot or two high, not ten feet long, water all around them; but there was a high blackness of land not far away. Angus held Robin’s arm to steady her, and Pat waded off toward that blackness and shouted something to them. Angus stepped off the ledge into water to his waist, and turned his back to her and said:
“Sit on my shoulders. Straddle—that’s right. Hold your feet up out of the water. Hold onto my head.”
As she obeyed, Pat returned, splashing through the water, to steady her. Carrying her on his shoulders, Pat behind him with his hands on Robin’s waist, Angus waded toward the shore.
When he came up out of the water, Pat swung Robin to the ground, and she could dimly see that they stood on shingle in a narrow cove against the face of a bold cliff. There was some turbulence of movement a few paces off, two black figures violent in action, and she heard panting cries, and one of the figures went down and screamed, and Angus leaped that way to check the other, kicking at the fallen man.
“Easy, Jenkins!” Angus cried.
Jenkins said in a thick voice: “I’ll
kick his head in ! He wrecked us !”
“You’ll hang as quick for killing him as anyone else.” Romeo scuttled away, and Angus urged: “We’ve got to get up the cliff somehow. Tide will flood this cove. Kill him later if you want to, but let’s get out of this trap first.”
Jenkins this time said nothing. Romeo had disappeared along the shingle beach.
Angus found a fissure in the cliff to serve for their ascent, and he led the way with Robin on his heels. Pat close behind her.
Robin heard Jenkins following them upward. They climbed fifty feet to a wide ledge with an angle that offered some shelter from the wind, and halted there while Angus sought some way to climb higher. WTiile they waited, Pat backed Robin into the angle in the cliff face and pressed his body against hers to protect her from the wind and rain.
Romeo came scratching up the fissure to join them, whimpering with metallic little sounds.
“It’s not safe to try to go on in the dark,” Angus reported. “The ledge ends, one way; and it gets pretty narrow in the other direction. We’ll stay here till morning.”
Jenkins said: “We will not! I want a fire.”
“Suit yourself,” Angus told him.
“We’re staying here.” He came to Robin.
“Pat and I will keep you as warm as we can,” he said. He sat down with his back against the cliff face. “Sit between my legs,” he told her. “Lean back against me.” She obeyed him. “Now, Pat, you sit down between her legs and lean back against her. There, Miss Dale, you’re the ham in the sandwich.” She loved him for joking in this moment. “Put your legs around Pat, your feet in his lap. He can keep them warm with his arms. I’m your mattress, he’s your blanket. Pat, when you get cold, you and I can change places.”
Jenkins demanded: “What about me and Romeo?”
“Get as close to us as you can,” Angus advised him. “We’ll keep each other warm.”
JENKINS tried exploring the ledge on his own account before he would be satisfied; but Romeo huddled down beside them, and so presently did Mr. Jenkins. They pressed together like puppies on a cold night, seeking to conserve the heat in their bodies against the penetrating cold. Romeo whined through chattering teeth; and the wind and the pound of surf and the slat of sleet and rain filled the world. Robin, between Angus and Pat, turned her
head sidewise, her left cheek against McPhail’s chest, his lowered chin pressing the back of her head and neck. Pat's shoulders leaning back against her right cheek. Romeo was on her right, writhing closer and closer. Jenkins sat beside Angus, knees up, arms across his stomach, head bowed so that he was like a ball.
Angus protected the back of her neck from the rain with his chin. Of them all, she was the only one not wet to the skin. She still wore sweater and flannel shirt and riding breeches; and the sweater had a heavy turtle neck. Angus had carried her ashore; so she had not to wade like the others. The four men, more heavily clad than she, were wetted breast-deep from the depth of water through which they had come ashore; and Romeo in his haste had fallen and was worse off than the others. Robin, shivering with cold, thought they must all be suffering more than she. Mr. Jenkins was the most lightly clad, in that familiar checked suit that must be sadly draggled now. Aboard the motorboat he had put on over the suit an oilskin coat; but when he was wading ashore it hamjiered him and he had thrown it aside and it was gone. Angus wore kersey pants and a flannel shirt and a leather jacket. Pat had on a stag shirt over his woodsman’s garments; and Robin felt its rough fabric against her cheek, felt the warmth of Pat’s great body come slowly through it to warm her. Angus unbuttoned his leather jacket and drew her against himself, bringing the open front of the jacket up on either side of her to serve as a windbreak, holding it around her, his arms around her too. Slowly the cold went out of her, till she felt steaming and snug and secure; and she whispered:
“I’m warm now, Angus.”
His lips close to her ear, he said: “Good! In the morning we’ll climb the cliff, get into the woods, build a great fire.”
“Where do you think we are?”
“We’re all right. We’re ashore at least. Sleep if you can.”
Romeo whimpered beside them, huddling closer. She thought she did not sleep, till she opened weary eyes and saw a dawn that was only greyness breaking through a veil of rain. The grey sea below their perch merged a little way off into the grey ness of the day. There was no horizon; there was only the cove below them from which now the tide receded, the sky that was grey cloud dripping rain, the grey sea, and the ledge to which they clung.
They were all so numb with cold that they were inert as snakes in winter. Angus stood up and beat his arms for warmth; and as the light increased he worked along the ledge toward where it narrowed dangerously They watched him torpidly, till fifty feet away he turned and called:
'“THEY moved sluggishly. Pat helped Robin to her feet.
Her legs were stiff and cramped, and she ached all over. She and Pat joined Angus, and he showed them a wider ledge six feet below this one on which they were, which led to a broken slope of rubble up which they could ascend. Robin stumbled after Angus, Pat on her heels. They climbed a triangular scar in the face of the cliff, narrowing to a point at the top where there was a little cascade. Centuries of frost had here broken down the solid rock, and toppling slabs and boulders made a grout slope that extended from the top of the cliff down to the sea. Once Robin looked back and wondered what had become of Jenkins and Romeo. They emerged at last on naked ledge that slo|)ed upward to a rounded dome, a hundred feet above the sea. Angus strode swiftly ahead, eager to see what was beyond; but when Pat and Robin came to his side, she looked all around in a dawning hopeless comprehension. She could see lead-grey water, sullen under the low rain fog, in every direction. She said stupidly:
“It’s an island. We’re on an island !”
No one answered her. The thing was plain enough without words. The island on which they stood was perhaps a quarter mile long, 200 yards wide. This upper part of it was sleek naked rock, black with wet little streams of rain water running down its slopes to cascade over the break of the cliffs on every side. There was never a tree in sight, and scarce a bush worth the name. Angus turned to Robin with grey, tired eyes. She asked:
“Where are we? Do you know?”
Angus shook his head. No one spoke. Robin tried to speak, but her lips were stiff with cold. A gust of sleet pelted them; and Angus drew Robin beside him, sheltering her as well as he could. “We’ll have to get a fire going,” he said. “Have to find some cover against the rain.”
Pat spoke. “Sorr, there’s a place I marked back there where we came up. Come and see. ’Tis not much; but it will be some better than nothing at all.” “We’U have a look,” Angus assented. They turmxi back toward the cleft, and as they did so, Romeo and Jenkins came up into view. Mr. Jenkins wore now an oilskin coat he had not worn before. They approached him. and Romeo drew warily aside as though fearful of some violence. Robin saw a long ojx*n cut on cheek and jaw in front of Romeo’s ear; and all his countenance was battered and swollen. She remembered how when he threw her aside in the forecastle last night she struck at him with the knife like a club.
Angus asked a question. "Where did you get the coat. Jenkins?”
“I had it on last night in the cabin to keep warm. I got out of it when it Ux>ked as if I'd have to swim ashore. It floated up on the beach.” He ntxlded toward Romeo. “I sent him down to get it, this morning.”
"Miss Dale needs it more than you do.”
Robin started to deny this; but before she could speak. Jenkins laughed grimly. "Her? I wouldn't give it to her to save her life. If she hadn't been along. Romeo would have tended to business, and we’d be all right now. Let her freeze.” When he saw violence in McPhail’s eyes he t(x)k a stej) or two backward and dropped his hand into his pocket and said: “Easy, McPhail. I’ve still got my gun. Come on, let's get out of here.”
Angus hesitated. “We can’t.” he said. “We're on an island. Wate*r all around us.” Rain and sleet lashed at them.
“An island? You’re crazy !”
Angus said. “See for yourself.” He indicated the dome above where they stood. Jenkins and Romeo went that way. and Pat ltd Angus and Robin down to the break of the cliff. A dozen feet below them, some harder strata had resisted the weather, and a ledge two feet thick projected like a shelf. The outer part of it had broken off, a great slab a dozen feet across; and this stood on edge like a wall across the seaward face of the cavelike space under the overhang The ledge above was a shelter against rain, the slab served as windbreak. The place thus partially protected was some four feet wide, perhaps four feet high, and about six feet long. It was open at both ends, and there was an opening a few inches wide between the slab like a wall and the ledge like a roof.
Nevertheless, here was shelter. Angus and Pat began to chink that opening at thenop, to reduce to a minimum the amount of rain and sleet that might come in; and then Mr. Jenkins and Romeo returned.
“We're in a tough spot. McPhail.” said Jenkins, soberly.
ANGUS nodded. "First thing is to look around,” he suggested. “See what we’ve got to get on with. Look for firewood. W’e can all meet here later, start a fire.” Jenkins moved away in a silent assent; and Romeo, after a moment’s indecision, as though choosing the lesser of two evils, followed him. Pat watched them go; and he said to Angus with a relish:
"Romeo’U never witch another girl with the handsome face of him; and he’ll not laugh again at this scar of mine.” He stared after the two departing. "Sorr. they sing small now. We can handle them, you and me.”
"What cut his face so?”
Pat’s glance touched Robin. She remembered that he had been close beside her in the forecastle last night, must have seen the knife in her hand; but he said evasively: “Like as not he butted the glass out of the pilothouse or what not. He had it coming to him, anyway, bad cess to him! Aye. them two bold men will sing small now; or you and me we’ll break the both of them.”
Angus did not press the point. Jenkins and Romeo had gone toward the more distant end of the island. "You and I will search this end. Pat," McPhail decided. “Miss Dale, you stay here where there’s some shelter.”
“I’ll come and help,” she protested.
He said quietly: “Please don’t argue. You’ll help most by doing what you’re told. Take care of yourself. That will make it easier for us to take care of you. Stay here and keep as warm and dry as you can.”
She felt like a child rebuked. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve certainly ruined things for all of you, haven’t I?”
He spoke in a still impatience. “Blame doesn’t matter now. We’ll manage. You stay here.”
So she was alone for an hour or more in the scant shelter afforded by these two great slabs. Wind curled in around the slab that was like a wall; so she began to pile some rocks at one end, and thus engaged, she remembered for the first time that cake of chocolate inside her flannel shirt. During the night it had slipped around to lie against her side, and still in foil and wrappings except for the end she had opened, it was bent and crushed and somewhat softened by the heat from her body. Yet it was food! Sight of it made her suddenly desperately hungry. She wanted to eat it. to eat it all; but there might be no other food on the island. Angus must have some of this.
She put it in a dry crevice, specially contrived, in the barrier she was building across the open end of the shelter; and she piled rocks over it and around it to keep it safe for him.
Angus and Jenkins ánd Romeo, returning, met just above the shelter, and she heard their voices and looked up and saw them there. Mr. Jenkins brought a broken orange crate, and Romeo a few dead twigs and a stick of rotten drift, and Angus some scraps of wood. Angus called down to her:
“Yes.” She would not tell him about the chocolate while they could hear. They brought their scant burdens of firewood to deposit them by the shelter, and she noticed that Jenkins and Romeo kept a wary distance between them and Angus, as though fearful of a surprise attack. Then Angus said to Mr. Jenkins:
“I found no better shelter than this.
Jenkins said sullenly: "No. And there’s darned little driftwood, and nothing to eat.
I went along the beach, thought there might be clam flats or something. I found a few periwinkles, or whatever they are, on the rocks; but that’s all. Not even a gull’s nest.
No eggs, nothing.”
Robin thought proudly and happily of her hidden chocolate, a treasure beyond price. Then Fat hailed them from the dome that was the highest point of the island. He was out of sight, but they heard him shout.
"Halloo!” he called. “Here’s land. sorr. and a town!”
ANGUS turned to race up the slope.
Romeo and Mr. Jenkins did not move to follow him; but Robin, forgetting everything else but this hope of quick rescue, scrambled up to the level and ran toward where Angus and Pat stood together. She came to them, and saw the land, a black line of it under the rain fog that had lifted for a while. It was miles away, but there were grey shapes that must be houses, and Pat was saying excitedly: "So this’ll be Humpback Island we’re on. sorr; and yon’s Humpback Harbor. Nought but four or five families live there; but they
fish a bit, and they can run us to Corner Brook as easy as baiting hooks.”
A scud of sleet and rain hid the distant land and houses behind a grey veil; and like a curtain then the fog came down again. Angus said quietly: "They could if they
knew we were here.”
"Sure, sorr, we’ll signal them.”
"They can’t see us through the fog.”
“It will be lifting, come afternoon.”
Angus glanced at Robin. “Surely,” he agreed. He looked around for Jenkins and Romeo; but they were not in sight. He told Robin: “It’s only eight or ten miles to shore, so we’ll be all right, as soon as it stops raining.”
But Pat Donohoe suddenly squatted on his hunkers, and he made a doleful, keening sound. Angus asked quickly: “What's wrong, Pat?”
Pat wagged his head. “Sorr, there’ll be trouble to signal the folk ashore there, even when it clears.”
"We’ll light a fire.”
"With never a dry match among the lot of us? Nor a dry rag on any one of us? Nor a dry bit of wood ever to be found?”
“We’ll manage somehow.”
Pat stared at the rock between his feet. "Sorr, did ever ye hear of the Queen of Swansea?”
“Many’s the time I’ve heard the old folks tell that tale.” Pat’s low tones were remote and strange, like the murmurs of a sleeper. “She went ashore in a snowstorm, one December day seventy year ago, on Gull Island. Two women and nine men got off her, so they did They got to the island before she sank. They had a bit of sail for shelter, but no lood, no water, no wood.”
Robin was trembling with a sudden terror. She cried defensively: “We’ve food! I have a pound of cooking chocolate. And we’ve water ! There’s rain water in every hole in the rocks. And we’ve shelter.”
Angus looked at her sharply; but Pat did not lift his head. His voice droned on. “Sure, sorr, they could see a village eight miles away, the same as us. They built fires to signal, too, at night; but the folk ashore went to bed at dark, belike; and wood was scarce and the fires were small and no one ever saw them. It was a March day when a fisherman found them, in a heap under the bit of sail.” "Dead?” Robin whispered. She cried desperately: “But Angus, we can signal them somehow. We can put up a flag!”
Pat droned mournfully: "With never a flag, nor a
flagpole? How will we be doing that, ma'am?”
Robin forced herself to laugh at him. “Pat, Pat, you’ll not give up so easily ! Why, we can swim ashore if we must ! 1 could almost do it myself.”
“And the water like ice, and the tide current like a river running?”
Angus chuckled. “Come out of your trance, Pat ! Here’s what we can do. We’ll build a monument for them to see. A cairn. A pile of rocks. People who live beside the sea always watch the horizon. You know that, Pat.” Pat’s head rose as though ho[>e revived in him; he uttered an approving grunt. “If they see something sticking up on top of the island here, they’ll come to see what it is.”
Pat sprang to his feet, his hopeless mood gone as quickly as it had come. “Right for you, sorr !” he cried. “We’ll do that!” He turned sharply as though to begin; but Angus said:
“Wait, Pat. Miss Dale, you say you have a cake of chocolate?”
She nodded; and then she was suddenly cold, remembering. She looked toward the cleft below them. Mr. Jenkins and Romeo were not in sight. They must be down in the shelter under that overhanging slab, and-the chocolate was there. She caught Angus miserably by the arm.
“Yes, but it’s down there.”
She saw his lips tighten. Then he turned that way and they followed him. They came to the break of the ledge and looked down into the shelter a dozen feet below them. Mr. Jenkins sat cross-legged in the open end of it, facing them. Romeo peered over his shoulder. Mr. Jenkins held his pistol in his hand. Angus stopped at sight of it, and the others too. Jenkins said assentinglv:
“Yes. that’s right. Stay where you are.”
Robin felt the sudden storm in Angus, but his tones were calm enough. “Jenkins,” he said, “we’re all in this together. We’ve got to . . . ”
Jenkins interrupted curtly. “Not me, McPhail. Some of us may not live till we’re found. Two or three days in this rain and cold will kill anyone. There’s not room for five of us here.” He grinned. “There’s room for Miss Dale, if she’s cold. Romeo will keep her warm. But you and the Irishman will have to find yourselves another hole !”
FOR A moment after Jenkins spoke, there was a stir of frantic rage in Robin. That fat cake of chocolate was the most important thing in the world; and—Mr. Jenkins must have found it ! Probably he had already eaten it ! She wanted that pound of bitter-sweet stuff terribly. It meant warmth flowing through her veins. It meant life! Her fingers tightened like wires on McPhail’s arm; and he touched them firmly, and then Pat said with a sudden chuckle:
“Sorr, come away. I had no time to tell you before, but there’s a snug dry cave I found, with a sand floor, t’other side of the island. Let be, here. The joke will be on them. Come away.”
Jenkins grinned derisively. “You’ll never make a liar, Pat. Be off with you to your nice dry cave.” He lifted the weapon in his hand, his eyes narrowed. “On your way,” he said. “You make me jumpy, standing there.” Angus, without a word, led Robin back from the lip of the cleft. Pat followed them and they walked away together silently; but when they were at some distance Angus stopped.
“Pat, we’ve got to get him out of there.” “Aye, sorr!”
Robin asked hotly: “Do you think he’s eaten our chocolate?”
“Was it where he would see it?”
“He might not. I piled rocks over it to keep it dry.”
“Can’t tell about that,” Angus decided. “But Pat, we’ve got to have some place to get in out of the rain, anyway. We’ve got to handle them. Here's our best chance.” Pat listened soberly, and Angus said: “You get down to the beach, somehow, and crawl up the slope below them. Get as near them as you can. I’ll be lying flat on my stomach right above where they are. When you're near enough, make some sound. Jenkins will come outside to take a shot at you; and I’ll be on him in two jumps.”
Pat looked dubious. "What about Romeo? He can throw a knife straight enough to split a stick.”
Angus said briefly: “I can throw a rock as hard as he can throw a knife.”
Pat argued: “Sorr, it just strikes me I’ll have the soft job, being below them like, and with plenty of chance to hide when he takes that shot at me. Yourself had best do the climbing, and let me do the jumping.” Angus hesitated, then he nodded. “Very well, Pat. Maybe I’m better than you at dodging bullets; and you’re certainly better
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than I am in a rough and tumble. I'll draw his fire, and—you get him.”
“I will that!”
“I'll be able to help, on Romeo. Give me time to get near them. Don’t make a move till I yell.”
Angus considered for a moment. "All right,” he said. "It’s not very good; but I don’t know anything better. Let’s go.” The two men turned together; but Robin said quietly: “Wait, please. Suppose he kills—both of you?”
“He’ll not,” Angus told her. “Pat and I are a tough pair.”
“But if he does,” she insisted, “what had I better do?” She said apologetically: “I don’t mean to—make things hard for you, to bother you. But—I wouldn’t
want you both killed, and them both alive, and me left here alone with them.”
THEY stood before her like guilty children, the heat of battle dying in their eyes. Then Angus nodded in a sort of submission. “She’s right, Pat,” he said. “We can’t risk that. We’ll try to manage without a fight.”
Pat after a moment suggested uncertainly: “If there’s no fighting to be done yet a while, sorr, we could be after building that rock pile you mentioned. The work will keep us warm. It’ll need to be plenty high, eight or ten feet anyway, for them to see ashore. It’s a job of work. We’d best get at it.”
“That’s a lot of rocks for two of us to handle.”
“We’ve nought to take our minds off it, anyway.”
Robin said: “I can help some.”
Angus looked at her appraisingly. Rain drove about them, though thinly now. Her heavy sweater was sodden with water, hanging about her hips. Her head was bare, her hair wet and dripping; and her lips were white with cold, her teeth clicking. He stripped off his leather jacket, came toward her.
“Sorry I didn’t think of this before,” he said. “Put it on. It’s sopping wet, but it will break the wind a little.”
“No, please,” she urged. “I’ll have to take my chances with the rest of you.” “You can’t stand as much as we can. Here.” She submitted; and Pat pulled his stag shirt off over his head and came chuckling to make her put it on. They laughed together at the figure she made, lost in its immensities. It hung like an overcoat, almost to her knees.
“You oughtn’t to be so good to me,” she protested, and tears filled her eyes. “I got you into this mess. I know it as well as you do.”
“Bless you, ma’am,” Pat told her heartily, “the McPhail and me we’ve been in and out of many a bad spot together before now; and as for making trouble for us. there’s no way to make a man feel better than give him a woman to take care of. Wear ’em and welcome. The McPhail and me, we’ll have work to do to keep us warm.”
“But I do want to help,” she insisted. Angus said: "Help all you like, enough to keep from being cold, but don’t wear yourself out. Pat, we’ll have to build the cairn up on top, on the highest point. It will show up better there. Let’s get started.”
THE TWO men turned to attack this task, and Robin followed them. The rounded ledge, like a hump that topped this bleak small island, was bare of boulders and rock fragments. The materials for the cairn they meant to build would have to be carried laboriously to the peak, or if they were too heavy to lift, rolled over and over up the ledge. They went methodically to work; but Robin chose to stay near Angus, to help him when she could, to talk
to him. When they were away from Pat she said slowly:
“Will you tell me honestly—just how bad this is? Was that story true, the one Pat told about the people who could see shore, freezing and starving?”
“I never heard it,” he said. “But Pat’s Newfoundland born and bred. Probably it was true. But that happened in December. This is July. It won’t stay cold forever, and it won’t rain forever.”
“Will they find us?”
“A fishing boat might come near any time. Probably not today, because this wind has kicked up quite a sea; but these people are fishermen. They’ll be off as soon as it quiets down. And when it clears, they can see us even from land.”
“I came to Newfoundland fishing with my father once. We had fog for two weeks, even up the Codroy. Fog and rain and cold. Maybe it won’t clear off for days.” “Those spells do happen,” he admitted soberly. “But we’re not badly off—for a few days. We can keep warm by huddling together at night, in some crevice out of the wind.” He looked toward the cleft where Mr. Jenkins and Romeo held the shelter. “We can keep warm as long as there’s any—life left in us. Being wet and cold drains your strength pretty fast, of course. I wish we had that chocolate.” “How long will it be, do you suppose, before someone comes? Will that plane be hunting?”
He smiled at her in a quiet reassurance. “Don’t try to think ahead. Live an hour at a time. And don’t be frightened. Fright tires you out. Keep steady. A person can go a long time without food, if he’s not scared. We’ve plenty of water as long as it rains, and there’ll be some in pools in the ledge afterward; and when it stops raining, if the sun comes out, we can dry our matches, manage a fire. We’ll pull through.”
They were working while they talked, panting side by side, climbing to the peak of the ledge, he with a great rock in his arms, she with a lesser one. She realized suddenly that she was happy, toiling thus beside him. Life was become simple, reduced to fundamentals. She smiled and said:
“That cake of chocolate is the most important thing in the world, right now, isn’t it? That and Mr. Jenkins’ oilskins, and a chance to get out of the rain.”
He nodded. They deposited their burdens and turned away for more. She said: “We’re down to elementáis, aren’t we? Willing to do almost anything for food and shelter.”
“Yes, of course.”
She said, half to herself: “It’s queer to think we might all die here. People do queer things, have—queer feelings when they’re afraid of dying.” She smiled at her own thought. “Angus. I know an old man in Maine. He has a big orchard, and he told me an interesting thing once. He said that if an apple tree is dying, it bears better than ever toward the end. He said if you broke down a branch and left it hanging by the bark, that branch would think it was dying, and it would have lots of apples on it; or if you take a two-yearold tree and tie a bit of copper wire around the bark at the foot, the tree will think it’s going to die, and it will bear apples long before it would otherwise. He thinks the trees are trying to pass life on while they still can.”
HE BENT to tumble a big boulder over and over up the ledge. She tried to help him. but he put her aside. “I can manage,” he said. “You’ll hurt your hands.”
“He thought people were the same way,” she suggested. She said: “Maybe Mr. Jenkins would give that chocolate to me if I asked him.”
He looked up at her quietly. “Miss Dale, in a tight place, any woman is a liability. Don’t expect—chivalry from Jenkins or Romeo.”
“You and Pat gave me your clothes. They might give me my chocolate, if I asked them.”
“If they knew it was there they would eat it. Naturally. Unless they’ve already done so.”
“I wish I hadn’t left it there. When Pat called that he could see land, I forgot all about it.”
He did not answer. He rolled the boulder laboriously upward to add to the little pile already gathered on top of the ledge. She found one she could carry; and by the cairn, Pat met them.
“Sorr,” he said, “by the feel of the wind, it’s colder.” He added, pointing: “The land’s off that way, so that’s bound to be east. That makes the wind northwest, the way it’s coming.”
Angus said indifferently: “Yes.”
Pat urged: “Then it just might blowclear this afternoon, sorr. If we could build this pile of rocks high enough before dark, them ashore might see.” He chuckled. “I’d as soon not spend another night like last unless I have to.”
Angus looked at him and his eyes quickened. He glanced toward the cleft below them where the shelter was. “We can’t build it high enough to make much show, alone,” he said. “But those two might help if we put it to them right. I’ll try. They don’t know what we’re doing.” He went down toward the cleft, but before showing himself he called: “Halloo,
Jenkins! I want a w-ord with you!” Jenkins after a moment answered him; “Bring the Irishman and the girl so I can see the three of you.”
“Right ! Here we come !”
They approached the lip of the cleft. Jenkins, when they first saw him, was inside the shelter, w-atching warily for their appearance; but as soon as he was sure they were all three together, he stepped outside, his weapon in his hand. “All right,” he said. “Speak your piece.”
ANGUS did so, without preamble. He Ti explained that they had seen the mainland, and a village, a while ago w-hen for a moment the fog lifted. “Then the rain shut in again, but now the weather’s changing. The wind’s backing into the northwest. That means it may clear; but it will probably haul into the northeast again tonight. If it does that, it may stay thick for days. This afternoon may be our last glimpse of shore for a while. Pat and I have started building a cairn, hoping they’ll see it. But four of us can build something sizable a lot quicker than two of us. If we can make a show-ing before dark, and it clears, they may see us tonight.” He asked crisply: “Will you
Mr. Jenkins considered. Romeo came to his side and they spoke in whispers. Then Mr. Jenkins said:
“Okay, McPhail, we’ll help. Only it’s understood that you won’t try any tricks, and it’s understood that the shelter here
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is ours tonight, or any time today if it starts to rain again.”
“Nothing’s understood.” Angus told him curtly. "You can help or not, just as you like. There’s no promise on either
Jenkins grinned. “Have it your way; but if you start trouble, you take your own chances. And any time we want the shelter, we’ll take it. I’m coming up now. Back off. I don’t want either of you too near me. It gives me the fidgets.” He took a step toward them, said over his shoulder: “Come on, Romeo. Work up a sweat and you’ll feel better about that pretty face of yours.” He told Robin grimly: “Romeo’s afraid the girls won’t like him any more, after the way you cut him up. You'd better keep away from him. He doesn’t like you as much as he did.”
He came on, and Robin stared past him, trying to see into the shelter, wondering whether they had found the chocolate. Hunger was a wolf in her. She had never wanted anything as much as she wanted that cake of chocolate now.
Angus held her arm, drawing her back as Mr. Jenkins and Romeo came up toward them. A moment later they stood in two groups, twenty feet apart; and Mr. Jenkins surveyed the situation. This small island was humpbacked, as its name implied. Its top w-as naked rock, rising to a high point fifty yards away from w-here they stood. There Pat and Angus had already piled some loose rocks together. On the bald ledge a fewrounded boulders w-ere scattered here and there; and Angus said now:
"The handiest rocks are on the other side, in a fissure of the ledge.”
Jenkins said: “Okay. You and Pat
work from there and we’ll work from here. I don’t want to get too close to you. You might get funny—and I’d have to kill you after all.”
Angus nodded. “Right,” he agreed. He turned away ; and Pat and Robin followed him. During the hours that followed, while the wind blew colder and the skies began to clear a little, the four men worked top speed at this task that might bring rescue; but Mr. Jenkins and Romeo never forgot to protect themselves against surprise. They took care not to come near either Pat or Angus. If Mr. Jenkins approached the growing pile of rocks when they were near it, he dropped his load twenty or thirty feet aw-ay, left it for them to fetch. He worked stoutly enough, and so did Romeo; but they maintained an equal vigilance.
Robin worked as she could; but she had to rest often, and when she rested, cold drained life and strength out of her. She was desperately hungry, and the thought of the chocolate, and the question whether it was still where she had left it, was like a madness in her. She thought she might somehow manage to reach the shelter unseen and recapture it; and once the thought took form, it obsessed her. She began to w-atch for any chance.
BUT FOR a long time the enterprise was clearly hopeless. Jenkins and Romeo w-ere lugging boulders up out of that break in the cliff where the shelter lay, and one or the other was almost always there. Midday came and went. Once the sun shone briefly, then lost itself again in a driving scud of low clouds. The four men became more and more absorbed in this business which engaged them. They were drunk with their own labors, blind with a mounting fatigue, working in a rising haste. The small huddle of houses ashore was visible now, miles away; for the fog had thinned, and the wind blew hard and cold. The men raced to accomplish as much as possible before dark came down. Once Mr. Jenkins mounted the growing pile and looked toward shore and waved his arms; and he even hallooed, as though his voice might carry over the intervening miles
But in mid-afternoon Mr. Jenkins and Romeo had already carried all the usable material from the upper part of the break
in the cliff face up to the growing pile. Rather than descend the steep slope thirty or forty yards, they worked along the level, farther and farther from the cleft. Robin saw this; and since in the intoxication of their fatigue they paid less and less attention to her, she began by slow degrees to move nearer and nearer the spot where all her thoughts centred. Pat and Angus, on the other side of the dome, were out of her sight except when they approached the growing cairn. Romeo, 150 yards away to the south, was hidden behind an intervening ledge. She chose a moment when Mr. Jenkins, the only man in sight, had his back turned to her, and dropped down into the cleft and darted to the shelter.
She had left the chocolate among the loose rocks piled together as a windbreak at one end; but when she came there now she felt a sick dismay. Romeo and Jenkins, to improve the barricade she had built on that side, had added other rocks to those she had piled there. If the chocolate was still there, it was deep buried. She began to drag the rocks away, working in desperate haste, peering into the cracks among them.
She saw at last the thing she sought; but she had to move still more boulders before she could draw the cake of chocolate free. She managed it, and turned to crawl out into the open air.
Then she stopped still, on hands and knees, sick with terror. Mr. Jenkins was there, a dozen feet away, watching her with an ironic smile.
“So!” he whispered. “Cheating, sister? What have you got?”
She clutched the treasure tight against her breast. “It's mine !” she cried.
“Now don’t be greedy, sister !” He came toward her. She was still on her knees in the low, cavelike shelter. At the thought of being caught there, panic swept her. She scrambled out just as Mr. Jenkins reached her. He caught her wrist with one hand, the cake of chocolate with the other. She clung to it, holding it with both hands against her body; and she screamed in a shrill, metallic way. He cried:
“Blast you, let go ! Shut up !” He looked over his shoulder, still wrenching at the chocolate, and she bent her head and bit his hand.
He swore mightily, and he struck her hard in the face. Her head rang, and her legs gave way and she fell on her knees, still clinging to the cake of chocolate. He caught her wrist again, with his left hand, and there was an insane rage in him now. He drew his pistol and struck her knuckles with the barrel of it, beating them to make her let go her hold on the chocolate, swearing in a furious anger. She saw blood run from the broken skin on her hand, and wondered why she felt no pain.
Then, behind him and a little above him, not a dozen feet away, the big Irishman came charging into view. Robin saw him. She cried Pat’s name; and Jenkins, instantly reacting, jerked her around to serve as shield as big Pat Donohoe came on.
To be Concluded