I.–A HAPPY VOYAGE.
The cottage that I have inhabited these six years looks down on the one quiet creek in a harbour full of business. The vessels that enter beneath Battery Point move up past the grey walls and green quay-doors of the port to the jetties where their cargoes lie. All day long I can see them faring up and down past the mouth of my creek; and all the year round I listen to the sounds of them–the dropping or lifting of anchors, the wh-h-ing! of a siren-whistle cutting the air like a twanged bow, the concertina that plays at night, the rush of the clay cargo shot from the jetty into the lading ship. But all this is too far remote to vex me. Only one vessel lies beneath my terrace; and she has lain there for a dozen years. After many voyages she was purchased by the Board of Guardians in our district, dismasted, and anchored up here to serve as a hospital-ship in case the cholera visited us. She has never had a sick man on board from that day to the present. But once upon a time three people spent a very happy night on her deck, as you shall hear. She is called The Gleaner.
I think I was never so much annoyed in my life as on the day when Annie, my only servant, gave me a month’s “warning.” That was four years ago; and she gave up cooking for me to marry a young watchmaker down at the town–a youth of no mark save for a curious distortion of the left eyebrow (due to much gazing through a circular glass into the bowels of watches), a frantic assortment of religious convictions, a habit of playing the fiddle in hours of ease, and an absurd name–Tubal Cain Bonaday. I noticed that Annie softened it to “Tubey.”
Of course I tried to dissuade her, but my arguments were those of a wifeless man, and very weak. She listened to them with much patience, and went off to buy her wedding-frock. She was a plain girl, without a scintilla of humour; and had just that sense of an omelet that is vouchsafed to one woman in a generation.
So she and Tubal Cain were married at the end of the month, and disappeared on their honeymoon, no one quite knew whither. They went on the last day of April.
At half-past eight in the evening of May 6th I had just finished my seventh miserable dinner. My windows were open to the evening, and the scent of the gorse-bushes below the terrace hung heavily underneath the verandah and stole into the room where I sat before the white cloth, in the lamp-light. I had taken a cigarette and was reaching for the match-box when I chanced to look up, and paused to marvel at a singular beauty in the atmosphere outside.
It seemed a final atonement of sky and earth in one sheet of vivid blue. Of form I could see nothing; the heavens, the waters of the creek below, the woods on the opposite shore were simply indistinguishable–blotted out in this one colour. If you can recall certain advertisements of Mr. Reckitt, and can imagine one of these transparent, with a soft light glowing behind it, you will be as near as I can help you to guessing the exact colour. And, but for a solitary star and the red lamp of a steamer lying off the creek’s mouth, this blue covered the whole firmament and face of the earth.
I lit my cigarette and stepped out upon the verandah. In a minute or so a sound made me return, fetch a cap from the hall, and descend the terrace softly.