A star shot down from the Milky Way and disappeared in darkness behind the girl’s shoulders. His eyes, following it, encountered hers. She left the tiller and came slowly forward.
“In three minutes we’ll open Plymouth Sound,” she said quietly, and then with a sharp gesture flung both arms out towards him. “Oh, lad, think better o’t an’ turn back wi’ me! Say you’ll marry me, for I’m perishin’ o’ love!”
The moonshine fell on her throat and extended arms. Her lips were parted, her head was thrown back a little, and for the first time the young minister saw that she was a beautiful woman.
“Ay, look, look at me!” she pleaded. “That’s what I’ve wanted ’ee to do all along. Take my hands: they’m shapely to look at and strong to work for ’ee.”
Hardly knowing what he did, the young man took them; then in a moment he let them go—but too late; they were about his neck.
With that he sealed his fate for good or ill. He bent forward a little and their lips met.
So steady was the wind that the boat still held on her course; but no sooner had the girl received the kiss than she dropped her arms, walked off, and shifted the helm.
“Unfasten the sheet there,” she commanded, “and duck your head clear.”
As soon as their faces were set for home, the minister walked back to the cuddy roof and sat down to reflect. Not a word was spoken till they reached the harbour’s mouth again, and then he pulled out his watch. It was half-past four in the morning.
Outside the Battery Point the girl hauled down the sails and got out the sweeps; and together they pulled up under the still sleeping town to the minister’s quay-door. He was clumsy at this work, but she instructed him in whispers, and they managed to reach the ladder as the clocks were striking five. The tide was far down by this time, and she held the boat close to the ladder while he prepared to climb. With his foot on the first round, he turned. She was white as a ghost, and trembling from top to toe.
“Nance—did you say your name was Nance?”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ll—I’ll let you off, if you want to be let off.”
“I’m not sure that I do,” he said, and stealing softly up the ladder, stood at the top and watched her boat as she steered it back to Ruan.
Three months after, they were married, to the indignant amazement of the minister’s congregation. It almost cost him his pulpit, but he held on and triumphed. There is no reason to believe that he ever repented of his choice, or rather of Nance’s. To be sure, she had kidnapped him by a lie; but perhaps she wiped it out by fifty years of honest affection. On that point, however, I, who tell the tale, will not dogmatise.
The scene was a street in the West End of London, a little south of Eaton Square: the hour just twenty-five minutes short of midnight.