The Evening Star was a beautiful craft, built on fine lines, but for all that a wonderful boat in a heavy sea. She was a three-masted schooner, square-rigged forward, of large beam. Her fittings below were perfect down to the painted panels after Watteau in the saloon and the electric bells, and she was rigged either to sail or steam as might be most convenient. On the present occasion, as there was not the slightest hurry and no danger of a lee-shore, it was determined that they should not avail themselves of the steam-power, so the propeller was hoisted up and everything got ready for that most delightful thing, a long cruise under canvas.
Arthur was perfectly charmed with everything he saw, and so was Agatha Terry, until they got under way, when she discovered that a mail-steamer was a joke compared with the yacht in the matter of motion. In short, the unfortunate Agatha was soon reduced to her normal condition of torpor. Mildred always declared that she hibernated on board ship like a dormouse or a bear. She was not very sea-sick, she simply lay and slept, eating very little and thinking not at all.
“By the way,” said Arthur, as they sailed out of the bay, “I never gave any directions about my letters.”
“Oh! that will not matter,” answered Mildred, carelessly, for they were leaning over the taffrail together; “they will keep them for you at ‘Miles’ Hotel.’ But, my dear boy, do you know what time it is? Ten minutes to seven; that dreadful bell with be going in a minute, and the soup will be spoiled. Run and get ready, do.”
When dinner was over—Miss Terry would have none—they went and sat upon the moonlit deck. The little vessel was under all her canvas, for the breeze was light, and skimmed over the water like a gull with its wings spread. In the low light Madeira was nothing but a blot on the sky-line. The crew were forward, with the solitary exception of the man steering the vessel from his elevated position on the bridge; and sitting as they were, abaft the deck-cabin, the two were utterly alone between the great silence of the stars and of the sea. She looked into his face, and it was tender towards her—that night was made for lovers—and tears of happiness stood in her eyes. She took his hand in hers, and her head nestled upon his breast.
“I should like to sail on for ever so, quite alone with you. I never again wish to see the land or the sun, or any other sea than this, or any other eyes than yours, to hear any more of the things that I have known, to learn to know any fresh things. If I could choose, I would ask that I might now glide gently from your arms into those of eternal sleep. Oh! Arthur, I am so happy now—so happy that I scarcely dare to speak, for fear lest I should break the spell, and I feel so good—so much nearer heaven. When I think of all my past life, it seems like a stupid dream full of little nothings, of which I cannot recall any memory except that they were empty and without meaning. But the future is worse than the past, because it looks fair, and snakes always hide in flowers. It makes me afraid. How do I know what the future will bring? I wish that the present—the pleasant, certain present that I hold with my hand—could last for ever.”