The day was perfect, the dome of the sky flawless of any streak of cloud, the sand flat and pale yellow, the sea flat and pale blue. There had never been a summer when the Great Neck Islands had been blessed (or cursed) with such a multitude of perfect days. Out on the glassy floor of the harbor the schooners sat like pasteboard ships upon a stage. Even when one came in, opening out past Spankin' Head, it did not seem to move, only waxed larger without any apparent progress. The whole visible world lay inert beneath this spell of quietude---quietude insidious, creeping, ponderable. And so it had lain for weeks-on-end of perfect days.
Father Veiera walked to the westward along the narrow, crazy-cornered shore street of Great Neck. Father Veiera was a round and rubicund man with a placid face,---marred at the present moment by a gentle trouble, strange upon his habitually unfurrowed brow,---two soft and puffy hands devoted to the comfort of his flock and the reception of an occasional side of mackerel or bunch of sand-grown turnips, and a soul in perfect and tranquil accord with God the Father.
Father Veiera was troubled because his people were hungry. Perhaps there were more wrinkles in his bulging waistcoat than there used to be. Here and there through an open door he could see an old woman, or a girl or young man, sultry-skinned and with the garish colors of a southern fancy about them, sitting with hands open and staring hopelessly at nothing.
At every fresh spectacle of this kind, the simple man's brow crinkled more distressingly. What, he asked himself, could he and his people have done, in this alien land, that God the Father should visit them with this dearth of mackerel? For was it not the mackerel that gave Great Neck reason for being? Was it not because the mackerel came to the Great Neck Islands in plenty that he had led his people across the Western Ocean, ten years ago, from the sweet green shores of Portugal? And now, since the break of spring, never a mackerel had the schooners taken---never a "there 'e plays" had a masthead man cried down to deck through all the length of that weary summer.
Fish come. Fish go. Beyond that no man has ever read.
Down on the beach, in the shadow of Peter Maya's wharf, the priest saw a group of men. Some of them were raising their hands in wonder. It was a strange enough thing, even, that there should be a crowd of men gathered together in these days---it was long now since they had taken to sitting, each with his own family in his own house, staring at nothing. So Father Veiera hurried ponderously down to the beach.
The men were gathered about an object which the tide had brought and left stranded among the weeds and broken bottles of the beach-line. They stared at it and pointed, and one of them turned the object over cautiously with his boot. The thing was of the color of flesh, like a tremendous handless arm, tapering at one end, and hacked off raggedly at the other. Along one side of it were thousands of tiny, fleshy cups, set in sinuous rows. It was a thing to make men shudder when they looked at it---merely the look or the feel of it.
"What is it, Father?" they asked of the priest.
He was a superstitious little fat man, and unconsciously his puffy hand gestured twice in front of his chest. Thereupon all the men but one crossed themselves and felt yet more uncomfortable. The one who did not cross himself was Josiah Pinkney, one of the two or three native Yankees who still clung to Great Neck after their fellows had gone "west."
This Josiah left the group and went up the beach to the ice-shed where stores were kept, when there were any stores to keep. He came back presently with a squid in his hands. Sometimes Great Neck sold these little cousins of the devil-fish for bait to trawlers who stopped there on their way to the Channel grounds. There had not been many squid this year. What there were, Great Neck had eaten, there being little else to eat. Josiah had one of the last and it stank badly because the ice was all gone.
Now with his knife he cut one of the tentacles from the slimy, torpedo-shaped body and threw it down on the sand beside the strange, portentious thing which the sea had cast up. All the men saw then that the two were the same, line for line, cup for cup, one of them perhaps five inches in length and the other near a dozen feet.
They all crossed themselves again. Father Veiera prayed to Sainte Anne. In the bottom of the sea, far, far away down where the light of heaven never comes, there are creatures which God the Father may or may not have put there, but it is best not to think of them in either case.
Josiah Pinkney was the first to speak.
"My father see one o' them feelers up to the Grand Banks in the sixties," he said. "I reckon they 'bide a thousand fathon down," he added, after a moment of speculation, "them giant squid."
Later in the day a man named Ventura, and his son, clamming on the tide-marshes to the eastward, came upon another of those handless arms, livid and sweltering, washed in among the grass-roots. They came running back across the san hummocks to the Great Neck without their buckets of clam-rakes. They would have cried their tale all through the length of the shore street, which was red and unearthly in the horizontal rays of a half-sun, sinking in Back Water beyond the Spankin' Head ridge. But Father Veiera stopped them before they had come past Perez's shipyard, holding up a chubby forefinger in front of his lips.
Perhaps it was the hunger and the drought of hope. Great Neck was thinking too much upon the monstrous shadows that live in the depths of the sea and the veiled chambers of the night. Portents multiplied. At noon, in a shack at the western end of the village, a woman had given still-birth to a creature with three arms. Strange and uncouth trackings in the sand had been observed by cranberry-pickers beyond the Snail Ponds; and goosefish, horribly mangled as with an edged instrument, had been washed ashore in the Cove.
These things cast their shadow upon the soul of the simple priest. As dusk came on, creeping over the edges of the world, he waddled up to the yellow chapel on the dune and passed a season with the relics brought over from another yellow chapel on the hills of Peniche, to the north of Lisbon.
In the morning he would bless the fleet again. Already, in the summer, he had blessed the fleet five times. Perhaps the sixth blessing would be potent. When he went out and down the whispering sand it seemed that the night was full of shades that made the stars wink.
It was not such a shameful thing for a little, round, devout man to gasp and make a trifling leap to the side when a shade of this sort came up out of the ground at his very feet. No---one could not be too careful---it was an evil night. Father Veiera continued to pout and heave for a moment, and finger the crucifix on his breast desperately, and peer fearfully at the shadow. Then he straightened up, sighted, smoothed his stubbly hair, and said,---
"Peter Maya---it's you, then. What are you doing here, my son?"
Peter Maya was a small man, no taller than Father Veiera and not at all fat. He wore thick glasses and pulled the brim of his had far down, so that he had to hold his chin in the air. He was a fierce little man, ---skipper of the Isabelle,---tyrant over a score of men, every one of the half his weight again. Father Veiera was a little afraid of him on account of his fierce face, especially on a night like this, and he would have liked to go on his way. But something in the other's tone had hinted that the conversation was not at an end. So the priest asked, very diffidently,---
It was indeed a bad night when one of his children answered him only with a snort---a dangerous night for a little fat man.
"I shall bestow the blessing in the morning," he quavered.
But he did not tear Father Veiera limb from limb. Instead, he turned disdainfully away and faded in the gloom, leaving the priest to paddle on in haste to his own dwelling where the light burned.
He went out to the schooners the following noon, puffing over the oars of his own green dory. One after another he visited the vessels, sprawling his way across the water-spaces like an overgrown green spider with two legs, and one after another the crews stood up on deck with bared heads while he read the service and lifted his hands over them. After he had finished, each one raised his head and looked around the skyline, for this succession of blank blue days had become a pestilence, a painted smile that killed their turnips and drove all the mackerel into the obscure and tempest-ridden ends of the sea.
They were hungry; their hands hung down empty at their sides; it was hard to believe. But surely, that was the shadow of a veil of mist hanging over the Island of the Angels, far out there in the straits. They pointed it out to one another with lean fingers, crossed themselves fervently, and when the little round priest had worked himself, puffing and groaning, over the side and into the green dory, fell to getting up the sails with something more like hope than Great Neck had known for weeks.
Father Veiera stood on the deck of the Maria Stella, mopping his white forehead with a handkerchief of blue cotton. He had blessed the Maria Stella and all her crew. The vapor over the Island of the Angels had become quite plain.
"I have a little wine in my locker," said Man'el Deutra, the skipper. "Would you taste it with me, Father?"
When they had drunk together, following the custom, the skipper said to the priest,---
"You have blessed them all now."
"No," Father Veiera answered, "there is still left Peter Maya's boat, lying out there under the Head."
He mopped his brow again, for the day had grown uncommonly hot and close. Man'el Deutra grunted and spat over the side.
"Peter Maya has no belief in the sacred blessing. He sits in his house this morning, and curses. As you may see, there is not a soul aboard the schooner."
Father Veiera looked shoreward and sighed. He was very sorry indeed that Peter Maya had lost his faith, but it would have been a long row out there to the head under this sun. He used the handkerchief again and reflected that it is best to look upon the pleasanter sides of the dispensations of Heaven.
Then, just as he lowered his bulk into the green dory, the light which occasionally comes to prophets and saints descended upon the spirit of Father Veiera.
"I will go out and bestow the blessing whether there is any one there or not," he announced with determination.
A half-hour later he clambered over the rail of Peter Maya's schooner and sank down upon the deck-house. The long row over the glaring mirror of the water had been almost too much for the little round churchman. He took off his flat hat and rubbed his head with the blue handkerchief, and rubbed it again, but with all his mopping could not seem to get it dry.
"I'm getting to be an old man," he said to himself. He may have nodded for a time.
The painter of the dory was still in his hand. After a while he got up, made the line fast, and waddled amidships. There he stood up and blessed the ship of the unbeliever, going through his simple-minded ceremony with all solemnity and without haste.
He was so taken up with the thing he was doing that not until he had lifted his hands and eyes at the conclusion did he mark the change which had come over the face of the sky. The sun, standing high, appeared like a coin of beaten silver. It waned to a ghost, even as he looked, and diaphanous shreds of vapor fingered at the heads of the masts.
The perfect weather was broken. Father Veiera felt a glow of gentle satisfaction. At least he had had a hand in this.
He would be getting back to shore now. And perhaps it would be best to hurry. The sun was still shining on the shore line, but it had lost all its features, looming like a golden belt athwart the blanket of the mist.
He started off stoutly, with a choppy stroke because his arms were so short and his figure not for bending far. The schooner he had left faded to a gray figure on the tapestry, then to a spirit penciling, then, after a time, it was gone.
"That went too fast," the good man observed to himself. "I must hurry."
But hurry where? He turned to look. He sat in the middle of a little round room and all the walls were alike.
"If I keep straight ahead," he argued hopefully, "I'll come ashore somewhere---somewhere."
A moment after he had spoken there arose upon his right hand a moaning clamor such as a wounded beast might raise before the death-rattle. It might have come from near or from far---such was the quality of the cry.
The good priest left off pulling and sat with his ample mouth ajar. The thing had become serious now, in good truth, with the Spankin' Head fogwhistle blowing to the right instead of to the left. He was heading out to sea. The gravity of the situation was not lost upon Father Veiera, whose days had been passed among a fishing people.
"I'll make for Spankin' Head," said he, "and I'll get there as quick as I can."
So he put the dory's head to starboard and set away with all the power in his stubby arms. He had been pulling for ten minutes and puffing and billowing like any goosefish, when the wail of the whistle crept through the fog again---not ahead, but from far astern, farther than before.
Seven times in the course of the next two hours Father Veiera licked his dry lips, mopped his head, and brought his dory about to point for that elusive wail. The seventh time it had grown so faint that his ears only caught it in the quiet between two strokes---and there was a long breath between the fat man's strokes now. After that he bundled his oars into the boad and flopped down in the bottom like a puppy whose legs are not strong enought yet.
He must have lain there for hours. He went with the tide, for not a breath of air waved the misty curtains. Now and then he heard a moaning, far and far away through the smother. It might have been Spankin' Head again, or it might have been some grizzzly inhabitant of the depths looking for his mate, or for---and here was a chance to make some one shiver---for a little fat man in a green dory. Then Father Veiera would fall to saying his prayers over again, for he could not keep his mind from the portents of yesterday---the slashed goosefish, the still-born creature, the two vast tentacles that the tide had left upon the beach, and the weird trackings beyond Snail Ponds.
By and by the gray light began to drain out of the vapory hangings. The night was coming down.
"I am surely going to die," Father Veiera murmured. The idea had the effect of calming him.
"But I am cold: I can hardly move," he added. "I must try and row a little."
With groaning and pain he got his bulk up-ended on the thward, the oars between the thole-pins, and pulled stiffly. A sluggish air was beginning to heave, churning the fog in slow, rocking convolutions that stripped off lean fingers to reach out and feel for the green dory. It would have been still light on a fair day, but here under the soft, heavy pall the night came fast---a horrible night, troubled by monstrous and invisible forms that shouldered silently here and there through the steaming blankness.
Father Veiera tugged harder at his oars. Something touched the back of his neck. Terrified, he dropped the sweeps and batted his head with both hands. Then he fell into a gentle perspiration, for he found that it was only his coat collar, turned up. But when he looked for the oars they were out of sight in the mist.
Now he must sit with his hands folded and shudder at the disembodied creatures of the night. To his ears it seemed that the ocean whispered, a thin hissing whisper, as though in that blanketed silence it was tormented by a downpour of rain. Surely it whispered. That discreet complaining of the waters was coming nearer.
Father Veiera got down and kneeled in the bottom of the boat, clutching the gunwales till his knuckles showed white in the gray darkness. The whisper grew and grew until, of a sudden, it rushed past the dory, almost deafening, but yet a whisper. The little priest shivered a fragment of prayer, lifting his eyes to the close sky. The whisper was gone.
But listen again. Out of the shadows came another. It advanced as the first one had, and swept clamorously about the green dory. But this time the man's eyes were on the surface of the water. And there he saw a wonderful thing. It had turned in a wink from leaden gray to white,---so white that it appeared to light up the fog,---white with shots of black across it. One of the shots struck the dory's side with a soft impact. An instant later one had leaped clear over the gunwale and flickered in the bottom of the boat.
When Father Veiera could look at it, he saw that it was a mackerel, sleek, shimmering, eighteen inches from end to end. He stared over the side again. Mackerel and mackerel,---thousands, hundreds of thousands of mackerel, driving through the tortured water.
"They have come back," he said. He would have given thanks then had he not been suddenly taken up with another wonder. He had seen mackerel "playing" many and many times, but these mackerel were not "playing." They were driven; they were trying to get away; they were stark mad. When he saw that Father Veiera crossed himself.
It was well that he crossed himself then. A moment later he could not have moved his hand to save his soul, for a moment later he saw it.
It broke water within ten feet of the dory's side. It came like a monstrous torpedo, screaming out of the sea, horrible, hideous, belching forth a column of dingy water that shrieked away into the fog. Then it was gone.
The man in the dory stared with dry, burning eyes.
Again it broke water, from the other direction. In mid-air the snout of the thing appeared to break open in a blossom of ghastly, writhing arms---those cupped arms of the beach, livid. And then it gave voice and was gone.
For a moment there was quiet, as though the immense ocean held its breath. The slow wind came stronger. Here and there it ripped the fog-blanket away, leaving water-spaces gleaming black and clear. The earth, with its covering of water, seemed to slide noiselessly into the south beneath the tumultuous, draining fog and the tide-driven dory, and then there came a star, a thousand stars; a black horizon rimmed the black sea. The air slackened to a wandering breath, and the stars made little placid streams of fire over the water.
Away to the east there was another whispering. The whisper grew and established itself. An arrow of gray advanced over the water, killing the star's reflections nearer and nearer at hand.
And the drivers came there---three of them---breaking water, one after another, in dim, blue-gray geysers---aliens out of the depths.
The schooner Isabelle, captain Peter Maya, lay at anchor outside, two miles south of Spankin' Head and abreast of Back Water Gut, which feeds and empties the broad green tide-flats of Back Water. It was half-past one o'clock in the morning, but no one on board the Isabelle slept.
Peter Maya sat on the forward companion trunk, for the sake of the warmth from the galley stove-pipe, and swore beneath his breath about his luck. He had come out in the clear at eleven, with southwesterly airs. And at one, with the wind dying in the east and the mist on the water again, he lay becalmed with his anchor in bad bottom, so close inshore that he could hear the Gut sucking at the twine of Johnnie Silva's weir, dead astern. A treacherous gut. More than one Island vessel, with a heavy tide and a blind fog, had gone to air her ribs on the Back Water flats.
He swore for another reason---because he was frightened---so frightened that the galley stove-pipe could not keep him warm on a September night.
An oil torch burned on the house, aft, the flame standing straight up in the heavy air; its illumination, pale and immobile, coming back from a hundred planes of woodwork and soggy rigging. It picked out the contours of men's faces, distorted with fear. One man had out his beads. Part of the time he fingered them and told his prayers, crouched down by the tack of the main. Part of the time he appeared to forget, and stared away into the yellowed dark, the beads hanging from his quiet hand, each with its small, distinct facet of light.
There came a sound of slippers scraping on ladder-rungs in the forward companion, and a face appeared, craning over the hatch at the skipper. It belonged to "Rod," the black cook, and glistened with galley sweat.
"You 'ear 'eem any more, cap'n? Tell me---you 'ear 'eem---"
Peter Maya picked up a wooden bucket and struck the Negro's face full with the bottom of it. The sound of his falling came up muffled from below.
The man beside the main tack left off staring into the darkness and fell to telling his beads in an ecstacy of energy. Away to the east, under the blind sheet, the ocean whispered again. The bucked fropped from the captain's hand and rolled off in an arc, fetching up in the port scuppers. One of the men aft put his knee on the house and crawled to the torch, where he squatted on his heels, not for the warmth of it but for the light. Below, Rod groaned and stirred on the planking. Peter Maya swore, his finger in his shirt collar.
A prolonged whistle, far and far away, threaded the creeping whisper; rose, thin and nerve-twanging; fell, choked off in a fearful clicking; and was almost immediately taken up from another quarter, nearer at hand.
Peter Maya got to his feet stiffly, picked up a gaff that lay across a coil of line, and stood in an attitude of defense. The iron of the gaff-head protruded into the column of light from the companionway, where it described tiny, jerking circuits, like a planet pursuing an infinitesimal orbit.
Of a sudden, the shadows all about the schooner rustled and twittered. It was as though the ghost of a wind passed through the dank air without stirring the misty particles. But it was not this phantom passage that held the eighteen on the deck of the Isabelle frozen in strange postures of terror, some with stiff arms raised over their heads, some at grotesque angles of equilibrium, the yellow trouser-knees of the man by the torch sweating tiny pearls of oil into the flame----it was the long, shrieking whistle with the metallic click at the end of it that came from nowhere, threading the fabric of the night with the speed of uttered lightning. It came and went, sinking to a shrill rumor far off, shooting back into full cry, circling the vessel with a ring of horror. Once a shower of fine drops flicked over the starboard rail, amidships, and a wave of air, heavy with an evil and nauseating stench, broke over the deck.
When it had gone away, Peter Maya sank back on the companion trunk and let the gaff fall on the boards at his feet. A moment so, inert, and then he was groping for the gaff again and staring at the rail to his left, dim and red from the torch-light aft.
Some object, on the other side of the rail, was troubling the water. He could hear a swishing and guttering there in the dark, and then a soft impact, as of flesh, on the two running-boards on the vessel's works which give the clambering doryman his precarious footholds, and then a drip, drip, drip, as though the thing reared higher and higher over the surface of the sea. After what seemed many minutes to the shaking man by the companion, he saw the dim line of the rail disturbed at a point just abaft the foreshrouds, and there arose a formless thing that crawled inboard, gasping and wheezing, with strange shadows of limbs wavering obliquely over the deck-planks. And then Peter Maya clucked in his throat and whipped out his arm.
As a younger man, Peter Maya had ranked the best hand with an "iron" that ever rocked a bowsprit pulpit out of Great Neck. And here was a straight cast from a solid deck. There was a snick as the spike of the heavy pole bit into the wood below the rail, and then it hung there, horizontal and thrumming, with the intruder impaled above it.
Now it was no more nor less than a miracle that the driven head did not touch either of Father Veiera's knees, since the space between them was hardly wider than the iron nib. The thought of it made him very dizzy for an instant, and he sat back on the rail with his legs still straddling the haft of the gaff, while he wiped his forehead with a dripping blue handkerchief. His clothes were dripping too: a thread of water ran from either trouser-leg trickled through the scupper-holes. He heaved a sigh and peered at the gaff-thrower.
"Peter Maya---it's you then." He had said the same words the night before.
"Come," he went on, after he had stuffed the blue handkerchief away in his pocket, "I want your boats---quick. Is the twine in them? Why don't you speak, my son?"
Peter Maya extricated himself from the angle between the trunk and the stove-pipe and moved by a cautious diagonal toward the other side of the deck and aft, always facing the priest. His hands were up before his face, one forefinger crossing the other at right angles.
Father Veiera followed him, wondering, into the brighter glow.
"What's the matter?" he asked, staring from one to another of the flame-lit faces that stared at him in return, banked in behind the skipper. Peter Maya spoke with a trembling belligerency.
"What to you want?"
"The boats and the twine---to stop up the Gut. Back Water is full of mackerel."
Peter Maya looked about him, his crossed fingers still presented toward the priest. Man'el Duarte shook his head. Gerald Sousa shook his head likewise, spat into the darkness of the starboard side and then, as if with a sudden thought, crossed his fingers on his chest. Antone Miguel, the oldes man still fishing in Great Neck, muttered between weasened lips,---
"Never a fin of mackerel in Back Water---not as man can remember."
Peter Maya threw out his hand in challenge, with more confidence than before. A change was coming over the other's face as well. Had he not been such a placid little man, one would have taken it for impatience---even anger. His puffy right hand fumbled in the breast of his coat and then came forth.
"There---see!" he echoed. And all the men on the deck and the house stared open-mouthed at the fish held aloft before them, the opal lights shimmering on its white belly.
"Where did you get it?"
"It came to me. It jumped into the dory."
And now the mouths hung wider. In the silence that followed, a man far over on the dark starboard side, forward, whispered to his neighbor. The whisper traveled swiftly from mouth to ear through the crowd till Peter Maya bent his ear to take it from Gerald Sousa.
"How did you come here---aboard the vessel?" he demanded, turning to the priest again. But his challenge rang hollow now, and for all he could do his eyes wavered down to the other's dripping garments.
"I came in my dory---drifted."
It was not one that breathed it, but all the men there, nodding at their neighbors fearfully, and yet with a certain triumph, as much to say, "He would tell us so anyway---having sold his soul to the Devil." But it was the first whisperer, forward, who now spoke aloud.
"No---there's no dory here."
Father Veiera threw the fish on the deck with a gesture of impatience.
"I forgot to make it fast."
And again they nodded. He would say that, too.
"Come. Hurry. In an hour the tide changes---the fish will follow the tide---they will go to sea again---be lost. Make haste."
He took a step forward, appealing with his hands. Peter Maya retreated the step and his men moved back behind him. Some, less timid than the rest, began to mutter. One picked a cleaning-knife off the house, more gaffs appeared from under the rails.
"Keep back," old Miguel squeaked, brandishing a bucket.
But Father Veiera did not keep back. Instead, he ran at them, and they melted before him like bait before a vessel's stem, jostling and yelling across the after-deck and pelting forward again through the narrow passage on the other side of the house.
Father Veiera stopped and leaned on the taffrail, wheezing with the exertion and his tumbled emotions. He peered astern where the two long boats rode dim in the drift, rising and falling and tugging gently at their painters. From behind, a little on the port quarter, came a slight noise of scraping, as of something bobbing against the poles of Johnnie Silva's weir. The priest reached out along one of the boat painters, hauled it inboard, loosed it and watched it pay out again.
"Tide running weaker already," he muttered.
There was another sound astern now, like the swish of tangled wire dragged swiftly through the water. The whisper passed in a breath, veering away to the south.
"They're breaking now."
For a moment he stood motionless, the nails of his fingers scarring the palms. Then he did a strange thing. He turned and ran forward along the port rail.
The Isabelle's men had been bunched in the waiste, watching him and whispering about him. Now, when they saw him coming straight at them, they broke once more and stampeded, yelling along the other side of the house toward the precarious haven of the after-deck.
But Father Veiera did not molest them. He ran straight on across the mid-decks, stopping only to snatch up a hatchet from the cook's wood-box beside the companion, and disappeared in the gloom forward.
"What's he going to do now?" Miguel whispered, searching the faces near him.
But none of them could tell. Peter Maya, with his hat-brim pulled down farther than ever over his fierce, spectacled eyes, and his long chin shaking, mumbled, "I'll fix him---I'll fix him." But he did not move.
There came a sound of hatchet-blows, dealt vigorously on something soft, away up on the peak.
"My God---who's he got there?"
A youngster squealed with horror. Peter Maya whirled and began telling off the men, keeping the count on agitated fingers, while they watched him out of the corners of their eyes like scared school-children, the whites gleaming in the torchlight. He had come to twelve when he suddenly broke off, his eyes staring over their heads.
"That devil!" he gasped. "Cut! By God, he's parted the cable! Look!"
Even as he spoke the last word, there came a slight jar and a cracking and splintering of wood; a shadowy pole came out of the night astern, ground on the counter and fell away into the night again. Another came up and vanished with a groan. On all sides there was a singing and ripping of taut twine as Johnnie Silva's weir went to pieces under the Isabelle's drifting counter.
Another pole came up and bent, but this one did not fall. The others had borne the brunt. Now the vessel's head fell away slowly to the starboard hand and the tide, taking her full, eased her stern out of the wrecked weir. Another moment and the Isabelle took the ground, broadside on, fair in the center of the Gut.
During all this time no one on the after-deck had uttered a word. The thing was beyond help. It was even beyond belief.
Gerald Sousa was the first to open his lips.
"Did you see the green dory?"
Peter Maya jerked about and grasped his elbow.
"Where? Tell me."
"There---at the trap---slid clean up into the twine."
"So---so---" Relief and rage showed on the skipper's face. "Come on," he bawled. "We'll get him."
For the last time that night they rumbled forward, yelling. But there was another note in their yells now. Father Veiera was standing on the port side, the side where Back Water lay, holding the torch down in the shelter of the rail. His head was craned outboard in an attitude of listening.
"Look," he cried to the advancing crew, flashing the torch over the side.
As though at a signal preconcerted, a thousand streaks shot white across the gray film; the streaks turned black, all together: a thousand little fountains blossomed where the frightened mackerel had somersaulted, and then the whisper of the school rushed away over the tide reaches.
Father Veiera wheeled upon the gaping crowd and bellowed,---
"Get out---fore and aft. Double your twine---and then double it again."
Father Veiera sat on a small mound of sand---a nubbin of Back Water Ridge---while the sun heaved clear of the skyline and turned the world yellow. He wheezed and puffed with his climb in the heavy sand (he had come from the Gut) and he sat on the nubbing to get his breath back.
He was far from alone, however, in the sun-swept world. A little way to the westward the ridge was alive with a crawling train---men and women and children and creaking wains and horses and wheelbarrows; he could hear the faint shouts as they topped the rise and rolled downward over the first lush grasses of the flats. Already the receding tide had left landlocked pools around the edges. There he could see young men, bare to the thighs, and girls with their skirts tucked high, lunging in the blue shadows with long-handled nets and hallooing across the reaches---a little mad, all of them.
Father Veiera passed a chubby hand over the wrinkles of his waistcoat and smiled benignantly. He had had a glass of Peter Maya's wine and he was warm. His eyes wandered to the chapel on the hill, far off.
"Gabriel," he murmured, patting the waistcoat. "Saints have been made for less than---"
He broke off, stricken with horror at his own wickedness.
"Culpa mea. I must do a penance," he said, with a gentle sigh. He hoisted his round person from the sand and trudged off down the slope.