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"Everything's fair in love and war,--proverbial, my boy. But I'm pretty sure you've a clear field, and I congratulate you both with all my heart. Come to think of it, she's been as dull as a ditch since you went away"
"Fact! I was trying the other night to prove to her that she'd got influenza coming on, or hay-fever, or something of the kind. She's as different as chalk from cheese since eleven o'clock to-day. It's you, I'll bet you a sovereign."
Charles did not respond to the offer. He sat smoking quietly and let his thoughts run along brighter paths than they had done for days.
At breakfast next morning Graeme soberly suggested to Lady Elspeth that she should go conger-eeling with him that day. And the shrewd brown eyes looked into his, and twinkled in response to the deep blue and the brown ones opposite, and she said, "I mind I was just a wee bit feather-headed myself for a while after I was married. I caught congers before you were short-coated, my laddie, but I'm not going catching them now."
"They are a bit rampageous when they're grown up," he admitted. "We got one the other day about as thick round as one's leg, and it barked like a dog and tried to bite."
"And does he make you go congering, my dear?" she asked Margaret.
"Make?" scoffed Graeme. "Make, forsooth? How little you know! I'd like to see the man who could make that young person do anything but just what she wishes. Why, she twists us all round her little finger and----"
"Ay, ay! Well, discipline is good for the young, and you're just nothing but a laddie in some things."
"I'm going to keep so all my life. So's Meg! Well, suppose we say ormering then, if congering's too lively. Hennie Penny's an awful dab at ormering. If you'd seen her the other night when she came home! A tangle of vraic was an old lady's best cap in comparison--"
"And how many did I get, and how many did you get?" retorted Miss Penny.
"I got six and you got seven--"
"Seventeen, and you stole four of your six from Meg."
"Oh well, I found the mushrooms, coming home, and they were worth a pailful of ormers."
"You didn't beat them long enough. Ormers take a lot of beating," she explained to Lady Elspeth.
"Thumping, she means. My mushrooms beat them hollow,--tender and delicate and fragrant"--and he sniffed appreciatively as though he could scent them still.--"Your ormers were like shoe-soles."
"And as to the mushrooms," continued Hennie Penny, "you'd never have found them if I hadn't tumbled into them, and then you thought they were toadstools."
"Oh well!--Who can't take a hook out of a whiting's mouth? Who was it screamed when the lobster looked at her?"
"It nearly took a piece out of me."
"Who nearly upset the boat when a baby devilfish came up in the pot?
And it wasn't above that size!"
"I draw the line at devil-fish. They're no' canny."
"Do they generally go on like this?" asked Lady Elspeth of Margaret.
"All the time," said Margaret, with a matronly air. "They're just a couple of children. I keep them out of mischief as well as I can, but it's hard work at times."
"She's just every bit as bad, you know, when we're alone," said Miss Penny. "But she's got her company manners on just now. You should see her when she's bathing."
"Ah--yes! You should see her when she's bathing," said Graeme, with a smack of the lips. "All the little waves and crabs and lobsters keep bobbing up to have another look at her. In Venus's Bath the other day--"
"Now, children, stop your fooling. Where shall we go to-day?" laughed Margaret, and Lady Elspeth could hardly take her eyes off her, so winsomely, so radiantly happy was she.
"We old folks will stay at home and talk to Mrs. Carre," said Lady Elspeth. "You young ones can go off and do what you like."
"Oh no, you don't," said Graeme. "You didn't come here to loaf in a verandah. When you come to Sark you've got to enjoy yourselves, whether you want to or not. Suppose we take lunch along to the Eperquerie, and the elders can bask and snooze, and we'll bathe three times off that black ledge under Les Fontaines. And if the Seigneur's out fishing perhaps he'll take some of us with him, those who don't scream when the poor fish gets a hook in its throat. And you'll see Margaret out on the loose. She always goes it when she's swimming."
"I hope you won't venture too far out, Charles," said Mrs. Pixley, with visions of his limp body being carried home.
"Miss Penny and I are sensible people when we're bathing," said Charles. "We don't lose our heads--"
"Nor any of the rest of you,--nor touch of the stones," laughed Graeme.
"That's so," said Charles. "We like to know what's below us and that it's not too far away."
"It's very wise," said Mrs. Pixley plaintively. "One hears of such dreadful accidents. I'm very glad you're so sensible, my dear," to Miss Penny.
"Oh, I'm dreadfully sensible at times, especially when I'm bathing.
But that's because I can only swim with one foot at the bottom."
"Any beach about there?" enquired Charles forethoughtfully.
"Nice little bit just round the corner, with a cave and all,--capital place for children. Paddle by the hour without going in above your ankles."
And so they wandered slowly up the scented lanes past the Seigneurie, laden with the usual paraphernalia of a bathing-lunch, and came out on the Eperquerie.
They established the old ladies in a gorsy nook, built a fireplace of loose stones, and collected fuel, and laid the fire ready for the match, which Lady Elspeth was to apply whenever they waved to her.
"If She isn't fast asleep," said Graeme.
Then they pointed out all the things that lay about, so that they might take an intelligent interest in their surroundings,--Guernsey, and Herm, and Jethou, and Alderney, and the Casquets, and the coast of France, and the Seigneur in his boat, and then they trooped off like a party of school-children.
And presently the old ladies saw them scrambling down the black, scarped sides of the headland opposite, and then they disappeared behind rocks and into crannies. Then a pink meteor flashed from the black ledge, followed in an instant by a dark-blue one, and both went breasting out to sea. And in front of the cave two less venturesome figures beguiled the onlookers and themselves into the belief that they were swimming, though they never went out of their depth and sounded anxiously for it at every second stroke.
And up above, the larks trilled joyously, and the air was soft and sweet as the air of heaven; and down below, the water was bluer than the sky and clear as crystal, so that they could see the great white rocks which lay away down in the depths, and they looked like sea-monsters crawling after their prey. And the shouts of the swimmers came mellowly up to them, and they could see their little limbs jerking like the limbs of frogs.
"It is good to be here," said Lady Elspeth enjoyably.
"It is very very good to be here. I am very glad we came," said Mrs.
Pixley, with a sigh that was not all sadness.
Many such days of sheer delight they had, and kept the dark cloud resolutely below their horizon. They accommodated their activities to the limited powers of the elders, and took them wherever it was reasonably possible for them to go. They chartered a boat for the day, and took them and all the luncheon-things round from Creux Harbour to Grande Greve, subjecting Charles to long-unaccustomed labours at the oar. In the same way they introduced them to Dixcart Bay, and Derrible, and Greve de la Ville; and, choosing a fit day, they circ.u.mnavigated the island again in three boat-loads, landing for lunch on an even keel on Breniere, and penetrating into every accessible cave they came to,--Mrs. Pixley enjoying the wonders in fear and trembling, and breathing freely only when they were safely out in the open once more. And Graeme and Margaret watched the approximating of Hennie Penny and Charles with infinite delight. It needed only a full understanding between these two to complete their own great happiness.