Part 1 out of 5
The Merry Men - Robert Louis Stevenson. 1904 edition
Scanned and proofed by David Price, email@example.com
The Merry Men
i. Eilean Aros
ii. What the wreck had brought to Aros
iii. Land and sea in Sandag Bay
iv. The gale
v. A man out of the sea
Will o' the Mill
i. The plain and the stars
ii. The Parson's Marjory
The Treasure of Franchard
i. By the dying Mountebank
ii. Morning tale
iii. The adoption
iv. The education of the philosopher
v. Treasure trove
vi. A criminal investigation, in two parts
vii. The fall of the House of Desprez
viii. The wages of philosophy
THE MERRY MEN
CHAPTER I. EILEAN AROS.
IT WAS a beautiful morning in the late July when I set forth on
foot for the last time for Aros. A boat had put me ashore the
night before at Grisapol; I had such breakfast as the little inn
afforded, and, leaving all my baggage till I had an occasion to
come round for it by sea, struck right across the promontory with a
I was far from being a native of these parts, springing, as I did,
from an unmixed lowland stock. But an uncle of mine, Gordon
Darnaway, after a poor, rough youth, and some years at sea, had
married a young wife in the islands; Mary Maclean she was called,
the last of her family; and when she died in giving birth to a
daughter, Aros, the sea-girt farm, had remained in his possession.
It brought him in nothing but the means of life, as I was well
aware; but he was a man whom ill-fortune had pursued; he feared,
cumbered as he was with the young child, to make a fresh adventure
upon life; and remained in Aros, biting his nails at destiny.
Years passed over his head in that isolation, and brought neither
help nor contentment. Meantime our family was dying out in the
lowlands; there is little luck for any of that race; and perhaps my
father was the luckiest of all, for not only was he one of the last
to die, but he left a son to his name and a little money to support
it. I was a student of Edinburgh University, living well enough at
my own charges, but without kith or kin; when some news of me found
its way to Uncle Gordon on the Ross of Grisapol; and he, as he was
a man who held blood thicker than water, wrote to me the day he
heard of my existence, and taught me to count Aros as my home.
Thus it was that I came to spend my vacations in that part of the
country, so far from all society and comfort, between the codfish
and the moorcocks; and thus it was that now, when I had done with
my classes, I was returning thither with so light a heart that July
The Ross, as we call it, is a promontory neither wide nor high, but
as rough as God made it to this day; the deep sea on either hand of
it, full of rugged isles and reefs most perilous to seamen - all
overlooked from the eastward by some very high cliffs and the great
peals of Ben Kyaw. THE MOUNTAIN OF THE MIST, they say the words
signify in the Gaelic tongue; and it is well named. For that hill-
top, which is more than three thousand feet in height, catches all
the clouds that come blowing from the seaward; and, indeed, I used
often to think that it must make them for itself; since when all
heaven was clear to the sea level, there would ever be a streamer
on Ben Kyaw. It brought water, too, and was mossy (1) to the top
in consequence. I have seen us sitting in broad sunshine on the
Ross, and the rain falling black like crape upon the mountain. But
the wetness of it made it often appear more beautiful to my eyes;
for when the sun struck upon the hill sides, there were many wet
rocks and watercourses that shone like jewels even as far as Aros,
fifteen miles away.
The road that I followed was a cattle-track. It twisted so as
nearly to double the length of my journey; it went over rough
boulders so that a man had to leap from one to another, and through
soft bottoms where the moss came nearly to the knee. There was no
cultivation anywhere, and not one house in the ten miles from
Grisapol to Aros. Houses of course there were - three at least;
but they lay so far on the one side or the other that no stranger
could have found them from the track. A large part of the Ross is
covered with big granite rocks, some of them larger than a two-
roomed house, one beside another, with fern and deep heather in
between them where the vipers breed. Anyway the wind was, it was
always sea air, as salt as on a ship; the gulls were as free as
moorfowl over all the Ross; and whenever the way rose a little,
your eye would kindle with the brightness of the sea. From the
very midst of the land, on a day of wind and a high spring, I have
heard the Roost roaring, like a battle where it runs by Aros, and
the great and fearful voices of the breakers that we call the Merry
Aros itself - Aros Jay, I have heard the natives call it, and they
say it means THE HOUSE OF GOD - Aros itself was not properly a
piece of the Ross, nor was it quite an islet. It formed the south-
west corner of the land, fitted close to it, and was in one place
only separated from the coast by a little gut of the sea, not forty
feet across the narrowest. When the tide was full, this was clear
and still, like a pool on a land river; only there was a difference
in the weeds and fishes, and the water itself was green instead of
brown; but when the tide went out, in the bottom of the ebb, there
was a day or two in every month when you could pass dryshod from
Aros to the mainland. There was some good pasture, where my uncle
fed the sheep he lived on; perhaps the feed was better because the
ground rose higher on the islet than the main level of the Ross,
but this I am not skilled enough to settle. The house was a good
one for that country, two storeys high. It looked westward over a
bay, with a pier hard by for a boat, and from the door you could
watch the vapours blowing on Ben Kyaw.
On all this part of the coast, and especially near Aros, these
great granite rocks that I have spoken of go down together in
troops into the sea, like cattle on a summer's day. There they
stand, for all the world like their neighbours ashore; only the
salt water sobbing between them instead of the quiet earth, and
clots of sea-pink blooming on their sides instead of heather; and
the great sea conger to wreathe about the base of them instead of
the poisonous viper of the land. On calm days you can go wandering
between them in a boat for hours, echoes following you about the
labyrinth; but when the sea is up, Heaven help the man that hears
that cauldron boiling.
Off the south-west end of Aros these blocks are very many, and much
greater in size. Indeed, they must grow monstrously bigger out to
sea, for there must be ten sea miles of open water sown with them
as thick as a country place with houses, some standing thirty feet
above the tides, some covered, but all perilous to ships; so that
on a clear, westerly blowing day, I have counted, from the top of
Aros, the great rollers breaking white and heavy over as many as
six-and-forty buried reefs. But it is nearer in shore that the
danger is worst; for the tide, here running like a mill race, makes
a long belt of broken water - a ROOST we call it - at the tail of
the land. I have often been out there in a dead calm at the slack
of the tide; and a strange place it is, with the sea swirling and
combing up and boiling like the cauldrons of a linn, and now and
again a little dancing mutter of sound as though the ROOST were
talking to itself. But when the tide begins to run again, and
above all in heavy weather, there is no man could take a boat
within half a mile of it, nor a ship afloat that could either steer
or live in such a place. You can hear the roaring of it six miles
away. At the seaward end there comes the strongest of the bubble;
and it's here that these big breakers dance together - the dance of
death, it may be called - that have got the name, in these parts,
of the Merry Men. I have heard it said that they run fifty feet
high; but that must be the green water only, for the spray runs
twice as high as that. Whether they got the name from their
movements, which are swift and antic, or from the shouting they
make about the turn of the tide, so that all Aros shakes with it,
is more than I can tell.
The truth is, that in a south-westerly wind, that part of our
archipelago is no better than a trap. If a ship got through the
reefs, and weathered the Merry Men, it would be to come ashore on
the south coast of Aros, in Sandag Bay, where so many dismal things
befell our family, as I propose to tell. The thought of all these
dangers, in the place I knew so long, makes me particularly welcome
the works now going forward to set lights upon the headlands and
buoys along the channels of our iron-bound, inhospitable islands.
The country people had many a story about Aros, as I used to hear
from my uncle's man, Rorie, an old servant of the Macleans, who had
transferred his services without afterthought on the occasion of
the marriage. There was some tale of an unlucky creature, a sea-
kelpie, that dwelt and did business in some fearful manner of his
own among the boiling breakers of the Roost. A mermaid had once
met a piper on Sandag beach, and there sang to him a long, bright
midsummer's night, so that in the morning he was found stricken
crazy, and from thenceforward, till the day he died, said only one
form of words; what they were in the original Gaelic I cannot tell,
but they were thus translated: 'Ah, the sweet singing out of the
sea.' Seals that haunted on that coast have been known to speak to
man in his own tongue, presaging great disasters. It was here that
a certain saint first landed on his voyage out of Ireland to
convert the Hebrideans. And, indeed, I think he had some claim to
be called saint; for, with the boats of that past age, to make so
rough a passage, and land on such a ticklish coast, was surely not
far short of the miraculous. It was to him, or to some of his
monkish underlings who had a cell there, that the islet owes its
holy and beautiful name, the House of God.
Among these old wives' stories there was one which I was inclined
to hear with more credulity. As I was told, in that tempest which
scattered the ships of the Invincible Armada over all the north and
west of Scotland, one great vessel came ashore on Aros, and before
the eyes of some solitary people on a hill-top, went down in a
moment with all hands, her colours flying even as she sank. There
was some likelihood in this tale; for another of that fleet lay
sunk on the north side, twenty miles from Grisapol. It was told, I
thought, with more detail and gravity than its companion stories,
and there was one particularity which went far to convince me of
its truth: the name, that is, of the ship was still remembered, and
sounded, in my ears, Spanishly. The ESPIRITO SANTO they called it,
a great ship of many decks of guns, laden with treasure and
grandees of Spain, and fierce soldadoes, that now lay fathom deep
to all eternity, done with her wars and voyages, in Sandag bay,
upon the west of Aros. No more salvos of ordnance for that tall
ship, the 'Holy Spirit,' no more fair winds or happy ventures; only
to rot there deep in the sea-tangle and hear the shoutings of the
Merry Men as the tide ran high about the island. It was a strange
thought to me first and last, and only grew stranger as I learned
the more of Spain, from which she had set sail with so proud a
company, and King Philip, the wealthy king, that sent her on that
And now I must tell you, as I walked from Grisapol that day, the
ESPIRITO SANTO was very much in my reflections. I had been
favourably remarked by our then Principal in Edinburgh College,
that famous writer, Dr. Robertson, and by him had been set to work
on some papers of an ancient date to rearrange and sift of what was
worthless; and in one of these, to my great wonder, I found a note
of this very ship, the ESPIRITO SANTO, with her captain's name, and
how she carried a great part of the Spaniard's treasure, and had
been lost upon the Ross of Grisapol; but in what particular spot,
the wild tribes of that place and period would give no information
to the king's inquiries. Putting one thing with another, and
taking our island tradition together with this note of old King
Jamie's perquisitions after wealth, it had come strongly on my mind
that the spot for which he sought in vain could be no other than
the small bay of Sandag on my uncle's land; and being a fellow of a
mechanical turn, I had ever since been plotting how to weigh that
good ship up again with all her ingots, ounces, and doubloons, and
bring back our house of Darnaway to its long-forgotten dignity and
This was a design of which I soon had reason to repent. My mind
was sharply turned on different reflections; and since I became the
witness of a strange judgment of God's, the thought of dead men's
treasures has been intolerable to my conscience. But even at that
time I must acquit myself of sordid greed; for if I desired riches,
it was not for their own sake, but for the sake of a person who was
dear to my heart - my uncle's daughter, Mary Ellen. She had been
educated well, and had been a time to school upon the mainland;
which, poor girl, she would have been happier without. For Aros
was no place for her, with old Rorie the servant, and her father,
who was one of the unhappiest men in Scotland, plainly bred up in a
country place among Cameronians, long a skipper sailing out of the
Clyde about the islands, and now, with infinite discontent,
managing his sheep and a little 'long shore fishing for the
necessary bread. If it was sometimes weariful to me, who was there
but a month or two, you may fancy what it was to her who dwelt in
that same desert all the year round, with the sheep and flying sea-
gulls, and the Merry Men singing and dancing in the Roost!
CHAPTER II. WHAT THE WRECK HAD BROUGHT TO AROS.
IT was half-flood when I got the length of Aros; and there was
nothing for it but to stand on the far shore and whistle for Rorie
with the boat. I had no need to repeat the signal. At the first
sound, Mary was at the door flying a handkerchief by way of answer,
and the old long-legged serving-man was shambling down the gravel
to the pier. For all his hurry, it took him a long while to pull
across the bay; and I observed him several times to pause, go into
the stern, and look over curiously into the wake. As he came
nearer, he seemed to me aged and haggard, and I thought he avoided
my eye. The coble had been repaired, with two new thwarts and
several patches of some rare and beautiful foreign wood, the name
of it unknown to me.
'Why, Rorie,' said I, as we began the return voyage, 'this is fine
wood. How came you by that?'
'It will be hard to cheesel,' Rorie opined reluctantly; and just
then, dropping the oars, he made another of those dives into the
stern which I had remarked as he came across to fetch me, and,
leaning his hand on my shoulder, stared with an awful look into the
waters of the bay.
'What is wrong?' I asked, a good deal startled.
'It will be a great feesh,' said the old man, returning to his
oars; and nothing more could I get out of him, but strange glances
and an ominous nodding of the head. In spite of myself, I was
infected with a measure of uneasiness; I turned also, and studied
the wake. The water was still and transparent, but, out here in
the middle of the bay, exceeding deep. For some time I could see
naught; but at last it did seem to me as if something dark - a
great fish, or perhaps only a shadow - followed studiously in the
track of the moving coble. And then I remembered one of Rorie's
superstitions: how in a ferry in Morven, in some great,
exterminating feud among the clans; a fish, the like of it unknown
in all our waters, followed for some years the passage of the
ferry-boat, until no man dared to make the crossing.
'He will be waiting for the right man,' said Rorie.
Mary met me on the beach, and led me up the brae and into the house
of Aros. Outside and inside there were many changes. The garden
was fenced with the same wood that I had noted in the boat; there
were chairs in the kitchen covered with strange brocade; curtains
of brocade hung from the window; a clock stood silent on the
dresser; a lamp of brass was swinging from the roof; the table was
set for dinner with the finest of linen and silver; and all these
new riches were displayed in the plain old kitchen that I knew so
well, with the high-backed settle, and the stools, and the closet
bed for Rorie; with the wide chimney the sun shone into, and the
clear-smouldering peats; with the pipes on the mantelshelf and the
three-cornered spittoons, filled with sea-shells instead of sand,
on the floor; with the bare stone walls and the bare wooden floor,
and the three patchwork rugs that were of yore its sole adornment -
poor man's patchwork, the like of it unknown in cities, woven with
homespun, and Sunday black, and sea-cloth polished on the bench of
rowing. The room, like the house, had been a sort of wonder in
that country-side, it was so neat and habitable; and to see it now,
shamed by these incongruous additions, filled me with indignation
and a kind of anger. In view of the errand I had come upon to
Aros, the feeling was baseless and unjust; but it burned high, at
the first moment, in my heart.
'Mary, girl,' said I, 'this is the place I had learned to call my
home, and I do not know it.'
'It is my home by nature, not by the learning,' she replied; 'the
place I was born and the place I'm like to die in; and I neither
like these changes, nor the way they came, nor that which came with
them. I would have liked better, under God's pleasure, they had
gone down into the sea, and the Merry Men were dancing on them
Mary was always serious; it was perhaps the only trait that she
shared with her father; but the tone with which she uttered these
words was even graver than of custom.
'Ay,' said I, 'I feared it came by wreck, and that's by death; yet
when my father died, I took his goods without remorse.'
'Your father died a clean strae death, as the folk say,' said Mary.
'True,' I returned; 'and a wreck is like a judgment. What was she
'They ca'd her the CHRIST-ANNA,' said a voice behind me; and,
turning round, I saw my uncle standing in the doorway.
He was a sour, small, bilious man, with a long face and very dark
eyes; fifty-six years old, sound and active in body, and with an
air somewhat between that of a shepherd and that of a man following
the sea. He never laughed, that I heard; read long at the Bible;
prayed much, like the Cameronians he had been brought up among; and
indeed, in many ways, used to remind me of one of the hill-
preachers in the killing times before the Revolution. But he never
got much comfort, nor even, as I used to think, much guidance, by
his piety. He had his black fits when he was afraid of hell; but
he had led a rough life, to which he would look back with envy, and
was still a rough, cold, gloomy man.
As he came in at the door out of the sunlight, with his bonnet on
his head and a pipe hanging in his button-hole, he seemed, like
Rorie, to have grown older and paler, the lines were deeplier
ploughed upon his face, and the whites of his eyes were yellow,
like old stained ivory, or the bones of the dead.
'Ay' he repeated, dwelling upon the first part of the word, 'the
CHRIST-ANNA. It's an awfu' name.'
I made him my salutations, and complimented him upon his look of
health; for I feared he had perhaps been ill.
'I'm in the body,' he replied, ungraciously enough; 'aye in the
body and the sins of the body, like yoursel'. Denner,' he said
abruptly to Mary, and then ran on to me: 'They're grand braws, thir
that we hae gotten, are they no? Yon's a bonny knock (2), but
it'll no gang; and the napery's by ordnar. Bonny, bairnly braws;
it's for the like o' them folk sells the peace of God that passeth
understanding; it's for the like o' them, an' maybe no even sae
muckle worth, folk daunton God to His face and burn in muckle hell;
and it's for that reason the Scripture ca's them, as I read the
passage, the accursed thing. Mary, ye girzie,' he interrupted
himself to cry with some asperity, 'what for hae ye no put out the
'Why should we need them at high noon?' she asked.
But my uncle was not to be turned from his idea. 'We'll bruik (3)
them while we may,' he said; and so two massive candlesticks of
wrought silver were added to the table equipage, already so
unsuited to that rough sea-side farm.
'She cam' ashore Februar' 10, about ten at nicht,' he went on to
me. 'There was nae wind, and a sair run o' sea; and she was in the
sook o' the Roost, as I jaloose. We had seen her a' day, Rorie and
me, beating to the wind. She wasnae a handy craft, I'm thinking,
that CHRIST-ANNA; for she would neither steer nor stey wi' them. A
sair day they had of it; their hands was never aff the sheets, and
it perishin' cauld - ower cauld to snaw; and aye they would get a
bit nip o' wind, and awa' again, to pit the emp'y hope into them.
Eh, man! but they had a sair day for the last o't! He would have
had a prood, prood heart that won ashore upon the back o' that.'
'And were all lost?' I cried. 'God held them!'
'Wheesht!' he said sternly. 'Nane shall pray for the deid on my
I disclaimed a Popish sense for my ejaculation; and he seemed to
accept my disclaimer with unusual facility, and ran on once more
upon what had evidently become a favourite subject.
'We fand her in Sandag Bay, Rorie an' me, and a' thae braws in the
inside of her. There's a kittle bit, ye see, about Sandag; whiles
the sook rins strong for the Merry Men; an' whiles again, when the
tide's makin' hard an' ye can hear the Roost blawin' at the far-end
of Aros, there comes a back-spang of current straucht into Sandag
Bay. Weel, there's the thing that got the grip on the CHRIST-ANNA.
She but to have come in ram-stam an' stern forrit; for the bows of
her are aften under, and the back-side of her is clear at hie-water
o' neaps. But, man! the dunt that she cam doon wi' when she
struck! Lord save us a'! but it's an unco life to be a sailor - a
cauld, wanchancy life. Mony's the gliff I got mysel' in the great
deep; and why the Lord should hae made yon unco water is mair than
ever I could win to understand. He made the vales and the
pastures, the bonny green yaird, the halesome, canty land -
And now they shout and sing to Thee,
For Thou hast made them glad,
as the Psalms say in the metrical version. No that I would preen
my faith to that clink neither; but it's bonny, and easier to mind.
"Who go to sea in ships," they hae't again -
Great waters trading be,
Within the deep these men God's works
And His great wonders see.
Weel, it's easy sayin' sae. Maybe Dauvit wasnae very weel acquant
wi' the sea. But, troth, if it wasnae prentit in the Bible, I wad
whiles be temp'it to think it wasnae the Lord, but the muckle,
black deil that made the sea. There's naething good comes oot o't
but the fish; an' the spentacle o' God riding on the tempest, to be
shure, whilk would be what Dauvit was likely ettling at. But, man,
they were sair wonders that God showed to the CHRIST-ANNA -
wonders, do I ca' them? Judgments, rather: judgments in the mirk
nicht among the draygons o' the deep. And their souls - to think
o' that - their souls, man, maybe no prepared! The sea - a muckle
yett to hell!'
I observed, as my uncle spoke, that his voice was unnaturally moved
and his manner unwontedly demonstrative. He leaned forward at
these last words, for example, and touched me on the knee with his
spread fingers, looking up into my face with a certain pallor, and
I could see that his eyes shone with a deep-seated fire, and that
the lines about his mouth were drawn and tremulous.
Even the entrance of Rorie, and the beginning of our meal, did not
detach him from his train of thought beyond a moment. He
condescended, indeed, to ask me some questions as to my success at
college, but I thought it was with half his mind; and even in his
extempore grace, which was, as usual, long and wandering, I could
find the trace of his preoccupation, praying, as he did, that God
would 'remember in mercy fower puir, feckless, fiddling, sinful
creatures here by their lee-lane beside the great and dowie
Soon there came an interchange of speeches between him and Rorie.
'Was it there?' asked my uncle.
'Ou, ay!' said Rorie.
I observed that they both spoke in a manner of aside, and with some
show of embarrassment, and that Mary herself appeared to colour,
and looked down on her plate. Partly to show my knowledge, and so
relieve the party from an awkward strain, partly because I was
curious, I pursued the subject.
'You mean the fish?' I asked.
'Whatten fish?' cried my uncle. 'Fish, quo' he! Fish! Your een
are fu' o' fatness, man; your heid dozened wi' carnal leir. Fish!
it's a bogle!'
He spoke with great vehemence, as though angry; and perhaps I was
not very willing to be put down so shortly, for young men are
disputatious. At least I remember I retorted hotly, crying out
upon childish superstitions.
'And ye come frae the College!' sneered Uncle Gordon. 'Gude kens
what they learn folk there; it's no muckle service onyway. Do ye
think, man, that there's naething in a' yon saut wilderness o' a
world oot wast there, wi' the sea grasses growin', an' the sea
beasts fechtin', an' the sun glintin' down into it, day by day?
Na; the sea's like the land, but fearsomer. If there's folk
ashore, there's folk in the sea - deid they may be, but they're
folk whatever; and as for deils, there's nane that's like the sea
deils. There's no sae muckle harm in the land deils, when a's said
and done. Lang syne, when I was a callant in the south country, I
mind there was an auld, bald bogle in the Peewie Moss. I got a
glisk o' him mysel', sittin' on his hunkers in a hag, as gray's a
tombstane. An', troth, he was a fearsome-like taed. But he
steered naebody. Nae doobt, if ane that was a reprobate, ane the
Lord hated, had gane by there wi' his sin still upon his stamach,
nae doobt the creature would hae lowped upo' the likes o' him. But
there's deils in the deep sea would yoke on a communicant! Eh,
sirs, if ye had gane doon wi' the puir lads in the CHRIST-ANNA, ye
would ken by now the mercy o' the seas. If ye had sailed it for as
lang as me, ye would hate the thocht of it as I do. If ye had but
used the een God gave ye, ye would hae learned the wickedness o'
that fause, saut, cauld, bullering creature, and of a' that's in it
by the Lord's permission: labsters an' partans, an' sic like,
howking in the deid; muckle, gutsy, blawing whales; an' fish - the
hale clan o' them - cauld-wamed, blind-eed uncanny ferlies. O,
sirs,' he cried, 'the horror - the horror o' the sea!'
We were all somewhat staggered by this outburst; and the speaker
himself, after that last hoarse apostrophe, appeared to sink
gloomily into his own thoughts. But Rorie, who was greedy of
superstitious lore, recalled him to the subject by a question.
'You will not ever have seen a teevil of the sea?' he asked.
'No clearly,' replied the other. 'I misdoobt if a mere man could
see ane clearly and conteenue in the body. I hae sailed wi' a lad
- they ca'd him Sandy Gabart; he saw ane, shure eneueh, an' shure
eneueh it was the end of him. We were seeven days oot frae the
Clyde - a sair wark we had had - gaun north wi' seeds an' braws an'
things for the Macleod. We had got in ower near under the
Cutchull'ns, an' had just gane about by soa, an' were off on a lang
tack, we thocht would maybe hauld as far's Copnahow. I mind the
nicht weel; a mune smoored wi' mist; a fine gaun breeze upon the
water, but no steedy; an' - what nane o' us likit to hear - anither
wund gurlin' owerheid, amang thae fearsome, auld stane craigs o'
the Cutchull'ns. Weel, Sandy was forrit wi' the jib sheet; we
couldnae see him for the mains'l, that had just begude to draw,
when a' at ance he gied a skirl. I luffed for my life, for I
thocht we were ower near Soa; but na, it wasnae that, it was puir
Sandy Gabart's deid skreigh, or near hand, for he was deid in half
an hour. A't he could tell was that a sea deil, or sea bogle, or
sea spenster, or sic-like, had clum up by the bowsprit, an' gi'en
him ae cauld, uncanny look. An', or the life was oot o' Sandy's
body, we kent weel what the thing betokened, and why the wund
gurled in the taps o' the Cutchull'ns; for doon it cam' - a wund do
I ca' it! it was the wund o' the Lord's anger - an' a' that nicht
we foucht like men dementit, and the niest that we kenned we were
ashore in Loch Uskevagh, an' the cocks were crawin' in Benbecula.'
'It will have been a merman,' Rorie said.
'A merman!' screamed my uncle with immeasurable scorn. 'Auld
wives' clavers! There's nae sic things as mermen.'
'But what was the creature like?' I asked.
'What like was it? Gude forbid that we suld ken what like it was!
It had a kind of a heid upon it - man could say nae mair.'
Then Rorie, smarting under the affront, told several tales of
mermen, mermaids, and sea-horses that had come ashore upon the
islands and attacked the crews of boats upon the sea; and my uncle,
in spite of his incredulity, listened with uneasy interest.
'Aweel, aweel,' he said, 'it may be sae; I may be wrang; but I find
nae word o' mermen in the Scriptures.'
'And you will find nae word of Aros Roost, maybe,' objected Rorie,
and his argument appeared to carry weight.
When dinner was over, my uncle carried me forth with him to a bank
behind the house. It was a very hot and quiet afternoon; scarce a
ripple anywhere upon the sea, nor any voice but the familiar voice
of sheep and gulls; and perhaps in consequence of this repose in
nature, my kinsman showed himself more rational and tranquil than
before. He spoke evenly and almost cheerfully of my career, with
every now and then a reference to the lost ship or the treasures it
had brought to Aros. For my part, I listened to him in a sort of
trance, gazing with all my heart on that remembered scene, and
drinking gladly the sea-air and the smoke of peats that had been
lit by Mary.
Perhaps an hour had passed when my uncle, who had all the while
been covertly gazing on the surface of the little bay, rose to his
feet and bade me follow his example. Now I should say that the
great run of tide at the south-west end of Aros exercises a
perturbing influence round all the coast. In Sandag Bay, to the
south, a strong current runs at certain periods of the flood and
ebb respectively; but in this northern bay - Aros Bay, as it is
called - where the house stands and on which my uncle was now
gazing, the only sign of disturbance is towards the end of the ebb,
and even then it is too slight to be remarkable. When there is any
swell, nothing can be seen at all; but when it is calm, as it often
is, there appear certain strange, undecipherable marks - sea-runes,
as we may name them - on the glassy surface of the bay. The like
is common in a thousand places on the coast; and many a boy must
have amused himself as I did, seeking to read in them some
reference to himself or those he loved. It was to these marks that
my uncle now directed my attention, struggling, as he did so, with
an evident reluctance.
'Do ye see yon scart upo' the water?' he inquired; 'yon ane wast
the gray stane? Ay? Weel, it'll no be like a letter, wull it?'
'Certainly it is,' I replied. 'I have often remarked it. It is
like a C.'
He heaved a sigh as if heavily disappointed with my answer, and
then added below his breath: 'Ay, for the CHRIST-ANNA.'
'I used to suppose, sir, it was for myself,' said I; 'for my name
'And so ye saw't afore?', he ran on, not heeding my remark. 'Weel,
weel, but that's unco strange. Maybe, it's been there waitin', as
a man wad say, through a' the weary ages. Man, but that's awfu'.'
And then, breaking off: 'Ye'll no see anither, will ye?' he asked.
'Yes,' said I. 'I see another very plainly, near the Ross side,
where the road comes down - an M.'
'An M,' he repeated very low; and then, again after another pause:
'An' what wad ye make o' that?' he inquired.
'I had always thought it to mean Mary, sir,' I answered, growing
somewhat red, convinced as I was in my own mind that I was on the
threshold of a decisive explanation.
But we were each following his own train of thought to the
exclusion of the other's. My uncle once more paid no attention to
my words; only hung his head and held his peace; and I might have
been led to fancy that he had not heard me, if his next speech had
not contained a kind of echo from my own.
'I would say naething o' thae clavers to Mary,' he observed, and
began to walk forward.
There is a belt of turf along the side of Aros Bay, where walking
is easy; and it was along this that I silently followed my silent
kinsman. I was perhaps a little disappointed at having lost so
good an opportunity to declare my love; but I was at the same time
far more deeply exercised at the change that had befallen my uncle.
He was never an ordinary, never, in the strict sense, an amiable,
man; but there was nothing in even the worst that I had known of
him before, to prepare me for so strange a transformation. It was
impossible to close the eyes against one fact; that he had, as the
saying goes, something on his mind; and as I mentally ran over the
different words which might be represented by the letter M -
misery, mercy, marriage, money, and the like - I was arrested with
a sort of start by the word murder. I was still considering the
ugly sound and fatal meaning of the word, when the direction of our
walk brought us to a point from which a view was to be had to
either side, back towards Aros Bay and homestead, and forward on
the ocean, dotted to the north with isles, and lying to the
southward blue and open to the sky. There my guide came to a halt,
and stood staring for awhile on that expanse. Then he turned to me
and laid a hand on my arm.
'Ye think there's naething there?' he said, pointing with his pipe;
and then cried out aloud, with a kind of exultation: 'I'll tell ye,
man! The deid are down there - thick like rattons!'
He turned at once, and, without another word, we retraced our steps
to the house of Aros.
I was eager to be alone with Mary; yet it was not till after
supper, and then but for a short while, that I could have a word
with her. I lost no time beating about the bush, but spoke out
plainly what was on my mind.
'Mary,' I said, 'I have not come to Aros without a hope. If that
should prove well founded, we may all leave and go somewhere else,
secure of daily bread and comfort; secure, perhaps, of something
far beyond that, which it would seem extravagant in me to promise.
But there's a hope that lies nearer to my heart than money.' And
at that I paused. 'You can guess fine what that is, Mary,' I said.
She looked away from me in silence, and that was small
encouragement, but I was not to be put off. 'All my days I have
thought the world of you,' I continued; 'the time goes on and I
think always the more of you; I could not think to be happy or
hearty in my life without you: you are the apple of my eye.' Still
she looked away, and said never a word; but I thought I saw that
her hands shook. 'Mary,' I cried in fear, 'do ye no like me?'
'O, Charlie man,' she said, 'is this a time to speak of it? Let me
be, a while; let me be the way I am; it'll not be you that loses by
I made out by her voice that she was nearly weeping, and this put
me out of any thought but to compose her. 'Mary Ellen,' I said,
'say no more; I did not come to trouble you: your way shall be
mine, and your time too; and you have told me all I wanted. Only
just this one thing more: what ails you?'
She owned it was her father, but would enter into no particulars,
only shook her head, and said he was not well and not like himself,
and it was a great pity. She knew nothing of the wreck. 'I
havenae been near it,' said she. 'What for would I go near it,
Charlie lad? The poor souls are gone to their account long syne;
and I would just have wished they had ta'en their gear with them -
This was scarcely any great encouragement for me to tell her of the
ESPIRITO SANTO; yet I did so, and at the very first word she cried
out in surprise. 'There was a man at Grisapol,' she said, 'in the
month of May - a little, yellow, black-avised body, they tell me,
with gold rings upon his fingers, and a beard; and he was speiring
high and low for that same ship.'
It was towards the end of April that I had been given these papers
to sort out by Dr. Robertson: and it came suddenly back upon my
mind that they were thus prepared for a Spanish historian, or a man
calling himself such, who had come with high recommendations to the
Principal, on a mission of inquiry as to the dispersion of the
great Armada. Putting one thing with another, I fancied that the
visitor 'with the gold rings upon his fingers' might be the same
with Dr. Robertson's historian from Madrid. If that were so, he
would be more likely after treasure for himself than information
for a learned society. I made up my mind, I should lose no time
over my undertaking; and if the ship lay sunk in Sandag Bay, as
perhaps both he and I supposed, it should not be for the advantage
of this ringed adventurer, but for Mary and myself, and for the
good, old, honest, kindly family of the Darnaways.
CHAPTER III. LAND AND SEA IN SANDAG BAY.
I WAS early afoot next morning; and as soon as I had a bite to eat,
set forth upon a tour of exploration. Something in my heart
distinctly told me that I should find the ship of the Armada; and
although I did not give way entirely to such hopeful thoughts, I
was still very light in spirits and walked upon air. Aros is a
very rough islet, its surface strewn with great rocks and shaggy
with fernland heather; and my way lay almost north and south across
the highest knoll; and though the whole distance was inside of two
miles it took more time and exertion than four upon a level road.
Upon the summit, I paused. Although not very high - not three
hundred feet, as I think - it yet outtops all the neighbouring
lowlands of the Ross, and commands a great view of sea and islands.
The sun, which had been up some time, was already hot upon my neck;
the air was listless and thundery, although purely clear; away over
the north-west, where the isles lie thickliest congregated, some
half-a-dozen small and ragged clouds hung together in a covey; and
the head of Ben Kyaw wore, not merely a few streamers, but a solid
hood of vapour. There was a threat in the weather. The sea, it is
true, was smooth like glass: even the Roost was but a seam on that
wide mirror, and the Merry Men no more than caps of foam; but to my
eye and ear, so long familiar with these places, the sea also
seemed to lie uneasily; a sound of it, like a long sigh, mounted to
me where I stood; and, quiet as it was, the Roost itself appeared
to be revolving mischief. For I ought to say that all we dwellers
in these parts attributed, if not prescience, at least a quality of
warning, to that strange and dangerous creature of the tides.
I hurried on, then, with the greater speed, and had soon descended
the slope of Aros to the part that we call Sandag Bay. It is a
pretty large piece of water compared with the size of the isle;
well sheltered from all but the prevailing wind; sandy and shoal
and bounded by low sand-hills to the west, but to the eastward
lying several fathoms deep along a ledge of rocks. It is upon that
side that, at a certain time each flood, the current mentioned by
my uncle sets so strong into the bay; a little later, when the
Roost begins to work higher, an undertow runs still more strongly
in the reverse direction; and it is the action of this last, as I
suppose, that has scoured that part so deep. Nothing is to be seen
out of Sandag Bay, but one small segment of the horizon and, in
heavy weather, the breakers flying high over a deep sea reef.
From half-way down the hill, I had perceived the wreck of February
last, a brig of considerable tonnage, lying, with her back broken,
high and dry on the east corner of the sands; and I was making
directly towards it, and already almost on the margin of the turf,
when my eyes were suddenly arrested by a spot, cleared of fern and
heather, and marked by one of those long, low, and almost human-
looking mounds that we see so commonly in graveyards. I stopped
like a man shot. Nothing had been said to me of any dead man or
interment on the island; Rorie, Mary, and my uncle had all equally
held their peace; of her at least, I was certain that she must be
ignorant; and yet here, before my eyes, was proof indubitable of
the fact. Here was a grave; and I had to ask myself, with a chill,
what manner of man lay there in his last sleep, awaiting the signal
of the Lord in that solitary, sea-beat resting-place? My mind
supplied no answer but what I feared to entertain. Shipwrecked, at
least, he must have been; perhaps, like the old Armada mariners,
from some far and rich land over-sea; or perhaps one of my own
race, perishing within eyesight of the smoke of home. I stood
awhile uncovered by his side, and I could have desired that it had
lain in our religion to put up some prayer for that unhappy
stranger, or, in the old classic way, outwardly to honour his
misfortune. I knew, although his bones lay there, a part of Aros,
till the trumpet sounded, his imperishable soul was forth and far
away, among the raptures of the everlasting Sabbath or the pangs of
hell; and yet my mind misgave me even with a fear, that perhaps he
was near me where I stood, guarding his sepulchre, and lingering on
the scene of his unhappy fate.
Certainly it was with a spirit somewhat over-shadowed that I turned
away from the grave to the hardly less melancholy spectacle of the
wreck. Her stem was above the first arc of the flood; she was
broken in two a little abaft the foremast - though indeed she had
none, both masts having broken short in her disaster; and as the
pitch of the beach was very sharp and sudden, and the bows lay many
feet below the stern, the fracture gaped widely open, and you could
see right through her poor hull upon the farther side. Her name
was much defaced, and I could not make out clearly whether she was
called CHRISTIANIA, after the Norwegian city, or CHRISTIANA, after
the good woman, Christian's wife, in that old book the 'Pilgrim's
Progress.' By her build she was a foreign ship, but I was not
certain of her nationality. She had been painted green, but the
colour was faded and weathered, and the paint peeling off in
strips. The wreck of the mainmast lay alongside, half buried in
sand. She was a forlorn sight, indeed, and I could not look
without emotion at the bits of rope that still hung about her, so
often handled of yore by shouting seamen; or the little scuttle
where they had passed up and down to their affairs; or that poor
noseless angel of a figure-head that had dipped into so many
I do not know whether it came most from the ship or from the grave,
but I fell into some melancholy scruples, as I stood there, leaning
with one hand against the battered timbers. The homelessness of
men and even of inanimate vessels, cast away upon strange shores,
came strongly in upon my mind. To make a profit of such pitiful
misadventures seemed an unmanly and a sordid act; and I began to
think of my then quest as of something sacrilegious in its nature.
But when I remembered Mary, I took heart again. My uncle would
never consent to an imprudent marriage, nor would she, as I was
persuaded, wed without his full approval. It behoved me, then, to
be up and doing for my wife; and I thought with a laugh how long it
was since that great sea-castle, the ESPIRITO SANTO, had left her
bones in Sandag Bay, and how weak it would be to consider rights so
long extinguished and misfortunes so long forgotten in the process
I had my theory of where to seek for her remains. The set of the
current and the soundings both pointed to the east side of the bay
under the ledge of rocks. If she had been lost in Sandag Bay, and
if, after these centuries, any portion of her held together, it was
there that I should find it. The water deepens, as I have said,
with great rapidity, and even close along-side the rocks several
fathoms may be found. As I walked upon the edge I could see far
and wide over the sandy bottom of the bay; the sun shone clear and
green and steady in the deeps; the bay seemed rather like a great
transparent crystal, as one sees them in a lapidary's shop; there
was naught to show that it was water but an internal trembling, a
hovering within of sun-glints and netted shadows, and now and then
a faint lap and a dying bubble round the edge. The shadows of the
rocks lay out for some distance at their feet, so that my own
shadow, moving, pausing, and stooping on the top of that, reached
sometimes half across the bay. It was above all in this belt of
shadows that I hunted for the ESPIRITO SANTO; since it was there
the undertow ran strongest, whether in or out. Cool as the whole
water seemed this broiling day, it looked, in that part, yet
cooler, and had a mysterious invitation for the eyes. Peer as I
pleased, however, I could see nothing but a few fishes or a bush of
sea-tangle, and here and there a lump of rock that had fallen from
above and now lay separate on the sandy floor. Twice did I pass
from one end to the other of the rocks, and in the whole distance I
could see nothing of the wreck, nor any place but one where it was
possible for it to be. This was a large terrace in five fathoms of
water, raised off the surface of the sand to a considerable height,
and looking from above like a mere outgrowth of the rocks on which
I walked. It was one mass of great sea-tangles like a grove, which
prevented me judging of its nature, but in shape and size it bore
some likeness to a vessel's hull. At least it was my best chance.
If the ESPIRITO SANTO lay not there under the tangles, it lay
nowhere at all in Sandag Bay; and I prepared to put the question to
the proof, once and for all, and either go back to Aros a rich man
or cured for ever of my dreams of wealth.
I stripped to the skin, and stood on the extreme margin with my
hands clasped, irresolute. The bay at that time was utterly quiet;
there was no sound but from a school of porpoises somewhere out of
sight behind the point; yet a certain fear withheld me on the
threshold of my venture. Sad sea-feelings, scraps of my uncle's
superstitions, thoughts of the dead, of the grave, of the old
broken ships, drifted through my mind. But the strong sun upon my
shoulders warmed me to the heart, and I stooped forward and plunged
into the sea.
It was all that I could do to catch a trail of the sea-tangle that
grew so thickly on the terrace; but once so far anchored I secured
myself by grasping a whole armful of these thick and slimy stalks,
and, planting my feet against the edge, I looked around me. On all
sides the clear sand stretched forth unbroken; it came to the foot
of the rocks, scoured into the likeness of an alley in a garden by
the action of the tides; and before me, for as far as I could see,
nothing was visible but the same many-folded sand upon the sun-
bright bottom of the bay. Yet the terrace to which I was then
holding was as thick with strong sea-growths as a tuft of heather,
and the cliff from which it bulged hung draped below the water-line
with brown lianas. In this complexity of forms, all swaying
together in the current, things were hard to be distinguished; and
I was still uncertain whether my feet were pressed upon the natural
rock or upon the timbers of the Armada treasure-ship, when the
whole tuft of tangle came away in my hand, and in an instant I was
on the surface, and the shores of the bay and the bright water swam
before my eyes in a glory of crimson.
I clambered back upon the rocks, and threw the plant of tangle at
my feet. Something at the same moment rang sharply, like a falling
coin. I stooped, and there, sure enough, crusted with the red
rust, there lay an iron shoe-buckle. The sight of this poor human
relic thrilled me to the heart, but not with hope nor fear, only
with a desolate melancholy. I held it in my hand, and the thought
of its owner appeared before me like the presence of an actual man.
His weather-beaten face, his sailor's hands, his sea-voice hoarse
with singing at the capstan, the very foot that had once worn that
buckle and trod so much along the swerving decks - the whole human
fact of him, as a creature like myself, with hair and blood and
seeing eyes, haunted me in that sunny, solitary place, not like a
spectre, but like some friend whom I had basely injured. Was the
great treasure ship indeed below there, with her guns and chain and
treasure, as she had sailed from Spain; her decks a garden for the
seaweed, her cabin a breeding place for fish, soundless but for the
dredging water, motionless but for the waving of the tangle upon
her battlements - that old, populous, sea-riding castle, now a reef
in Sandag Bay? Or, as I thought it likelier, was this a waif from
the disaster of the foreign brig - was this shoe-buckle bought but
the other day and worn by a man of my own period in the world's
history, hearing the same news from day to day, thinking the same
thoughts, praying, perhaps, in the same temple with myself?
However it was, I was assailed with dreary thoughts; my uncle's
words, 'the dead are down there,' echoed in my ears; and though I
determined to dive once more, it was with a strong repugnance that
I stepped forward to the margin of the rocks.
A great change passed at that moment over the appearance of the
bay. It was no more that clear, visible interior, like a house
roofed with glass, where the green, submarine sunshine slept so
stilly. A breeze, I suppose, had flawed the surface, and a sort of
trouble and blackness filled its bosom, where flashes of light and
clouds of shadow tossed confusedly together. Even the terrace
below obscurely rocked and quivered. It seemed a graver thing to
venture on this place of ambushes; and when I leaped into the sea
the second time it was with a quaking in my soul.
I secured myself as at first, and groped among the waving tangle.
All that met my touch was cold and soft and gluey. The thicket was
alive with crabs and lobsters, trundling to and fro lopsidedly, and
I had to harden my heart against the horror of their carrion
neighbourhood. On all sides I could feel the grain and the clefts
of hard, living stone; no planks, no iron, not a sign of any wreck;
the ESPIRITO SANTO was not there. I remember I had almost a sense
of relief in my disappointment, and I was about ready to leave go,
when something happened that sent me to the surface with my heart
in my mouth. I had already stayed somewhat late over my
explorations; the current was freshening with the change of the
tide, and Sandag Bay was no longer a safe place for a single
swimmer. Well, just at the last moment there came a sudden flush
of current, dredging through the tangles like a wave. I lost one
hold, was flung sprawling on my side, and, instinctively grasping
for a fresh support, my fingers closed on something hard and cold.
I think I knew at that moment what it was. At least I instantly
left hold of the tangle, leaped for the surface, and clambered out
next moment on the friendly rocks with the bone of a man's leg in
Mankind is a material creature, slow to think and dull to perceive
connections. The grave, the wreck of the brig, and the rusty shoe-
buckle were surely plain advertisements. A child might have read
their dismal story, and yet it was not until I touched that actual
piece of mankind that the full horror of the charnel ocean burst
upon my spirit. I laid the bone beside the buckle, picked up my
clothes, and ran as I was along the rocks towards the human shore.
I could not be far enough from the spot; no fortune was vast enough
to tempt me back again. The bones of the drowned dead should
henceforth roll undisturbed by me, whether on tangle or minted
gold. But as soon as I trod the good earth again, and had covered
my nakedness against the sun, I knelt down over against the ruins
of the brig, and out of the fulness of my heart prayed long and
passionately for all poor souls upon the sea. A generous prayer is
never presented in vain; the petition may be refused, but the
petitioner is always, I believe, rewarded by some gracious
visitation. The horror, at least, was lifted from my mind; I could
look with calm of spirit on that great bright creature, God's
ocean; and as I set off homeward up the rough sides of Aros,
nothing remained of my concern beyond a deep determination to
meddle no more with the spoils of wrecked vessels or the treasures
of the dead.
I was already some way up the hill before I paused to breathe and
look behind me. The sight that met my eyes was doubly strange.
For, first, the storm that I had foreseen was now advancing with
almost tropical rapidity. The whole surface of the sea had been
dulled from its conspicuous brightness to an ugly hue of corrugated
lead; already in the distance the white waves, the 'skipper's
daughters,' had begun to flee before a breeze that was still
insensible on Aros; and already along the curve of Sandag Bay there
was a splashing run of sea that I could hear from where I stood.
The change upon the sky was even more remarkable. There had begun
to arise out of the south-west a huge and solid continent of
scowling cloud; here and there, through rents in its contexture,
the sun still poured a sheaf of spreading rays; and here and there,
from all its edges, vast inky streamers lay forth along the yet
unclouded sky. The menace was express and imminent. Even as I
gazed, the sun was blotted out. At any moment the tempest might
fall upon Aros in its might.
The suddenness of this change of weather so fixed my eyes on heaven
that it was some seconds before they alighted on the bay, mapped
out below my feet, and robbed a moment later of the sun. The knoll
which I had just surmounted overflanked a little amphitheatre of
lower hillocks sloping towards the sea, and beyond that the yellow
arc of beach and the whole extent of Sandag Bay. It was a scene on
which I had often looked down, but where I had never before beheld
a human figure. I had but just turned my back upon it and left it
empty, and my wonder may be fancied when I saw a boat and several
men in that deserted spot. The boat was lying by the rocks. A
pair of fellows, bareheaded, with their sleeves rolled up, and one
with a boathook, kept her with difficulty to her moorings for the
current was growing brisker every moment. A little way off upon
the ledge two men in black clothes, whom I judged to be superior in
rank, laid their heads together over some task which at first I did
not understand, but a second after I had made it out - they were
taking bearings with the compass; and just then I saw one of them
unroll a sheet of paper and lay his finger down, as though
identifying features in a map. Meanwhile a third was walking to
and fro, polling among the rocks and peering over the edge into the
water. While I was still watching them with the stupefaction of
surprise, my mind hardly yet able to work on what my eyes reported,
this third person suddenly stooped and summoned his companions with
a cry so loud that it reached my ears upon the hill. The others
ran to him, even dropping the compass in their hurry, and I could
see the bone and the shoe-buckle going from hand to hand, causing
the most unusual gesticulations of surprise and interest. Just
then I could hear the seamen crying from the boat, and saw them
point westward to that cloud continent which was ever the more
rapidly unfurling its blackness over heaven. The others seemed to
consult; but the danger was too pressing to be braved, and they
bundled into the boat carrying my relies with them, and set forth
out of the bay with all speed of oars.
I made no more ado about the matter, but turned and ran for the
house. Whoever these men were, it was fit my uncle should be
instantly informed. It was not then altogether too late in the day
for a descent of the Jacobites; and may be Prince Charlie, whom I
knew my uncle to detest, was one of the three superiors whom I had
seen upon the rock. Yet as I ran, leaping from rock to rock, and
turned the matter loosely in my mind, this theory grew ever the
longer the less welcome to my reason. The compass, the map, the
interest awakened by the buckle, and the conduct of that one among
the strangers who had looked so often below him in the water, all
seemed to point to a different explanation of their presence on
that outlying, obscure islet of the western sea. The Madrid
historian, the search instituted by Dr. Robertson, the bearded
stranger with the rings, my own fruitless search that very morning
in the deep water of Sandag Bay, ran together, piece by piece, in
my memory, and I made sure that these strangers must be Spaniards
in quest of ancient treasure and the lost ship of the Armada. But
the people living in outlying islands, such as Aros, are answerable
for their own security; there is none near by to protect or even to
help them; and the presence in such a spot of a crew of foreign
adventurers - poor, greedy, and most likely lawless - filled me
with apprehensions for my uncle's money, and even for the safety of
his daughter. I was still wondering how we were to get rid of them
when I came, all breathless, to the top of Aros. The whole world
was shadowed over; only in the extreme east, on a hill of the
mainland, one last gleam of sunshine lingered like a jewel; rain
had begun to fall, not heavily, but in great drops; the sea was
rising with each moment, and already a band of white encircled Aros
and the nearer coasts of Grisapol. The boat was still pulling
seaward, but I now became aware of what had been hidden from me
lower down - a large, heavily sparred, handsome schooner, lying to
at the south end of Aros. Since I had not seen her in the morning
when I had looked around so closely at the signs of the weather,
and upon these lone waters where a sail was rarely visible, it was
clear she must have lain last night behind the uninhabited Eilean
Gour, and this proved conclusively that she was manned by strangers
to our coast, for that anchorage, though good enough to look at, is
little better than a trap for ships. With such ignorant sailors
upon so wild a coast, the coming gale was not unlikely to bring
death upon its wings.
CHAPTER IV. THE GALE.
I FOUND my uncle at the gable end, watching the signs of the
weather, with a pipe in his fingers.
'Uncle,' said I, 'there were men ashore at Sandag Bay - '
I had no time to go further; indeed, I not only forgot my words,
but even my weariness, so strange was the effect on Uncle Gordon.
He dropped his pipe and fell back against the end of the house with
his jaw fallen, his eyes staring, and his long face as white as
paper. We must have looked at one another silently for a quarter
of a minute, before he made answer in this extraordinary fashion:
'Had he a hair kep on?'
I knew as well as if I had been there that the man who now lay
buried at Sandag had worn a hairy cap, and that he had come ashore
alive. For the first and only time I lost toleration for the man
who was my benefactor and the father of the woman I hoped to call
'These were living men,' said I, 'perhaps Jacobites, perhaps the
French, perhaps pirates, perhaps adventurers come here to seek the
Spanish treasure ship; but, whatever they may be, dangerous at
least to your daughter and my cousin. As for your own guilty
terrors, man, the dead sleeps well where you have laid him. I
stood this morning by his grave; he will not wake before the trump
My kinsman looked upon me, blinking, while I spoke; then he fixed
his eyes for a little on the ground, and pulled his fingers
foolishly; but it was plain that he was past the power of speech.
'Come,' said I. 'You must think for others. You must come up the
hill with me, and see this ship.'
He obeyed without a word or a look, following slowly after my
impatient strides. The spring seemed to have gone out of his body,
and he scrambled heavily up and down the rocks, instead of leaping,
as he was wont, from one to another. Nor could I, for all my
cries, induce him to make better haste. Only once he replied to me
complainingly, and like one in bodily pain: 'Ay, ay, man, I'm
coming.' Long before we had reached the top, I had no other
thought for him but pity. If the crime had been monstrous the
punishment was in proportion.
At last we emerged above the sky-line of the hill, and could see
around us. All was black and stormy to the eye; the last gleam of
sun had vanished; a wind had sprung up, not yet high, but gusty and
unsteady to the point; the rain, on the other hand, had ceased.
Short as was the interval, the sea already ran vastly higher than
when I had stood there last; already it had begun to break over
some of the outward reefs, and already it moaned aloud in the sea-
caves of Aros. I looked, at first, in vain for the schooner.
'There she is,' I said at last. But her new position, and the
course she was now lying, puzzled me. 'They cannot mean to beat to
sea,' I cried.
'That's what they mean,' said my uncle, with something like joy;
and just then the schooner went about and stood upon another tack,
which put the question beyond the reach of doubt. These strangers,
seeing a gale on hand, had thought first of sea-room. With the
wind that threatened, in these reef-sown waters and contending
against so violent a stream of tide, their course was certain
'Good God!' said I, 'they are all lost.'
'Ay,' returned my uncle, 'a' - a' lost. They hadnae a chance but
to rin for Kyle Dona. The gate they're gaun the noo, they couldnae
win through an the muckle deil were there to pilot them. Eh, man,'
he continued, touching me on the sleeve, 'it's a braw nicht for a
shipwreck! Twa in ae twalmonth! Eh, but the Merry Men'll dance
I looked at him, and it was then that I began to fancy him no
longer in his right mind. He was peering up to me, as if for
sympathy, a timid joy in his eyes. All that had passed between us
was already forgotten in the prospect of this fresh disaster.
'If it were not too late,' I cried with indignation, 'I would take
the coble and go out to warn them.'
'Na, na,' he protested, 'ye maunnae interfere; ye maunnae meddle
wi' the like o' that. It's His' - doffing his bonnet - 'His wull.
And, eh, man! but it's a braw nicht for't!'
Something like fear began to creep into my soul and, reminding him
that I had not yet dined, I proposed we should return to the house.
But no; nothing would tear him from his place of outlook.
'I maun see the hail thing, man, Cherlie,' he explained - and then
as the schooner went about a second time, 'Eh, but they han'le her
bonny!' he cried. 'The CHRIST-ANNA was naething to this.'
Already the men on board the schooner must have begun to realise
some part, but not yet the twentieth, of the dangers that environed
their doomed ship. At every lull of the capricious wind they must
have seen how fast the current swept them back. Each tack was made
shorter, as they saw how little it prevailed. Every moment the
rising swell began to boom and foam upon another sunken reef; and
ever and again a breaker would fall in sounding ruin under the very
bows of her, and the brown reef and streaming tangle appear in the
hollow of the wave. I tell you, they had to stand to their tackle:
there was no idle men aboard that ship, God knows. It was upon the
progress of a scene so horrible to any human-hearted man that my
misguided uncle now pored and gloated like a connoisseur. As I
turned to go down the hill, he was lying on his belly on the
summit, with his hands stretched forth and clutching in the
heather. He seemed rejuvenated, mind and body.
When I got back to the house already dismally affected, I was still
more sadly downcast at the sight of Mary. She had her sleeves
rolled up over her strong arms, and was quietly making bread. I
got a bannock from the dresser and sat down to eat it in silence.
'Are ye wearied, lad?' she asked after a while.
'I am not so much wearied, Mary,' I replied, getting on my feet,
'as I am weary of delay, and perhaps of Aros too. You know me well
enough to judge me fairly, say what I like. Well, Mary, you may be
sure of this: you had better be anywhere but here.'
'I'll be sure of one thing,' she returned: 'I'll be where my duty
'You forget, you have a duty to yourself,' I said.
'Ay, man?' she replied, pounding at the dough; 'will you have found
that in the Bible, now?'
'Mary,' I said solemnly, 'you must not laugh at me just now. God
knows I am in no heart for laughing. If we could get your father
with us, it would be best; but with him or without him, I want you
far away from here, my girl; for your own sake, and for mine, ay,
and for your father's too, I want you far - far away from here. I
came with other thoughts; I came here as a man comes home; now it
is all changed, and I have no desire nor hope but to flee - for
that's the word - flee, like a bird out of the fowler's snare, from
this accursed island.'
She had stopped her work by this time.
'And do you think, now,' said she, 'do you think, now, I have
neither eyes nor ears? Do ye think I havenae broken my heart to
have these braws (as he calls them, God forgive him!) thrown into
the sea? Do ye think I have lived with him, day in, day out, and
not seen what you saw in an hour or two? No,' she said, 'I know
there's wrong in it; what wrong, I neither know nor want to know.
There was never an ill thing made better by meddling, that I could
hear of. But, my lad, you must never ask me to leave my father.
While the breath is in his body, I'll be with him. And he's not
long for here, either: that I can tell you, Charlie - he's not long
for here. The mark is on his brow; and better so - maybe better
I was a while silent, not knowing what to say; and when I roused my
head at last to speak, she got before me.
'Charlie,' she said, 'what's right for me, neednae be right for
you. There's sin upon this house and trouble; you are a stranger;
take your things upon your back and go your ways to better places
and to better folk, and if you were ever minded to come back,
though it were twenty years syne, you would find me aye waiting.'
'Mary Ellen,' I said, 'I asked you to be my wife, and you said as
good as yes. That's done for good. Wherever you are, I am; as I
shall answer to my God.'
As I said the words, the wind suddenly burst out raving, and then
seemed to stand still and shudder round the house of Aros. It was
the first squall, or prologue, of the coming tempest, and as we
started and looked about us, we found that a gloom, like the
approach of evening, had settled round the house.
'God pity all poor folks at sea!' she said. 'We'll see no more of
my father till the morrow's morning.'
And then she told me, as we sat by the fire and hearkened to the
rising gusts, of how this change had fallen upon my uncle. All
last winter he had been dark and fitful in his mind. Whenever the
Roost ran high, or, as Mary said, whenever the Merry Men were
dancing, he would lie out for hours together on the Head, if it
were at night, or on the top of Aros by day, watching the tumult of
the sea, and sweeping the horizon for a sail. After February the
tenth, when the wealth-bringing wreck was cast ashore at Sandag, he
had been at first unnaturally gay, and his excitement had never
fallen in degree, but only changed in kind from dark to darker. He
neglected his work, and kept Rorie idle. They two would speak
together by the hour at the gable end, in guarded tones and with an
air of secrecy and almost of guilt; and if she questioned either,
as at first she sometimes did, her inquiries were put aside with
confusion. Since Rorie had first remarked the fish that hung about
the ferry, his master had never set foot but once upon the mainland
of the Ross. That once - it was in the height of the springs - he
had passed dryshod while the tide was out; but, having lingered
overlong on the far side, found himself cut off from Aros by the
returning waters. It was with a shriek of agony that he had leaped
across the gut, and he had reached home thereafter in a fever-fit
of fear. A fear of the sea, a constant haunting thought of the
sea, appeared in his talk and devotions, and even in his looks when
he was silent.
Rorie alone came in to supper; but a little later my uncle
appeared, took a bottle under his arm, put some bread in his
pocket, and set forth again to his outlook, followed this time by
Rorie. I heard that the schooner was losing ground, but the crew
were still fighting every inch with hopeless ingenuity and course;
and the news filled my mind with blackness.
A little after sundown the full fury of the gale broke forth, such
a gale as I have never seen in summer, nor, seeing how swiftly it
had come, even in winter. Mary and I sat in silence, the house
quaking overhead, the tempest howling without, the fire between us
sputtering with raindrops. Our thoughts were far away with the
poor fellows on the schooner, or my not less unhappy uncle,
houseless on the promontory; and yet ever and again we were
startled back to ourselves, when the wind would rise and strike the
gable like a solid body, or suddenly fall and draw away, so that
the fire leaped into flame and our hearts bounded in our sides.
Now the storm in its might would seize and shake the four corners
of the roof, roaring like Leviathan in anger. Anon, in a lull,
cold eddies of tempest moved shudderingly in the room, lifting the
hair upon our heads and passing between us as we sat. And again
the wind would break forth in a chorus of melancholy sounds,
hooting low in the chimney, wailing with flutelike softness round
It was perhaps eight o'clock when Rorie came in and pulled me
mysteriously to the door. My uncle, it appeared, had frightened
even his constant comrade; and Rorie, uneasy at his extravagance,
prayed me to come out and share the watch. I hastened to do as I
was asked; the more readily as, what with fear and horror, and the
electrical tension of the night, I was myself restless and disposed
for action. I told Mary to be under no alarm, for I should be a
safeguard on her father; and wrapping myself warmly in a plaid, I
followed Rorie into the open air.
The night, though we were so little past midsummer, was as dark as
January. Intervals of a groping twilight alternated with spells of
utter blackness; and it was impossible to trace the reason of these
changes in the flying horror of the sky. The wind blew the breath
out of a man's nostrils; all heaven seemed to thunder overhead like
one huge sail; and when there fell a momentary lull on Aros, we
could hear the gusts dismally sweeping in the distance. Over all
the lowlands of the Ross, the wind must have blown as fierce as on
the open sea; and God only knows the uproar that was raging around
the head of Ben Kyaw. Sheets of mingled spray and rain were driven
in our faces. All round the isle of Aros the surf, with an
incessant, hammering thunder, beat upon the reefs and beaches. Now
louder in one place, now lower in another, like the combinations of
orchestral music, the constant mass of sound was hardly varied for
a moment. And loud above all this hurly-burly I could hear the
changeful voices of the Roost and the intermittent roaring of the
Merry Men. At that hour, there flashed into my mind the reason of
the name that they were called. For the noise of them seemed
almost mirthful, as it out-topped the other noises of the night; or
if not mirthful, yet instinct with a portentous joviality. Nay,
and it seemed even human. As when savage men have drunk away their
reason, and, discarding speech, bawl together in their madness by
the hour; so, to my ears, these deadly breakers shouted by Aros in
Arm in arm, and staggering against the wind, Rorie and I won every
yard of ground with conscious effort. We slipped on the wet sod,
we fell together sprawling on the rocks. Bruised, drenched,
beaten, and breathless, it must have taken us near half an hour to
get from the house down to the Head that overlooks the Roost.
There, it seemed, was my uncle's favourite observatory. Right in
the face of it, where the cliff is highest and most sheer, a hump
of earth, like a parapet, makes a place of shelter from the common
winds, where a man may sit in quiet and see the tide and the mad
billows contending at his feet. As he might look down from the
window of a house upon some street disturbance, so, from this post,
he looks down upon the tumbling of the Merry Men. On such a night,
of course, he peers upon a world of blackness, where the waters
wheel and boil, where the waves joust together with the noise of an
explosion, and the foam towers and vanishes in the twinkling of an
eye. Never before had I seen the Merry Men thus violent. The
fury, height, and transiency of their spoutings was a thing to be
seen and not recounted. High over our heads on the cliff rose
their white columns in the darkness; and the same instant, like
phantoms, they were gone. Sometimes three at a time would thus
aspire and vanish; sometimes a gust took them, and the spray would
fall about us, heavy as a wave. And yet the spectacle was rather
maddening in its levity than impressive by its force. Thought was
beaten down by the confounding uproar - a gleeful vacancy possessed
the brains of men, a state akin to madness; and I found myself at
times following the dance of the Merry Men as it were a tune upon a
I first caught sight of my uncle when we were still some yards away
in one of the flying glimpses of twilight that chequered the pitch
darkness of the night. He was standing up behind the parapet, his
head thrown back and the bottle to his mouth. As he put it down,
he saw and recognised us with a toss of one hand fleeringly above
'Has he been drinking?' shouted I to Rorie.
'He will aye be drunk when the wind blaws,' returned Rorie in the
same high key, and it was all that I could do to hear him.
'Then - was he so - in February?' I inquired.
Rorie's 'Ay' was a cause of joy to me. The murder, then, had not
sprung in cold blood from calculation; it was an act of madness no
more to be condemned than to be pardoned. My uncle was a dangerous
madman, if you will, but he was not cruel and base as I had feared.
Yet what a scene for a carouse, what an incredible vice, was this
that the poor man had chosen! I have always thought drunkenness a
wild and almost fearful pleasure, rather demoniacal than human; but
drunkenness, out here in the roaring blackness, on the edge of a
cliff above that hell of waters, the man's head spinning like the
Roost, his foot tottering on the edge of death, his ear watching
for the signs of ship-wreck, surely that, if it were credible in
any one, was morally impossible in a man like my uncle, whose mind
was set upon a damnatory creed and haunted by the darkest
superstitions. Yet so it was; and, as we reached the bight of
shelter and could breathe again, I saw the man's eyes shining in
the night with an unholy glimmer.
'Eh, Charlie, man, it's grand!' he cried. 'See to them!' he
continued, dragging me to the edge of the abyss from whence arose
that deafening clamour and those clouds of spray; 'see to them
dancin', man! Is that no wicked?'
He pronounced the word with gusto, and I thought it suited with the
'They're yowlin' for thon schooner,' he went on, his thin, insane
voice clearly audible in the shelter of the bank, 'an' she's comin'
aye nearer, aye nearer, aye nearer an' nearer an' nearer; an' they
ken't, the folk kens it, they ken wool it's by wi' them. Charlie,
lad, they're a' drunk in yon schooner, a' dozened wi' drink. They
were a' drunk in the CHRIST-ANNA, at the hinder end. There's nane
could droon at sea wantin' the brandy. Hoot awa, what do you ken?'
with a sudden blast of anger. 'I tell ye, it cannae be; they droon
withoot it. Ha'e,' holding out the bottle, 'tak' a sowp.'
I was about to refuse, but Rorie touched me as if in warning; and
indeed I had already thought better of the movement. I took the
bottle, therefore, and not only drank freely myself, but contrived
to spill even more as I was doing so. It was pure spirit, and
almost strangled me to swallow. My kinsman did not observe the
loss, but, once more throwing back his head, drained the remainder
to the dregs. Then, with a loud laugh, he cast the bottle forth
among the Merry Men, who seemed to leap up, shouting to receive it.
'Ha'e, bairns!' he cried, 'there's your han'sel. Ye'll get bonnier
nor that, or morning.'
Suddenly, out in the black night before us, and not two hundred
yards away, we heard, at a moment when the wind was silent, the
clear note of a human voice. Instantly the wind swept howling down
upon the Head, and the Roost bellowed, and churned, and danced with
a new fury. But we had heard the sound, and we knew, with agony,
that this was the doomed ship now close on ruin, and that what we
had heard was the voice of her master issuing his last command.
Crouching together on the edge, we waited, straining every sense,
for the inevitable end. It was long, however, and to us it seemed
like ages, ere the schooner suddenly appeared for one brief
instant, relieved against a tower of glimmering foam. I still see
her reefed mainsail flapping loose, as the boom fell heavily across
the deck; I still see the black outline of the hull, and still
think I can distinguish the figure of a man stretched upon the
tiller. Yet the whole sight we had of her passed swifter than
lightning; the very wave that disclosed her fell burying her for
ever; the mingled cry of many voices at the point of death rose and
was quenched in the roaring of the Merry Men. And with that the
tragedy was at an end. The strong ship, with all her gear, and the
lamp perhaps still burning in the cabin, the lives of so many men,
precious surely to others, dear, at least, as heaven to themselves,
had all, in that one moment, gone down into the surging waters.
They were gone like a dream. And the wind still ran and shouted,
and the senseless waters in the Roost still leaped and tumbled as
How long we lay there together, we three, speechless and
motionless, is more than I can tell, but it must have been for
long. At length, one by one, and almost mechanically, we crawled
back into the shelter of the bank. As I lay against the parapet,
wholly wretched and not entirely master of my mind, I could hear my
kinsman maundering to himself in an altered and melancholy mood.
Now he would repeat to himself with maudlin iteration, 'Sic a fecht
as they had - sic a sair fecht as they had, puir lads, puir lads!'
and anon he would bewail that 'a' the gear was as gude's tint,'
because the ship had gone down among the Merry Men instead of
stranding on the shore; and throughout, the name - the CHRIST-ANNA
- would come and go in his divagations, pronounced with shuddering
awe. The storm all this time was rapidly abating. In half an hour
the wind had fallen to a breeze, and the change was accompanied or
caused by a heavy, cold, and plumping rain. I must then have
fallen asleep, and when I came to myself, drenched, stiff, and
unrefreshed, day had already broken, grey, wet, discomfortable day;
the wind blew in faint and shifting capfuls, the tide was out, the
Roost was at its lowest, and only the strong beating surf round all
the coasts of Aros remained to witness of the furies of the night.
CHAPTER V. A MAN OUT OF THE SEA.
Rorie set out for the house in search of warmth and breakfast; but
my uncle was bent upon examining the shores of Aros, and I felt it
a part of duty to accompany him throughout. He was now docile and
quiet, but tremulous and weak in mind and body; and it was with the
eagerness of a child that he pursued his exploration. He climbed
far down upon the rocks; on the beaches, he pursued the retreating
breakers. The merest broken plank or rag of cordage was a treasure
in his eyes to be secured at the peril of his life. To see him,
with weak and stumbling footsteps, expose himself to the pursuit of
the surf, or the snares and pitfalls of the weedy rock, kept me in
a perpetual terror. My arm was ready to support him, my hand
clutched him by the skirt, I helped him to draw his pitiful
discoveries beyond the reach of the returning wave; a nurse
accompanying a child of seven would have had no different
Yet, weakened as he was by the reaction from his madness of the
night before, the passions that smouldered in his nature were those
of a strong man. His terror of the sea, although conquered for the
moment, was still undiminished; had the sea been a lake of living
flames, he could not have shrunk more panically from its touch; and
once, when his foot slipped and he plunged to the midleg into a
pool of water, the shriek that came up out of his soul was like the
cry of death. He sat still for a while, panting like a dog, after
that; but his desire for the spoils of shipwreck triumphed once
more over his fears; once more he tottered among the curded foam;
once more he crawled upon the rocks among the bursting bubbles;
once more his whole heart seemed to be set on driftwood, fit, if it
was fit for anything, to throw upon the fire. Pleased as he was
with what he found, he still incessantly grumbled at his ill-
'Aros,' he said, 'is no a place for wrecks ava' - no ava'. A' the
years I've dwalt here, this ane maks the second; and the best o'
the gear clean tint!'
'Uncle,' said I, for we were now on a stretch of open sand, where
there was nothing to divert his mind, 'I saw you last night, as I
never thought to see you - you were drunk.'
'Na, na,' he said, 'no as bad as that. I had been drinking,
though. And to tell ye the God's truth, it's a thing I cannae
mend. There's nae soberer man than me in my ordnar; but when I
hear the wind blaw in my lug, it's my belief that I gang gyte.'
'You are a religious man,' I replied, 'and this is sin'.
'Ou,' he returned, 'if it wasnae sin, I dinnae ken that I would
care for't. Ye see, man, it's defiance. There's a sair spang o'
the auld sin o' the warld in you sea; it's an unchristian business
at the best o't; an' whiles when it gets up, an' the wind skreights
- the wind an' her are a kind of sib, I'm thinkin' - an' thae Merry
Men, the daft callants, blawin' and lauchin', and puir souls in the
deid thraws warstlin' the leelang nicht wi' their bit ships - weel,
it comes ower me like a glamour. I'm a deil, I ken't. But I think
naething o' the puir sailor lads; I'm wi' the sea, I'm just like
ane o' her ain Merry Men.'
I thought I should touch him in a joint of his harness. I turned
me towards the sea; the surf was running gaily, wave after wave,
with their manes blowing behind them, riding one after another up
the beach, towering, curving, falling one upon another on the
trampled sand. Without, the salt air, the scared gulls, the
widespread army of the sea-chargers, neighing to each other, as
they gathered together to the assault of Aros; and close before us,
that line on the flat sands that, with all their number and their
fury, they might never pass.
'Thus far shalt thou go,' said I, 'and no farther.' And then I
quoted as solemnly as I was able a verse that I had often before
fitted to the chorus of the breakers:-
But yet the Lord that is on high,
Is more of might by far,
Than noise of many waters is,
As great sea billows are.
'Ay,' said my kinsinan, 'at the hinder end, the Lord will triumph;
I dinnae misdoobt that. But here on earth, even silly men-folk
daur Him to His face. It is nae wise; I am nae sayin' that it's
wise; but it's the pride of the eye, and it's the lust o' life, an'
it's the wale o' pleesures.'
I said no more, for we had now begun to cross a neck of land that
lay between us and Sandag; and I withheld my last appeal to the
man's better reason till we should stand upon the spot associated
with his crime. Nor did he pursue the subject; but he walked
beside me with a firmer step. The call that I had made upon his
mind acted like a stimulant, and I could see that he had forgotten
his search for worthless jetsam, in a profound, gloomy, and yet
stirring train of thought. In three or four minutes we had topped
the brae and begun to go down upon Sandag. The wreck had been
roughly handled by the sea; the stem had been spun round and
dragged a little lower down; and perhaps the stern had been forced
a little higher, for the two parts now lay entirely separate on the
beach. When we came to the grave I stopped, uncovered my head in
the thick rain, and, looking my kinsman in the face, addressed him.
'A man,' said I, 'was in God's providence suffered to escape from
mortal dangers; he was poor, he was naked, he was wet, he was
weary, he was a stranger; he had every claim upon the bowels of
your compassion; it may be that he was the salt of the earth, holy,
helpful, and kind; it may be he was a man laden with iniquities to
whom death was the beginning of torment. I ask you in the sight of
heaven: Gordon Darnaway, where is the man for whom Christ died?'
He started visibly at the last words; but there came no answer, and
his face expressed no feeling but a vague alarm.
'You were my father's brother,' I continued; 'You, have taught me
to count your house as if it were my father's house; and we are
both sinful men walking before the Lord among the sins and dangers
of this life. It is by our evil that God leads us into good; we
sin, I dare not say by His temptation, but I must say with His
consent; and to any but the brutish man his sins are the beginning
of wisdom. God has warned you by this crime; He warns you still by
the bloody grave between our feet; and if there shall follow no
repentance, no improvement, no return to Him, what can we look for
but the following of some memorable judgment?'
Even as I spoke the words, the eyes of my uncle wandered from my
face. A change fell upon his looks that cannot be described; his
features seemed to dwindle in size, the colour faded from his
cheeks, one hand rose waveringly and pointed over my shoulder into
the distance, and the oft-repeated name fell once more from his
lips: 'The CHRIST-ANNA!'
I turned; and if I was not appalled to the same degree, as I return
thanks to Heaven that I had not the cause, I was still startled by
the sight that met my eyes. The form of a man stood upright on the
cabin-hutch of the wrecked ship; his back was towards us; he
appeared to be scanning the offing with shaded eyes, and his figure
was relieved to its full height, which was plainly very great,
against the sea and sky. I have said a thousand times that I am
not superstitious; but at that moment, with my mind running upon
death and sin, the unexplained appearance of a stranger on that
sea-girt, solitary island filled me with a surprise that bordered
close on terror. It seemed scarce possible that any human soul
should have come ashore alive in such a sea as had rated last night
along the coasts of Aros; and the only vessel within miles had gone
down before our eyes among the Merry Men. I was assailed with
doubts that made suspense unbearable, and, to put the matter to the
touch at once, stepped forward and hailed the figure like a ship.
He turned about, and I thought he started to behold us. At this my
courage instantly revived, and I called and signed to him to draw
near, and he, on his part, dropped immediately to the sands, and
began slowly to approach, with many stops and hesitations. At each
repeated mark of the man's uneasiness I grew the more confident
myself; and I advanced another step, encouraging him as I did so
with my head and hand. It was plain the castaway had heard
indifferent accounts of our island hospitality; and indeed, about
this time, the people farther north had a sorry reputation.
'Why,' I said, 'the man is black!'
And just at that moment, in a voice that I could scarce have
recognised, my kinsman began swearing and praying in a mingled
stream. I looked at him; he had fallen on his knees, his face was
agonised; at each step of the castaway's the pitch of his voice
rose, the volubility of his utterance and the fervour of his
language redoubled. I call it prayer, for it was addressed to God;
but surely no such ranting incongruities were ever before addressed
to the Creator by a creature: surely if prayer can be a sin, this
mad harangue was sinful. I ran to my kinsman, I seized him by the
shoulders, I dragged him to his feet.
'Silence, man,' said I, 'respect your God in words, if not in
action. Here, on the very scene of your transgressions, He sends
you an occasion of atonement. Forward and embrace it; welcome like
a father yon creature who comes trembling to your mercy.'
With that, I tried to force him towards the black; but he felled me
to the ground, burst from my grasp, leaving the shoulder of his
jacket, and fled up the hillside towards the top of Aros like a
deer. I staggered to my feet again, bruised and somewhat stunned;
the negro had paused in surprise, perhaps in terror, some halfway
between me and the wreck; my uncle was already far away, bounding
from rock to rock; and I thus found myself torn for a time between
two duties. But I judged, and I pray Heaven that I judged rightly,
in favour of the poor wretch upon the sands; his misfortune was at
least not plainly of his own creation; it was one, besides, that I
could certainly relieve; and I had begun by that time to regard my
uncle as an incurable and dismal lunatic. I advanced accordingly
towards the black, who now awaited my approach with folded arms,
like one prepared for either destiny. As I came nearer, he reached
forth his hand with a great gesture, such as I had seen from the
pulpit, and spoke to me in something of a pulpit voice, but not a
word was comprehensible. I tried him first in English, then in
Gaelic, both in vain; so that it was clear we must rely upon the
tongue of looks and gestures. Thereupon I signed to him to follow
me, which he did readily and with a grave obeisance like a fallen
king; all the while there had come no shade of alteration in his
face, neither of anxiety while he was still waiting, nor of relief
now that he was reassured; if he were a slave, as I supposed, I
could not but judge he must have fallen from some high place in his
own country, and fallen as he was, I could not but admire his
bearing. As we passed the grave, I paused and raised my hands and
eyes to heaven in token of respect and sorrow for the dead; and he,
as if in answer, bowed low and spread his hands abroad; it was a
strange motion, but done like a thing of common custom; and I
supposed it was ceremonial in the land from which he came. At the
same time he pointed to my uncle, whom we could just see perched
upon a knoll, and touched his head to indicate that he was mad.
We took the long way round the shore, for I feared to excite my
uncle if we struck across the island; and as we walked, I had time
enough to mature the little dramatic exhibition by which I hoped to
satisfy my doubts. Accordingly, pausing on a rock, I proceeded to
imitate before the negro the action of the man whom I had seen the
day before taking bearings with the compass at Sandag. He
understood me at once, and, taking the imitation out of my hands,
showed me where the boat was, pointed out seaward as if to indicate
the position of the schooner, and then down along the edge of the
rock with the words 'Espirito Santo,' strangely pronounced, but
clear enough for recognition. I had thus been right in my
conjecture; the pretended historical inquiry had been but a cloak
for treasure-hunting; the man who had played on Dr. Robertson was
the same as the foreigner who visited Grisapol in spring, and now,
with many others, lay dead under the Roost of Aros: there had their
greed brought them, there should their bones be tossed for
evermore. In the meantime the black continued his imitation of the
scene, now looking up skyward as though watching the approach of
the storm now, in the character of a seaman, waving the rest to
come aboard; now as an officer, running along the rock and entering
the boat; and anon bending over imaginary oars with the air of a
hurried boatman; but all with the same solemnity of manner, so that
I was never even moved to smile. Lastly, he indicated to me, by a
pantomime not to be described in words, how he himself had gone up
to examine the stranded wreck, and, to his grief and indignation,
had been deserted by his comrades; and thereupon folded his arms
once more, and stooped his head, like one accepting fate.
The mystery of his presence being thus solved for me, I explained
to him by means of a sketch the fate of the vessel and of all
aboard her. He showed no surprise nor sorrow, and, with a sudden
lifting of his open hand, seemed to dismiss his former friends or
masters (whichever they had been) into God's pleasure. Respect
came upon me and grew stronger, the more I observed him; I saw he
had a powerful mind and a sober and severe character, such as I
loved to commune with; and before we reached the house of Aros I
had almost forgotten, and wholly forgiven him, his uncanny colour.
To Mary I told all that had passed without suppression, though I
own my heart failed me; but I did wrong to doubt her sense of
'You did the right,' she said. 'God's will be done.' And she set
out meat for us at once.
As soon as I was satisfied, I bade Rorie keep an eye upon the
castaway, who was still eating, and set forth again myself to find
my uncle. I had not gone far before I saw him sitting in the same
place, upon the very topmost knoll, and seemingly in the same
attitude as when I had last observed him. From that point, as I
have said, the most of Aros and the neighbouring Ross would be
spread below him like a map; and it was plain that he kept a bright
look-out in all directions, for my head had scarcely risen above
the summit of the first ascent before he had leaped to his feet and
turned as if to face me. I hailed him at once, as well as I was
able, in the same tones and words as I had often used before, when
I had come to summon him to dinner. He made not so much as a
movement in reply. I passed on a little farther, and again tried
parley, with the same result. But when I began a second time to
advance, his insane fears blazed up again, and still in dead
silence, but with incredible speed, he began to flee from before me
along the rocky summit of the hill. An hour before, he had been
dead weary, and I had been comparatively active. But now his
strength was recruited by the fervour of insanity, and it would
have been vain for me to dream of pursuit. Nay, the very attempt,
I thought, might have inflamed his terrors, and thus increased the
miseries of our position. And I had nothing left but to turn
homeward and make my sad report to Mary.
She heard it, as she had heard the first, with a concerned
composure, and, bidding me lie down and take that rest of which I
stood so much in need, set forth herself in quest of her misguided
father. At that age it would have been a strange thing that put me
from either meat or sleep; I slept long and deep; and it was
already long past noon before I awoke and came downstairs into the
kitchen. Mary, Rorie, and the black castaway were seated about the
fire in silence; and I could see that Mary had been weeping. There
was cause enough, as I soon learned, for tears. First she, and
then Rorie, had been forth to seek my uncle; each in turn had found
him perched upon the hill-top, and from each in turn he had
silently and swiftly fled. Rorie had tried to chase him, but in
vain; madness lent a new vigour to his bounds; he sprang from rock
to rock over the widest gullies; he scoured like the wind along the
hill-tops; he doubled and twisted like a hare before the dogs; and
Rorie at length gave in; and the last that he saw, my uncle was
seated as before upon the crest of Aros. Even during the hottest
excitement of the chase, even when the fleet-footed servant had
come, for a moment, very near to capture him, the poor lunatic had
uttered not a sound. He fled, and he was silent, like a beast; and
this silence had terrified his pursuer.
There was something heart-breaking in the situation. How to
capture the madman, how to feed him in the meanwhile, and what to
do with him when he was captured, were the three difficulties that
we had to solve.
'The black,' said I, 'is the cause of this attack. It may even be
his presence in the house that keeps my uncle on the hill. We have
done the fair thing; he has been fed and warmed under this roof;
now I propose that Rorie put him across the bay in the coble, and
take him through the Ross as far as Grisapol.'
In this proposal Mary heartily concurred; and bidding the black
follow us, we all three descended to the pier. Certainly, Heaven's
will was declared against Gordon Darnaway; a thing had happened,
never paralleled before in Aros; during the storm, the coble had
broken loose, and, striking on the rough splinters of the pier, now
lay in four feet of water with one side stove in. Three days of
work at least would be required to make her float. But I was not
to be beaten. I led the whole party round to where the gut was
narrowest, swam to the other side, and called to the black to
follow me. He signed, with the same clearness and quiet as before,
that he knew not the art; and there was truth apparent in his
signals, it would have occurred to none of us to doubt his truth;
and that hope being over, we must all go back even as we came to
the house of Aros, the negro walking in our midst without
All we could do that day was to make one more attempt to
communicate with the unhappy madman. Again he was visible on his
perch; again he fled in silence. But food and a great cloak were
at least left for his comfort; the rain, besides, had cleared away,
and the night promised to be even warm. We might compose
ourselves, we thought, until the morrow; rest was the chief
requisite, that we might be strengthened for unusual exertions; and
as none cared to talk, we separated at an early hour.
I lay long awake, planning a campaign for the morrow. I was to
place the black on the side of Sandag, whence he should head my
uncle towards the house; Rorie in the west, I on the east, were to
complete the cordon, as best we might. It seemed to me, the more I
recalled the configuration of the island, that it should be
possible, though hard, to force him down upon the low ground along
Aros Bay; and once there, even with the strength of his madness,
ultimate escape was hardly to be feared. It was on his terror of
the black that I relied; for I made sure, however he might run, it
would not be in the direction of the man whom he supposed to have
returned from the dead, and thus one point of the compass at least
would be secure.
When at length I fell asleep, it was to be awakened shortly after
by a dream of wrecks, black men, and submarine adventure; and I
found myself so shaken and fevered that I arose, descended the
stair, and stepped out before the house. Within, Rorie and the
black were asleep together in the kitchen; outside was a wonderful
clear night of stars, with here and there a cloud still hanging,
last stragglers of the tempest. It was near the top of the flood,
and the Merry Men were roaring in the windless quiet of the night.
Never, not even in the height of the tempest, had I heard their
song with greater awe. Now, when the winds were gathered home,
when the deep was dandling itself back into its summer slumber, and
when the stars rained their gentle light over land and sea, the
voice of these tide-breakers was still raised for havoc. They
seemed, indeed, to be a part of the world's evil and the tragic
side of life. Nor were their meaningless vociferations the only
sounds that broke the silence of the night. For I could hear, now
shrill and thrilling and now almost drowned, the note of a human
voice that accompanied the uproar of the Roost. I knew it for my
kinsman's; and a great fear fell upon me of God's judgments, and
the evil in the world. I went back again into the darkness of the
house as into a place of shelter, and lay long upon my bed,
pondering these mysteries.
It was late when I again woke, and I leaped into my clothes and
hurried to the kitchen. No one was there; Rorie and the black had
both stealthily departed long before; and my heart stood still at
the discovery. I could rely on Rorie's heart, but I placed no
trust in his discretion. If he had thus set out without a word, he
was plainly bent upon some service to my uncle. But what service
could he hope to render even alone, far less in the company of the
man in whom my uncle found his fears incarnated? Even if I were
not already too late to prevent some deadly mischief, it was plain
I must delay no longer. With the thought I was out of the house;
and often as I have run on the rough sides of Aros, I never ran as
I did that fatal morning. I do not believe I put twelve minutes to
the whole ascent.
My uncle was gone from his perch. The basket had indeed been torn
open and the meat scattered on the turf; but, as we found
afterwards, no mouthful had been tasted; and there was not another
trace of human existence in that wide field of view. Day had
already filled the clear heavens; the sun already lighted in a rosy
bloom upon the crest of Ben Kyaw; but all below me the rude knolls
of Aros and the shield of sea lay steeped in the clear darkling
twilight of the dawn.
'Rorie!' I cried; and again 'Rorie!' My voice died in the silence,
but there came no answer back. If there were indeed an enterprise
afoot to catch my uncle, it was plainly not in fleetness of foot,
but in dexterity of stalking, that the hunters placed their trust.
I ran on farther, keeping the higher spurs, and looking right and
left, nor did I pause again till I was on the mount above Sandag.
I could see the wreck, the uncovered belt of sand, the waves idly
beating, the long ledge of rocks, and on either hand the tumbled
knolls, boulders, and gullies of the island. But still no human
At a stride the sunshine fell on Aros, and the shadows and colours
leaped into being. Not half a moment later, below me to the west,
sheep began to scatter as in a panic. There came a cry. I saw my
uncle running. I saw the black jump up in hot pursuit; and before
I had time to understand, Rorie also had appeared, calling
directions in Gaelic as to a dog herding sheep.
I took to my heels to interfere, and perhaps I had done better to
have waited where I was, for I was the means of cutting off the
madman's last escape. There was nothing before him from that
moment but the grave, the wreck, and the sea in Sandag Bay. And
yet Heaven knows that what I did was for the best.
My uncle Gordon saw in what direction, horrible to him, the chase
was driving him. He doubled, darting to the right and left; but
high as the fever ran in his veins, the black was still the
swifter. Turn where he would, he was still forestalled, still
driven toward the scene of his crime. Suddenly he began to shriek
aloud, so that the coast re-echoed; and now both I and Rorie were
calling on the black to stop. But all was vain, for it was written
otherwise. The pursuer still ran, the chase still sped before him
screaming; they avoided the grave, and skimmed close past the
timbers of the wreck; in a breath they had cleared the sand; and
still my kinsman did not pause, but dashed straight into the surf;
and the black, now almost within reach, still followed swiftly
behind him. Rorie and I both stopped, for the thing was now beyond
the hands of men, and these were the decrees of God that came to
pass before our eyes. There was never a sharper ending. On that
steep beach they were beyond their depth at a bound; neither could
swim; the black rose once for a moment with a throttling cry; but
the current had them, racing seaward; and if ever they came up
again, which God alone can tell, it would be ten minutes after, at
the far end of Aros Roost, where the seabirds hover fishing.
WILL O' THE MILL.
CHAPTER I. THE PLAIN AND THE STARS.
THE Mill here Will lived with his adopted parents stood in a
falling valley between pinewoods and great mountains. Above, hill
after hill, soared upwards until they soared out of the depth of
the hardiest timber, and stood naked against the sky. Some way up,
a long grey village lay like a seam or a ray of vapour on a wooded
hillside; and when the wind was favourable, the sound of the church
bells would drop down, thin and silvery, to Will. Below, the
valley grew ever steeper and steeper, and at the same time widened
out on either hand; and from an eminence beside the mill it was
possible to see its whole length and away beyond it over a wide
plain, where the river turned and shone, and moved on from city to
city on its voyage towards the sea. It chanced that over this
valley there lay a pass into a neighbouring kingdom; so that, quiet
and rural as it was, the road that ran along beside the river was a
high thoroughfare between two splendid and powerful societies. All
through the summer, travelling-carriages came crawling up, or went
plunging briskly downwards past the mill; and as it happened that
the other side was very much easier of ascent, the path was not
much frequented, except by people going in one direction; and of
all the carriages that Will saw go by, five-sixths were plunging
briskly downwards and only one-sixth crawling up. Much more was
this the case with foot-passengers. All the light-footed tourists,
all the pedlars laden with strange wares, were tending downward
like the river that accompanied their path. Nor was this all; for
when Will was yet a child a disastrous war arose over a great part
of the world. The newspapers were full of defeats and victories,
the earth rang with cavalry hoofs, and often for days together and
for miles around the coil of battle terrified good people from
their labours in the field. Of all this, nothing was heard for a
long time in the valley; but at last one of the commanders pushed
an army over the pass by forced marches, and for three days horse
and foot, cannon and tumbril, drum and standard, kept pouring
downward past the mill. All day the child stood and watched them
on their passage - the rhythmical stride, the pale, unshaven faces
tanned about the eyes, the discoloured regimentals and the tattered
flags, filled him with a sense of weariness, pity, and wonder; and
all night long, after he was in bed, he could hear the cannon
pounding and the feet trampling, and the great armament sweeping
onward and downward past the mill. No one in the valley ever heard
the fate of the expedition, for they lay out of the way of gossip
in those troublous times; but Will saw one thing plainly, that not
a man returned. Whither had they all gone? Whither went all the