Chapter 2: "The Spitfire"
By the aid of the three or four lamp-posts we had passed I managed very early to get a view of my sweetheart, and found that she had warmly robed herself in a fur-trimmed jacket, and that her hat was a sort of turban, as though chosen from her wardrobe with a view to her passage through the hole in the hedge.
I had her hand under my arm, and pressed and caressed it as we walked. Caudel, taking the earth with sailorly strides, bowled and rolled along at her right, keeping her between us. I spoke to her in hasty sentences, forever praising her for her courage and thanking her for her love, and trying to hearten her; for, now that the first desperate step had been taken, now that the wild risks of escape were ended, the spirit that supported her failed; she could scarcely answer me; at moments she would direct looks over
her shoulder: the mere figure of a tree would cause her to tighten her hold of my arm.
"I feel so wicked! I feel that I ought to return! Oh, how frightened I am! how late it is! What will Ma'm'selle think ? How the girls will talk in the morning!"
I could coax no more than this sort of exclamation from her.
As we passed through the gate in the rampart walls and entered the Haute Ville, my captain broke the silence he had kept since we quitted the lane:
"How little do the folks who's a-sleeping in them houses know, Mr. Barclay, of what's a-passing under their noses! There ain't no sort of innocence like sleep."
He said this and yawned with a noise that resembled a shout.
"This is Captain Caudel, Grace," said I, "the master of the Spitfire. His services to-night I shall never forget."
"I am too frightened to thank you, Captain Caudel," she exclaimed.
"I will thank you when I am calm. But shall I ever be calm? And ought I to thank you then ?"
"Have no fear, miss. This here uneasiness' soon pass. I know the yarn: his honor spun it to me. What's been done, and what's yet to do, is right and proper; if it weren't " his pause was more significant than had he proceeded.
Until we reached the harbor we did not encounter a living creature.
I could never have imagined of the old town of Boulogne that its streets, late even as the hour was, would be so utterly deserted as we found them. I was satisfied with my judgment in not having ordered a carriage. The rattling of the wheels of a vehicle amid the vault-like stillness of those thoroughfares would have been heart-subduing to my mood of passionately nervous anxiety to get on board and away.
I should have figured windows flung open and night-capped heads projected and heard in imagination the clanking sabre of a gendarme trotting in our wake.
I did not breathe freely till the harbor lay before us. Caudel said, as we crossed to where the flight of steps fell to the water's edge,—"I believe there's a little air of wind moving."
"I feel it," I answered. "What's its quarter ?"
"Seems to me off ' the land," said he.
"There is a man!" cried Grace, arresting me by a drag at my arm.
A figure stood at the head of the steps, and I believed it one of our men, until a few strides brought us near enough to witness the gleam of uniform showing by the pale light of a lamp at a short distance from him.
"A douanier," said I. "Nothing to be afraid of, my pet."
"But if he should stop us, Herbert?" cried she, halting.
"Sooner than that should happen," rumbled Caudel, "I'd chuck him overboard. But why should he stop us, miss? We ain't smugglers. I would rather throw myself into the water than be taken back," exclaimed my sweetheart.
I gently induced her to walk, whilst my captain, advancing to the edge of the quay and looking down, sang out,—
"Below there! Are ye awake ?"
"Ay, wide awake," was the answer, floating up in hearty English accents from the cold dark surface on which the boat lay.
The douanier drew back a few steps: it was impossible to see his face, but his steadfast suspicious regard was to be imagined. I have no doubt he understood exactly what was happening. He asked us the name of our vessel. I answered, in French, "The small yacht Spitfire, lying astern of the Folkestone steamer." Nothing more passed, and we descended the steps.
I felt Grace shiver as I handed her into the boat. The oars dipped, striking a dim cloud of phosphor into the eddies they made: and a few strokes of the blade carried us to the low side of the little Spitfire.
I sprang on to the deck, and, lifting my darling through the gangway, called to Caudel to make haste to get the boat in and start, for the breeze that had before been little more than a fancy to us I could not hear as it brushed the surface of the harbor wall, making the reflection of the larger stars in the water alongside twinkle and widen out, and putting a perfume of fresh sea-weed into the atmosphere, though the draught, such as it was, came from a malodorous quarter.
I led Grace to the little companion-hatch, and together we entered the cabin. The lamp burned brightly, the skylight lay open, and the interior was cool and sweet with several pots of flowers which I had sent aboard in the afternoon. It was but a little box of a place, as you will suppose of a dandy craft of twenty-six tons; but I had not spared my purse in decorating it, and I believe no prettier interior of the kind in a vessel of the size of the Spitfire was in those times afloat.
There were two sleeping-rooms, one forward and one aft. The after-cabin was little better than a hole, and this I occupied. The berth forward, on the other hand, was as roomy as the dimensions of the little ship would allow, and I had taken care that it lacked nothing to render it a pleasant—I may say an elegant—sea bedroom. It was to be Grace's until I got her ashore; and this I counted upon managing in about four days from the date of this night about which I am writing.
She stood at the table, looking about her, breathing fast, her eyes large with alarm, excitement, I know not what other sensations and emotions. I wish I knew how to praise her, how to describe her.
"Sweet" is the best word to express her girlish beauty. Though she was three months short of eighteen years of age, she might readily have passed for twenty-one, so womanly was her figure, as though indeed she was tropic-bred and had been reared under suns which quickly ripen a maiden's beauty.
But to say more would be to say what? The liquid brown of her large and glowing eyes, the dark and delicate bronze of her rich abundant hair, the suggestion of a pout in the turn of her lip that gave an incomparable air of archness to her expression when her countenance was in repose,—to enumerate these things, to deliver a catalogue of her graces in the most felicitous language that love and the memory of love could dictate, is yet to leave all that I could wish to say unsaid.
"At last, Grace!" I exclaimed, lifting her hand to my lips.
"How is it with you now, my pet?"
She seated herself and hid her face in her hands upon the table, saying, "I don't know how I feel, Herbert. I know how I ought to feel.
"Wait a little. You will regain your courage. You will find nothing wrong in all this presently. It was bound to happen. There was not the least occasion for this business of rope-ladders and midnight sailings. It is Lady Amelia who forces this elopement upon us."
"What will she say ?" she breathed through her fingers, still keeping her face hidden to conceal the crimson that had flushed her on a sudden and that was showing to the rim of her collar.
"Do you care? Do I care? We have forced her hand; and what can she do? If you were but twenty-one, Grace!—and yet I don't know! you would be three years older,—three years of sweetness gone forever! But the old lady will have to give her consent now, and the rest will be for my cousin Frank to' manage. Pray look at me, my sweet one."
"I can't. I am ashamed. It is a most desperate act. What will Ma'm'selle say ?—and your sailors!" she murmured from behind her hands.
"My sailors! Grace, shall I take you back whilst there is yet time ?"
She flashed a look at me over her finger-tips.
"Certainly not I" she exclaimed, with emphasis, then hid her face again.
I seated myself by her side, but it took me five minutes to get her to look at me, and another five minutes to coax a smile from her. In this while the men were busy about the decks. I heard Caudel's growling lungs of leather delivering orders in a half-stifled hurricane note, but I did not know that we were under way until I put my head through the companion-hatch and saw the dusky fabrics of the piers on either side stealing almost insensibly past us.
Now that the wide expanse of sky had opened over the land , I could witness a dimness as of the shadowing of clouds in the quarter against which stood the block of the cathedral.
"What is the weather to be, Caudel?" I called to him.
"We're going to get a breeze from the south'ard, sir," he answered: "nothin' to harm, I'd say, if it don't draw westerly."
"What is your plan of sailing?"
"Can't do better, I think, sir, than stand over for the English coast, and so run down, keeping the ports conveniently aboard."
I re-entered the cabin, and found my sweetheart with her elbows on the table and her cheeks resting in her hands. The blush had scarcely faded from her face when I had quitted her; now she was as white as a lily.
"Why do you leave me alone, Herbert?" she asked, turning her dark, liquid eyes upon me without shifting the posture of her head.
"My dearest, I wish to see our little ship clear of Boulogne harbor. We shall be getting a pleasant breeze presently, and it cannot blow too hard to please us. A brisk fair wind should land us at our destination in three days; and then,—and then—" said I, sitting down and bringing her to me.
She laid her cheek on my shoulder, but said nothing.
"Now," I exclaimed, "you are, of course, faint and wretched for the want of refreshment. What can I get you ?" and I was about to give her a list of the wines and eatables I had laid in, but she languidly shook her head as it rested on my shoulder and faintly bade me not to speak of refreshments.
"I should like to lie down," she said.
"You are tired,—worn out," I exclaimed, not yet seeing how it was with her.
"Yonder is your cabin: I believe you will find all you want in it. Unhappily, we have no maid aboard to help you. But you will be able to manage, Grace; it is but for a day or two; and if you are not perfectly happy and comfortable, why, we will make for the nearest English port and finish the rest of the journey by rail. But our little yacht— "
"I must lie down," she interrupted. "This dreadful motion! Get me a pillow and a rug: I will lie on this sofa."
I could have heaped a hundred injurious names upon my head for not at once observing that the darlin was suffering. I sprang from her side, hastily procured a pillow and rug, removed her hat, plunged afresh into her cabin for some Eau de Cologne, and went to work to bathe her brow and to minister to her in other ways.
To be afflicted with nausea in the most romantic passage of one's life! I had never thought of inquiring whether or not she was a "good sailor," as it is called, being much too sentimental, far too much in love, to be visited by misgivings or conjectures in a direction so horribly prosaic as this.
It was some time after three o'clock in the morning when Grace fell asleep. The heave of the vessel had entirely conquered emotion. She had had no smile for me; the handkerchief she held to her mouth had kept her lips sealed; but her eyes were never more beautiful than now, with their languishing expression of suffering, and I could not remove my gaze from her face, so exceedingly sweet did she look as she lay with the rich bronze of her hair glittering, as though gold dusted, to the lamplight, and her brow showing with an ivory gleam through the tresses which shadowed it in charming disorder.
She fell asleep at last, breathing quietly, and I cannot tell how it comforted me to find her able to sleep, for now I might hope it would not take many hours of rest to qualify her as a sailor.
In all this time that I had been below refreshing her brow and attending to her, and watching her as a picture of which my sight could never grow weary, the breeze had freshened, and the yacht was heeling to it, and taking the wrinkled sides of the swell—that grew heavier as we widened the offing—with the shearing hissing sweep that one notices in a steam launch. Grace lay on a lee locker, and, as the weather rolls of the little Spitfire were small, there was no fear of my sweetheart slipping off the couch.
And now I must tell you here that my little dandy yacht the Spitfire was so brave, stanch, and stout a craft that, though I am no lover of the sea in its angry moods, and especially have no relish for such experiences as one is said to encounter, for instance, off Cape Horn, yet, such was my confidence in her seaworthiness, I should have been quite willing to sail round the world in her had the necessity for so tedious an adventure arisen.
She had been built as a smack, but was found too fast for trawling, and the owner offered her as a bargain. I purchased and re-equipped her, little dreaming that she was one day to win me a wife. I improved her cabin-accommodation, handsomely furnished her within, and caused her to be sheathed with yellow metal to the bends and to be embellished with gilt at the stern and quarters.
She had a fine bold spring or rise of deck forward, with abundance of beam which warranted her for stability: but her submerged lines were extraordinarily fine, and I cannot recollect the name of a pleasure-craft at that time which I should not have been willing to challenge whether for a fifty or a thousand-mile race. She was rigged as a dandy,—a term that no reader, I hope, will want me to explain.
I stood, cigar in mouth, looking up at her canvas and round upon the dark scene of ocean, whilst the lid of the skylight being a little way open, I was almost within arm's reach of my darling, whose lightest call would reach my ear or least movement take my eye.
The stars were dim away over the port quarter, and I could distinguish the outlines of clouds hanging in dusky vaporous bodies over the black mass of the coast dotted with lights where Boulogne lay, with Cape Gris Nez lantern flashing on high from its shoulder of land that blended in a dye of ink with the gloom of the horizon.
There were little runs of froth in the ripple of the water, with now and again a phosphoric glancing that instinctively sent the eye to the dimness in the west, as though it were sheet-lightning there which was being reflected.
Broad abeam was a large gloomy collier "reaching" in for Boulogne harbor: she showed a gaunt, ribbed, and heeling figure, with her yards almost fore and aft, and not a hint of life aboard her in the form of light or noise.
I felt sleepless,-—never so broad awake, despite this business now in hand that had robbed me for days past of hour after hour of slumber, so that I may safely say I had scarcely enjoyed six hours of solid sleep in as many days.
Caudel still grasped the tiller, and forward was one of the men restlessly but noiselessly pacing the little forecastle- The hiss of the froth at the yacht's forefoot threw a shrewd bleakness into the light pouring of the off-shore wind, and I buttoned up my coat as I turned to Caudel, though excitement worked much too hotly in my soul to suffer me to feel conscious of the cold.
"This breeze will do, Caudel, if it holds," said I, approaching him by a stride or two, that my voice should not disturb Grace.
"Ay, sir, it is as pretty a little air as could be asked for."
"What light is that away out yonder ?"
"The Varne, your honor."
"And where are you carrying the little ship to?" said I, looking at the illuminated disk of compass-card that swung in the short brass binnacle under his nose.
"Ye see the course, Mr. Barclay,—west by nothe. That'll fetch Beachy Head for us: afterwards, a small shift of the hellum'll put the Channel under our bows, keeping the British ports as we go along handy, so that if your honor don't like the look of the barometer, why, there's always a harbor within an easy sail."
I was quite willing that Caudel should heave the English land into sight. He had been bred in coasters, and knew his way about by the mere smell of the shore, as the sailors say: whereas put him in the middle of the ocean with nothing but his sextant to depend upon, and I do not know that I should have felt very sure of him.
He coughed, and seemed to mumble to himself as he ground upon the piece of tobacco in his cheek, then said, "And how's the young lady a-doing, sir ?"
"The motion of the vessel rendered her somewhat uneasy, but she is now sleeping."
"Sorry to hear she don't feel well, sir," he exclaimed: "but this here sea-sickness, I'm told, soon passes."
"I want her to be well," said I. "I wish her to enjoy the run down-Channel. We must not go ashore if we can help it; or one special object I have in my mind will be defeated."
"Shall I keep the yacht well out, then, sir? No need to draw in, if so be—"
"No, no; sight the coast, Caudel, and give us a view of the scenery. And now, whilst I have the chance, let me thank you heartily for the service you have done me tonight. I should have been helpless without you: what other man of my crew—what other man of any sort, indeed—could I have depended upon?"
"Oh, don't mention it, Mr. Barclay, sir; I beg and entreat that you won't mention it, sir," he replied, as though affected by my condescension. "You're a gentleman, sir, begging your pardon, and that means a man of honor; and when you told me how things stood, why, putting all duty on one side, if so be as there can be such a thing as duty in jobs which aren't shipshape and proper, why, I says, of course I was willing to be of use.
Not that I myself have much confidence in these here 'elopements,' saving your presence. I've got a grown-up darter myself in service, and if when she gets married she don't make a straight course for the meeting-house, why, then I shall have to talk to her as she's never yet been talked to. But in this job,"—he swung off from the tiller to expectorate over the rail,— "what the young lady's been and gone and done is what I should say to my darter or any other young woman, the circumstances being the
same, ' Go thou and do likewise.' "
"You see, Caudel, there was no hope of getting her ladyship's consent."
"Then consider the cruelty of sending the young lady to a foreign school for no fairer or kinder reason than to remove her out of my way."
"I understand, sir; and I'm of opinion it was quite time the little game was stopped."
"Lady Amelia Roscoe is a Roman Catholic, and very bigoted. Ever since she first took charge of Miss Bellassys she has been trying to convert her, and by methods, I assure you, by no means uniformly kind."
"So you was a-saying, sir."
It pleased me to be thus candid with this sailor. Possibly there was in me a little disturbing sense of the need of justifying myself, though I believe the most acidulated moralist could not have glanced through the skylight without feeling that I heartily deserved forgiveness.
"But supposing, Mr. Barclay, sir," continued Caudel, "that you'd have changed your religion and become a papish: would her ladyship still have gone on objecting to you?"
"Supposing! Yes, Caudel, she would have gone on objecting even then. There are family feelings, family traditions, mix up in her dislike of me. You shall have the yarn before we go ashore. It is right that you should know the whole truth. Until I make that young lady below my wife, she is as much under your care as under mine. That was agreed on between us, and that you know."
"That I do know, and shall remember as much for her sake as for yours and for mine," answered the honest fellow, with a note of deep feeling in his voice. "There's only one consideration, Mr. Barclay, that worries me. I understood you to say, sir, that your honor has a cousin who's a clergyman that's willing to marry you right away out of hand."
"We must get the consent of the aunt first."
"There it is!" cried he, smiting the head of the tiller with his clinched fist. "Suppose she don't consent ?"
"We have taken this step," said I, softly, always afraid of disturbing my sweetheart, "to force her to consent. Do you think she can refuse after she hears of this elopement,—this midnight, rope-ladder business,—and the days we hope to spend together on this little Spitfire?"
"Still, Mr. Barclay, supposing she does, sir? You'll forgive me for saying of it; but supposing she does, sir?"
"No good in supposing, Caudel," said I, suppressing a little movement of irritation; "no good in obstructing one's path by suppositions stuck up like so many fences to stop one from advancing. Our first business is to get to Penzance."
By his motions, and the uneasy shifting of his posture, he discovered himself ill at case, but his respectfulness would not suffer him to persevere with his inquiries.
"Caudel," said I, "you may ask me any questions you please. The more you show yourself really anxious on half of Miss Bellassys, the more shall I honor you. Don't fear. I shall never interpret your concern for her into a doubt of me. If Lady Amelia absolutely refuses her sanction, what then remains but to place Miss Bellassys with my sister and wait till she comes of age ?"
So speaking, and now considering that I had said enough, I threw the end of my cigar overboard and went below.
It was daylight shortly before six, but the gray of the dawn brightened into sunrise before Grace awoke. Throughout the hours she had slept without a stir. From time to time I had dozed, chin on breast, opposite to where she lays.
The wind had freshened, and the yacht was lying well down to it, swarming along, taking buoyantly the little sea that had risen, and filling the breeze that was musical with the harmonies of the taut rigging with the swift noise of seething water.
The square of heavens showing in the skylight overhead wore a hard, marbled, windy look, but the pearl-colored streaks of vapor floated high and motionless, and I was yachtsman enough to gather from what I saw that there was nothing more in all this than a fresh Channel morning, and a sweep of southerly wind that was driving the Spitfire along her course at some eight or nine miles in the hour.
As the misty pink flash of the upper limb of the rising sun struck the skylight and made a very prism of the little cabin, with its mirrors and silver lamp and glass and brass ornamentation, Grace opened her eyes. She opened them straight upon me, and whilst I might have counted ten she continued to stare as though she were in a trance: then the blood flooded her pale cheeks, her eyes grew brilliant with astonishment, and she sat erect, bringing her hands to her temples as though she struggled to re-collect her wits. However, it was not long before she rallied, though for some few moments her face remained empty of intelligence.
"Why, Grace, my darling," I cried, "do not you know where you are?'
"Yes, now I do," she answered: "but I thought I had gone mad when I first awoke and looked around me."
"You have slept soundly: but then you are a child," said I.
"Whereabouts are we, Herbert ?"
"I cannot tell for sure," I answered: "out of sight of land, anyway. But where you are, Grace, you ought to know."
A few caresses, and then her timid glances began to show like the old looks in her. I asked if the movement of the yacht rendered her uneasy, and after a pause, during which she considered with a grave face, she answered, "No": she felt better, she must try to stand: and, so saying, she stood up on the swaying deck, and, smiling, with her fine eyes fastened upon my face, poised her figure in a floating way full of a grace far above dancing, to my fancy. Her gaze went to a mirror, and I easily interpreted her thoughts, though for my part I found her beauty improved by her roughened hair.
"There is your cabin," said I. "The door is behind those curtains. Take a peep and tell me if it pleases you."
There were flowers in it to sweeten the atmosphere, and every imaginable convenience that it was possible for a male imagination to hit upon in its efforts in a direction of this sort. She praised the little berth and closed the door with a smile at me that made me conjecture I should not hear much more from her about our imprudence, the impropriety of our conduct, what Ma'm'selle would think, and what the school-girls would say.
Though she was but a child, as I would tell her, I too was but a boy, for the matter of that, and her smile and the look she had given me, and her praise of the little berth I had fitted up for her, mags me feel so boyishly joyous that, like a boy as I was, though above six feet tall, I fell a-whistling out of my high spirits, and then kissed the feather in her hat, and her gloves, which lay upon the table, afterwards springing in a couple of bounds on deck, where I stood roaring out for Bobby Allett.
A seaman named Job Crew was at the helm. Two others, named Jim Foster and Dick File, were washing down the decks. I asked Crew where Caudel was, and he told me he had gone below to shave. I bawled again for Bobby Allett, and after a moment or two he rose through the forecastle hatch.
He was a youth of about fifteen who had been shipped by Caudel to serve as steward or cabin-boy and to make himself generally useful besides. As he approached I eyed him with some misgiving, though I had found nothing to object to in him before; but the presence of my sweetheart in the cabin had, I suppose, tempered my taste to a quality of lover-like fastidiousness, and this boy Bobby to my mind looked dirty.
"Do you mean to wait upon me in those clothes?" said I.
"They're the best I have, master," he answered, staring at me with a pair of round eyes out of a dingy skin that was certainly not clarified by the number of freckles and pimples which decorated him.
"You can look smarter than that if you like," said I to him.
"I want breakfast right away off. And let Foster drop his bucket and go to work to boil and cook. But tell Captain Caudel also that before you lay aft you must clean yourself, polish your face, brush your hair and shoes, and if you haven't got a clean shirt you must borrow one."
The boy went forward.
"Pity," said I, thinking aloud rather than talking as I stepped to the binnacle to mark the yacht's course, "that Caudel should have shipped such a dingy-skinned chap as that fellow for cabin use."
"It's all along of his own doing, sir," said Job Crew.
"How ? You mean he won't wash himself?"
"No, sir : it's along of smoking."
"Smoking?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir. I know his father: he's a waterman. His father told me that there boy Bobby saved up, and then laid out all he'd got upon a meersham pipe for to color it. He kept all on a-smoking, day after day and night after night. But his father says to me it was no go, sir;" instead of his coloring the pipe, the pipe colored him, and his veins have run nothin' but tobacco-juice ever since."
I burst into a laugh, and went to the rail to take a look round. We might have been in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so boundless did the spread of waters look: not a blob or film of coast on any hand of us broke the flawless sweep of the green circle of Channel sea.
There was a steady breeze off the port beam, and the yacht, with every cloth which she carried on her, was driving through it as though she were in tow of a steamboat.