Chapter 3: Romance at Sea
I stood leaning over the bulwarks, humming an air. Never had my heart beaten with so exquisite a sense of gladness and of happiness as now possessed it. I was disturbed in a revery of love, in which were mingled the life and beauty of the scene I surveyed, by the arrival of Caudel.
He was varnished with soap and blue with recent shaving, but in the little sea-blue eyes which glittered under his somewhat raggedly thatched brow there was no trace of the sleepless hours I had forced him to pass.
He was a man about fifty years of age; his dark hair was here and there of an iron gray, and a roll of short-cut whiskers met in a bit of a beard upon the bone in his throat. He carried a true salt-water air in his somewhat bowed legs, in his slow motions, and in his trick of letting his arms hang up and down as though they were pump-bandits.
His theory of dress was that what kept out the cold also kept out the heat, and so he never varied his attire,—which was composed of a thick double-breasted waistcoat, a long pilot-cloth coat, a Scotch rap, very roomy pilot-cloth trousers, a Worsted cravat, and fishermen's stockings.
I exchanged a few words with him about the boy Bobby, inquired the situation of the yacht, and after some talk of this kind, during which I gathered that he was taking advantage of the breeze and shaping a somewhat more westerly course than he had at first proposed, so that he did not expect to make the English coast much before three or four o'clock in the afternoon, I went below, to refresh myself after the laborious undertaking of the night.
On quitting my berth I found the boy Bobby laying the cloth for breakfast, and Grace seated on a locker watching him. Her face was pale, but its expression was without uneasiness. She had put on her hat, and on seeing me exclaimed,— "Herbert, dear, take me on deck. The fresh air may revive me."
And she looked at the boy and the cloth he was laying with a pout full of meaning.
I at once took her by the hand and conducted her through the hatch. She passed her arm through mine to balance herself, and then sent her eyes, bright with nervousness and astonishment, round the sea, breathing swiftly.
"Where is the land ?" she asked.
"Behind the ocean, my love. But we shall be having a view of the right side of these waters presently."
"What a little boat!" she exclaimed, running her gaze over the yacht. "Is it not dangerous to be in so small a vessel out of sight of land ?"
"Bless your dear heart, no! Think of the early navigators! Of course Ma'm'selle taught you all about the early navigators?"
"When shall we reach Penzance ?"
"Supposing the wind to blow fair and briskly, in three or four days."
"Three or four days!" she exclaimed; and, glancing down at herself, she added, "Of course you know, Herbert, that I have only the dress I am wearing?"
"It will last you till we get ashore," said I, laughing, "and then you shall buy everything you want, which of course will be more than you want."
"I shall send," said she, "to Ma'm'selle Championnet for my boxes."
"Certainly,-—when we are married."
"All your presents, particularly the darling little watch, are in those boxes, Herbert."
"Everything shall be recovered, to the uttermost ha'porth, my pet."
I observed Caudel, who stood a little forward of the companion, gazing at her with an expression of shyness and admiration. I told her that he was the captain of the yacht, that he was the man I had introduced to her last night, and begged her to speak to him.
She colored a rose-red, but bade him good-morning, nevertheless, accompanying the words with an inclination of her form, the graceful and easy dignity of which somehow made me think of the movement of a heavily-foliaged bough set curtsying by the summer wind.
"I hope, miss," said Caudel, pulling off his Scotch cap, "as how I see you well this morning, freed of that there nausea as Mr. Barclay was a-telling me you suffered from?"
"I trust to get used to the sea quickly: the motion of the yacht is not what I like," she answered, with her face averted from him, taking a peep at me to observe if I saw that she felt ashamed and would not confront him.
He perceived this too, and, knuckling his forehead, said, "It's but a little of the sea ye shall have, miss, if so be as it lies in my power to keep this here Spitfire a-walking." And, so speaking, he moved off, singing out some idle order as he did so, by way of excusing his abrupt departure.
"I wish we were quite alone, Herbert," said my sweetheart, drawing me to the yacht's rail.
"So do I, my own, but not here: not in the middle of the sea."
"I did not think of bringing a veil. Your men stare so."
"And so do I," said I, letting my gaze sink fair into her eyes which she had upturned to me. "You wouldn't have me rebuke the poor harmless sailor-men for doing what I am every instant guilty of? —admiring you, I mean, to the very topmost height of my capacity in that way. But here comes Master Bobby Allett with the breakfast."
"Herbert, I could not eat for worlds."
"Are you so much in love as all that ?"
She shook her head, and looked at the flowing lines of green water which melted into snow as they came curving with glass-clear backs to the ruddy streak of the yacht's sheathing. However, the desire to keep her at sea until we could land ourselves close to the spot where we were to be married made me too anxious to conquer the uneasiness which the motion of the vessel excited, to humor her.
I coaxed and implored, and eventually got her below, and by dint of talking and engaging her attention, and making her forget herself, so to speak, I managed to betray her into breaking her fast with a cup of tea and a fragment of cold chicken.
This was an accomplishment of which I had some reason to feel proud; but then, to be sure, I was in the secret, knowing this,—that sea-nausea is entirely an affair of the nerves, that no sufferer is ill in his sleep, no matter how high the sea may be running or how unendurable to his waking senses the sky-high capers and abysmal plunges of the vessel may be, and that the correct treatment for sea-sickness is—not to think of it. In short, I made my sweetheart forget to feel uneasy. She talked, she sipped her tea, she ate, and then she looked better, and indeed owned that she felt so.
We sat together in earnest conversation. It was not for me to pretend that I could witness no imprudence in our elopement. Indeed, I took care to let her know that I regretted the step we had been forced into taking as fully as she did.
My love was an influence upon her, and whatever I said I felt might weigh with her childish heart. But I repeated what I had again and again written to her,—that there had been no other alternative than this elopement.
"You wished me to wait," I said, "until you were twenty-one, when you would be your own mistress. But to wait for more than three years! What was to happen in that time? They might have converted you "
"No," she cried.
"___and have wrought a complete change in your nature," I went on. "How many girls are there who could resist the sort of pressure they were subjecting you to, one way and another ?"
"They could not have changed my heart, Herbert."
"How can we tell? Under their influence in another year you might have come to congratulate yourself upon your escape from me."
"Do you think so? Then you should have granted me another year, because marriage," she added, with a look in her eyes that was like a wistful smile, "is a very serious thing, and if you believe that I should be rejoicing in a year hence over my escape from you, as you call it, you must believe that I have no business to be here."
This was a cool piece of logic that was hardly to my taste.
"'Tell me," said I, fondling her hand, "how you managed last night?"
"I do not like to think of it," she answered. "I was obliged to undress, for it is Ma'm'selle's rule to look into all the bedrooms the last thing after locking the house up. It was then ten o'clock. I waited until I heard the convent clock strike twelve, by which time I supposed everybody would be sound asleep. Then I lighted a candle, and dressed myself; but I had to use my hands as softly as a spider spins its web, and my heart seemed to heat so loud that I was afraid the girls in the next room would hear it. I put a box of matches in my pocket, and crept along the corridors to the big salle-à-manger.
The door of my bedroom creaked when I opened it, and I felt as if I must sink to the ground with fright. The salle-à-manger is a great, gloomy room even in the daytime: it was dreadfully dark, horribly black, Herbert, and the sight of the stars shining through the window over the balcony made me feel so lonely that I could have cried.
There was a mouse scratching in the room somewhere, and I got upon a chair, scarcely caring whether I made a noise or not, so frightened was I, for I hate mice. Indeed, if that mouse had not kept quiet after a while I believe I should not be here now. I could not endure being alone in a great dark room at that fearful hour of the night with a mouse running about near me. Oh, Herbert, how glad I was when I saw your lantern flash!"
"My brave little heart!" cried I, snatching up her hand and kissing it. "But the worst part is over. There are no ladders, no great black rooms, now before us,—no mice, even."
She slightly colored, without smiling, and I noticed an anxious expression in the young eyes she held steadfastly bent upon the table.
"What thought is troubling you, Grace ?"
"Herbert, I fear you will not love me the better for consenting to run away with you."
"Is that your only fear?"
She shook her head, and said, whilst she continued to keep her eyes downcast, "Suppose Aunt Amelia refuses to sanction our marriage ?"
"She will not! she dare not!" I cried, vehemently. "Imprudent as we may seem, we are politic in this, Grace,—that our adventure must force your aunt into sending us her sanction." She looked at me, but her face remained grave. "Caudel," said I, "who is as much your guardian as I am, put the same question to me.
But there is no earthly good in supposing. It is monstrous to suppose that your aunt will object. She hates me, I know, but her aversion—the aversion of that old woman of the world, with her family pride and notions of propriety—is not going to suffer her to forbid our marriage after this. Yet grant that her ladyship—my blessings upon her false front!— should go on saying no: are we not prepared ?"
I kissed away a tear, and a little later she was smiling, with her hand in mine, as I led her up on deck.
She gazed about her out of the wraps which rose to her ears, with eyes full of child-like interest and wonder, not unmixed with fear. I saw her eagerly watching the action of the yacht as the little fabric leaned to a sea with a long, sideways, floating plunge that brought the yeast of the broken waters bubbling and hissing to the very line of her lee forecastle bulwark; then she would clasp my hand, as though startled, when the dandy craft swept the weight of her white canvas to windward on the heave of the under-running sea with a sound as of drums and bugles heard afar echoing down out of the glistening concavities and ringing out of the taut rigging, upon which the blue and brilliant morning breeze was splitting.
She had not been sitting long before I saw that she was beginning to like it. There was no nausea now; her eyes were bright; there was color in her cheeks, and her red lips lay parted as though in pure enjoyment of the glad rush of the salt breeze athwart her teeth of pearl.
Thus passed the morning. There was no tedium. If ever there came a halt in our chat, there were twenty things over the side to look at, to fill the pause with color and beauty. It might be a tall, slate colored steam tank, hideous with gaunt leaning funnel and famished pole-masts and black fans of propeller heating at the stern-post like the vanes of a drowning windmill amid a hill of froth, yet poetized in spite of herself into a pretty detail of the surrounding life through the mere impulse and spirit of the bright seas through which she was starkly driving. Or it was a full-rigged ship, homeward bound, with yearning canvas and ocean-worn sides, figures on her poop crossing from rail to rail to look at what was passing, and seamen on her forecastle busy with the ground-tackle.
It was shortly after twelve that the delicate shadow of the high land of Beachy Head showed over the yacht's bow. By one o'clock it had grown defined and firm, with the glimmering streak of its white ramparts of chalk stealing out of the blue haze.
"There's old England, Grace," said I. "How one's heart goes out to the sight of the merest shadow of one's own soil! The Spitfire has seen the land; has she not suddenly quickened her pace ?"
"I ought to wish it were the Cornwall coast," she answered, "but I am enjoying this now," she added, smiling.
I was made happy by finding my sweetheart with some appetite for dinner at one o'clock. She no longer sighed; no regrets escaped her; her early alarm had disappeared; the novelty of the situation was wearing off; she was now realizing again what I knew she had realized before,——to judge by her letters,—-though the excitement and terrors of the elopement had broken in upon and temporarily disordered her perception; she was fully realizing, I mean, that there had been nothing for it but this step to free her from a species of immurement charged with menace to her faith and to her love; and, this being her mood, her affection for me found room to show itself, so
that now I never could meet her eyes without seeing how wholly I had her dear heart and how happy she was in this recurrence and brightening out of her love from the gloom and consternation that attended the start of our headlong wild adventure.
I flattered myself that we were to be fortunate in our weather. Certainly, all that afternoon was as fair and beautiful in its marine atmosphere of autumn as living creature could desire. The blues and greens of the prospect of heaven and sea were enriched by the looming towering terraces of Beachy Head, hanging large and looking near upon our starboard quarter, though I believe Caudel had not sailed very deep within the sphere in which the high-perched lantern is visible before shifting his helm for a straight down-Channel course.
When the sun had fairly set I took her below, for the wind seemed to come on a sudden with the damp of night in it, and a bite as shrewd in its abruptness as frost. I had made no other provision, in the shape of amusement, for our sea-trip of three, four, or five days, as it might happen, than a small parcel of novels, scarcely doubting that all the diversion we should need must lie in each other's company.
And, in fact, we managed to kill the time very agreeably without the help of fiction, though we both owned when the little cabin clock pointed to half-past nine, and she, looking up at it, yawning behind her white fingers, exclaimed that she felt tired and would go to bed,— I say, we both owned that the day had seemed a desperately long one, —to be sure, with us it had begun very early,—-and I could not help adding that, on the whole, a honeymoon spent aboard a yacht the size of the Spitfire would soon become a very slow business.
When she had withdrawn I put on a pea-coat, and, filling a pipe, stepped on deck. The dusk was clear, but of a darker shade than that of the preceding night; there was not more wind than had been blowing throughout the day, but the sky was full of large swollen clouds rolling in shadows of giant wings athwart the stars, and the gloom of them was in the atmosphere.
Here and there showed a ship's light,—-some faint gleam of red or green windily coming and going out upon the weltering obscurity,—but away to starboard the horizon ran through black, without a single break of shore-light that I could see. The yacht was swarming through it under all canvas, humming as she went. Her pace if it lasted would, I knew, speedily terminate this sea-going passage of our elopement, and I looked over the stern very well pleased to witness the arrow-straight white of the wake melting at a little distance into a mere elusive faintness.
Caudel stood near the helm.
"When are we to be off St. Catherine's Point at this pace, Caudel ?" said I.
"At this pace, sir? Why, between seven and eight o'clock tomorrow morning."
"What a deuce of a length this English Channel runs to!" cried I, impatiently. "Why, it will be little better than beginning our voyage, even when the Isle of Wight is abreast!"
"Yes, sir, there's a deal o' water going to the making of this here Channel,—a blooming sight too much of it when it comes on a winter's night a-blowing and a-snowing, the atmosphere thick as muck," answered Caudel.
"There'll be a bright lookout kept to-night, I hope," said I. "Not the value of all the cargoes afloat at this present instant, Caudel, the wide world over, equals the worth of my treasure aboard the Spitfire."
"Trust me to see that a bright lookout's kept, Mr. Barclay. There'll be no tarning in with me this night. Don't let no fear of anything going wrong disturb your mind, sir."
I lingered to finish my pipe. The fresh wind flashed into my face damp with the night and the spray-cold breath of the sea, and the planks of the deck showed dark with the moisture to the dim starlight.
There was some weight in the heads of seas as they came rolling to our beam, and the little vessel was soaring and falling briskly upon the heave of the folds, whose volume of course gained as the Channel broadened.
"Well," said I, with a bit of a shiver, and hugging myself in my pea-coat, "I am cold and tired, and going to bed : so good-night, and God keep you wide awake." And down, I went, and ten minutes later was snugged away in my coffin of a bunk, sound asleep, and snoring at the top of my pipes, I don't doubt.
Next morning, when I went on deck after nine hours of solid slumber, I at once directed my eyes over the rail in search of the Isle of Wight, but there was nothing to be seen but a gray drizzle, a weeping wall of slate-colored haze that formed a sky of its own and drooped to within a mile or so of the yacht.
The sea was an ugly yellowish green, and you saw the billows come tumbling in froth from under the vaporous margin of the horizon as though each surge was formed there and there was nothing but blankness and space beyond.
The yacht's canvas was discolored with saturation, drops of water were bowing from her rigging, there was a sobbing of a gutter-like sort in her lee scuppers, and the figures of the men glistening in oil-skins completed the melancholy appearance of the little Spitfire. Caudel was below, but the man named Dick Files was at the helm, an intelligent young fellow without any portion of Job Crew's surliness, and he answered the questions I put.
We had made capital way throughout the night, he told me, and if the weather were clear St. Catherine's Point would show abreast of us.
"There's no doubt about Caudel knowing where he is ?" said I, with a glance at the blind gray atmosphere that sometimes swept in little putts of cloudy damp through the rigging like fragments of vapor torn out of some compacted body.
"Oh, no, sir; Mr. Caudel knows where he is," answered the man.
"We picked up and passed a small cutter out of Portsmouth about three-quarters of an hour ago, sir, and he told us where we were."
"Has this sail been kept on the yacht all night ?" said I, looking at the wide spread of main sail and gaff top-sail.
"All night, sir. The run's averaged eight knots. Nigh hand equal to steam, sir."
"Well, you all need to keep a bright lookout in this sort of thickness. How far off can you see?"
The man stared, and blinked, and mused, and then said he allowed about a mile and a quarter.
"Room enough,' said I. "But mind your big mail-boats out of Southampton. There are German skippers among them who would drive through the devil himself sooner than lose five minutes."
The promise of a long, wet, blank day was not very cheering. In fact, this change in the weather was as damping to my spirits as it literally was to everything else, and as I entered the companion-way for shelter I felt as though half of a mind to order the yacht to be headed for some adjacent port.
But a little thinking brought back my resolution to its old bearings. It was a hard thing to avow, but I knew that my very strongest chance of gaining Lady Amelia's consent lay in this sea-trip.
Then, again, there might come a break at any minute, with a fine day of warm sunshine and clear sky to follow. I re-entered the cabin, and on looking at the barometer observed a slight depression in the mercury, but it was without significance to my mind.
Somewhere about this time Grace came out of her berth. She brought an atmosphere of flower-like fragrance with her, but the motions of the yacht obliged her to sit quickly, and she gazed at me with laughter in her eyes from the locker, graceful in her posture as a reposing dancer.
Her face lengthened, however, when I told her about the weather,—that in short there was nothing visible from the deck but a muddy, jumbled atmosphere of vapor and drizzle.
"I counted upon seeing the Isle of Wight," cried she. "There has been no land so far except those far-off high cliff's yesterday afternoon.
"No matter, my sweet. Let us take as long as possible in breakfasting. Then you shall read Tennyson to me,—-yes, I have a volume of that poet,—and we shall find some of the verses in wonderful harmony with our mood."
She gave me a smiling glance, though her lip pouted, as if she would say, "Don't make too sure of my mood, my fine young fellow."
"By the time we have done with Tennyson," I continued, "the weather may have cleared. If not, then we must take as long as possible in dining."
"Isn't it dangerous to be at sea in such weather as this?" she asked.
"No," said I.
"But the sailors can't see."
I feared the drift of her language, and explained, "It would be dangerous to attempt to make the land, for we might blunder upon a rock and go to pieces, Grace; and then farewell, a long farewell to the passions, the emotions, the impulses, the sensations, which have brought us together here." And I kissed her hand.
"But it would be pleasant to lie in a pretty harbor,—to rest, as it were," she exclaimed.
"Our business is to get married, my darling," I rejoined, "and we must hasten as swiftly as the wind will allow us to the parish where the ceremony is to be performed; for my cousin ain't publish the banns until we are on the spot, and whilst he is publishing the banns we must be treating with her ladyship, and, as the diplomatists would say, negotiating a successful issue."
I should only weary you by reciting the passage of the hours.
After breakfast I took her on deck for a turn; but she was glad to get below again. All day long it continued dark weather, without a sight of anything save at intervals the shadowy figure of a coaster aslant in the thickness, and once the loom of a huge ocean passenger-boat, sweeping at twelve or fourteen knots through the gray veil of vapor that narrowed the horizon to within a mile of us.
The wind, however, remained a steady fresh breeze, and throughout the day there was never a rope handled nor a stitch of canvas reduced. The Spitfire swung steadfastly through it, in true sea-bruising style, sturdily flinging the sea off her flaring bow, and whitening the water with the plunges of her churning keel till the tail of her wake seemed to stretch to the near sea-line.