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- Castle Nowhere - 5/23 -
'Well I would not like to say that; you know we do have terrible storms on these waters. And then there is the fog; this part of Lake Michigan is foggy half the time, why, I never could guess: but twelve hours out the twenty-four the gray mist lies on the water here and outside, shifting slowly backwards and forwards from Little Traverse to Death's Door, and up into this curve, like a waving curtain. Those silks, now, came from the steamer; trunks, you know. But I have never told Silver; she might ask where were the people to whom they belonged. You do not like the idea? Neither do I. But how could we help the drowning when we were not there, and these things were going for a song down at Beaver. The child loves pretty things; what could a poor man do? Have a glass of punch; I'll get it ready in no time.' He bustled about, and then came back with the full glasses. 'You won't tell her? I may have done wrong in the matter, but it would kill me to have the child lose faith in me,' he said, humbly.
'Are you going to keep the girl shut up here forever?' said Waring, half touched, half disgusted; the old fellow had looked abject as he pleaded.
'That is it; no,' said Fog, eagerly. 'She has been but a child all this time, you see, and my sister taught her well. We did the best we could. But as soon as I have a little more, just a little more, I intend to move to one of the towns down the lake, and have a small house and everything comfortable. I have planned it all out, I shall have--'
He rambled on, garrulously detailing all his fancies and projects while the younger man sipped his punch (which was very good), listened until he was tired, fell into a doze, woke and listened awhile longer, and then, wearied out, proposed bed.
'Certainly. But, as I was saying--'
'I can hear the rest to-morrow,' said Waring, rising with scant courtesy.
'I am sorry you go so soon; couldn't you stay a few days?' said the old man, lighting a brand. 'I am going over to-morrow to the shore where I met you. I have some traps there; you might enjoy a little hunting.'
'I have had too much of that already. I must get my dogs, and then I should like to hit a steamer or vessel going below.'
'Nothing easier; we'll go over after the dogs early in the morning, and then I'll take you right down to the islands if the wind is fair. Would you like to look around the castle,--I am going to draw up the ladders. No? This way, then; here is your room.'
It was a little side-chamber with one window high up over the water; there was an iron bolt on the door, and the walls of bare logs were solid. Waring stood his gun in one corner, and laid his pistols by the side of the bed,--for there was a bed, only a rude framework like a low-down shelf, but covered with mattress and sheets none the less,--and his weary body longed for those luxuries with a longing that only the wilderness can give,--the wilderness with its beds of boughs, and no undressing. The bolt and the logs shut him in safely; he was young and strong, and there were his pistols. 'Unless they burn down their old castle,' he said to himself, 'they cannot harm me.' And then he fell to thinking of the lovely childlike girl, and his heart grew soft. 'Poor old man,' he said, 'how he must have worked and stolen and starved to keep her safe and warm in this far-away nest of his hidden in the fogs! I won't betray the old fellow, and I'll go to-morrow. Do you hear that, Jarvis Waring? I'll go to-morrow!'
And then the Spirit, who had been listening as usual, folded himself up silently and flew away.
To go to sleep in a bed, and awake in an open boat drifting out to sea, is startling. Waring was not without experiences, startling and so forth, but this exceeded former sensations; when a bear had him, for instance, he at least understood it, but this was not a bear, but a boat. He examined the craft as well as he could in the darkness. 'Evidently boats in some shape or other are the genii of this region,' he said; 'they come shooting ashore from nowhere, they sail in at a signal without oars, canvas, or crew, and now they have taken to kidnapping. It is foggy too, I'll warrant; they are in league with the fogs.' He looked up, but could see nothing, not even a star.
'What does it all mean anyway? Where am I? Who am I? Am I anybody? Or has the body gone and left me only as an any?' But no one answered. Finding himself partly dressed, with the rest of his clothes at his feet, he concluded that he was not yet a spirit; in one of his pockets was a match, he struck it and came back to reality in a flash. The boat was his own dug-out, and he himself and no other was in it: so far, so good. Everything else, however, was fog and night. He found the paddle and began work. 'We shall see who will conquer,' he thought, doggedly, 'Fate or I!' So he paddled on an hour for more.
Then the wind arose and drove the fog helter-skelter across to Green Bay, where the gray ranks curled themselves down and lay hidden until morning. 'I'll go with the wind,' thought Waring, 'it must take me somewhere in time.' So he changed his course and paddled on. The wind grew strong, then stronger. He could see a few stars now as the ragged dark clouds scudded across the heavens, and he hoped for the late moon. The wind grew wild, then wilder. It took all his skill to manage his clumsy boat. He no longer asked himself where he was or who; he knew,--a man in the grasp of death. The wind was a gale now, and the waves were pressed down flat by its force as it flew along. Suddenly the man at the paddle, almost despairing, espied a light, high up, steady, strong. 'A lighthouse on one of the islands,' he said, and steered for it with all his might. Good luck was with him; in half an hour he felt the beach under him, and landed on the shore; but the light he saw no longer. 'I must be close in under it,' he thought. In the train of the gale came thunder and lightning. Waring sat under a bush watching the powers of the air in conflict, he saw the fury of their darts and heard the crash of their artillery, and mused upon the wonders of creation, and the riddle of man's existence. Then a flash came, different from the others in that it brought the human element upon the scene; in its light he saw a vessel driving helplessly before the gale. Down from his spirit-heights he came at once, and all the man within him was stirred for those on board, who, whether or not they had ever perplexed themselves over the riddle of their existence, no doubt now shrank from the violent solution offered to them. But what could he do? He knew nothing of the shore, and yet there must be a harbor somewhere, for was there not the light? Another flash showed the vessel still nearer, drifting broadside on; involuntarily he ran out on the long sandy point where it seemed that soon she must strike. But sooner came a crash, then a grinding sound; there was a reef outside then, and she was on it, the rocks cutting her, and the waves pounding her down on their merciless edges. 'Strange!' he thought. 'The harbor must be on the other side I suppose, and yet it seems as though I came this way.' Looking around, there was the light high up behind him, burning clearly and strongly, while the vessel was breaking to pieces below. 'It is a lure,' he said, indignantly, 'a false light.' In his wrath he spoke aloud; suddenly a shape came out of the darkness, cast him down, and tightened a grasp around his throat. 'I know you,' he muttered, strangling. One hand was free, he drew out his pistol, and fired; the shape fell back. It was old Fog. Wounded? Yes, badly.
Waring found his tinder-box, made a blaze of driftwood, and bound up the bleeding arm and leg roughly. 'Wretch,' he said, 'you set that light.'
Old Fog nodded.
'Can anything be done for the men on board? Answer or I'll end your miserable life at once; I don't know why, indeed, I have tried to save it.'
Old Fog shook his head. 'Nothing,' he murmured; 'I know every inch of the reef and shore.'
Another flash revealed for an instant the doomed vessel, and Waring raged at his own impotence as he strode to and fro, tears of anger and pity in his eyes. The old man watched him anxiously. 'There are not more than six of them,' he said; 'it was only a small schooner.'
'Silence!' shouted Waring; 'each man of the six now suffering and drowning is worth a hundred of such as you!'
'That may be,' said Fog.
Half an hour afterwards he spoke again. 'They're about gone now, the water is deadly cold up here. The wind will go down soon, and by daylight the things will be coming ashore; you'll see to them, won't you?'
'I'll see to nothing, murderer.'
'And if I die what are you?'
'Silver must die too then; there is but little in the house, she will soon starve. It was for her that I came out to-night.'
'I will take her away; not for your sake, but for hers.'
'How can you find her?'
'As soon as it is daylight I will sail over.'
'Over? Over where? That is it, you do not know,' said the old man, eagerly, raising himself on his unwounded arm. 'You might row and sail about here for days, and I'll warrant you'd never find the castle; it's hidden away more carefully than a nest in the reeds, trust me for that. The way lies through a perfect tangle of channels and islands and marshes, and the fog is sure for at least a good half of the time. The sides of the castle towards the channel show no light at all; and even when you're once through the outlying islets, the only approach is masked by a movable bed of sedge which I contrived, and which turns you skilfully back into the marsh by another way. No; you might float around there for days but you'd never find the castle.'
'I found it once.'
'That was because you came from the north shore. I did not guard that side, because no one has ever come that way; you remember how quickly I saw your light and rowed over to find out what it was. But you are miles away from there now.'
The moon could not pierce the heavy clouds, and the night continued
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