Part 7 out of 9
happiness of the beloved object they will even donate to him their
rival.--Yes--distinctly an idea! But before attempting to reduce it to
practice, she must make more sure of her ground in another direction.
During the above meditation, Henrietta continued to talk off the
surface, her mind working on two distinct planes. Damaris, off the
surface, continued to answer her.
Our maiden felt tired both in body and in spirit. She felt all "rubbed
up the wrong way"--disturbed, confused. The many moral turns and twists
of Henrietta's conversation had been difficult to follow. But from
amid the curious maze of them, one thing stood out, arrestingly
conspicuous--Henrietta believed it then also. Believed Carteret cared for
her "in _that_ way"--thus, with a turning aside of the eyes and
shrinking, she phrased it. It wasn't any mistaken, conceited imagination
of her own since Henrietta so evidently shared it. And Henrietta must be
reckoned an expert in that line, having a triad of husbands to her
credit--a liberality of allowance in matrimony which had always appeared
to Damaris as slightly excessive. She had avoided dwelling upon this so
outstanding feature of her friend's career; but that it gave assurance of
the latter's ability to pronounce upon "caring in _that_ way" was she now
Whether she really felt glad or sorry Henrietta's expert opinion
confirmed her own suspicions, Damaris could not tell. It certainly tended
to complicate the future; and for that she was sorry. She would have
liked to see the road clear before her--anyhow for a time--complications
having been over numerous lately. They were worrying. They made her feel
unsettled, unnatural. In any case she trusted she shouldn't suffer again
from those odious yet alluring feelings which put her to such shame this
morning.--But--unpleasant thought--weren't they, perhaps, an integral
part of the whole agitating business of "caring in _that_ way?"
Her eyes rested in wide meditative enquiry upon Henrietta, Henrietta
sitting up in all her finished elegance upon the faded blue sofa and so
diligently making company conversation. Somehow, thus viewing her, it
was extremely difficult to suppose Henrietta had ever experienced
excited feelings. Yet--the wonder of it!--she'd actually been married
Then, wearily, Damaris made a return upon herself. Yes--she was glad,
although it might seem ungrateful, disloyal, the man with the blue eyes
had gone away. For his going put off the necessity of knowing her own
mind, excused her from making out exactly how she regarded him, thus
relegating the day of fateful decision to a dim distance. Henrietta
accused him of being a sieve.--Damaris grew heated in strenuous denial.
That was a calumny which she didn't and wouldn't credit. Still you could
never be quite sure about men--so she went back on the old, sad,
disquieting lesson. Their way of looking at things, their angle of
admitted obligation is so bewilderingly different!--Oh! how thankful she
was Aunt Felicia would soon be here. Everything would grow simpler,
easier to understand and to manage, more as it used to be, with dear Aunt
Felicia here on the spot.
At this point she realized that Mrs. Frayling was finishing a sentence to
the beginning of which she had not paid the smallest attention. That was
"So I am to go home then, dearest child, and break it to Marshall that he
stands no chance--my poor Marshall, who has no delightful presents with
which to plead his cause!"
"Mr. Wace?--Plead his cause? What cause? I am so sorry,
Henrietta--forgive me. It's too dreadful, but I am afraid I wasn't quite
listening"--this with most engaging confusion.
"Yes--his cause. I should have supposed his state of mind had been
transparently evident for many a long day."
"But indeed--Henrietta, you must be mistaken. I don't know what you
mean"--the other interposed smitten by the liveliest distress and alarm.
The elder lady waved aside her outcry with admirable playfulness and
"Oh! I quite realize how crazy it must appear on his part, poor dear
fellow, seeing he has so little to offer from the worldly and commercial
standpoint. As he himself says--'the desire of the moth for the star, of
the night for the morrow.' Still money and position are not everything
in life, are they? Talent is an asset and so, I humbly believe, is the
pure devotion of a good man's heart. These count for something, or used
to do so when I was your age. But then the women of my generation were
educated in a less sophisticated school. You modern young persons are
wiser than we were no doubt, in that you are less romantic, less easily
touched.--I have not ventured to give Marshall much encouragement. It
would have been on my conscience to foster hopes which might be dashed.
And yet I own, darling child, your manner not once nor twice, during our
happy meetings at the Pavilion, when he read aloud to us or sang, gave me
the impression you were not entirely indifferent. He, I know, has thought
so too--for I have not been able to resist letting him pour out his hopes
and fears to me now and then. I could not refuse either him or myself
that indulgence, because"--
Mrs. Frayling rose, and, bending over our much tried and now positively
flabbergasted damsel, brushed her hair with a butterfly kiss.
"Because my own hopes were also not a little engaged," she said. "Your
manner to my poor Marshall, your willingness to let him so often be with
you made me--perhaps foolishly--believe not only that his sad life might
be crowned by a signal blessing, but you might be given to me some day as
a daughter of whom I could be intensely proud. I have grown to look upon
Marshall in the light of a son, and his wife would"--
Damaris had risen also. She stood at bay, white, strained, her lips
"Do--do you mean that I have behaved badly to Mr. Wace, Henrietta? That I
have flirted with him?"
Mrs. Frayling drew her mouth into a naughty little knot. There were
awkward corners to be negotiated in these questions. She avoided them by
boldly striking for the open.
"Oh! it is natural, perfectly natural at your rather thoughtless time of
life. Only Marshall's admiration for you is very deep. He has the poetic
temperament which makes for suffering, for despair as well as for
rapture. And his disillusionments, poor boy, have been so grievously
many.--But Colonel Carteret--yes--dearest child, I do quite follow.--It's
an old story. He has always had _des bonnes fortunes_."
Since her return to Europe, Mrs. Frayling had become much addicted to
embellishing her conversation with such foreign tags, not invariably, it
may be added, quite correctly applied or quoted.
"Women could never resist him in former days in India. They went down
before his charms like a row of ninepins before a ball. I don't deny a
passing _tendresse_ for him myself, though I was married and very happily
married. So I can well comprehend how he may take a girl's fancy by
storm. _Sans peur et sans reproche_, he must seem to her.--And so in the
main, I dare say, he is. At worst a little easy-going, owing to his
cultivation of the universally benevolent attitude. Charity has a habit
of beginning at home, you know; and a man usually views his own
delinquencies at least as leniently as he views those of others. But that
leniency is part of his charm--which I admit is great.--Heaven forbid, I
should undermine your faith in it, if there is anything settled between
you and him."
"But there isn't, there isn't," Damaris broke in, distressed beyond all
calmness of demeanour. "You go too fast, Henrietta. You assume too
much. Nothing is settled of--of that sort. Nothing of that sort has
ever been said."
Mrs. Frayling raised her eyebrows, cast down her eyes, and fingered the
bunch of trinkets hanging from her gold chain in silence for a few
seconds. The ring of sincerity was unquestionable--only where did that
land her? Had not she, in point of fact, very really gone too fast? In
defeat Henrietta became unscrupulous.
"Merely another flirtation, Damaris?" she said. "Darling child, I am just
a wee bit disappointed in you."
Which, among her many fibs, may rank amongst her most impudent and
full-fed, though by no means her last.
Here, the door opened behind her. Henrietta turned alertly, hailing any
interruption which--her bolt being shot--might facilitate her retreat
from a now most embarrassing situation. After all she had planted more
than one seed, which might fruitfully grow, so at that she could leave
matters.--The interruption, however, took a form for which she was
unprepared. To her intense disgust her nerves played her false. She gave
the oddest little stifled squeak as she met Charles Verity's glance,
fixed upon her in cool, slightly ironic scrutiny.
Some persons very sensibly bring their mental atmosphere along with them.
You are compelled to breathe it whether you like or not. The atmosphere
Charles Verity brought with him, at this juncture, was too masculine,
intellectually too abstract yet too keenly critical, for comfortable
absorption by Henrietta's lungs. Her self-complacency shrivelled in it.
She felt but a mean and pitiful creature, especially in her recent
treatment of Damaris. It was a nasty moment, the more difficult to
surmount because of that wretchedly betraying squeak. Fury against
herself gingered her up to action. She must be the first to speak.
"Ah! how delightful to see you," she said, a little over-playing the
part--"though only for an instant. I was in the act of bidding Damaris
farewell. As it is I have scandalously outstayed my leave; but we had a
thousand and one things, hadn't we, to say to one another."
She smiled upon both father and daughter with graceful deprecation.
"_Au, revoir_, darling child--we must manage to meet somehow, just once
more before I take my family north"--
And still talking, new lavender dress, trinkets, faint fragrance and all,
she passed out on to the corridor accompanied by Sir Charles Verity.
WHICH RECOUNTS A TAKING OF SANCTUARY
Left alone Damaris sat down on the window-seat, within the shelter of the
wooden shutters which interposed a green barred coolness between her and
the brilliant world without. That those two, her father and Henrietta
Frayling, should thus step off together, the small, softly crisp,
feminine figure beside the tall, fine-drawn and--in a way--magnificent
masculine one, troubled her. Yet she made no attempt to accompany or to
follow them. Her head ached. Her mind and soul ached too. She felt spent
and giddy, as from chasing round and round in an ever-shifting circle
some tormenting, cleverly lovely thing which perpetually eluded her.
Which thing, finally, floated out of the door there, drawing a
personage unmeasurably its superior, away with it, and leaving
Leaving, moreover, every subject on which its nimble tongue had lighted,
damaged by that contact--at loose ends, frayed and ravelled, its inwove
pattern just slightly discoloured and defaced. The patterned fabric of
Damaris' thought and inner life had not been spared, but suffered
disfigurement along with the rest. She felt humiliated, felt unworthy.
The ingenious torments of a false conscience gnawed her. Her better
judgment pronounced that conscience veritably false; or would, as she
believed, so pronounce later when she had time to get a true perspective.
But, just now, she could only lamentably, childishly, cry out against
injustice. For wasn't Henrietta mainly responsible for the character of
her intercourse with Marshall Wace? Hadn't Henrietta repeatedly entreated
her to see much of him, be kind to him?--Wishing, even in her present
rebellion to be quite fair, she acknowledged that she had enjoyed his
singing and reading; that she had felt pleased at his eagerness to
confide his troubles to her and talk confidentially about himself. She
not unwillingly accepted a mission towards him, stimulated thereto by
Henrietta's plaudits and thanks.
And--and Colonel Carteret? For now somehow she no longer, even in
thought, could call him by her old name for him, "the dear man with the
blue eyes."--Could it be true, as Henrietta intimated, that he went
through life throwing the handkerchief first to one woman and then to
another? That there was no real constancy or security in his affections,
but all was lightly come and lightly go with him?
How her poor head ached! She held it in both hands and closed her
eyes.--She would not think any more about Colonel Carteret. To do so made
her temples throb and raised the lump, which is a precursor of tears, in
No--she couldn't follow Henrietta's statements and arguments either way.
They were self-contradictory. Still, whose ever the fault, that the young
man Wace should be unhappy on her account, should think she--Damaris--had
behaved heartlessly to him, was quite dreadful. Humiliating too--false
conscience again gnawing. Had she really contracted a debt towards him,
which she--in his opinion and Henrietta's--tried to repudiate? She seemed
to hear it, the rich impassioned voice, and hear it with a new
comprehension. Was "caring in _that_ way" what it had striven to tell
her; and had she, incomparably dense in missing its meaning, appeared to
sanction the message and to draw him on? Other people understood--so at
least Henrietta implied; while she, remaining deaf, had rather cruelly
misled him. Ought she not to do something to make up? Yet what could she
do?--It had never occurred to her that--that--
She held her head tight. Held it on, as with piteous humour she told
herself, since she seemed in high danger of altogether losing it.--Must
she believe herself inordinately stupid, or was she made differently to
everybody else? For, as she now suspected, most people are constantly
occupied, are quite immensely busy about "caring in _that_ way." And she
shrank from it; actively and angrily disliked it. She felt smirched, felt
all dealings as between men and women made suspect, rendered ugly, almost
degraded by the fact--if fact it was--of that kind of caring and excited
feelings it induces, lurking just below the surface, ready to dart
out.--And this not quite honestly either. The whole matter savoured of
hypocrisy, since the feelings disguised themselves in beautiful sounds,
beautiful words, clothing their unseemliness with the noble panoply of
poetry and art, masquerading in wholesome garments of innocent
--A grind of wheels on the gravel below. Henrietta's neat limpid accents
and Charles Verity's grave ones. The flourish and crack of a whip and
scrambling start of the little chestnut horses. The rhythmical beat of
their quick even trot and thin tinkle of their collar bells receding into
These sounds to our sorrowfully perplexed maiden opened fresh fields of
uneasy speculation. For those diverse accents--the speakers being
unseen--heard thus in conjunction, seized on and laboured her
imagination. Throughout the past months of frequent meeting, Damaris had
never quite understood her father's attitude towards Henrietta Frayling.
It was marked by reserve; yet a reserve based, as she somehow divined,
upon an uncommon degree of former intimacy. Judging from remarks let drop
now and again by Henrietta, they knew, or rather had known, one another
very well indeed. This bore out Damaris' own childhood's recollections;
though in these last she was aware of lacunae, of gaps, of spaces
unbridged by any coherent sequence of remembered events. A dazzling and
delicious image, the idol of her baby adoration--thus did memory paint
that earlier Henrietta. Surrounding circumstances remained shadowy. She
could not recall them even in respect of herself, still less in respect
of her father. So that question, as to the past, ruled the present. What
had parted them, and how did they to-day envisage one another? She could
not make out. Had never, indeed, attempted seriously to make out, shying
from such investigation as disloyal and, in a way, irreverent. Now
investigation was forced on her. Her mind worked independent of her will,
so that she could neither prevent or arrest it. Sir Charles showed
himself scrupulously attentive and courteous to General Frayling. He
offered no spoken objection to her association with Henrietta. Yet an
unexplained element did remain. Subtlely, but perceptibly, it permeated
both her father's and Henrietta's speech and bearing. She, Damaris, was
always conscious of a certain constraint beneath their calm and
apparently easy talk. Was their relation one of friendship or of covert
enmity?--Or did these, just perceptible, peculiarities of it betoken
something deeper and closer still?
Suspicion once kindled spreads like a conflagration.--Damaris' hands
dropped, a dead weight, into her lap. She sat, strained yet inert, as
though listening to catch the inner significance of her own unformulated
question, her eyes wide and troubled, her lips apart. For might it not be
that they had once--long ago--in the princely, Eastern pleasure palace of
her childhood--cared in _that_ way?
Then the tears which, what with tiredness and the labour pains of her
many conflicting emotions, had threatened more than once to-day, came
into their own. She wept quietly, noiselessly, the tears running down her
cheeks unchecked and unheeded. For there was no escape. Turn where she
would, join hands with whom she would in all good faith and innocence,
this thing reared its head and, evilly alluring looked at her. Now it set
its claim upon her well-beloved Sultan-i-bagh--and what scene could in
truth be more sympathetic to its display? She felt the breath of high
romance. Imagination played strange tricks with her. She could feel, she
could picture, a drama of rare quality with those two figures as
protagonists. It dazzled while wounding her. She remembered Faircloth's
words, spoken on that evening of fateful disclosure when knowledge of
things as they are first raped her happy ignorance, while the boat
drifted through the shrouding darkness of rain upon the inky waters of
the tide-river.--"They were young," he had said, "and mayn't we allow
they were beautiful? They met and, God help them, they loved."
The statement covered this case, also, to a nicety. It explained
everything. But what an explanation, leaving her, Damaris, doubly
orphaned and desolate! For the first case, that of which Faircloth
actually had spoken, brought her royal, if secret compensation in the
brotherhood and sisterhood it made known. But this second case brought
nothing, save a sense of being tricked and defrauded, the victim of a
conspiracy of silence. For nothing, as it now appeared, was really her
own, nor had really belonged to her. "Some one," so she phrased it in the
incoherence of her pain, "had always been there before her." What she
supposed her exclusive property was only second-hand, had been already
owned by others. They let her play at being first in the field, original
and sole proprietress, because it saved them trouble by keeping her quiet
and amused. But all the while they knew better and must have smiled at
her possessive antics once her silly back was turned. And here Damaris
lost sight of reasonable proportion and measure, exaggerating wildly, her
pride and self-respect cut to the quick.
It was thus, in the full flood of mystification and resentment, Charles
Verity found her when presently he returned. Sensible of something very
much amiss, since she stayed within the shadow of the closed shutters,
silent and motionless, he crossed the room and stood before her looking
down searchingly into her upturned face. Stubborn in her misery, she met
his glance with mutinous, and hard, if misty, eyes.
"Weeping, my dear? Is the occasion worth it? Has Mrs. Frayling then
taken so profound a hold?" he asked, his tone mocking, chiding her yet
Damaris hedged. To expose the root of her trouble became impossible under
the coercion of that gently bantering tone.
"It's not Henrietta's going; but that I no longer mind her going."
"A lost illusion--yes?" he said.
"I can't trust her. She--she isn't kind."
"Eh?" he said. "So you too have made that illuminating little discovery.
I supposed it would be only a matter of time. But you read character, my
dear, more quickly than I do. What it has taken you months to discover,
took me years."
His frankness, the unqualified directness of his response, though
startling, stimulated her daring.
"Then--then you don't really like Henrietta?" she found audacity
enough to say.
"Ah! there you rush too headlong to conclusions," he reasoned, still with
that same frankness of tone. "She is an ingenious, unique creature,
towards whom one's sentiments are ingenious and unique in their turn. I
admire her, although--for you are right there--she is neither invariably
trustworthy nor invariably kind. Admire her ungrudgingly, now I no longer
ask of her what she hasn't it in her to give. Limit your demand and you
limit the risks of disappointment--a piece of wisdom easier to enunciate
than to apply."
Lean, graceful, commanding under the cloak of his present gentle humour,
Charles Verity sat down on the faded red cushion beside Damaris, and laid
one arm along the window-ledge behind her. He did not touch her; being
careful in the matter of caresses, reverent of her person, chary of
claiming parental privileges unasked.
"In the making of Henrietta Frayling," he went on, "by some accident soul
was left out. She hasn't any. She does not know it. Let us hope she never
will know it, for it is too late now for the omission to be rectified."
"Are you laughing at me?" Damaris asked, still stubborn, though his
presence enclosed her with an at once assuaging and authoritative charm.
"Not in the least. I speak that which I soberly believe. Just as some
ill-starred human creatures are born physically or mentally
defective--deformed or idiots--so may they be born spiritually
defective. Why not? My reason offers no scientific or moral objection to
such a belief. In other respects she is conspicuously perfect. But,
verily, she has no soul; and the qualities which--for happiness or
misery--draw their life from the soul, she does not possess. Therefore
she sparkles, lovely and chill as frost. Is as astute as she is cold at
heart; and can, when it suits her purpose, be both false and cruel
without any subsequent prickings of remorse. But this very coldness and
astuteness save her from misdeeds of the coarser kind. Treacherous she
has been, and, for aught I know, may on occasions still be. But, though
temptation has pretty freely crossed her path, she has never been other
than virtuous. She is a good woman--in the accepted, the popular sense of
Silence stole down upon the room. Damaris remained motionless, leaning
forward gathered close into herself, her hands still heavy in her lap.
Could she accept this statement as comfort, or must she bow under it
"Why," she asked at last huskily--the tears were no longer upon her
cheeks but queerly in her throat, impeding utterance, "do you tell me
"To prevent you beholding lying visions, my dear, or dreaming lying
dreams of what might very well have been but--God be thanked--never has
been--never was.--Think a minute--remember--look."
And once more Damaris felt the breath of high romance and touched drama
of rare quality, with those same two figures as protagonists, and that
same Indian pleasure palace as their stage; but this time with a notable
difference of sentiment and of result.
For she visualized another going of Henrietta, a flight before the dawn.
Saw, through a thick scent-drenched atmosphere, between the expiring
lamp-light and broadening day, a deserted child beating its little hands,
in the extremity of its impotent anguish, upon the pillows of a
disordered unmade bed. Saw a man, too, worn and travel-stained from long
riding throughout the night, lost to all decent dignities of
self-control, savage with the animalism of frustrated passion, rage to
and fro amidst the litter of a smart woman's hurried packing, a trail of
pale blue ribbon plucking at and tripping him entangled in the rowels of
All this she saw; and knew that her father--sitting on the cushioned
window-seat beside her, his legs crossed, his chin sunk on his
breast--saw it also. That he, indeed, voluntarily and of set purpose made
her see, transferring the living picture from his consciousness to her
own. And, as she watched, each detail growing in poignancy and
significance she--not all at once, but gropingly, rebelliously and only
by degrees--comprehended that purpose, and the abounding love, both of
herself and of justice, which dictated it. Divining the root of her
trouble and the nature of her suspicion he took this strange means to
dissipate them. Setting aside his natural pride, he caused her to look
upon his hour of defeat and debasement, careless of himself if thereby he
might mend her hurt and win her peace of mind.
Damaris was conquered. Her stubbornness went down before his sacrifice.
All the generosity in her leapt forth to meet and to acclaim the signal
generosity in him--a generosity extended not only towards herself but to
Henrietta Frayling as well. This last Damaris recognized as superb.--He
bade her remember. And, seeing in part through her own eyes, in part
through his, she penetrated more deeply into his mind, into the rich
diversity and, now mastered, violence of his character, than could
otherwise have been possible. She learnt him from within as well as from
without. He had been terrible--so she remembered--yet beautiful in his
fallen god-head. She had greatly feared him under that aspect. Later, she
more than ever loved him; and that with a provenant, protective and, baby
though she was, a mothering love. He was beautiful now; but no longer
terrible, no longer fallen--if not the god-head, yet the fine flower of
his manhood royally and very sweetly disclosed. Her whole being yearned
towards him; but humbly, a note of lowliness in her appreciation, as
towards something exalted, far above her in experience, in
self-knowledge and self-discipline.
She was, indeed, somewhat overwhelmed, both by realization of his
distinction and of her own presumption in judging him, to the point of
being unable as yet to look him in the face. So she silently laid hold of
his hand, drew it down from the window-ledge and round her waist.
Slipping along the cushioned seat until she rested against him, she laid
her head back upon his shoulder. Testimony in words seemed superfluous
after that shared consciousness, seemed impertinent even, an anti-climax
from which both taste and insight recoiled.
For a while Charles Verity let the silent communion continue. Then, lest
it should grow enervating, to either or to both, he spoke of ordinary
subjects--of poor little General Frayling's illness, of Miss Felicia's
plans, of his own book. It was wiser for her, better also for himself, to
step back into the normal thus quietly closing the door upon their dual
act of retrospective clairvoyance.
Damaris, catching his intention, responded; and if rather languidly yet
loyally played up. But, before the spell was wholly broken and frankness
gave place to their habitual reserve, there was one further question she
must ask if the gnawings of that false conscience, begotten in her by
Henrietta's strictures, were wholly to cease.
"Do you mind if we go back just a little minute," she said.
"Still unsatisfied, my dear?"
"Not unsatisfied--never again that as between us two, Commissioner Sahib.
You have made everything beautifully, everlastingly smooth and clear."
"Then why tempt Providence, or rather human incertitude, by going back?"
"Because--can I say it quite plainly?"
"As plainly as you will."
"Because Henrietta tells me I have--have flirted--have played fast and
loose with--with more than one person."
A pause, and the question came from above her--her head still lying
against his breast--with a trace of severity, or was it anxiety?
"And have you?"
"Not intentionally--not knowingly," Damaris said.
"If that is so, is it not sufficient?"
"No--because she implies that I have raised false hopes, and so entangled
myself--and that I ought to go further, that, as I understand her, I
ought to be ready to marry--that it is not quite honourable to withdraw."
Charles Verity moved slightly, yet held her close. She felt the rise and
fall of his ribs as he breathed slow and deep.
"Do you want to marry?" he at last asked her.
"No," she said, simply. "I'd much rather not, if I can keep out of it
without acting unfairly by anyone--if you don't agree with Henrietta, and
don't think I need. You don't want me to marry do you?"
"God in heaven, no," Charles Verity answered. He put her from him, rose
and moved about the room.
"To me, the thought of giving you in marriage to any man is little short
of abhorrent," he said hoarsely.
For fear clutched him by the throat. The gift of pearls, the little scene
of last night, and Damaris' emotion in bidding Carteret farewell,
confronted him. The idea had never occurred to him before. Now it glared
at him, or rather he glared at it. It would be torment to say "yes"; and
yet very difficult to say his best friend "nay." Anger kindled against
Henrietta Frayling. Must this be regarded as her handiwork? Yet he could
hardly credit it. Or had she some other candidate--Peregrine Ditton,
young Harry Ellice?--But they were mere boys.--Of Marshall Wace he never
thought, the young man being altogether outside his field of vision in
Long habit of personal chastity made Charles Verity turn, with a greater
stabbing and rending of repulsion, from the thought of marriage for
Damaris. She asserted she had no wish to marry, that she--bless her sweet
simplicity!--would rather not. But this bare broaching of the subject
threw him into so strange a tumult that, only too evidently, he was no
competent observer, he laboured under too violent a prejudice. He had no
right to demand from others the abstinence he chose himself to practise.
Carteret, in desiring her, was within his rights. Damaris within hers,
were she moved by his suit. Marriage is natural, wholesome, the
God-ordained law and sanction of human increase since man first drew
breath here upon earth. To condemn obedience to that law, by placing any
parental embargo upon Damaris' marriage, would be both a defiance of
nature and act of grossest selfishness.
He sat down on the window-seat again; and forced himself to put his arm
around that fair maiden body, destined to be the prize, one day, of some
man's love; the prey--for he disdained to mince matters, turning the
knife in the wound rather--the prey of some man's lust. He schooled
himself, while Damaris' heart beat a little tempestuously under his hand,
to invite a conclusion which through every nerve and fibre he loathed.
"My dear," he said, "I spoke unadvisedly with my lips just now, letting
crude male jealousy get the mastery of reason and common sense. Put my
words out of your mind. They were unjustifiable, spoken in foolish heat.
If you are in love with anyone"--
Damaris nestled against him.
"Only with you, dearest, I think," she said.
Charles Verity hesitated, unable to speak through the exquisite blow she
delivered and his swift thankfulness.
"Let us put the question differently then--translating it into the
language of ordinary social convention. Tell me, has anyone
proposed to you?"
Damaris, still nestling, shook her head.
"No--no one. And I hope now, no one will. I escaped that, partly thanks
to my own denseness.--It is not an easy thing, Commissioner Sahib, to
explain or talk about. But I have come rather close to it lately,
and"--with a hint of vehemence--"I don't like it. There is something in
it which pulls at me but not at the best part of me. So that I am divided
against myself. Though it does pull, I still want to push it all away
with both hands. I don't understand myself and I don't understand it, I
would rather be without it--forget it--if you think I am free to do so,
if you are satisfied that I haven't intentionally hurt anyone or
contracted a--a kind of debt of honour?"
"I am altogether satisfied," he said. "Until the strange and ancient
malady attacks you in a very much more virulent form, you are free to
cast Henrietta Frayling's insinuations to the winds, to ignore them and
THROUGH SHADOWS TOWARDS THE DAWN
WHICH CARRIES OVER A TALE OF YEARS, AND CARRIES ON
The last sentence was written. His work finished. And, looking upon his
completed creation, Charles Verity saw that it was good. Yet, as he put
the pen back in the pen-tray and, laying the last page of manuscript face
downwards upon the blotting-paper passed his hand over it, he was less
sensible of exultation than of a pathetic emptiness. The book had come to
be so much part of him that he felt a nasty wrench when he thus finally
rid himself of it.
He had kept the personal pronoun out of it, strictly and austerely,
desiring neither self-glorification nor self-advertisement. Yet his mind
and attitude towards life seasoned and tempered the whole, giving it
vitality and force. This was neither a "drum-and-trumpet history"
designed to tickle the vulgar ear, nor a blank four-wall depository of
dry facts, names, dates, statistics, such as pedants mustily adore; but a
living thing, seen and felt. Not his subconscious, but that much finer
and--as one trusts--more permanent element in our human constitution, his
super-conscious self found expression in its pages and travelled freely,
fruitfully, through them amid luminous and masterful ideas. At times the
intellectual sweep threatened to be overdaring and overwide; so that, in
the interests of symmetry and balance of construction, he had been forced
to clip the wings of thought, lest they should bear him to regions too
remotely high and rare. Race, religion, customs and the modifications of
these, both by climate and physical conformation of the land on the face
of which they operate, went to swell the interest and suggestion of his
theme. In handling such varied and coloured material the intellectual
exercise had been to him delicious, as he fashioned and put a fine edge
to passages of admirable prose, coined the just yet startling epithet,
perfected the flow of some graceful period, and ransacked the English
language for fearless words in which to portray the mingled splendour and
vileness of a barbaric oriental Court, the naked terrors of tribal feuds
and internecine war.
The occupation had, indeed, proved at once so refreshing and so absorbing
that he went leisurely, lengthening out the process of production until
it came nearer covering the thirty months of elephantine gestation than
the normal human nine.
With but two brief sojourns to England, for the consultation of certain
authorities and of his publishers, the said near on thirty months were
passed in wandering through Southern France, Central Italy, and, taking
ship from Naples to Malaga, finally through Eastern and Northern Spain.
Charles Verity was too practised a campaigner for his power of
concentration to depend on the stability or familiarity of his
surroundings. He could detach himself, go out into and be alone with his
work, at will. But the last chapter, like the first, he elected to write
in the study at The Hard. A pious offering of incense, this, to the
pleasant memory of that excellent scholar and devoted amateur of letters,
his great-uncle, Thomas Clarkson Verity, whose society and conversation
awakened the literary sense in him as a schoolboy, on holiday from
Harchester, now nearly five decades ago. He judged it a matter of good
omen, moreover,--toying for the moment with kindly superstition--that the
book should issue from a house redeemed by his kinsman from base and
brutal uses and dedicated to the worship of knowledge and of the printed
word. That fat, soft-bodied, mercurial-minded little gentleman--to whom
no record of human endeavour, of human speculation, mental or moral
experiment, came amiss--would surely relish the compliment, if his
curious and genial ghost still, in any sort, had cognizance of this, his
The Hard, just now, showed a remarkably engaging countenance, the year
standing on the threshold of May.--Mild softly bright weather made amends
for a wet and windy April, with sunshine and high forget-me-not blue
skies shading to silver along the sea-line. The flower-beds, before the
garden house-front, were crowded with early tulips, scarlet, golden, and
shell-pink. Shrubberies glowed with rhododendrons, flamed with azaleas.
At the corner of the battery and sea-wall, misty grey-green plumes of
tamarisk veiled the tender background of grey-blue water and yellow-grey
sand. Birds peopled the scene. Gulls, in strong fierce flight, laughed
overhead. Swallows darted back and forth, ceaselessly twittering, as they
built their cup-shaped mud nests beneath the eaves. Upon the lawn
companies of starlings ran, flapping glossy wings, squealing, whistling;
to the annoyance of a song thrush, in spotted waistcoat and neatly
fitting brown _surtout_, who, now tall, now flattened to the level of the
turf, its head turned sideways, peered and listened, locating the
presence of the victim worm.--Three or four vigorous pecks--the starlings
running elsewhere--to loosen the surrounding soil, and the moist pink
living string was steadily, mercilessly, drawn upward into the
uncompromising light of day, to be devoured wriggling, bit by bit, with
most unlovely gusto.--The chaff-chaff sharpened his tiny saw tipping
about the branches of the fir trees in the Wilderness, along with the
linnets, tits, and gold-finches.
Such, out of doors, was the home world which received Damaris after those
many months of continental travel, on the eve of her twenty-first
birthday. To pass from the dynamic to the static mode must be always
something of an embarrassment and trial, especially to the young with
whom sensation is almost disconcertingly direct and lively. Damaris
suffered the change of conditions not without a measure or doubt and
wonder. For they made demands to which she had become unaccustomed, and
to which she found it difficult to submit quite naturally and simply. A
whole social and domestic order, bristling with petty obligations, closed
down upon her, within the bounds of which she felt to move awkwardly, at
first, conscious of constraint.
Sympathetic Mrs. Cooper, comely and comfortable Mary, and the Napoleonic
Patch, still reigned in house and stable. Laura had returned to her
former allegiance on the announcement of "the family's" arrival, and
other underlings had been engaged by the upper servants in conclave. To
these latter entered that Ulysses, Mr. Hordle, so rendering the
establishment once again complete.
The neighbours duly called--Dr. and Mrs. Horniblow, conscious of notable
preferment, since high ecclesiastical powers had seen fit to present the
former to a vacant canonry at Harchester. For three months yearly he
would in future be resident in the cathedral city. This would necessitate
the employment of a curate at Deadham, for the spiritual life of its
inhabitants must by no means suffer through its vicar's promotion. At the
moment of Sir Charles and Damaris' return the curate excitement was at
its height. It swept through the spinster-ranks of the congregation like
an epidemic. They thrilled with unacknowledgeable hopes. The Miss
Minetts, though mature, grew pink and quivered, confessing themselves not
averse to offering board and lodging to a suitable, a well-connected,
well-conducted paying guest. To outpourings on the enthralling subject of
the curate, Damaris found herself condemned to listen from every feminine
visitor in turn. It held the floor, to the exclusion of all other topics.
Her own long absence, long journeys, let alone the affairs of the world
at large, were of no moment to these very local souls. So our young lady
retired within herself, deploring the existence of curates in general,
and the projected, individual, Deadham curate in particular, with a
heartiness she was destined later to remember. Had it been
prophetic?--Not impossibly so, granted the somewhat strange prescience by
which she was, at times, possessed.
For the psychic quality that, from a child, now and again had manifested
itself in her--though happily unattended by morbid or hysteric
tendencies, thanks to her radiant health--grew with her growth. To her,
in certain moods and under certain conditions, the barrier between things
seen and unseen, material and transcendental, was pervious. It yielded
before the push of her apprehension, sense of what it guards, what it
withholds within an ace of breaking through.
Affairs of the heart would, so far, seem to have begun and ended with the
winter spent at St. Augustin. Now and again Damaris met an Englishman, or
foreigner, who stirred her slightly. But if one accident of travel
brought them together, another accident of travel speedily swept them
apart. The impression was fugitive, superficial, fading out and causing
but momentary regret. Colonel Carteret she only saw in London, during
those two brief visits to England. He had been captivating, treating her
with playful indulgence, teasing a little; but far away, somehow--so she
felt him--though infinitely kind. And the dear man with the blue
eyes--for she could use her old name for him again now, though she
couldn't quite tell why--looked older. The sentimental passage at St.
Augustin assumed improbability--a fact over which she should, in all
reason, have rejoiced, yet over which she, in point of fact when safe
from observation, just a little wept.
From Henrietta some few letters reached her. One of them contained the
news that Marshall Wace, surmounting his religious doubts and
scruples--by precisely what process remained undeclared--had at last
taken Holy Orders. Concerning this joyful consummation Henrietta waxed
positively unctuous. "He had gone through so much"--the old cry!--to
which now was added conviction that his own trials fitted him to minister
the more successfully to his brethren among the sorely tried.
"His preaching will, I feel certain, be quite extraordinarily original
and sympathetic--full of poetry. And I need hardly tell you what an
immense relief it is both to the General and to myself to feel he is
settled in life, and that his future is provided for--though not,
alas! in the way I fondly hoped, and which--for his happiness' sake
and my own--I should have chosen," she insidiously and even rather
But, if in respect of the affections our maiden, during these two years,
made no special progress and gained no further experimental knowledge of
the perilous workings of sex, her advance in other departments was ample.
For faith now called to her with no uncertain note. The great spiritual
forces laid hold of her intelligence and imagination, drawing, moulding,
enlightening her. In the library of a somewhat grim hotel at Avila, in
old Castile, she lighted upon an English translation of the life of St.
Theresa--that woman of countless practical activities, seer and sybil,
mystic and wit. The amazing biography set her within the magic circle of
Christian feminine beatitude; and opened before her gaze mighty
perspectives of spiritual increase, leading upward through unnumbered
ranks of prophets, martyrs, saints, angelic powers, to the feet of the
Virgin Mother, with the Divine Child on her arm.--He, this last, as
gateway, intermediary, between the human soul and the mystery of God
Almighty, by whom, and in whom, all things visible and invisible subsist.
For the first time some dim and halting perception, some faintest hint
and echo, reached Damaris of the awful majesty, the awful beauty of the
fount of Universal Being; and, caught with a great trembling, she
This culminating perception, in terms of time, amounted to no more than a
single flash, the fraction of an instant's contact. An hour or so later,
being very young and very human, the things of everyday resumed their
sway. A new dress engaged her fancy, a railway journey through--to
her--untrodden country excited her, a picturesque street scene held her
delighted interest. Nevertheless that had taken place within her--call it
conversion, evocation, the spiritual receiving of sight, as you
please--upon which, for those who have once experienced it, there is no
going back while life and reason last. Obscured, overlaid, buried beneath
the dust of the trivial and immediate, the mark of revelation upon the
forehead and the heart can never be obliterated quite. Its resurrection
is not only possible but certain, if not on the near side, then surely on
the farther side of death.
And not only did faith thus call her, at this period, but art, in its
many forms, called her likewise. The two, indeed, according to her
present understanding of them, moved--though at different levels--side by
side, singularly conjoined, art translating faith into terms of sound,
form and colour, faith consecrating and supplementing art. All of which,
as she pondered, appeared to her only fitting and reasonable--the object
of art being to capture beauty and touch reality, the substance of faith
being nothing less than beauty and reality absolute.
With Sir Charles sometimes, but more often with her aunt, Miss
Felicia--most enthusiastic, diligent and ingenuous of sightseers--she
visited buildings of historic interest, galleries of statuary and of
pictures. For here, too, in architecture, in marble god or hero, upon
painted panel or canvas, she caught, at moments, some flickering shadow
of the everlasting light, touched at moments both by its abiding terror
and the ecstasy of its everlasting youth. But this appreciation of the
height and grandeur of man's endeavour was new in her. To Nature she had
from childhood, been curiously near. She sought expression and
confirmation of it with silent ardour, her mind aflame with the joy of
recognition. And, as daily, hourly background to these her many
experiments and excursions, was the stable interest of her father's book.
For in the pages of that, too, she caught sight of beauty and reality of
no mean order, held nobly to ransom through the medium of words.
And while this high humour still possessed her, alive at every point,
her thoughts--often by day, still oftener in dreams or wakeful
intervals by night--rapt away beyond the stars, she was called upon, as
already noted, to pass abruptly from the dynamic to the static mode.
Called on to embrace domestic duties, and meet local social
obligations, including polite endurance of long-drawn disquisitions
regarding Canon Horniblow's impending curate. The drop proved
disconcerting, or would have eminently done so had not another
element--disquieting yet very dear--come into play.
Meantime the change from the stimulating continental atmosphere to the
particularly soft and humid, not to say stagnant, English one, acted as a
drop too. She drooped during the process of acclimatization. The fetid
sweet reek off the mud-flats of the Haven oppressed and strangely pursued
her, so that she asked for the horses to take her to the freshness of the
high lying inland moors, for a boat to carry her across the tide-river to
the less confined air and outlook of the Bar. Sight and sense of the
black wooden houses, upon the forbidden island, hanging like disreputable
boon companions about the grey stone-built inn, oppressed and strangely
pursued her too. She could see them from her bedroom between the red
trunks of the bird-haunted Scotch firs in the Wilderness. First thing, on
clear mornings, the sunlight glittered on the glass of their small
windows. Last thing, at night, the dim glow of lamp-light showed through
open doorway, or flimsy curtain from within. They stood alone, but
curiously united and self-sufficing, upon the treeless inhospitable piece
of land, ringed by the rivers, the great whispering reed-beds and the
tide. Their life was strangely apart from, defiant of, that of the
mainland and the village. It yielded obedience to traditions and customs
of an earlier, wilder age; and in so much was sinister, a little
frightening. Yet out of precisely this rather primitive and archaic
environment came Darcy Faircloth, her half-brother, the human being
closest to her by every tie of blood and sentiment in the world save
one--the father of them both. The situation was startling, alike in its
incongruities and in its claims.
During those two years of continental wandering--following upon her
meeting with him at Marseilles--the whole sweet and perplexing matter of
Faircloth had fallen more or less into line, taking on a measure of
simplicity and of ease. She thought of him with freedom, wrote to him
when he could advise her of his next port of call.--To him at Deadham, by
his request, he being very careful for her, she never wrote.--And
therefore, all the more perhaps, being here at Deadham, his home and all
the suggestive accessories of it so constantly before her eyes, did her
relation to him suffer a painful transformation. In remembrance she had
come to picture him on board his ship, governing his little floating
kingdom with no feeble or hesitating sway. But here every impeding fact
of class and education, every worldly obstacle to his and her
intercourse, above all the hidden scandal of his birth sprang into high
relief. All the dividing, alienating influences of his antecedents, his
social position and her own, swung in upon her with aggravated intensity
Away, she felt sweetly secure of him. Sure his and her bond remained
inviolate. Sure his affection never wavered or paled, but stood always at
the flood, a constant quantity upon which she could draw at need; or--to
change the metaphor--a steady foundation upon which her heart could
safely build. He would not, could not, ever fail her. This had been
sufficient to stay her longing for sight and speech of him, her longing
for his bodily presence. But now, in face of the very concrete facts of
the island, the inn, which bore his name and where his mother lived and
ruled, of the property he owned, the place and people to which--by half
at least of his nature and much more than half his memory--he belonged,
the comfort of this spiritual esoteric relation became but a meagre
evasive thing. It was too unsubstantial. Doubts and fears encircled it.
She grew heart-sick for some fresh testimony, some clear immediate
assurance that time and absence had not staled or undermined the romance.
If only she could speak of it! But that was forbidden by every obligation
of filial piety. Never had her relation to her father been more tender,
more happy; yet only through sudden pressure of outward circumstance
could she speak to him of Faircloth. To do so, without serious necessity,
would be, as she saw it, a wanton endangering of his peace.--If only the
dear man with the blue eyes hadn't removed himself! She had counted upon
his permanent support and counsel, on his smoothing away difficulties
from the path of her dealings with Faircloth; but he appeared to have
given her altogether the go-by, to have passed altogether out of her
orbit. And meditating, in the softly bright May weather beneath those
high forget-me-not blue skies, upon his defection, our maiden felt quite
desperately experienced and grown up, thrown back upon her own resources,
thrown in upon her rather solitary life.
Throughout the summer visitors came and went; but never those two desired
figures, Faircloth or Carteret. Dr. McCabe, vociferous in welcome,
affectionate, whimsical and choleric, trundled over from Stourmouth on a
bicycle of phenomenal height.
"On the horse without wheels I'm proficient enough," he declared. "Know
the anatomy of the darlin' beast as well as I do my own, inside and out.
But, be dashed, if the wheels without the horse aren't beyond me quite.
Lord love you, but the skittish animal's given me some ugly knocks, cast
me away, it has, in the wayside ditch, covering me soul with burning
shame, and me jacket with malodorous mud."
At intervals Aunt Harriet Cowden and Uncle Augustus drove over in state
the twelve miles from Paulton Lacy--the lady faithful to garments dyed,
according to young Tom Verity, in the horrid hues of violet ink. She
expressed her opinions with ruthless frankness, criticized, domineered,
put all and sundry in--what she deemed--"their place"; and departed for
the big house on the confines of Arnewood Forest again, to, had she but
known it, a chorus of sighings of relief from those she left behind her
and on whose emotional and intellectual tastes and toes she so
Garden parties, tennis tournaments, the Napworth cricket week, claimed
Damaris' attendance in turn, along with agreeable display of her foreign
spoils in the matter of Paris hats and frocks. Proofs arrived in big
envelopes perpetually by post; first in the long, wide-margined galley
form, later in the more dignified one of quire and numbered page. The
crude, sour smell of damp paper and fresh printer's ink, for the first
time assailed our maiden's nostrils. It wasn't nice; yet she sniffed it
with a quaint sense of pleasure. For was it not part of the whole
wonderful, beautiful business of the making of books? To the artist the
meanest materials of his art have a sacredness not to be denied or
ignored. They go to forward the birth of the precious whole, and hence
are redeemed, for him, from all charge of common or uncleanness.
Finally Miss Felicia, arriving in mid-June, paid an unending visit, of
which Damaris felt no impatience. Miss Felicia during the last two years
had, indeed, become a habit. The major affairs of life it might be both
useless and unwise to submit to her judgment. She lost her way in them,
fluttering ineffectual, gently hurried and bird-like. But, in life's
minor affairs, her innocent enthusiasm was invaluable as an encouraging
asset. It lent point and interest to happenings and occupations otherwise
trivial or monotonous. If silly at times, she never was
stupid--distinction of meaning and moment.--A blameless creature,
incapable of thinking, still more of speaking, evil of the worst or
weakest, her inherent goodness washed about you like sun-warmed water, if
sterile yet translucently pure.
And so the months accumulated. The clear colours of spring ripened to the
hotter gamut of mid-summer, to an August splendour of ripening harvest in
field, orchard and hedgerow, and thence to the purple, russet and gold of
autumn. The birds, their nesting finished, ceased from song, as the
active care of hungry fledglings grew on them. The swallows had gathered
for their southern flight, and the water-fowl returned from their
northern immigration to the waters and reed-beds of the Haven, Sir
Charles Verity's book, in two handsome quarto volumes, had been duly
reviewed and found a place of honour in every library, worth the name, in
the United Kingdom, before anything of serious importance occurred
directly affecting our maiden. Throughout spring, summer and the first
weeks of autumn, she marked time merely. Her activities and emotions--in
as far, that is, as outward expression of these last went--were
vicarious, those of others. She glowed over and gloried in the triumph of
her father's book, it is true, but it was his adventure, after all,
rather than her own.
Then suddenly, as is the way with life, events crowded on one
another, the drama thickened, sensation was tuned to a higher pitch.
And it all began, not unludicrously, through the praiseworthy, if
rather ill-timed moral indignation of Canon Horniblow's newly
installed curate, Reginald Sawyer.
RECALLING, IN SOME PARTICULARS, THE EASIEST RECORDED THEFT IN
He was short, neat, spectacled, in manner prompt and perky, in age under
thirty, a townsman by birth and education, hailing from Midlandshire.
Further, a strong advocate of organization, and imbued with the deepest
respect for the obligations and prerogatives of his profession upon the
ethical side. He took himself very seriously; and so took, also, the
decalogue as delivered to mankind amid the thunders of Sinai. Keep the
Ten Commandments, according to the letter, and you may confidently expect
all things, spiritual and temporal, to be added unto you--such was the
basis of his teaching and of his private creed.
He came to Deadham ardent for the reformation of that remote, benighted
spot, so disgracefully, as he feared--and rather hoped--behind the times.
He suspected its canon-vicar of being very much too easy-going; and its
population, in respect of moral conduct, of being lamentably lax. In
neither of which suppositions, it must be admitted, was he altogether
incorrect. But he intended to alter all that!--Regarding himself thus, in
the light of a providentially selected new broom, he applied himself
diligently to sweep. A high-minded and earnest, if not conspicuously
well-bred young man, he might in a suburban parish have done excellent
work. But upon Deadham, with its enervating, amorous climate and queer
inheritance of forest and seafaring--in other words poaching and
smuggling--blood, he was wasted, out of his element and out of touch. The
slow moving South Saxon cocked a shrewd sceptical eye at him, sized him
up and down and sucked in its cheek refusing to be impressed. While by
untoward accident, his misfortune rather than his fault, the earliest of
his moral sweepings brought him into collision with the most reactionary
element in the community, namely the inhabitants of the black cottages
upon the Island.
The event fell out thus. The days shortened, the evenings lengthened
growing misty and secret as October advanced. The roads became plashy and
rutted, the sides of them silent with fallen leaves under foot. An odd
sense of excitement flickers through such autumn twilights. Boys herded
in little troops on wickedness intent. Whooping and whistling to disarm
their elders' suspicion until the evil deed should be fairly within
reach, then mum as mice, stealthily vanishing, becoming part and parcel
of the earth, the hedge, the harsh dusky grasses of the sand-hills, the
foreshore lumber on the beach.
Late one afternoon, the hour of a hidden sunset, Reginald Sawyer called
at The Hard; and to his eminent satisfaction--for social aspirations were
by no means foreign to him--was invited to remain to tea. The
ladies--Damaris and Miss Felicia--were kind, the cakes and cream
superlative. He left in high feather; and, at Damaris' suggestion, took a
short cut through the Wilderness and by a path crossing the warren to the
lane, leading up from the causeway, which joins the high-road just
opposite the post office and Mrs. Doubleday's shop. By following this
route he would save quite half a mile on his homeward journey; since the
Grey House, where he enjoyed the Miss Minetts' assiduous and genteel
hospitality, is situate at the extreme end of Deadham village on the road
Out on the warren, notwithstanding the hour and the mist, it was still
fairly light, the zigzagging sandy path plainly visible between the
heath, furze brakes, stunted firs and thorn bushes. The young clergyman,
although more familiar with crowded pavements and flare of gas-lamps than
open moorland in the deepening dusk, pursued his way without difficulty.
What a wild region it was though! He thought of the sober luxury of the
library at The Hard, the warmth, the shaded lights, the wealth of books;
of the grace of Damaris' clothing and her person, and wondered how
people of position and education could be content to live in so out of
the way and savage a spot. It was melancholy to a degree, in his
opinion.--Oh! well, he must do his best to wake it up, infuse a spirit of
progress into it more in keeping with nineteenth-century ideas. Everyone
would be grateful to him--
A little questioning pause--assurance in momentary eclipse. Then with
renewed cheerfulness--Of course they would--the upper classes, that is.
For they must feel the disadvantages of living in such a back-water. He
gave them credit for the wish to advance could they but find the way.
All they needed was leadership, which Canon Horniblow--evidently past
his work--was powerless to supply. He, Sawyer, came as a pioneer. Once
they grasped that fact they would rally to him. The good Miss Minetts
were rallying hard, so to speak, already. Oh! there was excellent
material in Deadham among the gentlefolk. It merely needed working,
needed bringing out.
From the lower, the wage-earning class, sunk as it was in ignorance, he
must, he supposed, expect but a poor response, opposition not impossibly.
Opposition would not daunt him. You must be prepared to do people good,
if not with, then against their will. He was here to make them rebel
against and shake off the remnants of the Dark Ages amid which they so
extraordinarily appeared still to live. He had no conception so low a
state of civilization could exist within little over a hundred miles of
the metropolis!--It was a man's work, anyhow, and he must put his back
into it. Must organize--word of power--organize night classes, lectures
with lantern slides, social evenings, a lads' club. Above all was there
room and necessity for this last. The Deadham lads were very rowdy, very
unruly. They gathered at corners in an objectionable manner; hung about
the public-house. He must undersell the public-house by offering counter
attractions. Amongst the men he suspected a sad amount of drinking. Their
speech, too, was so reprehensibly coarse. He had heard horrible language
in the village street. He reproved the offenders openly, as was his duty,
and his admonitions were greeted with a laugh, an insolent, offensive,
Sawyer cut at the dark straggling furzes bordering the path with his
walking-stick. Recollection of that laugh made him go red about the ears;
made his skin tingle and his eyes smart. It represented an insult not
only to himself but to his cloth. Yet he'd not lost control of himself,
he was glad to remember, though the provocation was rank--
He cut at the furze again, being by nature combative. And--stopped short,
with a start, a tremor running through him. Something rustled, scuttled
away amongst the bushes, and something flapped upward behind him into the
thick lowering sky above. A wailing cry--whether human, or of bird or
beast, he was uncomfortably ignorant--came out of the mist ahead, to be
answered by a like and nearer cry from a spot which he failed, in his
agitation, to locate.
Under ordinary conditions the young cleric was neither troubled by
imagination nor lacking in pluck. His habitual outlook was sensible,
literal and direct. But, it must be owned, this wide indistinct
landscape, over which pale vapours trailed and brooded, the immense
loneliness of the felt rather than seen, expanse of water, marsh and
mud-flat of the Haven--the tide being low--along with the goblin
whispering chuckle of the river speeding seaward away there on his left,
made him oddly jumpy and nervous. No human being was in sight, neither
did any human dwelling show signs of habitation. He wished he had gone
round by the road and through the length of the village. He registered a
vow against short cuts--save in broad daylight--for his present
surroundings inspired him with the liveliest distrust. They were to him
positively nightmarish. He suffered the nastiest little fears of what
might follow him, what might, even now, peer and lurk. Heretofore he had
considered the earth as so much dead matter, to be usefully and
profitably exploited by all-dominant man--specially by men of his own
creed and race. But now the power of the earth laid hands on him. She
lived, and mankind dwindled to the proportions of parasitic insects, at
most irritating some small portions of her skin, her vast indifferent
surface. Such ideas had never occurred to him before. He resented
them--essayed to put them from him as trenching on blasphemy.
Starting on again, angry alike with himself for entertaining, and with
the unknown for engendering, such subversive notions, his pace
unconsciously quickened to a run. But the line of some half-dozen ragged
Scotch firs, which here topped the low cliff bordering the river, to his
disordered vision seemed most uncomfortably to run alongside him,
stretching gaunt arms through the encircling mist to arrest his flight.
He regarded them with an emotion of the liveliest antipathy; consciously
longing, meanwhile, for the humming thoroughfares of his native
industrial town, for the rattle and grind of the horse-trams, the
brightly lighted shop-fronts, the push all about him of human labour, of
booming trade and vociferous politics. Even the glare of a gin palace,
flooding out across the crowded pavement at some street corner, would
have, just now, been fraught with solace, convinced prohibitionist though
he was. For he would, at least, have been in no doubt how to feel towards
that stronghold of Satan--righteously thanking God he was not as those
reprehensible others, who passed in and out of its ever-swinging doors.
While towards this earth dominance, this dwarfing of human life by the
life of things he had hitherto called inanimate, he did not know how to
feel at all. It attacked some unarmoured, unprotected part of him.
Against its assault he was defenceless.
With a sense of escape from actual danger, whether physical or moral he
did not stay to enquire, he stumbled, a few minutes later, through a gap
in the earth-bank into the wet side lane. Arrived, he gave himself a
moment's breathing space. It was darker here than out upon the warren;
but, anyhow, this was a lane. It had direction and meaning. Men had
constructed it for the linking up of house with house, hamlet with
hamlet. Like all roads, it represented the initial instinct of communal
life, the basis of a reasoned social order, of civilization in short.
He walked forward over the soft couch of fallen, water-soaked leaves,
his boots squelching at times into inches of sucking mud, and his
spirits rose. He began to enter into normal relations both with himself
and with things in general. A hundred yards or so and the village green
would be reached.
Then on his left, behind an ill-kept quick-set hedge that guarded a strip
of garden and orchard, he became aware of movement. Among the apple trees
three small figures shuffled about some dark recumbent object. For the
most part they went on all fours, but at moments reared up on their hind
legs. Their action was at once silent, stealthy and purposeful. Our young
clergyman's shortness of sight rendered their appearance the more
peculiar. His normal attitude was not so completely restored, moreover,
but that they caused him another nervous tremor. Then he grasped the
truth; while the detective, latent in every moralist, sprang to
attention. Here were criminals to be brought to justice, criminals caught
red-handed. Reginald Sawyer, having been rather badly scared himself,
lusted--though honestly ignorant of any personal touch in the matter--to
very badly scare others.
Standing back beside the half-open gate, screened by the hedge, here high
and straggling, he awaited the psychological moment, ready to pounce. To
enter the orchard and confront these sinners with their crime, if their
activities did by chance happen to be legitimate, was to put himself
altogether in the wrong. He would bide his time, would let them conclude
their--in his belief--nefarious business and challenge them as they
Nor had he long to wait. The two smaller boys, breathing hard, hoisted
the bulging, half-filled sack on to the back of their bigger
companion; who, bowed beneath its weight, grunting with exertion,
advanced towards the exit.
Sawyer laid aside his walking-stick, and, as the leader of the procession
came abreast of him, pounced. But missed his aim. Upon which the boy cast
down the sack, from the mouth of which apples, beets, turnips rolled into
the road; and, with a yelp, bolted down the lane towards the causeway,
leaving his accomplices to their fate. These, thrown into confusion by
the suddenness of his desertion, hesitated and were lost. For, pouncing
again, and that the more warily for his recent failure, Sawyer collared
one with either hand.
They were maladorous children; and the young clergyman, grasping woollen
jersey-neck and shirt-band, the backs of his hands in contact with the
backs of their moist, warm, dirty little necks, suffered disgust, yet
held them the more firmly.
"I am convinced you have no right to that fruit or to those vegetables.
You are stealing. Give an account of yourselves at once."
And he shook them slightly to emphasize his command. One hung on his
hand, limp as a rag. The other showed fight, kicking our friend liberally
about the shins, with hobnailed boots which did, most confoundly, hurt.
"You lem' me go," he cried. "Lem' me go, or I'll tell father, and first
time you come along by our place 'e'll set the ratting dawgs on to you.
Our ole bitch 'as got 'er teeth yet. She'll bite. Ketch the fleshy part
of your leg, she will, and just tear and bite."
This carrying of war into the enemy's country proved as disconcerting as
unexpected, while to mention the sex of an animal was, in Reginald
Sawyer's opinion, to be guilty of unpardonable coarseness. The atmosphere
of a Protestant middle-class home clung to him yet, begetting in him a
squeamishness, not to say prudery, almost worthy of his hostesses, the
Miss Minetts. He shook the culprits again, with a will. He also blushed.
"If you were honest you would be anxious to give an account of
yourselves," he asserted, ignoring the unpleasant matter of the dogs. "I
am afraid you are very wicked boys. You have stolen these vegetables and
fruits. Thieves are tried by the magistrates, you know, and sent to
prison. I shall take you to the police-station. There the constable will
find means to make you confess."
Beyond provoking a fresh paroxysm of kicking, these adjurations were
without result. His captives appeared equally impervious to shame,
contrition or alarm. They remained obstinately mute. Whereupon it began
to dawn upon their captor that his position risked becoming not a little
invidious, since the practical difficulty of carrying his threats into
execution was so great. How could he haul two sturdy, active children,
plus a sack still containing a goodly quantity of garden produce, some
quarter of a mile without help? To let them go, on the other hand, was
to have them incontinently vanish into those trailing whitish vapours
creeping over the face of the landscape. And, once vanished, they were
lost to him, since he knew neither their names nor dwelling place; and
could, with no certainty, identify them, having seen them only in the
act of struggle and in this uncertain evening light. He felt himself
very nastily planted on the horns of a dilemma, when on a sudden there
A vehicle of some description turned out of the main road and headed
down the lane.
Laocooen-like, flanked on either hand by a writhing youthful figure,
Reginald Sawyer called aloud:
"Hi!--Stop, there--pray, stop."
Darcy Faircloth lighted down out of a ramshackle Marychurch station fly,
and advanced towards the rather incomprehensible group.
"What's happened? What's the matter?" he said. "What on earth do you want
with those two youngsters?"
"I want to convey them to the proper authorities," Sawyer answered, with
all the self-importance he could muster. He found his interlocutor's
somewhat abrupt and lordly manner at once annoying and impressive, as
were his commanding height and rather ruffling gait. "These boys have
been engaged in robbing a garden. I caught them in the act, and it is my
duty to see that they pay the penalty of their breach of the law. I count
on your assistance in taking them to the police-station."
"You want to give them in charge?"
"What else?--The moral tone of this parish is, I grieve to say,
Sawyer talked loud and fast in the effort to assert himself.
"Low and coarse," he repeated. "Both as a warning to others, and in
the interests of their own future, an example must be made of these
"Must it?" Faircloth said, towering above him in the pale
The little boys, who had remained curiously and rather dangerously still
since the advent of this stranger, now strained together, signalling,
whispering. Sawyer shook them impatiently apart.
"Steady there, please," Faircloth put in sharply. "It strikes me you take
a good deal upon yourself. May I ask who you are?"
"I am the assistant priest," Reginald began. But his explanation was cut
short by piping voices.
"It's Cap'en Darcy, that's who it is. We never meant no 'arm, Cap'en.
That we didn't. The apples was rotting on the ground, s'h'lp me if they
wasn't. Grannie Staples was took to the Union last Wednesday fortnight,
and anyone's got the run of her garden since. Don't you let the new
parson get us put away, Cap'en. We belongs to the Island--I'm William
Jennifer's Tommy, please Cap'en, and 'e's Bobby Sclanders 'e is."
And being cunning, alike by nature and stress of circumstance, they
pathetically drooped, blubbering in chorus:
"We never didn't mean no 'arm, Cap'en. Strike me dead if we did."
At which last implied profanity Reginald Sawyer shuddered, loosening
Of what followed he could subsequently give no definite account. The
dignities of his sacred profession and his self-respect alike reeled
ignominiously into chaos. He believed he heard the person, addressed as
Captain Darcy, say quietly:
"Cut it, youngsters. Now's your chance."
He felt that both the children violently struggled, and that the round
hard head of one of them butted him in the stomach. He divined that
sounds of ribald laughter, in the distance, proceeded from the driver
of the Marychurch station fly. He knew two small figures raced whooping
down the lane attended by squelchings of mud and clatter of heavy
Knew, further, that Captain Darcy, after nonchalantly picking up the
sack, dropping it within the garden hedge and closing the rickety gate,
stood opposite him and quite civilly said:
"I am sorry I could not give you the sort of assistance, sir, which you
asked. But the plan would not have worked."
Sawyer boiled over.
"You have compounded a felony and done all that lay in your power to
undermine my authority with my parishioners. Fortunately I retain the
boys' names and can make further enquiries. This, however, by no means
relieves you of the charge of having behaved with reprehensible levity
both towards my office and myself."
"No--no," Faircloth returned, goodnaturedly. "Sleep upon it, and you will
take an easier view of the transaction. I have saved you from putting
unmerited disgrace upon two decent families and getting yourself into hot
water up to the neck. I know these Deadham folk better than you do. I'm
one of them, you see, myself. They've uncommonly long memories where
they're offended, though it may suit them to speak you soft. Take it from
me, you'll never hound them into righteousness. They turn as stubborn as
so many mules under the whip."
He hailed the waiting flyman.
"Good evening to you, sir," he said. And followed by the carriage, piled
with sea-chest and miscellaneous baggage, departed into the
mysteriousness of deepening dusk.
Had the young clergyman been willing to leave it at that, all might yet
have been well, his ministry at Deadham a prolonged and fruitful one,
since his intentions, at least, were excellent. But, as ill-luck would
have it, while still heated and sore, every feather on end, his natural
combativeness almost passionately on top, turning out in the high-road he
encountered Dr. Cripps, faring westward like himself on the way to visit
a patient at Lampit. The two joined company, falling into a conversation
the more confidential that the increasing darkness gave them a sense of
isolation and consequent intimacy.
Of all his neighbours, the doctor--a peppery disappointed man, struggling
with a wide-strewn country practice mainly prolific of bad debts,
conscious of his own inefficiency and perpetually smarting under imagined
injuries and slights--was the very last person to exercise a mollifying
influence upon Sawyer in his existing angry humour. The latter recounted
and enlarged upon the insults he had just now suffered. His hearer fanned
the flame of indignation with comment and innuendo--recognized Faircloth
from the description, and proceeded to wash his hands in scandalous
insinuation at the young sea-captain's expense.
For example, had not an eye to business dictated the sheltering from
justice of those infant, apple-stealing reprobates? Their respective
fathers were good customers! The islanders all had the reputation of hard
drinkers--and an innkeeper hardly invites occasion to lower his receipts.
The inn stood in old Mrs. Faircloth's name, it is true; but the son
profited, at all events vicariously, by its prosperity. A swaggering
fellow, with an inordinate opinion of his own ability and merits; but in
that he shared a family failing. For arrogance and assumption the whole
clan was difficult to beat.
"You have heard whose son this young Faircloth is, of course?"
Startled by the question, and its peculiar implication, Reginald Sawyer
hesitatingly admitted his ignorance.
The Grey House stands flush with the road, and the two gentlemen finished
their conversation upon the doorstep. Above them a welcoming glow shone
through the fanlight; otherwise its windows were shuttered and blank.
"This is a matter of common knowledge," Dr. Cripps said; "but one about
which, for reasons of policy, or, more truly, of snobbery, it is the
fashion to keep silent. So, for goodness' sake, don't give me as your
authority if you should ever have occasion to speak of it"--
And lowering his voice he mentioned a name.
"As like as two peas," he added, "when you see them side by side--which,
in point of fact, you never do. Oh! I promise you the whole dirty
business has been remarkably well engineered--hush-money, I suppose.
Sometimes I am tempted to think poverty is the only punishable sin in
this world. For those who have a good balance at their bankers there is
always a safe way out of even the most disgraceful imbroglios of this
sort. But I must be moving on, Mr. Sawyer. I sympathize with your
annoyance. You have been very offensively treated. Good night."
The young clergyman remained planted on the doorstep, incapable of
ringing the bell and presenting himself to his assiduously attentive
hostesses, the Miss Minetts, for the moment.
He was, in truth, indescribably shocked. Deadham presented itself to
his mind as a place accursed, a veritable sink of iniquity. High and
low alike, its inhabitants were under condemnation.--And he had so
enjoyed his tea with the ladies at The Hard. Had been so flattered by
their civility, spreading himself in the handsome room, agreeably
sensible of its books, pictures, ornaments, and air of cultured
leisure.--While behind all that, as he now learned, was this glaring
moral delinquency! Never had he been more cruelly deceived. He felt
sick with disgust. What callousness, what hypocrisy!--He recalled his
disquieting sensations in crossing the warren. Was the very soil of
this place tainted, exhaling evil?
He made a return upon himself. For what, after all, was he here for save
to let in light and combat evil, to bring home the sense of sin to the
inhabitants of this place, convincing them of the hatefulness of the
moral slough in which they so revoltingly wallowed. He must slay and
spare not. He saw himself as David, squaring up to Goliath, as Christian
fighting single-handed against the emissaries of Satan who essayed to
defeat his pilgrimage. Yes, he would smite these lawbreakers hip and
thigh, whatever their superficial claims to his respect, whatever their
worldly position. He would read them all a lesson--that King Log, Canon
He at once pitied and admired himself, not being a close critic of
his own motives; telling himself he did well to be angry, while
ignoring the element of personal pique which gave point and
satisfaction to that anger.
He was silent and reserved with the Miss Minetts at supper; and retired
early to his own room to prepare a sermon.
BROTHER AND SISTER
Upon the Sunday morning following, Damaris went to the eleven o'clock
service alone. Miss Felicia Verity attended church at an earlier hour
to-day, partly in the interests of private devotion, partly in those of a
person she had warmly befriended in the past, and wanted to befriend in
the present--but with delicacy, with tact and due consideration for the
susceptibilities of others. She wished earnestly to effect a
reconciliation; but not to force it. To force it was to endanger its
sincerity and permanence. It should seem to come about lightly,
naturally. Therefore did she go out early to perfect her plans--of which
more hereafter--as well as to perform her religious duties. Sir Charles
Verity was from home, staying with Colonel Carteret for partridge
shooting, over the Norfolk stubble-fields. The habit of this annual visit
had, for the last two seasons, been in abeyance; but now, with his return
to The Hard, was pleasantly revived, although this autumn, owing to
business connected with the publication of his book, the visit took place
a few weeks later than usual.
Hence did Damaris--arrayed in a russet-red serge gown, black velvet
collar and cuffs to its jacket of somewhat manly cut, and a russet-red
upstanding plume in her close-fitting black velvet hat--set forth alone
to church. This, after redirecting such letters as had arrived for her
father by the morning post. One of them bore the embossed arms of the
India Office, and signature of the, then, Secretary of State for that
department in the corner of the envelope. She looked at it with a measure
of respect and curiosity, wondering as to the purport of its contents.
She studied the envelope, turning it about in the hope of gleaning
enlightenment from its external aspect. Still wondering, slightly
oppressed even by a persuasion--of which she could not rid herself--that
it held matters of no common moment closely affecting her father, she
went out of the house, down the sheltered drive, and through the entrance
gates. Here, as she turned inland, the verve of the clear autumn morning
rushed on her, along with a wild flurry of falling leaves dancing to the
breath of the crisp northerly breeze.
A couple of fine days, with a hint of frost in the valley by night, after
a spell of soft mists and wet, sent the leaves down in fluttering
multitudes, so that now all trees, save the oaks only, were bare.
These--by which the road is, just here, overhung--still solidly clothed
in copper, amber and--matching our maiden's gown--in russet-red, offered
sturdy defiance to the weather. The sound of them, a dry crowded
rustling, had a certain note of courage and faithfulness in it which
caused Damaris to wait awhile and listen; yet a wistfulness also, since
to her hearing a shudder stirred beneath its bravery, preluding the
coming rigours of winter.
And that wistfulness rather strangely enlarged its meaning and area, as
the reiterated ting, tang, tong of Deadham's church bells recalled the
object of her walk. For English church services, of the parochial variety
such as awaited her, had but little, she feared, to give. Little, that
is, towards the re-living of those instants of exalted spiritual
perception which had been granted to her at distant Avila.
In overstrained and puritanic dread of idolatory, the English Church has
gone lamentably far to forfeit its sacramental birthright. It savours too
strongly of the school and class-room, basing its appeal upon words, upon
spoken expositions, instructive no doubt, but cold, academic. It offers
no tangible object of worship to sight or sense. Its so-called altars are
empty. Upon them no sacrifice is offered, no presence abidingly dwells.
In its teaching the communion of saints and forgiveness of sins are
phrases rather than living agencies. Its atmosphere is self-conscious,
its would-be solemnity forced.--This, in any case, was how Damaris saw
the whole matter--though, let us hasten to add, she was modest enough to
question whether the fault might not very well be in herself rather than
in our national variant of the Christian Faith. Many sweet, good
persons--dear Aunt Felicia among them--appeared to find Anglican
ministrations altogether sufficient for their religious needs. But to
Damaris those ministrations failed to bring any moment of vision, of
complete detachment. She must be to blame, she supposed--which was
discouraging, a little outcasting and consequently sad.
In a somewhat pensive spirit she therefore, pursued her way, until, where
the prospect widened as she reached the village green, a larger sky
disclosed itself flaked with light cirrus cloud. This glory of space, and
the daring northerly breeze blowing out from it, sent her fancy flying.
It beckoned to journeyings, to far coasts and unknown seas--an offshore
wind, filling the sails of convoys outward bound. And, with the thought
of ships upon the sea, came the thought of Darcy Faircloth, and that with
sharp revolt against the many existing hindrances to his and her
intercourse. Freedom seemed abroad this morning. Even the leaves declared
for liberty, courting individual adventure upon the wings of that daring
wind. And this sense of surrounding activity worked upon Damaris, making
her doubly impatient of denials and arbitrary restraints. She sent her
soul after Darcy Faircloth across the waste of waters, fondly, almost
fiercely seeking him. But her soul refused to travel, curiously turning
homeward again, as though aware not the prodigious fields of ocean, nor
any loud-voiced foreign port of call, held knowledge of him, but rather
the immediate scene, the silver-glinting levels of the Haven and lonely
Deadham church, originally a chapelry of Marychurch Abbey, crowns a green
monticule in the centre of Deadham village, backed by a row of big
elms.--A wide, low-roofed structure, patched throughout the course of
centuries beyond all unity and precision of design; yet still showing
traces of Norman work in the arch of the belfry and in the pillars
supporting the rafters of the middle aisle. At the instance of a former
vicar, the whole interior received a thick coat of whitewash, alike over
plaster and stone. This, at the time in question, had been in places
scraped off, bringing to light some mural paintings of considerable
interest and antiquity.
In the chancel, upon the gospel side, is a finely-carved tomb, with
recumbent figures of an armoured knight and richly-robed lady, whose
slippered feet push against the effigy of a particularly alert,
sharp-muzzled little hound. The two front pews, in the body of the
church, at the foot of the said tomb, are allotted to the owner and
household at The Hard. The slender, lively little hound and the two
sculptured figures lying, peaceful in death, for ever side by side,
touched and captivated Damaris from the first time she set eyes on them.
She reverenced and loved them, weaving endless stories about them when,
in the tedium of prayer or over-lengthy sermon, her attention, all too
This morning the three bells jangled altogether as she reached the
churchyard gate. Then the smallest tolled alone, hurrying stragglers. She
was indeed late, the bulk of the congregation already seated, the Canon
at the reading-desk and Mrs. Horniblow wheezing forth a voluntary upon
the harmonium, when she walked up the aisle.
But, during her brief passage, Damaris could not but observe the
largeness of the assembly. An uncommon wave of piety must have swept over
the parish this morning! The Battyes and Taylors were present in force.
Farmers and tradespeople mustered in impressive array. Even Dr.
Cripps--by no means a frequent churchgoer--and his forlorn-looking,
red-eyed little wife were there. The Miss Minetts had a lady with them--a
plump, short little person, dressed with attempted fashion, whose back
struck Damaris as quaintly familiar, she catching a glimpse of it in
passing. Most surprising of all, William Jennifer headed a contingent
from the Island, crowding the men's free seats to right and left of the
west door. An expectancy, moreover, seemed to animate the throng. Then
she remembered, the new curate, Reginald Sawyer, had informed her and
Miss Felicia two evenings ago when he had called and been bidden to stay
to tea, that he would preach for the first time at the eleven o'clock
service. So far he had only occupied the pulpit on Sunday afternoons,
when a country congregation is liable to be both scanty and somnolent.
To-day he would prove himself before the heads of tribes, before the
notables. And Damaris wished him well, esteeming him a worthy young man,
if somewhat provincial and superfluously pompous.
In the servants' pew directly behind, Mary and Mrs. Cooper were duly
ensconced, supported by Mr. Patch, two small male Patches, white-collared
and shining with excess of cleanliness, wedged in between him and his
stable sub-ordinate Conyers, the groom. The Hard thus made a commendably
respectable show, as Damaris reflected with satisfaction.
She stood, she knelt, her prayer book open upon the carved margin of the
tomb, the slender crossed legs and paws of the alert little marble dog
serving as so often before for bookrest. Canon Horniblow boomed and
droned, like some unctuous giant bumble-bee, from the reading-desk. The
choir intoned responses from the gallery with liberal diversity of pitch.
And presently, alas! Damaris' thoughts began to wander, making flitting
excursions right and left. For half-way through the litany some belated
worshipper arrived, causing movement in the men's free seats. This oddly
disturbed her. Her mind flew again to Faircloth, and the strange
impression of her own soul's return declaring this and no other to be his
actual neighbourhood. And if it indeed were so?--Damaris thrust back the
emotions begotten of that question, as unpermissibly stormy at this time
and in this place.
She tried to fix her thoughts wholly upon the office. But, all too soon
they sprang aside again, now circling about the enigmatic back beheld in
the Miss Minetts' pew. Of whom did that round, dressy little form remind
her? Why--why--of Theresa, of course. Not Theresa, genius and saint of
Spanish Avila; but Theresa Bilson, her sometime governess-companion of
doubtfully amiable memory. She longed to satisfy herself, but could only
do so by turning round and looking squarely--a manoeuvre impossible
during the prayers, but which might be accomplished later, when the
congregation rose to sing the hymn before the sermon.
She must wait. And during that waiting light, rather divertingly, broke
in on her. For supposing her belief as to the lady's identity correct,
must not dear Aunt Felicia be party to this resurrection? Had not she
known, and stolen forth this morning to perfect some innocent plot of
peace-making? In furtherance of which she now cunningly remained at home,
thus leaving Damaris free to offer renewal of favour or withhold it as
she pleased. Was not that deliciously characteristic of Aunt Felicia and
her permanent effort to serve two masters--to make everybody happy, and,
regardless of conflicting interests, everybody else too?--Well, Damaris
was ready to fulfil her wishes. She bore Theresa no ill-will. An
inclination to grudge or resentment seemed to her unworthy. Whatever
Theresa's tiresomenesses, they were over and done with, surely, quite
immensely long ago.
The hymn given out and the tune of it played through, the assembly
scraped and rustled to its feet. Damaris standing, in height overtopping
her neighbours, discreetly turned her head. Let her eyes rest an instant,
smiling, upon the upturned polished countenances of the two small
Patches--shyly watching her--and then seek a more distant goal. Yes,
veritably Theresa Bilson in the flesh--very much in the flesh, full of
face and plump of bosom, gold-rimmed glasses gleaming, her mouth opened
wide in song. It was a little astonishing to see her so unchanged. For
how much had happened since the day of that choir-treat, at Harchester,
which marked her deposition, the day of Damaris' sleep in the sunshine
and awakening in the driving wet out on the Bar.--The day wherein so much
began, and so much ended, slashed across and across with an extravagance
of lasting joy and lasting pain!--In the sense of it all Damaris lost
herself a little, becoming forgetful of her existing situation. She
looked past, over Theresa and beyond.
At the extreme end of the church, in the last of the free seats where
the light from the west door streamed inward, a man's figure detached
itself with singular distinctness from the background of whitewashed
wall. He, too, overtopped his fellows, and that by several inches. And
from the full length of the building, across the well-filled benches, his
glance sought and met that of Damaris, and held it in fearless, high
security of affection not to be gainsaid.
The nice, clean-shining little Patches, still watching shyly out of their
brown, glossy, mouse-like eyes, to their extreme mystification saw the
colour flood Damaris' face, saw her lips tremble and part as in prelude
to happy speech. Then saw her grow very pale, and, turning away, clutch
at the head of the alert little hound. Mrs. Cooper delivered herself of a
quite audible whisper to the effect--"that Miss Damaris was took
faint-like, as she feared." And Mary leaned forward over the front of the
pew in quick anxiety. But our maiden's weakness was but passing. She
straightened herself, stood tall and proudly again, looking at the knight
and his lady lying so peacefully side by side upon their marble couch.
She gathered them into her gladness--they somehow sympathized, she felt,
in her present sweet and poignant joy. Her soul had known best, had been
right in its homing--since Faircloth was here--was here.
That sweet, poignant joy flooded her, so that she wordlessly gave thanks
and praise. He was in life--more, was within sight of her, hearing the
same sounds, breathing the same air. Across the short dividing space,
spirit had embraced spirit. He claimed her.--Had not his will, indeed,
far more than any curiosity regarding the identity of poor, plump little
Theresa, compelled her to look around?
She demanded nothing further, letting herself dwell in a perfection of
content--without before or after--possible only to the pure in heart and
to the young.
The hymn concluded, Damaris knelt, while Reginald Sawyer, having mounted
into the pulpit, read the invocation; mechanically rose from her knees
with the rest, and disposed herself in the inner corner of the pew,
sitting sideways so that her left hand might rest upon the carven marble
margin of the tomb. She liked touch of it still, in the quietude of her
great content, cherishing a pretty fancy of the knight and his lady's
sympathy and that also of their sprightly little footstool dog.
Otherwise she was deaf to outward things, deliciously oblivious, wrapped
away sweetly within herself. Hence she quite failed to notice how
awkwardly Sawyer stumbled, treading on the fronts of his long surplice
when going up the pulpit stairs. How he fumbled with his manuscript as
he flattened it out on the cushioned desk. Or how husky was his voice,
to the point of the opening sentences being almost inaudible. The young
clergyman suffered, indeed, so it appeared, from a painfully excessive
fit of nervousness. All this she missed, not awakening from her state of
blissful trance until the sermon had been under way some good five to
Her awakening even then was gradual. It was also unpleasant. It began in
vague and uneasy suspicion of something unusual and agitating toward. In
consciousness of a hushed and strained attention, very foreign to the
customary placid, not to say bovine, indifference of the ordinary country
congregation. The preacher's voice was audible enough now, in good truth,
though still under insufficient control. It roared, cracked upward,
approaching a scream. Sentences trod on one another's heels, so rapid was
his delivery; or bumped and jolted so overlaid was it with emphasis. He,
dealt in ugly words, too--"lies, drunkenness, theft, profanity;" and
worse still, "uncleanness, adultery, carnal debauchery." For not venial
sins only, but mortal sins likewise were rife in Deadham, as he averred,
matters of common knowledge and everyday occurrence--tolerated if not
openly encouraged, callously winked at. The public conscience could
hardly be said to exist, so indurated was it, so moribund through lack of
stimulation and through neglect. Yet such wickedness, sooner or later,
must call down the vengeance of an offended God. It would be taken upon
these lawbreakers. Here or hereafter these evil-livers would receive the
chastisement their deeds invited and deserved. Let no man deceive
himself. God is just. He is also very terrible in judgment. Hell yawns
for the impenitent.
Breathless, he paused; and a subdued sigh, an instinctive shuffling of
feet ran through the assembly.--Yet these were but generalities after
all, often heard before, when you came to think, though seldom so
forcibly put. Every man made liberal gift of such denunciations to his
neighbours, rather than applied their lesson to himself. But Reginald
Sawyer was merely gathering energy, gathering courage for more detailed
assault. He felt nervous to the verge of collapse--a new and really
horrible experience. His head was hot, his feet cold. The temptation
simply and crudely to give in, bundle down the pulpit stairs and bolt,
was contemptibly great. His eyesight played tricks on him. Below there,
in the body of the church, the rows of faces ran together into irregular
pink blots spread meaninglessly above the brown of the oaken pews, the
brown, drab, and black, too, of their owners' Sunday best. Here and
there a child's light frock or white hat intruded upon the prevailing
neutral tints; as did, in a startling manner, Damaris Verity's
russet-red plume and suit.
Time and again, since he began his sermon, had that dash of rich colour
drawn his reluctant attention. He recoiled from, oddly dreaded it--now
more than ever, since to him it rather mercilessly focussed the subject
and impending climax of his denunciatory address.
The pause began to affect the waiting congregation, which stirred
uneasily. Some one coughed. And Sawyer was a sufficiently practised
speaker to know that, once you lose touch with an audience, it is next to
impossible successfully to regain your ascendency over it. Unless he was
prepared to accept ignominious defeat he must brace himself, or it would
be too late. He abominated defeat. Therefore, summoning all his native
combativeness, he took his own fear by the throat, straightened his
manuscript upon the desk, and vehemently broke forth into speech.
--Did his hearers deny or doubt the truth of his assertions, suppose that
he spoke at random, or without realization of the heavy responsibility
he incurred in advancing such accusations? They were in error, so he told
them. He advanced no accusations which he could not justify by examples
chosen from among themselves, from among residents in this parish. He
would be false to his duty both to them--his present audience--and to his
and their Creator, were he to abstain from giving those examples out of
respect of persons. Other occupants of this pulpit might have--he feared
had--allowed worldly considerations to influence and silence them.
A nasty cut this, at the poor vicar-canon, increasingly a prey to
distracted fidgets, sitting helpless in the chancel.
But of such pusillanimity, such time-serving, he--Reginald
Sawyer--scorned to be guilty. The higher placed the sinner, the more
heinous the sin.--He would deal faithfully with all, since not only was
the salvation of each one in jeopardy, but his own salvation was in peril
likewise, inasmuch as, at the dread Last Assize, he would be required to
give account of his stewardship in respect of this sinful place.
Thus far Damaris had listened in deepening distaste. Surely the young man
very much magnified his office, was in manner exaggerated, in matter
aggressive and verbose? Notwithstanding its attempted solemnity and heat,
his sermon seemed to be conventional, just a "way of talking," and a
conceited one at that. But, as he proceeded to set forth his promised
examples of local ill-living, distaste passed into bewilderment and
finally into a sense of outrage, blank and absolute. He named no names,
and wrapped his statements up in Biblical language. Yet they remained
suggestive and significant enough. He spoke, surely, of those whose
honour was dearest to her, whom she boundlessly loved. Under plea of
rebuking vice, he laid bare the secrets, violated the sanctities of their
private lives. Yet was not that incredible? All decencies of custom and
usage forbade it, stamped such disclosure as unpermissible, fantastic. He
must be mad, or she herself mad, mishearing, misconceiving him.
"Adulterous father, bastard son--publican sheltering youthful offenders
from healthy punishment in the interests of personal gain."--Of that last
she made nothing, failed to follow it. But the rest?--
It was true, too. But not as he represented it, all its tragic beauty,
all the nobleness which tempered and, in a measure at least, discounted
the great wrong of it, stripped away--leaving it naked, torn from its
setting, without context and so without perspective. Against this not
only her tenderness, but sense of justice, passionately fought. He made
it monstrous and, in that far, untrue, as caricature is untrue, crying
aloud for explanation and analysis. Yet who could explain? Circumstances
of time and place rendered all protest impossible. Nothing could be done,
nothing said. Thus her beloved persons were exposed, judged, condemned
unheard, without opportunity of defence.
And realizing this, realizing redress hopelessly barred, she cowered
down, her head bowed, almost to the level of the marble couch whereon the
figures of knight and lady reposed in the high serenity of love and
death. Happier they than she, poor child, for her pride trailed in the
dust, her darling romance of brother and sister and all the rare pieties
of her heart, defiled by a shameful publicity, exposed for every Tom,
Dick and Harry to paw over and sneer at!
Horror of a crowd, which watches the infliction of some signal disgrace,
tormented her imagination, moreover, to the temporary breaking of her
spirit. Whether that crowd was, in the main, hostile or sympathetic
mattered nothing. The fact that it silently sat there, silently observed,
made every member of it, for the time, her enemy. Even the trusted
servants just behind, comfortable comely Mary, soft Mrs. Cooper, the
devoted Patch, were hateful to her as the rest. Their very loyalty--which
she for no instant doubted--went only to fill the cup of her humiliation
to the brim.
Reginald Sawyer's voice continued; but what he said now she neither heard
nor cared. Her martyrdom could hardly suffer augmentation, the whole
world seemed against her, she set apart, pilloried.--But not alone.
Faircloth was set apart, pilloried, also. And remembering this, her
courage revived. The horror of the crowd lifted. For herself she could
not fight; but for him she could fight, with strength and conviction, out
of the greatness of her love for him, out of her recognition that the
ignominy inflicted upon him was more bitter, more cruel, than any
inflicted upon her. For those who dare, in a moment the worst can turn
best.--She would make play with the freedom which this breach of
convention, of social reticence, of moral discretion, conferred upon her.
The preacher had gone far in demolition. She would go as far, and
further, in construction, in restitution. Would openly acknowledge the
bond which joined Faircloth to her and to her people, by openly claiming
his protection now, in this hour of her disgrace and supreme dismay. She
would offer no excuse, no apology. Only there should be no more attempted
concealment or evasion of the truth on her part, no furtiveness in his
and her relation. Once and for all she would make her declaration, cry it
from the house-top in fearless yet tender pride.
Damaris stood up, conspicuous in her red dress amid that rather drab
assembly as a leaping flame. She turned about, fronting the perplexed and
agitated congregation, her head carried high, her face austere for all
its youthful softness, an heroic quality, something, indeed, superlative
and grandiose in her bearing and expression, causing a shrinking in those
who saw her and a certain sense of awe.
Her eyes sought Faircloth again. Found him, and unfalteringly spoke with
him, bidding him claim her as she, claimed him, bidding him come. Which
bidding he obeyed; and that at the same rather splendid level of
sentiment, worthily sustaining her abounding faith in him. For a touch of
the heroic and superlative was present in his bearing and expression,
also, as he came up the church between the well-filled pews--these
tenanted, to left and right, by some who figured in his daily life,
figured in his earliest recollections, by others, newcomers, to him, even
by sight, barely known; yet each and all, irrespective of age, rank, and
position, affecting his outlook and mental atmosphere in some particular,
as every human personality does and must, with whom one's life, ever so
transiently, is thrown. Had he had time to consider them, this cloud of
witnesses might have proved disturbing even to his masterful will and
steady nerve. But he had not time. There was for him--so perfectly--the
single object, the one searching yet lovely call to answer, the one act
to be performed.
Reaching the front pew upon the gospel side, Darcy Faircloth took
Damaris' outstretched hand. He looked her in the eyes, his own
worshipful, ablaze at once with a great joy and a great anger; and then
led her back, down the length of the aisle, through the west door into
the liberty of the sunshine and the crisp northerly wind outside.
Standing here, the houses and trees of the village lay below them. The
whole glinting expanse of the Haven was visible right up to the town of
Marychurch gathered about its long-backed Abbey, whose tower, tall and in
effect almost spectral, showed against the purple ridges of forest and
moorland beyond. Over the salt marsh in the valley, a flock of plovers
dipped and wheeled, their backs and wide flapping wings black, till, in
turning, their breasts and undersides flashed into snow and pearl.
And because brother and sister, notwithstanding diversities of upbringing
and of station, were alike children of the open rather than of cities,
born to experiment, to travel and to seafaring round this ever-spinning
globe, they instinctively took note of the extensive, keen though
sun-gilded prospect--before breaking silence and giving voice to the
emotion which possessed them--and, in so doing, found refreshment and a
brave cleansing to their souls.
Still holding Faircloth's hand, and still silent, her shoulder touching
his now and again in walking, Damaris went down the sloping path, hoary
lichen-stained head-and-foot stones set in the vivid churchyard grass--as
yet unbleached by the cold of winter--on either side. The sense of his
strength, of the fine unblemished vigour of his young manhood, here
close beside her--so strangely her possession and portion of her natural
inalienable heritage--filled her with confident security and with a
restful, wondering calm. So that the shame publicly put on her to shed
its bitterness, her horror of the watching crowd departed, fading out
into unreality. Though still shaken, still quivering inwardly from the
ordeal of the past hour, she already viewed that shame and horror as but
accidents to be lived down and disregarded, by no means as essential
elements in the adventurous and precious whole. Presently they would
altogether lose their power to wound and to distress her, while this
freedom and the closer union, gained by means of them, continued
immutable and fixed.
It followed that, when in opening the churchyard gate and holding it back
for her to pass, Faircloth perforce let go her hand and, the spell of
contact severed, found himself constrained to speak at last, saying:
"You know you have done a mighty splendid, dangerous thing--no less than
burned your boats--and that in the heat of generous impulse, blind,
perhaps--I can't but fear so--to the heavy cost."
Damaris could interrupt him, with quick, sweet defiance:
"But there is no cost!"
And, to drive home the sincerity of her disclaimer, and further reassure
him, she took his hand again and held it for an instant close against her
bosom, tears and laughter together present in her eyes.
"Ah! you beautiful dear, you beautiful dear," Faircloth cried, brokenly,
as in pain, somewhat indeed beside himself. "Before God, I come near
blessing that blatant young fool and pharisee of a parson since he has
brought me to this."
Then he put her a little way from him, penetrated by fear lest the white
love which--in all honour and reverence--he was bound to hold her in,
should flush ever so faintly, red.
"For, after all, it is up to me," he said, more to himself than to her,
"to make very sure there isn't, and never--by God's mercy--shall be,
And with that--for the avoidance of the congregation, now streaming
rather tumultuously out of church--they went on across the village green,
hissed at by slow waddling, hard-eyed, most conceited geese, to the lane
which leads down to the causeway and warren skirting the river-bank.
WHEREIN MISS FELICIA VERITY CONCLUSIVELY SHOWS WHAT SPIRIT SHE IS OF
Her attraction consisted in her transparency, in the eager simplicity
with which she cast her home-made nets and set her innocuous springes.
To-day Miss Felicia was out to wing the Angel of Peace, and crowd that
celestial messenger into the arms of Damaris and Theresa Bilson
collectively and severally. Such was the major interest of the hour. But,
for Miss Felicia the oncoming of middle-age by no means condemned the
lesser pleasures of life to nullity. Hence the minor interest of the hour
centred in debate as to whether or not the thermometer justified her
wearing a coat of dark blue silk and cloth, heavily trimmed with ruchings
and passementerie, reaching to her feet. A somewhat sumptuous garment
this, given her by Sir Charles and Damaris last winter in Madrid. She
fancied herself in it greatly, both for the sake of the dear donors, and
because the cut of it was clever, disguising the over-narrowness of her
maypole-like figure and giving her a becoming breadth and fulness.
She decided in favour of the coveted splendour; and at about a
quarter-past twelve strolled along the carriage-drive on her way to the
goose green and the village street. There, or thereabouts, unless her
plot lamentably miscarried, she expected to meet her niece and that
niece's ex-governess-companion, herded in amicable converse by the
pinioned Angel of Peace. Her devious and discursive mind fluttered to and
fro, meanwhile, over a number of but loosely connected subjects.
Of precisely what, upon a certain memorable occasion, had taken place
between her brother, Sir Charles, and poor Theresa--causing the latter
to send up urgent signals of distress to which she, Miss Felicia,
instantly responded--she still was ignorant. Theresa had, she feared,
been just a wee bit flighty, leaving Damaris unattended while herself
mildly gadding. But such dereliction of duty was insufficient to account
for the arbitrary fashion in which she had been sent about her business,
literally--the word wasn't pretty--chucked out! Miss Felicia always
suspected there must be _something_, she would say _worse_--it sounded
harsh--but something _more_ than merely that. Her interpretations of
peculiar conduct were liable to run in terms of the heart. Had Theresa,
poor thing, by chance formed a hopeless attachment?--Hopeless, of course,
almost ludicrously so; yet what more natural, more comprehensible,
Charles being who and what he was? Not that he would, in the faintest
degree, lend himself to such misplaced affection. Of that he was
incapable. The bare idea was grotesque. He, of course, was guiltless.
But, assuming there _was_ a feeling on Theresa's side, wasn't she equally
guiltless? She could not help being fascinated.--Thus Miss Felicia was
bound to acquit both. Alike they left the court without a stain on their
Not for worlds would she ever dream of worrying Charles by attempting to
reintroduce poor Theresa to his notice. But with Damaris it was
different. The idea that any persons of her acquaintance were at sixes
and sevens, on bad terms, when, with a little good will on their part
and tactful effort upon hers, they might be on pleasant ones was to her
actively afflicting. To drop an old friend, or even one not
conspicuously friendly if bound to you by associations and habit,