That last point soon decided itself, for the cliffs were evidently getting steeper. Despite, too, the dead calm, unrufflediby even so much as a breath, despite the leaden shroud which pressed Down everywhere upon the water, low thuds made themselves audible from time to time, as the slow, sulky swell rolled in to the shore, impeded, apparently, by the thick, lifeless air, yet reaching it in the end, and sinking down in a succession of slow, monotonous washes. From the general look of the water around, it began to be clear to Grania that they must by this time have got amongst some of the outlying reefs, for there were rocks now to right of them, as well as to left. The tide, too, was running swiftly, and kept drawing them insensibly shorewards. Twice she caught a glimpse of a pale green monster only just in time to avoid running full upon it. Ought she to go on, or ought she to stop? Ought she to try to turn round? or what ought she to do? she asked herself.
The question was soon settled. Suddenly, without the slightest warning from Phelirn, without a hint of any kind from without, there came a startling crash. Another and another followed. Then came a worse sound, the sickening sound of ripping and tearing; the sharp ripping of tarred canvas. This time they were full upon a rock, which had pierced them through and through as a pin might pierce a child’s balloon. In another moment, it is true, they were afloat again, but it was too late. Water was now pouring in wildly through a hole in the side. Already the bottom of the boat was half full. In the first impulse of the moment Grania had snatched up her flannel petticoat and stuffed it into the hole, holding it there with both hands as she felt the pressure growing greater and greater. It was like trying, however, to stop the course of a river—hopeless to absurdity. To get out somewhere, no matter where; to reach the shore if possible; if not, to reach some rock; to get the boy, at any rate, out, was the only thing to be attempted.
She looked wildly round, straining her eyes distractedly through the impenetrable, blinding whiteness. Presently another pale green monster loomed slowly up—part of the same rock, possibly, they had already struck upon, possibly of another. In any case it was flat on the top, and fairly easy, apparently, to scramble on to; rose, too, as far as she could make out, above the high-water line; nay, might even be joined by other rocks to the base of the cliffs. It was a hopeless-looking chance of escape, still it was the only one that offered itself, and accordingly she drove the boat full against the side of the rock, calling out loudly as she did so to Phelim to jump out and climb up it.
Roused by her tone of command the boy obeyed, apparently without knowing why, clambered over the side of the boat, caught at the rock, clutching hold of the seaweed which fringed it, and hanging there for a minute or two as a small sloth might hang to the bough of a tree. At the same moment the other end of the curragh, already half full of water, was jerked lower still by the movement, and the displacement, slight as it was, of his weight, and sank deeply in the sea, and in so doing was pushed several feet farther from the rock.
Seeing the boy clear, and knowing that in another few minutes the boat must in any case fill, Grania took her hands away from the hole, through which the water instantly spurted upwards in a solid gush. Summoning all her strength, she, too, made a great eflort to try and attain the rock, upon the side pf which Pheim was now crouched, but the already nearly submerged curragh gave her a poor foothold to spring from, and she missed it by a foot or more, and sank immediately into deep water.
The tide was running fast; there was no other landing-place of any kind; nothing to climb upon; nothing to catch hold of. There were rocks in plenty around her, but they were most of them inches deep in water, a stray, glimmering, point appearing from time to time, like a ghost, and then vanishing again. She was caught, too, like a straw in the grip of that slow, seemingly gentle swell, which swept her hither and thither, now a little nearer to the rock, now impossibly, hopelessly, far away from it again. Clearly unless help came, the end would not be very long delayed.
Roused by the splash and by the sharp ringing cry, she had uttered as she fell, Phelim half turned round, then climbed a little higher up, helping himself by the seaweeds, until he reached the top, which was quite grey and dry. Here, getting upon his hands and knees, he stared down into the waste of water below him, and at the struggle going on within it. He was evidently incapable of anything further, however. Mind and body were alike paralysed--alike unable to respond to any call from without. He scarcely seemed to know what was occurring, retaining only by sheer unreasoning instinct his grip upon the foothold he had secured. What dim ideas travelled through his brain as he lay crouching there it is impossible to say, but as far as help went, any of the gulls swooping overhead, any of the seaweed-covered spider-legged crabs scuttling in and out of the crannies below him, were of as much avail as he.
Either Grania knew this or she may have even forgotten his presence, for she made no effort to induce him to come to her aid. She was too young, however, and too vigorous, to surrender the contest without at least a struggle for her life. Twice she neared the rock, striking out bravely through the water, though she was unable to swim, and twice the current pulled her back again, sweeping her farther and farther towards the open sea, but so lightly, so buoyantly, as it were playfully, toying capriciously with her as a child or a young animal plays with something that it has taken a fancy to. It was an unequal game though. Her strength was going fast, the water was very cold, although the night was warm. Five minutes more, nay three, nay two, and the struggle would be at an end.
Huddled like a frog, his knees and chin almost touching each other, Phelirn Daiy lay upon the rock and watched her dully, sick, despairing apathy written upon every line of his small white face, his big, always unnaturally prominent, eyes staring down with hardly a trace of comprehension or intelligence in them. Again Grania struggled forward, and again the capricious water washed her a trifle nearer to the rock, and to comparative safety—washed her once almost within touch of it. Her face, with its clinging masses of black hair, had grown very white now, nearly as white as that of the boy gazing vacantly down at her from only a few feet above her head. With a sudden effort, a sudden concentration of despair and of hopelessness, she again uttered a cry for help; a wild, ringing cry which rang out far and wide through the silence, away out into the big, lonely Atlantic, flinging her hands at the same time over her head, her straining eyes gazing round and round with the agonising, longing stare of desperation. Was no one coming to her help, then? No one? no one?
'Murdough!' she cried. Then, after a pause, 'Murdough ‘tis drowning I am! For God’s sake, come to me! Murdough! Murdough!’
But there was no Murdough. There was no response of any sort, no help or hint or suggestion of help. There was only the swaying water; only the dimly-seen foamstreaked surface; only the white, closely-enveloping shroud of fog; only Phelim’s small face peering helplessly over the rock; so few feet away in reality, such miles and miles for any practical purpose.
The tide was running out now, and it took her along with it, but so slowly, so insensibly, that it was the faintest, most barely perceptible movement. The silence everywhere was extraordinary. The sea under its close-fitting shroud seemed as absolutely unruffled as the basin of some indoors fountain. Not a ripple anywhere; only that same slow internal movement, a movement hardly to be perceived upon the surface; only the gradual undertow of the tide drawing everything stealthily in one direction. Sea, sky, land, water, everything seemed alike to be lapped in the drowsiest, the most complete and immovable repose. Sleep seemed everywhere to be the order of the hour, to have taken possession of all things. The very atoms of seaweed as they floated along appeared to partake and be half conscious of that placidity.
Grania had ceased now to struggle. She was sinking slowly, but she still kept her head partially above the surface. Had there been the slightest movement in the water all would have been over before this, but, as it was, death, too, seemed, to linger, to share in the general suspension of all things, to delay and hover. Suddenly a quantity of brown seaweed, stirred by the changing tide, swept round the corner of the big rock and floated down towards her. It was a mass of enormously long larninaria, grown, not within tidemarks, but out in the deeper, more abysmal region, as leathery in texture, as solid, and seemingly as sustaining, as the branch of a forest tree, the thick strands welded together by years of growth in deep water. It floated up to her, then under her, half lifting her upon itself as upon a raft, her hands clutching in the thick oily strands, her whole body sustained and for the moment uplifted by it.
With this feeling of support from below a new look came into her face; her eyes opened widely, and she suddenly stretched out her hands. ‘Augh, Murdough! Murdough!’ she murmured deliriously. ‘Didn’t I know you’d come? Didn't I know you’d never leave your poor Grania to drown by herself in the cruel salt sea? Arrah, take me up, then, darling, take me up ! Be quick, dear, and gather me up out of this cold, creeping water! Augh, but ‘tis the strong arms you have, though you would always have it ‘twas me was the strongest, you rogue! Hold me closer to you, Murdough dear; hold me closer, I say; closer! closer still! Augh, Murdough! . . . Murdougheen!'
And with a movement as if Murdough Blake had indeed come at last to the rescue, and was lifting her in his arms, she let her head fall back upon the seaweed, her cheek resting upon it as if upon his shoulder, her eyes at the same time closing with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction, and so resting and so sighing she sank slowly, insensibly, and without a struggle into the great folds of the laminaria, which, after supporting her in that position for perhaps a minute, began gently to loosen its long sashlike strands, floating presently away by degrees over the hardly undulating surface, returning again and again, and sweeping back, though in a less compact mass, now under, now over, now round her, the great brown ribbons swaying in easy serpentine curves about the floating form, the two getting to be hardly distinguishable in the all-pervading dreaminess, a dreaminess of which the very fog itself seemed to be but a part; a dream too deep and apparently too satisfactory to be ever again disturbed or broken in upon by anything from without.
Six or seven hours later the first fishermen astir upon Aranmore, chancing to go out upon the cliff, saw little Phelim Daly still crouched upon the same rock; still staring down with the same terrified, widely-opened eyes into the waste of waters below him. He was promptly rescued, and carried to the nearest cabin, where, when his wits had partially thawed, his errand was either extracted from him, or possibly was guessed without being extracted; in any case, Father Tom was shortly afterwards summoned, and within an hour was on his way to Inishmaan, through the still thick, but by this time penetrable fog, to visit the dying woman,
He was in time. Honor was still alive and perfectly conscious of his coming. Her sunken eyes lit with delight, and her hands clasped one another rapturously as the black figure entered the cabin door. She looked eagerly behind it for Grania, having been told by old Molly that she had gone herself to Aranmore to fetch him, but when it was explained to her that Grania had stopped to rest at Kilronan she was satisfied, and asked no more. Once again she looked round the cabin questioningly, evidently perplexed and disappointed, when the preparations had all been made, and everything was ready for the last rites, and still there was no Grania to
share them with her. That the sister who had never left her, never once in all those weary days and nights, should have left her now; should have deserted her in this extremity; left her to pass alone through the last dark gate, without her hand to hold by, her face to look to, her shoulder to lean on, must have seemed very strange to her—very strange, no doubt, and very unaccountable. She did not utter any complaints about it, however. She had been too patient all her life to be impatient now. If it was mysterious, why, everything else for that matter was mysterous too. The Familiar was receding, the Unfamiliar approaching fast, coming nearer and nearer every moment. After her long probation, after her tedious waiting, she was at last upon the verge of that looked-for, that intensely-desired country; a country which, if to most of us it seems but a dream within a dream, a floating mirage, a phantom made up of love and faith, of hope and of yearning desire—unthinkabhe, untenable, all but impossible—was to Honor, and is to such as Honor, no phantom, no mirage, but the soberest and solidest of solid realities; the thing for which they live, the hope for which they die. Real or unreal, fact or fancy, it was coming rapidly towards her now. She was floating towards it as fast as ever she could float; hurrying breathlessly, as a stream hurries when it nears the sea. Long before the fog had completely melted away, long before ordinary matter-of-fact daylight had returned to Inishmaan, her journey thither was accomplished. Already, even while the priest stood beside her, while the prayers she had so longed for, those prayers which Grania had died to obtain for her, were being uttered, she was drifting across its borderland; already its sounds rather than his voice, rather than any earthly voices, were in her ears; already her foot was upon its threshold. And upon that threshold, perhaps—who knows?—who can tell?—they met.