“I did not.”
“On the back of me?”
“Look here, now!” cried Pat, in the tones of one whose patience was entirely exhausted. His friend drew nearer, and I also ventured to accept an invitation not intended for me, so greatly was my curiosity roused by what the men said.
Pat turned his back to us as rapidly as he had spoken, and stooping at about half-leap-frog-angle, whipped his wet shirt upwards out of his loosely-strapped trousers, baring his back from his waist to his shoulder-blades. The moon was somewhat overcast, but there was light enough for us to see a grotesque semblance of the Crucifixion tattooed upon his flesh in more than one colour, and some accompanying symbols and initials which we could hardly distinguish.
“Now am I safe for Christian burial or not, in the case I’d be misfortunate enough to be washed up on the shores of a haythen counthry?”
“Ye are so!”
I never saw a funnier sight than Pat craning and twisting his head in futile efforts to look at it under his own arm.
“It’s a foin piece of work, I’m told,” said he.
“They tould ye no less than the truth that said that, Pat. It’s a mighty foin piece of work.”
“They all say so that see it,” sighed Pat, tucking his shirt in again, “and that’ll be ivry soul but meself, worse luck!”
Pat ran off, and as I turned I saw that the crew of the whaleboat were going below with a crowd of satellites, and that a space was cleared through which I could see the man they had saved still lying on the deck, with the captain kneeling at his head, and looking back as if he were waiting for something. And at that moment the moon shone out once more, and showed me a sight that I’ll forget when I forget you—Dennis O’Moore!
* * * * *
It was a lad that they had saved, not a full-grown man, except in the sense of his height, which was nearly an inch beyond Alister’s. He was insensible, and I thought he was dead, so death-like was the pallor of his face in contrast with the dark curls of his head and the lashes of his closed eyes. We were dipping to leeward, his head rolled a little on the rough pillow that had been heaped to raise him, and his white face against the inky waves reminded me of the face of the young lord in Charlie’s father’s church, who died abroad, and a marble figure of him was sent home from Italy, with his dog lying at his feet. His shoulders were raised as well as his head, and his jacket and shirt had both been washed open by the waves.
And that was how I got the key to the Irishmen’s dialogue. For round the lad’s throat was a black ribbon, pendant from which a small cross of ebony was clear to be seen upon his naked breast; and on this there glittered in the moonlight a silver image of the Redeemer of the World.