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The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 26303

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The last week in June of next year, 1898, found me back in Cruden. My own house was in process of building. I had purposely arranged with the builders that the fitting up and what the conveyancers call "beautifyings" should not be done until I should be on the spot myself next year, to be consulted about everything. Every day I went over to see the place and become familiar with it before the plans for decoration should be taken in hand. Still there was no enjoyment in getting wet every time I went and came, or in remaining in wet clothes, so that my day was mainly spent at home.

One of my first visits was to Peterhead which seemed to be in a state of absolute activity, for the herring fishing had been good and trade of all kinds was brisk. At the market place which was half full of booths, could be had almost everything required for the needs or comfort of life such as it can be on a fishing boat. Fruit and all sorts of summer luxuries were abundant. Being Saturday the boats had returned early and had got their nets away to the drying-grounds, and the men had been able to shave and dress tidily. The women, too, had got their dressing done early-the fish first and themselves afterwards.

For awhile I wandered about aimlessly amongst the booths, with that sort of unsatisfaction upon me which had of late been the prelude to many of the manifestations of the power of Second Sight. This used to be just as if something within me was groping or searching unsuccessfully for something unknown, the satisfaction coming with the realization of the objective of the search.

Presently I came to an itinerant auctioneer who was dealing with a small cart-load of odds and ends, evidently picked up in various places. His auction or "roup" was on the "Dutch" plan; an extravagant price, according to his own idea, being placed on each article, and the offer decreasing in default of bidders. The auctioneer was ready with his tongue; his patter showed how well he understood the needs and ideas of the class whom he addressed.

"Here's the works of the Reverend Robert William McAlister of Trottermaverish in twal volumes, wantin' the first an' the last twa; three damaged by use, but still full of power in dealing with the speeritual necessities o' men who go down to the great deep in ships. A sermon for every day in the year, in the Gaelic for them as has na got the English, an' in good English for them as has. How much for the twal volumes, wantin' but three? Not a bawbee less than nine shellin', goin' goin'. Wha says eight shellin' for the lot. Seven shellin' an' no less. Goin' for six. Five shellin' for you sir. Any bidder at four shellin'. Not a bawbee less than three shellin'; Half a croon. Any bidder at twa shellin'. Gone for you sir!" the nine volumes were handed over to a grave-looking old man, and the two shillings which he produced from a heavy canvas bag duly pocketed by the auctioneer.

Everything he had, found some buyer; even a blue-book seemed to have its attraction. The oddness of some of the odd lots was occasionally amusing. When I had been round the basins of the harbour and had seen the dressings and barrelling of the fish, I again came across the auctioneer in the market place. He had evidently been using his time well, for the cart was almost empty. He was just putting up the last article, an old oak chest which up to now he had used as a sort of table on which to display the object for sale. An old oak chest has always charms for me, and I was about furnishing a house. I stepped over, opened the lid and looked in; there were some papers tossed on the bottom of it. I asked the auctioneer if the contents went with the chest, my real object being to get a look at the lock which seemed a very old one of steel, though it was much damaged and lacked a key. I was answered with a torrent of speech in true auctioneer fashion:

"Aye, good master. Take the lot just as it stands. An oaken kist, hundreds of years aud and still worthy a rest in the house-place of any man who has goods to guard. It wants a key, truth to tell; but the lock is a fine aud one and you can easy fit a key. Moreover the contents, be they what they may, are yours also. See! aud letters in some foreign tongue-French I think. Yellow in age an' the ink faded. Somebody's love letters, I'm thinkin'. Come now, young men here's a chance. Maybe if ye're no that fameeliar in writin' yer hairts oot to the lassies, ye can get some hints frae these. They can learn ye, I warrant!"

I was not altogether unaccustomed to auctions, so I affected a nonchalance which I did not feel. Indeed, I was unaccountably excited. It might have been that my feelings and memories had been worked up by the seeing again the pier where first I had met Lauchlane Macleod, and the moving life which then had environed him. I felt coming over me that strange impalpable influence or tendency which had been a part of my nature in the days immediately before the drowning of the Out-islander. Even as I looked, I seemed to feel rather than see fixed upon me the baleful eyes of the man in the ghostly procession on that Lammas eve. I was recalled to myself by the voice of the auctioneer:

"The kist and its contents will be sold for a guinea and not a bawbee less."

"I take it!" I cried impulsively. The auctioneer who in his wildest dreams had no hope of such a price seemed startled into momentary comparative silence. He quickly recovered himself and said: "The kist is yours, good master; and that concludes the roup!"

I looked around to see if there was present any one who could even suggest in any way the appearance of the man in the ghostly procession. But there was no such person. I met only mirabile dictu, the greedy eyes of Gormala MacNiel.

That evening in my room at the Kilmarnock Arms, I examined the papers as well as I could by lamplight. They were in an old-fashioned style of writing with long tails and many flourishes which made an added difficulty to me. The language was Spanish, which tongue I did not know; but by aid of French and what little Latin I could remember I made out a few words here and there. The dates ranged between 1598 and 1610. The letters, of which there were eight, were of manifest unimportance, short notes directed: "Don de Escoban" and merely arranging meetings. Then there were a number of loose pages of some printed folio, used perhaps as some kind of tally or possibly a cipher, for they were marked all over with dots. The lot was completed by a thin, narrow strip of paper covered with figures-possibly some account. Papers of three centuries ago were valuable, were it only for their style of writing. So I locked them all up carefully before I went to bed, with full intention to examine them thoroughly some day. The appearance of Gormala just at the time when I had become possessed of them seemed to connect them in some mysterious way with the former weird experiences in which she had so prominent a part.

That night I dreamed as usual, though my dreaming was of a scattered and incoherent character. Gormala's haunting presence and all that had happened during the day, especially the buying of the chest with the mysterious papers, as well as what had taken place since my arrival at Cruden was mixed up in perpetually recurring images with the beginning of my Second Sight and the death of Lauchlane Macleod. Again, and again, and again, I saw with the eyes of memory, in fragmentary fashion, the grand form of the fisherman standing in a blaze of gold, and later fighting his way through a still sea of gold, of which the only reliefs were the scattered piles of black rock and the pale face patched with blood. Again, and again, and again, the ghostly procession came up the steep path from the depths of the sea, and passed in slow silent measure into St. Olaf's Well.

Gormala's words were becoming a truth to me; that above and around me was some force which was impelling to an end all things of which I could take cognizance, myself amongst the rest. Here I stopped, suddenly arrested by the thought that it was Gormala herself who had set my mind working in this direction; and the words with which she had at once warned and threatened me when after the night of Lauchlane's death we stood at Witsennan point:

"When the Word is spoken all follows as ordained. Aye! though the Ministers of the Doom may be many and various, and though they may have to gather in one from many ages and from the furthermost ends of the earth!"

The next few days were delightfully fine, and life was one long enjoyment. On Monday evening there was a sunset which I shall never forget. The whole western sky seemed ablaze with red and gold; great masses of cloud which had rolled up seemed like huge crimson canopies looped with gold over the sun throned on the western mountains. I was standing on the Hawklaw, whence I could get a good view; beside me was a shepherd whose flock patched the steep green hillside as with snow. I turned to him and said:

"Is not that a glorious sight?"

"Aye! 'Tis grand. But like all beauty o' the warld it fadeth into naught; an' is only a mask for dool."

"You do not seem to hold a very optimistic opinion of things generally." He deliberately stoked himself from his snuff mull before replying:

"Optimist nor pessimist am I, eechie nor ochie. I'm thinkin' the optimist and the pessimist are lears alike; takin' a pairt for the whole, an' so guilty o' the logical sin o' a particulari ad universale. Sophism they misca' it; as if there were anything but a lee in a misstatement o' fac'. Fac's is good eneuch for me; an' that, let me tell ye, is why I said that the splendour o' the sunset is but a mask for dool. Look yon! The clouds are all gold and glory, like a regiment goin' oot to the battle. But bide ye till the sun drops, not only below the horizon but beyond the angle o' refraction. Then what see ye? All grim and grey, and waste, and dourness and dool; like the army as it returns frae the fecht. There be some that think that because the sun sets fine i' the nicht, it will of necessity rise fine i' the morn. They seem to no ken that it has to traverse one half o' the warld ere it returns; and that the averages of fine and foul, o' light and dark hae to be aye maintained. It may be that the days o' fine follow ane anither fast; or that the foul times linger likewise. But in the end, the figures of fine and foul tottle up, in accord wi' their ordered sum. What use is it, then, to no tak' heed o' fac's? Weel I ken, that the fac' o' the morrow will differ sair frae the fac's o' this nicht. Not in vain hae I seen the wisdom and glory o' the Lord in sunsets an' dawns wi'oot learnin' the lessons that they teach. Mon, I tell ye that it's all those glories o' pomp and pageantry-all the lasceevious luxuries o' colour an' splendour, that are the forerinners o' disaster. Do ye no see the streaks o' wind rinnin' i' the sky, frae the east to the west? Do ye ken what they portend? I'm tellin' ye, that before the sun sets the morrow nicht there will be ruin and disaster on all this side o' Scotland. The storm will no begin here. It is perhaps ragin' the noo away to the east. But it will come quick, most likely wi' the risin' o' the tide; and woe be then to them as has no made safe wi' all they can. Hark ye the stillness!" Shepherd-like he took no account of his own sheep whose ceaseless bleating, sounding in every note of the scale, broke the otherwise universal silence of nature. "I'm thinkin' it's but the calm before the storm. Weel sir, I maun gang. The yowes say it is time for the hame comin'. An' mark ye, the collie! He looks at me reproachful, as though I had forgot the yowes! My sairvice to ye, sir!"

"Good night" I answered, "I hope I shall meet you again."

"I'm thinkin' the same masel'. I hae much enjoyed yer pleasin' converse. I hope it's mony a crack we yet may hae thegither!" And so my philosophical egoist moved homewards, blissfully unconscious of the fact that my sole contribution to the "pleasing converse" was the remark that he did not seem optimistic.

The whole mass of his charge moved homewards at an even footpace, the collie making frantic dashes here and there to keep his flock headed in the right direction. Presently I saw the herd pouring like a foam-white noisy river across the narrow bridge over the Water of Cruden.

The next morning was fine, very hot, and of an unusual stillness. Ordinarily I should have rejoiced at such a day; but the warning of the erudite and philosophical shepherd made me mistrust. To me the worst of the prophecy business was that it became a disturbing influence. To-day, perforce, because it was fine, I had to expect that it would end badly. About noon I walked over to Whinnyfold; it being Saturday I knew that the workmen would have gone away early, and I wanted to have the house to myself so that I could go over it quietly and finally arrange the scheme of colouring. I remained there some hours, and then, when I had made up my mind as to things, I set off for the hotel.

In those few hou

rs the weather had changed marvellously. Busy within doors and thinking of something else, I had not noticed the change, which must have been gradual however speedy. The heat had increased till it was most oppressive; and yet through it all there was now and then a cold shiver in the air which almost made me wince. All was still, so preternaturally still that occasional sounds seemed to strike the ear as disturbances. The screaming of the seagulls had mainly ceased, and the sound of breaking waves on rocks and shore was at variance with the silence over the sea; the sheep and cattle were so quiet that now and again the "moo" of a cow or the bleat of a sheep seemed strangely single. As I stood looking out seaward there seemed to be rising a cold wind; I could not exactly feel it, but I knew it was there. As I came down the path over the beach I thought I heard some one calling-a faint far-away sound. At first I did not heed it, as I knew it could not be any one calling to me; but when I found it continued, I looked round. There is at least a sufficient amount of curiosity in each of us to make us look round when there is a calling. At first I could not locate it; but then sight came to aid of sound, and I saw out on a rock two women waving handkerchiefs. The calling manifestly came from them. It was not good for any one to be isolated on a rock at a time when a storm was coming up; and I knew well the rocks which these women were amongst. I hurried on as quickly as I could, for there was a good way to go to reach them.

Near the south end of Cruden Bay there is a cluster of rocks which juts out from shore, something like a cock's spur. Beyond this cluster are isolated rocks, many of them invisible at high tide. These form part of the rocky system of the Skares, which spread out fan-like from the point of Whinnyfold. Amongst these rocks the sea runs at change of tide with great force; more than once when swimming there I had been almost carried away. What it was to be carried away amongst the rocks of the Skares I knew too well from the fate of Lauchlane Macleod. I ran as fast as I could down the steep pathway and along the boulder-strewn beach till I came to the Sand Craigs. As I ran I could see from the quick inrush of waves, which though not much at present were gathering force every instant, that the storm which the shepherd had predicted was coming fast upon us. In such case every moment was precious. Indeed it might mean life; and so in breathless haste I scrambled over the rocks. Behind the main body of the Sand Craigs are two isolated rocks whose tops are just uncovered at high tide, but which are washed with every wave. The near one of these is at low water not separated from the main mass, but only joined by a narrow isthmus a few feet long, over which the first waves of the turning tide rush vigourously, for it is in the direct sweep of the flowing tide. Beyond this, some ninety or a hundred feet off and separated by a deep channel, is the outer rock, always in island form. From this spot at low water is the best view of the multitudinous rocks of the Skares. On all sides they rise round you as you stand, the granite seeming yellow with the washing of the sea between the lines of high and low water; above the latter the black seaweed ceases growing. This island is so hidden by the higher rocks around it that it cannot be seen from any part of Cruden Bay or from Port Erroll across it; it can only be seen from the path leading to Whinnyfold. It was fortunate that some one had been passing just then, or the efforts of the poor women to attract attention might have been made in vain.

When I reached the Sand Craigs I scrambled at once to the farthest point of the rocks, and came within sight of the isolated rock. Fortunately it was low water. The tide had only lately turned and was beginning to flow rapidly through the rocks. When I had scrambled on the second last rock I was only some thirty yards from the outermost one and could see clearly the two women. One was stout and elderly, the other young and tall and of exceeding beauty. The elderly one was in an almost frantic condition of fright; but the younger one, though her face was deadly pale-and I could see from the anxious glances which she kept casting round her that she was far from at ease-was outwardly calm. For an instant there was a curious effect as her pale face framed in dark hair stood out against the foam of the tide churning round the far off rocks. It seemed as though her head were dressed with white flowers. As there was no time to lose, I threw off my coat and shoes and braced myself for a swim. I called as I did so: "What has become of your boat?" The answer came back in a clear, young voice of manifestly American intonation:

"It drifted away. It has gone off amongst those rocks at the headland."

I had for a moment an idea that my best plan might be to fetch it first, but a glance at the distance and at the condition of the sea made me see the futility of any such hope. Already the waves were rising so fast that they were beginning to sweep over the crest of the rocks. Even that in front of me where the women stood was now topped by almost every wave. Without further delay I jumped into the sea and swam across. The girl gave me a hand up the rock, and I stood beside them, the old lady holding tight to me whilst I held the younger one and the rising waves washing round our feet. For a moment or two I considered the situation, and then asked them if either of them could swim. The answer was in the negative. "Then," I said decisively, "you must leave yourselves to me, and I shall swim across with each of you in turn." The old lady groaned. I pointed out that there was no other way, and that if we came at once it would not be difficult, as the distance was short and the waves were not as yet troublesome. I tried to treat the matter as though it were a nice holiday episode so that I might keep up their spirits; but all the same I felt gravely anxious. The distance to swim was only some thirty yards, but the channel was deep, and the tide running strong. Moreover the waves were rising, and we should have to get a foothold on the slippery seaweed-covered rock. However there was nothing to be done but to hasten; and as I was considering how best I should take the old lady across I said:

"What a pity it is that we haven't even a strong cord, and then we could pull each other across." The girl jumped at the idea and said:

"There was plenty in the boat, but of course it is gone. Still there should be a short piece here. I took care to fasten the painter to a piece of rock; but like a woman forgot to see that the other end was fixed to the boat, so that when the tide turned she drifted away with the stream. The fast end should be here still." When the coming wave had rolled on she pointed to a short piece of rope tied round a jutting piece of rock; its loose end swayed to and fro with every wave. I jumped for it at once, for I saw a possible way out of our difficulty; even if the rope were short, so was the distance, and its strands ravelled might cover the width of the channel. I untied the rope as quickly as I could. It was not an easy task, for the waves made it impossible to work except for a few seconds at a time; however, I got it free at last and pulled it up. It was only a fragment some thirty feet in length; but my heart leaped for I saw my way clear now. The girl saw it too and said at once:

"Let me help you." I gave her one end of the rope and we commenced simultaneously to ravel the piles. It was a little difficult to do, standing as we did upon the uneven surface of the rock with the waves rushing over our feet and the old lady beside us groaning and moaning and imploring us to hasten. Mostly she addressed herself to me, as in some way the deus ex machina and thus superior to the occasion where helpless women were concerned; but occasionally the wail was directed to her companion, who would then, even in that time of stress and hurry, spare a moment to lay a comforting hand on her as she said:

"Hush! oh hush! Do not say anything, dear. You will only frighten yourself. Be brave!" and such phrases of kindness and endearment. Once the girl stopped as a wave bigger than the rest broke over her feet. The old lady tried to still her shriek into a moan as she held on to her, saying "Oh Miss Anita! Oh Miss Anita!" plaintively over and over again.

At last we had ravelled the four strands of the rope and I began to knot them together. The result was a rope long enough to reach from rock to rock, though it was in places of very doubtful strength. I made a big loop at one end of it and put it over the stout lady's head and under her armpits. I cautioned both women not to tax the cord too severely by a great or sudden strain. The elder lady protested against going first, but was promptly negatived by the young lady, whose wishes on the subject were to me a foregone conclusion. I took the loose end of the rope and diving into the water swam across to the other rock upon the top of which I scrambled with some little trouble, for the waves, though not as yet in themselves dangerous, made difficult any movement which exposed me to their force. I signed to the old lady to slide into the sea which, assisted by the girl, she did very pluckily. She gasped and gurgled a good deal and clutched the loop with a death grip; but I kept a steady even strain on the rope whose strength I mistrusted. In a few seconds she was safely across, and I was pulling her up by the hands up the rock. When she was firmly fixed I gave her the loose end of the cord to hold and swam back with the loop. The girl did not delay or give any trouble. As she helped me up the rock I could not but notice what strength she had; her grip of my wet hand was firm and strong, and there was in it no quiver of anxiety. I felt that she had no care for herself, now that her companion was safe. I signalled to the old lady to be ready; the girl slipped into the water, I going in at the same time and swimming beside her. The old lady pulled zealously. So absorbed was she in her work that she did not heed my warning cry not to pull too hard. She pulled as though on her strength rested the issue of life and death; with the result that before we were a third of the way across the rope broke and she fell sitting on the rock behind her. For an instant the girl was submerged and came up gasping. In the spasmodic impulse common at such moments she gripped me so hard round the neck that I felt we were both in danger. Before we sank I wrenched, though with some difficulty her hands away from me, so that when we rose I had her at arm's length. For a few seconds I held her so that she could get her breath; and as I did so I could hear the old lady screaming out in an agonised way:

"Marjory! Marjory! Marjory!" With her breath came back the girl's reason, and she left herself to me passively. As I held her by the shoulder, a wave sweeping over the rock took us, and in my sudden effort to hold her I tore away the gown at her throat. It was quite evident her wits were all about her now for she cried out suddenly:

"Oh, my brooch! my brooch!" There was no time to waste and no time for questions. When a man has to swim for two in a choppy sea, and when the other one is a fully clothed woman, there is little to waste of strength or effort. So I swam as I had never done, and brought her up to the rock where the old lady helped her to scramble to her feet. When I had got my breath I asked her about her brooch. She replied:

"I would not have lost it for all the world. It is an heirloom."

"Was it gold?" I asked, for I wanted to know its appearance as I intended to dive for it.

"Yes!" she said, and without another word I jumped into the channel again to swim to the outer rock, for it was close there it must have been lost and I could dive from there. The channel between the rocks has a sandy bottom, and it would be easy to see the gold. As I went she called out to me to come back, not to mind, that she would rather lose it a thousand times than have me run any risk, and so forth; things mightily pleasant to hear when spoken by such lips. For myself I had only exultation. I had got off both the women without accident, and the sea was as yet, not such as to give any concern to a good swimmer. I dived from the rock and got bottom easily, the depth being only ten or twelve feet; and after a few seconds looking round me I saw the gleam of gold. When I had risen and swam to the inner rock the two women pulled me up to my feet.

When I gave her the brooch the young lady pressed it to her lips, and turning to me with tears in her eyes said:

"Oh you brave man! You kind, brave man! I would not have lost this for anything I call mine. Thank you that you have saved our lives; and that you have saved this for me." Then with girlish impulsiveness and unpremeditation she put up her face and kissed me.

That moment, with her wet face to mine, was the happiest of my life.

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