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Title: Out of the Sea
Author: A. C. Benson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605201
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Out of the Sea
A. C. Benson

It was about ten o'clock on a November morning in the little village
of Blea-on-the-Sands. The hamlet was made up of some thirty houses,
which clustered together on a low rising ground. The place was very
poor, but some old merchant of bygone days had built in a pious mood a
large church, which was now too great for the needs of the place; the
nave had been unroofed in a heavy gale, and there was no money to
repair it, so that it had fallen to decay, and the tower was joined to
the choir by roofless walls. This was a sore trial to the old priest,
Father Thomas, who had grown grey there; but he had no art in
gathering money, which he asked for in a shamefaced way; and the
vicarage was a poor one, hardly enough for the old man's needs. So the
church lay desolate.

The village stood on what must once have been an island; the little
river Reddy, which runs down to the sea, there forking into two
channels on the landward side; towards the sea the ground was bare,
full of sand-hills covered with a short grass. Towards the land was a
small wood of gnarled trees, the boughs of which were all brushed
smooth by the gales; looking landward there was the green flat, in
which the river ran, rising into low hills; hardly a house was visible
save one or two lonely farms; two or three church towers rose above
the hills at a long distance away. Indeed Blea was much cut off from
the world; there was a bridge over the stream on the west side, but
over the other channel was no bridge, so that to fare eastward it was
requisite to go in a boat. To seaward there were wide sands, when the
tide was out; when it was in, it came up nearly to the end of the
village street. The people were mostly fishermen, but there were a few
farmers and labourers; the boats of the fishermen lay to the east side
of the village, near the river channel which gave some draught of
water; and the channel was marked out by big black stakes and posts
that straggled out over the sands, like awkward leaning figures, to
the sea's brim.

Father Thomas lived in a small and ancient brick house near the
church, with a little garden attached. He was a kindly man, much worn
by age and weather, with a wise heart, and he loved the quiet life
with his small flock. This morning he had come out of his house to
look abroad, before he settled down to writing his sermon. He looked
out to sea, and saw with a shadow of sadness the black outline of a
wreck that had come ashore a week before, and over which the white
waves were now breaking. The wind blew steadily from the north-east,
and had a bitter poisonous chill in it, which it doubtless drew from
the fields of the upper ice. The day was dark and overhung, not with
cloud, but with a kind of dreary vapour that shut out the sun. Father
Thomas shuddered at the wind, and drew his patched cloak round him. As
he did so, he saw three figures come up to the vicarage gate. It was
not a common thing for him to have visitors in the morning, and he saw
with surprise that they were old Master John Grimston, the richest man
in the place, half farmer and half fisherman, a dark surly old man;
his wife, Bridget, a timid and frightened woman, who found life with
her harsh husband a difficult business, in spite of their wealth,
which, for a place like Blea, was great; and their son Henry, a silly
shambling man of forty, who was his father's butt. The three walked
silently and heavily, as though they came on a sad errand.

Father Thomas went briskly down to meet them, and greeted them with
his accustomed cheerfulness. 'And what may I do for you?' he said. Old
Master Grimston made a sort of gesture with his head as though his
wife should speak; and she said in a low and somewhat husky voice,
with a rapid utterance, 'There is a matter, Father, we would ask you
about--are you at leisure?'

Father Thomas said, 'Ay, I am ashamed to be not more busy! Let us go
in the house.' They did so; and even in the little distance to the
door, the Father thought that his visitors behaved very strangely.
They peered round from left to right, and once or twice Master
Grimston looked sharply behind them, as though they were followed.
They said nothing but 'Ay' and 'No' to the Father's talk, and bore
themselves like people with a terrible fear. Father Thomas made up his
mind that it was some question of money, for nothing else was wont to
move Master Grimston's mind. So he led them into his parlour and gave
them seats, and then there was a silence, while the two men continued
to look furtively about them, and the wife sat with her eyes upon the
priest's face. Father Thomas knew not what to make of this, till
Master Grimston said harshly, 'Come wife, tell the tale and make an
end; we must not take up the Father's time.'

'I hardly know how to say it, Father,' said Bridget, 'but a strange
and evil thing has befallen us; there is something come to our house,
and we know not what it is--but it brings fear with it.'

A sudden paleness came over her face, and she stopped, and the three
exchanged a glance in which terror was visibly written. Master
Grimston looked over his shoulder swiftly, and made as though to
speak, yet only swallowed in his throat; but Henry said suddenly, in a
loud and woeful voice: 'It is an evil beast out of the sea.' And then
there followed a dreadful silence, while Father Thomas felt a sudden
dread leap up in his heart, at the contagion of fear that he saw
written on the faces round him. But he said with all the cheerfulness
he could muster, 'Come, friends, let us not begin to talk of sea-
beasts; we must have the whole tale. Mistress Grimston, I must hear
the story--be content--nothing can touch us here.' The three seemed to
draw a faint comfort from his words, and Bridget began:

'It was the day of the wreck, Father. John was up early before the
dawn; he walked out to the sands, and Henry with him--and they were
the first to see the wreck--was not that it?' At these words the
father and son seemed to exchange a very swift and secret look, and
both grew pale.

'John told me there was a wreck ashore, and they went presently and
roused the rest of the village; and all that day they were out, saving
what could be saved. Two sailors were found, both dead and pitifully
battered by the sea, and they were buried, as you know, Father, in the
churchyard next day; John came back about dusk and Henry with him, and
we sat down to our supper. John was telling me about the wreck, as we
sat beside the fire, when Henry, who was sitting apart, rose up and
cried out suddenly, "What is that?"'

She paused for a moment, and Henry, who sat with face blanched,
staring at his mother, said, 'Ay, I did--it ran past me suddenly.'
'Yes, but what was it?' said Father Thomas trying to smile; 'a dog or
cat, perhaps?' 'It was a beast,' said Henry slowly, in a trembling
voice--'a beast about the size of a goat. I never saw the like--yet I
did not see it clear; I but felt the air blow, and caught a whiff of
it--it was salt like the sea, but with a kind of dead smell behind.'
'Was that all you saw?' said Father Thomas; 'Perhaps you were tired
and faint, and the air swam round you suddenly--I have known the like
myself when weary.' 'Nay, nay,' said Henry, 'this was not like that--
it was a beast, sure enough.' 'Ay, and we have seen it since,' said
Bridget. 'At least I have not seen it clearly yet, but I have smelt
its odour, and it turns me sick--but John and Henry have seen it
often--sometimes it lies and seems to sleep, but it watches us; and
then again it is merry, and will leap in a corner--and John saw it
skip upon the sands near the wreck--did you not, John?' At these words
the two men again exchanged a glance, and then old Master Grimston,
with a dreadful look in his face, in which great anger seemed to
strive with fear, said 'Nay, silly woman, it was not near the wreck,
it was out to the east.' 'It matters little,' said Father Thomas, who
saw well enough this was no light matter. 'I never heard the like of
it. I will myself come down to your house with a holy book, and see if
the thing will meet me. I know not what this is,' he went on, whether
it is a vain terror that hath hold of you; but there are spirits of
evil in the world, and the sea, too, doubtless hath its monsters; and
it may be that one has wandered out of the waves, like a dog strayed
from his home. I dare not say, till I have met it face to face. But
God gives no power to such things to hurt those who have a fair
conscience.'--And here he stopped and looked at the three; Bridget sat
regarding him with hope in her face; but the other two sat looking at
the ground; and the priest divined in some secret way that all was not
well with them. 'But I will come at once,' he said, rising, 'and I
will see if I can cast out or bind the thing, whatever it be--for I am
in this place as a soldier of the Lord, to fight with the works of
darkness.' He took a clasped book from a table, and lifted up his hat,
saying, 'Let us set forth.'

Then he said as they left the room, 'Hath it appeared today?' 'Yes,
indeed,' said Henry, 'and it was ill content. It followed us as though
it were angered.' 'Come,' said Father Thomas turning upon him, 'you
speak thus of a thing, as you might speak of a dog--what is it like?'
'Nay,' said Henry, 'I know not; I can never see it clearly; it is like
a speck in the eye--it is never there when you look upon it--it glides
away very secretly; it is most like a goat, I think. It seems to be
horned, and hairy; but I have seen its eyes, and they were yellow,
like a flame.'

As he said these words Master Grimston went in haste to the door, and
pulled it open as though to breathe the air. The others followed him
and went out; but Master Grimston drew the priest aside, and said like
a man in a mortal fear, 'Look you, Father, all this is true--the thing
is a devil--and why it abides with us I know not; but I cannot live
so; and unless it be cast out it will slay me--but if money be of
avail, I have it in abundance.' 'Nay,' said Father Thomas, 'let there
be no talk of money--perchance if I can aid you, you may give of your
gratitude to God.' 'Ay, ay,' said the old man hurriedly, 'that was
what I meant--there is money in abundance for God, if he will but set
me free.'

So they walked very sadly together through the street. There were few
folk about; the men and the children were all abroad--a woman or two
came to the house door, and wondered a little to see them pass so
solemnly, as though they followed a body to the grave.

Master Grimston's house was the largest in the place. It had a walled
garden before it, with a strong door set in the wall. The house stood
back from the road, a dark front of brick with gables; behind it the
garden sloped nearly to the sands, with wooden barns and warehouses.
Master Grimston unlocked the door, and then it seemed that his terror
overcame him, for he would have the priest enter first. Father Thomas,
with a certain apprehension of which he was ashamed, walked quickly
in, and looked about him. The herbage of the garden had mostly died
down in the winter, and a tangle of sodden stalks lay over the beds. A
flagged path edged with box led up to the house, which seemed to stare
at them from its dark windows with a sort of steady gaze.

Master Grimston fastened the door behind them, and they went all
together, keeping close to each other, up to the house, the door of
which opened upon a big parlour or kitchen, sparely furnished, but
very clean and comfortable. Some vessels of metal glittered on a rack.
There were chairs, ranged round the open fireplace. There was no sound
except the wind which buffeted in the chimney. It looked a quiet and
homely place, and Father Thomas grew ashamed of his fears.

'Now,' said he in his firm voice, 'though I am your guest here, I will
appoint what shall be done.

We will sit here together, and talk as cheerfully as we may, till we
have dined. Then, if nothing appears to us,'--and he crossed himself--
'I will go round the house, into every room, and see if we can track
the thing to its lair; I will abide with you till evensong; and then I
will soon return, and sleep here to-night. Even if the thing be wary,
and dares not to meet the power of the Church in the daytime, perhaps
it will venture out at night; and I am prepared to face it. So come,
good people, and be comforted.'

So they sat together; and Father Thomas talked of many things, and
told some old legends of saints; and they dined, though without much
cheer; and still nothing appeared. Then, after dinner, Father Thomas
decided to view the house. So he took his Bible, and they went from
room to room. On the ground floor there were several chambers not
used, which they entered in turn, but saw nothing; on the upper floor
was a large room where Master Grimston and his wife slept; and a
further room for Henry, and a guest-chamber in which the priest was to
sleep; and a room where a servant-maid slept. And now the day began to
darken and to turn to evening, and Father Thomas felt a shadow grow in
his mind. There came into his head a verse of Scripture about a spirit
who found a house 'empty, swept and garnished,' and called his fellows
to enter in.

At the end of the passage was a locked door; and Father Thomas said:
'This is the last room---let us enter.' 'Nay, there is no need to do
that,' said Master Grimston in a kind of haste; 'it leads nowhere--it
is but a store room.' 'It would be a pity to leave it unvisited,' said
the Father--and as he said the word, there came a kind of stirring
from within. 'A rat doubtless,' said the Father, striving with a
sudden sense of fear; but the pale faces round him told another tale.
'Come, Master Grimston, let us be done with this,' said Father Thomas
decisively; 'the hour of vespers draws nigh.' So Master Grimston
slowly drew out a key and unlocked the door, and Father Thomas marched
in. It was a simple place enough. There were shelves on which various
household matters lay, boxes and jars, with twine and cordage. On the
ground stood chests.

There were some clothes hanging on pegs, and in a corner was a heap of
garments, piled up. On one of the chests stood a box of rough deal,
and from the corner of it dripped water, which lay in a little pool on
the floor. Master Grimston went hurriedly to the box and pushed it
further to the wall. As he did so, a kind of sound came from Henry's
lips. Father Thomas turned and looked at him; he stood pale and
strengthless, his eyes fixed on the corner--at the same moment
something dark and shapeless seemed to slip past the group, and there
came to the nostrils of Father Thomas a strange sharp smell, as of the
sea, only there was a taint within it, like the smell of corruption.

They all turned and looked at Father Thomas together, as though
seeking comfort from his presence. He, hardly knowing what he did, and
in the grasp of a terrible fear, fumbled with his book; and opening
it, read the first words that his eye fell upon, which was the place
where the Blessed Lord, beset with enemies, said that if He did but
pray to His Father, He should send Him forthwith legions of angels to
encompass Him. And the verse seemed to the priest so like a message
sent instantly from heaven that he was not a little comforted.

But the thing, whatever the reason was, appeared to them no more at
that time. Yet the thought of it lay very heavy on Father Thomas's
heart. In truth he had not in the bottom of his mind believed that he
would see it, but bad trusted in his honest life and his sacred
calling to protect him. He could hardly speak for some minutes,--
moreover the horror of the thing was very great--and seeing him so
grave, their terrors were increased, though there was a kind of
miserable joy in their minds that some one, and he a man of high
repute, should suffer with them.

Then Father Thomas, after a pause--they were now in the parlour--said,
speaking very slowly, that they were under a sore affliction of Satan,
and that they must withstand it with a good courage--'And look you,'
he added, turning with a great sternness to the thee, 'if there be any
mortal sin upon your hearts, see that you confess it and be shriven
speedily--for while such a thing lies upon the heart, so long hath
Satan power to hurt--otherwise have no fear at all.'

Then Father Thomas slipped out to the garden, and hearing the bell
pulled for vespers, he went to the church, and the three would go with
him, because they would not be left alone. So they went together; by
this time the street was fuller, and the servant-maid had told tales,
so that there was much talk in the place about what was going on. None
spoke with them as they went, but at every corner people could be seen
talking, and, as the Father approached a silence would fall upon a
group, so that they knew that their terrors were on every tongue.
There was but a handful of worshippers in the church, which was dark,
save for the light on Father Thomas' book. He read the holy service
swiftly and courageously, but his face was very pale and grave in the
light of the candle. When the vespers were over, and he had put off
his robe, he said that he would go back to his house, and gather what
he needed for the night, and that they should wait for him at the
churchyard gate. So he strode off to his vicarage. But as he shut to
the door, he saw a dark figure come running up the garden; he waited
with a fear in his mind, but in a moment he saw that it was Henry, who
came up breathless, and said that he must speak with the Father alone.

Father Thomas knew that some dark secret was to be told him. So he led
Henry into the parlour and seated himself, and said, 'Now, my son,
speak boldly.' So there was an instant's silence, and Henry slipped on
to his knees.

Then in a moment Henry with a sob began to tell his tale. He said that
on the day of the wreck his father had roused him very early in the
dawn, and had told him to put on his clothes and come silently, for he
thought there was a wreck ashore. His father carried a spade in his
hand, he knew not then why. They went down to the tide, which was
moving out very fast, and had left but an inch or two of water on the
sands. There was little light, but, when they had walked a little,
they saw the black hull of a ship before them, on the edge of the
deeper water, the waves driving over it; and then all at once they
came upon the body of a man lying on his face on the sand. There was
no sign of life in him, but he clasped a bag in his hand that was
heavy, and the pocket of his coat was bulging; and there lay,
moreover, some glittering things about him that seemed to be coins.
They lifted the body up, and his father stripped the coat from the
man, and then bade Henry dig a hole in the sand, which he presently
did, though the sand and water oozed fast into it. Then his father,
who had been stooping down, gathering something up from the sand,
raised the body up, and laid it in the hole, and bade Henry cover it.
And so he did till it was nearly hidden. Then came a horrible thing;
the sand in the hole began to move and stir, and presently a band was
put out with clutching fingers; and Henry dropped the spade, and said,
'There is life in him,' but his father seized the spade, and shovelled
the sand into the hole with a kind of silent fury, and trampled it
over and smoothed it down--and then he gathered up the coat and the
bag, and handed Henry the spade. By this time the town was astir, and
they saw, very faintly, a man run along the shore eastward; so, making
a long circuit to the west, they returned; his father had put the
spade away and taken the coat upstairs; and then he went out with
Henry, and told all he could find that there was a wreck ashore.

The priest heard the story with a fierce shame and anger, and turning
to Henry he said, 'But why did you not resist your father, and save
the poor sailor?' 'I dared not,' said Henry shudder-ing, 'though I
would have done so if I could; but my father has a power over me, and
I am used to obeying him.' Then said the priest, 'This is a dark
matter. But you have told the story bravely, and now will I shrive
you, my son.' So he gave him shrift. Then he said to Henry, 'And have
you seen aught that would connect the beast that visits you with this
thing?' 'Ay, that I have,' said Henry, 'for I watched it with my
father skip and leap in the water over the place where the man lies
buried.' Then the priest said, 'Your father must tell me the tale too,
and he must make submission to the law.' 'He will not,' said Henry.
'Then will I compel him,' said the priest, 'Not out of my mouth,' said
Henry, 'or he will slay me too.' And then the priest saw that he was
in an awkward position for he could not use the words of confession of
one man to convict another of his sin. So he gathered his things in
haste, and walked back to the church; but Henry went another way,
saying 'I made excuse to come away, and said I went elsewhere; but I
fear my father much--he sees very deep; and I would not have him
suspect me of having made confession.'

Then the Father met the other two at the church gate; and they went
down to the house in silence, the Father pondering heavily; and at the
door Henry joined them, and it seemed to the Father that old Master
Grimston regarded him not. So they entered the house in silence, and
ate in silence, listening earnestly for any sound. And the Father
looked oft on Master Grimston, who ate and drank and said nothing,
never raising his eyes. But once the Father saw him laugh secretly to
himself, so that the blood ran cold in the Father's veins, and he
could hardly contain himself from accusing him. Then the Father read
prayers, and prayed earnestly against the evil, and that they should
open their hearts to God, if he would show them why this misery came
upon them.

Then they went to bed; and Henry asked that he might sleep in the
priest's room, which he willingly granted. And so the house was dark,
and they made as though they would sleep; but the Father could not
sleep, and he heard Henry weeping silently to himself like a little

But at last the Father slept--how long he knew not--and suddenly woke
from his sleep with a horror of darkness all about him, and he knew
that there was some evil thing abroad. He looked upon the room. He
heard Henry mutter heavily in his sleep as though there was a dark
terror upon him; and then, in the light of the dying embers, the
Father saw a thing rise upon the hearth, as though it had slept there,
and woken to stretch itself. And then in the half-light it seemed
softly to gambol and play; but whereas when an innocent beast does
this it seems a fond and pretty sight, the Father thought he had never
seen so ugly a sight as the beast gambolling all by itself, as if it
could not contain its own dreadful joy; it looked viler and more
wicked every moment; then, too, there spread in the room the sharp
scent of the sea, with the foul smell underneath it, that gave the
Father a deadly sickness; he tried to pray, but no words would come,
and he felt indeed that the evil was too strong for him. Presently the
beast desisted from its play, and looking wickedly about it, came near
to the Father's bed, and seemed to put up its hairy forelegs upon it;
he could see its narrow and obscene eyes, which burned with a dull
yellow light, and were fixed upon him. And now the Father thought that
his end was near, for he could stir neither hand nor foot, and the
sweat ran down his brow; but he made a mighty effort, and in a voice
which shocked himself, so dry and husky and withal of so loud and
screaming a tone it was, he said three holy words. The beast gave a
great quiver of rage, but it dropped down on the floor, and in a
moment was gone. Then Henry woke, and raising himself on his arm, said
something; but there broke out in the house a great outcry and the
stamping of feet, which seemed very fearful in the silence of the
night. The priest leapt out of his bed all dizzy, and made a light,
and ran to the door, and went out, crying whatever words came to his
head. The door of Master Grimston's room was open, and a strange and
strangling sound came forth; the Father made his way in, and found
Master Grimston lying upon the floor, his wife bending over him; he
lay still, breathing pitifully, and every now and then a shudder ran
through him. In the room there seemed a strange and shadowy tumult
going on; but the Father saw that no time could be lost, and kneeling
down beside Master Grimston, he prayed with all his might.

Presently Master Grimston ceased to struggle and lay still, like a man
who had come out of a sore conflict. Then he opened his eyes, and the
Father stopped his prayers, and looking very hard at him he said, 'My
son, the time is very short--confess your sins.'.Then Master Grimston,
rolling his haggard eyes upon the group, twice strove to speak and
could not; but the third time the Father, bending down his head, heard
him say in a thin voice, that seemed to float from a long way off, 'I
slew sin.' Then the Father swiftly gave him shrift, and as he
said the last word, Master Grimston's head fell over on the side, and
the Father said, 'He is gone.' And Bridget broke out into a terrible
cry, and fell upon Henry's neck, who had entered unseen.

Then the Father bade Henry lead her away, and put the poor body on the
bed; as he did so he noticed that the face of the dead man was
strangely bruised and battered, as though it had been stamped upon by
the cloven hoofs of some beast. Then Father Thomas knelt, and prayed
until the light came filtering in through the shutters and the cocks
crowed in the village, and presently it was day. But that night the
Father learnt strange secrets, and something of the dark purpose of
God was revealed to him.

In the morning there came one to find the priest, and told him that
another body had been thrown up on the shore, which was strangely
smeared with sand, as though it had been rolled over and over in it;
and the Father took order for its burial.

Then the priest had a long talk with Bridget and Henry. He found them
sitting together, and she held her son's hand and smoothed his hair,
as though he had been a little child; and Henry sobbed and wept, but
Bridget was very calm. 'He hath told me all,' she said, 'and we have
decided that he shall do whatever you bid him; must he be given to
justice?' and she looked at the priest very pitifully. 'Nay, nay,'
said the priest. 'I hold not Henry to account for the death of the
man; it was his father's sin, who hath made heavy atonement--the
secret shall be buried in our hearts.'

Then Bridget told him how she had waked suddenly out of her sleep, and
heard her husband cry out; and that then followed a dreadful kind of
struggling, with the scent of the sea over all; and then he had all at
once fallen to the ground and she had gone to him--and that then the
priest had come.

Then Father Thomas said with tears that God had shown them deep things
and visited them very strangely.

Then lastly he went with Henry to the store-room; and there, in the
box that had dripped with water, lay the coat of the dead man, full of
money, and the bag of money too; and Henry would have cast it back
into the sea, but the priest said that this might not be, but that it
should be bestowed plentifully upon shipwrecked mariners unless the
heirs should be found. But the ship appeared to be a foreign ship, and
no search ever revealed whence the money had come.

Master Grimston was found to have left much wealth. But Bridget sold
the house and the land, and it mostly went to rebuild the church. Then
Bridget and Henry moved to the vicarage and served Father Thomas
faithfully, and they guarded their secret.

Now the beast troubled those of whom I write no more; but it is easier
to raise up evil than to lay it; and it is said to this day that a man
or a woman with an evil thought in their hearts may see on a certain
evening in November, at the ebb of the tide, a goatlike thing wade in
the water, snuffing at the sand, as though it sought but found not.


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