The Coming of Abel Behenna by Bram Stoker
The little Cornish port of Pencastle was bright in the early April,
when the sun had seemingly come to stay after a long and bitter winter.
Boldly and blackly the rock stood out against a background of shaded
blue, where the sky fading into mist met the far horizon. The sea was
of true Cornish hue--sapphire, save where it became deep emerald green
in the fathomless depths under the cliffs, where the seal caves opened
their grim jaws. On the slopes the grass was parched and brown. The
spikes of furze bushes were ashy grey, but the golden yellow of their
flowers streamed along the hillside, dipping out in lines as the rock
cropped up, and lessening into patches and dots till finally it died
away all together where the sea winds swept round the jutting cliffs
and cut short the vegetation as though with an ever-working aerial
shears. The whole hillside, with its body of brown and flashes of
yellow, was just like a colossal yellow-hammer.
The little harbour opened from the sea between towering cliffs, and
behind a lonely rock, pierced with many caves and blow-holes through
which the sea in storm time sent its thunderous voice, together with a
fountain of drifting spume. Hence, it wound westwards in a serpentine
course, guarded at its entrance by two little curving piers to left and
right. These were roughly built of dark slates placed endways and held
together with great beams bound with iron bands. Thence, it flowed up
the rocky bed of the stream whose winter torrents had of old cut out
its way amongst the hills. This stream was deep at first, with here and
there, where it widened, patches of broken rock exposed at low water,
full of holes where crabs and lobsters were to be found at the ebb of
the tide. From amongst the rocks rose sturdy posts, used for warping in
the little coasting vessels which frequented the port. Higher up, the
stream still flowed deeply, for the tide ran far inland, but always
calmly for all the force of the wildest storm was broken below. Some
quarter mile inland the stream was deep at high water, but at low tide
there were at each side patches of the same broken rock as lower down,
through the chinks of which the sweet water of the natural stream
trickled and murmured after the tide had ebbed away. Here, too, rose
mooring posts for the fishermen's boats. At either side of the river
was a row of cottages down almost on the level of high tide. They were
pretty cottages, strongly and snugly built, with trim narrow gardens in
front, full of old-fashioned plants, flowering currants, coloured
primroses, wallflower, and stonecrop. Over the fronts of many of them
climbed clematis and wisteria. The window sides and door posts of all
were as white as snow, and the little pathway to each was paved with
light coloured stones. At some of the doors were tiny porches, whilst
at others were rustic seats cut from tree trunks or from old barrels;
in nearly every case the window ledges were filled with boxes or pots
of flowers or foliage plants.
Two men lived in cottages exactly opposite each other across the
stream. Two men, both young, both good-looking, both prosperous, and
who had been companions and rivals from their boyhood. Abel Behenna was
dark with the gypsy darkness which the Phoenician mining wanderers left
in their track; Eric Sanson-- which the local antiquarian said was a
corruption of Sagamanson--was fair, with the ruddy hue which marked the
path of the wild Norseman. These two seemed to have singled out each
other from the very beginning to work and strive together, to fight for
each other and to stand back to back in all endeavours. They had now
put the coping-stone on their Temple of Unity by falling in love with
the same girl. Sarah Trefusis was certainly the prettiest girl in
Pencastle, and there was many a young man who would gladly have tried
his fortune with her, but that there were two to contend against, and
each of these the strongest and most resolute man in the port--except
the other. The average young man thought that this was very hard, and
on account of it bore no good will to either of the three principals:
whilst the average young woman who had, lest worse should befall, to
put up with the grumbling of her sweetheart, and the sense of being
only second best which it implied, did not either, be sure, regard
Sarah with friendly eye. Thus it came, in the course of a year or so,
for rustic courtship is a slow process, that the two men and woman
found themselves thrown much together. They, were all satisfied, so it
did not matter, and Sarah, who was vain and something frivolous, took
care to have her revenge on both men and women in a quiet way. When a
young woman in her 'walking out' can only boast one not-quite-satisfied
young man, it is no particular pleasure to her to see her escort cast
sheep's eyes at a better-looking girl supported by two devoted swains.
At length there came a time which Sarah dreaded, and which she had
tried to keep distant--the time when she had to make her choice between
the two men. She liked them both, and, indeed, either of them might
have satisfied the ideas of even a more exacting girl. But her mind was
so constituted that she thought more of what she might lose, than of
what she might gain; and whenever she thought she had made up her mind
she became instantly assailed with doubts as to the wisdom of her
choice. Always the man whom she had presumably lost became endowed
afresh with a newer and more bountiful crop of advantages than had ever
arisen from the possibility of his acceptance. She promised each man
that on her birthday she would give him his answer, and that day, the
11th of April, had now arrived. The promises had been given singly and
confidentially, but each was given to a man who was not likely to
forget. Early in the morning she found both men hovering round her
door. Neither had taken the other into his confidence, and each was
simply seeking an early opportunity of getting his answer, and
advancing his suit if necessary. Damon, as a rule, does not take
Pythias with him when making a proposal; and in the heart of each man
his own affairs had a claim far above any requirements of friendship.
So, throughout the day. they kept seeing each other out. The position
was doubtless somewhat embarrassing to Sarah, and though the
-satisfaction of her vanity that she should be thus adored was very
pleasing, yet there were moments when she was annoyed with both men for
being so persistent. Her only consolation at such moments was that she
saw, through the elaborate smiles of the other girls when in passing
they noticed her door thus doubly guarded, the jealousy which filled
their hearts. Sarah's mother was a person of commonplace and sordid
ideas, and, seeing all along the state of affairs, her one intention,
persistently expressed to her daughter in the plainest words, was to so
arrange matters that Sarah should get all that was possible out of both
men. With this purpose she had cunningly kept herself as far as
possible in the background in the matter of her daughter's wooings, and
watched in silence. At first Sarah had been indignant with her for her
sordid views; but, as usual, her weak nature gave way before
persistence, and she had now got to the stage of acceptance. She was
not surprised when her mother whispered to her in the little yard
behind the house: --
'Go up the hillside for a while; I want to talk to these two.
They're both red-hot for ye, and now's the time to get things fixed!'
Sarah began a feeble remonstrance, but her mother cut her short.
'I tell ye, girl, that my mind is made up! Both these men want ye,
and only one can have ye, but before ye choose it'll be so arranged
that ye'll have all that both have got! Don't argy, child! Go up the
hillside, and when ye come back I'll have it fixed--I see a way quite
easy!' So Sarah went up the hillside through the narrow paths between
the golden furze, and Mrs. Trefusis joined the two men in the
living-room of the little house.
She opened the attack with the desperate courage which is in all
mothers when they think for their children, howsoever mean the thoughts
'Ye two men, ye're both in love with my Sarah!'
Their bashful silence gave consent to the barefaced proposition. She
'Neither of ye has much!' Again they tacitly acquiesced in the soft
'I don't know that either of ye could keep a wife!' Though neither
said a word their looks and bearing expressed distinct dissent. Mrs.
Trefusis went on:
'But if ye'd put what ye both have together ye'd make a comfortable
home for one of ye--and Sarah!' She eyed the men keenly, with her
cunning eyes half shut, as she spoke; then satisfied from her scrutiny
that the idea was accepted she went on quickly, as if to prevent
'The girl likes ye both, and mayhap it's hard for her to choose. Why
don't ye toss up for her? First put your money together--ye've each
-got a bit put by, I know. Let the lucky man take the lot and trade
with it a bit, and then come home and marry her. Neither of ye's
afraid, I suppose! And neither of ye'll say that he won't do that much
for the girl that ye both say ye Jove!'
Abel broke the silence:
'It don't seem the square thing to toss for the girl! She wouldn't
like it herself, and it doesn't seem--seem respectful like to her----'
Eric interrupted. He was conscious that his chance was not so good as
Abel's in Case Sarah should wish to choose between them:
'Are ye afraid of the hazard?'
'Not me!' said Abel, boldly. Mrs. Trefusis, seeing that her idea was
beginning to work, followed up the advantage.
'It is settled that ye put yer money together to make a home for
her, whether ye toss for her or leave it for her to choose?'
'Yes,' said Eric quickly, and Abel agreed with equal sturdiness.
Mrs. Trefusis' little cunning eyes twinkled. She heard Sarah's step in
the yard, and said:
'Well! here she comes, and I leave it to her.' And she went out.
During her brief walk on the hillside Sarah had been trying to make
up her mind. She was feeling almost angry with both men for being the
cause of her difficulty, and as she came into the room said shortly:
'I want to have a word with you both--come to the Flagstaff Rock,
where we can be alone.' She took her hat and went out of the house up
the winding path to the steep rock crowned with a high flag-staff,
where once the wreckers' fire basket used to burn. This was the rock
which formed the northern jaw of the little harbour. There was only
room on the path for two abreast, and it marked the state of things
pretty well when, by a sort of implied arrangement, Sarah went first,
and the two men followed, walking abreast and keeping step. By this
time, each man's heart was boiling with jealousy. When they came to the
top of the rock, Sarah stood against the flagstaff, and the two young
men stood opposite her. She had chosen her position with knowledge and
intention, for there was no room for anyone to stand beside her. They
were all silent for a while; then Sarah began to la ugh and said: --
'I promised the both of you to give you an answer to-day. I've been
thinking and thinking and thinking, till I began to get angry with you
both for plaguing me so; and even now I don't seem any nearer than ever
I was to making up my mind.' Eric said suddenly:
'Let us toss for it, lass!' Sarah showed no indignation whatever at
the proposition; her mother's eternal suggestion had schooled her to
the acceptance of something of the kind, and her weak nature made it
easy to her to grasp at any way out of the difficulty. She stood with
downcast eyes idly picking at the sleeve of her dress, seeming to have
tacitly acquiesced in the proposal. Both men instinctively realising
this pulled each a coin from his pocket, spun it in the air, and
dropped his other hand over the palm on which it lay. For a few seconds
they remained thus, all silent; then Abel, who was the more thoughtful
of the men, spoke:
'Sarah! is this good?' As he spoke he removed the upper hand from
the coin and placed the latter back in his pocket. Sarah was nettled.
'Good or bad, it's good enough for me! Take it or leave it as you
like,' she said, to which he replied quickly:
'Nay lass! Aught that concerns you is good enow for me. I did but
think of you lest you might have pain or disappointment hereafter. If
you love Eric better nor me, in God's name say so, and I think I'm man
enow to stand aside. Likewise, if I'm the one, don't make us both
miserable for life!' Face to face with a difficulty. Sarah's weak
nature proclaimed itself; she put her hands before her face and began
to cry, saying--
'It was my mother. She keeps telling me!' The silence which followed
was broken by Eric, who said hotly to Abel:
'Let the lass alone, can't you? If she wants to choose this way, let
her. It's good enough for me--and for you, too! She's said it now, and
must abide by it!' Hereupon Sarah turned upon him in sudden fury, and
'Hold your tongue! what is it to you, at any rate?' and she resumed
her crying. Eric was so flabbergasted that he had not a word to say,
but stood looking particularly foolish, with his mouth open and his
hands held out with the coin still between them. All were silent till
Sarah, taking her hands from her face laughed hysterically and said:
'As you two can't make up your minds, I'm going home!' and she
turned to go.
'Stop,' said Abel, in an authoritative voice. 'Eric, you hold the
coin, and I'll cry. Now, before we settle it, let us clearly
understand: the man who wins takes all the money that we both have got,
brings it to Bristol and ships on a voyage and trades with it. Then he
comes back and marries Sarah, and they two keep all, whatever there may
be, as the result of the trading. Is this what we understand?'
'Yes,' said Eric.
'I'll marry him on my next birthday,' said Sarah. Having said it the
intolerably mercenary spirit of her action seemed to strike her, and
impulsively she turned away with a bright blush. Fire seemed to sparkle
in the eyes of both men. Said Eric: 'A year so be! The man that wins is
to have one year.'
'Toss!' cried Abel, and the coin spun in the air. Eric caught it.
and again held it between his outstretched hands.
'Heads!' cried Abel, a pallor sweeping over his face as he spoke. As
he leaned forward to look Sarah leaned forward too, and their heads
almost touched. He could feel her hair blowing on his cheek, and it
thrilled through him like fire. Eric lifted his upper hand; the coin
lay with its head up. Abel stepped forward and took Sarah in his arms.
With a curse Eric hurled the coin far into the sea. Then he leaned
against the flagstaff and scowled at the others with his hands thrust
deep into his pockets. Abel whispered wild words of passion and delight
into Sarah's ears, and as she listened she began to believe that
fortune had rightly interpreted the wishes of her secret heart, and
that she loved Abel best.
Presently Abel looked up and caught sight of Eric's face as the last
ray of sunset struck it. The red light intensified the natural
ruddiness of his complexion, and he looked as though he were steeped in
blood. Abel did not mind his scowl, for now that his own heart was at
rest he could feel unalloyed pity for. his friend. He stepped over
meaning to comfort him. and held out his hand, saying:
'It was my chance, old-lad. Don't grudge it me. I'll try to make
Sarah a happy woman, and you shall be a brother to us both!'
'Brother be damned!' was all the answer Eric made, as he turned
away. When he had gone a few steps down the rocky path he turned and
came back. Standing before Abel and Sarah, who had their arms round
each other, he said:
'You have a year. Make the most of it! And be sure you're in time to
claim your wife! Be back to have your banns up in time to be married on
the Nth April. If you're not, I tell you I shall have my banns up, and
you may get back too late.'
'What do you mean, Eric? You are mad!'
'No more mad than you are, Abel Behenna. You go, that's your chance!
I stay, that's mine! I don't mean to let the grass grow under my feet.
Sarah cared no more for you than for me five minutes ago, and she may
come back to that five minutes after you're gone! You won by a point
only--the game may change.'
'The game won't change!' said Abel shortly. 'Sarah, you'll be true
to me? You won't marry till I return?'
'For a year!' added Eric, quickly, 'that's the bargain.'
'I promise for the year,' said Sarah. A dark look came over Abel's
face, and he was about to speak, but he mastered himself and smiled.
'I mustn't be too hard or get angry to-night! Come, Eric! we played
and fought together. I won fairly. I played fairly all the game of our
wooing! You know that as well as I do; and now when I am going away, I
shall look to my old and true comrade to help me when I am gone!'
It'll help you none,' said Eric, 'so help me God!'
'It was God helped me,' said Abel simply.
'Then let Him go on helping you,' said Eric angrily. 'The Devil is
good enough for me!' and without another word he rushed down the steep
path and disappeared behind the rocks.
When he had gone Abel hoped for some tender passage with Sarah, but
the first remark she made chilled him.
'How lonely it all seems without Eric!' and this note sounded till
he had left her at home--and after.
Early on the next morning Abel heard a noise at his door, and on
going out saw Eric walking rapidly away: a small canvas bag full of
gold and silver lay on the threshold; on a small slip of paper pinned
to it was written:
'Take the money and go. T stay. God for you! The Devil for me!
Remember the 11th of April.--ERIC SANSON.' That afternoon Abel went off
to Bristol, and a week later sailed on the Star of the Sea
bound for Pahang. His money--including that which had been Eric's--was
on board in the shape of a venture of cheap toys. He had been advised
by a shrewd old mariner of Bristol whom he knew, and who knew the ways
of the Chersonese, who predicted that every penny invested would be
returned with a shilling to boot.
As the year wore on Sarah became more and more disturbed in her
mind. Eric was always at hand to make love to her in his own
persistent, masterful manner, and to this she did not object. Only one
letter came from Abel, to say that his venture had proved successful,
and that he had sent some two hundred pounds to the bank at Bristol,
and was trading with fifty pounds still remaining in goods for China,
whither the Star of the Sea was bound and whence she would
return to Bristol. He suggested that Eric's share of the venture should
be returned to him with his share of the profits. This proposition was
treated with anger by Eric, and as simply childish by Sarah's mother.
More than six months had since then elapsed, but no other letter had
come, and Eric's hopes which had been dashed down by the letter from
Pahang, began to rise again. He perpetually assailed Sarah with an
'if!' If Abel did not return, would she then marry him? If the 11th
April went by without Abel being in the port, would she give him over?
If Abel had taken his fortune, and married another girl on the head of
it, would she marry him, Eric, as soon as the truth were known? And so
on in an endless variety of possibilities. The power of the strong will
and the determined purpose over the woman's weaker nature became in
time manifest. Sarah began to lose her faith in Abel and to regard Eric
as a possible husband; and a possible husband is in a woman's eye
different to all other men. A new affection for him began to arise in
her breast, and the daily familiarities of permitted courtship
furthered the growing affection. Sarah began to regard Abel as rather a
rock in the road of her life, and had it-not been for her mother's
constantly reminding her of the good fortune already laid by in the
Bristol Bank she would have so occupied, filled him with a joy
unspeakable, and he felt faint with languorous ecstasy. Bending over he
kissed Sarah on the mouth, and then whispered in her rosy ear--
'Your wedding dress, Sarah! And for me!' As he drew back to admire
her she looked up saucily, and said to him--
'Perhaps not for you. There is more than a week yet for Abel!' and
then cried out in dismay, for with a wild gesture and a fierce oath
Eric dashed out of the house, banging the door behind him. The incident
disturbed Sarah more than she could have thought possible, for it awoke
all her fears and doubts and indecision afresh. She cried a little, and
put by her dress, and to soothe herself went out to sit for a while on
the summit of the Flagstaff Rock. When she arrived she found there a
little group anxiously discussing the weather. The sea was calm and the
sun bright, but across the sea were strange lines of darkness and
light, and close in to shore the rocks were fringed with foam, which
spread out in great white curves and circles as the currents drifted.
The wind had backed, and came in sharp, cold puffs. The blow-hole,
which ran under the Flagstaff Rock, from the rocky bay without to the
harbour within, was booming at intervals, and the seagulls were
screaming ceaselessly as they wheeled about the entrance of the port.
'It looks bad,' she heard an old fisherman say to the coastguard. 'I
seen it just like this once before, when the East Indiaman
Coromandel went to pieces in Dizzard Bay!' Sarah did not wait to
hear more. She was of a timid nature where danger was concerned, and
could not bear to hear of wrecks and disasters. She went home and
resumed the completion of her dress, secretly determined to appease
Eric when she should meet him with a sweet apology--and to take the
earliest opportunity of being even with him after her marriage. The old
fisherman's weather prophecy was justified. That night at dusk a wild
storm came on. The sea rose and lashed the western coasts from Skye to
Sicily and left a tale of disaster everywhere. The sailors and
fishermen of Pencastle all turned out on the rocks and cliffs and
watched eagerly. Presently, by a flash of lightning, a 'ketch' was seen
drifting under only a jib about half-a-mile outside the port. All eyes
and all glasses were concentrated on her, waiting for the next flash,
and when it came a chorus went up that it was the Lovely Alice,
trading between Bristol and Penzance, and touching at all the little
ports between. 'Cod help them!' said the harbour-master, 'for nothing
in this world can save them when they are between Bude and Tintagel and
the wind on shore!' The coastguards exerted themselves, and, aided by
brave hearts and willing hands, they brought the rocket apparatus up on
the summit of the Flagstaff Rock. Then they burned blue lights so that
those on board might see the harbour opening in ease they could make
any effort to reach it. They worked gallantly enough on board; but no
skill or strength of man could avail. Before many minutes were over the
Lovely Alice rushed to her doom on the great island rock that
guarded the mouth of the port. The screams of those on board were
faintly borne on the tempest as they flung themselves into the sea in a
last chance for life. The blue lights were kept burning, and eager eyes
peered into the depths of the waters in case any face could be seen;
and ropes were held ready to fling out in aid. But never a face was
seen, and the willing arms rested idle. Eric was there amongst his
fellows. His old Icelandic origin was never more apparent than in that
wild hour. He took a rope, and shouted in the ear of the harbour-master:
'I shall go down on the rock over the seal cave. The tide is running
up, and someone may drift in there!'
'Keep back, man!' came the answer. 'Are you mad? One slip on that
rock and you are lost: and no man could keep his feet in the dark on
such a place in such a tempest!'
'Not a bit,' came the reply. 'You remember how Abel Behenna saved me
there on a night like this when my boat went on the Gull Rock. He
dragged me up from .the deep water in the seal cave, and now someone
may drift in there again as I did.' and he was gone into the darkness.
The projecting rock hid the light on the Flagstaff Rock, but he knew
his way too well to miss it. His boldness and sureness of foot standing
to him, he shortly stood on the great round-topped rock cut away
beneath by the action of the waves over the entrance of the seal cave,
where the water was fathomless. There he stood in comparative safety,
for the concave shape of the rock beat back the waves with their own
force, and though the water below him seemed to boil like a seething
cauldron, just beyond the spot there was a space of almost calm. The
rock, too, seemed here to shut off the sound of the gale, and he
listened as well as watched. As he stood there ready, with his coil of
rope poised to throw, he thought he heard below him, just beyond the
whirl of the water, a faint, despairing cry. He echoed it with a shout
that rang into the night. Then he waited for the flash of lightning,
and as it passed flung his rope out into the darkness where he had seen
a face rising through the swirl of the foam. The rope was caught, for
he felt a pull on it, and he shouted again in his mighty voice:
Tie it round your waist, and I shall pull you up.' Then when he felt
that it was fast he moved along the rock to the far side of the sea
cave, where the deep water was something stiller, and where he could
get foothold secure enough to drag the rescued man on the overhanging
rock. He began to pull, and shortly he knew from the rope taken in that
the man he was now rescuing must soon be close to the top of the rock.
He steadied himself for a moment, and drew a long breath, that he might
at the next effort complete the rescue. He had just bent his back to
the work when a flash of lightning revealed to each other the two
men--the rescuer and the rescued.
Eric Sanson and Abel Behenna were face to face-- and none knew of
the meeting save themselves; and God.
On the instant a wave of passion swept through Eric's heart. All his
hopes were shattered, and with the hatred of Cain his eyes looked out.
He saw in the instant of recognition the joy in Abel's face that his
was the hand to succour him, and this intensified his hate. Whilst the
passion was on him he started back, and the rope ran out between his
hands. His moment of hate was followed by an impulse of his better
manhood, but it was too late.
Before he could recover himself, Abel encumbered with the rope that
should have aided him. Was plunged with a despairing cry back into the
darkness of the devouring sea.
Then, feeling all the madness and the doom of Cain upon him, Eric
rushed back over the rocks, heedless of the danger and eager only for
one thing--to be amongst other people whose living noises would shut
out that last cry which seemed to ring still in his ears. When he
regained the Flagstaff Rock the men surrounded him, and through the
fury of the storm he heard the harbour-master say: --
'We feared you were lost when we heard a cry! How white you are!
Where is your rope? Was there anyone drifted in?'
'No one,' he shouted in answer, for he felt that he could never
explain that he had let his old comrade slip back into the sea, and at
the very place and under the very circumstances in which that comrade
had saved his own life. I le hoped by one bold lie to set the matter at
rest for ever. There was no one to bear witness--and if he should have
to carry that still white face in his eyes and that despairing cry in
his ears for evermore--at least none should know of it. 'No one,' he
cried, more loudly still. 'I slipped on the rock, and the rope fell
into the sea!' So saying he left them, and, rushing down the steep
path, gained his own cottage and locked himself within.
The remainder of that night he passed lying on his bed--dressed and
motionless--staring upwards, and seeming to see through the darkness a
pale face gleaming wet in the lightning, with its glad recognition
turning to ghastly despair, and to hear a cry which never ceased to
echo in his soul.
In the morning the storm was over and all was smiling again, except
that the sea was still boisterous with its unspent fury. Great pieces
of wreck drifted into the port, and the sea around the island rock was
strewn with others. Two bodies also drifted into the harbour-- one the
master of the wrecked ketch, the other a strange seaman whom no one
Sarah saw nothing of Eric till the evening, and then he only looked
in for a minute. He did not come into the house, but simply put his
head in through the open window.
'Well, Sarah,' he called out in a loud voice, though to her it did
not ring truly, 'is the wedding dress done? Sunday week, mind! Sunday
Sarah was glad to have the reconciliation so easy; but, womanlike,
when she saw the storm was over and her own fears groundless, she at
once repeated the cause of offence.
'Sunday so be it,' she said without looking up. 'if Abel isn't there
on Saturday!' Then she looked up saucily, though her heart was full of
fear of another outburst on the part of her impetuous lover. But the
window was empty; Eric had taken himself off, and with a pout she
resumed her work. She saw Eric no more till Sunday afternoon, after the
banns had been called the third time, when he came up to her before all
the people with an air of proprietorship which half-pleased and
'Not yet. mister!' she said, pushing him away, as the other girls
giggled. 'Wait till Sunday next, if you please --the day after
Saturday!' she added, looking at him saucily. The girls giggled again,
and the young men guffawed. They thought it was the snub that touched
him so that he became as white as a sheet as he turned away. But Sarah,
who knew more than they did. laughed, for she saw triumph through the
spasm of pain that overspread his face.
The week passed uneventfully; however, as Saturday drew nigh Sarah
had occasional moments of anxiety, and as to Eric he went about at
night-time like a man possessed. He restrained himself when others were
by, but now and again he went down amongst the rocks and caves and
shouted aloud. This seemed to relieve him somewhat, and he was better
able to restrain himself for some time after. All Saturday he stayed in
his own house and never left it. As he was to be married on the morrow,
the neighbours thought it was shyness on his part, and did not trouble
or notice him. Only once was he disturbed, and that was when the chief
boatman came to him and sat down, and after a pause said:
'Eric, I was over in Bristol yesterday. I was in the ropemaker's
getting a coil to replace the one you lost the night of the storm, and
there I saw Michael Heavens of this place, who is a salesman there. He
told me that Abel Behenna had come home the week ere last on the
Star of :he Sea from Canton, and that he had lodged a sight of
money in the Bristol Bank in the name of Sarah Behenna. He told Michael
so himself--and that he had taken passage on the Lovely Alice to
Pencastle. Bear up, man,' for Eric had with a groan dropped his head on
his knees, with his face between his hands. 'He was your old comrade, I
know, but you couldn't help him. He must have gone down with the rest
that awful night. I thought I'd better tell you, lest it might come
some other way, and you might keep Sarah Trefusis from being
frightened. They were good friends once, and women take these things to
heart. It would not do to let her be pained with such a thing on her
wedding day!' Then he rose and went away, leaving Eric still sitting
disconsolately with his head on his knees.
'Poor fellow!' murmured the chief boatman to himself; 'he takes it
to heart. Well, well! right enough! They were true comrades once, and
Abel saved him!'
The afternoon of that day, when the children had left school, they
strayed as usual on half-holidays along the quay and the paths by the
cliffs. Presently some of them came running in a state of great
excitement to the harbour, where a few men were unloading a coal ketch,
and a great many were superintending the operation. One of the children
There is a porpoise in the harbour mouth! We saw it come through the
blow-hole! It had a long tail, and was deep under the water!'
'It was no porpoise,' said another; 'it was a seal; but it had a
long tail! It came out of the seal cave!' The other children bore
various testimony, but on two points they were unanimous--it, whatever
'it' was, had corns through the blow-hole deep under the water, and had
a long, thin tail--a tail so long that they could not see the end of
it. There was much unmerciful chaffing of the children by the men on
this point, but as it was evident that they had seen something, quite a
number of persons, young and old, male and female, went along the high
paths on either side of the harbour mouth to catch a glimpse of this
new addition to the fauna of the sea, a long-tailed porpoise or seal.
The tide was now coming in. There was a slight breeze, and the surface
of the water was rippled so that it was only at moments that anyone
could see clearly into the deep water. After a spell of watching a
woman called out that she saw something moving up the channel, just
below where she was standing, There was a stampede to the spot, but by
the time the crowd had gathered the breeze had freshened, and it was
impossible to see with any distinctness below the surface of the water.
On being questioned the woman described what she had seen, but in such
an incoherent way that the whole thing was put-down as an effect of
imagination; had it not been for the children's report she would not
have been credited at all. Her semi-hysterical statement that what she
saw was like a pig with the entrails out was only thought anything of
by an old coastguard, who shook his head but did not make any remark.
For the remainder of the daylight this man was seen always on the
.bank, looking into the water, but always with disappointment manifest
on his face.
Eric arose early on the next morning--he had not slept all night,
and it was a relief to him to move about in the light. He shaved
himself with a hand that did not tremble, and dressed himself in his
wedding clothes. There was a haggard look on his face, and he seemed as
though he had grown years older in the last few days. Still there was a
wild, uneasy light of triumph in his eyes, and he kept murmuring to
himself over and over again:
'This is my wedding-day! Abel cannot claim her now --living or
dead!--living or dead! Living or dead!' He sat in his arm-chair,
waiting with an uncanny quietness for the church hour to arrive. When
the bell began to ring he arose and passed out of his house, closing
the door behind him. He looked at the river and saw the tide had just
turned. In the church he sat with Sarah and her mother, holding Sarah's
hand tightly in his all the time, as though he feared to lose her. When
the service was over they stood up together, and were married in the
presence of the entire congregation; for no one left the church. Both
made the responses clearly--Eric's being even on the defiant side. When
the wedding was over Sarah took her husband's arm, and they walked away
together, the boys and younger girls being cuffed by their elders into
a decorous behaviour, for they would fain have followed close behind
The way from the church led down to the back of Eric's cottage, a
narrow passage being between it and that of his next neighbour. When
the bridal couple had passed through this the remainder of the
congregation, who had followed them at a little distance, were startled
by a long, shrill scream from the bride. They rushed through the
passage and found her on the bank with wild eyes, pointing to the river
bed opposite Eric San-son's door.
The falling tide had deposited there the body of Abel Behenna stark
upon the broken rocks. The rope trailing from its waist had been
twisted by the current round the mooring post, and had held it back
whilst the tide had ebbed away from it. The right elbow had fallen in a
chink in the rock, leaving the hand outstretched toward Sarah, with the
open palm upward as though it were extended to receive hers, the pale
drooping fingers open to the clasp.
All that happened afterwards was never quite known to Sarah Sanson.
Whenever she would try to recollect there would become a buzzing in her
ears and a dimness in her eyes, and all would pass away. The only thing
that she could remember of it all--and this she never forgot--was
Eric's breathing heavily, with his face whiter than that of the dead
man, as he muttered under his breath:
'Devil's help! Devil's faith! Devil's price!'