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- Castle Nowhere - 6/23 -
dark. At last the dawn come slowly up the east and showed an angry sea, and an old man grayly pallid on the sands near the dying fire; of the vessel nothing was to be seen.
'The things will be coming ashore, the things will be coming. ashore,' muttered the old man, his anxious eyes turned towards the water that lay on a level with his face; he could not raise himself now.
'Do you see things coming ashore?'
Waring looked searchingly at him. 'Tell me the truth,' he said, 'has the girl no boat?'
'Will any one go to rescue her; does any one know of the castle?'
'Not a human being on this earth.'
'And that aunt,--that Jacob?'
'Didn't you guess it? They are both dead. I rowed them out by night and buried them,--my poor old sister and the boy who had been our serving-lad. The child knows nothing of death. I told her they had gone away.'
'Is there no way for her to cross, to the islands or mainland?'
'No; there is a circle of deep water all around the castle, outside.'
'I see nothing for it, then, but to try to save your justly forfeited life,' said Waring, kneeling down with an expression of repugnance. He was something of a surgeon, and knew what he, was about. His task over, he made up the fire, warmed some food, fed the old man, and helped his waning strength with the contents of his flask. 'At least you placed all my property in the dug-out before you set me adrift,' he said; 'may I ask your motive?'
'I did not wish to harm you; only to get rid of you. You had provisions, and your chances were as good as many you had had in the woods.'
'But I might have found my way back to your castle?'
'Once outside, you could never do that,' replied the old man, securely.
'I could go back along-shore.'
'There are miles of piny-wood swamps where the streams come down; no, you could not do it, unless you went away round to Lake Superior again, and struck across the country as you did before. That would take you a month or two, and the summer is almost over. You would not risk a Northern snowstorm, I reckon. But say, do you see things coming ashore?'
'The poor bodies will come, no doubt,' said Waring, sternly.
'Not yet; and they don't often come in here, anyway; they're more likely to drift out to sea.'
'Miserable creature, this is not the first time, then?'
'Only four times,--only four times in fifteen long years, and then only when she was close to starvation,' pleaded the old man. 'The steamer was honestly wrecked,--the Anchor, of the Buffalo line,--honestly, I do assure you; and what I gathered from her--she did not go to pieces for days--lasted me a long time, besides furnishing the castle. It was a godsend to me, that steamer. You must not judge me, boy; I work, I slave, I go hungry and cold, to keep her happy and warm. But times come when everything fails and starvation is at the door. She never knows it, none of them ever knew it, for I keep the keys and amuse them with little mysteries; but, as God is my judge, the wolf has been at the door, and is there this moment unless I have luck. Fish? There are none in shore where they can catch them. Why do I not fish for them? I do; but my darling is not accustomed to coarse fare, her delicate life must be delicately nourished. O, you do not know, you do not know! I am growing old, and my hands and eyes are not what they were. That very night when I came home and found you there, I had just lost overboard my last supplies, stored so long, husbanded so carefully! If I could walk, I would show you my cellar and storehouse back in the woods.
'Many things that they have held were honestly earned, by my fish and my game, and one thing and another. I get out timber and raft it down to the islands sometimes, although the work is too hard for an old man alone; and I trade my furs off regularly at the settlements on the islands and even along the mainland,--a month's work for a little flour or sugar. Ah, how I have labored! I have felt my muscles crack, I have dropped like a log from sheer weariness. Talk of tortures; which of them have I not felt, with the pains and faintness of exposure and hunger racking me from head to foot? Have I stopped for snow and ice? Have I stopped for anguish? Never; I have worked, worked, worked, with the tears of pain rolling down my cheeks, with my body gnawed by hunger. That night, in some way, the boxes slipped and fell overboard as I was shifting them; just slipped out of my grasp as if on purpose, they knowing all the time that they were my last. Home I came, empty-handed, and found you there! I would have taken your supplies, over on the north beach, that night, yes, without pity, had I not felt sure of those last boxes; but I never rob needlessly. You look at me with scorn? You are thinking of those dead men! But what are they to Silver,--the rough common fellows,--and the wolf standing at the castle door! Believe me, though, I try everything before I resort to this, and only twice out of the four times have I caught anything with my tree-hung light; once it was a vessel loaded with provisions, and once it was a schooner with grain from Chicago, which washed overboard and was worthless. O, the bitter day when I stood here in the biting wind and watched it float by out to sea! But say, has anything come ashore? She will be waking soon, and we have miles to go.'
But Waring did not answer; he turned away. The old man caught at his feet. 'You are not going,' he cried in a shrill voice, '--you are not going? Leave me to die,--that is well; the sun will come and burn me, thirst will come and madden me, these wounds will torture me, and all is no more than I deserve. But Silver? If I die, she dies. If you forsake me, you forsake her. Listen; do you believe in your Christ, the dear Christ? Then, in his name I swear to you that you cannot reach her alone, that only I can guide you to her. O save me, for her sake! Must she suffer and linger and die? O God, have pity and soften his heart!' The voice died away in sobs, the weak slow sobs of an old man.
But Waring, stern in avenging justice, drew himself from the feeble grasp, and walked down towards the boats. He did not intend fairly to desert the miserable old creature. He hardly knew what he intended, but his impulse was to put more space between them, between himself and this wretch who gathered his evil living from dead men's bones. So he stood gazing out to sea. A faint cry roused him, and, turning, he saw that the old man had dragged himself half across the distance between them, marking the way with his blood, for the bandages were loosened by his movements. As Waring turned, he held up his hands, cried aloud, and fell as if dead on the sands. 'I am a brute,' said Waring. Then he went to work and brought back consciousness, rebound the wounds, lifted the body in his strong arms and bore it down the beach. A sail-boat lay in a cove, with a little skiff in tow. Waring arranged a couch in the bottom, and placed the old man in an easy position on an impromptu pillow made of his coat. Fog opened his eyes. 'Anything come ashore?' he asked faintly, trying to turn his head towards the reef. Conquering his repugnance, the young man walked out on the long point. There was nothing there; but farther down the coast barrels were washing up and back in the surf, and one box had stranded in shallow water. 'Am I, too, a wrecker?' he asked himself, as with much toil and trouble he secured the booty and examined it. Yes, the barrels contained provisions.
Old Fog, revived by the sight, lay propped at the stern, giving directions. Waring found himself a child obeying the orders of a wiser head. The load on board, the little skiff carrying its share behind, the young man set sail and away they flew over the angry water; old Fog watching the sky, the sail, and the rudder, guiding their course with a word now and then, but silent otherwise.
'Shall we see the castle soon?' asked Waring, after several hours had passed.
'We may be there by night, if the wind doesn't shift.'
'Have we so far to go, then? Why, I came across in the half of a night.'
'Add a day to the half and you have it. I let you down at dawn and towed you out until noon; I then spied that sail beating up, and I knew there would be a storm by night, and--and things were desperate with me. So I cast you off and came over to set the light. It was a chance I did not count on, that your dug-out should float this way; I calculated that she would beach you safely on an island farther to the south.'
'And all this time, when you were letting me down--By the way, how did you do it?'
'Lifted a plank in the floor.'
'When you were letting me down, and towing me out, and calculating chances, what was I, may I ask?'
'O, just a body asleep, that was all; your punch was drugged, and well done too! Of course I could not have you at the castle; that was plain.'
They flew on a while longer, and then veered short to the left. 'This boat sails well,' said Waring, 'and that is your skiff behind I see. Did you whistle for it that night?'
'I let it out by a long cord while you went after the game bag, and the shore-end I fastened to a little stake just under the edge of the water on that long slope of beach. I snatched it up as I ran out, and kept hauling in until I met it. You fell off that ledge, didn't you? I calculated on that. You see I had found out all I wanted to know; the only thing I feared was some plan for settling along that shore, or exploring it for something. It is my weak side; if you had climbed up one of those tall trees you might have caught sight of the castle,--that is, if there was no fog.'
'Will the fog come up now?'
'Hardly; the storm has been too heavy. I suppose you know what day it is?' continued the old man, peering up at his companion from under his
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