The young man gasped. “Set me ashore at once!” he commanded, stamping his foot.
“Nay, that I will not till thou promise, an’ that’s flat. Dear lad, listen—an’ consent, consent—an’ I swear to thee thou’ll never be sorry for’t.”
“I never heard such awful impropriety in my life. Turn back; I order you to steer back to the harbour at once!”
She shook her head. “No, lad; I won’t. An’ what’s more, you don’t know how to handle a boat, an’ couldn’t get back by yoursel’, not in a month.”
“This is stark madness. You—you abandoned woman, how long do you mean to keep me here?”
“Till thou give in to me. We’m goin’ straight t’wards Plymouth now, an’ if th’ wind holds—as ’twill—we’ll be off the Rame in two hours. If you haven’t said me yes by that maybe we’ll go on; or perhaps we’ll run across to the coast o’ France—”
“Girl, do you know that if I’m not back by day-break, I’m ruined!”
“And oh, man, man! Can’t ’ee see that I’m ruined, too, if I turn back without your word? How shall I show my face in Troy streets again, tell me?”
At this sudden transference of responsibility the minister was staggered.
“You should have thought of that before,” he said, employing the one obvious answer.
“O’ course I thought of it. But for love o’ you I made up my mind to risk it. An’ now there’s no goin’ back.” She paused a moment and then added, as a thought struck her, “Why, lad, doesn’ that prove I love ’ee uncommon?”
“I prefer not to consider the question. Once more—will you go back?”
He bit his lips and moved forward to the cuddy, on the roof of which he seated himself sulkily. The girl tossed him an end of rope.
“Dear, better coil that up an’ sit ’pon it. The frost’ll strike a chill into thee.”
With this she resumed her old attitude by the tiller. Her eyes were fixed ahead, her gaze passing just over the minister’s hat. When he glanced up he saw the rime twinkling on her shoulders and the star-shine in her dark eyes. Around them the heavens blazed with constellations. Never had the minister seen them so multitudinous or so resplendent. Never before had the firmament seemed so alive to him. He could almost hear it breathe. And beneath the stars the little boat raced eastward, with the reef-points pattering on its tan sails.
Neither spoke. For the most part the minister avoided the girl’s eyes, and sat nursing his wrath. The whole affair was ludicrous; but it meant the sudden ruin of his good name, at the very start of his career. This was the word he kept grinding between his teeth—“ruin,” “ruin.” Whenever it pleased this mad creature to set him ashore, he must write to Deacon Snowden for his boxes and resign all connection with Troy. But would he ever get rid of the scandal? Could he ever be sure that, to whatever distance he might flee, it would not follow him? Had he not better abandon his calling, once and for all? It was hard.