The sea was never silent, the gulls flew inland and the cormorants sat storm-bound in their caves; brief glimpses of cold and sunny weather passed as abruptly as they came, and in the smoke of a driftwood fire Osla plied her needle and followed the wanderings of her thoughts.
During all these months the hermit spoke little. So engrossed was Osla in herself that she hardly noticed how seldom the cloud seemed to lift from his mind. Never as before did he talk with her at length, or instruct her from the curious scraps of knowledge his once acute mind had picked up from sources Christian and pagan, from the wise men of the North and the monasteries of southern lands. He never once alluded to their guest, never even apparently observed his departure, and in her heart his daughter thanked him for his silence.
The lingering winter passed at length, and one morning, in the first freshness of spring, Osla stood without the cell. Presently her father joined her, and she noticed, though her thoughts were busy elsewhere, that he wore a strange expression. He looked at her doubtfully, and then said,—
“Where is Vandrad? I would hear him sing.”
Then Osla started, and her heart smote her.
“Vandrad, father?” she said gently. “He has been gone these eight months. Did you not know?”
The hermit seemed hardly to comprehend her words.
“Gone!” he repeated. “Why did you not tell me?”
“Surely you knew,” she said.
“Why went he away? I would hear him sing. He used to sing to me of war. He sang last night. Last night,” he repeated doubtfully; “methinks it was last night. Bring him to me.”
She turned his questions as best she could, and strove to make him think of other things. With her arm through his they paced the turf along the shore, and all the while her heart sank lower and lower. She was in the presence of something so mysterious that even wise men in those days shrank from it in fear. It was the finger of God alone, they said, that laid a blight on human minds, and there before her was His handiwork.
Yet, had she but known it, this blight had been the slow work of years. Her father’s mind, always dark and superstitious, and tinged with morbid melancholy, had gradually in these long solitary years given way more and more before sombre underminings, till now, with old age at the gates, it had at last succumbed. Some few bright moments there were at rare intervals, but in all the months that followed it was but the shattered hull of Thord the Tall, once the terror of the western seas, that lingered on the Holy Isle.
The care of him had at least the effect of turning Osla’s thoughts away from herself. Than sunshine and another’s troubles there are no better tonics.