The handwriting was girlishÑhow could it be otherwise, seeing that the sweet writer was not yet eighteen? The letter consisted of four sheets, and on one of them was very cleverly drawn, in pen and ink, a tall, long, narrow, old-fashioned ch‰teau, with some shrubbery in front of it, a short length of wall, then a tall hedge with an arrow pointing at it, under which was written, "HERE IS THE HOLE." Under another arrow indicating a big, square door to the right of the house, where a second short length of wall was sketched in, were written the words, "HERE IS THE DOG." Other arrowsÑquite a flight of them, indeed, causing the sketch to resemble a weather-chartÑpointed to windows, doors, a little balcony, and so forth, and against them were written, "MAM'SELLE'S ROOM," "THE GERMAN GOVERNESS'S ROOM," "FOUR GIRLS SLEEP HERE,"Ñwith other hints of a like kind.
I carefully read the letter. Suppose the ladder which Caudel had wound around his broad breast should prove too short? No! the height from the balcony to the ground was exactly ten feet. She had measured it herself, and that there might be no error, had enclosed me the length of pack-thread with whichÑwith a little weight at the end of itÑshe had plumbed the trifling distance. She hoped it would be a fine night. If there should be thunder I must not come. She would rather die than leave the house in a thunderstorm. Neither must I come if the sea was rough. She was acting very wronglyÑwhy did she love me so?Ñwhy was I so impatient? Could I not wait until she was twenty-one? Then she would be of age and her own mistress: three years and a month or two would soon pass, and, meanwhile, our love for each other would be growing deeper and deeperÑat least hers would. She could not answer for mine. She was content to have faith.
The gale came on with some lightning and several claps of thunder and heavy rain. Though it was but two o'clock in the afternoon, the air was so dusky that the men had to feel for the ropes; and when the first of the tempest stormed down upon us the appearance of the sea was uncommonly terrible, being swept and mangled into boiling froth in the north-east quarter, whilst all about us and in the south-west it lay in a sort of swollen huddle of shadows, glooming into the darkness of the sky without offering the smallest glimpse of the horizon.
In a few minutes the hurricane struck us. We had bared the brig down to the close-reefed main-topsail; yet, though we were dead before the outfly, its first blow rent the fragment of sail as if it were formed of smoke, and in an instant it disappeared, flashing over the bows like a scattering of torn paper, leaving nothing but the bolt-ropes behind. The bursting of the topsail was like the explosion of a large cannon. In a breath the brig was smothered with froth torn up in huge clouds, and hurled over and ahead of her in vast quivering bodies that filled the wind with a dismal twilight of their own, in which nothing was visible but their terrific speeding. Through these slinging, soft, and singing masses of spume drove the rain in horizontal steel-like lines, which gleamed in the lightning stroke as though indeed they were barbed weapons of bright metal, darted by armies of invisible spirits raving out their war cries as they chased us.
We traded to Riga, Stockholm, and Baltic ports, and often to Rotterdam, where, having a quick ear, which has sometimes served me for playing upon the fiddle for my mates to dance or sing to, I picked up enough of Dutch to enable me to hold my own in conversing with a Hollander, or Hans Butterbox, as those people used to be called; that is to say, I had sufficient words at command to qualify me to follow what was said and to answer so as to be intelligible; the easier, since, uncouth as that language is, there is so much of it resembling ours in sound that many words in it might easily pass for portions of our tongue grossly and ludicrously articulated. Why I mention this will hereafter appear.
When my apprenticeship term had expired, I made two voyages as second mate, and then obtained an appointment to that post in a ship named the Saracen, for a voyage to the East Indies. This was anno1796. I was then two-and-twenty years of age, a tall, well-built young fellow, with tawny hair, of the mariner's complexion from the high suns I had sailed under and the hardening gales I had stared into, with dark blue eyes filled with the light of an easy and naturally merry heart, white teeth, very regular, and a glad expression as though, forsooth, I found something gay and to like in all that I looked at. Indeed it was a saying with my mother that "Geff,"Ñmeaning GeoffreyÑthat "Geff's appearance was as though a very little joke would set the full measure of his spirits overflowing."