Mansfield's Short Stories
At The Bay
Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen, and the whole of Crescent Bay was
hidden under a white sea-mist. The big bush-covered hills at the back were smothered.
You could not see where they ended and the paddocks and bungalows began. The sandy
road was gone and the paddocks and bungalows the other side of it; there were no white
dunes covered with reddish grass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was
beach and where was the sea. A heavy dew had fallen. The grass was blue. Big drops
hung on the bushes and just did not fall; the silvery, fluffy toi-toi was limp on its long
stalks, and all the marigolds and the pinks in the bungalow gardens were bowed to the
earth with wetness. Drenched were the cold fuchsias, round pearls of dew lay on the flat
nasturtium leaves. It looked as though the sea had beaten up softly in the darkness, as
though one immense wave had come rippling, rippling--how far? Perhaps if you had
waked up in the middle of the night you might have seen a big fish flicking in at the
window and gone again...
Ah-Aah! sounded the sleepy sea. And from the bush there came the sound of little
streams flowing, quickly, lightly, slipping between the smooth stones, gushing into ferny
basins and out again; and there was the splashing of big drops on large leaves, and
something else--what was it?--a faint stirring and shaking, the snapping of a twig and
then such silence that it seemed some one was listening.
Round the corner of Crescent Bay, between the piled-up masses of broken rock, a flock
of sheep came pattering. They were huddled together, a small, tossing, woolly mass, and
their thin, stick-like legs trotted along quickly as if the cold and the quiet had frightened
them. Behind them an old sheep-dog, his soaking paws covered with sand, ran along with
his nose to the ground, but carelessly, as if thinking of something else. And then in the
rocky gateway the shepherd himself appeared. He was a lean, upright old man, in a frieze
coat that was covered with a web of tiny drops, velvet trousers tied under the knee, and a
wide-awake with a folded blue handkerchief round the brim. One hand was crammed into
his belt, the other grasped a beautifully smooth yellow stick. And as he walked, taking his
time, he kept up a very soft light whistling, an airy, far-away fluting that sounded
mournful and tender. The old dog cut an ancient caper or two and then drew up sharp,
ashamed of his levity, and walked a few dignified paces by his master's side. The sheep
ran forward in little pattering rushes; they began to bleat, and ghostly flocks and herds
answered them from under the sea. "Baa! Baaa!" For a time they seemed to be always on
the same piece of ground. There ahead was stretched the sandy road with shallow
puddles; the same soaking bushes showed on either side and the same shadowy palings.
Then something immense came into view; an enormous shock- haired giant with his arms
stretched out. It was the big gum-tree outside Mrs. Stubbs' shop, and as they passed by
there was a strong whiff of eucalyptus. And now big spots of light gleamed in the mist.
The shepherd stopped whistling; he rubbed his red nose and wet beard on his wet sleeve