Us and the Bottle Man/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX

 

IT was raining,—big cold splashes that came faster and faster. I felt my blouse stick coldly to my shoulder in the places where it was wet.

"We can't let Greg lie there and have it rain on him," I said.

Jerry and I thought of the pirate cave at the same moment, but we didn't see how we could possibly carry Greg to it in the dark. We thought that as it was n't his legs that were hurt he might be able to walk there, if we helped him. He was very brave and quite willing to try, though a little dazed about why we wanted him to, but when we stood him carefully on his feet, he said, "Chris—no—" and we had to lay him down again. By this time it was really raining, and I put the skirt over Greg, instead of under him, while we tried to think.

"It might work if we made a chair," Jerry suggested.

So we stooped down and clasped each other's wrists criss-cross, the way you do to make a human chair, and got Greg on to it, with the arm that was n't hurt around my neck. The darkness was perfectly pitchy, and we had to feel for every step to be sure that it was a solid place and not the slippery edge that went straight down into the sea. Greg cried a little and said, "Please—stop." I could feel his hair against my face. It was all wet, and his cheek was wet, too, and cold.

The rain blew a little way into the cave, but not much, and we put Greg as far back as we could. The bottom of the cave was very jaggy and not comfortable to lie on, but we made it as soft as we could with the skirt and the jersey. I tripped and stumbled against Jerry, and when I caught him I felt that he was shivering. His shirt was quite wet. When I asked him if he was cold, he said "Not very," and we crawled into the cave place beside Greg, and sat as close together as possible to keep warm. We could n't see the Headland light, and I was rather glad, because it had made me almost crazy, flashing and flashing so steadily and not caring a bit.

The rain went plop into the pools, and made a flattish, spattery sound on the rock. I don't know why I thought of the "Air Religieux" just then, but I suppose it was because of the rain. I could see the straight yellow candle-flames all blue around the wick, and Father's head tucked down looking at the 'cello, and his hands, nice and strong, playing it; then I got a little mixed and heard him calling "Chris-ti-ine," fainter and fainter. I think I must have been almost asleep, because I know the real rain surprised me, like something I'd forgotten, and a very sharp, cornery rock was poking into my back.

It was then that Greg said:

"Want—Simpson."

That frightened me more than anything almost, for Simpson was a sort of stuffed flannel duck-thing that he'd had when he was very little, and he had n't thought of it for years. None of us ever knew why he called it "Simpson," but he adored the thing and made it sleep beside him in the crib every night. But that was when he was three, and "Simpson" had been for ages on the top shelf where we keep the toys that we think we'll play with again sometime before we're really grown up. We never have done it yet, but there are certain ones that we could n't possibly give away, not even to the Deservingest poor children.

So when Greg said that, in a tired, faroff sort of way, it did frighten me, because I had heard of people dying when they were ravingly delirious. Greg was n't raving exactly, but it was almost worse, because his voice was so small and different from his own dear usual one. When I told him I could n't get Simpson I tried to make my voice sound soft and cooey like Mother's when she's sorry, but it went up into a queer squeak instead, and I could n't finish somehow. Greg kept saying, "Simpson;—please—" and crying to himself.

I heard Jerry feeling around in the dark and then the click of his knife opening. I could n't think what he was doing, but after quite a long time he pushed something into my hand and said:

"Does that feel anything like it?"

"Like what?" I said, but the next minute I knew.

It did feel like Simpson—soft and flannelly, with a round, bumpy sort of head at one end.

"Oh, how did you do it!" I said. "Oh, Jerry, you brick!"

"I chopped a big piece out of your skirt," he said. "I hope you don't mind. I happened to have the string off the sandwich bundle in my pocket, and I squeezed up a head and tied it."

Greg was a little frightened when Jerry leaned over him suddenly.

"It's just me, Greg," Jerry said; "just Jerry-o. Here's Simpson, old lamb."

I'd never heard Jerry's voice at all like that before. I don't know whether Greg really thought it was Simpson, but he took it and sighed—a long, quivery sort of sigh, the way very little children do when they're asleep sometimes.

Then there was no sound at all but the different horrid noises that the Monster made.

Presently I felt Jerry start, and then he shuffled back a little so that he was quite tight against my knees. I asked him what was the matter, and he said "Nothing." After a while, though, he said:

"Chris, I'd better tell you."

"What? Oh, what is it?" I said.

"Do you remember how the tide was when we came out?" he asked.

"Yes," I said; "on the ebb. Don't you remember the rocks at Wecanicut, with bushels of wet sea-weed hanging off?"

"Well?" Jerry said.

I did n't understand for a minute, then I whispered:

"Do—you mean—"

"A wave just hit my foot," said Jerry in a low voice.

 

The first thing that we did was a lot of quick figuring. We thought fearfully hard and remembered that Turkshead Rock was just coming out of water when we left Wecanicut at four o'clock, so that the tide must have been within about an hour of ebb. Therefore full flood would be at eleven o'clock. But we had n't any idea of whether it was ten or eleven or twelve, because there was no light to see Jerry's watch by. He had just an ordinary Ingersoll, not the grand Radiolite kind that you can see in the dark and it was perfectly maddening to hear it ticking away cheerfully, and no good to us at all. Just then something cold wrapped itself around my ankle. It was the edge of another wavelet.

We knew that if the cave was going to be flooded we must get Greg out of it before the water came much higher, but it was still raining pitch-forks outside, and we did n't know whether to risk waiting a bit longer or not.

"Perhaps there's sea-weed and we can feel high watermark," I said. "Try, Jerry."

We felt all the way around the sides of the cave toward the bottom, but as far as we could tell there was no sea-weed at all.

"That does n't help us much," Jerry said, "because we don't know whether the tide is really full now and has covered it, or whether it just does n't grow here."

We curled our feet under us and waited. We could hear the water sloshing around very close to us. Once when I put out my hand it went right into a cold pool. It was then that Jerry had a most wonderful idea. I heard his knife snap open again and asked him what it was this time.

"If I take the crystal off my watch," he said, "I can feel where the hands are."

I heard the little clicking pop that the front of a watch makes when you pry it off, and I knew he was feeling the hands very gently.

"The little one's in line with the winder stem thing," he said, "and the big one—Chris, it's about twenty minutes of twelve. The water can't come any higher. We must have had the worst of it."

It was queer that I cried then, because I had n't felt at all like crying when we thought that the cave would be flooded.

Greg had been quiet for so long that it frightened me suddenly, and I groped after him to be sure that he was all right. I found his hand, and I couldn't believe that it was really hot when ours were so cold. His forehead was hot, too, and dry, in spite of his hair being damp still from the rain. He curled his hand into mine and said very clearly:

"Will you please bring me a drink of water?"

It was perfectly awful, because he said it so politely and very carefully, as if he were trying not to bother somebody. And there was no drink to give him. I thought of the people in stories who lie on deserts and battle-fields burning in agonies of fever, but I could n't remember reading about anybody dying of fever on a rock in the middle of the sea. I dipped my handkerchief in the pool just beside me and laid it, all dripping, on Greg's forehead. I did n't know whether it was a proper First Aid thing to do, but he seemed to like it and was still again, holding my hand. Presently he said:

"Mother, why isn’t there a drink?"

"This is awful, Chris," Jerry said.

Then I thought of the rain-pools. There were lots, of course, in the hollows of the Monster, but we had nothing to scoop up the water with. Greg's forehead was just as hot as ever, and he thrashed about and hurt his shoulder and cried miserably.

I don't know how Jerry could have thought of so many things; for it was he who thought of very carefully breaking the bottom off the root-beer bottle and using it for a cup. Of course the bottom might have cracked all to pieces, but it was quite heavy and Jerry was very careful. It came off wonderfully well, though rather jaggy. Jerry tried to grind the cutty edges off by rubbing them against the rock, but it did n't work. Then we remembered being very thirsty once on a long picnic-walk ages ago, and Father wrapping his handkerchief around the top of the tin can the soup had come in and giving us a drink at a pump. So we knew that we could do that with the broken bottle. Jerry dodged out into the rain through the tide-pools and came back after a while with some water.

"I couldn't get much," he said, "because the place I found was very shallow, but I can go again."

I remembered reading in books that you must n't give much water to fever-stricken people in any case. We lifted Greg's head up,—that is, Jerry did, while I held the root-beer bottle glass, and said:

"Here's the drink, Gregs, dear."

It was very hard to tell what I was doing, and some of the water trickled over the handkerchief and down the front of Greg's jumper. But he drank the rest, and said: "Thank you very much" in the same careful voice.

"Oh, I wish he would n't be so blooming polite!" Jerry said sharply, as we were laying Greg back again, and I felt something wet and warm splash down on my wrist. But I did n't tell Jerry I'd felt it.