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- BEATRICE - 3/60 -
wall. No, to be frank, I have not. I have only taken to practising in earnest during the last two years. Before I was a barrister in name, and that is all."
"Then why did you suddenly begin to work?"
"Because I lost my prospects, Miss Granger--from necessity, in short."
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" she said, with a blush, which of course he could not see. "I did not mean to be rude. But it is very lucky for you, is it not?"
"Indeed! Some people don't think so. Why is it lucky?"
"Because you will now rise and become a great man, and that is more than being a rich man."
"And why do you think that I shall become a great man?" he asked, stopping paddling in his astonishment and looking at the dim form before him.
"Oh! because it is written on your face," she answered simply.
Her words rang true; there was no flattery or artifice in them. Geoffrey felt that the girl was saying just what she thought.
"So you study physiognomy as well," he said. "Well, Miss Granger, it is rather odd, considering all things, but I will say to you what I have never said to any one before. I believe that you are right. I shall rise. If I live I feel that I have it in me."
At this point it possibly occurred to Beatrice that, considering the exceeding brevity of their acquaintance, they were drifting into somewhat confidential conversation. At any rate, she quickly changed the topic.
"I am afraid you are growing tired," she said; "but we must be getting on. It will soon be quite dark and we have still a long way to go. Look there," and she pointed seaward.
He looked. The whole bank of mist was breaking up and bearing down on them in enormous billows of vapour. Presently, these were rolling over them, so darkening the heavy air that, though the pair were within four feet of each other, they could scarcely see one another's faces. As yet they felt no wind. The dense weight of mist choked the keen, impelling air.
"I think the weather is breaking; we are going to have a storm," said Beatrice, a little anxiously.
Scarcely were the words out of her mouth when the mist passed away from them, and from all the seaward expanse of ocean. Not a wrack of it was left, and in its place the strong sea-breath beat upon their faces. Far in the west the angry disc of the sun was sinking into the foam. A great red ray shot from its bent edge and lay upon the awakened waters, like a path of fire. The ominous light fell full upon the little boat and full upon Beatrice's lips. Then it passed on and lost itself in the deep mists which still swathed the coast.
"Oh, how beautiful it is!" she cried, raising herself and pointing to the glory of the dying sun.
"It is beautiful indeed!" he answered, but he looked, not at the sunset, but at the woman's face before him, glowing like a saint's in its golden aureole. For this also was most beautiful--so beautiful that it stirred him strangely.
"It is like----" she began, and broke off suddenly.
"What is it like?" he asked.
"It is like finding truth at last," she answered, speaking as much to herself as to him. "Why, one might make an allegory out of it. We wander in mist and darkness shaping a vague course for home. And then suddenly the mists are blown away, glory fills the air, and there is no more doubt, only before us is a splendour making all things clear and lighting us over a deathless sea. It sounds rather too grand," she added, with a charming little laugh; "but there is something in it somewhere, if only I could express myself. Oh, look!"
As she spoke a heavy storm-cloud rolled over the vanishing rim of the sun. For a moment the light struggled with the eclipsing cloud, turning its dull edge to the hue of copper, but the cloud was too strong and the light vanished, leaving the sea in darkness.
"Well," he said, "your allegory would have a dismal end if you worked it out. It is getting as dark as pitch, and there's a good deal in /that/, if only /I/ could express myself."
Beatrice dropped poetry, and came down to facts in a way that was very commendable.
"There is a squall coming up, Mr. Bingham," she said; "you must paddle as hard as you can. I do not think we are more than two miles from Bryngelly, and if we are lucky we may get there before the weather breaks."
"Yes, /if/ we are lucky," he said grimly, as he bent himself to the work. "But the question is where to paddle to--it's so dark. Had not we better run for the shore?"
"We are in the middle of the bay now," she answered, "and almost as far from the nearest land as we are from Bryngelly, besides it is all rocks. No, you must go straight on. You will see the Poise light beyond Coed presently. You know Coed is four miles on the other side of Bryngelly, so when you see it head to the left."
He obeyed her, and they neither of them spoke any more for some time. Indeed the rising wind made conversation difficult, and so far as Geoffrey was concerned he had little breath left to spare for words. He was a strong man, but the unaccustomed labour was beginning to tell on him, and his hands were blistering. For ten minutes or so he paddled on through a darkness which was now almost total, wondering where on earth he was wending, for it was quite impossible to see. For all he knew to the contrary, he might be circling round and round. He had only one thing to direct him, the sweep of the continually rising wind and the wash of the gathering waves. So long as these struck the canoe, which now began to roll ominously, on the starboard side, he must, he thought, be keeping a right course. But in the turmoil of the rising gale and the confusion of the night, this was no very satisfactory guide. At length, however, a broad and brilliant flash sprung out across the sea, almost straight ahead of him. It was the Poise light.
He altered his course a little and paddled steadily on. And now the squall was breaking. Fortunately, it was not a very heavy one, or their frail craft must have sunk and they with it. But it was quite serious enough to put them in great danger. The canoe rose to the waves like a feather, but she was broadside on, and rise as she would they began to ship a little water. And they had not seen the worst of it. The weather was still thickening.
Still he held on, though his heart sank within him, while Beatrice said nothing. Presently a big wave came; he could just see its white crest gleaming through the gloom, then it was on them. The canoe rose to it gallantly; it seemed to curl right over her, making the craft roll till Geoffrey thought that the end had come. But she rode it out, not, however, without shipping more than a bucket of water. Without saying a word, Beatrice took the cloth cap from her head and, leaning forward, began to bale as best she could, and that was not very well.
"This will not do," he called. "I must keep her head to the sea or we shall be swamped."
"Yes," she answered, "keep her head up. We are in great danger."
He glanced to his right; another white sea was heaving down on him; he could just see its glittering crest. With all his force he dug the paddle into the water; the canoe answered to it; she came round just in time to ride out the wave with safety, but the paddle /snapped/. It was already sprung, and the weight he put upon it was more than it could bear. Right in two it broke, some nine inches above that blade which at the moment was buried in the water. He felt it go, and despair took hold of him.
"Great heavens!" he cried, "the paddle is broken."
"You must use the other blade," she said; "paddle first one side and then on the other, and keep her head on."
"Till we sink," he answered.
"No, till we are saved--never talk of sinking."
The girl's courage shamed him, and he obeyed her instructions as best he could. By dint of continually shifting what remained of the paddle from one side of the canoe to the other, he did manage to keep her head on to the waves that were now rolling in apace. But in their hearts they both wondered how long this would last.
"Have you got any cartridges?" she asked presently.
"Yes, in my coat pocket," he answered.
"Give me two, if you can manage it," she said.
In an interval between the coming of two seas he contrived to slip his hand into a pocket and transfer the cartridges. Apparently she knew something of the working of a gun, for presently there was a flash and a report, quickly followed by another.
"Give me some more cartridges," she cried. He did so, but nothing followed.
"It is no use," she said at length, "the cartridges are wet. I cannot get the empty cases out. But perhaps they may have seen or heard them. Old Edward is sure to be watching for me. You had better throw the rest into the sea if you can manage it," she added by way of an afterthought; "we may have to swim presently."
To Geoffrey this seemed very probable, and whenever he got a chance he acted on the hint till at length he was rid of all his cartridges. Just then it began to rain in torrents. Though it was not warm the perspiration was streaming from him at every pore, and the rain beating on his face refreshed him somewhat; also with the rain the wind dropped a little.
But he was becoming tired out and he knew it. Soon he would no longer
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