Chapter XIV:

The Castaway
~ 1


An excellent dinner served by Mistress Sally and her attendant little wenches put everybody into rare good-humour. Madame de Serval - pale, delicate, with gentle, plaintive voice and eyes that had acquired a pathetically furtive look - even contrived to smile, her heart warmed by the genuine welcome, the rare gaiety that irradiated this fortunate corner of God's earth. Wars and rumours of war reached it only as an echo of great things that went on in the vast outside world; and though more than one of Dover's gallant sons had perished in one or the other of the Duke of York's unfortunate incursions into Holland, or in one of the numerous naval engagements off the Western shores of France, on the whole, the war, intermittent and desultory, had not yet cast its heavy gloom over the entire country.


Joséphine and Jacques de Serval, whose enthusiasm for martyrdom had received so severe a check in the course of the Fraternal Supper in the Rue. St. Honoré, had at first with the self-consciousness of youth adopted an attitude of obstinate and irreclaimable sorrow, until the antics of Master Harry Waite, pretty Sally's husband - jealous as a young turkey-cock of every gallant who dared to ogle his buxom wife - brought laughter to their lips. My Lord Hastings' comical attempts at speaking French, the droll mistakes he made, easily did the rest; and soon their lively, high-pitched Latin voices mingled with unimpaired gaiety with the more mellow sound of Anglo-Saxon tongues.


Even Régine de Serval had smiled when my lord Hastings had asked her with grave solemnity whether Mme de Serval would wish "le fou de descendre" - the lunatic to the come downstairs - meaning all the while whether she wanted the fire in the big hearth to be let down, seeing that the atmosphere in the coffee-room was growing terribly hot.


The only one who seemed quite unable to shake off his moroseness was Bertrand Moncrif. He sat next to Régine, silent, somewhat sullen, a look that seemed almost one of dull resentment lingering in his eyes. From time to time, when he appeared peculiarly moody or when he refused to eat, her little hand would steal out under the table and press his with a gentle, motherly gesture.


~ 2


It was when the merry meal was over and while Master Jellyband was going the round with a fine bottle of smuggled brandy, which the young gentlemen sipped with unmistakable relish, that a commotion arose outside the inn; whereupon Master Harry Waite ran out of the coffee-room in order to see what was amiss.


Nothing very much apparently. Waite came back after a moment or two and said that two sailors from the barque Angela were outside with a young French lad, who seemed more dead than alive, and whom it appears the barque had picked up just outside French waters, in an open boat, half perished with terror and inanition. As the lad spoke nothing but French, the sailors had brought him along to The Fisherman's Rest, thinking that maybe some of the quality would care to interrogate him.


At once Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, my Lord Tony and Lord Hastings were on the qui vive. A lad in distress, coming from France, found alone in an open boat, suggested one of those tragedies in which the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel was wont to play a rôle.


"Let the lad be taken into the parlour, Jellyband," Sir Andrew commanded. "You've got a fire in there, haven't you?"


"Yes, yes, Sir Andrew! We always keep fires going here until past the 15th of May."


"Well then, get him in there. Then give him some of your smuggled brandy first, you old dog! then some wine and food. After that we'll find out something more about him."


He himself went along in order to see that his orders were carried out. Jellyband, as usual, had already deputed his daughter to do the necessary, and in the hall there was Mistress Sally, capable and compassionate, supporting, almost carrying, a youth who in truth appeared scarce able to stand.


She led him gently into the small private parlour, where a cheerful log-fire was blazing, sat him down in an arm-chair beside the hearth, after which Master Jellyband himself poured half a glass of brandy down the poor lad's throat. This revived him a little, and he looked about him with huge, scared eyes.


"Sainte Mére de Dieu!" he murmured feebly. "Where am I?"


"Never mind about that now, my lad," replied Sir Andrew, whose knowledge of French was of a distinctly higher order than that of his comrades. "You are among friends. That is enough. Have something to eat and drink now. Later we'll talk."


He was eyeing the boy keenly. Contact with suffering and misery over there in France, under the leadership of the most selfless, most understanding man of this or any time, had intensified his powers of perception. Even the first glance had revealed to him the fact that here was no ordinary waif. The lad spoke with a gentle, highly refined voice; his skin was delicate, and his face exquisitely beautiful; his hands, though covered with grime, and his feet, encased in huge, coarse boots, were small and daintily shaped, like those of a woman. Already Sir Andrew had made up his mind that if the oilskin cap which sat so extraordinarily tightly on the boy's head were to be removed, a wealth of long hair would certainly be revealed.


However, all these facts, which threw over the young stranger a further veil of mystery, could not in all humanity be investigated now. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, with the consummate tact born of kindliness, left the lad alone as soon as he appeared able to sit up and eat, and himself rejoined his friends in the coffee-room.