THE COMING OF ABEL BEHENNA VI


‘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.

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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 Scilly 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. ‘God 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 case 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. He 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…

by: Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

The following is reprinted from a collection of short stories entitled: Dracula’s Guest. Bram Stoker. London: Routledge, 1914.

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