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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How shall ever one like me
Win thee back again?"

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




CHAPTER X

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Never been married, Partington, 'ave you? I've often known that put a
fellow sadly off the sex."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You are happy?" he affirmed rather than asked.

"As the day is long," she answered him steadily.

"But the day's not been overlong, by chance, has it?"

"Not half long enough."

"All's well, then, still." He pressed her - "You aren't weary of me yet?"

Damaris reassuringly shook her head.

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

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

"Does all that really interest you?"

Damaris' lips quivered the least bit.

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

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

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

"Or you in me?" Damaris said.

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER XI

WHEREIN DAMARIS MEETS HERSELF UNDER A NOVEL ASPECT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last forty-eight hours had been fertile in experiences and in events,
among which the arrival of this gift could by no means be accounted the
least exciting. - Hordle had brought the packet here to her, last night,



Online LibraryLucas MaletDeadham Hard → online text (page 25 of 39)