Read CHAPTER XXII - GATHERING WINDS of The Cruise of the Shining Light , free online book, by Norman Duncan, on ReadCentral.com.

’Twas by advice of Sir Harry, with meet attention to the philosophy of Lord Chesterfield in respect to the particular accomplishments essential to one who would both please and rise in the world, that my uncle commanded the grand tour to further my education and to cure my twisted foot. “‘Tis the last leg o’ the beat, lad;” he pleaded; “ye’ll be a gentleman, made t’ order, accordin’ t’ specifications, when ’tis over with; an’ I’ll be wonderful glad,” says he, wearily, “when ’tis done, for I’ll miss ye sore, lad-ecod! but I’ll miss ye sore.”  Abroad, then, despite the gray warning, went John Cather and I, tutor and young gentleman, the twain not to be distinguished from a company of high birth.  ’Twas a ghastly thing:  ’twas a thing so unfit and grotesque that I flush to think of it-a thing, of all my uncle’s benefits, I wish undone and cannot to this day condone.  But that implacable, most tender old ape, when he bade us God-speed on the wharf, standing with legs and staff triangularly disposed to steady him, rippled with pride and admiration to observe the genteel performance of our departure, and in the intervals of mopping his red, sweaty, tearful countenance, exhibited, in unwitting caricature, the defiant consciousness of station he had with infinite pains sought to have me master.

“Made t’ order, lad,” says he, at last, when he took my hand, “accordin’ t’ the plans an’ specifications o’ them that knows, an’ quite regardless of expense.”

I patted him on the shoulder.

“I wisht,” says he, with a regretful wag, “that Tom Callaway could see ye now.  You an’ your tooter!  If on’y Tom Callaway could!  I bet ye ’twould perk un up a bit in the place he’s to!  ’Twould go a long way towards distractin’ his mind,” says he, “from the fire an’ fumes they talks so much about in church.”

You will be good enough to believe, if you please, that there were sympathetic tears in my uncle’s eyes....

Upon this misguided mission we were gone abroad two years and a fortnight (deducting one day):  and pursuing it we travelled far.  And we came to magnificent cities, and beheld the places and things that are written of in books, and ate of curious foods, and observed many sorts of people and singular customs, and fell in with strange companions, and sojourned in many houses; but from the spectacle of the world I caught no delight, nor won a lesson, nor gained in anything, save, it may be, in knowledge of the book of my own heart.  As we went our way in new paths, my mind dwelt continually with Judith, whom I loved; the vision of her face, wistful and most fair in the mirage of Twist Tickle, and the illusion of her voice, whispering from the vacant world, were the realities of these wanderings-the people and palaces a fantasy.  Of this I said nothing to John Cather, who was himself cast down by some obscure ailment of the spirit, so that I would not add to his melancholy with my love-sickness, but rather sought by cheerful behavior to mitigate the circumstances of his sighs, which I managed not at all.  And having journeyed far in this unhappy wise, we came again to the spacious sea and sky and clean air of Twist Tickle, where Judith was with my uncle on the neck of land by the Lost Soul, and the world returned to its familiar guise of coast and ocean and free winds, and the Shining Light, once more scraped and refitted against the contingencies of my presence, awaited the ultimate event in the placid waters of Old Wives’ Cove....

Judith was grown to womanly age and ways and perfected in every maidenly attraction.  When she came shyly from the shadows of the house into the glowing sunset and spring weather of our landing, I stopped, amazed, in the gravelled walk of our garden, because of the incredible beauty of the maid, now first revealed in bloom, and because of her modesty, which was yet slyly aglint with coquetry, and because of the tender gravity of her years, disclosed in the first poignant search of the soul I had brought back from my long journeying.  I thought, I recall, at the moment of our meeting, that laboring in a mood of highest exaltation God had of the common clay fashioned a glory of person unsuspected of the eager, evil world out of which I had come:  I rejoiced, I know, that He had in this bleak remoteness hidden it from the eyes of the world.  I fancied as she came-’twas all in a flash-that into this rare creation He had breathed a spirit harmonious with the afflatus of its conception.  And being thus overcome and preoccupied, I left the maid’s coy lips escape me, but kissed her long, slender-fingered hand, which she withdrew, at once, to give to John Cather, who was most warm and voluble in greeting.  I was by this hurt; but John Cather was differently affected:  it seemed he did not care.  He must be off to the hills, says he, and he must go alone, instantly, at the peril of his composure, to dwell with his mind, says he, upon the thoughts that most elevated and gratified him.  I watched him off upon the Whisper Cove road with improper satisfaction, for, thinks I, most ungenerously, I might now, without the embarrassment of his presence, which she had hitherto rejected, possess Judith’s lips; but the maid was shy and perverse, and would have none of it, apprising me sweetly of her determination.

By this I was again offended.

“Judy,” says my uncle, when we were within, “fetch the bottle.  Fetch the bottle, maid!” cries he; “for ’tis surely an occasion.”

Judith went to the pantry.

“Dannie,” my uncle inquired, leaning eagerly close when she was gone from the room, “is ye been good?”

’Twas a question put in anxious doubt:  I hesitated-wondering whether or not I had been good.

“Isn’t ye?” says he.  “Ye’ll tell me, won’t ye?  I’ll love ye none the less for the evil ye’ve done.”

Still I could not answer.

“I’ve been wantin’ t’ know,” says he, his three-fingered fist softly beating the table, shaking in an intense agitation of suspense.  “I’ve been waitin’ an’ waitin’ for months-jus’ t’ hear ye say!”

I was conscious of no evil accomplished.

“Ye’ve a eye, Dannie!” says he.

I exposed my soul.

“That’s good,” says he, emphatically; “that’s very good.  I ’low I’ve fetched ye up very well.”

Judith came with the bottle and little brown jug:  she had displaced me from this occupation.

“O’ course,” says my uncle, in somewhat doubtful and ungenerous invitation, “ye’ll be havin’ a little darn ol’ rum with a ol’ shipmate.  Ye’ve doubtless learned manners abroad,” says he.

’Twas a delight to hear the fond fellow tempt me against his will:  I smiled.

“Jus’ a little darn, Dannie,” he repeated, but in no convivial way.  “Jus’ a little nip-with a ol’ shipmate?”

I laughed most heartily to see Judith’s sisterly concern for me.

“A wee drop?” my uncle insisted, more confidently.

“I’m not used to it, sir,” says I.

“That’s good,” he declared; “that’s very good.  Give the devil his due, Dannie:  I’ve fetched ye up very well.”

’Twas with delight he challenged a disputation....

After this ceremony I sat with Judith on the peak of the Lost Soul.  My uncle paced the gravelled walk, in the gathering dusk below, whence, by an ancient courtesy, he might benignantly spy upon the love-making.  We were definite against the lingering twilight:  I smiled to catch the old man pausing in the path with legs spread wide and glowing face upturned.  But I had no smile for the maid, poor child! nor any word to say, save only to express a tenderness it seemed she would not hear.  ’Twas very still in the world:  there was no wind stirring, no ripple upon the darkening water, no step on the roads, no creak of oar-withe, no call or cry or laugh of humankind, no echo anywhere; and the sunset clouds trooped up from the rim of the sea with ominous stealth, throwing off their garments of light as they came, advancing, grim and gray, upon the shadowy coast.  Across the droch, lifted high above the maid and me, his slender figure black against the pale-green sky, stood John Cather on the brink of Tom Tulk’s cliff, with arms extended in some ecstasy to the smouldering western fire.  A star twinkled serenely in the depths of space beyond, seeming, in the mystery of that time, to be set above his forehead; and I was pleased to fancy, I recall, that ’twas a symbol and omen of his nobility.  Thus the maid and I:  thus we four folk, who played the simple comedy-unknowing, every one, in the departing twilight of that day.

I reproached the maid.  “Judith,” says I, “you’ve little enough, it seems, to say to me.”

“There is nothing,” she murmured, “for a maid to say.”

“There is much,” I chided, “for a man to hear.”

“Never a word, Dannie, lad,” she repeated, “that a maid may tell.”

I turned away.

“There is a word,” says she, her voice fallen low and very sweet, soft as the evening light about us, “that a lad might speak.”

“And what’s that, Judith?”

“’Tis a riddle,” she answered; “and I fear, poor child!” says she, compassionately, “that you’ll find it hard to rede.”

’Twas unkind, I thought, to play with me.

“Ah, Dannie, child!” she sighed, a bit wounded and rebuffed, it seems to me now, for she smiled in a way more sad and tenderly reproachful than anything, as she looked away, in a muse, to the fading colors in the west.  “Ah, Dannie,” she repeated, her face grown grave and wistful, “you’ve come back the same as you went away.  Ye’ve come back,” says she, with a brief little chuckle of gratification, “jus’ the same!”

I thrust out my foot:  she would not look at it.

“The self-same Dannie,” says she, her eyes steadfastly averted.

“I’ve not!” I cried, indignantly.  That the maid should so flout my new, proud walk!  ’Twas a bitter reward:  I remembered the long agony I had suffered to please her.  “I’ve not come back the same,” says I.  “I’ve come back changed.  Have you not seen my foot?” I demanded.  “Look, maid!” I beat the rock in a passion with that new foot of mine-straight and sound and capable for labor as the feet of other men.  It had all been done for her-all borne to win the love I had thought withheld, or stopped from fullest giving, because of this miserable deformity.  A maid is a maid, I had known-won as maids are won.  “Look at it!” cries I.  “Is it the same as it was?  Is it crooked any more?  Is it the foot of a man or a cripple?” She would not look:  but smiled into my eyes-with a mist of tears gathering within her own.  “No,” I complained; “you will not look.  You would not look when I walked up the path.  I wanted you to look; but you would not.  You would not look when I put my foot on the table before your very eyes.  My uncle looked, and praised me; but you would not look.”  ’Twas a frenzy of indignation I had worked myself into by this time.  I could not see, any more, the silent glow of sunset color, the brooding shadows, the rising masses of cloud, darkening as they came:  I have, indeed, forgotten, and strangely so, the appearance of sea and sky at that moment.  “You would not look,” I accused the maid, “when I leaped the brook.  I leaped the brook as other men may leap it; but you would not look.  You would not look when I climbed the hill.  Who helped you up the Lost Soul turn?  Was it I?  Never before did I do it.  All my life I have crawled that path.  Was it the club-footed young whelp who helped you?” I demanded.  “Was it that crawling, staggering, limping travesty of the strength of men?  But you do not care,” I complained.  “You do not care about my foot at all!  Oh, Judith,” I wailed, in uttermost agony, “you do not care!”

I knew, then, looking far away into the sea and cloud of the world, that the night was near.

“No,” says she.

“Judith!” I implored.  “Judith ...  Judith!”

“No,” says she, “I cannot care.”

“Just say you do,” I pleaded, “to save me pain.”

“I will not tell you otherwise.”

I was near enough to feel her tremble-to see her red lips draw away, in stern conviction, from her white little teeth.

“You do not care?” I asked her.

“I do not care.”

’Twas a shock to hear the words repeated.  “Not care!” I cried out.

“I do not care,” says she, turning, all at once, from the sullen crimson of the sky, to reproach me.  “Why should I care?” she demanded.  “I have never cared-never cared-about your foot!”

I should have adored her for this:  but did not know enough.

“Come!” says she, rising; “there is no sunset now.  ’Tis all over with.  The clouds have lost their glory.  There is nothing to see.  Oh, Dannie, lad,” says she-“Dannie, boy, there is nothing here to see!  We must go home.”

I was cast down.

“No glory in the world!” says she.

“No light,” I sighed; “no light, at all, Judith, in this gloomy place.”

And we went home....

For twelve days after that, while the skirt of winter still trailed the world, the days being drear and gray, with ice at sea and cold rain falling upon the hills, John Cather kept watch on Judith and me.  ’Twas a close and anxiously keen surveillance.  ’Twas, indeed, unremitting and most daring, by night and day:  ’twas a staring and peering and sly spying, ’twas a lurking, ’twas a shy, not unfriendly, eavesdropping, an observation without enmity or selfish purpose, ceasing not at all, however, upon either, and most poignant when the maid and I were left together, alone, as the wretched man must have known, in the field of sudden junctures of feeling.  I remember his eyes-dark eyes, inquiring in a kindly way-staring from the alders of the Whisper Cove road, from the dripping hills, from the shadowy places of our house:  forever in anxious question upon us.  By this I was troubled, until, presently, I divined the cause:  the man was disquieted, thinks I, to observe my happiness gone awry, but would not intrude even so much as a finger upon the tangle of the lives of the maid and me, because of the delicacy of his nature and breeding.  ’Twas apparent, too, that he was ill:  he would go white and red without cause, and did mope or overflow with a feverish jollity, and would improperly overfeed at table or starve his emaciating body.  But after a time, when he had watched us narrowly to his heart’s content, he recovered his health and amiability, and was the same as he had been.  Judith and I were then cold and distant in behavior with each other, but unfailing in politeness:  ’twas now a settled attitude, preserved by each towards the other, and betraying no feeling of any sort whatever.

“John Cather,” says I, “you’ve been ill.”

He laughed.  “You are a dull fellow!” says he, in his light way. “’Tis the penalty of honesty, I suppose; and nature has fined you heavily.  I have not been ill:  I have been troubled.”

“By what, John Cather?”

“I fancied,” he answered, putting his hands on my shoulders, very gravely regarding me as he spoke, “that I must sacrifice my hope.  ’Twas a hope I had long cherished, Dannie, and was become like life to me.”  His voice was fallen deep and vibrant and soft; and the feeling with which it trembled, and the light in the man’s eyes, and the noble poise of his head, and the dramatic arrangement of his sentences, so affected me that I must look away.  “Miserable necessity!” says he.  “A drear prospect!  And with no more than a sigh to ease the wretched fate!  And yet,” says he, quite heartily, “the thing had a pretty look to it.  Really, a beautiful look.  There was a fine reward.  A good deed carries it.  Always remember that, Dannie-and remember that I told you.  There was a fine reward.  No encouragement of applause, Dannie-just a long sigh in secret:  then a grim age of self-command.  By jove! but there was a splendid compensation.  A compensation within myself, I mean-a recollection of at least one heroically unselfish act.  There would have been pain, of course; but I should never have forgotten that I had played a man’s part-better than a man’s part:  a hero’s part, a god’s part.  And that might have been sufficiently comforting:  I do not know-perhaps.  I’ll tell you about it, Dannie:  the thing was to have been done,” he explained, in sincere emotion, every false appearance gone from him, “for whom, do you think?”

I did not know.

“For a friend,” says he.

“But John Cather,” says I, “’twas too much to require of you.”

His eyes twinkled.

“You’ve no trouble now, have you?” I asked.

“Not I!” cries he.  “I have read a new fortune for myself.  Trouble?  Not
I!  I am very happy, Dannie.”

“That’s good,” says I; “that’s very good!”