It is mostly the women that whisper about women (at least it was so here in Old Harbor, when I was a boy of twelve) and the old men that whisper about ships. I don't mean that they actually whisper — those old men sitting in their rockers on the gray wharves along all the spacious yellow beach — but the effect is of a vast aggregate of little voices, passing judgment.
The little voices damned the Angie before ever her keel was wet. The Angie's builder, up Dorchester way, had sent down a "man-killer" once before, and the whispering gossip mulled and mulled, and the new sloop would be a "bad boat" — that was the verdict of the little voices. She had no witness, no counsel; she herself was not even sitting on the flat circle within the canted yellow ring from which she was being judged, but there she was damned, and there she remained damned.
A man killed himself in her cabin on the trip from the yards. After that no one would ship in her, she lay idle at her moorings for months at a time, gathering disrepute and disrepute, so familiar a fixture of my childhood that I should not recall her existence at all had she not helped to make one of those pictures that stand in my memory. And I remember my life, not as a narrative, but as a succession of pictures, often far apart and isolated.
I have a picture of a day when the world was red. I have a picture of a tormented moon making a silhouette of something floating on a troubled sea; a picture of dim sand hummocks and a monstrous man striding across them; and a picture of a brilliant, dry sunrise, when the world was like a stage, its thin furnishings cut from canvas and cardboard.
From the little house where I lived when I was a boy, one can look to the westward along the State Road into Old Harbor, a mile up-shore from us. In the early autumn the sun goes down into the very core of the town. When there is just enough mist in the air, the red disk touching the tower of the Congregational church seems to set off a conspired train, and immediately all the huddled roofs and trees and wharves and masts of Old Harbor are caught up and overwhelmed in a tremendous crimson destruction.
It was on an evening of my twelfth year that I saw my mother's cousin coming along the State Road, growing and blackening against the flare behind like a ponderous survivor, fleeing leisurely. I knew he was coming to talk with my father, who was painting a dory-thwart in the fish-shed, so there I went and stowed myself away in a corner.
Dedos was a man of enormous girth. When he came into the shed and sat down on a pile of old sail-cloth, he brought to my mind the picture of a pyramid in a book they gave me at Old Harbor school — but very solemn and grotesque and snapping his fingers. He was forever snapping those huge fingers of his, and it has come to me in later years that "Dedos," our Portuguese for "fingers," was not his real name, though I have never heard any other in Old Harbor. Every one knew Dedos as a comical fellow, and though he seldom spoke, and then with a hesitating gravity, one always roared at him.
Now he sat for some time in silence, pyramid-wise, watching my father's brush. When he spoke it was with a comical embarrassment.
"I — I've took the Angie," he exploded, with something desperate in his wide face.
"Debil," my father muttered, shaking his head. "Dat's debil sheep. You one beeg fool, I t'ink. You no git nobody go weed you in dat boat, Ded's."
Dedos said no more; only sat lumped upon himself in extravagant trouble, while my father fell to work again with studied vigor. Because I was so young I filled in the pause with a doggerel couplet I had heard in Old Harbor streets as long as I could remember:
"Angie is a scow,
Better sink her now."
I had hardly come to the last word when the back of my father's hand sent me rolling into a heap of tarred weir-twine. When I had got my small frame on its proper end once more he was still swearing his pregnant Island oaths, and through the open doorway I could see Dedos lumbering away, his fingers snapping aimlessly and his big head sunk forward as though in humorous determination to butt out the last vestiges of the western fire.
Dedos was a fool to take the Angie. He used to emerge from the crimson destruction, of an evening, and sit on the sail-cloth in the shed, the same droll pyramid of trouble. And every evening the crescendo of his popping fingers led up to the same explosive phrase: "I ain't got nobody yet — an' the mackerel's goin' fast — fast,"
I used to watch Dedos's popping fingers with a boundless awe. Try as I might, and with his accomplishments always in eye, it was but a poor commotion I could raise between my small thumb and forefinger.
It was perhaps two weeks after Dedos took the Angie that those popping fingers ceased to qualify the man in my eyes, and he was suddenly thrust forward upon my stage, clothed in the habiliments of romance. And romance is a sweeping and terrible thing to a boy of twelve.
I was out that afternoon in the back country on the affairs of a pirate's cave I had lately finished on a ridge near Paul Dyer's road. I was dragging along a fragment of an old sheet-iron stove as a start toward cave-furnishing, and I was suffering in spirit— you may believe it or not — because the world was so red. There is no other place in the world so red as the Cape when the high-bush blueberries turn.
There is a spot to the east of Small's Pond, a sweeping hillside shut away from the water and the sand, which might be the very inner temple of the Fire God, it is so crowded with still flame. It was here that I came upon a girl, picking sprays from the bushes. I had never seen this girl before, but beyond that strangeness was another and deeper strangeness I could only sense vaguely and not understand at all. She looked pale and fragile, a ghost of a girl with pallid hair; but this was the fault of the red world. I wondered why she threw the sprays aside as fast as she gathered them, and why she seemed frightened and abashed at me.
Then came to my ears a familiar sound, a rhythmic popping of fingers, and there was Dedos, a dun-colored pyramid looming from the tapestry uphill. A tremendous solemnity was written on his face, and no god of stone was ever more apart from the world than Dedos.
I stood there for a moment matching the blueberry bushes with my embarrassment. Then I turned and ran, leaving the iron stove behind, not embarrassed now, but important as one who should go along the front street announcing that I had seen Dedos with a girl.
The distinction was never to be realized, however. I tested the news on my mother, whom I found at home mending an old oil-jacket of my father's.
"I seen Dedos with a girl," I pronounced.
"W'at girl was eet, Zhoe?"
"I never seen her before."
My mother's attention shifted from the oil-jacket. "W'at deed she look lek, Zhoe?"
I tried to tell her the little I could remember, and my little was enough to bring her down upon me in a torrent of passion which one who did not know her would have taken for genuine rage.
"Don' you tell nobody, Zhoe — don' you tell nobody. And don' you go near to dat girl, Zhoe. Do you hear your mudder, Zhoe? Do you?"
"Why for, mother?"
"Zhoe, dat's de Han'k'chief Lady's girl."
And thus was the cloak of romance thrown over my mother's cousin.
Was there an Old Harbor child, in my day of youth, who did not know about the Handkerchief Lady? Most of us had seen her at one time or another, slipping through the edges of the town at twilight or in the very early morning, and I for one had come upon her gathering white shells on the beach half-way to Truro. I presume it was some sort of a veil she wore over her face — to Old Harbor it was the "han'k'chief."
We had all seen the Handkerchief Lady, but none of us had ever seen the place where she lived. Her dwelling was a hovel; it was a mansion; it was a palace of horrible witcheries; it was a hole scraped in the sand. It lay miles away over the dunes; it was near Coon Hollow station; it was near-by, just around the shoulder of some hill a boy had never explored; it was anywhere. Some said she had a child, others denied it, and I have witnessed fights in the front street on every phase of this one point. The only thing we knew surely was that nobody had ever seen the Handkerchief Lady's face.
Of course we were wrong. There was a time when many people had seen her face and seen that it was very beautiful. There was a time when the Handkerchief Lady was a girl, and the well-beloved of Old Harbor. Boys of twelve and thereabouts should not know these things. Then there was a young man with a yacht and a fine way with him, and the yacht sailed off merrily one morning, and after a week or so the girl came back, not so merrily, and good women kept indoors.
It was the Handkerchief Lady that went out into the dunes that day.
And now suddenly, through the touch of my kinsman, I found myself touching this remote and mysterious existence. In the days that followed, Dedos took on for me all the trappings of romance. I moved along the edge of an alluring land, oppressed by my secret knowledge.
I saw the two together again before Dedos sailed with the Angie. They were walking over the dunes beyond Snail Road, the man floundering heavily, the girl scarcely discernible except when a ridge brought her against the sky. So long as I could see them they walked far apart and seemingly unmindful of each other's existence.
One evening Dedos came out to announce that he had found a man to go with him — Johnnie Silva. My father roared, and even I joined in the mirth over the joke. Johnnie was hardly more than a boy, and half-witted in the bargain.
But Dedos was not through with his ponderous comedy. The next day he sailed away with his frail crew and a brave new set of dragging-nets. He put them down in the wrong place and took no mackerel, though half a mile to the leeward Sim Mayo stocked seven barrels. He went again and went wrong again---twice.
My father was dragging with Antone Perez that year in the Flores, and doing very well as dragging goes. I shall always remember the day they went out for the last set of the season. A sharp air blew off-shore, catching up the afterswell of a dead "easterly" in a diaphonous violet fringe all along the beach, and this fringe, at either extremity of sight, merged into a luminous and opalescent veil that shrouded the circuit of the horizon. The world was like the chamber of a shell immeasurably magnified.
I remember the veil about the horizon so vividly because against it I saw over twenty sail of draggers making out for the last set. One of them was the Angie.
They came back after dark that night, not the nicely slanting fleet I had seen against the opalescent veil, but a straggling rout of lights fighting around Long Point through the seas of a northeaster. Long before sundown, when the thing was making up, my mother's hands, playing in each other, had betrayed her mind, and since that time she had been outdoors, hovering along the front fence, with her eyes to sea. Her anxiety grew with the hours, and as the dark came on she forgot about me and worried aloud. It was not till one of the lights drew away from the struggling ruck and made down for our own creek that her writhing hands grew calm and she went indoors to prepare a belated supper,
I ran down to the creek and watched the Flores come to anchor. And there I saw something to set me wondering. The Flores had gone out that day with my father and Antone Perez. She came back with three men — even through the streaming darkness I was sure of it. When they had ferried ashore I saw that the third figure was Johnnie Silva.
So soon as the three had come into the kitchen my mother knew that something was wrong. The picture of her hands all covered with meal and spread wide in apprehension remains with me to this day.
"W'ere's de Angie?" she demanded. "W'ere's him- - my cousin?"
She had to put the question again before she had an answer, and then it was only my father's hand gesturing toward the open sea.
" Drownded?" my mother screamed.
"God he knows," my father said, hunching his shoulders. "Dedos wouldn' come in. We got Johnnie off him — Dedos wouldn' come."
"Says he's goin' git feesh," Perez broke in, with the venom which hides a fisherman's trouble, whatever it be. "We come astern of him an' p'inted at the weather an' he stood up there shakin' his head. 'I'm goin' git feesh afore I goes in,' he says, an' we couldn' move him if all hell was comin' over the sky- line. We got Johnnie off an' come in with the rest. Dedos' out there now — seven mile off Plymouth."
"Debil sheep," growled my father. He had been swearing all the time — a running, terrible bass, holding up the other's recitative.
I have always wondered if, when they ran astern of him that afternoon, Dedos stood up against the sunset. That is the way I like to think of him, with his big legs apart to the roll of the "bad boat," a huge, dark silhouette against the crimson explosion, no longer a ponderous fugitive, but waiting.
The following morning I lay late abed, deceived by the darkness in my garret. It was one of those black days when to read print one must crowd up close to the window. I played shipwreck with my baby brother almost all day, down in the clamorous fish-shed, muddling his small head with terrific denunciation of his cowardice, thundering at him to go ashore with the rest, while I posed with my feet as wide apart as I might manage on the sail-cloth and defied the elements. All that day men came out along the State Road to talk with my father and peer through the scud to sea.
The second day more people came out, some of them women, though the State Road was a booming hell of sand and wind and water. I noticed that none of thern peered to sea this day, and that the women gathered in knots and looked at my mother and shook their heads. After a while it came to me that Dedos must be dead.
I tried to get this through my brother's head; I did my best to make him understand the importance cast upon us, and grew very impatient at his lack of enthusiasm. That day is dwarfed into a brief and unimportant passage of time, however, in my memory, by the night which followed— perhaps the most momentous night of my boyhood — the first night I ever passed outside of my own bed.
Two vessels were aground on Peaked Hill bars that night. Peaked Hill is just across the Neck from us, and all night long people were going back and forth from Old Harbor, most of them stopping for a word or a cup of coffee, so that our house was like a stage with its alarums and excursions. My mother was so busy with these comings and goings that she forgot all about me, and I watched the hands of the kitchen clock move around with a rising sense of adventure.
Any shipwreck is the cardinal concern of a sea people. My mother gathered the news from the incomers and passed it on to the outgoers with such an energetic care for the last scrap of it that a new idea grew up in my small head. I waited for a moment when she was alone, went to her and said, pointing over the Neck with my thumb:
"Uncle Dedos out there?"
She looked down at me and shook her head. "No, Zhoe; Dedos weel never come back no more. He's dead. He's drownded in dat debil boat long afore now, Zhoe."
So I had been right before. I had it from her own lips.
I think she was upon the point of sending me off to bed then, but at that moment more women came in, six or eight of them, their damp clothes sending up a mist in the hot front room. Over their shoulders, as they entered, I saw a streak of the moon, and knew that the storm had broken with a shift of wind. I should have noticed that the world seemed strangely quiet long before had I not been so overcome with the spectacle of the kitchen clock telling the hour of eleven, and my own struggle to keep awake.
It was not long before this struggle had me back to my last ditch. I crawled under the front room table to hide my ignoble state and closed my heavy eyes, unmindful of the chattering voices.
I don't know how long I lay there before I was awakened by an abrupt cessation of noise in the place. Without moving, I opened my eyes, ever so little. Then I opened them wide, very much awake.
Young as I was, I realized that something very queer would be afoot with the Handkerchief Lady's daughter in our front room. She stood up with her back against the door, her bare feet in a little spattered ring of sand, her hands tangled in the ragged skirt, and her head bent forward and smothered under its burden of tawny hair.
For a long time not a sound was heard in the room. I couldn't understand for the life of me why all the women had stopped talking because a girl no more than half the age of the youngest among them had come into their midst. From where I crouched in the shadow I could see old Mrs. Sousa staring straight ahead of her, with little hard lines radiating from the corners of her mouth. After a time I heard two of the women whispering in another part of the room, and then my mother's voice, loud and abrupt.
"W'at do you wan' here, girl?"
I believe she thought the Handkerchief Lady's daughter had come about Dedos — I know I had no other idea.
"W'at do you wan'?" my mother asked again. The girl remained silent, nor did she move, except that her hands disentangled themselves from the skirt and went up under the veil of hair. In the quiet moment that followed I heard the tide gnawing at the edges of the creek and footfalls of people coming into the State Road from the path across the Neck. The girl heard the footfalls, too, moved from the door and stood beside the table, not a yard from my head.
"Why don' the child speak?" Mrs. Sousa was saying, each word separate and hard, when there came the crash of the opening door. Then there were many people filling the little room, staring at the Handkerchief Lady's girl — a dozen voices mingling questions.
It must have been a strange and terrible coming into the world for that child of vacant places. A fresh circle of sand grew about her bare feet close to me — a signal that her ankles were shaking. Of a sudden an immense, unreasoning pity for her came over me. I hunched myself nearer to her, protruded my head between her skirt and the edge of the table, all unmindful of a banged ear and the crash of show dishes. Looking up under the hanging hair, I saw that her face was drawn with fear and her eyes wide, and I lied to her with a shrill might that hushed the clamor of the room in the space between two words.
"He ain't dead," I screamed to her. "Eet's mistake — he ain't dead."
"No — not dead," she screamed back at me, her face whiter than ever in the shadow. Then she turned and faced the room, startled into courage.
"No," she cried out, "she ain't dead, but she's sick. My mother's sick an' she says she'll be dead — an' she wants a — a minister."
Then, before I knew it, her hand was gone from my shoulder and I saw her skirt fluttering in the blue of the moon out-of-doors.
I didn't know what the women were about till I heard two of them whispering near me.
"Eet's out beyond Black Water," one of them was saying.
"No eet ain't. Eet's furder t' d'east'ard, An' eet's queer — eet's queer." The second of the whisperers smoothed down her damp apron with wide, gray-brown hands.
"I t'ink I better go out an' see w'at Ikeen do," she said, this time aloud.
Immediately there were a dozen women who would go. The words had been like a spark through the surcharged atmosphere of the room. All the women there were ready to go out and smooth the death-pillow of the Handkerchief Lady. In the common revulsion of feeling they were ready to forgive the Handkerchief Lady and forget her crime against them — that she had gone away into the sand that long-ago day instead of coming to them in a right humility. I may have been an over-sensitive child — I don't know why I should have been — but I trembled and went hot all over at this piling up of sudden kindliness. I he women trooped to the door, leaving the men about the edges of the room, opened it, poured out over the sill — and stopped there.
Two men were standing in the moonlight, one of them (the larger) with his hands held up. The second of the two was my father. I had not seen him leave the room. He must have gone out the back way.
The man with the lifted hands was Father Ventura, the priest of Old Harbor parish. The Portuguese boys used to shout at the Protestant boys, when I was a child, that Father Ventura could pick up any man in Old Harbor with one hand. He was such a priest as one expects to find along the frontiers of the world. I think of him now as a lawless man — a man who loved his brother more than he loved the letter of any law.
"Where are you going, children?" he asked. And because my father had told him already, he went on without waiting.
"No, you're not going out there. I am going alone."
It was not till I was years older that I could understand why Father Ventura did what he did that night.
He had said that he was going alone, but he was wrong. The night had got into me. I slipped out of the back door, skirted the fish-shed and a corner of our own dune, and presently came up with the big man striding to the northeast, away from the State Road. Here was the greatest adventure. After a little Father Ventura bent down and took my hand.
We had set out to the northeast, but with the bending of the shore-line we bore more and more to the eastward till, looking bark from the crest of a hummock, I saw open water between us and the lights of my father's house. Then we passed Black Water pond, lying stark and motionless, as though one among that shadow army had fallen for the last time. We were beginning to come into the massive dunes that buttress High Head to the southwest. All my life I had wondered about those dunes standing across a corner of the bay from me, and here right away was something to speculate upon. On the summit of the last shoreward hill burned a tiny spark of light, We passed it a hundred yards to the left, but I could make out nothing else on the crest save the bald sand.
We had come a long way, and I was beginning to tail out at the end of Father Ventura's arm and near wishing I was in my bed at home, when we crossed the shoulder of a rise and saw below us the place where the Handkerchief Lady lived.
The naked sand swept down from the north and east and south and west, without a flaw of any kind to mar the barren ring. A thicket of trees, like dregs in a cup, made a spot of black in the center of the depression. When we had come down the side of the bowl we had to wind our way through the tops of buried trees before we stood on the level floor of the thicket itself. The sand was gnawing at the dregs. I went to the spot a year ago, and the sand had finished its work. The cup was empty.
Father Ventura must have been there before, because we were immediately in a narrow, well-trodden path, with the light from a window shining at the other end. Here wc had to go in single file, so I let go of Father Ventura's hand, and when he had come to the door and opened it I fell back, suddenly turned timid, and stayed outside in the glowing checkerboard under the window, I was not at all afraid here, I was so taken up with wonder over the house. I call it a house, but there is really no word to say what the Handkerchiefs Lady's abode was like. It was made of incongruous bits of almost everything one can imagine — boards, bricks, stones, tin cans flattened out, sail-cloth — but all fashioned together with such an intricate fortune, and so studded and patterned with many-colored shells, and so furbished and worked upon, that it seemed more like a precious trinket wrought by some master craftsman than any human dwelling-place. Nor did it stop with the house, for all the open space about it, and even among the tree trunks, was illuminated and embellished with patterns of shells, so that where the moonlight fell it appeared like silver and lacquer work.
From the memory of that childhood picture I have built up in myself a monstrous and heretical belief, and that is that the Handkerchief Lady was good.
I could see her now when I stood on tiptoe and peeped in through the window. She lay on a bed with her back to me, and I saw that the "handkerchief" was not there.
The priest stood over the bedside with a crucifix in his hand, talking, but not loud enough for me to hear. He was so big, and the crazy-cornered room was so little, that he appeared to my eyes to be holding the whole affair about him with his shoulders. By contrast, the frail white hand of the woman, fluttering away the things he was saying to her, seemed to have passed over already into the world of spirit. For many years I could not understand the meaning of that pantomime — I could not understand that the Handkerchief Lady's fathers had worshiped God at Marston Moor, while his had worshiped God among the lemon-groves.
The Handkerchief Lady's girl was only a shadow to me, cast upon the opposite wall from some invisible corner. The shadow never stirred except when the priest turned his head toward the corner and said a word to the girl.
After a while it seemed that Father Ventura talked about the girl, quieting the dying woman's heart. He told her that he was going to take the daughter with him and see that she was cared for. He pictured a place of wonderful joy and beauty where the girl was to be welcomed, and I think the mother believed him, but the shadowed arms were up now in rigid dissent and pleading, and when he persisted the girl hurried out of the corner and came to the door and opened it.
She couldn't have been more than four feet from me as she stood there looking out through the night. She gazed so long, and with such an intensity of expression in her face, and her clenched hands went out before her with such an agony of mute appeal, that I turned and followed her eyes to see what she could be looking at. And there, just over the southern rim of the bowl, burned the spark of light we had passed on our way. She must have heard me when I turned, for when my eyes came back to her she was staring at me as terrified as though she were seeing a ghost.
"I come with heem," I explained, pointing through the window. She turned away indoors with a little gasp at me.
And then the Handkerchief Lady went away out of the gray bowl with the dregs at its bottom. She had her two hands pressed together, praying in her own way. Father Ventura's lips and hands moved through the form of extreme unction in silence. And thus the two made shift to open the gates of heaven for the Handkerchief Lady.
After a time the priest lifted up the girl who was down on her knees beside the bed, and drew the coverlet over the Handkerchief Lady's face. Then he led her away, talking to her all the time, and they had come as far as the door before she realized what he wanted. I know now that he wished her to come back to my father's house with me while he stayed and watched out the night. When she did understand, the door was already open and I could hear her words.
"I can't go away," she was crying, "I can't go away. I've got to stay here — please— please."
And then her eyes went out over the sand, and she stopped with a sudden in taking of breath.
"Why — why — it's out," she said, slow and wondering. "It's gone— out — "
The next moment she had broken away from Father Ventura and run back into the house. When she reappeared she seemed distracted. First she made as though she would run away through the trees; then she glanced back over her shoulder at the room and the bed in it, and then she did not know what to do. Father Ventura believed she had gone out of her mind. He put his arm about her shoulders, and the touch seemed to straighten her out a little. She looked down at me, glanced again at the place where the spark had been, then, bending over me, thrust into my hand a candle and matches.
"Run, boy," she whispered. "Run, run, run and light the lantern. Go quick — please."
It never entered my head to question, when she whispered that way. I didn't even look at the priest. I thrust my bulging hand into a pocket and scurried away as fast as my small legs would go through the narrow path and up the shelving sand of the slope to the south.
I was going not so fast when I reached the top. Here was a strange enough thing for a child to be doing at one o'clock in the morning. I have often wondered over that picture of myself laboring, very small and very tired, up that sweep of moonlit sand, my head too full of the extraordinary night to be at all amazed or appalled at being where I was. I had long ago forgotten how queer it was that a light should be burning on the top of a barren dune.
When I came to the top of the slope I looked out across a mottled valley toward the hummock which reared over its other side, itself in the shadow of a wisp of cloud. In the strange light it appeared a day's journey away — it was really not above a hundred yards, as I found when I had got myself heavily across it.
It was no difficult thing to find the lantern, hanging from a twig driven into the sand, for beyond a few spears of "poverty grass" the hummock was bare as the roof of a house. I put my candle into the little old-fashioned box of glass, lit it, and sat down within the circle of light beneath. Here I was, all alone, on the top of the world. The rags of cloud still streamed across the moon; from the invisible beach far below the thin crying of the surf droned up to me in my little chamber of light, and it seemed, all of a sudden, to be years upon years since I had moved or spoken.
I was so very sleepy. My sight appeared to have become ponderable, so that I moved it from place to place with a definite effort. It rested upon the path of the moon's reflection athwart the bay, and from there I could not lift it.
And now happened one of the strangest things my memory has to show me. As I stared and stared at that long, shimmering lane, I became aware that something moved upon it — something low and black, curtesying, coquetting sluggishly with the intricate whirls and convolutions of the watery fire, floating idly and yet progressing across the path from the east to the west. It swam nearer and nearer the western edge, and then, just as it was about to vanish from the flaming street, it appeared to hesitate, then to shrink upon itself, till it showed only a fraction of its former bulk. For some inexplicable reason, somebody's boat out there had worn around and was standing in for the shore and the lantern and me.
It grew before my eyes, sidling down along the edge of the light like some king's hunchback of old clinging to the balustrade of the palace stairway. All my days I had seen boats — boats of every kind — but my eyes had never rested upon the like of this. It was a harlequin of all boats, a travesty on the whole beautous race of them. Its mast was broken in half, its sails a gossamer of rags; it lurched and veered and wallowed like a disreputable vagabond far in his cups.
Thus it came along till the curve of the dune obliterated it, so that I could not see how it came to the beach.
I was now so done up with the night, and my mind so battered and outraged with the things which had been put upon it, that I verily believed the thing crawling over the shoulder of the hummock a little later was the crazy boat itself. The black bulk reeled against the sheen of the water behind in the same abandoned way as it progressed ponderously up the long, smooth slope. After the first moment of panic I knew that it must be a man. And then, as the silhouette broadened and darkened, I fell into such another fright that I could not have moved, I believe, had I been struck with a whip.
It was Dedos.
But Dedos was dead. Everybody knew Dedos was dead.
It was Dedos.
But I had my mother's own word for it that Dedos was dead.
Then it was the ghost of Dedos.
He came up and passed over the ridge, no more than fifty feet from where I cowered under the lantern. His head sank forward upon his chest, his garments hung loose about him, as though he had lost half his girth. And yet he seemed immeasurably larger than I had ever seen him in other days — gigantic, portentous, terrifying.
He passed over and down the other side. And when I looked across the little valley, another big black man was coming down the opposite slope. It was Father Ventura, coming to get me. They met at the bottom of the hollow, I could see the priest's arms raised in wonder, and even his word came to me:
Then Dedos was talking and the priest listening, raising his arms in other wonder and repeating in a different way, "Dedos."
After that the two big men started back up the slope toward the rim of the Handkerchief Lady's cup. As they went they grew to be monstrous creatures that reeled and staggered up an endless stairway of cold fire leading away toward the moon — but the last part of this was in my dream.
The next thing I knew I was being lifted in some one's arms. I opened my eyes to the light of a new day and looked down over my father's shoulder into shallow water above white sand. He stood to his thighs in our own creek, and there, when I lifted my hot lids, was the little house, looking thin and unreal in the horizontal rays of the sun. It was utterly beyond me at that moment to try and understand why a multitude of people should be crowding along the bank and gesticulating in our direction, I closed my eyes again.
After a little rest I opened them. Three or four feet away, and low down, was the rail of a wrecked sloop — wrecked, in that everything above-decks was either washed away or battered to shreds and pieces. It was beginning to cant to port with the seeping away of the tide. It was the Angie.
Two figures stood up near the wheel in the stem — Dedos and the Handkerchief Lady's girl. Dedos's huge arm lay across the girl's shoulders, and he looked out at the people on shore with something so nearly akin to defiance that it seemed incredible on the face of fat and comical Dedos. There were new lines along his cheeks, his shirt hung about him in damp festoons; he was not so heavy by twenty pounds as he had been when the fleet of draggers went out so nicely slanting.
And the Handkerchief Lady's girl. I don't know what to say about the Handkerchief Lady's girl, because I find no words to tell the way in which she stood close to Dedos and looked up at him. Never was so much sadness and gladness together in any one, not struggling, but mingling in peace.
For the Handkerchief Lady's girl of yesterday possessed as fair a name as any in Old Harbor this day. There had been a marriage as well as a death in the house of motley the night before.
I know something of how she felt, because I came to love her as one of the best friends I have had in life. At her house, so long as such remained a coin of affection, I was always sure of good things to eat, and after I had grown beyond them I found her wiser in counsel than many who have never suffered the vacant places.
Now my father hitched me over to the other shoulder and spoke to Dedos.
"W'ere's Fadder Ventura?" he asked.
Dedos pointed back across a corner of the bay toward High Head. "He's watchin'," he said.
Then, leaving the girl by the wheel, he walked forward, got down on his knees, lifted a hatch, and plunged his arms into the water again. My father and I and all the people along the shore saw that they were full of mackerel. He threw them over the side, went down and brought up others and others, casting them abroad over the water with a gesture which no alien air will ever efface in a child of the Islands.
"By ----," marveled my father. "He got feesh — lek he said. Damn — dat's one good boat — dat Angie."