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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



Online LibraryLucas MaletDeadham Hard → online text (page 33 of 39)