“It can’t be ours,” she gasped. “They—they’d never dare! They—they—”
She stood for a moment staring at the hats on the sideboard, and then, followed by the others, ran hastily downstairs. There was a hurried questioning of the astonished landlady, and then, Mrs. Chalk leading, they made their way to the stairs at a pace remarkable in a woman of her age and figure. Mrs. Stobell, assisted by Edward Tredgold, did her best to keep up with her, but she reached the goal some distance ahead, and, jumping heavily into a boat, pointed to the fast-receding schooner and bade the boatman overtake it.
“Can’t be done, ma’am,” said the man, staring, “not without wings.”
“Row hard,” said Mrs. Chalk, in a voice of sharp encouragement.
The boatman, a man of few words, jerked his thumb in the direction of the Fair Emily, which was already responding to the motion of the sea outside.
“You run up the road on to them cliffs and wave to’em,” he said, slowly. “Wave ’ard.”
Mrs. Chalk hesitated, and then, stepping out of the boat, resumed the pursuit by land. Ten minutes’ hurried walking brought them to the cliffs, and standing boldly on the verge she enacted, to the great admiration of a small crowd, the part of a human semaphore.
[Illustration: “She enacted, to the great admiration of a small crowd, the part of a human semaphore.”
The schooner, her bows pointing gradually seawards, for some time made no sign. Then a little group clustered at the stern and waved farewells.
Mrs. Chalk watched the schooner until it was a mere white speck on the horizon, a faint idea that it might yet see the error of its ways and return for her chaining her to the spot. Compelled at last to recognise the inevitable, she rose from the turf on which she had been sitting and, her face crimson with wrath, denounced husbands in general and her own in particular.
“It’s my husband’s doing, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Stobell, with a side glance at her friend’s attire, not entirely devoid of self-congratulation. “That’s why he wouldn’t let me have a yachting costume. I can see it now.”
Mrs. Chalk turned and eyed her with angry disdain.
“And that’s why he wouldn’t let me bring more than one box,” continued Mrs. Stobell, with the air of one to whom all things had been suddenly revealed; “and why he wouldn’t shut the house up. Oh, just fancy what a pickle I should have been in if I had! I must say it was thoughtful of him.”
“Thoughtful!” exclaimed Mrs. Chalk, in a choking voice.
“And I ought to have suspected something,” continued Mrs. Stobell, “because he kissed me this morning. I can see now that he meant it for goodbye! Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. Robert always does get his own way.”
“If you hadn’t persuaded me to come ashore for that wretched luncheon,” said Mrs. Chalk, in a deep voice, “we should have been all right.”