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them. Mortal full of senseless questions, too, fit to make anybody laugh!–Whereat overcome by joyous memories of human folly, he opened the red cavern of his apparently toothless mouth, barking up audible mirth, brief and husky, from the depth of a beer-slaked throat.

He leaned forward while speaking, resting chest and elbows on the oars–only now and again dipping the blades in the water to steady the boat in its course as it moved smoothly onward borne by brimming stream and tide. From out the shadow of his thimble-crowned hat he looked up knowingly, with the freemasonry of assured good-temper at Tom, who stood before him hands in pockets, friendly and debonair, class distinctions for the moment quite forgot. For, let alone immediate convenience of chaperonage, the young man found unexpected entertainment in this typical South Saxon, relic, as it struck him, of a bygone age and social order. Might not that tough and somewhat clumsy body, that crafty, jovial, yet non-committal countenance, have transferred themselves straight from the pages of Geoffrey Chaucer into nineteenth-century life? Here, was a master of primitive knowledge and of arts not taught in modern Board (or any other) Schools; a merry fellow too, who could, as Tom divined, when company and circumstances allowed, be broadly, unprintably humorous.

So, in this last connection perhaps, it was just as well that Damaris still appeared somewhat implacable. Coming on board she had passed Jennifer–who rowed amidships–and gone right forward, putting as wide a distance as conditions permitted between her cousin and herself. Now, as she sat on a pile of red-brown seine nets in the bow of the boat, she kept her face averted, looking away down the cool liquid highway, and presenting to his observation a graceful, white-clad but eminently discouraging back. Her attitude repelled rather than invited advances, so at least Tom, watching her, certainly thought. This justified his not following her but staying where he was, and leaving her to herself. Whereupon annoyance again beset him; for it was very little to his credit to have mismanaged his dealings with her and alienated her sympathies thus. With her, it was very evident, he had not been at all a success. And it pricked his young vanity very shrewdly not to be a success.

From these unsatisfactory reflections William Jennifer’s voice, prefaced by a warning cough, recalled him.

“Making any long stay in these parts, sir?” he enquired.

And when Tom explained that a few hours from now would witness the termination of his visit, and that, in all probability, many years of absence from England lay ahead–

“Indeed, indeed, to be sure. Who’d have thought it for a young gentleman of the quality-like yourself! But, there, some are born under the traveller’s star, sir–created with a roving spirit. And the Lord help ’em, I say, for they’re so made as to be powerless to help themselves seemingly. Rove they must and will, if they are to taste any contentment–an itch in their feet from the cradle nought but foreign lands’ll serve to pacify. The sight of the ocean now, seems fairly tormenting to ’em till they can satisfy themselves of what’s on the far side of it.”

But, here, the boat being unduly drawn aside by the suck of some local current, Jennifer was constrained to apply his mind to navigation. He dipped the long sweeps, and with a steady powerful pull straightened the course to midstream. Then raising the glistening blades, off which the water dripped white and pattering, he leaned forward again, resting elbows and chest on the butt-end of the oars, and once more addressed himself to polite conversation.

“Not as I’ve been greatly troubled that way myself. Had my chance of going to sea and welcome many’s the time when I was a youngster. But always a one for the land, I was. Never had any special fancy for salt water, though I do make my living of it now, as you may say, in a sense.”

During this biographical excursion Tom Verity’s attention wandered. His eyes dwelt on Damaris. She had altered her position turning half round as she scanned the strip of sandy warren with its row of sentinel Scotch firs bordering the river. Seen thus, three-quarter face, Tom realized suddenly not only how really beautiful she was–or rather could at moments be–but how strangely she resembled Sir Charles her father. There was likeness not of features alone; but, for all her youthful freshness, a reflection of his strength, his inscrutability. Whereupon rather unworthy curiosity reawoke in Tom Verity, to satisfy which he was tempted to descend to methods not entirely loyal.

Damaris, sitting to windward, must be out of earshot assuredly, yet he lowered his voice as he said:

“By the way, talking of going to sea, can you tell me anything about the young sailor whom you took across the ferry just before fetching Miss Verity and me? I am pretty sure I have met him before and yet I can’t place him somehow.”

Jennifer shot a sharply enquiring glance at the speaker; for here, at first sight, appeared rare opportunity of that same coveted and scandalous fish-frying! Yet he debated the wisdom of immediate indulgence in that merry pastime, inherent suspicion of class for class, suspicion too, of this young gentleman’s conspicuously easy, good-natured manner, preaching caution. A show of friendliness supplies fine cover for the gaining of one’s own ends.–Hadn’t he, Jennifer, practised the friendly manoeuvre freely enough himself on occasion? And he did not in the least relish the chance of walking into a trap, instead of jovially baiting one. So he dipped the oars again, and answered slowly as though the question taxed his memory sorely, his face vacant of expression as an empty plate.

“Brought him across before I started to fetch you and the young lady, sir, did I? To be sure, there, let me see. I’ve had several sea-going chaps of sorts back and forth this morning. Come and go most days, they do, come and go without my taking any particular account–the Lord forgive me, for it ain’t over civil–unless strangers should hail me, or someone out of the common such as Miss Verity and yourself. A passing show, sir, half the time those I carry; no more to me, bless you, than so many sand-fleas a-hopping on the beach.–Mr. Blackmore–coast-guard officer he is–I fetched him across early, with one of his men coming round from the Head. And that poor lippity-lop, Abram Sclanders’ eldest.–Pity he wasn’t put away quiet-like at birth!–Terrible drag he is on Abram and always will be. Anybody with an ounce of gumption might have seen he’d be a short-wit from the first.–I took him over; but that ‘ud the opposite way about, as he wanted to go shrimping back of the Bar so he said.”

Jennifer paused as in earnest thought.

“No, not a soul to merit your attention, to-day, sir, that I can call to mind. Unless”–with an upward look of returning intelligence–“but that ain’t very likely either–unless it should be Darcy Faircloth. I’d clean forgot him, so I had. Cap’en Faircloth, as some is so busy calling ‘im, now, in season and out of season till it’s fairly fit to make you laugh.–Remarkable tall, Johnny-head-in-air young feller with a curly yaller beard to him.”

“That’s the man!” Tom exclaimed.

He had distrusted Jennifer’s show of ignorance, believing he was being fenced with, played with, even royally lied to; but this merely served to heighten his curiosity and amusement. Something of moment must lie, he felt, behind so much wandering talk, something of value, purposely and cunningly withheld until time was ripe for telling disclosure.

“Darcy Faircloth–Captain Faircloth?” he could not but repeat, and with such honest puzzlement and evident desire for further enlightening as to overcome his hearer’s hesitation.

“No–not a likely person for you to be in any wise acquainted with, sir,” Jennifer returned, wary still, though yielding–“even if you didn’t happen to be a bit new to Deadham yourself, as I may put it. For been away mostly from his natural home here, young Faircloth has, ever since he was a little shaver. Mrs. Faircloth–owns the Inn there and all the appurtenances thereof, sheds, cottages, boats, and suchlike, she does–always had wonnerful high views for him. Quite the gentleman Darcy must be, with a boarding school into Southampton and then the best of the Merchant Service–no before the mast for him, bless you. There was a snug little business to count on, regular takings in the public, week in and week out–more particularly of late years in the summer–let alone the rest of the property–he being the only son of his mother, too, and she a widow woman free to follow any whimsies as took her about the lad.”

Jennifer gave some slow, strong strokes, driving the lumbering boat forward till the water fairly hissed against its sides. And Tom Verity still listened, strangely, alertly interested, convinced there was more, well worth hearing, to follow.

“Oh! there’s always bin a tidy lot of money behind young Darcy, and is yet I reckon, Mrs. Faircloth being the first-class business woman she is. Spend she may with one hand, but save, and make, she does and no mistake, Lord love you, with the other. Singular thing though,” he added meditatively, his face growing wholly expressionless, “how little Darcy, now he’s growed up, features old Lemuel his father. Squinny, red-cheeked little old party, he was; thin as a herring, and chilly, always chilly, sitting over the fire in the bar-parlour winter and summer too–small squeaky voice he had minding any one of a penny whistle. But a warm man and a close one–oh! very secret. Anybody must breakfast overnight and hurry at that–eat with their loins girded, as you may say, to get upsides with old Lemuel.”

He ceased speaking, and glanced round over his shoulder calculating the distance to the breakwater, for the boat drew level with the sea-wall of rough-hewn pinkish-grey granite along the river frontage of The Hard gardens.

“There’s some as ‘ud tell you it was the surprise of old Lemuel’s life to find himself a parent,” he added, eyeing Tom slyly as he spoke, his mouth remaining open as in preparation for coming laughter.

For those same scandalous little fishes were well into the frying-pan, now–sizzling, frizzling. And this was a vastly agreeable moment to William Jennifer, worth waiting for, worth scheming for. Unprintable humour looked out of his twinkling eyes while he watched to see how far Tom Verity caught his meaning. Then as the young man flushed, sudden distaste, even a measure of shame invading him, Jennifer, true artist in scandal, turned the conversation aside with an air of indulgent apology.

“But, lor, there, you know how people’ll talk in a little country place where there ain’t much doing!–And it ain’t for me to speak of what happened back in those times, being barely out of my teens then and away cow-keeping over Alton way for Farmer Whimsett. Regular chip of the old block, he was. Don’t breed that sort nowadays. As hearty as you like, and swallered his three pints of home-brewed every morning with his breakfast he did, till he was took off quite sudden in his four-score-and-ten twelve months ago come Michaelmas.”

Upon the terrace, by the pyramid of ball and the two little cannons, Sir Charles Verity stood, holding a packet of newly written letters in his hand and smoking, while he watched the approaching boat. Damaris rose from the pile of red-brown fishing-nets and waved to him. Jennifer, too, glanced up, steadying both oars with one hand while he raised the other to the brim of his thimble-crowned hat. A couple of minutes more and he would part company with his passenger, and so judged it safe to indulge himself with a final fish-frying.

“Mortal fine figure of a man, Sir Charles even yet,” he said to Tom admiringly. “But anybody should have seen him as a young gentleman. When he used to visit here in old Mr. Verity’s time, none in the country-side could hold a candle to him for looks, as you may say. Turned the females’ heads he did. Might have had his pick of the lot, maids and wives alike for ‘arf a word. Well, good-bye to you, sir”–and, as certain coin changed hands–“thank ye, sir, kindly. Wish you a pleasant voyage and a rare good picking up of honours and glories, and gold and silver likewise, there across the seas and oceans where you’re a-going to.”

BOOK II

THE HARD SCHOOL OF THINGS AS THEY ARE

CHAPTER I

IN MAIDEN MEDITATION

It was afternoon, about five o’clock. The fine September weather, hot and cloudless, lasted still. The air was heavy with garden scents, the aromatic sweetness of sun-baked gorse and pine-scrub on the warren, and with the reek off the mud-flats of the Haven, the tide being low. Upon the sandy skirts of the Bar, across the river just opposite, three cormorants–glossy black against the yellow–postured in extravagant angular attitudes drying their wings. Above the rim of the silver-blue sea–patched with purple stains in the middle distance–webs of steamer smoke lay along the southern sky. Occasionally a sound of voices, the creak of a wooden windlass and grind of a boat’s keel upon the pebbles as it was wound slowly up the foreshore, came from the direction of the ferry and of Faircloth’s Inn. The effect was languorous, would have been enervating to the point of mental, as well as physical, inertia had not the posturing cormorants introduced a note of absurdity and the tainted breath of the mud-flats a wholesome reminder of original sin.

Under these conditions, at once charming and insidious, Damaris Verity, resting in a wicker deck-chair in the shade of the great ilex trees, found herself alone, free to follow her own vagrant thoughts, perceptions, imaginations without human let or hindrance. Free to dream undisturbed and interrogate both Nature and her own much wondering soul.

For Sir Charles was away, staying with an old friend and former brother-in-arms, Colonel Carteret, for a week’s partridge shooting over the Norfolk stubble-fields. Sport promised to be good, and Damaris had great faith in Colonel Carteret. With him her father was always amused, contented, safe. Hordle was in attendance, too, so she knew his comfort in small material matters to be secure. She could think of him without any shadow of anxiety, her mind for once at rest. And this she enjoyed. For it is possible to miss a person badly, long for their return ardently, yet feel by no means averse to a holiday from more active expenditure of love on their account.

And Theresa Bilson–pleasing thought!–was, for the moment, absent also, having gone to tea with the Miss Minetts. Two maiden ladies, these, of uncertain age, modest fortune and unimpeachable refinement, once like Theresa herself, members of the scholastic profession; but now, thanks to the timely death of a relative–with consequent annuities and life interest in a ten-roomed, stone-built house of rather mournful aspect in Deadham village–able to rest from their ineffectual labours, support the Church, patronize their poorer and adulate their richer neighbours to their guileless hearts’ content.

Gentility exuded from the Miss Minetts, and–if it is permissible slightly to labour the simile–their pores were permanently open. Owing both to her antecedent and existing situation, it may be added, Theresa Bilson was precious in their sight. For had she not in the past, like themselves, sounded the many mortifications of a governess’ lot; and was she not now called up higher, promoted indeed to familiar, almost hourly, intercourse with the great? Miss Felicia Verity was known to treat her with affection. Mrs. Augustus Cowden, that true blue of county dames and local aristocrats, openly approved her. She sat daily at Sir Charles Verity’s table and helped to order his household. What more genuine patents of gentility could be asked? So they listened with a pleasure, deep almost to agitation, to her performances upon the piano, her reminiscences of Bonn and the Rhine Provinces, and, above all, to her anecdotes of life at The Hard and of its distinguished owner’s habits and speech. Thus, by operation of the fundamental irony resident in things, did Theresa Bilson, of all improbable and inadequate little people, become to the Miss Minetts as a messenger of the gods; exciting in them not only dim fluttering apprehensions of the glories of art and delights of foreign travel, but–though in their determined gentility they knew it not–of the primitive allurements and mysteries of sex.

The moral effect of this friendship upon Theresa herself was not, however, of the happiest. Fired by their interest in her recitals she was tempted to spread herself. At first almost unconsciously, for by instinct she was truthful, she embroidered fact, magnifying her office not only in respect of her ex-pupil Damaris but of Damaris’ father also. She represented herself as indispensable to both parent and child, until she more than half believed that flattering fiction. She began to reckon herself an essential element in the establishment at The Hard, the pivot indeed upon which it turned. Whereupon a rather morbid craving for the Miss Minetts’ society developed in her. For, with those two credulous ladies as audience, she could fortify herself in delusion by recounting all manner of episodes and incidents not as they actually had, but as she so ardently desired they might have, taken place.–A pathetic form of lying this, though far from uncommon to feminine and–more especially–spinster practice and habit!

Still Theresa was not so besotted but that lucid intervals now and again afflicted her. One seized her this afternoon, as she prepared to bid Damaris good-bye. Either conscience pricked with unusual sharpness, or the young girl’s smiling and unruffled acquiescence in her departure aroused latent alarms. She began to excuse her action in leaving her charge thus solitary, to protest her devotion; becoming, it may be added, red and agitated in the process. Her thick, short little fingers worked nervously on the crook handle of her white cotton umbrella. Her round light-coloured eyes grew humid to the point of fogging the lenses of her gold-rimmed glasses.

“But why should you worry so now, just as you are starting, Billy?” Damaris reasoned, with the rather cruel logic of cool eighteen in face of hot and flustered nine-and-thirty. “Only at luncheon you were telling me how much you always enjoy spending an afternoon at the Grey House. I thought you looked forward so much to going. What has happened to turn you all different, like this, at the last minute?”

“Nothing has happened exactly; but I have scruples about visiting my own friends and letting you remain alone when Sir Charles is from home. It might appear a dereliction of duty–as though I took advantage of his absence.”

“Nobody would think anything so foolish,” Damaris declared. “And then you knew he would be away this week when you made the engagement.”

Theresa gulped and prevaricated.

“No, surely not–I must have mistaken the date.”

“But you were quite happy at luncheon, and you couldn’t have mistaken the date then,” Damaris persisted.

Whereupon poor Theresa lost herself, the worthy and unworthy elements in her nature alike conspiring to her undoing. In her distraction she sniffed audibly. A tear ran down either side of her pink shiny nose and dropped on the folds of shepherd’s-plaid silk veiling her plump bosom. For, with some obscure purpose of living up to her self-imposed indispensability, Miss Bilson was distinctly dressy at this period, wearing her best summer gown on every possible occasion and tucking a bunch of roses or carnations archly in her waist-belt.

“Do you think it kind to insist so much on my passing forgetfulness?” she quavered. “The habit of criticizing and cavilling at whatever I say grows on you, Damaris, and it so increases the difficulties of my position. I know I am sensitive, but that is the result of my affection for you. I care so deeply, and you are not responsive. You chill me. As I have told dear Miss Felicia–for I must sometimes unburden myself”–

This hastily, as Damaris’ eyes darkened with displeasure.

–“For the last year, ever since you have nominally been out of the schoolroom, I have seen my influence over you lessen, and especially since poor Mrs. Watson’s death”–

“We will not talk about Nannie, please,” Damaris said quietly.

“Yes, but–as I told your Aunt Felicia–since then I have tried more than ever to win your entire confidence, to make up to you for the loss of poor Watson and fill her place with you.”

“No one else can ever fill the place of the person one has loved,” Damaris returned indignantly. “It isn’t possible. I should be ashamed to let it be possible. Nannie was Nannie–she had cared for me all my life and I had cared for her. She belongs to things about which you”–

And there the girl checked herself, aware of something almost ludicrously pitiful in the smug tearful countenance and stumpy would-be fashionable figure. Hit a man your own size, or bigger, by all means if you are game to take the consequences. But to smite a creature conspicuously your inferior in fortune–past, present, and prospective–is unchivalrous, not to say downright mean-spirited. So Damaris, swiftly repentant, put her arm round the heaving shoulders, bent her handsome young head and kissed the uninvitingly dabby cheek–a caress surely counting to her for righteousness.

“Don’t find fault with me any more, Billy,” she said. “Indeed I never hurt you on purpose. But there are such loads of things to think about, that I get absorbed in them and can’t attend sometimes directly on the minute.”

“Absent-mindedness should be corrected rather than encouraged,” Miss Bilson announced, sententious even amid her tears.

“Oh! it amounts to more than absent-mindedness I’m afraid–a sort of absent-every-thingedness when it overtakes me. For the whole of me seems to go away and away, hand in hand and all together,” Damaris said, her eyes alight with questions and with dreams. “But don’t let us discuss that now,” she added. “It would waste time, and it is you who must go away and away, Billy, if you are not to put the poor Miss Minetts into a frantic fuss by being late for tea. They will think some accident has happened to you. Don’t beep them in suspense, it is simply barbarous.–Good-bye, and don’t hurry back. I have heaps to amuse me. I’ll not expect you till dinner-time.”

Thus did it come about that Damaris reposed in a deck chair, under the shade of the great ilex trees, gazing idly at the webs of steamer smoke hanging low in the southern sky, at the long yellow-grey ridge of the Bar between river and sea, and at the cormorants posturing in the hot afternoon sunshine upon the sand.

Truly she was free to send forth her soul upon whatever far fantastic journey she pleased. But souls are perverse, not to be driven at will, choosing their own times and seasons for travel. And hers, just now, proved obstinately home-staying–had no wings wherewith to fly, but must needs crawl a-fourfoot, around all manner of inglorious personal matters. For that skirmish with her ex-governess, though she successfully bridled her tongue and conquered by kindness rather than by smiting, had clouded her inward serenity, not only by its inherent uselessness, but by reminding her indirectly of an occurrence which it was her earnest desire to forget.

Indirectly, mention of her beloved nurse, Sarah Watson–who journeying back from a visit to her native Lancashire, just this time last year, had met death swift and hideous in a railway collision–recalled to Damaris the little scene, of a week ago, with Tom Verity when ho had asked her, in the noonday sunshine out on the Bar, for some explanation of his strange nocturnal experience. She went hot all over now, with exaggerated childish shame, thinking of it. For had not she, Damaris Verity, though nurtured in the creed that courage is the source and mother of all virtues, shown the white feather, incontinently turned tail and run away? Remembrance of that running scorched her, so that more than once, awakening suddenly in the night, her fair young body was dyed rose-red with the disgrace of it literally from head to heel. She was bitterly humiliated by her own poltroonery, ingenuously doubtful as to whether she could ever quite recover her self-respect; glad that every day put two hundred miles and more of sea between her and Tom Verity, since he had witnessed that contemptible fall from grace.

Nevertheless, after her first consternation–in which, to avoid further speech with him she had sought refuge among the unsavoury seine nets in the fore-part of Jennifer’s ferry-boat–Tom Verity’s probable opinion of her undignified action troubled her far less than the cause of the said action itself. For exactly what, after all, had so upset her, begetting imperative necessity of escape? Not the apparent confirmation of that ugly legend concerning ghostly ponies driven up across The Hard garden from the shore. From childhood, owing both to temperament and local influences, her apprehension of things unseen and super-normal had been remarkably acute. From the dawn of conscious intelligence these had formed an integral element in the atmosphere of her life; and that without functional disturbance, moral or physical, of a neurotic sort. She felt no morbid curiosity about such matters, did not care to dwell upon or talk of them.–Few persons do who, being sane in mind and body, are yet endowed with the rather questionable blessing of the Seer’s sixth sense.–For while, in never doubting their existence her reason acquiesced, her heart turned away, oppressed and disquieted, as from other mysterious actualities common enough to human observation, such as illness, disease, deformity, old age, the pains of birth and of death. Such matters might perplex and sadden, or arouse her indignant pity; but, being strong with the confidence of untouched youth and innocence, they were powerless, in and by themselves, to terrify her to the contemptible extremity of headlong flight.

This she recognized, though less by reasoning than by instinct; and so found herself compelled to search deeper for the cause of her recent disgrace. Not that she willingly prosecuted that search; but that the subject pursued her, simply refusing to leave her alone. Continually it presented itself to her mind, and always with the same call for escape, the same foreboding of some danger against which she must provide. Always, too, it seemed to hinge upon Tom Verity’s visit, and something in her relation to the young man himself which she could not define. She revolved the question now–Theresa being safely packed off to her tea-party–in shade of the ilex trees, with solemn eyes and finely serious face.

There was not anything unusual in receiving visitors at The Hard. Men came often to see her father, and she took her share in entertaining all such comers as a matter of course. Some she “didn’t much care about,” some she liked. But, with the exception of Colonel Carteret from childhood her trusted friend and confidant, their coming and going was just part of the accustomed routine, a survival from the life at the Indian summer palace of long ago, and made no difference. Yet, though she was still uncertain whether she did like Tom Verity or not, his coming and going had indisputably made a difference. It marked, indeed, a new departure in her attitude and thought. Her world, before his advent, was other than that in which she now dwelt.

For one thing, Tom was much younger than the majority of her father’s guests–a man not made but still early in the making, the glamour of promise rather than the stark light of finality upon him. This affected her; for at eighteen, a career, be it never so distinguished, which has reached its zenith, in other words reached the end of its tether, must needs have a touch of melancholy about it. With the heat of going on in your own veins, the sight of one who has no further go strikes chill to the heart. And so, while uncertain whether she quite trusted him or not, Damaris–until the unlucky running away episode–had taken increasing pleasure in this new cousin’s company. It both interested and diverted her. She had not only felt ready to talk to him; but,–surprising inclination!–once the ice of her natural reserve broken, to talk to him about herself.

Half-shyly she dwelt upon his personal appearance.–A fine head and clever face, the nose astute, slightly Jewish in type, so she thought. His eyes were disappointing, too thickly brown in colour, too opaque. They told you nothing, were indeed curiously meaningless; and, though well set under an ample brow, were wanting in depth and softness owing to scantiness of eyelash. But his chin satisfied her demands. It was square, forcible, slightly cleft; and his mouth, below the fly-away reddish moustache, was frankly delightful.–Damaris flushed, smiling to herself now as she recalled his smile. Whereupon the humiliation of that thrice wretched running away took a sharper edge. For she realized, poor child, how much–notwithstanding her proud little snubbing of him–she coveted his good opinion, wished him to admire and to like her; wanted, even while she disapproved his self-complacency and slightly doubted his truthfulness, to have him carry with him a happy impression of her–carry it with him to that enchanted far Eastern land in which all the poetry of her childhood had its root. For, if remembrance of her remained with him, and that agreeably, she herself also found “Passage to India” in a sense. And this idea, recondite though it was, touched and charmed her fancy–or would have done so but for the recollection of her deplorable flight.–Oh! what–what made her run away? From what had she thus run? If she could only find out! And find, moreover, the cause sufficient to palliate, to some extent at least, the woefulness of her cowardice.

But at this point her meditation suffered interruption. The three cormorants, having finished their sun-bath, rose from the sand and flapped off, flying low and sullenly in single file over the sea parallel with the eastward-trending coast-line.

With the departure of the great birds her surroundings seemed to lose their only element of active and conscious life. The brooding sunlit evening became oppressive, so that in the space of a moment Damaris passed from solitude, which is stimulating, to loneliness, which is only sad. Meanwhile the shadow cast by the ilex trees had grown sensibly longer, softer in outline, more transparent and finely intangible in tone, and the reek of the mud-flats more potent, according to its habit at sundown and low tide.

It quenched the garden scents with a fetid sweetness, symbolic perhaps of the languorous sheltered character of the scene and of much which had or might yet happen there–the life breath of the _genius loci_, an at once seductive and, as Tom Verity had rightly divined, a doubtfully wholesome spirit! Over Damaris it exercised an unwilling fascination, as of some haunting refrain ending each verse of her personal experience. Even when, as a little girl of eight, fresh from the gentle restraints and rare religious and social amenities of an aristocratic convent school in Paris, she had first encountered it, it struck her as strangely familiar–a thing given back rather than newly discovered, making her mind and innocent body alike eager with absorbed yet half-shuddering recognition. A good ten years had elapsed since then, but her early impression still persisted, producing in her a certain spiritual and emotional unrest.

And at that, by natural transition, her thought turned from Tom Verity to fix itself upon the one other possible witness of her ignominy–namely, the young master mariner who, coming ashore in Proud, the lobster-catcher’s cranky boat, had walked up the shifting shingle to the crown of the ridge and stood watching her, in silence, for a quite measurable period, before passing on his way down to the ferry. For, from her first sight of him, had he not seemed to evoke that same sense of remembrance, to be, like the reek off the mud-flats, already well-known, something given back to her rather than newly discovered? She was still ignorant as to who ho was or where he came from, having been far too engrossed by mortification to pay any attention to the conversation between her cousin and Jennifer during their little voyage down the tide-river, and having disdained to make subsequent enquiries.–She had a rooted dislike to appear curious or ask questions.–But now, reviewing the whole episode, it broke in on her that the necessity for escape and foreboding of danger, which culminated in her flight, actually dated from the advent of this stranger rather than from Tom’s request for enlightenment concerning unaccountable noises heard in the small hours.

Damaris slipped her feet down off the leg-rest, and sat upright, tense with the effort to grasp and disentangle the bearings of this revelation. Was her search ended? Had she indeed detected the cause of her discomfiture; or only pushed her enquiry back a step further, thus widening rather than limiting the field of speculation? For what conceivable connection, as she reflected, could the old lobster-catcher’s passenger have with any matter even remotely affecting herself!

Then she started, suddenly sensible of a comfortable, though warmly protesting, human voice and presence at her elbow.

“Yes, you may well look astonished, Miss Damaris. I know how late it is, and have been going on like anything to Lizzie over her carelessness. Mrs. Cooper’s walked up the village with Laura about some extra meat that’s wanted, and when I came through for your tea if that girl hadn’t let the kitchen fire right out!–Amusing herself down in the stable-yard, I expect, Mrs. Cooper being gone.–And the business I’ve had to get a kettle to boil!”

Verging on forty, tall, dark, deep-bosomed and comely, a rich flush on her cheeks under the clear brown skin thanks to a kitchen fire which didn’t burn and righteous anger which did, Mary Fisher, the upper housemaid, set a tea-tray upon the garden table beside Damaris’ chair.

“That’s what comes of taking servants out of trades-peoples’ houses,” she went on, as she marshalled silver tea-pot and cream-jug–embossed with flamboyant many-armed Hindu deities–hot cakes, ginger snaps and saffron-sprinkled buns. “You can’t put any real dependence on them, doing their work as suits themselves just anyhow and anywhen. Mrs. Cooper and I knew how it would be well enough when Miss Bilson engaged Lizzie Trant and Mr. Hordle said the same. But it wasn’t one atom of use for us to speak. The Miss Minetts recommended the girl–so there was the finish of it. And that’s at the bottom of your being kept waiting the best part of a hour for your tea like this, Miss.”

Notwithstanding the exactions of a somewhat tyrannous brain and her conviction of high responsibilities, the child, which delights to be petted, told stories and made much of, was strong in Damaris still. This explosion of domestic wrath on her behalf proved eminently soothing. It directed her brooding thought into nice, amusing, everyday little channels; and assured her of protective solicitude, actively on the watch, by which exaggerated shames and alarms were withered and loneliness effectually dispersed. She felt smoothed, contented. Fell, indeed, into something of the humour which climbs on to a friendly lap and thrones it there blissfully careless of the thousand and one ills, known and unknown, which infant flesh is heir to. She engaged the comely comfortable woman to stay and minister further to her.

“Pour out my tea for me, Mary, please,” she said, “if you’re not busy. But isn’t this your afternoon off, by rights?”

And Mary, while serving her, acknowledged that not only was it “by rights” her “afternoon off;” but that Mr. Patch, the coachman, had volunteered to drive her into Marychurch to see her parents when he exercised the carriage horses. But, while thanking him very kindly, she had refused. Was it likely, she said, she would leave the house with Sir Charles and Mr. Hordle away, and Miss Bilson taking herself off to visit friends, too?

From which Damaris gathered that, in the opinion of the servants’ hall, Theresa’s offence was rank, it stank to heaven. She therefore, being covetous of continued contentment, turned the conversation to less controversial subjects; and, after passing notice of the fair weather, the brightness of the geraniums and kindred trivialities, successfully incited Mary to talk of Brockhurst, Sir Richard Calmady’s famous place in the north of the county, where–prior to his retirement to his native town of Marychurch, upon a generous pension–her father, Lomas Fisher, had for many years occupied the post of second gardener. Here was material for story-telling to the child Damaris’ heart’s content! For Brockhurst is rich in strange records of wealth, calamity, heroism, and sport, the inherent romance of which Mary’s artless narrative was calculated to enhance rather than dissipate.

So young mistress listened and maid recounted, until, the former fortified by cakes and tea, the two sauntered, side by side–a tall stalwart black figure, white capped and aproned and an equally tall but slender pale pink one–down across the lawn to the battery where the small obsolete cannon so boldly defied danger of piracy or invasion by sea.

The sun, a crimson disc, enormous in the earth-mist, sank slowly, south of west, behind the dark mass of Stone Horse Head. The upper branches of the line of Scotch firs in the warren and, beyond them, the upper windows of the cottages and Inn caught the fiery light. Presently a little wind, thin, perceptibly chill, drew up the river with the turning of the tide. It fluttered Mary Fisher’s long white muslin apron strings and lifted her cap, so that she raised her hand to keep it in place upon her smooth black hair. The romance of Brockhurst failed upon her tongue. She grew sharply practical.

“The dew’s beginning to rise, Miss Damaris,” she said, “and you’ve only got your house shoes on. You ought to go indoors at once.”

But–“Listen,” Damaris replied, and lingered.

The whistling of a tune, shrill, but true and sweet, and a rattle of loose shingle, while a young man climbed the seaward slope of the Bar. The whistling ceased as he stopped, on the crest of the ridge, and stood, bare-headed, contemplating the sunset. For a few seconds the fiery light stained his hands, his throat, his hair, his handsome bearded face; then swiftly faded, leaving him like a giant leaden image set up against a vast pallor of sea and sky.

Mary Fisher choked down a hasty exclamation.

“Come, do come, Miss Damaris, before the grass gets too wet,” she said almost sharply. “It’s going to be a drenching dew to-night.”

“Yes–directly–in a minute–but, Mary, tell me who that is?”

The woman hesitated.

“Out on the Bar, do you mean? No one I am acquainted with, Miss.”

“I did not intend to ask if he was a friend of yours,” Damaris returned, with a touch of grandeur, “but merely whether you could tell me his name.”

“Oh! it’s Mrs. Faircloth’s son I suppose–the person who keeps the Inn. I heard he’d been home for a few days waiting for a ship”–and she turned resolutely towards the house. “It’s quite time that silver was taken indoors and the library windows closed. But you must excuse me, Miss Damaris, I can’t have you stay out here in that thin gown in the damp. You really must come with me, Miss.”

And the child in Damaris obeyed. Dutifully it went, though the soul of the eighteen-year-old Damaris was far away, started once more on an anxious quest.

She heard the loose shingle shift and rattle under Faircloth’s feet as he swung down the near slope to the jetty. The sound pursued her, and again she was overtaken–overwhelmed by foreboding and desire of flight.

CHAPTER II

WHICH CANTERS ROUND A PARISH PUMP

Not until the second bell was about to cease ringing did Theresa Bilson–fussily consequential–reappear at The Hard.

During the absence of the master of the house she would have much preferred high tea in the schoolroom, combined with a certain laxity as to hours and to dress; but Damaris, in whom the sense of style was innate, stood out for the regulation dignities of late dinner and evening gowns. To-night, however, thanks to her own unpunctuality, Miss Bilson found ample excuse for dispensing with ceremonial garments.

“No–no–we will not wait,” she said, addressing Mary and her attendant satellite, Laura, the under-housemaid, as–agreeably ignorant of the sentiment of a servants’ hall which thirsted for her blood–she passed the two standing at attention by the open door of the dining-room. “I am not going to change. I will leave my hat and things down here–Laura can take them to my room later–and have dinner as I am.”

During the course of that meal she explained how she had really quite failed to observe the hour when she left the Grey House. Commander and Mrs. Battye were at tea there; and the vicar–Dr. Horniblow–looked in afterwards. There was quite a little meeting, in fact, to arrange the details of the day after to-morrow’s choir treat. A number of upper-class parishioners, she found, were anxious to embrace this opportunity of visiting Harchester, and inspecting the Cathedral and other sights of that historic city, under learned escort. It promised to be a most interesting and instructive expedition, involving moreover but moderate cost.–And every one present–Theresa bridled over her salmon cutlet and oyster sauce–everyone seemed so anxious for her assistance and advice. The vicar deferred to her opinion in a quite pointed manner; and spoke, which was so nice of him, of her known gift of organization. “So we claim not only your sympathy, Miss Bilson, but your active co-operation,” he had said. “We feel The Hard should be officially represented.”

Here the speaker became increasingly self-conscious and blushed.

“What could I do, therefore, but remain even at the risk of being a trifle late for dinner?” she asked. “It would have been so extremely uncivil to the Miss Minetts to break up the gathering by leaving before full agreement as to the arrangements had been reached. I felt I must regard it as a public duty, under the circumstances. I really owed it to my position here, you know, Damaris, to stay to the last.”

It may be observed, in passing, that Miss Bilson was fond of food and made a good deal of noise in eating, particularly when, as on the present occasion, she combined that operation with continuous speech. This may account for Damaris bestowing greater attention on the manner than the matter of her ex-governess’ communications. She was sensible that the latter showed to small advantage being rather foolishly excited and elate, and felt vexed the maids should hear and see her behaving thus. It could hardly fail to lower her in their estimation.

As to the impending parochial invasion of Harchester–during the earlier stages of dinner Damaris hardly gave it a second thought, being still under the empire of impressions very far removed from anything in the nature of choir treats. She still beheld the fiery glare of an expiring sunset, and against the ensuing pallor of sea and sky a leaden-hued human, figure strangely, almost portentously evident. That it appeared noble in pose and in outline, even beautiful, she could not deny. But that somehow it frightened her, she could equally little deny. So it came about that once again, as Mary and her satellite Laura silently waited at table, and as Theresa very audibly gobbled food in and words out, Damaris shrank within herself seeming to hear a shrill sweet whistling and the shatter of loose pebbles and shifting shingle under Faircloth’s pursuing feet.

The young man’s name aroused her interest, not to say her curiosity, the more deeply because of its association, with a locality exploration of which had always been denied her–a Naboth’s vineyard of the imagination, near at hand, daily in sight, yet personal acquaintance with which she failed to possess even yet. The idea of an island, especially a quite little island, a miniature and separate world, shut off all by itself, is dreadfully enticing to the infant mind–at once a geographical entity and a cunning sort of toy. And Faircloth’s Inn, with the tarred wooden houses adjacent, was situated upon what, to all intents and purposes, might pass as an island since accessible only by boat or by an ancient paved causeway daily submerged at high tide.

Skirting the further edge of the warren, a wide rutted side lane leads down to the landward end of the said causeway from the village green, just opposite Deadham post office and Mrs. Doubleday’s general shop.–A neglected somewhat desolate strip of road this, between broken earthbanks topped by ragged firs, yet very paintable and dear to the sketch-book of the amateur. In summer overgrown with grass and rushes, bordered by cow-parsley, meadowsweet, pink codlings-and-cream, and purple flowered peppermint, in winter a marsh of sodden brown and vivid green; but at all seasons a telling perspective, closed by the lonely black and grey island hamlet set in the gleaming tide.

Small wonder the place stirred Damaris’ spirit of enquiry and adventure! She wanted to go there, to examine, to learn how people lived cut off from the mainland for hours twice every day and night. But her early attempts at investigation met with prompt discouragement from both her nurse and her aunt, Felicia Verity. And Damaris was not of the disposition which plots, wheedles, and teases to obtain what it wants; still less screams for the desired object until for very weariness resistance yields. Either she submitted without murmuring or fearlessly defied authority. In the present case she relinquished hope and purpose obediently, while inwardly longing for exploration, of her “darling little island” all the more.

But authority was not perhaps altogether unjustified of its decision, for the inhabitants of the spot so engaging to Damaris’ imagination were a close corporation, a race of sailors and fishermen and, so said rumour, somewhat rough customers at that. They lived according to their own traditions and unwritten laws, entertained a lordly contempt for wage-earning labourers and landsmen, and, save when money was likely to pass, were grudging of hospitality even to persons of quality setting foot within their coasts.

To their reprehensible tendencies in this last respect the Miss Minetts could bear painful witness, as–with hushed voices and entreaties the sorry tale might “go no further”–they more than once confided to Theresa Bilson. For one Saturday afternoon–unknown to the vicar–being zealous in the admonishing of recalcitrant church-goers and rounding up of possible Sunday-school recruits, they crossed to the island at low tide; and in their best district visitor manner–too often a sparkling blend of condescension and familiarity, warranted to irritate–severally demanded entrance to the first two of the black cottages.–The Inn they avoided. Refined gentlewomen can hardly be expected, even in the interests of religion, to risk pollution by visiting a common tavern, more particularly when a company of half-grown lads and blue jerseyed men–who may, of course, have been carousing within–hangs about its morally malodorous door.

Of precisely what followed their attempted violation of the privacy of those two cottages, even the Miss Minetts themselves could subsequently give no very coherent account. They only knew that some half-hour later, with petticoats raised to a height gravely imperilling decency, they splashed landward across the causeway–now ankle-deep in water–while the lads congregated before the Inn laughed boisterously, the men turned away with a guffaw, dogs of disgracefully mixed parentage yelped, and the elder female members of the Proud and Sclanders families flung phrases lamentably subversive of gentility after their retreating figures from the foreshore.

Modesty and mortification alike forbade the outraged ladies reporting the episode to Dr. Horniblow in extenso. But they succeeded in giving Miss Bilson a sufficiently lurid account of it to make “the darling little island,” in as far as her charge, Damaris, was concerned, more than ever taboo. Their request that the story might “go no further” she interpreted with the elasticity usually accorded to such requests; and proceeded, at the first opportunity, to retail the whole shocking occurrence to her pupil as an example of the ingratitude and insubordination of the common people. For Theresa was nothing if not conservative and aristocratic. From such august anachronisms as the divine right of kings and the Stuart succession, down to humble bobbing of curtseys and pulling of forelocks in to-day’s village street, she held a permanent brief for the classes as against the masses. Unluckily the Miss Minetts’ hasty and watery withdrawal, with upgathered skirts, across the causeway had appealed to Damaris’ sense of comedy rather than of tragedy.–She didn’t want to be unkind, but you shouldn’t interfere; and if you insisted on interfering you must accept whatever followed. The two ladies in question were richly addicted to interfering she had reason to think.–And then they must have looked so wonderfully funny scuttling thus!

The picture remained by her as a thing of permanent mirth. So it was hardly surprising, in face of the dominant direction of her thoughts to-night, that, when the Miss Minetts’ name punctuated Theresa’s discourse recurrent as a cuckoo-cry, remembrance of their merrily inglorious retirement from the region of Faircloth’s Inn should present itself. Whereupon Damaris’ serious mood was lightened as by sudden sunshine, and she laughed.

Hearing which infectiously gay but quite unexpected sound, Miss Bilson stopped dead in the middle both of a nectarine and a sentence.

“What is the matter, Damaris?” she exclaimed. “I was explaining our difficulty in securing sufficient conveyances for some of our party to and from Marychurch station. I really do not see any cause for amusement in what I said.”

“There wasn’t anything amusing, dear Billy, I’m sure there wasn’t,” Damaris returned, the corners of her mouth still quivering and her eyes very bright. “I beg your pardon. I’m afraid I wasn’t quite attending. I was thinking of something else. You were speaking about the carriage horses, weren’t you? Yes.”

But Theresa turned sulky. She had been posing, planing in mid-air around the fair castles hope and ambition are reported to build there. Her fat little feet were well off the floor, and that outbreak of laughter let her down with a bump. She lost her head, lost her temper and her opportunity along with it, and fell into useless scolding.

“You are extremely inconsequent and childish sometimes, Damaris,” she said. “I find it most trying when I attempt to talk to you upon practical subjects, really pressing subjects, and you either cannot or will not concentrate. What can you expect in the future when you are thrown more on your own resources, and have not me–for instance–always to depend upon, if you moon through life like this? It must lead to great discomfort not only for yourself but for others. Pray be warned in time.”

Damaris turned in her chair at the head of the table. A station not unconnected, in Theresa’s mind, with the internal ordering of those same air-built castles, and consistently if furtively coveted by her. To Sir Charles’s chair at the bottom of the table, she dared not aspire, so during his absence reluctantly retained her accustomed place at the side.

“You need not wait any longer, Mary,” Damaris said, over her shoulder.

“Why?” Theresa began fussily, as the two maids left the room.

“Why?” Damaris took her up. “Because I prefer our being alone during the remainder of this conversation. I understand that you want to ask me about something to do with this excursion to Harchester. What is it, please?”

“My dear Damaris,” the other protested, startled and scenting unexpected danger, “really your manner”–

“And yours.–Both perhaps would bear improvement. But that is by the way. What is it, please, you want?”

“Really you assert yourself”–

“And you forget yourself–before the servants, too, I do not like it at all. You should be more careful.”

“Damaris,” she cried aghast, confounded to the verge of tears–“Damaris!”

“Yes–I am giving you my full attention. Pray let us be practical,” the young girl said, sitting up tall and straight in the shaded lamp-light, the white dinner-table spread with gleaming glass and silver, fine china, fruit and flowers before her, the soft gloom of the long low room behind, all tender hint of childhood banished from her countenance, and her eyes bright now not with laughter but with battle. “Pray let us finish with the subject of the choir treat. Then we shall be free to talk about more interesting things.”

Miss Bilson waved her hands hysterically.

“No–no–I never wish to mention it again. I am too deeply hurt by your behaviour to me, Damaris–your sarcasm.–Of course,” she added, “I see I must withdraw my offer. It will cause the greatest inconvenience and disappointment; but for that I cannot hold myself responsible, though it will be most painful and embarrassing to me after the kind appreciation I have received. Still I must withdraw it”–

“Withdraw what offer?”

“Why the offer I was explaining to you just now, when you ordered the maids out of the room. You really cannot deny that you heard what I said, Damaris, because you mentioned the carriage horses yourself.”

Theresa sipped some water. She was recovering if not her temper, yet her grasp on the main issue. She wanted, so desperately, to achieve her purpose and, incidentally, to continue to play, both for her own benefit and that of the parish, her self-elected role of Lady Bountiful, of “official representative of The Hard”–as Dr. Horniblow by a quite innocent if ill-timed flourish of speech had unfortunately put it.

“The conveyances in the village are insufficient to take the whole party to the station,” she continued. “An extra brake can be had at the Stag’s Head in Mary church; but a pair of horses must be sent in to-morrow afternoon to bring it over here. I saw”–she hesitated a moment–“I really could see no objection to Patch taking our horses in to fetch the brake, and driving a contingent to the station in it next morning.”

“And meeting the train at night, I suppose?” Damaris said calmly.

“Of course,” Theresa answered, thus unconsciously declaring herself a rank outsider, and rushing blindly upon her fate.

For what thoroughbred member of the equestrian order does not know that next–and even that not always–to the ladies of his family and, possibly, the key of his cellar, an Englishman’s stable is sacrosanct? Dispose of anything he owns rather than his horses. To attempt touching them is, indeed, to stretch out your hand against the Ark of the Covenant and risk prompt withering of that impious limb. Yet poor Theresa blundered on.

“I told the vicar that, Sir Charles being from home, I felt I might make the offer myself, seeing how much it would simplify the arrangements and how very little work Patch has when you and I are alone here. It is a pity there is not time to obtain Sir Charles’s sanction. That would be more proper, of course, more satisfactory. But under the circumstances it need not, I think, be regarded as an insuperable objection. I told the Miss Minetts and the vicar”–

Here Miss Bilson blushed, applying fork and spoon, in coy confusion, to the remains of the nectarine upon her plate.

“I told them,” she repeated, “knowing Sir Charles as well as I do, I felt I might safely assure them of that.”

In Damaris, meanwhile, anger gradually gave place to far more complex emotions. She sat well back in her chair, and clasped her hands firmly in her flowered Pompadour-muslin lap. Her eyes looked enormous as she kept them fixed gravely and steadily upon the speaker. For extraordinary ideas and perceptions concerning the said speaker crowded into her young head. She did not like them at all. She shrank from dwelling upon or following them put. They, indeed, made her hot and uncomfortable all over. Had Theresa Bilson taken leave of her senses, or was she, Damaris, herself in fault–a harbourer of nasty thoughts? Consciously she felt to grow older, to grow up. And she did not like that either; for the grown-up world, to which Theresa acted just now as doorkeeper, struck her as an ugly and vulgar-minded place. She saw her ex-governess from a new angle–a more illuminating than agreeable one, at which she no longer figured as pitiful, her little assumptions and sillinesses calling for the chivalrous forbearance of persons more happily placed; but as actively impertinent, an usurper of authority and privileges altogether outside her office and her scope. She was greedy–not a pretty word yet a true one, covering both her manner of eating and her speech. Registering which facts Damaris was sensible of almost physical repulsion, as from something obscurely gross. Hence it followed that Theresa must, somehow, be stopped, made to see her own present unpleasantness, saved from herself in short–to which end it became Damaris’ duty to unfurl the flag of revolt.

The young girl arrived at this conclusion in a spirit of rather pathetic seriousness. It is far from easy, at eighteen, to control tongue and temper to the extent of joining battle with your elders in calm and dignified sort. To lay about you in a rage is easy enough. But rage is tiresomely liable to defeat its own object and make you make a fool of yourself. Any unfurling of the flag would be useless, and worse than useless, unless it heralded victory sure and complete–Damaris realized this. So she kept a brave front, although her pulse quickened and she had a bad little empty feeling around her heart.

Fortunately, however, for her side of the campaign, Theresa–emboldened by recapitulation of her late boastings at the Miss Minetts’ tea-table–hastened to put a gilded dome to her own indiscretion and offence. For nothing would do but Damaris must accompany her on this choir treat! She declared herself really compelled to press the point. It offered such an excellent opportunity of acquiring archaeological knowledge–had not the Dean most kindly promised to conduct the party round the Cathedral himself and deliver a short lecture _en route_?–and of friendly social intercourse, both of which would be very advantageous to Damaris. As she was without any engagement for the day clearly neither should be missed. Of course, everyone understood how unsuitable it would be to ask Sir Charles to patronize parish excursions and events.–Here Miss Bilson became lyrical, speaking with gasping breath and glowing face, of “a call to exalted spheres of action, of great Proconsuls, Empire Builders, Pillars of the State.”–Naturally you hesitated to intrude on the time and attention of such a distinguished person–that in point of fact was her main reason for disposing of the matter of the carriage horses herself. How could she trouble Sir Charles with such a homely detail?–But Damaris’ case, needless to remark, was very different. At her age it was invidious to be too exclusive. Miss Felicia Verity felt–so she, Theresa, was certain–that it was a pity Damaris did not make more friends in the village now she was out of the schoolroom. May and Doris Horniblow were sweet girls and highly educated. They, of course, were going. And Captain Taylor, she understood would bring his daughter, Louisa–who was home for a few days before the opening of term at the Tillingworth High School where she was second mistress.

“It is always well to realize the attainments of young people of your own age, even if they are not in quite the same social grade as yourself. Your going would give pleasure too. It will be taken as a compliment to the vicar and the Church–may really, in a sense, be called patriotic since an acknowledgment of the duty we owe, individually, to the local community of which we form part. And then,” she added, naively giving herself away at the last, “of course, if you go over to the station in the brake Patch cannot make any difficulties about driving it.”

Here Theresa stayed the torrent of her eloquence and looked up, to find Damaris’ eyes fixed upon her in incredulous wonder.

“Have you nothing to say, dear, in answer to my proposition?” she enquired, with a suddenly anxious, edgy little laugh.

“I am afraid I have a lot to say, some of which you won’t like.”

“How so?” Theresa cried, still playfully. “You must see how natural and reasonable my suggestion is.” Then becoming admonitory. “You should learn to think a little more of others.–It is a bad habit to offer opposition simply for opposition’s sake.”

“I do not oppose you for the mere pleasure of opposing,” Damaris began, determined her voice should not shake. “But I’m sorry to say, I can’t agree to the horses being used to draw a loaded brake. I could not ask Patch. He would refuse and be quite right in refusing. It’s not their work–nor his work either.”

She leaned forward, trying to speak civilly and gently.

“There are some things you don’t quite understand about the stables, or about the servants–the things which can’t be done, which it’s impossible to ask.–No,–wait, please–please let me finish”–

For between astonishment, chagrin, and an inarticulate struggle to protest, Miss Bilson’s complexion was becoming almost apoplectic and her poor fat little cheeks positively convulsed.

“I dislike saying such disagreeable things to you, but it can’t be avoided. It would be cowardly of me not to tell you the truth.–You shall have the brougham the day after to-morrow, and I’ll write to Miss Minett in the morning, and tell her you will call for her and her sister, on your way to Marychurch, and that you will bring them back at night. I will give Patch his orders myself, so that there may be no confusion. And I will subscribe a pound to the expenses of the choir treat. That is all I can promise in the way of help.”

“But–but–Damaris, think of the position in which you place me! I cannot be thrust aside thus. I will not submit. It is so humiliating, so–so–I offered the horses. I told the vicar he might consider it settled about the extra brake”–

“I know. That was a mistake. You had no right to make such an offer.”

For justice must take its course. Theresa must be saved from herself. Still her implacable young saviour, in proportion as victory appeared assured, began to feel sad. For it grew increasingly plain that Theresa was not of the stuff of which warriors, any more than saints, are made. Stand up to her and she collapsed like a pricked bubble.–So little was left, a scum of colourless soap suds, in which very certainly there is no fight. Again she showed a pitiful being, inviting chivalrous forbearance.

“You are very hard,” she lamented, “and you are always inclined to side with the servants against me. You seem to take pleasure in undermining my influence, while I am so ready and anxious to devote myself to you. You know there is nothing, nothing I would not do for you and–and for Sir Charles.”

Theresa choked, coughed, holding her handkerchief to her eyes.

“And what reward do I meet with?” she asked brokenly. “At every turn I am thwarted. But you must give way in this case, Damaris. Positively you must. I cannot allow myself to be publicly discredited through your self-will. I promised the horses for the extra brake. The offer was made and accepted–accepted, you understand, actually accepted. What will the vicar say if the arrangement is upset? What will every one think?”

Damaris pushed her chair back from the table and rose to her feet.–Forbearance wore threadbare under accusation and complaint. No, Theresa was not only a little too abject, but a little too disingenuous, thereby putting herself beyond the pale of rightful sympathy. Even while she protested devotion, self looked out seeking personal advantage. And that devotion, in itself, shocked Damaris’ sense of fitness where it involved her father. It wasn’t Theresa’s place to talk of devotion towards him!

Moreover the young girl began to feel profoundly impatient of all this to do and bother. For wasn’t the whole affair, very much of a storm in a teacup, petty, paltry, quite unworthy of prolonged discussion such as this? She certainly thought so, in her youthful fervour and inexperience; while–the push of awakening womanhood giving new colour and richness to her conception of life–nature cried out for a certain extravagance in heroism, in largeness of action of aspiration. She was athirst for noble horizons, in love with beauty, with the magnificence of things, seen and unseen alike. In love with superb objectives even if only to be reached through a measure of suffering, and–searching, arresting, though the thought was to her–possibly through peril of death.

In such moods there is small room for a Bilson regime and outlook. A flavour of scorn marked her tone as she answered at last:

“Oh, you can lay the blame on me–or rather tell the truth, which amounts to the same thing. Say that, my father being away, I refused my consent to the horses being taken out. Say you appealed to me but I was hopelessly obstinate. It is very simple.”

CHAPTER III

A SAMPLING OF FREEDOM

When two persons, living under the same roof, have the misfortune to fall out a hundred and one small ways are ready to hand for the infliction of moral torment. The weak, it may be added, are not only far more addicted to such inflictings than the strong, but far more resourceful in their execution. Theresa Bilson’s conduct may furnish a pertinent example.

From the moment of emerging from her bed-chamber, next morning, she adopted an attitude which she maintained until she regained the chaste seclusion of that apartment at night. During no instant of the intervening hours did she lapse from studied speechlessness unless directly addressed, nor depart from an air of virtuous resignation to injustice and injury–quite exquisitely provoking to the onlooker. Twice during the morning Damaris, upon entering the schoolroom, discovered her in tears, which she proceeded to wipe away, furtively, with the greatest ostentation.–Dramatic effect, on the second occasion was, however, marred by the fact that she was engaged in retrimming a white chip hat, encircled by a garland of artificial dog-roses, blue glass grapes and assorted foliage–an occupation somewhat ill-adapted to tragedy. In addition to making her ex-pupil–against whom they were mainly directed–first miserable and then naughtily defiant by these manoeuvres, she alienated any sympathy which her red-rimmed eyelids and dolorous aspect might otherwise have engendered in the younger and less critical members of the establishment, by sending Alfred, the hall-boy, up to the vicarage with a note and instructions to wait for an answer, at the very moment when every domestic ordinance demanded his absorption in the cleaning of knives and of boots. Being but human, Alfred naturally embraced the heaven-sent chance of dawdling, passing the time of day with various cronies, and rapturously assisting to hound a couple of wild, sweating and snorting steers along the dusty lane, behind the churchyard, to Butcher Cleave’s slaughter-house: with the consequence that his menial duties devolved upon Laura and Lizzie, who, supported by the heads of their respective departments, combined to “give him the what for,” in no measured terms upon his eventual and very tardy return.

It is not too much to say that, by luncheon time Theresa–whether wilfully or not–had succeeded in setting the entire household by the ears; while any inclinations towards peace-making, with which Damaris might have begun the day, were effectively dissipated, leaving her strengthened and confirmed in revolt. Around the stables, and the proposed indignity put upon Patch and the horses, this wretched quarrel centred so–as at once a vote of confidence and declaration of independence–to the stables Damaris finally went and ordered the dog-cart at three o’clock. For she would drive, and drive, throughout the course of this gilded September afternoon. Drive far away from foolishly officious and disingenuous Theresa, far from Deadham, so tiresome just now in its irruption of tea-parties and treats. She would behold peaceful inland horizons, taste the freedom of spirit and the content which the long, smooth buff-coloured roads, leading to unknown towns and unvisited country-side, so deliciously give.

She stood at the front door, in blue linen gown, white knitted jersey and white sailor hat, buttoning her tan doeskin driving-gloves, a gallant, gravely valiant young creature, beautifully unbroken as yet by any real assent to the manifold foulness of life–her faith in the nobility of human nature and human destiny still finely intact. And that was just where her revolt against poor Theresa Bilson came in. For Theresa broke the accepted law, being ignoble; and thereby spoiled the fair pattern, showed as a blot.–Not that she meant to trouble any more about Theresa just now. She was out simply to enjoy, to see and feel, rather than reason, analyse or think. So she settled herself on the sloping high-cushioned seat, bracing her feet against the driving iron, while Mary, reaching up, tucked the dust-rug neatly about her skirts. Patch–whose looks and figure unmistakably declared his calling–short-legged and stocky, inclining to corpulence yet nimble on his feet, clean shaven, Napoleonic of countenance, passed reins and whip into her hands as Tolling, the groom, let go the horse’s head.

The girl squared her shoulders a little, and the soft colour deepened in her cheeks, as she swung the dog-cart down the drive and out of the entrance gate into the road–here a green-roofed tunnel, branches meeting overhead, thickly carpeted with dry sand blown inward from the beach–and on past the whitewashed cottages, red brick and grey stone houses of Deadham village, their gardens pleasant with flowers, and with apple and pear trees weighted down by fruit. Past the vicarage and church, standing apart on a little grass-grown monticule, backed by a row of elms, which amid their dark foliage showed here and there a single bough of verdigris-green or lemon-yellow–first harbingers of autumn. Into the open now, small rough fields dotted with thorn bushes and bramble-brakes on the one side; and on the other the shining waters of the Haven. Through the hamlet of Lampit, the rear of whose dilapidated sheds and dwellings abut on reed-beds and stretches of unsightly slime and ooze. A desolate spot, bleak and wind-swept in winter, and even under blue skies, as to-day basking in sunshine, degraded by poverty and dirt.

Some half-mile further is Horny Cross where, as the name indicates, four roads meet. That from Deadham to the edge of the forest runs north; the other, from Beaupres-on-Sea to Marychurch, Stourmouth and Barryport, due west. Damaris, having a fancy to keep the coast-line out of sight, chose the former, following the valley of the Arne, between great flat meadows where herds of dairy cows, of red Devons and black Welsh runts, feed in the rich deep grass. In one place a curve of the river brings it, for three hundred yards or more, close under the hanging woods, only the width of the roadway between the broad stream and living wall of trees. Here transparent bluish shadow haunted the undergrowth, and the air grew delicately chill, charged with the scent of fern, of moist earth, leaf mould, and moss.

Such traffic as held the road was leisurely, native to the scene and therefore pleasing to the sight.–For the age of self-moving machines on land had barely dawned yet; while the sky was still wholly inviolate.–A white tilted miller’s wagon, a brewer’s dray, each drawn by well-favoured teams with jingling bells and brass-mounted harness, rumbling farm carts, a gypsy van painted in crude yellow, blue, and red and its accompanying rabble of children, donkeys and dogs, a farmer’s high-hung, curtseying gig, were in turn met or passed. For the black horse, Damaris driving it, gave place to none, covering the mounting tale of miles handsomely at an even, swinging trot.

At Lady’s Oak, a noble tree marking some ancient forest boundary and consequently spared when the needs of the British Navy, during the French wars of the early years of the century, condemned so many of its fellows to the axe–the flattened burnished dome of which glinted back the sunlight above a maze of spreading branches and massive powder-grey trunk–the main road forks. Damaris turned to the left, across the single-arch stone bridge spanning the Arne, and drove on up the long winding ascent from the valley to the moorland and fir plantations which range inland behind Stourmouth. This constituted the goal of her journey, for once the high-lying plateau reached, leagues of country open out far as the eye carries to the fine, bare outline of the Wiltshire downs.

She checked the horse, letting it walk, while she took stock of her surroundings.

It may be asserted that there are two ways of holding converse with Nature. The one is egotistic and sentimental, an imposing of personal tastes and emotions which betrays the latent categoric belief that the existence of external things is limited to man’s apprehension of them–a vilely conceited if not actually blasphemous doctrine! The other is that of the seeker and the seer, who, approaching in all reverence, asks no more than leave to listen to the voice of external things–recognizing their independent existence, knowing them to be as real as he is, as wonderful, in their own order as permanent, possibly as potent even for good and evil as himself. And it was, happily, according to this latter reading of the position, instinctively, by the natural bent of her mind, that Damaris attempted converse with the world without.

The glory of the heather had passed, the bloom now showing only as silver-pink froth upon an ocean of warm brown. But the colouring was restful, the air here on the dry gravel soil light and eager, and the sense of height and space exhilarating. A fringe of harebells, of orange hawkweed and dwarf red sorrel bordered the road. Every small oasis of turf, amongst the heath and by the wayside, carried its pretty crop of centaury and wild thyme, of bed-straw, milkwort, and birdsfoot trefoil. Furzechats tipped about the gorse bushes, uttering a sharp, gay, warning note. A big flight of rooks, blue-black against the ethereal blue of the distance, winged their way slowly homeward to the long avenue of dark trees leading to a farm in the valley. The charm of the place was clear and sane, its beauty simple almost to austerity. This the young girl welcomed. It washed her imagination free of the curious questionings, involuntary doubts and suspicions, which the house and garden at The Hard, steeped in tradition, thick with past happenings, past passions, were prone to breed in her. No reek off the mud-flats, any more than over luscious garden scents, tainted the atmosphere. It was virgin as the soil of the moorland–a soil as yet untamed and unfertilized by the labour of man. And this effect of virginity, even though a trifle _farouche_, harsh, and barren in the perfection of its purity, appealed to Damaris’ present mood. Her spirit leapt to meet it in proud fellowship. For it routed forebodings. Discounted introspective broodings. Discounted even the apparently inevitable–since nobody and nothing, so the young girl told herself with a rush of gladly resolute conviction, is really inevitable unless you permit or choose to have them so.–Gallant this, and the mother of brave doings; though–as Damaris was to discover later, to the increase both of wisdom and of sorrow–a half-truth only. For man is never actually master of people or of things; but master, at most, of his own attitude towards them. In this alone can he claim or exercise free-will.

Then–because general ideas, however inspiriting, are rather heavy diet for the young, immature minds growing quickly tired in the efforts to digest them–Damaris, having reached this happy, if partially erroneous, climax of emancipation, ceased to philosophize either consciously or unconsciously. The russet moorland and spacious landscape shut the door on her, had no more to tell her, no more to say. Or, to be strictly accurate, was it not rather perhaps that her power of response, power to interpret their speech and assimilate their message had reached its term? All her life the maturity of her brain had inclined–rather fatiguingly–to outrun the maturity of her body, so that she failed “to continue in one stay” and trivial hours trod close on the heels of hours of exaltation and of insight.

With a sigh and a sense of loss–as though noble companions had withdrawn themselves from her–she gathered up the reins and sent the horse forward. She fell into comfortable friendly conversation with the Napoleonic-countenanced Patch, moreover, consulting him as to the shortest way, through the purlieus of Stourmouth, into the Marychurch high road and so home to Deadham Hard. For, to tell the truth, she became aware she was hungry and very badly in want of her tea.

Theresa Bilson, setting out the next morning in solitary state, contrived to maintain the adopted attitude until the front gates were safely passed. Then she relaxed and looked out of the brougham windows with a fussy brightness more consonant to the joys of impending union with the Miss Minetts and the day’s impending trip. She made no further effort to secure Damaris’ participation in the social and educational advantages which it promised. On the contrary she left the young lady severely alone and at home, as one administering well-merited punishment. Thus effectively demonstrating, as she wished to believe, her personal authority; and suiting, as she would have stoutly denied, her personal convenience. For Damaris on a string, plus the extra brake and carriage horses, was one story; Damaris on her own, minus those animals and much-debated vehicle, quite another. Unless the presence of her ex-pupil could be made to redound to her own glory, Theresa much preferred reserving representation of The Hard and its distinguished proprietor wholly and solely to herself. So in the spirit of pretence and of make-believe did she go forth; to find, on her return, that spirit prove but a lying and treacherous ally–and for more reasons than one.

It happened thus. Supported by the two brindled tabby house cats, Geraldine and Mustapha–descendants of the numerous tribe honoured, during the last half-century of his long life, by Thomas Clarkson Verity’s politely affectionate patronage–Damaris spent the greater part of the morning in the long writing room.

She had judged and condemned Theresa pretty roundly it is true, nevertheless she felt a little hurt and sore at the latter’s treatment of her. Theresa need not have kept up the quarrel till the very last so acridly. After all, as she was going out purely for own pleasure and amusement, she might have found something nice and civil to say at parting. And then the mere fact of being left behind, of being out of it, however limited the charms of a party, has a certain small stab to it somehow–as most persons, probing youthful experiences, can testify. It is never quite pleasant to be the one who doesn’t go!–The house, moreover, when her father was absent, always reminded Damaris of an empty shrine, a place which had lost its meaning and purpose. To-day, though windows and doors were wide open letting in a wealth of sunshine, it appeared startlingly lifeless and void. The maids seemed unusually quiet. She heard no movement on the staircase or in the rooms above. Neither gardener nor garden-boy was visible. She would have hailed the whirr of the mowing machine or swish of a broom on the lawn.–Oh! if only her poor dear Nannie were still alive, safe upstairs, there in the old nursery!

And at that the child Damaris felt a lump rise in her throat. But the girl, the soon-to-be woman, Damaris choked it down bravely. For nobody, nothing–so she assured herself, going back to the lesson learned yesterday upon the open moorland–is really inevitable unless you suffer or will it so to be. Wherefore she stiffened herself against recognition of loneliness, stiffened herself against inclination to mourning, refused to acquiesce in or be subjugated by either and, to the better forgetting of them, sought consolation among her great-great uncle’s books.

For at this period Damaris was an omnivorous reader, eager for every form of literature and every description of knowledge–whether clearly comprehended or not–which the beloved printed page has to give. An eagerness, it may be noted, not infrequently productive of collisions with Theresa, and at this particular juncture all the more agreeable to gratify on that very account. For Theresa would have had her walk only in the narrow, sheltered, neatly bordered paths of history and fiction designed, for the greater preservation of female innocence, by such authors as Miss Sewell, Miss Strickland, and Miss Yonge. Upon Damaris, however, perambulation of those paths palled too soon. Her intellect and heart alike demanded wider fields of drama, of religion and of science, above all wider and less conventional converse with average human nature, than this triumvirate of Victorian sibyls was willing or capable to supply. It is undeniable that, although words and phrases, whole episodes indeed, were obscure even unintelligible to her, she found the memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini and Saint Simon more interesting than the “Lives of the Queens of England; Vathek,” more to her taste than “Amy Herbert”; and, if the truth must be told, “The Decameron,” and “Tristram Shandy” more satisfying to her imagination than “The Heir of Redcliffe” or “The Daisy Chain.” To Damaris it seemed, just now, that a book the meaning of which was quite clear to her and could be grasped at sight, hardly repaid the trouble of reading, since it afforded no sense of adventure, no excitement of challenge or of pursuit, no mirage of wonder, no delightful provocation of matters outside her experience and not understood. About these latter she abstained from asking questions, having much faith in the illuminating power of the future. Given patience, all in good time she would understand everything worth understanding.–That there are things in life best not understood, or understood only at your peril, she already in some sort divined.–Hence her reading although of the order obnoxious to pedants, as lacking in method and accurate scholarship, went to produce a mental atmosphere in which honest love of letters and of art, along with generous instincts of humanity quicken and thrive.

On this particular morning Damaris elected to explore to the Near East, in the vehicle of Eoethen’s virile and luminous prose. She sat in one of the solid wide seated arm-chairs at the fire-place end of a long room, near a rounded window, the lower sash, of which she raised to its full height. Outside the row of geranium beds glowed scarlet and crimson in the calm light. Beyond them the turf of the lawn was overspread by trailing gossamers, and delicate cart-wheel spider’s webs upon which the dew still glittered. In the shrubberies robins sang; and above the river great companies of swallows swept to and fro, with sharp twitterings, restlessly gathering for their final southern flight.

No sooner had Damaris fairly settled down with her book, than Mustapha jumped upon her knees; and after, preliminary buttings and tramplings, curled himself round in gross comfort, his soft lithe body growing warmer and heavier, on her lap, as his sleep deepened. Where a bar of sunshine crossed the leather inset of the writing-table, just beside her in the window, Geraldine–his counterpart as to markings and colouring, but finer made, more slender of barrel and of limb–fitted herself into the narrow space between a silver inkstand and a stack of folded newspapers, her fore-paws tucked neatly under her chest, furry elbows outward. Her muzzle showed black, as did the rims of her eyelids which enhanced the brightness and size of her clear, yellow-green eyes. Her alert, observant little head was raised, as, with gently lashing tail, she watched an imprisoned honey-bee buzzing angrily up and down between the window-sashes.

An elfin creature, Geraldine,–repaying liberal study. Scornfully secure of the potency of her own charms where mankind, or Tomcat-kind, might be concerned, royally devoid of morals, past-mistress in all sprightly, graceful, feline devilries, she was yet a fond mother, solicitous to the point of actual selflessness regarding the safety and well-being of her successive and frequently recurrent litters. She suckled, washed, played with and educated those of her kittens who escaped the rigours of stable-bucket and broom, until such time as they were three to four months old. After which she sent them flying, amid cuffings and spittings extraordinary, whenever they attempted to approach her; and, oblivious of their orphaned and wistful existence, yielded herself with bewitching vivacity, to fresh intrigues and amours new.

The long quiet morning indoors, with cats and books for company, at once soothed Damaris and made her restless. After luncheon she put on hat, gloves, and walking shoes, and went down across the lawn to the sea-wall. Waylaying her in the hall, Mary had essayed to learn her programme, and anchor her as to time and place by enquiring when and where tea should be served. But Damaris put the kindly woman off.–She couldn’t say exactly–yet–would ring and let Mary know when she came in. If any one called, she was not at home.

In truth her active young body asked for movement and exercise, while scenes and phrases from the pages of Eoethen still filled her mind. She longed for travel. Not via Marychurch to Harchester, well understood, shepherded by Theresa Bilson, the members of the Deadham Church choir and their supporters; but for travel upon the grand scale, with all its romance and enlargement of experience, its possible dangers and certain hardships, as the author of Eoethen had known it and her father, for that matter, had known it in earlier days too. She suffered the spell of the East–always haunting the chambers of her memory and ready to be stirred in active ascendency, as by her morning’s reading to-day–suffered the spell not of its mysterious cities and civilizations alone, but of its vast solitudes and silences, desert winds and desert sands.

And hence it came about that, as her mood of yesterday sent her inland to pacify her imagination by gazing at the peaceful English country-side, so her present mood sent her down to the shore to satisfy, or rather further stimulate, her nostalgia for the East by gazing out to sea.

The cause in both cases was the same, namely, the inward tumult of her awakening womanhood, and still more, perhaps, the tumult of awakening talent which had not as yet found its appointed means of expression. She was driven hither and thither by the push of her individuality to disengage itself from adventitious surroundings and circumstances, and realize its independent existence.–A somewhat perilous crisis of development, fruitful of escapades and unruly impulses which may leave their mark, and that a disfiguring one, upon the whole of a woman’s subsequent career.

Immediately, however, Damaris’ disposition to defy established convention and routine took the mildest and apparently most innocuous form–merely the making, by herself, of a little expedition which, accompanied by others, she had made a hundred times before. From the terrace she went down the flight of steps, built into the width of the sea-wall, whence a tall wrought-iron gate opens direct upon the foreshore. Closing it behind her, she followed the coastguard-path, at the base of the river-bank–here a miniature sand cliff capped with gravel, from eight to ten feet high–which leads to the warren and the ferry. For she would take ship, with foxy-faced William Jennifer as captain and as crew, cross to the broken-down wooden jetty and, landing there, climb the crown of the Bar and look south-east, over the Channel highway, towards far distant countries of the desert and the dawn.

CHAPTER IV

OUT ON THE BAR

All which was duly accomplished though with a difference. For on reaching the head of the shallow sandy gully opening on the tide, where the flat-bottomed ferry-boat lay, Damaris found not Jennifer but the withered and doubtfully clean old lobster-catcher, Timothy Proud, in possession. This disconcerted her somewhat. His appearance, indeed–as he stood amongst a miscellaneous assortment of sun-bleached and weather-stained foreshore lumber, leaning the ragged elbows of his blue jersey upon the top of an empty petroleum barrel and smoking a dirty clay pipe–was so far from inviting, that the young girl felt tempted to relinquish her enterprise and go back by the way she had come.

But, as she hesitated, the old man catching sight of her and scenting custom, first spat and then called aloud.

“Might ‘e be wanting the Ferry, Miss?” Thus directly challenged, Damaris could not but answer in the affirmative.

“Put ‘e across to the Bar?” he took her up smartly. “Nat’rally I will–bean’t I here for the very purpose?–Put ‘e across I will and on the tick too.”

And, after further expectoration, relinquishing the support of the oil barrel, he joined her and shambled down the sandy track at her side, talking. Damaris hastened her step; but bent back and creaking breath notwithstanding, Proud kept pace with her, his speech and movements alike animated by a certain malicious glee.

“William ‘e give hisself an ‘oliday,” he explained, “to take the little dorgs and ferrets up to Butcher Cleave’s ratting. Powerful sight of varmin there allers be round they sheds and places. Comes after the innards and trimmings they do, as bold as you please.”

“Oh, yes–no doubt. I understand,” Damaris said, at once anxious to arrest the flow of his unsavoury eloquence yet to appear civil, since she was about to make use of his services.

“‘Normous great rats they be,” he however continued, with evident relish. “‘Normous and fierce as tigers, the rascals, what with feasting on flesh and fatness like so many lords. So ‘mind the ferry for me, will you, Daddy,’ William says, coming round where was I taking my morning pint over at the Inn. ‘You’re a wonderful valorous man of your years’–and so thank the powers, Miss, I be–‘can handle the old scraw as clever as I can myself,’ William says. ‘There ain’t much about water, salt or fresh, nor whatsoever moves on the face of it, nor down below in the belly of it, any man can teach you.’ Which may seem putting it a bit high yet ain’t no more than truth and justice, Miss, so you needn’t fear to trust yourself across the ferry along of me.”

“I have no fear,” Damaris answered curtly and loftily, holding herself very erect, her face slightly flushed, her eyes war-like.

For he was a repulsive old man, and said repulsive things such as she had never heard put thus plainly into words before. She felt soiled by even this brief association with him. She wanted to hear no more of his ugly high-coloured talk, although of his skill as a waterman she entertained no doubt. Stepping lightly and quickly up on to the square stern of the ferry-boat, she went forward and kept her back resolutely turned upon the old fellow as he scrambled on board after her, shoved off and settled to the oars. The river was low, and sluggish from the long drought with consequently easy passage to the opposite bank. It took but a short five minutes to reach the jetty, crawling like some gigantic, damaged, many-legged insect out over the smooth gleaming water.

Instead of the legal twopence, Damaris dropped a couple of shillings into Daddy Proud’s eager hand–with a queenly little air; and, without waiting for his thanks, swung herself up on to the black planking and turned to go down the sand-strewn wooden steps.

“Pleased to fetch ‘e back, Miss, any hour you like to name,” Proud called after her, standing up and fingering the shillings with one hand while with the other he steered the boat’s side away from the slippery weed-grown piles.

“Thank you, I don’t quite know when I shall be back,” she answered over her shoulder.

For her main desire was to get quit of his unpleasant neighbourhood. She would go for a long walk by the coast-guard path across the sand-hills, right out to Stone Horse Head. Would stay out till sundown, in the hope that by then Jennifer might have seen fit to exchange the manly joys of ratting for his more prosaic duties at the ferry, and so save her from further association with his displeasing deputy.

But, the ridge of the Bar reached, other thoughts and impulses took possession of her. For the sea this afternoon showed an infinitely beguiling countenance. Not as highway of the nations, still less as violent and incalculable, holding cruelties of storm and tempest in its heart, did it present itself to her view; but rather as some gentle, softly inviting and caressing creature decked forth in the changeful colours of a dove’s neck and breast. Opaline haze veiled the horizon, shutting off all unrestful sense of distance. The tide was low and little waves, as of liquid crystal, chased one another over the gleaming sands. Out to where the haze met and covered it the smooth expanse of sea was unbroken by passing boat or ship; nor was any person within sight upon the long line of the beach. Damaris found herself alone–but deliciously alone, with this enchanted dream sea for companion in the sunshine, under the vault of tender blue sky.

And, for the present at least, she asked nothing better, humanity being at a decided discount with her, thanks first to the extreme tiresomeness of Theresa Bilson and later the extreme unsavouriness of Timothy Proud. The element thus eliminated, nothing interfered, nothing jarred; so that she could yield herself to an ecstasy of contemplation, active rather than passive, in that imagination, breaking the bounds of personality, made her strangely one with all she looked on. Consciousness of self was merged in pure delight. Never could she remember to have felt so light-hearted, so happy with the spontaneous, unconditioned happiness which is sufficient to itself, unclouded by thought of what has been or what may be.

Pushed by her own radiant emotion and an instinct, deriving from it, to draw even closer to that Everlasting Beauty of Things which is uncreated by and independent of the will and work of man, she ran down the slope, and sitting on the shingle slipped off her shoes and stockings. Took off her hat, too, and leaving the lot lying there, just above high-tide mark, gathered her skirts in one hand, and, bare-headed thus and bare-footed, danced out over the wet gleaming sands a graceful flying figure, until the little waves played and purred about her ankles. Her action was symbolic, born of the gay worship welling up within her, a giving of herself to the shining infinite of Nature as just now manifest–things divine and eternal glimmering through at her–in this fair hour of solitude and brooding peace.

Till her mood softened, Damaris danced thus alone, unwitnessed on the shore. Then, as she sobered, happy still though the crisis of ecstasy had passed, smaller seeings began to charm her fancy and her eyes.–Pinkish yellow starfish, long ribbons of madder-red or emerald seaweed, their colours the more living and vivid for the clear water covering them. Presently a company of five birds–their mottled brown and olive bodies raised on stilt-like legs thin as a straw–claimed her notice. So bewitched was she by their quaint and pretty ways, that she could not but follow them as they chased one another in and out of the rippling waves, ran quickly and bowed catching something eatable floating upon the tide, scattered and then joined up into a joyous chorus of association with gentle twittering cries. Watching them, dreaming, standing now and again looking out over the sweet wonder of the placid sea, sometimes wading ankle deep, sometimes walking on the firm floor of uncovered sand, Damaris passed onward losing count of time.

The birds led her eastward, up channel, to the half-mile distant nose of the Bar, round which the rivers, released at last from their narrow channel, sweep out into Marychurch Bay. Here, on a sudden, they took wing, and Damaris looking after them, bade them an unwilling farewell, for their innocent society had been sweet. And with that she became aware she was really quite tired and would be glad to rest awhile, the afternoon being young yet, before turning homeward. The longer she stayed the more hope there was of finding Jennifer at the ferry; and more than ever, the glamour of her wild hour of Nature worship still upon her, did she recoil from any sort of association with foul old Timothy Proud.

Therefore she went up across the moist gleaming levels to the tide-line, and picking her way carefully among the black jumble of seaweed and sea-litter which marked it, sat down in a fan-shaped depression in the dry, clean, blown sand some few paces above. The sunshine covered it making it warm to her bare feet. The feel and blond colour of it brought to mind her reading of this morning–a passage in Eoethen telling of the striking of camp at dawn, the desert waiting to claim its own again and obliterate, with a single gesture, all sign or token of the passing sojourn of man. Clasping her hands behind her head, Damaris lay back, the warm sand all around her, giving beneath her weight, fitted itself into the curves of her body and limbs–only it visible and the soft blue of the sky above. For a little while she rested open-eyed in the bright silent stillness, and then, unknowing of the exact moment of surrender, she stretched with a fluttering sigh, turned on her side and dreamlessly slept.

And, while she thus slept, two events took place eminently germane to the further unfolding of this history.–The weather changed, and the local degenerate, Abram Sclanders’ half-idiot son–the poor “lippity-lop” who, according to Jennifer, had far better been “put away quiet-like at birth”–committed theft.

Of the first event, Damaris gradually became sensible, before her actual awakening. She grew restless, her bed of sand seeming robbed of comfort, bleak and uneasy, so that she started up, presently, into a sitting position, rubbing her eyes with her fists baby-fashion, unable for the minute to imagine how or why she came to be lying like this out on the Bar, hatless, shoe and stockingless. Looking about her, still in questioning bewilderment, she observed that in the south-west a great bank of cloud had risen. It blotted out the sun, deadening all colour. The opaline haze, turned to a dull falling mist, closed down and in, covering the sand-hills and the dark mass of Stone Horse Head and even blurring the long straight lines of the sandbank and nearer shingle. The sea had risen, but noiselessly, creeping up and up towards her, no line of white marking the edge of its slothful oncoming.

Damaris stood up, pulling her white jersey–the surface of it already furred with moisture–low over her hips. For she felt shivery, and the air was thick and chill to breathe causing a tightness in her throat.

“The glory has departed, very much departed, so I had best make haste to depart also,” she told herself; but told herself gallantly, smiling at her own strange plight in a spirit of adventure, discovering in it the excitement of novel experience.

She picked her way over the shingle and black sea litter of high-water mark, and started to run along the narrow strip between it and the advancing tide. To run would circulate her blood, warm her through and keep her gallant humour up; still she had to own she found this heavy going, for her feet were numb and the sand seemed to pluck at and weigh them down. Her run slackened to a walk. Then she ventured a yard or two out into the shallow water, hoping there to meet with firmer foothold; but here it proved altogether too cold. She had the misfortune, moreover, to tread on the top end of a razor shell, buried upright, which cut the skin making her limp from pain and sharpness of smarting. So perforce, she took to the deep blown sand again above high-water mark, and ploughed along slowly enough in growing weariness and discomfort.

Never, surely, was any half-mile so long as this between the place of her farewell to the mottled stilt-legged birds and subsequent sleeping, and the place where she left her hat and shoes and stockings! In the dimness and chill of the falling mist, it seemed to lengthen and lengthen to an altogether incomprehensible extent. Time and again she stopped and scanned the ground immediately before her, certain she should see there those so lightly discarded and now so earnestly desired items of clothing. Once in possession of them she would simply scurry home. For visions of warm, dry pretty garments, of Mary’s, comely ministering presence, of tea, of lamp-light and–yes, she would allow herself that culminating luxury–of a fine log fire in the long sitting-room, presented themselves to her imagination in most alluring sequence–the spirit of adventure, meanwhile, as must be owned, beginning to sing small and hang a diminished head.

But on a sudden, raising her eyes from their persistent search, Damaris realized she must have missed and already passed the spot. For she was close upon the tract of sand-hills–a picture of desolation in the sullen murk, the winding hollows between their pale formless elevations bearing a harsh growth of neutral tinted sword-like grasses.

She had come too far by a quarter of a mile at least, so she judged, and must turn her face eastward again and laboriously plough her way back. But the return journey was crowned with no better success than the outward one. Carefully, methodically she quartered the beach; but simply her things weren’t there, had vanished, leaving neither token or trace.

She was confronted moreover by the unpleasant fact that it grew late. Soon the dusk would fall, its coming hastened by the mist, now settling into a steady drizzle of rain precursor of a dark and early night. To hunt any longer would be useless. She must give it up. Yet her maidenly pride, her sense of what is seemly and becoming, revolted from exposing herself to Timothy Proud’s coarse leering glances or even–should he by luck be her waterman–to Jennifer’s more respectful curiosity, dishevelled and but half-dressed as she was. And then the actual distance to be traversed appeared to her dishearteningly great. For she was weary–quite abominably weary now she came to think of it. Her feet were bruised and blistered. They ached. Her throat ached too, and she shivered. Cold, though it was, she must wait a minute or two and rest before attempting the ascent of the slope.

Damaris sat down, pulling her skirts as low as they would come over her bare legs, and clasping her hands round her knees, bowed, huddled together to gain, if it might be, some sensation of warmth. For a little she thought of that only–warmth–her mind otherwise a blank. But soon the consuming sadness of the place in the waning light penetrated her imagination, penetrated, indeed, her whole being. Only a few hours ago she had danced here, in ecstasy born of the sunshine, the colour, the apparently inexhaustible beauty of things uncreated by, and independent of, the will and work of man. Contrast that scene, and the radiant emotion evoked by it, with this? Which was real, the enduring revelation? Was this truth; the other no more than mirage–an exquisite dissembling and lovely lie?

Such thoughts are hardly wholesome at eighteen–hardly wholesome perhaps at any age, if life is to be lived sweetly, with honest profit to one’s own soul and to the souls of others. Yet remembering back, down the dim avenues of childhood, Damaris knew she did not formulate the question, entertain the suspicion, for the first time. Only, until now, it had stayed in the vague, a shapeless nightmare horror, past which she could force herself to run with shut eyes. It didn’t jump out of the vague, thank goodness, and bar her passage. But now no running or shutting of eyes availed. It had jumped out. She stared at it, and, in all its undermining power of discouragement, it stared back.–What if the deepest thing, the thing which alone lasted, the thing which, therefore, you were bound in the end to accept, to submit to, was just darkness, sorrow, loneliness of worn body and shrinking spirit, by the shore of a cold, dumb, and tenantless, limitless sea–what then?

From which undesirable abyss of speculation she was aroused by the sound of her own name–“Damaris Verity, hey–Damaris Verity”–shouted, not roughly though in tones of urgent command, from above and behind her on the crest of the Bar. Along with it came the rattle of shifting shingle under a strong active tread.

Hearing which the young girl’s senses and faculties alike sprang to attention. She rose from her dejected attitude, stood up and faced round, forgetful of aches and weariness and of woeful ultimate questionings, while in glad surprise her heart went out to meet and welcome the–to her–best beloved being in this, no longer, sorry world.

For even thus, at some fifty yards distant through the blur of falling rain, the figure presented to her gaze, in height, build, and fashion of moving, was delightfully familiar, as were the tones of the voice which had hailed her–if in not quite equal degree the manner of that hail. Some change in his plans must have taken place, or some letter miscarried advising her of her father’s earlier return. Finding her out he had come to look for her.–This was perfectly as it should be. Had Colonel Carteret come home with him, she wondered. And then there flashed through her, with a singular vividness, recollection of another, long, long ago escapade–when as a still almost baby child she had stepped off alone, in daring experiment, and fallen asleep, in the open as to-day. But in surroundings how amazingly different!–A place of fountains, cypresses and palms, she curled up in a black marble chair, set throne fashion, upon a platform of blood red sandstone, an age-old Oriental garden outstretched below. Colonel Carteret–“the man with the blue eyes” as she always had called him–awakened her, bringing an adorable and, as it proved in the sequel, a tragic birthday gift.–Tragic because to it might, actually if indirectly, be traced the breaking up of her childhood’s home in the stately Indian pleasure palace of the Sultan-i-bagh at Bhutpur, her separation from her father and exile–as she had counted it–to Europe.

It is among the doubtful privileges of highly sensitized natures, such as Damaris’, that, in hours of crisis, vision and pre-vision go hand in hand. As there flashed through her remembrance of that earlier sleep in the open, there flashed through her also conviction that history would still further repeat itself. Now, as then, the incident of sleep preluded the receipt of a gift, adorable perhaps, yet freighted with far-reaching consequences to herself and her future. Of just what that gift might consist she had no idea; but of its approach she felt as certain as of the approach of the man swinging down through the rain over the rattling pebbles. And her gladness of welcome declined somewhat. She could have cried off, begged for postponement. For she was very tired, after all. She didn’t want anything now, anything which–however delightful in itself–demanded effort, demanded even the exertion of being very pleased. She shied away, in short. And then commendably rallied her forces, resolute not to be found unworthy or ungrateful.

“Yes–come. I am here,” she called in response to that lately heard calling of her name, desiring to make an act of faith whereby to assure herself she was indeed ready, and assure her hearer of her readiness to accept the impending gift.

“I am here,” she began again to affirm, but stopped abruptly, the words choking in her throat.

For, as with decreasing distance the figure grew distinct, she saw, to her blank amazement, not Sir Charles Verity, her father, as she expected, but the blue reefer jacket, peaked cap, and handsome bearded face of Darcy Faircloth, the young merchant sea-captain, emerge from the blur of the wet. And the revulsion of feeling was so sharp, the shock at once so staggering and intimate–as summing up all the last ten days confused experience–that Damaris could not control herself. She turned away with a wail of distress, threw out her hands, and then, covering her eyes with them, bowed her head.

The young man came forward and stood near her; but an appreciable time elapsed before he spoke. When he presently did so, his voice reached her as again singularly familiar in tone, though strange in diction and in accent.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” he began, “but I hailed you just now, and you told me to come.–I concluded you meant what you said. Not, I’m afraid, that your giving your permission or withholding it would have made much difference in the upshot. Timothy Proud let on, in my hearing, that he set you across the river soon after two o’clock, and that there’d been no call for the ferry since. So I took one of my own boats and just came over to look for you–in case you might have met with some mishap or strayed among the sand-hills and couldn’t find your”–

Thus far he spoke with studied calm and restraint. But here, as though struck by a fresh and very objectionable idea, he broke out:

“Nothing has happened has it? No cowardly brute has interfered with you or upset you? Dear God alive, don’t tell me I’m too late, don’t tell me that.”

Upon Damaris this sudden, though to her unaccountable, violence and heat acted as a cordial. She raised her head, pushing back the damp hair from her forehead, and displaying a proud if strained and weary face.

“No,” she said, “of course not. Who would venture to be rude to me? I have not seen anyone all the afternoon–until now, when you came. And,” she added by way of further explanation–she didn’t want to be ungracious or unkind, but she did want, in justice to herself, to have this understood–“in the distance I didn’t recognize you. I mistook you for someone else”–

“Who else?” he took her up, and with a queer flicker–if of a smile, then one with a keenish edge to it–in his eyes and about his mouth.

“For my father,” Damaris answered. “It was a stupid mistake, because he is away staying in Norfolk for partridge shooting, and I have not any real reason to expect him home for several days yet.”

“But in this deceptive light,” Faircloth took her up again, while–as she could not help observing–that flicker became more pronounced. It seemed silently to laugh and to mock.–“Oh! to be sure that accounts for your mistake as to my identity. One sees how it might very well come about.”

He took off his cap, and threw back his head looking up into the low wet sky.

“At night all cats are grey, aren’t they,” he went on, “little ones as well as big? And it’s close on night now, thanks to this dirty weather. So close on it, that–though personally I’m in no hurry–I ought to get you back to The Hard, or there’ll be a regular hue and cry after you–rightly and probably too, if your servants and people have any notion of their duty.”

“I am quite ready,” Damaris said.

She strove to show a brave front, to keep up appearances; but she felt helpless and weak, curiously confused by and unequal to dealing with this masterful stranger–who yet, somehow did not seem like a stranger. Precisely in this was the root of her confusion, of her inability to deal with him.

“But hardly as you are,” he commented, on her announcement she was ready. “Let me help to put on your shoes and stockings for you first.” And this he said so gently and courteously, that Damaris’ lips began to quiver, very feminine and youthful shame at the indignity of her present plight laying hold on her.

“I can’t find them,” she pitifully declared. “I have looked and looked, but I can’t find them anywhere. I left my things just here. Can anyone have stolen them while I was out at the end of the Bar? It is so mysterious and so dreadfully tiresome. I should have gone home long ago, before the rain began, if I could have found them.”

And with that, the whole little story–childish or idyllic as you please–of sunshine and colour, of beguiling birds beguiling sea, of sleep, and uneasy awakening when the cloud-bank rising westward devoured the fair face of heaven, of mist and fruitless seeking, even some word of the fear which forever sits behind and peeps over the shoulder of all wonder and all beauty, got itself–not without eloquent passages–quickly yet gravely told. For the young man appeared to derive considerable pleasure from listening, from watching her and from questioning her too–still, gently and courteously though closely, as if each detail were of interest and of value.

“And now you know all about it, Captain Faircloth,” Damaris said in conclusion, essaying to laugh at her own discomfiture. “And I am very tired, so if you will be kind enough to row me across the ferry, I shall be grateful to you, and glad, please, to go home at once.”

“By all means,” he answered. “Only, you know, I can’t very well let you cut your feet to pieces on these cruel stones, so I am just going to carry you up over the Bar”–

“No–no–I can perfectly well walk. I mean to walk–see,” she cried.

And started courageously up the rough ascent, only to slip, after a few paces, and to stagger. For as soon as she attempted to move, she felt herself not only weak, but oddly faint and giddy. She lurched forward, and to avoid falling instinctively clutched at her companion’s outstretched hand. Exactly what passed between the young man and young girl in that hand-clasp–the first contact they had had of one another–it might seem far-reached and fantastic to affirm; yet that it steadied not only Damaris’ trembling limbs, but her trembling and over-wrought spirit, is beyond question. For it was kind and more than kind–tender, and that with the tenderness of right and usage rather than of sentimental response to a passing sentimental appeal.

“There, there,” he said, “what’s the use of working to keep up this little farce any longer? Just give in–you can’t put off doing so in the end. Why not at once, then, accept defeat and spare both yourself and me