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The Wind of Destiny by Ada Cambridge

 

The yachtsmen of the bay had been jubilant for months: this morning they were simply in ecstasies. Aha! it was their turn now. The sporting landsmen, magnates of the Melbourne Club and the great stations, who had had all the fun of the fair hitherto, were out of it this time. Oh, no doubt the new Governor was fond of his "bike," and of a good horse, and of golf and polo, and the usual things; and, of course, he would be pleased with the triumphal arches and many gorgeous demonstrations of civic welcome and goodwill. But it was here that his heart would be—here, on the blue water, with the brethren of his craft. The country might not know it, but they knew it—mariners all, with their own freemasonry—they and he. Every yacht of any consequence had been on the slips quite lately—as lately as was compatible with having paint and varnish dry. One or two of the newer models, wanting extra depth for their bulbous keels, were all but too late in their desire to be spick and span for the great occasion, but happily got a west-wind tide to float them up in time. And here they all were, scores and scores of them, as smart as they could be, with their beautiful sails going up, burgee and ensign flying in the breeze of the loveliest morning that could possibly have been provided for a national festival depending wholly on the weather for success. Yesterday it had been cloudy and gloomy, threatening rain; and to-morrow the north wind was to blow a sultry hurricane, opaque with dust; but to-day was heavenly. No other adjective, as Fanny Pleydell remarked, could describe its all-round perfection.

She was putting on her new white drill with the blue sailor collar, and her new straw hat with Kittiwake in gold letters on its new blue ribbon, and joyously addressed her brother through a passage and two open doors. He shouted back that it—the day—was "ripping," which meant the same thing. The only doubt about it was whether there would be wind enough. There is always that doubt in yachting forecasts—that and the lesser fear of having too much; without which, however, yachting would be no fun at all. The Kittiwake (once the property of Adam Drewe, Esq.) was one of the crack boats, and Herbert Lawson—familiarly "Bert"—was skipper and owner; and he had no mind to make himself a mere St. Kilda decoration, as the land-lubbers in authority desired. Let the others tug at moorings if they chose, like wild birds tied by the legs, for hours and hours; the Kittiwake intended to fly when she opened her wings—weather permitting—and not submit to be treated as a slab in a canvas wall. She was going to meet the Sunbeam on free water, half-way down the bay, which, with any sort of wind, she could easily do, and still be back in time for the landing ceremony. And so Captain Bert kept an eye on tree branches and the set of anchored craft, while giving keen attention to his toilet, arraying himself in ducks like the driven snow and flannels like milk, waxing the curly points of his moustache till they tapered smoothly as a ram's horns, trimming his nails, and choosing a silk handkerchief to foam out of his breast pocket, as with a view to being inspected at close quarters through a strong telescope from the Sunbeam's deck.

But he was not dressing himself for the eyes of his vice-sovereign lady. It was for the sake of Lena Pickersgill and Myra Salter that he took such pains to render his handsome person as attractive as possible—and he did not quite know which.

Let me briefly explain. Old Lawson had died not long ago, leaving Herbert master of a good business in Melbourne, a good old family house at Williamstown (with the Kittiwake attached), and a most comfortable and even luxurious income for these post-boom days. Sister and brothers were sufficiently provided for—the former married, the latter studying for professions—and there was no widowed mother to take care of and defer to. Herbert was a man of domestic instincts, and turned thirty, and an arbitrary housekeeper bullied him. In short, every circumstance of the case cried aloud to him to take a wife, and he was as ready as possible to do so. But, of course, he wished to be a lover before becoming a husband, and fate had not yet clearly indicated the object he sought. He was a particular young man, as he had every right to be, and much in dread of making a mistake.

To-day he had arrived at the stage of choosing Lena and Myra, out of all the girls he knew, as the only possibles. Before night he hoped to have made up a distracted mind as to which of the two was the right one. Chaperoned by young Mrs. Pleydell, both were to be guests of the Kittiwake for a long, fine day; and surely no better opportunity for the purpose could possibly have been devised.

Miss Salter was a Williamstown young lady, a schoolmate of Fanny Pleydell's, and was to embark with her hostess early. She was Fanny's candidate for the vacancy in the family, and rather suffered as such from the advocacy of her friend. Miss Pickersgill, belonging to a somewhat higher rank of life, lived in town, and was to be taken off from the St. Kilda pier. Fanny had not wanted to have Lena asked, and for that reason Bert had firmly insisted on it. For that reason also he was inclined to promote her to the place of honour, rather than a girl whom he felt was being thrust down his throat.

But when he presently met the latter, and helped her into his dinghy with the tenderest air of strong protection, he thought her very sweet. She was a fair, slim thing, shy, unaffected, and amiable, and looked delicious in her white garb. All the ladies on board had to wear white to-day, to harmonize with the pearly enamel of the boat and her snowy new Lapthorn sails; and Myra had the neatest frock, and the prettiest figure to set it off. And, moreover, as he very well knew, she did not run after him when she was let alone.

He rowed her and his sister to the yacht, on which a numerous white-uniformed crew had made all ready for the start, and he sent the dinghy back in charge of his brother to pick up three more lady guests. These three were nobodies as regards this story—a homely aunt and two plain cousins, who had a family right to the suddenly valuable favours at their kinsman's disposal. They made up the number he thought would fill the cockpit comfortably—three on each side.

Mrs. Pleydell, as soon as she had gained the deck, plunged below to investigate the matter of supplies; Miss Salter sat down to survey the scene, and the skipper sat down beside her. They had quite twenty minutes of quiet tête-à-tête, and to that extent placed Miss Pickersgill at a disadvantage.

"Isn't it a heavenly morning?"—or "a ripping day," as the case might be—was what they said; and "I wonder will the breeze hold?" and "Didn't you feel certain last night that it was changing for rain?"—conversation that had no literary value to make it worth reporting. However, it is not in words that incipient lovers explain themselves, but in the accompaniment to words played by furtive eyes and the corners of lips, and other instruments of nature inaudible to the outward ear. Myra's varying complexion confessed a lot of things, and the amount of intelligence in the horns of that moustache which had been waxed so carefully was wonderful. Indeed, it really seemed, thus early in the day, as if the die were cast. Both looked so handsome and felt so happy, and the weather and all the circumstances were so specially favourable to the development of kindly sentiments.

"I am so glad you were able to come," the young man remarked, whenever they fell upon a pause, changing the emphasis to a fresh word each time. And the young woman put it in all sorts of modest but convincing ways that he was not more glad than she was. Oh, it was a heavenly morning, truly! And Mrs. Pleydell and the crew were more and more careful to do nothing to mar the prospect.

But soon the fat aunt and excited cousins arrived, all in white, and as conscious of it as if dressed for a fancy ball, and it was time to make for the rendezvous across the bay. Thither were the yachts of all clubs converging in dozens and scores, like an immense flock of seabirds skimming the azure water, their sails like silver and white satin in the sun. As Bert Lawson steered his own, proudly convinced that she was queen of the company, he named his would-be rivals to his guest, keeping her so close to him that he had to apologise for touching her elbow with the tiller now and then. Occasionally he exchanged an opinion with the crew that the old so-and-so didn't look so bad, and they continually cocked their eyes aloft to where the blue ensign waved in the languid breeze. It wasn't every boat that could dip that flag to the new Governor—no, indeed!

"Isn't it a pretty sight?" the ladies cried to one another—and it certainly was. Even the prosaic shore was transfigured and glorious—in one place, at least. The St. Kilda pier and the hotel, and the steep slope connecting them, smothered all over in green stuff and bunting, and packed with what appeared to be the whole population of the colony, was a striking spectacle as viewed from the sea. The most bigoted Englishman must acknowledge it.

"Oh," exclaimed Fanny Pleydell, staring through a strong pair of glasses, "I wouldn't have had you miss it for the world, Myra dear."

"And yet I nearly did," the girl replied, glancing at Bert from under her hat brim as he stood over her, intent on business "If mother had not been so much better this morning, I could not possibly have left her."

The skipper ceased shouting to his too numerous men not to crowd the boat's nose so that he could not see it, and dropped soft eyes on his sister's friend. "Dear, dutiful, unselfish little soul!" he thought. "That's the sort of woman to make a good wife. That's the girl for me." It was still not more than twenty minutes to eleven, and he had got as far as that.

But now Miss Pickersgill intervened. She put off from the gorgeous pier, which was not yet closed to the public, in the dinghy of a local friend, in order that the Kittiwake should not be burdened with its own. It afterwards transpired that she had engaged to grace the yacht of the local friend, and had thrown him over for Bert Lawson, having no scruples of pride against making use of him, nevertheless. She was a radiant vision in tailor-made cream serge, a full-blooded, full-bosomed, high-coloured, self-confident young beauty, with bold eyes and a vivacious manner, calculated to make any picnic party lively. As she approached, like a queen enthroned, all the male creatures hung forward to gaze and smile, Bert springing to the side to help her over—which was only what she expected and was accustomed to. And she jumped into the midst of the group around the cockpit,—four humble-minded admirers and one firm adversary,—chose her place and settled herself, nodding and waving salutations around, as if she were Mrs. Bert already.

Myra's heart sank in presence of so formidable a rival. Myra was the daughter of a retired sea-captain in rather narrow circumstances; Lena's father was a stock-broker, and reputed to roll in money. She had fat gold bangles on her wrists, and a diamond in each ear. She lifted her smart skirt from a lace-frilled petticoat, and the serge was lined with silk. The dejected observer moved to make way for so unquestionable a superior. But Bert detained her with a quiet hand.

"Sit still," he said. "There is plenty of room."

To her surprise and joy, she found he still preferred her near him. It was not money and gold bracelets that could quench her gentle charm.

And now the fun began. The yacht, with every stitch of canvas spread, set out upon her course, determined to be the first to salute her future commodore. There was just enough wind to waft her along with a motion as soft as feathers, as airy as a dream, and the heavenly morning, on the now wider waters, was more heavenly than ever.

"It's our day out, and no mistake," quoth Miss Pickersgill, in her hearty way. "Let's have a song, old chap"—to Bert—"or do some thing or other to improve the occasion. What do you say, Mrs. Pleydell?"

"I," said the hostess cheerfully, but with tightened lips, "am going to get you all something to eat."

"And I'll go and help you," said Myra, rising hastily.

"Oh, all right—go on; I'll keep 'em alive till you come back. Now then, tune up, everybody! I'll begin. What shall I sing, Mr. Lawson?" with a languishing glance at him over her shoulder. "You shall choose."

"I think you'd better whistle," said Bert, whose eyes were on his sails, and his nose sniffing anxiously.

"All serene. I can do that too. But why had I better whistle?"

"Wind's dying away to nothing, I grieve to say."

"By George, it is!" his young men echoed, in sympathetic concern. "If we don't mind, we shall fall between two stools, and be out of everything."

"What's the odds, so long as you're happy?" was Miss Lena's philosophic response. And they adopted that view. With every prospect of being ignominiously becalmed, out of the track of events in which they had expected to take a leading and historic part, they lolled about the deck and sang songs with rousing choruses—popular ditties from the comic operas of the day—and professed themselves as jolly as jolly could be.

"How fascinating she is!" sighed Myra Salter, listening from the little cabin to the voice of the prima donna overhead. "I don't wonder they all admire her so much!"

"I am quite sure my brother does not admire her," said Mrs. Pleydell with decision. "He thinks, as I do, that she is a forward minx—he must." Bert's laugh just then came ringing down the stairs. In an interval between two songs, he and Miss Pickersgill were enjoying a bout of "chaff"—rough wit that crackled like fireworks. "Of course she amuses him," said Fanny grudgingly.

"And isn't it lovely to be able to amuse people?" the girl ejaculated, envious still. "She charms them so that they forget about thee wind and everything. She is just the life and soul of the party, Fanny."

"I think she spoils it, Myra. If we don't look out, we shall be having her serenading the Governor with 'He's a jolly good fellow,' or something of that sort. If she attempts to disgrace us with her vulgarity before him, clap your hand over her mouth, my dear. I shall."

Myra laughed, and was somewhat comforted. But she still thought how lovely it would be to be able to amuse people and take them out of themselves. "He would never be dull with her," she thought sadly. "I am so stupid that I should bore him to death."

One of Miss Salter's unusual charms, perfectly appreciated by sensible Mrs. Pleydell, and not overlooked by Bert, was a sweet humble-mindedness—a rare virtue in these days.

The first of several light luncheons was served on deck, without interrupting the concert. Between gulps of wine and mouthfuls of sandwich, Miss Pickersgill continued to raise fresh tunes, and the crew to shout the choruses, and the audience of fat aunt and simpering cousins to applaud admiringly. It was a case of youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm, and an abandonment of all responsibility. A dear little catspaw came stealing along, and hardly excited anybody. The yacht gathered way, and began to make knots again, faster and faster, but even that did not draw the light-hearted young folks from their frivolous pastime. Thanks to the syren of St. Kilda, they had almost forgotten the errand they were on. It really did not seem to matter much to any one whether he or she met Lord Brassey or not; he had become an incident of the day, rather than its main feature.

Still, the eyes of the crew continually searched the horizon, and presently one man saw smoke where no one else saw anything, and out of that spot a faint blur grew which resolved itself into the Aramac with the Governor on board, and the Ozone and Hygeia, its consorts. The three boats in a row advancing steadily, under all the steam they could make, were not unimpressive in their way, but the only thing the Kittiwake cared to look at was the lovely pillar of white cloud, shining like a pearl, which was recognised as the Sunbeam with all sail set. She was bearing off from the Government flotilla, dismissed from their company, superseded and discarded; but to yachtsmen's eyes she was a sort of winged angel, a spirit of the sea, and they but grubby mortals by comparison, common and gross.

"Why, why," they exclaimed, with groans of regret, gazing on the fairy column as if that were all the picture, "why didn't they let him come up in her, and let us bring him? What does he want with a lot of cheap-jack politicians here? They just spoil it all."

"It wouldn't be them if they didn't," some one said, voicing a rather prevalent opinion. And in fact they were spoiling it rather badly on the Aramac just then, if all tales be true. They had not wanted Miss Pickersgill to show them how to do it.

It was past the hour fixed for the landing ceremonies—and the poor sun-baked crowds ashore would have been dropping with fatigue if there had been room to fall in—when Bert Lawson shouted "Dip! dip!" to his brother, who held the ensign halliards, and was confused by the excitement of the moment. After all, the Kittiwake was first, and proud was every heart aboard when the cocked-hatted figure on the Aramac's bridge saluted her and the flag as if he had known and loved the one as long as the other. Every man and woman was convinced that he stood lost in admiration of her beauty and the way she was manoeuvred. Bert brought her as close as was compatible with proper respect, and they all posed to the best advantage for the Governor's eye, Miss Pickersgill in front.

"Now, you fellows," she panted breathlessly. "All at once—'See-ee the conq-'ring he-e-e-e-ero'—"

But Mrs. Pleydell's hand was up like a flash, and there was a "Hsh-sh-sh!" like the protest of a flock of geese. The fair Lena was so taken aback that she nearly fell into the captain's arms. The captain did not seem to mind; his arm went round her waist for a moment almost as if it had the habit of doing it; and he whispered an apology that restored her self-control. At the same instant he signalled to the crew, and they burst into three great solid British cheers. Another signal stopped them from further performances, and the steamers swept by. The crisis of the day was over.

Then the Kittiwake turned and followed the fleet, and realized her remaining ambitions. She was back at St. Kilda, with the yachts that had been lying there all the morning, by the time his great excellency, transhipped once more, arrived there. Through their glasses the ladies could see the procession of little figures along the pier, and the departure of the carriages after the guns had fired the salute; and they could hear the school children singing. When all was over, a sigh of vast contentment expressed the common thought, "What a day we're having!" The turn of the landsmen had come, but no one at sea could envy them.

"Now we'll have a look at the Sunbeam as she lies," said Bert, and then headed back for Williamstown.

"And we want some refreshment after what we have gone through," said the hospitable hostess.

Luncheon was served for the third time, and subsequently two afternoon teas. The yachts, dissolving all formation, swam aimlessly about the bay, more like seabirds than ever, and took snap-shots at each other with their kodak cameras. Miss Pickersgill's singing powers failed somewhat, but she continued to chaff and chatter with the young men, breaking off at intervals to hail her friends on passing boats. Good-natured Fanny Pleydell laughed with the rest at the fun she made; the admiring aunt and cousins could not remember when they had been so entertained; and Myra Salter was satisfied at heart because Bert had never allowed her to feel "out of it." And so the happy day wore through. They had had seven hours together when they began to look for Lena's dinghy, and before separating they testified with one consent that they had never had a more delightful holiday, or, as Lena neatly phrased it, "such a jolly high old time."

"Then I'll tell you what we must do," said the gratified host. "Go out together—the same party, since we suit each other so well—on the sixteenth of next month. That's our opening day, Miss Pickersgill, as of course you know; and, with the Governor for commodore, it ought to be the best we've ever had."

"All who are in favour of this motion," chanted Lena, "hold up your hands!"

Every hand went up at once, except Myra's. The shy girl looked to Fanny for an endorsement of the free and easy invitation, and Mrs. Pleydell was knitting her brows. But soon she smiled consent, to please her brother, who, stealing behind Miss Salter unobserved, seized her two hands and lifted them into the air.

They imagined they were going to have their good time over again. They even anticipated a better one, though only of half the length. For whereas the wind had been too light on the 25th of October, it blew like business on the 16th of November, when it was of the last importance that it should do so. No more auspicious opening day had ever dawned upon Victorian yachtsmen. The Governor, who was their Governor for the first time in history, had consented to direct their evolutions in person. This alone—this and a good wind—assured laurels to the clubs of Hobson's Bay which all other clubs would envy them. The Sunbeam had been towed to the chosen anchorage; Government House was on board. All the swells, as Miss Pickersgill termed them, indigenous to the soil, would be lone and lorn at the races, because their Lord and Lady were away. If they offered their ears for a place in viceregal company, they could not get it. "Aha!" said the yachtsmen one to another, "it is our turn now."

This time the Kittiwake took her own dinghy to St. Kilda. She towed it along with her all the afternoon, as a brake upon the pace, which threatened to carry her beyond the position assigned to her in the wheeling line, for she was faster than the boats before and behind her. And so the services of local friends were not required on Miss Lena's behalf. Bert himself, in a very ruffled sea indeed, went off to the pier to fetch her. But not altogether for the sake of paying her special honour; rather, because it was most difficult to bring anything alongside to-day without bumping off fenders and on to new paint. He had had the kindest feeling for both girls during the past three weeks, but what little love he had fallen into was love for Myra Salter. He had just left her deeply in love with him. He had given her the card of sailing directions, taught her how to read the commodore's signals, and told her she was to be his captain for the day, as he was to be the crew's. Down in the small cabin, picking pecks of strawberries, with the assistance of the aunt and cousins, Mrs. Pleydell's prophetic eye saw visions of an ideal home and family—that comfortable and prosperous domestic life which is the better and not the worse for having no wildfire passions to inflame and ravage it—and a congenial sister-in-law for all time. Myra lingered on deck to follow the movements of the tossing dinghy through the captain's strong field-glasses, also assigned to her exclusive use for this occasion. He had another pair—not quite so strong—for Miss Pickersgill.

Little did that young lady suppose that she was to play second fiddle for a moment. She wore another new dress and a ravishing peaked cap, much more becoming than the sailor straw. She smiled upon the skipper, struggling to hold the dinghy to the pier, as at a faithful bond-slave merely doing his bounden duty.

"It is our opening day!" she sang, as she flourished a hand to him. "It—is—our—opening da-ay!"

"It is, indeed," he shouted back. "Made on purpose. Only I think we shall have too much of a good thing this time, instead of not enough. Wind keeps getting up, and we've reefed already."

"Oh, it's stunning!" she rejoined, gaily skipping into the boat; she was a heavy weight, and nearly tipped it over. "Let it get up! The more the merrier."

"Yes, if there were going to be racing. I wish there was! We should just run away from everything."

"Then let's race," quoth Miss Pickersgill, as if commanding it to be done. "Let's show the old buffer"—I grieve to say it was his sacred lordship she referred to—"what the Kittiwake can do."

Bert had to explain. It took him until they reached the yacht to make the young lady who looked so nautical understand what she was talking about. And after all she was inclined to be sentimentally hurt because he would not do such a little thing to please her.

The wind got up, more and more, showing that there was to be no monotonous repetition of the former circumstances. The Kittiwake danced and pranced as if the real sea were under her, and half a dozen dinghies trailed astern would hardly have made any difference. There was no sitting round the cockpit, as on drawing-room chairs, to flirt and sing; one side was always in the air, and the other all but under water, see-sawing sharply at uncertain intervals; and the ladies had to give their attention to holding on and keeping their heads out of the way of the swinging boom. Lena shouted to the men, who had to stick to business in spite of her, that it was the jolliest state of things imaginable, and said "Go it!" to rude Boreas when he smacked her face, to encourage him to further efforts. But her five companions were more or less of the opinion that they had liked the first cruise better. The poor fat aunt was particularly disconcerted by the new conditions; she said she couldn't get used to the feeling of having no floor under her, and the sensation of the sea climbing up her back.

She was the first to say, "No, thank you," to strawberries and cream, and "Yes, please," to whisky.

Is there anything funny in having the toothache that people should laugh at the victim as at some inexhaustible joke? Ask the poor soul whose nerves are thus exquisitely tortured what his opinion is. He will tell you that it is one of the gravest elements in the tragedy of human pain; also that the heartless brute who sniggers at it ought to have thumbscrews put on him and twisted tight. Is there anything disgraceful in being sea-sick in rough weather, that those who don't happen to feel so at the moment should turn up their noses at the sufferers in contemptuous disgust? Emphatically not. It is a misfortune that may befall the best of us, and does, instead of being, as one would suppose, the penalty of a degrading vice, like delirium tremens. Why, even the Sunbeam was ill that afternoon—the first folks of the land, fresh from the discipline of a long and stormy voyage—which sufficiently proves the fact.

But when Myra Salter was observed to sit silent and rigid, with bleached lips and a corpse-like skin, it was with eyes that slightly hardened at the sight. Yes, even the captain's eyes! It is true he smiled at her, and said, "Poor child!" and peremptorily ordered the useless stimulant, and was generally concerned and kind; but the traditional ignominy of her case affected him; her charm and dignity were impaired—vulgarized; and the flavour of his incipient romance began to go. Of course young men are fools—we all are, for that matter—and young love, just out of the ground, as it were, is like a baby lettuce in a garden full of slugs. And it is no use pretending that things are different from what they are. And if you want to be an artist, and not a fashionable photographer, you must not paint poor human nature, and leave the moles and wrinkles out. It is a pity that an estimable young man cannot be quite perfect, and that an admirable young woman should be unjustly despised; but so it is, and there's no more to be said.

Myra shook her head at the suggestion of whisky; only to imagine the smell of it was to feel worse at once—to feel an instant necessity to hide herself below. But Fanny Pleydell, coming upstairs at the moment when she was beginning to stagger down, caught her in her arms and held her back—a fatal blunder on Fanny's part.

"No, my dear, no!" she cried, on the spur of a humane impulse; "you must not go into that horrible hole; it would finish you off at once. Besides, there isn't room for you; aunt and the girls are sprawling all over the place. Have a little spirits, darling—yes, you must; and keep in the fresh air if you want to feel better."

She pressed whisky and water on the shuddering girl, and cruel consequences ensued. Bert turned his head away, and tried to shut his ears. Lena smiled at him in an arch and confidential manner. She was as bright and pretty as ever—more so, indeed, for the wind exhilarated her and deepened her bloom.

"I think," she said, "it is a great mistake for people who are not good sailors to go to sea in rough weather, don't you?"

Well, Bert almost thought it was. He was a very enthusiastic yachtsman, especially to-day, when he wanted the Kittiwake and all her appurtenances to be as correct as possible.

The drill was over, and the regiment of yachts disbanded. The Sunbeam had gone to a pier at Williamstown, and the commodore was receiving his new colleagues and entertaining them. The Kittiwake was off St. Kilda, with her freight of sick on board. The aunt filled up one tiny cabin, the cousins another, and they groaned and wailed and made other unpleasant noises, to the amusement of a callous crew. Myra Salter, too helplessly ill to sit up without support while the boat rushed through the water with a slice of deck submerged, had sagged down to the floor of the cockpit, and now lay there in a limp heap, propped against Fanny's knees. She had not spoken for an hour, and during that time Bert had hardly noticed her. He had been devoting himself to Miss Pickersgill, so far as the duties of his official post allowed, as was only natural when she had become practically his sole companion, and when, as a lover of a good breeze and proper sailoring, she had proved herself so sympathetic.

Now he was rowing her home from the yacht to the shore. She sat facing him in the dinghy, with the yoke lines round her waist, and he could not keep his eyes from her brilliant person, nor keep himself from mentally comparing it with that sad wisp on the cockpit floor. She met his glance, and held it. They were both excited by the wind, the inspiring flight of the yacht, the varied interests of the opening day.

"Oh, it was splendid!" she exclaimed. "Whatever the others may think about it, I know I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. And I am so much obliged to you for taking me, Mr. Lawson."

"You are the right sort to take," replied Bert with enthusiasm; and he imagined a wife who would enter into his favourite pursuits like a true comrade. "And I hope we shall have many a good cruise together."

"It won't be my fault if we don't," she said promptly.

"It won't be mine," he returned. "Consider yourself asked for every day that you'll deign to come."

"What, for ever?"

"For ever."

She looked at him archly, pensively, meaningly, with her head on one side. She was really very handsome in her coquettish peaked cap, and he reflected that she was evidently healthy and probably rich.

"You don't mean that, Mr. Lawson?"

"I do mean it, literally and absolutely."

"For every yachting day as long as I live?"

"For every yachting day, and every day that isn't a yachting day."

She was so joyously flustered that she ran the dinghy into the pier. He had to catch her in his arms to prevent her going overboard. As there were people watching them from above, he could not kiss her, but he gave an earnest of his intention to do so at the first opportunity.

Of course she was the wrong one. He knew it no later than the next day, in his heart of hearts, though never permitting himself to acknowledge it, because he flatters himself that he is a gentleman. Equally, of course, he will go on to render his mistake irrevocable, and be miserable ever after, and make her so, from the highest motives. Already the wedding gown is bought, and they go together to ironmongers and upholsterers to choose new drawing-room furniture and pots and kettles for the kitchen. The marriage will surely take place when the bride has made her preparations, and anybody can foretell what the consequences will be. They will pull against each other by force of nature, and tear their little shred of romance to bits in no time. And then they will sink together to that sordid and common matrimonial state which is the despair and disgrace of civilization. She will grow fat and frowsy as she gets into years—a coarse woman, selfish and petty, and full of legitimate grievances; and he will hate her first, and then cease to care one way or the other, which is infinitely worse than hating. And so two lives will be utterly spoiled, and possibly three or four—not counting the children, who will have no sort of fair start.

And all because there was a bit of a breeze on the opening day of the season!

But such is life.

 
 
 

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