The Grand Babylon Hotel

10. At Sea
IT seemed to Nella that she was being rocked gently in a vast cradle, which
swayed to and fro with a motion at once slow and incredibly gentle. This
sensation continued for some time, and there was added to it the sound of a
quick, quiet, muffled beat. Soft, exhilarating breezes wafted her forward in spite
of herself, and yet she remained in a delicious calm. She wondered if her mother
was kneeling by her side, whispering some lullaby in her childish ears. Then
strange colours swam before her eyes, her eyelids wavered, and at last she
awoke. For a few moments her gaze travelled to and fro in a vain search for
some clue to her surroundings. was aware of nothing except sense of repose
and a feeling of relief that some mighty and fatal struggle was over; she cared
not whether she had conquered or suffered defeat in the struggle of her soul with
some other soul; it was finished, done with, and the consciousness of its
conclusion satisfied and contented her. Gradually her brain, recovering from its
obsession, began to grasp the phenomena of her surroundings, and she saw that
she was on a yacht, and that the yacht was moving. The motion of the cradle
was the smooth rolling of the vessel; the beat was the beat of its screw; the
strange colours were the cloud tints thrown by the sun as it rose over a distant
and receding shore in the wake of the yacht; her mother's lullaby was the
crooned song of the man at the wheel. Nella all through her life had had many
experiences of yachting. From the waters of the River Hudson to those bluer
tides of the Mediterranean Sea, she had yachted in all seasons and all weathers.
She loved the water, and now it seemed deliciously right and proper that she
should be on the water again. She raised her head to look round, and then let it
sink back:
she was fatigued, enervated; she desired only solitude and calm; she had no
care, no anxiety, no responsibility: a hundred years might have passed since her
meeting with Miss Spencer, and the memory of that meeting appeared to have
faded into the remotest background of her mind.
It was a small yacht, and her practised eye at once told that it belonged to the
highest aristocracy of pleasure craft. As she reclined in the deck-chair (it did not
occur to her at that moment to speculate as to the identity of the person who had
led her therein) she examined all visible details of the vessel. The deck was as
white and smooth as her own hand, and the seams ran along its length like blue
veins. All the brass-work, from the band round the slender funnel to the concave
surface of the binnacle, shone like gold.
The tapered masts stretched upwards at a rakish angle, and the rigging seemed
like spun silk. No sails were set; the yacht was under steam, and doing about
seven or eight knots. She judged that it was a boat of a hundred tons or so,
probably Clyde-built, and not more than two or three years old.
No one was to be seen on deck except the man at the wheel: this man wore a
blue jersey; but there was neither name nor initial on the jersey, nor was there a
name on the white life-buoys lashed to the main rigging, nor on the polished
dinghy which hung on the starboard davits. She called to the man, and called