How he lies in his rights of a man!
Death has done all death can—Browning
We stood for a moment holding one another’s hands; then Ratsey spoke. ’John, these two months have changed thee from boy to man. Thou wast a child when I turned that morning as we went up Hoar Head with the pack-horses, and looked back on thee and Elzevir below, and Maskew lying on the ground. ’Twas a sorry business, and has broken up the finest gang that ever ran a cargo, besides driving thee and Elzevir to hide in caves and dens of the earth. Thou shouldst have come with us that morn; not have stayed behind. The work was too rough for boys: the skipper should have piped the reefing-hands.’
It was true enough, or seemed to me true then, for I felt much cast down; but only said, ’Nay, Master Ratsey, where Master Block stays, there I must stay too, and where he goes I follow.’
Then I sat down upon the bed in the corner, feeling my leg began to ache; and the storm, which had lulled for a few minutes, came up again all the fiercer with wilder gusts and showers of spray and rain driving into the cave from seaward. So I was scarce sat down when in came a roaring blast, filling even our corner with cold, wet air, that quenched the weakling candle flame.
‘God save us, what a night!’ Ratsey cried.
‘God save poor souls at sea,’ said I.
‘Amen to that,’ says he, ’and would that every Amen I have said had come as truly from my heart. There will be sea enough on Moonfleet Beach this night to lift a schooner to the top of it, and launch her down into the fields behind. I had as lief be in the Mohune vault as in this fearsome place, and liefer too, if half the tales men tell are true of faces that may meet one here. For God’s sake let us light a fire, for I caught sight of a store of driftwood before that sickly candle went out.’
It was some time before we got a fire alight, and even after the flame had caught well hold, the rush of the wind would every now and again blow the smoke into our eyes, or send a shower of sparks dancing through the cave. But by degrees the logs began to glow clear white, and such a cheerful warmth came out, as was in itself a solace and remedy for man’s afflictions.
‘Ah!’ said Ratsey, ’I was shrammed with wet and cold, and half-dead with this baffling wind. It is a blessed thing a fire,’ and he unbuttoned his pilot-coat, ’and needful now, if ever. My soul is very low, lad, for this place has strange memories for me; and I recollect, forty years ago (when I was just a boy like thee), old lander Jordan’s gang, and I among them, were in this very cave on such another night. I was new to the trade then, as thou might be, and could not sleep for noise of wind and sea. And in the small hours of an autumn morning, as I lay here, just where we lie now, I heard such wailing cries above the storm, ay, and such shrieks of women, as made my blood run