Part 4 out of 9
came in contact. She had crossed other bridges on her eighteen years'
journey from infancy upwards; but, compared with this last, they had been
but airy fantastic structures, fashioned of hardly more substantial stuff
than dreams are made of.--Thus, anyhow, it appeared to her as she lay
resting in her pink-and-white curtained bed, watching the loose
rose-sprays tremble against the rain-spattered window-panes.--For this
last bridge was built of the living stones of fact, of deeds actually
done; and, just because it was so built, for one of her perceptions and
temperament, no recrossing of it could be possible.
So much to begin with.--To go on with, even before Dr. McCabe granted her
permission to emerge from retirement, all manner of practical matters
claimed her attention; and that not unwholesomely, as it proved in the
sequel. For with the incontinent vanishing of Theresa Bilson into space,
or,--more accurately--into the very comfortable lodgings provided for her
by Miss Verity in Stourmouth, the mantle of the ex-governess-companion's
domestic responsibilities automatically descended upon her ex-pupil. The
said vanishing was reported to Damaris by Mary, on the day subsequent to
its occurrence, not without signs of hardly repressed jubilation. For
"Egypt," in this case represented by the Deadham Hard servants' hall, was
unfeignedly "glad at her departing."
"A good riddance, I call it--and we all know the rest of that saying,"
Mrs. Cooper remarked to an audience of Hordle and Mary Fisher, reinforced
by the Napoleonic Patch and his wife--who happened to have looked in from
the stables after supper--some freedom of speech being permissible,
thanks to the under-servants' relegation to the kitchen.
"I never could see she was any class myself. But the airs and graces
she'd give herself! You'll never persuade me she wasn't sweet on the
master. That was at the back of all her dressings up, and flouncings and
fidgetings. The impidence of it!--You may well say so, Mrs. Patch. But
the conceit of some people passes understanding. To be Lady Verity, if
you please, that was what she was after. To my dying day I shall believe
it. Don't tell me!"
Mary's announcement of the event was couched in sober terms, shorn of
such fine flowers of suggestion and comment. Yet it breathed an
unmistakable satisfaction, which, to Damaris' contrition, found instant
echo in her own heart. She ought, she knew, to feel distressed at poor
Theresa's vanishing--only she didn't and couldn't. As an inherent
consequence of the afore-chronicled bridge-crossing, Theresa was more
than ever out of the picture. To listen to her chatterings, to evade her
questionings would, under existing circumstances, amount to a daily trial
from which the young girl felt thankful to escape. For Damaris
entertained a conviction the circumstances in question would call for
fortitude and resource of an order unknown, alike in their sternness and
their liberality of idea, to Theresa's narrowly High Anglican and
academic standards of thought and conduct. She therefore ascertained from
her informant that Miss Verity had been as actively instrumental in the
vanishing--had, to be explicit, taken "Miss Bilson, and all her luggage
(such a collection!) except two disgraceful old tin boxes which were to
be forwarded by the carrier, away with her in her own Marychurch
fly."--And at this Damaris left the business willingly enough, secure
that if tender-hearted Aunt Felicia was party to the removal, it would
very surely be effected with due regard to appearances and as slight
damage to "feelings" as could well be.
Later Sir Charles referred briefly to the subject, adding:
"When you require another lady-in-waiting we will choose her ourselves, I
think, rather than accept a nominee of my sister Felicia's. She is
certain to have some more or less unsuitable and incapable person on
hand, upon whom she ardently desires to confer benefits."
"But must I have another lady-in-waiting?" Damaris meaningly and
Charles Verity drew his hand down slowly over his flowing moustache, and
smiled at her in tender amusement, as she sat up in a much lace and
ribbon befrilled jacket, her hair hanging down in a heavy plait on
either side the white column of her warmly white throat. Her face was
refined to a transparency of colouring, even as it seemed of texture,
from confinement to the house and from lassitude following upon fever,
which, while he recognized its loveliness, caused him a pretty sharp
pang. Still she looked content, as he told himself. Her glance was frank
and calm, without suggestion of lurking anxiety.
Nor was she unoccupied and brooding--witness the counterpane strewn with
books, with balls of wool, a sock in leisurely process of knitting, and,
in a hollow of it, Mustapha, the brindled cat, luxuriously sleeping
curled round against her feet.
"Heaven knows I've no special craving your lady-in-waiting should find a
speedy successor," he said. "But to do without one altogether might
appear a rather daring experiment. Your aunts would be loud in protest."
"What matters isn't the aunts, is it, but ourselves?" Damaris quite gaily
took him up.
"But wouldn't you be lonely, my dear, and would you not find it
burdensome to run the house yourself?"
"No--no," she cried. "Not one bit. Anyway let me try, Commissioner
Sahib. Let us be by ourselves together--beautifully by ourselves, for a
time at least."
"So be it then," Charles Verity said.
And perhaps, although hardly acknowledged, in the mind of each the same
consideration operated. For there remained a thing still to be done
before the new order could be reckoned as fully initiated, still more
fully established,--a thing which, as each knew, could be best done
without witnesses; a thing which both intended should very surely be
done, yet concerning which neither proposed to speak until the hour of
accomplishment actually struck.
That hour, in point of fact, struck sooner than Damaris anticipated, the
sound and sight of it reaching her without prelude or opportunity of
preparation. For early in the afternoon of the second day she spent
downstairs, as, sitting at the writing table in the long drawing-room,
she raised her eyes from contemplation of the house-keeping books spread
out before her, she saw her father walking slowly up from the sea-wall
across the lawn. And seeing him, for the moment, her mind carried back to
that miracle of interchangeable personalities so distressingly haunting
her at the beginning of her illness, when James Colthurst's charcoal
sketch of her father played cruel juggler's tricks upon her. For beside
him now walked a man so strangely resembling him in height, in bearing
and in build that, but for the difference of clothing and the bearded
face, it might be himself had the clock of his life been set back by
Damaris' first instinct was of flight. Just as when, out on the Bar with
her cousin, Tom Verity, now nearly a month ago, overcome by a foreboding
of far-reaching danger she had--to the subsequent bitter wounding of her
self-respect and pride--shown the white feather, ignominiously turned
tail and run away, was she tempted to run away now.
For it seemed too much. It came too close, laying rough hands not only
upon the deepest of her love and reverence for her father, but upon that
still mysterious depth of her own nature, namely her apprehension of
passion and of sex. A sacred shame, an awe as at the commission of some
covert act of impiety, overcame her as she looked at the two men walking,
side by side, across the moist vividly green carpet of turf in the chill
white sunshine, the plain of an uneasy grey sea behind them. She wanted
to hide herself, to close eyes and ears against further knowledge.
Yes--it came too close; and at the same time made her feel, as never
before, isolated and desolate--as though a great gulf yawned between her
and what she had always counted pre-eminently her own, most securely her
property because most beloved.
She had spoken valiantly on Faircloth's behalf, had generously acted as
his advocate; yet now, beholding him thus in open converse with her
father, the wings of love were scorched by the flame of jealousy--not so
much of the young man himself, as of a past which he stood for and in
which she had no part. Therefore to run--yes, run and hide from further
knowledge, further experience and revelation, to claim the privileges,
since she was called on to endure the smart, of isolation.--Yet to run,
as she almost directly began to reason, was not only cowardly but
useless. Fact remains fact, and if she refused to accept it, range
herself in line with it to-day, she in nowise negatived but merely
postponed the event. If not to-day, then to-morrow she was bound to empty
the cup. And she laughed at the specious half-truth which had appeared so
splendid and exhilarating a discovery--the half-truth that nothing is
really inevitable unless you yourself will it to be so. For this was
inevitable, sooner or later unescapable, fight against it, fly from it as
Therefore she must stay, whether she liked it or not--stay, because to do
otherwise was purposeless, because she couldn't help herself, because
there was nowhere to run to, in short--
She heard footsteps upon the flags outside the garden door, speech, calm
and restrained, of which she could not distinguish the import.
Mechanically Damaris gathered the scattered house-keeping books lying
before her upon the table--baker's, butcher's, grocer's, corn-chandler's,
coal-merchant's--into a tight little heap; and, folding her hands on the
top of them, prayed simply, almost wordlessly, for courage to hold the
balance even, to seek not her own good but the good of those two others,
to do right. Then she waited.
The door opened, closed, and, after a minute's pause, one of the two
men--Damaris did not know which, she could not bring herself to
look--coming from between the stumpy pillars walked towards her down the
half-length of the room; and bent over her, resting one hand on the back
of her chair, the other on the leather inlay of the writing-table just
beside the little pile of house-books.
The hand was young, sunburnt, well-shaped, the finger nails well kept.
Across the back of it a small-bodied, wide-winged sea-bird, in apparent
act of flight, and the letters D.V.F. were tattooed in blue and crimson.
A gold bangle, the surface of it dented in places and engraved with
Japanese characters, encircled the fine lean wrist. These Damaris saw,
and they worked upon her strangely, awakening an emotion of almost
painful tenderness, as at sight of decorations pathetically fond,
playfully child-like and ingenuous. While, as he bent over her, she also
became aware of a freshness, a salt sweetness as of the ocean and the
great vacant spaces where all the winds of the world blow keen and free.
"Sir Charles wrote to me," Faircloth said a little huskily. "He told me I
might come and see you again and talk to you, and bid you good-bye before
I go to sea. And I should have been here sooner, but that I was away at
Southampton Docks, and the letter only reached me this morning. I
telegraphed and started on at once. And he--Sir Charles--walked out over
the warren to meet me, and brought me up here right to the door. And on
the way we talked a little,--if he chose he could make the very stones
speak, I think--and he said one or two things for which--I--well--I thank
first Almighty God, and next to God, you--Damaris"--
This last imperatively.
"You did ask for me? You did wish to have me come to you?"
"Yes, I did wish it," she answered. "But I never knew how much until now,
when he has brought you. For that is the right, the beautiful, safe way
of having you come to me and to this house."
Yet, as she spoke, she lightly laid her hand over the tattooed image of
the flying sea-bird, concealing it, for it moved her to the point of
active suffering in its quaint prettiness fixed thus indelibly up in the
warm live flesh.
At the touch of her hand Faircloth drew in his breath sharply, seeming to
wince. Then, at last, Damaris looked up at him, her eyes full of
questioning and startled concern.
"I didn't hurt you?" she asked, a vague idea of suffering, attached to
that fanciful stigmata, troubling her.
"Hurt me--good Lord, how could you, of all people, hurt me?" he gently
laughed at her. "Unless you turned me down, gave me to understand that,
on second thoughts, you didn't find me up to your requirements or some
mean class devilry of that kind--of which, by the way, had I judged you
capable, you may be sure I should have been uncommonly careful never to
come near you again.--No, it isn't that you hurt me; but that you delight
me a little overmuch, so that it isn't easy to keep quite level-headed.
There's so much to hear and to tell, and such scanty time to hear or tell
it in, worse luck."
"You are obliged to go so soon?"
The flames of jealousy had effectually, it may be noted, died down
"Yes--we're taking on cargo for all we're worth. We are booked to sail
by noon the day after to-morrow. I stretched a point in leaving at all,
which won't put me in the best odour with my officers and crew,
or--supposing they come to hear of it--with my owners either. I am
giving my plain duty the slip; but, in this singular ease, it seemed to
me, a greater duty stood back of and outweighed the plain obvious
one--since it mounted to a reconstruction, a peace-making, ridding the
souls of four persons of an ugly burden. I wanted the affair all
settled up and straightened out before this, my maiden voyage, in
command of a ship of my own. For me it is a great event, a great step
forward. And, perhaps I'm over-superstitious--most men of my trade are
supposed to be touched that way--but I admit I rather cling to the
notion of this private peace-making, this straightening out of an
ancient crookedness, as a thing of good augury, a favourable omen. As
such--let alone other reasons"--and he looked down at Damaris with a
fine and delicate admiration--"I desired it and, out of my heart, I
prize it.--Do you see?"
"Yes--indeed a thing of good augury"--she affirmed.
Yet in speaking her lips shook. For, in truth, poor child, she was
hard-pressed. This intimate intercourse, alike in its simple directness
and its novelty, began to wear on her to the point of physical distress.
She felt tremulous and faint. Not that Faircloth jarred upon or was
distasteful to her. Far from that. His youth and health, the unspoiled
vigour and force of him, captivated her imagination. Even the dash of
roughness, the lapses from conventional forms of speech and manner she
now and again observed in him, caught her fancy, heightening his
attraction for her. Nor was she any longer tormented by a sense of
isolation. For, as she recognized, he stole nothing away which heretofore
belonged to her. Rather did he add his own by no means inconsiderable
self to the sum of her possessions.--And in that last fact she probably
touched the real crux, the real strain, of the present, to her
disintegrating, situation. For in him, and in his relation to her, a
wonderful and very precious gift was bestowed upon her, namely another
human life to love and live for.--Bestowed on her, moreover, without
asking or choice of her own, arbitrarily, through the claim of his and
her common ancestry and the profound moral and spiritual obligations, the
mysterious affinities, which a common ancestry creates.
Had she possessed this gift from childhood, had it taken its natural
place in her experience through the linked and orderly progress of the
years, it would have been wholly welcome, wholly profitable and sweet.
But it was sprung upon her from the outside, quite astoundingly
ready-made. It bore down on her, and at a double, foot, horse, and siege
guns complete. Small discredit to her if she staggered under its onset,
trembled and turned faint! For as she now perceived, it was exactly this
relation of brother and sister of which she had some prescience, some dim
intuition, from her first sight of Faircloth as he stood among the
skeleton lobster-pots on board Timothy Proud's old boat. It was this call
of a common blood which begot in her unreasoning panic, which she had run
from and so wildly tried to escape. And yet it remained a gift of great
price, a crown of gold; but oh! so very heavy--just at this moment
anyhow--for her poor proud young head.
Lifting her hand off Faircloth's, she made a motion to rise. Change of
attitude and place might bring her relief, serve to steady her nerves and
restore her endangered composure! Brooding over the whole singular matter
in the peace and security of her room upstairs, her course had appeared a
comparatively easy one, granted reasonable courage and address. But the
young man's bodily presence, as now close beside her, exercised an
emotional influence quite unforeseen and unreckoned with. Under it her
will wavered. She ceased to see her way clearly, to be sure of herself.
She grew timid, bewildered, unready both of purpose and of speech.
Faircloth, meanwhile, being closely observant of her, was quick to
detect her agitation. He drew aside her chair, and backed away, leaving
her free to pass.
"I am afraid we have talked too long," he said. "You're tired. I ought to
have been more careful of you, remembered how ill you have been--and that
partly through my doing too. So now, I had better bid you good-bye, I
think, and leave you to rest."
But Damaris, contriving to smile tremulous lips notwithstanding, shook
her head. For, in lifting her hand from his, she caught sight of the
tattooed blue-and-crimson sea-bird and the initials below it. And again
her heart contracted with a spasm of tenderness; while those three
letters, more fully arresting her attention, aroused in her a fascinated,
half-shrinking curiosity. What did they mean? What could they stand for?
She longed intensely to know--sure they were in some sort a symbol, a
token, not without special significance for herself. But shyness and a
quaint disposition, dating from her childhood, to pause and hover on the
threshold of discovery, thus prolonging a period of entrancing,
distracting suspense, withheld her. She dared not ask--in any case dared
not ask just yet; and therefore took up his words in their literal
"Indeed, you haven't talked too long," she assured him, as she went over
to the tiger skin before the fire-place, and standing there looked down
into the core of the burning logs. "We have only just begun to talk, so
it isn't that which has tried me. But--if you won't misunderstand--pray
don't--the thought of--of you, and of all that which lies between us, is
still very new to me. I haven't quite found you, or myself in my relation
to you, yet. Give me time, and indeed, I won't disappoint you."
Faircloth, who had followed her, put his elbows on the mantelshelf, and
sinking his head somewhat between his shoulders, stared down at the
burning logs too.
"Ah! when you take that tone, I'm a little scared lest I should turn out
to be the disappointment, the failure, in this high adventure of ours,"
he said under his breath.
"So stay, please," the young girl went on, touched by, yet ignoring, his
interjected comment. "Let me get as accustomed as I can now, so that I
may feel settled. That is the way to prevent my being tired--the way to
rest me, because it will help to get all my thinkings about you into
place.--Yes, please stay.--That is," she added with a pretty touch of
ceremony--"if you have time, and don't yourself wish to go."
"I wish it! What, in heaven's name, could well be further from any wish
of mine?" Faircloth broke out almost roughly, without raising his eyes.
"Do you suppose when a man's gone thirsty many days, he is in haste to
forego the first draught of pure water offered to him--and that after
just putting his lips to the dear comfort of it?"
"Ah! you care too much," Damaris cried, smitten by swift shrinking
Faircloth lifted his head and looked at her, his face keen, brilliant
with a far from ignoble emotion.
"It is not, and never will be possible--so I fancy"--he said, "to care
too much about you."
And he fell into contemplation of the glowing logs again.
But Damaris, seeing his transfigured countenance, hearing his rejoinder,
penetrated, moreover, by the conviction of his entire sincerity, felt the
weight of a certain golden crown more than ever heavy upon her devoted
young head. She stepped aside, groping with outstretched hands behind her
until she found and held on to the arm of the big sofa stationed at
right angles to the hearth. And she waited, morally taking breath, to
slip presently on to the wide low seat of it and lean thankfully against
its solidly cushioned back for support.
"Neither for you, or for my ship"--Faircloth went on, speaking, as it
seemed, more to himself than to his now pale companion. "I dare couple
you and her together, though she is no longer in the dew of her youth.
Oh! I can't defend her looks, poor dear. She has seen service. Is only a
battered, travel-weary old couple-of-thousand-ton cargo boat, which has
hugged and nuzzled the foul-smelling quays of half the seaports of
southern Europe and Asia. All the same--next to you--she's the best and
finest thing life, up to now, has brought me, and I love her.--My
affection for her, though," he went on, "is safe to be transitory. She is
safe to have rivals and successors in plenty--unless, of course, by some
ugly turn of luck, she and I go to the bottom in company."
Faircloth broke off. A little sound, a little gesture of protest and
distress, making him straighten himself up and turn quickly, his eyes
alight with enquiry and laughter.
"May I take that to mean I'm not quite alone in my caring," he asked;
"but that you, Damaris, care, perhaps, just a trifling amount too?"
He went across to the sofa, sat down sideways, laying his right arm along
the back of it, and placing his left hand--inscribed with the fanciful
device--over the girl's two hands clasped in her lap. The strong, lean
fingers exercised a quiet, steady pressure, for a minute. After which he
leaned back, no longer attempting to touch her, studiously indeed keeping
his distance, while he said:
"The other affection is stable for ever--safe from all rivals or
successors. That is another reason why I jumped at the chance Sir
Charles's letter gave me of coming here to-day, and seeing you, with this
room--as I hoped--in which so much of your time must be spent, for
background. I wanted to stamp a picture of you upon my memory, burn it
right into the very tissue of my brain, so that I shall always have it
with me, wherever I go, and however rarely we meet.--Because, as I see
it, we shall rarely meet. We ought to be clear on that point--leave no
frayed edges. There is a bar between us, which for the sake of others, as
well as for your sake, it is only right and decent I should respect, a
wall of partition through which I shouldn't attempt to break."
"I know--but it troubles me," Damaris murmured. "It is sad."
"Yes, of course, it is sad. But it's just the penalty that is bound to be
paid, and which it is useless to ignore or lie to ourselves about.--So I
shall never come, unless he--Sir Charles--sends for me as he did to-day,
or unless you send. Only remember your picture will never leave me. I
have it safe and sound"--Faircloth smiled at her.--"It will be with me
just as actually and ineffaceably as this is with me."
He patted the back of his left hand.
"Nothing, short of death, can rub either out. I have pretty thoroughly
banked against that, you see. So you've only to send when, and if, you
want me. I shall turn up--oh! never fear, I shall turn up."
"And I shall send--we shall both send," Damaris answered gravely, even a
The crown might be heavy; but she had strangely ceased to desire to be
rid of it, beginning, indeed, to find its weight oddly satisfying, even,
it may be asserted, trenching on the exquisite. And, with this altered
attitude, a freedom of spirit, greater than she had enjoyed since the
commencement of the whole astonishing episode, since before her cousin
Tom Verity's visit in fact, came upon her. It lightened her heart. It
dispelled her fatigue--which throughout the afternoon had been, probably,
more of the moral than bodily sort. Her soul no longer beat its wings
against iron bars, fluttered in the meshes of a net; but looked forth shy
yet serene, accepting the position in which it found itself. For
Faircloth inspired her with deepening faith. He needed no guiding, as she
told herself; but was strong enough, as his words convincingly testified,
clear-sighted and quick-witted enough, to play his part in the
complicated drama without prompting. Hadn't he done just what she
asked?--Stayed until, by operation of some quality in himself or--could
it be?--simply through the mysterious draw of his and her brother and
sisterhood, she had already grown accustomed, settled in her thought of
him, untormented by the closeness of his presence and unabashed.
And having reached this vantage-point, discovering the weight of the
crown dear now rather than irksome, Damaris permitted herself a closer
observation of her companion than ever before. Impressions of his
appearance she had received in plenty--but received them in flashes,
confusing from their very vividness. Confusing, also, because each one of
them was doubled by a haunting consciousness of his likeness to her
father. The traits common to both men, rather than those individually
characteristic of the younger, had been in evidence. And, in her present
happier mood, Damaris also desired a picture to set in the storehouse of
memory. But it must represent this brother of hers in and by himself,
divorced, as far as might be, from that pursuing, and, to her, singularly
Her design and her scrutiny were easier of prosecution that, during the
last few minutes, Faircloth had retired into silence, and an attitude of
abstraction. Sitting rather forward upon the sofa, his legs crossed,
nursing one blue serge trousered knee with locked hands, his glance
travelled thoughtfully over the quiet, low-toned room and its varied
contents. Later, sought the window opposite, and ranged across the garden
and terrace walk, with its incident of small ancient cannon, to the long
ridge of the Bar--rising, bleached, wind-swept, and notably deserted
under the colourless sunshine, beyond the dark waters of the tide river
which raced tumultuously seaward in flood.
Seen thus in repose--and repose is a terrible tell-tale,--the lines of
the young man's face and figure remained firm, gracefully angular and
definite. No hint of slackness or sloppiness marred their effect. The
same might be said of his clothes, which though of ordinary regulation
colour and cut--plus neat black tie and stiff-fronted white shirt,
collar, and wristbands--possessed style, and that farthest from the cheap
or flashy. Only the gold bangle challenged Damaris' taste as touching on
florid; but its existence she condoned in face of its wearer's hazardous
and inherently romantic calling. For the sailor may, surely, be here and
there permitted a turn and a flourish, justly denied to the safe
If outward aspects were thus calculated to engage her approval and
agreeably fill in her projected picture, that which glimmered through
them--divined by her rather than stated, all being necessarily more an
affair of intuition than of knowledge--gave her pleasure of richer
quality. High-tempered she unquestionably read him, arrogant and on
occasion not inconceivably remorseless; but neither mean nor ungenerous,
his energy unwasted, his mind untainted by self-indulgence. If he were
capable of cruelty to others, he was at least equally capable of turning
the knife on himself, cutting off or plucking out an offending member.
This appealed to the heroic in her. While over her vision, as she thus
considered him, hung the glamour of youth which, to youth, displays such
royal enchantments--untrodden fields of hope and promise inviting the
tread of eager feet, the rush of glorious goings forward towards
conquests, towards wonders, well assured, yet to be. The personality of
this man clearly admitted no denial, as little bragged as it apologized,
since his candour matched his force of will.
Taking stock of him thus, from the corner of the sofa, imagination,
intelligence, affections alike actively in play, Damaris' colour rose,
her pulse quickened, and her great eyes grew wide, finely and softly gay.
Faircloth moved. Turned his head. Met her eyes, and looking into them his
face blanched perceptibly under its _couche_ of sunburn.
"Damaris," he said, "Damaris, what has happened?--Stop though, you
needn't tell me. I know. We've found one another--haven't we?--Found one
another more in the silence than in the talking.--Queer, things should
work that way! But it puts a seal on fact. For they couldn't so work
unless the same stuff, the same inclination, were embedded right in the
very innermost substance of both of us. You look rested. You look
glad--bless you.--Isn't that so?"
"Yes," she simply told him.
Faircloth set his elbows on his knees, his chin on his two hands, wrist
against wrist, and his glance ranged out over the garden again, to the
pale strip of the Bar spread between river and sea.
"Then I can go," he said, "but not because I've tired you."
"I shall never be tired any more from--from being with you."
"I don't fancy you will. All the same I must go, because my time's up. My
train leaves Marychurch at six, and I have to call at the Inn, to bid my
mother good-bye, on my way to the station."
Was the perfect harmony, the perfect adjustment of spirit to spirit a wee
bit jarred, did a mist come up over the heavenly bright sky, Faircloth
asked himself? And answered doggedly that, if it were so, he could not
help it. For since, by all ruling of loyalty and dignity, the wall of
partition was ordained to stand, wasn't it safer to remind both himself
and Damaris, at times, of its presence? He must keep his feet on the
floor, good God--keep them very squarely on the floor--for otherwise,
wasn't it possible to conceive of their skirting the edge of unnamable
abysses? In furtherance of that so necessary soberness of outlook he now
went on speaking.
"But before I go, I want to hark back to a matter of quite ancient
history--your lost shoes and stockings--for thereby hangs a tale."
And he proceeded to tell her how, about a week ago, being caught by a
wild flurry of rain in an outlying part of the island, behind the black
cottages and Inn, he took shelter in a disused ruinous boat-house opening
on the great reed-beds which here rim the shore. A melancholy, forsaken
place, from which, at low tide, you can walk across the mud-flats to
Lampit, with a pleasing chance of being sucked under by quicksands. Abram
Sclanders' unhappy half-witted son haunted this boat-house, it seemed,
storing his shrimping nets there, any other things as well, a venerable
magpie's hoard of scraps and lumber; using it as a run-hole, too, when
the other lads hunted and tormented him according to their healthy,
brutal youthful way.
--A regular joss-house, he'd made of it. And set up in one corner, white
and ghostly--making you stare a minute when you first came inside--a
ship's figure-head, a three-foot odd Britannia, pudding-basin bosomed and
eagle-featured, with castellated headgear, clasping a trident in her
hand. She, as presiding deity and--
"In front of her," Faircloth said, his chin still in his hands and eyes
gazing away to the Bar--"earth and pebbles banked up into a flat-topped
mound, upon which stood your shoes filled with sprays of hedge fruit and
yellow button-chrysanthemums--stolen too, I suppose, from one of the
gardens at Lampit. They grow freely there. Your silk stockings hung round
her neck, a posy of flowers twisted into them.--When I came on this
exhibition, I can't quite tell you how I felt. It raised Cain in me to
think of that degraded, misbegotten creature pawing over and playing
about with anything which had belonged to you. I was for making
Sclanders, his father, bring him over and give him the thrashing of his
life, right there before the proofs of his sins."
"But you didn't," Damaris cried. "You didn't. What do my shoes and
stockings matter? I oughtn't to have left them on the shore. It was
putting temptation in his way."
Faircloth looked at her smiling.
"No I didn't, and for two reasons. One that I knew--even then--you would
find excuses, plead for mercy, as you have just now. Another, those
flowers. If I had found--well--what I might have found, oh! he should
have had the stick or the dog-whip without stint. But one doesn't
practise devil-worship with flowers. It seemed to me some craving after
beauty was there, as if the poor germ of a soul groped out of the
darkness towards what is fair and sweet. I dared not hound it back into
the darkness, close down any dim aspiration after God it might have. So I
left its pitiful joss-house inviolate, the moan of the wind and sighing
of the great reed-beds making music for such strange rites of worship as
have been, or may be, practised within. Any god is better than
none--that's my creed, at least. And to defile any man's god--however
trumpery--unless you're amazingly sure you've a better one to offer him
in place of it is to sin against the Holy Ghost."
Faircloth rose to his feet.
"Time's up"--he said. "I must go. Here is farewell to the most beautiful
day of my life.--But see, Damaris"--
And he knelt down, in front of her.
"Leave your shoes and stockings cast away on the Bar and thereby open the
door--for some people--on to the kingdom of heaven, if you like. But
don't, don't, if you've the smallest mercy for my peace of mind ever
wander about there again alone. I've a superstition against it. Something
unhappy will come of it. It isn't right. It isn't safe. When--when I
called you and you answered me through the mist, I had a horrible fear I
was too late. You see I care--and the caring, after to-day, very
certainly will not grow less. Take somebody, one of your women, always,
with you. Promise me never to be out by yourself."
Wondering, inexpressibly touched, Damaris put her hands on his shoulders.
His hands sprang to cover them.
"Of course, I promise," she said.
And, closing her eyes, put up her lips to be kissed.
Then the rattle of the glass door on to the garden as it shut. In the
room a listening stillness, a great all-invading emptiness. Finally
Hordle, with the tea-tray, and--
"Mrs. Cooper, if it isn't troubling you, Miss, would be glad to have the
house-books to pay, as she's walking up the village after tea."
CONCERNING A SERMON WHICH NEVER WAS PREACHED AND OTHER MATTERS OF
Before passing on to more dignified matters, that period of nine days
demands to be noted during which the inhabitants of Deadham, all very
much agog, celebrated the wonder of Miss Bilson's indisputable
disappearance and Damaris Verity's reported adventure.
Concerning the former, Dr. Horniblow, good man, took himself seriously to
task, deploring his past action and debating his present duty.
"It is no use, Jane," he lamented to his wife. The two had retired for
the night, darkness and the bedclothes covering them. "I am very much
worried about my share in the matter."
"But, my dear James, you really are overscrupulous. What share had you?"
The clerical wife does not always see eye to eye with her spouse in
respect of his female parishioners, more particularly, perhaps, the
unmarried ones. Mrs. Horniblow loved, honoured, and--within reasonable
limits--obeyed her James; but this neither prevented her being shrewd,
nor knowing her James, after all, to be human. Remembrance of Theresa,
heading the Deadham procession during the inspection of Harchester
Cathedral, sandwiched in between him and the Dean, still rankled in her
"I overpersuaded Miss Bilson to accompany us on the choir treat. I forgot
she must not be regarded as an entirely free agent. She has shown
interest in parish work and really proved very useful and obliging. Her
acquaintance with architecture--the technical terms, too--is unusually
accurate for a member of your sex."
"Her business is teaching," said the lady.
"And I can't but fear I have been instrumental in her loss of an
"If her learning is as remarkable as you consider it, she will doubtless
soon secure another."
"Ah! you're prejudiced, my love. One cannot but be struck, at times, by
the harshness with which even women of high principle, like yourself,
judge other women."
"Possibly the highness of my principles may be accountable for my
judgments--in some cases."
"Argument is very unrestful," the vicar remarked, turning over on his
"But there would be an end of conversation if I always agreed with you."
"Tut--tut," he murmured. Then with renewed plaintiveness--"I cannot make
up my mind whether it is not my duty, my chivalrous duty, to seek an
interview with Sir Charles Verity and explain--put the aspects of the
case to him as I see them."
"Call on him by all means. I'll go with you. We ought, in common
civility, to enquire for Damaris after this illness of hers. But don't
explain or attempt to enlarge on the case from your own point of view.
Sir Charles will consider it an impertinence. It won't advantage Miss
Bilson and will embroil you with the most important of your parishioners.
The wisdom of the serpent is permitted, on occasion even recommended."
"A most dangerous doctrine, Jane, most dangerous, save under authority."
"What authority can be superior to that under which the recommendation
was originally given?"
"My love, you become slightly profane.--I implore you don't argue--and at
this hour! When a woman touches on exegesis, on theology "--
"All I know upon those subjects you, dear, have taught me."
"Ah! well--ah! well"--the good man returned, at once mollified and
suspicious. For might not the compliment be regarded as something of a
back-hander? "We can defer our decision till to-morrow. Perhaps we had
better, as you propose, call together. I need not go straight to the
point, but watch my opportunity and slip in a word edgeways."
He audibly yawned--the hint, like the yawn, a broad one. The lady did
not take it, however. So far she had held her own; more--had nicely
secured her ends. But further communications trembled upon her tongue.
The word is just--literally trembled, for they might cause anger, and
James' anger--it happened rarely--she held in quite, to herself,
"I fear there is a good deal of objectionable gossip going about the
village just now," she tentatively commenced.
"Then pray don't repeat it to me, my love"--another yawn and an irritable
one. "Gossip as you know is abhorrent to me."
"And to me--but one needs to be forearmed with the truth if one is to
rebut it conclusively. Only upon such grounds should I think of
mentioning this to you."
She made a dash.
"James, have you by chance ever heard peculiar rumours about young Darcy
"In mercy, Jane--what a question!--and from you! I am
"So was I, when--I won't mention names--when such rumours were hinted to
me. I assured the person with whom I was talking that I had never heard a
word on the subject. But she said, 'One can't help having eyes.'"
"Or, some of you, noses for carrion."
Here he gave her the advantage. She was not slow to make play with it.
"Now it is my turn to be shocked," she said--"and not, I think, James,
without good cause."
"Yes, I apologize," the excellent man answered immediately. "I apologize;
but to have so foul a suggestion of parochial scandal let loose on me
suddenly, flung in my teeth, as I may say--and by you! I was taken off
my guard and expressed myself coarsely. Yes, Jane, I apologize."
"Then I have you authority for contradicting these rumours?"
The Vicar of Deadham groaned in the darkness, and rustled under the
bedclothes. His perplexity was great on being thus confronted by the
time-honoured question as to how far, in the interests of public
morality, it is justifiable for the private individual roundly to lie.
Finally he banked on compromise, that permanently presiding genius of the
Church of England 'as by law established.'
"You have me on the hip, my love," he told his wife quite meekly.
But, as she began rather eagerly to speak, he stopped her.
"Let be, my dear Jane," he bade her, "let be. I neither deny or confirm
the rumours to which I imagine you allude. Silence is most becoming for
us both. Continue to assure any persons, ill-advised and evil-minded
enough to approach you--I trust they may prove but few--that you have
never heard a word of this subject. You will never--I can confidently
promise you--hear one from me.--I shall make it my duty to preach on the
iniquity of back-biting, tale-bearing, scandal-mongering next Sunday,
and put some to the blush, as I trust. St. Paul will furnish me with
more than one text eminently apposite.--Let me think--let me
And he fell to quoting from the Pauline epistles in Greek--to the lively
annoyance of his auditor, whose education, though solid did not include a
knowledge of those languages vulgarly known as "dead." She naturally
sought means to round on him.
"Might you not compromise yourself rather by such a sermon, James?" she
"Compromise myself? Certainly not.--Pray, Jane, how?"
"By laying yourself open to the suspicion of a larger acquaintance with
the origin of those rumours than you are willing to admit."
The shaft went home.
"This is a mere attempt to draw me. You are disingenuous."
"Nothing of the sort," the lady declared. "My one object is to protect
you from criticism. And preaching upon gossip must invite rather than
allay interest, thus giving this particular gossip a new lease of
life. The application would be too obvious. Clearly, James, it would
be wiser to wait."
"The serpent, again the serpent--and one I've warmed in my bosom,
too"--Then aloud--"I will think it over, my love. Possibly your view
may be the right one. It is worth consideration.--That must be
sufficient. And now, Jane, I do implore you give over discussion and
let us say good night."
It may be registered as among the consequences of these nocturnal
exercises, that Dr. Horniblow abstained from tickling the ears of his
congregation, on the following Sunday, with a homily founded upon the sin
tale-bearing; and that he duly called, next day, at The Hard accompanied
by his wife.
The visit--not inconceivably to his inward thanksgiving--proved
unfruitful of opportunity for excusing Miss Bilson, to her former
employer, by accusing himself, Sir Charles Verity's courtesy being of an
order calculated to discourage any approach to personal topics.
Unfruitful, also, of enlightenment to Mrs. Horniblow respecting matters
which--as the good lady ashamedly confessed to herself--although
forbidden by her lord, still intrigued her while, of course, they most
suitably shocked. For the life of her she could not help looking out for
signs of disturbance and upheaval. But found none, unless--and that
presented a conundrum difficult of solution--Damaris' pretty social
readiness and grace in the reception of her guests might be, in some way,
referable to lately reported events. That, and the fact the young girl
was--as the saying is--"all eyes"--eyes calm, fathomless, reflective,
which yet, when you happened to enter their sphere of vision, covered
you with a new-born gentleness. Mrs. Horniblow caught herself growing
lyrical--thinking of stars, of twin mountain lakes, the blue-purple of
ocean. A girl in love is blessed with just such eyes--sometimes.
Whereupon, remembering her own two girls, May and Doris--good as gold,
bless them, yet, her shrewdness pronounced, when compared with Damaris,
but homely pieces--the excellent woman sighed.
What did it all then amount to? Mrs. Horniblow's logic failed. "All
eyes"--and very lovely ones at that--Damaris might be; yet her
tranquillity and serenity appeared beyond question. Must thrilling
mystery be voted no more than a mare's-nest?--Only, did not the fact
remain that James had refused to commit himself either way, thereby
naturally landing himself in affirmation up to the neck? She gave it up.
But, even in the giving up, could not resist probing just a little. The
two gentlemen were out of earshot, standing near the glass door.--How
James' black, bow-windowed figure and the fixed red in his clean-shaven,
slightly pendulous cheeks, did show up to be sure, in the
light!--Unprofitable gift of observation, for possession of which she so
frequently had cause to reproach herself.--
"You still look a little run down and pale, my dear," she said. "It isn't
for me to advise, but wouldn't a change of air and scene be good, don't
Damaris assured her not--in any case not yet. Later, after Christmas, she
and her father might very likely go abroad. But till then they had a full
programme of guests.
"Colonel Carteret comes to us next week; and my aunt Felicia always likes
to be here in November. She enjoys that month at the seaside, finding it,
she says, so poetic."
Damaris smiled, her eyes at once, and more than ever, eloquent and
"And I learned only this morning an old Anglo-Indian friend of ours, Mrs.
Mackinder, whom I should be quite dreadfully sorry to miss, is spending
the autumn at Stourmouth."
Mrs. Horniblow permitted herself a dash.
"At Stourmouth--yes?" she ventured. "That reminds me. I hear--how far the
information is correct I cannot pretend to say--that kind little person,
Miss Bilson, has been there with Miss Verity this last week. I observed
we had not met her in the village just lately. I hope you have good news
of her. When is she expected back?"
Without hesitation or agitation came the counter-stroke.
"I don't know," Damaris answered. "Her plans, I believe, are uncertain at
present. You and Dr. Horniblow will stay to tea with us, won't
you?"--this charmingly. "It will be here in a very few minutes--I can
ring for it at once."
And the lady laughed to herself, good-temperedly accepting the rebuff.
For it was neatly delivered, and she could admire clever fencing even
though she herself were pinked.--As to tea, she protested positive shame
at prolonging her visit--for didn't it already amount rather to a
"visitation?"--yet retained her seat with every appearance of
satisfaction.--If the truth must be told, Mrs. Cooper's cakes were
renowned throughout society at Deadham, as of the richest, the most
melting in the mouth; and James--hence not improbably the tendency to
abdominal protuberance--possessed an inordinate fondness for cakes. He
had shown himself so docile in respect of projected inflammatory sermons,
and of morning calls personally conducted by his wife, that the latter
could not find it in her heart to ravish him away from these approaching
very toothsome delights. Nay--let him stay and eat--for was not such
staying good policy, she further reflected, advertising the fact she bore
no shadow of malice towards her youthful hostess for that neatly
After this sort, therefore, was gossip, for the time being at all events,
scotched if not actually killed. Parochial excitement flagged the sooner,
no doubt, because, of the four persons chiefly responsible for its
creation, two were invisible and the remaining two apparently quite
unconscious of its ever having existed.--Mrs. Lesbia Faircloth, at the
Inn, the Vicar's wife left out of the count.--If Sir Charles Verity and
Damaris had hurried away, gossip would have run after them with liveliest
yelpings. But this practise of masterly inactivity routed criticism. How
far was it studied, cynical on the part of the father, or innocent upon
that of the daughter, she could not tell one bit; but that practically it
carried success along with it, she saw to be indubitable. "Face the music
and the band stops playing"--so she put it to herself, as she walked down
the drive to the front gate, her James--was he just a trifle crestfallen,
good man?--strolling, umbrella in hand, beside her.
All subsequent outbreaks of gossip may be described as merely sporadic.
They did not spread. As when, for instance, peppery little Dr.
Cripps--still smarting under Dr. McCabe's introduction into preserves he
had reckoned exclusively his own--advised himself to throw off a nasty
word or so on the subject to Commander Battye and Captain Taylor, over
strong waters and cigars in his surgery--tea, the ladies, and the
card-table left to their own devices in the drawing-room meanwhile--one
evening after a rubber of whist.
"Damn bad taste, I call it, in a newcomer like Cripps," the sailor had
remarked later to the soldier. "But if a man isn't a gentleman what can
you expect?"--And with that, as among local persons of quality, the
matter finally dropped.
Mrs. Doubleday and Butcher Cleave, to give an example from a lower social
level, agreed, across the former's counter in the village shop, that--
"It is the duty of every true Christian to let bygones be bygones--and a
downright flying in the face of Providence, as you may say, to do
otherwise, when good customers, whose money you're sure of, are so
scarce. For without The Hard and--to give everyone their due--without the
Island also, where would trade have been in Deadham these ten years and
more past? Mum's the word, take it from me,"--and each did take it from
the other, with rich conviction of successfully making the best of both
worlds, securing eternal treasure in Heaven while cornering excellent
profits on earth.
William Jennifer had many comments to make in the matter, and with
praiseworthy reticence concluded to make them mainly to himself. The
majority of them, it is to be feared, were humorous to the point of being
unsuited to print, but the refrain may pass--
"And to think if I hadn't happened to choose that particular day to take
the little dorgs and the ferrets ratting, the 'ole bleesed howd'ye do
might never have come to pass! Tidy sum, young master Darcy's in my debt,
Lord succour him, for the rest of his nat'ral life!"
THE WORLD BEYOND THE FOREST
AN EPISODE IN THE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE MAN WITH THE BLUE EYES
Thus far, for the surer basing of our argument, it has appeared advisable
to proceed step by step. But the foundations being now well and truly
laid, the pace of our narrative may, with advantage, quicken; a twelve
month be rounded up in a page, a decade, should convenience so dictate,
in a chapter.
To the furthering of which advance, let it be stated that the close of
the year still in question marked the date, for Damaris, of two matters
of cardinal importance. For it was then Sir Charles Verity commenced
writing his history of the reign of Shere Ali, covering the eleven years
following the latter's accession to the very turbulent throne of
Afghanistan in 1863.--Colonel Carteret may be held mainly responsible for
the inception of this literary enterprise, now generally acclaimed a
classic. Had not Sir William Napier, so he argued, made the soldier, as
historian, for ever famous? And why should not Charles Verity, with his
unique knowledge of court intrigues, of the people and the country, do
for the campaigns of the semi-barbarous Eastern ruler, that which Sir
William had done for Wellington's campaign in the Spanish Peninsular?
Carteret prophesied--and truly as the event richly proved--a finely
fascinating book would eventually come of it. Meanwhile--though this
argument, in favour of the scheme, he kept to himself--the preparation of
the said book would supply occupation and interest of which his old
friend appeared to him to stand rather gravely in need. For that
something was, just now, amiss with Charles Verity, Carteret could not
disguise from himself. He was changed, in a way a little broken--so at
least the younger man's kindly, keenly observant, blue eyes regretfully
judged him. He fell into long silences, seeming to sink away into some
abyss of cheerless thought; while his speech had, too often, a bitter
edge to it. Carteret mourned these indications of an unhappy frame of
mind. Did more--sought by all means in his power to conjure them away.
"We must make your father fight his battles over again, dear witch," he
told Damaris, pacing the terrace walk topping the sea-wall beside her,
one evening in the early November dusk. "His record is a very brilliant
one and he ought to get more comfort out of the remembrance of it. Let's
conspire, you and I, to make him sun himself in the achievements and
activities of those earlier years. What do you say?"
"Oh! do it, do it," she answered fervently. "He is sad--and I am so
afraid that it is partly my fault."
"Your fault? Why what wicked practises have you been up to since I was
here last?" he asked, teasing her.
A question evoking, in Damaris, sharp inward debate. For her father's
melancholy humour weighed on her, causing her perplexity and a measure of
self-reproach. She would have given immensely much to unburden herself to
this wise and faithful counsellor; and confide to him the--to
her--strangely moving fact of Darcy Faircloth's existence. Yet,
notwithstanding her conviction of Colonel Carteret's absolute loyalty,
she hesitated; restrained in part by modesty, in part by the fear of
being treacherous. Would it be altogether honourable to give away the
secret places of Charles Verity's life--of any man's life if it came to
that--even to so honourable and trusted a friend? She felt handicapped by
her own ignorance moreover, having neither standards nor precedents for
guidance. She had no idea--how should she?--in what way most men regard
such affairs, how far they accept and condone, how far condemn them. She
could not tell whether she was dealing with a case original and
extraordinary, or one of pretty frequent occurrence in the experience of
those who, as the phrase has it, know their world. These considerations
kept her timid and tongue-tied; though old habit, combined with
Carteret's delightful personality and the soothing influence of the dusky
evening quiet, inclined her to confidences.
"It's not anything I've done," she presently took him up gravely. "But,
quite by chance, I learned something which I think the Commissioner Sahib
would rather not have had me hear. I had to be quite truthful with him
about it; but I was bewildered and ill. I blurted things out rather I'm
afraid, and hurt him more than I need have done. I was so taken by
surprise, you see."
"Yes, I see," Carteret said, regardless of strict veracity. For he didn't
see, though he believed himself on the road to seeing and that some
matter of singular moment.
"He was beautiful to me--beautiful about everything--everybody," she
asserted. "And we love one another not less, but more, he and I--of that
I am sure. Only it's different--different. We can't either of us quite go
back to the time before--and that has helped to make him sad."
Carteret listened in increasing interest aware that he sounded
unlooked-for depths, apprehensive lest those depths should harbour
disastrous occurrences. He walked the length of the terrace before again
speaking. Then, no longer teasing but gently and seriously, he asked her:
"Do you feel free to tell me openly about this, and let me try to help
you--if it's a case for help?"
Damaris shook her head, looking up at him through the soft enclosing
murk, and smiling rather ruefully.
"I wish I knew--I do so wish I knew," she said. "But I don't--not yet,
anyway. Help me without my telling you, please. The book is a splendid
idea. And then do you think you could persuade him to let us go away
abroad, for a time? Everything here must remind him--as it does me--of
what happened. It was quite right," she went on judicially--"for
everyone's sake, we should stay here just the same at first. People,"
with a scornful lift of the head Carteret noted and admired--"might have
mistaken our reason for going away. They had to be made to understand we
were perfectly indifferent.--I knew all that, though we never discussed
it. One does things, sometimes, just because it's right they should be
done, without any sort of planning--just by instinct. Still I know we
can't be quite natural here. What happened comes between us. We're each
anxious about the other and feel a constraint, though we never speak of
it. That can't be avoided, I suppose, for we both suffered a good deal at
the time--but he most, much the most because"--
"I suppose because I'm young; and then, once I got accustomed to the
idea, I saw it meant what was very wonderful in some ways--a
wonderfulness which, for me, would go on and on--a whole new country for
me to explore and travel in, quite my own--and--and--which I couldn't
"Heigh ho! heigh ho!" Carteret put in softly. "This becomes exciting,
dear witch, you know."
"I don't want to be tantalizing," she answered him, still pacing in the
growing dimness of land and sea.
The dead black mass of the great ilex trees looked to touch the low
hanging sky. A grey gleam, here and there, lit the surface of the
swirling tide-river. The boom of the slow plunging waves came from the
back of the Bar, and now and again wild-fowl cried, faint and distant,
out on the mud-flats of the Haven.
"Listen," Damaris said. "It is mournful here. It tells you the same
things over and over again. It sort of insists on them. The place seems
so peaceful, but it never lets you alone, really. And now, after what
happened, it never leaves him--the Commissioner Sahib--alone. It repeats
the same story to him over and over again. It wears him as dropping water
wears away stone. And there is no longer the same reason for staying
there was at first. Persuade him to go away, to take me abroad. And come
with us--couldn't you?--for a little while at least. Is it selfish to ask
you to leave your hunting and shooting so early in the season? I don't
want to be selfish. But he isn't well. Whether he isn't well in his body
or only in his thinkings, I can't tell. But it troubles me. He sleeps
badly, I am afraid. The nights must be very long and lonely when one
can't sleep.--If you would come, it would be so lovely. I should feel so
safe about him. You and the book should cure him between you. I'm
perfectly sure of that. To have you would make us both so happy"--
And, in her innocent importunity, Damaris slipped her hand within Colonel
Carteret's arm sweetly coaxing him.
He started slightly. Threw back his head, standing, straight and tall, in
the mysterious twilight beside her. Raised his deerstalker cap, for a
moment, letting the moist chill of the November evening dwell on his hair
Though very popular with women, Carteret had never married, making a home
for his elder sister, Mrs. Dreydel--widow of a friend and fellow officer
in the then famous "Guides"--and her four sturdy, good-looking boys at
the Norfolk manor-house, which had witnessed his own birth and those of a
long line of his ancestors. To bring up a family of his own, in addition
to his sister's, would have been too costly, and debt he abhorred.
Therefore, such devoirs as he paid the great goddess Aphrodite, were but
few and fugitive--he being by nature and temperament an idealist and a
notably clean liver. By his abstention, however, sentiment was
fine-trained rather than extinguished. His heart remained young, capable
of being thrilled in instant response to any appeal of high and delicate
quality. It thrilled very sensibly, now, in response to the appeal of
Damaris' hand, emphasizing her tender pleading regarding her father. She
touched, she charmed him to an extent which obliged him rather sharply to
call his senses to order. Hadn't he known her ever since she was a babe
a span long? Wasn't she, according to all reason, a babe still, in as far
as any decently minded male being of his mature age could be concerned?
He told himself, at once humorously and sternly, he ought to feel so,
think so--whether he did or not. And ought, in his case, was a word not
to be played fast and loose with. Once uttered it must be obeyed.
Wherefore, thus conclusively self-admonished, he put his cap on his head
again and, bending a little over Damaris, patted her hand affectionately
as it rested upon his arm.
"Very good--I'll hold myself and my future at your disposition," he gaily
said to her. "As much hunting and shooting as I care for will very well
keep. Don't bother your pretty head about them. During the Christmas
holidays, my nephews will be ready enough, in all conscience, to let fly
with my guns and ride my horses, so neither will be wasted. I'll go along
with you gladly, for no man living is dearer to me than your father, and
no business could be more to my taste than scotching and killing the
demons which plague him. They plague all of us, in some form or other, at
times, as life goes on."
Very gently he disengaged his arm from her hand.
"Take me indoors," he said, "and give me my tea--over which we'll further
discuss plots for kidnapping Verity and carrying him off south. The
French Riviera for preference?--Hullo--what the deuce is that?"
For, as he spoke, the two cats appearing with miraculous suddenness out
of nowhere--as is the custom of their priceless tribe--rushed wildly
past. Fierce, sinuous, infinitely graceful shapes, leaping high in air,
making strange noises, chirrupings and squeakings, thudding of quick
little paws, as they chased one another round the antiquated,
seaward-trained cannon and pyramid of ball.
For a minute or so Damaris watched them, softly laughing. Then, in the
content bred of Carteret's promise and the joy of coming travel,
something of their frisky spirit caught her too--a spirit which, for all
young creatures, magically haunts the dusk. And, as they presently fled
away up the lawn, Damaris fled after them, circling over the moist
grass, darting hither and thither, alternately pursuing and pursued.
Colonel Carteret, following soberly, revolving many thoughts, did not
overtake her until the garden door was reached. There, upon the
threshold, the light from within covering and revealing her, she awaited
him. Her bosom rose and fell, her breathing being a little hurried, her
face a little flushed. Her grave eyes sparkled and danced.
"Oh! you've made me so glad, so dreadfully glad," she said. "And I never
properly thanked you. Forgive me. I never can resist them--I went mad
with the cats."
Her young beauty appeared to Carteret very notable; and, yes--although
she might disport herself in this childishly frolic fashion--it was
idle to call her, or pretend her any longer a babe. For cause to him
unknown, through force of some experience of which he remained
ignorant, she had undeniably come into the charm and mystery of her
womanhood--a very fair and noble blossoming before which reverently, if
wistfully, he bowed his head.
"It's good to have you declare yourself glad, dear witch, in that case
I'm glad too," he answered her. "But as to forgiveness, I'm inclined to
hold it over until you leave off being tantalizing--and, upon my word, I
find you uncommonly far from leaving off just now!"
"You mean until I tell you what happened?"
Carteret nodded, searching her face with wise, fearless, smiling eyes.
"Ah! yes," he said, "we can put it that way if you please." Damaris
hesitated detecting some undercurrent of meaning which puzzled her.
"I may never have to tell you. My father may speak of it--or you may just
see for yourself. Only then, then"--she with a moving earnestness prayed
him--"be kind, be lenient. Don't judge harshly--promise me you won't."
And as she spoke her expression softened to a great and unconscious
tenderness; for she beheld, in thought, a wide-winged sea-bird, above
certain letters, tattooed in indigo and crimson upon the back of a lean
shapely brown hand.
"I promise you," Carteret said, and passed in at the door marvelling
"Is it that?" he asked himself. "If so, it comes early. Has she gone the
way of all flesh and fallen in love?"
And this conversation, as shall presently be set forth, ushered in that
second matter of cardinal importance, already referred to, which for
Damaris marked the close of this eventful year.
TELLING HOW DAMARIS RENEWED HER ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE BELOVED LADY OF
The windows of the sitting-room--upon the first floor of the long,
three-storied, yellow-painted hotel--commanded a vast and glittering
panorama of indented coast-line and purple sea. Here and there, in the
middle distance, little towns, pale-walled and glistering, climbed upward
amid gardens and olive yards from the rocky shore. Heathlands and pine
groves covered the intervening headlands and steep valleys, save where
meadows marked the course of some descending stream. To the north-east,
above dark wooded foot-hills, the flushed whiteness of snow-summits cut
delicately into the solid blue of the sky.
Stretched upon the sun-faded, once scarlet cushions of the window-seat,
Damaris absorbed her fill of light, and warmth, and colour. Pleading
imperative feminine mendings, she stayed at home this afternoon. She felt
disposed to rest--here in the middle of her pasture, so to say--and
resting, both count her blessings and dream, offering hospitality to all
and any pleasant visions which might elect to visit her. And, indeed,
those blessings appeared a goodly company, worthy of congratulation and
of gratitude. She let the black silk stocking, the toe of which she
affected to darn, slip neglected on to the floor while she added up the
pleasant column of them.
The journey might be counted as a success--that to start with. For her
father was certainly better, readier of speech and of interest in outside
things. Oh! the dear "man with the blue eyes" had a marvellous hand on
him--tactful, able, devoted, always serene, often even gay. Never could
there be another so perfect, because so sane and comfortable, a friend.
Her debt to him was of old standing and still for ever grew. How she
could ever pay it she didn't know! Which consideration, for an instant,
clouded her content. Not that she felt the obligation irksome; but, that
out of pure affection, she wanted to make him some return, some
acknowledgment; wanted to give, since to her he had so lavishly given.
Then the book--of all Carteret's clever manipulations the cleverest! For
hadn't it begun to grip her father, and that quite divertingly much? He
was occupied with it to the point of really being a tiny bit
self-conscious and shy. Keen on it, transparently eager--though
contemptuous, in high mighty sort, of course, of his own eagerness when
he remembered. Only, more than half the time he so deliciously failed to
remember.--And with that Damaris' thought took another turn, a more
private and personal one.
For in truth the book gripped her, too, in most intimate and novel
fashion, revealing to her the enchantments of an art in process of being
actively realized in living, constructive effort. Herein she found, not
the amazement of a new thing, but of a thing so natural that it appeared
just a part of her very self, though, until now, an undiscovered one. To
read other people's books is a joyous employment, as she well knew; but
to make a book all one's own self, to watch and compel its growth into
coherent form and purpose is--so she began to suspect--among the rarest
delights granted to mortal man.
Her own share of such making, in the present case, was of the humblest
it is true, mere spade labour and hod-bearing--namely, writing from
Charles Verity's dictation, verifying names and dates, checking
references and quotations. Still each arresting phrase, each felicitous
expression, the dramatic ring of some virile word, the broad onward
sweep of stately prose in narrative or sustained description, not only
charmed her ear but challenged her creative faculty. She put herself to
school in respect of it all, learning day by day a lesson.--This was the
way it should be done. Ambition prodded her on.--For mightn't she
aspire to do it too, some day? Mightn't, granted patience and
application, the writing of books prove to be her business, her
vocation? The idea floated before her, vague as yet, though infinitely
beguiling. Whereupon the whole world took on a new significance and
splendour, as it needs must when nascent talent claims its own, asserts
its dawning right to dominion and to freedom.
And there the pathos of her father's position touched her nearly. For
wasn't it a little cruel this remarkable gift of his should so long have
lain dormant, unsuspected by his friends, unknown to the reading public,
only to disclose itself, and that by the merest hazard, as a last
resource?--It did not seem fair that he had not earlier found and enjoyed
his literary birthright.
Damaris propounded this view to Colonel Carteret with some heat. But he
smilingly discounted her fondly indignant lament.
"Better late than never anyhow, my dear witch," he said. "And just
picture the satisfaction of this brilliant rally when, as we'd reason to
believe, he himself reckoned the game was up! Oh! there are points about
a tardy harvest such as this, by no means to be despised. Thrice blessed
the man who, like your father, finding such a harvest, also finds it to
be of a sort he can without scruple reap."
Of which cryptic utterance Damaris, at the time, could--to quote her own
phrase--"make no sense!"--Nor could she make sense of it, now, when
counting her blessings, she rested, in happy idleness, upon the faded
scarlet cushions of the window-seat.
She remembered the occasion quite well on which Carteret thus expressed
himself one afternoon, during their stay in Paris, on the southward
journey. She had worn a new myrtle-green, black-braided, fur-trimmed
cloth pelisse and hat to match, as she also remembered, bought the day
before at a fascinating shop in the Rue Castiglione. Agreeably conscious
her clothes were not only very much "the right thing" but decidedly
becoming, she had gone, with him, to pay a visit of ceremony at the
convent school--near the Church of St. Germain-les-Pres--where, as a
little girl of six, fresh from India and the high dignities of the
Bhutpur Sultan-i-bagh, she had been deposited by her father's old friend,
Mrs. John Pereira, who had brought her and Sarah Watson, her nurse, back
The sojourn at the convent--once the surprise of translation from East to
West, from reigning princess to little scholar was surmounted--proved
fertile in gentle memories. The visit of to-day, not only revived these
memories, but added to their number. For it passed off charmingly.
Carteret seemed by no means out of place among the nuns--well-bred and
gracious women of hidden, consecrated lives. They, indeed, appeared
instinctively drawn to him and fluttered round him in the sweetest
fashion imaginable; he, meanwhile, bearing himself towards them with an
exquisite and simple courtesy beyond all praise. Never had Damaris
admired the "man with the blue eyes" more, never felt a more perfect
trust in him, than when beholding him as _Mousquetaire au Couvent_ thus!
As they emerged again into the clear atmosphere and resonance of the
Paris streets, and made their way back by the Rue du Bac, the Pont Royal
and the gardens of the Tuileries, to their hotel in the Rue de Rivoli,
Carteret spoke reverently of the religious life, and the marvellous
adaptability of the Catholic system to every need, every attitude of the
human heart and conscience. He spoke further of the loss those inevitably
sustain, who--from whatever cause--stand outside the creeds, unable to
set their spiritual God-ward hopes and aspirations within a definite
external framework of doctrine and practice hallowed by tradition.
"I could almost wish those dear holy women had gathered your little soul
into the fold, when they had you in their keeping and made a good
Catholic of you, dearest witch," he told her. "It would have been a
rather flagrant case of cradle-snatching, I own, but I can't help
thinking it would have simplified many difficulties for you."
"And raised a good many, too," Damaris gaily answered him. "For Aunt
Harriet Cowden would have been furious, and Aunt Felicia distressed and
distracted; and poor Nannie--though she really got quite tame with the
Sisters, and came to respect them in the end--would have broken her heart
at my being taught to worship images, and have believed hell yawned to
devour me. Oh! I think it was more fair to wait.--All the same I loved
their religion--I love it still."
"Go on loving it," he bade her.--And at once turned the conversation to
other themes--that of her father, Charles Verity among them, and the book
on Afghanistan, the fair copy of the opening chapters of which was just
Then, the stimulating, insistent vivacity of Paris going a little to
Damaris' head--since urging, as always, to fullness of enterprise,
fullness of endeavour, giving, as always, immense joy and value to the
very fact of living--she lamented the late development of her father's
literary genius. A lament which called forth Carteret's consolatory
rejoinder, along with this--to her--cryptic assertion as to the thrice
blessed state of the man whose harvest, when tardy, is of a description
he need not scruple to reap.
"Why," she asked herself, "should he have said that unless with
reference to himself. Reference to some private harvest which he himself
scrupled to reap?"
Damaris slipped her feet from the cushioned window-seat to the floor, and
stooping down recovered her fallen black silk stocking. She felt
disturbed, slightly conscience-stricken. For it had never occurred to
her, strong, able, serene of humour and of countenance as he was, that
the "man with the blue eyes" could have personal worries, things--as she
put it--he wanted yet doubted whether he ought to have. Surely his
unfailing helpfulness and sympathy gave him the right, in fee-simple, to
anything and everything he might happen to covet. That he should covet
what was wrong, what was selfish, detrimental to others, seemed
incredible. And the generous pity of her youthful tenderness, her
impatience of all privation, all disappointment or denial for those she
held in affection, overflowed in her. She longed to do whatever would
greatly please him, to procure for him whatever he wanted. Wouldn't it be
delicious to do that--if she could only find out!
But this last brought her up against a disquieting lesson lately
learned.--Namely, against recognition of how very far the lives of
men--even those we know most dearly and closely--and the lives of us
women are really apart. She thought of her father and Darcy Faircloth and
their entirely unsuspected relation. This dulled the edge of her
enthusiasm. For wasn't it only too probably the same with them all?
Loyalty compelled the question. Had not every man a secret, or secrets,
only penetrable, both for his peace of mind and for your own, at
Damaris planted her elbows on the window-sill, her chin in the hollow of
her hands. Her eyes were solemn, her face grave with thought.--Verily the
increase of knowledge is the increase of perplexity, if not of actual
sorrow. Even the apparently safest and straightest paths are beset with
"pitfall and with gin" for whoso studies to pursue truth and refuse
subscription to illusion. Your charity should be wide as the world
towards others. Towards yourself narrow as a hair, lest you condone your
own weakness, greed, or error. Of temptation to any save very venial sins
Damaris had, in her own person, little conception as yet.--Still to a
maiden of eighteen, though she may have a generous proportion of health
and beauty, sufficient fortune and by no means contemptible intelligence,
noble instincts, complications and distresses, both of the practical and
theoretic order, may, and do, at times occur. Damaris suffered the shock
of such now; and into what further jungles of cheerless speculation she
might have been projected it is impossible to say, had not persons and
events close at hand claimed her attention.
The Grand Hotel at St. Augustin is situated upon a long narrow
promontory, which juts out into the sea at right angles to the main trend
of the coast-line. It faces east, turning its back upon the little
town--built on the site of a Roman colonial city, originally named in
honour of the pagan Emperor rather than the Christian Confessor and
ascetic. Mediaeval piety bestowed on it the saintly prefix, along with a
round-arched cathedral church, of no great size, but massive proportions
and somewhat gloomy aspect.
From the terrace garden and carriage drive, immediately in front of the
hotel, the ground drops sharply, beneath scattered pines with undergrowth
of heather, wild lavender, gum-cistus, juniper, mastic and myrtle, to the
narrow white beach a hundred feet below. Little paths traverse the rough
descent. And up one of these, halting to rest now and then on a
conveniently placed bench in the shade of some spreading umbrella pine,
to discourse to the company of gentlemen following in her wake, or
contemplate the view, came a notably graceful and telling figure.
As the lady advanced with leisurely composure, Damaris, gazing down from
her point of vantage in the first floor window, received the impression
of a person almost extravagantly finished and feminine, in which all
irregularities and originalities of Nature had suffered obliteration by
the action of art. Not art of the grosser sort, dependent on dyes, paint
and cosmetics. The obliteration was not superficial merely, and must have
been achieved by processes at once subtle and profound. The result
obtained, however, showed unquestionably charming--if in a line slightly
finical and exotic--as she picked her way through the fragrant
undergrowth of the pine wood, slanting sunshine playing on her dark blue
raiment, wide-brimmed white hat, and floating veil.
Coming completely into view at last, when stepping from the path on to
the level carriage drive, a gold chain she wore, from which dangled a
little bunch of trinkets and a long-handled lorgnette, glinted, catching
the light. Damaris gave an exclamation of sudden and rapturous
recognition. So far she had had eyes for the lady only; but now she took
a rapid scrutiny of the latter's attendants. With two of them she was
unacquainted. The other two were her father and Carteret.
Whereupon rapture gave place to a pang of jealous alarm and resentment.
For they belonged to her, those dear two; and to see them even thus
temporarily appropriated by someone else caused her surprising agitation.
They had been so good, so apparently content, alone with her upon this
journey. It would be too trying, too really intolerable to have outsiders
interfere and break up their delightful solitude _a trois_, their
delightful intercourse! Yet, almost immediately, the girl flushed, going
hot all over with shame, scolding herself for even passing entertainment
of such unworthy and selfish emotions.
"For it is Henrietta Pereira," she said half aloud. "My own darling,
long-ago Henrietta, who used to be so beautifully kind to me and give me
presents I loved above everything."
And, after a pause, the note of alarm sounding again though modified to
"Will she care for me still, and shall I still care for her--but I must
care--I must--now I'm grown up?"
To set which disturbing questions finally at rest, being a valiant young
creature, Damaris permitted herself no second thoughts, no vacillation or
delay; but went straight downstairs and crossing the strip of terrace
garden, bare-headed as she was, waited at the head of the steps leading up
from the carriage drive to greet the idol of her guileless infancy.
To Colonel Carteret who, bringing up the rear of the little procession
was the first to notice her advent, she made a touching and gallant
picture. Her face had gone very pale and he saw, or fancied he saw, her
lips tremble. But her solemn eyes shone with a steady light, and,
whatever the excitement affecting her, she held it bravely in check.
Noting all which he could not but speculate as to whether she had any
knowledge of a certain romantic attachment--culminating on the one hand
in an act of virtuous treachery, on the other in an act of
renunciation--which had overshadowed and wrenched from its natural
sequence so large a portion of her father's life. He earnestly hoped she
was ignorant of all that; although the act of renunciation, made for her,
Damaris' sake, represented a magnificent gesture if an exaggerated and
almost fanatical one, on Charles Verity's part. It gave the measure of
the man's fortitude, the measure of his paternal devotion. Still
knowledge of it might, only too readily, prove a heavy burden to a young
girl's imaginative and tender conscience. Yes--he hoped she had been
spared that knowledge.
If she had escaped it thus far--as he reflected not without
amusement--the other actor in that rather tragic drama, now so
unexpectedly and arrestingly present in the flesh, could be trusted not
to enlighten her. He knew Henrietta Pereira of old, bless her hard little
heart. Not only did she detest tragedy, but positively revelled in any
situation where clever avoidance of everything even remotely approaching
it was open to her. She ruled the sublime and the ridiculous alike
impartially out of the social relation; and that with so light though
determined a touch, so convincing yet astute a tact and delicacy, you
were constrained not only to submit to, but applaud her strategy.
Had she not within the very last hour given a masterly example of her
powers in this line? For when he, Carteret, and Charles Verity, strolling
in all innocence along the shore path back from St. Augustin, had to
their infinite astonishment met her and her attendant swains face to
face, she hadn't turned a hair. Her nerve was invincible. After clasping
the hand of each in turn with the prettiest enthusiasm, she had
introduced--"My husband, General Frayling--Mr. Marshall Wace, his
cousin," with the utmost composure. Thus making over to them any
awkwardness which might be going and effectually ridding herself of it.
Carteret felt his jaw drop for the moment.--He had heard of John
Pereira's death two years ago, and welcomed the news on her account,
since, if report said true, that dashing cavalry officer had taken to
evil courses. Gambling and liquor made him a nuisance, not to say
disgrace to his regiment, and how much greater a one to his wife. Poor
thing, she must have had a lot to endure and that of the most sordid! It
wasn't nice to think about. Clearly Pereira's removal afforded matter for
But of this speedy reconstruction on her part, in the shape of a third
matrimonial venture, he had heard never a word. How would Verity take
it?--Apparently with a composure as complete as her own.--And then the
inherent humour of the position, and her immense skill and coolness in
the treatment of it, came uppermost. Carteret felt bound to support her
and help her out by accepting her little old General--lean-shanked and
livery, with pompously outstanding chest, aggressive white moustache and
mild appealing eye--as a matter of course. Bound to buck him up, and
encourage him in the belief he struck a stranger as the terrible fellow
he would so like to be, and so very much feared that he wasn't.
Carteret's large charity came into play in respect of the superannuated
warrior; who presented a pathetically inadequate effect, specially when
seen, as now, alongside Charles Verity. Surely the contrast must hit the
fair Henrietta rather hard? Carteret expended himself in kindly
civilities, therefore, going so far as to say "sir" once or twice in
addressing Frayling. Whereat the latter's timorous step grew almost
jaunty and his chest more than ever inflated.
If Henrietta carried things off to admiration in the first amazement of
impact, she carried them off equally to admiration in her meeting with
Damaris. It was the prettiest little scene in the world.
For reaching up and placing her hands on the girl's shoulders her
chiselled face--distinct yet fragile in outline as some rare
cameo--suffused for once with transparent, shell-like pink, she kissed
Damaris on either cheek.
"Ah! precious child, most precious child," she fondly murmured. "What an
enchanting surprise! How little I imagined such a joy was in store for me
when I came out this afternoon!"
And louder, for the benefit of the assistants.
"Yes--here are my husband, General Frayling, and Mr. Wace his cousin--he
shall sing to you some day--that by the way--who is travelling with us.
But they must talk to you later. I can't spare you to them now. I am
greedy after our long separation and want to have you all to myself."
And, including the four gentlemen in a gesture of friendly farewell, she
put her arm round Damaris' waist, gently compelling her in the direction
of a group of buff-painted iron chairs, placed in a semicircle in the
shade of ilex and pine trees at the end of the terrace.
"I have so much to hear," she said, "so many dropped threads to pick up,
and it is impossible to talk comfortably and confidentially in a crowd.
Our men must really contrive to play about by themselves for a little
while and leave me to enjoy you in peace."
"But won't they mind?" Damaris asked, upon whom the spell of the elder
woman's personality began sensibly to work.
"Let them mind, let them mind," she threw off airily in answer. "So much
the better. It will do them good. It is excellent discipline for men to
find they can't always have exactly their own way."
Which assertion served to dissipate any last remnant of jealous alarm
Damaris' mind may have unconsciously harboured. In its place shy
curiosity blossomed, and quick intimate pleasure in so perfectly
fashioned and furnished a creature. For wasn't her childish adoration
fully justified? Wasn't her darling Henrietta a being altogether
captivating and unique? Damaris loved the feeling of that arm and hand
lightly clasping her waist. Loved the faint fragrance--hadn't it
intoxicated her baby senses?--pervading Henrietta's hair, her clothes,
her whole pretty person. Loved the tinkle of the bunch of trinkets
dangling from the long chain which reached below her waist. She had
feared disappointment. That, as she now perceived, was altogether
superfluous. Henrietta enthralled her eyes, enthralled her affection. She
longed to protect, to serve her, to stand between her and every rough
wind which blew, because she was so pretty, so extraordinarily and
completely civilized from head to foot.
No doubt in the generosity of her youthful inexperience Damaris
exaggerated the lady's personal charm. Yet the dozen years
intervening--since their last meeting--had, in truth, dealt mercifully
with the latter's good looks. A trifle pinched, a trifle faded she might
be, as compared with the Henrietta of twelve years ago; but immediately
such damage, such wear and tear of the fleshly garment, showed at its
least conspicuous. She negotiated the double encounter, as Carteret had
noted, with admirable sang-froid; but not, as to the first one in any
case, without considerably greater inward commotion than he gave her
credit for. She was in fact keyed up by it, excited, taken out of herself
to an unprecedented extent, her native optimism and egoism in singular
disarray. Yet thereby, through that very excitement, she recaptured for
the time being the physical loveliness of an earlier period. Beauty is
very much a matter of circulation; and the blood cantered, not to say
galloped, through Henrietta's veins.
The sight of Charles Verity did indeed put back the clock for her in
most astounding sort. Henrietta was no victim of impulse. Each of her
three marriages had been dictated by convenience, carefully thought out
and calculated. Over neither husband had she, for ever so brief a
period, lost her head. But over Charles Verity she had come perilously
near losing it--once. That, it is not too much to say, constituted the
greatest sensation, the greatest emotion of her experience. As a rule
the most trying and embarrassing part of encountering a former lover is
that you wonder what, under Heaven, induced you to like him so well?
Here the position was reversed, so that Henrietta wondered--with a
sickening little contraction of the heart--what, under Heaven, had
prevented her liking him much more, why, under Heaven, she ever let him
go? Of course, as things turned out, it was all for the best, since her
insensibility made for righteousness, or anyhow for respectability--in
the opinion of the world the same, if not an even superior article. She
ought to congratulate herself, ought to feel thankful. Only just now she
didn't. On the contrary she was shaken--consciously and most
uncomfortably shaken to the very deepest of such depths as her shallow
soul could boast--sitting here, on a buff-painted chair in the shade of
the pines and ilex trees, in company with Damaris, holding the girl's
hand in both her own with a clinging, slightly insistent, pressure as it
rested upon her lap.
"Dearest child, I believe, though you have grown so tall, I should have
recognized you anywhere," she said.
"And I you," Damaris echoed. "I did, I did, after just the first
"Ah! you've a memory for faces too?"
Her glance wandered to the group of men gathered before the hotel
portico--Sir Charles and General Frayling side by side, engaged in civil
if not particularly animated conversation. The two voices reached her
with a singular difference of timbre and of tone. Carteret spoke,
apparently making some proposition, some invitation, in response to which
the four passed into the house.
Henrietta settled herself in her chair with a movement of sensible
relief. While they remained there she must look, and it was not quite
healthy to look.--Her good, little, old General, who only asked
respectfully to adore and follow in her wake--a man of few demands and
quite tidy fortune--and after poor, besotted, blustering, gambling,
squashily sentimental and tearful Johnnie Pereira wasn't he a haven of
rest--oh, positively a haven of rest? All the same she preferred his
not standing there in juxtaposition to Charles Verity. She much
preferred their all going indoors--Carteret along with the rest, if it
came to that.
She turned and smiled upon Damaris.
"However good your memory for faces may be, I find it very sweet you
should have recognized mine after 'just the first little minute,'" she
said, with a coaxing touch of mimicry. "You haven't quite parted company
with the baby I remember so well, even yet. I used to call you my downy
owl, with solemn saucer eyes and fierce little beak. You were
extraordinarily, really perplexingly like your father then. A miniature
edition, but so faithful to the original it used, sometimes, to give me
the quaintest jump."
Henrietta mused, raising one hand and fingering the lace at her throat
as seeking to loosen it. Damaris watched fascinated, in a way
troubled, by her extreme prettiness. Every point, every detail was so
"You are like Sir Charles still; but I see something which is not
him--the personal equation, I suppose, developing in you, the element
which is individual, exclusively your own and yourself. I should enjoy
She looked at Damaris very brightly for an instant, then looked down.
"I want to hear more about Sir Charles," she said. "Of all the
distinguished men I have been fortunate enough to know, who--who have let
me be their friend, no one has ever interested me more than he. We have
known one another ever since I was a girl and his career meant so much to
me. I followed it closely, rejoiced in his promotion, his successes; felt
indignant--and said so--when he met with adverse criticism. I am speaking
of his Indian career. When he accepted that Afghan command, it made a
break. We lost touch, which I regretted immensely. From that time onward
I only knew what any and everybody might know from the newspapers--except
occasionally when I happened to meet Colonel Carteret."
The explanation was lengthy, laboured, not altogether spontaneous.
Damaris vaguely mystified by it made no comment. Henrietta raised her
head, glancing round from under lowered eyelids.
"You appreciate the ever-faithful Carteret?" she asked, an edge of
eagerness in her voice.
"The dear 'man with the blue eyes?' Of course I love him, we both love
him almost better than anybody in the world," Damaris warmly declared.
"And he manifestly returns your affection. But, dearest child, why
'almost.' Is that reservation intentional or merely accidental?"
Then seeing the girl's colour rise.
"Perhaps it's hardly a fair question. Forgive me. I forgot how long it
is since we met, forgot I'm not, after all, talking to the precious
little downy owl, who had no more serious secrets than such as might
concern her large family of dolls."
"I am not sure the 'almost' was quite true." Damaris put in hastily, her
cheeks more than ever aflame.
"Yes it was, most delicious child--I protest it was. And I'm not sure I'm
Slightly, daintily, she kissed the flaming cheek.
"But I do love Colonel Carteret," Damaris repeated, with much wide-eyed
earnestness. "I trust him and depend on him as I do on nobody else."
"'Almost' nobody else?"
Damaris shook her head. She felt a wee bit disappointed in Henrietta.
This persistence displeased her as trivial, as lacking in perfection of
breeding and taste.
"Quite nobody," she said. And without permitting time for rejoinder
launched forth into the subject of the book on the campaigns of Shere
Ali, which, as she explained, had been undertaken at Carteret's
suggestion and with such encouraging result. She waxed eloquent regarding
the progress of the volume and its high literary worth.
"But I was a little nervous lest my father should lose his interest and
grow slack when we were alone, and he'd only me to talk things over with
and to consult, so I begged Colonel Carteret to come abroad with us."
"Ah! I see--quite so," Henrietta murmured. "It was at your request."
"Yes. He was beautifully kind, as he always is. He agreed at once, gave
up all his own plans and came."
"And stays"--Henrietta said.
"Yes, for the present. But to tell the truth I'm worried about his
"Why?"--again with a just perceptible edge of eagerness.
"Because, of course, I have no right to trade on his kindness, even for
my father's sake or the sake of the book."
"And that is your only reason?"
"Isn't it more than reason enough? There must be other people who want
him and things of his own he wants to do. It would be odiously selfish of
me to interfere by keeping him tied here. I have wondered lately whether
I oughtn't to speak to him about it and urge his going home. I was
worrying rather over that when you arrived this afternoon, and then the
gladness of seeing you put it out of my head. But how I wish you would
advise me, Henrietta, if it's not troubling you too much. You and they
have been friends so long and you must know so much better than I can
what's right. Tell me what is my duty--about his staying, I mean--to, to
them both, do you think?"
Henrietta Frayling did not answer at once. Her delicate features
perceptibly sharpened and hardened, her lips becoming thin as a thread.
"You're not vexed with me? I haven't been tiresome and asked you
something I shouldn't?" Damaris softly exclaimed, smitten with alarm of
unintended and unconscious offence.
"No--no--but you put a difficult question, since I have only impressions
and those of the most, fugitive to guide me. Personally, I am always
inclined to leave well alone."
"But is this well?--There's just the point."
"You are very anxious"--
"Yes, I am very anxious. You see I care dreadfully much."
Henrietta bent down, giving her attention to an inch of kilted
silk petticoat, showing where it should not, beneath the hem of
her blue skirt.
"I hesitate to give you advice; but I can give you my impressions--for
what they may be worth. Seeing Colonel Carteret this afternoon he struck
me as being in excellent case--enviably young for his years and content."
"You thought so? Yet that's just what has worried me. Once or twice
lately I have not been sure he was quite content."
"Oh! you put it too high!" Henrietta threw off. "Can one ever be sure
anyone--even one's own poor self--is quite content?"
And she looked round, bringing the whole artillery of her still great, if
waning, loveliness suddenly to bear upon Damaris, dazzling, charming,
confusing her, as she said:
"My precious child, has it never occurred to you Colonel Carteret may
stay on, not against has will, but very much with it? Or occurred to you,
further, not only that the pleasures of your father's society are by no
means to be despised; but that you yourself are a rather remarkable
product--as quaintly engagingly clever, as you are--well--shall we
"I am deputed to enquire whether you propose to take tea indoors, Miss
Verity, or have it brought to you here; and, in the latter case, whether
we have leave to join you?"
The speaker, Marshall Wace--a young man of about thirty years of age--may
be described as soft in make, in colouring slightly hectic, in manner a
subtle cross between the theatrical and the parsonic. Which, let it be
added, is by no means to condemn him wholesale, laugh him off the stage
or out of the pulpit. In certain circles, indeed, these traits, this
blend, won for him unstinted sympathy and approval. He possessed talents
in plenty, and these of an order peculiarly attractive to the amateur
because tentative rather than commanding. Among his intimates he was seen
and spoken of as one cloaked with the pathos of thwarted aspirations.
Better health, less meagre private means and a backing of influence, what
might he not have done? His star might have flamed to the zenith!
Meanwhile it was a privilege to help him, to such extent as his extreme
delicacy of feeling permitted. That it really permitted a good deal, one
way or another, displaying considerable docility under the infliction of
benefits, would have been coarse to perceive and unpardonably brutal to
mention.--Such, anyhow, was the opinion held by his cousin, General
Frayling, at whose expense he now enjoyed a recuperative sojourn upon the
French Riviera. Some people, in short, have a gift of imposing
themselves, and Marshall Wace may be counted among that conveniently
He imposed himself now upon one at least of his hearers. For, though the
address might seem studied, the voice delivering it was agreeable,
causing Damaris, for the first time, consciously to notice this member of
Mrs. Frayling's retinue. She felt amiably disposed towards him since his
intrusion closed a conversation causing her no little disturbance of
mind. Henrietta's last speech, in particular, set her nerves tingling
with most conflicting emotions. If Henrietta so praised her that praise
must be deserved, for who could be better qualified to give judgment on
such a subject than the perfectly equipped Henrietta? Yet she shrank in
distaste, touched in her maiden modesty and pride, from so frank an
exposition of her own charms. It made her feel unclothed, stripped in the
market-place--so to speak--and shamed. Secretly she had always hoped she
was pretty rather than plain. She loved beauty and therefore naturally
desired to possess it. But to have the fact of that possession thus
baldly stated was another matter. It made her feel unnatural, as though
joined to a creature with whom she was insufficiently acquainted, whose
ways might not be her ways or its thoughts her thoughts. Therefore the
young man, Marshall Wace, coming as a seasonable diversion from these
extremely personal piercings and probings, found greater favour in her
eyes than he otherwise might. And this with results, for Damaris'
gratitude, once engaged, disdained to criticize, invariably tending to
err on the super-generous side.
Yes, they would all have tea out here, if Henrietta was willing. And, if
Henrietta would for the moment excuse her, she would go and order
Hordle--her father's man--to see to the preparation of it himself.
Foreign waiters, whatever their ability in other departments, have no
natural understanding of a tea-pot and are liable to the weirdest ideas of
cutting bread and butter.
With which, conscious she was guilty of somewhat incoherent chatter,
Damaris sprang up and swung away along the terrace, through the clear
tonic radiance, buoyant as a caged bird set free.
"Go with her, Marshall, go with her," Mrs. Frayling imperatively bade
"And leave you, Cousin Henrietta?"
She rose with a petulant gesture.
"Yes, go at once or you won't overtake her. I am tired, really wretchedly
tired--and am best left alone."
WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF, INCIDENTALLY, WITH THE GRIEF OF A VICTIM OF
CIRCUMSTANCE AND THE RECEPTION OF A BELATED CHRISTMAS GREETING
Henrietta Frayling left the Grand Hotel, that afternoon, in a chastened
frame of mind. Misgivings oppressed her. She doubted--and even more than
doubted--whether she had risen to the full height of her own reputation,
whether she had not allowed opportunity to elude her, whether she had not
lost ground difficult to regain. The affair was so astonishingly sprung
upon her. The initial impact she withstood unbroken--and from this she
derived a measure of consolation. But afterwards she weakened. She had
felt too much--and that proved her undoing. It is foolish, because
disabling, to feel.
Her treatment of Damaris she condemned as mistaken, admitting a point of
temper. It is hard to forgive the younger generation their youth, the
infinite attraction of their ingenuous freshness, the fact that they have
the ball at their feet. Hence she avoided the society of the young of her
own sex--as a rule. Girls are trying when pretty and intelligent, hardly
less trying--though for other reasons--when the reverse. Boys she
tolerated. In the eyes of young men she sunned herself taking her ease,
since these are slow to criticize, swift to believe--between eighteen and
eight-and-twenty, that is.--We speak of the mid-Victorian era and then
obtaining masculine strain.
Misgivings continued to pursue her during the ensuing evening and even
interfered with her slumbers during the night. This--most unusual
occurrence--rendered her fretful. She reproached her tractable and
distressed little General with having encouraged her to walk much too
far. In future he swore to insist on the carriage, however confidently
she might assert the need of active exertion. She pointed out the fallacy
of rushing to extremes; which rather cruelly floored him, since
"rushing," in any shape or form, had conspicuously passed out of his
programme some considerable time ago.
"My wife is not at all herself," he told Marshall Wace, at breakfast next
morning--"quite overdone, I am sorry to say, and upset. I blame myself.
I must keep a tight hand on her and forbid over exertion."
With a small spoon, savagely, daringly he beat in the top of his
"I must be more watchful," he added. "Her nervous energy is deceptive. I
must refuse to let it override my better judgment and take me in."
By luncheon time, however, Henrietta was altogether herself, save for a
pretty pensiveness, and emerged with all her accustomed amiability from
this temporary eclipse.
The Fraylings occupied a small detached villa, built in the grounds of
the Hotel de la Plage--a rival and venerably senior establishment to the
Grand Hotel--situate just within the confines of St. Augustin, where the
town curves along the glistering shore to the western horn of the little
bay. At the back of it runs the historic high road from Marseilles to the
Italian frontier, passing through Cannes and Nice. Behind it, too, runs
the railway with its many tunnels, following the same, though a somewhat
less serpentine, course along the gracious coast.
To the ex-Anglo-Indian woman, society is as imperative a necessity as
water to a fish. She must foregather or life loses all its savour; must
entertain, be entertained, rub shoulders generally or she is lost.
Henrietta Frayling suffered the accustomed fate, though to speak of
rubbing shoulders in connection with her is to express oneself
incorrectly to the verge of grossness. Her shoulders were of an order far
too refined to rub or be rubbed. Nevertheless, after the shortest
interval consistent with self-respect, such society as St. Augustin and
its neighbourhood afforded found itself enmeshed in her dainty net. Mrs.
Frayling's villa became a centre, where all English-speaking persons
met. There she queened it, with her General as loyal henchman, and
Marshall Wace as a professor of drawing-room talents of most varied sort.
Discovery of the party at the Grand Hotel, took the gilt off the
gingerbread of such queenings, to a marked extent, making them look
make-shifty, lamentably second-rate and cheap. Hence Henrietta's
fretfulness in part. For with the exception of Lady Hermione
Twells--widow of a once Colonial Governor--and the Honourable Mrs.
Callowgas _nee_ de Brett, relict of a former Bishop of Harchester, they
were but scratch pack these local guests of hers. Soon, however, a scheme
of putting that discovery to use broke in on her musings. The old
friendship must, she feared, be counted dead. General Frayling's
existence, in the capacity of husband, rendered any resurrection of it
impracticable. She recognized that. Yet exhibition of its tombstone, were
such exhibition compassable, could not fail to bring her honour and
respect. She would shine by a reflected light, her glory all the greater
that the witnesses of it were themselves obscure--Lady Hermione and Mrs.
Callowgas excepted of course. Carteret's good-nature could be counted on
to bring him to the villa. And Damaris must be annexed. Assuming the role
and attitude of a vicarious motherhood, Henrietta herself could hardly
fail to gain distinction. It was a touching part--specially when played
by a childless woman only a little--yes, really only quite a little--past
Here, indeed, was a great idea, as she came to grasp the possibilities
and scope of it. As chaperon to Damaris how many desirable doors would be
open to her! Delicately Henrietta hugged herself perceiving that, other
things being equal, her own career was by no means ended yet. Through
Damaris might she not very well enter upon a fresh and effective phase of
it? How often and how ruefully had she revolved the problem of advancing
age, questioning how gracefully to confront that dreaded enemy, and