The Little Revenge by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
Suddenly a gust of fresh wind caught Sally's hat, and off it flew, a wide-winged pink bird, over the old, old sea-wall of Clovelly, down among the rocks of the rough beach, tumbling and jumping from one gray stone to another, and getting so far away that, in the soft violet twilight, it seemed as lost as any ship of the Spanish Armada wrecked long ago on this wild Devonshire coast.
"Oh!" cried Sally distractedly, and clapped her hands to her head with the human instinct to shut the stable door after the horse is gone. "Oh!" she cried again; "my pretty hat! And oh! it's in the water!"
But suddenly, out of somewhere in the twilight, there was a man chasing it. Sally leaned over the rugged, yellowish, grayish stone wall and excitedly called to him.
"Oh, thank you!" she cried, and "That's so good of you!"
The hat had tacked and was sailing inshore now, one stiff pink taffeta sail set to the breeze. And in a minute, with a reckless splash into the dashing waves, the man had it, and an easy, athletic figure swung up the causeway, holding it away from him, as if it might nip at him. He wore a dark blue jersey, and loose, flapping trousers of a seaman.
"He's only a sailor," Sally said under her breath; "I'd better tip him." Her hand slipped into her pocket and I heard the click of her purse.
He looked from one to the other of us in the dim light inquiringly, as he came up, and then off went his cap, and his face broke into the gentlest, most charming smile as he delivered the hat into Sally's outstretched hands.
"I'm afraid it's a bit damp," he said.
All dark-eyed, stalwart young fellows are attractive to me for the sake of one like that who died forty years ago, but this sailor had a charm of manner that is a gift of the gods, let it fall to prince or peasant; the pretty deference of his few words, and the quick, radiant smile, were enough to win friendliness from me. More than that, something in the set of his head, in the straight gaze of his eyes, held a likeness that made my memory ache. I smiled back at him instantly. But Sally's heart was on her hat; hats from good shops did not grow on trees for Sally Meade.
"I hope it isn't hurt," she said, anxiously, and shook it carefully, and hardly glanced at the rescuer, who was watching with something that looked like amusement in his face. Then her good manners came back.
"Thank you a thousand times," she said, and turned to him brightly. "You were so quick--but, oh! I'm afraid you're wet." She looked at him, and I saw a little shock of surprise in her face. Beauty so striking will be admired, even in a common sailor.
"It's nothing," he said, looking down at his sopping, wide trousers; "I'm used to it," and as Sally's hand went forward I caught the flash of silver, and at the same moment another flash, from the man's eyes.
It was enough to startle me for the fraction of a second, but, as I looked again, his expression held only a serious respect, and I was sure I had been mistaken. He took the money and touched his cap and said, "Thank you, miss," with perfect dignity. Yet my imagination must have been lively, for as he slipped it in his pocket, his look turned toward me, and for another breath of time a gleam of mischief--certainly mischief--flashed from his dark eyes to mine.
Then Sally, quite unconscious of this, perhaps imaginary, by-play, had an idea. "Are you a sailor?" she asked.
The man looked at her. "Yes--miss," he answered, a little slowly.
"We want to engage a boat and a man to take us out. Do you know of one? Have you a boat?"
The young fellow glanced down across the wall where a hull and mast gleamed indistinctly through the falling night, swinging at the side of the quay. "That's mine, yonder," he said, nodding toward it. And then, with the graceful, engaging frankness that I already knew as his, "I shall be very glad to take you out"--including us both in his glance.
"Sally," I said, five minutes later, as we trudged up the one steep, rocky street of Clovelly,--the picturesque old street that once led English smugglers to their caves, and that is more of a staircase than a street, with rows of stone steps across its narrow width--"Sally, you are a very unexpected girl. You took my breath away, engaging that man so suddenly to take us sailing to-morrow. How do you know he is reliable? It would have been safer to try one of the men they recommended from the Inn. And certainly it would have been more dignified to let me make the arrangements. You seem to forget that I am older than you."
"You aren't," said Sully, giving a squeeze to my arm that she held in the angle of hers, pushing me with her young strength up the hill. "You're not as old, cousin Mary. I'm twenty-two, and you're only eighteen, and I believe you will never be any older."
I think perhaps I like flattery. I am a foolish old woman, and I have noticed that it is not the young girls who treat me with great deference and rise as soon as I come who seem to me the most charming, but the ones who, with proper manners, of course, yet have a touch of comradeship, as if they recognized in me something more than a fossil exhibit. I like to have them go on talking about their beaux and their work and play, and let me talk about it, too. Sally Meade makes me feel always that there is in me an undying young girl who has outlived all of my years and is her friend and equal.
"I'm sorry if I was forward, cousin Mary, but the sailing is to be my party, you know, and then I thought you liked him. He had a pretty manner for a common sailor, didn't he? And his voice--these low-class English people have wonderfully well-bred, soft voices. I suppose it's particularly so here in the South. Cousin Mary, did you see the look he gave you with those delicious dark eyes? It's always the way--gentleman or hod-carrier--no one has a chance with men when you are about."
It is pleasant to me, old woman as I am, to be told that people like me--more pleasant, I think, every year. I never take it for truth, of course, but I believe it means good feeling, and it makes an atmosphere easy to breathe. I purred like a contented cat under Sally's talking, yet, to save my dignity, kept up a protest.
"Sally, my dear! Delicious dark eyes! I'm ashamed of you--a common sailor!"
"I didn't smile at him," said Sally, reflectively.
So, struggling up the steep street of Clovelly, we went home to the "New Inn," to cold broiled lobster, to strawberries and clotted Devonshire cream, and dreamless sleep in the white beds of the quiet rooms whose windows looked toward the woods and cliffs of Hobby Drive on one side, and on the other toward the dark, sparkling jewel of the moon-lighted ocean, and the shadowy line of Lundy Island far in the distance.
That I, an inland woman, an old maid of sixty, should tell a story of sailing and of love seems a little ridiculous. My nephews at college beguile me to talk about boats, and then laugh to hear me, for I think I get the names of things twisted. And as for what I know of the other--the only love-making to which I ever listened was ended forty years ago by one of the northern balls that fell in fiery rain on Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. Yet, if I but tell the tale as it came to me, others may feel as I did the thrill of the rushing of the keel through dashing salt water, the swing of the great white sail above, the flapping of the fresh wind in the slack of it, the exhilaration of moving with power like the angels, with the great forces of nature for muscles, the joy of it all expanding, pulsing through you, till it seems as if the sky might crack if once you let your delight go free. And some may catch, too, that other thrill, of the hidden feeling that glorified those days. Few lives are so poor that the like of it has not brightened them, and no one quite forgets.
It is partly Sally Meade's Southern accent that has made me love her above nearer cousins, from her babyhood. The modulations of her voice seem always to bring me close to the sound of the voice that went into silence when Geoffrey Meade, her father's young kinsman, was killed long ago.
The Meades, old-time planters in Virginia, have been very poor since the distant war of the sixties, and it has been one of my luxuries to give Sally a lift over hard places. Always with instant reward, for the smallest bit of sunlight, going into her prismatic spirit, comes out a magnificent rainbow of happiness. So when the idea came that they might let me have the girl to take abroad that summer, her friend, the girl spirit in me, jumped for joy. There was no difficulty made; it was one of the rare good things too good to be true, that yet are true. She did more for me than I for her, for I simply spent some superfluous idle money, while she filled every day with a new enjoyment, the reflection of her own fresh pleasure in every day as it came.
So here we were prowling about the south of England with "Westward Ho!" for a guide-book; coaching through deep, tawny Devonshire lanes from Bideford to Clovelly; searching for the old tombstone of Will Cary's grave in the churchyard on top of the hill; gathering tales of Salvation Yeo and of Amyas Leigh; listening to echoes of the three-hundred-year-old time when the great sea-battle was fought in the channel and many ships of the Armada wrecked along this Devonshire coast. And always coming back to sleep in the fascinating little "New Inn," as old as the hills, built on both sides of the one rocky ladder street of Clovelly, the street so steep that no horses can go in it, and at the bottom of whose breezy tunnel one sees the rolling floor of the sea. In so careless a way does the Inn ramble about the cliff that when I first went to my room, two flights up from the front, I caught my breath at a blaze of scarlet and yellow nasturtiums that faced me through a white-painted doorway opening on the hillside and on a tiny garden at the back.
The irresponsible pleasure of our first sail the next afternoon was never quite repeated. The boat shot from the landing like a high-strung horse given his head, out across the unbordered road of silver water, and in a moment, as we raced toward the low white clouds, we turned and saw the cliffs of the coast and the tiny village, a gay little pile of white, green-latticed houses steeped in foliage lying up a crack in the precipice. Above was the long stretch of the woods of Hobby Drive. Clovelly is so old that its name is in Domesday Book; so old, some say, that it was a Roman station, and its name was Clausa Vaillis. But it is a nearer ancientness that haunts it now. Every wave that dashes on the rocky shore carries a legend of the ships of the Invincible Armada. As we asked question after question of our sailor, handsomer than ever to-day with a red silk handkerchief knotted sailor-fashion about his strong neck, story after story flashed out, clear and dramatic, from his answers. The bunch of houses there on the shore? Yes, that had a history. The people living there were a dark-featured, reticent lot, different from other people hereabouts. It was said that one of the Spanish galleons went ashore there, and the men had been saved and had settled on the spot and married Devonshire women, but their descendants had never lost the tradition of their blood. Certainly their speech and their customs were peculiar, unlike those of the villages near. He had been there and had seen them, had heard them talk. Yes, they were distinct. He laughed a little to acknowledge it, with an Englishman's distrust of anything theatrical. A steep cliff started out into the waves, towering three hundred feet in almost perpendicular lines. Had that a name? Yes, that was called "Gallantry Bower." No; it was not a sentimental story--it was the old sea-fight again. It was said that an English sailor threw a rope from the height and saved life after life of the crew of a Spaniard wrecked under the point.
"You know the history of your place very well," said Sally. The young man kept his eyes on his steering apparatus and a slow half-smile troubled his face and was gone.
"I've had a bit of an education for a seaman--Miss," he said. And then, after apparently reflecting a moment, "My people live near the Leighs of Burrough Court, and I was playmate to the young gentlemen and was given a chance to learn with them, with their tutors, more than a common man is likely to get always."
At that Sally's enthusiasm broke through her reserve, and I was only a little less eager.
"The Leighs! The real, old Leighs of Burrough? Amyas Leigh's descendants? Was that story true? Oh!--" And here manners and curiosity met and the first had the second by the throat. She stopped. But our sailor looked up with a boyish laugh that illumined his dark face.
"Is it so picturesque? I have been brought up so close that it seems commonplace to me. Every one must be descended from somebody, you know."
"Yes, but Amyas Leigh!" went on Sally, flushed and excited, forgetting the man in his story. "Why, he's my hero of all fiction! Think of it, Cousin Mary--there are men near here who are his great--half-a-dozen greats--grandchildren! Cousin Mary," she stopped and looked at me impressively, oblivious of the man so near her, "if I could lay my hands on one of those young Leighs of Burrough I'd marry him in spite of his struggles, just to be called by that name. I believe I would."
"Sally!" I exclaimed, and glanced at the man; Sally's cheeks colored as she followed my look. His mouth was twitching, and his eyes smouldered with fun. But he behaved well. On some excuse of steering he turned his back instantly and squarely toward us. But Sally's interest was irrepressible.
"Would you mind telling me their names, Cary?" she asked. He had told us to call him Cary. "The names of the Mr. Leighs of Burrough."
"No, Cary," I said. "I think Miss Meade doesn't notice that she is asking you personal questions about your friends."
Cary turned on me a look full of gentleness and chivalry. "Miss Meade doesn't ask anything that I cannot answer perfectly well," he said. "There are two sons of the Leighs, Richard Grenville, the older, and Amyas Francis, the younger. They keep the old names you see. Richard--Sir Richard, I should say--is the head of the family, his father being dead."
"Sir Richard Grenville Leigh!" said Sally, quite carried away by that historic combination. "That's better than Amyas," she went on, reflectively. "Is he decent? But never mind. I'll marry him, Cousin Mary."
At that our sailor-man shook with laughter, and as I met his eyes appealing for permission, I laughed as hard as he. Only Sally was apparently quite serious.
"He would he very lucky--Miss," he said, restraining his mirth with a respect that I thought remarkable, and turned again to his rudder.
Sally, for the first time having felt the fascination of breathing historic air, was no longer to be held. The sweeping, free motion, the rush of water under the bow as we cut across the waves, the wide sky and the air that has made sailors and soldiers and heroes of Devonshire men for centuries on end, the exhilaration of it all had gone to the girl's head. She was as unconscious of Cary as if he had been part of his boat. I had seen her act so when she was six, and wild with the joy of an autumn morning, intoxicated with oxygen. We had been put for safety into the hollow part of the boat where the seats are--I forget what they call it--the scupper, I think. But I am apt to be wrong on the nomenclature. At all events, there we were, standing up half the time to look at the water, the shore, the distant sails, and because life was too intense to sit down. But when Sally, for all her gentle ways, took the bit in her teeth, it was too restricted for her there.
"Is there any law against my going up and holding on to the mast?" she asked Cary.
"Not if you won't fall overboard, Miss," he answered.
The girl, with a strong, self-reliant jump, a jump that had an echo of tennis and golf and horseback, scrambled up and forward, Cary taking his alert eyes a moment from his sailing, to watch her to safety, I thought her pretty as a picture as she stood swaying with one arm around the mast, in her white shirt-waist and dark dress, her head bare, and brown, untidy hair blowing across the fresh color of her face, and into her clear hazel eyes.
"What is the name of this boat?" she demanded, and Cary's deep, gentle voice lifted the two words of his answer across the twenty feet between them.
"The Revenge" he said.
Then there was indeed joy. "The Revenge! The Revenge! I am sailing on the Revenge, with a man who knows Sir Richard Grenville and Amyas Leigh! Cousin Mary, listen to that--this is the Revenge we're on--this!" She hugged the mast, "And there are Spanish galleons, great three-deckers, with yawning tiers of guns, all around us! You may not see them, but they are here! They are ghosts, but they are here! There is the great San Philip, hanging over us like a cloud, and we are--we are--Oh, I don't know who we are, but we're in the fight, the most beautiful fight in history!" She began to quote:
The soft, lingering voice threw the words at us with a thrill and a leap forward, just us the Revenge was carrying us with long bounds, over the shining sea. We were spinning easily now, under a steady light wind, and Cary, his hand on the rudder, was opposite me. He turned with a start as the girl began Tennyson's lines, and his shining dark eyes stared up at her.
"Do you know that?" he said, forgetting the civil "Miss" in his earnestness.
"Do I know it? Indeed I do!" cried Sally from her swinging rostrum. "Do you know it, too? I love it--I love every word of it--listen," And I, who knew her good memory, and the spell that the music of a noble poem cast over her, settled myself with resignation. I was quite sure that, short of throwing her overboard, she would recite that poem from beginning to end. And she did. Her skirts and her hair blowing, her eyes full of the glory of that old "forlorn hope," gazing out past us to the seas that had borne the hero, she said it.
At Flores in the Azores, Sir Richard Grenville lay, And a pinnace, like a frightened bird, came flying from far away; Spanish ships of war at sea, we have sighted fifty-three! Then up spake Sir Thomas Howard "'Fore God, I am no coward"--
She went on and on with the brave, beautiful story. How Sir Thomas would not throw away his six ships of the line in a hopeless fight against fifty-three; how yet Sir Richard, in the Revenge, would not leave behind his "ninety men and more, who were lying sick ashore"; how at last Sir Thomas
sailed away With five ships of war that day Till they melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven, But Sir Richard bore in hand All his sick men from the land, Very carefully and slow, Men of Bideford in Devon-- And he laid them on the ballast down below; And they blessed him in their pain That they were not left to Spain, To the thumbscrew and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.
The boat sailed softly, steadily now, as if it would not jar the rhythm of the voice telling, with soft inflections, with long, rushing meter, the story of that other Revenge, of the men who had gone from these shores, under the great Sir Richard, to that glorious death.
And the sun went down, and the stars came out far over the summer sea, And not one moment ceased the fight of the one and the fifty-three. Ship after ship, the whole night long, their high-built galleons came; Ship after ship, the whole night long, with their battle thunder and flame; Ship after ship, the whole night long, drew back with her dead and her shame; For some they sunk, and many they shattered so they could fight no more. God of battles! Was ever a battle like this in the world before?
As I listened, though I knew the words almost, by heart too, my eyes filled with tears and my soul with the desire to have been there, to have fought as they did, on the little Revenge one after another of the great Spanish ships, till at last the Revenge was riddled and helpless, and Sir Richard called to the master-gunner to sink the ship for him, but the men rebelled, and the Spaniards took what was left of ship and fighters. And Sir Richard, mortally wounded, was carried on board the flagship of his enemies, and died there, in his glory, while the captains
--praised him to his face. With their courtly Spanish grace.
So died, never man more greatly, Sir Richard Grenville, of Stow in Devon.
The crimson and gold of sunset were streaming across the water as she ended, and we sat silent. The sailor's face was grim, as men's faces are when they are deeply stirred, but in his dark eyes burned an intensity that reserve could not bold back, and as he still stared at the girl a look shot from them that startled me like speech. She did not notice. She was shaken with the passion of the words she had repeated, and suddenly, through the sunlit, rippling silence, she spoke again.
"It's a great thing to be a Devonshire sailor," she said, solemnly. "A wonderful inheritance--it ought never to be forgotten. And as for that man--that Sir Richard Grenville Leigh--he ought to carry his name so high that nothing low or small could ever touch it. He ought never to think a thought that is not brave and fine and generous."
There was a moment's stillness and then I said, "Sally, my child, it seems to me you are laying down the law a little freely for Devonshire. You have only been here four days." And in a second she was on her usual gay terms with the world again.
"A great preacher was wasted in me," she said. "How I could have thundered at everybody else about their sins! Cousin Mary, I'm coming down--I'm all battered, knocking against the must, and the little trimmings hurt my hands."
Cary did not smile. His face was repressed and expressionless and in it was a look that I did not understand. He turned soberly to his rudder and across the broken gold and silver of the water the boat drew in to shadowy Clovelly.
It was a shock, after we had landed and I had walked down the quay a few yards to inspect the old Red Lion Inn, the house of Salvation Yeo, to come back and find Sally dickering with Cary. I had agreed that this sail should be her "party," because it pleased the girl's proud spirit to open her small purse sometimes for my amusement. But I did not mean to let her pay for all our sailing, and I was horrified to find her trying to get Cary cheaper by the quantity. When I arrived, Sally, a little flustered and very dignified and quite evidently at the end of a discussion as to terms, was concluding an engagement, and there was a gleam in the man's wonderful eyes, which did much of his talking for him.
"You see the boat is very new and clean, Miss," he was saying, "and I hope you were satisfied with me?"
I upset Sally's business affairs at once, engaged Cary, and told him he must take out no one else without knowing our plans. My handkerchief fell as I talked to him and he picked it up and presented it with as much ease and grace as if he had done such things all his life. It was a remarkable sailor we had happened on. A smile came like sunshine over his face--the smile that made him look as Geoffrey Meade looked, half a century ago.
"I'll promise not to take any one else, ma'am," he said. And then, with the pretty, engaging frankness that won my heart over again each time, "And I hope you'll want to go often--not so much for the money, but because it is a pleasure to me to take you--both."
There was mail for us waiting at the Inn. "Listen, Sally," I said, as I read mine in my room after dinner. "This is from Anne Ford. She wants to join us here the 6th of next month, to fill in a week between visits at country-houses."
Sally, sitting on the floor before the fire, her dark hair loose and her letters lying about her, looked up attentively, and discreetly answered nothing. Anne Ford was my cousin, but not hers, and I knew without discussing it, that Sally cared for her no more than I. She was made of showy fibre, woven in a brilliant pattern, but the fibre was a little coarse, and the pattern had no shading. She was rich and a beauty and so used to being the centre of things, and largely the circumference too, that I, who am a spoiled old woman, and like a little place and a little consideration, find it difficult to be comfortable as spoke upon her wheel.
"It's too bad," I went on regretfully. "Anne will not appreciate Clovelly, and she will spoil it for us. She is not a girl I care for. I don't see why I should he made a convenience for Anne Ford," I argued in my selfish way. "I think I shall write her not to come."
Sally laughed cheerfully. "She won't bother us, Cousin Mary. It would be too bad to refuse her, wouldn't it? She can't spoil Clovelly--it's been here too long. Anne is rather overpowering," Sally went on, a bit wistfully. "She's such a beauty, and she has such stunning clothes."
The firelight played on the girl's flushed, always-changing face, full of warm light and shadow; it touched daintily the white muslin and pink ribbons of the pretty negligee she wore, Sally was one of the poor girls whose simple things are always fresh and right. I leaned over and patted her rough hair affectionately.
"Your clothes are just as pretty," I said, "and Anne doesn't compare with you in my eyes." I lifted the unfinished letter and glanced over it. "All about her visit to Lady Fisher," I said aloud, giving a resume as I read. "What gowns she wore to what functions; what men were devoted to her--their names--titles--incomes too." I smiled. "And--what is this?" I stopped talking, for a name had caught my eye. I glanced over the page. "Isn't this curious! Listen, my dear," I said. "This will interest you!" I read aloud from Anne's letter.
"'But the man who can have me if he wants me is Sir Richard Leigh. He is the very best that ever happened, and moreover, quite the catch of the season. His title is old, and he has a yacht and an ancestral place or two, and is very rich, they say--but that isn't it. My heart is his without his decorations--well, perhaps not quite that, but it's certainly his with the decorations. He is such a beauty, Cousin Mary! Even you would admire him. It gives you quite a shock when he comes into a room, yet he is so unconscious and modest, and has the most graceful, fascinatingly quiet manners and wonderful brown eyes that seem to talk for him. He does everything well, and everything hard, is a dare-devil on horseback, a reckless sailor, and a lot besides. If you could see the way those eyes look at me, and the smile that breaks over his face as if the sun had come out suddenly! But alas! the sun has gone under now, for he went this morning, and it's not clear if he's coming back or not. They say his yacht is near Bideford, where his home is, and Clovelly is not far from that, is it?'"
I stopped and looked at Sally, listening, on the floor. She was staring into the fire.
"What do you think of that?" I asked. Sally was slow at answering; she stared on at the burning logs that seemed whispering answers to the blaze.
"Some girls have everything," she said at length. "Look at Anne. She's beautiful and rich and everybody admires her, and she goes about to big country-houses and meets famous and interesting people. And now this Sir Richard Leigh comes like the prince into the story, and I dare say he will fall in love with her and if she finds no one that suits her better she will marry him and have that grand old historic name."
"Sally, dear," I said, "you're not envying Anne, are you?"
A quick blush rushed to her face. "Cousin Mary! What foolishness I've been talking! How could I! What must you think of me! I didn't mean it--please believe I didn't. I'm the luckiest girl on earth, and I'm having the most perfect time, and you are a fairy godmother to me, except that you're more like a younger sister. I was thinking aloud. Anne is such a brilliant being compared to me, that the thought of her discourages me sometimes. It was just Cinderella admiring the princess, you know."
"Cinderella got the prince," I said, smiling.
"I don't want the prince," said Sally, "even if I could get him. I wouldn't marry an Englishman. I don't care about a title. To be a Virginian is enough title for me. It was just his name, magnificent Sir Richard Grenville's name and the Revenge-Armada atmosphere that took my fancy. I don't know if Anne would care for that part," she added, doubtfully.
"I'm sure Anne would know nothing about it," I answered decidedly, and Sally went on cheerfully.
"She's very welcome to the modern Sir Richard, yacht and title and all. I don't believe he's as attractive as your sailor, Cousin Mary. Something the same style, I should say from the description. If you hadn't owned him from the start, I'd rather like that man to be my sailor, Cousin Mary--he's so everything that a gentleman is supposed to be. How did he learn that manner--why, it would flatter you if he let the boom whack you on the head. Too bad he's only a common sailor--such a prince gone wrong!"
I looked at her talking along softly, leaning back on one hand and gazing at the fire, a small white Turkish slipper--Southern girls always have little feet--stuck out to the blaze, and something in the leisurely attitude and low, unhurried voice, something, too, in the reminiscent crackle of the burning wood, invited me to confidence. I went to my dressing-table, and when I came back, dropped, as if I were another girl, on the rug beside her. "I want to show you this," I said, and opened a case that travels always with me. From the narrow gold rim of frame inside, my lover smiled gayly up at her brown hair and my gray, bending over it together.
None of the triumphs of modern photographers seem to my eyes so delicately charming as the daguerrotypes of the sixties. As we tipped the old picture this way and that, to catch the right light on the image under the glass, the very uncertainty of effect seemed to give it an elusive fascination. To my mind the birds in the bush have always brighter plumage than any in the hand, and one of these early photographs leaves ever, no matter from what angle you look upon it, much to the imagination. So Geoff in his gray Southern uniform, young and soldierly, laughed up at Sally and me from the shadowy lines beneath the glass, more like a vision of youth than like actual flesh and blood that had once been close and real. His brown hair, parted far to one side, swept across his forehead in a smooth wave, as was the old-fashioned way; his collar was of a big, queer sort unknown to-day; the cut of his soldier's coat was antique; but the beauty of the boyish face, the straight glance of his eyes, and ease of the broad shoulders that military drill could not stiffen, these were untouched, were idealized even by the old-time atmosphere that floated up from the picture like fragrance of rose-leaves. As I gazed down at the boy, it came to me with a pang that he was very young and I growing very old, and I wondered would he care for me still. Then I remembered that where he lived it was the unworn soul and not the worn-out body that counted, and I knew that the spirit within me would meet his when the day came, with as fresh a joy as forty years ago. And as I still looked, happy in the thought, I felt all at once as if I had seen his face, heard his voice, felt the touch of his young hand that day--could almost feel it yet. Perhaps my eyes were a little dim, perhaps the uncertainty of the old daguerrotype helped the illusion, but the smile of the master of the Revenge seemed to shine up at me from my Geoff's likeness, and then Sally's slow voice broke the pause.
"It's Cousin Geoffrey, isn't it?" she asked. Her father was Geoffrey Meade's cousin--a little boy when Geoff died, "Was he as beautiful as that?" she said, gently, putting her hand over mine that held the velvet case. And then, after another pause, she went on, hesitatingly; "Cousin Mary, I wonder if you would mind if I told you whom he looks like to me?"
"No, my dear," I answered easily, and like an echo to my thought her words came.
"It is your sailor. Do you see it? He is only a common seaman, of course, but I think he must have a wonderful face, for with all his dare-devil ways I always think of 'Blessed are the pure in spirit' when I see him. And the eyes in the picture have the same expression--do you mind my saying it, Cousin Mary?"
"I saw it myself the first time I looked at him," I said. And then, as people do when they are on the verge of crying, I laughed. "Anne Ford would think me ridiculous, wouldn't she?" and I held Geoff's picture in both my hands. "He is much better suited to her or to you. A splendid young fellow of twenty-four to belong to an old woman like me--it is absurd, isn't it?"
"He is suited to no one but you, dear, and you are just his age and always will be," and as Sally's arms caught me tight I felt tears that were not my own on my cheek.
It was ten days yet before Anne was due to arrive, and almost every day of the ten we sailed. The picturesque coast of North Devon, its deep bays, its stretches of high, tree-topped cliffs, grew to be home-like to us. We said nothing of Cary and his boat at the Inn, for we soon saw that both were far-and-away better than common, and we were selfish. Nor did the man himself seem to care for more patronage. He was always ready when we wished to go, and jumped from his spick-and-span deck to meet us with a smile that started us off in sunshine, no matter what the weather. And with my affection for the lovely, uneven coast and the seas that held it in their flashing fingers, grew my interest in the winning personality that seemed to combine something of the strength of the hills and the charm of the seas of Devonshire.
One day after another he loosed the ropes with practised touch, and the wind taught the sail with a gay rattle and the little Revenge flung off the steep street and the old sea-wall and the green cliffs of Clovelly, and first yards and then miles of rippling ocean lay between us and land, and we sailed away, we did not need to know or care where, with our fate for the afternoon in his reliable hands. Little by little we forgot artificial distinctions in the out-of-doors, natural atmosphere, or that the man was anything but himself--a self always simple, always right. Looking back, I see how deeply I was to blame, to have been so blind, at my age, but the figure by the rudder, swinging to the boat's motion, grew to be so familiar and pleasant a sight, that I did not think of being on guard against him. Little as he talked, his moods were varied, grave or gay or with a gleam of daring in his eyes that made him, I think, a little more attractive than any other way. Yet when a wind of seriousness lifted the still or impetuous surface, I caught a glimpse, sometimes, of a character of self-reliance, of decision as solid as the depths under the shifting water of his ocean. There was never a false note in his gentle manner, and I grew to trust serenely to his tact and self-respect, and talked to him freely as I chose. Which of course I should not have done. But there was a temptation to which I yielded in watching for the likeness in his face, and in listening for a tone or two of his voice that caught my heart with the echo of a voice long silent.
One morning to our astonishment Cary sent up to break our engagement for the afternoon. Something had happened so that he could not possibly get away. But it was moonlight and warm--would we not go out in the evening? The idea seemed to me a little improper, yet very attractive, and Sally's eyes danced.
"Let's be bold and bad and go, Cousin Mary," she pleaded, and we went.
A shower of moonlight fell across the sea and on the dark masses of the shore; it lay in sharp patches against the black shadows of the sail; it turned Sally's bare, dark head golden, and tipped each splashing wave with a quick-vanishing electric light. It was not earth or ocean, but fairyland. We were sailing over the forgotten, sea-buried land of Lyonesse; forests where Tristram and Iseult had ridden, lay under our rushing keel; castles and towers and churches were there--hark! could I not hear the faint bells in the steeples ringing up through the waves? The old legend, half true, half fable, was all real to me as I sat in the shadow of the sail and stared, only half seeing them, at Sally standing with her hands on the rudder and Cary leaning over her, teaching her to sail the Revenge. Their voices came to me clear and musical, yet carrying no impression of what they were saying. Then I saw Sally's little fingers slip suddenly, and Cary's firm hand close over them, pushing the rudder strongly to one side. His face was toward me, and I saw the look that went over it as his hand held hers. It startled me to life again, and I sat up straight, but he spoke at once with quiet self-possession.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Meade. She was heading off a bit dangerously."
And he went on with directions, laughing at her a little, scolding her a little, yet all with a manner that could not be criticised. I still wonder how he could have poised so delicately and so long on that slender line of possible behavior.
As the boat slipped over the shimmering ocean, back into the harbor again, most of the houses up the sharp ascent of Clovelly street were dark, but out on the water lay a mass of brilliant lights, rocking slowly on the tide. Sally was first to notice it.
"There is a ship lying out there. Is it a ship or is it an enchantment? She is lighted all over. What is it--do you know?"
Cary was working at the sail and he did not look at us or at it as he answered.
"Yes, Miss--I know her. She is Sir Richard Leigh's yacht the Rose. She was there as we went out, but she was dark and you did not notice her."
I exclaimed, full of interest, at this, but Sally, standing ghost-like in her white dress against the sinking sail, said nothing, but stared at the lights that outlined the yacht against the deep distance of the sky, and that seemed, as the shadowy hull swung dark on the water, to start out from nowhere in pin-pricks of diamonds set in opal moonlight.
Lundy Island lies away from Clovelly to the northwest seventeen miles off on the edge of the world. Each morning as I opened my window at the Inn, and looked out for the new day's version of the ocean, it lifted a vague line of invitation and of challenge. Since we had been in Devonshire the atmosphere of adventure that hung over Lundy had haunted me with the wish to go there. It was the "Shutter," the tall pinnacle of rock at its southern end, that Amyas Leigh saw for his last sight of earth, when the lightning blinded him, in the historic storm that strewed ships of the Armada along the shore. I am not a rash person, yet I was so saturated with the story of "Westward Ho!" that I could not go away satisfied unless I had set foot on Lundy. But it had the worst of reputations, and landing was said to be hazardous.
"It isn't that I can't get you there," said Cary when I talked to him, "but I might not be able to get you away."
Then he explained in a wise way that I did not entirely follow, how the passage through the rocks was intricate, and could only be done with a right wind, and how, if the wind changed suddenly, it was impossible to work out until the right wind came again. And that might not be for days, if one was unlucky. It had been known to happen so. Yet I lingered over the thought, and the more I realized that it was unreasonable, the more I wanted to go. The spirit of the Devonshire seas seemed, to my fancy, to live on the guarded, dangerous rocks, and I must pay tribute before I left his kingdom. Cary laughed a little at my one bit of adventurous spirit so out of keeping with my gray hairs, but it was easy to see that he too wanted to go, and that only fear for our safety and comfort made him hesitate. The day before Anne Ford was due we went. It was the day, too, after our sail in the moonlight that I half believed, remembering its lovely unreality, had been a dream. But as we sailed out, there lay Sir Richard Leigh's yacht to prove it, smart and impressive, shining and solid in the sunlight as it had been ethereal the night before. I gazed at her with some curiosity.
"Have you been on board?" I asked our sailor. "Is Sir Richard there?"
Cary glanced at Sally, who had turned a cold shoulder to the yacht and was looking back at Clovelly village, crawling up its deep crack in the cliff. "Yes," he said; "I've been on her twice. Sir Richard is living on her."
"I suppose he's some queer little rat of a man," Sally brought out in her soft voice, to nobody in particular.
I was surprised at the girl's incivility, but Cary answered promptly, "Yes, Miss!" with such cheerful alacrity that I turned to look at him, more astonished. I met eyes gleaming with a hardly suppressed amusement which, if I had stopped to reason about it, was much out of place. But yet, as I looked at him with calm dignity and seriousness, I felt myself sorely tempted to laugh back. I am a bad old woman sometimes.
The Revenge careered along over the water as if mad to get to Lundy, under a strong west wind. In about two hours the pile of fantastic rocks lay stretched in plain view before us. We were a mile or more away--I am a very uncertain judge of distance--but we could see distinctly the clouds of birds, glittering white sea-gulls, blowing hither and thither above the wild little continent where were their nests. There are thousands and thousands of gulls on Lundy. We had sailed out from Clovelly at two in bright afternoon sunshine, but now, at nearly four, the blue was covering with gray, and I saw Cary look earnestly at the quick-moving sky.
"Is it going to rain?" I asked.
He stood at the rudder, feet apart and shoulders full of muscle and full of grace, the handkerchief around his neck a line of flame between blue clothes and olive face. A lock of bronze hair blew boyishly across his forehead.
"Worse than that," he said, and his eyes were keen as he stared at the uneven water in front of us. A basin of smoother water and the yellow tongue of a sand-beach lay beyond it at the foot of a line of high rocks. "The passage is there"--he nodded. "If I can make it before the squall catches us"--he glanced up again and then turned to Sally. "Could you sail her a moment while I see to the sheet? Keep her just so." His hand placed Sally's with a sort of roughness on the rudder. "Are you afraid?" He paused a second to ask it.
"Not a bit," said the girl, smiling up at him cheerfully, and then he was working away, and the little Revenge was flying, ripping the waves, every breath nearer by yards to that tumbling patch of wolf-gray water.
As I said, I know less about a boat than a boy of five. I can never remember what the parts of it are called and it is a wonder to me how they can make it go more than one way. So I cannot tell in any intelligent manner what happened. But, as it seemed, suddenly, while I watched Sally standing steadily with both her little hands holding the rudder, there was a crack as if the earth had split, then, with a confused rushing and tearing, a mass of something fell with a long-drawn crash, and as I stared, paralyzed, I saw the mast strike against the girl as she stood, her hands still firmly on the rudder, and saw her go down without a sound. There were two or three minutes of which I remember nothing but the roaring of water. I think I must have been caught under the sail, for the next I knew I was struggling from beneath its stiff whiteness, and as I looked about, dazed, behold! we had passed the reefs and lay rocking quietly. I saw that first, and then I saw Cary's head as it bent over something he held in his arms--and it was Sally! I tried to call, I tried to reach them, but the breath must have been battered out of me, for I could not, and Cary did not notice me. I think he forgot I was on earth. As I gazed at them speechless, breathless, Sally's eyes opened and smiled up at him, and she turned her face against his shoulder like a child. Cary's dark cheek went down against hers, and through the sudden quiet I heard him whisper.
"Sweetheart! sweetheart!" he said.
Both heads, close against each other, were still for a long moment, and then my gasping, rasping voice came back to me.
"Cary!" I cried, "for mercy's sake, come and take me out of this jib!"
I have the most confused recollection of the rest of that afternoon. Cary hammered and sawed and worked like a beaver with the help of two men who lived on Lundy, fishermen by the curious name of Heaven. Sally and I helped, too, whenever we could, but all in a heavy silence. Sally was wrapped in dignity as in a mantle, and her words were few and practical. Cary, quite as practical, had no thought apparently for anything but his boat. As for me, I was like a naughty old cat. I fussed and complained till I must have been unendurable, for the emotions within me were all at cross-purposes. I was frightened to death when I thought of General Meade; I was horrified at the picture stamped on my memory of his daughter, trusted to my care, smiling up with that unmistakable expression into the eyes of a common sailor. Horrified! My blood froze at the thought. Yet--it was unpardonable of me--yet I felt a thrill as I saw again those two young heads together, and heard the whispered words that were not meant for me to hear.
Somehow or other, after much difficulty, and under much mental strain, we got home. Sally hardly spoke as we toiled up the stony hill in the dark beneath a pouring rain, and I, too, felt my tongue tied in an embarrassed silence. At some time, soon, we must talk, but we both felt strongly that it was well to wait till we could change our clothes.
At last we reached the friendly brightness of the New Inn windows; we trudged past them to the steps, we mounted them, and as the front door opened, the radiant vision burst upon us of Anne Ford, come a day before her time, fresh and charming and voluble--voluble! It seemed the last straw to our tired and over-taxed nerves, yet no one could have been more concerned and sympathetic, and that we were inclined not to be explicit as to details suited her exactly. All the sooner could she get to her own affairs. Sir Richard Leigh's yacht was the burden of her lay, and that it was here and we had seen it added lustre to our adventures. That we had not been on board and did not know him, was satisfactory too, and neither of us had the heart to speak of Cary. We listened wearily, feeling colorless and invertebrate beside this brilliant creature, while Anne planned to send her card to him to-morrow, and conjectured gayeties for all of us, beyond. Sir Richard Leigh and his yacht did not fill a very large arc on our horizon to-night. Sally came into my room to tell me good-night, when we went up-stairs, and she looked so wistful and tired that I gave her two kisses instead of one.
"Thank you," she said, smiling mistily. "We won't talk to-night, will we, Cousin Mary?" So without words, we separated.
Next morning as I opened my tired eyes on a world well started for the day, there came a tap at the door and in floated Anne Ford, a fine bird in fine feathers, wide-awake and brisk.
"Never saw such lazy people!" she exclaimed. "I've just been in to see Sally and she refuses to notice me. I suppose it's exhaustion from shipwreck. But I wasn't shipwrecked, and I've had my breakfast, and it's too glorious a morning to stay indoors, so I'm going to walk down to the water and look at Sir Richard's boat, and send off my card to him by a sailor or something. Then, if he's a good boy, he will turn up to-day, and then--!" The end of Anne's sentence was wordless ecstasy.
But the mention of the sailor had opened the flood-gates for me, and in rushed all my responsibilities. What should I do with this situation into which I had so easily slipped, and let Sally slip? Should I instantly drag her off to France like a proper chaperone? Then how could I explain to Anne--Anne would be heavy dragging with that lodestone of a yacht in the harbor. Or could we stay here as we had planned and not see Cary again? The unformed shapes of different questions and answers came dancing at me like a legion of imps as I lay with my head on the pillow and looked at Anne's confident, handsome face, and admired the freshness and cut of her pale blue linen gown.
"Well, Cousin Mary," she said at last, "you and Sally seem both to be struck dumb from your troubles. I'm going off to leave you till you can be a little nicer to me. I may come back with Sir Richard--who knows! Wish me good luck, please!" and she swept off on a wave of good-humor and good looks.
I lay and thought. Then, with a pleasant leisure that soothed my nerves a little, I dressed, and went down to breakfast in the quaint dining-room hung from floor to ceiling with china brought years ago from the far East by a Clovelly sailor. As I sat over my egg and toast Sally came in, pale, but sweet and crisp in the white that Southern girls wear most. There was a constraint over us for the reckoning that we knew was coming. Each felt guilty toward the other and the result was a formal politeness. So it was a relief when, just at the last bit of toast, Anne burst in, all staccato notes of suppressed excitement.
"Cousin Mary! Sally! Sir Richard Leigh is here! He's there!" nodding over her shoulder. "He walked up with me--he wants to see you both. But"--her voice dropped to an intense whisper--"he has asked to see Miss Walton first--wants to speak to her alone! What does he mean?" Anne was in a tremendous flutter, and it was plain that wild ideas were coursing through her. "You are my chaperone, of course, but what can he want to see you for alone--Cousin Mary?"
I could not imagine, either, yet it seemed quite possible that this beautiful creature had taken a susceptible man by storm, even so suddenly. I laid my napkin on the table and stood up.
"The chaperone is ready to meet the fairy prince," I said, and we went across together to the little drawing-room.
It was a bit dark as Anne opened the door and I saw first only a man's figure against the window opposite, but as he turned quickly and came toward us, I caught my breath, and stared, and gasped and stared again. Then the words came tumbling over each other before Anne could speak.
"Cary!" I cried. "What are you doing here--in those clothes?"
Poor Anne! She thought I had made some horrid mistake, and had disgraced her. But I forgot Anne entirely for the familiar brown eyes that were smiling, pleading into mine, and in a second he had taken my hand and bending over, with a pretty touch of stateliness, had kissed it, and the charm that no one could resist had me fast in its net.
"Miss Walton! You will forgive me? You were always good to me--you won't lay it up against me that I'm Richard Leigh and not a picturesque Devonshire sailor! You won't be angry because I deceived you! The devil tempted me suddenly and I yielded, and I'm glad. Dear devil! I never should have known either of you if I had not."
There were more of the impetuous sentences that I cannot remember, and somewhere among them Anne gathered that she was not the point of them, and left the room like a slighted but still reigning princess. It was too bad that any one should feel slighted, but if it had to be, it was best that it should be Anne.
Then my sailor told me his side of the story; how Sally's tip for the rescue of her hat had showed him what we took him to be; how her question about a boat had suggested playing the part; how he had begun it half for the fun of it and half, even then, for the interest the girl had roused in him--and he put in a pretty speech for the chaperone just there, the clever young man! He told me how his yacht had come sooner than he had expected, and that he had to give up one afternoon with her was so severe a trial that he knew then how much Sally meant to him.
"That moonlight sail was very close sailing indeed," he said, his face full of a feeling that he did not try to hide. "There was nearly a shipwreck, when--when she steered wrong." And I remembered.
Then, with no great confidence in her mood, I went in search of my girl. She is always unexpected, and a dead silence, when I had anxiously told my tale, was what I had not planned for. After a minute,
"Well?" I asked.
And "Well?" answered Sally, with scarlet cheeks, but calmly.
"He is waiting for you down-stairs," I said.
Then she acted in the foolish way that seemed natural. She dropped on her knees and put her face against my shoulder.
"Cousin Mary! I can't! It's a strange man--it isn't our sailor any more. I hate it. I don't like Englishmen."
"He's very much the same as yesterday," I said. "You needn't like him if you don't want to, but you must go and tell him so yourself." I think that was rather clever of me.
So, holding my hand and trembling, she went down. When I saw Richard Leigh's look as he stood waiting, I tried to loosen that clutching hand and leave them, but Sally, always different from any one else, held me tight.
"Cousin Mary, I won't stay unless you stay," she said, firmly.
I looked at the young man and he laughed.
"I don't care. I don't care if all the world hears me," he said, and he took a step forward and caught her hands.
Sally looked up at him. "You're a horrid lord or something," she said.
He laughed softly. "Do you mind? I can't help it. It's hard, but I want you to help me try to forget it. I'd gladly he a sailor again if you'd like me better."
"I did like you--before you deceived me. You pretended you were that."
"But I have grievances too--you said I was a queer little rat of a man."
Sally's laugh was gay but trembling. "I did say that, didn't I?"
"Yes, and you tried to underpay me, too."
"Oh, I didn't! You charged a lot more than the others."
Sir Richard shook his head firmly. "Not nearly as much as the Revenge was worth. I kept gangs of men scrubbing that boat till I nearly went into bankruptcy. And, what's more, you ought to keep your word, you know. You said you were going to marry Richard Leigh--Richard Grenville Cary Leigh is his whole name, you know. Will you keep your word?"
"But I--but you--but I didn't know," stammered Sally, feebly.
He went on eagerly. "You told me how he should wear his name--high and--and all that." He had no time for abstractions. "He can never do it alone--will you come and help him?"
Sally was palpably starching about for weapons to aid her losing fight. "Why do you like me? I'm not beautiful like Anne Ford." He laughed. "I'm not rich, you know, like lots of American girls. We're very poor"--she looked at him earnestly.
"I don't care if you're rich or poor," he said. "I don't know if you're beautiful--I only know you're you. It's all I want."
She shook a little at his vehemence, but she was a long fighter. "You don't know me very much," she went on, her soft voice breaking. "Maybe it's only a fancy--the moonlight and the sailing and all--maybe you only imagine you like me."
"Imagine I like you!"
And then, at the sight of his quick movement and of Sally's face I managed to get behind a curtain and put my fingers in my ears. No woman has a right to more than one woman's love-making. And as I stood there, a few minutes later, I felt myself pulled by two pairs of hands, and Sally and her lover were laughing at me.
"May I have her? I want her very much," he said, and I wondered if ever any one could say no to anything he asked. So, with a word about Sally's far-away mother and father, I told him, as an old woman might, that I had loved him from the first, and then I said a little of what Sally was to me.
"I like her very much," I said, in a shaky voice that tried to be casual. "Are you sure that you like her enough?" For all of his answer, he turned, not even touching her hands, and looked at her.
It was as if I caught again the fragrance of the box hedges in the southern sunshine of a garden where I had walked on a spring morning long ago. Love is as old-fashioned as the ocean, and us little changed in all the centuries. Its always yielding, never retreating arms lie about the lands that are built and carved and covered with men's progress; it keeps the air sweet and fresh above them, and from generation to generation its look and its depths are the same. That it is stronger than death does not say it all. I know that it is stronger than life. Death, with its crystal touch, may make a weak love strong; life, with its every-day wear and tear, must make any but a strong love weak.
I like to think that the look I saw in Richard Leigh's eyes as he turned toward my girl was the same look I shall see, not so very many years from now, when I close mine on this dear old world, and open them, by the shore of the ocean of eternity, on the face of Geoffrey Meade.