The ancient one eyed his passenger whimsically as the boat stole up to the rungs, so Graeme permitted himself no more than a careless glance at the forbidding ladder and asked, “How about the baggage?”
“We’ll see to et,” grinned the ancient, and stood, hands on hips and face twisted into a grim smile, while the stranger laid hold of the rusty iron and started upwards, with no slightest idea where the end of the venture might land him.
With the after-assistance of a neighbour of somewhat more genial construction,—inasmuch as it at all events stood upright, and did not lean over the opposite way of ladders in general,—the top rung landed him on a little platform, whence a rope and some foot-holes in the rock, and finally a zigzag path, invited further ascent still.
The portmanteaux were hauled up by a rope and shouldered by his guardian angels, and they toiled slowly up the steep.
Each step developed new beauties behind and on either side. At the top he would fain have rested to drink it all in, but his guides went stolidly on,—towards drink of a more palpable description, he doubted not; and he remembered that time was of consekens, and tore himself away from that most wonderful view and panted after them.
The zigzag path led round clumps of flaming gorse to a gap in a rough stone wall, and so to a tall granite pillar which crowned the cliff and commemorated a disaster. It was erected, he saw, to the memory of a Mr. Jeremiah Pilcher who had been drowned just below in attempting the passage to Guernsey. He had but one regret at the moment—that it was not instead to the memory of Mr. Jeremiah Pixley.
Down verdant lanes—past thatched cottages, past a windmill, past houses of more substantial mien, with a glimpse down a rolling green valley——
“Hotel?” asked the ancient abruptly, from beneath his load.
“No, I want rooms in some cottage. Can you——”
“John Philip,” said the ancient one didactically, and trudged on, and finally dumped his share of the burden at the door of what looked like a house but was a shop, in fact the shop.
He went inside and Graeme followed him. A genial-faced elderly man, with gray hair and long gray beard and gray shirt-sleeves, leaned over the counter, talking in an unknown tongue to a blue-guernseyed fisherman, and a quiet-faced old lady in a black velvet hair-net stood listening.
They all looked up and saluted the ancient one with ejaculations of surprise in the unknown tongue, and Graeme stared hard at the gray-bearded man, while they all discussed him to his face.
“Mr. De Carteret,” said the ancient at last, with a jerk of the head towards Gray-Beard. “He tell you where to find rooms.”
“Thanks! Do you speak any English, Mr. De Carteret?”
The pleasant old face broke into a smile. “I am En-glish,” he said, with a quaint soft intonation, and as one who speaks a foreign tongue, and beamed genially on his young compatriot.