For the preliminary stages in the making of love there is scarcely anything that is so delightful and convenient as a small boat just large enough for two.
Emily sat aft in the seat of honor, holding the yoke-lines and steering the skiff. In front of, and facing, her was Revere, with the oars, which, impelled by his powerful arms, afforded the motive power that speeded the boat on her way. He had been well trained, of course, and he rowed with the skill of a practised oarsman, a long, steady man-o'-war stroke, quick on the recover, delicate in the feather, deep and strong in the pull, which sent the boat flying over the water.
It was a sunny, delightful morning. The breeze blew soft over the harbor, and the water, rippling, bubbling, and lipping around the prow, made music suited indeed to words of love and beating hearts. Yet what they said was commonplace enough, after all. They did not say anything, in fact, for a few moments after they had pushed off from the little wharf. Revere was quite content to drink in the exquisite beauty of the young girl reclining in the stern-sheets before him.
He marked the freshness and sweetness of her face, the graceful curves of her vigorous, yet lissome, young body, and her dainty feet – the admiral was too thorough an aristocrat not to see his granddaughter well booted – peeping out from beneath the hem of her cool, flowing muslin skirt before him. From under her quaint, old-fashioned bonnet – a species of poke in vogue a year or two before – her blue eyes fearlessly and happily returned the ardent and admiring glances of his own. Lest the silence should prove embarrassing to her, however, and noticing, at last, that she dropped her eyes before him, he said, —
"I'd give a penny for your thoughts, Miss Emily, if I thought the coin would prove the open sesame to your mind."
"I was only thinking how beautifully you row, and wondering – "
"How soon you had recovered from your accident, and how much better and stronger you seem than when I had to help you up the hill yesterday morning."
He laughed at this clever thrust, rather shamefacedly, it must be admitted, and flushed at the same time, while he answered her.
"I am afraid you will think me a great hypocrite," he admitted, contritely, realizing that he could lose nothing by frankness; "certainly, I am feeling very delightful – I mean, well and comfortable, now."
"Yet you are rowing in the hot sun! Now, I do not see how you can be comfortable at all, and I do not believe, since you feel so well now, that you needed any assistance whatever in getting up the hill. You deceived me. Neither my grandfather nor Captain Barry ever do that," she continued, gravely, at the same time looking reprovingly at him. She leaned back in the boat, as if the matter was decided. "I wanted to speak to you about it before, but there was always some one around."
"Miss Emily, let me explain," he exclaimed, filled with shame, surprised, yet pleased, to think she should take so trifling a matter so seriously. "You see," he added, half in jest and half in earnest, "after saving my life so gallantly the other night, I had rather a feeling of – er – dependence upon you, you know, the next morning, and it seemed natural and appropriate to ask you to help me up the hill. I could have gone up myself I – I suppose – "
"I am glad you are honest now, at any rate. I must say you seemed to acquire the feeling very lightly."
"Of honesty? Thank you!"
"I mean of dependence."
"I didn't. I never had it before. You see, it's dangerous to save a life. The one who is saved always feels that he belongs to the one who saves. Now, I – "
"How do you know so much about it?" she broke in, with instinctive promptness. She would like to have him complete his sentence, and yet, like all women, she tried to put it off; hence her interruption. "Did you ever save any one's life?"
"Yes, once," he replied, rather reluctantly, inwardly perturbed at the turn the conversation was taking.
"Oh, how was it?" she questioned, interestedly, dropping her tone of banter instantly. "Was it a fellow-officer?"
"A sailor, then?" anxiously.
"No; a young lady," desperately.
"Oh, a young lady!" she exclaimed in dismay, with a note of disappointment in her voice that she endeavored in vain to suppress, and which he was very glad indeed to recognize.
"Yes; one summer at Cape May. She got beyond her depth in the surf, and I swam out and brought her ashore without any great difficulty. Not a very romantic story, is it? Not half as much as – I mean, not at all – "
"Oh, I think it very romantic indeed," answered this child of nature, whose notions of romance and love and other things were drawn from the antique novels of her grandfather's library; "if I had saved any one's life I should – "
She stopped and blushed furiously as the natural answer to her impetuous remark sprang into her mind.
"I will finish for you," interrupted Revere, eagerly, his resolution of reticence recorded in his determination of the previous night growing decidedly faint in the face of the fascination she exercised over him. "I – "
He would have gone on, but something in her glance stopped him. With the quickness of love and intense sympathy he divined that the hour was not yet. There was an unspoken appeal in her eyes, in her burning cheek, her trembling hand, her heaving breast, which he could not disregard. He had been on the brink of an avowal. Thank heaven, he had stopped in time! For her sake and for his own he would be on his guard. He would not transgress again. He vowed it in his soul.
"I am deeply grateful," he went on, after a pause which somehow, in spite of him, expressed all he wished her to understand, "both to you and the sailor, and I hope to evidence my devotion and gratitude in some tangible way. By the way, what a strange character he seems! He appears to have taken a dislike to me. He said this morning he wished he had not saved me."
"How dared he speak so?" cried the girl, sitting up in the boat, her face flushed this time with indignation. "Not save your life? Why – but there," she went on, swiftly recovering herself, "he is a strange creature, as you say, and moody at times. He lives alone on the ship, and sees no one but grandfather and me. He is devoted to me. He would do anything for me."
"Those queer things in your room, – the harpoon, the shark's tooth, the model of the ship?"
"He put them there. They are odd things for a girl's room, are they not? but when you realize that they express the affection of an honest, faithful heart, they become quite fitting for any woman. Yes, I am fond of him, and I love those things for his sake. He is devoted to the admiral and to the ship, too."
Mr. Richard Revere was too profoundly conscious of the vast difference between Emily Sanford and any common sailor to feel the slightest jealousy at her ungrudging praise; indeed, he liked it.
"So I discovered," he assented, appreciatively. "Miss Emily, you go down to that ship sometimes; often, I suppose. Please do not go any more."
"Why not?" curiously.
"It is very insecure. I do not see how it can last much longer. Some day it will collapse into shapeless ruin; soon, I think. And if you were there – " He hesitated and looked at her. "Please do not go," he continued.
"But it will break Captain Barry's heart to have me refuse. I've always gone."
She spoke doubtfully, as if seeking a further reason.
"Better break his heart than throw away your life. Believe me, I have made a thorough inspection of the ship. It's unsafe. It's almost gone. I marvel that it stands now."
"Poor old ship!"
"Yes, 'tis sad indeed. But you won't go, will you?"
"Not – not – if you do not wish me, – I mean, not if it is unsafe," she answered, softly, looking down.
He had shot the boat in toward the shore of a little island in the harbor, and there, under the deep shadow of some overhanging trees, he stopped rowing, as he said, to rest a moment, just keeping the boat under control with the oars.
"Poor old ship!" continued the girl, mournfully, as she dabbled her sunburnt but shapely hand in the water; "when it goes, grandfather will go, Captain Barry will go, and I will be left – alone."
"No, no!" he exclaimed, softly, all his resolution gone in the face of the powerful yet innocent appeal. "Not alone, for I – "
"That girl?" she interrupted, meaningly.
"What girl?" impatiently.
"The one you saved. Is she beautiful?"
"Some people consider her so, I believe."
"What is she like?" breathlessly.
"She is tall and rather large. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She has been beautifully educated, and she is exquisitely bred."
"She sings, too, I suppose?"
"Yes; her voice has been very highly cultivated."
"And you have sung to her, with her?" sadly.
"That song we sang together last night?"
"Oh, no; she only sings classical music. I think she would disdain a simple ballad."
"Oh!" said the girl, with much disappointment, and humiliation as well; "I suppose they are simple, after all."
"I prefer them myself," answered Revere, tenderly.
The conversation was getting dangerous. She changed the subject at once.
"Have you made many cruises?"
"Only one. As soon as I was graduated I was ordered to the Hartford; but I was abroad when a lad, before I entered the Naval Academy."
"I suppose you have seen a great many beautiful and high-bred ladies in Boston and elsewhere?"
"Yes, a great many, indeed."
"Are they all very beautiful and charming?"
"Some of them are," he answered.
"I suppose," she said at last, desperately, "there are none of them like me?"
"No!" he replied, decisively.
"Is it so?" sadly. "Am I so different?"
"As different as day from night," joyously.
"Oh," softly, and with deep disappointment; "I have never been anywhere but just here. I have never seen any great ladies at all. I have never met any gentlemen except grandfather and – you. I do not know anything about the world beyond the horizon; but I have tried to read and learn, and I have dreamed about it, too. But I suppose one has to go and see before one can know of the people you speak of. You must think me so – "
"Emily," he said, his voice quivering with his feelings, "I have known you but two days, but I think you are the loveliest, the sweetest – "
She waved her hand in deprecation; but he would not be stopped this time. Truly he had forgotten all but his love for her.
"You do not know what the others know; I love you for that," he went on, impetuously. "You do not do what others do; I love you for that. You are not what the others are; I love you for that. There, it is out now. I did not mean to tell you just yet. I do not suppose that you can love me; at least, not yet. There is nothing in me that would win a woman's heart in two days, I know. But there is everything in you to win a man's heart in one glance; and I swear mine went out to you when I saw you holding the boat on the edge of the whirlpool, with your golden hair blown back in the wind and your blue eyes shining with encouragement and invitation."
It was heavenly to hear him, she thought. This was better than her dreams. She sat silent and still, her eyes persistently averted, quaffing deep draughts from a cup eternal, besides which even the nepenthe of the gods is evanescent.
"I won't ask you to answer me now; but will you not give me a trial?" he continued, hurriedly, fearing lest her silence might presage a refusal. "Let me have a chance to win your love, if I can. Let me see if I cannot make you love me. Won't you let me try? Emily, you are not even looking at me."
He was quite beside himself with anxiety now. She had been still so long. What could he do or say further? A small boat has its disadvantages for the ending of a love affair. In all his impatience he had to sit just where he was. He could come no nearer to her.
"If I could, Emily dear," he said, humbly beseeching her, "I would get down on my knees before you; but I can't in this little boat. Won't you please look at me? But perhaps you can more easily give me some hope if you don't look at me. Don't look. I'm not a very attractive fellow, I know."
This was an adroit move on his part, and his self-depreciation won a reply instantly.
"I – I like you very much," she said at last and very frankly. "I think I liked you when Captain Barry carried you up the hill, – even before, when you stood on the wreck. I wanted to help him. I don't know whether I – love you, but – what you have said has not been displeasing to me – on the contrary – "
"And you will try, you will wait? May I – ?"
He waited breathless for her answer.
"Yes," she said at last, "you may."
"Oh, Emily!" he cried; "you have made me the happiest fellow on earth; and if I succeed in winning your love – "
"Do not despair," she whispered, softly, flashing a glance at him, her lips smiling, her eyes ashine with tears. "I think it has come," laying her hand on her heart with a sweet, unconscious movement. "I have dreamed ever since I was a woman that the prince would come some day from over the sea."
She stopped again. He stared at her in adoring silence. Her lips trembled, while her heart almost ceased to beat with the joy of it all. And her eyes were looking far away – over the sea, perhaps.
"We must not stay here longer," she said at last; "they will wonder what has become of us."
"You are the captain," he answered, laughing buoyantly in his happiness; "give your crew the order."
"Get under way, then," she replied, meeting his mood.
The little love scene had put strength into his arms. It seemed as if the power of his passion, failing other vent, had worked itself into the oar-blades, for the boat skimmed over the water like a bird, and in a few moments he unshipped his oars at the boat-landing. Swinging the skiff about so that the stern would be nearest the landing-place for her convenience, he stepped ashore, fastened the painter, and gave her his hand. Her own small palm met his great one frankly, and the two hands clung together in a clasp, – on his part of joy unspeakable, on hers of happy foreshadowings of the future.
Neither said anything as he helped her gravely up the steps. To kiss her then, even had they been alone, would have seemed to him sacrilege; there was something so holy, so innocent, so pure about the young girl, he thought, that he would like to throw himself upon his knees before her and kiss the steps her feet had trodden, so rapturous was his mood. Yet again, when he broke the silence, his words were commonplace. The noblest word would be ordinary when matched against his feelings then!
"What a sleepy, dull, dead little town this seems!" he remarked, looking curiously about him; "if it were a little handsomer, and overgrown with flowers and vines, it might be the town of the Sleeping Beauty; but the Beauty – "
"Is wide awake," she interrupted, a charming color irradiating her cheek, which made him sorry he had been so timid. "And awake without the prince's kiss, too!" she added, smiling archly, in that she was a very woman.
Perhaps, he thought, ruefully, she might not have resented that kiss, after all.
Well, the next time would see!
As he anticipated, Revere found his man with a well-filled portmanteau and several letters awaiting him at the little old-fashioned country inn of the village. The morning was far spent when Emily finished her simple purchases, and the two lovers lunched together in the quaint old parlor of the inn. The girl, in her innocence of the customs of the world, was quite oblivious to the conventional necessity for a chaperon; so, without the embarrassment of a third party, they greatly enjoyed the wholesome and substantial meal provided for them by the skilful hands of the innkeeper's wife with whom Emily was a great favorite. They lingered a long time at the table in the cool old-fashioned room, and it was somewhat late in the afternoon when they started back to the Point, to which Revere had previously directed his man to repair with his baggage, by the land road.
The constraint which had been put upon both of them by the necessities of the business which had called them to the village, and the presence of other people wherever they went, for the officious but well-meaning landlady had frequently interrupted the privacy of the parlor even, had been the strongest force in developing the growing passions in their hearts.
Emily was a simple-minded maiden, with all the attributes of a very old-fashioned age. She had no mission to reform this world, which indeed she had found most sweet and fair, and sweeter and fairer that day than ever before; she stood for no so-called modern idea; she had no deep plan or mighty purpose for the amelioration of mankind, – or womankind either; she did not aim at the achievement of great results, the doing of mighty deeds. The complexities of her character did not manifest themselves in these ways.
Woman's sphere for her, if she thought of it specifically at all, was a very simple and a very old thing. To love and to be loved, to be first a faithful, happy wife, and second, please God, a wise, devoted mother, was the sum of her ambition.
There were no young men with whom she came in contact who could measure up to the standard of her social and intellectual requirements, and the chances that any would present themselves had been exceedingly small. So she had represented in her life a hope deferred, but without being heart-sick with the delay; she was of so sane, so healthy, and so happy a disposition that she had been saved all that. With the optimism of youth she had confidently expected that some day the prince would arrive, and when he came, together hand in hand they would go "over the hills and far away, to that new land which is the old." And the portals of that undiscovered country were now opening before her delighted vision.
Barely out of her teens, she had not grown impatient in her dreaming, – life had been too sweet and pleasant for that, – but the thoughtful and somewhat lonely years had made her ready, and it was no wonder that at the touch she yielded. When Revere came to her out of the deep, cast up at her feet by the waves of the sea, as it were, he fitted into anticipation already old. He represented the realization of her maidenly desires and her womanly hopes. That she should fall in love with him was entirely natural and quite to be expected, especially since he was blessed with a personality at once strong, lovable, and charming.
The reserve and the calmness of Revere's long line of Boston ancestry had been tempered, modified, brightened, by his sailor life and by his intimate contact with great and heroic men in the war which was just over. Frank, genial, generous, and not without a certain high-bred distinction in his manner, and blessed with a sufficiency of manly good looks, he might well have hoped to win any woman's heart.
The day had been a happy one to Emily, then; happier for her than for Revere, in fact, for that young man's conscience troubled him deeply, while there was no cloud on her sweet pleasure. If he had not been engaged to Josephine he would have revelled in his love for Emily; but he was not free. He was now bound to two women at the same time, and not in strictly honorable relationship to either. The false position was almost unbearable to a man of his fine sensitiveness, and that he had made it himself did not make it less easy to endure. He firmly resolved to extricate himself from his dilemma by informing Josephine at the first opportunity.
No other course was left to him. Since he had seen and known Emily he felt that it would be impossible for him to keep his previous engagement, and yet he realized that it would have been more honorable for him to have controlled himself as he had determined, better to have been less precipitate and to have waited until he had gained his release before he offered himself to Emily.
Carried away by his feelings, he had proposed to her in the boat, and he regretted, not the fact, – never that, – but that he had been so little master of himself, that he could not have delayed his wooing for a few days, until, being made free, he could definitely and properly and honorably ask her for her hand. He felt, for instance, that he could not speak to the old admiral upon the subject until he had secured his release. It would be impossible for him to approach that soul of ancient honor other than free.
Yet when he looked at the girl; when the clear, sweet notes of her fresh young voice thrilled in his ear; when walking by her side her dress brushed against him; when by chance or design he touched her, or her hand met his; when she looked at him out of those frank, honest blue eyes; when he saw the color come and go in her cheek, marked the beating of her heart, caught the unconscious affection with which her eye dwelt upon him at times, when she thought herself unobserved, he vowed that he stood excused in his own heart for his precipitancy.
Every moment when she did not feel and know that he loved her he, in his turn, counted a moment lost. He could hardly wait to get back to the house, where he determined to write to Josephine instantly and apprise her of the situation. He felt, as a matter of course, that she was too proud a woman to hold him to an unwilling engagement for a single moment. Whether she loved him or not he could not say. He thought not, he hoped not. Their engagement had been a matter-of-fact affair, and the courtship had been rather a cool one. He was perfectly certain that she liked him, but that was very different. He had never once seen her breath come quicker when he approached her, the color flush or fade in her cheek as he spoke to her. But he could not be sure. The veneer of birth, custom, and environment had not been worn off of her as it had been stripped from him, and her outward action beneath all this coolness afforded no infallible guide to her feelings.
If she loved him, that would indeed complicate the matter, but there could be – there must be – no other issue than that the engagement should be broken. He would be very sorry for her in that case, but there would be nothing else to be done. He could not help it that he had fallen in love with some one else, and the only honorable thing to do now was to tell the truth at once and break away. A man's reasoning, certainly!
As they approached the wharf where the boat was tied Emily noticed that Revere looked pale and tired. The violent current of his thoughts, the acuteness of the mental struggle in which he found himself involved, together with his low physical condition, had worn him out. Therefore the girl insisted upon rowing back herself.
Even in the dependence of the first love of a young maiden there is a feeling of protection, a foreshadowing of the instinct maternal, which is the foundation of most of the good things in this life, even of the habit and practice of religion. Emily, while she gloried in his virile manhood and dwelt happily upon his strength and vigor, already watched over Revere as she might have looked after a child. And she delighted in the opportunity of doing her lover further service. So Omphale might have considered Hercules.
"I want to show you how beautifully I can pull an oar," she artfully said, in answer to his expostulation, herself only half comprehending the deep springs of action that lay in her being; "and you look so tired. You know you are not yet strong. I ought not to have allowed you to come."
The sense of ownership implied in her last words was delightful to both of them.
"I am tired," he said, honestly, "but not too tired to row you back; and I wouldn't have missed this little voyage for all the cruises of a lifetime. Please get into the boat and take the yoke-lines."
"No," said Emily; "you said I was captain, and I mean to exercise the privileges of my position. Take the yoke-lines yourself. I insist upon it."
"Oh, very well," assented the young sailor, smiling at her; "I have been under orders, it seems to me, ever since I was born. First mother, then Josephine, and now you."
He sat down in the stern-sheets with affected resignation and gathered up the yoke-lines.
Emily's face had changed somewhat at this last remark, but she said nothing as she cast off the painter, stepped to the thwart, shoved off the boat, broke out the oars, and pulled away. She rowed a pretty stroke, quite as deft as Revere's had been, though lacking somewhat in power. As they cleared the wharf and headed out into the bay toward the Point she looked up at him.
"You have always been under orders, you say?"
"First your mother?"
"And then, – who did you say?" with poorly simulated indifference.
"Josephine, – Miss Josephine Remington," carelessly.
"And who is she?"
"Oh, she's an old friend of the family, a connection in a far-off way. She has lived with us pretty much since she was a child."
"Are you fond of her?" coldly.
"Yes," with mischievous promptness.
"I suppose so," looking away.
"But not so fond of her as I am of you, Emily," tenderly.
"Is that really true?" eagerly.
"Upon my word and honor," with convincing assurance.
"And you don't love her?"
"Not a bit. I love only one person in the world, and that is you," passionately.
"Was she the girl you saved?" relieved, but still somewhat anxious.
"Does she love you, I wonder?"
"I think not. She never gave me half as much evidence of caring for me as – "
He stopped suddenly.
"As what?" she asked in swift alarm.
"As – forgive me, Emily – as you have this afternoon."
She stopped pulling instantly, her oar-blades lifted from the water in mid-stroke, drops trickling from them.
"Have I been bold and forward?" she cried in dismay. "Oh, what must you think of me?"
"You have been perfect," he answered, fervently; "simply perfect. I wouldn't have you changed an iota in any way. Don't let's talk about other people now. I'd rather talk about you. Tell me something about yourself, about the life you have lived, what you have done, what you have thought, what you have dreamed; tell me everything. I want to know it all."
"Yes, but are you sure you do not love her?"
"I never was so certain of anything in my life, except it be that I love you."
There was conviction in his voice which comforted her soul. Still, she sought enlightenment upon another point.
"Are you sure she doesn't love you?"
"I think it is very improbable."
"Well, I don't, then!" she exclaimed, vigorously resuming her stroke. "You saved her life, and I don't see how she could help it," she continued.
"I didn't save your life, though, Emily."
The boat was in the shadow of the island trees, where it had been when he had first spoken of love to her that morning. She let it drift; again the water made sweet music lipping along the side; they would associate it forever with these ineffable moments.
"No," she murmured, her honesty and innocence giving her courage to say that which another might have sought to conceal, "you didn't, but – I don't believe – I can – help it, either."
It was out now. His love had shown her her own. She was another woman; never again would she look at life with the eyes of the girl of yesterday. Ferdinand had come to Miranda; and Ariel had opened the eyes of the maiden to new things on the old island more wonderful than those revealed by Prospero's magic wand. And to Revere, too, the complexion of the world suddenly and swiftly altered.
"Oh, Emily, you don't mean it!" he cried in exultant surprise. He had not hoped so soon for this revelation of the woman's heart.
Her face was averted now, but she spoke distinctly enough for him to hear every whispered word.
"Yes, I think – I believe – I do. I have thought about it a great deal since you spoke." – Three hours ago! "And I believe I – "
She could not quite say it – yet.
"Emily, dearest, I am so happy it seems to me I can hardly breathe. I do not dare to look at you. I love you so! Come, let us hurry back to the shore."
"Mr. Revere – " she began, starting the boat again.
"That will not do at all," he interrupted, promptly and decisively; "you must call me something else – now that you – oh, do you?"
"Richard," she said, bravely.
"Those who love me call me 'Dick,'" pleadingly.
"I couldn't say that – not just yet – Dick!"
He laughed in sheer pleasure.
"I never knew what a pretty name I had before, Emily."
"I think it is lovely," she said, naïvely.
"Thank you. Do you like my other name, too?"
"Oh, ever so much."
"I am so glad, because it will be yours. Mrs. Richard Revere."
"Hush, how can you!" she cried, blushing furiously. "I want to ask one thing of you. Do not say anything about – to-day. That is, to grandfather or Captain Barry, – not just yet."
"I'm not likely to say anything about it to Captain Barry now or at any other time," he laughed; "and as for the admiral, it will do no harm for us to wait a day or two, I fancy, – that is, if you wish it, princess."
Her desire suited his plans admirably, for the delay would give him time to write and get his freedom.
"I want to enjoy it first alone," she went on, dreamily. "I want to have the knowledge that you love me all to myself, just for a day. It's so sacred, and so solemn a thing to me, Richard; so beautiful, that I want to keep it just here in my heart alone, for a little while."
She laid her hand upon her heart with the sweetest gesture as she spoke.
"It shall be so," he answered, frankly, adoring her. "Whatever you wish shall always be, if I can bring it about."
Oh, the rash promises of lovers!
"And you will let me have my happiness to myself, then? You will not think me foolish?"
"Not all to yourself, for, though I do not speak, I must still share it, and I think you are perfect in everything."
"We are at the wharf," she murmured. "I must go up to the house alone. Do not come with me. I want to think it over."
"But, dearest, I shall see you to-night?" he pleaded.