As soon as they were come within easy speech, they let down their sail and lay quiet. In spite of my supplications, they drew no nearer in, and what frightened me most of all, the new man tee-hee’d with laughter as he talked and looked at me.
Then he stood up in the boat and addressed me a long while, speaking fast and with many wavings of his hand. I told him I had no Gaelic; and at this he became very angry, and I began to suspect he thought he was talking English. Listening very close, I caught the word “whateffer” several times; but all the rest was Gaelic and might have been Greek and Hebrew for me.
“Whatever,” said I, to show him I had caught a word.
“Yes, yes—yes, yes,” says he, and then he looked at the other men, as much as to say, “I told you I spoke English,” and began again as hard as ever in the Gaelic.
This time I picked out another word, “tide.” Then I had a flash of hope. I remembered he was always waving his hand towards the mainland of the Ross.
“Do you mean when the tide is out—?” I cried, and could not finish.
“Yes, yes,” said he. “Tide.”
At that I turned tail upon their boat (where my adviser had once more begun to tee-hee with laughter), leaped back the way I had come, from one stone to another, and set off running across the isle as I had never run before. In about half an hour I came out upon the shores of the creek; and, sure enough, it was shrunk into a little trickle of water, through which I dashed, not above my knees, and landed with a shout on the main island.
A sea-bred boy would not have stayed a day on Earraid; which is only what they call a tidal islet, and except in the bottom of the neaps, can be entered and left twice in every twenty-four hours, either dry-shod, or at the most by wading. Even I, who had the tide going out and in before me in the bay, and even watched for the ebbs, the better to get my shellfish—even I (I say) if I had sat down to think, instead of raging at my fate, must have soon guessed the secret, and got free. It was no wonder the fishers had not understood me. The wonder was rather that they had ever guessed my pitiful illusion, and taken the trouble to come back. I had starved with cold and hunger on that island for close upon one hundred hours. But for the fishers, I might have left my bones there, in pure folly. And even as it was, I had paid for it pretty dear, not only in past sufferings, but in my present case; being clothed like a beggar-man, scarce able to walk, and in great pain of my sore throat.
I have seen wicked men and fools, a great many of both; and I believe they both get paid in the end; but the fools first.
THE LAD WITH THE SILVER BUTTON: THROUGH THE ISLE OF MULL
The Ross of Mull, which I had now got upon, was rugged and trackless, like the isle I had just left; being all bog, and brier, and big stone. There may be roads for them that know that country well; but for my part I had no better guide than my own nose, and no other landmark than Ben More.