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THE island on which the Captain of the Vulcan exiled Tricky was marked on the chart ‘uninhabited.’ But the chart was wrong. Ten years before, a shepherd had come there, and now lived with his wife and family near the top of the great sea-cliff. You may judge of the sensation when a real live monkey appeared in the early morning in this remote and lonely spot. The shepherd was watching his sheep when the apparition rose, as it were, from the ground. He had never seen a monkey before, any more than the sheep; and sheep and shepherd bolted like wildfire. Tricky, of course, followed the biped, for he had always been accustomed to human society; and as the shepherd fled towards the hut, he saw the monkey close at his heels. So he made a rush at the open door, and pulled it after him with a bang which almost brought down the house.
The Shpeherd Bolted Like Wildfire
The fugitive had just got inside when, in a moment, he felt himself seized from behind. It seemed as if a powerful hand was dragging him backward, and he threw himself down on the ground, and roared with fear. What had happened was that the flying end of his plaid had got jammed in the door, but he felt sure the evil spirit was holding him in its clutches, and it was some time before his startled wife could convince him that there was nothing there. The good woman gathered him up, and soothed him; and as soon as he could speak he told her in a shivering voice about the awful monster which had come to slay them all. He had scarcely got out the word ‘monster,’ when there was a scurrying in the chimney, and the monster presented himself before them, and calmly sat down on the meal-barrel. ‘It’s just a puggy!’ cried the shepherd’s wife (she had been to Inverness), and began to stroke Tricky on the back. As she did so, she noticed that the creature had a strand of an old ship’s rope round its neck, and to this was attached a small piece of paper. She opened it and read four words, scrawled in a hasty hand:—
The shepherd seemed more frightened than ever at this revelation. ‘Won’t hang, won’t drown,’ he muttered. ‘Then, we’ll see if it won’t shoot,’ and he reached over the fireplace for the gun which he killed the rabbits with. As he loaded it, it seemed to the shepherd’s wife as if all the powder and shot in the house was being poured into the barrel. She pleaded with her husband to spare Tricky’s life, and it almost looked as if she had succeeded, for the shepherd lowered the gun from his shoulder and stood for a moment as if in doubt. But it was not because of his wife he stopped. It was partly because he was quite too shaky to aim straight, and partly because he was too much of a sportsman to shoot off-hand a thing which was sitting quiet and still on his own meal-barrel; but the main reason was that he was afraid to shoot the baby, whose crib was just beside it. So he gave the meal barrel a kick with his foot to dislodge the monkey. He thought it would make for the door, and there, in the open air, he would shoot it fair and square.
But the monkey had other views. What it wanted was something to eat; and the children’s porridge being handy, it put its paw in and began breakfast. The shepherd was too much petrified to interfere, and it was only when Tricky next spilt the milk-jug over the baby that he roused himself to do his duty to his family. He raised the gun once more, and, watching his chance when Tricky was exactly opposite the door, aimed straight at its heart and pulled the trigger. Now, the next moment that monkey ought to have been scattered all over the hillside in multitudinous fragments. On the contrary, it was up on the table, imitating the click of the gun with a spoon. Not that the shepherd missed. For the first time in its life the rusty lock had ‘struck,’ and the dazed shepherd was more than ever confirmed in his belief that the monkey was a witch.
‘Won’t shoot,’ he muttered to himself, ‘won’t hang, won’t drown. I have tried the first; I’ll prove the next.’ So, as he was too superstitious to try to shoot it again, he went out to hang the monkey.
But there was no tree on the island. All day the shepherd searched for a place to hang Tricky, but in vain. That night he lay thinking, hour after hour, where he would hang it, and in the early morning an inspiration came to him—he would try the pump! So he rose softly and fixed the handle of the pump high in the air, so that it stuck out like a gallows, and tied a rope with a noose to the end of it. Then he got Tricky to perch on the top of the pump, tied the rope round his neck, and all was ready. The shepherd had heard that the object of hanging was to break the neck of the criminal by a sudden ‘drop,’ but as he could not give Tricky a long enough drop he determined to make up for it in another way. So he gathered all his strength, and with a tremendous sweep of his arms sent Tricky flying into space. Of course you know what happened. The rope—it was quite rotten—broke, and Tricky landed on his four paws, and stood grinning at his executioner as if he would like it all over again.
All Was Ready
That whole day the sheep and lambs on the Island of —— were neglected. All day long you might have seen the shepherd sitting by the marsh-side plaiting something with his fingers. Round him, the ground was strewn with rushes, some loose, and some in bundles, but for every one the workman chose he threw away a hundred, because they were not tough and strong. And as he plaited, and twisted, and knotted, and tested, there was fire in the shepherd’s eye, and thunder all over his face.
At daybreak next morning the shepherd and the monkey once more formed in procession and wended their way to the old pump. The new rope could hang an elephant. It was thick as a boa-constrictor, and the shepherd took a full hour to adjust the noose and get the gallows into working order. Then the fatal moment came. With a mightier shove than before the monkey was launched into the air, and the rope stiffened and held like a ship’s hawser. But the executioner had not calculated everything. The rope and the ‘drop’ were all right, but when the gallows felt the shock, the pump-handle cracked off like a match, and the old moss-covered tube gave two rocks and reeled from its moorings, and lay split in pieces on the ground. Jagged and needlelike splinters at the same moment scraped and pierced and gouged at the shepherd’s shins, and tore his nether garments, and made him dance with pain and rage. If anything could have added more agony to the next few minutes it was the sight of Tricky. That ever gay animal was careering down the hill straight towards the feeding sheep. The pump-handle was still tied to its neck, and it clattered over the stones with a noise weird enough to drive the whole flock into the sea. The shepherd knew there must be a catastrophe, but he was powerless to avert it. He was too sore to follow, so he slowly limped towards the hut, to nurse his wrath and his wounds.
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