CHAPTER XXXIII: BLACK GANG CHINE
“Come, Lady; while Heaven lends us grace,
Let us fly this cursed place,
Lest the sorcerer us entice
With some other new device.
Not a word or needless sound
Till we come to holier ground.
I shall be your faithful guide
Through this gloomy covert wide.”
Never was maiden in a worse position than that in which Anne Woodford felt herself when she revolved the matter. The back of the Isle of Wight, all along the Undercliff, had always had a wild reputation, and she was in the midst of the most lawless of men. Peregrine alone seemed to have any remains of honour or conscience, and apparently he was in some degree in the hands of his associates. Even if the clergyman came, there was little hope in an appeal to him. Naval chaplains bore no good reputation, and Portsmouth and Cowes were haunted by the scum of the profession. All that seemed possible was to commit herself and Charles to Divine protection, and in that strength to resist to the uttermost. The tempest had returned again, and seemed to be raging as much as ever, and the delay was in her favour, for in such weather there could be no putting to sea.
She was unwilling to leave the stronghold of her chamber, but Hans came to announce breakfast to her, telling her that the Mynheeren were gone, all but Massa Perry; and that gentleman came forward to meet her just as before, hoping ’those fellows had not disturbed her last night.’
“I could not help hearing much,” she said gravely.
“Brutes!” he said. “I am sick of them, and of this life. Save for the King’s sake, I would never have meddled with it.”
The roar of winds and waves and the beat of spray was still to be heard, and in the manifest impossibility of quitting the place and the desire of softening him, Anne listened while he talked in a different mood from the previous day. The cynical tone was gone, as he spoke of those better influences. He talked of Mrs. Woodford and his deep affection for her, of the kindness of the good priests at Havre and Douai, and especially of one Father Seyton, who had tried to reason with him in his bitter disappointment, and savage penitence on finding that ‘behind the Cross lurks the Devil,’ as much at Douai as at Havant. He told how a sermon of the Abbe Fenelon’s had moved him, and how he had spent half a Lent in the severest penance, but only to have all swept away again in the wild and wicked revelry with which Easter came in. Again he described how his heart was ready to burst as he stood by Mrs. Woodford’s grave at night and vowed to disentangle himself and lead a new life.
“And with you I shall,” he said.
“No,” she answered; “what you win by a crime will never do you good.”
“A crime! ’Tis no crime. You know I mean honourable marriage. You owe no duty to any one.”