Immediately, however, Damaris’ disposition to defy established convention and routine took the mildest and apparently most innocuous form—merely the making, by herself, of a little expedition which, accompanied by others, she had made a hundred times before. From the terrace she went down the flight of steps, built into the width of the sea-wall, whence a tall wrought-iron gate opens direct upon the foreshore. Closing it behind her, she followed the coastguard-path, at the base of the river-bank—here a miniature sand cliff capped with gravel, from eight to ten feet high—which leads to the warren and the ferry. For she would take ship, with foxy-faced William Jennifer as captain and as crew, cross to the broken-down wooden jetty and, landing there, climb the crown of the Bar and look south-east, over the Channel highway, towards far distant countries of the desert and the dawn.
OUT ON THE BAR
All which was duly accomplished though with a difference. For on reaching the head of the shallow sandy gully opening on the tide, where the flat-bottomed ferry-boat lay, Damaris found not Jennifer but the withered and doubtfully clean old lobster-catcher, Timothy Proud, in possession. This disconcerted her somewhat. His appearance, indeed—as he stood amongst a miscellaneous assortment of sun-bleached and weather-stained foreshore lumber, leaning the ragged elbows of his blue jersey upon the top of an empty petroleum barrel and smoking a dirty clay pipe—was so far from inviting, that the young girl felt tempted to relinquish her enterprise and go back by the way she had come.
But, as she hesitated, the old man catching sight of her and scenting custom, first spat and then called aloud.
“Might ’e be wanting the Ferry, Miss?” Thus directly challenged, Damaris could not but answer in the affirmative.
“Put ’e across to the Bar?” he took her up smartly. “Nat’rally I will—bean’t I here for the very purpose?—Put ’e across I will and on the tick too.”
And, after further expectoration, relinquishing the support of the oil barrel, he joined her and shambled down the sandy track at her side, talking. Damaris hastened her step; but bent back and creaking breath notwithstanding, Proud kept pace with her, his speech and movements alike animated by a certain malicious glee.
“William ’e give hisself an ’oliday,” he explained, “to take the little dorgs and ferrets up to Butcher Cleave’s ratting. Powerful sight of varmin there allers be round they sheds and places. Comes after the innards and trimmings they do, as bold as you please.”
“Oh, yes—no doubt. I understand,” Damaris said, at once anxious to arrest the flow of his unsavoury eloquence yet to appear civil, since she was about to make use of his services.