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"Gimme six pennies an' I will say it will be fine."
"I'm beginning to think you're of a grasping disposition, Johnnie. If you don't take care you'll die rich."
"Go'zamin, I wu'n't mind."
Then Graeme came out again, with the hamper he had had packed in the kitchen under his own supervision, and their cloaks, which, thanks to Johnnie, he had picked off the nails in the pa.s.sage, and they set off for Havre Gosselin and Brecqhou.
"You'll not forget to come back for us about eight," Graeme shouted to the boatmen, as they pushed off from the fretted black rock on which their pa.s.sengers had just made precarious landing.
"Nossir!" and they pulled away to their fishing.
"If it should be a fine sunset," he explained to the ladies, "the view of the Sark cliffs from Beleme there, opposite the Gouliots, is one of the finest sights in the island."
The place they had landed was a rough ledge on the south side just under the Pente-a-Fouaille, some distance past the Pirates' Cave, and the ascent, though steep, was not so difficult as it looked. Graeme, however, in his capacity of chaperon, insisted on convoying them separately to the top--whereby he got holding Margaret's hand for the s.p.a.ce of sixty pulse-beats--and then went down again for the cloaks and provisions.
Brecqhou, at the moment, was uninhabited. Its late occupant had thrown up his post suddenly, and gone to live on Sark with his wife, and a new caretaker had not yet been appointed. So they went straight to the house, deposited their belongings in the sitting-room, and then started out for a long ramble round the island.
First they struck west to Le Neste, and scrambled among the rough rocks of the Point, stepping cautiously over the gulls' nests which lay thick all about, some with eggs and some with young.
The wonders of the sea-gardens in the rock-pools of Moie Batarde, and the entrancing views of Herm and Jethou and Guernsey, gleaming across the sapphire sea, with a magnificent range of snowy cloud-mountain breasting slowly up the deep blue of the sky behind, and looking solid enough to sit on, as Miss Penny said, absorbed them till midday.
Then they returned to the house, lit a fire of dried gorse, filled their kettle at the well and set it to boil, and carried out a table and chairs, for eating indoors was out of the question with such beneficence of sunshine inviting them to the open.
All the afternoon was occupied with the wonders of the Creux-a-Vaches, with its bold scarps and rounded slopes draped with ferns and enamelled with flowers, and the crannies and indentations of the northern side of the island. They sat for a time on Beleme cliff entranced with the wonderful view of the bold western headlands of Sark, unrolled before them like a gigantic panorama from Bec-du-Nez to the Moie de Bretagne,--a sight the like of which one might travel many thousand miles and still not equal. And they promised themselves a still finer view when the setting sun washed every cliff and crag and cranny with living gold.
But as they turned to tramp through the ragwort and bracken towards the house, intent on cups of tea, the sight of the western sky gave them sudden start. The solid range of snow-white cloud-mountains had climbed the heavens half-way to the zenith, and was stretching thin white streamers still further afield. And its base in the west had grown dark and threatening, with pallid wisps of cloud scudding up it like flying scouts bearing ill tidings.
"Wind, I'm afraid," said Graeme, "and maybe thunder--"
And as he spoke a zigzag flash ripped open the dark screen, and a crackling peal came rattling over the lead-coloured sea and bellowed past them in long-drawn reverberations.
"Johnnie was right after all, the little monkey."
"I'm sorry now I didn't give him that sixpence," said Miss Penny.
"I don't suppose it would have made much difference--except to Johnnie. However, I hope it will soon blow over. Good thing we've got a shelter, and we can enjoy our tea while the elements settle matters among themselves outside."
The storm broke over them before the kettle boiled. The rain thrashed the house fiercely under the impulse of a wild south-west wind, which grew wilder every minute, and the thunder bellowed about them as though the very heavens were cracking.
"This is a trifle rough on inoffensive pilgrims," said Graeme. "I'm really sorry to have got you into it."
"You didn't do it on purpose, did you, Mr. Graeme?" asked Miss Penny, with pointed emphasis.
"I did not. I devoutly wish you were both safe home in the Rue Lucas."
"All in good time. Meanwhile, we might be worse off, and this tea is going to be excellent. Margaret, my child, do you know that tea under these conditions is infinitely preferable to tea in Melgrave Square, under any conditions whatsoever?"
"It is certainly a change," said Margaret.
"And a very decided improvement. It's what some of my young friends would call 'just awfully jolly decent,'" said Miss Penny.
"We're not out of the wood--that is to say, the island--yet,"
"Or we shouldn't be here enjoying ourselves like this. Brecqhou is sheer delight."
"On a fine day," said Margaret quietly.
"Or in a thunderstorm," a.s.serted Miss Penny militantly. But Margaret would not fight lest it should seem like casting reflections on their present estate.
The thunder rolled over the wide waters with a majesty of utterance novel to their unaccustomed city ears, the rain drew a storm-gray veil over everything past the well, the wind waxed into hysterical fury, tore at the roof and gables, and went shrieking on over Sark. And above the rush of wind and rain, in the short pauses between the thunder-peals, the hoa.r.s.e roar of the waves along the black bastions of Brecqhou grew louder and louder in their ears.
Graeme's face grew somewhat anxious, as he stood at the window and peered westward as far as he could see, and found nothing but fury and blackness there. He had a dim recollection of hearing of outer islands such as this being cut off from the mainland for days at a time. He could imagine what the sea must be like among the tumbled rocks below.
And he had seen the Race of the Gouliot in storm time once before, and doubted much if any boat would face the whirl and rush of its piled-up waters.
What on earth were they to do if the men could not get across for them?
Suppose they had to pa.s.s the night there?
Good Heavens! Suppose they could not get across for days? What were they to live on?--to come at once to the lowest but most pressing necessity of the situation?
They had weather-proof shelter. Firing they could procure from the interior woodwork of the house and outbuildings. And they had a small amount of tea and sugar, and half a tin of condensed milk, and rather more than half of the day's provisions, since they had contemplated high tea before embarking again. He determined that, if the storm showed no signs of abating, the high tea must be a low one, since its const.i.tuents might possibly have to serve for to-morrow's breakfast as well.
Both girls, their own perceptions strung tight by the electric state of matters outside, noticed the touch of anxiety in his face as he turned from the window, but both declined to show it.
"How's her head, Captain?" asked Miss Penny jovially.
"Dead on to a lee sh.o.r.e," he answered in her own humour. "But the anchorage is good and we're not likely to drift."
"Come! That's something to be thankful for, under the circ.u.mstances.
Brecqhou banging broadside on to that big black Gouliot rock would be a most unpleasant experience. How about the sunset cliffs of Sark?"
"They're very much under a cloud. I'm afraid we must pa.s.s them for this time and choose a better. The cliffs indeed are there, but the sun is much a-wanting."
"Hamlet without the ghost of a father or even a sun."
"Truly!" And looking at Margaret, he said earnestly, "I can't tell you how sorry I am it has turned out this way."
"But it is no fault of yours, Mr. Graeme. No one could possibly have foreseen such a breakdown in the weather, with such a glorious morning as we had."
"After all, I'm not at all sure it isn't all Mr. Graeme's fault," said Miss Penny musingly.
"As how?" he asked.
"Didn't you stop me giving Johnnie Vautrin six demanded pennies to keep it fine all day?"