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There was about it, however, a vague gray aloofness which chimed with his spirit, a sober austerity as of a stricken whale,--a mother-whale surely, for was not her young one there at her nose,--fled here to heal her wound perchance, and desirous only of solitude.
But, as they drew nearer, the vague blue-gray bloom of the whaleback resolved itself into a mantle of velvet green, which ran down every rib and spine until it broke off sharp at varying heights and let the bare bones through; and all below the break was clean naked rock--black, cream-yellow, gray, red, brown,--with everywhere a tawny fringe of seaweed, since the tide was at its lowest. Below the fringe the rocks were scoured almost white, and whiter still at their feet, like a tangled drapery of ragged lace, was the foam of the long slow seas.
And the solid silhouette of the island broke suddenly into bosky valleys soft with trees and bracken, and cliff-ringed bays, with wide-spread arms of tumbled rock whose outer ends were tiny islets and hungry reefs.
"Brecqhou," said the ancient mariner, as they swung past a long green island with beetling cliffs, and yawning caverns, and comet-like rushes of white foam among the chaos of rocks below.
Then they swirled through a tumbling race, where the waters came up writhing and boiling from strife with hidden rocks below,--past the dark chasm between Brecqhou and the mainland of Sark, through which the race roared with the voice of many waters--and so into a quiet haven where hard-worked boats lay resting from their labours.
There was a beach of tumbled rocks and seaweed at the head of the bay, and there the grim cliffs fell back into a steep green gully which suggested possibility of ascent. But instead of running in there, the sails were furled and the boat nosed slowly towards the overhanging side of the cliff, where a broad iron ladder fell precariously into the water with its top projecting out beyond its base, so that to climb it one had to lie on one's back, so to speak.
The ancient one eyed his pa.s.senger whimsically as the boat stole up to the rungs, so Graeme permitted himself no more than a careless glance at the forbidding ladder and asked, "How about the baggage?"
"We'll see to et," grinned the ancient, and stood, hands on hips and face twisted into a grim smile, while the stranger laid hold of the rusty iron and started upwards, with no slightest idea where the end of the venture might land him.
With the after-a.s.sistance of a neighbour of somewhat more genial construction,--inasmuch as it at all events stood upright, and did not lean over the opposite way of ladders in general,--the top rung landed him on a little platform, whence a rope and some foot-holes in the rock, and finally a zigzag path, invited further ascent still.
The portmanteaux were hauled up by a rope and shouldered by his guardian angels, and they toiled slowly up the steep.
Each step developed new beauties behind and on either side. At the top he would fain have rested to drink it all in, but his guides went stolidly on,--towards drink of a more palpable description, he doubted not; and he remembered that time was of consekens, and tore himself away from that most wonderful view and panted after them.
The zigzag path led round clumps of flaming gorse to a gap in a rough stone wall, and so to a tall granite pillar which crowned the cliff and commemorated a disaster. It was erected, he saw, to the memory of a Mr. Jeremiah Pilcher who had been drowned just below in attempting the pa.s.sage to Guernsey. He had but one regret at the moment--that it was not instead to the memory of Mr. Jeremiah Pixley.
Down verdant lanes--past thatched cottages, past a windmill, past houses of more substantial mien, with a glimpse down a rolling green valley----
"Hotel?" asked the ancient abruptly, from beneath his load.
"No, I want rooms in some cottage. Can you----"
"John Philip," said the ancient one didactically, and trudged on, and finally dumped his share of the burden at the door of what looked like a house but was a shop, in fact the shop.
He went inside and Graeme followed him. A genial-faced elderly man, with gray hair and long gray beard and gray shirt-sleeves, leaned over the counter, talking in an unknown tongue to a blue-guernseyed fisherman, and a quiet-faced old lady in a black velvet hair-net stood listening.
They all looked up and saluted the ancient one with e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.ns of surprise in the unknown tongue, and Graeme stared hard at the gray-bearded man, while they all discussed him to his face.
"Mr. De Carteret," said the ancient at last, with a jerk of the head towards Gray-Beard. "He tell you where to find rooms."
"Thanks! Do you speak any English, Mr. De Carteret?"
The pleasant old face broke into a smile. "I am En-glish," he said, with a quaint soft intonation, and as one who speaks a foreign tongue, and beamed genially on his young compatriot.
"That's all right then. Do you know you're very like Count Tolstoi?"
"I haf been told so, but I do not know him. What is it you would like, if you please to tell me?"
"I want a sitting-room and a bedroom for a month or so, perhaps more,--not at an hotel. I want to be quiet and all to myself."
"Ah--you don' want an hotel. You want to be quiet," and he nodded understandingly. "But the hotels is quiet joost now--"
"I'd sooner have rooms in a cottage if I can get them."
Count Tolstoi turned to the fisherman to whom he had been speaking, and discussed the matter at length with him in the patois.
Then, to Graeme, "If you please to go with him. His wife has roomss to let. You will be quite comfortable there."
Graeme thanked him, and as soon as he had settled satisfactorily with his boatmen, his new keeper picked up both his bags, and led him along a stony way past the post-office, to a creeper-covered cottage, which turned a cold shoulder to the road and looked coyly into a little courtyard paved with cobble-stones and secluded from the outer world by a granite wall three feet high.
And as they went, the young man asked his silent guide somewhat doubtfully, "And do you speak English?"
"Oh yes. We all speak English," he said, with a quiet smile, "except a few of the older folks, maybe, and they mostly understand it though they're slow to talk."
"And your name?"
"John Carre,"--which he p.r.o.nounced Caury.
"Now that's very odd," laughed Graeme, and stood to enjoy it. "My name is Corrie too, and John Corrie at that."
"So!" said the other quietly, with a glance from under his brows which might mean surprise or only gentle doubt as to the stranger's veracity. And, so odd was the coincidence, that the newcomer saw no necessity to spoil it by telling him that his forebears had left him also the family name of Graeme.
A large brown dog, smooth of hair and of a fine and thoughtful countenance, got up from the doorstep and gave them courteous greeting, and a small, white, rough-coated terrier hurried out of the kitchen and twisted himself into kinks of delight at sound of their voices. And that decided it before ever Graeme looked at the rooms.
For if there was one thing he liked when he wanted to be alone, it was the friendly companionship of a couple of cheerful dogs.
And that is how he came,--without any special intent that way, but through, as one might say, a purely accidental combination of circ.u.mstances--to be living in that cottage in the Rue Lucas in the little isle of Sark, and under a name that was indeed his own but not the whole of his own. And herein the future was looking after itself and preparing the way for that which was to be.
The cottage was apparently empty. His guide and namesake looked into the kitchen, and called up a stair which led out of it, but got no answer.
"She will be up at the house," he said, and turned and went off up the garden behind, while the dogs raced on in front to show the way.
Through a cleft in the high green bank topped by a thick hedge of hawthorn, they came out into a garden of less utilitarian aspect. Here were shrubs and flowers, palms and conifers and pale eucalyptus trees, clumps of purple iris and clove pinks, roses just coming to the bud, and beyond, a very charming bungalow, built solidly of gray granite and red tiles, with a wide verandah all round. A pleasant-faced woman in a large black sunbonnet came out of the open front door as they went up the path.
"My wife," murmured Carre, and proceeded quietly to explain matters in an undertone of patois.
"I hope you speak English also, Mrs. Carre," said Graeme.
"Oh yess," with a quick smile. "We are all English here."
"Surely you are Welsh," he said, for he had met just that same cheerful type of face in Wales.
"Noh, I am Sark," she smiled again. "I can gif you a sitting-room and a bet-room"--and they proceeded to business, and then the dogs escorted them back to the cottage, to see the stranger fairly inducted to his new abode, and to let him understand that they rejoiced at his coming and would visit him often.
He thought he would be very comfortable there, but why the sitting-room was not the bedroom he never could understand. For it was only a quarter the size of the other, and its single window looked into a field, and a rough granite wall clothed with tiny rock-weeds hid all view of the road and its infrequent traffic. While the bedroom was a room of size, and its two windows gave on to the covered well and the cobbled forecourt, and offered pa.s.sers-by, if so inclined, oblique views of its occupant in the act of dressing if he forgot to pull down the blind.
The windows of both rooms were set low in the ma.s.sive granite walls, and being always wide open, they offered, and indeed invited, easy access to--say, a grave-faced gentlemanly brown dog and a spasmodic rough-coated terrier without a tail, whenever the spirit moved them to incursion, which it invariably did at meal-times and frequently in between.