Breath of the
Sea by Ada Cambridge
Lizzie Dawson's friends sat in the drawing-room over the bank
offices, and talked about Emma. For Emma had excused herself from
coming in. "She's got one of her bad headaches," said Lizzie, "and
doesn't feel up to seeing people."
"It was the same on your last day," remarked Mrs. Dean, who
suspected "airs" on Emma's part. "She seems to be always having
"How different from what she used to be!" another lady ejaculated.
"I don't believe she ever had a thing the matter with her before she
"Different!" echoed the hostess, nearly smashing a cup with the
teapot as she banged it down. "You wouldn't know her for the same! And
all through that—that—that beast! I can't help it—it's impossible to
call him a man."
The visitors drew their chairs closer.
"Now, tell us, Lizzie—you can trust us—it won't go any
further—did he really throw her downstairs, and give her concussion of
the brain? Everybody says so, you know."
It was the champion scandalmonger of the town who asked this
question, with all her soul in her pretty, eager face.
"No, I don't think he went quite so far as that," Miss Dawson
admitted, with evident reluctance. "At any rate, Emma says he didn't.
She was very angry when somebody asked her. But then, she's so soft!
Sometimes I get really out of patience with her—standing up for him,
when everybody knows he was too bad to live with. Why, he'd have killed
her if we hadn't taken her away from him. She has been home six months,
living in peace and comfort, and even now she hasn't got over it. She's
nothing but a bag of bones, and her spirit broken—crushed"—Lizzie
stopped pouring out the tea to blow her nose savagely—"so that you
wouldn't know her for what she used to be before she fell into his
"But," urged the young matron, who was always anxious to get to the
bottom of these things, "if he did not throw her downstairs and injure
her brain, how comes she by these constant headaches? She never used to
"Anybody's head would ache, if they were always crying like she
is," replied Lizzie, as gloomy as she was ungrammatical. "Though what
she has to fret for now—!"
"But he did throw the soup-plate at her, with all the hot soup in
"It didn't hit her—it didn't actually touch her. He knocked it
over in one of his rages with her, all over a nice clean tablecloth
just fresh from the wash."
"What a wretch!"
"But he was quite capable of throwing it at her. I myself saw him
throw a thing at her once. It hit her in the face."
"No! did you really? What was it?"
"It was a bank-note—a five-pound note. He bought her a dress
once—a hideous thing—and gave it to her in such a way that she
wouldn't accept it as a gift. She wanted to pay him for it, and gave
him the note; and he took it and flung it in her face, using the most
dreadful language. She put up her hand to ward off the blow, and the
note went flying into the fire, and was burnt up in an instant before
our eyes. As it happened, those were the good times, when we were all
well off—when five-pound notes were more plentiful than they are now."
Lizzie sighed. The other ladies sighed. For the moment they became
indifferent to Emma Knox and her affairs. It was the beginning of
December, '92, and the depression was still deepening and deepening,
instead of getting lighter; and everybody felt it. The great financial
scandals were still in their most scandalous stage, and these little
country people had lost their little savings, or their friends and
relatives had lost theirs, through a mistaken confidence in
balance-sheets. Therefore they found a private and local scandal less
supremely interesting than it used to be. They fell to talking of their
afflicted colony, their disreputable Government, their personally
altered circumstances, the sad, sad blight that was over all. When they
wanted to cheer themselves, they returned to a discussion of the
iniquities of Emma's husband.
Meanwhile, Emma lay on the narrow bed that had been hers in the
happy years when she had no husband, glad to be out of the way of their
talk—glad, even, to be out of the way of Lizzie's talk for once, dear
and devoted as Lizzie was. It seemed to Mrs. Knox that nobody
remembered she was Mrs. Knox; they seemed to imagine that she could
come back just as she went away, and take her old place as if nothing
had happened. It was a great mistake. When you have been married—even
if married miserably—you have been spoilt for any other life. You
can't be a girl again, occupied with the trivial affairs of girlhood,
if you would. You can't stand having your father lord it over you, as
if you were still nothing but his child. It is maddening to hear
people—when it is no concern of theirs—discussing your husband, who,
after all, is your husband, before your face, and making him out to be
the lowest cad on the face of the earth. In short, the whole position
is intolerable—particularly if you are not well. Emma was not well.
She had no strength, and her nerves had gone to pieces. Her father and
sister were beginning to get cross about it, and to talk of sending for
the doctor. The doctor—pooh! She knew what would do her good better
than any doctor could tell her—as she confided to Tommy, when he came,
on his return from school, to ask if her headache was better.
Tommy was merely a rough, ugly, dirty, untidy schoolboy; but he was
fond of his sister Emma, and worried to see her so out of health and
"What is it you think would do you good?" he asked her, as he sat
by her bedside, his hat and books scattered over the floor. "If it's
anything from the shop, I'll run and get it."
"It is nothing from the shop," said Emma, drawing herself up into a
sitting posture, with unusual animation. "It is nothing that can be got
here, Tommy. It's something better than doctor's stuff—something that
I have been longing for for weeks and months past."
"I know—a letter from David," said the boy brightly.
Emma's pale young face flushed crimson, and one could see the signs
of a haughty spirit behind it. She pretended to be both surprised and
angry at this audacious suggestion. For David was the wicked husband
from whose clutches she had been rescued by an indignant family.
"David!" she exclaimed. "What are you thinking of? Why should I
want a letter from David? I have not written to him; I don't even know
where he is. He—he is nothing to me. Pray don't run away with the idea
that I am fretting about him."
"Oh!" faltered Tommy, with an abashed and disappointed air; "I
didn't know. I thought perhaps—"
"Don't think, dear boy. The less we all think on that subject, the
better—and the less we talk, too. I can't"—with a sudden change of
front—"oh, I can't bear to hear them all discussing him and abusing
him behind his back, when he can't defend himself. I do think it is so
"So do I," said the boy promptly. "But I don't do it. I never did
think he was as bad as they made out. You know you've got a bit of a
temper yourself, Emmie. Perhaps you riled him sometimes—without
knowing it, you know."
"Perhaps I did," said Mrs. Knox. "I often wonder—however, it is no
use thinking about that now. The thing is done, and it can't be
helped." She sighed; then, with an effort, roused herself. "I'll tell
you what I want, Tommy—a breath of the sea! You know how I love the
sea, and what good it always does me. I feel, if I could have just one
day on it, away from all these people—say a run down to Sorrento in
the Hygeia—I should be set up for the summer. I should begin to get
strong at once. I do want to get away for a little, Tommy—I do want to
get strong." Her voice quivered.
"Then, why don't you go?" he asked her.
"If only for a couple of days!" she ejaculated longingly. "Even one
day—one sight of the sea—one breath of it—would make a new creature
of me. I know it would. Of course, it is expensive, and I haven't much
money, and I won't ask father now—now that I am married; but just a
couple of days would not cost much, would it? I could go second-class,
for that matter."
"You wouldn't go alone, would you?"
"I don't want to. It's lonely enough at the best of times; I don't
want to make it worse. But I would not like to drag Lizzie away; I'd
rather not do that. I was thinking—you haven't got examinations next
week, have you?"
"Not till the week after," the boy replied, breathless with
delighted anticipation. "Oh, I say! you don't mean you would take me?"
"You could look after me very well," said Mrs. Knox, who,
unfortunately for one in her position, had no vocation for
independence. "I want somebody, and yet I don't want to be bothered.
Suppose you and I go together—shall we? It wouldn't put you off your
"Not the least little bit," he assured her fervently. "If you stew
up to the last moment, your head only gets muddled. It is far better to
try and forget everything for a few days—freshens the brain, you
know—puts you regularly into form."
"I believe it is the best plan," she said, when she had thought it
over. "Then we'll do it, Tommy."
"Good egg!" he cried in rapture. This was the correct form of
expression with schoolboys at that date.
Lizzie, when she came to hear of the projected enterprise, was
dissatisfied with it.
"I should have thought," she remarked, "that the sea, and Sorrento
particularly, would have been the last place you'd wish to go to." And
she said so because it was near the sea that Emma had lived her
disastrous married life, and at Sorrento that she had spent the
honeymoon which began it. Emma assured her that, on the contrary, the
sea was the first and only thing she longed for; and it seemed like
pure perversity to Lizzie's mind. Lizzie then declared that she must go
too, to take charge of her sister, who was not strong enough to travel
alone. She ridiculed the idea of Tommy as a protector, to his great
wrath. "That child!" she called him.
"He is fourteen, and he is devoted to me," protested Emma. "He is
all the protector I want, and I have promised him, Lizzie. And of
course father cannot do without you. It is only for a couple of days."
"A couple of days is not long enough to do you any good; and then
suppose—just suppose you were to come across that man?"
"Well? What if I did?"—blushing furiously. "He would not kill me."
"You don't know what he wouldn't do. I would not have you run such
a risk for the world, without me with you."
"There's no fear of that," said Emma, with set lips. "Not the
slightest fear. I should think he'd be like the snakes, and get as far
out of one's way as possible."
"A very good name for him," said Lizzie: "a snake. He is just like
a snake—that snake in the fable that was warmed in somebody's bosom
and then turned to bite. Little we thought what we were doing when we
let him into this house!"
Emma's flush deepened, and the hard line of her mouth grew harder.
"You may be sure," she said bitterly, "that he regrets the day he
entered it quite as much as we do. I've no doubt he hates the very
thought of me—loathes it—would not touch me with a pair of tongs if
he could help it."
She had her way about going to Melbourne, with Tommy for an escort.
On Monday night he scrubbed himself all over in a hot bath, and on
Tuesday morning went to have his hair cut and to buy himself a new
necktie; for it was not until Tuesday that Mr. Dawson gave his married
daughter leave to please herself.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, brother and sister set off by the slow
train, Tommy gravely elated over his responsibilities, and Emma in
better spirits than he had seen her at any time since her separation
from her husband. They did not travel second-class, which in Australia
is thought a low thing to do, even by the little shopkeepers; Mr.
Dawson had forbidden it. "For we have not come to that yet," he said,
"poor as we are these times." And Lizzie would not hear of eight hours
of hard seat for a weakened back. They wanted Emma to wait until next
morning for the express, but she could not wait. That was the one thing
about which she was irresistibly obstinate.
"Father might change his mind, or the weather might change; let us
go while we can," she urged Tommy confidentially; and the boy sincerely
assured her that he was "on."
They left, therefore, at 3.30, and reached Melbourne before 11. It
was a delightful journey to both; weather warm, without sultriness or
dust, and the country, that looks so lonesome to un-Australian eyes,
beautiful to theirs, after the heavy rains of the cool spring. The
grass was seeding, of course, and therefore taking its tawny summer
tints, but never had they seen it so thick and fresh in the last month
of the year. The corn was being cut in the cultivated fields, scattered
like isles in the sea of bush. The plenteous harvest was almost the
single sign of prosperity left to the country in its day of unexampled
adversity, and it was easy for the most superficial eye to read it.
Emma's eyes, having looked on a landscape of wild hills only since she
fled home from her cruel husband, feasted upon the scene, so full of
associations of other times and journeyings.
"My word!" was the bush boy's frequent comment, "do look at that
grass! Won't there be some bush fires presently!"
Yes, she supposed there would. She talked to Tommy from time to
time, but for the most part she sat silent, thinking her own thoughts.
It was in December, she remembered, that she had gone on her honeymoon
over this same line, by this same slow train. Then the grass had been
burnt up by weeks of blazing weather. What a roasting day it was! and
how strange and home-sick she had felt, how heart-broken at parting
with Lizzie, how terrified at the prospect before her! She smiled as
she recalled her girlish foolishness, and Tommy thought it made her
look like her old self again. Now she could not disguise from herself
that she was home-sick in quite a different way. It was homesickness
that was drawing her from her father's house back to Sorrento and the
sea. She was beginning to feel, though she did not understand the
fact—which really is a fact, though it is the fashion to deny it—that
it is not only better to have loved and lost than never to have loved
at all, but better to have even a bad husband than to have none;
meaning, of course, a bad husband like David, who was still a man—not
a brute-beast in human shape, like Neill and Deeming.
I don't think I have mentioned that Emma Knox was pretty—very
pretty—and only twenty-five last birthday. In her dark serge skirt and
jacket and striped cotton blouse, with the neatest sailor hat on her
curly fringe and protuberant Clytie knot, and a trim little veil to
keep all in order, she was a charming figure—that kind of figure which
you see, as soon as you look at it, was never meant to go about the
world without a man to take care of it. Emma had never known what it
was to want a man—certainly not at a railway station in the night—and
so felt a little timorous, a little of the castaway, on stepping upon
the platform at Spencer Street. But Tommy rose to the occasion, shaking
himself from the fetters of untimely sleep. He shouldered the bag they
shared between them, thrust his arm gallantly between his sister and
the crowd, and escorted her to the tram and the Victoria Coffee Palace
with the air of a father in charge of a toddling babe. He had not seen
the lights of Melbourne since he was a petticoated child himself, but
nothing daunted him.
They had little bedrooms side by side, in one of which they shared
a frugal supper of Lizzie's sandwiches and wine and water from a
travelling flask and the toilet bottle. In the old days David used to
put up at Menzies', and she remembered how he once brought her the most
delicious trayful after she had gone to bed, with his own hands.
"How odd it feels," she mused aloud, "to be in a place like this
"I should think it does," said Tommy, knowing whom she meant by
him. "I should think you'd miss him awfully sometimes."
She was not angry. She sighed, and looked tired. "Well, you are a
good substitute, dear," she rejoined, gathering the crumbs of their
repast into a screw of paper. "But now we must get to sleep as fast as
we can, so as to be fresh for our trip in the morning."
She saw him to bed and tucked him up, and he was asleep in five
minutes. But she could not get away from her thoughts of David—David
at his good times—for hours. It was four o'clock before she ceased to
hear the post-office chimes. At seven she awoke, and the first sound
she was conscious of as the pattering of rain.
Tommy heard her groan and came running in.
"It won't be much—it can't be—so lovely as it was yesterday," he
"Even if it is, we must go, Tommy."
"Of course we must."
They dressed themselves, and found their way through a public
drawing-room to a balcony overlooking the street.
"Hurrah!" cried the boy. "It's left off! I told you so!"
It had; but the sky had a dull and stormy look, and a fierce, muggy
wind was blowing.
"North," remarked Emma gloomily, with her hands over her hair, and
her eyes screwed up. "Just my luck!"
"Well, a north wind will be much better on the sea than on the
"If Lizzie were here, she'd make me wait till tomorrow."
"Oh, I wouldn't wait, if I were you."
"I can't! I must go! I feel as if something was drawing me—that I
can't resist. But I know all my pleasure is going to be spoilt. It is
Tommy continued to combat this point of view, and they went to
breakfast. Before breakfast they bought a paper from the little girl on
the doorstep, to assure themselves that nothing had happened to prevent
the Hygeia from keeping her engagements. No; that was all right. She
was to start at 10.30, as usual.
They were ready to set off by a little after nine, and then it was
raining again. "A few heat drops," said Tommy; adding, when they soon
ceased to fall, the inevitable and triumphant "I told you so!" When
they sat down on a bench at the railway station, tickets in hand, to
wait for a Port Melbourne train, a little sheltered from the howling
blast, they persuaded themselves that it was really going to be a fine
day, and Emma's spirits rose. She began to think of the Back Beach, and
the ocean rollers, and the sweet little bowery paths cut in the scrubby
cliffs, where she and David used to wander, yawning for weariness of
them and of each other (a disagreeable detail that she chose to
forget), in the first long week of their married life. How she longed
to see them again! And it was going to be fine, after all.
The wind blew them on to the pier and up the gangway of the boat,
Tommy holding on to his hat and his bag of bananas, Emma trying to keep
her hair and her skirts together; and then they reached a haven of
peace in two of the Hygeia's little chairs, on her spacious covered
deck. There the wind, if only it had been not quite so boisterous, was
beautiful. Wind and sea go naturally together. The bay was lumpy and
ruffled, full of little waves; they lapped and splashed against the
piles of the pier, and seethed along the vessel's side; and Emma's ears
drank in the sound like music, and her heart swelled as if with the
exhilaration of strong wine.
"This is what I wanted!" she said, settling herself in a quiet
corner by the open rails. "Oh, I know it is going to do me such a lot
of good! Oh, Tommy, you don't know what the sight of the sea is to me
after all this long time!"
She caught her breath hysterically, and was silent for a minute;
then, with cheerful calmness, urged the boy to walk about and amuse
himself, and not mind her. She was all right now. She had her book. She
wanted nothing more.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in one volume, lay ostentatiously open
on her knee, and she turned the pages over. But never a word, even of
that new and notorious work, did she read, or want to read, to-day.
However, Tommy was satisfied, and went to look at the saloon and the
machinery, and to make friends with the ship's officers, who fed his
country curiosity and entertained him gloriously for the whole voyage.
Even after the last train had arrived there were not many
passengers—a mere handful, compared with the hundreds that used to
crowd the bay boats in the old times—the good old times, when she and
David took trips together. And the ships were few at the port piers,
not jammed together from end to end, and overflowing into the open, as
she had always seen them. And all was changed! Where life used to be
bright and stirring, it was now flat and dull—"stale," to use the
expressive schoolboy adjective so much in vogue—stale as soda-water
uncorked since yesterday. The fizz was gone out of everything. But then
a north wind always predisposes you to look on the dark side; and not
only did the wind keep in that detestable quarter, and blow as it
always does blow therefrom, but the rain came on before the boat
reached Queenscliff, destroying all hope of a fine day.
Tommy came to tell his sister when Queenscliff was in sight—the
pretty hill of trees, and the town that rises so charmingly out of the
water on a fine day. In its sad, wet veil she did not want to look at
it. She sat still where she was, with her face to the sea, while Tommy
watched, with deep interest, the debarking passengers scrambling under
their umbrellas down to the streaming pier. "After all," he said, when
this sensation was past, "it's a pity we did not wait another day. I
can see you are not enjoying yourself a bit."
"Oh, but I am—I am!" she responded to the reproach in his voice.
"And there's plenty of time for it to clear before we reach Sorrento.
The wind is going down. I daresay it will be delightful when we get
And when they got there it did not rain much, not enough to wet
them seriously between the pier and the hotel. Dinner at the
Continental was an essential part of the programme. She and David had
lived at the Continental during their honeymoon, and she had been
tantalising Tommy with descriptions of the meals they used to have.
When they reached the house, the feeling of things being changed
came back in force. There were no gay visitors flocking around, as they
used to do at this hungry hour; and, having been accustomed to walk
into hotels under the wing of a big husband, Emma felt vaguely small
and mean—as if she had greatly come down in the world—when she
entered this one without him. The large dining-room, where they had
eaten so many nice things together, had the air of desolation that
prevailed elsewhere. All its tables were fully set, with flowers in the
middle and spiky napkins sticking out of the wine-glasses, as for a
hundred guests; but no guests were there. Yes—five; so few that they
were lost in the expanse, but enough to show that the dinner had not
vanished, if the company had. Mrs. Knox sat down in the wilderness of
white damask, and drew off her gloves. A silent waiter stole up with a
couple of soup plates, and Tommy fell to with all his heart. And
gradually the room grew so dark that they could hardly see the end of
it, and the rain swept past the windows in an opaque sheet.
"Isn't it too, too bad!" wailed Emma, under her breath. "My one
"Perhaps we might come again to-morrow," suggested Tommy, with his
mouth full of fish.
"I can't afford two days," she sighed. "And we shall never, never
get to the Back Beach!"
"Oh, yes, we shall," he replied comfortingly. "This won't last. It
is too heavy. Have some beer, old girl—it'll cheer you up."
"I really believe I will," she said, with a tearful laugh. And she
ordered some. "Well, at any rate, whatever else goes wrong, the dinner
is all right, isn't it?"
"Rather!" assented Tommy, with all the emphasis at his command. He
had got hold of the bill of fare, and found that he could go on for as
long as he liked without adding to the necessary fee.
They had enjoyed an excellent ragout of beef and olives, and Emma
had finished, and Tommy was starting a course of poultry, when a
belated guest entered—making eight. It was still raining heavily, and
the room was a cave of shadows; but this person, by reason of his size,
the light colour of his clothes, and the bright redness of his beard,
shone in the doorway like the sun through clouds. It was impossible to
overlook him, unless your back was turned, like Tommy's. Emma sat
against the wall, with her face to the door, and had nothing to do but
to gaze about her; consequently she saw him the moment he entered, and
to the best advantage. Also, he saw her. But whereas she started as if
she had been shot, turned crimson as a peony and then white as milk,
his cold eyes travelled calmly over her, and he walked to his seat,
shook out his napkin, and signalled for his dinner, as indifferent to
her presence, apparently, as if she had been a piece of furniture.
In a dry voice she said to Tommy, as soon as she could speak, "Make
haste, dear; I want to go."
"It's no use going while it pours like this," he answered
reasonably. "Where could you go? Better stay under shelter till it
holds up. And I want some lemon tart, if you don't mind—and some
maraschino jelly, and cheese. Wouldn't you like some cheese and salad?
You haven't had half a dinner."
"I can't eat any more," she whispered faintly. "But you have what
you like. Only don't be long."
She leaned back against the wall, and tried to look indifferent and
calm, like David. But she felt sick. Was this what she had made such
frantic efforts to get to Sorrento for? To meet her husband like a
stranger, and to be spurned in that insulting manner, as if she were
the dirt under his feet—as if he were the injured instead of the
injurer! She should have listened to Lizzie. Oh, if Lizzie were here,
how she could pay him out for that! But she had no Lizzie—she was
alone and defenceless. That was his opportunity. That was what he had
always done—taken advantage of her helplessness to be cruel to her.
Oh, it was cruel! How could he do it—when she was not well—when he
could see how solitary she was, straying about unattended and uncared
for, save by a little schoolboy, too little to defend her against a
big, strong man. Tears of self-pity came into her eyes, but she got rid
of them quickly, terrified lest he should see her letting herself down
to care. She did not care—not she. But a great lump stuck fast in her
throat, and she could not keep her eyes off him.
Of course he had turned his back on her, or nearly turned it. She
could just see the tip of his blunt nose and the line of his hairy
cheek. What a fine man he was! She thought he was a little stouter than
of old—their troubles had not told on him as they had on her—and his
rough grey suit was very becoming. Positively he was handsome. They
used to jeer at his red beard, but it was a beautiful beard.
Auburn—not red. His severe tranquillity, under the circumstances, was
astounding. He ate his dinner as calmly as if she were a hundred miles
away from him—as, doubtless, he wished she was. No, it was a matter of
perfect indifference to him. He didn't care where she was or what she
did. He would not care if she were dead. Perhaps he wished she was, so
that he could marry somebody else. And she wondered with terror—for it
had never occurred to her before—whether he had begun to love somebody
else. She wondered what he had come to Sorrento for. Not with any idea
of seeing her, and making the quarrel up, clearly. With her heart
swelling and thumping in every part of her body at once, burning
through and through with mortification and resentment, she wondered
whether she could sit out Tommy's dinner without bursting into tears.
Fortunately, she managed that. When, with a satisfied sigh, he
announced that he had done, there was nothing in her veiled face to
attract the attention that was again wholly at her service. He was
quite happy and comfortable, and assumed that she was, too. And now all
her desire was to get him out of the room in ignorance of his
brother-in-law's presence there, and to get herself past that maddening
person with a proper show of dignity. This, also, she managed fairly
well, by keeping her nose very much up in the air, and hustling the boy
along at a run. And great was her satisfaction, when out of doors
again, to feel that she had not made a fool of herself for David's
Out of doors it rained still, and she did not know where to go. In
the bright and stirring old days the trams would be running to and from
the Back Beach every few minutes, but now they had stopped, and the
cabs were at the pier. She could walk to the Back Beach, but it would
tire her dreadfully, and there would hardly be time to walk there and
back too. Besides, she would be soaked; not that that mattered. There
was no one to care whether she took her death of cold or not. It would
be the best thing that could happen. But in the first place it was
necessary to get out of the path that David would traverse when he had
finished his dinner.
She stepped over a magnificent dog lying on the door-mat, and led
Tommy round the house to a quiet corner that she knew of, where a
verandah sheltered them, and they were out of view from the public
approach. Here they stood and watched the rain, until the grey sky
lightened, and Emma calculated that David must have finished his meal
Then she said to her brother: "Tommy, dear, go to the Back Beach I
must! It is clearing up, and we have over an hour still. Run, like a
good boy, and find out if any trams are starting. If not, get a cab and
bring it here. I am a little tired, and you'll go quicker without me."
Off went Tommy at full speed. Emma stood on the steps of the paved
path to the hotel dining-room, to wait for his return. And David
quietly came down that path behind her.
As soon as she knew that it was he—and she knew it the moment she
heard his step—she moved aside to let him pass, and stood very
rigidly, staring at the sky. And he did pass her—almost. Just as she
was seized with an insane impulse to beg him to take some notice of
her, he checked his stride and spoke. His voice was abrupt and cold,
but she had never before been so glad to hear it.
"Won't you get wet?"
She answered, without looking at him, "Oh, no; I have my ulster
on"—and then wished she had not been so familiar. She remembered how
she had been humiliated, and pressed her lips together.
"I think you had better stand under the verandah. There's no use in
catching cold for nothing."
"I shall do very well where I am, thank you."
"Where's Tommy gone?"
"To get me a cab or a tram. I want to go to the Back Beach."
"I'll see about it. Perhaps he doesn't know where to find them."
"Pray don't trouble. He knows perfectly. We don't require any
She was quite pleased with her lofty tone and demeanour. But when
he took her at her word, and then and there walked off, without even a
good-bye, she raged at herself for having spoken so nastily, and was
seriously upset. "That was my first chance," she said, "and perhaps it
will be my last. It would serve me right." Yet she looked eagerly for
the coming cab or tram, making sure—almost sure—that David would
return with it. He had evidently noticed that she was not strong, and
was alive to the fact that she was not adequately protected. He really
had a kind heart at bottom. And he must care something about her still.
He was not anxious for her to die, so that he might marry somebody
It was the tram that came, and she ran across the road to meet it.
But only Tommy sat in the open carriage, and she saw by his face that
he had not seen David. She was absurdly disappointed, and could not
speak when the boy pointed out to her that it had quite left off
raining. She thought of the times when she and David had gone spinning
together over the bosky tram-road to the ocean shore. Could he have
forgotten them? He had heard her say that she was going now; had he no
wish to return to those old haunts with her? But of course he had not.
And it was all her fault.
The little engine whisked them through the wet bushes, and set them
down upon the lovely headland overhanging the sea—the real outside
sea, with breakers spouting round the big rock, and foaming like
whipped cream along the sands; and as she gazed at the familiar scene
her throat ached, and her eyes burned, and her excited pulses shook her
all over, worse than ever. The wind had died down, and the rain cleared
off; beyond the breakers and the rock the waters seemed almost calmer
than the bay. And the colours were too wonderful for words. A wide band
of dove-blue sky—herald of another squall—lay over the horizon, and
under it a breadth of peacock-purple sea that no painter would dare to
imitate, because the critics, people who don't notice atmospheric
effects, would turn up their noses and exclaim, "Who ever saw sea like
that?" And the sea in the middle, under the clearer sky, was more
artistically unnatural still—a metallic, translucent, bright
pea-green, with pinky-lilac shadows under the clouds. It had almost a
stagey glare and gaudiness about it—or that is what a faithful picture
of it would have had; the real thing was so exquisitely beautiful that
no one in a pensive mood could stand it. Emma stumbled down the winding
paths a little way, until she came to a bench where she could sit at
ease and look out, as from a lighthouse tower, upon the scene, and
there she dropped, feeling as if her heart would break. It had come to
this—cry she must. She had borne up gallantly, considering that she
had no health to support her, but she could bear up no longer. So she
said to her brother, "Tommy, dear, I feel as if I should like to be
alone a little while. I'm—I'm tired. You go down to the beach and
amuse yourself. Get some shells and things for Lizzie. I'll sit here
and rest till it is time to start."
This, of course, was Tommy's natural impulse, and down he went,
promising to be back by a quarter to four, when the last tram started
for the steamer. He was out of sight immediately, and not another soul
was to be seen. She looked all round to satisfy herself of that, and
then took out her pocket-handkerchief, laid her two arms on the back of
the bench, buried her face in them, and thoroughly enjoyed a good
hearty outburst—got the lump out of her throat, and the swelling out
of her breast, and felt better after it than she had done for months.
While still abandoned to this paroxysm, but over the first violence
of it, the big grey man from the hotel came down upon her, and this
time she did not hear him. For not only did she indulge in tears, she
also moaned aloud, because that was a luxury denied her in her father's
house, where Lizzie was for ever watching her. She cried,
"Oh—oh—oh-h-h!" in long-drawn wails and sighs, which filled her ears
to the exclusion of other sounds. Thus the noise of solid steps on the
soft sand of the winding footpaths was lost.
David saw her while yet some yards away, and paused to look at her.
He had fully intended to cut her if he met her again—to cut her with
particular precision and emphasis—but now he changed his mind. He had
the temper of a fiend, no doubt, but there was a little something of
the angel under it, if one took the trouble to look deep enough, and
that part of him was touched by her forlorn attitude. It was a very
pretty attitude for a slender figure, particularly about the waist. She
sat as on a horse, only much more gracefully, and under her twisted
shoulders and upraised arms the curves of her girlish shape were very
dainty. Her jacket was under her, for the bench was wet, and the
simplicity of a cotton blouse and close-clinging serge skirt exactly
suited her. She had an instinct for dress, and therefore her clothes
always suited her; they were quite simple, but never lacked distinction
and style. People are born with this attribute in all classes of life.
Presently she lifted her head to dab her red eyes and set her hat
straight, and then she saw her husband. He was behind the seat, but not
behind her face, which looked thunderstruck for the moment. As there
was not time to think how she should behave, she did not behave at all.
She cried out, piteously, "Oh, David, why do you torment me?"
He came forward at once.
"I have no thought of doing such a thing," he said stiffly. "I did
not know you were here, or I would have taken another path."
There was a little pause, and then she burst out vehemently, "One
would think I had the plague!"
He raised his brows. "Isn't that what you wish?"
"Oh," she cried, "I don't know what I wish! I'm miserable!"
Then she turned round upon the seat, and sat up primly, giving
hasty twitches to hat and veil. He hesitated for a moment, and boldly
sat down beside her.
"That cloud," said he, "is getting thicker. There's another storm
"I am afraid so," she answered, looking at the dove-blue belt,
which had a more slaty hue and a greater width than when she last
noticed it. "But it doesn't matter. There is more shelter here than
there used to be."
"Yes. They've built that shed since our time."
The mention of "our time" was paralysing. She racked her brains for
another topic, but could not find one. A terrible silence ensued.
David broke it—with a thunderbolt. "What makes you miserable?" he
asked her. And, though he looked quite away from her when he spoke, she
cowered and cast her eyes upon the ground. Of course she gave the
"People don't say they are miserable, and cry their hearts out, for
"How do you know I was crying?"
"I saw you. I heard you."
"Have you been watching me?"
She took on her indignant tone, and he disdained to reply. Upon
which she veered round hastily.
"Everything makes me miserable! How can I be otherwise than
"Why, I thought it was only being with me that made you miserable.
I have been imagining you quite enjoying yourself—with that dear,
amiable sister of yours."
"Say what you like to me, but don't sneer at her," she exclaimed in
a quarrelsome tone, and again—since he did not "answer
back"—repenting. She had no real heart for quarrelling now; nor, it
appeared, had he. Lest he should get up and go—lest this brief but
precious opportunity should be wasted like the last—she hastened to
make herself more agreeable.
"Are you—are you quite well, David? You look well."
"Yes, thanks. I'm all right." He silently poked the damp ground
with his umbrella, and, having rooted up a weed or two, stole a side
glance at her. "I'm afraid I can't return the compliment," he remarked.
"I don't think you are looking well at all. I noticed it directly I saw
"Did you really take the trouble to notice me at lunch?"
"I did." Another palpitating pause. "What's been the matter with
"Of course. I expected you would say that. Well, I suppose it is no
business of mine—"
"I mean, nothing serious; I haven't been really ill. It's—it's
more mind than body, I think."
He poked five holes in the gravel while he waited vainly for an
"I daresay," she presently continued, "I shall be ever so much the
better for this little change. The sea always does me good."
"Are you staying here?"
"No. We came by the boat this morning, and are going back now. It
must be nearly time, by the way."
"More than half an hour yet," he said, looking at his watch. "Who
"Tommy and I. He has gone down to the beach to look for shells."
"Only Tommy? Are the rest of them in town?"
"No—at home. We came by ourselves, just for the trip—just because
I pined so for a breath of sea. We shall return to-morrow. Are you—?"
But she could say no more. Both jerked their heads sharply towards
the sound of an approaching step hurrying up an unseen path beneath
them. In a moment Tommy's freckled face appeared above the bushes.
"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed Emma weakly. She pretended to be much
relieved, but she was ready to cry with chagrin.
"Well, my boy," said David, with assumed heartiness, "how are you?"
Tommy stopped dead with amazement, red and breathless; then came
forward to shake hands with his brother-in-law, accepting his presence
without comment—for even a rough school-boy has a wonderful knack of
behaving like a gentleman at times in such awkward crises. His first
idea was to make himself scarce immediately.
"It's coming on to rain," he stammered. "Hadn't I better run up and
see if there's a tram about?"
He looked at David, and David looked at him, with shy affection.
They had always been good friends.
"Perhaps you'd better," said David, as Emma's reluctance to move
kept her silent. "Yes, it is coming on to pour badly. Put on your
She stood up, and he helped her on with her light coat, just as he
used to do in the honeymoon days. Perhaps he would have done something
more, and so would she, had not the storm cloud burst in a fierce
shower and driven them to seek instant shelter. They scrambled up the
hill to the long shed that was a strange place to them, and there stood
side by side behind David's umbrella—for the rain drove from the sea;
and Emma began to wonder, with a shaking heart, how the adventure was
going to end. Tommy was at the tram platform, skipping up and down with
"You needn't," said David, "hug that damp thing against your thin
skirt, need you? Give it to me." He alluded to her ulster, which hung
over her folded arms.
"It is all right, thank you."
"Give it to me."
She handed it over with a smile—her first smile—pleased to hear
the imperious tone at which she used to be so absurdly offended. When
he had carefully felt it all over, he bade her put it on. He also
helped her to adjust it with the hand that was not holding the
umbrella. As his big fingers fumbled with a button near her throat, she
cast down her eyes, and blushed and trembled, as if she were being
tentatively wooed again. The old girl bashfulness prompted her to
frustrate their mutual ends by a stupid and commonplace remark:—
"What a day for a bay excursion!"
"Yes," he said slowly. "What made you choose such a day?"
"I did not choose it." And she went into explanations. "I might
say," looking at him almost archly, "how came you to choose such a
"No, indeed. I haven't been thinking much about pleasure these
days. I'm like the rest, as I suppose you know—pretty nearly
"What? You don't mean that! No; I never, never knew!"
"Well, I've lost a good two-thirds of the income I had when you
were with me, and Heaven knows whether I am going to save the rest. So
you see," with sudden bitterness, "you timed it very well."
She moved closer, and looked squarely up at him, and there were
tears in her eyes. "Oh, David, how can you speak so? Do you suppose I
cared for money—for anything—"
"You certainly did not care for me," he broke in roughly. "That's
all I know."
"But, if you come to that, did you care for me?"
"I never deserted you, at any rate."
Alas! At this critical juncture they were interrupted again. Tommy
came running to inform them that the tram was about to start. Stern
duty compelled him.
"Oh!" Emma faintly ejaculated; and then a deadly silence fell.
When all three were in the car, exposed to a rush of rain that was
like a volley of bullets, she whispered under David's umbrella, held
broadside to the gale, "Are you going by the Hygeia too?"
He said "Yes." And then they spoke no more, except to Tommy, until
they reached the boat. On the way thither they had to shelter for some
minutes in the tram-shed on the bay side. When they walked down the
pier and climbed on board, the air was clear and soft, and a pallid sky
gleaming over a mauve and pea-green sea.
On deck David picked up a chair, and asked his wife where she
preferred to sit. She chose a place astern, between two of the fixed
seats, where there were fewest people. There, being comfortably
settled, with her feet upon the rail, and her back to everybody, she
felt that all she wanted in the world was to have him in another chair
beside her, to talk to her all the way to Melbourne, which would be for
two hours and a half. In that time, surely, she would be able to
explain away some of the misapprehensions that he evidently laboured
under. She burned to explain them—to justify herself. No, not to
justify herself exactly; perhaps not even to excuse herself; but to
disabuse his mind of the idea that she had left him because she did not
care for him—to make him understand, above all things, that she was
not the woman to seek comfort for herself while those she loved were in
difficulty and poverty—to wholly reconsider the situation, in short,
with a view to better arrangements.
But, instead of sitting down with her in that deliciously quiet
corner, which she had chosen on purpose, he strayed away with Tommy.
They disappeared together before she was aware of it, and did not come
back. She kept her ears pricked and her eyes turned over her left
shoulder for a long time; but the Hygeia is a boat on which one can
easily lose and be lost to one's friends, and for nearly the whole
distance between Sorrento and Queenscliff she never saw a sign of them.
The fact was that David had a great many vital questions to submit to
his small brother-in-law before he could proceed further; but this she
did not think of. She imagined that Tommy had gone off to leave the
coast clear for a lover's tête-à-tête, and that David had gone off to
avoid that tête-à-tête. As time went on, and hope and patience failed,
and it seemed evident to her that he was quite implacable, she ceased
to make any pretences to herself. She admitted that she could never
bear now to go back to the country as she had come away from it—that
if he refused to let her retrace the mad step she had taken six months
ago, her heart would break, and her life become wholly valueless to
A very miserable woman she was as she sat forlornly alone in her
nook between the empty seats, watching the rough tumble of the water
that could hardly shake the floor beneath her, and the floods of
swirling foam that ran past her feet, tucked between the open rails.
Listening to the sound she loved—the sweetest music in the world—and
gazing on the scene for which her soul had hungered as an exile for its
home, she said to herself that she wished she was dead—that she would
like to jump up from her chair and throw herself overboard. "If I were
dead, past troubling him any more, perhaps he would care for me a
little," she thought, with tear-filled eyes and a bursting heart. "Oh,
I wish I was drowned and dead at the bottom of the sea!"
Then something occurred whereby she nearly had that wish. The
Hygeia was nearing Queenscliff—where Emma was convinced that David
would get off and finish his journey by train, so as to be finally rid
of her—and the Flinders, on its way to Launceston, was making for the
Heads. The two fast boats, like long-lost brothers hastening to embrace
each other, kept their respective courses at full speed until they met,
and the bows of the Tasmanian boat were only a few yards from the side
of the bay steamer, rather more than a few yards from the end. To err
is human, even in the case of ships' officers, who, it must be
admitted, err less, professionally, than any body of known men; and the
navigator of the excursion boat had the apparently reasonable idea that
he could get past in time. So he did; but an "imminent collision" was
spoken of in the evening papers, and the Marine Board, not having
enough to do with inquiring into things that did happen, gladly took
note of those that might have done so, and decided, in sundry forms and
ceremonies lasting over a fortnight, that the Hygeia had incurred
penalties for violating—or nearly violating—the rules of the road.
Certainly a collision did seem imminent for a moment—even inevitable.
Romantic reporters described the Hygeia's people as rushing for
life-belts and cork jackets in a panic of fright; but there was no time
for that—no time even to turn the button which would have showered
those articles upon all in need of them. They simply got up from their
chairs and stood for a breathless instant with their hearts in their
mouths. Then, the Flinders having already backed her engines, the
Hygeia ported her helm, whisking round with the light speed of a
waltzing lady; and, sideways to each other, they swept apart, and went
their ways as if nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had happened.
It was all over in a breath.
But in that breath things changed for Emma. She sat facing the
Flinders as it came up, exactly in the path of the towering bows; and
as she sprang from her chair an arm was flung round her, and she was
whirled from that dangerous place.
"Don't be frightened, dear; stick to me," said David, And the boat
slewed round, and they saw they were not going into the water. Emma,
though she did not want to drown now, had a moment's keen
disappointment. She thought how beautiful it would have been to be
shipwrecked, and saved by her gallant husband; for, of course, he would
have saved her. Next moment he was leading her back to her seat,
laughing confusedly; she, hanging on his arm, bathed in delicious
blushes from head to foot.
"Ha! I say, that was a narrow shave! I really thought she was into
us," he said, as he handed her a chair.
"Yes; and wasn't it odd?"—her voice quivered and her eyes
filled—"I was just wishing I was at the bottom of the sea."
"Don't talk nonsense," he rejoined, very roughly, but with no
unkindness in his tone.
"It isn't nonsense. I don't care a bit for my life—as things are
now." There was a wail in her voice. "David, you are not going away
again, are you?"
"Only to get a chair."
He fetched a chair, and sat down beside her, very close. Flanked by
the two empty seats, and with their backs to the deck, where all the
passengers, Tommy included, were looking towards Queenscliff pier with
their backs to them, they enjoyed some minutes of welcome privacy.
"And so you haven't found it so very jolly, after all?"
He smiled a little to himself, but did not let her see it.
"Oh, David, I have been so miserable—so utterly miserable—without
"And you were utterly miserable with me. So what's to be done?"
"It was my fault, David. I know I don't deserve to be forgiven—"
Too overcome to proceed, she looked at him with swimming eyes, and
put out her hand appealingly. He took it and held it, gently kneading
it between his own.
"I think it was mostly mine," he said. "I know I've got a vile
temper, and you did use to rile me, old girl, now didn't you?"
"I was a beast."
"No, no, you weren't. But—well, we didn't understand each other,
did we? We were both too new to it, I suppose. I should have been
gentler with a delicate little thing like you. I have been awfully
sorry about it many a time."
"You never wrote to me, David!"
"You never wrote to me, Emmie."
"I didn't like to."
"And I couldn't, after your telling me—"
"Oh, don't speak of that! If you knew how I have regretted those
hasty, wicked words, how I've wanted to come back—"
"There, there!" he whispered soothingly, for her emotion was so
great that it threatened to attract notice. "Let's say no more about
it. Come back, if you feel you want to; if you think you can put up
with such an ogre as I am—a ruined man, into the bargain."
"Oh, I don't mind your being poor—all the better! I can work for
you, as well as you for me. I can do without a servant—"
"No, no; I'm not so badly off as that. I'm not going to let you
slave and fag, and wear yourself out. It's for me to take care of you,
pet. And I mean to do it—a little better than I did last time. When I
get you again, I'll see if I can't fatten you up a bit, and put the
roses back into your cheeks. You are looking wretched."
"No wonder! No wonder!"
"Only you must promise not to throw me over again, Emmie, if we
happen to quarrel. I daresay I shall be obstreperous sometimes—I'll
She leaned against his bent shoulder, put an arm across his breast,
which she could hardly span, and her lips to his prickly red moustache.
He clasped her for a moment, and they snatched an eager kiss. Of course
people saw them, even with their backs. turned, and were visibly
scandalized. But Emma, while blushing for her indiscretion, refused to
be ashamed of it.
"Are we not husband and wife?" she demanded bridling.
"Thank God we are!" he replied; "and what we've got to do now is to
keep so. But, Emmie, let us behave ourselves in a public place. Put
your hat straight, my dear. I am going now to get you a cup of tea."
He lent downstairs, leaving her, in her palpitating happiness, to
tuck up her loose hair, arrange her veil, and otherwise compose
herself. When he returned, Tommy was with him, grinning from ear to
ear, and capering for joy.
"My word," he whispered audibly, "you little thought what you were
coming to the seaside for, did you? And on such a bad day too! Wasn't
it a bit of luck?"
Emma looked at him with solemn, impassioned eyes.
"I believe," she said, breathing deeply, "that I was led."
It came on to rain and blow again harder than ever—a gale fierce
enough to snap hawsers wholesale, according to later reports; but the
Hygeia, with weather awnings down, slipped calmly through it, and David
and Emma, when they had moved forward a little, were perfectly dry and
comfortable. Never in all their lives had they been so comfortable
before. Then, at about five o'clock, the colour came into the sea
again, and the loveliest rainbow into the sky.
David pointed to it.
"The world is not to be drowned any more, Emmie."
"Not by me," she answered, with a chastened smile.
Tommy had left them for a long time, and now came creeping back to
give them the encouragement of his opinion that it was going to be a
fine evening after all.
"I believe so," said David. "And I was just regretting that we
hadn't stayed at Sorrento. We could have had a nice long ramble before
"Oh, but we couldn't have stayed, you know. We promised to go home
to-morrow. I've got my examinations next week."
"Well, my boy, you can go. I'll see you off safely, and get
somebody to look after you on the journey. But Emma had better stay
with me. One day of the sea isn't enough for her—she wants a longer
change. Tell Lizzie I don't think, by the look of her, that she has
been at all well taken care of up there—"
"And that I think she's safer in my charge. We go back to Sorrento,
Emmie, and stop there over Sunday, since the sea does you so much