Richard Harding Davis.

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loves; but imagine this man urging himself and the rest of us to hurry
when we were in the heart of Africa, with six months' travel in front
of us before we could reach the first limits of civilization. That is
what this man did. When he was still on his litter he used to toss and
turn, and abuse the bearers and porters and myself because we moved so
slowly. When we stopped for the night he would chafe and fret at the
delay; and when the morning came he was the first to wake, if he slept
at all, and eager to push on. When at last he was able to walk, he
worked himself into a fever again, and it was only when Royce warned
him that he would kill himself if he kept on that he submitted to be
carried, and forced himself to be patient. And all the time the poor
devil kept saying how unworthy he was of her, how miserably he had
wasted his years, how unfitted he was for the great happiness which
had come into his life. I suppose every man says that when he is in
love; very properly, too; but the worst of it was, in this man's case,
that it was so very true. He was unworthy of her in everything but his
love for her. It used to frighten me to see how much he cared. Well,
we got out of it at last, and reached Alexandria, and saw white faces
once more, and heard women's voices, and the strain and fear of
failure were over, and we could breathe again. I was quite ready
enough to push on to London, but we had to wait a week for the
steamer, and during that time that man made my life miserable. He had
done so well, and would have done so much more if he had had my
equipment, that I tried to see that he received all the credit due
him. But he would have none of the public receptions, and the audience
with the khedive, or any of the fuss they made over us. He only wanted
to get back to her. He spent the days on the quay watching them load
the steamer, and counting the hours until she was to sail; and even at
night he would leave the first bed he had slept in for six months, and
would come into my room and ask me if I would not sit up and talk with
him until daylight. You see, after he had given up all thought of her,
and believed himself about to die without seeing her again, it made
her all the dearer, I suppose, and made him all the more fearful of
losing her again.

"He became very quiet as soon as we were really under way, and Royce
and I hardly knew him for the same man. He would sit in silence in his
steamer-chair for hours, looking out at the sea and smiling to
himself, and sometimes, for he was still very weak and feverish, the
tears would come to his eyes and run down his cheeks. 'This is the
way we would sit,' he said to me one night, 'with the dark purple sky
and the strange Southern stars over our heads, and the rail of the
boat rising and sinking below the line of the horizon. And I can hear
her voice, and I try to imagine she is still sitting there, as she did
the last night out, when I held her hands between mine.'" Gordon
paused a moment, and then went on more slowly: "I do not know whether
it was that the excitement of the journey overland had kept him up or
not, but as we went on he became much weaker and slept more, until
Royce became anxious and alarmed about him. But he did not know it
himself; he had grown so sure of his recovery then that he did not
understand what the weakness meant. He fell off into long spells of
sleep or unconsciousness, and woke only to be fed, and would then fall
back to sleep again. And in one of these spells of unconsciousness he
died. He died within two days of land. He had no home and no country
and no family, as I told you, and we buried him at sea. He left
nothing behind him, for the very clothes he wore were those we had
given him - nothing but the locket and the chain which he had told me
to take from his neck when he died."

Gordon's voice had grown very cold and hard. He stopped and ran his
fingers down into his pocket and pulled out a little leather bag. The
people at the table watched him in silence as he opened it and took
out a dull silver chain with a gold heart hanging from it.

"This is it," he said, gently. He leaned across the table, with his
eyes fixed on those of the American girl, and dropped the chain in
front of her. "Would you like to see it?" he said.

The rest moved curiously forward to look at the little heap of gold
and silver as it lay on the white cloth. But the girl, with her eyes
half closed and her lips pressed together, pushed it on with her hand
to the man who sat next her, and bowed her head slightly, as though it
was an effort for her to move at all. The wife of the Austrian
Minister gave a little sigh of relief.

"I should say your story did end badly, Mr. Gordon," she said. "It is
terribly sad, and so unnecessarily so."

"I don't know," said Lady Arbuthnot, thoughtfully - "I don't know; it
seems to me it was better. As Mr. Gordon says, the man was hardly
worthy of her. A man should have something more to offer a woman than
love; it is a woman's prerogative to be loved. Any number of men may
love her; it is nothing to their credit: they cannot help themselves."

"Well," said General Kent, "if all true stories turn out as badly as
that one does, I will take back what I said against those the
story-writers tell. I prefer the ones Anstey and Jerome make up. I
call it a most unpleasant story."

"But it isn't finished yet," said Gordon, as he leaned over and
picked up the chain and locket. "There is still a little more."

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" said the wife of the Austrian Minister,
eagerly. "But then," she added, "you can't make it any better. You
cannot bring the man back to life."

"No," said Gordon, "but I can make it a little worse."

"Ah, I see," said Phillips, with a story-teller's intuition - "the

"The first day I reached London I went to her banker's and got her
address," continued Gordon. "And I wrote, saying I wanted to see her,
but before I could get an answer I met her the next afternoon at a
garden-party. At least I did not meet her; she was pointed out to me.
I saw a very beautiful girl surrounded by a lot of men, and asked who
she was, and found out it was the woman I had written to, the owner of
the chain and locket; and I was also told that her engagement had just
been announced to a young Englishman of family and position, who had
known her only a few months, and with whom she was very much in love.
So you see," he went on, smiling, "that it was better that he died,
believing in her and in her love for him. Mr. Phillips, now, would
have let him live to return and find her married; but Nature is kinder
than writers of fiction, and quite as dramatic."

Phillips did not reply to this, and the general only shook his head
doubtfully and said nothing. So Mrs. Trevelyan looked at Lady
Arbuthnot, and the ladies rose and left the room. When the men had
left them, a young girl went to the piano, and the other women seated
themselves to listen; but Miss Egerton, saying that it was warm,
stepped out through one of the high windows on to the little balcony
that overhung the garden. It was dark out there and cool, and the
rumbling of the encircling city sounded as distant and as far off as
the reflection seemed that its million lights threw up to the sky
above. The girl leaned her face and bare shoulder against the rough
stone wall of the house, and pressed her hands together, with her
fingers locking and unlocking and her rings cutting through her
gloves. She was trembling slightly, and the blood in her veins was hot
and tingling. She heard the voices of the men as they entered the
drawing-room, the momentary cessation of the music at the piano, and
its renewal, and then a figure blocked the light from the window, and
Gordon stepped out of it and stood in front of her with the chain and
locket in his hand. He held it towards her, and they faced each other
for a moment in silence.

"Will you take it now?" he said.

The girl raised her head, and drew herself up until she stood straight
and tall before him. "Have you not punished me enough?" she asked, in
a whisper. "Are you not satisfied? Was it brave? Was it manly? Is that
what you have learned among your savages - to torture a woman?" She
stopped with a quick sob of pain, and pressed her hands against her

Gordon observed her, curiously, with cold consideration. "What of the
sufferings of the man to whom you gave this?" he asked. "Why not
consider him? What was your bad quarter of an hour at the table, with
your friends around you, to the year he suffered danger and physical
pain for you - for you, remember?"

The girl hid her face for a moment in her hands, and when she lowered
them again her cheeks were wet and her voice was changed and softer.
"They told me he was dead," she said. "Then it was denied, and then
the French papers told of it again, and with horrible detail, and how
it happened."

Gordon took a step nearer her. "And does your love come and go with
the editions of the daily papers?" he asked, fiercely. "If they say
to-morrow morning that Arbuthnot is false to his principles or his
party, that he is a bribe-taker, a man who sells his vote, will you
believe them and stop loving him?" He gave a sharp exclamation of
disdain. "Or will you wait," he went on, bitterly, "until the Liberal
organs have had time to deny it? Is that the love, the life, and the
soul you promised the man who - "

There was a soft step on the floor of the drawing-room, and the tall
figure of young Arbuthnot appeared in the opening of the window as he
looked doubtfully out into the darkness. Gordon took a step back into
the light of the window, where he could be seen, and leaned easily
against the railing of the balcony. His eyes were turned towards the
street, and he noticed over the wall the top of a passing omnibus and
the glow of the men's pipes who sat on it.

"Miss Egerton?" asked Arbuthnot, his eyes still blinded by the lights
of the room he had left. "Is she here? Oh, is that you?" he said, as
he saw the movement of the white dress. "I was sent to look for you,"
he said. "They were afraid something was wrong." He turned to Gordon,
as if in explanation of his lover-like solicitude. "It has been rather
a hard week, and it has kept one pretty well on the go all the time,
and I thought Miss Egerton looked tired at dinner."

The moment he had spoken, the girl came towards him quickly, and put
her arm inside of his, and took his hand.

He looked down at her wonderingly at this show of affection, and then
drew her nearer, and said, gently, "You are tired, aren't you? I came
to tell you that Lady Arbuthnot is going. She is waiting for you."

It struck Gordon, as they stood there, how handsome they were and how
well suited. They took a step towards the window, and then the young
nobleman turned and looked out at the pretty garden and up at the sky,
where the moon was struggling against the glare of the city.

"It is very pretty and peaceful out here," he said, "is it not? It
seems a pity to leave it. Good-night, Gordon, and thank you for your
story." He stopped, with one foot on the threshold, and smiled. "And
yet, do you know," he said, "I cannot help thinking you were guilty of
doing just what you accused Phillips of doing. I somehow thought you
helped the true story out a little. Now didn't you? Was it all just as
you told it? Or am I wrong?"

"No," Gordon answered; "you are right. I did change it a little, in
one particular."

"And what was that, may I ask?" said Arbuthnot.

"The man did not die," Gordon answered.

Arbuthnot gave a quick little sigh of sympathy. "Poor devil!" he said,
softly; "poor chap!" He moved his left hand over and touched the hand
of the girl, as though to reassure himself of his own good fortune.
Then he raised his eyes to Gordon's with a curious, puzzled look in
them. "But then," he said, doubtfully, "if he is not dead, how did you
come to get the chain?"

The girl's arm within his own moved slightly, and her fingers
tightened their hold upon his hand.

"Oh," said Gordon, indifferently, "it did not mean anything to him,
you see, when he found he had lost her, and it could not mean anything
to her. It is of no value. It means nothing to any one - except,
perhaps, to me."


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 12 of 12)