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Had his sensations been put into form
Hubert Gainsborough would have seen some-
thing like this written on the sands over which
the tide was swiftly flowing washing away
those intertwined initials which he had just
drawn on the level beach. He knew that this
was their golden hour, and that he and Naomi
would never be more blessed than they were
now, no, not even when the final sacrament
had separated them from the world and given
them to each other for that wonderful moon
which love makes of honey, and all that is not
love turns to gall. Everything was in their
favour, and their coming marriage was one in
which the most critical, the most censorious,


could find no flaw. It was as smooth as satin
and clear as crystal. Fortune, station, health,
ages not a crooked straw was on their path
not a leaf of nightshade presaged the coming
of the deadly witch of misfortune. Naomi had
had no other fancy by which to compare her
lover to his disadvantage, and Hubert had
buried out of sight all his. He had sown his
wild oats and the sack was now empty. And
yet the harvest ? Bitter enough at the time,
was it really all stacked and garnered? Might
not some aftermath crop up again when least
expected ? The passover is vitiated for the
pious Jew if but one measure of leaven remains.
What of the passover of the Fates who pursue,
of the Vengeance which strikes, if aught of
that bitter harvest of youthful folly remains ?

Why did the thought of her suddenly cross
his mind at this moment ? Why did Naomi's
bended neck make him slightly shiver as if a
cold wind had passed over him, gorgeous,



burning summer time as it was ? As she
stooped her head, looking into the little pool
where the sea-flowers had S) read out their
coloured rays, the sunlight caught the fringe
at the back of her neck, and the brown of her
hair was brightened into gold.

A sudden longing to kiss those feathery little
curls flushed him like a fever ; arid then a
thought checked his impulse arid made his
blood run cold as if a wandering ghost had
touched him as it passed. The last time he
kissed a woman's neck, there at the back, he
had been sitting, as now, on the sands of the
seashore. But it had been in France at that
glaring, garish Trouville not in a leafy little
home-bay in Devonshire ; and, instead of
Naomi Ponsonby, pledged to be his wife before
the year was out, his companion had been the
beautiful American, Mariquita Delrnare, with
whom there had never been a question of
marriage. For was not that burly, black-


mn, wo , *,


bearded, crop-haired man who, once a week,
came down to see her, and of whom she was
evidently so much afraid, Auguste Delmare
and her husband ? All the same, wife as
she was or seemed to be Hubert had loved
this woman with the intensity of a young
man's first serious passion. And when his
enlightenment came, nothing but the anger of
contempt had saved him from the heartbreak
of despair.

But why should he think of her now ? As
things had shaped themselves in his life it was
a kind of sacrilege to remember her at all.
To be actively reminded of her by Naomi was

Naomi saw the change in her lover's face
it was as if a cloud had come over the sun.
Not being a woman of obtrusive sympathy nor
of inquisitive affection, instead of speaking or
asking why, she laid her hand on his with a
caressing touch that told all she wished to say.


It was such a gentle, tender little touch ! so
womanly in its sympathy, but yet so almost
childish in its ignorance of the reason why !
It was to Hubert what the harp of David was
to Saul. The cloud passed the wandering
ghost vanished. Mariquita Delmare faded into
the void of nothingness; and all that Hubert
saw was Naomi Ponsonby sitting there in the
sunlight beside him the angel whom the gods
had given to bless and beautify his life the
divine maiden so soon to become his dear wife !

He took her hand and kissed it. What
a beautiful hand it was ! Those long taper
fingers and that generous palm expressed her
character in its mixture of idealistic morality
and human tenderness. By the one she held
a lofty standard and would be an inflexible
judge ; by the other she opened her arms to
the suffering, and banished from her heart no
one whom that heart could succour.

" The loveliest hand in the whole world 1 "


said Hubert, tracing the veins and outlining
the fingers after he had kissed it as a saint
might kiss a relic; but also as a lover kisses
the hand of the beloved.

" Said by the most unblushing flatterer in
the whole world ! " laughed Naomi.

" Love cannot flatter," he answered, looking
at her with eyes as full of admiration as those
roses at her throat were full of colour and

" I think it does nothing else," she returned,
still laughing.

She was so happy that everything made her
laugh. Like a child, the whole earth seemed
to be one great throb of joy.

" Then all you say to me is flattery, hey ? "
said Hubert. " Ah, sweet, my sweet, you have
put yourself into a cleft stick ! How will you
get out of it ? "

" But I never do flatter you as you flatter
me," she said. " When did I tell you that this


thing about you was so beautiful, and that so
charming ? Never ! "

" If you have not in so many words, you
have twenty times by those great grey eyes of
yours ! " he answered with mock self-com-
placency. " I know you admire me immensely,
and think me no end of a fine fellow ; so we are
quits after all only I am the most candid."

" I do not agree to that not the least in the
world," she cried with commendable energy.

Again Hubert's face changed. Why was he
so sensitive to-day ? The fun passed out of it
for pain to take its place.

"What! you do not love me as much as
I love you?" he said in a disturbed voice.
" You tell me that seriously, Naomi ? "

She turned to him with a mocking little
mouth and mischievous arched brows, meaning
to carry on the play. Lovers find nothing too
silly as the medium of verbal caressing ; and
silly as was this little interlude, it served its


purpose. But her mocking smile and saucy
answer died on her lips. There was something
in her lover's face not to be met by a joke.

" Love you, Hubert ? as much as you love
me ? " she repeated. " Do you need to ask ? "
Then with a sudden blush and the sweetest,
loveliest air of self-surrender, she added both
her hands now on one of his : " Yes, I do love
you as much as you love me. If love could be
weighed, as we weighed the honeycomb yester-
day, perhaps mine would be the most ! "

" That is impossible, Naomi," he answered
gravely. " You might as well say you could
add to infinity or lengthen eternity ! " He
put his disengaged arm round her and drew
her to him. u My darling, my own darling,"
he said, all his heart in his voice ; " I love you
as I never loved living woman before."

Naomi caught at the words. That black
drop which we all have in our hearts under
different names and shapes was in hers a


certain form of jealousy, the jealousy, the
exactingness, of a pure and inexperienced
woman demanding as much as she gave.

"Then you have loved before?" she said
a little coldly, instinctively taking away her

"Not as I ]ove you," he answered, trying to
cover his mistake by extra fervour. " I love
you as no man ever loved since the world
began ! You do not know what I feel for you,
Naomi. You are like God and heaven to me !
You are my good angel : and God gave you to
me ! I love you, darling, almost more than a
man should more than is well for my peace."

His passion gained her. What woman could
have resisted ?

" Give me your peace, I will take care of it,"
she said with infinite tenderness. " If we love
each other, Hubert, no harm can come to us.
Nothing but death can separate us, and even
that will not divide us."


" Nothing but death ? You swear that ? "
he paid. " Only death will separate us, Naomi,
and even that will not divide us ? "

" Yes/' she answered solemnly ; " I swear

" Without reservation ? "

"What reservation should I have?" she
returned, with an incredulous little smile.
" The only reservation would be if you had
loved any one else as you love me, or had done
anything wrong ; and that is too absurd to
imagine ! "

She looked at him with her soft grey eyes
as full of womanly love as his had been of the
man's stronger passion. He was right. Those
e} 7 es expressed her admiration of him as plainly
as if her lips had uttered all that was in her
heart of praise and hymn to his honour. To
her he was the perfect man flawless, faultless
and she was not ashamed to show what she
would not have dared to say.


The remembrance of that past sin flowed like
the salt waters of tears over his head. Like
a spectre Mariquita Delmare again seemed to
float before him, filling the whole air with her
baleful beauty ; but for his best exorcism he
looked again into Naomi's upturned face, and
soothed himself with that futile anodyne : " She
will never know ! "

The tie between these two young people had
in it something more than love, for Hubert,
at the risk of his own life, had saved that of
Geoffrey Ponsonby, Naomi's only brother ; and
thus the acquaintance which then began was
founded on the deepest feelings of our human
nature. To the Porisonbys Hubert was an
incarnation of divine power to whom they
owed anew that beloved life so nearly lost ;
while to him they had the claim which con-
ferring a benefit establishes on him who confers
it. They gave him the devotion of gratitude,
but he gave them the even stronger feeling of


responsibility. The life he had saved he felt
in some measure belonged to him to care
for ; and as he was eight years older than
Geoffrey thirty to the younger man's two
and twenty he took his obligation seriously,
and was like the boy's elder brother, even
before his engagement with Naomi gave him
the additional right of future relationship.

All things come to an end, and this lovely
idyl had to end with the rest. The westering
sun brought with its slanting rays the prosaic
claims of dinner arid domestic life generally ;
and the young people had nothing for it but
to go back to Ivy Lodge, and do the best they
could with the verandah and the moonlight,
against the background of the lighted room
where gentle Mrs. Ponsonby played Patience
by herself, and thought of the time when she
too had sat out in the summer moonlight with
her beloved, as happy as Naomi was now.

As they came to the house they were met at


the door by Mrs. Ponsonby in a state of
unusual excitement.

" What is it, mother ? " asked Naomi, who
had that double sense which is given by keen

" I have had a letter from GTeoff," said Mrs.
Ponsonby, a little breathlessly.

" Well ? what ? what does he say ? " asked

" Such a foolish boy ! so foolish and so
wrong! He has engaged himself to a lady
whom he confesses to be older than himself,
and a widow too. It is madness ! "

" Who is she ? " again asked Hubert.

" An American," was the answer.

" What American ? " he asked quickly. He
shivered slightly, as once before to-day on the

" A Mrs. Marillier," was the answer.

Hubert drew a deep breath, and the blood
came back into his face.


" Geoffrey says she is wonderfully beautiful,"
the mother went on to say ; " and as good as
she is lovely. She is very well connected
belongs to an old Virginian family and has
money of her own, so that, as he says, she does
not take him for his. At all events there it is ;
and now what am I to do ? I cannot allow it
to go on," she added, woman-like answering
her own question ; " but what am I to do ? "

" Opposition to a thing of this kind does not
do much good," said Hubert. " Men have to
wear through their own experiences."

" But he is not a man he is only a boy ! "
cried Mrs. Ponsonby. " He has had no ex-
perience of life, beyond that to be had at
Cambridge, which cannot be much. He is not
accustomed yet to the management of the
estate and the idea of an engagement at his
age, and with a widow older than himself, is
preposterous! It cannot be allowed. I will
not allow it ! "


" If he loves her, my dear, he will not break
with her, even though a mother disapproves,"
said Hubert. " Why should he ? That is the
first thing he will say to himself. If he has
committed himself and gained her affections he
is so far bound to her by honour ; and if she
has money and all that, and is of known rank
and parentage, and there is nothing against
her, why should he break with her because he
is only twenty-two ? That is a fault which
cures itself every day ! You see we must look
at it from" his point of view, not only our own.
To you and to us all it may be foolish and
premature ; but to him it is the sublimest
wisdom and an honourable engagement."

" Then do you advise me to countenance
such criminal absurdity ? " said Mrs. Ponsonby,

" For the present, in a fashion, sprinkling a
little cold water judiciously, and not going in
for a shower bath," he answered. " A boy of


Geoff's age wants more careful guidance than
a man. He has to be led very gently very
tenderly and the thread must be of silk and
invisible ! "

" That is so true ! " said Naomi, to whom
Hubert was incarnate wisdom.

She would have said the same, however, had
he advocated strenuous opposition and parental
coercion ; so that her opinion was not of much

But Mrs. Ponsonby still fumed, and the only
ray of comfort that she could find in the present
distressful moment was when Hubert promised
to write very seriously to her boy, and to begin
that process of judicious sprinkling which he
advised her to adopt. But, above all, he was
to find out everything there was to know
about this Mrs. Marillier this beautiful
American with money this widow, a little
older than the unmatured and well-endowed
young man she had condescended to accept as


her future husband. "With which promise the
poor woman was forced to be content ; though,
indeed, there was not much content for any
one for after this question of Geoffrey and his
fascinating widow had been so far arranged,
and Hubert had time to look at his own letters,
he found one from his lawyer which cut short
his stay at Ivy Lodge, and sent him back at
once to Cumberland, where his place was. It
was a letter which admitted of no denial, and
of business which admitted of no delay. He
must pack up to-night and be off by the first
train to-morrow morning those sweet idyls on
the sands rudely and roughly interrupted, and
his beloved left to the cold keeping of resig-

All lovers' partings are sad, and their melan-
choly forebodings are as universal as the tears
which express, and the kisses which seem
rather to confirm than to banish them. It was
to Naomi, and to Hubert too, as if their sun


had set for ever. There was no more daylight
for them, and no more summer. The chill of
death had fallen on their happiness ; for at the
best their letters would be only a kind of
twilight only the autumn flush for the summer
glory. But it had to be done, and he must go.
The time of probation would soon be over now.
This was August, and they would be married
in October. Two months an eternity to the
separated and impatient young, but to the more
accurate reckoners of time a mere nothing. So
they tried to comfort each other as with trem-
bling voices and pale lips they bade each other
farewell and said :

" It will not be for long ! "

Geoffrey's answer to the coldly cautious
letter of his mother was characteristic of his

boyish love. To her diplomacy he opposed the

impetuosity of a first passion and the blindness
of unlimited trust. His eyes were filled with



but the one light ; and like a newly-converted
zealot he was anxious that she should share in
the grace he had gained. Without giving time
for denial, he announced his arrival with his
future bride that very evening. To see her
was to love her, he said ; and the best excuse
he could offer for what might seem his rash-
ness in engaging himself at his age was
herself. Wherefore his mother and Naomi
must expect them that evening; and he knew
that in this visit, hurried and unceremonious as
it was, he had done the best thing for them
and for her, and that they would congratulate
him on his good fortune in securing the most
beautiful and the noblest woman on the face of
the earth.

No answer could be given to this letter ; and
to telegraph a refusal that should meet them
midway and turn them back on their journey
was not quite like gentle Mrs. Ponsonby, whose
worst moods were merely fretfulness, never


rising into anger nor deepening into sullenness.
Thus mother and sister had nothing for it but
to make the best of things as they were, and to
hope that this new woman was really the
phoenix Geoffrey's love had painted her.

So far he had calculated rightly. When
Mrs. Ponsonby and Naomi came face to face
with this fair marvel, they no longer wondered
at the boyish infatuation which had staked so
heavily on love and trust. She was so beauti-
ful ! She was so graceful in all her move-
ments, so sweet and tender in her manner, and
yet so bright in speech and intelligence ! She
had the loveliest little ways that ever woman
had ; she said the most charming things ; and
she had the daintiest accent half French, half
American that gave her voice, which was
naturally harsh and grating, a kind of caressing
intonation by which its native hardness was
made as lovely as soft music. Her dress was a
drearn of art ; her face a poe'm of beauty. She


had bright golden hair very bright gold
with dark eyebrows and dark lashes, and the
loveliest complexion of milk and roses. Her
eyes were like stars, quick, glancing, and of
varying expression. Sometimes they were as
holy as a saint's, and sometimes they were
veiled as if with a substance, letting not a
thought, not a feeling show through. But
varied as their expression was, they were
watchful eyes always watchful ; eyes that
seemed to listen as well as see, like those of
men accustomed to danger and dependent for
salvation on their own quickness of apprehen-
sion and clearness of prevision. And the
lashes cast the most curious little rim of black-
ness round the lids ; and the red of her lips
was of the clearest and most sharply defined
outline imaginable. No blurring here ; no
mingling of red and white through the dis-
figuring medium of tears, nor even through the
blush-rose bruise of kisses ! Altogether she


was delightful splendidly delightful ; and the
mother and daughter were fascinated, as
Geoffrey knew they would be as, years ago,
Christabel was fascinated by the Lady Geraldine.

The small round table at the side Was full of
photographs. Side by side with Naomi-
Naomi following the mother and Geoffrey
was the portrait of Hubert Gainsborough.
Mrs. Marillier looking over the room as
strangers do, came in due time to this table
and the four photographs in one line. She
caught her breath as one suddenly surprised,
and the blood gathered round her heart
though it did not leave her cheek nor lips
paler than before ; but she had the undaunted
spirit of one playing for high stakes, with the
full consciousness of what she risked arid what
she might win, and it was a principle with her
to face her dangers on the instant.

"Is that another brother?" she asked quite
naturally, taking the photographs in her hand


as if to examine them critically. " How good
they all are ! but I did not know you had an
elder brother, Geoffrey. You never told me
that. I do not see much likeness, however,"
she added smilingly to Mrs. Ponsonby. " He
is not like you nor Naomi nor my boy."

"I forgot to tell you about him," said
Geoffrey. " I have forgotten everything of
late ! No, that is not a brother yet ; though
he is almost more than one. He is the dearest
old fellow in the world Hubert Gainsborough
and he is going to rnarry Naomi."

" Oh ! " said Mrs. Marillier, with a soft smile,
turning to her future sister-in-law. " How
happy you must be ! If he is as lovely a man
as mine, and you are as content as I am, you
have nothing to complain of! "

"He is very nice, and I am quite happy,"
said Naomi.

Then they all laughed ; and the rest of the
evening passed as such evenings do, on velvet,


where the hours are wreathed with flowers and
Time is shod in gold.

But upstairs in her own room the woman
who called herself Mariquita Marillier had to
face a very different state of things. The
ghost of her bad past had risen up before her
when least expected and most unwelcome ; and
she had to reason out her position, and calcu-
late her chances of escape from the dangers
threatening her like wild beasts prowling
round an open arbour.

" Can I dare it ? " she thought ; " or shall I
give it all up ? Will he have the cruelty, the
dishonour, to betray me? No, he dare not!
His interests are as much at stake as mine.
We are both in the same boat. If I am ship-
wrecked he will be swamped too; for such
ignorant innocents as these will see no differ-
ence between us. I can tell my own story, and
it will go hard with me if I do not cut the
ground from under his feet if he is brutal


enough to put a spoke in my wheel. I will
brave it, and I will defy him. He used to be
fond of me ; and men who have once loved a
woman as he loved me have always a soft spot
left. They are not like us, the fools and I
will take my chance ! "

" She is perfectly lovely, and fascinating to
an extraordinary degree," Naomi wrote to her
lover ; " but both mother and I like her so
much better when we are with her than when
we do not see her. I cannot explain why, nor
can mother, but we feel when she is away from
us that she is not quite so nice, and we both
have to be conquered again. She always does
conquer us ; that I must confess. It is very
odd, but do you not understand what I mean ?
But she is so clever, and she must be so good !
She talks a great deal about God and the Noble
Life, and how people have to live for others
not themselves, and to walk by the law of the
spirit not of the mere intellect. She is, so she


says of herself, a mystic : and I, who am stupid,
do not always understand her. But she is so
sharp and clever ! She knows everything all
we think, and sometimes what we had not
made clear to ourselves till she, as it were,
interpreted our own thoughts. I think she
sees that odd change of feeling in us, for she
said yesterday to mother and me, when we
were walking in the garden : 4 The impression
people make and the impression they leave are
sometimes so different ! I have often felt that
living charm of a personality, and then a
certain coldness in absence. But I have always
put the defect down to myself. I think it is
my own failing in sympathy some note want-
ing in my own chord of harmony not any
want or failing in the person. When I am
with these people whom I love in presence and
fall off from in absence, their magnetism sup-
plies my own deficiency and the full chord is
sounded the notes wanting to me are given


by them.' So perhaps it is mother's and my
own fault, as she seemed to hint ; and she is
very charming. She says she is one year
older than Geoff twenty-three ; and she does
not look more, excepting at the end of the
evening, when she gets tired. Then she looks
thirty and more; and her face quite changes.
If she were not such a pure-hearted noble
creature both mother and I would think she
painted ; but we do not like to even imagine
it, because women who paint cannot possibly
be nice and she is more than nice ! Her
husband was a stockbroker in San Francisco ;
and she has a pretty Spanish name Mariquita
and I believe, but I am not quite sure, that
her maiden name was Delmare."

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Online LibraryThomas HardyStories in Black and white → online text (page 6 of 13)