On The Beach

Toll for the brave,
The grave that are no more;
All sunk beneath the wave
Fast by their native shore - Cowper
The night was cold, and I had nothing on me save breeches and boots, and those drenched with the sea, and had been wrestling with the surf so long that there was little left in me. Yet once I clutched the rope I clung to it for very life, and in a minute found myself in the midst of the beachmen. I heard them shout again, and felt strong hands seize me, bat could not see their faces for a mist that swam before my eyes, and could not speak because my throat and tongue were cracked with the salt water, and the voice would not come. There was a crowd about me of men and some women, and I spread out my hands, blindly, to catch hold of them, but my knees failed and let me down upon the beach. And after that I remember only having coats flung over me, and being carried off out of the wind, and laid in warmest blankets before a fire. I was numb with the cold, my hair was matted with the salt, and my flesh white and shrivelled, but they forced liquor into my mouth, and so I lay in drowsy content till utter weariness bound me in sleep.

It was a deep and dreamless sleep for hours, and when it left me, gently and as it were inch by inch, I found I was still lying wrapped in blankets by the fire. Oh, what a vast and infinite peace was that, to lie there half-asleep, yet wake enough to know that I had slipped my prison and the pains of death, and was a free man here in my native place. At last I shifted myself a little, growing more awake; and opening my eyes saw I was not alone, for two men sat at a table by me with glasses and a bottle before them.

"He is coming-to," said one, "and may live yet to tell us who he is, and from what port his craft sailed."

"There has been many a craft," the other said, "has sailed for many a port, and made this beach her last; and many an honest man has landed on it, and never one alive in such a sea. Nor would this one be living either, if it had not been for that other brave heart to stand by and save him. Brave heart, brave heart," he said over to himself. "Here, pass me the bottle or I shall get the vapours. 'Tis good against these early chills, and I have not been in this place for ten years past, since poor Elzevir was cut adrift."

I could not see the speaker's face from where I lay upon the floor, yet seemed to know his voice; and so was fumbling in my weakened mind to put a name to it, when he spoke of Elzevir, and sent my thoughts flying elsewhere.

"Elzevir," I said, "where is Elzevir?" and sat up to look round, expecting to see him lying near me, and remembering the wreck more clearly now, and how he had saved me with that last shove forward on the beach. But he was not to be seen, and so I guessed that his great strength had brought him round quicker than had my youth, and that he was gone back to the beach.

"Hush," said one of the men at the table, "lie down and get to sleep again"; and then he added, speaking to his comrade: "His brain is wandering yet: do you see how he has caught up my words about Elzevir?"

"No," I struck in, "my head is clear enough; I am speaking of Elzevir Block. I pray you tell me where he is. Is he well again?" They got up and stared at one another and at me, when I named Elzevir Block, and then I knew the one that spoke for Master Ratsey only greyer than he was.

"Who are you?" he cried, "who talk of Elzevir Block."

"Do you not know me, Master Ratsey?" and I looked full in his face. "I am John Trenchard, who left you so long ago. I pray you tell me where is Master Block?"

Master Ratsey looked as if he had seen a ghost, and was struck dumb at first: but then ran up and shook me by the hand so warmly that I fell back again on my pillow, while he poured out questions in a flood. How had I fared, where had I been, whence had I come? until I stopped him, saying: "Softly, kind friend, and I will answer; only tell me first, where is Master Elzevir?"

  By PanEris using Melati.

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