CHAPTER IX  SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT

    "Daddy's a long time coming, " said Dick all of a sudden.

    They were seated on the baulks of timber that cumbered the deck of the brig on either side of the caboose. An ideal perch. The sun was setting over Australia way, in a sea that seemed like a sea of boiling gold. Some mystery of mirage caused the water to heave and tremble as if troubled by fervent heat.

    "Ay, is he," said Mr. Button; "but it's better late than never. Now don't be thinkin' of him, for that won't bring him. Look at the sun goin' into the wather, and don't be spakin' a word, now, but listen and you'll hear it hiss."

    The children gazed and listened, Paddy also. All three were mute as the great blazing shield touched the water that leapt to meet it.

    You could hear the water hiss if you had imagination enough. Once having touched the water, the sun went down behind it, as swiftly as a man in a hurry going down a ladder. As he vanished a ghostly and golden twilight spread over the sea, a light exquisite but immensely forlorn. Then the sea became a violet shadow, the west darkened as if to a closing door, and the stars rushed over the sky.

    "Mr. Button," said Emmeline, nodding towards the sun as he vanished, "where's over there?"

    "The west," replied he, staring at the sunset. "Chainy and Injee and all away beyant."

    "Where's the sun gone to now, Paddy?" asked Dick.

    "He's gone chasin' the moon, an' she's skedadlin' wid her dress brailed up for all she's worth; she'll be along up in a minit. He's always afther her, but he's never caught her yet."

    "What would he do to her if he caught her?" asked Emmeline.

    "Faith, an' maybe he'd fetch her a skelp an' well she'd desarve it."

    "Why'd she deserve it?" asked Dick, who was in one of his questioning moods.

    "Because she's always delutherin' people an' leadin' thim asthray. Girls or men, she moidhers thim all once she gets the comeither on them; same as she did Buck M'Cann."

   "Who's he?"

   "Buck M'Cann? Faith, he was the village ijit where I used to live in the ould days."

   "What's that'"

   "Hould your whisht, an' don't be axin' questions. He was always wantin' the moon, though he was twinty an' six feet four. He'd a gob on him that hung open like a rat-trap with a broken spring, and he was as thin as a barber's pole, you could a' tied a reef knot in the middle of 'um; and whin the moon was full there was no houldin' him." Mr. Button gazed at the reflection of the sunset on the water for a moment as if recalling some form from the past, and then proceeded. "He'd sit on the grass starin' at her, an' thin he'd start to chase her over the hills, and they'd find him at last, maybe a day or two later, lost in the mountains, grazin' on berries, an as green as a cabbidge from the hunger an' the cowld, till it got so bad at long last they had to hobble him."

   "I've seen a donkey hobbled," cried Dick.

   "Thin you've seen the twin brother of Buck M'Cann. Well, one night me elder brother Tim was sittin' over the fire, smokin' his dudeen an' thinkin' of his sins, when in comes Buck with the hobbles on him.

   "'Tim,' says he, 'I've got her at last!'

   "'Got who?' says Tim.

   "'The moon,' says he.

   "'Got her where?' says Tim.

   "'In a bucket down by the pond,' says t'other, 'safe an' sound an' not a scratch on her; you come and look,' says he. So Tim follows him, he hobblin', and they goes to the pond side, and there, sure enough, stood a tin bucket full of wather, an' on the wather the refliction of the moon.

   "'I dridged her out of the pond,' whispers Buck. 'Aisy now,' says he, 'an' I'll dribble the water out gently,' says he, 'an' we'll catch her alive at the bottom of it like a trout.' So he drains the wather out gently of the bucket till it was near all gone, an' then he looks into the bucket expectin' to find the moon flounderin' in the bottom of it like a flat fish.

   "'She's gone, bad 'cess to her!' says he.

   "'Try again,' says me brother, and Buck fills the bucket again, and there was the moon sure enough when the water came to stand still.

   "'Go on,' says me brother. 'Drain out the wather, but go gentle, or she'll give yiz the slip again.'

   "'Wan minit,' says Buck, 'I've got an idea,' says he; 'she won't give me the slip this time,' says he. 'You wait for me,' says he; and off he hobbles to his old mother's cabin a stone's-throw away, and back he comes with a sieve.

   "'You hold the sieve,' says Buck, 'and I'll drain the water into it; if she'scapes from the bucket we'll have her in the sieve.' And he pours the wather out of the bucket as gentle as if it was crame out of a jug. When all the wather was out he turns the bucket bottom up, and shook it.

   "'Ran dan the thing!' he cries, 'she's gone again'; an' wid that he flings the bucket into the pond, and the sieve afther the bucket, when up comes his old mother hobbling on her stick.

   "'Where's me bucket?' says she.

   "'In the pond,' say Buck.

   "'And me sieve?' says she.

   "'Gone afther the bucket.'

   "'I'll give yiz a bucketin!' says she; and she up with the stick and landed him a skelp, an' driv him roarin' and hobblin' before her, and locked him up in the cabin, an' kep' him on bread an' wather for a wake to get the moon out of his head; but she might have saved her thruble, for that day month in it was agin. . . . There she comesI"

   The moon, argent and splendid, was breaking from the water. She was full, and her light was powerful almost as the light of day. The shadows of the children and the queer shadow of Mr Button were cast on the wall of the caboose hard and black as silhouettes.

   "Look at our shadows!" cried Dick, taking off his broad brimmed straw hat and waving it.

   Emmeline held up her doll to see its shadow, and Mr Button held up his pipe.

   "Come now," said he, putting the pipe back in his mouth, and making to rise, "and shadda offto bed; it's time you were aslape, the both of you."

   Dick began to yowl.

   "I don't want to go to bed; I aint tired, Paddy--les's stay a little longer."

   "Not a minit," said the other, with all the decision of a nurse; "not a minit afther me pipe's out!"

   "Fill it again," said Dick.

   Mr. Button made no reply. The pipe gurgled as he puffed at it--a kind of death-rattle speaking of almost immediate extinction.

    "Mr. Button!" said Emmeline. She was holding her nose in the air and sniffing; seated to windward of the smoker, and out of the pigtail-poisoned air, her delicate sense of smell perceived something lost to the others."

   "What is it, acushla?"

   "I smell something."

   "What d'ye say you smell?"

   "Something nice."

   "What's it like?" asked Dick, sniffing hard. "I don't smell anything."

   Emmeline sniffed again to make sure.

   "Flowers," said she.

   The breeze, which had shifted several points since midday, was bearing with it a faint, faint odour: a perfume of vanilla and spice so faint as to be imperceptible to all but the most acute olfactory sense.

   "Flowers!" said the old sailor, tapping the ashes cut of his pipe against the heel of his boot. "And where'd you get flowers in middle of the say? It's dhramin' you are. Come now--to bed wid yiz!"

   "Fill it again," wailed Dick, referring to the pipe.

   "It's a spankin' I'll give you," replied his guardian, lifting him down from the timber baulks, and then assisting Emmeline, "in two ticks if you don't behave. Come along, Em'line."

   He started aft, a small hand in each of his, Dick bellowing.

   As they passed the ship's bell, Dick stretched towards the belaying pin that was still lying on the deck, seized it, and hit the bell a mighty bang. It was the last pleasure to be snatched before sleep, and he snatched it.

    Paddy had made up beds for himself and his charges in the deck-house; he had cleared the stuff off the table, broken open the windows to get the musty smell away, and placed the mattresses from the captain and mate's cabins on the floor.

    When the children were in bed and asleep, he went to the starboard rail, and, leaning on it, looked over the moonlit sea. He was thinking of ships as his wandering eye roved over the sea spaces, little dreaming of the message that the perfumed breeze was bearing him. The message that had been received and dimly understood by Emmeline. Then he leaned with his back to the rail and his hands in his pockets. He was not thinking now, he was ruminating.

    The basis of the Irish character as exemplified by Paddy Button is a profound laziness mixed with a profound melancholy. Yet Paddy, in his left-handed way, was as hard a worker as any man on board ship; and as for melancholy, he was the life and soul of the fo'cs'le. Yet there they were, the laziness and the melancholy, only waiting to be tapped.

    As he stood with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, longshore fashion, counting the dowels in the planking of the deck by the mooniight, he was reviewing the "old days." The tale of Buck M'Cann had recalled them, and across all the salt seas he could see the moonlight on the Connemara mountains, and hear the sea-gulls crying on the thunderous beach where each wave has behind it three thousand miles of sea.

    Suddenly Mr. Button came back from the mountains of Connemara to find himself on the deck of the Shenandoah; and he instantly became possessed by fears. Beyond the white deserted deck, barred by the shadows of the standing rigging, he could see the door of the caboose. Suppose he should suddenly see a head pop out or, worse, a shadowy form go in?

    He turned to the deck-house, where the children were sound asleep, and where, in a few minutes, he, too, was sound asleep beside them, whilst all night long the brig rocked to the gentle swell of the Pacific, and the breeze blew, bringing with it the perfume of flowers.


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