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   Chapter 6 THE MINISTERS OF THE DOOM

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 11471

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When at last I looked around me I was not surprised at anything I saw; not even at the intense face of Gormala whose eyes, bright in the full moonlight, were searching my face more eagerly than ever. I was lying on the sand, and she was bending over me so closely that her face almost touched mine. It was evident, even to my half-awake sensibilities, that she was listening intently, lest even a whispered word from me should be missed.

The witch-woman was still seemingly all afire, but withal there was manifested in her face and bearing a sense of disappointment which comforted me. I waited a few minutes until I felt my brain clear, and my body rested from the intolerable strain which it had undergone in carrying that terrific burden from Whinnyfold.

When I looked up again Gormala recognised the change in me, and her own expression became different. The baleful glitter of her eyes faded, and the blind, unreasoning hate and anger turned to keen inquiry. She was not now merely baffled in her hopes, and face to face with an unconscious man; there was at least a possibility of her gaining some knowledge, and all the energy of her nature woke again as she spoke:

"So ye are back wi' the moon and me. Whither went ye when ye lay down upon the sand. Was it back ye went, or forrart; wi' the ghaists into the Holy Well and beyond in their manifold course; or back to their comin' frae the sea and all that could there be told? Oh! mon, what it is to me that any ither can gang like that into spirit land, and me have to wait here by my lanes; to wring my hands an' torture my hairt in broken hopes!" I answered her question with another:

"How do you mean that ghosts go into the well and beyond?" Her answer was at the first given in a stern tone which became, however, softer, as she went on.

"Knew ye not, that the Lammas Floods are the carriers o' the Dead; that on Lammas nicht the Dead can win their way to where they will, under the airth by wherever there is rinnin' watter. Happy be they that can gain a Holy Well, an' so pass into the bowels o' the airth to where they list."

"And how and when do they return?"

"Dinna jest wi' Fate an' the Dead. They in their scope can gang and return again; no een, save your ain, o' man or Seer has seen the method o' their gangin'. No een, even yours, can see them steal out again in the nicht, when the chosen graves that they hae sought hae taken from them the dross o' the airth." I felt it was not wise to talk further, so without a word I turned and walked home by the sheep tracks amongst the sand hills. Now and again I stumbled in a rabbit hole, and as I would sink forward the wet bent would brush against my face.

The walk back in the dark dawn seemed interminable. All this time my mind was in a turmoil. I did not even seem to remember anything definitely, or think consecutively; but facts and fancies swept through my mind in a chaotic whirl. When I got to the house, I undressed quickly and got into bed; I must have instantly fallen into a deep sleep.

Next afternoon I walked by the shore to Whinnyfold. It was almost impossible to believe that I was looking at the same place as on last night. I sat on the cliff where I had sat last night, the hot August sun and the cool breeze from the sea being inconceivably soothing. So I thought and thought.... The lack of sufficient sleep the night before and the tired feeling of the physical strain I had undergone-my shoulders still ached-told upon me, and I fell asleep.

When I waked Gormala stood in front of me.

After a long pause she spoke:

"I see that ye remember, else would ye ha' spoken to me. Will ye no tell me all that ye saw? Then, wi' your Seer's een an' my knowledge o' the fact we may thegither win oot the great Secret o' the Sea." I felt stronger than ever the instinctive conviction that I must remain keenly on guard with her. So I said nothing; waiting thus I should learn something, whether from her words or her silence. She could not stand this. I saw her colour rise till her face was all aglow with a red flush that shamed the sunset; and at last the anger blazed in her eyes. It was in a threatening tone which she spoke, though the words were themselves sufficiently conciliatory:

"The Secrets o' the Sea are to be won; and tae thee and me it is given to win them. What hae been is but an earnest of what will be. For ages ithers have tried to win but hae failed; and if we fail too for lack o' purpose or because ye like me not, then to ithers will come in time the great reward. For the secrets are there, and the treasures lie awaiting. The way is open for those to whom are the Gifts. Throw not away the favour of the Fates. For if they be kind to give where they will, they are hard to thwart, and their revenge is sure!" I must confess that her words began to weaken my purpose. In one way inexorable logic was on her side. Powers such as were mine were surely given for some purpose. Might I not be wrong in refusing to use them. If the Final Cause of my powers were purposeful, then might not a penalty be exacted from me because I had thwarted the project. Gormala, with that diabolical cunning of hers, evidently followed the workings of my mind, for her face lit up. How she knew, I know not, but I do know that her eyes never left mine. I suppose it may be that the eyes which have power to see at times the inwardness of things have some abnormal power also of expressing the thoughts behind them. I felt, however, that I was in danger. All my instincts told me that once in Gormala's power I should rue it, so I spoke out on the instant strongly:

"I shall have nothing to do with you whatever. Last night when you refused to help me with

the wounded man-whom you had followed, remember, for weeks, hoping for his death-I saw you in your true colours; and I mean to have nothing to do with you." Fierce anger blazed again in her eyes; but again she controlled herself and spoke with an appearance of calm, though it was won with great effort, as I could see by the tension of her muscles:

"An' so ye would judge me that I would not help ye to bring the Dead to life again! I knew that Lauchlane was dead! Aye! and ye kent it too as weel as I did masel'. It needed no Seer to tell that, when ye brocht him up the rocks oot o' the tide. Then, when he was dead, for why wad ye no use him? Do the Dead themselves object that they help the livin' to their ends while the blood is yet warm in them? Is it ye that object to the power of the Dead? You whose veins have the power o' divination of the quick; you to whom the heavens themselves opened, and the airth and the watters under the airth, when the spirit of the Dead that ye carried walked beside ye as ye ganged to St. Olaf's Well. An' as for me, what hae I done that you should object. I saw, as you did, that Lauchlane's sands were run. You and I are alike in that. To us baith was given to see, by signs that ages have made sacred, that Fate had spoken in his ears though he had himself not heard the Voice. Nay more, to me was only given to see that the Voice had spoken. But to you was shown how, and when, and where the Doom should come, though you yersel' that can read the future as no ither that is known, canna read the past; and so could na tell what a lesser one would ha' guessed at lang syne. I followed the Doom; you followed the Doom. I by my cunnin'; you when ye waked frae yer sleep, followin' yer conviction, till we met thegither for Lauchlane's death, amid Lammas floods and under the gowden moon on the gowden sea. Through his aid-aye, young sir-for wi'oot a fresh corp to aid, no Seer o' airth could hae seen as ye did, that lang line o' ghaists ye saw last nicht. Through his aid the wonders o' the heavens and the deep, o' airth and air, was opened till ye. Wha then be ye that condemn me that only saw a sign an' followed? Gin I be guilty, what be you?"

It would be impossible to describe the rude, wild, natural eloquence with which this was spoken. In the sunset, the gaunt woman seemed to tower above me; and as she moved her arms, the long shadows of them stretched over the green down before us and away over the wrinkled sea as though her gestures were, giant like, appealing to all nature.

I was distinctly impressed, for all that she said was quite true. She had in reality done nothing that the law would call wrong. Lauchlane's death was in no possible way due to any act of hers. She had only watched him; and as he did not even know that she watched he could not have been influenced in any way by it or by her. As to my own part! Her words gave me a new light. Why had I risen in the night and come out to Whinnyfold? Was it intuition, or a call from the witch-woman, who in such case must have had some hypnotic influence over me? Or was it--?

I stood appalled at the unspoken thought. Could it be that the powers of Nature which had been revealed to me in the dread hour had not only sentience but purpose!

I felt that my tone was more conciliatory as I answered her:

"I did not mean to blame you for anything you had done. I see now that your wrong was only passive." I felt that my words were weak, and my feeling was emphasised by the scorn of her reply:

"My wrang was only passive! My wrang! What wrang hae I done that you should sit in judgment on me. Could I hae helpit it when Lauchlane met his death amang the rocks in the tide. Why you yoursel' sat here beside me, an' ye no helpit him or tried to, strong man though ye be, that could carry his corp frae here to St. Olaf's Well; for ye kenned that no livin' arm could aid him in that hour o' doom. Aye! laddie, the Fates know their wark o'er weel to hae ony such betterment o' their plans! An' div ye think that by any act o' yer ain, or by any refusal o' act or speech, ye can baffle the purpose o' the Doom. Ye are yet young and ye must learn; then learn it now whiles ye can, that when the Word is spoken all follows as ordained. Aye! though the Ministers o' the Doom be many an' various, an' though they hae to gather in ane from many ages an' frae the furthermost ends o' the airth!"

Gormala's logic and the exactness of her statement were too much for me. I felt that I owed her some reparation and told her so. She received it in her gaunt way with the dignity of an empress.

But there her dignity stopped; for seeing that she had got a lever in her hands she began at once, womanlike, to use it. Without any hesitation or delay she asked me straightly to tell her what I had seen the night before. The directness of her questioning was my best help; my heart hardened and my lips closed. She saw my answer before I had spoken it, and turned away with an eloquent, rugged gesture of despair. She felt that her last hope was gone; that her last bolt had been sped in vain.

With her going, the link with last night seemed to break, and as she passed up the road the whole of that strange experience became dimmer and dimmer.

I walked home by Cruden sands in a sort of dream. The chill and strain of the night before seemed to affect me more and more with each hour. Feeling fatigued and drowsy I lay down on my bed and sank into a heavy, lethargic sleep.

The last thing I remember is the sounding of the dinner-gong, and a dim resolution not to answer its call....

*****

It was weeks after, when the fever had passed away, that I left my bed in the Kilmarnock Arms.

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