Part 4 out of 8
the swords of Mrs. Fyne's furnishing."
"My wife holds her opinions very seriously," murmured Fyne suddenly.
"Yes. No doubt," I assented in a low voice as before. "But it is a
mere intellectual exercise. What I see is that in dealing with
reality Mrs. Fyne ceases to be tolerant. In other words, that she
can't forgive Miss de Barral for being a woman and behaving like a
woman. And yet this is not only reasonable and natural, but it is
her only chance. A woman against the world has no resources but in
herself. Her only means of action is to be what SHE IS. You
understand what I mean."
Fyne mumbled between his teeth that he understood. But he did not
seem interested. What he expected of me was to extricate him from a
difficult situation. I don't know how far credible this may sound,
to less solemn married couples, but to remain at variance with his
wife seemed to him a considerable incident. Almost a disaster.
"It looks as though I didn't care what happened to her brother," he
said. "And after all if anything . . . "
I became a little impatient but without raising my tone:
"What thing?" I asked. "The liability to get penal servitude is so
far like genius that it isn't hereditary. And what else can be
objected to the girl? All the energy of her deeper feelings, which
she would use up vainly in the danger and fatigue of a struggle with
society may be turned into devoted attachment to the man who offers
her a way of escape from what can be only a life of moral anguish.
I don't mention the physical difficulties."
Glancing at Fyne out of the corner of one eye I discovered that he
was attentive. He made the remark that I should have said all this
to his wife. It was a sensible enough remark. But I had given Mrs.
Fyne up. I asked him if his impression was that his wife meant to
entrust him with a letter for her brother?
No. He didn't think so. There were certain reasons which made Mrs.
Fyne unwilling to commit her arguments to paper. Fyne was to be
primed with them. But he had no doubt that if he persisted in his
refusal she would make up her mind to write.
"She does not wish me to go unless with a full conviction that she
is right," said Fyne solemnly.
"She's very exacting," I commented. And then I reflected that she
was used to it. "Would nothing less do for once?"
"You don't mean that I should give way--do you?" asked Fyne in a
whisper of alarmed suspicion.
As this was exactly what I meant, I let his fright sink into him.
He fidgeted. If the word may be used of so solemn a personage, he
wriggled. And when the horrid suspicion had descended into his very
heels, so to speak, he became very still. He sat gazing stonily
into space bounded by the yellow, burnt-up slopes of the rising
ground a couple of miles away. The face of the down showed the
white scar of the quarry where not more than sixteen hours before
Fyne and I had been groping in the dark with horrible apprehension
of finding under our hands the shattered body of a girl. For myself
I had in addition the memory of my meeting with her. She was
certainly walking very near the edge--courting a sinister solution.
But, now, having by the most unexpected chance come upon a man, she
had found another way to escape from the world. Such world as was
open to her--without shelter, without bread, without honour. The
best she could have found in it would have been a precarious dole of
pity diminishing as her years increased. The appeal of the
abandoned child Flora to the sympathies of the Fynes had been
irresistible. But now she had become a woman, and Mrs. Fyne was
presenting an implacable front to a particularly feminine
transaction. I may say triumphantly feminine. It is true that Mrs.
Fyne did not want women to be women. Her theory was that they
should turn themselves into unscrupulous sexless nuisances. An
offended theorist dwelt in her bosom somewhere. In what way she
expected Flora de Barral to set about saving herself from a most
miserable existence I can't conceive; but I verify believe that she
would have found it easier to forgive the girl an actual crime; say
the rifling of the Bournemouth old lady's desk, for instance. And
then--for Mrs. Fyne was very much of a woman herself--her sense of
proprietorship was very strong within her; and though she had not
much use for her brother, yet she did not like to see him annexed by
another woman. By a chit of a girl. And such a girl, too. Nothing
is truer than that, in this world, the luckless have no right to
their opportunities--as if misfortune were a legal disqualification.
Fyne's sentiments (as they naturally would be in a man) had more
stability. A good deal of his sympathy survived. Indeed I heard
him murmur "Ghastly nuisance," but I knew it was of the integrity of
his domestic accord that he was thinking. With my eyes on the dog
lying curled up in sleep in the middle of the porch I suggested in a
subdued impersonal tone: "Yes. Why not let yourself be persuaded?"
I never saw little Fyne less solemn. He hissed through his teeth in
unexpectedly figurative style that it would take a lot to persuade
him to "push under the head of a poor devil of a girl quite
sufficiently plucky"--and snorted. He was still gazing at the
distant quarry, and I think he was affected by that sight. I
assured him that I was far from advising him to do anything so
cruel. I am convinced he had always doubted the soundness of my
principles, because he turned on me swiftly as though he had been on
the watch for a lapse from the straight path.
"Then what do you mean? That I should pretend!"
"No! What nonsense! It would be immoral. I may however tell you
that if I had to make a choice I would rather do something immoral
than something cruel. What I meant was that, not believing in the
efficacy of the interference, the whole question is reduced to your
consenting to do what your wife wishes you to do. That would be
acting like a gentleman, surely. And acting unselfishly too,
because I can very well understand how distasteful it may be to you.
Generally speaking, an unselfish action is a moral action. I'll
tell you what. I'll go with you."
He turned round and stared at me with surprise and suspicion. "You
would go with me?" he repeated.
"You don't understand," I said, amused at the incredulous disgust of
his tone. "I must run up to town, to-morrow morning. Let us go
together. You have a set of travelling chessmen."
His physiognomy, contracted by a variety of emotions, relaxed to a
certain extent at the idea of a game. I told him that as I had
business at the Docks he should have my company to the very ship.
"We shall beguile the way to the wilds of the East by improving
conversation," I encouraged him.
"My brother-in-law is staying at an hotel--the Eastern Hotel," he
said, becoming sombre again. "I haven't the slightest idea where it
"I know the place. I shall leave you at the door with the
comfortable conviction that you are doing what's right since it
pleases a lady and cannot do any harm to anybody whatever."
"You think so? No harm to anybody?" he repeated doubtfully.
"I assure you it's not the slightest use," I said with all possible
emphasis which seemed only to increase the solemn discontent of his
"But in order that my going should be a perfectly candid proceeding
I must first convince my wife that it isn't the slightest use," he
"Oh, you casuist!" I said. And I said nothing more because at that
moment Mrs. Fyne stepped out into the porch. We rose together at
her appearance. Her clear, colourless, unflinching glance enveloped
us both critically. I sustained the chill smilingly, but Fyne
stooped at once to release the dog. He was some time about it; then
simultaneously with his recovery of upright position the animal
passed at one bound from profoundest slumber into most tumultuous
activity. Enveloped in the tornado of his inane scurryings and
barkings I took Mrs. Fyne's hand extended to me woodenly and bowed
over it with deference. She walked down the path without a word;
Fyne had preceded her and was waiting by the open gate. They passed
out and walked up the road surrounded by a low cloud of dust raised
by the dog gyrating madly about their two figures progressing side
by side with rectitude and propriety, and (I don't know why) looking
to me as if they had annexed the whole country-side. Perhaps it was
that they had impressed me somehow with the sense of their
superiority. What superiority? Perhaps it consisted just in their
limitations. It was obvious that neither of them had carried away a
high opinion of me. But what affected me most was the indifference
of the Fyne dog. He used to precipitate himself at full speed and
with a frightful final upward spring upon my waistcoat, at least
once at each of our meetings. He had neglected that ceremony this
time notwithstanding my correct and even conventional conduct in
offering him a cake; it seemed to me symbolic of my final separation
from the Fyne household. And I remembered against him how on a
certain day he had abandoned poor Flora de Barral--who was morbidly
I sat down in the porch and, maybe inspired by secret antagonism to
the Fynes, I said to myself deliberately that Captain Anthony must
be a fine fellow. Yet on the facts as I knew them he might have
been a dangerous trifler or a downright scoundrel. He had made a
miserable, hopeless girl follow him clandestinely to London. It is
true that the girl had written since, only Mrs. Fyne had been
remarkably vague as to the contents. They were unsatisfactory.
They did not positively announce imminent nuptials as far as I could
make it out from her rather mysterious hints. But then her
inexperience might have led her astray. There was no fathoming the
innocence of a woman like Mrs. Fyne who, venturing as far as
possible in theory, would know nothing of the real aspect of things.
It would have been comic if she were making all this fuss for
nothing. But I rejected this suspicion for the honour of human
I imagined to myself Captain Anthony as simple and romantic. It was
much more pleasant. Genius is not hereditary but temperament may
be. And he was the son of a poet with an admirable gift of
individualising, of etherealizing the common-place; of making
touching, delicate, fascinating the most hopeless conventions of
the, so-called, refined existence.
What I could not understand was Mrs. Fyne's dog-in-the-manger
attitude. Sentimentally she needed that brother of hers so little!
What could it matter to her one way or another--setting aside common
humanity which would suggest at least a neutral attitude. Unless
indeed it was the blind working of the law that in our world of
chances the luckless MUST be put in the wrong somehow.
And musing thus on the general inclination of our instincts towards
injustice I met unexpectedly, at the turn of the road, as it were, a
shape of duplicity. It might have been unconscious on Mrs. Fyne's
part, but her leading idea appeared to me to be not to keep, not to
preserve her brother, but to get rid of him definitely. She did not
hope to stop anything. She had too much sense for that. Almost
anyone out of an idiot asylum would have had enough sense for that.
She wanted the protest to be made, emphatically, with Fyne's fullest
concurrence in order to make all intercourse for the future
impossible. Such an action would estrange the pair for ever from
the Fynes. She understood her brother and the girl too. Happy
together, they would never forgive that outspoken hostility--and
should the marriage turn out badly . . . Well, it would be just the
same. Neither of them would be likely to bring their troubles to
such a good prophet of evil.
Yes. That must have been her motive. The inspiration of a possibly
unconscious Machiavellism! Either she was afraid of having a
sister-in-law to look after during the husband's long absences; or
dreaded the more or less distant eventuality of her brother being
persuaded to leave the sea, the friendly refuge of his unhappy
youth, and to settle on shore, bringing to her very door this
undesirable, this embarrassing connection. She wanted to be done
with it--maybe simply from the fatigue of continuous effort in good
or evil, which, in the bulk of common mortals, accounts for so many
surprising inconsistencies of conduct.
I don't know that I had classed Mrs. Fyne, in my thoughts, amongst
common mortals. She was too quietly sure of herself for that. But
little Fyne, as I spied him next morning (out of the carriage
window) speeding along the platform, looked very much like a common,
flustered mortal who has made a very near thing of catching his
train: the starting wild eyes, the tense and excited face, the
distracted gait, all the common symptoms were there, rendered more
impressive by his native solemnity which flapped about him like a
disordered garment. Had he--I asked myself with interest--resisted
his wife to the very last minute and then bolted up the road from
the last conclusive argument, as though it had been a loaded gun
suddenly produced? I opened the carriage door, and a vigorous
porter shoved him in from behind just as the end of the rustic
platform went gliding swiftly from under his feet. He was very much
out of breath, and I waited with some curiosity for the moment he
would recover his power of speech. That moment came. He said "Good
morning" with a slight gasp, remained very still for another minute
and then pulled out of his pocket the travelling chessboard, and
holding it in his hand, directed at me a glance of inquiry.
"Yes. Certainly," I said, very much disappointed.
CHAPTER SEVEN--ON THE PAVEMENT
Fyne was not willing to talk; but as I had been already let into the
secret, the fair-minded little man recognized that I had some right
to information if I insisted on it. And I did insist, after the
third game. We were yet some way from the end of our journey.
"Oh, if you want to know," was his somewhat impatient opening. And
then he talked rather volubly. First of all his wife had not given
him to read the letter received from Flora (I had suspected him of
having it in his pocket), but had told him all about the contents.
It was not at all what it should have been even if the girl had
wished to affirm her right to disregard the feelings of all the
world. Her own had been trampled in the dirt out of all shape.
Extraordinary thing to say--I would admit, for a young girl of her
age. The whole tone of that letter was wrong, quite wrong. It was
certainly not the product of a--say, of a well-balanced mind.
"If she were given some sort of footing in this world," I said, "if
only no bigger than the palm of my hand, she would probably learn to
keep a better balance."
Fyne ignored this little remark. His wife, he said, was not the
sort of person to be addressed mockingly on a serious subject.
There was an unpleasant strain of levity in that letter, extending
even to the references to Captain Anthony himself. Such a
disposition was enough, his wife had pointed out to him, to alarm
one for the future, had all the circumstances of that preposterous
project been as satisfactory as in fact they were not. Other parts
of the letter seemed to have a challenging tone--as if daring them
(the Fynes) to approve her conduct. And at the same time implying
that she did not care, that it was for their own sakes that she
hoped they would "go against the world--the horrid world which had
crushed poor papa."
Fyne called upon me to admit that this was pretty cool--considering.
And there was another thing, too. It seems that for the last six
months (she had been assisting two ladies who kept a kindergarten
school in Bayswater--a mere pittance), Flora had insisted on
devoting all her spare time to the study of the trial. She had been
looking up files of old newspapers, and working herself up into a
state of indignation with what she called the injustice and the
hypocrisy of the prosecution. Her father, Fyne reminded me, had
made some palpable hits in his answers in Court, and she had
fastened on them triumphantly. She had reached the conclusion of
her father's innocence, and had been brooding over it. Mrs. Fyne
had pointed out to him the danger of this.
The train ran into the station and Fyne, jumping out directly it
came to a standstill, seemed glad to cut short the conversation. We
walked in silence a little way, boarded a bus, then walked again. I
don't suppose that since the days of his childhood, when surely he
was taken to see the Tower, he had been once east of Temple Bar. He
looked about him sullenly; and when I pointed out in the distance
the rounded front of the Eastern Hotel at the bifurcation of two
very broad, mean, shabby thoroughfares, rising like a grey stucco
tower above the lowly roofs of the dirty-yellow, two-storey houses,
he only grunted disapprovingly.
"I wouldn't lay too much stress on what you have been telling me," I
observed quietly as we approached that unattractive building. "No
man will believe a girl who has just accepted his suit to be not
well balanced,--you know."
"Oh! Accepted his suit," muttered Fyne, who seemed to have been
very thoroughly convinced indeed. "It may have been the other way
about." And then he added: "I am going through with it."
I said that this was very praiseworthy but that a certain moderation
of statement . . . He waved his hand at me and mended his pace. I
guessed that he was anxious to get his mission over as quickly as
possible. He barely gave himself time to shake hands with me and
made a rush at the narrow glass door with the words Hotel Entrance
on it. It swung to behind his back with no more noise than the snap
of a toothless jaw.
The absurd temptation to remain and see what would come of it got
over my better judgment. I hung about irresolute, wondering how
long an embassy of that sort would take, and whether Fyne on coming
out would consent to be communicative. I feared he would be shocked
at finding me there, would consider my conduct incorrect,
conceivably treat me with contempt. I walked off a few paces.
Perhaps it would be possible to read something on Fyne's face as he
came out; and, if necessary, I could always eclipse myself
discreetly through the door of one of the bars. The ground floor of
the Eastern Hotel was an unabashed pub, with plate-glass fronts, a
display of brass rails, and divided into many compartments each
having its own entrance.
But of course all this was silly. The marriage, the love, the
affairs of Captain Anthony were none of my business. I was on the
point of moving down the street for good when my attention was
attracted by a girl approaching the hotel entrance from the west.
She was dressed very modestly in black. It was the white straw hat
of a good form and trimmed with a bunch of pale roses which had
caught my eye. The whole figure seemed familiar. Of course! Flora
de Barral. She was making for the hotel, she was going in. And
Fyne was with Captain Anthony! To meet him could not be pleasant
for her. I wished to save her from the awkwardness, and as I
hesitated what to do she looked up and our eyes happened to meet
just as she was turning off the pavement into the hotel doorway.
Instinctively I extended my arm. It was enough to make her stop. I
suppose she had some faint notion that she had seen me before
somewhere. She walked slowly forward, prudent and attentive,
watching my faint smile.
"Excuse me," I said directly she had approached me near enough.
"Perhaps you would like to know that Mr. Fyne is upstairs with
Captain Anthony at this moment."
She uttered a faint "Ah! Mr. Fyne!" I could read in her eyes that
she had recognized me now. Her serious expression extinguished the
imbecile grin of which I was conscious. I raised my hat. She
responded with a slow inclination of the head while her luminous,
mistrustful, maiden's glance seemed to whisper, "What is this one
"I came up to town with Fyne this morning," I said in a businesslike
tone. "I have to see a friend in East India Dock. Fyne and I
parted this moment at the door here . . . " The girl regarded me
with darkening eyes . . . "Mrs. Fyne did not come with her husband,"
I went on, then hesitated before that white face so still in the
pearly shadow thrown down by the hat-brim. "But she sent him," I
murmured by way of warning.
Her eyelids fluttered slowly over the fixed stare. I imagine she
was not much disconcerted by this development. "I live a long way
from here," she whispered.
I said perfunctorily, "Do you?" And we remained gazing at each
other. The uniform paleness of her complexion was not that of an
anaemic girl. It had a transparent vitality and at that particular
moment the faintest possible rosy tinge, the merest suspicion of
colour; an equivalent, I suppose, in any other girl to blushing like
a peony while she told me that Captain Anthony had arranged to show
her the ship that morning.
It was easy to understand that she did not want to meet Fyne. And
when I mentioned in a discreet murmur that he had come because of
her letter she glanced at the hotel door quickly, and moved off a
few steps to a position where she could watch the entrance without
being seen. I followed her. At the junction of the two
thoroughfares she stopped in the thin traffic of the broad pavement
and turned to me with an air of challenge. "And so you know."
I told her that I had not seen the letter. I had only heard of it.
She was a little impatient. "I mean all about me."
Yes. I knew all about her. The distress of Mr. and Mrs. Fyne--
especially of Mrs. Fyne--was so great that they would have shared it
with anybody almost--not belonging to their circle of friends. I
happened to be at hand--that was all.
"You understand that I am not their friend. I am only a holiday
"She was not very much upset?" queried Flora de Barral, meaning, of
course, Mrs. Fyne. And I admitted that she was less so than her
husband--and even less than myself. Mrs. Fyne was a very self-
possessed person which nothing could startle out of her extreme
theoretical position. She did not seem startled when Fyne and I
proposed going to the quarry.
"You put that notion into their heads," the girl said.
I advanced that the notion was in their heads already. But it was
much more vividly in my head since I had seen her up there with my
own eyes, tempting Providence.
She was looking at me with extreme attention, and murmured:
"Is that what you called it to them? Tempting . . . "
"No. I told them that you were making up your mind and I came along
just then. I told them that you were saved by me. My shout checked
you . . ." "She moved her head gently from right to left in
negation . . . "No? Well, have it your own way."
I thought to myself: She has found another issue. She wants to
forget now. And no wonder. She wants to persuade herself that she
had never known such an ugly and poignant minute in her life.
"After all," I conceded aloud, "things are not always what they
Her little head with its deep blue eyes, eyes of tenderness and
anger under the black arch of fine eyebrows was very still. The
mouth looked very red in the white face peeping from under the veil,
the little pointed chin had in its form something aggressive.
Slight and even angular in her modest black dress she was an
appealing and--yes--she was a desirable little figure.
Her lips moved very fast asking me:
"And they believed you at once?"
"Yes, they believed me at once. Mrs. Fyne's word to us was "Go!"
A white gleam between the red lips was so short that I remained
uncertain whether it was a smile or a ferocious baring of little
even teeth. The rest of the face preserved its innocent, tense and
enigmatical expression. She spoke rapidly.
"No, it wasn't your shout. I had been there some time before you
saw me. And I was not there to tempt Providence, as you call it. I
went up there for--for what you thought I was going to do. Yes. I
climbed two fences. I did not mean to leave anything to Providence.
There seem to be people for whom Providence can do nothing. I
suppose you are shocked to hear me talk like that?"
I shook my head. I was not shocked. What had kept her back all
that time, till I appeared on the scene below, she went on, was
neither fear nor any other kind of hesitation. One reaches a point,
she said with appalling youthful simplicity, where nothing that
concerns one matters any longer. But something did keep her back.
I should have never guessed what it was. She herself confessed that
it seemed absurd to say. It was the Fyne dog.
Flora de Barral paused, looking at me, with a peculiar expression
and then went on. You see, she imagined the dog had become
extremely attached to her. She took it into her head that he might
fall over or jump down after her. She tried to drive him away. She
spoke sternly to him. It only made him more frisky. He barked and
jumped about her skirt in his usual, idiotic, high spirits. He
scampered away in circles between the pines charging upon her and
leaping as high as her waist. She commanded, "Go away. Go home."
She even picked up from the ground a bit of a broken branch and
threw it at him. At this his delight knew no bounds; his rushes
became faster, his yapping louder; he seemed to be having the time
of his life. She was convinced that the moment she threw herself
down he would spring over after her as if it were part of the game.
She was vexed almost to tears. She was touched too. And when he
stood still at some distance as if suddenly rooted to the ground
wagging his tail slowly and watching her intensely with his shining
eyes another fear came to her. She imagined herself gone and the
creature sitting on the brink, its head thrown up to the sky and
howling for hours. This thought was not to be borne. Then my shout
reached her ears.
She told me all this with simplicity. My voice had destroyed her
poise--the suicide poise of her mind. Every act of ours, the most
criminal, the most mad presupposes a balance of thought, feeling and
will, like a correct attitude for an effective stroke in a game.
And I had destroyed it. She was no longer in proper form for the
act. She was not very much annoyed. Next day would do. She would
have to slip away without attracting the notice of the dog. She
thought of the necessity almost tenderly. She came down the path
carrying her despair with lucid calmness. But when she saw herself
deserted by the dog, she had an impulse to turn round, go up again
and be done with it. Not even that animal cared for her--in the
"I really did think that he was attached to me. What did he want to
pretend for, like this? I thought nothing could hurt me any more.
Oh yes. I would have gone up, but I felt suddenly so tired. So
tired. And then you were there. I didn't know what you would do.
You might have tried to follow me and I didn't think I could run--
not up hill--not then."
She had raised her white face a little, and it was queer to hear her
say these things. At that time of the morning there are
comparatively few people out in that part of the town. The broad
interminable perspective of the East India Dock Road, the great
perspective of drab brick walls, of grey pavement, of muddy roadway
rumbling dismally with loaded carts and vans lost itself in the
distance, imposing and shabby in its spacious meanness of aspect, in
its immeasurable poverty of forms, of colouring, of life--under a
harsh, unconcerned sky dried by the wind to a clear blue. It had
been raining during the night. The sunshine itself seemed poor.
From time to time a few bits of paper, a little dust and straw
whirled past us on the broad flat promontory of the pavement before
the rounded front of the hotel.
Flora de Barral was silent for a while. I said:
"And next day you thought better of it."
Again she raised her eyes to mine with that peculiar expression of
informed innocence; and again her white cheeks took on the faintest
tinge of pink--the merest shadow of a blush.
"Next day," she uttered distinctly, "I didn't think. I remembered.
That was enough. I remembered what I should never have forgotten.
Never. And Captain Anthony arrived at the cottage in the evening."
"Ah yes. Captain Anthony," I murmured. And she repeated also in a
murmur, "Yes! Captain Anthony." The faint flush of warm life left
her face. I subdued my voice still more and not looking at her:
"You found him sympathetic?" I ventured.
Her long dark lashes went down a little with an air of calculated
discretion. At least so it seemed to me. And yet no one could say
that I was inimical to that girl. But there you are! Explain it as
you may, in this world the friendless, like the poor, are always a
little suspect, as if honesty and delicacy were only possible to the
"Why do you ask?" she said after a time, raising her eyes suddenly
to mine in an effect of candour which on the same principle (of the
disinherited not being to be trusted) might have been judged
"If you mean what right I have . . . " She move slightly a hand in
a worn brown glove as much as to say she could not question anyone's
right against such an outcast as herself.
I ought to have been moved perhaps; but I only noted the total
absence of humility . . . "No right at all," I continued, "but just
interest. Mrs. Fyne--it's too difficult to explain how it came
about--has talked to me of you--well--extensively."
No doubt Mrs. Fyne had told me the truth, Flora said brusquely with
an unexpected hoarseness of tone. This very dress she was wearing
had been given her by Mrs. Fyne. Of course I looked at it. It
could not have been a recent gift. Close-fitting and black, with
heliotrope silk facings under a figured net, it looked far from new,
just on this side of shabbiness; in fact, it accentuated the
slightness of her figure, it went well in its suggestion of half
mourning with the white face in which the unsmiling red lips alone
seemed warm with the rich blood of life and passion.
Little Fyne was staying up there an unconscionable time. Was he
arguing, preaching, remonstrating? Had he discovered in himself a
capacity and a taste for that sort of thing? Or was he perhaps, in
an intense dislike for the job, beating about the bush and only
puzzling Captain Anthony, the providential man, who, if he expected
the girl to appear at any moment, must have been on tenterhooks all
the time, and beside himself with impatience to see the back of his
brother-in-law. How was it that he had not got rid of Fyne long
before in any case? I don't mean by actually throwing him out of
the window, but in some other resolute manner.
Surely Fyne had not impressed him. That he was an impressionable
man I could not doubt. The presence of the girl there on the
pavement before me proved this up to the hilt--and, well, yes,
It so happened that in their wanderings to and fro our glances met.
They met and remained in contact more familiar than a hand-clasp,
more communicative, more expressive. There was something comic too
in the whole situation, in the poor girl and myself waiting together
on the broad pavement at a corner public-house for the issue of
Fyne's ridiculous mission. But the comic when it is human becomes
quickly painful. Yes, she was infinitely anxious. And I was asking
myself whether this poignant tension of her suspense depended--to
put it plainly--on hunger or love.
The answer would have been of some interest to Captain Anthony. For
my part, in the presence of a young girl I always become convinced
that the dreams of sentiment--like the consoling mysteries of Faith-
-are invincible; that it is never never reason which governs men and
Yet what sentiment could there have been on her part? I remembered
her tone only a moment since when she said: "That evening Captain
Anthony arrived at the cottage." And considering, too, what the
arrival of Captain Anthony meant in this connection, I wondered at
the calmness with which she could mention that fact. He arrived at
the cottage. In the evening. I knew that late train. He probably
walked from the station. The evening would be well advanced. I
could almost see a dark indistinct figure opening the wicket gate of
the garden. Where was she? Did she see him enter? Was she
somewhere near by and did she hear without the slightest premonition
his chance and fateful footsteps on the flagged path leading to the
cottage door? In the shadow of the night made more cruelly sombre
for her by the very shadow of death he must have appeared too
strange, too remote, too unknown to impress himself on her thought
as a living force--such a force as a man can bring to bear on a
She glanced towards the hotel door again; I followed suit and then
our eyes met once more, this time intentionally. A tentative,
uncertain intimacy was springing up between us two. She said
simply: "You are waiting for Mr. Fyne to come out; are you?"
I admitted to her that I was waiting to see Mr. Fyne come out. That
was all. I had nothing to say to him.
"I have said yesterday all I had to say to him," I added meaningly.
"I have said it to them both, in fact. I have also heard all they
had to say."
"About me?" she murmured.
"Yes. The conversation was about you."
"I wonder if they told you everything."
If she wondered I could do nothing else but wonder too. But I did
not tell her that. I only smiled. The material point was that
Captain Anthony should be told everything. But as to that I was
very certain that the good sister would see to it. Was there
anything more to disclose--some other misery, some other deception
of which that girl had been a victim? It seemed hardly probable.
It was not even easy to imagine. What struck me most was her--I
suppose I must call it--composure. One could not tell whether she
understood what she had done. One wondered. She was not so much
unreadable as blank; and I did not know whether to admire her for it
or dismiss her from my thoughts as a passive butt of ferocious
Looking back at the occasion when we first got on speaking terms on
the road by the quarry, I had to admit that she presented some
points of a problematic appearance. I don't know why I imagined
Captain Anthony as the sort of man who would not be likely to take
the initiative; not perhaps from indifference but from that peculiar
timidity before women which often enough is found in conjunction
with chivalrous instincts, with a great need for affection and great
stability of feelings. Such men are easily moved. At the least
encouragement they go forward with the eagerness, with the
recklessness of starvation. This accounted for the suddenness of
the affair. No! With all her inexperience this girl could not have
found any great difficulty in her conquering enterprise. She must
have begun it. And yet there she was, patient, almost unmoved,
almost pitiful, waiting outside like a beggar, without a right to
anything but compassion, for a promised dole.
Every moment people were passing close by us, singly, in two and
threes; the inhabitants of that end of the town where life goes on
unadorned by grace or splendour; they passed us in their shabby
garments, with sallow faces, haggard, anxious or weary, or simply
without expression, in an unsmiling sombre stream not made up of
lives but of mere unconsidered existences whose joys, struggles,
thoughts, sorrows and their very hopes were miserable, glamourless,
and of no account in the world. And when one thought of their
reality to themselves one's heart became oppressed. But of all the
individuals who passed by none appeared to me for the moment so
pathetic in unconscious patience as the girl standing before me;
none more difficult to understand. It is perhaps because I was
thinking of things which I could not ask her about.
In fact we had nothing to say to each other; but we two, strangers
as we really were to each other, had dealt with the most intimate
and final of subjects, the subject of death. It had created a sort
of bond between us. It made our silence weighty and uneasy. I
ought to have left her there and then; but, as I think I've told you
before, the fact of having shouted her away from the edge of a
precipice seemed somehow to have engaged my responsibility as to
this other leap. And so we had still an intimate subject between us
to lend more weight and more uneasiness to our silence. The subject
of marriage. I use the word not so much in reference to the
ceremony itself (I had no doubt of this, Captain Anthony being a
decent fellow) or in view of the social institution in general, as
to which I have no opinion, but in regard to the human relation.
The first two views are not particularly interesting. The ceremony,
I suppose, is adequate; the institution, I dare say, is useful or it
would not have endured. But the human relation thus recognized is a
mysterious thing in its origins, character and consequences.
Unfortunately you can't buttonhole familiarly a young girl as you
would a young fellow. I don't think that even another woman could
really do it. She would not be trusted. There is not between women
that fund of at least conditional loyalty which men may depend on in
their dealings with each other. I believe that any woman would
rather trust a man. The difficulty in such a delicate case was how
to get on terms.
So we held our peace in the odious uproar of that wide roadway
thronged with heavy carts. Great vans carrying enormous piled-up
loads advanced swaying like mountains. It was as if the whole world
existed only for selling and buying and those who had nothing to do
with the movement of merchandise were of no account.
"You must be tired," I said. One had to say something if only to
assert oneself against that wearisome, passionless and crushing
uproar. She raised her eyes for a moment. No, she was not. Not
very. She had not walked all the way. She came by train as far as
Whitechapel Station and had only walked from there.
She had had an ugly pilgrimage; but whether of love or of necessity
who could tell? And that precisely was what I should have liked to
get at. This was not however a question to be asked point-blank,
and I could not think of any effective circumlocution. It occurred
to me too that she might conceivably know nothing of it herself--I
mean by reflection. That young woman had been obviously considering
death. She had gone the length of forming some conception of it.
But as to its companion fatality--love, she, I was certain, had
never reflected upon its meaning.
With that man in the hotel, whom I did not know, and this girl
standing before me in the street I felt that it was an exceptional
case. He had broken away from his surroundings; she stood outside
the pale. One aspect of conventions which people who declaim
against them lose sight of is that conventions make both joy and
suffering easier to bear in a becoming manner. But those two were
outside all conventions. They would be as untrammelled in a sense
as the first man and the first woman. The trouble was that I could
not imagine anything about Flora de Barral and the brother of Mrs.
Fyne. Or, if you like, I could imagine ANYTHING which comes
practically to the same thing. Darkness and chaos are first
cousins. I should have liked to ask the girl for a word which would
give my imagination its line. But how was one to venture so far? I
can be rough sometimes but I am not naturally impertinent. I would
have liked to ask her for instance: "Do you know what you have done
with yourself?" A question like that. Anyhow it was time for one
of us to say something. A question it must be. And the question I
asked was: "So he's going to show you the ship?"
She seemed glad I had spoken at last and glad of the opportunity to
"Yes. He said he would--this morning. Did you say you did not know
"No. I don't know him. Is he anything like his sister?"
She looked startled and murmured "Sister!" in a puzzled tone which
astonished me. "Oh! Mrs. Fyne," she exclaimed, recollecting
herself, and avoiding my eyes while I looked at her curiously.
What an extraordinary detachment! And all the time the stream of
shabby people was hastening by us, with the continuous dreary
shuffling of weary footsteps on the flagstones. The sunshine
falling on the grime of surfaces, on the poverty of tones and forms
seemed of an inferior quality, its joy faded, its brilliance
tarnished and dusty. I had to raise my voice in the dull vibrating
noise of the roadway.
"You don't mean to say you have forgotten the connection?"
She cried readily enough: "I wasn't thinking." And then, while I
wondered what could have been the images occupying her brain at this
time, she asked me: "You didn't see my letter to Mrs. Fyne--did
"No. I didn't," I shouted. Just then the racket was distracting, a
pair-horse trolly lightly loaded with loose rods of iron passing
slowly very near us. "I wasn't trusted so far." And remembering
Mrs. Fyne's hints that the girl was unbalanced, I added: "Was it an
unreserved confession you wrote?"
She did not answer me for a time, and as I waited I thought that
there's nothing like a confession to make one look mad; and that of
all confessions a written one is the most detrimental all round.
Never confess! Never, never! An untimely joke is a source of
bitter regret always. Sometimes it may ruin a man; not because it
is a joke, but because it is untimely. And a confession of whatever
sort is always untimely. The only thing which makes it supportable
for a while is curiosity. You smile? Ah, but it is so, or else
people would be sent to the rightabout at the second sentence. How
many sympathetic souls can you reckon on in the world? One in ten,
one in a hundred--in a thousand--in ten thousand? Ah! What a sell
these confessions are! What a horrible sell! You seek sympathy,
and all you get is the most evanescent sense of relief--if you get
that much. For a confession, whatever it may be, stirs the secret
depths of the hearer's character. Often depths that he himself is
but dimly aware of. And so the righteous triumph secretly, the
lucky are amused, the strong are disgusted, the weak either upset or
irritated with you according to the measure of their sincerity with
themselves. And all of them in their hearts brand you for either
mad or impudent . . . "
I had seldom seen Marlow so vehement, so pessimistic, so earnestly
cynical before. I cut his declamation short by asking what answer
Flora de Barral had given to his question. "Did the poor girl admit
firing off her confidences at Mrs. Fyne--eight pages of close
writing--that sort of thing?"
Marlow shook his head.
"She did not tell me. I accepted her silence, as a kind of answer
and remarked that it would have been better if she had simply
announced the fact to Mrs. Fyne at the cottage. "Why didn't you do
it?" I asked point-blank.
She said: "I am not a very plucky girl." She looked up at me and
added meaningly: "And YOU know it. And you know why."
I must remark that she seemed to have become very subdued since our
first meeting at the quarry. Almost a different person from the
defiant, angry and despairing girl with quivering lips and resentful
"I thought it was very sensible of you to get away from that sheer
drop," I said.
She looked up with something of that old expression.
"That's not what I mean. I see you will have it that you saved my
life. Nothing of the kind. I was concerned for that vile little
beast of a dog. No! It was the idea of--of doing away with myself
which was cowardly. That's what I meant by saying I am not a very
"Oh!" I retorted airily. "That little dog. He isn't really a bad
little dog." But she lowered her eyelids and went on:
"I was so miserable that I could think only of myself. This was
mean. It was cruel too. And besides I had NOT given it up--not
Marlow changed his tone.
"I don't know much of the psychology of self-destruction. It's a
sort of subject one has few opportunities to study closely. I knew
a man once who came to my rooms one evening, and while smoking a
cigar confessed to me moodily that he was trying to discover some
graceful way of retiring out of existence. I didn't study his case,
but I had a glimpse of him the other day at a cricket match, with
some women, having a good time. That seems a fairly reasonable
attitude. Considered as a sin, it is a case for repentance before
the throne of a merciful God. But I imagine that Flora de Barral's
religion under the care of the distinguished governess could have
been nothing but outward formality. Remorse in the sense of gnawing
shame and unavailing regret is only understandable to me when some
wrong had been done to a fellow-creature. But why she, that girl
who existed on sufferance, so to speak--why she should writhe
inwardly with remorse because she had once thought of getting rid of
a life which was nothing in every respect but a curse--that I could
not understand. I thought it was very likely some obscure influence
of common forms of speech, some traditional or inherited feeling--a
vague notion that suicide is a legal crime; words of old moralists
and preachers which remain in the air and help to form all the
authorized moral conventions. Yes, I was surprised at her remorse.
But lowering her glance unexpectedly till her dark eye-lashes seemed
to rest against her white cheeks she presented a perfectly demure
aspect. It was so attractive that I could not help a faint smile.
That Flora de Barral should ever, in any aspect, have the power to
evoke a smile was the very last thing I should have believed. She
went on after a slight hesitation:
"One day I started for there, for that place."
Look at the influence of a mere play of physiognomy! If you
remember what we were talking about you will hardly believe that I
caught myself grinning down at that demure little girl. I must say
too that I felt more friendly to her at the moment than ever before.
"Oh, you did? To take that jump? You are a determined young
person. Well, what happened that time?"
An almost imperceptible alteration in her bearing; a slight droop of
her head perhaps--a mere nothing--made her look more demure than
"I had left the cottage," she began a little hurriedly. "I was
walking along the road--you know, THE road. I had made up my mind I
was not coming back this time."
I won't deny that these words spoken from under the brim of her hat
(oh yes, certainly, her head was down--she had put it down) gave me
a thrill; for indeed I had never doubted her sincerity. It could
never have been a make-believe despair.
"Yes," I whispered. "You were going along the road."
"When . . . " Again she hesitated with an effect of innocent
shyness worlds asunder from tragic issues; then glided on . . .
"When suddenly Captain Anthony came through a gate out of a field."
I coughed down the beginning of a most improper fit of laughter, and
felt ashamed of myself. Her eyes raised for a moment seemed full of
innocent suffering and unexpressed menace in the depths of the
dilated pupils within the rings of sombre blue. It was--how shall I
say it?--a night effect when you seem to see vague shapes and don't
know what reality you may come upon at any time. Then she lowered
her eyelids again, shutting all mysteriousness out of the situation
except for the sobering memory of that glance, nightlike in the
sunshine, expressively still in the brutal unrest of the street.
"So Captain Anthony joined you--did he?"
"He opened a field-gate and walked out on the road. He crossed to
my side and went on with me. He had his pipe in his hand. He said:
'Are you going far this morning?'"
These words (I was watching her white face as she spoke) gave me a
slight shudder. She remained demure, almost prim. And I remarked:
"You have been talking together before, of course."
"Not more than twenty words altogether since he arrived," she
declared without emphasis. "That day he had said 'Good morning' to
me when we met at breakfast two hours before. And I said good
morning to him. I did not see him afterwards till he came out on
I thought to myself that this was not accidental. He had been
observing her. I felt certain also that he had not been asking any
questions of Mrs. Fyne.
"I wouldn't look at him," said Flora de Barral. "I had done with
looking at people. He said to me: 'My sister does not put herself
out much for us. We had better keep each other company. I have
read every book there is in that cottage.' I walked on. He did not
leave me. I thought he ought to. But he didn't. He didn't seem to
notice that I would not talk to him."
She was now perfectly still. The wretched little parasol hung down
against her dress from her joined hands. I was rigid with
attention. It isn't every day that one culls such a volunteered
tale on a girl's lips. The ugly street-noises swelling up for a
moment covered the next few words she said. It was vexing. The
next word I heard was "worried."
"It worried you to have him there, walking by your side."
"Yes. Just that," she went on with downcast eyes. There was
something prettily comical in her attitude and her tone, while I
pictured to myself a poor white-faced girl walking to her death with
an unconscious man striding by her side. Unconscious? I don't
know. First of all, I felt certain that this was no chance meeting.
Something had happened before. Was he a man for a coup-de-foudre,
the lightning stroke of love? I don't think so. That sort of
susceptibility is luckily rare. A world of inflammable lovers of
the Romeo and Juliet type would very soon end in barbarism and
misery. But it is a fact that in every man (not in every woman)
there lives a lover; a lover who is called out in all his
potentialities often by the most insignificant little things--as
long as they come at the psychological moment: the glimpse of a
face at an unusual angle, an evanescent attitude, the curve of a
cheek often looked at before, perhaps, but then, at the moment,
charged with astonishing significance. These are great mysteries,
of course. Magic signs.
I don't know in what the sign consisted in this case. It might have
been her pallor (it wasn't pasty nor yet papery) that white face
with eyes like blue gleams of fire and lips like red coals. In
certain lights, in certain poises of head it suggested tragic
sorrow. Or it might have been her wavy hair. Or even just that
pointed chin stuck out a little, resentful and not particularly
distinguished, doing away with the mysterious aloofness of her
fragile presence. But any way at a given moment Anthony must have
suddenly SEEN the girl. And then, that something had happened to
him. Perhaps nothing more than the thought coming into his head
that this was "a possible woman."
Followed this waylaying! Its resolute character makes me think it
was the chin's doing; that "common mortal" touch which stands in
such good stead to some women. Because men, I mean really masculine
men, those whose generations have evolved an ideal woman, are often
very timid. Who wouldn't be before the ideal? It's your
sentimental trifler, who has just missed being nothing at all, who
is enterprising, simply because it is easy to appear enterprising
when one does not mean to put one's belief to the test.
Well, whatever it was that encouraged him, Captain Anthony stuck to
Flora de Barral in a manner which in a timid man might have been
called heroic if it had not been so simple. Whether policy,
diplomacy, simplicity, or just inspiration, he kept up his talk,
rather deliberate, with very few pauses. Then suddenly as if
"It's funny. I don't think you are annoyed with me for giving you
my company unasked. But why don't you say something?"
I asked Miss de Barral what answer she made to this query.
"I made no answer," she said in that even, unemotional low voice
which seemed to be her voice for delicate confidences. "I walked
on. He did not seem to mind. We came to the foot of the quarry
where the road winds up hill, past the place where you were sitting
by the roadside that day. I began to wonder what I should do.
After we reached the top Captain Anthony said that he had not been
for a walk with a lady for years and years--almost since he was a
boy. We had then come to where I ought to have turned off and
struck across a field. I thought of making a run of it. But he
would have caught me up. I knew he would; and, of course, he would
not have allowed me. I couldn't give him the slip."
"Why didn't you ask him to leave you?" I inquired curiously.
"He would not have taken any notice," she went on steadily. "And
what could I have done then? I could not have started quarrelling
with him--could I? I hadn't enough energy to get angry. I felt
very tired suddenly. I just stumbled on straight along the road.
Captain Anthony told me that the family--some relations of his
mother--he used to know in Liverpool was broken up now, and he had
never made any friends since. All gone their different ways. All
the girls married. Nice girls they were and very friendly to him
when he was but little more than a boy. He repeated: 'Very nice,
cheery, clever girls.' I sat down on a bank against a hedge and
began to cry."
"You must have astonished him not a little," I observed.
Anthony, it seems, remained on the road looking down at her. He did
not offer to approach her, neither did he make any other movement or
gesture. Flora de Barral told me all this. She could see him
through her tears, blurred to a mere shadow on the white road, and
then again becoming more distinct, but always absolutely still and
as if lost in thought before a strange phenomenon which demanded the
closest possible attention.
Flora learned later that he had never seen a woman cry; not in that
way, at least. He was impressed and interested by the
mysteriousness of the effect. She was very conscious of being
looked at, but was not able to stop herself crying. In fact, she
was not capable of any effort. Suddenly he advanced two steps,
stooped, caught hold of her hands lying on her lap and pulled her up
to her feet; she found herself standing close to him almost before
she realized what he had done. Some people were coming briskly
along the road and Captain Anthony muttered: "You don't want to be
stared at. What about that stile over there? Can we go back across
She snatched her hands out of his grasp (it seems he had omitted to
let them go), marched away from him and got over the stile. It was
a big field sprinkled profusely with white sheep. A trodden path
crossed it diagonally. After she had gone more than half way she
turned her head for the first time. Keeping five feet or so behind,
Captain Anthony was following her with an air of extreme interest.
Interest or eagerness. At any rate she caught an expression on his
face which frightened her. But not enough to make her run. And
indeed it would have had to be something incredibly awful to scare
into a run a girl who had come to the end of her courage to live.
As if encouraged by this glance over the shoulder Captain Anthony
came up boldly, and now that he was by her side, she felt his
nearness intimately, like a touch. She tried to disregard this
sensation. But she was not angry with him now. It wasn't worth
while. She was thankful that he had the sense not to ask questions
as to this crying. Of course he didn't ask because he didn't care.
No one in the world cared for her, neither those who pretended nor
yet those who did not pretend. She preferred the latter.
Captain Anthony opened for her a gate into another field; when they
got through he kept walking abreast, elbow to elbow almost. His
voice growled pleasantly in her very ear. Staying in this dull
place was enough to give anyone the blues. His sister scribbled all
day. It was positively unkind. He alluded to his nieces as rude,
selfish monkeys, without either feelings or manners. And he went on
to talk about his ship being laid up for a month and dismantled for
repairs. The worst was that on arriving in London he found he
couldn't get the rooms he was used to, where they made him as
comfortable as such a confirmed sea-dog as himself could be anywhere
In the effort to subdue by dint of talking and to keep in check the
mysterious, the profound attraction he felt already for that
delicate being of flesh and blood, with pale cheeks, with darkened
eyelids and eyes scalded with hot tears, he went on speaking of
himself as a confirmed enemy of life on shore--a perfect terror to a
simple man, what with the fads and proprieties and the ceremonies
and affectations. He hated all that. He wasn't fit for it. There
was no rest and peace and security but on the sea.
This gave one a view of Captain Anthony as a hermit withdrawn from a
wicked world. It was amusingly unexpected to me and nothing more.
But it must have appealed straight to that bruised and battered
young soul. Still shrinking from his nearness she had ended by
listening to him with avidity. His deep murmuring voice soothed
her. And she thought suddenly that there was peace and rest in the
She heard him say: "Look at my sister. She isn't a bad woman by
any means. She asks me here because it's right and proper, I
suppose, but she has no use for me. There you have your shore
people. I quite understand anybody crying. I would have been gone
already, only, truth to say, I haven't any friends to go to." He
added brusquely: "And you?"
She made a slight negative sign. He must have been observing her,
putting two and two together. After a pause he said simply: "When
I first came here I thought you were governess to these girls. My
sister didn't say a word about you to me."
Then Flora spoke for the first time.
"Mrs. Fyne is my best friend."
"So she is mine," he said without the slightest irony or bitterness,
but added with conviction: "That shows you what life ashore is.
Much better be out of it."
As they were approaching the cottage he was heard again as though a
long silent walk had not intervened: "But anyhow I shan't ask her
anything about you."
He stopped short and she went on alone. His last words had
impressed her. Everything he had said seemed somehow to have a
special meaning under its obvious conversational sense. Till she
went in at the door of the cottage she felt his eyes resting on her.
That is it. He had made himself felt. That girl was, one may say,
washing about with slack limbs in the ugly surf of life with no
opportunity to strike out for herself, when suddenly she had been
made to feel that there was somebody beside her in the bitter water.
A most considerable moral event for her; whether she was aware of it
or not. They met again at the one o'clock dinner. I am inclined to
think that, being a healthy girl under her frail appearance, and
fast walking and what I may call relief-crying (there are many kinds
of crying) making one hungry, she made a good meal. It was Captain
Anthony who had no appetite. His sister commented on it in a curt,
business-like manner, and the eldest of his delightful nieces said
mockingly: "You have been taking too much exercise this morning,
Uncle Roderick." The mild Uncle Roderick turned upon her with a
"What do you know about it, young lady?" so charged with suppressed
savagery that the whole round table gave one gasp and went dumb for
the rest of the meal. He took no notice whatever of Flora de
Barral. I don't think it was from prudence or any calculated
motive. I believe he was so full of her aspects that he did not
want to look in her direction when there were other people to hamper
You understand I am piecing here bits of disconnected statements.
Next day Flora saw him leaning over the field-gate. When she told
me this, I didn't of course ask her how it was she was there.
Probably she could not have told me how it was she was there. The
difficulty here is to keep steadily in view the then conditions of
her existence, a combination of dreariness and horror.
That hermit-like but not exactly misanthropic sailor was leaning
over the gate moodily. When he saw the white-faced restless Flora
drifting like a lost thing along the road he put his pipe in his
pocket and called out "Good morning, Miss Smith" in a tone of
amazing happiness. She, with one foot in life and the other in a
nightmare, was at the same time inert and unstable, and very much at
the mercy of sudden impulses. She swerved, came distractedly right
up to the gate and looking straight into his eyes: "I am not Miss
Smith. That's not my name. Don't call me by it."
She was shaking as if in a passion. His eyes expressed nothing; he
only unlatched the gate in silence, grasped her arm and drew her in.
Then closing it with a kick -
"Not your name? That's all one to me. Your name's the least thing
about you I care for." He was leading her firmly away from the gate
though she resisted slightly. There was a sort of joy in his eyes
which frightened her. "You are not a princess in disguise," he said
with an unexpected laugh she found blood-curdling. "And that's all
I care for. You had better understand that I am not blind and not a
fool. And then it's plain for even a fool to see that things have
been going hard with you. You are on a lee shore and eating your
heart out with worry."
What seemed most awful to her was the elated light in his eyes, the
rapacious smile that would come and go on his lips as if he were
gloating over her misery. But her misery was his opportunity and he
rejoiced while the tenderest pity seemed to flood his whole being.
He pointed out to her that she knew who he was. He was Mrs. Fyne's
brother. And, well, if his sister was the best friend she had in
the world, then, by Jove, it was about time somebody came along to
look after her a little.
Flora had tried more than once to free herself, but he tightened his
grasp of her arm each time and even shook it a little without
ceasing to speak. The nearness of his face intimidated her. He
seemed striving to look her through. It was obvious the world had
been using her ill. And even as he spoke with indignation the very
marks and stamp of this ill-usage of which he was so certain seemed
to add to the inexplicable attraction he felt for her person. It
was not pity alone, I take it. It was something more spontaneous,
perverse and exciting. It gave him the feeling that if only he
could get hold of her, no woman would belong to him so completely as
"Whatever your troubles," he said, "I am the man to take you away
from them; that is, if you are not afraid. You told me you had no
friends. Neither have I. Nobody ever cared for me as far as I can
remember. Perhaps you could. Yes, I live on the sea. But who
would you be parting from? No one. You have no one belonging to
At this point she broke away from him and ran. He did not pursue
her. The tall hedges tossing in the wind, the wide fields, the
clouds driving over the sky and the sky itself wheeled about her in
masses of green and white and blue as if the world were breaking up
silently in a whirl, and her foot at the next step were bound to
find the void. She reached the gate all right, got out, and, once
on the road, discovered that she had not the courage to look back.
The rest of that day she spent with the Fyne girls who gave her to
understand that she was a slow and unprofitable person. Long after
tea, nearly at dusk, Captain Anthony (the son of the poet) appeared
suddenly before her in the little garden in front of the cottage.
They were alone for the moment. The wind had dropped. In the calm
evening air the voices of Mrs. Fyne and the girls strolling
aimlessly on the road could be heard. He said to her severely:
"You have understood?"
She looked at him in silence.
"That I love you," he finished.
She shook her head the least bit.
"Don't you believe me?" he asked in a low, infuriated voice.
"Nobody would love me," she answered in a very quiet tone. "Nobody
He was dumb for a time, astonished beyond measure, as he well might
have been. He doubted his ears. He was outraged.
"Eh? What? Can't love you? What do you know about it? It's my
affair, isn't it? You dare say THAT to a man who has just told you!
You must be mad!"
"Very nearly," she said with the accent of pent-up sincerity, and
even relieved because she was able to say something which she felt
was true. For the last few days she had felt herself several times
near that madness which is but an intolerable lucidity of
The clear voices of Mrs. Fyne and the girls were coming nearer,
sounding affected in the peace of the passion-laden earth. He began
storming at her hastily.
"Nonsense! Nobody can . . . Indeed! Pah! You'll have to be shown
that somebody can. I can. Nobody . . . " He made a contemptuous
hissing noise. "More likely YOU can't. They have done something to
you. Something's crushed your pluck. You can't face a man--that's
what it is. What made you like this? Where do you come from? You
have been put upon. The scoundrels--whoever they are, men or women,
seem to have robbed you of your very name. You say you are not Miss
Smith. Who are you, then?"
She did not answer. He muttered, "Not that I care," and fell
silent, because the fatuous self-confident chatter of the Fyne girls
could be heard at the very gate. But they were not going to bed
yet. They passed on. He waited a little in silence and immobility,
then stamped his foot and lost control of himself. He growled at
her in a savage passion. She felt certain that he was threatening
her and calling her names. She was no stranger to abuse, as we
know, but there seemed to be a particular kind of ferocity in this
which was new to her. She began to tremble. The especially
terrifying thing was that she could not make out the nature of these
awful menaces and names. Not a word. Yet it was not the shrinking
anguish of her other experiences of angry scenes. She made a mighty
effort, though her knees were knocking together, and in an expiring
voice demanded that he should let her go indoors. "Don't stop me.
It's no use. It's no use," she repeated faintly, feeling an
invincible obstinacy rising within her, yet without anger against
that raging man.
He became articulate suddenly, and, without raising his voice,
"No use! No use! You dare stand here and tell me that--you white-
faced wisp, you wreath of mist, you little ghost of all the sorrow
in the world. You dare! Haven't I been looking at you? You are
all eyes. What makes your cheeks always so white as if you had seen
something . . . Don't speak. I love it . . . No use! And you
really think that I can now go to sea for a year or more, to the
other side of the world somewhere, leaving you behind. Why! You
would vanish . . . what little there is of you. Some rough wind
will blow you away altogether. You have no holding ground on earth.
Well, then trust yourself to me--to the sea--which is deep like your
She said: "Impossible." He kept quiet for a while, then asked in a
totally changed tone, a tone of gloomy curiosity:
"You can't stand me then ? Is that it?"
"No," she said, more steady herself. "I am not thinking of you at
The inane voices of the Fyne girls were heard over the sombre fields
calling to each other, thin and clear. He muttered: "You could try
to. Unless you are thinking of somebody else."
"Yes. I am thinking of somebody else, of someone who has nobody to
think of him but me."
His shadowy form stepped out of her way, and suddenly leaned
sideways against the wooden support of the porch. And as she stood
still, surprised by this staggering movement, his voice spoke up in
a tone quite strange to her.
"Go in then. Go out of my sight--I thought you said nobody could
She was passing him when suddenly he struck her as so forlorn that
she was inspired to say: "No one has ever loved me--not in that
way--if that's what you mean. Nobody would."
He detached himself brusquely from the post, and she did not shrink;
but Mrs. Fyne and the girls were already at the gate.
All he understood was that everything was not over yet. There was
no time to lose; Mrs. Fyne and the girls had come in at the gate.
He whispered "Wait" with such authority (he was the son of Carleon
Anthony, the domestic autocrat) that it did arrest her for a moment,
long enough to hear him say that he could not be left like this to
puzzle over her nonsense all night. She was to slip down again into
the garden later on, as soon as she could do so without being heard.
He would be there waiting for her till--till daylight. She didn't
think he could go to sleep, did she? And she had better come, or--
he broke off on an unfinished threat.
She vanished into the unlighted cottage just as Mrs. Fyne came up to
the porch. Nervous, holding her breath in the darkness of the
living-room, she heard her best friend say: "You ought to have
joined us, Roderick." And then: "Have you seen Miss Smith
Flora shuddered, expecting Anthony to break out into betraying
imprecations on Miss Smith's head, and cause a painful and
humiliating explanation. She imagined him full of his mysterious
ferocity. To her great surprise, Anthony's voice sounded very much
as usual, with perhaps a slight tinge of grimness. "Miss Smith!
No. I've seen no Miss Smith."
Mrs. Fyne seemed satisfied--and not much concerned really.
Flora, relieved, got clear away to her room upstairs, and shutting
her door quietly, dropped into a chair. She was used to reproaches,
abuse, to all sorts of wicked ill usage--short of actual beating on
her body. Otherwise inexplicable angers had cut and slashed and
trampled down her youth without mercy--and mainly, it appeared,
because she was the financier de Barral's daughter and also
condemned to a degrading sort of poverty through the action of
treacherous men who had turned upon her father in his hour of need.
And she thought with the tenderest possible affection of that
upright figure buttoned up in a long frock-coat, soft-voiced and
having but little to say to his girl. She seemed to feel his hand
closed round hers. On his flying visits to Brighton he would always
walk hand in hand with her. People stared covertly at them; the
band was playing; and there was the sea--the blue gaiety of the sea.
They were quietly happy together . . . It was all over!
An immense anguish of the present wrung her heart, and she nearly
cried aloud. That dread of what was before her which had been
eating up her courage slowly in the course of odious years, flamed
up into an access of panic, that sort of headlong panic which had
already driven her out twice to the top of the cliff-like quarry.
She jumped up saying to herself: "Why not now? At once! Yes.
I'll do it now--in the dark!" The very horror of it seemed to give
her additional resolution.
She came down the staircase quietly, and only on the point of
opening the door and because of the discovery that it was
unfastened, she remembered Captain Anthony's threat to stay in the
garden all night. She hesitated. She did not understand the mood
of that man clearly. He was violent. But she had gone beyond the
point where things matter. What would he think of her coming down
to him--as he would naturally suppose. And even that didn't matter.
He could not despise her more than she despised herself. She must
have been light-headed because the thought came into her mind that
should he get into ungovernable fury from disappointment, and
perchance strangle her, it would be as good a way to be done with it
"You had that thought," I exclaimed in wonder.
With downcast eyes and speaking with an almost painstaking precision
(her very lips, her red lips, seemed to move just enough to be heard
and no more), she said that, yes, the thought came into her head.
This makes one shudder at the mysterious ways girls acquire
knowledge. For this was a thought, wild enough, I admit, but which
could only have come from the depths of that sort of experience
which she had not had, and went far beyond a young girl's possible
conception of the strongest and most veiled of human emotions.
"He was there, of course?" I said.
"Yes, he was there." She saw him on the path directly she stepped
outside the porch. He was very still. It was as though he had been
standing there with his face to the door for hours.
Shaken up by the changing moods of passion and tenderness, he must
have been ready for any extravagance of conduct. Knowing the
profound silence each night brought to that nook of the country, I
could imagine them having the feeling of being the only two people
on the wide earth. A row of six or seven lofty elms just across the
road opposite the cottage made the night more obscure in that little
garden. If these two could just make out each other that was all.
"Well! And were you very much terrified?" I asked.
She made me wait a little before she said, raising her eyes: "He
was gentleness itself."
I noticed three abominable, drink-sodden loafers, sallow and dirty,
who had come to range themselves in a row within ten feet of us
against the front of the public-house. They stared at Flora de
Barral's back with unseeing, mournful fixity.
"Let's move this way a little," I proposed.
She turned at once and we made a few paces; not too far to take us
out of sight of the hotel door, but very nearly. I could just keep
my eyes on it. After all, I had not been so very long with the
girl. If you were to disentangle the words we actually exchanged
from my comments you would see that they were not so very many,
including everything she had so unexpectedly told me of her story.
No, not so very many. And now it seemed as though there would be no
more. No! I could expect no more. The confidence was wonderful
enough in its nature as far as it went, and perhaps not to have been
expected from any other girl under the sun. And I felt a little
ashamed. The origin of our intimacy was too gruesome. It was as if
listening to her I had taken advantage of having seen her poor
bewildered, scared soul without its veils. But I was curious, too;
or, to render myself justice without false modesty--I was anxious;
anxious to know a little more.
I felt like a blackmailer all the same when I made my attempt with a
"And so you gave up that walk you proposed to take?"
"Yes, I gave up the walk," she said slowly before raising her
downcast eyes. When she did so it was with an extraordinary effect.
It was like catching sight of a piece of blue sky, of a stretch of
open water. And for a moment I understood the desire of that man to
whom the sea and sky of his solitary life had appeared suddenly
incomplete without that glance which seemed to belong to them both.
He was not for nothing the son of a poet. I looked into those
unabashed eyes while the girl went on, her demure appearance and
precise tone changed to a very earnest expression. Woman is various
"But I want you to understand, Mr. . . . " she had actually to think
of my name . . . "Mr. Marlow, that I have written to Mrs. Fyne that
I haven't been--that I have done nothing to make Captain Anthony
behave to me as he had behaved. I haven't. I haven't. It isn't my
doing. It isn't my fault--if she likes to put it in that way. But
she, with her ideas, ought to understand that I couldn't, that I
couldn't . . . I know she hates me now. I think she never liked me.
I think nobody ever cared for me. I was told once nobody could care
for me; and I think it is true. At any rate I can't forget it."
Her abominable experience with the governess had implanted in her
unlucky breast a lasting doubt, an ineradicable suspicion of herself
and of others. I said:
"Remember, Miss de Barral, that to be fair you must trust a man
altogether--or not at all."
She dropped her eyes suddenly. I thought I heard a faint sigh. I
tried to take a light tone again, and yet it seemed impossible to
get off the ground which gave me my standing with her.
"Mrs. Fyne is absurd. She's an excellent woman, but really you
could not be expected to throw away your chance of life simply that
she might cherish a good opinion of your memory. That would be
"It was not of my life that I was thinking while Captain Anthony
was--was speaking to me," said Flora de Barral with an effort.
I told her that she was wrong then. She ought to have been thinking
of her life, and not only of her life but of the life of the man who
was speaking to her too. She let me finish, then shook her head
"Well," I said, "when he stood before you there, outside the
cottage, he really stood between you and that. I have it out of
your own mouth. You can't deny it."
"If you will have it that he saved my life, then he has got it. It
was not for me. Oh no! It was not for me that I--It was not fear!
There!" She finished petulantly: "And you may just as well know
She hung her head and swung the parasol slightly to and fro. I
thought a little.
"Do you know French, Miss de Barral?" I asked.
She made a sign with her head that she did, but without showing any
surprise at the question and without ceasing to swing her parasol.
"Well then, somehow or other I have the notion that Captain Anthony
is what the French call un galant homme. I should like to think he
is being treated as he deserves."
The form of her lips (I could see them under the brim of her hat)
was suddenly altered into a line of seriousness. The parasol
"I have given him what he wanted--that's myself," she said without a
tremor and with a striking dignity of tone.
Impressed by the manner and the directness of the words, I hesitated
for a moment what to say. Then made up my mind to clear up the
"And you have got what you wanted? Is that it?"
The daughter of the egregious financier de Barral did not answer at
once this question going to the heart of things. Then raising her
head and gazing wistfully across the street noisy with the endless
transit of innumerable bargains, she said with intense gravity:
"He has been most generous."
I was pleased to hear these words. Not that I doubted the
infatuation of Roderick Anthony, but I was pleased to hear something
which proved that she was sensible and open to the sentiment of
gratitude which in this case was significant. In the face of man's
desire a girl is excusable if she thinks herself priceless. I mean
a girl of our civilization which has established a dithyrambic
phraseology for the expression of love. A man in love will accept
any convention exalting the object of his passion and in this
indirect way his passion itself. In what way the captain of the
ship Ferndale gave proofs of lover-like lavishness I could not guess
very well. But I was glad she was appreciative. It is lucky that
small things please women. And it is not silly of them to be thus
pleased. It is in small things that the deepest loyalty, that which
they need most, the loyalty of the passing moment, is best
She had remained thoughtful, letting her deep motionless eyes rest
on the streaming jumble of traffic. Suddenly she said:
"And I wanted to ask you . . . I was really glad when I saw you
actually here. Who would have expected you here, at this spot,
before this hotel! I certainly never . . . You see it meant a lot
to me. You are the only person who knows . . . who knows for
certain . . . "
"Knows what?" I said, not discovering at first what she had in her
mind. Then I saw it. "Why can't you leave that alone?" I
remonstrated, rather annoyed at the invidious position she was
forcing on me in a sense. "It's true that I was the only person to
see," I added. "But, as it happens, after your mysterious
disappearance I told the Fynes the story of our meeting."
Her eyes raised to mine had an expression of dreamy, unfathomable
candour, if I dare say so. And if you wonder what I mean I can only
say that I have seen the sea wear such an expression on one or two
occasions shortly before sunrise on a calm, fresh day. She said as
if meditating aloud that she supposed the Fynes were not likely to
talk about that. She couldn't imagine any connection in which . . .
Why should they?
As her tone had become interrogatory I assented. "To be sure.
There's no reason whatever--" thinking to myself that they would be
more likely indeed to keep quiet about it. They had other things to
talk of. And then remembering little Fyne stuck upstairs for an
unconscionable time, enough to blurt out everything he ever knew in
his life, I reflected that he would assume naturally that Captain
Anthony had nothing to learn from him about Flora de Barral. It had
been up to now my assumption too. I saw my mistake. The sincerest
of women will make no unnecessary confidences to a man. And this is
as it should be.
"No--no!" I said reassuringly. "It's most unlikely. Are you much
"Well, you see, when I came down," she said again in that precise
demure tone, "when I came down--into the garden Captain Anthony
"Of course he would. Men are so conceited," I said.
I saw it well enough that he must have thought she had come down to
him. What else could he have thought? And then he had been
"gentleness itself." A new experience for that poor, delicate, and
yet so resisting creature. Gentleness in passion! What could have
been more seductive to the scared, starved heart of that girl?
Perhaps had he been violent, she might have told him that what she
came down to keep was the tryst of death--not of love. It occurred
to me as I looked at her, young, fragile in aspect, and intensely
alive in her quietness, that perhaps she did not know herself then
what sort of tryst she was coming down to keep.
She smiled faintly, almost awkwardly as if she were totally unused
to smiling, at my cheap jocularity. Then she said with that forced
precision, a sort of conscious primness:
"I didn't want him to know."
I approved heartily. Quite right. Much better. Let him ever
remain under his misapprehension which was so much more flattering
I tried to keep it in the tone of comedy; but she was, I believe,
too simple to understand my intention. She went on, looking down.
"Oh! You think so? When I saw you I didn't know why you were here.
I was glad when you spoke to me because this is exactly what I
wanted to ask you for. I wanted to ask you if you ever meet Captain
Anthony--by any chance--anywhere--you are a sailor too, are you
not?--that you would never mention--never--that--that you had seen
me over there."
"My dear young lady," I cried, horror-struck at the supposition.
"Why should I? What makes you think I should dream of . . . "
She had raised her head at my vehemence. She did not understand it.
The world had treated her so dishonourably that she had no notion
even of what mere decency of feeling is like. It was not her fault.
Indeed, I don't know why she should have put her trust in anybody's
But I thought it would be better to promise. So I assured her that
she could depend on my absolute silence.
"I am not likely to ever set eyes on Captain Anthony," I added with
conviction--as a further guarantee.
She accepted my assurance in silence, without a sign. Her gravity
had in it something acute, perhaps because of that chin. While we
were still looking at each other she declared:
"There's no deception in it really. I want you to believe that if I
am here, like this, to-day, it is not from fear. It is not!"
"I quite understand," I said. But her firm yet self-conscious gaze
became doubtful. "I do," I insisted. "I understand perfectly that
it was not of death that you were afraid."
She lowered her eyes slowly, and I went on:
"As to life, that's another thing. And I don't know that one ought
to blame you very much--though it seemed rather an excessive step.
I wonder now if it isn't the ugliness rather than the pain of the
struggle which . . . "
She shuddered visibly: "But I do blame myself," she exclaimed with
feeling. "I am ashamed." And, dropping her head, she looked in a
moment the very picture of remorse and shame.
"Well, you will be going away from all its horrors," I said. "And
surely you are not afraid of the sea. You are a sailor's
granddaughter, I understand."
She sighed deeply. She remembered her grandfather only a little.
He was a clean-shaven man with a ruddy complexion and long,
perfectly white hair. He used to take her on his knee, and putting
his face near hers, talk to her in loving whispers. If only he were
alive now . . . !
She remained silent for a while.
"Aren't you anxious to see the ship?" I asked.
She lowered her head still more so that I could not see anything of
"I don't know," she murmured.
I had already the suspicion that she did not know her own feelings.
All this work of the merest chance had been so unexpected, so
sudden. And she had nothing to fall back upon, no experience but
such as to shake her belief in every human being. She was
dreadfully and pitifully forlorn. It was almost in order to comfort
my own depression that I remarked cheerfully:
"Well, I know of somebody who must be growing extremely anxious to
"I am before my time," she confessed simply, rousing herself. "I
had nothing to do. So I came out."
I had the sudden vision of a shabby, lonely little room at the other
end of the town. It had grown intolerable to her restlessness. The
mere thought of it oppressed her. Flora de Barral was looking
frankly at her chance confidant,
"And I came this way," she went on. "I appointed the time myself
yesterday, but Captain Anthony would not have minded. He told me he
was going to look over some business papers till I came."
The idea of the son of the poet, the rescuer of the most forlorn
damsel of modern times, the man of violence, gentleness and
generosity, sitting up to his neck in ship's accounts amused me. "I
am sure he would not have minded," I said, smiling. But the girl's
stare was sombre, her thin white face seemed pathetically careworn.
"I can hardly believe yet," she murmured anxiously.
"It's quite real. Never fear," I said encouragingly, but had to
change my tone at once. "You had better go down that way a little,"
I directed her abruptly.
I had seen Fyne come striding out of the hotel door. The
intelligent girl, without staying to ask questions, walked away from
me quietly down one street while I hurried on to meet Fyne coming up
the other at his efficient pedestrian gait. My object was to stop
him getting as far as the corner. He must have been thinking too
hard to be aware of his surroundings. I put myself in his way, and
he nearly walked into me.
"Hallo!" I said.
His surprise was extreme. "You here! You don't mean to say you
have been waiting for me?"
I said negligently that I had been detained by unexpected business
in the neighbourhood, and thus happened to catch sight of him coming
He stared at me with solemn distraction, obviously thinking of
something else. I suggested that he had better take the next city-
ward tramcar. He was inattentive, and I perceived that he was
profoundly perturbed. As Miss de Barral (she had moved out of
sight) could not possibly approach the hotel door as long as we
remained where we were I proposed that we should wait for the car on
the other side of the street. He obeyed rather the slight touch on
his arm than my words, and while we were crossing the wide roadway
in the midst of the lumbering wheeled traffic, he exclaimed in his
deep tone, "I don't know which of these two is more mad than the
"Really!" I said, pulling him forward from under the noses of two
enormous sleepy-headed cart-horses. He skipped wildly out of the
way and up on the curbstone with a purely instinctive precision; his
mind had nothing to do with his movements. In the middle of his
leap, and while in the act of sailing gravely through the air, he
continued to relieve his outraged feelings.
"You would never believe! They ARE mad!"
I took care to place myself in such a position that to face me he
had to turn his back on the hotel across the road. I believe he was
glad I was there to talk to. But I thought there was some
misapprehension in the first statement he shot out at me without
loss of time, that Captain Anthony had been glad to see him. It was
indeed difficult to believe that, directly he opened the door, his
wife's "sailor-brother" had positively shouted: "Oh, it's you! The
very man I wanted to see."
"I found him sitting there," went on Fyne impressively in his
effortless, grave chest voice, "drafting his will."
This was unexpected, but I preserved a noncommittal attitude,
knowing full well that our actions in themselves are neither mad nor
sane. But I did not see what there was to be excited about. And
Fyne was distinctly excited. I understood it better when I learned
that the captain of the Ferndale wanted little Fyne to be one of the
trustees. He was leaving everything to his wife. Naturally, a
request which involved him into sanctioning in a way a proceeding
which he had been sent by his wife to oppose, must have appeared
sufficiently mad to Fyne.
"Me! Me, of all people in the world!" he repeated portentously.
But I could see that he was frightened. Such want of tact!
"He knew I came from his sister. You don't put a man into such an
awkward position," complained Fyne. "It made me speak much more
strongly against all this very painful business than I would have
had the heart to do otherwise."
I pointed out to him concisely, and keeping my eyes on the door of
the hotel, that he and his wife were the only bond with the land
Captain Anthony had. Who else could he have asked?
"I explained to him that he was breaking this bond," declared Fyne
solemnly. "Breaking it once for all. And for what--for what?"
He glared at me. I could perhaps have given him an inkling for
what, but I said nothing. He started again:
"My wife assures me that the girl does not love him a bit. She goes
by that letter she received from her. There is a passage in it
where she practically admits that she was quite unscrupulous in
accepting this offer of marriage, but says to my wife that she
supposes she, my wife, will not blame her--as it was in self-
defence. My wife has her own ideas, but this is an outrageous
misapprehension of her views. Outrageous."
The good little man paused and then added weightily:
"I didn't tell that to my brother-in-law--I mean, my wife's views."
"No," I said. "What would have been the good?"
"It's positive infatuation," agreed little Fyne, in the tone as
though he had made an awful discovery. "I have never seen anything
so hopeless and inexplicable in my life. I--I felt quite frightened
and sorry," he added, while I looked at him curiously asking myself
whether this excellent civil servant and notable pedestrian had felt
the breath of a great and fatal love-spell passing him by in the
room of that East-end hotel. He did look for a moment as though he
had seen a ghost, an other-world thing. But that look vanished
instantaneously, and he nodded at me with mere exasperation at
something quite of this world--whatever it was. "It's a bad
business. My brother-in-law knows nothing of women," he cried with
an air of profound, experienced wisdom.
What he imagined he knew of women himself I can't tell. I did not
know anything of the opportunities he might have had. But this is a
subject which, if approached with undue solemnity, is apt to elude
one's grasp entirely. No doubt Fyne knew something of a woman who
was Captain Anthony's sister. But that, admittedly, had been a very
solemn study. I smiled at him gently, and as if encouraged or
provoked, he completed his thought rather explosively.
"And that girl understands nothing . . . It's sheer lunacy."
"I don't know," I said, "whether the circumstances of isolation at
sea would be any alleviation to the danger. But it's certain that
they shall have the opportunity to learn everything about each other
in a lonely tete-e-tete."
"But dash it all," he cried in hollow accents which at the same time
had the tone of bitter irony--I had never before heard a sound so
quaintly ugly and almost horrible--"You forget Mr. Smith."
"What Mr. Smith?" I asked innocently.
Fyne made an extraordinary simiesque grimace. I believe it was
quite involuntary, but you know that a grave, much-lined, shaven
countenance when distorted in an unusual way is extremely apelike.
It was a surprising sight, and rendered me not only speechless but
stopped the progress of my thought completely. I must have
presented a remarkably imbecile appearance.
"My brother-in-law considered it amusing to chaff me about us
introducing the girl as Miss Smith," said Fyne, going surly in a
moment. "He said that perhaps if he had heard her real name from
the first it might have restrained him. As it was, he made the
discovery too late. Asked me to tell Zoe this together with a lot
Fyne gave me the impression of having escaped from a man inspired by
a grimly playful ebullition of high spirits. It must have been most
distasteful to him; and his solemnity got damaged somehow in the
process, I perceived. There were holes in it through which I could
see a new, an unknown Fyne.
"You wouldn't believe it," he went on, "but she looks upon her
father exclusively as a victim. I don't know," he burst out
suddenly through an enormous rent in his solemnity, "if she thinks
him absolutely a saint, but she certainly imagines him to be a
It is one of the advantages of that magnificent invention, the
prison, that you may forget people which are put there as though
they were dead. One needn't worry about them. Nothing can happen
to them that you can help. They can do nothing which might possibly
matter to anybody. They come out of it, though, but that seems
hardly an advantage to themselves or anyone else. I had completely
forgotten the financier de Barral. The girl for me was an orphan,
but now I perceived suddenly the force of Fyne's qualifying
statement, "to a certain extent." It would have been infinitely
more kind all round for the law to have shot, beheaded, strangled,
or otherwise destroyed this absurd de Barral, who was a danger to a
moral world inhabited by a credulous multitude not fit to take care
of itself. But I observed to Fyne that, however insane was the view
she held, one could not declare the girl mad on that account.
"So she thinks of her father--does she? I suppose she would appear
to us saner if she thought only of herself."
"I am positive," Fyne said earnestly, "that she went and made
desperate eyes at Anthony . . . "
"Oh come!" I interrupted. "You haven't seen her make eyes. You
don't know the colour of her eyes."
"Very well! It don't matter. But it could hardly have come to that
if she hadn't . . . It's all one, though. I tell you she has led
him on, or accepted him, if you like, simply because she was
thinking of her father. She doesn't care a bit about Anthony, I
believe. She cares for no one. Never cared for anyone. Ask Zoe.
For myself I don't blame her," added Fyne, giving me another view of
unsuspected things through the rags and tatters of his damaged
solemnity. "No! by heavens, I don't blame her--the poor devil."
I agreed with him silently. I suppose affections are, in a sense,
to be learned. If there exists a native spark of love in all of us,
it must be fanned while we are young. Hers, if she ever had it, had
been drenched in as ugly a lot of corrosive liquid as could be
imagined. But I was surprised at Fyne obscurely feeling this.
"She loves no one except that preposterous advertising shark," he
pursued venomously, but in a more deliberate manner. "And Anthony
"Does he?" I said doubtfully.
"She's quite capable of having told him herself," affirmed Fyne,
with amazing insight. "But whether or no, I'VE told him."
"You did? From Mrs. Fyne, of course."
Fyne only blinked owlishly at this piece of my insight.
"And how did Captain Anthony receive this interesting information?"
I asked further.
"Most improperly," said Fyne, who really was in a state in which he
didn't mind what he blurted out. "He isn't himself. He begged me
to tell his sister that he offered no remarks on her conduct. Very
improper and inconsequent. He said . . . I was tired of this
wrangling. I told him I made allowances for the state of excitement
he was in."
"You know, Fyne," I said, "a man in jail seems to me such an
incredible, cruel, nightmarish sort of thing that I can hardly
believe in his existence. Certainly not in relation to any other
"But dash it all," cried Fyne, "he isn't shut up for life. They are
going to let him out. He's coming out! That's the whole trouble.
What is he coming out to, I want to know? It seems a more cruel
business than the shutting him up was. This has been the worry for
weeks. Do you see now?"
I saw, all sorts of things! Immediately before me I saw the
excitement of little Fyne--mere food for wonder. Further off, in a
sort of gloom and beyond the light of day and the movement of the
street, I saw the figure of a man, stiff like a ramrod, moving with
small steps, a slight girlish figure by his side. And the gloom was
like the gloom of villainous slums, of misery, of wretchedness, of a
starved and degraded existence. It was a relief that I could see
only their shabby hopeless backs. He was an awful ghost. But
indeed to call him a ghost was only a refinement of polite speech,
and a manner of concealing one's terror of such things. Prisons are
wonderful contrivances. Shut--open. Very neat. Shut--open. And
out comes some sort of corpse, to wander awfully in a world in which
it has no possible connections and carrying with it the appalling
tainted atmosphere of its silent abode. Marvellous arrangement. It
works automatically, and, when you look at it, the perfection makes
you sick; which for a mere mechanism is no mean triumph. Sick and
scared. It had nearly scared that poor girl to her death. Fancy
having to take such a thing by the hand! Now I understood the
remorseful strain I had detected in her speeches.
"By Jove!" I said. "They are about to let him out! I never thought
Fyne was contemptuous either of me or of things at large.
"You didn't suppose he was to be kept in jail for life?"
At that moment I caught sight of Flora de Barral at the junction of
the two streets. Then some vehicles following each other in quick
succession hid from my sight the black slight figure with just a
touch of colour in her hat. She was walking slowly; and it might
have been caution or reluctance. While listening to Fyne I stared
hard past his shoulder trying to catch sight of her again. He was
going on with positive heat, the rags of his solemnity dropping off
him at every second sentence.
That was just it. His wife and he had been perfectly aware of it.
Of course the girl never talked of her father with Mrs. Fyne. I
suppose with her theory of innocence she found it difficult. But
she must have been thinking of it day and night. What to do with
him? Where to go? How to keep body and soul together? He had
never made any friends. The only relations were the atrocious East-
end cousins. We know what they were. Nothing but wretchedness,
whichever way she turned in an unjust and prejudiced world. And to
look at him helplessly she felt would be too much for her.
I won't say I was thinking these thoughts. It was not necessary.
This complete knowledge was in my head while I stared hard across
the wide road, so hard that I failed to hear little Fyne till he
raised his deep voice indignantly.
"I don't blame the girl," he was saying. "He is infatuated with
her. Anybody can see that. Why she should have got such a hold on
him I can't understand. She said "Yes" to him only for the sake of
that fatuous, swindling father of hers. It's perfectly plain if one
thinks it over a moment. One needn't even think of it. We have it