“A good amount of it ought to be comin’ in, after the gale.”
“Then where’s your hook?”—for the wreckwood gatherers along this part of the coast carry long gaffs to hook the flotsam and drag it above reach of the waves.
“Left it up the bank,” said the old man shortly. After a moment he pulled himself together for an explanation, hollowed his palms around his mouth, and bawled above the boom of the surf. “I’m old. I don’t carry weight more’n I need to. When a log comes in, my darter spies it an’ tells me. She’s mons’rous quick-sighted for wood an’ such like— though good for nothin’ else.” (A pause.) “No, I’m hard on her; she can cook clams.”
“You were looking for clams?” Captain Vyell scrutinised the man’s face. It was a patriarchal face, strikingly handsome and not much wrinkled; the skin delicately tanned and extraordinarily transparent. Somehow this transparency puzzled him. “Hungry?” he asked quickly; and as quickly added, “Starving for food, that’s what you are.”
“It’s the Lord’s will,” answered the old man.
The coach had come to a halt a dozen paces away. The child within it could hear nothing of this conversation; but to the end of his life his memory kept vivid the scene and the two figures in it—his father, in close-fitting riding-coat of blue, with body braced, leaning sideways a little against the wind, and a characteristic hint of the cavalryman about the slope of the thigh; the old wreck-picker standing just forward of the bay’s shoulder and looking up, with blown hair and patient eyes. Memory recalled even the long slant of the bay’s shoulder—a perfectly true detail, for the horse was of pure English race and bred by the Collector himself.
After this, as he remembered, some command must have been given, for Manasseh climbed down, opened the coach door and drew from under the seat a box, of which he raised the lid, disclosing things good to eat— among them a pasty with a crisp brown crust.
The wreck-picker broke off a piece of the pasty and wrapped it in a handkerchief—and memory recalled, as with a small shock of surprise, that the handkerchief was clean. The old man, though ragged enough to scare the crows, was clean from his bare head to his bare sea-bleached feet. He munched the rest of the pasty, talking between mouthfuls. To his discourse Dicky paid no heed, but slipped away for a scamper on the sands.
As he came running back he saw the old man, in the act of wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, suddenly shoot out an arm and point. Just beyond the breakers a solitary bird—an osprey—rose with a fish shining in the grip of its claws. It flew northward, away for the headland, for a hundred yards or so; and then by some mischance let slip his prey, which fell back into the sea. The boy saw the splash. To his surprise the bird made no effort to recover the fish—neither stooped nor paused—but went winging sullenly on its way.