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tine faster than anything on the narrow seas came into Jack's
mind. He found that both Gosport and Riding believed
in Chips' capacity, and that Gosport had new ideas on the
subject of a ship's speed, ideas won from American practice.
He believed in broader ships than the English model,
declaring that they had equal stability and were therefore
as fast in strong winds and far faster in light ones. Chips,
he said, was the only man in England who agreed with him.
He thought that if Chips were given a free hand he would
produce an extraordinary vessel.

Jack resolved to consult his father and, after writing to
his wife and the colonel, he went on board the Dolphin with
Gosport and was put across to Hurstpoint.



194 GREAT DAYS



CHAPTER VI

IT is almost impossible to put the events of the next
two or three years in any orderly and clear sequence.
To Jack himself they always appeared a confused
welter ; there was no path across the waters. Life was dull
to him for the first time ; it had lost its intense zest ; the
purposes of it and the prizes all seemed paltry ; he floated
hither and thither like a water-logged ship, sinking gradually
lower and lower. Without confessing it to himself, he was
tired of his marriage ; he was very young and had in excess
the faults of youth. He was quick, eager, daring, a lover of
risks and adventures, content so long as life held ever-new
excitement. In many ways marriage closed the door,
limited the horizon. At every movement he was conscious
of the change ; girls spoke to him differently, were not so
inclined to flirt with him. Men thought less of him, that
was clear ; he had fallen in public esteem. He resented the
change, and the tie of marriage dragged on him beyond
reason. He hated having to say where he was going or
where he had been ; he was not a child, he thought, to be
so schooled, and Suzanne was very curious and outspoken,
and exceedingly jealous. She did not make the bond
lighter, far from it ; her very tenderness, the frankness of
her abandon, worked against her. Jack soon felt sorry, and



GREAT DAYS 195



admitted to himself that Suzanne could be a mistress or a
mother, but could never be a companion.

She expected him to be greatly interested in her clothes
and hats, and in the way she took care of their child and the
house. She seemed to be always looking for praise or for
kisses and caressings, like a baby for lollipops ; and he soon
realised that her mind was a child-mind, utterly immature
and complacently self-satisfied. He was surprised now and
then to find that she had a certain interest in people, and a
quick feminine understanding of their faults and vanities ;
but he never guessed that a little encouragement from him
would have set her trying to develop this power of compre-
hension with astonishing results.

Very soon after their marriage he asked himself how he
could ever have imagined that he loved her. She was
pretty, but that seemed so little now, and he could never
talk to her, he groaned to himself ; their tetes-d-tetes were
either passages of passion or a quarrel, and generally began
in the one and ended in the other.

What he ought to have done hardly concerns us for the
moment ; what he did do is not very clear, for he seems to
have thrown himself headlong into every distraction that
offered, in order to deaden thought and stifle regret.

As soon as he reached Hurstpoint he busied himself about
the new vessel ; he talked it all over with his father and
Chips, and at length gave the shipwright the order to make a
brigantine of about two hundred and fifty tons, which
Gosport was to arm. But the keel of the little clipper was
hardly laid down when he had to return to Suzanne in
France. She wrote him every day, and every week or so
brought him a packet of her letters. She could not live



196 GREAT DAYS



without him, he must come back and when he went back
he found it was merely his presence she wanted. She had
nothing to give him except herself, and it did not enter
her head now to vary or enhance the gift.

In two or three months Jack was weary to yawning. He
had to return to England, he said, to see how the vessel was
going on. As soon as he was alone his spirits began to rise.
On reaching Hurstpoint he found his father had married
Nancy, who seemed very happy, and was cheekier than ever.

After a week or two at the inn Jack noticed that his sister
was getting very religious ; she was going about a good deal
with young Carrol, and seemed to have forgotten Cecil
Barren completely, perhaps because he had almost deserted
the village for London.

Some time in the summer the brigantine was launched,
and then rigged out and tuned up in cruise after cruise by
Chips. There was no doubt that she w 7 as exceedingly fast,
much faster even than the Dolphin, and for some weeks
Jack took immense delight in getting everything into order
on board and bringing his crew to the highest pitch of
efficiency.

By this time Suzanne's letters were getting importunate
again. His father thought he ought to bring her over,
and after some time Jack resolved to do this, because
Suzanne wanted, she said, to meet his father and to see what
English life was like.

When peace was made, in the early part of the next year,
Jack took The Grange, furnished as it was, and installed
his wife there. From the beginning the experiment did
not turn out well. If Suzanne was lonely in France without
her husband, she was ten times as lonely at The Grange



GREAT DAYS 197



without anyone to talk to, and imprisoned, as she said,
among people she could not understand. Emily did her
best for her, it is true, for a little while ; young Carrol
came, too, and aired his French ; but none of the county
people ever called, and the poor girl spent the greater part
of her time alone. Her baby, even, and Jack were not
sufficient to fill up the void ; she quickly became discon-
tented and fell out of sorts. As ill-luck would have it, the
summer was dark and rainy, and the sun seemed to show
itself as rarely in June as it usually does in December.

Jack took his wife out for drives, but she did not like
the country ; it was never gay, she said, never warm and
bright. He took her to church, too, but the gentlefolk
did not appear to know them. His sister said they resented
his marrying a Frenchwoman. Margaret Barren, it is true,
bowed and smiled pleasantly, but Selwyn was with her,
and Selwyn did not appear to see Jack and managed to keep
Margaret to himself. Suzanne noticed Margaret's greeting,
for, after she had reached home, she wanted to know who
the perch-pole was who had bowed, and when Jack answered
that Margaret was an old friend, she went on to mimic her
smile and caricature her dress till Jack stared at her spiteful-
ness.

The crisis did not come at once, for in spite of domestic
troubles the year held some good moments in it. As soon
as peace was declared Jack took the brigantine down to
Bordeaux and returned with a large cargo of fine brandies
and wines. The trade was highly profitable, and very
interesting as well, besides supplying Jack with excellent
reasons for being away from home.

All this windy and rainy summer Suzanne was nearly



198 GREAT DAYS



deserted ; she had no one to talk to except the maid, Marie,
whom she had brought with her, and her baby, and she
pined for familiar talk and human companionship.

From the very first meeting Suzanne's dislike of England
and the English seemed to concentrate itself on Margaret
Barron. Jack often wondered at this intuitive enmity.
Without intending it, Suzanne kept his thoughts fixed on
Margaret, and he could not but contrast them to Suzanne's
disadvantage. If he were out late at the port or the inn she
was sure to ask him whether he had been with the eel ; she
never spoke of Margaret but in nicknames, and her jealousy
annoyed Jack beyond reason, for it had no foundation, at
least for some time, and as it made the house intolerable he
took to spending a good deal of his spare time at the inn.

One day he was going home from the port when Margaret
came towards him from the road which led to the rectory ;
he bowed to her and walked beside her. She wanted to see
him, for she had just heard from Carrol that he was always
at the inn and drinking too much, and she felt annoyed with
him ; but she concealed this and asked him simply how he
was getting on.

" I'm not getting anywhere," he confessed bitterly ;
" marking time or worse."

His hopelessness took away her anger and made her eager
to help him.

" It was your wife I saw in church the other day, wasn't
it ? " she began. " Why don't you bring her up to The
Court ? Mother would be glad to see her, and I would try
to make things pleasant for her, Jack."

" It is very kind of you," he answered, " but she only
speaks French and she's lonely here."



GREAT DAYS 199



" That's natural enough," Margaret went on. " Do
bring her up and let's try to make it pleasant for her. You've
a little girl, haven't you ? "

Jack nodded.

" You mustn't avoid your friends.'*

Jack retorted bitterly : " It is the friends avoid us. Didn't
you see at church how they all cut us ? "

" You mustn't be hard on them," replied Margaret.
" They don't know much French and they hate to appear
ridiculous ; that's the cause of their standoffishness, believe
me. If your wife would begin to talk English they would
call and try to help her."

Jack shook his head. " She won't ; she hates the English
and England, Margaret."

" You must be patient with her."

" I'm not patient," cried Jack. " I seem to have lost
hope ; life is finished for me. I have missed the way,
somehow."

His bitterness thrilled her, but her very sympathy made
her even more direct than usual.

" The way doesn't lead to the inn," she took heart to say.

" So the parson's been talking," cried Jack. " Damn
him ! "

" That's unfair of you," she broke in seriously. " Carrol
thinks a great deal of you we all do ; you should justify
our high opinion."

" If I could have a talk with you now and then," said
Jack, " I would be able to go on ; but I'm about as hopeless
as a man can be, and I'm not worth spending talk upon."

Margaret looked at him. " I nearly always go down to
the vicarage on Tuesdays and Thursdays and return home



200 GREAT DAYS



about six ; if you cared you could walk a part of the way
with me as far as the forked roads," she added, " where our
ways separate."

The last words made Jack wince, but he thanked her and
took her at her word.

The news soon got about the village that Jack Morgan
and Miss Barren were always meeting and walking together.
The walks were innocent enough, though both Margaret
and Jack delighted in them. The intellectual likeness
between them made the unlikenesses interesting. Since their
first meeting at The Court, Margaret had always been ready
to receive new impressions from him was indeed always in
a state of expectancy, while Jack realised that he was
strangely eager for her praise, and intensely pleased with it,
for she only gave it when it was called forth imperiously.
Now this intellectual sympathy was curiously quickened ;
Jack's hopeless position called forth all Margaret's sympathy,
and her kindness intensified his sensuality ; the bodily
attraction between them became insistent. Margaret was
infinitely desirable to Jack ; the mere sight of her thrilled
and excited him, and she was just as conscious of the deeper
interest she felt in him. She was annoyed with herself
indeed for the obsession of the feeling ; it was a sort of
angry curiosity in her that made her turn Carrol's talk or
his sister's talk always to Jack and his married life, and when
one told her of his drinking and the other of his unhappiness
she tried to be indifferent or impartial, but in herself was
deliciously excited and flattered.

Every meeting seemed to weave fresh bonds between
them. Jack found that telling Margaret all that he had
seen and done made everything clearer to him, and in the



GREAT DAYS 201



same way he brought French life before her just as vividly
by his reports of what he had witnessed and heard. His
exciting stories and experiences had a singular attraction
for her ; the very danger of the life he had led interested
her enormously. They both felt that the time spent
together was always too short.

One day as they stood talking at the forked roads, before
separating, Suzanne saw them. She had come out after
putting the baby to bed, hoping to meet Jack, and as she
walked round the bend in the road she saw him talking with
the woman she hated. Suzanne stopped short ; she did
not know what to do, but she wanted to see on what terms
they would part. " He's in love with that tall beast," she
cried to herself in fear and anger, and the next moment she
had slipped through a gate and was watching the pair from
behind the hedge, ducking down as soon as either of them
cast a glance in her direction.

To her mortification and rage she had nearly half an hour
to wait. When they parted it was merely with a hand-clasp
and a bow. Margaret did not turn once to look after him,
Suzanne noticed. " Cold and stuck up," she said to herself.
" What does he see in her ? " she asked in bitterness of
heart.

Jack came down the road towards her with his head bent
as if in reflection.

Suzanne thought of surprising him, and then concluded
it would be best to follow him home and to say nothing
about the occurrence in order to learn more, but when she
got into the house and found him lost in a book she could
not change her anger to indifference in a moment or conceal
her temper.



202 GREAT DAYS



" What is the matter ? " he asked at length in French.

" You know very well," she replied sullenly, looking at
him with hurt, hating eyes.

" I do not," he replied carelessly. He had persuaded
himself that his meetings with Margaret were mere talks ;
he had not even kissed her hand.

" She must be a pretty creature," cried Suzanne, " that
English girl who makes love to a married man."

" I don't know whom you mean," Jack replied. " There's
no girl making love to me."

" I saw you at the corner," cried Suzanne, " talking to
the c perch-pole,' " and she mimicked Margaret's way of
holding herself. " I suppose she was your mistress before
you married me ? "

Jack revolted. " You mustn't say such things."

" I'll say what I like," cried Suzanne, " and it's true,
anyone can see it ; she's in love with you and follows you
to your own door, the slut ! "

Jack got up and went out of the house. When he
returned it was nightfall, but Suzanne's anger, which had
died down in his absence, flamed up again at his silence and
set face.

" I want to go back home," she said, the moment he got
into the room. " I can't live in this horrible country or with
you. You leave me alone all day to go about with another
woman, and when you return you sit silent or you read ; it
is enough to drive one mad. I have no one to talk to I am
so unhappy," and she choked.

Jack took her in his arms and tried to persuade her that
her suspicions were imaginary, but as soon as he mentioned
Margaret she flamed again ; she would not hear of her. If



GREAT DAYS 203



Jack could have persuaded himself to speak against Margaret,
or to speak contemptuously of her, Suzanne would have
forgiven him ; but the thought of doing so did not enter his
head ; he kept Margaret resolutely out of the petty squabble.
He would not have her degraded with vile names, and
Suzanne felt his reticence and raged against it.

"I'll go home," she cried. "I hate the English and
England. I and my baby will die if we stay here. Why
can't you take me back ? You don't want me. . . . '

She raged and begged till he promised to do her will.

Of course he thought that next day it would all blow over
and be forgotten, and on the morrow Suzanne said nothing
about returning. But a few days later Jack stopped at the
port till it was dark, and when he got back home he found
Suzanne raging and more discontented than ever. The
lonely house, she declared, frightened her to death : there
were noises in it ; she had had Marie to sit with her the
whole evening ; the drip, drip of the rain terrified her.

Again and again she declared he must take her home ;
she would die if confined any longer in the wretched village
where there was no one to talk to, nothing to see, and where
it did nothing but rain all day long.

And worse was to come. Suzanne could never get that
meeting between Margaret and Jack out of her head. She
talked to Marie about it, and set her to watch. They soon
discovered the days of meeting, and at length Suzanne made
up her mind to shame her rival.

Since the first scene with Suzanne Jack was conscious
of his love for Margaret, and though he would not admit
it to himself, the desire to know whether she cared for
him in return as Suzanne had said became almost irresistible.



204 GREAT DAYS



One day he met her in a despairing mood.

" There is nothing to do," he cried, as they stood at the
parting of the ways. " Nothing ! No way of escape for
me. Sometimes I think I shall go mad. Meeting you like
this is torture."

Margaret's eyes dwelt on him. " What can I do ? " she
asked simply.

" Say that you care, too," he said. " That would ease
the pain, make me less miserable." He caught her hand
and kissed it.

Before she could reply Suzanne pushed her way through
the hedge, screaming in French :

" Kiss her mouth ! That's what she wants, the Eng-
lish girl. Don't mind me ; I'm nobody, only your
wife ! She's everything, the prostitute ! "

Jack turned to her. " Hush ! hush ! for God's sake."

But Margaret went in front of him. " I'm sorry," she
said in French. " I should not have let him, but it is the
first time. You believe me ? " she added proudly, holding
out her hand to Suzanne as she spoke.

" I believe nothing," cried Suzanne. " You meet my
husband day after day and you kiss him. You shall not !
You shall not ! Get a man of your own, can't you ? but
leave my husband alone, or I'll make you."

" I'm sorry," said Margaret, " but you're unjust. I advised

him to marry you, and now " She turned and walked

away.

In silence Jack went back to The Grange with Suzanne.
He would not reproach her ; he hardly heard her out-
pourings of jealous anger and suspicion. He felt that it
was all ended, that Margaret would not meet him any



GREAT DAYS 205



more, and that conviction drove all other thoughts out
of his head. He was cold with misery.

His silence exasperated Suzanne. She became determined
now to get back to France. Next day she declared that,
if Jack would not take her home, she would go by herself.

She was so cool, so determined, that at length Jack took
her back to Cherbourg and spent some little time there
with her and the colonel.

Before the end of the year he was as tired of Cherbourg
as his wife had been tired of Hurstpoint ; he ached with
longing for the free, adventurous life, and made the long
and dark nights the excuse for getting back to what he
called " his work." Suzanne hardly objected ; the loneli-
ness of her life at Hurstpoint and her jealousy of Margaret
had completely estranged her from her husband, killed
indeed her little vain affection. Jack might perhaps have
won her love again, had he so willed, but he could not
live the ordinary life with her in Cherbourg ; his mind
seemed to stagnate in it.

He returned to England like a schoolboy who gets out
into the open after a long punishment. He shut up The
Grange, and on his short visits to Hurstpoint put up at
the inn and resumed his life at the point where his
marriage had broken it off.

When an active mind is deprived of play and exercise
the tedium of living soon becomes insupportable ; no bodily
pleasure makes up for the lack of mental stimulus ; the
intellect, too, will have what is necessary to its growth.
Even a tender plant will thrust aside paving stones in order
to reach up to the light.



206 GREAT DAYS



There were many reasons why smuggling after the peace
of Amiens was more successful than it had ever been before.
As might have been expected, the desire for French wines
and brandies had steadily increased all through the years
of war, when the demand had been far greater than the
supply. With peace the trade became extremely profitable,
and the activity of the Preventive officers did not increase
in like measure. Indeed, the whole service on the English
side wanted reorganisation. The inhabitants of the sea-
coast everywhere were against the Customs officers and
men, and gave them no information ; the force was not
only undermanned but unpopular.

Jack therefore found it easy to run cargo after cargo all
through the winter. Putting up at the inn as he did in
the intervals of his cruises he began to drink, as men of
that day drank, a great deal more than was good for him,
and the habit of successful command made his manners
rather imperious.

All this time he deteriorated rapidly. He had resented
the coldness which the gentry had shown him on his
marriage. Now finding himself isolated in the village he
was inclined out of a spirit of antagonism to exaggerate the
differences of opinion which rendered him unpopular. In
the inn parlour he was continually meeting gentlemen to
whom Bonaparte was a sort of ogre, and he amused himself
by picturing him as a hero. Nine out of ten Englishmen
regarded everything French with disgust, and Jack took
pleasure in showing them how mistaken they were. It was
fortunate for him that he was only in the inn for short
periods of time, just sufficient to dispose of the cargo and
get his little craft ready for another cruise ; otherwise



GREAT DAYS 207



his presence there must have led to frequent and perhaps
fatal quarrelling.

On one occasion he almost came to blows with Crosby ;
another time he made fun of Myring and turned the big
lieutenant into an enemy.

One evening, as ill-luck would have it, half a dozen
gentlemen were in the inn when Selwyn came in with the
news that war was imminent. He used the opportunity
to goad Jack with quiet sarcasm and hardly-concealed con-
tempt. The truth is, he was suffering himself, for he had
just been refused by Margaret, and he could not help
trying to score off Jack.

" We shall now see," he said, " whether your hero
Bonaparte is able to beat the one-armed Nelson. I believe
we shall soon hear of another battle of the Nile."

Jack was nothing loth to take up the argument. " What
could Bonaparte do," he said, " but declare war when the
English promised to give up Malta and then refused to
do it ? It is difficult not to fight with people who break
their word. But perhaps Mr. Selwyn would defend broken
promises."

The wordy dispute went on till Selwyn declared that it
was a pity Jack had no right to wear a sword ; whereupon
Jack replied that it seemed to him the majority of the
people who had a right to wear swords were glad of any
excuse not to use them. Selwyn grew very pale at this
insult and spoke aside to Nugent and Myring, and then
all three got up and left the room. For some weeks after
this Jack had the inn almost entirely to himself ; the
officers avoided it, and even Crosby appeared rarely. One
day Jack on his way to the port met Colonel Nugent face



208 GREAT DAYS



to face, and was astonished by the scarcely perceptible
contemptuous nod he received in return for his greeting.
He could not help talking to Riding about it when he met
him five minutes afterwards, and Riding gave him the key
to the general coldness.

" Selwyn," he said, " put himself in the hands of Nugent
and Myring, in regard to the dispute with you. He was
perfectly willing, he said, to meet you with swords or pistols
as they might choose, if they regarded you as a gentleman.
The two officers not being very friendly to you declared
a duel impossible, said that you couldn't even find a gentle-
man to second you, that you had no right to carry a sword
at all or to pretend to equality with gentlefolk. You were
received by the Barrens because in war time, class distinctions
were apt to be relaxed, but really it was too much to ask
gentlemen to accept a publican's son as an equal. They both
agreed that Selwyn was quite right to treat your insult with
disdain ; it was the only proper course. For themselves
they would in future have as little to do with you as
possible."

The decision was soon put about, and in consequence
there was a lowering of the temperature, so to speak, which
Jack felt as distinctly unpleasant.

Mr. Carrol even lent an avowable reason to the general


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Online LibraryFrank HarrisGreat days → online text (page 13 of 21)