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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 6
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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 6 Post by :hydrospell Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :671

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Jeanne Of The Marshes - Book 1 - Chapter 6


With the coming of dawn the storm passed away northwards, across a sea snow-flecked and still panting with its fury, and leaving behind many traces of its violence, even upon these waste and empty places. A lurid sunrise gave little promise of better weather, but by six o'clock the wind had fallen, and the full tide was swelling the creeks. On a sand-bank, far down amongst the marshes, Jeanne stood hatless, with her hair streaming in the breeze, her face turned seaward, her eyes full of an unexpected joy. Everywhere she saw traces of the havoc wrought in the night. The tall rushes lay broken and prostrate upon the ground; the beach was strewn with timber from the breaking up of an ancient wreck. Eyes more accustomed than hers to the outline of the country could have seen inland dismantled cottages and unroofed sheds, groups of still frightened and restive cattle, a snapped flagstaff, a fallen tree. But Jeanne knew none of these things. Her face was turned towards the ocean and the rising sun. She felt the sting of the sea wind upon her cheeks, all the nameless exhilaration of the early morning sweetness. Far out seaward the long breakers, snow-flecked and white crested, came rolling in with a long, monotonous murmur toward the land. Above, the grey sky was changing into blue. Almost directly over her head, rising higher and higher in little circles, a lark was singing. Jeanne half closed her eyes and stood still, engrossed by the unexpected beauty of her surroundings. Then suddenly a voice came travelling to her from across the marshes.

She turned round unwillingly, and with a vague feeling of irritation against this interruption, which seemed to her so inopportune, and in turning round she realized at once that her period of absorption must have lasted a good deal longer than she had had any idea of. She had walked straight across the marshes towards the little hillock on which she stood, but the way by which she had come was no longer visible. The swelling tide had circled round through some unseen channel, and was creeping now into the land by many creeks and narrow ways. She herself was upon an island, cut off from the dry land by a smoothly flowing tidal way more than twenty yards across. Along it a man in a flat-bottomed boat was punting his way towards her. She stood and waited for him, admiring his height, and the long powerful strokes with which he propelled his clumsy craft. He was very tall, and against the flat background his height seemed almost abnormal. As soon as he had attracted her attention he ceased to shout, and devoted all his attention to reaching her quickly. Nevertheless, the salt water was within a few feet of her when he drove his pole into the bottom, and brought the punt to a momentary standstill. She looked down at him, smiling.

"Shall I get in?" she asked.

"Unless you are thinking of swimming back," he answered drily, "it would be as well."

She lifted her skirts a little, and laughed at the inappropriateness of her thin shoes and open-work stockings. Andrew de la Borne held out his strong hand, and she sprang lightly on to the broad seat.

"It is very nice of you," she said, with her slight foreign accent, "to come and fetch me. Should I have been drowned?"

"No!" he answered. "As a matter of fact, the spot where you were standing is not often altogether submerged. You might have been a prisoner for a few hours. Perhaps as the tide is going to be high, your feet would have been wet. But there was no danger."

She settled down as comfortably as possible in the awkward seat.

"After all, then," she said, "this is not a real adventure. Where are you going to take me to?"

"I can only take you," he answered, "to the village. I suppose you came from the Hall?"

"Yes!" she answered. "I walked straight across from the gate. I never thought about the tide coming up here."

"You will have to walk back by the road," he answered. "It is a good deal further round, but there is no other way."

She hung her hand over the side, rejoicing in the touch of the cool soft water.

"That," she answered, "does not matter at all. It is very early still, and I do not fancy that any one will be up yet for several hours."

He made no further attempt at conversation, devoting himself entirely to the task of steering and propelling his clumsy craft along the narrow way. She found herself watching him with some curiosity. It had never occurred to her to doubt at first but that he was some fisherman from the village, for he wore a rough jersey and a pair of trousers tucked into sea-boots. His face was bronzed, and his hands were large and brown. Nevertheless she saw that his features were good, and his voice, though he spoke the dialect of the country, had about it some quality which she was not slow to recognize.

"Who are you?" she asked, a little curiously. "Do you live in the village?"

He looked down at her with a faint smile.

"I live in the village," he answered, "and my name is Andrew."

"Are you a fisherman?" she asked.

"Certainly," he answered gravely. "We are all fishermen here."

She was not altogether satisfied. He spoke to her easily, and without any sort of embarrassment. His words were civil enough, and yet he had more the air of one addressing an equal than a villager who is able to be of service to some one in an altogether different social sphere.

"It was very fortunate for me," she said, "that you saw me. Are you up at this hour every morning?"

"Generally," he answered. "I was thinking of fishing, higher up in the reaches there."

"I am sorry," she said, "that I spoiled your sport."

He did not answer at once. He, in his turn, was looking at her. In her tailor-made gown, short and fashionably cut, her silk stockings and high-heeled shoes, she certainly seemed far indeed removed from any of the women of those parts. Her dark hair was arranged after a fashion that was strange to him. Her delicately pale skin, her deep grey eyes, and unusually scarlet lips were all indications of her foreign extraction. He looked at her long and searchingly. This was the girl, then, whom his brother was hoping to marry.

"You are not English," he remarked, a little abruptly.

She shook her head.

"My father was a Portuguese," she said, "and my mother French. I was born in England, though. You, I suppose, have lived here all your life?"

"All my life," he repeated. "We villagers, you see, have not much opportunity for travel."

"But I am not sure," she said, looking at him a little doubtfully, "that you are a villager."

"I can assure you," he answered, "that there is no doubt whatever about it. Can you see out yonder a little house on the island there?"

She followed his outstretched finger.

"Of course I can," she answered. "Is that your home?"

He nodded.

"I am there most of my time," he answered.

"It looks charming," she said, a little doubtfully, "but isn't it lonely?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps," he answered. "I am only ten minutes' sail from the mainland, though."

She looked again at the house, long and low, with its plaster walls bare of any creeping thing.

"It must be rather fascinating," she admitted, "to live upon an island. Are you married?"

"No!" he answered.

"Do you mean that you live quite alone?" she asked.

He smiled down upon her as one might smile at an inquisitive child. "I have a ser--some one to look after me," he said. "Except for that I am quite alone. I am going to set you ashore here. You see those telegraph posts? That is the road which leads direct to the Hall."

She was still looking at the island, watching the waves break against a little stretch of pebbly beach.

"I should like very much," she said, "to see that house. Can you not take me out there?"

He shook his head.

"We could not get so far in this punt," he said, "and my sailing boat is up at the village quay, more than a mile away."

She frowned a little. She was not used to having any request of hers disregarded.

"Could we not go to the village," she asked, "and change into your boat?"

He shook his head.

"I am going fishing," he said, "in a different direction. Allow me."

He stepped on to land and lifted her out. She hesitated for a moment and felt for her purse.

"You must let me recompense you," she said coldly, "for the time you have lost in coming to my assistance."

He looked down at her, and again she had an uncomfortable sense that notwithstanding his rude clothes and country dialect, this man was no ordinary villager. He said nothing, however, until she produced her purse, and held out a little tentatively two half-crowns.

"You are very kind," he said. "I will take one if you will allow me. That is quite sufficient. You see the Hall behind the trees there. You cannot miss your way, I think, and if you will take my advice you will not wander about in the marshes here except at high tide. The sea comes in to the most unexpected places, and very quickly, too, sometimes. Good morning!"

"Good morning, and thank you very much," she answered, turning away toward the road.

* * *

Cecil de la Borne was standing at the end of the drive when she appeared, a telescope in his hand. He came hastily down the road to meet her, a very slim and elegant figure in his well-cut flannel clothes, smoothly brushed hair, and irreproachable tie.

"My dear Miss Jeanne," he exclaimed, "I have only just heard that you were out. Do you generally get up in the middle of the night?"

She smiled a little half-heartedly. It was curious that she found herself contrasting for a moment this very elegant young man with her roughly dressed companion of a few minutes ago.

"To meet with an adventure such as I have had," she answered, "I would never go to bed at all. I have been nearly drowned, and rescued by a most marvellous person. He brought me back to safety in a flat-bottomed punt, and I am quite sure from the way he stared at them that he had never seen open-work stockings before."

"Are you in earnest?" Cecil asked doubtfully.

"Absolutely," she answered. "I was walking there among the marshes, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by the sea. The tide had come up behind me without my noticing. A most mysterious person came to my rescue. He wore the clothes of a fisherman, and he accepted half a crown, but I have my doubts about him even now. He said that his name was Mr. Andrew."

Cecil opened the gate and they walked up towards the house. A slight frown had appeared upon his forehead.

"Do you know him?" she asked.

"I know who he is," he answered. "He is a queer sort of fellow, lives all alone, and is a bit cranky, they say. Come in and have some breakfast. I don't suppose that any one else will be down for ages."

She shook her head.

"I will send my woman down for some coffee," she answered. "I am going upstairs to change. I am just a little wet, and I must try and find some thicker shoes."

Cecil sighed.

"One sees so little of you," he murmured, "and I was looking forward to a tete-a-tete breakfast."

She shook her head as she left him in the hall.

"I couldn't think of it," she declared. "I'll appear with the others later on. Please find out all you can about Mr. Andrew and tell me."

Cecil turned away, and his face grew darker as he crossed the hall.

"If Andrew interferes this time," he muttered, "there will be trouble!"

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