The sea is tumbling in over the shallows and the sandy flats with a roar, muffled
in the sea-mists drifting inland. The horizon is lost in a gray mist. All vastness, the
clouds are piled up like giant rocks, and there is a `brool' over the sea that
sounds like some passage of doom. Dark figures are on the beach here and
there, sometimes half shrouded in the mist, and seem `men like trees walking'.
The fishing boats are racing for home, and rise and dip in the ground swell as
they sweep into the harbour, bending to the scuppers. Here comes old Mr.
Swales. He is making straight for me, and I can see, by the way he lifts his hat,
that he wants to talk.
I have been quite touched by the change in the poor old man. When he sat down
beside me, he said in a very gentle way, "I want to say something to you, miss."
I could see he was not at ease, so I took his poor old wrinkled hand in mine and
asked him to speak fully.
So he said, leaving his hand in mine, "I'm afraid, my deary, that I must have
shocked you by all the wicked things I've been sayin' about the dead, and such
like, for weeks past, but I didn't mean them, and I want ye to remember that when
I'm gone. We aud folks that be daffled, and with one foot abaft the krok-hooal,
don't altogether like to think of it, and we don't want to feel scart of it, and that's
why I've took to makin' light of it, so that I'd cheer up my own heart a bit. But,
Lord love ye, miss, I ain't afraid of dyin', not a bit, only I don't want to die if I can
help it. My time must be nigh at hand now, for I be aud, and a hundred years is
too much for any man to expect. And I'm so nigh it that the Aud Man is already
whettin' his scythe. Ye see, I can't get out o' the habit of caffin' about it all at
once. The chafts will wag as they be used to. Some day soon the Angel of Death
will sound his trumpet for me. But don't ye dooal an' greet, my deary!"-- for he
saw that I was crying--"if he should come this very night I'd not refuse to answer
his call. For life be, after all, only a waitin' for somethin' else than what we're
doin', and death be all that we can rightly depend on. But I'm content, for it's
comin' to me, my deary, and comin' quick. It may be comin' while we be lookin'
and wonderin'. Maybe it's in that wind out over the sea that's bringin' with it loss
and wreck, and sore distress, and sad hearts. Look! Look!" he cried suddenly.
"There's something in that wind and in the hoast beyont that sounds, and looks,
and tastes, and smells like death. It's in the air. I feel it comin'. Lord, make me
answer cheerful, when my call comes!" He held up his arms devoutly, and raised
his hat. His mouth moved as though he were praying. After a few minutes'
silence, he got up, shook hands with me, and blessed me, and said goodbye,
and hobbled off. It all touched me, and upset me very much.
I was glad when the coastguard came along, with his spyglass under his arm. He
stopped to talk with me, as he always does, but all the time kept looking at a
strange ship.
"I can't make her out," he said. "She's a Russian, by the look of her. But she's
knocking about in the queerest way. She doesn't know her mind a bit. She seems
to see the storm coming, but can't decide whether to run up north in the open, or
to put in here. Look there again! She is steered mighty strangely, for she doesn't
mind the hand on the wheel, changes about with every puff of wind. We'll hear
more of her before this time tomorrow."