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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Roaring Ledge

By Lucretia Gray Noble (1836–1927)

[Born in Lowell, Mass. From A Reverend Idol. A Novel. 1882.]

OUT into the wild night she fled, distraught. Her insomnia of so many nights and days had become at last a self-begetting disease; to the fierce throbbing brain-cells there was no longer any possibility of rest. Only one idea was seized by her reeling faculties. It was that Heaven had always allowed women the right to choose death rather than dishonor, and that the hour of that last alternative had come to her. Out of a world where mistakes were far more surely punished than crimes, a world which had some terrible necessity to keep social forms inviolate at any and every cost, she must go—and go to-night. She felt the pursuers close on her track—that strangest trio of pursuers—coming with that dreadful swiftness with which all the crises of her fate had crowded on each other; and deliriously she started for the sea. In the deserted house, with only the deaf woman in the kitchen, there was none to stay her; only a faithful, four-footed creature sprang out and followed her as she ran from the house.

“Go home!” she bade him. But Duke George, usually obedient to a word from his young mistress, found something too strange about this lonely sortie; and, disappearing for a moment only, he was presently rushing again by her side.

“Go home! go home!” she cried. But he only wagged his tail deprecatingly; he would not leave her.

She fell on her knees, clinging desperately round his neck, and sobbing, “Mind poor, poor Monny, and go home.”

As if the wail of human anguish pierced to the comprehension of the brute creature, this time the dog did go back; and the panting fugitive went on her wild flight alone.

All the stark immensity of sand and sea and sky lay in that kind of spectral gloom made by a moon shining behind one uniform, thick veil of cloud; only in the west there was a long belt of livid light where the sun had gone down, momently darkening, and, like a lonely speck in the awful universe, the girl felt herself flying on and on, with a blind terror in her crazing brain, lest that sullen, vanishing light would not last long enough for her to find her grave by. But the fire of fever in her veins bore her up and on with such speed and strength, incredibly soon she reached the bluff, the beach, and that sound of the surge which told her that the tide—was not in, but coming. She fled on towards the sound; but her feet sank in the briny ooze; the belt of tide-mud was impassable. At this she turned, and rushed away for Roaring Ledge—a broken chain of rocks which began a short distance above her, and extended far out into the deep sea. She had just reached this ledge when a shaggy form pushed against her—yes—Duke George. He had only made a feint of going back; at a little distance behind her he had stealthily followed all her flight. Many and many a time, at low-water, had he gone out on Roaring Ledge with his young mistress (its farthest seaward rock was a favorite sketching-place with her), her light foot springing safely enough over the sea-channels between the rocks, when these were shallow and the sun was shining. But now, in the slippery darkness, and with the hoarse tide coming in, the creature knew it was a place of death, and tugged at her dress to ask what wild business she had there. She thrust him off; but he would not leave her; and, as she still plunged wildly on, he flew after, beginning finally to bark aloud.

With a last, cruel sense that her very dog was turned her foe, the delirious girl leaped only the more desperately from point to point, catching foothold by that miraculous sense with which the somnambulist walks where the waking could not tread; the tide was rushing in to meet her only a few rods beyond, and she could jump from the rocks into depths where the sea devoured its dead, and never rolled them in-shore to trouble the eyes of the living. With this one idea in her burning brain, she bounded on, until in a desperate struggle with the dog,—who, as if comprehending at last that his mistress had gone daft, seized her garments to detain her by force,—she caught her foot, whirled, and fell headlong; her temples struck with sharp concussion on the rock, and she knew no more.

Then, indeed, the dog, with no conflicting instinct of obedience, lifted up his wild cry for help over that silent form. Setting his teeth in the girl’s garments, he dragged her to the higher levels of the rock; but even around these the waves were rising with frightful rapidity, and a bark that grew human in its anguish rang afar through the shrouding darkness and over the beating seas.

A man who had ridden early and late rode up to the Doane house not very long after Monny fled from it. Mrs. Doane was with him. She had come home by rail from the next station above Lonewater. To the first inquiry made by both, the deaf housekeeper replied that the young lady was quiet in her own rooms. These being forthwith explored by Mrs. Doane, and found empty, she said to Mr. Leigh: “She has gone to the village, of course; probably to the Widow Macey’s. Some one will be coming home with her presently.”

Waiting being impossible to the man’s mood, he was rushing out of the door to go to the village, when Bobby Hines, small member of the very large Hines family, came running up the yard, calling out: “Where’s Miss Monny Rivers?”

At this echo of everybody’s cry, Mr. Leigh stood still, while the child panted on:

“The tide hev’ got her dog out on Roaring Ledge, and he’s barking dreadful! And mother said I must come and tell Miss Rivers, cos she’d take on so if he was drownded. Mother said maybe he’d hurt hisself out there,—broke his leg, or something, so he can’t swim in; for he can swim like anything.”

Mr. Leigh heard no more, for he was running already for the lane which led to the sea. The first far echo of the dog’s voice when he came within sound of it struck him with such horror of foreboding, all the order of events which followed he never knew. Every nerve at mortal strain to devour the distance between himself and that “barking dreadful,” and find out what it meant, was all he remembered. By land and water he must get there, running, swimming, rowing, launching a boat where never boat was launched before, some other hands bearing help, bringing lights,—all the while rising wilder and wilder that barking dreadful, with its nameless, ghastly suggestion, to the man who had wronged a delicate girl, he knew at last how terribly. With desperate difficulty they rowed out towards the sound, keeping the boat off the sands of the bar, off the rocks of the ledge (all buried now beneath the tide, except those highest points where that agonized cry arose); and even as they neared it, it broke strangely, then, with one long, piercing wail which seemed to cleave the very heavens, it ceased utterly.

Leaning far over from the boat, Mr. Leigh strained his eyes into the gloom to discern at last something which made him drop his oars, and with a cry which caught up, as it were, in human tones, the silenced agony of the dog’s voice, he plunged overboard, and struck out towards that desperate sight. It was of a dog swimming with all his strength, but able to make no headway, only to hold above water the head of some human burden, which the tide, whelming now the last point of the ledge, had washed off into the deep. The creature could bark no more, for his teeth were set firm in her garments—yes, there was the flow and swash of a woman’s garments, and a dripping fleece of long hair swaying on the tide.

The boat came up and took in the three—the man, the dog, and the maiden; but her they lifted as we lift the dead.