Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Flood
By George MacDonald (1824–1905)
From ‘Sir Gibbie’

STILL the rain fell and the wind blew; the torrents came tearing down from the hills, and shot madly into the rivers; the rivers ran into the valleys, and deepened the lakes that filled them. On every side of the Mains, from the foot of Glashgar to Gormdhu, all was one yellow and red sea, with roaring currents and vortices numberless. It burrowed holes, it opened long-deserted channels and water-courses; here it deposited inches of rich mold, there yards of sand and gravel; here it was carrying away fertile ground, leaving behind only bare rock or shingle where the corn had been waving; there it was scooping out the bed of a new lake. Many a thick soft lawn of loveliest grass, dotted with fragrant shrubs and rare trees, vanished, and nothing was there when the waters subsided but a stony waste, or a gravelly precipice. Woods and copses were undermined, and trees and soil together swept into the vast; sometimes the very place was hardly there to say it knew its children no more. Houses were torn to pieces; and their contents, as from broken boxes, sent wandering on the brown waste through the gray air to the discolored sea, whose saltness for a long way out had vanished with its hue. Hay-mows were buried to the very top in sand; others went sailing bodily down the mighty stream—some of them followed or surrounded, like big ducks, by a great brood of ricks for their ducklings. Huge trees went past as if shot down an Alpine slide—cottages and bridges of stone giving way before them. Wooden mills, thatched roofs, great mill-wheels, went dipping and swaying and hobbling down. From the upper windows of the Mains, looking towards the chief current, they saw a drift of everything belonging to farms and dwelling-houses that would float. Chairs and tables, chests, carts, saddles, chests of drawers, tubs of linen, beds and blankets, work-benches, harrows, girnels, planes, cheeses, churns, spinning-wheels, cradles, iron pots, wheelbarrows—all these and many other things hurried past as they gazed. Everybody was looking, and for a time all had been silent….  1
  Just as Mr. Duff entered the stable from the nearer end, the opposite gable fell out with a great splash, letting in the wide level vision of turbidly raging waters, fading into the obscurity of the wind-driven rain. While he stared aghast, a great tree struck the wall like a battering-ram, so that the stable shook. The horses, which had been for some time moving uneasily, were now quite scared. There was not a moment to be lost. Duff shouted for his men; one or two came running; and in less than a minute more, those in the house heard the iron-shod feet splashing and stamping through the water, as one after another the horses were brought across the yard to the door of the house. Mr. Duff led by the halter his favorite Snowball, who was a good deal excited, plunging and rearing so that it was all he could do to hold him. He had ordered the men to take the others first, thinking he would follow more quietly. But the moment Snowball heard the first thundering of hoofs on the stair, he went out of his senses with terror, broke from his master, and went plunging back to the stable. Duff started after him, but was only in time to see him rush from the further end into the swift current, where he was at once out of his depth, and was instantly caught and hurried, rolling over and over, from his master’s sight. He ran back into the house, and up to the highest window. From that he caught sight of him a long way down, swimming. Once or twice he saw him turned heels over head—only to get his neck up again presently, and swim as well as before. But alas! it was in the direction of the Daur, which would soon, his master did not doubt, sweep his carcass into the North Sea. With troubled heart he strained his sight after him as long as he could distinguish his lessening head, but it got amongst some wreck; and, unable to tell any more whether he saw it or not, he returned to his men with his eyes full of tears.
*        *        *        *        *
  Gibbie woke with the first of the dawn. The rain still fell—descending in spoonfuls rather than drops; the wind kept shaping itself into long hopeless howls, rising to shrill yells that went drifting away over the land; and then the howling rose again. Nature seemed in despair. There must be more for Gibbie to do! He must go again to the foot of the mountain, and see if there was anybody to help. They might even be in trouble at the Mains: who could tell!…  3
  Gibbie sped down the hill through a worse rain than ever. The morning was close, and the vapors that filled it were like smoke burned to the hue of the flames whence it issued. Many a man that morning believed another great deluge begun, and all measures relating to things of this world lost labor. Going down his own side of the Glashburn, the nearest path to the valley, the gamekeeper’s cottage was the first dwelling on his way. It stood a little distance from the bank of the burn, opposite the bridge and gate, while such things were.  4
  It had been with great difficulty—for even Angus did not know the mountain so well as Gibbie—that the gamekeeper reached it with the housekeeper the night before. It was within two gun-shots of the house of Glashruach, yet to get to it they had to walk miles up and down Glashgar. A mountain in storm is as hard to cross as a sea. Arrived, they did not therefore feel safe. The tendency of the Glashburn was indeed away from the cottage, as the grounds of Glashruach sadly witnessed; but a torrent is double-edged, and who could tell? The yielding of one stone in its channel might send it to them. All night Angus watched, peering out ever again into the darkness, but seeing nothing save three lights that burned above the water—one of them, he thought, at the Mains. The other two went out in the darkness, but that only in the dawn. When the morning came, there was the Glashburn meeting the Lorrie in his garden. But the cottage was well built, and fit to stand a good siege, while any moment the waters might have reached their height. By breakfast-time, however, they were round it from behind. There is nothing like a flood for revealing the variations of surface, the dips and swells of a country. In a few minutes they were isolated, with the current of the Glashburn on one side and that of the Lorrie in front. When he saw the water come in at front and back doors at once, Angus ordered his family up the stair: the cottage had a large attic, with dormer windows, where they slept. He himself remained below for some time longer, in that end of the house where he kept his guns and fishing-tackle; there he sat on a table, preparing nets for the fish that would be left in the pools; and not until he found himself afloat did he take his work to the attic.  5
  There the room was hot, and they had the window open. Mistress MacPholp stood at it, looking out on the awful prospect, with her youngest child, a sickly boy, in her arms. He had in his a little terrier pup, greatly valued of the gamekeeper. In a sudden outbreak of peevish willfulness, he threw the creature out of the window. It fell on the sloping roof, and before it could recover itself, being too young to have the full command of four legs, rolled off.  6
  “Eh! the doggie’s i’ the watter!” cried Mistress MacPholp in dismay.  7
  Angus threw down everything with an ugly oath,—for he had given strict orders not one of the children should handle the whelp,—jumped up, and got out on the roof. From there he might have managed to reach it, so high now was the water, had the little thing remained where it fell; but already it had swum a yard or two from the house. Angus, who was a fair swimmer and an angry man, threw off his coat, and plunging after it, greatly to the delight of the little one, caught the pup with his teeth by the back of the neck, and turned to make for the house. Just then a shrub swept from the hill caught him in the face, and so bewildered him that before he got rid of it he had blundered into the edge of the current, which seized and bore him rapidly away. He dropped the pup and struck out for home with all his strength. But he soon found the most he could do was to keep his head above water, and gave himself up for lost. His wife screamed in agony. Gibbie heard her as he came down the hill, and ran at full speed towards the cottage.  8
  About a hundred yards from the house, the current bore Angus straight into a large elder-tree. He got into the middle of it, and there remained trembling,—the weak branches breaking with every motion he made, while the stream worked at the roots, and the wind laid hold of him with fierce leverage. In terror, seeming still to sink as he sat, he watched the trees dart by like battering-rams in the swiftest of the current; the least of them diverging would tear the elder-tree with it. Brave enough in dealing with poachers, Angus was not the man to gaze with composure in the face of a sure slow death, against which no assault could be made. Many a man is courageous because he has not conscience enough to make a coward of him, but Angus had not quite reached that condition; and from the branches of the elder-tree showed a pale, terror-stricken visage. Amidst the many objects in the face of the water, Gibbie, however, did not distinguish it; and plunging in, swam round to the front of the cottage to learn what was the matter. There the wife’s gesticulations directed his eyes to her drowning husband.  9
  But what was he to do? He could swim to the tree well enough, and, he thought, back again; but how was that to be made of service to Angus? He could not save him by main force: there was not enough of that between them. If he had a line—and there must be plenty of lines in the cottage—he could carry him the end of it to haul upon: that would do. If he could send it to him, that would be better still; for then he could help at the other end, and would be in the right position up-stream to help further if necessary, for down the current alone was the path of communication open. He caught hold of the eaves and scrambled on to the roof. But in the folly and faithlessness of her despair, the woman would not let him enter. With a curse caught from her husband, she struck him from the window, crying—  10
  “Ye s’ no come in here, an’ my man droonin’ yon’er! Gang till ’im, ye cooard!”  11
  Never had poor Gibbie so much missed the use of speech. On the slope of the roof he could do little to force an entrance, therefore threw himself off it to seek another, and betook himself to the windows below. Through that of Angus’s room, he caught sight of a floating anker cask. It was the very thing!—and there on the walls hung a quantity of nets and cordage! But how to get in? It was a sash window, and of course swollen with the wet, and therefore not to be opened; and there was not a square in it large enough to let him through. He swam to the other side, and crept softly on to the roof and over the ridge. But a broken slate betrayed him. The woman saw him, rushed to the fireplace, caught up the poker, and darted back to defend the window.  12
  “Ye s’ no come in here, I tell ye,” she screeched, “an’ my man stickin’ i’ yon boortree buss!”  13
  Gibbie advanced. She made a blow at him with the poker. He caught it, wrenched it from her grasp, and threw himself from the roof. The next moment they heard the poker at work smashing the window.  14
  “He’ll be in an’ murder ’s a’!” cried the mother, and ran to the stair, while the children screamed and danced with terror.  15
  But the water was far too deep for her. She returned to the attic, barricaded the door, and went again to the window to watch her drowning husband.  16
  Gibbie was inside in a moment; and seizing the cask, proceeded to attach to it a strong line. He broke a bit from a fishing-rod, secured the line round the middle of it with a notch, put the stick through the bunghole in the bilge, and corked up the whole with a net-float. Happily he had a knife in his pocket. He then joined strong lines together until he thought he had length enough, secured the last end to a bar of the grate, and knocked out both sashes of the window with an axe. A passage thus cleared, he floated out first a chair, then a creepie, and one thing after another, to learn from what part to start the barrel. Seeing and recognizing them from above, Mistress MacPholp raised a terrible outcry. In the very presence of her drowning husband, such a wanton dissipation of her property roused her to fiercest wrath; for she imagined Gibbie was emptying her house with leisurely revenge. Satisfied at length, he floated out his barrel, and followed with the line in his hand, to aid its direction if necessary. It struck the tree. With a yell of joy Angus laid hold of it, and hauling the line taut, and feeling it secure, committed himself at once to the water, holding by the barrel and swimming with his legs, while Gibbie, away to the side with a hold of the rope, was swimming his hardest to draw him out of the current. But a weary man was Angus when at length he reached the house. It was all he could do to get himself in at the window and crawl up the stair. At the top of it he fell benumbed on the floor.  17
  By the time that, repentant and grateful, Mistress MacPholp bethought herself of Gibbie, not a trace of him was to be seen. While they looked for him in the water and on the land, Gibbie was again in the room below, carrying out a fresh thought. With the help of the table he emptied the cask, into which a good deal of water had got. Then he took out the stick, corked the bunghole tight, laced the cask up in a piece of net, attached the line to the net and wound it about the cask by rolling the latter round and round, took the cask between his hands, and pushed from the window straight into the current of the Glashburn. In a moment it had swept him to the Lorrie. By the greater rapidity of the former he got easily across the heavier current of the latter, and was presently in water comparatively still, swimming quietly towards the Mains, and enjoying his trip none the less that he had to keep a sharp lookout: if he should have to dive to avoid any drifting object, he might lose his barrel. Quickly now, had he been so minded, he could have returned to the city,—changing vessel for vessel, as one after another went to pieces. Many a house roof offered itself for the voyage; now and then a great water-wheel, horizontal and helpless, devoured of its element. Once he saw a cradle come gyrating along, and urging all his might, intercepted it; but hardly knew whether he was more sorry or relieved to find it empty. When he was about half-way to the Mains, a whole fleet of ricks bore down upon him. He boarded one, and scrambled to the top of it, keeping fast hold of the end of his line, which unrolled from the barrel as he ascended. From its peak he surveyed the wild scene. All was running water. Not a human being was visible, and but a few house roofs; of which for a moment it was hard to say whether or not they were of those that were afloat. Here and there were the tops of trees, showing like low bushes. Nothing was uplifted except the mountains. He drew near the Mains. All the ricks in the yard were bobbing about, as if amusing themselves with a slow contra-dance; but they were as yet kept in by the barn and a huge old hedge of hawthorn. What was that cry from far away? Surely it was that of a horse in danger! It brought a lusty equine response from the farm. Where could horses be, with such a depth of water about the place? Then began a great lowing of cattle. But again came the cry of the horse from afar, and Gibbie, this time recognizing the voice as Snowball’s, forgot the rest. He stood up on the very top of the rick, and sent his keen glance round on all sides. The cry came again and again, so that he was soon satisfied in what direction he must look. The rain had abated a little; but the air was so thick with vapor that he could not tell whether it was really an object he seemed to see white against the brown water, far away to the left, or a fancy of his excited hope; it might be Snowball on the turnpike road, which thereabout ran along the top of a high embankment. He tumbled from the rick, rolled the line about the barrel, and pushed vigorously for what might be the horse.  18
  It took him a weary hour—in so many currents was he caught, one after the other, all straining to carry him far below the object he wanted to reach: an object it plainly was, before he had got half-way across; and by-and-by as plainly it was Snowball, testified to ears and eyes together. When at length he scrambled on the embankment beside him, the poor shivering, perishing creature gave a low neigh of delight: he did not know Gibbie, but he was a human being. He was quite cowed and submissive, and Gibbie at once set about his rescue. He had reasoned as he came along, that if there were beasts at the Mains there must be room for Snowball, and thither he would endeavor to take him. He tied the end of the line to the remnant of the halter on his head, the other end being still fast to the barrel, and took to the water again. Encouraged by the power upon his head,—the pressure, namely, of the halter,—the horse followed, and they made for the Mains. It was a long journey, and Gibbie had not breath enough to sing to Snowball, but he made what noises he could, and they got slowly along. He found the difficulties far greater now that he had to look out for the horse as well as for himself. None but one much used to the water could have succeeded in the attempt, or could indeed have stood out against its weakening influence and the strain of the continued exertion together so long. At length his barrel got waterlogged, and he sent it adrift….  19
  When they arrived at the door, they found a difficulty awaiting them: the water was now so high that Snowball’s head rose above the lintel; and though all animals can swim, they do not all know how to dive. A tumult of suggestions immediately broke out. But Donal had already thrown himself from a window with a rope, and swum to Gibbie’s assistance; the two understood each other, and heeding nothing the rest were saying, held their own communications. In a minute the rope was fastened round Snowball’s body, and the end of it drawn between his forelegs and through the ring of his head-stall, when Donal swam with it to his mother who stood on the stair, with the request that as soon as she saw Snowball’s head under the water, she would pull with all her might, and draw him in at the door. Donal then swam back, and threw his arms around Snowball’s neck from below, while the same moment Gibbie cast his whole weight on it from above: the horse was over head and ears in an instant, and through the door in another. With snorting nostrils and blazing eyes his head rose in the passage, and in terror he struck out for the stair. As he scrambled heavily up from the water, his master and Robert seized him, and with much petting and patting and gentling, though there was little enough difficulty in managing him now, conducted him into the bedroom to the rest of the horses. There he was welcomed by his companions, and immediately began devouring the hay upon his master’s bedstead. Gibbie came close behind him, was seized by Janet at the top of the stair, embraced like one come alive from the grave, and led, all dripping as he was, into the room where the women were.  20

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