For he felt curiously flurried and put about; near cursing himself moreover for having helped to break up her high serenity thus. The whole thing was manifestly impossible as he told himself, outside every recognized law of Nature and sound science. Even during the mistrustful phantasy-breeding watches of the night, when reason inclines to drag anchor setting mind and soul rather wildly adrift, he had refused credence to the apparent evidence of his own senses. Now in broad daylight, the generous sunshine flooding him, the smooth river purring and glittering at his feet, belief in grim and ghostly happenings became more than ever inadmissible, not to say quite arrantly grotesque. Yet Damaris’ version of those same happenings tallied with his own in every point. And that her conviction of their reality was genuine, profound indeed to the point of pain, admitted neither of question nor of doubt.
A CRITIC IN CORDUROY
William Jennifer, who successfully combined in his single person the varied offices of ferryman, rat-catcher, jobbing gardener, amateur barber, mender of sails and of nets, brought the heavy, flat-bottomed boat alongside the jetty. Shipping the long sweeps, he coughed behind his hand with somewhat sepulchral politeness to give warning of his presence.
“Sweethearting—lost to sight and hearing, espoused to forgetfulness,” he murmured, peering up at the two cousins standing in such close proximity to one another upon the black staging above.
For William Jennifer was a born lover of words and maker of phrases, addicted to the bandying of pleasantries, nicely seasoned to their respective age, sex and rank, with all he met; and, when denied an audience, rather than keep silence holding conversation with himself.
The hot morning induced thirst, which, being allayed by a couple of pints at Faircloth’s Inn, induced desire for a certain easiness of costume. His waistcoat hung open—he had laid aside his coat—displaying a broad stitched leather belt that covered the junction between buff corduroy trousers and blue-checked cotton shirt. On his head, a high thimble-crowned straw hat, the frayed brim of it pulled out into a poke in front for the better shelter of small, pale twinkling eyes set in a foxy face.
The said face, however—for all its sharp-pointed nose, long upper lip, thin gossipy mouth, tucked in at the corners and opening, redly cavernous, without any showing of teeth, a stiff sandy fringe edging cheeks and chin from ear to ear—could on occasion become utterly blank of expression. It became so now, as Tom Verity, realizing the fact of its owner’s neighbourhood, moved a step or two away from Damaris and, jumping on board himself, proceeded with rather studied courtesy to hand her down into the boat.
“Looks as there might have been a bit of a tiff betwixt ’em”—Thus Jennifer inwardly. Then aloud—“Put you straight across the ferry, sir, or take you to the breakwater at The Hard? The tide’s on the turn, so we’d slip down along easy and I’m thinking that ’ud spare Miss Verity the traipse over the shore path. Wonnerful parching in the sun it is for the latter end of September.”