Read CHAPTER XXV - The Ghoul of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

Next morning, I looked out upon a wet mist that hung over Golden Crescent like a spider’s gigantic web all a-drip with dew.

My visitors of the previous night had gone three hours ago. I had heard them getting up steam, but I was still too weak and stiff to think of getting out of bed so early to see them off.

I turned, as usual, to watch the upward, curling smoke from Mary’s kitchen fire. Strange to say, this morning there was no smoke.

“Taking a rest,” I thought, “after her long watching and nursing over a good-for-nought like me! Ah, well! I shall breakfast first then I shall pay my respects and ask forgiveness of the lady for ’the things I have done that I ought not to have done,’ and all will be well.”

I hurried over that porridge, and bacon and eggs. I dressed with scrupulous care, even to the donning of a soft, white, linen collar with a flowing tie.

“Surely,” I reasoned, “she can never be cruel to me in this make-up.”

When I started out, all seemed quiet and still over there at Mary Grant’s.

With a feeling of disrupting foreboding, which dashed all my merriment aside, I quickened my footsteps.

The windows were closed; the door was shut tight. I knocked, but no answer came. I tried the door: it was locked.

“Why! What can it be?” I asked myself.

My roving eyes lit on a piece of white paper pinned to the far post of the veranda. It was in pencil, in Mary’s handwriting.

“George,

“There is yet another battle for you to fight. I am going away. Please do not try to find out where, either by word or by deed.

“Golden Crescent will always be in my thoughts. Some day, maybe, I will come back.

“God bless you and keep you, and may you ever be my brave and very gallant gentleman.

“Mary Grant.”

I read it over, and over again, but it seemed as if the words would never link themselves together in my brain and form anything tangible.

Gone away! Oh, God! Meaghan gone; Mary gone; every one to whom my heart goes out leaves me the same way. What is it in me? Oh, my God! my God!

I staggered against the veranda rail for support, then, like a blind man groping for a path in a forest, I made my journey across the rustic bridge, and home.

I am not ashamed to own it: in my anguish and my physical weakness, I threw myself upon my bed and sobbed; sobbed until my sorrow had spent itself, until my spirit had become numbed and well-nigh impervious to all feeling.

In desperation, I threw myself into my work.

Never was store kept so clean nor in such a well-stocked condition as mine was; never was home so tidy.

I sawed timber, when there were stacks of it cut, piled and dry in my wood sheds. I built rafts. I repaired the wharf. I added barns to my outhouses, when, already, I had barns lying empty.

I insisted on delivering the requirements of every family in Golden Crescent, instead of having them take their goods from the store.

With no object in view, other than the doing of it, I tackled the wintry winds and the white-tipped breakers, in my little rowing boat, when none other dared venture from the confines of his beach.

When the sea came roaring into the Bay, tumbling and foaming, boiling and crawling mountains high, breaking with all its elemental fury, I would dash recklessly into it and swim to Rita’s Isle and back, with the carelessness and abandon of one who had nothing to live for.

As I look back on it all now, I feel that death was really what I courted.

Remonstrances fell on deaf ears. My life was my own, at least, I thought it was, my own to do with as I chose. What mattered it to any one if the tiny spark went out?

My books had little attraction for me during those wild, mad days. Work, work, work and absorption were all my tireless body and wearied brain craved for; and work was the fuel with which I fed them.

I was aware that the minister knew more of Mary’s going and her present whereabouts than I did, and, sometimes, I fancied he would gladly have told me what he knew. But he could find no opening in the armour of George Bremner for the lodgment of such information.

Rita and he got to know, after a while, that the name of Mary Grant was a locked book and that Mary Grant alone held the key to it.

Christmas, my first Christmas from home; Christmas that might have been any other time of the year for all the difference it made to me, came and went; and the wild, blustering weather of January, with its bursts and blinks of sunshine, its high winds and angry seas, was well upon us.

There had been little to do in and around the store, so I was taking the excuse to row over to Clarks’ with their supplies, intending to bring back any eggs they might have for my camp requirements.

It was a cold, blustery morning, with a high, whistling wind coming in from the Gulf. The sky was clear and blue as a mid-summer’s day and the sun was shining as if it had never had a chance to shine before.

It was with difficulty that I got into my boat without suffering a wetting, but I was soon bobbing on the crest of the waves or lying in the troughs of the pale-green, almost transparent sea, making my way across the Bay, as the waves climbed higher and still higher, with white-maned horses racing in on top of the flowing tide.

It was hard pulling, but I was strong and reckless, fearing neither man nor elements.

Every minute of that forenoon brought with it an increasing fury of the storm; every minute greater volumes of water lashed and dashed into the Bay, until, away out, The Ghoul looked more like a waterspout than a black, forbidding rock.

Rita was surprised and angry at my daring in crossing, yet she could not disguise her pleasure now I was with her, for she chafed with the restrictions of a stormy winter and craved, as all healthy people do, for the society of those of her own age.

“Seems as if it’s goin’ to be a hurricane,” remarked old Andrew Clark, looking out across the upheaving waters. “Never saw it so bad; yet it’s only comin’ on.

“Guess you’ll ha’e to stop wi’ us the night, George.”

“ And welcome,” put in his good lady. “There’s always a spare bed for George Bremner in this house. Eh! Andrew.”

“Ay, ay!” remarked the old man, reflectively. “We’re no’ havin’ ye drooned goin’ away frae this place, that I’m tellin’ ye.”

Like me, Rita was a child of stress and storm. She loved to feel the strong wind in her face and hair. She gloried in the taste of the salt spray. She thrived in the open and sported in the free play of her agile limbs. Unafraid, and daring to recklessness, nothing seemed to daunt her; nothing, unless, maybe, it were the great, cruel, sharks’ teeth of The Ghoul over which the sea was now breaking, away out there at the entrance to the Bay: that rock upon which she had been wrecked in her childhood; that relentless, devilish thing that had robbed her of her mother and of her birthright.

Even then, as she and I scampered and scrambled along the shore line, over the rocks and headlands, whenever she gazed out there I fancied I detected a shudder passing over her.

For an hour, with nothing to do but pass the time, we kept on and on, along the shore, until we reached Neil Andrews’ little house on the far horn of the Crescent, standing out on the cliffs.

We stood on the highest rock, in front of the old fisherman’s dwelling, watching the huge waves rolling in and breaking on the headlands with deafening thundering, showering us with rainbow sprays and swallowing up the sounds of our voices.

Rita kept her eyes away from the horrible rock, which seemed so much nearer to us now than when we were in the far back shelter of the Bay. And, indeed, it was nearer, for barely a quarter of a mile divided it from Neil’s foreshore. But such a quarter of a mile of fury, I had never before seen.

Different from Rita, I could hardly take my eyes away from that rock. To me, it seemed alive in its awful ferocity. It was the point of meeting of three different currents and it gave the impression to the onlooker that it was drawing and sucking everything to its own rapacious maw.

Old Man Andrews saw us from his window and came out to us, clad in oilskins and waders.

“Guess it’s making for a hum-dinger, George,” he roared into my ears. “Ain’t seen its like for a long time. God help anything in the shape of craft that gets caught in this. She’s sprung up mighty quick, too.

“Got a nice cup of tea ready, Rita. Come on inside, both of you. It ain’t often I see you up here. Come on in!”

But Rita was standing apart, straining her eyes away far out into the Gulf.

“What is it, lass?” shouted the old fellow. “See something out there?”

“It is a boat,” she cried back anxiously. “Yes! it is a boat.”

Old Neil scanned the sea. “Can’t see nothing, lass. Can you, George?”

I followed the direction of Rita’s pointing.

“I’m not quite sure,” I answered at last, “but it looks to me as if there was something rising and falling away there to the right.”

Neil ran into the house for his telescope.

“By God!” he cried, “it’s a tug. She’s floundering like a duck on ice. Steering gear gone, or something! Hope they can keep heading out for the open, or it’s all up with them,” he said.

We watched the boat for a while, then we turned into the house and partook of the old fellow’s tea and hot rolls.

In half an hour, we went out again.

“George, George!” cried Rita, with a voice of terror, looking back to us from her position on the high rock. “Quick! they are driving straight in shore.”

We ran up beside her and looked out.

The tug, for such it was, was coming in at a great rate on the crest of the storm, beam on. Water was breaking over her continuously as she drove, and drove, a battered, beaten object, straight for The Ghoul.

We could see three men clinging to the rails.

Rita was standing, transfixed with horror at the coming calamity which nothing on earth could avert.

Old man Andrews closed his telescope with a snap.

“Guess you’d better go inside, Rita,” he spoke tenderly.

“No, no!” she cried furiously, her lips white and her eyes dilated. “You can’t fool me. That’s Joe’s tug. Give me that glass. Let me see.”

“Better not, Rita. ’Tain’t for gals.”

“Give it to me,” she cried savagely. “Give it to me.”

She snatched the instrument from him and fixed it on the vessel. Then, with that awful pent-up emotion, which neither speaks nor weeps, she handed back the telescope to the fisherman.

We stood there against the wind, as doomed and helpless Joe Clark’s tug crashed on to the fatal Ghoul. It clung there, as if trying to live. Five, ten, fifteen minutes it clung, being beaten and ripped against the teeth of the rock; then suddenly it split and dissolved from view.

Neil had the telescope at his eye again. He handed it to me quickly. “George! look and tell me. D’ye see anybody clinging there to the far tooth of The Ghoul? My eyes ain’t too good. But, if yon’s a man, God rest his soul.”

I riveted my gaze on the point.

There I could see as clearly as if it were only a few yards off. Even the features of the man who clung there so tenaciously I could make out.

“My God! It is Joe Clark,” I exclaimed in excitement.

With the cry of a mother robbed of her young, Rita dashed down the rocks to the cove where Neil Andrews’ boat lay. She pushed it into the water and sprang into it, pulling against the tide-rip like one possessed. I darted after her, but she was already ten yards out when the boat swamped and was thrown back on the beach.

Just as the undertow was sucking Rita away, I grabbed at her and dragged her to safety.

“Let me go! Let me go!” she screamed, battering my chest. “It’s Joe. It’s my Joe. He’s drowning.”

I held her fast.

She looked up at me suddenly with a strange quietness, as if she did not understand me and what I did. As she spoke, she forgot her King’s English.

“Ain’t you goin’ to help him? It’s Joe. You ain’t scared o’ the sea. You can do it. Get him to me, George. Oh! get me Joe. I want him. I want him. He’s mine.”

I grasped her by the arm and shook her, as I shouted in her ear:

“Do you love Joe, Rita; love him enough to marry him if I go out for him?”

“Oh, yes, yes! Get him, George. I love Joe. I always loved him.”

In that moment, I made up my mind.

“If we come back, little woman,” I cried, “it will be down there at the end of the Island. Run home; get grand-dad and the others in some boats. It isn’t so bad down there. Watch out for us.

“If I don’t come back, Rita, dear, little Rita ”

I took her face in my hands and pressed my lips on hers.

I ran from her, up over the cliffs, away to the far side of the horn, where the eddy made the sea quieter. I threw off my boots and superfluous clothing and sprang into the water. Out, out I plunged, and plunged again, keeping under water most of the time, until at last I got caught in the terrible rush three hundred yards straight out from the point.

I well knew the dreadful odds I was facing, yet I was unafraid. The sea was my home, almost as much as the land. I laughed at its buffeting. I defied it. What cared I? What had I to lose? nothing! And, I might win Joe for Rita, and make her happy.

In the very spirit of my defiance, I was calling up forces to work and fight for me, forces that faint-heartedness and fear could never have conjured to their aid.

On, on I battled, going with the rush, holding back a little, and easing out, and out, all the time toward the Rock.

Half an hour passed; perhaps an hour, for I lost count of time and distance in my struggling. But, at last, battered and half-smothered, yet still crying defiance to everything, I found myself rising with a mountainous sea and bearing straight upon The Ghoul. As I was lifted up, I strained my eyes toward the teeth of the rock.

Joe Clark, that Hercules of men, was still hanging on desperately: no hope in his heart, but loth as ever to admit defeat, even to the elements.

With tremendous force, I was thrown forward. As the wave broke, I flashed past Joe in the mad rush of water. I grabbed blindly, feeling sure I should miss, for it was a thousand chances to one, but I was stopped up violently. I tightened my clutch in desperation. I pulled myself up, and clasped both hands round the ledge of the rock, clinging to it precariously, my nails torn almost from my fingers. My hands were touching Joe’s. My face came up close to his. Almost he lost his hold at the suddenness of my uncanny appearing.

He shouted to me in defiance, and it surprised me how easily I could hear him, despite the hiss and roar of the waters. I could hear him more easily than I had heard Rita on the beach at Neil Andrews’, so long, long ago.

“My God! Bremner, where did you come from? What d’ye want?” he shouted.

“I want you, Joe,” I cried, right into his ear. “Rita sent me for you, will you come?”

“It ain’t no good,” he replied despairingly; “nobody gets off’n this hell alive.”

“But we shall,” I yelled. “Rita wants you. She loves you, Joe. Isn’t that worth a try, anyway?”

“You bet!” he cried, as the water dashed over his face, “but how?”

I screamed into his ear again.

“Let go when I shout. Drop on your back. After that, don’t move for your life. Leave the rest to me. Don’t mind if you go under. It’s our only chance.”

He nodded his head.

I waited for an abatement of the surge.

“Now!” I yelled, as a great, unbroken swell came along.

Away we whirled on top of it; past the side of The Ghoul like bobbing corks, into the rip and race of the tide, sometimes above the water, most of the time under it, gasping, choking, fighting, then away, in great heaving throws, from that churning death.

How brave Joe was! and how trusting! Not a struggle did he make in that awful ordeal. He lay pliable and lightly upon me, as I floated up the Bay, or wherever the current might be taking us. But there was only one direction with that flowing tide, after we had passed The Ghoul, and I knew it was into the Bay. So quiet did Joe lie, that I began to think the life had gone out of him. But I could do nothing for him; nothing but try, whenever possible, to keep his head and my own out of the sea.

How long I struggled, I cannot tell. My arms and legs moved mechanically. I took the battering and the submerging as a matter of course. A pleasing lethargy settled over my brain and the terror of it all went from me.

When twenty minutes, or twenty years, might have flown, my head crashed against something hard. I turned quickly. I seized at the obstruction. It was a log from some broken boom. I threw my arm around it for support, then I caught Joe up and pulled his hand over it. In a second, he was all life. He clutched the log tightly, and hung on.

Thus, he and I together, enemies till then, but friends against our mutual foe, the storm, floated to safety and life.

I remember hearing voices on the waters and seeing, in a blur, Joe’s giant body being raised into a boat. But, of myself, I remember not a thing.

Later on, they told me that, as soon as they hoisted Joe, I let go my hold on the log, as if I had no further interest in anything, no more use for life.

But old Andrew Clark was too quick for me. He caught me by the arm and clung on, just as I was going down.

And it was Joe Clark, despite all he had gone through, who carried me in his great strong arms from the beach to his grand-dad’s cottage, crooning over me like a mother. It was Joe who fed me with warm liquids. It was Joe I saw when I opened my eyes once more to the material world.

“Shake hands, old man,” he said brokenly, “if mine ain’t too black. Used to think I hated you, George. I ain’t hatin’ anything or anybody no more. You’re the whitest man I know, Bremner, and you got me beat six days for Sunday.”