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Chapter 34

THE GREAT RAIN.


Gavin passed on through Windyghoul, thinking in his frenzy that he
still heard the trap. In a rain that came down like iron rods
every other sound was beaten dead. He slipped, and before he could
regain his feet the dog bit him. To protect himself from dikes and
trees and other horrors of the darkness he held his arm before
him, but soon it was driven to his side. Wet whips cut his brow so
that he had to protect it with his hands, until it had to bear the
lash again, for they would not. Now he had forced up his knees,
and would have succumbed but for a dread of being pinned to the
earth. This fight between the man and the rain went on all night,
and long before it ended the man was past the power of thinking.

In the ringing of the ten o'clock bell Gavin had lived the seventh
part of a man's natural life. Only action was required of him.
That accomplished, his mind had begun to work again, when suddenly
the loss of Babbie stopped it, as we may put out a fire with a
great coal. The last thing he had reflected about was a dogcart in
motion, and, consequently, this idea clung to him. His church, his
mother, were lost knowledge of, but still he seemed to hear the
trap in front.

The rain increased in violence, appalling even those who heard it
from under cover. However rain may storm, though it be an army of
archers battering roofs and windows, it is only terrifying when
the noise swells every instant. In those hours of darkness it
again and again grew in force and doubled its fury, and was
louder, louder, and louder, until its next attack was to be more
than men and women could listen to. They held each other's hands
and stood waiting. Then abruptly it abated, and people could
speak. I believe a rain that became heavier every second for ten
minutes would drive many listeners mad. Gavin was in it on a night
that tried us repeatedly for quite half that time.

By and by even the vision of Babbie in the dogcart was blotted
out. If nothing had taken its place, he would not have gone on
probably; and had he turned back objectless, his strength would
have succumbed to the rain. Now he saw Babbie and Rintoul being
married by a minister who was himself, and there was a fair
company looking on, and always when he was on the point of
shouting to himself, whom he could see clearly, that this woman
was already married, the rain obscured his words and the light
went out. Presently the ceremony began again, always to stop at
the same point. He saw it in the lightning-flash that had startled
the hill. It gave him courage to fight his way onward, because he
thought he must be heard if he could draw nearer to the company.

A regiment of cavalry began to trouble him. He heard it advancing
from the Spittal, but was not dismayed, for it was, as yet, far
distant. The horsemen came thundering on, filling the whole glen
of Quharity. Now he knew that they had been sent out to ride him
down. He paused in dread, until they had swept past him. They came
back to look for him, riding more furiously than ever, and always
missed him, yet his fears of the next time were not lessened. They
were only the rain.

All through the night the dog followed him. He would forget it for
a time, and then it would be so close that he could see it dimly.
He never heard it bark, but it snapped at him, and a grin had
become the expression of its face. He stoned it, he even flung
himself at it, he addressed it in caressing tones, and always with
the result that it disappeared, to come back presently.

He found himself walking in a lake, and now even the instinct of
self-preservation must have been flickering, for he waded on,
rejoicing merely in getting rid of the dog. Something in the water
rose and struck him. Instead of stupefying him, the blow brought
him to his senses, and he struggled for his life. The ground
slipped beneath his feet many times, but at last he was out of the
water. That he was out in a flood he did not realize; yet he now
acted like one in full possession of his faculties. When his feet
sank in water, he drew back; and many times he sought shelter
behind banks and rocks, first testing their firmness with his
hands. Once a torrent of stones, earth, and heather carried him
down a hillside until he struck against a tree. He twined his arms
round it, and had just done so when it fell with him. After that,
when he touched trees growing in water, he fled from them, thus
probably saving himself from death.

What he heard now might have been the roll and crack of the
thunder. It sounded in his ear like nothing else. But it was
really something that swept down the hill in roaring spouts of
water, and it passed on both sides of him so that at one moment,
had he paused, it would have crashed into him, and at another he
was only saved by stopping. He felt that the struggle in the dark
was to go on till the crack of doom.

Then he cast himself upon the ground. It moved beneath him like
some great animal, and he rose and stole away from it. Several
times did this happen. The stones against which his feet struck
seemed to acquire life from his touch. So strong had he become, or
so weak all other things, that whatever clump he laid hands on by
which to pull himself out of the water was at once rooted up.

The daylight would not come. He longed passionately for it. He
tried to remember what it was like, and could not; he had been
blind so long. It was away in front somewhere, and he was
struggling to overtake it. He expected to see it from a dark
place, when he would rush forward to bathe his arms in it, and
then the elements that were searching the world for him would see
him and he would perish. But death did not seem too great a
penalty to pay for light.

And at last day did come back, gray and drear. He saw suddenly
once more. I think he must have been wandering the glen with his
eyes shut, as one does shut them involuntarily against the hidden
dangers of black night. How different was daylight from what he
had expected! He looked, and then shut his dazed eyes again, for
the darkness was less horrible than the day. Had he indeed seen,
or only dreamed that he saw? Once more he looked to see what the
world was like; and the sight that met his eyes was so mournful
that he who had fought through the long night now sank hopeless
and helpless among the heather. The dog was not far away, and it,
too, lost heart. Gavin held out his hand, and Snap crept timidly
toward him. He unloosened his coat, and the dog nestled against
him, cowed and shivering, hiding its head from the day, Thus they
lay, and the rain beat upon them.

James M. Barrie