Part 8 out of 9
appeared to her an offence against corporate humanity, an actual however
fractional lowering of the temperature of universal charity. The loss to
one was a loss to all--in some sort. Therefore did she run to adjust, to
smooth, to palliate.
Charles was away--it so neatly happened--and Theresa Bilson here, not, it
must be owned, altogether without Miss Felicia's connivance. If darling
Damaris still was possessed of a hatchet she must clearly be given, this
opportunity to bury it. To have that weapon safe underground would be,
from every point of view, so very much nicer.
At this point in her meditations beneath the trees bordering the carriage
drive, their bare tops swaying in the breeze and bright sunshine, Miss
Felicia fell to contrasting the present exhilarating morning with that
dismally rainy one, just over three years ago, when--regardless of her
sister, Mrs. Cowden's remonstrances--she had come here from Paulton Lacy
in response to Theresa's signals of distress. Just at the elbow of the
drive, so she remembered, she had met a quite astonishingly good-looking
young man, brown-gold bearded, his sou'wester and oilskins shining with
wet. She vaguely recalled some talk about him with her brother, Sir
Charles, afterwards during luncheon.--What was it?--Oh! yes, of course,
it was he who had rescued Damaris when she was lost out on the Bar, and
brought her home down the tide-river by boat. She had often wanted to
know more about him, for he struck her at the time as quite out of the
common, quite remarkably attractive. But on the only occasion since when
she had mentioned the subject, Damaris drew in her horns and became
curiously uncommunicative. It was all connected, of course, with the dear
girl's illness and the disagreeable episode of Theresa's dismissal.--How
all the more satisfactory, then, that the Theresa business, in any case,
was at this very hour in process of being set right! Miss Felicia had
advised Theresa how to act--to speak to Damaris quite naturally and
affectionately, taking her good-will for granted. Damaris would be
charming to her, she felt convinced.
Felicia Verity held the fronts of her long blue coat together, since the
wind sported with them rather roughly, and went forward with her quick,
It was a pity Damaris did not marry she sometimes felt. Of course,
Charles would miss her quite terribly. Their love for one another was so
delightful, so really unique. On his account she was glad.--And yet--with
a sigh, while the colour in her thin cheeks heightened a little--lacking
marriage a woman's life is rather incomplete. Not that she herself had
reason for complaint, with all the affection showered upon her! The last
two years, in particular, had been abundantly blessed thanks to Charles
and Damaris. She admired them, dear people, with all her warm heart and
felt very grateful to them.
Here it should be registered, in passing, that the resilience of Felicia
Verity's inherent good-breeding saved her gratitude from any charge of
grovelling, as it saved her many enthusiasms from any charge of
sloppiness. Both, if exaggerated, still stood squarely, even gallantly
upon their feet.
Her mind switched back to the ever fertile question of the married and
the single state. She often wondered why Charles never espoused a second
wife. He would have liked a son surely? But then, were it possible to
find a fault in him, it would be that of a little coldness, a little
loftiness in his attitude towards women. He was too far above them in
intellect and experience, she supposed, and through all the remarkable
military commands he had held, administrative posts he had occupied,
quite to come down to their level. In some ways Damaris was very like
him--clever, lofty too at moments. Possibly this accounted for her
apparent indifference to affairs of the heart and to lovers. Anyhow, she
had ample time before her still in relation to all that.
Miss Felicia passed into the road. About fifty yards distant she saw the
servants--Mary, Mrs. Cooper and Patch--standing close together in a
quaint, solemn, little bunch. The two small Patches circled round the
said bunch, patiently expectant, not being admitted evidently to whatever
deliberations their elders and betters had in hand.
Felicia Verity's relations with the servants were invariably excellent.
Yet, finding them in mufti, outside the boundaries of her brother's
demesne thus, she was conscious of a certain modesty, hesitating alike to
intrude upon their confabulations and to pass onward without a trifle
amiable of talk. She advanced, smiling, nodded to the two women, then--
"A delicious day, isn't it, Patch?" she said, adding, for lack of a more
pertinent remark--"What kind of sermon did the new curate, Mr. Sawyer,
give you?--A good one, I hope?"
A pause followed this guileless question, during which Mary looked on the
ground, Mrs. Cooper murmured: "Oh! dear, oh, dear!" under her breath, and
Patch swallowed visibly before finding voice to reply:
"One, I regret to say, ma'am, he never ought to have preached."
"Poor young man!" she laughed it off. "You're a terribly severe critic,
I'm afraid, Patch. Probably he was nervous."
"And reason enough. You might think Satan himself stood at his elbow, the
wicked things he said."
This statement, coming from the mild and cow-like Mrs. Cooper, caused
Felicia Verity the liveliest surprise. She glanced enquiringly from one
to the other of the little group, reading constraint and hardly repressed
excitement in the countenance of each. Their aspect and behaviour struck
her, in fact, as singular to the point of alarm.
"Mary," she asked, a trifle breathlessly, "has anything happened? Where
is Miss Damaris?"
"Hadn't she got back to The Hard, ma'am, before you came out?"
"No--why should she? You and the other servants always reach home first."
"Miss Damaris went out before the rest," Mrs. Cooper broke forth in
dolorous widowed accents. "And no wonder, pore dear young lady, was it,
Mr. Patch? My heart bled for her, ma'am, that it did."
Miss Felicia, gentle and eager, so pathetically resembling yet not
resembling her famous brother, grew autocratic, stern as him
almost, for once.
"And you allowed Miss Damaris to leave church alone--she felt unwell,
I suppose--none of you accompanied her? I don't understand it at
all," she said.
"Young Captain Faircloth went out with Miss Damaris. She wished it,
ma'am," Mary declared, heated and resentful at the unmerited rebuke. "She
as good as called to him to come and take her out of church. It wasn't
for us to interfere, so we held back."
"Captain Faircloth? But this becomes more and more extraordinary! Who is
"Ah! there you touch it, you must excuse my saying, ma'am." Mrs.
But at this juncture, Patch, rising to the height of masculine
responsibility, flung himself gallantly--and how unwillingly--into the
breach. He was wounded in his respect and respectability alike, wounded
for the honour of the family whom he had so long and faithfully served.
He was fairly cut to the quick--while these three females merely darkened
judgment by talking all at cross purposes and all at once. Never had the
solid, honest coachman found himself in a tighter or, for that matter, in
anything like so tight a place. But, looking in the direction of the
village, black of clothing, heavy of walk and figure, he espied, as he
trusted, approaching help.
"If you please, ma'am," he said, touching his black bowler as he
spoke, "I see Canon Horniblow coming along the road. I think it would
be more suitable for him to give you an account of what has passed.
He'll know how to put it with--with the least unpleasantness to all
parties. It isn't our place--Mrs. Cooper's, Mary's, or mine--if you'll
pardon my making so free with my opinion, to mention any more of
what's took place."
Felicia Verity, now thoroughly frightened, darted forward. The fronts of
her blue coat again flew apart, and that rich garment stood out in a
prodigious frill around and behind her from the waist, as she leaned on
the wind, almost running in her agitation and haste.
"My dear Canon," she cried, "I am in such anxiety. I learn something has
happened to my niece, who I had come to meet. Our good servants are so
distractingly mysterious. They refer me to you. Pray relieve my
uncertainty and suspense."
But, even while she spoke, Miss Felicia's anxiety deepened, for the
kindly, easy-going clergyman appeared to suffer, like the servants, from
some uncommon shock. His large fleshy nose and somewhat pendulous
cheeks were a mottled, purplish red. Anger and deprecation struggled in
"I was on my way to The Hard," he began, "to express my regrets--offer my
apologies would hardly be too strong a phrase--to your niece, Miss
Verity, and to yourself. For I felt compelled, without any delay, to
dissociate myself from the intemperate procedure of my colleague--of my
curate. He has used, or rather misused, his official position, has
grievously misused the privileges of the pulpit--the pulpit of our parish
church--to attack the reputation of private individuals and resuscitate
The speaker was, unquestionably, greatly distressed. Miss Felicia,
though more than ever bewildered, felt for him warmly. It pained her
excessively to observe how his large hands clasped and unclasped, how
his loose lips worked.
"Let me assure you," he went on, "though I trust that is superfluous--"
"I am certain it is, dear Dr. Horniblow," she feelingly declared.
"Thanks," he replied. "You are most kind, most indulgent to me, Miss
Verity.--Superfluous, I would say, to assure you that my colleague
adopted this deplorable course without my knowledge or sanction. He
sprang it on me like a bomb-shell. As a Christian my conscience, as a
gentleman my sense of fair play, condemns his action."
"Yes--yes--I sympathize.--I am convinced you are incapable of any
indiscretion, any unkindness, in the pulpit or out of it. But why, my
dear Canon, apologize to us? How can this unfortunate sermon affect me or
my niece? How can the scandal you hint at in any respect concern us?"
"Because," he began, that mottling of purple increasingly deforming his
amiable face.--And there words failed him, incontinently he stuck. He
detested strong language, but--heavens and earth--how could he put it to
her, as she gazed at him with startled, candid eyes, innocent of guile as
those of a babe? Only too certainly no word had reached her of the
truth. The good man groaned in spirit for, like Patch, he found himself
in a place of quite unexampled tightness, and with no hope of shunting
the immense discomfort of it on to alien shoulders such as had been
granted the happier Patch.
"Because," he began again, only to suffer renewed agony of wordlessness.
In desperation he shifted his ground.
"You have heard, perhaps, that your niece, Miss Damaris, left the church
before the conclusion of the sermon? I do not blame her"--
He waved a fatherly hand. Miss Verity acquiesced.
"Or rather was led out by--by Captain Faircloth--a young officer in the
mercantile marine, whose abilities and successful advance in his
profession this village has every reason to respect."
He broke off.
"Let us walk on towards The Hard. Pray let us walk on.--Has no rumour
ever reached you, Miss Verity, regarding this young man?"
The wildest ideas flitted through Miss Felicia's brain.
--The figure in shiny oilskins--yet preposterous, surely?--After all, an
affair of the heart--misplaced affection--Damaris?--Did this account for
the apparent indifference?
--How intensely interesting; yet how unwise.--How--but she must keep her
own counsel. The wind, now at her back, glued the blue coat
inconveniently against and even between her legs, unceremoniously
whisking her forward.
"Rumours--oh, none," she protested.
"None?" he echoed despairingly. "Pray let us walk on."
A foolish urgency on his part this, she felt, since she was already
almost on the run.
"None that, by birth, Captain Faircloth is somewhat nearly related to
your family--to your--your brother, Sir Charles, in fact?"
There, the incubus was off his straining chest at last! He felt easier,
capable of manipulating the situation to some extent, smoothing down its
rather terrible ascerbities.
"Such connections do," he hastened to add, "as we must regretfully
admit, exist even in the highest, the most exalted circles.
Irregularities of youth, doubtlessly deeply repented of. I repeat sins
of youth, at which only the sinless--and they, alas! to the shame of my
sex are lamentably few--can be qualified to cast a stone.--You, you
"You mean me to understand"--
"Yes, yes--exactly so--to understand that this young man is
reputed to be"--
"Thank you, my dear Canon--thank you," Felicia Verity here interposed
quickly, yet with much simple dignity, for on a sudden she became
singularly unflurried and composed.
"I do, I believe, follow you," she continued.--"You have discharged your
difficult mission with a delicacy and consideration for which I am
grateful; but I am unequal to discussing the subject in further detail
just now.--To me, you know, my brother is above criticism. Whatever
incidents may--may belong to former years, I accept without cavil or
question, in silence--dear Dr. Horniblow--in silence. His wishes upon
this matter--should he care to confide them to me--and those of my
niece, will dictate my conduct to--towards my nephew, Captain
Faircloth.--Believe me, in all sincerity, I thank you. I am very much
indebted to you for the information you have communicated to me. It
simplifies my position. And now," she gave him her hand, "will you pardon
my asking you to leave me?"
Walking slowly--for he felt played out, pretty thoroughly done for, as he
put it, and beat--back to the vicarage and his belated Sunday dinner:--
"And of such are the Kingdom of Heaven," James Horniblow said to
He also said other things, distinctly other things, in which occurred the
name of Reginald Sawyer whose days as curate of Deadham were numbered. If
he did not resign voluntarily, well then, pressure must, very certainly,
be employed to make him resign.
Meanwhile that blue-coated, virginal member of the Kingdom of Heaven
sped homeward at the top of her speed. She was conscious of immense
upheaval. Never had she felt so alive, so on the spot. The portals of
highest drama swung wide before her. She hastened to enter and pour forth
the abounding treasures of her sympathy at the feet of the actors in this
most marvellous piece. That her own part in it must be insignificant,
probably not even a speaking one, troubled her not the least. She was out
for them, not for herself. It was, also, characteristic of Miss Felicia
that she felt in nowise shocked. Not the ethical, still less the social
aspects of the drama affected her, but only its human ones. These dear
people had suffered, and she hadn't known it. They suffered still. She
enclosed them in arms of compassion.--If to the pure all things are pure,
Felicia Verity's purity at this juncture radiantly stood the test. And
that, not through puritanical shutting of the eyes or juggling with fact.
As she declared to Canon Horniblow, she accepted the incident without
question or cavil--for her brother. For herself, any possibility of
stepping off the narrow path of virtue, and exploring the alluring,
fragrant thickets disposed to left of it and to right, had never, ever so
distantly, occurred to her.
She arrived at The Hard with a bright colour and beating heart. Crossed
the hall and waited at the drawing-room door. A man's voice was audible
within, low-toned and grave, but very pleasant. It reminded her curiously
of Charles--Charles long ago on leave from India, lightening the heavy
conventionalities of Canton Magna with his brilliant, enigmatic, and--to
her--all too fugitive presence. Harriet had never really appreciated
Charles--though she was dazzled by his fame at intervals--didn't really
appreciate him to this day. Well, the loss was hers and the gain
indubitably Felicia's, since the elder sister's obtuseness had left the
younger sister a free field.--At thought of which Felicia softly laughed.
Again she listened to the man's voice--her brother Charles's delightful
young voice. It brought back the glamour of her girlhood, of other
voices which had mingled with his, of dances, picnics, cricket matches,
days with the hounds. She felt strangely moved, transported; also
strangely shy--so that she debated retirement. Did not, of course,
retire, but went into the drawing-room with a gentle rush, a dart
between the stumpy pillars.
"I hoped that I should find you both," she said. "Yes," to Damaris'
solemn and enquiring eyes--"I happened to meet our good, kind Canon and
have a little conversation with him. I hope"--to Faircloth--"you and I
may come to know one another better, know one another as friends. You are
not going?--No, indeed, you must stay to luncheon. It would grieve
me--and I think would grieve my brother Charles also, if you refused to
break bread in this house."
DEALING WITH EMBLEMS, OMENS AND DEMONSTRATIONS
Deadham resembled most country parishes in this, that, while revelling in
internal dissensions, when attacked from without its inhabitants promptly
scrapped every vendetta and, for the time being, stood back to back
against the world.
As one consequence of such parochial solidarity, the village gentry set
in a steady stream towards The Hard on the Monday afternoon following
the historic Sunday already chronicled. Commander and Mrs. Battye
called. Captain and Mrs. Taylor called, bringing with them their
daughter Louisa, a tight-lipped, well instructed High School mistress,
of whom her parents stood--one couldn't but notice it--most wholesomely
in awe. As is the youthful cuckoo in the nest of the hedge sparrow, so
was Louisa Taylor to the authors of her being.--Mrs. Horniblow called
also, flanked by her two girls, May and Doris--plain, thick-set,
energetic, well-meaning young persons, whom their shrewd mother loved,
sheltered, rallied, and cherished, while perfectly aware of their
limitations as to beauty and to brains. Immediately behind her slipped
in Mrs. Cripps. The doctor abstained, conscious of having put a match to
the fuse which had exploded yesterday's astounding homiletic torpedo.
The whole affair irritated him to the point of detestable ill-temper.
Still, if only to throw dust in the public eye, the house of Cripps must
be represented. He therefore deputed the job--like so many another
ungrateful one--to his forlorn-looking and red-eyed spouse. This vote of
confidence, if somewhat crudely proposed and seconded, was still so
evidently sincere and kindly meant that Damaris and Miss Felicia felt
constrained to accept it in good part.
Conversation ran upon the weather, the crops, the migratory wild fowl
now peopling the Haven, the Royal Family--invariably a favourite topic
this, in genteel circles furthest removed from the throne--in anecdotes
of servants and of pets interspersed with protests against the rise in
butcher Cleave's prices, the dullness of the newspapers and the
surprising scarcity of eggs.--Ran on any and every subject, in short,
save that of sermons preached by curates enamoured of the Decalogue.
Alone--saving and excepting Dr. Cripps--did the Miss Minetts fail to put
in an appearance. This of necessity, since had not they, figuratively
speaking, warmed the viper in their bosoms, cradled the assassin upon
their hearth? They were further handicapped, in respect of any
demonstration, by the fact of Theresa Bilson's presence in their midst.
Owing to the general combustion, Miss Felicia and the Peace Angel's joint
mission had gone by the wall. Theresa was still an exile from The Hard,
and doomed to remain so as the event proved. With that remarkable
power--not uncommon in her sex--of transmuting fact, granted the healing
hand of time, from defeat to personal advantage, she had converted her
repulse by Sir Charles Verity into a legend of quite flattering quality.
She had left The Hard because--But--
"She must not be asked to give chapter and verse. The position had been
_extremely_ delicate. Even now she could barely speak of it--she had gone
through too much. To be more explicit"--she bridled--"would trench upon
the immodest, almost. But just _this_ she _could_ say--she withdrew from
The Hard three years ago, because she saw withdrawal would be best for
_others_. Their peace of mind had been her object."
The above guarded confidences the Miss Minetts, hanging upon her lips,
received with devout admiration and fully believed. And, the best of it
was, Theresa had come by now, thanks to frequent rehearsal, fully to
believe this version herself. At the present juncture it had its
convenience, since she could declare her allegiance to her former
employer unimpaired. Thereby was she at liberty to join in the local
condemnation of Reginald Sawyer and his sermon. She did so with an
assumption of elegant, if slightly hysterical, omniscience. This was not
without its practical side. She regretted her inability to meet him at
meals. In consequence the Miss Minetts proposed he should be served in
his own sitting-room, until such time as it suited him to find another
place of residence than the Grey House. For their allegiance went on all
fours with Theresa's. It was also unimpaired. Propriety had been outraged
on every hand; matters, heretofore deemed unmentionable, rushed into the
forefront of knowledge and conversation; yet never had they actually
enjoyed themselves so greatly. The sense of being a storm
centre--inasmuch as they harboured the viper assassin--produced in
them an unexampled militancy. Latent sex-antagonism revealed itself.
The man, by common consent was down; and, being down, the Miss Minetts
jumped on him, pounded him, if terms so vulgar are permissible in
respect for ladies so refined. For every sin of omission, committed
against their womanhood by the members of his sex, they made him
scapegoat--unconsciously it is true, but effectively none the less. From
being his slaves they became his tormentors. Never was young fellow more
taken aback. Such revulsions of human feeling are instructive--deplorable
or diverting according as you view it.
Meanwhile that portion of the local gentry aforesaid, whom awkward
personal predicament--as in the case of Dr. Cripps and the Miss
Minetts--did not preclude from visiting The Hard, having called early on
Monday afternoon also left early, being anxious to prove their civility
of purest water, untainted by self-seeking, by ulterior greed of tea and
cakes. It followed that Damaris found herself relieved of their somewhat
embarrassed, though kindly and well-intentioned, presence before sunset.
And of this she was glad, since the afternoon had been fruitful of
interests far more intimate and vital in character.
While Captain and Mrs. Taylor, with their highly superior offspring
Louisa, still held the floor, Damaris received a telegram from her
father announcing a change of plans involving his immediate return.
"Send to meet the seven-thirty at Marychurch," so the pink paper
instructed her. "Carteret comes with me. When we arrive will explain."
On reception of the above, her first thought was of the letter forwarded
yesterday from the India Office, bearing the signature of the Secretary
of State. And close on the heels of that thought, looking over its
shoulder, indeed, in the effort--which she resisted--to claim priority,
was the thought of the dear man with the blue eyes about to be a guest,
once again, under this roof. This gave her a little thrill, a little
gasp, wrapping her away to the borders of sad inattention to Louisa
Taylor's somewhat academic discourse.--The girl's English was altogether
too grammatical for entire good-breeding. In that how very far away from
Carteret's!--Damaris tried to range herself with present company. But the
man with the blue eyes indubitably held the centre of the stage. She wore
the pearls to-day he gave her at St. Augustin. In what spirit did he
come?--She hoped in the earlier one, that of the time when she so
completely trusted him. For his counsel, dared she claim it in that
earlier spirit, would be of inestimable value just now. She so badly
needed someone in authority to advise with as to the events of yesterday,
both in their malign and their beneficent aspects. Aunt Felicia had risen
to the height of her capacity--dear thing, had been exquisite; but she
would obey orders rather than issue them. Her office was not to lead, but
rather to be led. And that the events of yesterday opened a new phase of
her own and Faircloth's relation to one another appeared beyond dispute.
Where exactly did the curve of duty towards her father touch that
relation, run parallel with or intersect it? She felt perplexed.
After tea, Miss Felicia having vanished on some affair of her
own--Damaris asked no question, but supposed it not unconnected with the
now, since Sir Charles was about to return, permanently exiled
Theresa--our maiden went upstairs, in the tender evening light, on
domestic cares intent. She wished to assure herself that the chintz
bedroom, opening off the main landing and overlooking the lawn and front
garden, had been duly made ready for Colonel Carteret. She took a
somewhat wistful pleasure in silently ministering to his possible small
needs in the matter of sufficient wealth of towels, candles and soap. She
lengthened out the process. Lingered, rearranged the ornaments upon the
mantelpiece, the bunch of sweet-leafed geranium--as yet unshrivelled by
frost--and belated roses, placed in a vase upon the toilet-table.
In so doing she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, and paused,
studying it. Her looks were not at their best. She was wan.--That might,
in part, be owing to the waning light. Around her eyes were dark circles,
making them appear unnaturally large and solemn. So yesterday's emotions
had left their mark! The nervous strain had been considerable and she
showed it. One cannot drink the cup of shame, however undeserved, with
physical any more than with mental impunity. She still felt a little
shattered, but hoped neither her father nor Carteret would remark her
plight. If the whole affair of yesterday could, in its objectionable
aspects, be kept from Sir Charles's knowledge she would be infinitely
glad. And why shouldn't it be? Without permission, Aunt Felicia certainly
would not tell. Neither would the servants. The parish had given
testimony, this afternoon, both of its good faith and its discretion.
So much for the objectionable side of the matter. But there was another
side, far from objectionable, beautiful in sentiment and in promise. And,
still viewing her reflection in the glass, she saw her eyes lose their
solemnity, lighten with a smile her lips repeated. This was where
Carteret's advice would be of so great value. How much ought she to tell
her father of all that?
For, from amidst the shame, the anger, the strain and effort, Faircloth
showed, to her thinking, triumphant, satisfying alike to her affection
and her taste. In no respect would she have asked him other than he was.
She moved across to the window, and sat down there, looking out over the
garden and battery, with its little cannons, to the Bar, and sea beyond
which melted into the dim primrose and silver of the horizon. Such colour
as existed was soft, soothing, the colour of a world of dreams, of
subdued and voiceless fancies. It was harmonious, restful as an
accompaniment to vision.--Damaris let it lap against her consciousness,
encircling, supporting this, as water laps, also encircling and
supporting--while caressing, mysteriously whispering against a boat's
side--a boat lying at its moorings, swinging gently upon an even
keel.--And her vision was of Faircloth, exclusively of him, just now.
For he had stayed to luncheon yesterday. A meal, to him in a sense
sacred, as being the first eaten by him in his father's house. So
graciously invited, how, indeed, could he do otherwise than stay? And,
the initial strangeness, the inherent wonder of that sacred character
wearing off, he found voice and talked not without eloquence. Talked of
his proper element, the sea, gaining ease and self-possession from the
magnitude and manifold enchantments of his theme.
To him, as to all true-born sailor-men--so Damaris divined--the world is
made of water, with but accident of land. Impeding, inconvenient accident
at that, too often blocking the passage across or through, and
constraining you to steer a foolishly, really quite inordinately
divergent course. Under this obstructive head the two Americas offend
direfully, sprawling their united strength wellnigh from pole to pole.
The piercing of their central isthmus promised some mitigation of this
impertinence of emergent matter; though whether in his, the speaker's
lifetime, remained--so he took it--open to doubt. The "roaring forties,"
and grim blizzard-ridden Fuegian Straits would long continue, as he
feared, to bar the way to the Pacific. Not that his personal fancy
favoured West so much as East. Not into the sunset but into the sunrising
did he love to sail some goodly black-hulled ship.--And as he talked,
more especially at his mention of this eastward voyaging, those manifold
enchantments of his calling stirred Damaris' imagination, making her
eyes bright as the fabled eyes of danger, and fathomless as well.
But the best came later. For, Mary having served coffee, Miss Felicia,
making an excuse of letters to be written, with pretty tact left them to
themselves. And Faircloth, returning after closing the door behind her
fluttering, gently eager figure, paused behind Damaris' chair.--Jacobean,
cane-panelled, with high-carved back and arms to it. Thomas Clarkson
Verity had unquestionably a nice taste in furniture.--The young
sea-captain rested his right hand on the dark terminal scroll-work, and
bending down, laid his left hand upon Damaris' hand, covering it as it
lay on the white damask table-cloth.
"Have I done what I should, and left undone what I shouldn't do, my dear
and lovely sister?" he asked her, half-laughing and half-abashed. "It's a
tricky business being here, you know--to put it no higher than that. And
it might, with truth, be put far higher. I get so horribly fearful of
letting you down in any way--however trivial--before other people. I
balance on a knife-edge all the while."
"Have no silly fears of that sort," Damaris said quickly, a trifle
For it plucked at her sisterly pride in him that he should, even by
implication, debase himself, noting inequality of station between himself
and her. She held the worldly aspects of the matter in contempt. They
angered her, so that she impulsively banished reserve. Leaning forward,
she bent her head, putting her lips to the image of the flying
sea-bird--which so intrigued her loving curiosity--and those three
letters tattooed in blue and crimson upon the back of his hand.
"There--there"--she murmured, as soothing a child--"does this
But here broke off, her heart contracting with a spasm of wondering
tenderness. For under that pressure of her lips she felt his flesh quiver
and start. She looked up at the handsome bearded face, so close above
her, in swift enquiry, the potion--as once before--troubling her that, in
touching this quaint stigmata, she inflicted bodily suffering. And, as
on that earlier occasion, asked the question:
"Ah! but have I hurt you?"
Faircloth shook his head, smiling. Words failed him just then and he went
pale beneath the overlay of clear brown sunburn.
"Then tell me what this stands for?" she said, being herself strangely
moved, and desirous to lower the temperature of her own emotion--possibly
of his as well. "Tell me what it means."
"Just a boy's fear and a boy's superstition--a bit morbid, both of them,
perhaps--that is as I see things now. For I hold one should leave one's
body as it pleased the Almighty to make it, unblemished by semi-savage
decorations which won't wash off."
Faircloth moved away, drew his chair up nearer the head of the table,
the corner between them, so that his hand could if desire prompted again
"By the way, I'm so glad you don't wear ear-rings, Damaris," he said.
"They belong to the semi-savage order of decoration. I hate them. You
never will wear them? Promise me that."
And she had promised, somewhat diverted by his tone of authority and of
"But about this?" she asked him, indicating the blue and crimson symbol.
"As I say, fruit of fear and superstition--a pretty pair in which to put
one's faith! All the same, they went far to save my life, I fancy--for
which I thank them mightily being here, with you, to-day."
And he told her--softening the uglier details, as unfit for a
gently-nurtured woman's hearing--a brutal story of the sea. Of a sailing
ship becalmed in tropic waters, waiting, through long blistering days and
breathless sweltering nights, for the breeze which wouldn't come--a
floating hell, between glaring skies and glaring ocean--and of bullyings,
indignities and torments devised by a brain diseased by drink.
"But was there no one to interfere, no one to protect you?" Damaris
"A man's master in his own ship," Faircloth answered. "And short of
mutiny there's no redress. Neither officers nor men had a stomach for
mutiny. They were a poor, cowed lot. Till this drunken madness came on
him he had been easy going enough. They supposed, when it passed, he'd
be so again. And then as he reserved his special attentions for me,
they were willing to grin and bear it--or rather let me bear it, just
stupidly letting things go. It was my first long voyage. I'd been lucky
in my skippers so far, and was a bit soft still. A bit conceited, I
don't doubt, as well. He swore he'd break my spirit--for my own good,
of course--and he came near succeeding.--But Damaris, Damaris, dear,
don't take it to heart so. What does it matter? It did me no lasting
harm, and was all over and done with--would have been forgotten too,
but for the rather silly sign of it--years and years ago. Let us talk
no more about it."
"Oh, no!--go on--please, go on," she brokenly prayed him.
So he told her, further, how at Singapore, the outward voyage at last
ended, he was tempted to desert; or, better still, put an end, once and
for all, to the whole black business of living. And how, meditating on
the methods of such drastic deliverance--sitting in the palm-shaded
verandah of a fly-blown little eating-house, kept by a monkey-faced,
squint-eyed Japanese--he happened to pick up a Calcutta newspaper. He
read its columns mechanically, without interest or understanding, his
mind still working on methods of death, when a name leapt at him weighted
with personal meaning.
"It hit me," Faircloth said, "full between the eyes, knocking the
cry-baby stuff out of me, and knocking stuff of very different order in.
For I wanted something stronger than mother-love--precious though that
is--to brace me up and put some spunk into me just then.--Sir Charles was
campaigning in Afghanistan, and this Calcutta paper sang his praises to a
rousing tune. Lamented the loss of him to the Indian Government, and the
lack of appreciation and support of him at home which induced him to take
foreign service. Can't you imagine how all this about a great soldier,
whose blood after all ran in my veins, pulled me clean up out of the
slime, where suicide tempted the soft side of me, into another world?--A
sane world, in which a man can make good, if only he's pluck to hold
on.--Yes, he saved me; or at all events roused the spirit in me which
makes for salvation, and which that drunken brute had almost killed. But,
because I was only a boy as yet, with a boy's queer instincts and
extravagancies, I made the monkey-faced, Japanese eating-house
keeper--who added artistic tattooing to other and less reputable ways of
piling up a fortune--fix the sea-bird, for faith in my profession--and
those three initials of my own name and a name not altogether my own,
right here.--Fix them for remembrance and for a warning of which I could
never get free. Always I should be forced to see it. And others must see
it too. Through it my identity--short of mutilation--was indestructibly
established. From that identity, henceforward, there wasn't any possible
Faircloth had ended on a note of exultation, calmly sounded yet profound.
And upon that final note Damaris dwelt now, sitting on the chintz-covered
window-seat of the room which Carteret would to-night inhabit. She went
through the cruel story again, while the transparent twilight drew its
elfin veil over all things, outdoor and in.
The crescent moon, a slender, upright wisp of a thing, climbed the
southern sky. And Damaris' soul was strangely satisfied, for the story,
if cruel, was one of restitution and the healing of a wrong. To her
father--his father--the boy had turned in that bad hour, which very
perfectly made for peace between them. The curve of her duty to the one,
as she now apprehended, in nowise cut across or deflected the curve of
her duty towards the other. The two were the same, were one. And this,
somehow, some day, when time and sentiment offered opportunity for such
disclosure, she must let her father know. She must repeat to him the
story of the eating-house and its monkey-faced proprietor--of
questionable reputation--away in tropic Singapore. It could hardly fail
to appeal to him if rightly told. About the events and vulgar publicity
of yesterday nothing need be said. About this, within careful limits,
much; and that, with, as she believed, happiest result. She had succeeded
in bringing father and son together in the first instance. Now, with this
pathetic story as lever, might she not hope to bring them into closer,
more permanent union? Why should not Faircloth, in future, come and go,
if not as an acknowledged son, yet as acknowledged and welcome friend, of
the house? A consummation this, to her, delightful and reasonable as
just. For had not the young man passed muster, and that triumphantly--she
again told herself--in small things as well as great, in things of social
usage and habit, those "little foxes" which, as between class and class,
do so deplorably and disastrously "spoil the grapes?"
Therefore she began to invent ingenious speeches to Carteret and to her
father. Hatch ingenious schemes and pretty plots--in the style of dear
Aunt Felicia almost!--Was that lady's peace-making passion infectious, by
chance? And supposing it were, hadn't it very charming and praiseworthy
turns to it--witness Felicia's rather noble gathering in and acceptance
of Faircloth yesterday.
Arriving at which engaging conclusion, Damaris felt minded to commune for
a space with the restful loveliness of the twilight, before going
downstairs again and seeking more definite employment of books or
needlework. She raised the window-sash and, kneeling on the
chintz-covered cushioned window-seat, leaned out.
The gardeners to-day had rooted up the geraniums and dug over the empty
flower beds, just below, preparatory to planting them with bulbs for
spring blossoming. The keen, pungent scent of the newly-turned earth
hung in the humid air, as, mingling with it--a less agreeable
incense--did the reek of the mud-flats. On the right the twin ilex trees
formed a mass of soft imponderable gloom. Above and behind them the sky
was like smoked crystal. The lawn lay open and vacant. Upon it nothing
hopped or crept. The garden birds had eaten their suppers long since,
and sought snug bosky perching places for the night. Even the unsleeping
sea was silent, the tide low and waveless, no more than a languid ripple
far out upon the shelving sands. All dwelt in calm, in a brooding
tranquillity which might be felt.
Damaris listened to the silence, until her ears began to suspect its
sincerity. Sounds were there in plenty, she believed, were her hearing
sharp enough to detect them. They naughtily played hide-and-seek with
her, striking a chord too deep or too thinly acute for human sense.
Sights were there too, had her eyes but a cat's or an owl's keener
faculty of seeing. Behind the tranquillity she apprehended movement and
action employing a medium, obeying impulses, to us unknown. Restfulness
fled away, but, in place of it, interest grew. If she concentrated her
attention and listened more carefully, she should hear; looked more
steadily, she should see.
Just because she was tired, a little shattered still and spent, did this
predominance of outward nature draw her, imposing itself. It beckoned
her; and, through passing deficiency of will, she followed its beckoning,
making no serious effort to resist. With the consequence she presently
did hear sounds, but sounds surely real and recognizable enough.
Coming from the shore eastwards, below the sea-wall along the river
frontage, ponies walked, or rather floundered, fetlock deep in blown
sand--a whole drove of them to judge by the confused and muffled
trampling of their many hoofs. The drop from the top of the sea-wall to
the beach was too great, and the space between the foot of the wall and
the river-bank and breakwater too confined, for her to see the animals,
even had not oncoming darkness rendered all objects increasingly
But the confused trampling instead of keeping along the foreshore, as in
all reason it should, now came up and over the sea-wall, on to the
battery, into the garden, heading towards the house, Damaris strained her
eyes through the tranquil obscurity, seeking visible cause of this
advancing commotion, but without effect. Yet all the while, as her
hearing clearly testified, the unseen ponies hustled one another,
plunging, shying away from the swish and crack of a long-thonged whip.
One stumbled and rolled over in the sand.--For although the mob was
half-way up the lawn by now, the shuffling, sliding sand stayed always
with them.--After a nasty struggle it got on to its feet, tottering
forward under savage blows, dead lame. Another, a laggard, fell into its
tracks, and lay there foundered, rattling in the throat.
By this time the foremost of the drove came abreast the house front,
where Sir Charles Verity's three ground-floor rooms, with the corridor
behind them, ranged out from the main building. The many-paned
semicircular windows of these rooms dimly glistened, below their
fan-shaped, slated roofs. The crowding scurry of scared, over-driven
animals was so indisputable that Damaris expected a universal smashing of
glass. But the sound of many hoofs, still muted by sliding sand, passed
straight on into and through the house as though no obstacle intervened
The many-paned windows remained intact, undemolished, dimly glistening
beneath their slated roofs. The garden stretched vacant, as before, right
away to the battery, in the elusive twilight, a sky of smoked
crystal--through which stars began to show faintly, points of cold
blurred light--above the gloom of the ilex trees to the west, and in the
south, above the indistinguishable sea, the slender moon hanging upright,
silver and sickle-shaped.
Thus far Damaris' entire consciousness had resided in and been limited to
her auditory sense; concentration being too absorbed and intense to allow
room for reasoning, still less for scepticism or even astonishment. She
had watched with her ears--as the blind watch--desperate to interpret,
instant by instant, inch by inch, this reconstructed tragedy of long-dead
man and long-dead beast. There had been no thinking round the central
interest, no attempted reading of its bearing upon normal events. Mind
and imagination were fascinated by it to the exclusion of all else. It
acted as an extravagant dream acts, abrogating all known laws of cause
and effect, giving logic and science the lie, negativing probability,
making the untrue true, the impossible convincingly manifest.
Not, indeed, until she beheld Mary Fisher, deep-bosomed and comely, in
black gown, white apron and cap, moving within those rooms
downstairs--still echoing, as they surely must, to that tumultuous and
rather ghastly equine transit--did the extraordinary character of the
occurrence flash into fullness of relief.
Mary, meanwhile, set down her flat candlestick upon the big writing-table
in Sir Charles's study, lighted lamps and drew blinds and curtains. Went
into the bedroom next door and dressing-room beyond, methodically
performing the evening ritual of "shutting up." Her shadow marched with
her, as though mockingly assisting in her operations, now crouching, now
leaping ahead, blotting a ceiling, extending itself upon a wall space.
Other shadows, thrown by the furniture, came forth and leapt also,
pranced, skipping back into hiding as the candle-light shifted and
passed. But save this indirect admission of the immaterial and grotesque,
everything showed reassuringly ordinary, the woman herself unconcerned,
ignorant of disturbance.
Damaris rose from her kneeling posture upon the window-seat and,
standing, lowered the sash. Once was enough. It was no longer incumbent
upon her to listen or to look. If these ghostly phenomena were repeated
they could convey nothing more to her, nothing fresh. They had delivered
their message--one addressed wholly and solely to herself, so she judged,
since Mary had so conspicuously no suspicion of it.
Our maiden's lips were dry. Her heart beat in her ears. Yet she was in no
degree unnerved. Seldom indeed had she been more mistress of her powers,
self-realized and vigilant. Nor did she feel tired any more, infirm of
will and spent. Rather was she consciously resolute to encounter and
withstand events--of what order she did not know as yet but events of
moment and far-reaching result, already on the road, journeying toward
her hotfoot. They were designed to test and try her. Would do their
utmost to overwhelm, to submerge her, were she weak. But she didn't
intend them to submerge her. She bade weakness quit, all her young
courage rising in arms.
The marvellous things she just now heard, so nearly saw--for it had come
very near to seeing, hadn't?--were _avant couriers_ of these same
journeying events, their appointed prelude. She could explain neither how
nor why--but, very certainly, somehow. Nor could she explain the
relation--if any--coupling together the said marvels heard and the
events. Nevertheless, she knew the former rode ahead, whether in
malignity or mercy, to forewarn her. This place, The Hard, in virtue of
its numerous vicissitudes of office and of ownership, of the memories and
traditions which it harboured, both sinister, amiable, erudite,
passionate, was singularly sentient, replete with influences. In times of
strain and stress the normal wears thin, and such lurking influences are
released. They break bounds, shouting--to such as have the psychic
genius--convincing testimony of their existence.
All this Damaris perceived, standing in the middle of the room while the
silver crescent moon looked in at her. The stillness once again was
absolute. The dusk, save where the windows made pale squares upon the
carpet, thick. The four-post bed, gay enough by day with hangings and
valences patterned in roses on a yellow ground, looked cavernous.
Carteret would lie under its black canopy to-night if--
"If all goes well."
Damaris said the words aloud, her thought becoming personal and
Once before she had heard the smugglers' ponies, waiting in this same
room. Waiting at the open window to catch the first rumble of the wheels
of a returning carriage. Her poor dear Nannie, Sarah Watson, was
returning home after a summer holiday spent with her own people in the
north. And Damaris, younger then by nearly five years, had listened
impatiently, ready to skirmish down into the front hall--directly the
carriage turned the elbow of the drive--and enclose her faithful nurse
and foster-mother in arms of child-like love. But destiny ruled otherwise.
In vain she waited. Sarah Watson returned no more, death having elected
to take her rather horribly to himself some hours previously amid the
flaming wreckage of a derailed express.
What did this second hearing presage? A like vain waiting and disclosure
of death-dealing accident? Notwithstanding her attitude of high
resolution, the question challenged Damaris in sardonic fashion from
beneath the black canopy of the great bed. Her hand went up to the string
of pearls which, on a sudden, grew heavy about her throat.
"But not--not--pray God, the dear man with the blue eyes," she cried.
She was glad to be alone, in the encompassing semi-dark, for a warm wave
of emotion swept over her, an ardour hardly of the spiritual sort. Had
she deceived herself? Was she, in truth, desirous Carteret should
approach her solely according to that earlier manner, in which she so
simply trusted him? Did she hail his coming as that of a wise counsellor
But here Mary--still pursuing the time-honoured ritual of shutting
up--entered candle in hand, the landing showing brightly lit behind her.
"Dear heart alive!" she exclaimed, "whoever's that? You, Miss Damaris?
Alone here in the dark. You did make me jump. But there," she added,
repentant of her unceremonious exclamation, "I don't know what possesses
us all to-night. The least thing seems to make you jump. Mrs. Cooper's
all of a twitter, and Laura--silly girl--is almost as bad. I suppose it's
the weather being so quiet after yesterday's gale. For my own part I
always do like a wind about. It seems company, particularly these long
evenings if you're called on to go round the house by yourself."
All of which amounted to an admission, as Damaris was not slow to detect.
She was still under the empire of emotion. The abrupt intrusion affected
her. She, too, needed to carry off the situation.
"Poor Mary," she said, "you have been frightened--by what? Did you hear
anything you could not account for when you were down in the library
The answer came after a pause, as though the speaker were suspicious,
slightly unwilling to commit herself.
"No, Miss Damaris, not in Sir Charles's rooms or in the west wing either.
Whatever unaccountable noises there ever is belong to this old part of
She set her candlestick on the dressing-table, and went to each window in
turn, drawing blinds down and curtains across. So doing she continued to
talk, moving to and fro meanwhile with a firm, light tread.
"Not that I pay much attention to such things myself. I don't hold it's
right. It's my opinion there's no sort of nonsense you can't drive
yourself into believing once you let ideas get a root in you. I've seen
too much of Mrs. Cooper giving away like that. The two winters you and
Sir Charles was abroad I'd a proper upset with her--though we are good
friends--more than once. After sundown she was enough to terrify you out
of your life--wouldn't go here and wouldn't go there for fear of she
didn't know what. Tempting Providence, I call it, and spoke to her quite
sharp. If ever I wanted to go over to spend an hour or two with father
and mother in Marychurch, I was bound to ask Mrs. Patch and the children
to come in and keep her company. There's no sense in putting yourself
into such a state. It makes you a trouble to yourself and everybody else.
And in the end, a thousand to one if anything comes of all the turmoil
and fuss--Mrs. Cooper, to be only fair to her, when she's in a reasonable
humour, allows as much."
Mary stepped across to the bed and doubled back the quilt, preparatory to
turning down the fine linen sheet. She felt she had extracted herself
from a somewhat invidious position with flying colours; and, in the
process, had administered timely advice. For it wasn't suitable Miss
Damaris should be moping alone upstairs at odd times like this. It all
came of yesterday's upset.--Her righteous anger blazed against the
clerical culprit. In that connection there was other matter of which she
craved to deliver herself--refreshing items of local gossip, sweet as
honey to the mouth did she but dare retail them. She balanced the
question this way and that. Would satisfaction outweigh offence, or
offence satisfaction, on the part of Miss Damaris? You could not be sure
how she'd take things--quite. And yet she ought to know, for the affair
certainly placed Captain Faircloth in a pleasant light. Only one who was
every inch a gentleman would behave so handsomely as he had.
She stretched across the bed to smooth the slightly wrinkled surface of
the sheet. This gymnastic feat necessitated the averting of her face and
turning of her back.
"There's a fine tale going round of how the Island lads--wild young
fellows ready for any pranks--served Mr. Sawyer, the curate," she began.
"They say William Jennifer put them up to it, having a grudge against him
for trying to get his youngest boy taken up for stealing apples last
week. They planned to give him a ducking in the pool just above the
ferry, where the water's so deep under the bank. And if Captain Faircloth
hadn't happened to come along, for certain they'd have made Mr. Sawyer
swim for it. Mr. Patch hears they handled him ever so rough, tore his
coat, and were on the very tick of pitching him in. But Captain Faircloth
would not suffer it. He took a very high line with them, it is said. And
not content with getting Mr. Sawyer away, walked with him as far as the
Grey House to protect him from any further interference."
She gave the pillows sundry judicious strokings and pats.
"I hope Mr. Sawyer's properly thankful, for it isn't many that would have
shown him so much leniency as that."
She would have enjoyed labouring the point. But comment appeared to her,
under the circumstances, to trench on impertinence. Facts spoke for
themselves. She restrained herself, fetched her candlestick from the
dressing-table, and stood by the open door, thereby enjoining her young
Thus far Damaris maintained silence, but in passing out on to the
landing, she said--"Thank you. I am glad to know what has happened."
Encouraged by which acknowledgment, the excellent woman ventured
"And now, miss, you must please just lie down on the schoolroom sofa and
get a little sleep before the gentlemen and Mr. Hordle arrive back. There
is a good two hours to wait yet, and I'll call you in plenty of time for
you to dress. You don't look altogether yourself, miss. Too much talking
with all that host of callers. You are properly fagged out. I'll get Mrs.
Cooper to beat up an egg for you in a tumbler of hot milk, with a
tablespoonful of sherry and just a pinch of sugar in it. That will get
your circulation right."
SHOWING HOW SIR CHARLES VERITY WAS JUSTIFIED OF HIS LABOURS
Which homely programme being duly executed, worked restorative wonders.
Matter, in the sublimated form of egg-flip, acted upon mind beneficially
through the functions of a healthy, if weary, young body. Our maiden
slept, to dream not of ghostly ponies or other uncomfortably discarnate
creatures; but of Darcy Faircloth in his pretty piece of Quixotism,
rescuing a minister of the Church of England "as by law established" from
heretical baptismal rites of total immersion. The picture had a rough
side to it, and also a merry one; but, beyond these, generous dealing
wholly delightful to her feeling. She awoke soothed and restored, ready
to confront the oncoming of events--whatever their character--in a spirit
of high confidence as well as of resolution.
With the purpose of advertising this brave humour she dressed herself in
her best. I do not deny a love of fine clothes in Damaris. Yet in her own
home, and for delectation of the men belonging to her, a woman is surely
free to deck herself as handsomely as her purse allows. "Beauty
unadorned" ceased to be practicable, in self-respecting circles, with the
expulsion of our first parents from the paradisaic state; while beauty
merely dowdy, is a pouring of contempt on one of God's best gifts to the
human race. Therefore I find no fault with Damaris, upon this rather
fateful evening, in that she clothed herself in a maize-coloured silk
gown flowered in faint amber and faint pink. Cut in the piece from
shoulder to hem, according to a then prevailing fashion, it moulded
bosom, waist and haunches, spreading away into a demi-train behind. The
high Medici collar of old lace, at the back of the square decolletage,
conferred dignity; the hanging lace of the elbow sleeves a lightness. Her
hair, in two wide plaits, bound her head smoothly, save where soft
disobedient little curls, refusing restriction, shaded her forehead and
the nape of her neck.
After a few seconds of silent debate she clasped Carteret's pearls about
her throat again; and so fared away, a creature of radiant aspect, amid
sombre setting of low ceilings and dark carpeted floors, to await the
advent of the travellers.
These arrived some little while before their time, so that the girl, in
her gleaming dress, had gone but half-way down the staircase when they
came side by side into the hall.--Two very proper gentlemen, the moist
freshness of the night attending them, a certain nobility in their
bearing which moved her to enthusiasm, momentarily even bringing a mist
before her eyes. For they were safe and well both of them, so she
joyously registered, serene of countenance, moreover, as bearers of glad
tidings are. Whatever the ghostly ponies foretold could be no evil
shadowing them--for which she gave God thanks.
Meanwhile, there without, the light of the carriage lamps pierced the
enclosing gloom, played on the silver plating of harness, on the shining
coats of the horses, whose nostrils sent out jets of pale steam. Played
over the faces of the servants, too, Mary and Laura just within the open
door, Hordle and Conyers outside loading down the baggage from the back
of the mail-phaeton, and on Patch, exalted high above them on the
As Damaris paused, irradiated by the joy of welcome and of forebodings
falsified, upon the lowest step of the staircase, Sir Charles turned
aside and tenderly kissed her.
"My darling," he said.
And Carteret, following him an instant later, took her by both hands and,
from arm's length, surveyed her in smiling admiration he made no effort
"Dear witch, this is unexpected good fortune. I had little thought of
seeing you so soon--resplendent being that you are, veritably clothed
"And with your pearls," she gaily said.
"Ah! my poor pearls," he took her up lightly. "I am pleased they still
find favour in your sight. But aren't you curious to learn what has made
us desert our partridge shooting at an hour's notice, granting the pretty
little beggars unlooked-for length of life?"
His blue eyes laughed into hers. There was a delightful atmosphere about
him. Something had happened to him surely--for wasn't he, after all, a
young man even yet?
"Yes--what--what has brought you, Colonel Sahib?" Damaris laughed back at
him, bubbling over with happy excitement.
"Miracles," he answered. "A purblind Government at last admits the error
of its ways and proposes to make reparation for its neglect of a notable
"You?" she cried.
Carteret shook his head, still surveying her but with a soberer glance.
"No--no--not me. In any case there isn't any indebtedness to
acknowledge--no arrears to pay off. I have my deserts.--To a man
immensely my superior. Look nearer home, dear witch."
He made a gesture in the direction of his host.
"My Commissioner Sahib?"
"Yes--your Commissioner Sahib, who comes post haste to request your dear
little permission, before accepting this tardy recognition of his
services to the British Empire."
"Ah! but that's too much!" the girl said softly, glancing from one to the
other, enchanted and abashed by the greatness of their loyalty to and
prominent thought of her.
"Has this made him happy?" she asked Carteret, under her breath. "He
looks so, I think. How good that this has come in time--that it hasn't
come too late."
For, in the midst of her joyful excitement, a shadow crossed Damaris'
mind oddly obscuring the light. She suffered a perception things might so
easily have turned out otherwise; a suspicion that, had the reparation of
which Carteret spoke been delayed, even by a little, its beloved
recipient would no longer have found use for or profit in it. Damaris
fought the black thought, as ungrateful and faithless. To fear disaster
is too often to invite it.
Just at this juncture Miss Felicia made hurried and gently eager
irruption into the hall; and with that irruption the tone of prevailing
sentiment declined upon the somewhat trivial, even though warmly
affectionate. For she fluttered round Sir Charles, as Mary Fisher helped
divest him of his overcoat, in sympathetic overflowings of the simplest
sort.--"She had been reading and failed to hear the carriage, hence her
tardy appearance. Let him come into the drawing-room at once, out of
these draughts. There was a delightful wood fire and he must be chilled.
The drive down the valley was always so cold at night--particularly where
the road runs through the marsh lands by Lampit."
In her zeal of welcome Miss Verity was voluble to the point of
inconsequence, not to say incoherence. Questions poured from her. She
appeared agitated, quaintly self-conscious, so at least it occurred to
Damaris. Finally she addressed Carteret.
"And you too must be frozen," she declared. "How long it is since we met!
I have always been so unlucky in just missing you here! Really I believe
I have only seen you once since you and Charles stayed with us at Canton
Magna.--You were both on leave from India. I dare not think how many
years ago that is--before this child"--her candid eyes appealingly sought
those of Damaris--"before this child existed. And you are so wonderfully
Colour dyed her thin face and rather scraggy neck. Only the young should
blush. After forty such involuntary exhibitions of emotion are
unattractive, questionably even pathetic.
"Really time has stood still with you--it seems to me, Colonel Carteret."
"Time has done better than stand still," Damaris broke in, with a rather
surprising imperiousness. "It has beautifully run backwards--lately."
And our maiden, in her whispering gleaming dress, swept down from the
step, swept past the sadly taken aback Miss Felicia, and joined her
father. She put her hand within his arm.
"Come and warm yourself--come, dearest," she said, gently drawing him
onward into the long room, where from above the range of dark
bookshelves, goggle-eyed, pearl-grey Chinese goblins and monsters, and
oblique-eyed Chinese philosophers and saints looked mysteriously down
through the warm mellow light.
Damaris was conscious of a singular inward turmoil. For Miss Felicia's
speeches found small favour in her ears. She resented this open claiming
of Carteret as a member of the elder generation. Still more resented her
own relegation to the nullity of the prenatal state. Reminiscences, in
which she had neither lot nor part, left her cold. Or, to be accurate,
bred in her an intemperate heat, putting a match to jealousies which,
till this instant, she had no knowledge of. Touched by that match they
flared to the confusion of charity and reverence. Hence, impulsively,
unscrupulously, yet with ingenious unkindness, she struck--her tongue a
sword--to the wounding of poor Miss Felicia. And she felt no necessity
for apology. She liked to be unkind. She liked to strike. Aunt Felicia
should not have been so self-assertive, so tactless. She had brought
chastisement upon herself. It wasn't like her to behave thus. Her
enthusiasms abounded; but she possessed a delicate appreciation of
relative positions. She never poached. This came perilously near
poaching.--And everything had danced to so inspiring a tune, the movement
of it so delicious! Now the evening was spoilt. The first fine alacrity
of it could not be recaptured--which was all Aunt Felicia's fault.--No,
for her unkindness Damaris felt no regret.
It may be remarked that our angry maiden's mind dwelt rather upon the
snub she had inflicted on Miss Verity, than upon the extensive compliment
she had paid, and the challenge she had delivered, to Carteret. Hearing
her flattering declaration, his mind not unnaturally dwelt more upon the
latter. It took him like a blow, so that from bending courteously over
the elder lady's hand, he straightened himself with a jerk. His eyes
followed the imperious, sun-clad young figure, questioning and keenly
alert. To-day he had liberally enjoyed the pleasures of friendship, for
Charles Verity had been largely and generously elate. But Damaris'
outburst switched feeling and sentiment onto other lines. They became
personal. Were her words thrown off in mere lightness of heart, or had
she spoken deliberately, with intention? It were wiser, perhaps, not to
ask. He steadied his attention on to Miss Felicia once more, but not
"You always said kind and charming things, I remember," so he told her.
"You are good enough to say them still."
Damaris stood by her father, upon the tiger skin before the hearth.
"Tell me, dearest?" she prayed him.
Charles Verity put his hand under her chin, turned up her face and looked
searchingly at her. Her beauty to-night was conspicuous and of noble
quality. It satisfied his pride. Public life invited him, offering him
place and power. Ranklings of disappointment, of detraction and slight,
were extinguished. His soul was delivered from the haunting vexations of
them. He was in the saddle again, and this radiant woman-child, whom he
so profoundly loved, should ride forth with him for all the world to
see--if she pleased. That she would please he had no doubt. Pomp and
circumstance would suit her well. She was, moreover, no slight or frothy
piece of femininity; but could be trusted, amid the glamour of new and
brilliant conditions, to use her judgment and to keep her head.
Increasingly he respected her character as well as her intelligence. He
found in her unswerving sense of right and wrong, sense of honour
likewise. Impetuous she might be, swift to feel and to revolt; but of
tender conscience and, on occasion, royally compassionate. Now he could
give her fuller opportunity. Could place her in circumstances admittedly
enviable and prominent. From a comparative back-water, she should gain
the full stream--and that stream, in a sense, at the flood.
Rarely, if ever, had Charles Verity experienced purer pleasure, touched a
finer level of purpose and of hope than to-day, when thinking of and now
when looking upon Damaris. He thankfully appraised her worth, and in
spirit bowed before it, not doatingly or weakly but with reasoned
conviction. Weighed in the balances she would not be found wanting, such
was his firm belief. For himself he accepted this recall to active
participation in affairs, active service to the State, with a lofty
content. But that his daughter, in the flower of her young womanhood,
would profit by this larger and more distinguished way of life, gave the
said recall its deeper values and its zest.
Still he put her off awhile as to the exact announcement, smiling upon
her in fond, yet stately approval.
"Let the telling keep until after dinner, my dear," he bade her. "Pacify
the cravings of the natural man for food and drink. The day has been
fertile in demands--strenuous indeed to the point of fatigue. So let us
comfort ourselves inwardly and materially before we affront weighty
He kissed her cheek.
"By the way, though, does it ever occur to you to think of the Bhutpur
Sultan-i-bagh and wish to go East again?"
And Damaris, with still uplifted chin, surveyed him gravely and with a
certain wistfulness, Miss Felicia's attempted poaching forgotten and an
impression of Faircloth vividly overtaking her. For they were so
intimately, disturbingly alike, the father and the son, in voice as well
as in build and feature.
"Go East?" she said, Faircloth's declared preference for sailing into the
sunrise present to her. "Why, I go East in my dreams nearly every night.
I love it--love it more rather than less as I grow older. Of course I
wish to go--some day. But that's by the way, Commissioner Sahib. All that
I really want, now, at once, is to go wherever you go, stay wherever you
stay. You won't ask me to agree to any plan which parts us, will
you?--which takes you away from me?"
"Ruth to a strange Naomi, my dear," he answered. "But so be it. I desire
nothing better than to have you always with me.--But I will not keep you
on tenter-hooks as to your and my projected destination. Let them bring
in dinner in half an hour. Carteret and I shall be ready. Meanwhile, read
this--agreeing to relegate discussion of it to a less hungry season."
And taking the letter she had forwarded to him yesterday, bearing the
imprint of the Indian Office, from the breast pocket of his shooting
coat, he put it into her hand.
The appointment--namely, that of Lieutenant-Governor of an Indian
presidency famous in modern history, a cradle of great reputations and
great men, of English names to conjure with while our Eastern Empire
endures--was offered, in terms complimentary above those common to
official communications. Sir Charles Verity's expert knowledge, not only
of the said mighty province but of the turbulent kingdom lying beyond its
frontiers, marked him as peculiarly fitted for the post. A campaign
against that same turbulent kingdom had but recently been brought to a
victorious conclusion. His influence, it was felt, might be of supreme
value at this juncture in the maintenance of good relations, and
consolidation of permanent peace.
Damaris' heart glowed within her as she read the courteous praiseful
sentences. Even more than through the well-merited success of his book,
did her father thus obtain and come into the fullness of his own at last.
Her imagination glowed, too, calling up pictures of the half-remembered,
half-fabulous oriental scene. The romance of English rule in India, the
romance of India itself, its variety, its complexity, the multitude of
its gods, the multitude of its peoples, hung before her as a mirage,
prodigal in marvels, reaching back and linking up through the centuries
with the hidden wisdom, the hidden terror of the Ancient of Days.
To this land of alien faiths and secular wonders, she found herself
summoned, not as casual sightseer or tourist, but as among the handful of
elect persons who count in its social, political and administrative life.
In virtue of her father's position, her own would be both conspicuous and
assured. An intoxicating prospect this for a girl of one-and-twenty!
Intoxicating, yet, as she envisaged it, disquieting likewise. She
balanced on the thought of all it demanded as well as all it offered, of
all it required from her--dazed by the largeness of the purview, volition
Carteret was the first to reappear, habited in the prescribed black and
white of evening male attire. In the last six months he had, perhaps, put
on flesh; but this without detriment to the admirable proportions of his
figure. It retained its effect of perfect response to the will within,
and all its natural grace. His fair hair and moustache were still almost
untouched with grey. His physical attraction, in short, remained
unimpaired. And of this Damaris was actually, if unconsciously, sensible
as he closed the door and, passing between the stumpy pillars, walked up
the long narrow room and stood, his hands behind him, his back to the
pleasantly hissing and crackling fire of driftwood.
"Alone, dear witch?" he said, and, seeing the open letter in her
hand--"Well, what do you make of this proposition?" And yet again, as she
raised serious pondering eyes--"You find it an extensive order?"
"I find it magnificent for him--beautifully as it should be, adequate
"And for yourself?" Carteret asked, aware of a carefulness in her
language and intrigued by it.
"Magnificent for me, too--though it takes away my breath."
"You must learn to breathe deeper, that's all," he returned, gently
"And who is to teach me to breathe deeper, dear Colonel Sahib," she
quickly, and rather embarrassingly, asked. "Not my father. He'll have
innumerable big things to do and to do them without waste of energy he
must be saved at every point. He must not fritter away strength in
coaching me in my odds and ends of duties, still less in covering up my
"Oh! you exaggerate difficulties," he said, looking not at her but at the
fierce yellow and black striped tiger skin at his feet.--Bless the lovely
child, what was she driving at?
Carteret started for Deadham under the impression he had himself
thoroughly in hand, and that all danger of certain inconvenient emotions
was passed. He had lived them down, cast them out. For over two years now
he had given himself to the superintendence of his estate, to county
business, to the regulation of his sister's--happily more
prosperous--affairs, to the shepherding of his two elder nephews in their
respective professions and securing the two younger ones royally good
times during their holidays at home. Throughout the hunting season,
moreover, he rode to hounds on an average of three days a week. Such
healthy sport helps notably to deliver a man from vain desires, by
sending his body cleanly weary to bed and to sleep o' nights.
By such varied activities had Carteret systematically essayed to rid
himself of his somewhat exquisite distemper, and, when coming to Deadham,
honestly believed himself immune, sane and safe. He was proportionately
disturbed by finding the cure of this autumn love-madness less complete
than, fool-like, he had supposed. For it showed disquieting signs of
resurrection even when Damaris, arrayed in the sheen of silken sunlight,
greeted him at the staircase foot, and an alarming disposition finally to
fling away head-cloth and winding-sheet when she petulantly broke in upon
Miss Verity's faded memories of Canton Magna with the flattering
assertion that time had run backward with him of late.
Now alone with her, confident, moreover, of her maidenly doubts
and pretty self-distrust, he felt at a decided disadvantage. The
detached, affectionately friendly, the avuncular--not to say
grandfatherly--attitude escaped him. He could not play that part.
"Oh! you exaggerate difficulties," he therefore told her, with a
singular absence of his habitual mansuetude, his tone trenching on
impatience. "Instinct and common sense will teach you-mother-wit, too-of
which, you may take it from me, you have enough and to spare.-Let alone
that there will be a host of people emulous of guiding your steps aright,
if your steps should stand in need of guidance which I venture to doubt.
Don't underrate your own cleverness." Hearing him, sensible of his
apparent impatience and misconceiving the cause of it, Damaris' temper
stirred. She felt vexed. She also felt injured.
"What has happened to you, Colonel Sahib?" she asked him squarely. "I
see nothing foolish in what I have said. You wouldn't have me so
conceited that I rushed into this immense business without a qualm,
without any thought whether I can carry it out creditably--with credit
to him, I mean?"
Thus astonishingly attacked, Carteret hedged.
"Miss Verity, of course, will be"--he began.
Damaris cut him short.
"Aunt Felicia is an angel, a darling," she declared, "but--but"--
And there stopped, pricked by a guilty conscience. For to expose Miss
Felicia's inadequacies and enlarge on her ineligibility for the position
of feminine Chief of the Staff, struck her as unworthy, a meanness to
which, under existing circumstances, she could not condescend to stoop.
Carteret looked up, to be entranced not only by the fair spectacle of
her youth but by her delicious little air of shame and self-reproach.
Evidently she had caught herself out in some small naughtiness--was both
penitent and defiant, at once admitting her fault and pleading for
indulgence. He suspected some thought at the back of her mind which he
could neither exactly seize nor place. She baffled him with her changes
of mood and of direction--coming close and then slipping from under his
hand. This humour was surely new in her. She would not leave him alone,
would not let him rest. Had she developed, since last he had converse
with her, into a practised coquette?
"Look here, dear witch," he said, making a return upon himself, and
manfully withstanding the sweet provocation of her near neighbourhood.
"We seem to be queerly at cross purposes. I can't pretend to follow the
turnings and doublings of your ingenious mind. I gather there is
something you want of me. To be plain, then, what is it?"
"That--that you shouldn't desert me--desert us--in this crisis. You have
never deserted me before--never since I can first remember."
"I desert you--good Lord!" Carteret exclaimed, his hands dropping at his
sides with an odd sort of helplessness.
"Ah! that's asking too much, I suppose," she said. "I'm selfish even to
think of it. Yet how can I do otherwise? Don't you understand how all
difficulties would vanish, and how beautifully simple and easy everything
would be if you coached me--if you, dear Colonel Sahib, went with us?"
The man with the blue eyes looked down at the tiger skin again, his
countenance strained and blanched.
More than ever did he find her humour baffling. Not once nor twice had
he, putting force upon himself, resisted the temptation to woo
her--witness his retirement from St. Augustin and his determined
abstinence from intercourse with her since. But now, so it might
veritably appear, the positions were reversed and she wooed him. Though
whether pushed to that length merely by wayward fancy, by some
transient skittish influence or frolic in the blood, or by realized
design he had no means of judging.--Well, he had bidden her be plain,
and she, in some sort at least, obeyed him. It behooved him, therefore,
to be plain in return, in as far as a straightforward reading of her
meaning would carry.
"So you think all would be simple and easy were I to go with you and your
father?" he said, both speech and manner tempered to gentleness. "I am
glad to have you think so--should be still more glad could I share your
belief. But I know better, dearest witch--know that you are mistaken.
This is no case of desertion--put that out of your precious mind once
and for all--but of discretion. My being in attendance, far from
simplifying, would embroil and distort your position. An elderly
gentleman perpetually trotting"--
"Don't," Damaris cried, holding up both hands in hot repudiation. "Don't
say that. There's distortion if you like! It's ugly--I won't have it, for
it is not true."
In the obvious sincerity of which denunciation Carteret found balm; yet
adhered to his purpose.
"But it is true, alas; and I therefore repeat it both for your admonition
and my own. For an elderly gentleman trotting at a young girl's heels is
a most unedifying spectacle--giving occasion, and reasonably, to the
enemy to blaspheme--bad for her in numberless ways; and, if he's any
remnant of self-respect left in him, is anything better than a fatuous
dotard, damnably bad for him as well. Do you understand?"
Damaris presented a mutinous countenance. She would have had much ado to
explain her own motives during this ten minutes' conference. If her
mental--or were they not rather mainly emotional?--turnings and doublings
proved baffling to her companion, they proved baffling to herself in an
almost greater degree. Things in general seemed to have gone into the
melting-pot. So many events had taken place, so many more been
preshadowed, so many strains of feeling excited! And these were
confusingly unrelated, or appeared to be so as yet. Amongst the confusion
of them she found no sure foothold, still less any highway along which to
travel in confidence and security. Her thought ran wild. Her intentions
ran with it, changing their colour chameleon-like from minute to minute.
Now she was tempted to make an equivocal rejoinder.
"To understand," she said, "is not always, Colonel Sahib, necessarily
"I am satisfied with understanding and don't press for agreement," he
answered, and on an easier note--"since to me it is glaringly evident
you should take this fine flight unhandicapped. My duty is to stand
aside and leave you absolutely free--not because I enjoy standing aside,
but"--he would allow sentiment such meagre indulgence--"just exactly
because I do not."
Here for the second time, at the crucial moment, Felicia Verity made
irruption upon the scene. But though her entrance was hurried, it
differed fundamentally from that earlier one; so that both the man and
the girl, standing in the proximity of their intimate colloquy before the
fire, were sensible of and arrested by it. She was self-forgetful,
self-possessed, the exalted touch of a pure devotion upon her.
"I have been with my brother Charles," she began, addressing them both.
"I happened to see Hordle coming from the library--and I put off dinner.
I thought, darling"--this to Damaris, with a becoming hint of
deference--"I might do so. I gathered that Charles--that your
father--wished it. He has not been feeling well."
And as Damaris anxiously exclaimed--
"Yes"--Miss Felicia went on--"not at all well. Hordle told me. That was
why I went to the library. He hoped, if he waited and rested for a little
while, the uncomfortable sensations might subside and it would be
needless to mention them. He did not want any fuss made. We gave him
restoratives, and he recovered from the faintness. But he won't be equal,
he admits, to coming in to dinner. Colonel Carteret must be hungry--your
father begs us to wait no longer, I assured him we would not. Hordle is
with him. He should not be alone, I think, while any pain continues."
"Pain--pain?" Damaris cried, her imagination rather horribly caught by
the word. "But is he hurt, has he had some accident?"
While Carteret asked tersely: "Pain--and where?"
"Here," Felicia answered, laying her hand upon her left side over the
heart. She looked earnestly at Carteret as she spoke, conveying to him an
alarm she sought to spare Damaris.
"He tries to make little of it, and assures me it was only the heat of
the house which caused him discomfort after the cold air out of doors.
It may be only that, but I think we ought to make sure."
Again, and with that same becoming hint of deference, she turned to
"So I sent orders that Patch should drive at once to Stourmouth and fetch
Dr. McCabe. I did not stop to consult you because it seemed best he
should take out the horses before they were washed down and stabled."
"Yes--but I can go to him?" Damaris asked.
"Darling--of course. But I would try to follow his lead, if I were
you--treat it all lightly, since he so wishes. Your father knows best in
most things--and may know best in this. Please God it is so."
Left alone with Carteret.
"I am anxious--most cruelly anxious about my brother," she said.
While Damaris, sweeping across the hall and down the corridor in her
sunshine silken dress, repeated:
"The ponies--the smugglers' ponies," a sob in her throat.
TELLING HOW CHARLES VERITY LOOKED ON THE MOTHER OF HIS SON
"Which is equivalent to saying, 'Hear the conclusion of the whole
matter,' isn't it, McCabe?"
Dr. McCabe's square, hairy-backed hands fumbled with the stethoscope as
he pushed it into his breast pocket, and, in replying, his advertised
cheerfulness rang somewhat false.
"Not so fast, Sir Charles--in the good Lord's name, not so fast. While
there's life there's hope, it's me settled opinion. I'm never for signing
a patient's death-warrant before the blessed soul of him's entirely
parted company with its mortal tenement of clay. The normal human being
takes a mighty lot of killing in my experience, where the will to live is
still intact. Let alone that you can never be quite upsides with Nature.
Ah! she's an astonishing box of tricks to draw on where final
dissolution's concerned. She glories to turn round on your pathological
and biological high science; and, while you're measuring a man for his
coffin, to help him give death the slip."
Charles Verity slightly shifted his position--and that with singular
carefulness--against the pillows in the deep red-covered chair. His
hands, inert and bluish about the finger-tips, lay along the padded arms
of it. The jacket of his grey-and-white striped flannel sleeping-suit was
unfastened at the throat, showing the irregular lift and fall of his
chest with each laboured breath. His features were accentuated, his face
drawn and of a surprising pallor.
The chair, in which he sat, had been brought forward into the wide arc of
the great window forming the front of the room. Two bays of this stood
open down to the ground. Looking out, beyond the rich brown of the
newly-turned earth in the flower-beds, the lawn stretched away--a dim
greyish green, under the long shadows cast by the hollies masking the
wall on the left, and glittering, powdered by myriads of scintillating
dewdrops, where the early sunshine slanted down on it from between their
stiff pinnacles and sharply serrated crests.
In the shrubberies robins sang, shrilly sweet. A murmur of waves,
breaking at the back of the Bar, hung in the chill, moist, windless air.
Presently a handbarrow rumbled and creaked, as West--the head gardener,
last surviving relic of Thomas Clarkson Verity's reign--wheeled it from
beneath the ilex trees towards the battery, leaving dark smudgy tracks
upon the spangled turf.
Arrived at his objective, the old gardener, with most admired
deliberation, loaded down long-handled birch-broom, rake and hoe; and
applied himself to mysterious peckings and sweeping of the gravel around
the wooden carriages of the little cannon and black pyramid of
ball.--Man, tools, and barrow were outlined against the pensive
brightness of autumn sea and autumn sky, which last, to southward, still
carried remembrance of sunrise in a broad band of faint yellowish pink,
fading upward into misty azure and barred with horizontal pencillings of
tarnished silver cloud.
Thus far Charles Verity had watched the progress of the bowed,
slow-moving figure musingly. But now, as the iron of the hoe clinked
against the gravel flints, he came back, so to say, to himself and back
to the supreme question at issue. He looked up, his eyes and the
soundless ironic laughter resident in them, meeting McCabe's twinkling,
cunning yet faithful and merry little eyes, with a flash.
"The work of the world is not arrested," he said. "See, that
octogenarian, old West. He wheeled ill-oiled, squeaking barrows and
hacked at the garden paths when I was a Harchester boy. He wheels the one
and hacks at the other even yet--a fact nicely lowering to one's private
egotism, when you come to consider it. Why, then, my good friend,
perjure yourself or strive to mince matters? The work of the world will
be done whether I'm here to direct the doing of it or not.--Granted I am
tough and in personal knowledge of ill-health a neophyte. My luck
throughout has been almost uncanny. Neither in soldiering nor in sport,
from man or from beast, have I ever suffered so much as a scratch. I have
borne a charmed life--established a record for invulnerability, which
served me well in the East where the gods still walk in the semblance of
man and miracle is still persistently prevalent. Accident has passed me
by--save for being laid up once, nearly thirty years ago, with a broken
ankle in the house of some friends at Poonah."
He ceased speaking, checking, as it seemed, disposition to further
disclosure; while the soundless laughter in his eyes found answering
expression upon his lips, curving them, to a somewhat bitter smile
beneath the flowing moustache.
"In to-day's enforced idleness how persistently cancelled episodes and
emotions rap, ghostly, on the door demanding and gaining entrance!" he
presently said. "Must we take it, Doctor, that oblivion is a fiction,
merciful forgetfulness an illusion; and that every action, every
desire--whether fulfilled or not--is printed indelibly upon one's memory,
merely waiting the hour of weakness and physical defeat to show up?"
"The Lord only knows!" McCabe threw off, a little hopelessly. This was
the first utterance approaching complaint; and he deplored it for his
patient's sake. He didn't like that word defeat.
Then, to his hearer's relief with a softened accent, Charles Verity took
up his former theme.
"Save for a trifling go of fever now and again, illness has given me the
go-by equally with accident. But, for all my ignorance of such
afflictions I know, beyond all shadow of doubt, that a few repetitions of
the experience of last night must close any man's account. Experiment is
more enlightening than argument. There is no shaking the knowledge you
arrive at through it."
McCabe, standing at ease by the open window, untidy, hirsute, unkempt,
rammed his hands down into his gaping trouser pockets and nodded
"The attack was bad," he said. "I'm not denying it was murderously bad.
And all the harder on you because, but for the one defaulting organ, your
heart, you're as sound as a bell. You're a well enough man to put up a
good fight; and that, you see, cuts both ways, be danged to it."
"A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.--You know as well as I do
the Indian appointment will never be gazetted."
"There you have me, Sir Charles, loath though I am to admit as much. I'd
be a liar if I denied it would not."
"How long do you give me then? Months, or only weeks?"
"That depends in the main on yourself, in as far as I can presume to
pronounce. With care"--
"Which means sitting still here"--
Charles Verity raised his shoulders the least bit.
"Not good enough, McCabe," he declared, "not good enough. There are rites
to be duly performed, words to be said, which I refuse to neglect. Oh,
no, don't misunderstand me. I don't need professional help to accomplish
my dying. Were I a member of your communion it might be different, but I
require no much-married parsonic intermediary to make my peace with God.
I am but little troubled regarding that. Shall not the judge of all the
earth do right?--Nevertheless, there remain rites to be decently
performed. I must make my peace with man--and still more with
woman--before I go hence and am no more seen. But, look here, I have no
wish to commit myself too soon, and risk the bathos of an anti-climax by
having to perform them twice, repeat them at a later date.--So how long
do you give me--weeks? Too generous an estimate? A week, then
"You want it straight?"
"I want it straight."
"More likely days. God grant I am mistaken. With your fine constitution,
as I tell you, you are booked to put up a good fight. All the same, to be
honest, Sir Charles, it was touch and go more than once last night."
In the room an interval of silence, and without song of the robins and
murmur of the sea, nearer now and louder as the rising tide lapped up the
sands at the back of the Bar. The faint yellow-pink after-thought of
sunrise and pencillings of tarnished cloud alike had vanished into the
all-obtaining misty blue of the upper sky. Heading for the French coast,
a skein of wild geese passed in wedge-shaped formation with honking cries
and the beat of strong-winged flight. The barrow creaked again, wheeled
some few yards further along the battery walk.
"Thanks--so I supposed," Sir Charles Verity calmly said.
He stretched himself, falling into a less constrained and careful
posture. Leaned his elbow on the chair-arm, his chin in the hollow of his
hand, crossed the right leg over the left.
"Twenty-four hours will give me time for all which is of vital
importance. The rest must, and no doubt perfectly will, arrange
itself.--Oh! I'll obey you within reasonable limits, McCabe. I have no
craving to hurry the inevitable conclusion. These last hours possess
considerable significance and charm--an impressiveness even, which it
would be folly to thrust aside or waste."
Once more he looked up, his tone and expression devoid now of all
"I propose to savour their pleasant qualities to the full. So make
yourself easy, my good fellow," he continued with an admirable
friendliness. "Go and get your breakfast. Heaven knows you've most
thoroughly earned it, and a morning pipe of peace afterwards.--The bell
upon the small table?--Yes--oh, yes--and Hordle within earshot. I've
everything I require; and, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, shall be
glad enough of a respite from this course of food and drink, potions and
poultices--remedial to the delinquent flesh no doubt, but a notable
weariness to the-spirit.--And, see here, report to the two ladies, my
sister and--and Damaris, that you leave me in excellent case, free of
discomfort, resting for a time before girding up my loins to meet the
labours of the day."
Charles Verity closed his eyes in intimation of dismissal, anxious to be
alone the better to reckon with that deeper, final loneliness which
confronted him just now in all its relentless logic.
For, though his mind remained lucid, self-realized and observant, his
control of its action and direction was incomplete owing to bodily
fatigue. Hence it lay open to assault, at the mercy of a thousand and one
crowding thoughts and perceptions. And over these he desired to gain
ascendency--to drive, rather than be driven by them. The epic of his
three-score years, from its dim, illusive start to this dramatic and
inexorable finish--but instantly disclosed to him in the reluctant
admissions of the good-hearted Irish doctor--flung by at a double, in
coloured yet incoherent progression, so to speak, now marching to
triumphant blare of trumpet, now to roll of muffled drum. Which
incoherence came in great measure of the inalienable duality of his own
nature--passion and austerity, arrogance and self-doubt, love--surpassing
most men's capacity of loving--and a defacing strain of cruelty,
delivering stroke and counter-stroke. From all such tumult he earnestly
sought to be delivered; since not the thing accomplished--whether for
fame, for praise or for remorse--not, in short, what has been, but what
was, and still more what must soon be, did he need, at this juncture,
dispassionately to contemplate.
That sharp-toothed disappointment gnawed him, is undeniable, when he
thought of the culminating gift of happy fortune, royally satisfying to
ambition, as unexpectedly offered him as, through his own unlooked-for
and tragic disability, it was unexpectedly withdrawn. But disappointment
failed to vex him long. A more wonderful journey than any possible
earthly one, a more majestic adventure than that of any oriental
proconsulship, awaited him. For no less a person than Death issued the
order--an order there is no disobeying. He must saddle up therefore, bid
farewell, and ride away.
Nor did he flinch from that ride with Death, the black captain, as
escort, any more than, during the past night, he had flinched under the
grip of mortal pain. For some persons the call to endurance brings actual
pleasure--of a grim heroic kind. It did so to Charles Verity. And not
only this conscious exercise of fortitude, this pride of bearing bodily
anguish, but a strange curiosity worked to sustain him. The novelty of
the experience, in both cases, excited and held his interest, continued
to exercise it and to hold.
Now, as in solitude his mental atmosphere acquired serenity and
poise--the authority of the past declining--this matter of death
increasingly engrossed him. For it trenches on paradox, surely, that the
one absolutely certain event in every human career is also the most
unexplored and practically incredible.--An everyday occurrence, a
commonplace, concerning which there remains nothing new, nothing
original, to be written, sung or said; yet a mystery still inviolate,
aching with the alarm of the undiscovered, the unpenetrated, to each
individual, summoned to accept its empire! He had sent others to their
death. Now his own turn came and he found it, however calmly considered,
a rather astounding business. An ending or a beginning?--Useless, after
all, to speculate. The worst feature of it, not improbably, this same
preliminary loneliness, this stripping naked, no smallest comfort left
you of human companionship, or even of humble material keepsake from out
the multitude of your familiar possessions here in the dear accustomed
The gates of death open. You pass them. They close behind you. And what
then?--The whole hierarchy of heaven, the whole company of your
forerunners thither--beloved and honoured on earth--may be gathered to
hail the homing soul within those amazing portals; or it may drop, as a
stone into a well, down the blank nothingness of the abyss.--Of all
gambles invented by God, man or devil--so he told himself--this daily,
hourly gamble of individual dissolution is the biggest. Man's heart
refuses the horror of extinction, while his intellect holds the question
in suspense. We hope. We believe. From of old fair promises have been
made us; and, granted the gift of faith, hope and belief neighbour upon
assurance. But certainty is denied. No mortal, still clothed in flesh,
has known, nor--the accumulated science of the ages notwithstanding--does
know, actually and exactly, that which awaits it.
Thus, anyhow, in the still, tender brightness of the autumn morning,
while Nature and men alike pursued their normal activities and
occupations, did this singular matter appear to Charles Verity--he,
himself, arbitrarily cut off from all such activities and occupations
in the very moment of high fruition. Had death been a less eminent
affair, or less imminent, the sarcasm of his position might have seemed
gross to the point of insult. But, the longer he envisaged it, the more
did the enduring enigma and its accompanying uncertainty allure. Not as
victim, but rather as conqueror of the final terror, did he begin to
Meanwhile, though reason continued to hold the balance even between
things positively known and things imagined only and hoped for, the
god-ward impulse strengthened in him. Not by conscious or convincing
argument from within, but by all-powerful compulsion from without, was
his thought borne onward and upward to increasing confidence. So that he
asked himself--as so many another, still unwearied, still enamoured of
attainment, has asked in like case--whether impending divorce of soul and
body may not confer freedom of a wider range and nobler quality, powers
more varied and august than the mind, circumscribed by conditions of time
and sense, has yet conception of?
To him such development seemed possible--certainly. Probable?--Ah, well,
perhaps--perhaps. Which brought him back to his former contention, that
its inherent loneliness constitutes the bitterest sting of death.
Smiling, he quoted the ancient, divinely tender saying: "There is a child
in each one of us which cries at the dark."
While, in swift reaction, he yearned towards battle where amid the
fierce and bloody glory of the fight, souls of heroes troop forth
together, shouting, into everlasting day or--sceptical reason shaking a
sadly sage head once again--into everlasting night.
He stretched out his hand instinctively for the bell on the little table
at his elbow. Hordle answered his summons, grey of countenance from
alarm, anxiety, and broken rest.
"Let Miss Damaris know I shall be glad to see her when she is free to
come to me," he said.
And here, although our damsel's reputation for courage and resource may,
thereby, sustain some damage, I am constrained to state that while in the
sick-room Miss Felicia shone, Damaris gave off but a vacillating and
Imagination is by no means invariably beneficent. The very liveliness of
the perceptions which it engenders may intimidate and incapacitate. Upon
Damaris imagination practised this mischief. Becoming, for the time, that
upon which she looked, sharing every pang and even embroidering the
context, she weakened, in some sort, to the level of the actual sufferer,
helpless almost as he through the drench of overwhelming sympathy. She
had been taken, poor child, at so villainous a disadvantage. Without
preparation or warning--save of the most casual and inadequate--her
humour wayward, she a trifle piqued, fancying her pretty clothes, her
pretty looks, excited, both by the brilliant prospect presented by the
Indian appointment and by her delicate passage of arms with Carteret, she
was compelled of a sudden to witness the bodily torment of a human being,
not only by her beloved beyond all others, but reverenced also. The
impression she received was of outrage, almost of blasphemy. The cruelty
of life lay uncovered, naked and open to her appalled and revolted
consciousness. She received a moral, in addition to a physical shock,
utterly confounding in its crudity, its primitive violence.
The ravage of pain can be, in great measure, surmounted and concealed;
but that baser thing, functional disturbance--in this case present as
heart spasm, threatening suffocation, with consequent agonized and
uncontrollable struggle for breath--defies concealment. This
manifestation horrified Damaris. The more so that, being unacquainted
with the sorry spectacle of disease, her father, under the deforming
stress of it, appeared to her as a stranger almost--inaccessible to
affection, hideously removed from her and remote. His person and
character, to her distracted observation, were altered beyond recognition
except during intervals, poignant to the verge of heart-break, when
passing ease restored his habitual dignity and grace.
Thus, while Miss Felicia and Carteret--with Hordle and Mary Fisher as
assistants--ministered to his needs in as far as ministration was
possible, she stood aside, consumed by misery, voluntarily effacing
herself. Backed away even against the wall, out of range of the
lamp-light, stricken, shuddering, and mute. Upon Dr. McCabe's arrival and
assumption of command, Carteret, finding himself at liberty to note her
piteous state, led her out into the passage and then to the long
drawing-room, with gentle authority. There for a half-hour or more--to
him sadly and strangely sweet--he sat beside her, while the tears
silently coursed down her cheeks, letting her poor proud head rest
against his shoulder, his arm supporting her gracious young body still
clothed in all the bravery of her flowered silken sunshine dress.
Later, Mary bringing more favourable news of Sir Charles--pain and
suffocation having yielded for the time being to McCabe's
treatment--Carteret persuaded her to go upstairs and let the said Mary
put her to bed. Once there she slept the sleep of exhaustion, fatigue and
sorrow mercifully acting as a soporific, her capacity for further thought
or feeling literally worn out.
During that session in the drawing-room Damaris, to his thankfulness, had
asked no questions of him. All she demanded child-like, in her extremity,
had been the comfort and security of human contact. And this he gave her
simply, ungrudgingly, with a high purity of understanding, guiltless of
any shadow of embarrassment or any after-thought. Their lighter, somewhat
enigmatic relation of the earlier evening was extinguished, swamped by
the catastrophe of Charles Verity's illness. Exactly in how far she
gauged the gravity of that illness and its only too likely result, or
merely wept, unnerved by the distressing outward aspect of it, Carteret
could not determine. But he divined, and rightly, that she was in process
of ranging herself, at least subconsciously, with a new and terrible
experience which, could she learn the lesson of it aright would temper
her nature to worthy issues.
Hence, with a peculiar and tender interest, he watched her when, coming
down in the morning, he found her already in the dining-room, the
pleasant amenities of a well-ordered, hospitable house and household
Whatever the tragic occurrences of the last twelve hours, domestic
discipline was in no respect relaxed. The atmosphere of the room
distilled a morning freshness. Furniture and flooring shone with polish,
a log fire, tipped by dancing flames, burned in the low wide grate. Upon
the side-table, between the westward facing windows, a row of silver
chafing-dishes gave agreeable promise of varied meats; as did the tea and
coffee service, arrayed before Damaris, of grateful beverage. While she
herself looked trim, and finished in white silk shirt and russet-red
suit, her toilet bearing no sign of indifference or of haste.
That her complexion matched her shirt in colour--or rather in all absence
of it--that her face was thin, its contours hardened, her eyebrows drawn
into a little frown, her eyes enormous, sombre and clouded as with
meditative thought, increased, in Carteret's estimation, assurance of her
regained self-mastery and composure. Nor did a reticence in her manner
"I have persuaded Aunt Felicia to breakfast upstairs," she told him. "Dr.
McCabe sends me word he--my father--wishes to rest for the present, so I
engaged Aunt Felicia to rest too. She was wonderful."
Damaris' voice shook slightly, as did her hand lifting the coffee-pot.
"She stayed up all night. So did you, I'm afraid, didn't you,
"Oh, for me that was nothing. A bath, a change, and ten minutes out there
on the battery watching the sun come up over the sea," Carteret said. "So
don't waste compassion on me. I'm as fit as a fiddle and in no wise
"Ah! but you and Aunt Felicia did stay," she repeated, her hands still
rather tremulously busy with coffee-pot and milk jug. "You were faithful
and I no better than a shirker. I fell through, miserably lost myself,
which was selfish, contemptible. I am ashamed. Only I was so startled. I
never really knew before such--such things could be.--Forgive me, Colonel
Sahib. I have been to Aunt Felicia and asked her forgiveness
already.--And don't think too meanly of me, please. The shirking is over
and done with for always. You may trust me it never will happen again--my
losing myself as I did last night, I mean."
In making this appeal for leniency, her eyes met Carteret's fairly for
the first time; and he read in them, not without admiration and a twinge
of pain, both the height of her new-born, determined valour and the depth
of her established distress.
"You needn't tell me that, you needn't tell me that, dear witch," he
answered quickly. "I was sure of it all along. I knew it was just a phase
which would have no second edition. So put any question of shame or need
of forgiveness out of your precious head. You were rushed up against
circumstances, against a revelation, calculated to stagger the most
seasoned campaigner. You did not shirk; but it took you a little time to
get your bearings. That was all. Don't vex your sweet soul with quite
superfluous reproaches.--Sugar? Yes, and plenty of it I am afraid.--But
you, too, must eat."
And on her making some show of repugnance--
"See here, we can't afford to despise the day of small things, of minor
aids to efficiency, dearest witch," he wisely admonished her.
Whereupon, emulous to please him, bending her will to his, Damaris
humbled herself to consumption of a portion of the contents of the
chafing-dishes aforesaid. To discover that, granted a healthy subject,
sorrow queerly breeds hunger, the initial distaste for food--in the main
a sentimental one--once surmounted.
Later McCabe joined them. Recognized Damaris' attitude of valour, and
inwardly applauded it, although himself in woeful state. For he was hard
hit, badly upset. Conscious of waste of tissue, he set about to restore
it without apology or hesitation, trouble putting an edge to appetite in
his case also, and that of formidable keenness. Bitterly he grieved,
since bearing the patient, he feared very certainly to lose, an uncommon
affection. He loved Charles Verity; while, from the worldly standpoint,
his dealings with The Hard meant very much to him--made for glory, a
feather in his cap visible to all and envied by many. Minus the fine
flourish of it his position sank to obscurity. As a whist-playing,
golf-playing, club-haunting, Anglo-Indian ex-civil surgeon--and Irishman