“Look here,” he said, “the old man hasn’ left you nothing.”
“No?” said Hester. “Well, I didn’t expect anything.” And she went on with her scouring.
“But he’ve a-left a pretty plain hint o’ what he wants me to do.”
He hesitated, searching the calm profile of her face. Hester’s face was always calm, but her eyes sometimes terrified him. Everyone allowed she had wonderful eyes, though no two people agreed about their colour. As a matter of fact their colour was that of the sea, and varied with the sea. And all her life through they were searching, unceasingly searching, for she knew not what—something she never had found, never would find. At times, when talking with you, she would break off as though words were of no use to her, and her eyes had to seek your soul on their own account. And in those silences your soul had to render up the truth to her, though it could never be the truth she sought. When at length her gaze relaxed and she remembered and begged pardon (perhaps with a deprecatory laugh), you sighed; but whether on her account or yours it was impossible to say.
John looked at her awkwardly, and drummed with one foot on the limeash floor.
“He wanted you to marry me,” he blurted out. “I—I reckon I’ve wanted that, too ... oh, yes, for a long time!”
She put both hands behind her—one of them still grasped the polishing-cloth—came over, and gazed long into his face.
“You mean it,” she said at length. “You are a good man. I like you. I suppose I must.”
She turned—still with her hands behind her—walked to the window, and stood pondering the harbour and the vessels at anchor and the rooks flying westward. John would have followed and kissed her, but divined that she wished nothing so little. So he backed towards the door, and said—
“There’s nothing to wait for. ’Twouldn’t do to be married from the same house, I expect. I was thinking—any time that’s agreeable—if you was to lodge across the harbour for awhile, with the Mayows—Cherry Mayow’s a friend of yours—we could put up the banns and all shipshape.”
He found himself outside the door, mopping his forehead.
This was the second rash thing that John Penaluna did.
It was Midsummer Eve, and a Saturday, when Hester knocked at the Mayows’ green door on the Town Quay. The Mayows’ house hung over the tideway, and the Touch-me-not schooner, home that day from Florida with a cargo of pines, and warped alongside the quay, had her foreyard braced aslant to avoid knocking a hole in the Mayows’ roof.
A Cheap Jack’s caravan stood at the edge of the quay. The Cheap Jack was feasting inside on fried ham rasher among his clocks and mirrors and pewter ware; and though it wanted an hour of dusk, his assistant was already lighting the naphtha-lamps when Hester passed.