“Let me come with you,” said Hester.
They rose. Hester slipped on her dressing-gown, and Cherry an old macintosh, and they stole up the creaking stairs.
“Oh, you anointed limbs!” exclaimed Cherry, coming to a halt on the top.
The door of the children’s garret stood ajar. On the landing outside a short ladder led up to a trapdoor in the eaves, and through the open trapway a broad ray of moonlight streamed upon the staircase.
“That’s mother again! Now I know where Amelia got that cold in her head. I’ll war’n’ the door hasn’t been locked since Tuesday!”
She climbed the ladder, with Hester at her heels. They emerged through the trap upon a flat roof, where on Mondays Mrs. Mayow spread her family “wash” to dry in the harbour breezes. Was that a part of the “wash” now hanging in a row along the parapet?
No; those dusky white objects were the younger members of the Mayow family leaning over the tideway, each with a stick and line—fishing for conger Matthew Henry explained, as Cherry took him by the ear; but Elizabeth Jane declared that, after four nights of it, she, for her part, limited her hopes to shannies.
Cherry swept them together, and filed them indoors through the trap in righteous wrath, taking her opportunity to box the ears of each. “Come’st along, Hester.”
Hester was preparing to follow, when she heard a subdued laugh. It seemed to come from the far side of the parapet, and below her. She drew her dressing-gown close about her and leaned over.
She looked down upon a stout spar overhanging the tide, and thence along a vessel’s deck, empty, glimmering in the moonlight; upon mysterious coils of rope; upon the dew-wet roof of a deck-house; upon a wheel twinkling with brass-work, and behind it a white-painted taffrail. Her eyes were travelling forward to the bowsprit again, when, close by the foremast, they were arrested, and she caught her breath sharply.
There, with his naked feet on the bulwarks and one hand against the house-wall, in the shadow of which he leaned out-board, stood a man. His other hand grasped a short stick; and with it he was reaching up to the window above him—her bedroom window. The window, she remembered, was open at the bottom—an inch or two, no more. The man slipped the end of his stick under the sash and prised it up quietly. Next he raised himself on tiptoe, and thrust the stick a foot or so through the opening; worked it slowly along the window-ledge, and hesitated; then pulled with a light jerk, as an angler strikes a fish. And Hester, holding her breath, saw the stick withdrawn, inch by inch; and at the end of it a garment—her petticoat!
“How dare you!”
The thief whipped himself about, jumped back upon deck, and stood smiling up at her, with the petticoat in his hand. It was the young sailor she had danced with.
“How dare you? Oh, I’d be ashamed!”