This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Writer:
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1919
Collection:
Tags:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

houses of the sleeping town, slashed here and there with sharp edged shadows, receded, growing indistinct among gardens and groves. The scene, as setting to this single figure, affected him profoundly, taken in conjunction with that singular cry. He retraced the few steps dividing him from her.

“Marriage?” she almost wailed, putting out her hands as though to prevent his approach. “No–no–never in life, Colonel Sahib. You quite dreadfully misunderstand.”

“Do I?” Carteret said, greatly taken aback, while, whether he would or no, unholy ideas again flitted through his mind maliciously assailing him.

“It has nothing to do with that sort of loving. It belongs to something much more beautifully part of oneself–something of one’s very, very own, right from the very beginning.”

“Indeed!” he said, sullenly, even roughly, his habitual mansuetude giving way before this–for so he could not but take it–contemptuous flinging of his immense tenderness, his patient, unswerving devotion, back in his face. “Then very certainly I must plead guilty to not understanding, or if you prefer it–for we needn’t add to our other discomforts by quarrelling about the extra syllable–of misunderstanding. In my ignorance, I confess I imagined the love, which finds its crown and seal of sanctity in marriage, can be–and sometimes quite magnificently is–the most beautiful thing a man has to give or a woman to receive.”

Damaris stared at him, her face blank with wonder.

Set at regular intervals between the tall blue-grey painted lamp standards, for the greater enjoyment of visitors and natives, stone benches, of a fine antique pattern, adorn St. Augustin’s esplanade. Our much-perplexed maiden turned away wearily and sat down upon the nearest of these. She held up her head, bravely essaying to maintain an air of composure and dignity; but her shoulders soon not imperceptibly quivered, while, try hard as she might, setting her teeth and holding her breath, small plaintive noises threatened betrayal of her tearful state.

Carteret, quite irrespective of the prescience common to all true lovers where the beloved object’s welfare is concerned, possessed unusually quick and observant hearing. Those small plaintive noises speedily reached him and pierced him as he stood staring gloomily out to sea. Whereupon he bottled up his pain, shut down his natural and admirably infrequent anger, and came over to the stone bench.

“You’re not crying, dearest witch, are you?” he asked her.

“Yes, I am,” Damaris said. “What else is there left for me to do?–Everyone I care for I seem to make unhappy. Everything I do goes wrong. Everything I touch gets broken and spoilt somehow.”

“Endless tragedies of little green jade elephants?” he gently bantered her.

“Yes–endless. For now I have hurt you. You are trying to be good and like your usual self to me; but that doesn’t take me in. I know all through me I have hurt you–quite dreadfully badly–though I never, never meant to, and haven’t an idea how or why.”

This was hardly comforting news to Carteret. He attempted no disclaimer; while she, after fumbling rather helplessly at the breast-pocket of her jacket, at last produced a folded letter and held it out to him.

“Whether it’s treacherous or not, I am obliged to tell you,” she said, with pathetic desperation. “For I can’t bear any more. I can’t but try my best to keep you, Colonel Sahib. And now you are hurt, I can only keep you by making you understand–just everything. You may still think me wrong; but anyhow my wrongness will be towards somebody else, not towards you.–So please read this, and don’t skip, because every word helps to explain. Read it right through before you ask me any questions–that’s more fair all round.–If you go across there–under the lamp, I mean–there still is light enough, I think, for you to be able to see.”

And Carteret, thus admonished–partly to pacify her, partly to satisfy a very vital curiosity which stirred in him to compass the length, breadth, and height of this queer business, learn the truth and so set certain vague and agitating fears at rest–did as Damaris bade him. Standing in the conflicting gaslight and moonlight, the haunted quiet of the small hours broken only by the trample and wash of the sea, he read Darcy Faircloth’s letter from its unconventional opening, to its equally unconventional closing paragraph.

“Now my holiday is over and I will close down till next Christmas night–unless miracles happen meanwhile–so good-bye–Here is a boatload of my lads coming alongside, roaring with song and as drunk as lords.–God bless you. In spirit I once again kiss your dear feet”–

Carteret straightened himself up with a jerk. Looked at Damaris sitting very still, a little sunk together, as in weariness or dejection upon the stone bench. His eyes blazed fierce, for once, with questions he burned yet dreaded to ask. But on second thoughts–they arrived to him swiftly–he restrained his impatience and his tongue. Mastering his heat he looked down at the sheet of note-paper again. He would obey Damaris, absorb the contents of this extraordinary document, the facts it conveyed both explicitly and implicitly, to the last word before he spoke.

Happily the remaining words were few. “Your brother,” he read, “till death and after”–followed by a name and date.

At the name he stared fairly confounded. It meant nothing whatever to him.–That is, at first. Then, rising as a vision from out some subconscious drift of memory, he saw the cold, low-toned colouring of wide, smooth and lonely waters, of salt-marsh, of mud-flat and reed-bed in the lowering light of a late autumn afternoon–a grey, stone-built tavern, moreover, above the open door of which, painted upon a board, that same name of Faircloth figured above information concerning divers liquors obtainable within. Yes–remembrance grew more precise and stable. He recalled the circumstances quite clearly now. He had seen it on his way back from a solitary afternoon’s wild fowl shooting on Marychurch Haven; during his last visit to Deadham Hard.

So much was certain. But the name in its present connection? Carteret’s imagination shied. For, to have the existence of an illegitimate son of your oldest and dearest friend thus suddenly thrust upon you, and that by a young lady of the dearest friend’s family, is, to say the least of it, a considerable poser for any man. It may be noted as characteristic of Carteret that, without hesitation, he recognized the sincerity and fine spirit of Faircloth’s letter. Characteristic, also, that having seized the main bearings of it, his feeling was neither of cynical acquiescence, or of covert and cynical amusement; but of vicarious humiliation, of apology and noble pitying shame.

He came over and sat down upon the stone bench beside Damaris.

“Dear witch,” he said slowly, “this, if I apprehend it aright, is a little staggering. Forgive me–I did altogether, and I am afraid rather crassly, misunderstand. But that I could hardly help, since no remotest hint of this matter has ever reached me until now.”

Damaris let her hand drop, palm upwards, upon the cool, slightly rough, surface of the seat. Carteret placed the folded letter in it, and so doing, let his hand quietly close down over hers–not in any sense as a caress, but as assurance of a sympathy it was forbidden him, in decency and loyalty, to speak. For a while they both remained silent. Damaris was first to move. She put the letter back into the breast-pocket of her jacket.

“I am glad you know, Colonel Sahib,” she gravely said. “You see how difficult it has all been.”

“I see–yes”–

After a pause, the girl spoke again.

“I only came to know it myself at the end of last summer, quite by accident. I was frightened and tried not to believe. But there was no way of not believing. I had lost my way in the mist out on the Bar. I mistook the one for the other–my brother, I mean, for”–

Damaris broke off, her voice failing her.

“Yes,” Carteret put in gently, supportingly.

He leaned back, his arms crossed upon his breast, his head carried slightly forward, slightly bent, as he watched the softly sparkling line of surf, marking the edge of the plunging waves upon the sloping shore. Vicarious shame claimed him still. He weighed man’s knowledge, man’s freedom of action, man’s standards of the permissible and unpermissible as against those of this maiden, whose heart was at once so much and so little awake.

“For my father,” she presently went on. “But still I wanted to deny the truth. I was frightened at it. For if that was true so much else–things I had never dreamed of until then–might also be true. I wanted to get away, somehow. But later, after I had been ill, and my father let him come and say good-bye to me before he went to sea, I saw it all differently, and far from wanting to get away I only longed that we might always be together as other brothers and sisters are. But I knew that wasn’t possible. I was quite happy, especially after you came with us, Colonel Sahib, out here. Then I had this letter and the longing grew worse than ever. I did try to school myself into not wanting, not longing–did silly things–frivolous things, as I told you. But I can’t stop wanting. It all came to a head, somehow to-night, with the dancing and music, and those foolish boys quarrelling over me–and then your showing me that–instead of being faithful to my father, I have neglected him.”

“Ah, you poor sweet dear!” Carteret said, greatly moved and turning to her.

In response she leaned towards him, her face wan in the expiring moonlight, yet very lovely in its pleading and guileless affection.

“And my brother is beautiful, Colonel Sahib,” she declared, “not only to look at but in his ideas. You would like him and be friends with him, though he doesn’t belong to the same world as you–indeed you would. And he is not afraid–you know what I mean?–not afraid of being alive and having adventures. He means to do big things–not that he has talked boastfully to me, or been showy. Please don’t imagine that. He knows where he comes in, and doesn’t pretend to be anybody or anything beyond what he is. Only it seems to me there is a streak of something original in him–almost of genius. He makes me feel sure he will never bungle any chance which comes in his way. And he has time to do so much, if chances do come”–this with a note of exultation. “His life is all before him, you see. He is so beautifully young yet.”

CHAPTER VIII

FIDUS ACHATES

In which final pronouncement of Damaris’ fond tirade, Carteret heard the death knell of his own fairest hopes. He could not mistake the set of the girl’s mind. Not only did brother call to sister, but youth called to youth. Whereat the goad of his forty-nine years pricked him shrewdly.

He must accept the disabilities of the three decades, plus one year, which divided him in age from Damaris, as final; and range himself with the elder generation–her father’s generation, in short. How, after all, could he in decency go to his old friend and say: “Give me your daughter.” The thing, viewed thus, became outrageous, offensive not only to his sense of fitness, but of the finer and more delicate moralities. For cradle-snatching is not, it must be conceded, a graceful occupation; nor is a middle-aged man with a wife still in her teens a graceful spectacle. Sentimentalists may maunder over it in pinkly blushing perversity; but the naughty world thinks otherwise, putting, if not openly its finger to its nose, at least secretly its tongue in its cheek. And rightly, as he acknowledged. The implication may be coarse, libidinous; but the instinct producing it is a sound one, both healthy and just.

Therefore he had best sit no longer upon stone benches by the sounding shore, in this thrice delicious proximity and thrice provocative magic of the serene southern night. All the more had best not do so, because Damaris proved even more rare in spirit, exquisite in moral and imaginative quality–so he perhaps over-fondly put it–than ever before. Carteret got on his feet and walked away a few paces, continuing to heckle himself with merciless honesty and rather unprintable humour–invoking even the historic name of Abishag, virgin and martyr, and generally letting himself “have it hot.”

A self-chastisement which may be accounted salutary, since, as he administered it, his thought again turned to a case other than his own, namely, that of Charles Verity. To pronounce judgment on his friend’s past relations with women, whether virtuous or otherwise, was no business of his. Whatever irregularities of conduct that friend’s earlier career may have counted, had brought their own punishment–were indeed actually bringing it still, witness current events. It wasn’t for him, Carteret, by the smallest fraction to add to that punishment; but rather, surely, to do all in his power to lighten the weight of it. Here he found safe foothold. Let him invite long-standing friendship, with the father, to help him endure the smart of unrequited love for the daughter. To pretend these two emotions moved on the same plane and could counter-balance one another, was manifestly absurd; but that did not affect the essence of the question. Ignoring desire, which to-night so sensibly and disconcertingly gnawed at his vitals, let him work to restore the former harmony and sweet strength of their relation. If in the process he could obtain for Damaris–without unseemly revelation or invidious comment–that on which her innocent soul was set he would have his reward.–A reward a bit chilly and meagre, it is true, as compared with–Comparisons be damned!–Carteret left his pacing and came back to the stone bench.

“Well, I have formed my own conclusions in respect of the whole matter. Now tell me what you actually want me to do, and I will see how far it can be compassed, dear witch.” he said.

Damaris had risen too, but she was troubled.

“Ah! I still spoil things,” she wailed. “I was so happy telling you about–about Faircloth. And yet somehow I’ve hurt you again. I know I have.”

Carteret took her by the elbow lightly, gently, carrying her onward beside him over the wide pallor of the asphalt.

“Hurt me, you vanitatious creature? Against babes of your tender age, I long ago became hurt-proof”–he gaily lied to her. “What do you take me for?–A fledgling like the Ditton boy, or poor Harry Ellice, with whose adolescent affections you so heartlessly played chuck-farthing at our incomparable Henrietta’s party to-night?–No, no–but joking apart, what exactly is it you want me to do for you? Take you to Marseilles for the day, perhaps, to meet this remarkable young sea-captain and go over his ship?”

“He is remarkable,” Damaris chimed in, repeating the epithet with eager and happier emphasis.

“Unquestionably–if I’m to judge both by your account of him and by the tenor of his letter.”

“And you would take me? Oh! dear Colonel Sahib, how beautifully good you are to me.”

“Of course, I’ll take you–if”–

“If what?”

“If Sir Charles gives his consent.”

He slipped Damaris’ hand within his arm, still bearing her onward. The last of the long line of gas-lamps upon the esplanade, marking the curve of the bay, was now left behind. A little further and the road forked–the main one followed the shore. The other–a footpath–mounted to the left through the delicate gloom and semi-darkness of the wood clothing the promontory. Carteret did not regret that impending obscurity, apprehending it would be less embarrassing, under cover of it, to embark on certain themes which must be embarked upon were he to bring his purpose to full circle.

“Listen, my dear,” he told her, “while I expound. Certain laws of friendship exist, between men, which are imperative. They must be respected. To evade them, still worse, wilfully break them is to be guilty of unpardonably bad taste and bad feeling–to put it no higher. Had your father chosen to speak to me of this matter, well and good. I should have felt honoured by his confidence, have welcomed it–for he is dearer to me than any man living and always must be.–But the initiative has to come from him. Till he speaks I am dumb. For me to approach the subject first is not possible.”

“Then the whole beautiful plan falls through,” she said brokenly.

“No, not at all, very far from that,” he comforted her. “I gather you have already discussed it with your father. You must lay hold of your courage and discuss it again. I know that won’t be easy; but you owe it to him to be straightforward, owe it to his peculiar devotion to you. Some day, perhaps, when you are older and more ripe in experience, I may tell you, in plain language of a vow he once made for your sake–when he was in his prime, too, his life strong in him, his powers at their height. Some persons might consider his action exaggerated and fanatical. But such accusations can be brought against most actions really heroic. And that this action, specially in a man of his temperament, may claim to be heroic there can be, in my opinion, no manner of doubt.”

The path climbed steeply through the pine wood. Damaris’ hand grew heavy on Carteret’s arm. Once she stumbled, and clung to him in recovering her footing, thereby sending an electric current tingling through his nerves again.

“He did what was painful, you mean, and for my sake?”

“Say rather gave up something very much the reverse of painful,” Carteret answered, his voice not altogether under control, so that it struck away, loud and jarring, between the still ranks of the tree-trunks to right and left.

“Which is harder?”

“Which is much harder–immeasurably, incalculably harder, dearest witch.”

After a space of silence, wherein the pines, lightly stirred by some fugitive up-draught off the sea, murmured dusky secrets in the vault of interlacing branches overhead, Carteret spoke again. He had his voice under control now. Yet, to Damaris’ hearing, his utterance was permeated by an urgency and gravity almost awe-inspiring, here in the loneliness and obscurity of the wood. She went in sudden questioning, incomprehensible fear of the dear man with the blue eyes. His arm was steady beneath her hand, supporting her. His care and protection sensibly encircled her, yet he seemed to her thousands of miles away, speaking from out some depth of knowledge and of reality which hopelessly transcended her experience. She felt strangely diffident, strangely ignorant. Felt, though she had no name for it, the mystical empire, mystical terror of sex as sex.

“The night of the breaking of the monsoon, of those riotings and fires at Bhutpur, your father bartered his birthright, in a certain particular, against your restoration to health. The exact nature of that renunciation I cannot explain to you. The whole transaction lies beyond the range of ordinary endeavour; and savours of the transcendental–or the superstitious, if you please to take it that way. But call it by what name you will, his extravagant gamble with the Lords of Life and Death worked, apparently. For you got well; and you have stayed well, dear witch–thanks to those same Lords of Life and Death, whose favour your father attempted to buy with this act of personal sacrifice. He was willing to pay a price most men would consider prohibitive to secure your recovery. And, with an unswerving sense of honour, he has gone on paying, until that which, at the start, must have amounted to pretty severe discipline has crystallized into habit. What you tell me of this young man, Darcy Faircloth’s history, goes, indirectly, to strengthen my admiration for your father’s self-denying ordinance, both in proposing and in maintaining this strange payment.”

There–it was finished, his special pleading. Carteret felt unfeignedly glad. He was unaccustomed to put forth such elaborate expositions, more particularly of a delicate nature and therefore offering much to avoid as well as much to state.

“So you are bound to play a straight game with him–dear child. Believe me he deserves it, is finely worthy of it. Be open with him. Show him your letter. Ask his permission–if you have sufficient courage. Your courage is the measure of the sincerity of your desire in this business. Do you follow me?”

“Yes–but I shall distress him,” Damaris mournfully argued.

She was bewildered, and in her bewilderment held to the immediate and obvious.

“Less than by shutting him out from your confidence, by keeping him at arm’s length.”

“Neglecting him?”

“Ah! so that rankles still, does it? Yes, neglecting him just a trifle, perhaps.”

“But the neglect is over–indeed, it is over and utterly done with.”

And in the ardour of her disclaimer, Damaris pressed against Carteret, her face upturned and, since she too was tall, very close to his.

“Just because it is over and done with I begged you to bring me back with you to-night. I wanted to make a clean break with all the frivolities, while everything was quite clear to me. I wanted, while I still belonged to you, Colonel Sahib, through our so beautifully dancing together twice”–

“God in Heaven!” Carteret said under his breath. For what a past-master in the art of the torturer is your white souled maiden at moments!

“To go right away from all that rushing about worldliness–I don’t blame Henrietta–she has been sweet to me–but it is worldliness, rather, isn’t it?–and to be true to him again and true to myself. I wanted to return to my allegiance. You believe me, don’t you? You made me see, Colonel Sahib, you brought my foolishness home to me–Oh! yes, I owe you endless gratitude and thanks. But I was uneasy already. I needed a wholesome shove, and you gave it. And now you deliver a much-needed supplementary shove–one to my courage. I obey you, Colonel Sahib, without question or reservation–not on the chance of getting what I long for; but because you have convinced me of what is right. I will tell him–tell my father–all about everything–to-morrow.”

“It is now to-morrow–and, with the night, many dreams have packed up their traps and fled.”

“But we needn’t be sorry for that,” Damaris declared, in prettily rising confidence. “The truth is going to be better than the dreams, isn’t it?”

“For you, yes–with all my heart, I hope.”

“But for you–why not for you?” she cried, smitten by anxiety regarding him and by swift tenderness.

They had reached the end of the upward climbing path, and stepped from the semi-darkness of the wood into the greater clarity of the gravel terrace in front of the hotel. Far below unseen waves again beat upon the beach. The sound reached them faintly. The dome of the sky, thick sown with stars, appeared prodigious in expanse and in height. It dwarfed the block of hotel buildings upon the right. Dwarfed all visible things, the whole earth, indeed, which it so sensibly enclosed. Dwarfed also, and that to the point of desolation, the purposes and activities of individual human lives. How could these count, what could they matter in presence of the countless worlds swinging, there, through the illimitable fields of space?

To Carteret this thought, or rather this sensation, of human insignificance brought a measure of stoic consolation. He lifted Damaris’ hand off his arm, and held it, while he said, smiling at her:

“For me–yes, of course. Why not? For me too, dearest witch, truth is assuredly the most profitable bedfellow.”

Then, as she shrank, drawing away a little, startled by the crudeness of the expression:

“I enjoyed our two dances,” he told her, “and I shall enjoy taking you to Marseilles and making Faircloth’s acquaintance, if our little scheme works out successfully–if it is sanctioned, permitted. After that–other things being equal–I think I ought to break camp and journey back to England, to look after my property and my sister’s affairs. I have gadded long enough. It is time to get into harness–such harness as claims me in these all too easy-going days. And now you must really go indoors without further delay, and go to bed. May the four angels of pious tradition stand at the four corners of it, to keep you safe in body, soul and spirit. Sleep the sleep of innocence and wake radiant and refreshed.”

“Ah! but you’re sad–you are sad,” Damaris cried, her lips quivering. “Can’t I do anything?–I would do so much, would love so much–beyond anything–to make you unsad.”

The man with the blue eyes shook his head.

“Impossible, alas! Your intervention, in this case, is finally ruled out, my sweet lamb,” he affectionately, but conclusively said.

CHAPTER IX

WHICH FEATURES VARIOUS PERSONS WITH WHOM THE READER IS ALREADY ACQUAINTED

Some are born great, some attain greatness, and some have it thrust upon them to the lively embarrassment of their humble and retiring little souls. To his own notable surprise, General Frayling, on the morning following his wife’s Cinderella dance, awoke to find himself the centre of interest in the life of the pretty pavilion situated in the grounds of the Hotel de la Plage. He owed this unaccustomed ascendency to physical rather than moral or intellectual causes, being possessed of a temperature, the complexion of the proverbial guinea, and violent pains in his loins and his back.

These anxious symptoms developed–one cannot but feel rather unjustly–as the consequence of his own politeness, his amenity of manner, and the patient attentions he paid on the previous evening to one of his wife’s guests. He had sat altogether too long for personal comfort in a draughty corner of the hotel garden, with Mrs. Callowgas. Affected by the poetic influences of moon, stars, and sea, affected also conceivably by pagan amorous influences, naughtily emanating from the neighbouring Venus Temple–whose elegant tapering columns adorn the facade of the local Mairie–Mrs. Callowgas became extensively reminiscent of her dear dead Lord Bishop. Protracted anecdotes of visitations and confirmation tours, excerpts from his sermons, speeches and charges, arch revelations of his diurnal and nocturnal conversation and habits–the latter tedious to the point of tears when not slightly immodest–poured from her widowed lips. The good lady overflowed. She frankly babbled. General Frayling listened, outwardly interested and civil, inwardly deploring that he had omitted to put on a waistcoat back-lined with flannel–waxing momentarily more conscious, also, that the iron–of the hard cold slats composing the seat of his garden chair–if not entering into his soul, was actively entering a less august and more material portion of his being through the slack of his thin evening trousers. He endured both tedium and bodily suffering with the fortitude of a saint and martyr; but next morning revealed him victim of a violent chill demanding medical aid.

The native local practitioner was reported mono-lingual, and of small scientific reputation; while our General though fluent in vituperative Hindustani, and fairly articulate in Arabic, could lay no claim to proficiency in the French language. Hence probable deadlock between doctor and patient. Henrietta acted promptly, foreseeing danger of jaundice or worse; and bade Marshall Wace telegraph to Cannes for an English physician. As a nurse she was capable if somewhat unsympathetic–illness and death being foreign to her personal programme. She attended upon her small sick warrior assiduously; thereby earning the admiration of the outsiders, and abject apologies for “being such a confounded nuisance to you, my love,” from himself. Her maid, a Eurasian–by name Serafina Lousada, whom she had brought with her from Bombay a couple of years earlier, prematurely-wrinkled of skin and shrunken of figure, yet whose lustrous black eyes still held the embers of licentious fires–would readily have shared her labours. But Henrietta was at some trouble to eliminate Serafina from the sick-chamber, holding her tendencies suspect as insidiously and quite superfluously sentimental, where any male creature might be concerned.

Carteret and Sir Charles Verity, on the other hand, she encouraged with the sweetest dignity imaginable, to take turns at the bedside–and to look in upon her drawing-room, also, on their way back and forth thither. A common object and that a philanthropic one, gives unimpeachable occasions of intimacy. These Henrietta did not neglect, though touching them with a disarming pensiveness of demeanour. The invalid was, “the thing “–the thought of him wholly paramount with her. Her anxiety might be lightened, perhaps, but by no means deleted, by the attentions of these friends of former years.–A pretty enough play throughout, as the two gentlemen silently noted, the one with kindly, the other with sardonic, humour.

Her henchman, Marshall Wace, meanwhile, Henrietta kept on the run until the triangular patch of colour, straining either prominent cheek-bone, was more than ever accentuated. There was method, we may however take it, in the direction of these apparently mad runnings, since they so incessantly landed the runner in the _salon_ of the Grand Hotel crowning the wooded headland. Damaris she refused to have with her. No–she couldn’t consent to any clouding of the darling child’s bright spirit by her private worries. Trouble, heaven knows, is bound to overtake each one of us more than soon enough! She–Henrietta–could endure her allotted portion of universal tribulation best in the absence of youthful witnesses.

But let Marshall carry Damaris news daily–twice daily, if needs be. Let him read with her, sing to her; so that she, charming child, should miss her poor Henrietta, and their happy meetings at the little pavilion, the less. Especially let him seek the young girl, and strive to entertain her, when Sir Charles and Colonel Carteret were engaged on their good Samaritan visits to General Frayling.

“This break in our cherished intercourse,” Henrietta wrote, in one of those many Wace-borne bulletins, “grieves me more than I can express. Permit Marshall to do all in his power to make up for this hospital incarceration of mine. Poor dear fellow, it is such a boon to him. I really crave to procure him any pleasure I can–above all the pleasure of being with you, which he values so very highly. All his best qualities show in this time of trial. He is only too faithful and wears himself to positive fiddle-strings in my service and that of the General. I send him to you, darling child, for a little change and recreation–relaxation from the strain of my husband’s illness. Marshall is so sympathetic and feels for others so deeply. His is indeed a rare nature; but one which does not, alas! always quite do itself justice. I attribute this to an unfortunate upbringing rather than to any real fault in himself. So be good to him, Damaris. In being good to him–as I have said all along–you are being good to your fondly loving and, just now, sorely tried Henrietta Frayling.”

All which sounded a note designed to find an echo in Damaris’ generous heart. Which it did–this the more readily because, still penitent for her recent trifle of wild-oats sowing, our beloved maiden was particularly emulous of good works, the missionary spirit all agog in her. She was out to comfort, to sympathize and to sustain. Hence she doubly welcomed that high-coloured hybrid, Wace–actor, cleric, vocalist in one. Guilelessly she indulged and mothered him, overlooking his egoism, his touchiness and peevishness, his occasional defects of breeding and of taste. She permitted him, moreover, to talk without restraint upon his favourite subject–that of himself. To retail the despairs of an ailing and unhappy childhood; the thwarted aspirations of a romantic and sensitive boyhood; the doubts and disappointments of a young manhood conspicuously rich in promise, had the fates and his fellow creatures but shown themselves more intelligently sensible of his merits and his needs.

For this was the burden of his recurrent lament. Throughout life he had been misunderstood.

“But you, Miss Verity, do understand me,” he almost passionately declared, waving white effeminate hands. “Ah! a pure influence such as yours”–

Here, rather to Damaris’ thankfulness, words appeared to fail him. He moved to the piano and exhaled his remaining emotion in song.

Affairs had reached the above point about ten days after Henrietta’s party and Damaris’ midnight walk with Colonel Carteret by the shore of the sounding sea. General Frayling, though mending, was still possessed of a golden complexion and a temperature slightly above the normal, while his dutiful wife, still self-immured, was in close attendance, when an event occurred which occasioned her considerable speculation and perplexity.

It came about thus. At her request Marshall Wace walked up to the station early that morning, to secure the English papers on their arrival by the mail train from Paris. After a quite unnecessarily long interval, in Henrietta’s opinion, he returned with an irritable expression and flustered manner. Such, at least, was the impression she received on his joining her in the wide airy corridor outside the General’s sick-chamber.

“I thought you were never coming back,” she greeted him. “What has detained you?”

“The Paris train was late,” he returned. “And–wait an instant, Cousin Henrietta. I want to speak to you. Yes, I am hot and tired, and I am put out–I don’t deny it.”

“Why?” Henrietta asked him indifferently.

Her own temper was not at its brightest and best. The office of ministering angel had begun most woefully to pall on her. What if this illness betokened a break up of health on the part of General Frayling? Bath chairs, hot bottles, air-cushions, pap-like meals and such kindred unlovelinesses loomed large ahead! That was the worst of marrying an old, or anyhow an oldish, man. You never could tell how soon the natural order of things might be reversed, and you obliged to wait hand and foot on him, instead of his waiting hand and foot on you. Henrietta felt fretful. Her looking-glass presented a depressing reflection of fine lines and sharpened features. If she should wilt under this prolonged obligation of nursing, her years openly advertise their number, and she grow faded, _passee_, a woman who visibly has outlived her prime? She could have shaken the insufficiently dying General in his bed! Yes, insufficiently dying–for, in heaven’s name, let him make up his mind and that speedily–get well and make himself useful, or veritably and finally depart before, for the preservation of her good looks, it was too late.

“I met Sir Charles Verity at the station,” Wace went on. “He was coming out of the first class _salle d’attente_. He stopped and spoke to me, enquired for cousin Fred; but his manner was peculiar, autocratic to a degree. He made me feel in the way, feel that he was annoyed at my being there and wanted to get rid of me.”

“Imagination, my dear Marshall. In all probability he wasn’t thinking about you one way or the other, but merely about his own affairs, his own–as Carteret reports–remarkably clever book.–But why, I wonder, was he at the station so early?”

Henrietta stood turning the folded newspaper about and idly scanning the head-lines, while the wind, entering by the open casements at the end of the corridor, lifted and fluttered the light blue gauze scarf she wore round her shoulders over her white frilled morning gown.

“He didn’t tell me,” the large, soft, very hot young man said. “You may call it imagination, Cousin Henrietta; but I can’t. I am positive his manner was intentional. He meant to snub me, by intimating of how slight account I am in his estimation. It was exceedingly galling. I do not want to employ a vulgar expression–but he looked down his nose at me as if I was beneath contempt. You know that insolent, arrogant way of his?”

“Oh, la-la!” Henrietta cried. “Don’t be so childish!”–Though she did in point of fact know the said way perfectly well and admired it. Once upon a time hadn’t Sir Charles, indeed, rather superbly practised it in her–Henrietta’s–defence?

She sighed; while her temper took a nasty turn towards her yellow-faced, apologetic little General, waiting patiently for sight of the English newspapers, under the veil of mosquito netting in his little bed. Even in his roaring forties–had his forties ever roared though?–she doubted it–not to save his life could he ever have looked down his nose at an offending fellow-man like that.–Ah! Charles Verity–Charles Verity!–Her heart misgave her that she had been too precipitate in this third marriage. If she had waited?–

“Of course, with my wretchedly short sight, I may have been mistaken,” Wace continued, pointedly ignoring her interruption, “but I am almost convinced I recognized Colonel Carteret and Miss Verity–Damaris–through the open door, on the other side of the _salle d’attente,_ in the crowd on the platform about to take their places in the train from Cannes, which had just come in.”

Henrietta ceased to scan the head-lines or deplore her matrimonial precipitation.

“Carteret and Damaris alone and together?” she exclaimed with raised eyebrows.

“Yes, and it occurred to me that I there touched upon the explanation, in part at least, of Sir Charles Verity’s offensive manner. He had been to see them off and was, for some reason, unwilling that we–you and I, cousin Henrietta–should know of their journey.”

Even in private life, at the very head-waters and source of her intrigues and her scheming, Henrietta cleverly maintained an effect of secrecy. She showed herself an adept in the fine art of outflanking incautious intruders. Never did she wholly reveal herself or her purposes; but reserved for her own use convenient run-holes, down which she could escape from even the most intimate of her co-adjutors and employees. If masterly in advance, she showed even more masterly in retreat; and that too often at the expense of her fellow intriguers. Without scruple she deserted them, when personal safety or personal reputation suggested the wisdom of so doing. Though herself perplexed and suspicious, she now rounded on Wace, taking a high tone with him.

“But why, my dear Marshall, why?” she enquired, “should Sir Charles object to our–as you put it–_knowing_? That seems to me an entirely gratuitous assumption on your part. In all probability Mary Ellice and the boys were on the platform too, only you didn’t happen to catch sight of them. And, in any case, our friends at the Grand Hotel are not accountable to us for their comings and goings. They are free agents, and it does really strike me as just a little gossipy to keep such a very sharp eye upon their movements.–Don’t be furious with me”–

Henrietta permitted herself to reach up and pat the young man on the shoulder, playfully, restrainingly. An extraordinarily familiar proceeding on her part, marking the strength of her determination to avoid any approach to a quarrel, since she openly denounced and detested all those demonstrations, as between friends and relations, which come under the generic title of “pawing.”

“No, pray don’t be furious with me,” she repeated. “I quite appreciate how sensitive you naturally must be upon the subject of Damaris.”

“You have given me encouragement, cousin Henrietta”–this resentfully.

“And why not? Don’t be disingenuous, my dear Marshall. I have given you something much more solid than mere encouragement, namely active help, opportunity. In the right direction, to the right person, I have repeatedly praised you. But the prize, in this case, is to him who has address and perseverance to win it. You possess signal advantages through your artistic tastes, your music, your reciting. But I have never disguised from you–now honestly, have I?–there were obstacles and even prejudices to be overcome.”

“Sir Charles despises me.”

“But his daughter gives ample proof that she does not. And–you don’t propose to marry Sir Charles, do you?”

Henrietta laughed a trifle shrilly. The tone of that laugh pierced her hearer’s armour of egoism. He stared at her in interrogative surprise–observing which she hastened to retreat down a run-hole.

“Ah!” she cried, “it is really a little too bad to tease you, Marshall. But one can’t but be tempted to do so at moments. You take everything so terribly _au grand serieux_, my young friend.”

“You mean to convey that I am ponderous?”

“Well–perhaps–just a shade,” she archly agreed. “And of ponderosity you must make an effort to cure yourself.–Mind, though a fault, I consider it one on the right side–in the connection, that is, which we have just now been discussing. When a girl has as much intelligence as–we needn’t name names, need we?–she resents perpetual chaff and piffle. They bore her–seem to her a flagrant waste of time. Her mind tends to scorn delights and live laborious days–a tendency which rectifies itself later as a rule. All the same in avoiding frivolity, one must not rush to the other extreme and be heavy in hand. A happy mien in this as in all things, my dear Marshall.”

“I cannot so far degrade myself as to be an opportunist,” he returned sententiously.

“Yet the opportunist arrives; and to arrive is the main thing, after all–at least I imagine so.–Now I really cannot stay here any longer giving you priceless advice; but must take the General his newspapers.–By the way, did Sir Charles say anything about coming to see him this afternoon?”

As she asked the question Henrietta ran her eye down over the announcements in the Court Circular. Marshall replied in the negative. She made no comment, hardly appearing to notice his answer. But, as she stepped lightly and delicately away down the airy corridor to the door of the sick-room, over her blue gauze draped shoulder she flung back at him–

“This confinement to the house is getting quite on my nerves. I must really allow myself a little holiday.–Take a drive to-morrow if Frederic is no worse. I will call at the Grand Hotel, I think, and see darling Damaris, just for a few minutes, myself.”

Information which went far to restore her hearer’s equanimity. His affairs, as he recognized, were in actively astute safe-keeping.

Marshall Wace spent the rest of the morning in the drawing-room of the villa, at the piano, composing a by no means despicable setting of Shelley’s two marvellous stanzas, which commence:

“Rarely, rarely comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!
Wherefore hast thou left me now
Many a day and night?”

The rich baritone voice, vibrant with apparent passion, swept out through the open windows, across the glittering garden. Miss Maud Callowgas, walking along that portion of the esplanade immediately in front of the hotel, paused in the grilling sunshine to listen. Heaven upon earth seemed to open before her pale, white-lashed eyes. If she could only ascertain what fortune she might eventually count on possessing–but Mama was so dreadfully close about everything to do with money! The Harchester bishopric was a fat one, worth from ten to fifteen thousand a year. That she knew from the odious, impudent questions asked about it by some horrible nonconformist member, in the House of Commons, just after her father’s death. Surely Mama must have saved a considerable amount out of so princely an income? She had always kept down expenses at the Palace. The servants left so often because they declared they had not enough to eat.

Then through the open window of the villa embowered in roses, there amid the palms and pines–and in a falling cadence too:

“How shall ever one like me
Win thee back again?”

But Maud Callowgas needed no winning, being very effectually won already, so it was superfluous thus movingly to ask the question. The mid-day sun striking through her black-and-white parasol made her feel dizzy and faint.–If only she could learn the amount of her fortune, she could let Mrs. Frayling learn the amount of it too–just casually, in the course of conversation, and then–Everyone said Mrs. Frayling was doing her best to “place” her cousin-by-marriage, to secure him a well-endowed wife.

CHAPTER X

WHICH IT IS TO BE FEARED SMELLS SOMEWHAT POWERFULLY OF BILGE WATER

Warm wind, hot sun, the confused sound and movement of a great southern port, all the traffic and trade of it, man and beast sweating in the splendid glare. Rattle of cranes, scream of winches, grind of wheels, and the bellowing of a big steamer, working her way cautiously through the packed shipping of the basin, to the blue freedom of the open sea.–Such was the scene which the boatswain and white-jacketed steward, leaning their folded arms on the bulwarks and smoking, lazily watched.

The _Forest Queen_ rode high at the quayside, having discharged much, and taken on but a moderate amount of cargo for her homeward voyage. This was already stowed. She had coaled and was bound to clear by dawn. Now she rested in idleness, most of her crew taking their pleasure ashore, a Sabbath calm pervading her amid the strident activities going forward on every hand. The ship’s dog, a curly-haired black retriever, lay on the clean deck in the sunshine stretched on his side, all four legs limp, save when, pestered beyond endurance, he whisked into a sitting position to snap at the all too numerous flies.

The boatswain–a heavily built East Anglian, born within sight of Boston Stump five-and-forty years ago, his face seamed and pitted by smallpox almost to the extinction of expression and altogether to that of eyebrows, eyelashes and continuity of beard–spat deliberately and voluminously into the oily, refuse-stained water, lapping against the ship’s side over twenty feet below, and resumed a desultory conversation which for the moment had fallen dead.

“So that’s the reason of his giving us hell’s delight, like he has all day, cleaning up?–Got a lady coming aboard to tea has he? If she’s too fine to take us as we are, a deal better let ‘er stay ashore, in my opinion. Stuff a’ nonsense all this set out, dressing up and dressing down. Vanity at the bottom of it–and who’s it to take in?–For a tramp’s a tramp, and a liner’s a liner; and all the water in God’s ocean, and all the rubbing and scrubbing on man’s earth, won’t convert the one into the other, bless you.”

He pointed away, with his pipestem, to the violet-shadowed mouth of one of the narrow lanes opening between the slop-shops, wine-shops, and cheap eating-houses–their gaudy striped, flounced awnings bellying and straining in the fervid southerly breeze–which lined the further side of the crowded quay.

“As well try to wash some gutter-bred, French trollop, off the streets in behind there, into a white-souled, white-robed heavenly angel,” he grumbled on. “All this purifying of the darned old hulk’s so much labour lost. Gets the men’s monkey up too, putting all this extray work on ’em.”

He leaned down again, folding his arms along the top of the bulwarks.

“And, angel or trollop, I find no use for her, nor any other style of woman either, on board this ‘ere blasted rusty iron coffin,” he said.

Whereat the stewart, a pert-eyed, dapper little cockney–amateur of the violin and noted impersonator of popular music-hall comedians–took him up in tones of amiable argument.

“Your stomach’s so turned on the subject of females you can’t do ’em justice. Gone sour, regularly sour, it is. And I don’t hold with you there, Partington, never shall and never do. I’m one as can always find a cosy corner in me manly bosom for the lidies–blame me if I can’t, the pore ‘elpless little lovey-doveys. After all’s said and done Gawd made ’em just as much as ‘e made you, Partington, that ‘e did.”

“And called you in, sonny, to lend ‘im an ‘and at the job, didn’t ‘e? All I can say is you’d both have been better employed putting in your time and talents somewhere else.”

After which sally the two smoked in silence, while the ship’s dog alternately stretched himself on the hot boards, and started up with a yelp to snap at the cloud of buzzing flies again.

The steward merely bided his time, however, and enquired presently with a nice air of nonchalance:

“Never been married, Partington, ‘ave you? I’ve often known that put a fellow sadly off the sex.”

“Never,” the other replied, “though I came precious near it once, when I was a youngster and greener–greener even than you with your little lovey-doveys and your manly bosom, William, which is allowing a lot. But my wife as was to ‘ave been–met her down Bristol way, gone blind silly on ‘er I was–got took with the smallpox the week before the ceremony was pulled off, and give me all she had to spare of the disease with her dying breath. Soft chap as I was then, I held it as a sort of a compliment. Afterwards, when the crape had worn a bit brown, I saw it was jealousy of any other female I might come to cast my eye over as made her act like that.”

“A private sore!” William commented. “To tell you gospel truth, Partington, I guessed as much. But you should learn to tike the larger view. Blimey, you should rise above that. To be marked like you are is a misfortune, I don’t pretend to the contrary, looking at it along the level so to speak. But beauty’s so much dust and ashes, if yer can just boost yerself up to tike the larger view. Think of all that pore dying woman mayn’t ‘ave saved you from by making yer outward fascinations less staring to the sex? Regular honey-pot to every passing petticoat you might ‘ave been.”

He broke off, springing erect and shading his eyes with one hand to obtain a better view.

“My Sammy–whoever’s the skipper a bringing ‘ome ‘ere with him? Dooks and duchesses and all the blamed airistorkracy?–English too, or I’m a blooming nigger.–Tea for a lidy?–I should rather think it.–Partington, I’m off to put meself inside of a clean jacket and make sure the cockroaches ain’t holding a family sing-song on my best white table-cloth.–Say, that young ole man of ours don’t stop ‘arf way up the ladder, once ‘e starts climbing. Gets to the top rung ‘e does stright orf, s’elp me. And tikes ‘is ease there, seemingly, as to the manner born. Looks like he does any’ow, the way ‘e’s behaving of hisself now.–So long, bo’sun,” he added jauntily. “I’m called from yer side to descend the companion _ong route_ for higher spheres. Sounds like a contradiction that, but ain’t so.–See you again when the docks ‘as quitted this fond old floating ‘earse of ours and took themselves back to their ‘ereditary marble ‘alls to roost.”

On the other side of the quay, meanwhile, in the brave dancing breeze and the sunshine, Darcy Faircloth stepped down on to the uneven paving just opposite to where the _Forest Queen_ lay. Colonel Carteret followed and stood aside, leaving him to hand Damaris out of the open carriage.

For this was the younger man’s day; and, as the elder ungrudgingly acknowledged, he played the part of host with a nice sense of taste, his hospitality erring neither in the direction of vulgar lavishness, nor of over-modesty and economy. Breeding tells, is fertile in social intuitions, as Carteret reflected, even when deformed by an ugly bar sinister. During the past hours he had been observant–even above his wont–jealous both for his friend Charles Verity and his dear charge, Damaris, in this peculiar association. The position was a far from easy one, so many slips of sorts possible; but the young merchant sea-captain had carried it off with an excellent simplicity and unconscious grace.–In respect of a conveyance, to begin with, he eschewed hiring a hack, and met his arriving guests, at the station, with the best which the stables of the _Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix_ could produce. Had offered a quiet well-served luncheon at that same stately hostelry moreover, in preference to the more flashy and popular restaurants of the town. Afterwards he had driven them, in the early hours of the afternoon, up to the church of _Notre Dame de la Garde_, which, perched aloft on its eminence, godspeeds the outward bound and welcomes the homecoming voyager, while commanding so noble a prospect of port and city, of islands sacred to world-famous romance, and wide horizons of rich country and historic sea.

And now, before parting, Faircloth brought them to his ship. To this private kingdom of his and all it implied–and denied too–of social privilege, social distinction. Implied, further, of administrative and personal power–all it set forth of the somewhat rugged facts of his profession and daily environment. Of this small world he was undisputed autocrat, Grand Cham of this miniature Tartary–of this iron-walled two-thousand-ton empire, the great white Czar.

So far Carteret had lent himself to the extensive day’s “outing” in a spirit of very sweet-tempered philosophy. He had been delightful, unfailing in courtesy and tactful address. Now, having analysed his host’s character to his own satisfaction, he felt justified in giving himself a holiday from the office of chaperon and watch-dog. He had fulfilled his promise, royally done his duty by Damaris in that quasi-avuncular relation which he had assumed in place of a closer and–how profoundly more–coveted one; thereby earning temporary release from her somewhat over-moving neighbourhood. Not but what he had been keenly, almost painfully, interested in watching this drama of brother and sister, and gauging the impulses, the currents of action and of emotion which lay behind it. Gauging too the difficulties, even dangers, inherent in it, the glamour and the clouding of shame–whether conventional or real he did not pretend exactly to determine–which so strangely wrapped it about. To use Damaris’ favourite word, they were very “beautiful” both in themselves and in their almost mystic affection, these two young creatures. And just on that very account he would be glad to get away from them, to be no longer onlooker, or–to put it vulgarly–gooseberry, fifth wheel to the cart.

He went with them as far as the shoreward end of the up-sloping gangway.–A tall grey-clad figure, with an equally tall blue-clad figure on the other side of the young girl’s, also tall, biscuit-coloured one,–a dash of pink showing in her burnt-straw hat, pink too at her throat and waist seen between the open fronts of her dust-coat.–But at the gangway he stopped.

“Dear witch,” he said, “I have some telegrams I should be glad to send off, and another small matter of business to transact in the town, so here, I will leave you, if you permit, in our friend’s safe-keeping”–he smiled upon Faircloth. “At the station, at five-thirty, we meet. _Au revoir_, then.”

And, without waiting for any reply, he sauntered away along the sun-flooded quay between piled up bales of merchandize, wine barrels, heaps of sand, heaps too of evilly smelling hides, towering cases and crates. His shadow–clear violet upon the grey of the granite–from his feet onwards, travelled before him as he walked. And this leading by, this following of, his own shadow, casual accident of light and of direction though in all common sense he must account it, troubled the peace of the man with the blue eyes, making him feel wistful, feel past the zenith of his allotted earthly achievement, queerly out of the running, aged and consequently depressed.

Upon Damaris the suddenness of his exit reacted in a sensation of constraint. Carteret had been very exquisite to her throughout this delicate adventure, throughout these hours of restrained yet exalted emotion. Left thus to her own resources she grew anxious, consciously diffident. The, in a sense, abnormal element in her relation to Faircloth darted down on her, so that she could not but remember how slight, after all, was her actual acquaintance with him, how seldom–only thrice in point of fact–had he and she had speech of one another.

Upon Faircloth, Carteret’s withdrawal also reacted, though with different effect. For an instant he watched the tall retreating form of this, as he perceived, very perfect gentleman. Then he turned to Damaris, looking her over from head to heel, in keen somewhat possessive fashion. And as, meeting his eyes, bravely if shyly, her colour deepened.

“You are happy?” he affirmed rather than asked.

“As the day is long,” she answered him steadily.

“But the day’s not been overlong, by chance, has it?”

“Not half long enough.”

“All’s well, then, still.” He pressed her–“You aren’t weary of me yet?”

Damaris reassuringly shook her head.

Nevertheless she was very sensible of change in the tenor of their intercourse, sensible of a just perceptible hardness in his bearing and aspect. For some cause, the nature of which she failed to divine though she registered the fact of its existence, he no longer had complete faith in her, was no longer wholly at one with her in sympathy and in belief. He needed wooing, handling. And had she the knowledge and the art successfully to handle this sun-browned, golden-bearded, rather magnificent young master mariner–out here in the open too, the shout of the great port in her ears, the dazzle of the water and the push of the warm wind upon her face?

“Ah, why waste precious time in putting questions to which you surely already know the answer?” with a touch of reproach she took him up. “Show me rather where you live–where you eat and sleep, where you walk up and down, walk quarter-deck, when you are far away there out at sea.”

“Does all that really interest you?”

Damaris’ lips quivered the least bit.

“Why have you turned perverse and doubting? Isn’t it because they interest me, above and beyond anything, beautifully interest me, that I am here?–It would have been very easy to stay away, if I hadn’t wanted–as I do want–to be able to fancy you from morning until night, to know where you sit, know just what you first see when in the grey of the morning you first wake.”

Faircloth continued to look at her; but his expression softened, gaining a certain spirituality.

“I have questioned more than once to-day whether I had not been foolhardy in letting you come here–whether distance wasn’t safest, and the hunger of absence sweeter than the full meal of your presence for–for both of us, things being between us as they actually are. What if the bubble burst?–I have had scares–hideous scares–lest you should be disappointed in me.”

“Or you in me?” Damaris said.

“No. Only your being disappointed in me could disappoint me in you–and hardly that, because you’d have prejudice, facts even, natural and obvious enough ones, upon your side. Faircloth’s Inn on Marychurch Haven and your Indian palace, as basis to two children’s memories and outlook, are too widely divergent, when one comes to think of it. When listening to you and Colonel Carteret talking at luncheon I caught very plain sight of that. Not that he talked of set purpose to read me a wholesome lesson in humility–never in life. He’s not that sort. But the lesson went home all the more directly for that very reason.–Patience one little minute,” he quickly admonished her as she essayed to speak–“patience. You ask, with those dear wonderful eyes of yours, what I’m driving at.–This, beloved one–you see the waiting carriage over there. Hadn’t we best get into it, turn the horses’ heads citywards again, and drink our tea, you and I, on the way up to the station somewhere very much else than on board this rough-and-tumble rather foul-breathed cargo boat?–I’m so beastly afraid you may be disgusted and shocked by the interval between what you’re accustomed to and what I am. To let you down”–

Faircloth’s handsome face worked. Whereat Damaris’ diffidence took to itself wings and flew away. Her heart grew light.

“Let me down?” she said. “You can’t let me down. Oh! really, really you’re a little slow of comprehension. We are in this–in everything that has happened since I first knew who you are, and everything which is going to happen from now onwards–in it together. What joins us goes miles, miles deeper and wider than any petty surface things. Must I tell you how much I care? Can’t you feel it for yourself?”

And she stepped before him on to the upward sloping gangway plank.

CHAPTER XI

WHEREIN DAMARIS MEETS HERSELF UNDER A NOVEL ASPECT

Damaris threw back the bedclothes, her eyes still dim with slumber, and gathered herself into a sitting position, clasping her knees with both hands. She had a vague impression that something very pleasant awaited her attention; but, in the soft confusion of first awakening, could not remember exactly what it was.

To induce clearer consciousness she instinctively parted the mosquito curtains, slipped her feet down over the side of the bed; and, a little crouched together and fumbly–baby-fashion–being still under the comfortable empire of sleep, crossed the room and set back the inward opening casements of the south window. Thereupon the outdoor freshness, fluttering her hair and the lace and nain-sook of her nightdress, brought her, on the instant, into full possession of her wandering wits. She remembered the nature of that charmingly pleasant something; yet paused, before yielding it attention, held captive by the spectacle of returning day.

It was early. The disc of the sun still below the horizon. But shafts of light, striking up from it, patterned the underside of a vast dapple of fleecy cloud–heliotrope upon the back-cloth of blue ether–with fringes and bosses of scarlet flame. Against this, occupying the foreground, the pine trees, which sheltered the terrace, showed up a deep greenish purple bordering upon black.

Leaning out over the polished wooden bar–which topped the ironwork of the window-guard–Damaris sought and gained sight of the sea. This, darker even than the tufted foliation of the pines–since still untouched by sunlight–spread dense and compact as molten metal, with here and there a sheen, like that of the raven’s wing, upon its corrugated surface. To Damaris it appeared curiously forbidding. Seeing it thus she felt, indeed, to have taken Nature unawares, surprised her without disguise; so that for once she displayed her veritable face–a face not yet made up and camouflaged to conceal the fact of its in-dwelling terror from puny and defenceless man.

With that the girl’s thoughts flew, in longing and solicitude, to Faircloth, whose business so perpetually brought him into contact with Nature thus naked and untamed.–By now, and over as sinister a sea–since westward the dawn would barely yet have broke–the _Forest Queen_ must be steaming along the Andalusian coast, making for Gibraltar and the Straits upon her homeward voyage. And by some psychic alchemy, an influence more potent and tangible than that of ordinary thought, her apprehension fled out, annihilating distance, bridging intervening space. For, just as certainly as Damaris’ fair body leaned from the open window, so certainly did her fair soul or–to try a closer and more scientific definition–her living consciousness, stand in the captain’s cabin of the ocean-bound tramp, making Darcy Faircloth turn smiling in his sleep, he having vision and glad sense of her–which stayed by him, tempering his humour to a peculiar serenity throughout the ensuing day.

That their correspondence was no fictitious one, a freak of disordered nerves or imagination, but sane and actual, both brother and sister could convincingly have affirmed. And this although time–as time is usually figured–had neither lot nor part in it. Such projections of personality are best comparable, in this respect, to the dreams which seize us in the very act of waking–vivid, coherent and complete, yet ended by the selfsame sound or touch by which they are evoked.

In Damaris’ case, before the scarlet, dyeing the cloud dapple, warmed to rose, or the dense metallic sea caught reflections of the sunrise, broadening incandescence, her errant consciousness was again cognizant of, subjected to, her immediate surroundings. She was aware, moreover, that the morning sharpness began to take a too unwarrantable liberty with her thinly clad person for comfort. She hastily locked the casements together; and then waited, somewhat dazed by the breathless pace of her strange and tender excursion, looking about her in happy amazement.

And, so doing, her eyes lighted upon a certain oblong parcel lying on her dressing-table. There was the charmingly pleasant something which awaited her attention! A present, and the most costly, the most enchanting one (save possibly the green jade elephant of her childish adoration) she had ever received!

She picked up, not only the precious parcel, but a hand-mirror lying near it; and, thus armed, bestowed herself, once more, in her still warm bed.

The last forty-eight hours had been fertile in experiences and in events, among which the arrival of this gift could by no means be accounted the least exciting.–Hordle had brought the packet here to her, last night, about an hour after she and her father–standing under the portico–waved reluctant farewells to Colonel Carteret, as the hotel omnibus bore him and his baggage away to the station to catch the mail train through to Paris. This parting, when it actually came about, proved more distressing than she had by any means prefigured. She had no notion beforehand what a really dreadful business she would find it, after these months of close association, to say good-bye to the man with the blue eyes.

“We shall miss you at every turn, dear, dear Colonel Sahib,” she almost tearfully assured him. “How we are going ever to live without you I don’t know.”

And impulsively, driven by the excess of her emotion to the point of forgetting accustomed habits and restraints, she put up her lips for a kiss. Which, thus invited, kiss Carteret, taking her face in both hands for the minute, bestowed upon her forehead rather than upon those proffered lips. Then his glance met Charles Verity’s, held it in silent interchange of friendship needing no words to declare its quality or depth; and he turned away abruptly, making for the inside of the waiting omnibus–cavernous in the semi-darkness–distributing largesse to all and sundry as he went.

Damaris was aware of her father’s arm passed through hers, holding her against his side with a steadying pressure, as they went together across the hall on their way to the first floor sitting-room. Aware of poor, pretty, coughing little Mrs. Titherage’s raised eyebrows and enquiring stare, as they passed her with her coffee, cigarette, and fat, florid stock-broker husband–who, by the way, had the grace to keep his eyes glued to the patience cards, ranged upon the small table before him, until father and daughter were a good half-way up the flight of stairs. Later, when outwardly mistress of herself, the inclination to tears successfully conquered and her normal half-playful gravity regained, she went to her bedroom, Hordle had brought her this beguiling packet.

Inside the silver paper wrappings she found a red leather jewel case, and a note in Carteret’s singularly definite hand, character rather than script, the severe yet decorative quality of Arabic about it.

“To the dear witch,” it read, “in memory of our incomparable Henrietta’s dance, and of the midnight walk which followed it, and of our hours of pleasant sightseeing at Marseilles.”

No signature followed, only the date.

Now, sitting up in bed, while the day came into full and joyous being, Nature’s face duly decked and painted by the greatly reconciling sun, Damaris read the exquisitely written note again. The writing in itself moved her with a certain home-sickness for the East, which it seemed in some sort to embody and from which to hail. Then meanings she detected, behind the apparently light-hearted words, filled her with gratitude. They reminded her gently of duties accepted, promises made. They gathered in Faircloth, too, by implication; thus assuring her of sympathy and approval where she needed them most.

She opened the case and, taking out the string of pearls it contained, turned them about and about, examining, counting, admiring their lustre and ethereal loveliness. They were graduated from the size of a hemp-seed, so she illustrated it, on either side the diamond clasp, to that of a marrow-fat pea. Not all of them–and this charmed her fancy as giving them individuality and separate life–were faultlessly perfect; but had minute irregularities of shape, tiny dimples in which a special radiance hovered. She clasped the necklace round her throat, and, holding up the hand-mirror, turned her head from side to side–with pardonable vanity–to judge and enjoy the effect.

Damaris was unlearned in the commercial value of such treasures; nor did money seem exactly a graceful or pretty thing–in some respects our maiden was possessed of a very unworldly innocence–to think of in connection with a present. Still she found it impossible not to regard these jewels with a certain awe. What the dear Colonel Sahib must have spent on them! A small fortune she feared. In the buying of this all-too-costly-gift, then, consisted that business transaction he had made the excuse for leaving her alone with Faircloth, upon the quay alongside which lay the _Forest Queen_.

Oh! he surpassed himself! Was too indulgent, too munificent to her!–As on a former occasion, she totted up the sum of his good deeds. Hadn’t he given up his winter’s sport for her sake? Didn’t she–and wouldn’t an admiring English reading public presently–owe to his suggestion her father’s noble book? When she had run wild for a space, and sold herself to unworthy frivolities, hadn’t he led her back into the right road, and that with the lightest, courtliest, hand imaginable, making all harmonious and sweetly perfect, once more, between her father and herself? Lastly, hadn’t he procured her her heart’s desire in the meeting with Darcy Faircloth–and, incidentally, given her the relief of free speech, now and whenever she might desire to claim it, concerning the strange and secret relationship which dominated her imagination and so enriched the hidden places of her daily life and thought?

Damaris held up the hand-mirror contemplating his gift, this necklace of pearls; and, from that, by unconscious transition fell to contemplating her own face. It interested her. She looked at it critically, as at some face other than her own, some portrait, appraising and studying it. It was young and fresh, surely, as the morn–in its softness of contour and fine clear bloom; yet grave to the verge of austerity, owing partly to the brown hair which, parted in the middle and drawn down in a plain full sweep over the ears, hung thence in thick loose plait on either side to below her waist. She looked long and curiously into her own eyes, “dear wonderful eyes,” as Faircloth, her brother, so deliciously called them. And with that her mouth curved into a smile, sight of which brought recognition, new and very moving, of her own by no means inconsiderable beauty.

She went red, and then white almost as her white nightdress and the white pillows behind her. Laid the mirror hastily down, and held her face in both hands as–as Carteret had held it last night, at the moment of parting, when he had kissed not her lips but her forehead. Yet very differently, since she now held it with strained, clinging fingers, which hurt, making marks upon the flesh.–For could it be that–the other kind of love, such as men bear the woman of their choice, which dictated Carteret’s unfailing goodness to her–the love that he had bitterly and almost roughly defended when she praised the love of brother and sister as dearest, purest, and therefore above all best?

Was it conceivable this hero of a hundred almost fabulous adventures, of hair-breath escapes, and cunningly defied dangers in Oriental, semi-barbarous, wholly gorgeous, camps, Courts and cities, this philosopher of gently humorous equanimity, who appeared to weigh all things in an equal balance and whom she had regarded as belonging to an age and order superior to her own, had set his affections upon her singling her out from among all possible others? That he wanted her for his own, wanted her exclusively and as his inseparable companion, the object of–

A sentence from the English marriage service flashed across her mind.–“With my body I thee worship,” it ran, “and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

“With my body I thee worship”–He, her father’s elect and beloved friend, in whom she had always so beautifully trusted, who had never failed her, the dear man with the blue eyes–and she, Damaris? Her womanhood, revealed to itself, at once shrank back bewildered, panic-stricken, and, passion-stricken, called to her aloud.

For here Carteret’s grace of bearing and of person, his clean health, physical distinction and charm, arose and confronted her. The visible, tangible attributes of the man–as man–presented themselves in fine relief, delighting her, stirring her heretofore dormant senses, begetting in her needs and desires undreamed of until now, and, even now, in substance incomprehensible. She was enchanted, fevered, triumphant; and then–also incomprehensibly–ashamed.

As the minutes passed, though the triumph continued to subsist, the shame subsisted also, so that the two jostled one another striving for the mastery. Damaris took her hands from her face, again clasped them about her drawn-up knees, and sat, looking straight in front of her with sombre, meditative eyes. To use a phrase of her childhood, she was busy with her “thinkings”; her will consciously hailing emotion to the judgment-seat of intelligence for examination and for sentence.

If this was what people commonly understand when they speak of love, if this was the love concerning which novelists write and poets sing–this riot of the blood and heady rapture, this conflict of shame and triumph in which the animal part of one has so loud a word to say–she didn’t like it. It was upsetting, to the confines of what she supposed drunkenness must be. It spoilt things heretofore exquisite, by giving them too high a colour, too violent a flavour. No–she didn’t like it. Neither did she like herself in relation to it–like this unknown, storm-swept Damaris. Nor–for he, alas! couldn’t escape inclusion–this new, unfamiliar presentment of the man with the blue eyes. Yet–and here was a puzzle difficult of solution–even while this new presentment of him, and conception of his sentiment towards her, pulled him down from his accustomed pedestal in her regard, it erected for him another pedestal, more richly sculptured and of more costly material–since had not his manifold achievements, the whole fine legend as well as the whole physical perfection of him, manifested themselves to, and worked upon her as never before?–Did this thing, love, then, as between man and woman, spring from the power of beauty while soiling and lowering beauty–bestow on it an hour of extravagant effulgence, of royal blossoming, only to degrade it in the end?–The puzzle is old as humanity, old, one may say, as sex. Little wonder if Damaris, sitting up in her maidenly bedchamber, in the unsullied brightness of the early morning hour, failed to find any satisfactory answer to it.

Her thoughts ranged out to the other members of her little local court–to Peregrine Ditton and Harry Ellice, to Marshall Wace. Had they personal experience of this disquieting matter? Was it conceivable the boys’ silly rivalries and jealousies concerning her took their rise in this? Did it inspire the fervour of Marshall Wace’s singing, his flattering dependence on her sympathy?–Suspicion widened. Everywhere she seemed to find hint and suggestion of this–no, she wouldn’t too distinctly define it. Let it remain nameless.–Everywhere, except in respect of her father and of her brother. There she could spend her heart in peace. She sighed with a sweetness of relief, unclasping her hands, raising her fixed, bowed head.

The hotel, meanwhile, was sensibly in act of coming awake. Doors opened, voices called. From the other side of the corridor sounded poor little Mrs. Titherage’s hacking cough, increasing to a convulsive struggle before, the fit at last passing off, it sunk into temporary quiescence. Andre, the stout, middle-aged _valet de chambre_, hummed snatches of gay melody as he rubbed and polished the parquet flooring without. These noises, whether cheerful or the contrary, were at least ordinary enough. By degrees they gained Damaris’ ear, drawing her mind from speculation regarding the nature, origin, prevalence and ethics of love. Soon Pauline, the chamber-maid, would bring her breakfast-tray, coffee and rolls, those pale wafer-like pats of butter which taste so good, and thin squares of beetroot sugar which are never half as sweet as one would like. Would bring hot water and her bath, too, and pay her some nicely turned little compliment as to the becoming effect of her night’s sleep.–Everything would pick itself up, in short, and go on, naturally and comfortably just as before.

Before what?

Damaris straightened the hem of the sheet over the billowing edge of flowered down quilt; and, while so doing, her hand came in contact both with the mirror and the open jewel-case. She looked at this last with an expression bordering on reproach, unfastened the pearls from her throat, and laid them on the wadded, cream-coloured velvet lining. She delighted to possess them and deplored possessing them in the same breath. They spoke to her too freely and conclusively, told her too much. She would rather not have acquired this knowledge either of Carteret or of herself.–If it really were knowledge?–Again she repeated the question, arising from the increasing normality of surrounding things–Before what?

For when all was said and done, the dear man with the blue eyes had veritably and very really departed. Throughout the night his train had been rushing north-north-westward to Paris, to England, to that Norfolk manor-house of his, where his sister, his nephews, all his home interests and occupations awaited him. What proof had she that more intimate and romantic affairs did not await him there, or thereabouts, also? Had not she, once and for all, learned the lesson that a man’s ways are different and contain many unadvertised occupations and interests? If he had wished to say something, anything, special to her, before going away, how easily–thus she saw the business–how easily he might have said it! But he hadn’t spoken, rather conspicuously, indeed, had avoided speaking. Perhaps it was all a silly, conceited mistake of her own–a delusion and one not particularly creditable either to her intelligence or her modesty.

Damaris shut up the jewel-case. The pearls were entrancing; but somehow she did not seem to think she cared to look at them any more–just now.

When her breakfast arrived she ate it in a pensive frame of mind. In a like frame of mind she went through the routine of her toilette. She felt oddly tired; oddly shy, moreover, of her looking-glass.

Miss Felicia Verity had made a tentative proposal, about a week before, of joining her niece and her brother upon the Riviera. She reported much discomfort from rheumatism during the past winter. Her doctor advised a change of climate. Damaris, while brushing and doing up her hair, discovered in herself a warm desire for Miss Felicia’s company. She craved for a woman–not to confide in, but to somehow shelter behind. And Aunt Felicia was so perfect in that way. She took what you gave in a spirit of gratitude almost pathetic; and never asked for what you didn’t give, never seemed even to, for an instant, imagine there was anything you withheld from her. It would be a rest–a really tremendous rest, to have Aunt Felicia. She–Damaris–would propound the plan to her father as soon as she went downstairs.

After luncheon and a walk with Sir Charles, her courage being higher, she repented in respect of the pearl necklace. Put it on–and with results. For that afternoon Henrietta Frayling–hungry for activity, hungry for prey, after her prolonged abstention from society–very effectively floated into the forefront of the local scene.

CHAPTER XII

CONCERNING ITSELF WITH A GATHERING UP OP FRAGMENTS

An unheralded invasion on the part of the physician from Cannes had delayed, by a day, Henrietta’s promised descent upon, or rather ascent to, the Grand Hotel.

That gentleman, whose avaricious pale grey eye belied the extreme silkiness of his manner–having been called to minister to Lady Hermione Twells in respect of some minor ailment–elected to put in the overtime, between two trains, in a visit to General Frayling. For the date drew near of his yearly removal from the Riviera to Cotteret-les-Bains, in the Ardennes, where, during the summer season, he exploited the physical infelicities and mental credulities of his more wealthy fellow-creatures. The _etablissement_ at Cotteret was run by a syndicate, in which Dr. Stewart-Walker held–in the name of an obliging friend and solicitor–a preponderating number of shares. At this period of the spring he always became anxious to clear up, not to say clear out, his southern clienetle lest any left-over members of it should fall into the clutches of one of his numerous local rivals. And, in this connection, it may be noted as remarkable to how many of the said clientele a “cure” at Cotteret-les-Bains offered assurance of permanent restoration to health.

Among that happy band, as it now appeared, General Frayling might be counted. The dry, exciting climate of St. Augustin, and its near neighbourhood to the sea, were calculated to aggravate the gastric complications from which that polite little warrior so distressingly suffered.

“This, I fear we must recognize, my dear madam, is a critical period with your husband; and treatment, for the next six months or so, is of cardinal importance; I consider high inland air, if possible forest air, indispensable. What I should _like_ you to do is to take our patient north by slow stages; and I earnestly counsel a course of waters before the return to England is attempted.”

Thereupon, agreeable visions of festive toilettes and festive casinos flitting through Henrietta’s mind, she named Homburg and other German spas of world-wide popularity. But at such ultra-fashionable resorts, as Dr. Stewart-Walker, with a suitable air of regret, reminded her, the season did not open until too late to meet existing requirements.

“Let me think, let me think,” he repeated, head sagely bent and forefinger on lip.

He ran through a number of Latin terms, to her in the main incomprehensible; then looked up, relieved and encouraging.

“Yes, we might, I believe, safely try it. The medical properties of the springs–particularly those of La Nonnette–meet our patient’s case excellently. And I should not lose sight of him–a point, I own, with me, for your husband’s condition presents features of peculiar interest. Cotteret-les-Bains, my dear madam–in his case I can confidently recommend it. Lady Hermione talks of taking the cure at Cotteret this spring. But about that we shall see–we shall see. The question demands consideration. As you know, Lady Hermione is charmingly outspoken, emphatic; but I should be false to my professional honour, were I to allow her wishes to colour my judgment.–Meanwhile I have reason to know that other agreeable people are going to Cotteret shortly. Not the rank and file. For such the place does not pretend to cater. There the lucrative stock-broker, or lucrative Jew, is still a _rara avis_. Long may he continue to be so, and Cotteret continue to pride itself on its exclusiveness!–In that particular it will admirably suit you, Mrs. Frayling.”

To a compliment so nicely turned Henrietta could not remain insensible. Before the destined train bore Dr. Stewart-Walker back to his more legitimate zone of practise, she saw herself committed to an early striking of camp, with this obscure, if select, _ville d’eaux_ as her destination.

In some respects the prospect did not smile on her. Yet as, next day, emancipated at length from monotonies of the sick-chamber, she drove behind the free-moving little chestnut horses through the streets of the town–sleepy in the hot afternoon quiet–and along the white glaring esplanade, Henrietta admitted the existence of compensations. In the brilliant setting of some world-famous German spa, though she–as she believed–would have been perfectly at her ease, what about her companions? For in such scenes of high fashion, her own good clothes are not sufficient lifebelt to keep a pretty woman quite complacently afloat. Your male associates must render you support, be capable of looking the part and playing up generally, if your enjoyment is to be complete. And for all _that_ Marshall Wace, frankly, couldn’t be depended on. Not only was he too unmistakably English and of the middle-class; but the clerical profession, although he had so unfortunately failed it, or it so unkindly rejected him, still seemed to soak through, somehow, when you saw him in public. A whiff of the vestry queerly clung to his coats and his trousers, thus meanly giving away his relinquished ambitions; unless, and that was worse still, essaying to be extra smart, a taint of the footlights declared itself in the over florid curl of a hat-brim or sample of “neck-wear.” To head a domestic procession, in eminently cosmopolitan circles, composed of a small, elderly, very palpable invalid and a probable curate in mufti, demanded an order of courage to which Henrietta felt herself entirely unequal. Preferable the obscurity of Cotteret-les-Bains–gracious heaven, ten thousand times preferable!

Did not Dr. Stewart-Walker, moreover, hold out hopes that, by following his advice, the General’s strength might be renewed, if not precisely like that of the eagle, yet in the more modest likeness of some good, biddable, burden-bearing animal–the patient ass, if one might so put it without too obvious irony? As handyman, aide-de-camp, and, on occasion, her groom of the chambers, the General had deserved very well of Henrietta. He had earned her sincere commendation. To restore him to that level of convenient activity was, naturally, her main object; and if a sojourn at some rather dull spot in the Ardennes, promised to secure this desired end, let it be accepted without hesitation. For the proverbial creaking, yet long-hanging, gate–here Henrietta had the delicacy to take refuge in hyperbole–she had no liking whatever. She could not remember the time when Darby and Joan had struck her as an otherwise than preposterous couple, offspring of a positively degraded sentimentality.

But there, since it threatened depressing conclusions, Henrietta agreed with herself to pursue the line of reflection no further.–“Sufficient unto the day”–to look beyond is, the thirties once passed, to raise superfluous spectres. And this day, in itself supplied food for reflections of a quite other character; ones which set both her curiosity and partiality for intrigue quite legitimately afire.

The morning post had brought her a missive from Colonel Carteret announcing his “recall” to England, and deploring the imposed haste of it as preventing him from making his adieux to her in person. The letter contained a number of flattering tributes to her own charms and to old times in India, the pleasures of which–unforgettable by him–he had had the happiness of sharing with her. Yet–to her reading of it–this friendly communication remained enigmatic, its kindly sentences punctuated by more than one interjectional enquiry. Namely, what was the cause of this sudden “recall”? And what was his reason for not coming to say good-bye to her? Haste, she held an excuse of almost childish transparency. It went deeper than that. Simply he had wanted not to see her.

Since the night of the dance no opportunity had occurred for observing Carteret and Damaris when together.–Really, how General Frayling’s tiresome illness shipwrecked her private plans!–And, from the beginning, she had entertained an uneasy suspicion regarding Carteret’s attitude. Men can be so extraordinarily feeble-minded where young girls are concerned! Had anything happened during her withdrawal from society? In the light, or rather the obscurity, of Carteret’s letter, a visit to Damaris became more than ever imperative.

Her own competence to extract the truth from that guileless maiden, Henrietta in nowise questioned. “The child,” she complacently told herself, when preparing to set forth on her mission, “is like wax in my hands.”

The above conviction she repeated now, as the horses swept the victoria along the shore road, while from beneath her white umbrella she absently watched the alternate lift and plunge of the dazzling ultramarine and Tyrian purple sea upon the polished rocks and pebbles of the shelving beach.

To Henrietta Nature, save as decoration to the human drama, meant nothing. But the day was hot, for the time of year royally so, and this rejoiced her. She basked in the sunshine with a cat-like luxury of content. Her hands never grew moist in the heat, nor her hair untidy, her skin unbecomingly red, nor her general appearance in the least degree blousy. She remained enchantingly intact, unaffected, except for an added glint, an added refinement. To-day’s temperature justified the adoption of summer attire, of those thin, clear-coloured silk and muslin fabrics so deliciously to her taste. She wore a lavender dress. It was new, every pleat and frill inviolate, at their crispest and most uncrumpled. In this she found a fund of permanent satisfaction steeling her to intrepid enterprise.

Hence she scorned all ceremonies of introduction. She dared to pounce. Having ascertained the number of Sir Charles Verity’s sitting-room she refused obsequious escort, tripped straight upstairs unattended, rapped lightly, opened the door and–with swift reconnoitering of the scene within–announced her advent thus:

“Damaris, are you there? Ah! yes. Darling child. At last!”

During that reconnoitering she inventoried impressions of the room and its contents.–Cool, first–blue walls, blue carpet, blue upholstering of sofa and of chairs. Not worn or shabby, but so graciously faded by sun and air, that this–decoratively speaking–most perilous of colours became innocuous, in a way studious, in keeping with a large writing-table occupying the centre of the picture, laden with manuscripts and with books. The wooden outside shutters of two of the three windows were closed, which enhanced the prevailing coolness and studiousness of effect. Red cushions, also agreeably faded, upon the window-seats, alone echoed, in some degree, the hot radiance obtaining out of doors–these, and a red enamelled vase holding sprays of yellow and orange-copper roses, placed upon a smaller table before which Damaris sat, her back towards the invader.

At the sound of the latter’s voice, the girl started, raised her head and, in the act of looking round, swept together some scattered sheets of note-paper and shut her blotting-book.

“Henrietta!” she cried, and thereupon sprang up; the lady, meanwhile, advancing towards her with outstretched arms, which enclosed her in a fragrant embrace.

“Yes–nothing less than Henrietta”–imprinting light kisses on either cheek. “But I see you are busy writing letters, dearest child. I am in the way–I interrupt you?”

And, as Damaris hastily denied that such was the case:

“Ah! but I do,” she repeated. “I have no right to dart in on you thus _a l’improviste_. It is hardly treating such an impressive young person–absolutely I believe you have grown since I saw you last!–yes, you are taller, darling child–handsomer than ever, and a tiny bit alarming too–what have you been doing with, or to, or by yourself?–Treating her–the impressive young person, I mean–with proper respect. But it was such a chance. I learnt that you were alone”–A fib, alas! on Henrietta’s part.–“And I couldn’t resist coming. I so longed to have you, like this, all to myself. What an eternity since we met!–For me a wearing, ageing eternity. The duties of a sick-room are so horribly anxious, yet so deadening in their repetition of ignoble details. I could not go through with them, honestly I could not–though I realize it is a damning admission for a woman to make–if it wasn’t that I am rather absurdly attached to what good Dr. Stewart-Walker persists in calling ‘our patient.’ Is not that enough in itself?–To fall from all normal titles and dignities and become merely a patient? No, joking apart, only affection makes nursing in any degree endurable to me. Without its saving grace the whole business would be too unpardonably sordid.”

She pursed up her lips, and shivered her graceful shoulders with the neatest exposition of delicate distaste.

“And too gross. But one must face and accept the pathetic risk of being eventually converted in _garde malade_ thus, if one chooses to marry a man considerably older than oneself. It is a mistake. I say so though I committed it with my eyes open. I was betrayed by my affection.”

As she finished speaking Henrietta stepped across to the sofa and sat down. The airy perfection of her appearance lent point to the plaintive character of this concluding sentence. The hot day, the summer costume–possibly the shaded room also–combined to strip away a good ten years from her record. Any hardness, any faint sense of annoyance, which Damaris experienced at the abruptness of her guest’s intrusion melted. Henrietta in her existing aspect, her existing mood proved irresistible. Our tender-hearted maiden was charmed by her and coerced.

“But General Frayling is better, isn’t he?” she asked, also taking her place upon the sofa. “You are not any longer in any serious anxiety about him, darling Henrietta? All danger is past?”

“Oh, yes–he is better of course, or how could I be here? But I have received a shock that makes me dread the future.”

Which was true, though in a sense other than that in which her hearer comprehended it. For the studious atmosphere of the room reacted upon Henrietta, as did its many silent testimonies to Sir Charles Verity’s constant habitation. This was his workshop. She felt acutely conscious of him here, nearer to him in idea and in sentiment than for many years past. The fact that he did still work, sought new fields to conquer, excited both her admiration and her regrets. He disdained to be laid on the shelf, got calmly and forcefully down off the shelf and spent his energies in fresh undertakings. Once upon a time she posed as his Egeria, fancying herself vastly in the part. During the Egerian period she lived at a higher intellectual and emotional level than ever before or since, exerting every particle of brain she possessed to maintain that level. The petty interests of her present existence, still more, perhaps, the poor odd and end of a yellow little General in his infinitely futile sick-bed, shrank to a desolating insufficiency. Surely she was worthy–had, anyway, once been worthy–of better things than that? The lavender dress, notwithstanding its still radiantly uncrumpled condition, came near losing its spell. No longer did she trust in it as in shining armour. Her humour soured. She instinctively inclined to revenge herself upon the nearest sentient object available–namely to stick pins into Damaris.

“Sweetest child,” she said, “you can’t imagine how much this room means to me through its association with your father’s wonderful book.–Oh! yes, I know a lot about the book. Colonel Carteret has not failed to advertise his acquaintance with it. But, what have I said?”

For at mention of that gentleman’s name Damaris, so she fancied, changed colour, the bloom fading upon her cheeks, while her glance became reserved, at once proud and slightly anxious.

“Is it forbidden to mention the wonderful book at this stage of its development? Though even if it were,” she added, with a rather impish laugh, looking down at and fingering the little bunch of trinkets, attached to a long gold chain, which rested in her lap–“Carteret would hardly succeed in holding his peace. Speak of everything, sooner or later, he must.”

She felt rather than saw Damaris’ figure grow rigid.

“Have you ever detected that small weakness in him? But probably not. He keeps overflowings for the elder members of his acquaintance, and in the case of the younger ones does exercise some caution. Ah! yes, I’ve no doubt he seems to you a model of discretion. Yet, in point of fact, when you’ve known him as long as I, you will have discovered he is a more than sufficiently extensive sieve.”

Then, fearing she had gone rather far, since Damaris remained rigid and silent:

“Not a malicious sieve,” the lady hastened to add, raising her eyes. “I don’t imply that for a single instant. On the contrary I incline to believe that his attitude of universal benevolence is to blame for this inclination to gossip. It is so great, so all-enclosing, that I can’t help feeling it blunts his sense of right and wrong to some extent. He is the least censorious of men and therefore–though it may sound cynical to say so–I don’t entirely trust his judgment. He is too ready to make excuses for everyone.–But, my precious child, what’s the matter? What makes you look so terrifically solemn and severe?”

And playfully she put her hand under the girl’s chin, drawing the grave face towards her, smilingly studying, then lightly and daintily kissing it. In the course of this affectionate interlude, the string of pearls round Damaris’ throat, until now hidden by the V-shaped collar of her soft lawn shirt, caught Henrietta’s eye. Their size, lustre and worth came near extracting a veritable shriek of enquiry and jealous admiration from her. But with praiseworthy promptitude she stifled her astonishment and now really rampant curiosity. Damaris but half yielded to her blandishments. She must cajole more successfully before venturing to request explanation. Therefore she cried, soothingly, coaxfully:

“There–there–descend from those imposing heights of solemnity, or upon my word you will make me think my poor little visit displeases and bores you. That would be peculiarly grievous to me, since it is, in all probability, my last.”

“Your last?” Damaris exclaimed.

“Yes, darling child, the fiat, alas! has gone forth. We are ordered away and start for Cotteret-les-Bains in a day or two. Dr. Stewart-Walker considers the move imperative on account of General Frayling’s health. This was only settled yesterday. Marshall would have rushed here to tell you; but I forbade him. I felt I must tell you myself. I confess it is a blow to me. Our tenancy of the Pavilion expires at the end of the month; but I proposed asking for an extension, and, if that failed, taking up our abode at the hotel for a while. To me Dr. Stewart-Walker’s orders come as a bitter disappointment, for I counted on remaining until Easter–remaining just as long as you and Sir Charles and Carteret remained, in fact.”

Here the bloom, far from further extinction, warmed to a lovely blush. Henrietta’s curiosity craned its naughty neck standing on tiptoe. But, the blush notwithstanding, Damaris looked at her with such sincerity of quickening affection and of sympathy that she again postponed cross-examination.

For over this piece of news our maiden could–in its superficial aspects at all events–lament in perfect good faith. She proceeded to do so, eagerly embracing the opportunity to offer thanks and praise. All Henrietta’s merits sprang into convincing evidence. Had not her hospitality been unstinted–the whole English colony had cause to mourn.

“But for you they’d still be staring at one another, bristling like so many strange dogs,” Damaris said. “And you smoothed them all down so divertingly. Oh! you were beautifully clever in that. It was a lesson in the art of the complete hostess. While, as for me, Henrietta, you’ve simply spoiled me. I can never thank you enough. Think of the amusements past counting you planned for me, the excursions you’ve let me share with you–our delicious drives, and above all my coming-out dance.”

Whereat Mrs. Frayling disclaimingly shook her very pretty head.

“In pleasing you I have merely pleased myself, dearest, so in that there’s no merit.–Though I do plead guilty to but languid enthusiasm for girls of your age as a rule. Their conversation and opinions are liable to set my teeth a good deal on edge. I have small patience, I’m afraid, at the disposal of feminine beings at once so omniscient and so alarmingly unripe.–But you see, a certain downy owl, with saucer eyes and fierce little beak, won my heart by its beguiling ways a dozen years ago.”

“Darling Henrietta!” Damaris softly murmured; and, transported by sentiment to that earlier date when the said darling Henrietta commanded her unqualified adoration, began playing with the well-remembered bunch of trinkets depending from the long gold chain the lady wore about her neck.

Watching her, Mrs. Frayling sighed.

“Ah, my child, the thought of you is inextricably joined to other thoughts upon which I should be far wiser not to dwell–far wiser to put from me and forget–only they are stronger than I am–and I can’t.”

There was a ring of honest human feeling in Henrietta Frayling’s voice for once.

“No, no–I am more justly an object of commiseration than anyone I leave behind me at St. Augustin.”

And again she laughed, not impishly, but with a hardness altogether astonishing to her auditor.

“Think,” she cried, “of my sorry fate!–Not only a wretchedly ailing husband on my hands, needing attention day and night, but a wretchedly disconsolate young lover as well. For poor Marshall will be inconsolable–only too clearly do I foresee that.–Picture what a pair for one’s portion week in and week out!–Whereas you, enviable being, are sure of the most inspiring society. Everything in this quiet room”–

She indicated the laden writing-table with a quick, flitting gesture.

“So refreshingly removed from the ordinary banal hotel _salon_–is eloquent of the absorbing, far-reaching pursuits and interests amongst which you live. Who could ask a higher privilege than to share your father’s work, to be his companion and amanuensis?”–She paused, as emphasising the point, and then mockingly threw off–“Plus the smart _beau sabreur_ Carteret, as devoted bodyguard and escort, whenever you are not on duty. To few women of your age, or indeed of any age, is Fortune so indulgent a fairy godmother as that!”

Astonished and slightly resentful at the sharpness of her guest’s unprovoked onslaught, Damaris had dropped the little bunch of trinkets and backed into her corner of the sofa.

“Colonel Carteret has gone,” she said coldly, rather irrelevantly, the statement drawn from her by a vague instinct of self-defence.

“Gone!” Henrietta echoed, with equal irrelevance. For she was singularly discomposed.

“Yes, he started for England last night. But you must know that already, Henrietta. He wrote to you–he told me so himself.”

But having once committed herself by use of a word implying ignorance, Mrs. Frayling could hardly do otherwise than continue the deception. Explanation would be too awkward a business. The chances of detection, moreover, were infinitesimal. There were things she meant to say which would sound far more unstudied and obvious could she keep up the fiction of ignorance. This, quickly realizing, she again and more flagrantly fibbed. The voluntary lie acts as a tonic giving you–for the moment at least–most comforting conceit of your own courage and perspicacity. And Henrietta just now stood in need of a tonic. She had been strangely overcome by the force of her own emotion–an accident which rarely happened to her and which she very cordially detested when it did.

“Someone must have omitted to post the letter, then,” she said, with a suitable air of annoyance. “How exceedingly careless–unless it has not been sent over from the hotel to the Pavilion. I have been obliged, more than once, to complain of the hall porter’s very casual delivery of my letters. I will make enquiries directly, if I don’t find it on my return. But this is all by the way. Tell me, dearest child, what is the reason of Colonel Carteret’s leaving so suddenly? Is it not surprisingly unexpected?”

“He was wanted at home on business of some sort,” Damaris replied, as she felt a little lamely. She was displeased, worried by Henrietta. It was difficult to choose her words. “He has been away for a long time, you see. I think he has been beautifully unselfish in giving up so much of his time to us.”

“Do you?” Henrietta enquired with meaning. “If I remember right we discussed that point once before. I can repeat now what I then told you, with even firmer assurance, namely, that he struck me as remarkably well pleased with himself and his surroundings and generally content.”

“Of course he loves being with my father,” Damaris hastened to put in, having no wish to enlarge on the topic suggested by the above speech.

“Of course. Who doesn’t, or rather who wouldn’t were they sufficiently fortunate to have the chance. But come–to be honest–_je me demande_, is it exclusively Sir Charles whom Carteret loves to be with?”

And as she spoke, Henrietta bent forward from the waist, her dainty lavender skirts spread out on the faded blue of the sofa mattress, the contours of her dainty lavender bodice in fine relief against the faded blue cushions, her whole person, in the subdued light, bright and apparently fragile as some delicate toy of spun glass. She put out her hand, and lightly, mischievously, touched the string of pearls encircling the girl’s throat.

“And what is the meaning of these, then,” she asked, “you sweetly deceiving little puss!”

It was cleverly done, she flattered herself. She asserted nothing, implied much, putting the onus of admission or denial upon Damaris. The answer came with grave and unhesitating directness.

“Colonel Carteret gave them to me.”

“So I imagined. They are the exquisite fruit, aren’t they, of the little expedition by train of two days ago?”

Damaris’ temper rose, but so did her protective instinct. For that journey to Marseilles, connected as it was with the dear secret of Darcy Faircloth, did not admit of investigation by Henrietta.

“About where and when Colonel Carteret may have got them for me, I know nothing,” she returned. “He left them to be given to me last night after he went.”

She unclasped the necklace.

“They are very lovely pearls, aren’t they? Pray look at them if you care to, Henrietta,” she said.

Thus at once invited and repulsed–for that it amounted to a repulse she could not but acknowledge–Mrs. Frayling advised herself a temporary retreat might be advisable. She therefore discoursed brightly concerning pearls and suchlike costly frivolities. Inwardly covetousness consumed her, since she possessed no personal ornament of even approximate value.

The conversation drifted. She learned the fact of Miss Felicia’s projected arrival, and deplored her own approaching exile the less. Only once, long ago, had she encountered Miss Verity. The memory afforded her no satisfaction, for that lady’s peculiar brand of good breeding and–as she qualified it–imbecility, did not appeal to her in the least. There was matter of thankfulness, therefore, she had not elected to join Sir Charles and Damaris sooner. She would undoubtedly have proved a most tiresome and impeding element. Unless–here Henrietta’s mind darted–unless she happened to take a fancy to Marshall. Blameless spinsters, of her uncertain age and of many enthusiasms, did not infrequently very warmly take to him–in plain English, fell over head and ears in love with him, poor things, though without knowing it, their critical faculty being conspicuous by its absence where their own hearts were concerned.–By the way that was an idea!–Swiftly Henrietta reviewed the possibilities it suggested.–As an ally, an auxiliary, Miss Felicia might be well worth cultivation. Would it not be diplomatic to let Marshall stay on at the Hotel de la Plage by himself for a week or so? The conquest of Miss Felicia might facilitate another conquest on which her–Henrietta’s–mind was set. For such mature enamoured virgins, as she reflected, are almost ludicrously selfless. To ensure the