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home to Marley and Eunice, for all the loving messages
Michael brought. He had been still weak when he left Water-
val, with recurrent bouts of malaria, and he had even now
but limited movement in his arm.


" If it were not for that I'd ask for leave to rejoin," he
said almost inadvertently to Michael, as they sat smoking in
the hall of the hotel. There were gay ladies going up and
down the stairs, lingering in the vestibule, traffic passing
between them and the men who but yesterday had gazed at

" The war is not over. No one who has been with those
fellows as I have can believe thejr'll give in all at once."

" Your mother wishes you to come to Marley as quickly
as possible."

Michael had been, as his father predicted, very helpful
and attentive to Desmond these last few days, guarding him
from fatigue, remembering when it was time for his medicine
or tonic, saving him every possible inconvenience of the hot
and tedio^^s railway journey.

" I told you already in Waterval, you remember, that Lady
Grindelay wishes you to come back as speedily as possible."

" She doesn't know," Desmond began dully.

"There is nothing she doesn't know," Michael answered

That was the moment when Desmond became aware of
Gabrielle coming down the stairs with shrill talk and laughter,
Gabrielle with undraped shoulders and a light scarf, and a
young man in attendance, a young man with a loose mouth
and retreating chin, who answered her sallies.

" They don't know I'm married," he blurted out, and then
went on desperately :

" That woman over there is ... is my wife ! " He ex-
pected an exclamation from Michael.

" She is nothing of the kind," Michael answered with

Gabrielle's shrill voice came to them. In evening dress
she was so much more vulgar than in nurse's costume; she
was painted and her red hair brighter than he remembered it.

" I married her before I came out," Desmond repeated.
Gabrielle had not seen them. And again Michael answered:

" No, you didn't. You thought you did. Perhaps I ought
to have told you before," he went on, " but we seem to have


had so little time for talk. That is what I came out to tell you
— the chief reason. My father and I found out she was already
married when she went through that ceremony with you."

Desmond dropped into his seat. The slightest agitation
brought back the throbbing in his arm, a sickening disability.
In the distance he could yet see Gabrielle and her companion.
They were going out together ; cloaking her was the man with
the under-hung chin and the familiar manners.

" I can't understand what you are telling me. How did
you know ? Does my mother know ? "

Desmond's brain was not acting well. The first shock of
the news found him without the capacity to understand its
full significance. There was a rush of pleasure, incomprehen-
sible pleasure, then doubt and bewilderment. He had mar-
ried Gabrielle from a sense of duty, because of something she
had told him, and what his mother had said. Could it be
true that she had already a husband? What had become
of And then he left off thinking and looked at Michael.

" I may be an awful fool. I don't understand a word you
are telling me. Fact is, I am not quite myself. You say you
know all about my marriage, and that everybody knows, that
it isn't legal; but "

" Shall 1 begin at the beginning and tell you all we
know ? "

"I wish you would. My head is so woolly to-night; I've
got no brain."

But it came back to him when Michael told him of his
meeting with Gabrielle at the War Office, and of all that
followed, or of much that followed. Desmond listened in
bewildered silence.

" You told my mother ? "

"We had no choice."

"What did she say?"

" My father told her. I was not there ; but I understand
it was not a great surprise to her. She seemed to think in
some way she was herself responsible. Her great anxiety was
that your cousin should know nothing, be told nothing. It


was just before her operation; she had just heard she must
undergo an operation."

Desmond had already been told of his mother's illness.

"She did not wish her niece should have this further
trouble." It was difficult for Michael to say that Lady Grin-
delay wished to spare her niece the knowledge of Desmond's
marriage because she knew how unbearable it would be to the
girl. He stopped.

" But afterwards, when everything was known ? " Desmond

"Afterwards? Well, quite soon afterwards we knew it
was no marriage at all. Then came the operation, and the
news that you were not dead. There was no object in telling

Michael's steady voice had a break in it; but Desmond,
listening avidly, never noticed it. Not only was he free, but
Eunice knew nothing of his folly, madness, wickedness.

« Go on."

Michael had to tell him that at first Lady Grindelay
would not have Eunice know because it would add to her
grief. Eunice was to continue to deck her altar to him with
flowers, to keep his memory beautiful and sweet. And that
afterwards she would not allow her joy in the news that he
was not dead to be clouded by hearing that he had not been
all she thought him.

Everything was for Desmond, whilst he, Michael, who
loved her so much better, and had never faltered in loving
her, was only here to tell the tale, to bring them together.
He felt the bitterness of it as he went on:

" That is Lady Grindelay's great desire, her most urgent

message to you. She insists upon secrecy, Eunice "

Desmond had a spasm of jealousy, he did not know that
Michael had the privilege of her name. " Eunice is to know
nothing. Your mother thought you might be writing to her.
But you are to tell her nothing, except" — again Michael
paused for an imperceptible second — "except that you are
coming back to her as quickly as you can travel. I have a
letter that I am not to give you until you are in full posses-


sion of all the circumstances ; but I know what the gist of it
is, and I am to tell you verbally, as Lady Grindelay told it to
me, that you are to consider the incident closed, to be for-
gotten. We paid five thousand pounds."

" My mother gave her money ? " he stanmiered.

" She made ample provision for the woman and her child.
She did not hold you entirely to blame in the matter. She
urged me to tell you this. All she asks in return is secrecy."

" But I must see Gabrielle."

" Why ? Cannot I see her for you, if there is anything
to be gained by it ? There is nothing more to be said. We
have our proofs."

" I insisted upon marrying her, she told me she was going

to have a child " Desmond spoke hesitatingly, in a stifled


" That has all been arranged," Michael answered hastily.
There seemed an indelicacy, an impossibility of pursuing the

Michael knew he was also expected to make it clear that
Lady Grindelay's opposition to a marriage between Desmond
and his cousin had no longer to be faced, that she was eager
for it now, urgent even. He could not speak of Desmond's
child and of Eunice in the same breath. Michael thought he
never could have done such a thing as Desmond had. All his
friendliness was an effort.

Desmond had a recurrence of fever that night. Michael
shared a room with him and tended him well, covering him
with blankets in the shivering stage and administering
quinine. When in the early morning Desmond lay exhausted
and sleeping, Michael went downstairs to breakfast, and made
the daily inquiry about steamer accommodation. So many
were hurrying home. But there was one whom it was impos-
sible to hurry, and when he embarked his voyage would be a
longer one. Michael, when he heard that Eric Elphinstone
had had a sudden attack of heart failure, that neither his
mother nor he would be using their berths, hurried round at


once to see if it were possible to obtain the reversion of them.
It was soon arranged. Lady Elphinstone saw him, and her
eyes were illumined with something deeper than grief, and

" Eric has spoken so often of Lord Grindelay ; he will be
glad to know you are to have our berths," she told Michael.
"^ He does not want our dear ones at home to see him as he is.
I think it came to him as a relief when he was told yesterday
evening that he was not to go. * Not yet,' the doctors said ;
but he understood "

She broke off, Her pride shone in her eyes, but her grief
was grey in her cheeks and grey on her lips.

Michael looked out of the window as she spoke to him.
The bay was full of shipping, painted funnels and white sails
under the blue skies. Many sounds came up to him where
he stood. But the sound of sobbing was louder than any of
them. It was not in the room, nor from her ; it was following
the army home. Her voice had been steady, and his own
words showed no feeling, even if his eyes could not face hers.

" Then we can have the berths ? "

Not a word of sympathy could he get out, although, as
they went through the little necessary business, his hand
shook so that he was unable to sign the transfer. Cool, pre-
cise Michael came away all unnerved from that interview.
He never told Desmond whose berths they were that he had
secured. They were in England again before Desmond knew
that " Elphie " had gone home, in his mother's arms, and so


All through that voyage, whilst Desmond was regaining his
strength, growing healthily bronzed, discovering an appetite,
Michael controlled his feelings and played the part he had
been sent out to perform.

He "took care'' of Desmond, saved him from impru-
dences, reminded him of liability to cold, urged the continu-
ance of the quinine. He forced himself to talk of Marley,
and those whom Marley held, when Desmond walked the
deck by his side or started the subject when they were undress-
ing in their cabin or lay in their bunks. Desmond was never
tired of hearing of Marley. Every hour was taking him
nearer to his home. He was obeying his mother's message
literally, forgetting the past. Michael had executed his com-
mission faithfully, however resentfully, omitting nothing.
Desmond heard how Eunice had grieved for him, how his
mother had despaired ; that he was going back now as a hero,
that there was nothing that would be denied or withheld from
him. He had been a prisoner — not only of the Boers. He
felt free, and every hour more lighthearted ; a boy again, but
happier than he had been as a boy. Then, perhaps uncon-
sciously, he had been under the shadow of his parents' dif-
ferences; now he was going back into sunshine. Michael
thought no better of him because he obeyed his mother's com-
mands so literally ; he could sometimes not command himself
sufficiently to remain with him.

"What a restless fellow you are," Desmond said on one
of these occasions. " I'd no idea you were like that. I used
to look upon you as so steady and staid. It's past eleven,
and you want to go on deck again. Can't you go to sleep?
We've had a good old jaw."

As the ship neared Southampton it became increasingly
difficult for Michael to talk with Desmond about Marley or the
future. He had carried out all Eunice's wishes, her spoken



and unspoken ones, as well as his instructions from Lady
Grindelay. They would have had no anxiety; he had cabled
from Pretoria, from Cape Town, and lastly from Madeira.
They knew Desmond was better, that he was coming to them
as fast as steamer could carry him.

Michael thought they would be met at Southampton, that
Eunice might be there. It is one thing to carry out one's
commission faithfully, another to see the girl you love in
another man's arms; a man so unworthy! It was natural
Michael should think Desmond unworthy of Eunice, for all
the glamour of his wounds. Michael felt he could never have
done what Desmond had, that no woman, however adroit,
could have lured him to infidelity to Eunice. And perhaps
it was true. The difference was in their ages and tempera-
ments, as well as in the manner of their quixotry — in the
Irish as opposed to the Scottish blood. Desmond talked to
everybody, took part in all the impromptu gaieties that were
got up on board. It was difficult for Michael to believe this
gay, light-hearted youngster was the same person as the
invalided soldier with his arm in a sling whom he had met out-
side the hospital tent at Waterval. Michael did not take suffi-
ciently into account the fact that Desmond had been a pris-
oner and now was free. He was drawing long breaths, filling
his lungs with air, unconsciously rejoicing in the strength
that was returning to him, not reasoning but feeling. All
his fetters had been struck off at one blow.

Tlie sea flung its spray upon the deck and the sun shone.
The wind was a following one and helped them along. The
young people forgathered and behaved as young people do
under such circumstances. They sometimes danced and they
sometimes sang, taking a lively interest in one another.
Young Lord Grindelay was the recipient of much attention,
and he was no anchorite or churl ; he had nothing of Michael's

As they neared their destination everj^one began to talk of
" home," to search the horizon for coast-line or cliff. It was
only Michael who was in no hurry. He thought it possible
Eunice might be at Southampton, and he knew for how little


he would count in her life after Desmond had been restored
to her. He saw those days of rejoicing at Marley, and the
wedding that would so quickly follow. He alone watched
not eagerly for cliff and coastline. The speeding ship, as it
cut through the waters, was carrying him to nothing but lone-
liness. In bringing Desmond home he was doing the last
thing he might do for her.

As he had anticipated, she was on the landing-stage, wait-
ing. He saw her before Desmond, or anybody else, could
distinguish one face from another in the crowd that stood
on the quay as the ship came nearer and nearer to its moor-
ings. Handkerchiefs were being waved and there was shout-
ing. The last hour seemed the slowest of all the voyage.
There was Eunice, with her waving handkerchief, and his
father with her — two familiar figures. He pointed them out
to Desmond presently, when he could command himself.
Together he and Desmond watched them coming nearer and
nearer. It was as if the platform was moving, and not the
ship. At last they were near enough for the recognition to
be mutual. When the stage was thrown out, Desmond was
the first to step upon it. All that Michael had feared he saw.
There was no holding back, no concealment. His father was
wringing his own hand, welcoming him. But Eunice —
Eunice was in Desmond's arms. They stood as if they were
alone. He could see that it seemed to both of them as if
all their days had been but to this end.

The train stood still in the station whilst luggage and
passengers were promiscuously harried and delayed. There
were other people in the compartment with them, but Michael
saw no one but Eunice ; the gauze twisted round her hat, her
eyes alight and dancing, her cheeks flushed.

"He doesn't look a bit like a hero," she said gaily to
Michael, whom she had forgotten to greet. " I don't believe
he has ever been as ill as they said."

She was too happy to be serious. Desmond and she had
hardly spoken to each other, but he had held her in his arms,
his lips had touched her cheek, he was here. It was not her


lover, but her cousin, she was seeing in him just now, the boy
with whom she had been brought up, her inseparable, beloved

She had no girlish flutterings, surrendering to his kiss
and returning it, but with an emotion no different from what
it would have been had she been his sister. This was Des-
mond. It did not go beyond that for the moment. All the
rest was to come. It throbbed in her heart and glistened in
her eyes, but it was not for now. She was full of excited talk.

" Michael has nursed me like a brother," Desmond told
her. She even forgot to thank him.

" I suppose you had a wonderful time out there ? " she
said to Michael almost carelessly, with unconscious cruelty.
It was such a little while since she had seen Michael. " He
was dying to go," she explained to Desmond, turning again to
him. There were endless things she had to say to him —

" Aunt Agatha says you are not to think she did not come
to Southampton because she was not well enough. She is
ever so well ; she walked to the village yesterday. She won't
come to the station either. She's waiting for you at the
hotel. We are staying at the Buckingham Palace. We are
going to be a whole fortnight in town. She said you were sure
to want clothes." All her talk was for Desmond.

They were off at last. The guard waved his green flag,
and the whistle of the engine was shrill and loud. All the
luggage and passengers were in, and their compartment was
crowded; suit-cases and portmanteaux on the floor, in the
overcrowded racks, everywhere; umbrellas and rugs, strapped
together, intruded on the seats. The train moved slowly out
of the station. It was no moment for sentiment. Yet it
was the only time when Michael became an individual in her
eyes. Desmond was standing up to make safe the many pack-
ages over her head, and she had time to see Michael.

"You look worse than Desmond, Michael, although you
were not in the war. Have you been sea-sick?"

Desmond dropped into his seat beside her again, and she
did not even wait for the answer.


During the next hour and a half Desmond and Eunice
talked to each other in eager whispers, and Michael heard all
the office news from his father.

" I've missed you, dear boy," Andrew said affectionately.
He, too, saw that Michael was not looking well. " You have
found it very fatiguing, I dare say." Michael admitted to
feeling fatigued.

"That will wear off in a day or two. There were so
many new impressions "

He spoke carelessly, but his father was scarcely deceived.
He also noted the two in the corner, their eager whisperings.
Michael listened with sufficient interest to the relation of
what had been done in the matter of Seeker v. Seeker, and at
what particular phase the case of De Plevens v. the London
and North Eastern Eailway had arrived. But the only ques-
tion he put was hardly one of business at all.

"Is Lady Grindelay really quite well again? You say
she is in London."

His father had taken to spectacles ; he took them off before
he answered:

" She will see a specialist in a day or two. Dr. Reid is
coming up to town to meet him. She has not quite recovered
from the operation."

" Recurrence ? "

" There seems some doubt. But she wishes Desmond and
everybody to believe she is quite well. They are going to
give him a big reception at Marley — Desmond and all the
Marley men who have come home. The Lord Lieutenant and
the Mayor and the local volunteers are to be present, and the
place will be decorated. You know the sort of thing. If
Agatha is well or ill, whatever verdict the specialist has for
her, nothing is to be discussed or known until after Desmond
has gone home to Marley in state. After that, I suppose there
will be the wedding."

He relapsed into silence; so did Michael. But Desmond
and Eunice were still talking animatedly.

At Waterloo the party was to separate. Desmond sug-
gested that Michael should look after Eunice whilst he col-


lected the luggage. When they were standing alone Eunice
told Michael that Desmond could not say enough about his
kindness. Michael answered :

" You told me to bring him back to you."

Eunice glanced at him, looked away again, flushed, under-

" You see how it is/' she went on irresolutely ; she was
sorry for Michael. " It has always been like that."

" I know."

" Desmond and I "

" I know."

" He has not altered. You don't think him altered ? "

" I think he is just the same."

Then she could not think of anything more to say. Des-
mond seemed a long time with the luggage.

"Auntie will be getting anxious, the train, was late as
it is."

"Would you like me to go and see if I can find him —
hurry him?"

" Oh, no ! " And then there was a pause. But she forced
her thoughts away from Desmond, and set herself to be nice
to Michael. Later on, when they had all calmed down, when
she had become used to having Desmond at home again, and
they were all at Marley, there were many things she would
like to hear from Michael. How Desmond had been found,
and what his brother officers said of him, and everything; she
knew Desmond would never talk of his own exploits.

" You'll come down to Marley when we go back ? " she
said, in the effort to be nice to him. In the mirk of the
railway station she looked more beautiful than ever. Poor
Michael could hardly bear it.

" No ; I don't think I will come to Marley ; at least, not
just yet. You haven't forgotten what I asked you in New-
quay, have you ? I don't think I want to see you and Desmond

He was, oddly enough, suddenly angry. Of what did she
think he was made ? But, of course, she had not been thinking
of him at all.


" You are angry with me ? " she said, in surprise.

Michael had never been like this while they were uncer-
tain of Desmond's fate. She had not forgotten what he said
to her by the Gannell Eiver ; girls do not forget such things.
But she thought, since he knew about her and Desmond, he
had not wished that either of them should remember. Now
his manner made her uncomfortable.

" Of course not." But he said it stiffly, with difficulty
and an absence of colour. " I am sorry if I spoke abruptly."
For he saw her face had changed.

What he had in his mind one cannot know completely,
but it may have seemed possible to him, even then, that the
future might hold pain for her, or trouble. Michael thought
Desmond unstable.

" There is nothing I would not do for you, you know that,"
he began again.

" I shall always be glad of your friendship, of course "

She hardly knew what to say.

" You can call it friendship if you like," he said almost

" I wish it were friendship. Oh, Michael, can't we just be
friends ? " she cried.

" My feelings can never change," he answered.

She moved a step away from him, then nearer again, for
she did not want to be unkind. He saw that she looked dis-

" I know you don't want to hear it," he went on ; " that
my love is nothing to you, Desmond's everything. But a

time might come " He broke off. " And if ever you did

want help "

"I am sure you would do anything for me," she said

" You will never forget that, will you ? "

He saw that Desmond was coming towards them, following
a porter with a loaded trunk.

" You will think of me if you ever need help, or, or a
friend. I will be anything to you that you wish. I shall never
alter, I shall always be waiting."


" Oh, there you are ! " Desmond's voice reached them.
" Come along, I've got a cab. Your father has got your things
together. Jolly good plan your having them marked like

Desmond hurried Eunice away, Michael had to look for
and find his father.

" What was it he was saying to you ? " Desmond asked
her when they were in the cab. But he did not wait for the
answer. He was looking at her, and said all at once :

" Isn't it wonderful ? "

Then he took her hand, and Michael might never have
existed at all for either of them.

They sat hand in hand all that slow way from Waterloo
to the Buckingham Palace Hotel. But they hardly said a
word except " Isn't it wonderful ? " They seemed to have a
complete understanding of each other, although nothing had
been said of more moment than that. He had kissed her
when he came off the boat, but it had been her cheek and not
her lips that he had taken. Now they sat hand in hand and
felt how wonderful it was.

Lady Grindelay met them in the hall of the hotel. She
had been watching for their cab to drive up, and now stood
in the hall.

" Here he is, auntie ! Did you think we were never
coming ? "

" I was content to wait."

Desmond thought her unaltered, saw no reflection in her
of his own agitation. He had a rush of feeling as he kissed
her, remembering all she had done for him. He flung his
arms about her.

" Mother, darling ! "

She adjusted her cap, and said :

" You are as impetuous as ever, I see."

That was all she said, and yet she was much more moved
than he, the mere sight of him was a vision of splendour,
almost incredible, blinding in its effulgence; the touch of his

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 18 of 27)