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  • 1919
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appeared to her an offence against corporate humanity, an actual however fractional lowering of the temperature of universal charity. The loss to one was a loss to all–in some sort. Therefore did she run to adjust, to smooth, to palliate.

Charles was away–it so neatly happened–and Theresa Bilson here, not, it must be owned, altogether without Miss Felicia’s connivance. If darling Damaris still was possessed of a hatchet she must clearly be given, this opportunity to bury it. To have that weapon safe underground would be, from every point of view, so very much nicer.

At this point in her meditations beneath the trees bordering the carriage drive, their bare tops swaying in the breeze and bright sunshine, Miss Felicia fell to contrasting the present exhilarating morning with that dismally rainy one, just over three years ago, when–regardless of her sister, Mrs. Cowden’s remonstrances–she had come here from Paulton Lacy in response to Theresa’s signals of distress. Just at the elbow of the drive, so she remembered, she had met a quite astonishingly good-looking young man, brown-gold bearded, his sou’wester and oilskins shining with wet. She vaguely recalled some talk about him with her brother, Sir Charles, afterwards during luncheon.–What was it?–Oh! yes, of course, it was he who had rescued Damaris when she was lost out on the Bar, and brought her home down the tide-river by boat. She had often wanted to know more about him, for he struck her at the time as quite out of the common, quite remarkably attractive. But on the only occasion since when she had mentioned the subject, Damaris drew in her horns and became curiously uncommunicative. It was all connected, of course, with the dear girl’s illness and the disagreeable episode of Theresa’s dismissal.–How all the more satisfactory, then, that the Theresa business, in any case, was at this very hour in process of being set right! Miss Felicia had advised Theresa how to act–to speak to Damaris quite naturally and affectionately, taking her good-will for granted. Damaris would be charming to her, she felt convinced.

Felicia Verity held the fronts of her long blue coat together, since the wind sported with them rather roughly, and went forward with her quick, wavering gait.

It was a pity Damaris did not marry she sometimes felt. Of course, Charles would miss her quite terribly. Their love for one another was so delightful, so really unique. On his account she was glad.–And yet–with a sigh, while the colour in her thin cheeks heightened a little–lacking marriage a woman’s life is rather incomplete. Not that she herself had reason for complaint, with all the affection showered upon her! The last two years, in particular, had been abundantly blessed thanks to Charles and Damaris. She admired them, dear people, with all her warm heart and felt very grateful to them.

Here it should be registered, in passing, that the resilience of Felicia Verity’s inherent good-breeding saved her gratitude from any charge of grovelling, as it saved her many enthusiasms from any charge of sloppiness. Both, if exaggerated, still stood squarely, even gallantly upon their feet.

Her mind switched back to the ever fertile question of the married and the single state. She often wondered why Charles never espoused a second wife. He would have liked a son surely? But then, were it possible to find a fault in him, it would be that of a little coldness, a little loftiness in his attitude towards women. He was too far above them in intellect and experience, she supposed, and through all the remarkable military commands he had held, administrative posts he had occupied, quite to come down to their level. In some ways Damaris was very like him–clever, lofty too at moments. Possibly this accounted for her apparent indifference to affairs of the heart and to lovers. Anyhow, she had ample time before her still in relation to all that.

Miss Felicia passed into the road. About fifty yards distant she saw the servants–Mary, Mrs. Cooper and Patch–standing close together in a quaint, solemn, little bunch. The two small Patches circled round the said bunch, patiently expectant, not being admitted evidently to whatever deliberations their elders and betters had in hand.

Felicia Verity’s relations with the servants were invariably excellent. Yet, finding them in mufti, outside the boundaries of her brother’s demesne thus, she was conscious of a certain modesty, hesitating alike to intrude upon their confabulations and to pass onward without a trifle amiable of talk. She advanced, smiling, nodded to the two women, then–

“A delicious day, isn’t it, Patch?” she said, adding, for lack of a more pertinent remark–“What kind of sermon did the new curate, Mr. Sawyer, give you?–A good one, I hope?”

A pause followed this guileless question, during which Mary looked on the ground, Mrs. Cooper murmured: “Oh! dear, oh, dear!” under her breath, and Patch swallowed visibly before finding voice to reply:

“One, I regret to say, ma’am, he never ought to have preached.”

“Poor young man!” she laughed it off. “You’re a terribly severe critic, I’m afraid, Patch. Probably he was nervous.”

“And reason enough. You might think Satan himself stood at his elbow, the wicked things he said.”

This statement, coming from the mild and cow-like Mrs. Cooper, caused Felicia Verity the liveliest surprise. She glanced enquiringly from one to the other of the little group, reading constraint and hardly repressed excitement in the countenance of each. Their aspect and behaviour struck her, in fact, as singular to the point of alarm.

“Mary,” she asked, a trifle breathlessly, “has anything happened? Where is Miss Damaris?”

“Hadn’t she got back to The Hard, ma’am, before you came out?”

“No–why should she? You and the other servants always reach home first.”

“Miss Damaris went out before the rest,” Mrs. Cooper broke forth in dolorous widowed accents. “And no wonder, pore dear young lady, was it, Mr. Patch? My heart bled for her, ma’am, that it did.”

Miss Felicia, gentle and eager, so pathetically resembling yet not resembling her famous brother, grew autocratic, stern as him almost, for once.

“And you allowed Miss Damaris to leave church alone–she felt unwell, I suppose–none of you accompanied her? I don’t understand it at all,” she said.

“Young Captain Faircloth went out with Miss Damaris. She wished it, ma’am,” Mary declared, heated and resentful at the unmerited rebuke. “She as good as called to him to come and take her out of church. It wasn’t for us to interfere, so we held back.”

“Captain Faircloth? But this becomes more and more extraordinary! Who is Captain Faircloth?”

“Ah! there you touch it, you must excuse my saying, ma’am.” Mrs. Cooper gasped.

But at this juncture, Patch, rising to the height of masculine responsibility, flung himself gallantly–and how unwillingly–into the breach. He was wounded in his respect and respectability alike, wounded for the honour of the family whom he had so long and faithfully served. He was fairly cut to the quick–while these three females merely darkened judgment by talking all at cross purposes and all at once. Never had the solid, honest coachman found himself in a tighter or, for that matter, in anything like so tight a place. But, looking in the direction of the village, black of clothing, heavy of walk and figure, he espied, as he trusted, approaching help.

“If you please, ma’am,” he said, touching his black bowler as he spoke, “I see Canon Horniblow coming along the road. I think it would be more suitable for him to give you an account of what has passed. He’ll know how to put it with–with the least unpleasantness to all parties. It isn’t our place–Mrs. Cooper’s, Mary’s, or mine–if you’ll pardon my making so free with my opinion, to mention any more of what’s took place.”

Felicia Verity, now thoroughly frightened, darted forward. The fronts of her blue coat again flew apart, and that rich garment stood out in a prodigious frill around and behind her from the waist, as she leaned on the wind, almost running in her agitation and haste.

“My dear Canon,” she cried, “I am in such anxiety. I learn something has happened to my niece, who I had come to meet. Our good servants are so distractingly mysterious. They refer me to you. Pray relieve my uncertainty and suspense.”

But, even while she spoke, Miss Felicia’s anxiety deepened, for the kindly, easy-going clergyman appeared to suffer, like the servants, from some uncommon shock. His large fleshy nose and somewhat pendulous cheeks were a mottled, purplish red. Anger and deprecation struggled in his glance.

“I was on my way to The Hard,” he began, “to express my regrets–offer my apologies would hardly be too strong a phrase–to your niece, Miss Verity, and to yourself. For I felt compelled, without any delay, to dissociate myself from the intemperate procedure of my colleague–of my curate. He has used, or rather misused, his official position, has grievously misused the privileges of the pulpit–the pulpit of our parish church–to attack the reputation of private individuals and resuscitate long-buried scandals.”

The speaker was, unquestionably, greatly distressed. Miss Felicia, though more than ever bewildered, felt for him warmly. It pained her excessively to observe how his large hands clasped and unclasped, how his loose lips worked.

“Let me assure you,” he went on, “though I trust that is superfluous–“

“I am certain it is, dear Dr. Horniblow,” she feelingly declared.

“Thanks,” he replied. “You are most kind, most indulgent to me, Miss Verity.–Superfluous, I would say, to assure you that my colleague adopted this deplorable course without my knowledge or sanction. He sprang it on me like a bomb-shell. As a Christian my conscience, as a gentleman my sense of fair play, condemns his action.”

“Yes–yes–I sympathize.–I am convinced you are incapable of any indiscretion, any unkindness, in the pulpit or out of it. But why, my dear Canon, apologize to us? How can this unfortunate sermon affect me or my niece? How can the scandal you hint at in any respect concern us?”

“Because,” he began, that mottling of purple increasingly deforming his amiable face.–And there words failed him, incontinently he stuck. He detested strong language, but–heavens and earth–how could he put it to her, as she gazed at him with startled, candid eyes, innocent of guile as those of a babe? Only too certainly no word had reached her of the truth. The good man groaned in spirit for, like Patch, he found himself in a place of quite unexampled tightness, and with no hope of shunting the immense discomfort of it on to alien shoulders such as had been granted the happier Patch.

“Because,” he began again, only to suffer renewed agony of wordlessness. In desperation he shifted his ground.

“You have heard, perhaps, that your niece, Miss Damaris, left the church before the conclusion of the sermon? I do not blame her”–

He waved a fatherly hand. Miss Verity acquiesced.

“Or rather was led out by–by Captain Faircloth–a young officer in the mercantile marine, whose abilities and successful advance in his profession this village has every reason to respect.”

He broke off.

“Let us walk on towards The Hard. Pray let us walk on.–Has no rumour ever reached you, Miss Verity, regarding this young man?”

The wildest ideas flitted through Miss Felicia’s brain.

–The figure in shiny oilskins–yet preposterous, surely?–After all, an affair of the heart–misplaced affection–Damaris?–Did this account for the apparent indifference?

–How intensely interesting; yet how unwise.–How–but she must keep her own counsel. The wind, now at her back, glued the blue coat inconveniently against and even between her legs, unceremoniously whisking her forward.

“Rumours–oh, none,” she protested.

“None?” he echoed despairingly. “Pray let us walk on.”

A foolish urgency on his part this, she felt, since she was already almost on the run.

“None that, by birth, Captain Faircloth is somewhat nearly related to your family–to your–your brother, Sir Charles, in fact?”

There, the incubus was off his straining chest at last! He felt easier, capable of manipulating the situation to some extent, smoothing down its rather terrible ascerbities.

“Such connections do,” he hastened to add, “as we must regretfully admit, exist even in the highest, the most exalted circles. Irregularities of youth, doubtlessly deeply repented of. I repeat sins of youth, at which only the sinless–and they, alas! to the shame of my sex are lamentably few–can be qualified to cast a stone.–You, you follow me?”

“You mean me to understand”–

“Yes, yes–exactly so–to understand that this young man is reputed to be”–

“Thank you, my dear Canon–thank you,” Felicia Verity here interposed quickly, yet with much simple dignity, for on a sudden she became singularly unflurried and composed.

“I do, I believe, follow you,” she continued.–“You have discharged your difficult mission with a delicacy and consideration for which I am grateful; but I am unequal to discussing the subject in further detail just now.–To me, you know, my brother is above criticism. Whatever incidents may–may belong to former years, I accept without cavil or question, in silence–dear Dr. Horniblow–in silence. His wishes upon this matter–should he care to confide them to me–and those of my niece, will dictate my conduct to–towards my nephew, Captain Faircloth.–Believe me, in all sincerity, I thank you. I am very much indebted to you for the information you have communicated to me. It simplifies my position. And now,” she gave him her hand, “will you pardon my asking you to leave me?”

Walking slowly–for he felt played out, pretty thoroughly done for, as he put it, and beat–back to the vicarage and his belated Sunday dinner:–

“And of such are the Kingdom of Heaven,” James Horniblow said to himself–perhaps truly.

He also said other things, distinctly other things, in which occurred the name of Reginald Sawyer whose days as curate of Deadham were numbered. If he did not resign voluntarily, well then, pressure must, very certainly, be employed to make him resign.

Meanwhile that blue-coated, virginal member of the Kingdom of Heaven sped homeward at the top of her speed. She was conscious of immense upheaval. Never had she felt so alive, so on the spot. The portals of highest drama swung wide before her. She hastened to enter and pour forth the abounding treasures of her sympathy at the feet of the actors in this most marvellous piece. That her own part in it must be insignificant, probably not even a speaking one, troubled her not the least. She was out for them, not for herself. It was, also, characteristic of Miss Felicia that she felt in nowise shocked. Not the ethical, still less the social aspects of the drama affected her, but only its human ones. These dear people had suffered, and she hadn’t known it. They suffered still. She enclosed them in arms of compassion.–If to the pure all things are pure, Felicia Verity’s purity at this juncture radiantly stood the test. And that, not through puritanical shutting of the eyes or juggling with fact. As she declared to Canon Horniblow, she accepted the incident without question or cavil–for her brother. For herself, any possibility of stepping off the narrow path of virtue, and exploring the alluring, fragrant thickets disposed to left of it and to right, had never, ever so distantly, occurred to her.

She arrived at The Hard with a bright colour and beating heart. Crossed the hall and waited at the drawing-room door. A man’s voice was audible within, low-toned and grave, but very pleasant. It reminded her curiously of Charles–Charles long ago on leave from India, lightening the heavy conventionalities of Canton Magna with his brilliant, enigmatic, and–to her–all too fugitive presence. Harriet had never really appreciated Charles–though she was dazzled by his fame at intervals–didn’t really appreciate him to this day. Well, the loss was hers and the gain indubitably Felicia’s, since the elder sister’s obtuseness had left the younger sister a free field.–At thought of which Felicia softly laughed.

Again she listened to the man’s voice–her brother Charles’s delightful young voice. It brought back the glamour of her girlhood, of other voices which had mingled with his, of dances, picnics, cricket matches, days with the hounds. She felt strangely moved, transported; also strangely shy–so that she debated retirement. Did not, of course, retire, but went into the drawing-room with a gentle rush, a dart between the stumpy pillars.

“I hoped that I should find you both,” she said. “Yes,” to Damaris’ solemn and enquiring eyes–“I happened to meet our good, kind Canon and have a little conversation with him. I hope”–to Faircloth–“you and I may come to know one another better, know one another as friends. You are not going?–No, indeed, you must stay to luncheon. It would grieve me–and I think would grieve my brother Charles also, if you refused to break bread in this house.”

CHAPTER V

DEALING WITH EMBLEMS, OMENS AND DEMONSTRATIONS

Deadham resembled most country parishes in this, that, while revelling in internal dissensions, when attacked from without its inhabitants promptly scrapped every vendetta and, for the time being, stood back to back against the world.

As one consequence of such parochial solidarity, the village gentry set in a steady stream towards The Hard on the Monday afternoon following the historic Sunday already chronicled. Commander and Mrs. Battye called. Captain and Mrs. Taylor called, bringing with them their daughter Louisa, a tight-lipped, well instructed High School mistress, of whom her parents stood–one couldn’t but notice it–most wholesomely in awe. As is the youthful cuckoo in the nest of the hedge sparrow, so was Louisa Taylor to the authors of her being.–Mrs. Horniblow called also, flanked by her two girls, May and Doris–plain, thick-set, energetic, well-meaning young persons, whom their shrewd mother loved, sheltered, rallied, and cherished, while perfectly aware of their limitations as to beauty and to brains. Immediately behind her slipped in Mrs. Cripps. The doctor abstained, conscious of having put a match to the fuse which had exploded yesterday’s astounding homiletic torpedo. The whole affair irritated him to the point of detestable ill-temper. Still, if only to throw dust in the public eye, the house of Cripps must be represented. He therefore deputed the job–like so many another ungrateful one–to his forlorn-looking and red-eyed spouse. This vote of confidence, if somewhat crudely proposed and seconded, was still so evidently sincere and kindly meant that Damaris and Miss Felicia felt constrained to accept it in good part.

Conversation ran upon the weather, the crops, the migratory wild fowl now peopling the Haven, the Royal Family–invariably a favourite topic this, in genteel circles furthest removed from the throne–in anecdotes of servants and of pets interspersed with protests against the rise in butcher Cleave’s prices, the dullness of the newspapers and the surprising scarcity of eggs.–Ran on any and every subject, in short, save that of sermons preached by curates enamoured of the Decalogue.

Alone–saving and excepting Dr. Cripps–did the Miss Minetts fail to put in an appearance. This of necessity, since had not they, figuratively speaking, warmed the viper in their bosoms, cradled the assassin upon their hearth? They were further handicapped, in respect of any demonstration, by the fact of Theresa Bilson’s presence in their midst. Owing to the general combustion, Miss Felicia and the Peace Angel’s joint mission had gone by the wall. Theresa was still an exile from The Hard, and doomed to remain so as the event proved. With that remarkable power–not uncommon in her sex–of transmuting fact, granted the healing hand of time, from defeat to personal advantage, she had converted her repulse by Sir Charles Verity into a legend of quite flattering quality. She had left The Hard because–But–

“She must not be asked to give chapter and verse. The position had been _extremely_ delicate. Even now she could barely speak of it–she had gone through too much. To be more explicit”–she bridled–“would trench upon the immodest, almost. But just _this_ she _could_ say–she withdrew from The Hard three years ago, because she saw withdrawal would be best for _others_. Their peace of mind had been her object.”

The above guarded confidences the Miss Minetts, hanging upon her lips, received with devout admiration and fully believed. And, the best of it was, Theresa had come by now, thanks to frequent rehearsal, fully to believe this version herself. At the present juncture it had its convenience, since she could declare her allegiance to her former employer unimpaired. Thereby was she at liberty to join in the local condemnation of Reginald Sawyer and his sermon. She did so with an assumption of elegant, if slightly hysterical, omniscience. This was not without its practical side. She regretted her inability to meet him at meals. In consequence the Miss Minetts proposed he should be served in his own sitting-room, until such time as it suited him to find another place of residence than the Grey House. For their allegiance went on all fours with Theresa’s. It was also unimpaired. Propriety had been outraged on every hand; matters, heretofore deemed unmentionable, rushed into the forefront of knowledge and conversation; yet never had they actually enjoyed themselves so greatly. The sense of being a storm centre–inasmuch as they harboured the viper assassin–produced in them an unexampled militancy. Latent sex-antagonism revealed itself. The man, by common consent was down; and, being down, the Miss Minetts jumped on him, pounded him, if terms so vulgar are permissible in respect for ladies so refined. For every sin of omission, committed against their womanhood by the members of his sex, they made him scapegoat–unconsciously it is true, but effectively none the less. From being his slaves they became his tormentors. Never was young fellow more taken aback. Such revulsions of human feeling are instructive–deplorable or diverting according as you view it.

Meanwhile that portion of the local gentry aforesaid, whom awkward personal predicament–as in the case of Dr. Cripps and the Miss Minetts–did not preclude from visiting The Hard, having called early on Monday afternoon also left early, being anxious to prove their civility of purest water, untainted by self-seeking, by ulterior greed of tea and cakes. It followed that Damaris found herself relieved of their somewhat embarrassed, though kindly and well-intentioned, presence before sunset. And of this she was glad, since the afternoon had been fruitful of interests far more intimate and vital in character.

While Captain and Mrs. Taylor, with their highly superior offspring Louisa, still held the floor, Damaris received a telegram from her father announcing a change of plans involving his immediate return.

“Send to meet the seven-thirty at Marychurch,” so the pink paper instructed her. “Carteret comes with me. When we arrive will explain.”

On reception of the above, her first thought was of the letter forwarded yesterday from the India Office, bearing the signature of the Secretary of State. And close on the heels of that thought, looking over its shoulder, indeed, in the effort–which she resisted–to claim priority, was the thought of the dear man with the blue eyes about to be a guest, once again, under this roof. This gave her a little thrill, a little gasp, wrapping her away to the borders of sad inattention to Louisa Taylor’s somewhat academic discourse.–The girl’s English was altogether too grammatical for entire good-breeding. In that how very far away from Carteret’s!–Damaris tried to range herself with present company. But the man with the blue eyes indubitably held the centre of the stage. She wore the pearls to-day he gave her at St. Augustin. In what spirit did he come?–She hoped in the earlier one, that of the time when she so completely trusted him. For his counsel, dared she claim it in that earlier spirit, would be of inestimable value just now. She so badly needed someone in authority to advise with as to the events of yesterday, both in their malign and their beneficent aspects. Aunt Felicia had risen to the height of her capacity–dear thing, had been exquisite; but she would obey orders rather than issue them. Her office was not to lead, but rather to be led. And that the events of yesterday opened a new phase of her own and Faircloth’s relation to one another appeared beyond dispute. Where exactly did the curve of duty towards her father touch that relation, run parallel with or intersect it? She felt perplexed.

After tea, Miss Felicia having vanished on some affair of her own–Damaris asked no question, but supposed it not unconnected with the now, since Sir Charles was about to return, permanently exiled Theresa–our maiden went upstairs, in the tender evening light, on domestic cares intent. She wished to assure herself that the chintz bedroom, opening off the main landing and overlooking the lawn and front garden, had been duly made ready for Colonel Carteret. She took a somewhat wistful pleasure in silently ministering to his possible small needs in the matter of sufficient wealth of towels, candles and soap. She lengthened out the process. Lingered, rearranged the ornaments upon the mantelpiece, the bunch of sweet-leafed geranium–as yet unshrivelled by frost–and belated roses, placed in a vase upon the toilet-table.

In so doing she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, and paused, studying it. Her looks were not at their best. She was wan.–That might, in part, be owing to the waning light. Around her eyes were dark circles, making them appear unnaturally large and solemn. So yesterday’s emotions had left their mark! The nervous strain had been considerable and she showed it. One cannot drink the cup of shame, however undeserved, with physical any more than with mental impunity. She still felt a little shattered, but hoped neither her father nor Carteret would remark her plight. If the whole affair of yesterday could, in its objectionable aspects, be kept from Sir Charles’s knowledge she would be infinitely glad. And why shouldn’t it be? Without permission, Aunt Felicia certainly would not tell. Neither would the servants. The parish had given testimony, this afternoon, both of its good faith and its discretion.

So much for the objectionable side of the matter. But there was another side, far from objectionable, beautiful in sentiment and in promise. And, still viewing her reflection in the glass, she saw her eyes lose their solemnity, lighten with a smile her lips repeated. This was where Carteret’s advice would be of so great value. How much ought she to tell her father of all that?

For, from amidst the shame, the anger, the strain and effort, Faircloth showed, to her thinking, triumphant, satisfying alike to her affection and her taste. In no respect would she have asked him other than he was.

She moved across to the window, and sat down there, looking out over the garden and battery, with its little cannons, to the Bar, and sea beyond which melted into the dim primrose and silver of the horizon. Such colour as existed was soft, soothing, the colour of a world of dreams, of subdued and voiceless fancies. It was harmonious, restful as an accompaniment to vision.–Damaris let it lap against her consciousness, encircling, supporting this, as water laps, also encircling and supporting–while caressing, mysteriously whispering against a boat’s side–a boat lying at its moorings, swinging gently upon an even keel.–And her vision was of Faircloth, exclusively of him, just now.

For he had stayed to luncheon yesterday. A meal, to him in a sense sacred, as being the first eaten by him in his father’s house. So graciously invited, how, indeed, could he do otherwise than stay? And, the initial strangeness, the inherent wonder of that sacred character wearing off, he found voice and talked not without eloquence. Talked of his proper element, the sea, gaining ease and self-possession from the magnitude and manifold enchantments of his theme.

To him, as to all true-born sailor-men–so Damaris divined–the world is made of water, with but accident of land. Impeding, inconvenient accident at that, too often blocking the passage across or through, and constraining you to steer a foolishly, really quite inordinately divergent course. Under this obstructive head the two Americas offend direfully, sprawling their united strength wellnigh from pole to pole. The piercing of their central isthmus promised some mitigation of this impertinence of emergent matter; though whether in his, the speaker’s lifetime, remained–so he took it–open to doubt. The “roaring forties,” and grim blizzard-ridden Fuegian Straits would long continue, as he feared, to bar the way to the Pacific. Not that his personal fancy favoured West so much as East. Not into the sunset but into the sunrising did he love to sail some goodly black-hulled ship.–And as he talked, more especially at his mention of this eastward voyaging, those manifold enchantments of his calling stirred Damaris’ imagination, making her eyes bright as the fabled eyes of danger, and fathomless as well.

But the best came later. For, Mary having served coffee, Miss Felicia, making an excuse of letters to be written, with pretty tact left them to themselves. And Faircloth, returning after closing the door behind her fluttering, gently eager figure, paused behind Damaris’ chair.–Jacobean, cane-panelled, with high-carved back and arms to it. Thomas Clarkson Verity had unquestionably a nice taste in furniture.–The young sea-captain rested his right hand on the dark terminal scroll-work, and bending down, laid his left hand upon Damaris’ hand, covering it as it lay on the white damask table-cloth.

“Have I done what I should, and left undone what I shouldn’t do, my dear and lovely sister?” he asked her, half-laughing and half-abashed. “It’s a tricky business being here, you know–to put it no higher than that. And it might, with truth, be put far higher. I get so horribly fearful of letting you down in any way–however trivial–before other people. I balance on a knife-edge all the while.”

“Have no silly fears of that sort,” Damaris said quickly, a trifle distressed.

For it plucked at her sisterly pride in him that he should, even by implication, debase himself, noting inequality of station between himself and her. She held the worldly aspects of the matter in contempt. They angered her, so that she impulsively banished reserve. Leaning forward, she bent her head, putting her lips to the image of the flying sea-bird–which so intrigued her loving curiosity–and those three letters tattooed in blue and crimson upon the back of his hand.

“There–there”–she murmured, as soothing a child–“does this convince you?”

But here broke off, her heart contracting with a spasm of wondering tenderness. For under that pressure of her lips she felt his flesh quiver and start. She looked up at the handsome bearded face, so close above her, in swift enquiry, the potion–as once before–troubling her that, in touching this quaint stigmata, she inflicted bodily suffering. And, as on that earlier occasion, asked the question:

“Ah! but have I hurt you?”

Faircloth shook his head, smiling. Words failed him just then and he went pale beneath the overlay of clear brown sunburn.

“Then tell me what this stands for?” she said, being herself strangely moved, and desirous to lower the temperature of her own emotion–possibly of his as well. “Tell me what it means.”

“Just a boy’s fear and a boy’s superstition–a bit morbid, both of them, perhaps–that is as I see things now. For I hold one should leave one’s body as it pleased the Almighty to make it, unblemished by semi-savage decorations which won’t wash off.”

Faircloth moved away, drew his chair up nearer the head of the table, the corner between them, so that his hand could if desire prompted again find hers.

“By the way, I’m so glad you don’t wear ear-rings, Damaris,” he said. “They belong to the semi-savage order of decoration. I hate them. You never will wear them? Promise me that.”

And she had promised, somewhat diverted by his tone of authority and of insistence.

“But about this?” she asked him, indicating the blue and crimson symbol.

“As I say, fruit of fear and superstition–a pretty pair in which to put one’s faith! All the same, they went far to save my life, I fancy–for which I thank them mightily being here, with you, to-day.”

And he told her–softening the uglier details, as unfit for a gently-nurtured woman’s hearing–a brutal story of the sea. Of a sailing ship becalmed in tropic waters, waiting, through long blistering days and breathless sweltering nights, for the breeze which wouldn’t come–a floating hell, between glaring skies and glaring ocean–and of bullyings, indignities and torments devised by a brain diseased by drink.

“But was there no one to interfere, no one to protect you?” Damaris cried, aghast.

“A man’s master in his own ship,” Faircloth answered. “And short of mutiny there’s no redress. Neither officers nor men had a stomach for mutiny. They were a poor, cowed lot. Till this drunken madness came on him he had been easy going enough. They supposed, when it passed, he’d be so again. And then as he reserved his special attentions for me, they were willing to grin and bear it–or rather let me bear it, just stupidly letting things go. It was my first long voyage. I’d been lucky in my skippers so far, and was a bit soft still. A bit conceited, I don’t doubt, as well. He swore he’d break my spirit–for my own good, of course–and he came near succeeding.–But Damaris, Damaris, dear, don’t take it to heart so. What does it matter? It did me no lasting harm, and was all over and done with–would have been forgotten too, but for the rather silly sign of it–years and years ago. Let us talk no more about it.”

“Oh, no!–go on–please, go on,” she brokenly prayed him.

So he told her, further, how at Singapore, the outward voyage at last ended, he was tempted to desert; or, better still, put an end, once and for all, to the whole black business of living. And how, meditating on the methods of such drastic deliverance–sitting in the palm-shaded verandah of a fly-blown little eating-house, kept by a monkey-faced, squint-eyed Japanese–he happened to pick up a Calcutta newspaper. He read its columns mechanically, without interest or understanding, his mind still working on methods of death, when a name leapt at him weighted with personal meaning.

“It hit me,” Faircloth said, “full between the eyes, knocking the cry-baby stuff out of me, and knocking stuff of very different order in. For I wanted something stronger than mother-love–precious though that is–to brace me up and put some spunk into me just then.–Sir Charles was campaigning in Afghanistan, and this Calcutta paper sang his praises to a rousing tune. Lamented the loss of him to the Indian Government, and the lack of appreciation and support of him at home which induced him to take foreign service. Can’t you imagine how all this about a great soldier, whose blood after all ran in my veins, pulled me clean up out of the slime, where suicide tempted the soft side of me, into another world?–A sane world, in which a man can make good, if only he’s pluck to hold on.–Yes, he saved me; or at all events roused the spirit in me which makes for salvation, and which that drunken brute had almost killed. But, because I was only a boy as yet, with a boy’s queer instincts and extravagancies, I made the monkey-faced, Japanese eating-house keeper–who added artistic tattooing to other and less reputable ways of piling up a fortune–fix the sea-bird, for faith in my profession–and those three initials of my own name and a name not altogether my own, right here.–Fix them for remembrance and for a warning of which I could never get free. Always I should be forced to see it. And others must see it too. Through it my identity–short of mutilation–was indestructibly established. From that identity, henceforward, there wasn’t any possible running away.”

Faircloth had ended on a note of exultation, calmly sounded yet profound.

And upon that final note Damaris dwelt now, sitting on the chintz-covered window-seat of the room which Carteret would to-night inhabit. She went through the cruel story again, while the transparent twilight drew its elfin veil over all things, outdoor and in.

The crescent moon, a slender, upright wisp of a thing, climbed the southern sky. And Damaris’ soul was strangely satisfied, for the story, if cruel, was one of restitution and the healing of a wrong. To her father–his father–the boy had turned in that bad hour, which very perfectly made for peace between them. The curve of her duty to the one, as she now apprehended, in nowise cut across or deflected the curve of her duty towards the other. The two were the same, were one. And this, somehow, some day, when time and sentiment offered opportunity for such disclosure, she must let her father know. She must repeat to him the story of the eating-house and its monkey-faced proprietor–of questionable reputation–away in tropic Singapore. It could hardly fail to appeal to him if rightly told. About the events and vulgar publicity of yesterday nothing need be said. About this, within careful limits, much; and that, with, as she believed, happiest result. She had succeeded in bringing father and son together in the first instance. Now, with this pathetic story as lever, might she not hope to bring them into closer, more permanent union? Why should not Faircloth, in future, come and go, if not as an acknowledged son, yet as acknowledged and welcome friend, of the house? A consummation this, to her, delightful and reasonable as just. For had not the young man passed muster, and that triumphantly–she again told herself–in small things as well as great, in things of social usage and habit, those “little foxes” which, as between class and class, do so deplorably and disastrously “spoil the grapes?”

Therefore she began to invent ingenious speeches to Carteret and to her father. Hatch ingenious schemes and pretty plots–in the style of dear Aunt Felicia almost!–Was that lady’s peace-making passion infectious, by chance? And supposing it were, hadn’t it very charming and praiseworthy turns to it–witness Felicia’s rather noble gathering in and acceptance of Faircloth yesterday.

Arriving at which engaging conclusion, Damaris felt minded to commune for a space with the restful loveliness of the twilight, before going downstairs again and seeking more definite employment of books or needlework. She raised the window-sash and, kneeling on the chintz-covered cushioned window-seat, leaned out.

The gardeners to-day had rooted up the geraniums and dug over the empty flower beds, just below, preparatory to planting them with bulbs for spring blossoming. The keen, pungent scent of the newly-turned earth hung in the humid air, as, mingling with it–a less agreeable incense–did the reek of the mud-flats. On the right the twin ilex trees formed a mass of soft imponderable gloom. Above and behind them the sky was like smoked crystal. The lawn lay open and vacant. Upon it nothing hopped or crept. The garden birds had eaten their suppers long since, and sought snug bosky perching places for the night. Even the unsleeping sea was silent, the tide low and waveless, no more than a languid ripple far out upon the shelving sands. All dwelt in calm, in a brooding tranquillity which might be felt.

Damaris listened to the silence, until her ears began to suspect its sincerity. Sounds were there in plenty, she believed, were her hearing sharp enough to detect them. They naughtily played hide-and-seek with her, striking a chord too deep or too thinly acute for human sense. Sights were there too, had her eyes but a cat’s or an owl’s keener faculty of seeing. Behind the tranquillity she apprehended movement and action employing a medium, obeying impulses, to us unknown. Restfulness fled away, but, in place of it, interest grew. If she concentrated her attention and listened more carefully, she should hear; looked more steadily, she should see.

Just because she was tired, a little shattered still and spent, did this predominance of outward nature draw her, imposing itself. It beckoned her; and, through passing deficiency of will, she followed its beckoning, making no serious effort to resist. With the consequence she presently did hear sounds, but sounds surely real and recognizable enough.

Coming from the shore eastwards, below the sea-wall along the river frontage, ponies walked, or rather floundered, fetlock deep in blown sand–a whole drove of them to judge by the confused and muffled trampling of their many hoofs. The drop from the top of the sea-wall to the beach was too great, and the space between the foot of the wall and the river-bank and breakwater too confined, for her to see the animals, even had not oncoming darkness rendered all objects increasingly ill-defined.

But the confused trampling instead of keeping along the foreshore, as in all reason it should, now came up and over the sea-wall, on to the battery, into the garden, heading towards the house, Damaris strained her eyes through the tranquil obscurity, seeking visible cause of this advancing commotion, but without effect. Yet all the while, as her hearing clearly testified, the unseen ponies hustled one another, plunging, shying away from the swish and crack of a long-thonged whip. One stumbled and rolled over in the sand.–For although the mob was half-way up the lawn by now, the shuffling, sliding sand stayed always with them.–After a nasty struggle it got on to its feet, tottering forward under savage blows, dead lame. Another, a laggard, fell into its tracks, and lay there foundered, rattling in the throat.

By this time the foremost of the drove came abreast the house front, where Sir Charles Verity’s three ground-floor rooms, with the corridor behind them, ranged out from the main building. The many-paned semicircular windows of these rooms dimly glistened, below their fan-shaped, slated roofs. The crowding scurry of scared, over-driven animals was so indisputable that Damaris expected a universal smashing of glass. But the sound of many hoofs, still muted by sliding sand, passed straight on into and through the house as though no obstacle intervened barring progress.

The many-paned windows remained intact, undemolished, dimly glistening beneath their slated roofs. The garden stretched vacant, as before, right away to the battery, in the elusive twilight, a sky of smoked crystal–through which stars began to show faintly, points of cold blurred light–above the gloom of the ilex trees to the west, and in the south, above the indistinguishable sea, the slender moon hanging upright, silver and sickle-shaped.

Thus far Damaris’ entire consciousness had resided in and been limited to her auditory sense; concentration being too absorbed and intense to allow room for reasoning, still less for scepticism or even astonishment. She had watched with her ears–as the blind watch–desperate to interpret, instant by instant, inch by inch, this reconstructed tragedy of long-dead man and long-dead beast. There had been no thinking round the central interest, no attempted reading of its bearing upon normal events. Mind and imagination were fascinated by it to the exclusion of all else. It acted as an extravagant dream acts, abrogating all known laws of cause and effect, giving logic and science the lie, negativing probability, making the untrue true, the impossible convincingly manifest.

Not, indeed, until she beheld Mary Fisher, deep-bosomed and comely, in black gown, white apron and cap, moving within those rooms downstairs–still echoing, as they surely must, to that tumultuous and rather ghastly equine transit–did the extraordinary character of the occurrence flash into fullness of relief.

Mary, meanwhile, set down her flat candlestick upon the big writing-table in Sir Charles’s study, lighted lamps and drew blinds and curtains. Went into the bedroom next door and dressing-room beyond, methodically performing the evening ritual of “shutting up.” Her shadow marched with her, as though mockingly assisting in her operations, now crouching, now leaping ahead, blotting a ceiling, extending itself upon a wall space. Other shadows, thrown by the furniture, came forth and leapt also, pranced, skipping back into hiding as the candle-light shifted and passed. But save this indirect admission of the immaterial and grotesque, everything showed reassuringly ordinary, the woman herself unconcerned, ignorant of disturbance.

Damaris rose from her kneeling posture upon the window-seat and, standing, lowered the sash. Once was enough. It was no longer incumbent upon her to listen or to look. If these ghostly phenomena were repeated they could convey nothing more to her, nothing fresh. They had delivered their message–one addressed wholly and solely to herself, so she judged, since Mary had so conspicuously no suspicion of it.

Our maiden’s lips were dry. Her heart beat in her ears. Yet she was in no degree unnerved. Seldom indeed had she been more mistress of her powers, self-realized and vigilant. Nor did she feel tired any more, infirm of will and spent. Rather was she consciously resolute to encounter and withstand events–of what order she did not know as yet but events of moment and far-reaching result, already on the road, journeying toward her hotfoot. They were designed to test and try her. Would do their utmost to overwhelm, to submerge her, were she weak. But she didn’t intend them to submerge her. She bade weakness quit, all her young courage rising in arms.

The marvellous things she just now heard, so nearly saw–for it had come very near to seeing, hadn’t?–were _avant couriers_ of these same journeying events, their appointed prelude. She could explain neither how nor why–but, very certainly, somehow. Nor could she explain the relation–if any–coupling together the said marvels heard and the events. Nevertheless, she knew the former rode ahead, whether in malignity or mercy, to forewarn her. This place, The Hard, in virtue of its numerous vicissitudes of office and of ownership, of the memories and traditions which it harboured, both sinister, amiable, erudite, passionate, was singularly sentient, replete with influences. In times of strain and stress the normal wears thin, and such lurking influences are released. They break bounds, shouting–to such as have the psychic genius–convincing testimony of their existence.

All this Damaris perceived, standing in the middle of the room while the silver crescent moon looked in at her. The stillness once again was absolute. The dusk, save where the windows made pale squares upon the carpet, thick. The four-post bed, gay enough by day with hangings and valences patterned in roses on a yellow ground, looked cavernous. Carteret would lie under its black canopy to-night if–

“If all goes well.”

Damaris said the words aloud, her thought becoming personal and articulate.

Once before she had heard the smugglers’ ponies, waiting in this same room. Waiting at the open window to catch the first rumble of the wheels of a returning carriage. Her poor dear Nannie, Sarah Watson, was returning home after a summer holiday spent with her own people in the north. And Damaris, younger then by nearly five years, had listened impatiently, ready to skirmish down into the front hall–directly the carriage turned the elbow of the drive–and enclose her faithful nurse and foster-mother in arms of child-like love. But destiny ruled otherwise. In vain she waited. Sarah Watson returned no more, death having elected to take her rather horribly to himself some hours previously amid the flaming wreckage of a derailed express.

What did this second hearing presage? A like vain waiting and disclosure of death-dealing accident? Notwithstanding her attitude of high resolution, the question challenged Damaris in sardonic fashion from beneath the black canopy of the great bed. Her hand went up to the string of pearls which, on a sudden, grew heavy about her throat.

“But not–not–pray God, the dear man with the blue eyes,” she cried.

She was glad to be alone, in the encompassing semi-dark, for a warm wave of emotion swept over her, an ardour hardly of the spiritual sort. Had she deceived herself? Was she, in truth, desirous Carteret should approach her solely according to that earlier manner, in which she so simply trusted him? Did she hail his coming as that of a wise counsellor merely–or–

But here Mary–still pursuing the time-honoured ritual of shutting up–entered candle in hand, the landing showing brightly lit behind her.

“Dear heart alive!” she exclaimed, “whoever’s that? You, Miss Damaris? Alone here in the dark. You did make me jump. But there,” she added, repentant of her unceremonious exclamation, “I don’t know what possesses us all to-night. The least thing seems to make you jump. Mrs. Cooper’s all of a twitter, and Laura–silly girl–is almost as bad. I suppose it’s the weather being so quiet after yesterday’s gale. For my own part I always do like a wind about. It seems company, particularly these long evenings if you’re called on to go round the house by yourself.”

All of which amounted to an admission, as Damaris was not slow to detect. She was still under the empire of emotion. The abrupt intrusion affected her. She, too, needed to carry off the situation.

“Poor Mary,” she said, “you have been frightened–by what? Did you hear anything you could not account for when you were down in the library just now?”

The answer came after a pause, as though the speaker were suspicious, slightly unwilling to commit herself.

“No, Miss Damaris, not in Sir Charles’s rooms or in the west wing either. Whatever unaccountable noises there ever is belong to this old part of the house.”

She set her candlestick on the dressing-table, and went to each window in turn, drawing blinds down and curtains across. So doing she continued to talk, moving to and fro meanwhile with a firm, light tread.

“Not that I pay much attention to such things myself. I don’t hold it’s right. It’s my opinion there’s no sort of nonsense you can’t drive yourself into believing once you let ideas get a root in you. I’ve seen too much of Mrs. Cooper giving away like that. The two winters you and Sir Charles was abroad I’d a proper upset with her–though we are good friends–more than once. After sundown she was enough to terrify you out of your life–wouldn’t go here and wouldn’t go there for fear of she didn’t know what. Tempting Providence, I call it, and spoke to her quite sharp. If ever I wanted to go over to spend an hour or two with father and mother in Marychurch, I was bound to ask Mrs. Patch and the children to come in and keep her company. There’s no sense in putting yourself into such a state. It makes you a trouble to yourself and everybody else. And in the end, a thousand to one if anything comes of all the turmoil and fuss–Mrs. Cooper, to be only fair to her, when she’s in a reasonable humour, allows as much.”

Mary stepped across to the bed and doubled back the quilt, preparatory to turning down the fine linen sheet. She felt she had extracted herself from a somewhat invidious position with flying colours; and, in the process, had administered timely advice. For it wasn’t suitable Miss Damaris should be moping alone upstairs at odd times like this. It all came of yesterday’s upset.–Her righteous anger blazed against the clerical culprit. In that connection there was other matter of which she craved to deliver herself–refreshing items of local gossip, sweet as honey to the mouth did she but dare retail them. She balanced the question this way and that. Would satisfaction outweigh offence, or offence satisfaction, on the part of Miss Damaris? You could not be sure how she’d take things–quite. And yet she ought to know, for the affair certainly placed Captain Faircloth in a pleasant light. Only one who was every inch a gentleman would behave so handsomely as he had.

She stretched across the bed to smooth the slightly wrinkled surface of the sheet. This gymnastic feat necessitated the averting of her face and turning of her back.

“There’s a fine tale going round of how the Island lads–wild young fellows ready for any pranks–served Mr. Sawyer, the curate,” she began. “They say William Jennifer put them up to it, having a grudge against him for trying to get his youngest boy taken up for stealing apples last week. They planned to give him a ducking in the pool just above the ferry, where the water’s so deep under the bank. And if Captain Faircloth hadn’t happened to come along, for certain they’d have made Mr. Sawyer swim for it. Mr. Patch hears they handled him ever so rough, tore his coat, and were on the very tick of pitching him in. But Captain Faircloth would not suffer it. He took a very high line with them, it is said. And not content with getting Mr. Sawyer away, walked with him as far as the Grey House to protect him from any further interference.”

She gave the pillows sundry judicious strokings and pats.

“I hope Mr. Sawyer’s properly thankful, for it isn’t many that would have shown him so much leniency as that.”

She would have enjoyed labouring the point. But comment appeared to her, under the circumstances, to trench on impertinence. Facts spoke for themselves. She restrained herself, fetched her candlestick from the dressing-table, and stood by the open door, thereby enjoining her young lady’s exit.

Thus far Damaris maintained silence, but in passing out on to the landing, she said–“Thank you. I am glad to know what has happened.”

Encouraged by which acknowledgment, the excellent woman ventured further advice.

“And now, miss, you must please just lie down on the schoolroom sofa and get a little sleep before the gentlemen and Mr. Hordle arrive back. There is a good two hours to wait yet, and I’ll call you in plenty of time for you to dress. You don’t look altogether yourself, miss. Too much talking with all that host of callers. You are properly fagged out. I’ll get Mrs. Cooper to beat up an egg for you in a tumbler of hot milk, with a tablespoonful of sherry and just a pinch of sugar in it. That will get your circulation right.”

CHAPTER VI

SHOWING HOW SIR CHARLES VERITY WAS JUSTIFIED OF HIS LABOURS

Which homely programme being duly executed, worked restorative wonders. Matter, in the sublimated form of egg-flip, acted upon mind beneficially through the functions of a healthy, if weary, young body. Our maiden slept, to dream not of ghostly ponies or other uncomfortably discarnate creatures; but of Darcy Faircloth in his pretty piece of Quixotism, rescuing a minister of the Church of England “as by law established” from heretical baptismal rites of total immersion. The picture had a rough side to it, and also a merry one; but, beyond these, generous dealing wholly delightful to her feeling. She awoke soothed and restored, ready to confront the oncoming of events–whatever their character–in a spirit of high confidence as well as of resolution.

With the purpose of advertising this brave humour she dressed herself in her best. I do not deny a love of fine clothes in Damaris. Yet in her own home, and for delectation of the men belonging to her, a woman is surely free to deck herself as handsomely as her purse allows. “Beauty unadorned” ceased to be practicable, in self-respecting circles, with the expulsion of our first parents from the paradisaic state; while beauty merely dowdy, is a pouring of contempt on one of God’s best gifts to the human race. Therefore I find no fault with Damaris, upon this rather fateful evening, in that she clothed herself in a maize-coloured silk gown flowered in faint amber and faint pink. Cut in the piece from shoulder to hem, according to a then prevailing fashion, it moulded bosom, waist and haunches, spreading away into a demi-train behind. The high Medici collar of old lace, at the back of the square decolletage, conferred dignity; the hanging lace of the elbow sleeves a lightness. Her hair, in two wide plaits, bound her head smoothly, save where soft disobedient little curls, refusing restriction, shaded her forehead and the nape of her neck.

After a few seconds of silent debate she clasped Carteret’s pearls about her throat again; and so fared away, a creature of radiant aspect, amid sombre setting of low ceilings and dark carpeted floors, to await the advent of the travellers.

These arrived some little while before their time, so that the girl, in her gleaming dress, had gone but half-way down the staircase when they came side by side into the hall.–Two very proper gentlemen, the moist freshness of the night attending them, a certain nobility in their bearing which moved her to enthusiasm, momentarily even bringing a mist before her eyes. For they were safe and well both of them, so she joyously registered, serene of countenance, moreover, as bearers of glad tidings are. Whatever the ghostly ponies foretold could be no evil shadowing them–for which she gave God thanks.

Meanwhile, there without, the light of the carriage lamps pierced the enclosing gloom, played on the silver plating of harness, on the shining coats of the horses, whose nostrils sent out jets of pale steam. Played over the faces of the servants, too, Mary and Laura just within the open door, Hordle and Conyers outside loading down the baggage from the back of the mail-phaeton, and on Patch, exalted high above them on the driving-seat.

As Damaris paused, irradiated by the joy of welcome and of forebodings falsified, upon the lowest step of the staircase, Sir Charles turned aside and tenderly kissed her.

“My darling,” he said.

And Carteret, following him an instant later, took her by both hands and, from arm’s length, surveyed her in smiling admiration he made no effort to repress.

“Dear witch, this is unexpected good fortune. I had little thought of seeing you so soon–resplendent being that you are, veritably clothed with sunshine.”

“And with your pearls,” she gaily said.

“Ah! my poor pearls,” he took her up lightly. “I am pleased they still find favour in your sight. But aren’t you curious to learn what has made us desert our partridge shooting at an hour’s notice, granting the pretty little beggars unlooked-for length of life?”

His blue eyes laughed into hers. There was a delightful atmosphere about him. Something had happened to him surely–for wasn’t he, after all, a young man even yet?

“Yes–what–what has brought you, Colonel Sahib?” Damaris laughed back at him, bubbling over with happy excitement.

“Miracles,” he answered. “A purblind Government at last admits the error of its ways and proposes to make reparation for its neglect of a notable public-servant.”

“You?” she cried.

Carteret shook his head, still surveying her but with a soberer glance.

“No–no–not me. In any case there isn’t any indebtedness to acknowledge–no arrears to pay off. I have my deserts.–To a man immensely my superior. Look nearer home, dear witch.”

He made a gesture in the direction of his host.

“My Commissioner Sahib?”

“Yes–your Commissioner Sahib, who comes post haste to request your dear little permission, before accepting this tardy recognition of his services to the British Empire.”

“Ah! but that’s too much!” the girl said softly, glancing from one to the other, enchanted and abashed by the greatness of their loyalty to and prominent thought of her.

“Has this made him happy?” she asked Carteret, under her breath. “He looks so, I think. How good that this has come in time–that it hasn’t come too late.”

For, in the midst of her joyful excitement, a shadow crossed Damaris’ mind oddly obscuring the light. She suffered a perception things might so easily have turned out otherwise; a suspicion that, had the reparation of which Carteret spoke been delayed, even by a little, its beloved recipient would no longer have found use for or profit in it. Damaris fought the black thought, as ungrateful and faithless. To fear disaster is too often to invite it.

Just at this juncture Miss Felicia made hurried and gently eager irruption into the hall; and with that irruption the tone of prevailing sentiment declined upon the somewhat trivial, even though warmly affectionate. For she fluttered round Sir Charles, as Mary Fisher helped divest him of his overcoat, in sympathetic overflowings of the simplest sort.–“She had been reading and failed to hear the carriage, hence her tardy appearance. Let him come into the drawing-room at once, out of these draughts. There was a delightful wood fire and he must be chilled. The drive down the valley was always so cold at night–particularly where the road runs through the marsh lands by Lampit.”

In her zeal of welcome Miss Verity was voluble to the point of inconsequence, not to say incoherence. Questions poured from her. She appeared agitated, quaintly self-conscious, so at least it occurred to Damaris. Finally she addressed Carteret.

“And you too must be frozen,” she declared. “How long it is since we met! I have always been so unlucky in just missing you here! Really I believe I have only seen you once since you and Charles stayed with us at Canton Magna.–You were both on leave from India. I dare not think how many years ago that is–before this child”–her candid eyes appealingly sought those of Damaris–“before this child existed. And you are so wonderfully unaltered.”

Colour dyed her thin face and rather scraggy neck. Only the young should blush. After forty such involuntary exhibitions of emotion are unattractive, questionably even pathetic.

“Really time has stood still with you–it seems to me, Colonel Carteret.”

“Time has done better than stand still,” Damaris broke in, with a rather surprising imperiousness. “It has beautifully run backwards–lately.”

And our maiden, in her whispering gleaming dress, swept down from the step, swept past the sadly taken aback Miss Felicia, and joined her father. She put her hand within his arm.

“Come and warm yourself–come, dearest,” she said, gently drawing him onward into the long room, where from above the range of dark bookshelves, goggle-eyed, pearl-grey Chinese goblins and monsters, and oblique-eyed Chinese philosophers and saints looked mysteriously down through the warm mellow light.

Damaris was conscious of a singular inward turmoil. For Miss Felicia’s speeches found small favour in her ears. She resented this open claiming of Carteret as a member of the elder generation. Still more resented her own relegation to the nullity of the prenatal state. Reminiscences, in which she had neither lot nor part, left her cold. Or, to be accurate, bred in her an intemperate heat, putting a match to jealousies which, till this instant, she had no knowledge of. Touched by that match they flared to the confusion of charity and reverence. Hence, impulsively, unscrupulously, yet with ingenious unkindness, she struck–her tongue a sword–to the wounding of poor Miss Felicia. And she felt no necessity for apology. She liked to be unkind. She liked to strike. Aunt Felicia should not have been so self-assertive, so tactless. She had brought chastisement upon herself. It wasn’t like her to behave thus. Her enthusiasms abounded; but she possessed a delicate appreciation of relative positions. She never poached. This came perilously near poaching.–And everything had danced to so inspiring a tune, the movement of it so delicious! Now the evening was spoilt. The first fine alacrity of it could not be recaptured–which was all Aunt Felicia’s fault.–No, for her unkindness Damaris felt no regret.

It may be remarked that our angry maiden’s mind dwelt rather upon the snub she had inflicted on Miss Verity, than upon the extensive compliment she had paid, and the challenge she had delivered, to Carteret. Hearing her flattering declaration, his mind not unnaturally dwelt more upon the latter. It took him like a blow, so that from bending courteously over the elder lady’s hand, he straightened himself with a jerk. His eyes followed the imperious, sun-clad young figure, questioning and keenly alert. To-day he had liberally enjoyed the pleasures of friendship, for Charles Verity had been largely and generously elate. But Damaris’ outburst switched feeling and sentiment onto other lines. They became personal. Were her words thrown off in mere lightness of heart, or had she spoken deliberately, with intention? It were wiser, perhaps, not to ask. He steadied his attention on to Miss Felicia once more, but not without effort.

“You always said kind and charming things, I remember,” so he told her. “You are good enough to say them still.”

Damaris stood by her father, upon the tiger skin before the hearth.

“Tell me, dearest?” she prayed him.

Charles Verity put his hand under her chin, turned up her face and looked searchingly at her. Her beauty to-night was conspicuous and of noble quality. It satisfied his pride. Public life invited him, offering him place and power. Ranklings of disappointment, of detraction and slight, were extinguished. His soul was delivered from the haunting vexations of them. He was in the saddle again, and this radiant woman-child, whom he so profoundly loved, should ride forth with him for all the world to see–if she pleased. That she would please he had no doubt. Pomp and circumstance would suit her well. She was, moreover, no slight or frothy piece of femininity; but could be trusted, amid the glamour of new and brilliant conditions, to use her judgment and to keep her head. Increasingly he respected her character as well as her intelligence. He found in her unswerving sense of right and wrong, sense of honour likewise. Impetuous she might be, swift to feel and to revolt; but of tender conscience and, on occasion, royally compassionate. Now he could give her fuller opportunity. Could place her in circumstances admittedly enviable and prominent. From a comparative back-water, she should gain the full stream–and that stream, in a sense, at the flood.

Rarely, if ever, had Charles Verity experienced purer pleasure, touched a finer level of purpose and of hope than to-day, when thinking of and now when looking upon Damaris. He thankfully appraised her worth, and in spirit bowed before it, not doatingly or weakly but with reasoned conviction. Weighed in the balances she would not be found wanting, such was his firm belief. For himself he accepted this recall to active participation in affairs, active service to the State, with a lofty content. But that his daughter, in the flower of her young womanhood, would profit by this larger and more distinguished way of life, gave the said recall its deeper values and its zest.

Still he put her off awhile as to the exact announcement, smiling upon her in fond, yet stately approval.

“Let the telling keep until after dinner, my dear,” he bade her. “Pacify the cravings of the natural man for food and drink. The day has been fertile in demands–strenuous indeed to the point of fatigue. So let us comfort ourselves inwardly and materially before we affront weighty decisions.”

He kissed her cheek.

“By the way, though, does it ever occur to you to think of the Bhutpur Sultan-i-bagh and wish to go East again?”

And Damaris, with still uplifted chin, surveyed him gravely and with a certain wistfulness, Miss Felicia’s attempted poaching forgotten and an impression of Faircloth vividly overtaking her. For they were so intimately, disturbingly alike, the father and the son, in voice as well as in build and feature.

“Go East?” she said, Faircloth’s declared preference for sailing into the sunrise present to her. “Why, I go East in my dreams nearly every night. I love it–love it more rather than less as I grow older. Of course I wish to go–some day. But that’s by the way, Commissioner Sahib. All that I really want, now, at once, is to go wherever you go, stay wherever you stay. You won’t ask me to agree to any plan which parts us, will you?–which takes you away from me?”

“Ruth to a strange Naomi, my dear,” he answered. “But so be it. I desire nothing better than to have you always with me.–But I will not keep you on tenter-hooks as to your and my projected destination. Let them bring in dinner in half an hour. Carteret and I shall be ready. Meanwhile, read this–agreeing to relegate discussion of it to a less hungry season.”

And taking the letter she had forwarded to him yesterday, bearing the imprint of the Indian Office, from the breast pocket of his shooting coat, he put it into her hand.

The appointment–namely, that of Lieutenant-Governor of an Indian presidency famous in modern history, a cradle of great reputations and great men, of English names to conjure with while our Eastern Empire endures–was offered, in terms complimentary above those common to official communications. Sir Charles Verity’s expert knowledge, not only of the said mighty province but of the turbulent kingdom lying beyond its frontiers, marked him as peculiarly fitted for the post. A campaign against that same turbulent kingdom had but recently been brought to a victorious conclusion. His influence, it was felt, might be of supreme value at this juncture in the maintenance of good relations, and consolidation of permanent peace.

Damaris’ heart glowed within her as she read the courteous praiseful sentences. Even more than through the well-merited success of his book, did her father thus obtain and come into the fullness of his own at last. Her imagination glowed, too, calling up pictures of the half-remembered, half-fabulous oriental scene. The romance of English rule in India, the romance of India itself, its variety, its complexity, the multitude of its gods, the multitude of its peoples, hung before her as a mirage, prodigal in marvels, reaching back and linking up through the centuries with the hidden wisdom, the hidden terror of the Ancient of Days.

To this land of alien faiths and secular wonders, she found herself summoned, not as casual sightseer or tourist, but as among the handful of elect persons who count in its social, political and administrative life. In virtue of her father’s position, her own would be both conspicuous and assured. An intoxicating prospect this for a girl of one-and-twenty! Intoxicating, yet, as she envisaged it, disquieting likewise. She balanced on the thought of all it demanded as well as all it offered, of all it required from her–dazed by the largeness of the purview, volition in suspense.

Carteret was the first to reappear, habited in the prescribed black and white of evening male attire. In the last six months he had, perhaps, put on flesh; but this without detriment to the admirable proportions of his figure. It retained its effect of perfect response to the will within, and all its natural grace. His fair hair and moustache were still almost untouched with grey. His physical attraction, in short, remained unimpaired. And of this Damaris was actually, if unconsciously, sensible as he closed the door and, passing between the stumpy pillars, walked up the long narrow room and stood, his hands behind him, his back to the pleasantly hissing and crackling fire of driftwood.

“Alone, dear witch?” he said, and, seeing the open letter in her hand–“Well, what do you make of this proposition?” And yet again, as she raised serious pondering eyes–“You find it an extensive order?”

“I find it magnificent for him–beautifully as it should be, adequate and right.”

“And for yourself?” Carteret asked, aware of a carefulness in her language and intrigued by it.

“Magnificent for me, too–though it takes away my breath.”

“You must learn to breathe deeper, that’s all,” he returned, gently teasing her.

“And who is to teach me to breathe deeper, dear Colonel Sahib,” she quickly, and rather embarrassingly, asked. “Not my father. He’ll have innumerable big things to do and to do them without waste of energy he must be saved at every point. He must not fritter away strength in coaching me in my odds and ends of duties, still less in covering up my silly mistakes.”

“Oh! you exaggerate difficulties,” he said, looking not at her but at the fierce yellow and black striped tiger skin at his feet.–Bless the lovely child, what was she driving at?

Carteret started for Deadham under the impression he had himself thoroughly in hand, and that all danger of certain inconvenient emotions was passed. He had lived them down, cast them out. For over two years now he had given himself to the superintendence of his estate, to county business, to the regulation of his sister’s–happily more prosperous–affairs, to the shepherding of his two elder nephews in their respective professions and securing the two younger ones royally good times during their holidays at home. Throughout the hunting season, moreover, he rode to hounds on an average of three days a week. Such healthy sport helps notably to deliver a man from vain desires, by sending his body cleanly weary to bed and to sleep o’ nights.

By such varied activities had Carteret systematically essayed to rid himself of his somewhat exquisite distemper, and, when coming to Deadham, honestly believed himself immune, sane and safe. He was proportionately disturbed by finding the cure of this autumn love-madness less complete than, fool-like, he had supposed. For it showed disquieting signs of resurrection even when Damaris, arrayed in the sheen of silken sunlight, greeted him at the staircase foot, and an alarming disposition finally to fling away head-cloth and winding-sheet when she petulantly broke in upon Miss Verity’s faded memories of Canton Magna with the flattering assertion that time had run backward with him of late.

Now alone with her, confident, moreover, of her maidenly doubts and pretty self-distrust, he felt at a decided disadvantage. The detached, affectionately friendly, the avuncular–not to say grandfatherly–attitude escaped him. He could not play that part.

“Oh! you exaggerate difficulties,” he therefore told her, with a singular absence of his habitual mansuetude, his tone trenching on impatience. “Instinct and common sense will teach you-mother-wit, too-of which, you may take it from me, you have enough and to spare.-Let alone that there will be a host of people emulous of guiding your steps aright, if your steps should stand in need of guidance which I venture to doubt. Don’t underrate your own cleverness.” Hearing him, sensible of his apparent impatience and misconceiving the cause of it, Damaris’ temper stirred. She felt vexed. She also felt injured.

“What has happened to you, Colonel Sahib?” she asked him squarely. “I see nothing foolish in what I have said. You wouldn’t have me so conceited that I rushed into this immense business without a qualm, without any thought whether I can carry it out creditably–with credit to him, I mean?”

Thus astonishingly attacked, Carteret hedged.

“Miss Verity, of course, will be”–he began.

Damaris cut him short.

“Aunt Felicia is an angel, a darling,” she declared, “but–but”–

And there stopped, pricked by a guilty conscience. For to expose Miss Felicia’s inadequacies and enlarge on her ineligibility for the position of feminine Chief of the Staff, struck her as unworthy, a meanness to which, under existing circumstances, she could not condescend to stoop.

Carteret looked up, to be entranced not only by the fair spectacle of her youth but by her delicious little air of shame and self-reproach. Evidently she had caught herself out in some small naughtiness–was both penitent and defiant, at once admitting her fault and pleading for indulgence. He suspected some thought at the back of her mind which he could neither exactly seize nor place. She baffled him with her changes of mood and of direction–coming close and then slipping from under his hand. This humour was surely new in her. She would not leave him alone, would not let him rest. Had she developed, since last he had converse with her, into a practised coquette?

“Look here, dear witch,” he said, making a return upon himself, and manfully withstanding the sweet provocation of her near neighbourhood. “We seem to be queerly at cross purposes. I can’t pretend to follow the turnings and doublings of your ingenious mind. I gather there is something you want of me. To be plain, then, what is it?”

“That–that you shouldn’t desert me–desert us–in this crisis. You have never deserted me before–never since I can first remember.”

“I desert you–good Lord!” Carteret exclaimed, his hands dropping at his sides with an odd sort of helplessness.

“Ah! that’s asking too much, I suppose,” she said. “I’m selfish even to think of it. Yet how can I do otherwise? Don’t you understand how all difficulties would vanish, and how beautifully simple and easy everything would be if you coached me–if you, dear Colonel Sahib, went with us?”

The man with the blue eyes looked down at the tiger skin again, his countenance strained and blanched.

More than ever did he find her humour baffling. Not once nor twice had he, putting force upon himself, resisted the temptation to woo her–witness his retirement from St. Augustin and his determined abstinence from intercourse with her since. But now, so it might veritably appear, the positions were reversed and she wooed him. Though whether pushed to that length merely by wayward fancy, by some transient skittish influence or frolic in the blood, or by realized design he had no means of judging.–Well, he had bidden her be plain, and she, in some sort at least, obeyed him. It behooved him, therefore, to be plain in return, in as far as a straightforward reading of her meaning would carry.

“So you think all would be simple and easy were I to go with you and your father?” he said, both speech and manner tempered to gentleness. “I am glad to have you think so–should be still more glad could I share your belief. But I know better, dearest witch–know that you are mistaken. This is no case of desertion–put that out of your precious mind once and for all–but of discretion. My being in attendance, far from simplifying, would embroil and distort your position. An elderly gentleman perpetually trotting”–

“Don’t,” Damaris cried, holding up both hands in hot repudiation. “Don’t say that. There’s distortion if you like! It’s ugly–I won’t have it, for it is not true.”

In the obvious sincerity of which denunciation Carteret found balm; yet adhered to his purpose.

“But it is true, alas; and I therefore repeat it both for your admonition and my own. For an elderly gentleman trotting at a young girl’s heels is a most unedifying spectacle–giving occasion, and reasonably, to the enemy to blaspheme–bad for her in numberless ways; and, if he’s any remnant of self-respect left in him, is anything better than a fatuous dotard, damnably bad for him as well. Do you understand?”

Damaris presented a mutinous countenance. She would have had much ado to explain her own motives during this ten minutes’ conference. If her mental–or were they not rather mainly emotional?–turnings and doublings proved baffling to her companion, they proved baffling to herself in an almost greater degree. Things in general seemed to have gone into the melting-pot. So many events had taken place, so many more been preshadowed, so many strains of feeling excited! And these were confusingly unrelated, or appeared to be so as yet. Amongst the confusion of them she found no sure foothold, still less any highway along which to travel in confidence and security. Her thought ran wild. Her intentions ran with it, changing their colour chameleon-like from minute to minute. Now she was tempted to make an equivocal rejoinder.

“To understand,” she said, “is not always, Colonel Sahib, necessarily to agree.”

“I am satisfied with understanding and don’t press for agreement,” he answered, and on an easier note–“since to me it is glaringly evident you should take this fine flight unhandicapped. My duty is to stand aside and leave you absolutely free–not because I enjoy standing aside, but”–he would allow sentiment such meagre indulgence–“just exactly because I do not.”

Here for the second time, at the crucial moment, Felicia Verity made irruption upon the scene. But though her entrance was hurried, it differed fundamentally from that earlier one; so that both the man and the girl, standing in the proximity of their intimate colloquy before the fire, were sensible of and arrested by it. She was self-forgetful, self-possessed, the exalted touch of a pure devotion upon her.

“I have been with my brother Charles,” she began, addressing them both. “I happened to see Hordle coming from the library–and I put off dinner. I thought, darling”–this to Damaris, with a becoming hint of deference–“I might do so. I gathered that Charles–that your father–wished it. He has not been feeling well.”

And as Damaris anxiously exclaimed–

“Yes”–Miss Felicia went on–“not at all well. Hordle told me. That was why I went to the library. He hoped, if he waited and rested for a little while, the uncomfortable sensations might subside and it would be needless to mention them. He did not want any fuss made. We gave him restoratives, and he recovered from the faintness. But he won’t be equal, he admits, to coming in to dinner. Colonel Carteret must be hungry–your father begs us to wait no longer, I assured him we would not. Hordle is with him. He should not be alone, I think, while any pain continues.”

“Pain–pain?” Damaris cried, her imagination rather horribly caught by the word. “But is he hurt, has he had some accident?”

While Carteret asked tersely: “Pain–and where?”

“Here,” Felicia answered, laying her hand upon her left side over the heart. She looked earnestly at Carteret as she spoke, conveying to him an alarm she sought to spare Damaris.

“He tries to make little of it, and assures me it was only the heat of the house which caused him discomfort after the cold air out of doors. It may be only that, but I think we ought to make sure.”

Again, and with that same becoming hint of deference, she turned to her niece.

“So I sent orders that Patch should drive at once to Stourmouth and fetch Dr. McCabe. I did not stop to consult you because it seemed best he should take out the horses before they were washed down and stabled.”

“Yes–but I can go to him?” Damaris asked.

“Darling–of course. But I would try to follow his lead, if I were you–treat it all lightly, since he so wishes. Your father knows best in most things–and may know best in this. Please God it is so.”

Left alone with Carteret.

“I am anxious–most cruelly anxious about my brother,” she said.

While Damaris, sweeping across the hall and down the corridor in her sunshine silken dress, repeated:

“The ponies–the smugglers’ ponies,” a sob in her throat.

CHAPTER VII

TELLING HOW CHARLES VERITY LOOKED ON THE MOTHER OF HIS SON

“Which is equivalent to saying, ‘Hear the conclusion of the whole matter,’ isn’t it, McCabe?”

Dr. McCabe’s square, hairy-backed hands fumbled with the stethoscope as he pushed it into his breast pocket, and, in replying, his advertised cheerfulness rang somewhat false.

“Not so fast, Sir Charles–in the good Lord’s name, not so fast. While there’s life there’s hope, it’s me settled opinion. I’m never for signing a patient’s death-warrant before the blessed soul of him’s entirely parted company with its mortal tenement of clay. The normal human being takes a mighty lot of killing in my experience, where the will to live is still intact. Let alone that you can never be quite upsides with Nature. Ah! she’s an astonishing box of tricks to draw on where final dissolution’s concerned. She glories to turn round on your pathological and biological high science; and, while you’re measuring a man for his coffin, to help him give death the slip.”

Charles Verity slightly shifted his position–and that with singular carefulness–against the pillows in the deep red-covered chair. His hands, inert and bluish about the finger-tips, lay along the padded arms of it. The jacket of his grey-and-white striped flannel sleeping-suit was unfastened at the throat, showing the irregular lift and fall of his chest with each laboured breath. His features were accentuated, his face drawn and of a surprising pallor.

The chair, in which he sat, had been brought forward into the wide arc of the great window forming the front of the room. Two bays of this stood open down to the ground. Looking out, beyond the rich brown of the newly-turned earth in the flower-beds, the lawn stretched away–a dim greyish green, under the long shadows cast by the hollies masking the wall on the left, and glittering, powdered by myriads of scintillating dewdrops, where the early sunshine slanted down on it from between their stiff pinnacles and sharply serrated crests.

In the shrubberies robins sang, shrilly sweet. A murmur of waves, breaking at the back of the Bar, hung in the chill, moist, windless air. Presently a handbarrow rumbled and creaked, as West–the head gardener, last surviving relic of Thomas Clarkson Verity’s reign–wheeled it from beneath the ilex trees towards the battery, leaving dark smudgy tracks upon the spangled turf.

Arrived at his objective, the old gardener, with most admired deliberation, loaded down long-handled birch-broom, rake and hoe; and applied himself to mysterious peckings and sweeping of the gravel around the wooden carriages of the little cannon and black pyramid of ball.–Man, tools, and barrow were outlined against the pensive brightness of autumn sea and autumn sky, which last, to southward, still carried remembrance of sunrise in a broad band of faint yellowish pink, fading upward into misty azure and barred with horizontal pencillings of tarnished silver cloud.

Thus far Charles Verity had watched the progress of the bowed, slow-moving figure musingly. But now, as the iron of the hoe clinked against the gravel flints, he came back, so to say, to himself and back to the supreme question at issue. He looked up, his eyes and the soundless ironic laughter resident in them, meeting McCabe’s twinkling, cunning yet faithful and merry little eyes, with a flash.

“The work of the world is not arrested,” he said. “See, that octogenarian, old West. He wheeled ill-oiled, squeaking barrows and hacked at the garden paths when I was a Harchester boy. He wheels the one and hacks at the other even yet–a fact nicely lowering to one’s private egotism, when you come to consider it. Why, then, my good friend, perjure yourself or strive to mince matters? The work of the world will be done whether I’m here to direct the doing of it or not.–Granted I am tough and in personal knowledge of ill-health a neophyte. My luck throughout has been almost uncanny. Neither in soldiering nor in sport, from man or from beast, have I ever suffered so much as a scratch. I have borne a charmed life–established a record for invulnerability, which served me well in the East where the gods still walk in the semblance of man and miracle is still persistently prevalent. Accident has passed me by–save for being laid up once, nearly thirty years ago, with a broken ankle in the house of some friends at Poonah.”

He ceased speaking, checking, as it seemed, disposition to further disclosure; while the soundless laughter in his eyes found answering expression upon his lips, curving them, to a somewhat bitter smile beneath the flowing moustache.

“In to-day’s enforced idleness how persistently cancelled episodes and emotions rap, ghostly, on the door demanding and gaining entrance!” he presently said. “Must we take it, Doctor, that oblivion is a fiction, merciful forgetfulness an illusion; and that every action, every desire–whether fulfilled or not–is printed indelibly upon one’s memory, merely waiting the hour of weakness and physical defeat to show up?”

“The Lord only knows!” McCabe threw off, a little hopelessly. This was the first utterance approaching complaint; and he deplored it for his patient’s sake. He didn’t like that word defeat.

Then, to his hearer’s relief with a softened accent, Charles Verity took up his former theme.

“Save for a trifling go of fever now and again, illness has given me the go-by equally with accident. But, for all my ignorance of such afflictions I know, beyond all shadow of doubt, that a few repetitions of the experience of last night must close any man’s account. Experiment is more enlightening than argument. There is no shaking the knowledge you arrive at through it.”

McCabe, standing at ease by the open window, untidy, hirsute, unkempt, rammed his hands down into his gaping trouser pockets and nodded unwilling agreement.

“The attack was bad,” he said. “I’m not denying it was murderously bad. And all the harder on you because, but for the one defaulting organ, your heart, you’re as sound as a bell. You’re a well enough man to put up a good fight; and that, you see, cuts both ways, be danged to it.”

“A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.–You know as well as I do the Indian appointment will never be gazetted.”

“There you have me, Sir Charles, loath though I am to admit as much. I’d be a liar if I denied it would not.”

“How long do you give me then? Months, or only weeks?”

“That depends in the main on yourself, in as far as I can presume to pronounce. With care”–

“Which means sitting still here”–

“It does.”

Charles Verity raised his shoulders the least bit.

“Not good enough, McCabe,” he declared, “not good enough. There are rites to be duly performed, words to be said, which I refuse to neglect. Oh, no, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t need professional help to accomplish my dying. Were I a member of your communion it might be different, but I require no much-married parsonic intermediary to make my peace with God. I am but little troubled regarding that. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?–Nevertheless, there remain rites to be decently performed. I must make my peace with man–and still more with woman–before I go hence and am no more seen. But, look here, I have no wish to commit myself too soon, and risk the bathos of an anti-climax by having to perform them twice, repeat them at a later date.–So how long do you give me–weeks? Too generous an estimate? A week, then or–well–less?”

“You want it straight?”

“I want it straight.”

“More likely days. God grant I am mistaken. With your fine constitution, as I tell you, you are booked to put up a good fight. All the same, to be honest, Sir Charles, it was touch and go more than once last night.”

In the room an interval of silence, and without song of the robins and murmur of the sea, nearer now and louder as the rising tide lapped up the sands at the back of the Bar. The faint yellow-pink after-thought of sunrise and pencillings of tarnished cloud alike had vanished into the all-obtaining misty blue of the upper sky. Heading for the French coast, a skein of wild geese passed in wedge-shaped formation with honking cries and the beat of strong-winged flight. The barrow creaked again, wheeled some few yards further along the battery walk.

“Thanks–so I supposed,” Sir Charles Verity calmly said.

He stretched himself, falling into a less constrained and careful posture. Leaned his elbow on the chair-arm, his chin in the hollow of his hand, crossed the right leg over the left.

“Twenty-four hours will give me time for all which is of vital importance. The rest must, and no doubt perfectly will, arrange itself.–Oh! I’ll obey you within reasonable limits, McCabe. I have no craving to hurry the inevitable conclusion. These last hours possess considerable significance and charm–an impressiveness even, which it would be folly to thrust aside or waste.”

Once more he looked up, his tone and expression devoid now of all bitterness.

“I propose to savour their pleasant qualities to the full. So make yourself easy, my good fellow,” he continued with an admirable friendliness. “Go and get your breakfast. Heaven knows you’ve most thoroughly earned it, and a morning pipe of peace afterwards.–The bell upon the small table?–Yes–oh, yes–and Hordle within earshot. I’ve everything I require; and, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, shall be glad enough of a respite from this course of food and drink, potions and poultices–remedial to the delinquent flesh no doubt, but a notable weariness to the-spirit.–And, see here, report to the two ladies, my sister and–and Damaris, that you leave me in excellent case, free of discomfort, resting for a time before girding up my loins to meet the labours of the day.”

Charles Verity closed his eyes in intimation of dismissal, anxious to be alone the better to reckon with that deeper, final loneliness which confronted him just now in all its relentless logic.

For, though his mind remained lucid, self-realized and observant, his control of its action and direction was incomplete owing to bodily fatigue. Hence it lay open to assault, at the mercy of a thousand and one crowding thoughts and perceptions. And over these he desired to gain ascendency–to drive, rather than be driven by them. The epic of his three-score years, from its dim, illusive start to this dramatic and inexorable finish–but instantly disclosed to him in the reluctant admissions of the good-hearted Irish doctor–flung by at a double, in coloured yet incoherent progression, so to speak, now marching to triumphant blare of trumpet, now to roll of muffled drum. Which incoherence came in great measure of the inalienable duality of his own nature–passion and austerity, arrogance and self-doubt, love–surpassing most men’s capacity of loving–and a defacing strain of cruelty, delivering stroke and counter-stroke. From all such tumult he earnestly sought to be delivered; since not the thing accomplished–whether for fame, for praise or for remorse–not, in short, what has been, but what was, and still more what must soon be, did he need, at this juncture, dispassionately to contemplate.

That sharp-toothed disappointment gnawed him, is undeniable, when he thought of the culminating gift of happy fortune, royally satisfying to ambition, as unexpectedly offered him as, through his own unlooked-for and tragic disability, it was unexpectedly withdrawn. But disappointment failed to vex him long. A more wonderful journey than any possible earthly one, a more majestic adventure than that of any oriental proconsulship, awaited him. For no less a person than Death issued the order–an order there is no disobeying. He must saddle up therefore, bid farewell, and ride away.

Nor did he flinch from that ride with Death, the black captain, as escort, any more than, during the past night, he had flinched under the grip of mortal pain. For some persons the call to endurance brings actual pleasure–of a grim heroic kind. It did so to Charles Verity. And not only this conscious exercise of fortitude, this pride of bearing bodily anguish, but a strange curiosity worked to sustain him. The novelty of the experience, in both cases, excited and held his interest, continued to exercise it and to hold.

Now, as in solitude his mental atmosphere acquired serenity and poise–the authority of the past declining–this matter of death increasingly engrossed him. For it trenches on paradox, surely, that the one absolutely certain event in every human career is also the most unexplored and practically incredible.–An everyday occurrence, a commonplace, concerning which there remains nothing new, nothing original, to be written, sung or said; yet a mystery still inviolate, aching with the alarm of the undiscovered, the unpenetrated, to each individual, summoned to accept its empire! He had sent others to their death. Now his own turn came and he found it, however calmly considered, a rather astounding business. An ending or a beginning?–Useless, after all, to speculate. The worst feature of it, not improbably, this same preliminary loneliness, this stripping naked, no smallest comfort left you of human companionship, or even of humble material keepsake from out the multitude of your familiar possessions here in the dear accustomed human scene.

The gates of death open. You pass them. They close behind you. And what then?–The whole hierarchy of heaven, the whole company of your forerunners thither–beloved and honoured on earth–may be gathered to hail the homing soul within those amazing portals; or it may drop, as a stone into a well, down the blank nothingness of the abyss.–Of all gambles invented by God, man or devil–so he told himself–this daily, hourly gamble of individual dissolution is the biggest. Man’s heart refuses the horror of extinction, while his intellect holds the question in suspense. We hope. We believe. From of old fair promises have been made us; and, granted the gift of faith, hope and belief neighbour upon assurance. But certainty is denied. No mortal, still clothed in flesh, has known, nor–the accumulated science of the ages notwithstanding–does know, actually and exactly, that which awaits it.

Thus, anyhow, in the still, tender brightness of the autumn morning, while Nature and men alike pursued their normal activities and occupations, did this singular matter appear to Charles Verity–he, himself, arbitrarily cut off from all such activities and occupations in the very moment of high fruition. Had death been a less eminent affair, or less imminent, the sarcasm of his position might have seemed gross to the point of insult. But, the longer he envisaged it, the more did the enduring enigma and its accompanying uncertainty allure. Not as victim, but rather as conqueror of the final terror, did he begin to regard himself.

Meanwhile, though reason continued to hold the balance even between things positively known and things imagined only and hoped for, the god-ward impulse strengthened in him. Not by conscious or convincing argument from within, but by all-powerful compulsion from without, was his thought borne onward and upward to increasing confidence. So that he asked himself–as so many another, still unwearied, still enamoured of attainment, has asked in like case–whether impending divorce of soul and body may not confer freedom of a wider range and nobler quality, powers more varied and august than the mind, circumscribed by conditions of time and sense, has yet conception of?

To him such development seemed possible–certainly. Probable?–Ah, well, perhaps–perhaps. Which brought him back to his former contention, that its inherent loneliness constitutes the bitterest sting of death. Smiling, he quoted the ancient, divinely tender saying: “There is a child in each one of us which cries at the dark.”

While, in swift reaction, he yearned towards battle where amid the fierce and bloody glory of the fight, souls of heroes troop forth together, shouting, into everlasting day or–sceptical reason shaking a sadly sage head once again–into everlasting night.

He stretched out his hand instinctively for the bell on the little table at his elbow. Hordle answered his summons, grey of countenance from alarm, anxiety, and broken rest.

“Let Miss Damaris know I shall be glad to see her when she is free to come to me,” he said.

And here, although our damsel’s reputation for courage and resource may, thereby, sustain some damage, I am constrained to state that while in the sick-room Miss Felicia shone, Damaris gave off but a vacillating and ineffective light.

Imagination is by no means invariably beneficent. The very liveliness of the perceptions which it engenders may intimidate and incapacitate. Upon Damaris imagination practised this mischief. Becoming, for the time, that upon which she looked, sharing every pang and even embroidering the context, she weakened, in some sort, to the level of the actual sufferer, helpless almost as he through the drench of overwhelming sympathy. She had been taken, poor child, at so villainous a disadvantage. Without preparation or warning–save of the most casual and inadequate–her humour wayward, she a trifle piqued, fancying her pretty clothes, her pretty looks, excited, both by the brilliant prospect presented by the Indian appointment and by her delicate passage of arms with Carteret, she was compelled of a sudden to witness the bodily torment of a human being, not only by her beloved beyond all others, but reverenced also. The impression she received was of outrage, almost of blasphemy. The cruelty of life lay uncovered, naked and open to her appalled and revolted consciousness. She received a moral, in addition to a physical shock, utterly confounding in its crudity, its primitive violence.

The ravage of pain can be, in great measure, surmounted and concealed; but that baser thing, functional disturbance–in this case present as heart spasm, threatening suffocation, with consequent agonized and uncontrollable struggle for breath–defies concealment. This manifestation horrified Damaris. The more so that, being unacquainted with the sorry spectacle of disease, her father, under the deforming stress of it, appeared to her as a stranger almost–inaccessible to affection, hideously removed from her and remote. His person and character, to her distracted observation, were altered beyond recognition except during intervals, poignant to the verge of heart-break, when passing ease restored his habitual dignity and grace.

Thus, while Miss Felicia and Carteret–with Hordle and Mary Fisher as assistants–ministered to his needs in as far as ministration was possible, she stood aside, consumed by misery, voluntarily effacing herself. Backed away even against the wall, out of range of the lamp-light, stricken, shuddering, and mute. Upon Dr. McCabe’s arrival and assumption of command, Carteret, finding himself at liberty to note her piteous state, led her out into the passage and then to the long drawing-room, with gentle authority. There for a half-hour or more–to him sadly and strangely sweet–he sat beside her, while the tears silently coursed down her cheeks, letting her poor proud head rest against his shoulder, his arm supporting her gracious young body still clothed in all the bravery of her flowered silken sunshine dress.

Later, Mary bringing more favourable news of Sir Charles–pain and suffocation having yielded for the time being to McCabe’s treatment–Carteret persuaded her to go upstairs and let the said Mary put her to bed. Once there she slept the sleep of exhaustion, fatigue and sorrow mercifully acting as a soporific, her capacity for further thought or feeling literally worn out.

During that session in the drawing-room Damaris, to his thankfulness, had asked no questions of him. All she demanded child-like, in her extremity, had been the comfort and security of human contact. And this he gave her simply, ungrudgingly, with a high purity of understanding, guiltless of any shadow of embarrassment or any after-thought. Their lighter, somewhat enigmatic relation of the earlier evening was extinguished, swamped by the catastrophe of Charles Verity’s illness. Exactly in how far she gauged the gravity of that illness and its only too likely result, or merely wept, unnerved by the distressing outward aspect of it, Carteret could not determine. But he divined, and rightly, that she was in process of ranging herself, at least subconsciously, with a new and terrible experience which, could she learn the lesson of it aright would temper her nature to worthy issues.

Hence, with a peculiar and tender interest, he watched her when, coming down in the morning, he found her already in the dining-room, the pleasant amenities of a well-ordered, hospitable house and household abundantly evident.

Whatever the tragic occurrences of the last twelve hours, domestic discipline was in no respect relaxed. The atmosphere of the room distilled a morning freshness. Furniture and flooring shone with polish, a log fire, tipped by dancing flames, burned in the low wide grate. Upon the side-table, between the westward facing windows, a row of silver chafing-dishes gave agreeable promise of varied meats; as did the tea and coffee service, arrayed before Damaris, of grateful beverage. While she herself looked trim, and finished in white silk shirt and russet-red suit, her toilet bearing no sign of indifference or of haste.

That her complexion matched her shirt in colour–or rather in all absence of it–that her face was thin, its contours hardened, her eyebrows drawn into a little frown, her eyes enormous, sombre and clouded as with meditative thought, increased, in Carteret’s estimation, assurance of her regained self-mastery and composure. Nor did a reticence in her manner displease him.

“I have persuaded Aunt Felicia to breakfast upstairs,” she told him. “Dr. McCabe sends me word he–my father–wishes to rest for the present, so I engaged Aunt Felicia to rest too. She was wonderful.”

Damaris’ voice shook slightly, as did her hand lifting the coffee-pot.

“She stayed up all night. So did you, I’m afraid, didn’t you, Colonel Sahib?”

“Oh, for me that was nothing. A bath, a change, and ten minutes out there on the battery watching the sun come up over the sea,” Carteret said. “So don’t waste compassion on me. I’m as fit as a fiddle and in no wise deserve it.”

“Ah! but you and Aunt Felicia did stay,” she repeated, her hands still rather tremulously busy with coffee-pot and milk jug. “You were faithful and I no better than a shirker. I fell through, miserably lost myself, which was selfish, contemptible. I am ashamed. Only I was so startled. I never really knew before such–such things could be.–Forgive me, Colonel Sahib. I have been to Aunt Felicia and asked her forgiveness already.–And don’t think too meanly of me, please. The shirking is over and done with for always. You may trust me it never will happen again–my losing myself as I did last night, I mean.”

In making this appeal for leniency, her eyes met Carteret’s fairly for the first time; and he read in them, not without admiration and a twinge of pain, both the height of her new-born, determined valour and the depth of her established distress.

“You needn’t tell me that, you needn’t tell me that, dear witch,” he answered quickly. “I was sure of it all along. I knew it was just a phase which would have no second edition. So put any question of shame or need of forgiveness out of your precious head. You were rushed up against circumstances, against a revelation, calculated to stagger the most seasoned campaigner. You did not shirk; but it took you a little time to get your bearings. That was all. Don’t vex your sweet soul with quite superfluous reproaches.–Sugar? Yes, and plenty of it I am afraid.–But you, too, must eat.”

And on her making some show of repugnance–

“See here, we can’t afford to despise the day of small things, of minor aids to efficiency, dearest witch,” he wisely admonished her.

Whereupon, emulous to please him, bending her will to his, Damaris humbled herself to consumption of a portion of the contents of the chafing-dishes aforesaid. To discover that, granted a healthy subject, sorrow queerly breeds hunger, the initial distaste for food–in the main a sentimental one–once surmounted.

Later McCabe joined them. Recognized Damaris’ attitude of valour, and inwardly applauded it, although himself in woeful state. For he was hard hit, badly upset. Conscious of waste of tissue, he set about to restore it without apology or hesitation, trouble putting an edge to appetite in his case also, and that of formidable keenness. Bitterly he grieved, since bearing the patient, he feared very certainly to lose, an uncommon affection. He loved Charles Verity; while, from the worldly standpoint, his dealings with The Hard meant very much to him–made for glory, a feather in his cap visible to all and envied by many. Minus the fine flourish of it his position sank to obscurity. As a whist-playing, golf-playing, club-haunting, Anglo-Indian ex-civil surgeon–and Irishman