There were half a dozen sailors in front of the “Four Lords.” Three sat on a bench beside the door, and three more, with mugs of beer in their hands, were skylarking in the middle of the roadway.
“Hi!” called out one of those on the bench, as Zeb passed. And Zeb turned round and came to a halt again.
“What is it?”
“Where ’re ye bound, mate?”
“For the ferry.”
“Then stop an’ drink, for the boat left two minutes since an’ won’t be back for another twenty.”
Zeb hung on his heel for a couple of seconds. The sailor held out his mug with the friendliest air, his head thrown back and the left corner of his mouth screwed up into a smile.
“Thank ‘ee,” said Zeb, “I will; an’ may the Lord judge ’atween us.”
“There’s many a way o’ takin’ a drink,” the sailor said, staring at him; “but split me if yours ain’t the rummiest I’ve run across.”
“Oh, man, man,” Zeb answered, “I wasn’ thinkin’ o’ you!”
Back by the cliff’s edge the hollibubber had finished his day’s work and was shouldering his shovel to start for home, when he spied a dark figure coming eastwards along the track; and, putting up a hand to ward off the level rays of the sun, saw that it was the young man who had passed him at noonday. So he set down the shovel again, and waited.
Young Zeb came along with his head down. When he noticed the hollibubber standing in the path he started like a man caught in a theft.
“My son, ye ’ve come to lift a weight off my heart. God forgi’e me that, i’ my shyness, I let ’ee go by wi’out a word for your trouble.”
“All the country seems to know my affairs,” Zeb answered with a scowl.
The hollibubber’s grey eyes rested on him tenderly. He was desperately shy, as he had confessed: but compassion overcame his shyness.
“Surely,” said he, “all we be children o’ one Father: an’ surely we may know each other’s burdens; else, not knowin’, how shall we bear ’em?”
“You’m too late, hollibubber.”
Zeb stood still, looking out over the purple sea. The old man touched his arm gently.
“I’ve a-sold my soul to hell.”
“I don’t care. You’m alive an’ standin’ here, an’ I can save ’ee.”
“Can ’ee so?” Zeb asked ironically.
“Man, I feel sure o’t.” His ugly earnest face became almost grand in the flame of the sunset. “Turn aside, here, an’ kneel down; I will wrestle wi’ the Lord for thee till comfort comes, if it take the long night.”
“You’m a strange chap. Can such things happen i’ these days?”
“Kneel and try.”
“No, no, no,” Zeb flung out his hands. “It’s too late, I tell ’ee. No man’s words will I hear but the words of Lamech—’I ha’ slain a man to my wounding, an’ a young man to my hurt.’ Let me go—’tis too late. Let me go, I say—”