Part 3 out of 9
pain? You are no more fit to walk, than you are fit to fly--to fly away
from me!--That's what you want, isn't it? Ah! that flight will come, no
doubt, all in good time.--But meanwhile, be sensible. Put your left arm
round my neck--like this, yes. Then--just a little hoist, and, if you'll
not worry but keep still, nothing's easier."
As he spoke, Faircloth stooped, lightly and with no apparent exertion
lifting her high, so that--she clasping his neck as instructed--the main
weight of her body rested upon his shoulder. With his right arm he held
her just above the waist, his left arm below her knees cradling her.
"Now rest quiet," he said. "Know you are safe and think only of
comfortable things--among them this one, if you care to, that for once in
my life I am content."
Yet over such yielding and treacherous ground, upward to the crown of the
ridge and downward to the river, progress could not be otherwise than
slow. Twilight, and that of the dreariest and least penetrable, overtook
them before Faircloth, still carrying the white-clothed figure, reached
the jetty. Here, at the bottom of the wooden steps he set Damaris down,
led her up them and handed her into the boat--tied up to, and the tide
being at the flood, now little below the level of the staging.
WHEREIN DAMARIS MAKES SOME ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE HIDDEN WAYS OF MEN
Throughout their singular journey--save for briefest question and answer
about her well-being at the commencement of it--the two had kept silence,
as though conscious Faircloth's assertion of contentment struck a chord
any resolution of which might imperil the simplicity of their relation.
Thus far that relation showed a noble freedom from embarrassment. It
might have continued to do so but for a hazardous assumption on his part.
When first placing Damaris in the stern of the boat, the young man
stripped off his jacket and, regardless of her vaguely expressed protest,
wrapped it round her feet. It held the living warmth of his body; and,
chilled, dazed, and spent, as Damaris was, that warmth curiously soothed
her, until the ink-black boat floating upon the brimming, hardly less
inky, water faded from her knowledge and sight. She drooped together,
passing into a state more comparable to coma than to natural slumber, her
will in abeyance, thought and imagination borne under by the immensity of
As Faircloth, meanwhile, pulled clear of the outstanding piles of the
jetty, he heard voices and saw lights moving down by the ferry on the
opposite shore. But these, and any invitation they might imply, he
ignored. If the hue and cry after Damaris, which he had prophesied, were
already afoot, he intended to keep clear of it, studiously to give it the
slip. To this end, once in the fairway of the river he headed the boat
downstream, rowing strongly though cautiously for some minutes, careful
to avoid all plunge of the oars, all swish of them or drip. Then, the
lights now hidden by the higher level and scrub of the warren, he sat
motionless letting the boat drift on the seaward setting current.
The fine rain fell without sound. It shut out either bank creating a
singular impression of solitude and isolation, and of endlessness too.
There seemed no reason why it should ever cease. And this delusion of
permanence, the enclosing soft-clinging darkness served to heighten. The
passage of time itself seemed arrested--to-morrow becoming an
abstraction, remote and improbable, which could, with impunity, be left
out of the count. With this fantastic state of things, Faircloth had no
quarrel. Though impatient of inaction, as a rule definite and autocratic
enough, he really wasn't aware of having any particular use for
to-morrow. Content still held sway. He was satisfied, profoundly, yet
dreamingly, satisfied by an achievement long proposed, long waited for,
the door upon which had opened to-day by the merest accident--if anything
can justly be called accident, which he inclined to believe it could not.
He had appointed, it should be added, a limit in respect of that
achievement, which he forbade himself to pass; and it was his habit very
rigidly to obey his own orders, however little disposed he might be to
obey those of other people. He had received, as he owned, more than he
could reasonably have expected, good measure pressed down and running
over. The limit was now reached. He should practise restraint--leave the
whole, affair where it stood. But the effect of this darkness, and of
drifting, drifting, over the black water in the fine soundless rain, with
its illusion of permanence, and of the extinction of to-morrow--and the
retributions and adjustments in which to-morrow is so frequently and
inconveniently fertile--enervated him, rendering him a comparatively easy
prey to impulse, should impulse chance to be stirred by some adventitious
circumstance. The Devil, it may be presumed, is very much on the watch
for such weakenings of moral fibre, ready to pounce, at the very shortest
notice, and make unholy play with them!
To Faircloth's ruminative eyes, the paleness in the stern of the boat,
indicating Damaris Verity's drooping figure, altered slightly in outline.
Whereupon he shipped the oars skillfully and quietly, and going aft knelt
down in front of her. Her feet were stretched out as, bowed together, she
sat on the low seat. His jacket had slipped away exposing them to the
weather, and the young man laying his hands on them felt them cold as in
death. He held them, chafed them, trying to restore some degree of
circulation. Finally, moved by a great upwelling of tenderness and of
pity, and reckoning her, since she gave no sign, to be asleep, he bent
down and put his lips to them.
But immediately the girl's hands were upon his shoulders.
"What are you doing, oh! what are you doing?" she cried.
"Kissing your feet."
Then the Devil, no doubt, flicking him, he let go restraint, disobeyed
his own orders, raised his head, and looking at her as in the enfolding
obscurity she leaned over him, said:
"And, if it comes to that, who in all the round world has a better right
than I, your brother, to kiss your feet?"
For some, to him, intolerable and interminable seconds, Faircloth waited
after he had shot his bolt. The water whispered and chuckled against the
boat's sides in lazy undertones, as it floated down the sluggish stream.
Beyond this there was neither sound nor movement. More than ever might
time be figured to stand still. His companion's hands continued to rest
upon his shoulders. Her ghostly, dimly discerned face was so near his own
that he could feel, now and again, her breath upon his forehead; but she
was silent. As yet he did not repent of his cruelty. The impulse which
dictated it had not spent itself. Nevertheless this suspense tried him.
He grew impatient.
"Damaris," he said, at last, "speak to me."
"How can I speak to you when I don't understand," she answered gravely.
"Either you lie--which I should be sorry to accuse you of doing--or you
tell me a very terrible thing, if, that is, I at all comprehend what you
say.--Are you not the son of Mrs. Faircloth, who lives at the inn out by
the black cottages?"
"Yes, Lesbia Faircloth is my mother. And I ask for no better. She has
squandered love upon me--squandered money, upon me too; but wisely and
cleverly, with results. Still--" he paused--"well, it takes two,
doesn't it, to make a man? One isn't one's mother's son only."
"But Mrs. Faircloth is a widow," Damaris reasoned, in wondering
directness. "I have heard people speak of her husband. She was married."
"But not to my father. Do you ask for proofs--just think a minute. Whom
did you mistake me for when I called you and came down over the Bar in
"No--no--" she protested trembling exceedingly. "That is not possible.
How could such a thing happen?"
"As such things mostly do happen. It is not the first case, nor will it
by a long way, I reckon, be the last. They were young, and--mayn't we
allow--they were beautiful. That's often a good deal to do with these
accidents. They met and, God help them, they loved."
"No--no--" Damaris cried again.
Yet she kept her hands on Faircloth's shoulders, clinging to him in the
excessive travail of her innocent spirit--though he racked her--for
sympathy and for help.
"For whom, after all, did you take me?" he repeated. "If there wasn't
considerable cause it would be incredible you should make such a mistake.
Can you deny that I am hall-marked, that the fact of my parentage is
written large in my flesh?"
He felt her eyes fixed on him, painfully straining to see him through the
rain and darkness; and, when she spoke again, he knew she knew that he
did not lie.
"But wasn't it wrong" she said.
"I suppose so. Only as it gave me life and as I love life I'm hardly the
person to deliver an unbiased opinion on that point."
"Then you are not sad, you are not angry?" Damaris presently and rather
"Yes--at times both, but not often or for long together. As I tell you I
love life--love it too well to torment myself much about the manner of my
coming by it. It might show more refinement of feeling perhaps to hang my
head and let a certain ugly word blast my prospects. But I don't happen
to see the business that way. On the contrary I hope to get every ounce
of advantage out of it I can--use it as a spur rather than a hobble. And
I love my profession too. It gives you room and opportunity. I am waiting
now for my first ship, my first command. That's a fine thing and a strong
one. For your first ship is as a bride to you, and your first command
makes you as a king among men. Oh! on a small scale I grant; but, as far
as it reaches, your authority is absolute. On board your own ship you are
master with a vengeance--if you like. And I do like."
Faircloth said the last few words softly, but with a weight of meaning
not to be misunderstood. He bent down, once more, chafed Damaris' feet
and wrapped his jacket carefully round them.
"And, while you and I are alone together, there is something--as we've
spoken so freely--which I want to tell you, so that there may be no
misconception about me or about what I want.--As men in my rank of life
go, I am well off. Rich--again on a small scale; but with means
sufficient to meet all my needs. I'm not a spend-thrift by nature,
luckily. And I have amply enough not only to hold my own in my profession
and win through, but to procure myself the pleasures and amusements I
happen to fancy. I want you to remember that, please. Tell me is it quite
clear to you?"
"Yes," Damaris said, "you have made it quite clear."
Yet for the first time he jarred on her, as with a more than superficial
difference of breeding and of class. This mention of money offended her
taste, seeming to lower the level upon which their extraordinary and--to
her--terrible conversation had thus far moved. It hurt her with another
kind of hurting--not magnificent, not absorbing, but just common. That in
speaking of money he was protecting himself, proudly self-guarding his
own honour and that of his mother, Lesbia Faircloth, never, in her
innocence of what is mean and mercenary, occurred to Damaris.
So she took her hands off his shoulders and clasped them in her lap.
Clasped them with all her poor strength, striving even in this extreme,
to maintain some measure of calm and of dignity. She must hold out, she
told herself, just simply by force of will hold out, till she was away
from him. After that, chaos--for thoughts, discoveries, apprehensions of
possibilities in human intercourse hitherto undreamed of, were marshalled
round her in close formation shoulder to shoulder. They only waited. An
instant's yielding on her part, and they would be on to her, crushing
down and in, making her brain reel, her mind stagger under their stifling
"Go back and row," she said, at once imploring and imperious. "Row
quickly. I am very tired. I am cold. I want to be at home--to be in my
RECOUNTING AN ASTONISHING DEPOSITION
Theresa Bilson bustled upstairs. Barring the absence of the extra brake,
which had caused--and for this she could not be sorry since didn't it
justify her "attitude" towards her recalcitrant ex-pupil?--some
inconvenient overcrowding in transit to and from the station, and barring
the rain, which set in between five and six o'clock, the expedition to
Harchester passed off with considerable _eclat_. Such, in any case, was
Theresa's opinion, she herself having figured conspicuously in the
foreground. During the inspection of the Cathedral the Dean paid her
quite marked attention; thanks, in part, to her historical and
archaeological knowledge--of which she made the most, and to her
connection with the Verity family--of which she made the most also. In
precisely what that connection might consist, the learned and timid old
gentleman, being very deaf and rather near-sighted, failed to gather. He
determined, however, to be on the safe side.
"Our genial Archdeacon," he said, "and his distinguished kinsman, Sir
Charles? Ah! yes--yes--indeed--to be sure--with the greatest pleasure."
And he motioned the blushing Theresa to fall into step with him, and with
Dr. Horniblow, at the head of the Deadham procession.
The afterglow of that triumphal progress irradiated her consciousness
still, when--after depositing the Miss Minetts upon their own doorstep,
with playful last words recalling the day's mild jokes and rallyings--she
drove on to The Hard to find the household there in a state of sombre and
most admired confusion.
Thus to arrive home in possession of a fine bag of news, only to
discover an opposition and far finer bag ready awaiting you may well
prove trying to the most high-souled and amiable of temper. By this time,
between success and fatigue, Theresa could not be justly described as
either high-souled or sweet tempered. She was at once inflated and on
edge, and consequently hotly indignant, as though the unfairest march
possible had been stolen upon her.
She bustled upstairs, and crossing the landing turned into the schoolroom
passage--a long, lamp-lit vista, hung with old Chinese wall-paper, the
running pattern of buds and flowers, large out of all proportion to the
bridges, palms, pagodas and groups of little purple and blue-clad men and
women disposed, in dwindling perspective, upon its once white surface.
Half-way along the passage, their backs towards her, Mary and Mrs.
Cooper, the cook--a fair, mild middle-aged, and cow-like person, of ample
proportions--stood conversing in smothered tones.
"And it's my belief he's been and told her, or anyhow that she guesses,
pore dear young lady," the latter, with upraised hands, lamented.
Theresa just caught these strange words. Caught too, Mary's hurried
rejoinder--"For mercy's sake, Mrs. Cooper, not a hint of that to any
living soul"--before the two women, sensible of the swish and patter of
her self-important entry, turned and moved forward to meet, or--could it
be?--to intercept her. Their faces bore a singular expression, in Mrs.
Cooper's case of sloppy, in Mary's of stern yet vivid alarm. Deeply
engaged though she was with her private grievance, Miss Bilson could not
but observe this. It made her nervous.
"What is the meaning," she began, her voice shrill with agitation, "of
the extraordinary story about Miss Damaris which Laura reports to me?
Someone is evidently very much in fault."
"Please don't speak quite so loud, Miss," Mary firmly admonished her.
"I've just got Miss Damaris quieted off to sleep, and if she's roused up
again, I won't answer for what mayn't happen."
"But what has happened? I insist upon knowing," Theresa declared, in
growing offence and agitation.
"Ah! that's just what we should be thankful enough to have you tell us,
Miss," Mrs. Cooper chimed in with heavy and reproachful emphasis upon
To even the mild and cow-like revenge is sweet. Though honestly
distressed and scared, the speaker entertained a most consoling
conviction she was at this moment getting even with Theresa Bilson and
cleverly paying off old scores.
"The pore dear young lady's caught her death as likely as not, out
there across the river in the wet, let alone some sneaking rascal
making off with her stockings and shoes. When I saw her little naked
feet, all blue with the cold, it made my heart bleed, regularly bleed,
it did. I could only give thanks her Nanna, pore Mrs. Watson, who
worshipped the very ground Miss Damaris trod on, was spared living to
see that afflicting sight."
Then with a change of tone exasperating--as it was designed to be--to
one, at least, of her hearers, she added:
"I'll have that soup ready against Miss Damaris wakes, Mary, in case she
should fancy it. Just touch the bell, will you, and I'll bring it up
myself. It's not suitable to give either of the girls a chance for
prying. They're a deal too curious as it is. And I'm only too pleased to
watch with you, turn and turn about, as I told you, whenever you feel to
require a rest. Lizzie will have to see to the cooking anyhow--except
what's wanted for Miss Damaris. I couldn't put my mind into kitchen work
to-night, not if you paid me ever so."
And on large flat feet she moved away towards the back-staircase, leading
down to the offices from the far end of the passage, leaving an odour of
pastry behind her and of cloves.
"To think of what to-morrow may bring, ah! dear me," she murmured
as she went.
During the ten minutes or so which immediately followed Theresa Bilson
boxed the compass in respect of sensations, the needle, as may be noted,
invariably quivering back to the same point--namely, righteous anger
against Damaris. For was not that high-spirited maiden's imperviousness
to influence and defiance of authority--her, Theresa's, influence and
authority--the mainspring of all this disastrous complication? Theresa
found it convenient to believe so, and whip herself up to almost frantic
determination in that belief. It was so perfectly clear. All the more
clear because her informant, Mary, evidently did not share her belief.
Mary's account of to-day's most vexatious transactions betrayed
partizanship and prejudice, such as might be expected from an uneducated
person, offering--as Theresa assured herself--a pertinent example of the
workings of "the servant mind." Nevertheless uneasy suspicion dogged her,
a haunting though unformulated dread that other persons--one person above
all others--might endorse Mary's prejudices rather than her own, so
reasonably based, conviction.
"If only Mr. Patch had been in there'd have been somebody to depend on,"
the woman told her, recounting the anxious search after vanished Damaris.
"But he'd driven into Marychurch of course, starting ever so early
because of the parcels he had your orders to call for at the several
shops, before meeting the train. And the gardeners had left work on
account of the wet; so we'd nobody to send to make enquiries anywhere
except Tolling, and that feather-head Alfred, who you can't trust half a
minute out of your sight." Here she paused in her narrative and made a
move, adroitly driving Theresa Bilson before her out on to the landing,
thus putting a greater distance between that tormented spinster and the
neighbourhood of Damaris' bed-chamber. Her handsome brown eyes held the
light of battle and her colour was high. She straightened a chair,
standing against the wall at the stair-head, with a neatly professional
hand in passing.
"Mrs. Cooper and I were fairly wild waiting down on the sea-wall with the
lantern, thinking of drowning and--worse,--when"--she glanced sharply at
her companion and, lowering her eyes altered the position of the chair by
a couple of inches--"when Captain Faircloth's boat came up beside the
breakwater and he carried Miss Damaris ashore and across the garden."
"Stop"--Theresa broke in--"I do not follow you. Faircloth, Captain
Faircloth? You are not, I earnestly hope, speaking of the owner of that
low public-house on the island?"
"Yes--him," Mary returned grimly, her eyes still lowered.
"And do you mean me to understand that this young man carried Miss
Damaris--actually carried her"--Miss Bilson choked and cleared her throat
with a foolish little crowing sound--"carried her all the way into the
house--in his arms?"
"Yes, in his arms, Miss. How else would you have had him carry her?--And,
as gentle and careful as any woman could, too--into the house and right
upstairs here"--pointing along the passage as if veritably beholding the
scene once more--"and into her own bedroom."
"How shocking. How extremely improper!"
Theresa beat her fat little hands hysterically together. She credited
herself with emotions of the most praiseworthy and purest; ignorant that
the picture conjured up before her provoked obscure physical jealousies,
obscure stirrings of latent unsatisfied passion. More than ever, surely,
did the needle quiver back to that fixed point of most righteous anger.
"Such--such a proceeding cannot have been necessary. It ought not to have
been permitted. Why did not Miss Damaris walk?"
"Because she was in a dead faint, and we'd all the trouble in life to
bring her round."
"Indeed," she said, and that rather nastily. "I am sorry, but I cannot
but believe Miss Damaris might have made an effort to walk--with your
assistance and that of Cooper, had you offered it. As I remarked at
first, someone is evidently very much to blame. The whole matter must be
thoroughly sifted out, of course. I am disappointed, for I had great
confidence in you and Cooper--two old servants who might really have been
expected to possess some idea of the--the respect due to their master's
daughter. What will Sir Charles say when he hears of this objectionable
"That's just what Mrs. Cooper and I are wondering, Miss," Mary took her
up with so much meaning that Miss Bilson inwardly quailed, sensible of
having committed a rather egregious blunder. This she made efforts to
repair by sheering off hurriedly on another tack.
"Not that I shall trouble Sir Charles with the matter, unless
circumstances arise which compel me to do so--as a duty. My great object,
of course, is at all times to spare him any domestic annoyance."
She began pulling off her gloves, a new pair and tight. Her hands were
moist and the glove-fingers stuck, rendering their removal lengthy and
"To-morrow I shall have a thorough explanation with Miss Damaris and
decide what action it is my duty to take after hearing her version of the
events of this afternoon. I should prefer speaking to her to-night--"
"Miss Damaris isn't fit to talk about anything to-night."
Theresa pulled at the right-hand glove--the kid gave with a little
shriek, the thumb splitting out. She was in a state of acute indecision.
Could she retire from this contest without endangering her authority,
without loss of prestige, or must she insist? She had no real wish to
hasten to her ex-pupil's bedside. She would be glad to put off doing so,
glad to wait. She was conscious of resentment rather than affection. And
she felt afraid, unformulated suspicion, unformulated dread, again
dogging her. That Damaris was really ill, she did not believe for an
instant. Damaris had excellent health. The maids exaggerated. They
delighted in making mysteries. Uneducated persons are always absurdly
greedy of disaster, lugubriously credulous.--Yes, on the whole she
concluded to maintain her original attitude, the attitude of yesterday
and this morning; concluded it would be more telling to keep up the
fiction of disgrace--because--Theresa did not care to scrutinize her own
motives or analyse her own thought too closely. She was afraid, and she
was jealous--jealous of Damaris' beauty, of the great love borne her by
her father, jealous of the fact that a young man--hadn't she, Theresa,
seen the young sea-captain once or twice in the village recently and been
fluttered by his notable good looks?--had rescued the girl, and carried
her home, carried her up here across the landing and along the familiar
schoolroom passage, with its patterned Chinese wall-paper, gently and
carefully, in his arms.
And these qualifying terms--gentle and careful--rankled to the point even
of physical disturbance, so that Miss Bilson again became guilty of
inelegantly choking, and clearing her throat for the second time with a
foolish crowing sound.
"I will postpone my interview with Miss Damaris until after breakfast
to-morrow," she said, thus leaving Mary Fisher virtually, if not
admittedly, master of the field.
But long before breakfast time, in the grey and mournful autumn
morning, Patch rattled the dog-cart the seven miles into Stourmouth, as
fast as the black horse could travel, to fetch Damaris' old friend, the
retired Indian Civil surgeon, Dr. McCabe. For, coming to herself, in
the intervals of distracted fever dreams, she had asked for him, going
back by instinct to the comfort of his care of her in childish
illnesses long ago. Since she was ill enough, so Mary said, to need a
doctor, let it be him.
"Not Mr. Cripps out of the village, or Dr. Risdon from Marychurch. I
won't see them. I will not see anyone from near here. Keep them away from
me," she commanded. "I know Miss Bilson will try to send for one or the
other. But I won't see either. Promise you'll keep them away."
When, after his visit, Theresa Bilson, considerably flustered and
offended, found McCabe breakfasting in the dining-room and offered
profuse apologies for the inconvenience to which he must have been put by
so early and unnecessary a call, the tender-hearted and garrulous, but
choleric Irishman cut her uncommonly short.
"And would you be supposing then, that if the dear blessed child should
be desirous of consulting me I wouldn't have rejoiced to come to her a
thousand times as early and from ten thousand times as far?" he enquired,
between large mouthfuls of kidney and fried bacon. "The scheming little
pudding-faced governess creature, with a cherry nose and an envious eye
to her"--he commented to himself.
"But you do not apprehend anything serious?" Theresa said
stiffly--"Merely a slight chill?"
"With a temperature dancing up and down like a mad thing between a
hundred and one and a hundred and three? I'm dashed if I like the looks
of her at all, at all, Miss Bilson; and I am well acquainted with her
constitution and her temperament. She's as delicate a piece of feminine
mechanism as it's ever been my fortune to handle, and has been so from a
child. Mind and body so finely interwoven that you can't touch the one
without affecting the other--that is where danger comes in.--And I am
glad to find she has so competent a nurse as Mary Fisher--a wholesome
woman and one to put faith in. I have given my full instructions to her."
"But I"--Theresa began fussily, her face crimson.
"Oh! I don't doubt you're devotion itself; only my first consideration is
my patient, and so I make free to use my own judgment in the selection of
my assistants. No disrespect to you, my dear lady. You are at home in
more intellectual spheres than that of the sick-room. And now," he wiped
his mouth with his napkin, twinkling at her over the top of it with small
blue-grey eyes, at once merry, faithful, and cunning--"I'll be bidding
you good-bye till the evening. I have told Mary Fisher I'll be glad to
sleep here to-night. And I'll despatch a telegram to Sir Charles on my
way through the village."
"Sir Charles?" Theresa cried.
"Yes," he answered her. "I find the darling girl's illness as
serious as that."
A SOUL AT WAR WITH FACT
The deepest and most abiding demand of all sentient creatures, strong and
weak alike, is for safety, or, that being unattainable, for a sense of
safety, an illusion even of safety.
This, so universal demand, dictated, in Damaris' case, her prayer for Dr.
McCabe's attendance. He belonged to the safeties of her childhood, to the
securely guarded, and semi-regal state--as, looking back, she recalled
it--of the years when her father held the appointment of Chief
Commissioner at Bhutpur. Dr. McCabe was conversant with all that; the
sole person available, at this juncture, who had lot or part in it. And,
as she had foreseen--when drifting down the tide-river in the rain and
darkness--once the supporting tension of Faircloth's presence removed,
chaos would close in on her. It only waited due opportunity. That
granted, as a tempest-driven sea it would submerge her. In the welter of
the present, she clutched at the high dignities and distinctions of the
past as at a lifebelt. Not vulgarly, in a spirit of self-aggrandizement;
but in the simple interests of self-preservation, as a means of keeping
endangered sanity afloat. For the distinctions and dignities of that
period were real too, just as uncontrovertible a contribution to her
knowledge of men and of things, just as vital an element in her
experience, as chaos let loose on her now. The one in no degree
invalidated the truth or actuality of the other.
But to keep this in mind, to remember it all the time, while imagination
galloped with fever brought on by chill and exposure, and reason
wandered, losing touch with plain commonsense through the moral shock she
had sustained, was difficult to the point of impossibility. She needed a
witness, visible and material, to the fact of those former happier
conditions; and found it, quaintly enough, in the untidy person and
humorous, quarrelsome, brick-dust coloured face--as much of the said
face, that is, as was discoverable under the thick stiff growth of sandy
hair surrounding and invading it--of the Irish doctor, as he sat by her
bed, ministered to and soothed her with reverent and whimsical delicacy.
As long as he was there, her room retained its normal, pleasant and
dainty aspect. All Damaris' little personal effects and treasures
adorning dressing and writing-tables, the photographs and ornaments upon
the mantelshelf, her books, the prints and pictures upon the walls--even
the white dimity curtains and covers, trellised with small faded pink and
blue roses--seemed to smile upon her, kindly and confiding. They wanted
to be nice, to console and encourage her--McCabe holding them in place
and in active good-will towards her, somehow, with his large freckled,
hairy-backed hands. But let him go from the room, let him leave her, and
they turned wicked, behaving as they had behaved throughout the past
rather dreadful night and adding to the general chaos by tormenting
tricks and distortions of their own.
The beloved photographs of her father, in particular, were cruel. They
grew inordinately large, stepped out of their frames, and stalked to and
fro in troops and companies. The charcoal drawing of him--done last year
by that fine artist, James Colthurst, as a study for the portrait he was
to paint--hanging between the two western windows, at right angles to her
bed where she could always see it, proved the worst offender. It did not
take the floor, it is true, but remained in its frame upon the wall. Yet
it too came alive, and looked full at her, compelling her attention,
dominating, commanding her; while, slowly, deliberately it changed, the
features slightly losing their accentuation, growing youthful, softer in
outline, the long drooping moustache giving place to a close-cut beard.
The eyes alone stayed the same, steady, luminous, a living silence in
them at once formidable and strangely sad. Finally--and this the poor
child found indescribably agitating and even horrible--their silence was
broken by a question. For they asked what she, Damaris, meant to say,
meant to do, when he--her father, the all-powerful Commissioner Sahib of
her babyhood's faith and devotion--came home here, came back?
Yet whose eyes, after all, were they which thus asked? Was it not, rather
the younger man, the bearded one, who claimed, and of right, an answer to
that question? And upon Damaris it now dawned that these two, distinct
yet interchangeable personalities--imprisoned, as by some evil magic in
one picture--were in opposition, in violent and impious conflict, which
conflict she was called upon, yet was powerless, to avert or to assuage.
Not once but many times--since the transformation was persistently
recurrent--the girl turned her face to the wall to gain relief from the
sight of it and the demand it so fearfully embodied, pressing her dry
lips together lest any word should escape them. For the whole matter, as
she understood it was secret, sacred too as it was agonizing. No one must
guess what lay at the root of her present suffering--not even comfortable
devoted Mary, nor that invaluable lifebelt, Dr. McCabe. She held the
honour of both those conflicting interchangeable personalities in her
hands; and, whether she were strong enough to adjust their differences or
not, she must in no wise betray either of them. The latent motherhood in
her cried out to protect and to shield them both, to spare them both. For
in this stage of the affair, while the hallucinations of deadly fever--in
a sense mercifully--confused her, its grosser aspects did not present
themselves to her mind. She wandered through mazes, painful enough to
tread; but far removed from the ugliness of vulgar scandal. That her
sacred secret, for instance, might be no more than a _secret de
Polichinelle_ suspected by many, did not, so far, occur to her.
Believing it to be her exclusive property, therefore, she, inspired by
tender cunning, strove manfully to keep it so. To that end she made play
with the purely physical miseries of her indisposition.--With shivering
fits and scorching flushes, cold aching limbs and burning, aching head.
With the manifold distractions of errant blood which, leaving her heart
empty as a turned-down glass, drummed in her ears and throbbed behind her
eyeballs. These discomforts were severely real enough, in all conscience,
to excuse her for being self-occupied and a trifle selfish; to justify a
blank refusal to receive Theresa Bilson, or attempt to retail and discuss
the events of yesterday. All she craved was quiet, to be left alone, to
lie silent in the quiet light of the covered grey day.
In the earlier hours of it, silver rain showers travelled across the sea
to spend themselves, tearfully, against the panes of her bedroom
windows. But towards evening the cloud lifted, revealing a watery
sunset, spread in timid reds and yellows behind Stone Horse Head and the
curving coast-line beyond, away to Stourmouth and Barryport. The faint
tentative colours struck in long glinting shafts between the trunks and
branches of the stone pines and Scotch firs in the so-called
Wilderness--a strip of uncultivated land within the confines of the
grounds dividing the gardens from the open Warren to the West--and
gleamed in at the windows, faintly dyeing the dimity hangings and
embroidered linen counterpane of Damaris' bed.
Throughout the afternoon she had been less restless. So that Mary Fisher,
judging her to be fairly asleep, some five minutes earlier had folded her
needlework together, and, leaving the chair where she sat sewing, went
softly from the room.
But that brightening of sunset disturbed Damaris, bringing her slowly
awake. For a time she lay watching, though but half consciously the
tinted radiance as--the trees now stirred by a little wind drawing out of
the sunset--it shifted and flitted over the white surfaces. At first it
pleased her idle fancy. But presently distressed her, as too thin, too
chill, too restlessly unsubstantial, the veriest chippering ghost of
colour and of light. It affected her with a desolating sadness as of
failure; of great designs richly attempted but petering out into a
pitiful nothingness; of love which aped and mimicked, being drained of
all purpose and splendour of hot blood; of partings whose sorrow had lost
its savour, yet which masqueraded in showy crape for a heart-break long
grown stale and obsolete.
Her temperature rushed up; and she threw off the bedclothes, raising
herself on her elbow, while the shafts of thin brightness wavered
fitfully. Through them she saw the photographs of her father step out of
their frames again, and growing very tall and spare, stalk to and fro.
Other figures joined them--those of women. Her poor dear Nannie, in the
plain quaker-grey cotton gown and black silk apron she used to wear, even
through the breathless hot-weather days, at the Sultan-i-bagh long ago.
And Henrietta Pereira, too, composed and delicately sprightly, arrayed in
full flounced muslins and fine laces with an exquisiteness of high
feminine grace and refinement which had enthralled her baby soul and
senses, and, which held her captive by their charm even yet. A handsome,
high-coloured full-breasted, Eurasian girl, whom she but dimly
recollected, was there as well. And with these another--carrying very
certainly no hint of things oriental about her--an English woman and of
the people, in dull homely clothing, grave of aspect and of bearing; yet
behind whose statuesque and sternly patient beauty a great flame seemed
to quiver, offering sharp enough contrast to the frail glintings of the
rain-washed sunset amid which she, just now, moved.
At sight of the last comer, Damaris started up, tense with wonder and
excitement, since she knew--somehow--this final visitant belonged not to
the past so much as to the present, that her power was unexhausted and
would go forward to the shaping of the coming years. Which knowledge drew
confirmation from what immediately followed. For, as by almost
imperceptible degrees the brightness faded in the west, the figures, so
mysteriously peopling the room, faded out also, until only the woman in
homely garments was left. By her side stood the charcoal drawing of Sir
Charles Verity from off the wall--or seemed to do so, for almost at
once, Damaris saw that dreaded interchange of personality again take
place. Saw the strongly marked features soften in outline, the face grow
bearded yet younger by full thirty years.
Both the woman and the young man looked searchingly at her; and in the
eyes of both she read the same question--what did she mean to do, what to
say, when her father, the object of her adoration, came home to her, came
back to Deadham Hard?
"I will do right," she cried out loud to them in answer, "Only trust me.
I am so tired and it is all so difficult to believe and to understand.
But I am trying to understand. I shall understand, if you will give me
time and not hurry me. And, when I understand, indeed, indeed, you may
trust me, whatever it costs, to do right."
Just then Mary opened the door, entering quickly, and behind her came Dr.
McCabe, to find Damaris talking, talking wildly, sitting up, parched and
vivid with fever, in the disordered bed.
TELLING HOW TWO PERSONS, OF VERY DIFFERENT MORAL CALIBRE, WERE COMPELLED
TO WEAR THE FLOWER OF HUMILIATION IN THEIR RESPECTIVE BUTTONHOLES
Cross-country connections by rail were not easy to make, with the
consequence that Sir Charles Verity,--Hordle, gun-cases, bags and
portmanteaux, in attendance--did not reach The Hard until close
Hearing the brougham at last drive up, Theresa Bilson felt rapturously
fluttered. Her course had been notably empty of situations and of
adventure; drama, as in the case of so many ladies of her profession--the
pages of fiction notwithstanding--conspicuously cold-shouldering and
giving her the go-by. Now, drama, and that of richest quality might
perhaps--for she admitted the existence of awkward conjunctions--be said
to batter at her door. She thought of the Miss Minetts, her ever-willing
audience. She thought also--as so frequently during the last, in some
respects, extremely unsatisfactory twenty-four hours--of Mr. Rochester
and of Jane Eyre. Not that she ranged herself with Jane socially or as to
scholastic attainments. In both these, as in natural refinement,
propriety and niceness of ideas, she reckoned herself easily to surpass
that much canvassed heroine. The flavour of the evangelical
charity-school adhered--incontestably it adhered, and that to Jane's
disadvantage. No extravagance of Protestantism or of applied
philanthropy, thank heaven, clouded Theresa's early record. The genius of
Tractarianism had rocked her cradle, and subsequently ruled her studies
with a narrowly complacent pedantry all its own. Nevertheless in moments
of expansion, such as the present, she felt the parallel between her own
case and that of Jane did, in certain directions, romantically hold.
Fortified by thought of the Miss Minetts' agitated interest in all which
might befall her, she indulged in imaginary conversations with that great
proconsul, her employer--the theme of which, purged of lyrical
redundancies, reduced itself to the somewhat crude announcement that
"your daughter, yes, may, alas, not impossibly be taken from you; but I,
Theresa, still remain."
When, however, a summons to the presence of the said employer actually
reached her, the bounce born of imaginary conversations, showed a
tendency, as is its habit, basely to desert her and soak clean away. She
had promised herself a little scene, full of respectful solicitude, of
sympathy discreetly offered and graciously accepted, a drawing together
through the workings of mutual anxiety leading on to closer intercourse,
her own breast, to put it pictorially, that on which the stricken parent
should eventually and gratefully lean. But in all this she was
disappointed, for Sir Charles did not linger over preliminaries. He came
straight and unceremoniously to the point; and that with so cold and
lofty a manner that, although flutterings remained, they parted company
with all and any emotions even remotely allied to rapture.
Charles Verity stood motionless before the fire-place in the long
sitting-room. He still wore a heavy frieze travelling coat, the fronts of
it hanging open. His shoulders were a trifle humped up and his head bent,
as he looked down at the black and buff of the tiger skin at his feet.
When Theresa approached with her jerky consequential little walk--pinkly
self-conscious behind her gold-rimmed glasses--he glanced at her,
revealing a fiercely careworn countenance, but made no movement to shake
hands with or otherwise greet her. This omission she hardly noticed,
already growing abject before his magnificence--for thus did his
appearance impress her--which, while claiming her enthusiastic
admiration, enjoined humility rather than the sentimental expansions in
which her imaginary conversations had so conspicuously abounded.
"I have seen Dr. McCabe," he began. "His report of Damaris' condition is
very far from reassuring. He tells me her illness presents peculiar
symptoms, and is grave out of all proportion to its apparent cause. This
makes me extremely uneasy. It is impossible to question her at present.
She must be spared all exertion and agitation. I have not attempted to
see her yet."
He paused, while anger towards her ex-pupil waxed warm in Theresa once
again. For the pause was eloquent, as his voice had been when speaking
about his daughter, of a depth of underlying tenderness which filled his
hearer with envy.
"I must therefore ask you, Miss Bilson," he presently went on, "to give
me a detailed account of all that took place yesterday. It is important I
should know exactly what occurred."
Whereat Theresa, perceiving pitfalls alike in statement and in
suppression of fact, hesitated and gobbled to the near neighbourhood of
positive incoherence, while admitting, and trying to avoid admitting, how
inconveniently ignorant of precise details she herself was.
"Perhaps I erred in not more firmly insisting upon an immediate enquiry,"
she said. "But, at the time, alarm appeared so totally uncalled for. I
assumed, from what was told me, and from my knowledge of the strength of
Damaris' constitution, that a night's rest would fully restore her to her
usual robust state of health, and so deferred my enquiry. The servants
were excited and upset, so I felt their account might be misleading--all
they said was so confused, so far from explicit. My position was most
difficult, Sir Charles," she assured him and incidentally, also, assured
herself. "I encountered most trying opposition, which made me feel it
would be wiser to wait until this morning. By then, I hoped, the maids
would have had time to recollect themselves and recollect what is
becoming towards their superiors in the way of obedience and respect."
Charles Verity threw back his head with a movement of impatience, and
looked down at her from under his eyelids--in effect weary and a
"We seem to be at cross purposes, Miss Bilson," he said. "You do not, I
think quite follow my question. I did not ask for the servants' account
of the events of yesterday--whatever those events may have been--but for
"Ah! it is so unfortunate, so exceedingly unfortunate," Theresa broke
out, literally wringing her hands, "but a contingency, an accident, which
I could not possibly have foreseen--I cannot but blame Damaris, Sir
"Indeed?" he said.
"No, truly I cannot but blame her for wilfulness. If she had
consented--as I so affectionately urged--to join the choir treat to
Harchester, this painful incident would have been spared us."
"Am I to understand that you went to Harchester, leaving my daughter
"Her going would have given so much pleasure in the parish," Theresa
pursued, dodging the question with the ingenuity of one who scents mortal
danger. "Her refusal would, I knew, cause sincere disappointment. I could
not bring myself to accentuate that disappointment. Not that I, of
course, am of any importance save as coming from this house, as--as--in
some degree your delegate, Sir Charles."
"Indeed?" he said.
"Yes, indeed," Theresa almost hysterically repeated.
For here--if anywhere--was her chance, as she recognized. Never again
might she be thus near to him, alone with him--the normal routine made it
wholly improbable.--And at midnight too. For the unaccustomed lateness of
the hour undoubtedly added to her ferment, provoking in her obscure and
novel hopes and hungers. Hence she blindly and--her action viewed from a
certain angle--quite heroically precipitated herself. Heroically, because
the odds were hopelessly adverse, her equipment, whether of natural or
artificial, being so conspicuously slender. Her attempt had no backing in
play of feature, felicity of gesture, grace of diction. The commonest
little actress that ever daubed her skin with grease-paint, would have
the advantage of Theresa in the thousand and one arts by which, from
everlasting, woman has limed twigs for the catching of man. Her very
virtues--respectability, learning, all the proprieties of her narrowly
virtuous little life--counted for so much against her in the present
supreme moment of her self-invented romance.
"You hardly, I dare say," she pursued--"how should you after the
commanding positions you have occupied?--appreciate the feelings of the
inhabitants of this quiet country parish towards you. But they have a
lively sense, believe me, of the honour you confer upon them, all and
severally--I am speaking of the educated classes in particular, of
course--by residing among them. They admire and reverence you so much, so
genuinely; and they have extended great kindness to me as a member of
your household. How can I be indifferent to it? I am thankful, Sir
Charles, I am grateful--the more so that I have the happiness of knowing
I owe the consideration with which I am treated, in Deadham, entirely to
you.--Yes, yes," she cried in rising exaltation, "I do not deny that I
went to Harchester yesterday--went--Dr. Horniblow thus expressed it when
inviting me--'as representing The Hard.' I was away when Damaris made
this ill-judged excursion across the river to the Bar. Had she confided
her intention to me, I should have used my authority and forbade her. But
recently we have not been, I grieve to say, on altogether satisfactory
terms, and our parting yesterday was constrained, I am afraid."
Theresa blushed and swallowed. Fortunately her sense of humour was
limited; but, even so, she could not but be aware of a dangerous decline.
Not only of bathos, but of vulgar bathos, from which gentility revolted,
must she be the exponent, thanks to Damaris' indiscretion!
"You require me to give you the details, Sir Charles," she resumed, "and
although it is both embarrassing and repugnant to me to do so, I obey. I
fear Damaris so far forgot herself--forgot I mean what is due to her age
and position--as to remove her shoes and stockings and paddle in the
sea--a most unsuitable and childish occupation. While she was thus
engaged her things--her shoes and stockings--appear to have been stolen.
In any case she was unable to find them when tired of the amusement she
came up on to the beach. Moreover she was caught in the rain. And I
deeply regret to tell you--but I merely repeat what I learned from Mary
Fisher and Mrs. Cooper when I returned--it was not till after dark, when
the maids had become so alarmed that they despatched Tolling and Alfred
to search for her, that Damaris landed from a boat at the breakwater,
having been brought down the river--by--by"--
Throughout the earlier portion of her recital Charles Verity stood in the
same place and same attitude staring down at the tiger skin. Twice or
thrice only he raised his eyes, looking at the speaker with a flash of
Upon one, even but moderately, versed in the secular arts of twig-liming,
such flashes would have acted as an effective warning and deterrent. Not
so upon Theresa. She barely noticed them, as blindly heroic, she pounded
along leading her piteous forlorn hope. Her chance--her unique chance, in
nowise to be missed--and, still more, those obscure hungers, fed by the
excitement of this midnight _tete-a-tete,_ rushed her forward upon the
abyss; while at every sputtering sentence, whether of adulation,
misplaced prudery, or thinly veiled animosity towards Damaris, she became
more tedious, more frankly intolerable and ridiculous to him whose favour
she so desperately sought. Under less anxious circumstances Charles
Verity might have been contemptuously amused at this exhibition of futile
ardour. Now it exasperated him. Yet he waited, in rather cruel patience.
Presently he would demolish her, if to do so appeared worth the trouble.
Meanwhile she should have her say, since incidentally he might learn
something from it bearing upon the cause of Damaris' illness.
But now, when, at the climax of her narrative, Theresa--seized by a spasm
of retrospective resentment and jealousy, the picture of the young man
carrying the girl tenderly in his arms across the dusky lawns arising
before her--choked and her voice cracked up into a bat-like squeaking,
Charles Verity's self-imposed forbearance ran dry.
"I must remind you that neither my time nor capacity of listening are
inexhaustible, Miss Bilson," he said to her. "May I ask you to be so good
as to come to the point. By whom was Damaris rescued and brought home
"Ah! that is what I so deeply regret," Theresa quavered, still
obstinately dense and struggling with the after convulsion of her choke.
"I felt so shocked and annoyed on your account, Sir Charles, when the
maids told me, knowing how you would disapprove such a--such an incident
in connection with Damaris.--She was brought home, carried"--she
paused--"carried indoors by the owner of that objectionable public-house
on the island. He holds some position in the Mercantile Marine, I
believe. I have seen him recently once or twice myself in the
village--his name is Faircloth."
Theresa pursed up her lips as she finished speaking. The glasses of her
gold pince-nez seemed to gleam aggressively in the lamp-light. The backs
of the leather-bound volumes in the many book-cases gleamed also, but
unaggressively, with the mellow sheen--as might fancifully be figured--of
the ripe and tolerant wisdom their pages enshrined. The pearl-grey
porcelain company of Chinese monsters, saints and godlings, ranged above
them placid, mysteriously smiling, gleamed as well.
For a time, silence, along with these various gleamings, sensibly, even a
little uncannily, held possession of the room. Then Charles Verity moved,
stiffly, and for once awkwardly, all of a piece. Backed against the
mantelshelf, throwing his right arm out along it sharply and
heavily--careless of the safety of clock and of ornaments--as though
overtaken by sudden weakness and seeking support.
"Faircloth? Of course, his name is Faircloth." he repeated absently.
"Yes, of course."
But whatever the nature of the weakness assailing him, it soon,
apparently, passed. He stood upright, his face, perhaps, a shade more
colourless and lean, but in expression fully as arrogant and formidably
calm as before.
"Very well, Miss Bilson," he began. "You have now given me all the
information I require, so I need detain you no longer--save to say
this.--You will, if you please, consider your engagement as my daughter's
companion terminated, concluded from to-night. You are free to make such
arrangements as may suit you; and you will, I trust, pardon my adding
that I shall be obliged by your making them without undue delay."
"You do not mean," Theresa broke out, after an interval of speechless
amazement--"Sir Charles, you cannot mean that you dismiss me--that I am
to leave The Hard--to--to go away?"
"I mean that I have no further occasion for your services."
Theresa waved her arms as though playing some eccentric game of ball.
"You forget the servants, the conduct of the house, Damaris' need of a
chaperon, her still unfinished education--All are dependent upon me."
"Hardly dependent," he answered. "These things, I have reason to think,
can safely be trusted to other hands, or be equally safely be left to
take care of themselves."
"But why do you repudiate me?" she cried again, rushing upon her fate in
the bitterness of her distraction. "What have I done to deserve such
harshness and humiliation?"
"I gave the most precious of my possessions--Damaris--into your keeping,
and--and--well--we see the result. Is it not written large enough, in all
conscience, for the most illiterate to read?--So you must depart, my dear
Miss Bilson, and for everyone's sake, the sooner the better. There can be
no further discussion of the matter. Pray accept the fact that our
interview is closed."
But Theresa, now sensible that her chance was in act of being finally
ravished away from her, fell--or rose--perhaps more truly the
latter--into an extraordinary sincerity and primitiveness of emotion.
She cast aside nothing less than her whole personal legend, cast aside
every tradition and influence hitherto so strictly governing her conduct
and her thought. Unluckily the physical envelope could not so readily be
got rid of. Matter retained its original mould, and that one neither
seductive nor poetic.
She went down upon her fat little knees, held her fat little hands aloft
as in an impassioned spontaneity of worship.
"Sir Charles," she prayed, while tears running down her full cheeks
splashed upon her protuberant bosom--"Sir Charles"--
He looked at the funny, tubby, jaunty, would-be smart, kneeling figure.
"Oh! you inconceivably foolish woman," he said and turned away.
Did more than that--walked out into the hall and to his own rooms,
opening off the corridor. In the offices a bell tinkled. Theresa
scrambled on to her feet, just as Hordle, in response to its summons,
arrived at the sitting-room door.
"Did you ring, Miss?" he asked grudgingly. Less than ever was she in
favour with the servants' hall to-night.
Past intelligible utterance, Theresa merely shook her head in reply. Made
a return upon herself--began to instruct him to put out the lamps in the
room. Remembered that now and henceforth the right to give orders in this
house was no longer hers; and broke into sobbing, the sound of which her
handkerchief pressed against her mouth quite failed to stifle.
About an hour later, having bathed and changed, Sir Charles Verity made
his way upstairs. Upon the landing Dr. McCabe met him.
"Better," he said, "thank the heavenly powers, decidedly better.
Temperature appreciably lower, and the pulse more even. Oh! we're on the
road very handsomely to get top dog of the devil this bout, believe me,
"Then go to bed, my dear fellow," the other answered. "I will take
over the rest of the watch for you. You need not be afraid. I can be an
admirable sick-nurse on occasion. And by the way, McCabe, something has
come to my knowledge which in my opinion throws considerable light upon
the symptoms that have puzzled you. Probably I shall be more sure of my
facts before morning. I will explain to you later, if it should seem
likely to be helpful to you in your treatment of the case. Just now, as
I see it, the matter lies exclusively between me"--he smiled looking at
his companion full and steadily--"between me"--he repeated, "and my
All which upon the face of it might, surely, be voted encouraging
"Should there be any that doubt the veritable existence of hell fire,"
the doctor told himself, as he subsequently and thankfully pulled on his
night-shirt, "to recover them, and in double quick time, of their heresy
let 'em but look in my friend Verity's eyes."--And he rounded off the
sentence with an oath.
AN EXPERIMENT IN BRIDGE-BUILDING OF WHICH TIME ALONE CAN FIX THE VALUES
Damaris lay on her side, her face turned to the wall. When Charles
Verity, quietly crossing the room, sat down in an easy chair, so placed
at the head of the half-tester bed as to be screened from it by the
dimity curtains, she sighed and slightly shifted her position.
Leaning back, he crossed his legs and let his chin drop on his breast.
He had barely glanced at her in passing, receiving a vague impression
of the outline of her cheek, of her neck, and shoulders, of her head,
dark against the dim whiteness on which it rested, and the long dark
stream of her hair spread loose across the pillows. He had no wish for
recognition--not yet awhile. On the contrary, it was a relief to have
time in which silently to get accustomed to her presence, to steep
himself in the thought of her, before speech should define the new
element intruded, as he believed, into his and her relation. Though
little enough--too little, so said some of his critics--hampered by
fear in any department, he consciously dreaded the smallest
modification of that relation. Among the many dissatisfactions and
bitternesses of life, it shone forth with a steady light of purity and
sweetness, as a thing unspoiled, unbreathed on, even, by what is
ignoble or base. And not the surface of it alone was thus free from all
breath of defilement. It showed clear right through, as some gem of the
purest water. To keep it thus inviolate, he had made sacrifices in the
past neither easy nor inconsiderable to a man of his temperament and
ambitions. Hence that its perfection should be now endangered was to
him the more exquisitely hateful.
Upon the altar of that hatred, promptly without scruple he sacrificed
the wretched Theresa. Most of us are so constituted that, at a certain
pass, pleasure--of a sort--is to be derived from witnessing the anguish
of a fellow creature. In all save the grossly degenerate that pleasure,
however, is short-lived. Reflection follows, in which we cut to ourselves
but a sorry figure. With Charles Verity, reflection began to follow
before he had spent many minutes in Damaris' sick-room. For here the
atmosphere was, at once, grave and tender, beautifully honest in its
innocence of the things of the flesh.--The woman had been inconceivably
foolish, from every point of view. If she had known, good heavens, if she
had only known! But he inclined now to the more merciful view that,
veritably, she didn't know; that her practical, even her theoretic,
knowledge was insufficient for her to have had any clear design. It was
just a blind push of starved animal instinct. Of course she must go. Her
remaining in the house was in every way unpermissible; still he need not,
perhaps, have been so cold-bloodedly precipitate with her.
Anyhow the thing was done--it was done--He raised his shoulders and
making with his hands a graphic gesture of dismissal, let his chin drop
on to his breast again.
For the East had left its mark on his attitude towards women with one
exception--that of his daughter--Charles Verity, like most men, not
requiring of himself to be too rigidly consistent. Hence Theresa, and
all which pertained to her, even her follies, appeared to him of
contemptibly small moment compared with the developments for which those
follies might be held accidentally responsible. His mind returned to
that main theme painfully. He envisaged it in all its bearings, not
sparing himself. Suffered, and looked on at his own suffering with a
stoicism somewhat sardonic.
Meanwhile Damaris slept. His nearness had not disturbed her, indeed he
might rather suppose its effect beneficent. For her breathing grew even,
just sweetly and restfully audible in the intervals of other sounds
reaching him from out of doors.
The wind, drawing out of the sunset, freshened during the night. Now it
blew wet and gustily from south-west, sighing through the pines and
Scotch firs in the Wilderness. A strand of the yellow Banksia rose,
trained against the house wall, breaking loose, scratched and tapped at
the window-panes with anxious appealing little noises.
Many years had elapsed since Charles Verity spent a night upstairs in
this part of the house, and by degrees those outdoor sounds attracted his
attention as intimately familiar. They carried him back to his boyhood,
to the spacious dreams and projects of adolescence. He could remember
just such gusty wet winds swishing through the trees, such petulant
fingering of errant creepers upon the windows, when he stayed here during
the holidays from school at Harchester, on furlough from his regiment,
and, later, on long leave from India, during his wonderful little
And his thought took a lighter and friendlier vein, recalling that
polished, polite, encyclopedic minded and witty gentleman, who had lived
to within a few months of his full century with a maximum of interest and
entertainment to himself, and a minimum of injury or offence to others.
To the last he retained his freshness of intellectual outlook, his
insatiable yet discreet curiosity. Taking it as a whole, should his life
be judged a singularly futile or singularly enviable one? Nothing
feminine, save on strictly platonic lines, was recorded to have entered
it at any period. Did that argue remarkable wisdom or defective courage,
or some abnormal element in a composition otherwise deliciously mundane
Charles had debated this often. Even as a boy it had puzzled him. As a
young man he had held his own views on the subject, not without lasting
effect. For one winter he had passed at The Hard, in the fine bodily
health and vigour of his early thirties, this very lack of women's
society contributed, by not unnatural reaction, to force the idea of
woman hauntingly upon him--thereby making possible a strange and hidden
love passage off the Dead Sea fruit of which he was in process of
supping here to-night.
He moved, bent forward, setting his elbows on the two chair arms,
closing his eyes as he listened, and leaning his forehead upon his
raised hands. For in the plaintive voice of the moist, fitful
southwesterly wind how, to his bearing, the buried, half-forgotten drama
re-lived and reenacted itself!
It dated far back, to a period when his career was still undetermined,
hedged about by doubts and uncertainties--before the magnificent and
terrible years of the Mutiny brought him, not only fame and distinction,
but a power of self-expression and of plain seeing.--Before, too, his not
conspicuously happy marriage. Before the Bhutpur appointment tested and
confirmed his reputation as a most able if most autocratic ruler. Before,
finally, his term of service under the Ameer in Afghanistan--that
extraordinary experience of alternate good and evil fortune in barbaric
internecine warfare, the methods and sentiments of which represented a
swing back of three or four centuries, Christianity, and the attitude of
mind and conduct Christianity inculcates, no longer an even nominal
factor, Mahomet, sword in hand, ruthlessly outriding Christ.
He had done largely more than the average Englishman, of his age and
station, towards the making of contemporary history. Yet it occurred to
him now, sitting at Damaris' bedside, those intervening years of
strenuous public activity, of soldiering and of administration, along
with the honours reaped in them, had procured cynically less substantial
result, cynically less ostensible remainder, than the brief and hidden
intrigue which preceded them. They sank away as water spilt on sand--thus
in his present pain he pictured it--leaving barely a trace. While that
fugitive and unlawful indulgence of the flesh not only begot flesh, but
spirit,--a living soul, henceforth and eternally to be numbered among the
imperishable generations of the tragic and marvellous children of men.
Then, aware something stirred close to him, Charles Verity looked up
sharply, turning his head; to find Damaris--raised on one elbow planted
among the pillows--holding aside the dimity curtain and gazing
wonderingly yet contentedly in his face.
"Commissioner Sahib," she said, softly, "I didn't know you'd come back.
I've had horrid bad dreams and seemed to see you--many of you--walking
about. The room was full of you, you over and over again; but not like
yourself, frightening, not loving me, busy about something or somebody
else. I didn't at all enjoy that.--But I am awake now, aren't I? I
needn't be frightened any more; because you do love me, don't you--and
this really is you, your very ownself?"
She put up her face to be kissed. But he, in obedience to an humility
heretofore unfelt by and unknown to him, leaning sideways kissed the hand
holding aside the curtain rather than the proffered lips.
"Yes, my darling, very surely it is me," he said. "Any multiplication of
specimens is quite superfluous--a single example of the breed is enough,
conceivably more than enough."
But to his distress, while he spoke, he saw the content die out of
Damaris' expression and her eyes grow distended and startled. She glanced
oddly at the hand he had just kissed and then at him again.
"It seems to me something must have happened which I can't exactly
remember," she anxiously told him, sitting upright and leaving go the
curtain which slipped back into place shutting off the arm-chair and its
occupant. "Something real, I mean, not just bad dreams. I know I had to
ask you about it, and yet I didn't want to ask you."
Charles Verity rose from his place, slowly walked the length of the room;
and, presently returning, stood at the foot of the bed. Damaris still sat
upright, her hands clasped, her hair hanging in a cloud about her to
below the waist. The light was low and the shadow cast by the bed-curtain
covered her. But, through it, he could still distinguish the startled
anxiety of her great eyes as she pondered, trying to seize and hold some
memory which escaped her. And he felt sick at heart, assured it could be
but a matter of time before she remembered; convinced now, moreover, what
she would, to his shame and sorrow, remember in the end.
The purity in which he delighted, and to which he so frequently and
almost superstitiously had turned for refreshment and the safeguarding of
all the finest instincts of his own very complex nature, would, although
she remembered, remain essentially intact. But, even so, the surface of
it must be, as he apprehended, henceforth in some sort dimmed, and that
by the breath of his own long ago misdoing. The revelation of passion and
of sex, being practically and thus intimately forced home on her, the
transparent innocence of childhood must inevitably pass away from her;
and, through that same passing she would consciously go forward,
embracing the privileges and the manifold burdens, the physical and
emotional needs and aspirations of a grown woman. The woman might,
would--such was his firm belief--prove a glorious creature. But it was
not she whom he wanted. Her development, in proportion as it was rich and
complete, led her away from and made her independent of him.--No, it
wasn't she, but the child whom he wanted. And, standing at the foot of
Damaris' bed, he knew, with a cruel certainty, he was there just simply
to watch the child die.
Yes, it was a mere matter of time. Sooner or later she would put a
leading question--her methods being bravely candid and direct. Of course,
it was open to him to meet that question with blank denial, open to him
to lie--as is the practice of the world when such damnably awkward
situations come along.--A solution having, in the present case, the
specious argument behind it that in so doing he would spare her, save her
pain, in addition to the obvious one that he would save his own skin.
Moreover, if he lied he could trust Damaris' loyalty. Whether she
believed it or not, she would accept his answer as final. No further
question upon the subject would ever pass her lips. The temptation was
definite and great. For might not the lie, if he could stomach his
disgust at telling it, even serve to prolong the life of the child?
Should he not sell his honour to save his honour--if it came to that?
Thus he debated, his nature battling with itself, while at that battle he
stoically, for a time, looked on. But when, at last, the climax was
reached, and Damaris commenced to speak, stoicism dragged anchor. For he
could conquer neither his disgust nor his sorrow, could find courage
neither for his denial nor for watching the child die. Leaving the foot
of the bed, he went and sat down in the arm-chair, where the dimity
curtain screened Damaris from his, and him from Damaris' sight.
"Commissioner Sahib," she began, her voice grave and low, "it has come
back to me--the thing I had to ask you, but it is very hard to say. If it
makes you angry, please try to forgive me--because it does hurt me to ask
you. It hurts me through and through. Only I can't speak of it. I
oughtn't just to leave it. To leave it would be wrong--wrong by you."
"Very well, my darling, ask me then," he said, a little hoarsely.
"You have heard about my being out on the Bar and--and all that?"
"Yes," he said, "I have heard."
"Captain Faircloth, who found me and brought me home, told me something."
Damaris' voice broke into tones of imploring tenderness.
"I love you, Commissioner Sahib, you know how I love you--but--but is
what Captain Faircloth told me true?"
Whereupon temptation surged up anew, inviting, inciting Charles Verity
to lie--dressing up that lie in the cloak of most excellent charity, of
veritable duty towards Damaris' fine courage and her precious innocence.
And he hedged, keeping open, if only for a few minutes longer, the way
"How can I answer until I know what he did tell you?" he took her up, at
last, almost coldly.
"That he is your son--is my brother," Damaris said.
Even at this pass, Charles Verity waited before finally committing
himself, thereby unwittingly giving sentiment--in the shape of the
Powers of the Air--the chance to take a rather unfairly extensive hand
in the game.
For while he thus waited, he could not but be aware, through the tense
silence otherwise reigning in the room, of the tap and scratch of the
rose-spray upon the window-panes; of the swish of the moist gusty wind
sweeping from across the salt-marsh and mud-flats of the Haven--from the
black cottages, too, beyond the warren, gathered, as somewhat sinister
boon companions, about the bleak, grey stone-built Inn. And this served
to transfix his consciousness with visions of what once had been--he
knowing so exactly how it would all sound, all look out there, the
wistful desolation, the penetrating appeal bred of the inherent sadness
of the place on a wild autumn night such as this.
"Yes," he said at last, and putting a great constraint upon himself he
spoke calmly, without sign of emotion. "What the young man told is true,
Damaris, perfectly true."
"I--I thought so," she answered back, gravely. "Though I didn't
understand"--And, after a moment's pause, with a certain hopelessness of
resignation--"Though I don't understand even now."
In her utterance Charles Verity so distinctly heard the last words of
the--to him--dying child, that, smitten with raging bitterness of grief
and of regret, he said:
"Nevertheless it is, in my opinion, disgraceful, abominable, that he
should have made the occasion, or, to put the matter at its best, have
taken advantage of the occasion, when you were alone and, in a sense, at
his mercy, to tell you this most unhappy thing."
"No, no," Damaris cried, in her generous eagerness catching back the
curtain and looking at him nobly unselfconscious, nobly zealous to defend
and to set right. "You mustn't think that. He didn't start with any
intention of telling me. He fancied I might have lost my way among the
sand-hills, that I might be frightened or get some harm, and so came
straight to look for me, and take care of me. He was very beautifully
kind; and I felt beautifully safe with him--safe in the same way I feel
safe with you, almost."
Her mouth was soft, her eyes alight--dangerously alight now, for
her pulse had quickened. As she pleaded and protested her
temperature raced up.
"It happened later," she went on, "when we were in the boat, and it was
partly my fault. He wrapped my feet up in his coat. They were very cold.
And he believed I was asleep because I didn't speak or thank him. I was
so tired, and everything seemed so strange. I couldn't rouse myself
somehow to speak. And as he wrapped them in his coat, he kissed my feet,
thinking I shouldn't know. But I wasn't asleep, and it displeased me. I
felt angry, just as you felt when you condemned him just now."
"Ah! as I felt just now!" he commented, closing his eyes and, just
perceptibly, bowing his head.
"Yes, Commissioner Sahib, as you felt just now--but as, please you
mustn't go on feeling.--What he had done seemed to me treacherous; and it
pained as well as displeased me. But in all that I was unjust and
mistaken.--And it was then, because he saw he'd pained me, displeased and
made me angry, that he told me in self-defence--told me to show he wasn't
treacherous, but had the right--a right no one else in all the world has
over me except yourself."
"And you believed this young man, you forgave his audacity, and admitted
his right?" Sir Charles said.
He leaned back in the angle of the chair, away from her, smiling as he
spoke--a smile which both bade farewell and mocked at the sharpness and
futility of the grief which that farewell brought with it. For this was a
grown woman who pleaded with him surely, acting as advocate? A child,
compelled to treat such controversial, such debatable matters at all,
would have done so to a different rhythm, in a different spirit.
"Forgave him? But after just the first, when, I had time to at all think
of it," Damaris answered with rather desperate bravery, "I couldn't see
there was anything for me to forgive. It was the other way about. For
haven't I so much which he might very well feel belonged, or should have
belonged, to him?"
"You cut deep, my dear," Sir Charles said quietly.
Still holding back the curtain with one hand, Damaris flung herself
over upon her face. She would not give way, she would not cry, but her
soul was in travail. These words, as coming from her father, were
anguish to her. She could look at him no longer, and lying outstretched
thus, the lines of her gracious body, moulded by the embroidered linen
quilt, quivered from head to heel. Still that travail of soul should
bring forth fruit. She would not give in, cost what anguish it might,
till all was said.
"I only want to do what is right," she cried, her voice half stifled by
the pillows. "You know, surely you know, how I love you, Commissioner
Sahib, from morning till night and round till morning again, always and
above all, ever since I can first remember. But this is different to
anything that has ever happened to me before, and it wouldn't be right
not to speak about it. It would be there all the time, and it would
creep in between us--between you and me--and interfere in all my
thinking about you."
"It may very well do that in any case, my dear," he said.
"No--no," Damaris answered hotly, "not if I do right now--right by both.
For you must not entertain wrong ideas about him--about Captain Faircloth
I mean. You must not suppose he said a word about my having what might,
or ought to be his. He couldn't do so. He isn't the least that sort of
person. He took pains to make me understand--I couldn't think why at
first, it seemed a little like boasting--that he is quite well off and
that he's very proud of his profession. He doesn't want anything
from--from us. Oh! no," she cried, "no."
And, in her excitement, Damaris raised herself, from the small of her
back, resting on her elbows, sphinx-like in posture, her hands and
arms--from the elbows--stretched out in front of her across the pillows.
Her face was flushed, her eyes blazed. There was storm and vehemence in
her young beauty.
"No--he's too much like you, you yourself, Commissioner Sahib, to want
anything, to accept anything from other people. He means to act for
himself, and make people and things obey him, just as you yourself do.
And," she went on, with a daring surely not a little magnificent under
the circumstances--"he told me he loved life too well to care very much
how he came by it to begin with."
Damaris folded her arms, let her head sink on them as she finished
speaking, and lay flat thus, her face hidden, while she breathed short
and raspingly, struggling to control the after violence of her emotion.
The curtain hung straight. The wind took up its desolate chant again. And
Sir Charles Verity sat back in the angle of the arm-chair, motionless,
and, for the present, speechless.
In truth he was greatly moved, stirred to the deep places of perception,
and of conscience also. For this death of childhood and birth of
womanhood undoubtedly presented a rare and telling spectacle, which, even
while it rent him, in some aspects enraged and mortified him, he still
appreciated. He found, indeed, a strangely vital, if somewhat cruel,
satisfaction in looking on at it--a satisfaction fed, on its more humane
and human side, by the testimony to the worth of the unknown son by the
so well-beloved daughter. Respecting himself he might have cause for
shame; but respecting these two beings for whose existence--whether born
in wedlock or out of it--he was responsible, he had no cause for shame.
In his first knowledge of them as seen together, they showed strong,
generous, sure of purpose, a glamour of high romance in their
adventitious meeting and companionship.
This was the first, the unworldly and perhaps deepest view of the matter.
In it Charles Verity allowed himself to rest, inactive for a space. That
there were, not one, but many other views of the said matter, very
differently attuned and coloured he was perfectly well aware. Soon these
would leap on him, and that with an ugly clamour which he consciously
turned from in repulsion and weary disgust. For he was very tired, as he
now realized. The anxiety endured during his tedious cross-country
journey, the distasteful tragic-comedy of the _scene de seduction_ so
artlessly made him by unlucky Theresa Bilsen, followed by this prolonged
vigil; lastly the very real tragedy--for such it in great measure
remained and must remain--of his interview with Damaris and the re-living
of long buried drama that interview entailed, left him mentally and
physically spent. He fell away into meditation, mournful as it was
indefinite, while the classic lament of another age and race formed
itself silently upon his lips.
"_Comprehenderunt me iniquitates meae, et non potui ut viderem.
Multiplicatae sunt super capillos capitis mei; et cor meum dereliquit
me_," he quoted, in the plenitude of his existing discouragement.
At his time of life, he told himself, earth held no future; and in
heaven--as the Churches figure it--namely, an adjustment of the balance
on the other side death, his belief was of the smallest. A sea of
uncertainty, vast, limitless, laps the shores of the meagre island of the
present--which is all we actually have to our count. Faith is a
gift.--You possess it, or you possess it not; yet without it--
But here his attention was caught, and brought home to that very present,
by a movement upon the bed and Damaris' voice, asking tremulously:
"Commissioner Sahib are you angry, too angry to speak to me?"
Whereupon Charles Verity got up, gathered back the curtain stuffing it in
between the head board and the wall, and stood, tall, spare, yet
graceful, looking down at her. Whether from fatigue or from emotion, his
expression was softer, his face less keen than usual, and the likeness
between him and Darcy Faircloth proportionately and notably great.
"No, my dear," he said, "why should I be angry? What conceivable right
have I to be angry? As a man sows so does he reap. I only reap to-day
what I sowed eight or nine-and-twenty years ago--a crop largely composed
of tares, though among those tares I do find some modicum of wheat. Upon
that modest provision of wheat I must make shift to subsist with the best
grace I may. No, don't cry, my darling. It is useless. Tears never yet
altered facts. You will only do yourself harm, and put a crown to my
He sat down on the side of the bed, taking her hand, holding and
"Only let there be no doubt or suspicion on your part, my dear," he went
on. "As you have travelled so far along this dolorous way, take courage
and travel a little farther. To stop, to turn back, is only to leave your
mind open to all manner of imaginations worse very likely than the truth.
I will be quite plain with you. This episode--which I do not attempt to
explain or excuse--took place, and ended, several years before I first
met your mother. And it ended absolutely. Never, by either written or
spoken word, have I held any communication with Lesbia Faircloth since.
Never have I attempted to see her--this in the interests of her
reputation every bit as much as in those of my own. For her station in
life she was a woman of remarkable qualities and character. She had made
an ugly, a repulsive marriage, and she was childless.--More than this it
is not seemly I should tell you."
Charles Verity waited a minute or so. He still coaxed Damaris' hand,
calmly, soothingly. And she lay very still watching him; but with
half-closed eyes, striving to prevent the tears which asked so
persistently to be shed. For her heart went out to him in a new and
over-flowing tenderness, in an exalted pity almost maternal. Never had she
felt him more attractive, more, in a sense, royally lovable than in this
hour of weariness, of moral nakedness, and humiliation.
"Not until I had rejoined my regiment in India," he presently continued,
in the same low even tones, "did I hear of the birth of her son. I have
never seen him--or made enquiries regarding him. I meant to let the
dead bury its dead in this matter. For everyone concerned it seemed best
and wisest so. Therefore all you have told me to-night comes as news to
me--and in some respects as good news. For I gather I have no reason to
be ashamed of this young man--which on your account, even more than on my
own, is so much clear gain.--But I oughtn't to have brought you here to
live at Deadham. I ought to have taken the possibility of some accidental
revelation, such as the present one, into serious account and saved you
from that. To expose you, however remotely, to the risk was both callous
and stupid on my part. I own I have a strong sentiment for this house. It
seemed natural and restful to return to it--the only house to call a
home, I have ever had. And so much has happened during the last eight or
nine-and-twenty years, to occupy my mind, that I had grown indifferent
and had practically forgotten the risks. This was selfish,
self-indulgent, lacking in consideration and reverence towards you,
towards your peace of mind, your innocence.--And for it, my darling, I
beg your forgiveness."
Damaris sat up in the bed, raised her face to be kissed.
"No--no," she implored him, "don't say that. I can't bear to have you say
it--to have you speak as if you had been, could ever be anything but
beautiful and perfect towards me. I can't have you, not even for a little
minute, step down, from the high place, which is your own, and talk of
forgiveness. It hurts me.--I begin to understand that your world, a man's
world, is different to my world--the world, I mean, in which I have been
brought up. I know what is right for myself--but it would be silly to
believe mine is the only rightness"--
"Ah!" Charles Verity murmured, under his breath, "alas! for the child
that is dead."
And leaning forward he kissed her lips.
TELLING HOW MISS FELICIA VERITY UNSUCCESSFULLY ATTEMPTED A RESCUE
With the assistance of the Miss Minetts, reinforced by a bribe of five
shillings, Theresa Bilson procured a boy on a bicycle, early the
following morning, to convey a note the twelve miles to Paulton Lacy--Mr.
Augustus Cowden's fine Georgian mansion, situate just within the Southern
boundaries of Arnewood Forest. Miss Felicia Verity, to whom the note was
addressed, still enjoyed the hospitality of her sister and
brother-in-law; but this, as Mrs. Cowden gave her roundly to understand,
must not be taken to include erratic demands upon the stables. If she
required unexpectedly to visit her brother or her niece at Deadham Hard,
she must contrive to do so by train, and by such hired conveyances as the
wayside station of Paulton Halt at this end of her journey, and of
Marychurch at the other, might be equal to supplying.
"In my opinion, Felicia, it is quite ridiculous you should attempt to go
there at all to-day," Mrs. Cowden, giving over for the moment her study
of the _Morning Post,_ commandingly told her. "If Damaris has got a cold
in her head through some imprudence, and if Charles has called Miss
Bilson over the coals for not being more strict with her, that really is
no reason why Augustus' and my plans for the afternoon should be set
aside or why you should be out in the rain for hours with your
rheumatism. I shall not even mention the subject to Augustus. We arranged
to drive over to Napworth for tea, and I never let anything interfere
with my engagements to the Bulparcs as you know. I encourage Augustus to
see as much as possible of his own people.--I have no doubt in my own
mind that the account of Damaris' illness is absurdly exaggerated. You
know how Charles spoils her! She has very much too much freedom; and
little Miss Bilson, though well-meaning, is incapable of coping with a
headstrong girl like Damaris. She ought--Damaris ought I mean--to have
been sent to a finishing school for another year at least. She might then
have found her level. If Charles had consulted me, or shown the least
willingness to accept my advice, I should have insisted upon the
finishing school. It would have been immensely to Damaris' advantage. I
have known all along that the haphazard methods of her education were
bound to have deplorable results.--But look here, Felicia, if you really
intend to go on this wild-goose-chase notwithstanding the rain, let the
boy who brought the note order Davis' fly for you on his way back. He
passes Paulton Halt. I shall not expect you before dinner to-night. Now
that is settled."
With which she returned to her interrupted study of the _Morning Post_.
The above pronouncement while rendering Felicia Verity somewhat uneasy,
in nowise turned her from her purpose. Her powers of sympathy were as
unlimited as they were confused and, too often, ineffective. Forever she
ran after the tribulations of her fellow creatures, pouring forth on them
treasures of eager sympathy, but without discrimination as to whether the
said tribulations were in fact trivial or profound, deserving or
deserved. That anyone under any circumstances, should suffer, be
uncomfortable or unhappy, filled her with solicitude. The loss of an
eyelash, the loss of a fortune, the loss of the hope of a lifetime
equally ranked. Illness and disease appealed to her in hardly less degree
than unfortunate affairs of the heart. She practised the detection of
extenuating circumstances as one might practise a fine art. She wallowed
in sentiment, in short; but that with such native good-breeding and
singleness of mind, as went far to redeem the said wallowings from
morbidity or other offence. Her friends and acquaintances loved her,
quite unconscionably made use of her, secretly laughed at her, grew weary
of her, declared that "of such are the Kingdom of Heaven;" and, having
successfully exploited her, turned with relief to the society of persons
frankly belonging to the kingdoms of earth. Men petted but did not
propose to her; affected to confide in her, but carefully withheld the
heart of their confessions. Tall, thin, gently hurried and bird-like, she
yet bore a quaint, almost mirthful, resemblance to her brother, Sir
Charles Verity. Such was the lady who responded, in a spirit of liveliest
charity, to Theresa's wildly waved flag of distress.
By the time Miss Verity reached Marychurch the rain amounted to a
veritable downpour. Driven by the southwesterly wind, it swept in sheets
over the low-lying country, the pallid waters, drab mud-flats, dingy
grey-green salt-marsh, and rusty brown reed-beds of the estuary. The
dusty road, running alongside this last through the hamlets of Horny
Cross and Lampit, grew hourly deeper in gritty mud. Beyond question
summer and all its dear delights were departed and the chill mournfulness
of autumn reigned in their stead.
With the surrounding mournfulness, Miss Verity's simple, yet devious,
mind played not ungratefully. For it seemed to her to harmonize with the
true inwardness of her mission, offering a sympathetic background to the
news of her niece's indisposition and the signals of distress flown by
her little _protegee_, Theresa Bilson. The note addressed to her by the
latter was couched in mysterious and ambiguous phrases, the purport of
which she failed to grasp. Theresa's handwriting, usually so neat and
precise, was wobbly, bearing unmistakable traces of severe agitation and
haste. She hinted at nothing short of catastrophe, though whether in
relation to herself, to her ex-pupil, or to Sir Charles, Miss Verity
couldn't for the life of her discover. It was clear in any case, however,
that affairs at The Hard had, for cause unknown, gone quite startlingly
astray, and that Theresa found herself entirely unequal to righting
them--hence her outcry.
Under these circumstances, it struck Miss Verity as only tasteful and
tactful that her approach to the distracted dwelling should take place
unheralded by rumble of wheels or beat of horse-hoofs, should be pitched
in a, so to speak, strictly modest and minor key. On arriving at the
front gate she therefore alighted and, bidding her grumpy and streaming
flyman take himself and his frousty landau to the Bell and Horns in
Deadham village there to await her further orders, proceeded to walk up
the carriage-drive under the swaying, dripping trees.
About fifty yards from the gate the drive turns sharply to the left; and,
just at the turn, Miss Verity suddenly beheld a tall figure clad in a
seaman's oilskins and sou'wester, coming towards her from the direction
of the house. Youth and good looks--more especially perhaps masculine
ones--whatever rank of life might exhibit them, acted as a sure passport
to Miss Verity's gentle heart. And the youth and good looks of the man
approaching her became momentarily more incontestable. His bearing, too,
notwithstanding the clumsiness of his shiny black over-garment, had a
slightly ruffling, gallantly insolent air to it, eminently calculated to
impress her swift and indulgent fancy.
The young man, on his part, calmly took stock of her appearance, as she
beat up against the wind, her flapping waterproof cloak giving very
inefficient protection to the rather girlish dove-grey cashmere dress,
picked out with pink embroidery, beneath it. At first his eyes challenged
hers in slightly defiant and amused enquiry. But as she smiled back at
him, sweetly eager, ingenuously benignant, his glance softened and his
hand went up to his sou'wester with a courteous gesture.
"What weather!" she exclaimed. "How fearfully wet!"--while her expression
testified to a flattering interest and admiration.
"Yes, it's a wild day," he said, in answer. "I expect We've seen the last
of the sun, anyhow for this week."
The incident, though of the most casual and briefest, gave a new
direction to Miss Verity's thought. It pleased and intrigued her,
bringing a pretty blush to her thin cheeks. "Who and what can he be?" she
said to herself. "Where can I have seen him before?" And the blush
deepened. "I must really describe him to Charles and find out who he is."
This monologue brought her as far as the front door, at which, it may be
added, she--though by no means impatient--did in point of fact ring twice
before the man-servant answered it. Although Mr. Hordle had the reputation
of "being fond of his joke" in private life, in his official capacity his
manner offered a model of middle-aged sedateness and restraint. To-day
neither humour nor reserve were in evidence, but a harassed and hunted
look altogether surprising to Miss Verity. He stared at her, stared past
her along the drive, before attempting to usher her into the hall and
relieve her of her umbrella and her cloak.
"Sir Charles doesn't expect me, Hordle," she said. "But hearing Miss
Damaris was unwell I came over from Paulton Lacy at once."
"Quite so, ma'am. Sir Charles has not left his room yet. He did not reach
home till late, and he sat up with Miss Damaris the rest of the night."
"Oh! dear--did he? Then, of course, I wouldn't disturb him on any
account, Hordle. I had better see Miss Bilson first. Will you tell her
I am here?"
"I can send Laura to enquire, ma'am. But, I doubt if Miss Bilson, will
care to come downstairs at present."
"She is with Miss Damaris?"
"No, ma'am, Miss Bilson is not with Miss Damaris."
Hordle paused impressively, sucking in his under lip.
"If I might presume to advise, ma'am, I think it would be wise you should
see Miss Bilson in the schoolroom--and go up by the back staircase,
ma'am, if you don't object so as to avoid passing Miss Damaris' bedroom
door. I should not presume to suggest it, ma'am, but that our orders as
to quiet are very strict."
In this somewhat ignominious method of reaching her objective Miss
Verity, although more and more mystified, amiably acquiesced--to be
greeted, when Hordle throwing open the schoolroom door formally announced
her, by a sound closely resembling a shriek.
Entrenched behind a couple of yawning trunks, a litter of feminine
apparel and of personal effects--the accumulation of a long term of
years, for she was an inveterate hoarder--encumbering every available
surface, the carpet included, Theresa Bilson stood as at bay.
"My dear friend," Miss Verity exclaimed advancing with kindly
outstretched hands--"what is the meaning of this?"--She looked at the
miscellaneous turn-out of cupboards and chests of drawers, at the display
of garments not usually submitted to the public gaze. "Are you preparing
a rummage sale or are you--but no, surely not!--are you packing? I cannot
describe how anxious I am to hear what has occurred. My sister, Mrs.
Cowden, was extremely adverse to my facing the bad weather; but, I felt
your note could only be answered in person. Let me hear everything."
She drew Theresa from behind the luggage entrenchments, and, putting
aside an assortment of derelict hats and artificial flowers strewn in
most admired confusion on the sofa, made her sit down upon the said piece
of furniture beside her.
Whereupon, in the pensive, rain-washed, mid-day light, which served to
heighten rather than mitigate the prevailing, very unattractive and
rather stuffy disorder obtaining in the room, Theresa Bilson, not without
chokings and lamentations, gave forth the story of her--to herself quite
spectacular--deposition from the command of The Hard and its household.
She had sufficiently recovered her normal attitude, by this time, to pose
to herself, now as a heroine of one of Charlotte Bronte's novels, now as
a milder and more refined sample of injured innocence culled from the
pages of Charlotte Yonge. A narrow, purely personal view inevitably
embodies an order of logic calculated to carry conviction; and Theresa,
even in defeat, retained a degree of self-opinionated astuteness. She
presented her case effectively. To be discharged, and that in disgrace,
to be rendered homeless, cast upon the world at a moment's notice, for
that which--with but trifling, almost unconscious, manipulation of
fact--could be made to appear as nothing worse than a venial error of
judgment, did really sound and seem most unduly drastic punishment.
Miss Verity's first instinct was to fling herself into the breech; and,
directly her brother emerged from his room, demand for her _protegee_
redress and reinstatement. Her second instinct was--she didn't, in truth,
quite know what--for she grew sadly perplexed as she listened.
Her sympathy, in fact, split into three inconveniently distinct and
separate streams. Of these Theresa's woes still claimed the widest and
deepest, since with Theresa she was in immediate and intimate contact.
Yet the other two began to show a quite respectable volume and current,
as she pictured Damaris marooned on the Bar and Sir Charles ravished away
from the seasonable obligation of partridge shooting to take his place at
his daughter's bedside.
"But this young Captain Faircloth, of whom you speak," she presently
said, her mind taking one of its many inconsequent skippits--"who so
providentially came to the dearest child's assistance--could he, I
wonder, be the same really very interesting-looking young man I met in
the drive, just now, when I came here?"
And Miss Verity described him, while a pretty stain of colour illuminated
her cheek once more.
"You think quite possibly yes?--How I wish I had known that at the time.
I would certainly have stopped and expressed my gratitude to him. Such a
mercy he was at hand!--Poor dearest Damaris! I hope his good offices
have already been acknowledged. Do you know if my brother has seen and
The expression of Theresa's round little face, still puffy and blotched
from her last night's weeping, held a world of reproachful remindings.
"Ah! no," the other cried conscience-stricken--"no, of course not. How
thoughtless of me to ask you. And"--another mental skippit--"and that you
should be forbidden the sick-room too, not permitted to nurse Damaris! My
poor friend, indeed I do feel for you. I so well understand that must
have caused you more pain than anything."
A remark her hearer found it not altogether easy to counter with
advantage to her own cause, so wisely let it pass in silence.
"I know--I know, you can hardly trust yourself to speak of it. I am so
grieved--so very grieved. But one must be practical. I think you are wise
to yield without further protest. I will sound my brother--just find out
if he shows any signs of relenting. Of course, you can understand, I
ought to hear his view of the matter too--not, that I question your
account, dear friend, for one instant. Meanwhile make all your
"The village!"--Theresa put in, with a note of despair this time
"Ah, yes--the village. But if I take you away, in my fly I mean, that
will give you a position, a standing. It will go far to prevent
Miss Verity's soul looked out of her candid eyes with a positive
effulgence of charity.
"Oh! I can enter so fully into your shrinking from all that. We will
treat your going as temporary, merely temporary--in speaking of it both
here and at Paulton Lacy. Of course, you might stay with your friends,
the good Miss Minetts; but I can't honestly counsel your doing so. I am
afraid Sir Charles might not quite like your remaining in Deadham
directly after leaving his house. It might be awkward, and give rise to
tiresome enquiries and comment. One has to consider those things.--No--I
think it would be a far better plan that you should spend a week at
Stourmouth. That would give us time to see our way more clearly. I know
of some quite nice rooms kept by a former maid of Lady Bulparc's. You
would be quite comfortable there--and, as dinner at Paulton Lacy isn't
till eight, I could quite well go into Stourmouth with you myself this
afternoon. And, my dear friend, you will, won't you, forgive my speaking
Miss Verity--whose income, be it added, was anything but princely--gave
an engagingly apologetic little laugh.
"Pray don't worry yourself on the score of expense. The week in
Stourmouth must cost you nothing. As I recommend the rooms I naturally am
responsible--you go to them as my guest, of course.--Still I'll sound my
brother at luncheon, and just see how the land lies. But don't build too
much on any change of front. I don't expect it--not yet. Later, who knows
Meanwhile courage--do try not to fret."
And Miss Verity descended the backstairs again.
"Poor creature--now her mind will be more at rest, I do trust. I am
afraid Charles has been rather severe. I never think he does quite
understand women. But how should he after only being married for
three--or four years, was it?--Such a very limited experience!--It is a
pity he didn't marry again, while Damaris was still quite small--some
really nice woman who one knows about. But I suppose Charles has never
cared about that side of things. His public work has absorbed him. I
doubt if he has ever really been in love"--Miss Verity sighed.--"Yes,
Hordle, thanks I'll wait in the long sitting-room. Please let Sir Charles
know I am there, that I came over to enquire for Miss Damaris. He is
getting up?--Yes--I shall be here to luncheon, thanks."
But, during the course of luncheon, that afore-mentioned split in Miss
Verity's sympathies was fated to declare itself with ever growing
distinctness. The stream consecrated to Theresa's woes--Theresa herself
being no longer materially present--declined in volume and in force,
while that commanded by Felicia's affection for her brother soon rushed
down in spate. Perhaps, as she told herself, it was partly owing to the
light--which, if pensive upstairs in the white-walled schoolroom, might,
without exaggeration, be called quite dismally gloomy in the
low-ceilinged dining-room looking out on the black mass of the ilex
trees over a havoc of storm-beaten flower-beds--but Sir Charles struck
her as so worn, so aged, so singularly and pathetically sad. He was
still so evidently oppressed by anxiety concerning Damaris that, to hint
at harsh action on his part, or plead Theresa's cause with convincing
earnestness and warmth, became out of the question. Miss Verity hadn't
the heart for it.
"Be true to your profession of good Samaritan, my dear Felicia," he
begged her with a certain rueful humour, "and take the poor foolish
woman off my hands. Plant her where you like, so long as it is well out
of my neighbourhood. She has made an egregious fiasco of her position
here. As you love me, just remove her from my sight--let this land have
rest and enjoy its Sabbaths in respect of her at least. I'll give you a
cheque for her salary, something in excess of the actual amount if you
like; for, heaven forbid, you should be out of pocket yourself as a
consequence of your good offices.--Now let us, please, talk of some less
Brightly, sweetly eager, Miss Verity hastened to obey, as she believed,
his concluding request.
"Ah! yes," she said, "that reminds me of something about which I do so
want you to enlighten me.--This young Captain Faircloth, who so
opportunely appeared on the scene and rescued darling Damaris, I believe
I met him this morning, as I walked up from the front gate. I wondered
who he was. His appearance interested me, so did his voice. It struck me
as being so quaintly like some voice I know quite well--and I stupidly
cannot remember whose."
The coffee-cups chattered upon the silver tray as Hordle handed it to
"You spoke to him then?" Sir Charles presently said.
"Oh! just in passing, you know, about the weather--which was phenomenally
bad, raining and blowing too wildly at the moment. I supposed you had
seen him. He seemed to be coming away from the house."
Charles Verity turned sideways to the table, bending down a little over
the tray as he helped him. The coffee splashed over into the saucer; yet
it was not the hand holding the coffee-pot, but those holding the tray
that shook. Whereupon Charles Verity glanced up into the manservant's
face, calmly arrogant.
"Pray be careful, Hordle," he said. And then--"Is Miss Verity right in
supposing Captain Faircloth called here this morning?"
"I beg your pardon, Sir Charles. Yes, Sir Charles, he did."
"What did he want?"
"He came to enquire after Miss Damaris, Sir Charles. I understood him to
say he was going away to sea shortly."
"Did he ask for me?"
"No, Sir Charles," rather hurriedly; and later, with visible effort to
recapture the perfection of well-trained nullity.--"He only asked after
"When he calls again, let me know. Miss Damaris wishes to see him if she
is sufficiently well to do so."
"Very good, Sir Charles."
And during this conversation, Felicia felt keenly distressed and
perplexed. It made her miserable to think evil of anyone--particularly an
old and trusted servant. But from the moment of her arrival Hordle's
manner had seemed so very strange. Of course it was horrid even to
suspect such a thing; but was it possible that he over-indulged
sometimes, that he, in plain English, drank? Poor dear Charles--if he
knew it, what an additional worry! It really was too deplorable.--Anyway
she could alleviate his worries to a certain extent by carrying Theresa
off. She would do so at once.--Was there an evening train from
Stourmouth, which stopped at Paulton Halt? Well--if there wasn't she must
get out at Marychurch, and drive from there. She only trusted she would
be in time to dress for dinner. Harriet was such a stickler for
From all which it may be deduced that the confessions, made to Miss
Verity to-day, had this in common with those habitually heard by
her--that the point of the story had been rather carefully left out.
IN WHICH DAMARIS RECEIVES INFORMATION OF THE LOST SHOES AND
STOCKINGS--ASSUMPTION OF THE GOD-HEAD
As Darcy Faircloth prophesied, the wild weather lasted throughout that
week. Then, the rain having rained itself out, the wind backed and the
skies cleared. But all to a different mode and rhythm. A cold white sun
shone out of a cold blue sky, diapered, to the north above the indigo and
umber moorland and forest, with perspectives of tenuous silken-white
cloud. Land and sky were alike washed clean, to a starkness and nakedness
calling for warm clothing out of doors, and well-stoked fires within.
At the beginning of the next week, invited by that thin glinting
sunshine--beneath which the sea still ran high, in long, hollow-backed
waves, brokenly foam-capped and swirling--Damaris came forth from her
retreat, sufficiently convalescent to take up the ordinary routine of
life again. But this, also, to a changed mode and rhythm, having its
source in causes more recondite and subtle than any matter of fair or
To begin with she had, in the past week, crossed a certain bridge there
is no going back over for whoso, of her sex, is handicapped or
favoured--in mid-nineteenth century the handicap rather than the favour
counted even more heavily than it does to-day, though even to-day, as
some of us know to our cost, it still counts not a little!--by possession
of rarer intelligence, more lively moral and spiritual perceptions, than
those possessed by the great average of her countrymen or countrywomen.
Damaris' crossing of that bridge--to carry on the figure--affected her
thought of, and relation to everyone and everything with which she now