Part 1 out of 9
BY LUCAS MALET
(MARY ST. LEGER HARRISON)
Author of "Sir Richard Calmady," "The Wages of Sin," etc.
"Youth has no boundaries, age has the grave."--BULGARIAN PROVERB
TO MY DEAR FRIEND ACROSS THE OCEAN C. E. O. VEVEY 1899 LONDON 1919
BOOK I THE HOUSE OF THE TAMARISKS
I. TELLING HOW, UNDER STRESS OF CIRCUMSTANCES, A HUMANIST TURNED
II. ENTER A YOUNG SCHOLAR AND GENTLEMAN OF A HAPPY DISPOSITION AND
III. THE DOUBTFULLY HARMONIOUS PARTS OF A WHOLE
IV. WATCHERS THROUGH THE SMALL HOURS
V. BETWEEN RIVER AND SEA
VI. IN WHICH THE PAST LAYS AN OMINOUS HAND ON THE PRESENT
VII. A CRITIC IN CORDUROY
BOOK II THE HARD SCHOOL OF THINGS AS THEY ARE
I. IN MAIDEN MEDITATION
II. WHICH CANTERS ROUND A PARISH PUMP
III. A SAMPLING OF FREEDOM
IV. OUT ON THE BAR
V. WHEREIN DAMARIS MAKES SOME ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE HIDDEN WAYS OF
VI. RECOUNTING AN ASTONISHING DEPOSITION
VII. A SOUL AT WAR WITH FACT
VIII. TELLING HOW TWO PERSONS, OF VERY DIFFERENT MORAL CALIBRE, WERE
COMPELLED TO WEAR THE FLOWER OF HUMILIATION IN THEIR RESPECTIVE
IX. AN EXPERIMENT IN BRIDGE-BUILDING OF WHICH TIME ALONE CAN FIX
X. TELLING HOW MISS FELICIA VERITY UNSUCCESSFULLY ATTEMPTED A
XI. IN WHICH DAMARIS RECEIVES INFORMATION OF THE LOST SHOES AND
STOCKINGS--ASSUMPTION OF THE GOD-HEAD
XII. CONCERNING A SERMON WHICH NEVER WAS PREACHED AND OTHER MATTERS
OF LOCAL INTEREST
BOOK III THE WORLD BEYOND THE FOREST
I. AN EPISODE IN THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE MAN WITH THE BLUE
II. TELLING HOW DAMARIS RENEWED HER ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BELOVED
LADY OF HER INFANCY
III. WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF, INCIDENTALLY, WITH THE GRIEF OF A VICTIM
OF CIRCUMSTANCE AND THE RECEPTION OF A BELATED CHRISTMAS
IV. BLOWING ONE'S OWN TRUMPET PRACTISED AS A FINE ART
V. IN WHICH HENRIETTA PULLS THE STRINGS
VI. CARNIVAL--AND AFTER
VII. TELLING HOW DAMARIS DISCOVERED THE TRUE NATURE OF A CERTAIN
SECRET TO THE DEAR MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES
VIII. FIDUS ACHATES
IX. WHICH FEATURES VARIOUS PERSONS WITH WHOM THE READER IS ALREADY
X. WHICH IT IS TO BE FEARED SMELLS SOMEWHAT POWERFULLY OF BILGE
XI. WHEREIN DAMARIS MEETS HERSELF UNDER A NOVEL ASPECT
XII. CONCERNING ITSELF WITH A GATHERING UP OF FRAGMENTS
XIII. WHICH RECOUNTS A TAKING OF SANCTUARY
BOOK IV THROUGH SHADOWS TOWARDS THE DAWN
I. WHICH CARRIES OVER A TALE OF YEARS, AND CARRIES ON
II. RECALLING, IN SOME PARTICULARS, THE EASIEST RECORDED THEFT IN
III. BROTHER AND SISTER
IV. WHEREIN MISS FELICIA VERITY CONCLUSIVELY SHOWS WHAT SPIRIT SHE
V. DEALING WITH EMBLEMS, OMENS AND DEMONSTRATIONS
VI. SHOWING HOW SIR CHARLES VERITY WAS JUSTIFIED OF HIS LABOURS
VII. TELLING HOW CHARLES VERITY LOOKED ON THE MOTHER OF HIS SON
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH WHICH IS ALSO CHAPTER THE LAST
THE HOUSE OF THE TAMARISKS
TELLING HOW, UNDER STRESS OF CIRCUMSTANCE, A HUMANIST TURNED HERMIT
A peculiar magic resides in running water, as every student of earth-lore
knows. There is high magic, too, in the marriage of rivers, so that the
spot where two mingle their streams is sacred, endowed with strange
properties of evocation and of purification. Such spots go to the making
of history and ruling of individual lives; but whether their influence is
not more often malign than beneficent may be, perhaps, open to doubt.
Certain it is, however, that no doubts of this description troubled the
mind of Thomas Clarkson Verity, when, in the closing decade of the
eighteenth century, he purchased the house at Deadham Hard, known as
Tandy's Castle, overlooking the deep and comparatively narrow channel by
which the Rivers Arne and Wilner, after crossing the tide-flats and
salt-marsh of Marychurch Haven, make their swift united exit into
Marychurch Bay. Neither was he troubled by the fact that Tandy's
Castle--or more briefly and familiarly Tandy's--for all its commonplace
outward decency of aspect did not enjoy an unblemished moral or social
reputation. The house--a whitewashed, featureless erection--was planted
at right angles to the deep sandy lane leading up from the shore, through
the scattered village of Deadham, to the three-mile distant market town
Standing on a piece of rough land--bare, save for a few stunted Weymouth
pines, and a fringe of tamarisk along the broken sea-wall--Tandy's, at
the date in question, boasted a couple of bowed sash-windows on either
side the front and back doors; and a range of five other windows set flat
in the wall on the first floor. There was no second storey. The slate
roofs were mean, low-pitched, without any grace of overshadowing eaves.
At either end, a tall chimney-stack rose like the long ears of some
startled, vacant-faced small animal. Behind the house, a thick plantation
of beech and sycamore served to make its square blank whiteness visible
for a quite considerable distance out to sea. Built upon the site of some
older and larger structure, it was blessed--or otherwise--with a system
of vaults and cellars wholly disproportionate to its existing size. One
of these, by means of a roughly ceiled and flagged passage, gave access
to a heavy door in the sea-wall opening directly on to the river
Hence the unsavoury reputation of the place. For not only did it supply a
convenient receiving house for smuggled goods, but a convenient
rendezvous for the more lawless characters of the neighbourhood--a
back-of-beyond and No Man's Land where the devil could, with impunity,
have things very much his own way. In the intervals of more serious
business, the vaults and cellars of Tandy's frequently resounded to the
agonies and brutal hilarities of cock-fights, dog-fights, and other
repulsive sports and pastimes common to the English--both gentle and
simple--of that virile but singularly gross and callous age. Nevertheless
to Thomas Clarkson Verity, man of peace and of ideas, Tandy's
represented--and continued to represent through over half a
century--rescue, security, an awakening in something little short of
paradise from a long-drawn nightmare of hell. He paid an extortionate
price for the property at the outset, and spent a small fortune on the
enlargement of the house and improvement of the grounds, yet never
regretted his bargain.
For, in good truth, when, in the spring of 1794, the soft, nimble,
round-bodied, very polite, learned and loquacious little gentleman first
set eyes upon its mean roofs, prick ears and vacant whitewashed
countenance, he had been horribly shocked, horribly scared--for all the
inherited valour of his good breeding--and, above all, most horribly
disappointed. History had played very dirty pranks with him, which he
found it impossible as yet to forgive.
Five years earlier, fired, like many another generous spirit, by
extravagant hope of the coming regeneration of mankind, he hurried off to
Paris after the opening of the National Assembly and fall of the
Bastille. With the overture to the millennium in full blast, must he not
be there to hear and see? Associating himself with the Girondist party he
assisted, busily enthusiastic, at the march of tremendous events, until
the evil hour in which friend began to denounce friend, and heads, quite
other than aristocratic--those of men and women but yesterday the idols
and chosen leaders of the people--went daily to the filling of _la veuve_
Guillotine's unspeakable market-basket. The spectacle proved too
upsetting both to Mr. Verity's amiable mind and rather queasy stomach.
Faith failed; while even the millennium seemed hardly worth purchasing at
so detestable a cost. He stood altogether too close to the terrible
drama, in its later stages, to distinguish the true import or progression
of it. Too close to understand that, however blood-stained its cradle,
the goodly child Democracy was veritably, here and now, in the act of
being born among men. Rather did he question whether his own fat little
neck was not in lively danger of being severed; and his own head--so full
of ingenious thoughts and lively curiosity--of being sent flying to join
those of Brissot and Verginaud, of wayward explosive Camille and sweet
Lucile Desmoulins, in that same unspeakable basket.
And to what end? For could he suppose the human race would be nearer, by
the veriest fraction of a millimetre, to universal liberty, equality, and
prosperity, through his insignificant death? Modesty, and a natural
instinct of self-preservation alike answered, "never a jot." Whereupon
with pertinacious, if furtive, activity he sought means of escape. And,
at length, after months of hiding and anxious flitting, found them in the
shape of a doubtfully seaworthy, and undoubtedly filthy, fishing-smack
bound from Le Havre to whatever port it could make on the English south
coast. The two days' voyage was rough, the accommodation and company to
match. Mr. Verity spent a disgusting and disgusted forty-eight hours, to
be eventually put ashore, a woefully bedraggled and depleted figure, in
the primrose, carmine, and dove-grey of a tender April morning on the wet
sand just below the sea-wall of Tandy's Castle.
Never was Briton more thankful to salute his native land, or feel the
solid earth of it under his weary and very shaky feet. He, an epicure,
ate such coarse food, washed down by such coarse ale, as Tandy's could
offer with smiling relish. Later, mounted on a forest pony--an
ill-favoured animal with a wall-eye, pink muzzle, bristly upper and
hanging lower lip, more accustomed to carry a keg of smuggled spirits
strapped beneath its belly than a cosmopolitan savant and social reformer
on its back--he rode the three miles to Marychurch, proposing there to
take the coach to Southampton and, after a measure of rest and refitting,
a post-chaise to Canton Magna, his elder brother's fine place lying in a
fold of the chalk hills which face the Sussex border.
The pony moved slowly and sullenly; but its rider felt no impatience. His
humour was of the kindliest. His heart, indeed, came near singing for
joy, simply, spontaneously, even as the larks sang, climbing up and
upward from salt marsh and meadow, on either side the rutted road, into
the limpid purity of the spring sky. A light wind flapped the
travel-stained, high-collared blue cloth cloak which he wore; and brought
him both the haunting fetid-sweet reek of the mud flats--the tide being
low--and the invigorating tang of the forest and moorland, uprolling
there ahead, in purple and umber to the pale northern horizon. Against
that sombre background, fair and stately in the tender sunlight as a
church of vision or dream, Marychurch Abbey rose above the roofs and
chimneys of the little town.
During the latter half of the eighteenth century, not only were
religious systems very much at a discount among persons of intelligence,
but the Deity himself was relegated to the position of an exploded idea,
becoming an object of vituperation, witty or obscene according to the
humour of the individual critic. As one of the illuminated, Mr. Verity
did not escape the prevailing infection, although an inborn amenity of
disposition saved him from atheism in its more blatantly offensive forms.
The existence of the Supreme Being might be, (probably was) so he feared,
but "a fond thing vainly imagined". Yet such is the constitution of the
human mind that age confers a certain prestige and authority even upon
phantoms and suspected frauds. Hence it followed that Mr. Verity, in the
plenitude of his courtesy, had continued to take off his hat--secretly
and subjectively at all events--to this venerable theological delusion,
so dear through unnumbered centuries to the aching heart and troubled
conscience of humanity.
But in the present glad hour of restored security--his head no longer in
danger of plopping, hideously bodiless, into _la veuve's_ basket, his
inner-man, moreover, so recently and rackingly evacuated by that
abominable Channel passage, now comfortably relined with Tandy's meat and
drink--he went further in the way of acknowledgment. A glow of very vital
gratitude swept over him, so that looking at the majestic church--secular
witness to the soul's faith in and need of Almighty God's protective
mercy and goodness--he took off his hat, no longer metaphorically but
actually, and bowed himself together over the pommel of the saddle with
an irresistible movement of thanksgiving and of praise.
Recovering himself after a minute or so--"Almost thou persuades! me
to be a Christian," he said aloud, shaking his head remonstrantly at
the distant church, while tears started to his busy, politely
Then, striving by speech to bring his spirits to their accustomed
playfulness and poise, he soliloquized thus, still aloud:
"For, to be candid, what convincing argument can I advance, in the light
of recent experience, to prove that Rousseau, my friends the
Encyclopeadists, or even the great M. de Voltaire, were really wiser in
their generation, truer lovers of the people and safer guides, than St.
Benedict--of blessed memory, since patron of learning and incidentally
saviour of classic literature--whose pious sons raised this most
delectable edifice to God's glory seven hundred years ago?--The tower is
considerably later than the transepts and the nave--fifteenth century I
take it,--Upon my soul, I am half tempted to renounce my allegiance and
to doubt whether our modern standards of civilization surpass, in the
intelligent application of means to ends, those of these mediaeval
cenobites, and whether we are saner philanthropists, deeper philosophers,
more genial humanists than they!"
But here his discourse suffered mortifying interruption. He became aware
the pony stood stock-still in the middle of the road; and, turning its
head, so that he beheld its pink muzzle, bristly upper and hanging lower
lip in disagreeable profile, regarded him with malevolent contempt out of
its one sound eye, as who should say:
"What's the silly fellow trumpeting like this about? Doesn't the veriest
noodle contrive to keep a quiet tongue in his head out on the highway?"
Sensible of a snub, Mr. Verity jerked at the reins and clapped his heels
into the creature's sides, as smartly as fatigue and native civility
permitted, sending it forward at a jog-trot. Nevertheless his
soliloquy--a silent one now--continued, and that with notable
consequences to others besides himself.
For his thought still dallied with the subject of the monastic life, as
lived by those same pious Benedictines here in England long ago. Its
reasoned rejection of mundane agitations, its calm, its leisure, its
profound and ardent scholarship were vastly to his taste,--A man touching
middle-age might do worse, surely, than spend his days between worship
and learning, thus?--He saw, and approved, its social office in offering
sanctuary to the fugitive, alms to the poor, teaching to the ignorant,
consolation to the sick and safe passage heavenward to the dying. Saw,
not without sympathy, its more jovial moments--its good fellowship,
shrewd and witty conversation, well salted stories--whereat a man laughs
slyly in his sleeve--its good cheer, too, with feasts on holy-days and
high-days, rich and succulent.--And in this last connection, as he
reflected, much was to be said for the geographical position of
Marychurch; since if river mists and white dullness of sea fog, drifting
in from the Channel, were to hand, so, also, in their season, were fresh
run salmon, snipe, wood-cock, flocks of wild duck, of plover and other
For in this thankfulness of awakening from the hellish nightmare of the
Terror, Mr. Verity's facile imagination tended to run to another extreme.
With all the seriousness of which he was capable he canvassed the notion
of a definite retirement from the world. Public movements, political and
social experiments ceased to attract him. His appetite for helping to
make the wheels of history go round had been satisfied to the point of
nausea. All he desired was tranquillity and repose. He was free of
domestic obligations and close family ties. He proposed to remain
so--philosophy his mistress, science his hand-maid, literature his
pastime, books (remembering the bitter sorrows of the tumbril and
scaffold in Paris) in future, his closest friends.
But, unfortunately, though the great church in all its calm grave,
beauty still held the heart the fair landscape, the monastery, which
might have sheltered his renunciation, had been put to secular uses or
fallen into ruin long years ago. If he proposed to retire from the
world, he must himself provide suitable environment. Marychurch Abbey,
at the end of the eighteenth century, had very certainly nothing to
offer him under that head.
And then, with a swiftness of conception and decision possible only to
mercurial-minded persons, his thought darted back to Tandy's, that
unkempt, morally malodorous back-of-beyond and No Man's Land. Its vacant
whitewashed countenance and long-eared chimney-stacks had welcomed him,
if roughly and grudgingly, to England and to peace. Was he not in some
sort thereby in debt to Tandy's bound by gratitude to the place? Should
he not buy it--his private fortune being considerable--and there plant
his hermitage? Should he not renovate and transform it, redeeming it from
questionable uses, by transporting thither, not himself only but his fine
library, his famous herbarium, his cabinets of crystals, of coins, and of
shells? The idea captivated him. He was weary of destruction, having seen
it in full operation and practised on the gigantic scale. Henceforth he
would devote all the energy he possessed to construction--on however
modest and private a one--to a building up, as personal protest against
much lately witnessed wanton and chaotic pulling-down.
In prosecution of which purpose, hopeful once more and elate, bobbing
merrily cork-like upon the surface of surrounding circumstance--although
lamentably deficient, for the moment, in raiment befitting his position
and his purse--Mr. Verity spent two days at the Stag's Head, in
Marychurch High Street. He made enquiries of all and sundry regarding
the coveted property; and learned, after much busy investigation that
the village, and indeed the whole Hundred of Deadham, formed an outlying
and somewhat neglected portion of his acquaintance, Lord Bulparc's
Here was solid information to go upon. Greatly encouraged, he took the
coach to Southampton, and thence up to town; where he interviewed first
Lord Bulparc's lawyers and then that high-coloured, free-living
"Gad, sir," the latter assured him, "you're heartily welcome to the damn
little hole, as far as I'm concerned, if you have the bad taste to fancy
it. I suppose I ought to speak to my son Oxley about this just as a
matter of form. Not that I apprehend Oxley will raise any difficulties as
to entail--you need not fear that. We shall let you off easy enough--only
too happy to oblige you. But I warn you, Verity, you may drop money
buying the present tenant out. If half my agent tells me is true, the
fellow must be a most confounded blackguard, up to the eyes in all
manner of ungodly traffic. By rights we ought to have kicked him out
years ago. But," his lordship chuckled--"I scruple to be hard on any man.
We're none of us perfect, live and let live, you know. Only my dear
fellow, I'm bound to put you on your guard; for he'll stick to the place
like a leech and blood-suck you like a leech too, as long as there's a
chance of getting an extra guinea out of you by fair means or foul."
To which process of blood-sucking Mr. Verity was, in fact, rather
scandalously subjected before Tandy's Castle passed into his possession.
But pass into his possession it finally did, whereupon he fell joyously
to the work of reconstructive redemption.
First of all he ordered the entrance of the underground passage, leading
to the river foreshore, to be securely walled up; and, with a fine
disregard of possible unhealthy consequences in the shape of choke-damp,
the doorways of certain ill-reputed vaults and cellars to be filled with
solid masonry. Neither harborage of contraband, cruel laughter of man, or
yell of tortured beast, should again defile the under-world of
Tandy's!--Next he had the roof of the main building raised, and given a
less mean and meagre angle. He added a wing on the left containing
pleasant bed-chambers upstairs, and good offices below; and, as crowning
act of redemption, caused three large ground-floor rooms, backed by a
wide corridor, to be built on the right in which to house his library and
collections. This lateral extension of the house, constructed according
to his own plans, was, like its designer, somewhat eccentric in
character. The three rooms were semicircular, all window on the southern
garden front, veritable sun-traps, with a low sloped roofing of
grey-green slate to them, set fan-wise.
Such was the house at Deadham Hard when Mr. Verity's labours were
completed. And such did it remain until a good eighty years later, when
it was visited by a youthful namesake and great-great nephew, under
circumstances not altogether unworthy of record.
ENTER A YOUNG SCHOLAR AND GENTLEMAN OF A HAPPY DISPOSITION AND
The four-twenty down train rumbled into Marychurch station, and Tom
Verity stepped out of a rather frousty first-class carriage on to the
platform. There hot still September sunshine, tempered by a freshness off
the sea, met him. The effect was pleasurable, adding delicate zest to the
enjoyment of living which already possessed him. Coming from inland, the
near neighbourhood of the sea, the sea with its eternal invitation,
stirred his blood.
For was not he about to accept the said invitation in its fullest and
most practical expression? Witness the fact that, earlier in the day, he
had deposited his heavy baggage at that house of many partings, many
meetings, Radley's Hotel, Southampton; and journeyed on to Marychurch
with a solitary, eminently virgin, cowhide portmanteau, upon the
yellow-brown surface of which the words--"Thomas Clarkson Verity,
passenger Bombay, first cabin R.M.S. _Penang_"--were inscribed in the
whitest of lettering. His name stood high in the list of successful
candidates at the last Indian Civil Service examination. Now he reaped
the reward of past endeavour. For with that deposition of heavy baggage
at Radley's the last farewell to years of tutelage seemed to him to be
spoken. Nursery discipline, the restraints and prohibitions--in their
respective degrees--of preparatory school, of Harchester, of Oxford; and,
above all and through all, the control and admonitions of his father, the
Archdeacon, fell away from him into the limbo of things done with,
outworn and outpaced.
This moved him as pathetic, yet as satisfactory also, since it set him
free to fix his mind, without lurking suspicion of indecorum, upon the
large promise of the future. He could give rein to his eagerness, to his
high sense of expectation, while remaining innocent of impiety towards
persons and places holding, until now, first claim on his obedience and
affection. All this fell in admirably with his natural bent.
Self-reliant, agreeably egotistical, convinced of the excellence of his
social and mental equipment, Tom was saved from excess of conceit by a
lively desire to please, an even more lively sense of humour, and an
intelligence to which at this period nothing came amiss in the way of new
impressions or experiences.
And, from henceforth, he was his own master, his thoughts, actions,
purposes, belonging to himself and to himself alone. Really the position
was a little intoxicating! Realizing it, as he sat in the somewhat stuffy
first-class carriage, on that brief hour's journey from Southampton to
Marychurch, he had laughed out loud, hunching up his shoulders saucily,
in a sudden outburst of irrepressible and boyish glee.
But as the line, clearing the purlieus of the great seaport, turns
south-westward running through the noble oak and beech woods of Arnewood
Forest, crossing its bleak moorlands--silver pink, at the present season,
with fading heather--and cutting through its plantations of larch and
Scotch fir, Tom Verity's mood sobered. He watched the country reeling
away to right and left past the carriage windows, and felt its peculiarly
English and sylvan charm. Yet he saw it all through a dazzle, as of
mirage, in which floated phantom landscapes strangely different in
sentiment and in suggestion.--Some extravagantly luxuriant, as setting to
crowded painted cities, some desert, amazingly vacant and desolate; but,
in either case, poetic, alluring, exciting, as scenes far removed in
climate, faith and civilization from those heretofore familiar can hardly
fail to be. India, and all which India stands for in English history,
challenged his imagination, challenged his ambition, since in virtue of
his nationality, young and inexperienced though he was, he went to her as
a natural ruler, the son of a conquering race. And this last thought
begot in him not only exultation but an unwonted seriousness. While, as
he thus meditated, from out the dazzle as of mirage, a single figure grew
into force and distinctness of outline, a figure which from his childhood
had appealed to him with an attraction at once sinister and heroic--that,
namely, of a certain soldier and ex-Indian official, his kinsman, to pay
a politic tribute of respect to whom was the object of his present
In Catholic countries the World gives its children to the Church. In
Protestant countries the process is not infrequently reversed, the Church
giving its children to the World, and that with an alacrity which argues
remarkable faith and courage--of a sort! Archdeacon Verity had carefully
planned this visit for his son, although it obliged the young man to
leave home two days earlier than he need otherwise have done. It was
illuminating to note how the father brought all the resources of a fine
presence, an important manner and full-toned archidiaconal voice to bear
upon proving the expediency of the young man visiting this particular
relation, over whose career and reputation he had so often, in the past,
pursed up his lips and shaken his head for the moral benefit of the
For the Archdeacon, in common with the majority of the Verity family, was
animated by that ineradicable distrust of anything approaching genius
which distinguishes the English country, or rather county, mind. And that
Sir Charles Verity had failed to conform to the family tradition of
solid, unemotional, highly respectable, and usually very wealthy,
mediocrity was beyond question. He had struck out a line for himself;
and, as the event disclosed, an illustrious one. This the Archdeacon,
being a good Conservative, disapproved. It worried him sadly, making him
actually, if unconsciously, exceedingly jealous. And precisely on that
account, by an ingenious inversion of reasoning, he felt he owed it to
abstract justice--in other words to his much disgruntled self--to make
all possible use of this offending, this renegade personage, when
opportunity of so doing occurred. Now, learning on credible authority
that Sir Charles's name was still one to conjure with in India, it
clearly became his duty to bid his son seek out and secure whatever
modicum of advantage--in the matter of advice and introductions--might be
derivable from so irritating a source.
All of which, while jumping with his own desires, caused Tom much sly
mirth. For might it not be counted among the satisfactory results of his
deposition of heavy baggage at Radley's that, for the first time in his
life, he was at liberty to regard even his father, Thomas Pontifex
Verity, Archdeacon of Harchester and Rector of Canton Magna, in a true
perspective? And he laughed again, though this time softly, indulgently,
able in the plenitude of youthful superiority to extend a kindly
tolerance towards the foibles and ingenuous hypocrisies of poor
But here the train, emerging from the broken hilly country on the
outskirts of the forest, roared along the embankment which carries the
line across the rich converging valleys of the Wilner and the Arne. Tom
ceased to think either of possible advantage accruing to his own
fortunes, or these defects of the family humour which had combined to
dictate his present excursion, his attention being absorbed by the beauty
of the immediate outlook. For on the left Marychurch came into view.
The great, grey, long-backed abbey stands on a heart-shaped peninsula of
slightly rising ground. Its western tower, land-mark for the valleys and
seamark for vessels making the Haven, overtops the avenue of age-old elms
which shade the graveyard. Close about the church, the red brick and
rough-cast houses of the little market-town--set in a wide margin of
salt-marsh and meadow intersected by blue-brown waterways--gather, as a
brood of chickens gathers about a mothering hen. Beyond lie the pale
glinting levels of the estuary, guarded on the west by gently upward
sloping cornlands and on the south by the dark furze and heath-clad mass
of Stone Horse Head. Beyond again, to the low horizon, stretches the
The very simplicity of the picture gives it singular dignity and repose.
Classic in its clearness of outline and paucity of detail, mediaeval in
sentiment, since the great Norman church dominates the whole, its appeal
is at once wistful and severe. And, this afternoon, just as the nearness
of the sea tempered the atmosphere lifting all oppressive weight from the
brooding sunshine, so did it temper the colouring, lending it an ethereal
quality, in which blue softened to silver, grey to lavender, while green
seemed overspread by powdered gold. The effect was exquisite, reminding
Tom of certain water-colour drawings, by Danvers and by Appleyard,
hanging in the drawing-room of the big house at Canton Magna, and of
certain of Shelley's lyrics--both of which, in their different medium,
breathed the same enchantment of natural and spiritual loveliness, of
nameless desire, nameless regret. And, his nerves being somewhat strained
by the emotions of the day, that enchantment worked upon him strangely.
The inherent pathos of it, indeed, took him, as squarely as unexpectedly,
by the throat. He suffered a sharp recoil from the solicitation of the
future, an immense tenderness towards the past.--A tenderness for those
same years of tutelage and all they had brought him, not only in
over-flowing animal spirits, happy intercourse and intellectual
attainment; but in their limitation of private action, their security of
obligation, of obedience to authority, which at the time had seemed
irksome enough and upon release from which he had so recently
Love of home, of England, of his own people--of the Archdeacon, in even
his most full-voiced and moralizing mood--love of things tested,
accustomed and friendly, touched him to the quick. Suddenly he asked
himself to what end was he leaving all these and going forth to encounter
untried conditions, an unknown Nature, a moral and social order equally
unknown? Looking at the peaceful, ethereally lovely landscape, set in
such close proximity and notable contrast to the unrest of that historic
highway of the nations, the Channel sea, he felt small and lonely,
childishly diffident and weak. All the established safety and comfort of
home, all the thoughtless irresponsible delights of vanished boyhood,
pulled at his heart-strings. He wanted, wanted wildly, desperately, not
to go forward but to go back.
Mind and body being healthy, however, the phase was a passing one, and
his emotion, though sincere and poignant, of brief duration. For young
blood--happily for the human story, which otherwise would read altogether
too sad--defies forebodings, gaily embraces risks; and, true soldier of
fortune, marches out to meet whatever fate the battlefield of manhood may
hold for it, a song in its mouth and a rose behind its ear.
Tom Verity speedily came to a steadier mind, pouring honest contempt upon
his momentary lapse from self-confidence. He was ashamed of it. It
amounted to being silly, simply silly. He couldn't understand, couldn't
account for it. What possessed him to get a regular scare like this? It
was too absurd for words. Sentiment?--Yes, by all means a reasonable
amount of it, well in hand and thus capable of translation--if the fancy
took you--into nicely turned elegiac verse; but a scare, a scare pure and
simple, wasn't to be tolerated! And he got up, standing astraddle to
brace himself against the swinging of the train, while he stretched,
settling himself in his clothes--pulled down the fronts of his waistcoat,
buttoned the jacket of his light check suit; and, taking off his
wide-awake, smoothed his soft, slightly curly russet-coloured hair with
his hand. These adjustments, and the assurance they induced that his
personal appearance was all which it should be, completed his moral
restoration. He stepped down on to the platform, into the serene light
and freshness, as engaging and hopeful a youth of three and twenty as any
one need ask to see.
"For The Hard? Very good, sir. Sir Charles's trap is outside in the
station yard. One portmanteau in the van? Quite so. Don't trouble
yourself about it, sir. I'll send a porter to bring it along."
This from the station-master, with a degree of friendly deference far
from displeasing to the recipient of it.
Whatever the defects of the rank and file of the Verity family in
respect of liberal ideas, it can safely be asserted of all its members,
male and female, clerical and lay, alike, that they belonged to the
equestrian order. Hence it added considerably to Tom's recovered
self-complacency to find a smart two-wheel dog-cart awaiting him, drawn by
a remarkably well-shaped and well-groomed black horse. The coachman was
to match. Middle-aged, clean-shaven, his Napoleonic face set as a mask,
his undress livery of pepper-and-salt mixture soberly immaculate. He
touched his hat when our young gentleman appeared and mounted beside him;
the horse, meanwhile, shivering a little and showing the red of its
nostrils as the train, with strident whistlings, drew out of the station
bound westward to Stourmouth and Barryport.
Later the horse broke up the abiding inertia of Marychurch High Street,
by dancing as it passed the engine of a slowly ambulant thrashing
machine; and only settled fairly into its stride when the three-arched,
twelfth century stone bridge over the Arne was passed, and the
road--leaving the last scattered houses of the little town--turned south
and seaward skirting the shining expanse of The Haven and threading the
semi-amphibious hamlets of Horny Cross and Lampit.
THE DOUBTFULLY HARMONIOUS PARTS OF A WHOLE
A long, low, rectangular and rather narrow room, supported across the
centre--where passage walls had been cut away--by an avenue of dumpy
wooden pillars, four on either side, leading to a glass door opening on
to the garden. A man's room rather than a woman's, and, judging by
appearances, a bachelor's at that.--Eighteenth-century furniture, not
ignoble in line, but heavy, wide-seated, designed for the comfort of
bulky paunched figures arrayed in long napped waistcoats and full-skirted
coats. Tabaret curtains and upholsterings, originally maroon, now dulled
by sea damp and bleached by sun-glare to a uniform tone in which colour
and pattern were alike obliterated. Handsome copperplate engravings of
Pisa and of Rome, and pastel portraits in oval frames; the rest of the
whity brown panelled wall space hidden by book-cases. These surmounted by
softly shining, pearl-grey Chinese godlings, monsters, philosophers and
saints, the shelves below packed with neatly ranged books.
A dusky room, in spite of its rounded, outstanding sash-windows, two on
either side the glass door; the air of it holding, in permanent solution,
an odour of leather-bound volumes. A place, in short, which, though not
inhospitable, imposed itself, its qualities and traditions, to an extent
impossible for any save the most thick-skinned and thick-witted wholly to
ignore or resist.
Young Tom Verity, having no convenient armour-plating of stupidity,
suffered its influence intimately as--looking about him with quick
enquiring glances--he followed the man-servant across it between the
dumpy pillars. He felt self-conscious and disquieted, as by a smile of
silent amusement upon some watchful elderly face. So impressed, indeed,
was he that, on reaching the door, he paused, letting the man pass on
alone to announce him. He wanted time in which to get over this queer
sensation of shyness, before presenting himself to the company assembled,
there, in the garden outside.
Yet he was well aware that the prospect out of doors--its amplitude of
mellow sunlight and of space, its fair windless calm in which no leaf
stirred--was far more attractive than the room in the doorway of which he
thus elected to linger.
For the glass-door gave directly on to an extensive lawn, set out,
immediately before the house front, with scarlet and crimson geraniums in
alternating square and lozenge-shaped beds. Away on the right a couple of
grey-stemmed ilex trees--the largest in height and girth Tom had ever
seen--cast finely vandyked and platted shadow upon the smooth turf.
Beneath them, garden chairs were stationed and a tea-table spread, at
which four ladies sat--one, the elder, dressed in crude purple, the other
three, though of widely differing ages and aspect, in light coloured
To the left of the lawn, a high plastered wall--masked by hollies, bay,
yew, and at the far end by masses of airy, pink-plumed tamarisk--shut off
the eastward view. But straight before him all lay open, "clean away to
the curve of the world" as he told himself, not without a pull of emotion
remembering his impending voyage. For, about sixty yards distant, the
lawn ended abruptly in a hard straight line--the land cut off sheer, as
it seemed, at the outer edge of a gravelled terrace, upon which two small
antiquated cannon were mounted, their rusty muzzles trained over swirling
blue-green tide river and yellow-grey, high-cambered sand-bar out to sea.
Between these innocuous engines of destruction, little black cannon balls
had been piled into a mimic pyramid, near to which three men stood
engaged in desultory conversation. One of them, Tom observed as markedly
taller, more commanding and distinguished in bearing, than his
companions. Even from here, the whole length of the lawn intervening,
his presence, once noted, became of arresting importance, focussing
attention as the central interest, the one thing which vitally mattered
in this gracious scene--his figure silhouetted, vertically, against those
long horizontal lines of river, sand-bar, and far-away delicate junction
of opal-tinted sea with opal-tinted sky.
Whereupon Tom became convicted of the agreeable certainty that no
disappointment awaited him. His expectations were about to receive
generous fulfilment. This visit would prove well worth while. So
absorbed, indeed, was he in watching the man whom he supposed--and
rightly--to be his host, that he failed to notice one of the ladies rise
from the tea-table and advance across the lawn, until her youthful
white-clad form was close upon him, threading its way between the glowing
Then--"You are my cousin, Thomas Verity?" the girl asked, with a grave
air of ceremony.
"Yes--and you--you are my cousin Damaris," he answered as he felt
clumsily, being taken unaware in more respects than one, and, for all his
ready adaptability, being unable to keep a note of surprise out of his
voice and glance.
He had known of the existence of this little cousin, having heard--on
occasion--vaguely irritated family mention of her birth at a time when
the flame of the Mutiny still burned fiercely in the Punjab and in Oudh.
To be born under such very accentuated circumstances could, in the eyes
of every normal Verity, hardly fail to argue a certain obtrusiveness and
absence of good taste. He had heard, moreover, disapproving allusions to
the extravagant affection Sir Charles Verity was said to lavish upon this
fruit of a somewhat obscure marriage--his only surviving child. But the
said family talk, in Tom's case, had gone in at one ear and out at the
other--as the talk of the elder generation mostly does, and will, when
the younger generation is solidly and wholesomely convinced of the
overwhelming importance of its own personal affairs. Consequently, in
coming to Deadham Hard, Tom had thought of this little cousin--in as far
as it occurred to him to think of her at all--as a child in the
schoolroom who, beyond a trifle of good-natured notice at odd moments,
would not enter into the count or matter at all. Now, awakening to the
fact of her proximity, he awoke to the further fact that, with one
exception, she mattered more than anything or anybody else present.
She was, in truth, young--he had been quite right there. Yet, like the
room in the doorway of which he still lingered, like the man standing on
the terrace walk--to whose tall figure the serene immensities of sea and
sky acted as back-cloth and setting--she imposed herself. Whether she was
pretty or plain, Tom was just now incapable of judging. He only knew
that her eyes were wonderful. He never remembered to have seen such
eyes--clear, dark blue-grey with fine shading of eyelash on the lower as
well as the upper lid. Unquestionably they surpassed all ordinary
standards of prettiness. Were glorious, yet curiously embarrassing; too
in their seriousness, their intent impartial scrutiny--under which last,
to his lively vexation, the young man felt himself redden.
And this, considering his superiority in age, sex, and acquirements, was
not only absurd but unfair somehow. For did not he, as a rule, get on
charmingly well with women, gentle and simple, old and young, alike? Had
he not an ingratiating, playfully flirtatious way with them in which he
trusted? But flirtatiousness, even of the mildest description, would not
do here. Instinctively he recognized that. It would not pay at all--in
this stage of the acquaintance, at all events. He fell back on civil
speeches; and these rather laboured ones, being himself rather
"It is extremely kind of you and Sir Charles to take me on trust like
this," he began. "Believe me I am very grateful. Under ordinary
circumstances I should never have dreamed of proposing myself. But I am
going out to India for the first time--sailing in the _Penang_ the day
after to-morrow. And, as I should be so near here at Southampton, it was,
I own, a great temptation to ask if I might come for a night. I felt--my
father felt--what a privilege it would be for me, a really tremendous
piece of luck, to meet Sir Charles before I started. Such a rare and
memorable send off for me, you know!"
"We were very glad you should propose yourself," Damaris answered, still
with her grave air of ceremony.
"Awfully good of you, I'm sure," the young man murmured.--No, she didn't
stare. He could not honestly call it staring. It was too calm, too
impersonal, too reserved for that. She looked, with a view to arriving
at conclusions regarding him. And he didn't enjoy the process--not in
"My father is still interested in everything connected with India," she
went on. "He will like to talk to you. We have people with us this
afternoon whom he could not very well leave, or he would have driven into
Marychurch himself to fetch you. Dr. McCabe, who we knew at Bhutpur long
ago, came over unexpectedly from Stourmouth this morning; and my Aunt
Harriet Cowden telegraphed that she and Uncle Augustus would bring Aunt
Felicia, who is staying with them at Paulton Lacy, here to tea.--But, of
course, you know them quite well--Uncle Augustus, I mean, and my aunts."
"Do I not know them!" Tom replied with meaning; while, humour getting the
upper hand thanks to certain memories, he smiled at her.
And, even at this early period in his career, it must be conceded that
Tom Verity's smile was an asset to be reckoned with. Mischievous to the
verge of impudence; but confidential, too, most disarmingly friendly--a
really vastly engaging smile, which, having once beheld, most persons
found themselves more than ready to behold often again.
Under its persuasive influence Damaris' gravity relaxed. She lowered her
eyes, and the soft warm colour deepened in her cheeks.
Her steady gaze removed, the young man breathed more freely. He
congratulated himself. Intercourse was in act of becoming normal and
easy. So far it had been quite absurdly hind-leggy--and for him, _him_,
to be forced into being hind-leggy by a girl of barely eighteen! Now he
prepared to trot gaily, comfortably, off on all fours, when she spoke,
bringing him up to the perpendicular again with a start.
"I love Aunt Felicia very dearly," she announced, as though in protest
against some implied and subtle disloyalty.
"But don't we all love Cousin Felicia?" he returned, promptly, eager to
maintain his advantage. "Isn't she kindness incarnate, Christian
charity personified? As for me, I simply dote on her; and with reason,
for ever since those remote ages in which I wore scratchy pinafores and
horrid little white socks, she has systematically and pertinaciously
spoiled me whenever she stayed at Canton Magna.--Oh! she is an
institution. No family should be without her. When I was small she gave
me chocolates, tin soldiers, pop-guns warranted to endanger my
brothers' and sisters' eyesight. And now, in a thousand ways, conscious
and unconscious," he laughed quietly, naughtily, the words running over
each other in the rapidity of his speech--"she gives me such a blessed
good conceit of myself!"
And Damaris Verity, caught by the wave of his light-heartedness and
inherent desire to please, softened again, her serious eyes alight for
the moment with answering laughter. Whereupon Tom crossed the threshold
and stood close beside her upon the grass in the brooding sunshine, the
beds of scarlet and crimson geraniums ranging away on glowing perspective
to left and right. He glanced at the three ladies seated beneath the
giant ilexes, and back at his companion. He felt absurdly keen further to
excite her friendliness and dispel her gravity.
"Only one must admit cousin Harriet is quite another story," he went on
softly, saucily. "Any conceit our dear Felicia rubs in to you, Harriet
most effectually rubs out. Isn't it so? I am as a worm, a positive worm
before her--can only 'tremble and obey' like the historic lady in the
glee. She flattens me. I haven't an ounce of kick left in me. And then
why, oh why, tell me, Damaris, does she invariably and persistently
clothe herself in violet ink?"
"It is her colour," the girl said, her eyes still laughing, her lips
"But why, in heaven's name, should she have a colour?" he demanded. "For
identification, as I have a red and white stripe painted on my steamer
baggage? Really that isn't necessary. Can you imagine losing cousin
Harriet? Augustus Cowden mislaying her, for example; and only recovering
her with joyful cries--we take those for granted in his case, of
course--at sight of the violet ink? Not a bit of it. You know as well as
I do identification marks can't ever be required to secure her return,
because under no conceivable circumstances could she ever be lost. She is
there, dear lady, lock, stock, and barrel, right there all the time. So
her raiment of violet amounts to a purely gratuitous advertisement of a
permanently self-evident fact.--And such a shade too, such a positively
But here a movement upon the terrace served, indirectly, to put a term to
his patter. For Sir Charles Verity, raising his voice slightly in passing
emphasis, turned and moved slowly towards the little company gathered at
the tea-table. His two companions followed, the shorter of them
apparently making answer, the words echoing clearly in genial richness of
affirmation across the intervening space--"And so it was, General, am I
not recalling the incident myself? Indeed you're entirely right."
"Come," Damaris said, with a certain brevity as of command.
"And feel a worm?"
"No--come and speak to my father."
"Ah! I shall feel a worm there too," the young man returned, an engaging
candour in his smiling countenance; "and with far better reason, unless I
am greatly mistaken."
WATCHERS THROUGH THE SMALL HOURS
Love, ill-health and debt being, as yet, unknown quantities to young Tom
Verity, it followed that insomnia, with its thousand and one attendant
miseries, was an unknown quantity likewise. Upon the eve of the stiffest
competitive examination those, now outlived, years of tutelage had
imposed on him, he could still tumble into bed secure of lapsing into
unconsciousness as soon as his head fairly touched the pillow. Dreams
might, and usually did, visit him; but as so much incidental music
merely to the large content of slumber--tittering up and down, too
airily light-footed and evanescent to leave any impress on mind or
spirits when he woke.
This night, at Deadham Hard, marked a new departure; sleep proving a less
absolute break in continuity of sensation, a less absolute barrier
between day and day.
The Honourable Augustus and Mrs. Cowden, and Felicia Verity, not without
last words, adjurations, commands and fussings, started on their
twelve-mile drive home to Paulton Lacy about six o'clock. A little later
Dr. McCabe conveyed himself, and his brogue, away in an ancient hired
landau to catch the evening train from Marychurch to Stourmouth. Dinner
followed, shortly after which Damaris vanished, along with her
governess-companion, Miss Theresa Bilson--a plump, round-visaged,
pink-nosed little person, permanently wearing gold eyeglasses, the
outstanding distinction of whose artless existence consisted, as Tom
gathered from her conversation, in a tour in Rhineland and residence of
some months' duration at the university town of Bonn.
Then, at last, came the harvest of the young man's excursion, in the
shape of first-hand records of war and government--of intrigue and of
sedition, followed by stern retributive chastisement--from that famous
soldier, autocratic and practised administrator, his host.
In the opinion of a good many persons Tom Verity's bump of reference
showed very insufficient development. Dons, head-masters, the pedagogic
and professorial tribe generally, he had long taken in his stride quite
unabashed. Church dignitaries, too, left him saucily cool. For--so at
least he argued--was not his elder brother, Pontifex, private chaplain to
the Bishop of Harchester? And did not this fact--he knowing poor old
Ponty as only brother can know brother--throw a rather lurid light upon
the spiritual and intellectual limitations of the Bench? In respect of
the British aristocracy, his social betters, he also kept an open mind.
For had not Lord Bulparc's son and heir, little Oxley, acted as his fag,
boot-black and bacon-frier, for the best part of a year at school?
Notwithstanding which fact--Lord Oxley was of a mild, forgiving
disposition--had not he, Tom, spent the cricket week several summers
running at Napworth Castle; where, on one celebrated occasion, he bowled
a distinguished Permanent Under-Secretary first ball, and, on another,
chided a marquis and ex-Cabinet Minister for misquoting Catullus.
Yet now, sitting smoking and listening to those records of eastern rule
and eastern battle, in the quiet lamp-light of the long room--with its
dark book-cases, faintly gleaming Chinese images, and dumpy pillars--his
native cheekiness faded into most unwonted humility. For he was
increasingly conscious of being, to put it vulgarly "up against something
pretty big." Conscious of a personality altogether too secure of its own
power to spread itself or, in the smallest degree, bluff or brag. Sir
Charles Verity struck him, indeed, as calm to the confines of cynicism.
He gave, but gave of his abundance, royally indifferent to the cost.
There was plenty more where all this came from, of knowledge, of
initiative and of thought. Only once or twice, during the course of their
long talk, did the young man detect any sign of personal feeling. Then
for an instant, some veil seemed to be lifted, some curtain drawn aside;
while, with dazzling effect, he became cognizant of underlying
bitterness, underlying romance--of secret dealings of man with man, of
man with woman, and the dealing, arbitrary, immutable, final, of Death
and a Greater than Death, with both.
These revelations though of the briefest, over before he fairly grasped
their import, gone like a breath, were still sufficient to discredit many
preconceived ideas and enlarge his mental horizon to a somewhat anxious
extent. They carried him very far from life as lived at Canton Magna
Rectory; very far from all, indeed, in which the roots of his experience
were set, thus producing an atmosphere of doubt, of haunting and
And of that atmosphere he was particularly sensible when, standing in
the hall, flat candlestick in hand, he at last bade Sir Charles Verity
"It has been a wonderful evening, sir," he said, simply and modestly.
"You have been awfully kind in sparing me so much of your time; but,
indeed, it has not been time wasted. I begin to measure a little what
India means, I hope. Certainly I begin to measure the depth of my own
ignorance. I see I have nearly everything of essential importance still
to learn. And that is a pretty large order--almost staggeringly large now
that, thanks to you, I begin to realize the vastness of the amount."
"The majority of men in your Service never realize it," Charles Verity
returned. "They run in blinkers from first to last.--Not that I underrate
their usefulness. They are honest, painstaking, thoroughly reliable,
according to their lights. They do excellent journeyman work. But there
lies the heart of the whole matter.--Are you content to do journeyman
work only; or do you aspire to something greater?--If the former, then
you had best forget me and all I have told you this evening as fast as
possible. For it will prove a hindrance rather than a help, confusing the
issues.--No--no--listen a moment, my dear boy"--
This kindly, indulgently even, as Tom made a gesture of repudiation and
began to speak.
"If the latter--well, the door stands open upon achievement by no means
contemptible, as the opportunities of modern life go; but, it is only
fair to warn you, upon possibilities of trouble, even of disaster, by no
means contemptible either. For, remember, the world is so constituted
that if you elect to drive, rather than be driven, you must be prepared
to take heavy risks, pay heavy penalties. Understand"--
He laid his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"I do not pose as a teacher, still less as a propagandist. I do not
attempt to direct the jury. The choice rests exclusively with
yourself.--And here rid your mind of any cant about moral obligations.
Both ways have merit, both bring rewards--of sorts--are equally
commendable, equally right. Only this--whether you choose blinkers, your
barrel between the shafts and another man's whip tickling your loins, or
the reins in your own hands and the open road ahead, be faithful to your
choice. Stick to it, through evil report as well as through good."
He lifted his hand off Tom's shoulder. And the latter, looking round at
him was struck--in mingled admiration and repulsion--by his likeness to
some shapely bird of prey, with fierce hooked beak and russet-grey eyes,
luminous, cruel perhaps, yet very sad.
"Above all be careful in the matter of your affections," Sir Charles went
on, his voice deepening. "As you value your career, the pride of your
intellect,--yes--and the pride of your manhood itself, let nothing
feminine tempt you to be unfaithful to your choice. Tempt you to be of
two minds, to turn aside, to turn back. For, so surely as you do, you
will find the hell of disappointment, the hell of failure and regret,
waiting wide-mouthed to swallow you, and whatever span of life may remain
to you, bodily up."
He checked himself, breaking off abruptly, the veil lowered again, the
curtain drawn into place.
"There," he said, "we have talked enough, perhaps more than enough. You
have a long day before you to-morrow, so my dear boy, go to bed. My
quarters are down here."
He made a gesture towards the dark corridor opening off the far side
of the hall.
"You know your way? The room on the right of the landing."
"Yes. I know my way, thanks, sir," Tom answered--
And, thus dismissed, went on upstairs, carrying the silver flat
candlestick, while his shadow, black on the panelled wall, mounted beside
him grotesquely prancing step by step.
The furnishing of his room was of a piece with all below, solid yet not
uncomely. It included a four-post bed of generous proportions, hangings,
curtains and covers of chintz, over which faded purple and crimson roses
were flung broadcast on a honey-yellow ground. The colourings were
discreetly cheerful, the atmosphere not unpleasantly warm, the quiet,
save for the creaking of a board as he crossed the floor, unbroken.
Outwardly all invited to peaceful slumber. And Tom felt more than ready
to profit by that invitation this last night on shore, last night in
England. His attention had been upon the stretch for a good many hours
now, since that--after all rather upsetting--good-bye to home and family
at Canton Magna, following an early and somewhat peripatetic breakfast.
Notwithstanding his excellent health and youthful energy, mind and body
alike were somewhat spent. He made short work of preparation, slipped in
between the fine cool linen sheets, and laid his brown head upon the soft
billowing pillows, impatient neither to think nor feel any more but
simply to sleep.
For some two hours or so he did sleep, though not without phantasmagoria
queerly disturbing. The sweep of his visions was wide, ranging from that
redoubtable county lady, Harriet Cowden _nee_ Verity--first cousin of his
father, the Archdeacon, and half-sister to his host--in her violet-ink
hued gown, to fury of internecine strife amid the mountain fastnesses of
Afghanistan,--from the austere and wistful beauty of the grey,
long-backed Norman Abbey rising above the roofs and chimneys of the
little English market-town, to the fierce hectic splendour of Eastern
cities blistering in the implacable sun-glare of the Indian plains. Days
on the Harchester playing fields, days on the river at Oxford, and still
earlier days in the Rectory nursery at home; bringing with them sense of
small bitter sorrows, small glorious triumphs, of laughter and uproarious
fun, of sentimental passages at balls, picnics, garden parties, too, with
charmingly pretty maidens who, in all probability, he would never clap
eyes on again--all these, and impressions even more illusive and
fugitive, playing hide-and-seek among the mazelike convolutions of his
all too active brain.
Then, on a sudden, he started up in bed, aware of external noise and
movement which brought him instantly, almost painfully, broad awake.
For a quite appreciable length of time, while he sat upright in the warm
darkness, Tom failed either to locate the noise which had thus roused
him, or to interpret its meaning. It appeared to him to start at the
river foreshore, pass across the garden, into and through the
ground-floor suite of rooms and corridor which Sir Charles had indicated
as reserved to his particular use.--What on earth could it be? What did
it remind him of?--Why, surely--with a start of incredulous
recognition--the sound of hoofs, though strangely confused and muffled,
such as a mob of scared, over-driven horses might make, floundering
fetlock deep in loose sand.
Alive with curiosity he sprang out of bed, groped his way across to the
window and, putting up the blind, leaned out.
A coppery waning moon hung low in the south-east, and sent a pale rusty
pathway across the sea to where, behind the sand-bar, rippling waves
broke in soft flash and sparkle. Its light was not strong enough to
quench that of the stars crowding the western and the upper sky. Tom
could distinguish the black mass of the great ilex trees on the right.
Could see the whole extent of the lawn, the two sentinel cannon and
pyramid of ammunition set on the terrace along the top of the sea-wall.
And nothing moved there, nothing whatever. The outstretch of turf was
vacant, empty; bare--so Tom told himself--as the back of his own hand.
The sounds seemed to have ceased now that sight denied them visible cause
of existence; and he began to wonder whether his hearing had not played
him false, whether the whole thing was not pure fancy, a delusion born of
He pushed the sash up as far as it would go and leaned further out of the
window. The luscious scent of a late flowering species of lonercera,
trained against the house wall, saluted his nostrils, along with a
fetid-sweet reek off the mud-flats of the Haven. Away in the village a
dog yelped, and out on the salt-marshes water-fowl gave faint whistling
cries. Then all settled down into stillness, save for the just audible
chuckle and suck of the river as the stream met the inflowing tide.
The stillness pleased him. For so many nights to come there would be none
of it; but ceaselessly the drumming of the engines, quiver of the screw,
and wash of the water against the ship's side.--All the same he did not
quite like the colour of the moon or that frayed flattened edge of it
westward. Why is there always something a trifle menacing about a waning
moon? He did not like the smell of the mud-flats either. It might not be
actually unhealthy; but it suggested a certain foulness. He yawned, drew
back into the room, and straightening himself up, stretched his hands
above his head. He would get into bed again. He was dog-tired--yes, most
Then he stopped short, listening, hastily knelt down by the window and
again leaned out. For once more he heard horses coming up from the shore,
across the garden, into and through the house, hustling and trampling one
another as they shied away from the whip.--There were laggards too--one
stumbled, rolled over in the sand, got on its feet after a nasty
struggle, and tottered onward dead lame. Another fell in its tracks and
lay there foundered, rattling in the throat.
The sounds were so descriptive, so explicit and the impression produced
on Tom Verity's mind so vivid that, carried away by indignation, he found
himself saying out loud:
"Curse them, the brutes, the cowardly brutes, mishandling their cattle
like that! They"--
And he stopped confounded, as it came home to him that throughout the
course of this cruel drama he had seen nothing, literally nothing, though
he had heard so convincingly much. A shiver ran down his spine and he
broke into a sweat, for he knew beyond question or doubt not so much as a
shadow,--let alone anything material--had breasted the sea-wall, passed
over the smooth level turf, or entered--how should it?--the house.
The garden lay outspread before him, calm, uninvaded by any alien being,
man or animal. The great ilex trees were immobile, fixed as the eternal
stars overhead. And he shrank in swift protest, almost in terror, being
called on thus to face things apparently super-normal, forces unexplored
and uncharted, defying reason, giving the lie to ordinary experience and
ordinary belief. Reality and hallucination, jostled one another in his
thought, a giant note of interrogation written against each. For which
was the true and which the false? Of necessity he distrusted the evidence
of his own senses, finding sight and hearing in direct conflict thus.
The two or three minutes that followed were among the most profoundly
disagreeable Tom ever had spent. But at last, a door opened below,
letting forth a shaft of mellow lamp-light. It touched the flower-beds on
the left edging the lawn, giving the geraniums form and colour, laying
down a delicate carpet of green, transmuting black into glowing scarlet.
Tall and spare in his grey and white sleeping-suit, Sir Charles Verity
sauntered out, and stood, smoking, looking out to sea.
Earlier that night, downstairs in the sitting-room, he seemed a storm
centre, generating much perplexity and disquiet. But now Tom welcomed his
advent with a sense of almost absurd satisfaction. To see what was
solidly, incontrovertibly, human could not but be, in itself, a mighty
relief.--Things began to swing into their natural relation, man, living
man, the centre, the dominant factor once more. He, Tom, could now shift
all responsibility, moreover. If the master of the house was on guard,
he might wash his hands of these hateful ghostly goings on--if ghostly
they were--leaving the whole matter to one far stronger and more
competent than himself.
Whereupon he went back to bed; and slept profoundly, royally, until
Hordle the man-servant, moving about the bright chintz bedecked room,
preparing his bath and laying out his clothes, awoke him to the sweetness
of another summer day.
BETWEEN RIVER AND SEA
"We had a grand talk last night--Sir Charles was in splendid form. I
enjoyed it down to the ground."
Tom Verity lay, at full length on the upward sloping, sun-warmed bank of
sand and shingle. Only to youth is given enjoyment of perfect laziness
joined with perfect physical vigour. Just because he felt equal to
vaulting the moon or long-jumping an entire continent, should such
prodigious feats be required of him, could he lie thus in glorious
idleness letting the earth cradle and the sun soak into him. Doubts and
disturbances of last night melted in daylight to an almost ludicrous
nothingness and self-confidence reigned; so that he declared the world a
super-excellent place, snapping his fingers at problems and mysteries. A
spark of curiosity pricked him still, it is true, concerning the origin
of certain undeniably queer aural phenomena. He meant to satisfy that
curiosity presently; but the subject must be approached with tact. He
must wait on opportunity.
A few paces from and above him, Damaris sat on the crown of the ridge,
where the light southerly wind, coming up now and again off the sea,
fanned her. A white knitted jersey, pulled on over her linen dress,
moulded the curve of her back, the round of her breasts and turn of her
waist, showing each movement of her gracious young body to the hips, as
she leaned forward, her knees drawn up and her feet planted among the
red, orange, and cream-grey flints and pebbles.
Looking up at her, Tom saw her face foreshortened in the shade of her
broad brimmed garden hat, a soft clear flush on it born of health, fresh
air and sunlight, her eyes shining, the blue of the open sea in their
luminous depths. He received a new impression of her. She belonged to the
morning, formed part of the gladness of universal Nature, an unfettered
nymph-like being. To-day her mood was sprightly, bidding farewell to
ceremony. Yet, he felt, she remained perplexing, because more detached
than is the feminine habit, poised and complete in herself.
And this detachment, this suppression of the sentimental or social
note--he being admittedly a very personable fellow--piqued Tom's male
vanity, so that he rallied her with:
"But by the way, why did you vanish so early, why didn't you stay with us
after dinner last night?"
"I did not want to vanish," she answered. "Nothing is more delightful
than hearing my father talk. But had I stayed Miss Bilson would have
supposed herself free to stay too, and that would have spoiled the
evening. My father doesn't choose to talk freely before Miss Bilson,
because she gets into a foolish excited state and interrupts and asks
questions. She overflows with admiration and that annoys and bores him."
"'She brought him butter in a lordly dish,'" Tom quoted. "The ill-advised
Bilson. Can't one just see her!"
"And it is not her place to admire out loud," Damaris continued. "Over
and over again I have tried to explain that to her. But in some ways, she
is not at all clever. She can't or won't understand, and only tells Aunt
Felicia I am wanting in sympathy and that I hurt her feelings. She has
unreasonably many feelings, I think, and they are so easily hurt. I
always know when the hurting takes place because she sniffs and then
plays Mendelssohn's Songs without Words on the schoolroom piano."
Tom chuckled. She had a caustic tongue on occasion, this
"Alas, poor Bilson!" he said. "For, as Sir Charles walked across the
garden with us down to the ferry, didn't I hear those same sugary
melodies tinkling out of some upper open window?"
"I am afraid you did. You see she had made up her mind to come with me."
"And you were forced to intimate you found yourself quite equal to
conducting the expedition unshepherded?"
"I did not mean to be unkind, but she would have been so dreadfully in
Damaris gathered up a handful of little pebbles, and let them dribble
down slowly between her outspread fingers while, turning her head, she
gazed away out to sea.
"This is a day by itself," she said. "It looks like jewels, topazes,
turquoise, and pearls; and it seems full of things which half tell
themselves, and then hide from or pass you by.--I wanted to watch it all
and think; and, she doesn't do it on purpose I know, but somehow Miss
Bilson always interferes with my thinking."
Both the tone and substance of this discourse proved slightly startling
to its hearer. They carried the conversation into regions transcendental;
and to his blissful laziness, the rarefied air of those regions was
unwelcome. To breathe it demanded exertion. So he said, chaffingly:
"Do I interfere with your thinking? I hope not. But if I offend that way,
speak but a word and I disappear like a shot."
"Oh! no," she answered. "How could you interfere? You are part of it. You
started it, you see, because you are going to India."
Whereat, failing to catch the sequence of ideas, male vanity plumed
itself, tickled to the point of amusement. For was not she a child after
all, transparently simple and candid, and very much a woman-child at
that! Tom turning on his side raised himself on one elbow, smiling at her
with easy good-nature.
"How charming of you to adopt me as a special object of thought, and care
so much about my going."
But patronage proved short-lived. The girl's colour deepened, but her
eyes dwelt on him coldly.
"I have only been thinking how fortunate you are, and seeing pictures in
my mind of what you will see which will be new to you--and--and
"Oh! of course, I am lucky, tremendously lucky," he hastened to declare,
laughing a little wryly. "Such a journey is a liberal education in
itself, knocking the insularity out of a man--if he has any receptive
faculty that is--and ridding him of all manner of stodgy prejudices. I
don't the least undervalue my good fortune.--But you talk of remembering.
That's stretching a point surely. You must have been a mere baby, my dear
Damaris, when you left India."
"No, I was six years old, and I remember quite well. All my caring for
people, all my thinking, begins there, in the palace of the Sultan-i-bagh
at Bhutpur and the great compound, when my father was Chief
Her snub duly delivered, and she secure it had gone home, Damaris unbent,
graciously communicative as never before.
"It was all so beautiful and safe there inside the high walls, and yet a
teeny bit frightening because you knew there were other things--as there
are to-day--which you felt but couldn't quite see all about you.
Sometimes they nearly pushed through--I was always expecting and I like
to expect. It hurt me dreadfully to go away; but I had been very ill.
They were afraid I should die and so Dr. McCabe--he was here when you
arrived yesterday--insisted on my being sent to Europe. A lady--Mrs.
Pereira--and my nurse Sarah Watson took me to Paris, to the convent
school where I was to be educated. It was all very strange, but the nuns
were kind. I liked their religion, and I got accustomed to the other
little girls. I had rooms of my own; and French friends of my father's
visited me and took me out on half-holidays. And Aunt Felicia came over
to fetch me for the summer vacations and brought me here"--
Damaris pointed across the tide-way to the river frontage, including with
one sweeping gesture the whole demesne of The Hard from the deep lane on
the one hand, opening funnel-like upon the shore, past sea-wall--topped
at the corner by pink plumed tamarisk, the small twin cannons and pyramid
of ball--the lawn and irregular white house overlooking it, backed and
flanked by rich growth of trees, to a strip of sandy warren and pine
scrub on the other, from out which a line of some half-dozen purple
stemmed, red branched Scotch firs, along with the grey stone built Inn
and tarred wooden cottages on the promontory beyond, showed through a
dancing shimmer of heat haze, against the land-locked, blue and silver
waters of Marychurch Haven.
"I did not like being here at all at first," she told him. "I thought it
a mean place only fit for quite poor people to live in. The house seemed
so pinched and naked without any galleries or verandahs. And I was afraid
because we had so few servants and neither door-keepers or soldiers. I
could not believe that in England there is so little need for protection
against disaffected persons and thieves. The sunshine was pale and thin,
and the dusk made me sad. At Bhutpur the sun used to drop in flame behind
the edge of the world and night leap on you. But here the day took so
long dying. Aunt Felicia used to praise what she called 'the long sweet
English twilight,' and try to make me stop out in the garden to enjoy it
with her. But I could not bear it. The colours faded so slowly. It seemed
like watching some helpless creature bleed to death silently, growing
greyer minute by minute and feebler. I did not want to watch, but go
indoors where the lamps were lighted and it was warm and cosy. I used to
cry dreadfully, when I could get away by myself where Aunt Felicia and
the maids could not see me, cry for my father--he resigned the
Commissionership, you know, when I was sent home and took service in
Afghanistan under the Ameer--and for my darling friend, Mrs. Pereira, and
for the Sultan-i-bagh, where I knew strangers lived now. For the lotus
tank and orange grove, and all my little tame animals and my pretty
play-places I should never, never see any more"--
Overcome by which intimate memories, Damaris' grave voice--which had
taken on a chanting cadence, at once novel and singularly pleasing to the
young man's ear--quavered and broke.
"Poor little exiled princess!" he cried, all his facile kindness to the
fore again. "Yes, it must have been cruelly hard on you. You must have
suffered. No wonder you cried--cried buckets full."
And drawn by pity for that desolate, tropic-bred little child, Tom got on
to his feet and crunched up the loose shingle to the crest of the ridge,
full of a lively desire to pacify and console. But here the soft breeze
met and caressed him, and the whole plain of the tranquil sea came into
view--turquoise shot with pearl, as Damaris recently figured it, and
fringed with topaz where waves, a few inches high and clear as glass,
broke on the yellow sand at the back of the Bar just below.
"How wonderfully lovely!" he exclaimed, carried out of himself by the
extreme fairness of the scene. And, his hands in his trouser pockets he
stood staring, while once again the pull of home, of England, of
tenderness for all that which he was about to leave, dimmed his eyes and
raised a lump in his throat.
"Upon my word, you must be difficult to please if this place doesn't
please you or come up to your requirements, Damaris," he said, presently
sitting down beside her. "No Arabian Nights palace in Asia, I grant you;
yet in its own humbler and--dare I say?--less showy, manner not easy to
beat. Breathe this enchanting air. See the heavenly tints with which our
good dirty useful old Channel has adorned itself. Can you ask for more,
you insatiable person, in the way of beauty?"
Then, slightly ashamed of his outburst, Tom practised a delightful smile,
at once sentimental and flirtatious.
"No, on second thoughts, my dear princess, I keep my commiseration for my
wretched self--every crumb of it. For I am the lonely exile--that is, I
am just about to be--not you. Be advised, don't quarrel with the good
gifts of the gods. Deadham Hard is frankly entrancing. How willingly
would I put off taking ship for your vaunted India, and spend the
unending cycles of eternity here--with you, well understood--in this most
delectable spot instead."
Whereupon Damaris, with mingled gravity and haste, her head bent, so
that hat-crown and hat-brim were presented to the young man's observation
rather than her face, proceeded to explain she had spoken not of the
present but of the past. From the time Sir Charles returned to inhabit
it, The Hard was transformed; his presence conferring interest and
dignity upon it, rendering it a not unworthy dwelling-place
indeed--should any such happen that way--for sages, conquerors, or even
kings. He cared for the little property, a fact to her all sufficient.
For him it held the charm of old associations. The pleasantest days of
his boyhood were spent here with Thomas Clarkson Verity, his great
uncle--who eventually left him the property--nor had he ever failed later
to visit it when home on leave. In pious remembrance of that distant era
and of his entertaining and affectionate, if somewhat eccentric, host and
friend he forbade any alteration in the house or grounds. It continued
to-day just as old Mr. Verity left it. There was no break, even in
details of furnishing or arrangement, with the past. This, to Sir
Charles, added to the natural restfulness of the place. Now after the
great achievements and responsibilities of his Eastern career he found
retirement congenial. The soft equable climate benefited his health.
Rough shooting and good fishing could be had in plenty--stag-hunting,
too, in Arnewood Forest, when he inclined to such sport. The Hard was
sufficiently easy of access from town for friends to come and stay with
him. Convenient for crossing to the Continent too, when he took his
yearly cure at Aix or at Vichy, or went south for a couple of months, as
last winter for instance, to Cette, Montpelier and across, by Pau, to the
Atlantic seaboard at St. Sebastian, Biarritz, and Bayonne.
"When my father travels I go with him," Damaris said, raising her head
and looking at the young man with proud, deliberate eyes. "We both
suffered too much, we must never be separated again. And when we go
abroad, we go alone. There is no one to give advice or interfere. We take
Hordle, to pack and look after the baggage. We are always together, and
I am always happy. I wish we could live like that always, with no settled
home. But after a while, my father grows tired of hotels. He begins to
wish for the quiet of The Hard, and all the things he is accustomed to.
And then, naturally, I begin to wish for it too."
From which statement, made as he judged with intention, Tom apprehended
an attachment of no common order existing between these two persons,
father and child. If, as family gossip disapprovingly hinted, the
affection given appeared to trench on exaggeration, the affection
returned was of kindred quality, fervid, self-realized, absorbing, and
absorbed. Comparing it with his own humorously tolerant filial attitude,
Tom felt at once contrite and injured. The contrast was glaring. But
then, as he hastened to add--though whether in extenuation of his own, or
of his father's, shortcomings remained open to question--wasn't the
contrast between the slightly pompous, slightly bow-windowed, provincial,
Tory cleric and this spare, inscrutable soldier and ruler, glaring
likewise? To demand that the one should either experience or inspire the
same emotions as the other was palpably absurd! Hence (comfortable
conclusion!) neither he, Tom, nor the Archdeacon was really to
blame.--Only, as he further argued, once the absurdity of that same
demand admitted, were you not free to talk of exaggeration, or of the
"grand manner," as you chose? Were not the terms interchangeable, if you
kept an open mind? His personal acquaintance with the "grand manner" in
respect of the affections, with heroical love, amounted, save in
literature, to practically nothing; yet instinctively he applied those
high sounding phrases to the attachment existing between Damaris and her
father. Both as discovery and, in some sort, as challenge to his own
preconceived ideas and methods this gave him food for serious thought.
He made no attempt at comment or answer; but sat silent beside the girl,
bare-headed in the soft wind and sunlight, between the flowing river and
The "grand manner"--that was how, naturally, without posing or bombast,
these two persons envisaged life for good or evil--for this last, too,
might be possible!--shaped their purposes and conduct. Sir Charles, he
knew, had played for big stakes. Damaris, he felt intuitively, young
though she was, played and would play for them likewise. He looked at her
with awakened speculation, awakened curiosity. What, he wondered, would
come of it. Did it make her attractive or the reverse? Really he wasn't
at all sure. Whereat he grew restive, the claims of inherent masculine
superiority, let alone those of public school, university and an
honourable profession, asserting themselves. He began to question whether
this young lady did not take up an undue amount of room, thus cramping
him and denying his powers of conversation suitable opportunity of
display. Was not it about time gently to reduce her, relegate her to a
more modest position? To achieve which laudable result--he acted, of
course, for her good exclusively--he prepared to broach the subject of
the unaccountable noises which disturbed his rest last night. He would
cross-examine her as to their origin, thereby teasing and perhaps even
discountenancing her somewhat.
But before Tom could put his benevolent scheme into execution, his
attention was unexpectedly diverted, a quite new element projecting
itself upon the scene.
For some little while an open boat, a hoary though still seaworthy tub of
a thing, deep in draught and broad in the beam, loaded up with
lobster-pots--the skeleton ribs of them black against the surrounding
expanse of shining turquoise and pearl--had slowly neared the Bar from
seaward. The bows, in which a small, withered old man bent double over
the oars, cocked up on end. The stern, where a young man stood erect
among the lobster-pots, was low in the water. Now, as the nose of the
boat grounded, the young man clambered along the gunwale, and balancing
for a minute, tall and straight, on the prow, took a flying leap across
the wide intervening space of breaking wave and clear water, alighting on
his feet, upon the firm sand beyond.
"Good for him! Neatly done," Tom Verity murmured, appreciating the grace
and vigour of the action.
The young man, meanwhile, turning, called to the rower: "Thank you
heartily for putting me ashore, Daddy Proud. I'll go across home by the
ferry. But see here, can you manage her by yourself or shall I help shove
her off for you?"
"Lord love 'ee, I can manage her sure enough," the other called back
shrilly and a trifle truculently. "I knows 'er ways and she knows her
master--ought to by now the old strumpet, if years count for
anythink. So don't 'ee go wetting yer dandy shoes for the likes of
her and me, Cap'en."
And keckling with thin wheezy laughter he straightened his back, and,
planting one oar in the sand, set the boat afloat again skilfully.
IN WHICH THE PAST LAYS AN OMINOUS HAND ON THE PRESENT
Down here on the shore, in the serene morning atmosphere, voices carried
with peculiar distinctness. Every word of the brief colloquy had reached
Tom Verity; and one word at least possessed an Elizabethan flavour
forbidden to ears Victorian, feminine and polite. Noting it Tom reddened
and glanced uneasily at his companion, all inclination to tease giving
place to a laudable desire to shield her from annoyance. But Damaris,
judging by her demeanour, was unaware of any cause of offence; whence,
with relief he concluded that either she had not heard, or that the rank
expression conveyed nothing intelligible to her mind.
Her open hand pressed down upon the rough surface of the pebbles, she
leaned a little backward, her lithe body twisted sideways from the waist,
while she scrutinized the man upon the sands below. And that the latter
presented a gallant and even distinguished appearance, though arrayed in
leather-peaked cap, blue serge reefer jacket and trousers which had
evidently seen service, Tom could not but admit, as he stood just clear
of the ripples of incoming tide staring idly after the receding boat with
its cargo of black ribbed skeleton lobster-pots.--A spirited-looking,
well-made fellow, no doubt; merchant captain or more probably mate--Tom
took him to be about eight-and-twenty--but in an altogether different
rank of life to themselves and therefore a quite unsuitable object for
prolonged and earnest attention. His advent should be treated as an
accident, not elevated thus to the importance of an event. It was not
quite good taste on Damaris' part Tom felt; and he made a show of rising,
saying as he did so, by way of excuse:
"It is wonderfully charming out here. I am loath to break up our little
_tete-a-tete;_ but time waits for no man, worse luck, and if I am to
catch my train I must start directly after luncheon. Sir Charles was good
enough to promise me various letters of introduction to persons in, high
places. He told me to remind him about them. I don't want to be greedy
but I should like those letters. Perhaps I ought to be getting back so as
to see your father about them."
But before Damaris had time to collect her thoughts and reply, the man in
the peaked cap had further asserted his presence. Either becoming
conscious of her observation, or caught by something in Tom Verity's
speech, he wheeled round and looked up at the two in swift, almost
haughty, enquiry. To Tom he vouchsafed little more than a glance, but
upon Damaris his eyes fastened. For a good minute he stared at her, as
though in some sort holding her to ransom. Then with an upward jerk of
the head and an ejaculation, half smothered oath, half sharp laughter--as
of one who registers eminently ironic conclusions--he began deliberately
ascending the slope.
Tom Verity, though possessed of plentiful cheekiness towards the majority
of his elders and betters, was no fire-eater. He preferred diplomacy to
war; and would adroitly evade rather than invite anything approaching a
scene, specially in the presence of a woman. Yet under existing
circumstances retreat had become, as he perceived, not only undignified
but useless. So in his best Oxford manner--a manner ornate, at that
period, and quite crushingly superior--he raised his shoulders, smiled
faintly, resignedly, and disposed himself in an easier attitude, saying:
"Better wait, perhaps, my dear Damaris. I would sooner risk losing those
precious letters than acquire a possible escort for you--and for
myself--down to the river and across the ferry."
And he threw a meaning glance over his shoulder, indicating the
So doing he received a disturbing impression. For seen thus, at close
quarters, not only was the said stranger notably, even astonishingly
good-looking, but he bore an arresting likeness in build, in carriage, in
Tom paused perplexed, racking his brains.--For who, the deuce, was it?
Where had he seen, and that as he could have sworn quite recently, this
same forceful countenance lit by russet-grey eyes at once dauntless and
sad, deep-set, well apart, the lids of them smooth and delicately
moulded? The man's skin was tanned, by exposure, to a tint but a few
shades lighter than that of his gold-brown beard--a beard scrupulously
groomed, trimmed to a nicety and by no means deforming the lower part of
the face since the line of jaw and chin remained clearly discernible.
Tom turned away and looked absently at The Hard in its broad reposeful
frame of lawn and trees. The cool green foliage of a bank of
hydrangeas--running from the great ilexes to the corner of the
house--thick-set with discs of misty pink and blue blossom took his
fancy, as contrast to the beds of scarlet and crimson geranium naming in
the sun. But below any superficial sense of pleasure in outward things,
thought of that likeness--and likeness, dash it all, to whom?--still
vexed him as a riddle he failed to guess. Obligation to guess it, to find
the right answer, obsessed him as of vital interest and importance,
though, for the life of him, he could not tell why. His sense of
proportion, his social sense, his self-complacency, grew restive under
the pressure of it. He told himself it wasn't of the smallest
consequence, didn't matter a fig, yet continued to cudgel his memory.
And, all the while, the sound of deliberate footsteps crunching over the
dry rattling shingle, nearer and nearer, contributed to increase his
The footsteps halted close behind him--while for a sensible length of
time a shadow lay across him shutting off the genial warmth--and started
again, passing to the left, as the intruder traversed the crown of the
ridge a few paces from where Damaris was seated, and pursued his way down
to the river-shore on the other side.
"At last--I thank you!" Tom broke out impatiently.
He felt incomprehensibly nervous; and angry with himself for so feeling.
"Commend me to our friend for taking his time about things, and
incidentally wasting ours--yours and mine, I mean! What on earth did he
want? He certainly treated us to a sufficiently comprehensive inspection.
Well, I hope he was satisfied. By the same token, have you any conception
who the fellow is?"
Damaris shook her head. She, too, appeared perturbed. Her eyebrows were
drawn into a little frown and her expression was perplexed to the point
of child-like distress.
"Not any," she answered simply. "Some one staying at Faircloth's Inn
possibly. People come there from Marychurch to spend the day during the
summer. Old Timothy Proud, the lobster-catcher, who brought him round in
his boat, lives at one of the cottages close to the Inn. No," she
repeated, "I have no conception who he is, and yet his face seemed
familiar. I had a feeling that I knew him quite well--had seen him often,
oh! very often before."
"Ah! then you were puzzled by some mysterious likeness,"--Tom began
eagerly, smiling at her. And stopped short, open-mouthed, assailed by so
apparently preposterous a recognition that for the minute it left him
But Damaris, busy with her own sensations, her glance still following the
blue-clad figure along the shore and out on to the tumble-down wooden
jetty, failed to remark his embarrassment and thus gave him time to
recover his scattered wits.
"Jennifer is bringing the ferry-boat across," she said presently, "so you
won't have to wait much longer. Not that you need be at all anxious about
those letters. It is not my father's habit to forget a promise. Most
likely they were written last night before he went to bed. He sleeps
badly, I am sorry to say, and is glad to cheat the wakeful hours by
reading and doing his correspondence until late."
As she spoke the young girl rose to her feet, pulling the close-fitting
jersey down over her hips and, stooping, dusted particles of sand off the
hem of her dress.
"There--that's better. Now I am tidy. Shall we go home, cousin Tom?"
Her eyes shone with inward excitement and she carried her head proudly,
but her face was white. And he, sensible that she had suddenly hardened
towards him and strove, he could not divine why, to keep him at arm's
length, turned perversely teasing again. He would not await a more
convenient season. Here and now he would satisfy his curiosity--and at
her expense--regarding one at least of the queer riddles Deadham Hard had
sprung on him.
"I did not know your father suffered from sleeplessness," he said. "It
must be horribly trying and depressing. I am glad, in a way, you have
told me, because it may account for my seeing him go out into the garden
from the study last night, or rather very early this morning. It would be
about two o'clock. I put down his appearance to another cause, and"--
He smiled at her, delightfully ingratiating, assaugingly apologetic.
"Shall I own it?--one which, frankly, struck me as a little upsetting and
the reverse of pleasant."
"Weren't you comfortable? I am so sorry," Damaris exclaimed, instincts of
hospitality instantly militant. "What was wrong? You should have called
someone--rung for Hordle. What was it?"
"No--no--my dear Damaris, don't vex yourself I entreat you. I was in
clover, luxuriously comfortable. You've allotted me a fascinating room
and perfect dream of a bed. I feel an ungrateful wretch for so much as
mentioning this matter to you after the way in which you have indulged
me. Only something rather extraordinary really did happen, of which I
honestly confess I am still expiring to find a reasonable and not too
humiliating explanation. For, though I blush to own it"--
He laughed softly, humping up his shoulders after the manner of a naughty
small boy dodging a well-merited box on the ear.--
"Yes, I blush to own it, but I was frightened, downright frightened. I
quailed and I quaked. The sight of Sir Charles stepping out of the study
window filled me with abject rapture. Metaphorically speaking, my craven
soul squirmed at his heels. He was to me as a strong tower and house of
defence.--But look here, Damaris, joking apart, tell me weren't you
disturbed, didn't you hear any strange noises last night?"
"No, none." She hesitated, then with evident reluctance--"I sleep in the
new wing of the house."
"Which you imply, might make a difference?" Tom asked.
"The older servants would tell you that it does."
"And you agree with them?"
Damaris had a moment of defective courage.
"I would rather not discuss the subject, cousin Tom," she said and moved
away down over the shifting shingle.
At first her progress was sober, even stately. But soon, either from the
steep, insecure nature of the ground or from less obvious and material
cause, her pace quickened until it became a run. She ran neatly, deftly,
all of a piece as a boy runs, no trace of disarray or feminine
floundering in her action. More than ever, indeed, did she appear a fine
nymph-like creature; so that, watching her flight Tom Verity was touched
alike with self-reproach and admiration. For he had succeeded in
asserting himself beyond his intention. Had overcome, had worsted her;
yet, as it occurred to him, won a but barren victory. That she was
alienated and resentful he could hardly doubt, while the riddle he had
rather meanly used to procure her discomfiture remained unanswered as
ever, dipped indeed only deeper in mystery. He was hoist with his own
petard, in short; and stood there nonplussed, vexed alike at himself and
A soft wind, meanwhile, caressed him, as hesitating, uncertain what to do
next, he glanced out over the smiling sea and then back at the delicate
shore line, the white house, the huge evergreen trees and brilliant
flower garden. A glamour covered the scene. It was lovely, intimately,
radiantly lovely as he had lately declared it. Yet just now he grew
distrustful, as though its fair seeming cloaked some subtle trickery and
deceit. He began to wish he had not undertaken this expedition to
Deadham; but gone straight from the normal, solidly engrained
philistinism of dear old Canton Magna to join his ship. In coming here he
had, to put it vulgarly, bitten off more than he could chew. For the
place and its inhabitants seemed to have a disintegrating effect on him.
Never in all his life had he been such a prey to exterior influences,
been twisted and turned to and fro, weather-cock fashion, thus. It was
absurd, of course, to take things too seriously, yet he could not but
fear the Archdeacon's well-intentioned bit of worldliness and his own
disposition to court whatever family prejudice pronounced taboo, were in
process of leading him a very questionable little dance.
Reaction, however, set in before long, as with so lively, light-hearted a
temperament, it was bound to do, the healthy scepticism, healthy optimism
of untried three-and-twenty rising to the surface buoyant as a cork.
Tom Verity shook himself, took off his hat, smoothed his hair, settled
his tie, hitched up the waist of his trousers, stamping to get them into
place, laughed a little, calling himself every sort of silly ass, and
then swung away down the side of the long ridge in pursuit of Damaris.
He acknowledged his treatment of her had been lacking in chivalry. He
hadn't shown himself altogether considerate or even kind. But she
challenged him--perhaps unconsciously--and once or twice had come near
making him feel small.--Oh! there were excuses for his behaviour! Now
however he would sail on another tack. Would placate, discreetly cherish
her until she couldn't but be softened and consent to make it up. After
all maidens of her still tender age are not precisely adamant--such at
least was his experience--where a personable youth is concerned. It only
needed a trifle of refined cajolery to make everything smooth and to
bring her round.
He overtook the fugitive as she reached the low wooden jetty crawling,
like some giant but rather dilapidated black many-legged insect, out over
the stream. Its rows of solidly driven piles were intact, but the staging
they supported had suffered damage from the rush of river floods, let
alone from neglect and age. Handrails were broken down, planks rotted and
wrenched away leaving gaps through which the cloudy greenish blue water
could be seen as it purred and chuckled beneath. Here, at the river
level, it was hot to the point of sultriness, the air heavy, even
stagnant, since the Bar shut off the southerly breeze.
"Upon my word one requires to be in training to race you, my dear
Damaris," the young man said gaily, ostentatiously mopping his forehead.
"And I'm disgracefully soft just now, I know. You beat me utterly and
ignominiously; but then you did have a good three minutes' start. In
common honesty you can't deny that"--
The girl made no response, but began mounting the few sand-strewn steps
on to the jetty. He saw her face in profile, the delicate upward curve of
her long dark eyelashes in the shade of her hat. Saw, too, that her soft
lips quivered as with the effort to repress an outburst of tears. And
this affected him as the wounding of some strong free creature might,
stirring his blood in a fashion new to him and strange. For not only did
he find it piteous; but unseemly, unpermissible somehow, yet marvellously
sweet, startling him out of all preconceived light diplomatic plans,
plucking shrewdly at his complacently unawakened heart.
He came close to her, and putting his hand under her elbow gently held
"Pray, pray be careful," he said. "I don't trust this crazy little pier
of yours one atom. Any one of these boards looks capable of crumbling and
letting one through.--And, Damaris, please don't be cross with me or I
shall be quite miserable. Forgive my having asked you stupid questions. I
was a blundering idiot. Of course, what I heard last night was just some
echo, some trick of wind or of the river and tide. I was half asleep and
imagined the whole thing most likely, magnified sounds as one does,
don't you know, sometimes at night. Your father talked wonderfully, and I
went to bed dazzled, such imagination as I possess all aflame"--
But Damaris shook her head, while her elbow rested rigid upon the palm
of his hand.
"No--what you heard was real," she answered. "I heard once myself--and
the people here know about it. They say the dead smugglers still drive
their ponies up from the beach, across the lawn where the old road was,
and, as it sounds, through the round rooms downstairs, in which my father
lives, on their way up into the forest.--You cannot help seeing--although
you see nothing--how the ponies are ill-used, hounded and flogged. The
last of the drove are lame and utterly worn out. They stumble along
anyhow and one falls. Oh! it is cruel, wicked. And it is--was, really
true, cousin Tom. It must have happened scores of times before old Mr.
Verity, your namesake, put a stop to the iniquity by buying The Hard--I
have only heard the ponies driven once, about this time in September last
year--just before something very sad, quite of my own, happened"--
Damaris stopped, her lips quivering again and too much for speech.
"Don't tell me any more. I can't bear you to be distressed. Pray, pray
don't"--the young man urged incoherently while his grasp on her elbow
For he felt curiously flurried and put about; near cursing himself
moreover for having helped to break up her high serenity thus. The whole
thing was manifestly impossible as he told himself, outside every
recognized law of Nature and sound science. Even during the mistrustful
phantasy-breeding watches of the night, when reason inclines to drag
anchor setting mind and soul rather wildly adrift, he had refused
credence to the apparent evidence of his own senses. Now in broad
daylight, the generous sunshine flooding him, the smooth river purring
and glittering at his feet, belief in grim and ghostly happenings became
more than ever inadmissible, not to say quite arrantly grotesque. Yet
Damaris' version of those same happenings tallied with his own in every
point. And that her conviction of their reality was genuine, profound
indeed to the point of pain, admitted neither of question nor of doubt.
A CRITIC IN CORDUROY
William Jennifer, who successfully combined in his single person the
varied offices of ferryman, rat-catcher, jobbing gardener, amateur
barber, mender of sails and of nets, brought the heavy, flat-bottomed
boat alongside the jetty. Shipping the long sweeps, he coughed behind his
hand with somewhat sepulchral politeness to give warning of his presence.
"Sweethearting--lost to sight and hearing, espoused to forgetfulness," he
murmured, peering up at the two cousins standing in such close proximity
to one another upon the black staging above.
For William Jennifer was a born lover of words and maker of phrases,
addicted to the bandying of pleasantries, nicely seasoned to their
respective age, sex and rank, with all he met; and, when denied an
audience, rather than keep silence holding conversation with himself.
The hot morning induced thirst, which, being allayed by a couple of pints
at Faircloth's Inn, induced desire for a certain easiness of costume. His
waistcoat hung open--he had laid aside his coat--displaying a broad
stitched leather belt that covered the junction between buff corduroy
trousers and blue-checked cotton shirt. On his head, a high
thimble-crowned straw hat, the frayed brim of it pulled out into a poke
in front for the better shelter of small, pale twinkling eyes set in a
The said face, however--for all its sharp-pointed nose, long upper lip,
thin gossipy mouth, tucked in at the corners and opening, redly
cavernous, without any showing of teeth, a stiff sandy fringe edging
cheeks and chin from ear to ear--could on occasion become utterly blank
of expression. It became so now, as Tom Verity, realizing the fact of its
owner's neighbourhood, moved a step or two away from Damaris and,
jumping on board himself, proceeded with rather studied courtesy to hand
her down into the boat.
"Looks as there might have been a bit of a tiff betwixt 'em"--Thus
Jennifer inwardly. Then aloud--"Put you straight across the ferry, sir,
or take you to the breakwater at The Hard? The tide's on the turn, so
we'd slip down along easy and I'm thinking that 'ud spare Miss Verity the
traipse over the shore path. Wonnerful parching in the sun it is for the
latter end of September."
"Oh! to the breakwater by all means," Tom answered with alacrity.
For reaction had set in. Not only was the young man still slightly
flustered, but vexed by the liveliness of his own emotions. Everything
to-day savoured of exaggeration. The most ordinary incidents distended,
inflated themselves in a really unaccountable manner. So that, frankly,
he fought shy of finding himself alone with Damaris again. She seemed so
constantly to betray him into ill-regulated feeling, ill-considered
speech and action, which tended to endanger the completeness of his
self-esteem. Therefore, although admitting his attitude to be scantily
heroic, he welcomed the prospect of the ferryman's chaperonage until such
time as her father or her discarded lady-in-waiting, the innocent and
pink-nosed Bilson, should effect his final deliverance.
"Yes, it is uncommonly hot," he repeated, while, with both arms extended,
he worked to keep the side of the boat from bumping against the range of
piles, backing it clear of the jetty into the fairway of the river. He
found exertion pleasant, steadying.
"Neither Miss Verity nor I shall be sorry to be saved the walk along
that basting path. That is," he added, smiling with disarming
good-temper, "if we're not blocking business and keeping you too long
away from the ferry."
But Jennifer, mightily pleased at his company and having, moreover,
certain scandalous little fishes of his own to fry--or attempt to
fry--waved the objection aside.
The ferry could very well mind itself for a while, he said; and if
anyone should come along they must just hold hands with patience till he
got back, that was all. But passengers were few and far between this time
of year and of day. The "season"--as was the new-fangled fashion to call
it--being now over; trippers tripped home again to wheresoever their
natural habitat might be. The activities of boys' schools, picnic
parties, ambulant scientific societies and field-clubs--out in pursuit of
weeds, of stone-cracking, and the desecration of those old heathen
burying barrows on Stone Horse Head quieted off for the time being.
Deadham, meanwhile, in act of repossessing its soul in peace and
hibernating according to time-honoured habit until the vernal equinox.
Not that he, Jennifer, as he explained, owned to any quarrel with the
alien invasion. Good for trade they were, that tripper lot, though
wonnerful simple, he must say, when they came to talk, blessed with an
almighty wide swallow for any long-eared fairy tale you liked to put on