The old man’s look changed in a moment.
“Miss Sally? Why o’ course—Do we know Miss Sally?” he was appealing to the crew of men and maidens forward, and they broke into a chime of laughter.
“What’s this?” demanded the skipper, stepping forward. “Here’s a couple of stowaways. I know nothing about ’em. It’s your risk if you choose to take ’em off.”
“If she’ve a message for Miss Sally—” answered the old steersman after a pause.
“It’s life an’ death!” pleaded Tilda.
The steamer, the upturned faces below, the fog all around—she saw it as in a dream, and as in a dream she heard herself pleading . . .
“Get out the ladder, there!” called the skipper.
They were in the boat, still as in a dream, sitting among these strange, kindly people. In a dream, too, she was waving to Bill, who had come up from below and leant over the bulwarks, staring as steamer and boats fell apart in the fog. Then, at a word from the bridge, he waved his hand for the last time and ran below. In a minute or so the Evan Evans began to feel around and edge away for the northward.
She faded and was lost in the vaporous curtain. Still the children gazed astern after her over the backs of the huddled sheep. The rowers had fallen to singing again—men and maidens in harmony as they pulled—
sons of God,
All earthly things we scorn,
And to our high abode
With songs of praise return! . . .’
Of a sudden, while they sang and while the children gazed, the fog to northward heaved and parted, pierced by a shaft of the sinking sun, and there in a clear hollow lay land—lay an Island vignetted in the fog, with the light on its cliffs and green slopes—an Island, resting like a shield on the milky sea.
Arthur Miles clutched Tilda by the arm and pointed.
The old steersman turned his head.
“Aye,” said he, “she looks pretty of an evening sometimes, does Holmness.”
“Clean, simple livers.”—CRASHAW.
The rowers in the leading boat were seven—four young men and three young women; and they pulled two to an oar—all but the bowman, a young giant of eighteen or thereabouts, who did without help. A fourth young woman sat beside, suckling a baby. And so, counting the baby and the two children and the old steersman, whom they all addressed as “Father,” and omitting ’Dolph and the sheep, they were twelve on board. The second and third boats had half a dozen rowers apiece. The second was steered by a wizened middle-aged man, Jan by name. Tilda learned that he was the shepherd. More by token, he had his three shaggy dogs with him, crowded in the stern.